It took 81 minutes, but Barcelona finally managed to break down a stubborn Villarreal side at El Madrigal last night. On the one hand, it was a familiar sight: the home team defending deep and compact, launching counterattacks into open space behind Barça’s high line. But the Barcelona side that met Villarreal on the pitch today was distinctly unlike anything seen in the last two seasons. They created numerous chances against an excellent defensive side, looking relatively composed and solid at the back, before a youth player and out-and-out striker managed to net the game-winner. All new, all exciting.
Barcelona play Villarreal away this weekend at the Yellow Submarine’s famous home stadium, El Madrigal. However, in recent years Barcelona have been nearly as comfortable at El Madrigal as at home, having not lost a game there since 2007. Their last six visits have yielded two 0-0 draws and four wins for the Catalans, including a whopping 1-4 victory in 2010. Last season’s 2-3 win was a tight game, but Luis Enrique’s side will look to dispatch the game early on Sunday.
Luis Enrique was delighted with his first game in charge of FC Barcelona, a strong 3-0 win at home to Elche CF. Goals aside, the match was full of promising signs for the “Lucho era” including high pressing, quick passing, and sparkling performances by debutants Munir El Haddadi and Ivan Rakitić. “The game had a little bit of everything,” Luis Enrique said. “Elche were very organised at first but we gradually started creating chances and showed what resources we’ve got.” Javier Mascherano’s red card “made the game harder for us” according to the Asturian manager, “but we knew we had to take less risks, then individual actions in attack helped us.” Read more quotes from the boss after the jump.
Before last season, FC Barcelona and Elche CF hadn’t played each other in nearly 25 years. But before that, they were frequent opponents for the Catalans, and not without success: Elche has beaten Barça 8 times at home, and drawn 7 out of their 20 games at Camp Nou. Read more about the history of Barcelona vs Elche encounters after the jump.
Ivan Rakitić, Barcelona’s new midfield signing and the star of their preseason, gave an interview with German magazine Kicker. In it he discusses his move from Sevilla to Barça, his role in Luis Enrique’s team and admiration for Xavi Hernández. Read on below for more from the brilliant Croatian midfielder.
Neymar Jr. has been called up by second time around Brazil coach Dunga for friendlies against Ecuador and Colombia in early September. Dunga famously left a teenage Neymar behind for the 2010 World Cup, but with the Barcelona superstar given the medical all-clear after his injury, there was no reason not to pick him. Dani Alves, however, was left out of the Brazil squad for the first time in years as a result of his declining performances for both club and country. Adriano also does not make it and looks unlikely to ever again.
Barcelona teammates Claudio Bravo, Javier Mascherano, and Lionel Messi have all been called up to their respective national teams for friendlies as well.
Rafinha Alcantara has been called up to the Brazilian under-21 team for three friendlies in September which will be held in Qatar. The matches against Qatar, Lebanon, and Egypt will serve as preparation for the under-21s for the 2016 Olympics, which Brazil are hosting. The Olympics are the only football competition that Brazil has competed in but not won, and youth coach Alexandre Gallo is beginning his team’s preparations well in advance to have a better shot at winning gold. Rafinha featured for Brazil with the under-20 team at the 2013 South American Youth Championship.
Marc-André ter Stegen suffered a lumbar contusion (bruise) during the afternoon training session today. The injury will be examined on Tuesday to see when the German goalkeeper can return to training. The team’s next and final friendly is next Monday, August 18th, when they will face Club León for the Gamper trophy.
As promised, Andoni Zubizarreta and Josep Bartomeu seem to have at last delivered the signings that have been demanded for years, giving Barcelona four natural centre-backs for the first time since 2010. Jérémy Mathieu was signed for €20 million, while Thomas Vermaelen has been brought in for a rumored €15m + 4m in add-ons for winning the Champions League. As is inevitable, following both of these signings cules all over the world and online have immediately broken into debate about whether they are good enough for Barça. Mathieu is too old and not a natural centre-back, the argument goes, Vermaelen is old, injury-prone and benched due to poor form, and both are too expensive. While there are some valid points, they are shrouded in the overriding negativity and unrealistic expectations that has surrounded every Barcelona transfer in the last decade. But what happens if you take those criticisms and apply them to Barcelona’s greatest teams?
