In a season when things have not been going very well for FC Barcelona, one would expect that the coach would turn to the club’s endless conveyor belt of youth talent for the answer to the team’s lack of fresh legs and fresh ideas. Instead, players from FC Barcelona B have only seen 72 minutes of first team football this season. Read more after the jump.
The past couple of weeks have been horrid for culés. We’ve seen our beloved team lose the Champions League, the Copa Del Rey and the Liga (most probably, given the other contenders’ form) in three matches. We needed our team to respond, to show some signs of life. Well, if a response is a true exhibition of fighting spirit, then the game against Athletic was the perfect response. FC Barcelona came back from behind to beat a team that is challenging for Champions League football. They provided enough reason for optimism by playing their finest football for the final 15 minutes. Jump for more.
Barcelona host last-placed Real Betis tomorrow in the 32nd match of La Liga. Only seven games remain, as Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, and Real Madrid remain locked in what has been the tightest title race in recent memory. The Catalans have been navigating rough waters lately: Severe injuries to key players Víctor Valdés and Gerard Piqué, a tough home draw to Atlético Madrid, and the shocking transfer ban imposed by FIFA earlier this week. Barça badly need a win – fortunately, Real Betis are not the most difficult opposition.
And once again there is no victor. Two moments of magic were all that separated two gargantuan performances that will be praised in completely contrasting ways. FC Barcelona gave it absolutely all they had; yet in another very new-age Barça-Atletí flavored meeting the final score read 1-1. Of the encounters this season, tonight Atlético most embodied the ghost of Diego Simeone the footballer: Fouling consistently and physically. German referee Felix Brych was delighted to produce the first yellow, but when a second was more than warranted, the man in the middle cowered. Leo Messi had a quiet night thanks to his man-marking shadows, but the remainder of the side performed admirably and despite a godly Andrés Iniesta and terrific showings from Sergio Busquets, Neymar and Alexis Sánchez, the win was out of grasp.
Three times so far this season have La Liga’s two Argentine coaches come to figurative blows. And three times so far this season no one could be declared the victor after 90 minutes (if one discounts the away-goals rule in the Spanish Supercup).
In a matter of hours, the season-long stalemate between Atlético Madrid and FC Barcelona will spill over into the UEFA Champions League onto the pitch of Camp Nou, and not a previously ambivalent soccer-watching soul will be able to turn away.
So what do we know about Lionel Messi so far? All-time goalscorer for Barça, four Ballon d’Ors , three Champions Leagues… The list goes on and on. Messi has a knack for overwriting record books and placing his name wherever he can. He torments opposition players with his godly skills and killer finishing. Yet, one fact still remains strange to the stats of the Argentinean: Lionel Messi has never scored in Espanyol’s new stadium Cornellà since it opened in 2009. With 236 goals in the league for the little man, it seems strange that Messi has yet to celebrate in the Espanyol stadium despite scoring goals against Espanyol in Camp Nou and in Montjuïc. It almost seems like the stadium which will host Saturday’s Derbi Barceloní has a curse over the 26-year old.
Will he break it today?
Yesterday FC Barcelona defeated Celta Vigo 3-0, moving up to second place as Real Madrid lost later on in the evening at Sevilla. It should have been a cause for celebration, but the victory was deeply bittersweet, tainted by the image of Víctor Valdés crying as he was stretchered off the field with a torn ACL, presumably never to don the blaugrana kit again. The heroic keeper has done wonders to get Barcelona this far in the title race, but now the Catalans will have to make it to the finish line without him. With eight games left in the season, Barça are one point out of first place. Win out and they take the title: It’s a daunting task, but against Celta Vigo on Wednesday, Barcelona took one step closer to their objective.
Do you know many center-backs with the ability to swing in accurate free-kicks, in Andrea Pirlo style, time and time again? I don’t know many, but FC Barcelona may have one of those extraordinary center-backs with such uncanny ability. 18-year-old Carlos Blanco has been the author of many spectacular goals during his eight years as a blaugrana. The odds are that in each compilation of the best goals of the season in the academy, you’ll see at least one of his pearlers. Recently, he has added another two to the collection with an audacious lob from the halfway line away to Damm and a spectacular long-range free-kick against Gavà. Surely, there is no one at La Masia possessing such accuracy and power in the shot as the 18-year-old centerback, captain and undisputed leader of the Juvenil B, Carlos Blanco.
