Match Preview: Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona

Match Preview: Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona

It’s here, it’s time. They come around every year, twice at least, but each time it feels as big if not bigger than the one before. FC Barcelona – Real Madrid, Real Madrid – FC Barcelona, el derbí now el clásico. For Carlo and co, it’s a chance to narrow the gap to a single point. For Lucho and the gang, an opportunity to streak seven ahead. For both, it’s the ultimate test of superiority, a battle between the two best collections of footballers on the planet. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suárez, James Rodríguez, Neymar, Garteh Bale, Andrés Iniesta, Luka Modrić, Xavi Hernández, Toni Kroos, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Ramos. How much Saturday’s result will mean in the long run is unknown, but right now it feels all-important. But perhaps most importantly it’s a guaranteed 90 minutes of bona fide genius on display for an estimated 400 million set of eyeballs. It’s el gran clásico.

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Iniesta: “It’s always a footballing battle”

Iniesta: “It’s always a footballing battle”

If Xavi Hernández doesn’t start, Andrés Iniesta will captain the side Saturday evening in Madrid, so it was fitting the magical midfielder was the player sent to meet the media pre-clásico. “It’s hard to predict what we’ll find on Saturday , you don’t know how they’ll be and often it all comes down to little details. There is a lot of quality in both teams and the game could go either way.” What will be his 13th cláscio encounter, Iniesta insisted  “we will be going there with the intention of winning. It’d be a big mistake to think that we’ve got a four point lead and even if we lose we’ll still be top. We’re just thinking about playing well, winning and stretching our lead in the table, which would be important, but not decisive at this stage of the season.” More after the jump.

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To tribute or not to tribute?

To tribute or not to tribute?

As with so much, people are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Yes, Lionel Messi may equalize, perhaps surpass Telmo Zarra’s’ long-standing La Liga scoring record. Is is an accomplishment worth noting and expressly celebrating? Of course. But that doesn’t mean one should stop a football match, no less the clásico at the Santiago Bernabéu, as some in the Barcelona media are suggesting as well as LFP president Javier Tebas. Everyone will know the record was hit or broken, and there’s nothing wrong with Barça themselves setting something up on future occasions.

FIFA have decided to have their say on the issue, though its not much of a stand to say the least. “The issue depends on the federation of the country. There is nothing specific in the rules about this“, said a FIFA spokesman.

And based on the a statement reeled by The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), there seems no stoppage will happen. “We have not received any request from Barcelona, we know of the existence of this proposal by the newspapers, but we are not considering doing anything,

But the real reason all these calls for fireworks and glitter don’t matter is because it doesn’t matter to Messi. “We will go there to do the best possible and to win. Nothing will be decided, and there will still be a lot of Liga left, but we will go to try and win and to play well. Zarra’s record is the least important thing; what matters is to play well and win there.

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He’s literally impossible

He’s literally impossible

On the 1st of July Nate Silver’s ESPN statistics and analytics blog FiveThirtyEight published the “Lionel Messi is Impossible” piece. Over social media recently I stated that it’s not the numbers that prove Messi is the best player in the world. What does then? To shorten what is complicated and longwinded reasoning, it comes down to a simple statement: you can just see it. Then a follower reminded me of the aforementioned FiveThirtyEight piece, though he ironically implied that Messi isn’t about stats and figures when the entire premise of the article he cited is stats and figures. Which is precisely the beauty of “Lionel Messi is Impossible”. Even though his genius is exponentially more than the box score, measurables are handy because there are no “yeah, but”s. These are hard, inarguable analytical facts which as I will go through to fortify Messi’s unmatchable grandeur. Now quoting the author Benjamin Morris:

By now I’ve studied nearly every aspect of Messi’s game, down to a touch-by-touch level: his shooting and scoring production; where he shoots from; how often he sets up his own shots; what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots; his ability to take on defenders; how accurate his passes are; the kind of passes he makes; how often he creates scoring chances; how often those chances lead to goals; even how his defensive play marking compares to other high-volume shooters. 

And that’s just the stuff that made it into this article. I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn’t really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.