The results of a vote conducted by the first-team players on Tuesday concerning the captain and three vice-captains for the 2014/15 season have been announced today. Although the captains were democratically elected, they follow the Barça tradition of leading by seniority – Xavi Hernández will lead the team with Andrés Iniesta as his vice-captain, while Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets round out the quarter, replacing the departed Carles Puyol and Víctor Valdés. The four have spent 23, 18, 14, and 9 years at the club respectively. Messi captains Argentina and has worn the Barça armband on occasions when none of the four official captains were present, while Busquets is a true rookie, having never captained his team for club or country. Nevertheless, the choice of Busquets over Gerard Piqué, who he shares seniority with, and Javier Mascherano, who was named by Luis Enrique as a player with leadership qualities, indicates the players’ respect and admiration for Barcelona’s new number 5. These four will be critical in leading Barça through transition as Luis Enrique remakes and reinvigorates the team.
Barcelona lost 1-o to SSC Napoli in their third preseason friendly of the season. The Catalans played well for the majority of the game, but were undone by a late strike from distance which Claudio Bravo mishandled. Ivan Rakitić was particularly impressive, looking more comfortable in the Barça system by the day. Bravo, Rakitić and Pedro Rodriguez all shared some thoughts after the game – check them out below.
Xavi Hernández gave a press conference today, in which he announced that he is staying at FC Barcelona and will see out his contract despite initial hesitations about continuing following a rough end to the 2013/14 season. The press conference was revealing and honest and the Barcelona legend seems to be assured and comfortable under the management of former teammate, Luis Enrique. However, el Maestro has announced that he will be retiring from the Spanish national team. Read on below to hear what Xavi had to say about his two big decisions.
President Josep Maria Bartomeu recently spoke about how he wanted to “transform Barcelona.” In his speech, he praised the club’s economic growth, saying, “Barca’s economic health is not the end goal, but it is a good and essential tool that will guarantee the independence of the Club and benefit athletic and infrastructure investments.” As always, he concluded the speech by noting that Barcelona had reduced the debt and increased revenue to record levels. This has been a familiar party line from Bartomeu and his predecessor, Sandro Rosell, since they joined the board of directors in 2010 (Rosell famously declaring that the club could not afford color copiers). Despite running on a platform of transparency, rarely have these men spoken of the vision they have for the club in anything but vague platitudes - rather, the details and the accomplishments have come in the spreadsheets, in the money saved and the money earned. Read on for more.
FC Barcelona could be very close to signing their first centre-back since 2010 as rumors intensify around Valencia CF defender Jérémy Mathieu (30). The Frenchman was the only member of the Valencia squad who did not participate in a friendly against German club SpVgg Bayreuth on Tuesday, despite no reports of injury – usually a sign that a transfer is imminent. More after the jump.
Attacking midfielder Javier Fernández (18), commonly known as Bicho, has joined Barcelona B on a two-year loan from Deportivo de La Coruña. The terms of the deal are rumored to be very similar to Denis Suarez’s loan to Sevilla: A two-year deal with options to buy and buy-back for both sides. Bicho is one of several reinforcements to the Barça B’s midfield after the departures of Suarez, Javier Espinosa, and Ilie Sanchez this summer. Read on below for more on Barcelona B’s newest signing.
In a totalBarça special, we bring to you the Back and Forth series! Throughout the season rumours and stories come and go. We constantly hear and read articles about players leaving, signing and retiring while others compare players, judge coaches and debate who’s better.
Now Eric and Allison are bringing these discussions to you. Both writers will share their views and opinions regarding a certain matter that has been strongly rumoured as of late. Meanwhile, you vote on who you agree with more and share your views in the comments. Back and Forth’s last edition debated who should replace Carles Puyol. Now, it is time for another debatable topic. Shall we begin?
Should Barça sign Luis Suárez?
New Barcelona signing Ivan Rakitić started for Croatia yesterday as his team crushed Cameroon 4-0, eliminating their opponents from the group and setting up a tense final match against Mexico. Rakitić faced fellow Barcelona player Alex Song, who received a red card for a foolish and bizarre running elbow to the back of Mario Mandzukić, as well as former Sevilla teammate Stephane Mbia, with whom he exchanged kits after the game.
FC Barcelona (FCB) held a press conference today to announce some changes to the board of directors. First and foremost, Eduard Coll, the director of the handball team as well as vice president of the FCB Foundation, has resigned from the Barcelona board. Catalan daily SPORT report that this is due to disagreements with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Also, Pilar Guinovart, until recently the director of the Social Area, has stepped down, although she will still remain an employee of the club in other capacities. Taking over her responsibilities is Pau Vilanova, who was named as the new social director back in May, but has now officially been introduced as a member of the Barcelona board.