Following a spectacular clásico, FC Barcelona quickly welcome Celta Vigo to Camp Nou in round 30 of La Liga in their quest to regain the top spot. They are now one point short of top spot leaders Atlético and Real Madrid, and need to win their nine remaining games for any chance to win the league.
The game against Real Madrid is a clear message that Barça are out to take down any team that stands in their way of winning the treble, even when the odds and the predictions say otherwise. However, the problem was never the games against the big teams, or the small teams for that matter. The shocking defeats and draws that brought Real Madrid back into the running came from sudden drops of form, and an unreliability that the team would maintain a high run. So will this bad form resurface against Celta.
This season has been truly spectacular so far. La Liga has been more of a roller-coaster than what people used to call “a boring two horse race.” After Barça dominated the top spot for most of the season, a slip up in February gave Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid the advantage to fight for that position. But after Sunday’s El Clásico, Barça were back in the title race with only one point separating them from the top two.
But now we enter the final stage of the league, with only nine games left to decide who will be crowned champion come May. These 27 points won’t be for the faint hearted, and if the players were serious about their treble talk, then the next nine games can only end in victory. Check out below each of the three team’s final nine matches, right after the jump.
FC Barcelona went to the Santiago Bernabéu with the hope of closing the gap with a highflying Real Madrid, and take their last chance at possibly winning the league, as Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino said in his prematch press conference. They managed to accomplish that in an exciting 7-goal game, that ended with the visitors claiming all three points in a spectacular and nerve-wrecking contest.
Iniesta and Messi were the absolute stars of the show, with the former pulling off some of his best illusionist moves, leaving behind some of the greatest players like a child leaves rag dolls behind. With this win, Barça managed to end Real Madrid’s 31-game unbeaten run that extended back to the last Clásico, when the blaugrana defeated their rivals 2-1 at the Camp Nou. Also, with this win, FC Barcelona reaffirmed that they are not done with the league yet, and sent out a clear message to the strongest teams in Spain and in Europe that they can still dispatch any pretender team around.
The round of 16 is over, eight teams have qualified to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, and the competition looks as intense as ever. There are no easy teams left, maybe some weaker than others, but all eight portray some of the very best of what Europe has to offer. Come Friday, the draw will be held in Nyon, Switzerland, and the quarter final matches will be decided with the first leg to be played on April 1st & 2nd, while the second leg will be played the following week on April 8th & 9th. Check out the possible teams Barça might meet after the jump.
Vincent Kompany said pre-match there is “nothing better than chasing a lost cause”, well then he must have thoroughly enjoyed his evening at Camp Nou, because from minute one to ninety, that’s all it ever was. FC Barcelona bossed Manchester City most of the evening, and if not for a couple of scandalous decisions early on, the game would have been over with barely 20 minutes played. But despite the best efforts of referee Stephane Lannoy and his crew, Barça are once again through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
There is still plenty to play for. Nary a culé out there will say all is lost. Yes, Bayern Munich still looms large despite drawing Tuesday to Arsenal. Yes, eternal rivals Real Madrid appear to be on an upswing that could very easily annihilate the Catalans’ chances of a fifth La Liga title in six years should they slip up any further. Yes, the Copa del Rey final against Real will also be a nervy test, but at least Barça go into the return leg of the Champions League Round of 16 with a two-goal advantage over Manchester City FC.
“In no case should we have in our heads that we already have a good result,” FC Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino said ahead of Wednesday evening’s clash at the Camp Nou.
So much for thinking positive.
Barcelona suffered yet another defeat this weekend, this time against Valladolid, meaning that the club’s title chances took a big blow. Many players seemed rather uninterested on the José Zorilla pitch, prompting many culés to call for wholesale changes this summer. A big squad overhaul is easier said than done though, and it doesn’t always work.
The pre-match word was reaction. While the final score suggests mission accomplished, it wasn’t the swashbuckling and electrifying performance that many expected and craved. Nevertheless, all things considered, the 4-1 victory over Almería was three pretty easy points. Sports teams never play to their potential all the time. Cite the money footballers make and whatever else, but as players and managers constantly claim, it isn’t always possible to turn it on. Push come to shove, this is still their job, and let’s not pretend everyone is always at 100%. If not for poor finishing, the first half should have ended 4-1 or 5-1. That didn’t happen, but Almería were still as threatening as a gazelle to a lion, and Barça treated them as such.