What I particularly loved about this piece was its scope. Morris crunches a ton of numbers to gives us a perfectly fair representative sample that analyses the gauntlet of football. It’s also a handy source to squash any annoying Ronaldo versus Messi debate. So let’s get into it.

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Match Review: FC Barcelona 3-1 AFC Ajax

Match Review: FC Barcelona 3-1 AFC Ajax

It genuinely is different watching live. I was fortunate enough this evening to enjoy the match in prime seats and literally wouldn’t have had a better view of the action. At the same time, I didn’t take notes so forgive me some possible inaccuracies and omissions. So, here goes.

An Ajax goal in the 88th minute made Barça unnecessarily sweat before yet another fantastically taken Sandro Ramírez goal made the result sure. A final 3-1 score-line is far more representative of the match pattern than 2-1 would have been, with FC Barcelona dominating Ajax entirely until Luis Enrique made the big changes in the second half. And as a side note, come on Lucho, telling the public the Real Madrid match was entirely out of your mind when removing Neymar, Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta is borderline insulting. That’s why you did it, it’s what you should have done it, and what happened afterwards is not a reflection of decisions taken at the time. That reflection being Barça considerably relaxed in the final half hour, eventually conceding a messy goal. But almost as importantly, the response was quick and fierce, a most positive element.

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Match Review: FC Barcelona 3-0 SD Eibar

Match Review: FC Barcelona 3-0 SD Eibar

One analyzes the process, not the result. It’s a widespread, deeply ingrained yet erroneous mindset doing it the other way around. I didn’t fret for one second tonight that FC Barcelona would walk away winners. There was nothing frustrating or lacking in the first half, it was simply sport, where not everything comes off and inches and microseconds may as well be miles and hours. That’s why one trusts the process. Barça were exceptional in the opening 20 to 25 minutes tonight. One could highlight the ferocity of ball recovery (certainly fulfilling Pep’s 6 second rule), relentless pressing, the speed of passing and movement and several outrageous mig tocs, and all would be correct. But really it was the steely focus, the intense concentration and unmissable pursuit of excellence. It took a bit of luck in the first and then a lot of class in the second to eventually slay a commendable Eibar 3-0.

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Alba: “We have to think about Eibar first”

Alba: “We have to think about Eibar first”

They [Eibar] are having a great season since being promoted to the first division. I like the way they play football. They have had some very good games away from home.” And that’s where any discussion on Eibar ended at Jordi Alba’s press conference yesterday as journalists wanted to get into talking about the clásico next weekend as well as focus on star players.

Regarding the enormous came coming up in Madrid, at least Alba showed some smarts with his spot on answer, “We have to think about Eibar first, because if we don’t win but Madrid do, then they’ll just be a point off us. We have to take it game by game because every match is like a final.”

Alba’s thought on Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and Jérémy Mathieu after the jump.

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First Impressions: Goalkeepers

First Impressions: Goalkeepers

A pause in club football for the international break provides an opportune moment for some reflection and projection. With about a sixth of the season over and done with, the totalBarça writing team looks into “First Impressions” of the Luis Enrique tenure. The series dives into each positional unit and considers whether there is novelty, areas for improvement, issues of concern and more that may factor into how the 2014/15 season could play out.

Considering how little time the two spent together, Alex Song and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen can hardly be remembered as Barça teammates. Yet perhaps Song’s clumsiness in training on August 11th will end up the beginning of the end for Ter Stegen’s FC Barcelona career. If that sounds extreme, it’s because it is. But is it possible? Most definitely. The Cameroonian’s knee into the German’s spine almost certainly stopped Ter-Stegen beginning La Liga as the number one following his excellent pre-season performances and Claudio Bravo’s gaffe against Napoli. So often in professional sports one’s misfortune is another’s blessing. Coincidence, especially timely ones, can seem innocuous at the time nonetheless prove anything but so at the end. With each additional minute Bravo remains unbeaten his roots between the sticks dig in deeper and Barça’s goal keeping situation becomes increasingly nuanced.

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2014/15 Copa del Rey draw

2014/15 Copa del Rey draw

This morning the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) conducted the 2014/15 Copa del Rey draw, and FC Barcelona take on Second Division B, Spain’s third league tier, side SD Huesca. The first leg is on December 3rd away, with the return happening in Barcelona on December 17th. This will be the first time Barça and Huesca have ever squared off.