In many ways, Barcelona versus Atlético has been the defining match of this season. An astonishingly well-organized and defensive team highlighting both the coaching and tactical weaknesses that have come to plague Barcelona, Atlético have marked Barcelona’s downfall with their own ascendancy. With their incredible discipline, teamwork, and fanatical adherence to a single playing philosophy, Atlético Madrid echo the ethos of Guardiola’s Barça, if not the aesthetics, and the current blaugrana team have been unable to overcome this ferocious discipline in six games. In many ways, Saturday’s Liga finale was a microcosm for their experiences this entire season. Barcelona started strong and faded sharply in the second half; the most-maligned players on the field (Javier Mascherano, Gerard Piqué, Dani Alves) were some of the game’s best performers; a key injury turned the game for them, while Lionel Messi never seemed to get out of first gear. All familiar sights to the average cule, but ones that deserve further dissection today.
Win or lose, tonight’s dramatic finale to the 2013/14 La Liga is sure to be spectacular, and it is a fitting conclusion to what has been a rollercoaster season for FC Barcelona and the top three teams in general. Overall, La Liga has been much more competitive than in recent years: In addition to having a genuine third challenger for the first time in several years, the title race has had more twists and turns than in the previous 100-point Ligas, in which dropping points more than a handful of times spelled certain defeat. Read on below for a look back at a crazy season.
FC Barcelona have announced a new sponsorship deal with global tools provider Stanley Black & Decker. The latest addition to an ever-growing list of club sponsors, this deal will run until 2017, with an optional extension for an extra season. Black & Decker will be able to use FC Barcelona’s image in marketing its products, as well as sponsoring club friendlies and receiving “hospitality rights” at Camp Nou. In return, promotional campaigns like the new “Striker Challenge” will encourage Black & Decker consumers to access Barça-themed activities when purchasing SB&D products. Said FCB vice-president Carles Villarubi: “This is a strategic alliance that goes much further than a traditional sponsorship deal, because it unites two internationally prestigious entities, both of which feature prominently in the everyday lives of so many homes around the world.”
According to Mundo Deportivo, Victor Valdés said goodbye to his teammates today, giving a short speech in the locker room . After Valdés’ ACL injury, President Josep Bartomeu offered him a place with the team next season if Victor’s plans changed, but it seems that Barcelona’s number one will depart this summer as planned. An undeniable legend of the club and arguably Barça’s best ever keeper, Valdés announced almost one year ago exactly that he would not renew his contract and is strongly rumored to be joining French club AS Monaco this summer.
In Barcelona’s penultimate match of the season, La Liga finally stopped making any sort of sense. FC Barcelona-Elche, which was supposed to be a 0-0 snoozefest, turned into an insanely open, back-and-forth bit of madness (though still 0-0). Each of the top three teams in its “two-horse race” dropped points for the seventh straight game between them. And Barça, whom the media have unequivocally dubbed the worst-performing of the Spanish three this season, somehow still have a shot at defending their Liga title. It was a day to remember, the last piece of the puzzle before what is sure to be a historic finale.
Dani Alves spoke to Catalan radio RAC1 recently about the state of FC Barcelona and his place at the club. Alves has frequently been a target of blame for the team’s failures this season, by fans and media alike, and is now strongly linked with a summer move to Paris Saint-Germain. Though Alves has certainly not been in his best Barcelona form, the vitriol leveled at him has been excessive and ungrateful considering the critical role the Brazilian has played in Barça’s best ever team.
Dutch club AFC Ajax have decided not to use a clause in Bojan Krkić’s contract which would have allowed them to extend the young Spaniard’s loan for another year. The decision was made shortly after Ajax finished first in the Eredivisie, a title which Bojan dedicated to the late Tito Vilanova. While Ajax embark on a postseason training trip to Indonesia, Bojan will remain behind to train in Amsterdam for two more weeks, after which he will presumably return to Spain. The former La Masia phenomenon has a contract with Barcelona until 2015 – although it is possible he might return to play for his home club after three years on loan, it seems much more likely that he will be sold at last this summer.
B-team players Jordi Masip, Sergi Gomez, Sergi Samper and Edu Bedia joined the first team for a training session this morning as Barcelona prepare for Sunday’s game against Elche. Dani Alves, who had spent several days recuperating individually, returned to train with the group and was congratulated by his teammates for his 31st birthday yesterday. Xavi Hernández continued training separately, but also rejoined the team for part of the training session. After the morning’s training was done, the team held a barbecue lunch at the Cituat Esportiva, the first such lunch they’ve had since December. Good to see the team staying unified after an extremely difficult few weeks.
With FIFA’s announcement that the transfer ban will be suspended pending appeal, culés worldwide took to the web to offer their personal plans for the coming summer. Silly season, as it is affectionately known, has well and truly begun. This year promises to be the silliest in years, as words like “revolution” and “overhaul” are bandied about. Between the club’s refusal to change or evolve and the threat of the transfer ban falling a year or two from now, the prevailing mentality is that Barcelona must completely reshape the squad, as Pep Guardiola did in the summer of 2008.