And as one can see from the image, assuming results go as one would expect, if Barça can navigate past Huesca they will take on the winner of the Valladolid-Elche tie and after that one of either Real Madrid or Atlético Madrid.

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Video of the Day: Goals, goals, goals

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A very Messi decade

A very Messi decade

9+25+36+40+51+53+55+60+50+46+9 = 434. 1+8+17+16+38+47+53+73+60+41+7 = 361. 0+3+3+13+17+11+24+29+15+14+7 = 135. 434 games played, 361 goals scored, 135 assists given. 434, 361, 135. That’s Lionel Messi’s decade in the FC Barcelona first team by the numbers, for on this day, 10 years ago Messi officially took the pitch in blaugrana for the first time.

Had Newell’s Old Boys or another Argentine club committed to paying the medical expenses a young Messi critically needed, nothing would have been the same. Had Carles Rexach not fought against the majority at the club week after week and Joan Lacueva not personally paid for Messi’s treatment while the club foundered in disagreement before eventually signing the player on a napkin, nothing would have been the same. Anyone who has ever wished more from Messi, or even worse wished him elsewhere, should feel entirely ashamed. That Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini found his way to Barça is the most fortunate of occurrences a football fan could ever dream of. So feel lucky, feel appreciative, feel blessed and more you’ve been around to witness history unfold, that one day you can say you and I saw Leo Messi, the very best there ever was.

To relive the highlights of Messi’s 10 years, FC Barcelona have put together this excellent interactive timeline.

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Suárez and his golden boot

Suárez and his golden boot

For the first time in seven seasons the European Golden Boot winner goes to a player from the Premier League. Well, kind of. Firstly, while the goals were scored (31 goals) for Liverpool, Luis Suárez is now an FC Barcelona player. Secondly, for the first time since 2004/5 the award is shared, this year with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

Suárez received the award this evening in Barcelona from Liverpool legend and Kenny Dalglish, who described the Uruguayan as a “fantastic player, its a pleasure to watch him play”. The striker himself was very thankful to Liverpool and all they did for him. “This is a very special moment. I want to thank first the most important people, my wife and daughters, and then to everyone at Liverpool, teammates and staff, for the three and a half years I was there. Now I start a new era, I am fulfilling a dream being here at Barça.”

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Training: Rafinha, Vermaelen & Adriano work on recovery

Training: Rafinha, Vermaelen & Adriano work on recovery

The Cuitat Esportiva Joan Gamper is a desolate places these days with only five senior players (Martín Montoya, Douglas, Dani Alves, Jordi Masip, Xavi Hernández) at the facility for training. They were joined this morning by B team members Pol Calvet and Sergio Juste, while Joan Barbarà, José del a Fuente and Luis Enrique himself got involved in exercises.

The main news is that Rafinha Alcánatara, Thomas Vermaelen and Adriano, who is struggling with thing twinge, trained separately on specific recovery work.

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FC Barcelona reiterates support of right to vote

FC Barcelona reiterates support of right to vote

FC Barcelona have sent an official letter of support signed by club president Josep Maria Bartomeu to Joan Rigol, the former president of the Parliament of Catalonia, in which the club reiterates its support to the National Pact for the Right to Decide (Pacte Nacional pel Dret a Decidir) campaign, of which Rigol is the figurehead. By now, that Catalonia as a region wishes to vote for independence from Spain on November 9th is global knowledge and make no mistake, the fervor in the region is the hottest it’s ever been since the end of General Francisco Franco’s rule and the start of democracy. The issue is very nuanced, paralleling intimately to the country’s financial crisis, and is obviously one involving extreme emotion. Not to mention the fact the referendum vote itself is currently under review by the national constitutional court for legality and that the Spanish government is uncompromising on its view that independence is not an option for Catalonia.

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Estrella Damm extended as key partner

Estrella Damm extended as key partner

FC Barcelona have extended their partnership with local beer giants Estrella Damm until the 2017/18 season. The club and the brewery have long been partners and with the extension of the agreement, Estrella Damm continue to be the exclusive provider of beer to all local Barça facilities. They will additionally retain their presence as the exclusive drink at the Camp Nou Lounge.

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Quote of the Day: Deity

Quote of the Day: Deity

It’s complicated, the two are fantastic footballers. Cristiano is an athlete, and Messi is god, you see him on the pitch and it’s spectacular. He’s so difficult to mark, I’d always want him in my team, as would I Cristiano, but I think I’d stick with Messi.

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Apamanshop, FC Barcelona’s latest sponsor

Apamanshop, FC Barcelona’s latest sponsor

The sponsorship bonanza shows no sign of stopping as FC Barcelona announced their latest partnership with Apamanshop, a Japanese real estate agency chain. Apamanshop agreed a regional sponsor contract with the club from the 1st of November 2014 until 2016. The company will be using Barça related imagery for marketing campaigns in public spaces, mass transportation venues, shops and as part of product promotion.

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Everyone wants Martin but who will he choose?

Everyone wants Martin but who will he choose?

By now people in the football loop have heard of Martin Ødegaard. The 15 year old is a seems the real deal football prodigy, making appearances in 2014 in the Norweigan first division and the senior national team, becoming the youngest every footballer ever to accomplish both. He’s now being courted by Europe’s elites, including of course FC Barcelona. Norwegian paper VG reported yesterday that Ødegaard’s manager at Stromsgodet confirmed the club received an official invitation from Barça to come check out the club and the facilities it can offer him.

However the unresolved FIFA ban creates a hurdle. Unless the Court of Sport Arbitration (CAS) overturn FIFA’s ruling or somehow lessen or modify it, Barça will be unable to legally secure Ødegaard for another year or more. Therefore the strategy appears to woo his heart and ask he be patient until the FIFA issue becomes a thing of the past. But with all the other big guns out there loaded with cash to splurge, competition for his talent will be fierce.

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Number of the Day: 1,500

Number of the Day: 1,500

FC Barcelona’s 2-0 victory over the weekend against Rayo took the club’s La Liga victory tally to 1,500. The first ever ictory came back in February 1928, the year La Liga was born, against Racing Santander,with two goals from Parera giving Barça coincidentally a 2-0 win.

Much and more has happened in the 86 years, during which the club has managed to secure 22 league trophies.

Which is your favorite victory of 1,500 to date?

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Historically clean

Historically clean

According to Twitter site @Footy, FC Barcelona became the first team in La Liga to record seven clean sheets in the opening seven games. Additionally, that means Claudio Bravo clean sheet record in the league jumps to 630, giving him the club record of minutes without conceding since the start of a new league campaign.

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Number of the Day: 540

Number of the Day: 540

Claudio Bravo unbeaten league run stands at 540 minutes. If he manages to keep the ball out of his net past the first 20 minute against Rayo, Bravo will set a club record for minutes without conceding since the start of the league, beating the previous record of 560 held by Pedro María Artola in 1977/78.

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Match Preview: Rayo Vallecano vs FC Barcelona

Match Preview: Rayo Vallecano vs FC Barcelona

What’s not to like about Rayo Vallecano? An unglamorous side from an unglamorous but prideful Madrid neighborhood,  Rayo is a team that truly matters to its supporters. Few grounds in Spain get the type of fervered support Rayo enjoy. And unlike other La Liga sides who all too predictably park the bus against the elite, Rayo take the pitch unafraid, with all guns blazing. Sure, that’s the reason they’ve conceded 16 to Barça in their last three homes games, but it’s also the reason manager Paco Jémez took them to a club record 8th place in 2013 and the reason they’re an entertaining side to watch and nerve-wracking one to oppose despite operating off a shoestring budget. Luis Enrique named Rayo pre-match favorites, which cannot be taken too literally. The point he was making was Barça cannot underestimate a Rayo side that punishes lethargy.

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Legal: Bad news for Messi & Neymargate continues

Legal: Bad news for Messi & Neymargate continues

Today’s news out of the court room in Gavà was not what Lionel Messi wanted. Despite recommendations from the tax authorities that Lionel himself had no understanding or say in his financial management, today the court rejected that notion which means Messi will stand trial for tax evasion. The worst case scenario would be a 21 million euro fine and a one year suspended prison sentence according to ESPNFC. Messi has five days to lodge an appeal against this decision. All the legal details below.

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Player Reactions: Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 FC Barcelona

Player Reactions: Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 FC Barcelona

Andrés Iniesta, Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic gave their views on the first loss of the season following the 3-2 result in Paris. Iniesta made it clear that at the highest level of football one “pays dearly for mistakes“. He conceded rightly that Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) were during “some phases the better side” but also correctly stressed that Barça “reacted when [PSG] scored” but just couldn’t find the equalizer. Still, this defeat means nothing in the grand scheme of things and there is no point dwelling on a defeat to one of Europe’s best squads. “It’s tough not to win but we have to keep going. t’s not easy to play here in the Champions League. But we need to carry on as we have done until now. Nobody gives anything away for free. We lost but we just have to press on.

Additional commentary from Masch and Rakitic below.

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Match Preview: Paris Saint-Germaine vs FC Barcelona

Match Preview: Paris Saint-Germaine vs FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona is in Paris tonight for what is unquestionably their toughest fixture in this season’s Champions League group phase. However, despite the more than a billion euro Qatari outlay, Paris Saint-Germaine (PSG) is actually significantly weakened by the absence of two key players. There are also off the field issues impacting the French champion in very real ways. In that regard, despite home field advantage, the general feeling is this game couldn’t have come at a better time for Luis Enrique and his visiting Barça.

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All You Need to Know: Paris Saint-Germain

All You Need to Know: Paris Saint-Germain

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Number of the Day: 33

On Tuesday two former teammates on the pitch become adversaries on the benches. Laurent Blanc and Luis Enrique both joined FC Barcelona the 1996/97 season as free agents, playing in 33 games together, of which 22 were victories and 6 were defeats. That would be Blanc’s only season in blaugrana, moving on to Marseille, but Luis Enrique stayed and enjoyed many successful seasons.

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Player Reactions: FC Barcelona 6-0 Granada CF

Player Reactions: FC Barcelona 6-0 Granada CF

The public rejoiced in yesterday evening’s 6-0 rendition, and while the players themselves were also content, it was evident nobody was getting carried away. Xavi Hernández was delighted following the match after proving beyond doubt how vital he is to fluidity, giving Luis Enrique proper thought about using the veteran so sparingly. “It was great to play all 90 minutes. I think I can still play and it was a lot of fun.” The captain was pleased that despite early signs of failing to manage an opponent’s same-old same-old parked bus tactic, he was happy solutions were found and that following a worrisome display against Málaga the team “really needed to come out and play a good match, and we did that.

Xavi made a note of downplaying sweeping and grandiose decorations of revolutionary change in playing style. “Its not as different as it seems. We are getting to ball inside a little more, with a bit less pressure on the wings. You know, offensive stuff. But everything else is just the same.” However, he also took take to give specific praise to one of the new men, Ivan Rakitic. “He is just a total package on both attack and defenceHe doesn’t turn the ball over, plays smoothly, and can really go up and get the ball. What a great signing.

More after the jump from Sergi Roberto, Javier Mascherano and Rakitic himself.

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Legal: Laportagate advances but towards an end

Legal: Laportagate advances but towards an end

About a week ago, the FC Barcelona board announced officially their reasoning behind pursuing legal action against Joan Laporta and his administration, of which the trial began on the same day. One can find the history of the legal dispute here. The most recent announcement from the club highlights that the former administration submitted final accounts despite auditors Deloitte finding issues with the economic reality of the numbers, such as double booking incomes and not including necessary financial provisions. The proceedings has been reported to take two weeks, so sometime next week. The club statement after the jump.

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Luis Suárez in Uruguay squad

Luis Suárez in Uruguay squad

Luis Suárez’s preparation for October 25th’s clásico continues with the striker joining his native Uruguay for friendlies in the Middle East. Suárez has been included in the provisional squad by national team manager Óscar Tabárez for matches against Saudi Arabia (October 10) and Oman (October 13).

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