I got a lot right in my three part Manchester City scouting report, but one sentence was very wrong: “Barça will need to be at their best to triumph over the 180 minutes, from front to back.” FC Barcelona barely had to kick into third gear to defeat a cowardly City side improperly instructed by Manuel Pellegrini. There is no question the red card was critical, but anyone and their dog who know a lick about football would never have started Martín Dimichelis. There are no excuses whatsoever after spending over half a billion pounds on transfers and then starting him. I was erroneous with the sentence above, but not here: “Barça should rejoice if that is the case [Dimichelis starting], because despite his manager’s undying faith, Demichelis is an absolute liability.” And rejoice they did, a liability he was. A 2-0 away defeat is as good as it gets and Barça need only not trip over themselves in three weeks time in order to advance to the next round.
In part 1 of the series, Manchester City’s goalkeeper and defense were scrutinized and assessed to be the weakest component, though not exactly weak. The news doesn’t get rosier with the midfield, and as mentioned in part 1, will be a five man contingent with a double-pivot, Manuel Pellegrini’s formation.
Don’t kid yourself for a moment, Manchester City are a challenging and scary proposition in many aspects. No team in Europe’s elite five have scored more goals than Manuel Pellegrini’s slick attacking force. But they do not top the Premiership, a function of ever-patronizing “unexpected” results against “lower” opposition. City certainly have much to concern Barça, but perfect they are not. Below is a part one of a multiple part scouting report on FC Barcelona’s formidable Champions League opponents Manchester City. Today’s focus is the Citizens’ defense.
Although they weren’t able to get the win, FC Barcelona earned a 1-1 draw away against Real Sociedad and a 3-1 victory on aggregate to advance to the Copa del Rey final, their fourth in six years, where they will play Real Madrid. Despite coming into the match with a 2-0 lead, Gerardo Martino took the tie very seriously, as Real Sociedad are famously difficult for Barcelona to play against away – the last time the Catalans won at La Anoeta was 2007. Martino named a largely first-choice lineup, but opted to play Andrés Iniesta as a fourth midfielder rather than a winger like Alexis Sánchez. Martino has experimented with this formation a couple of times lately, but this was the first time he used it for his starting lineup, and I think it merits some focus.
Perhaps there’s something to the February curse after all: On the first day of the month, FC Barcelona lost their first home game of the season, to a Valencia squad that was completely revamped over the last days of the transfer window. It was also the first time that Barcelona have conceded more than two goals this season, as well as one of the worst all-round performances of the season. In some ways, the incredibly poor nature of the match is reassuring: It is clearly an outlier to what has been an otherwise excellent season for Gerardo Martino, just one of those bad games that every team has. While hardly pleasant for players and cules alike, the blaugrana should be able to bounce back without difficulty.
On a normal day, this would be a one-paragraph post announcing FC Barcelona’s semi-final opponents in the Copa del Rey. However, today, lurking behind this innocent headline is an account of epic mismanagement and of the pernicious way that the global economic crisis is seeping ever deeper into the game we all love. Social commentary, history lesson, Copa semi-finals: This post has it all! Follow me after the break for more.
What do you call five players playing for the same club producing seven hat-tricks in less than five months? A class of magicians.
Cristian Tello is the fifth Barça player to score a hat-trick this season, joining the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr, Pedro Rodríguez and Alexis Sánchez. Tata Martino has really outdone himself turning a team that was once regarded as a one-man team, with only Lionel Messi scoring all the hat-tricks, super hat-tricks and that Manita of goals scored against Bayer Leverkusen, to a team full of magicians. More about each of these player’s magic tricks after the jump.
After an awful first half, FC Barcelona managed to come back from a goal down against Levante UD to win the quarterfinal’s first leg with four goals to one. Full credit goes to the new, devastating Messi-Tello partnership, who single handedly managed to exploit Levante’s high defensive line. Cristian Tello scored three of the four goals, all assisted by Lionel Messi, while the fourth goal came from a Juanfran own goal.
Barça’s starting XI consisted of Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Bartra, Adriano, Song, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Pedro, Tello, and Messi, while Levante’s starting XI was made up of Javi Jimenez, Vyntra, Barral, El Zhar, Juanfran, Nikos, El Adoua, Xumetra, Sergio, Nagore, and Camarasa.
FC Barcelona progressed to the Copa del Rey’s quarterfinals after a 2-0 away win (6-0 on aggregate) against Getafe CF. Both of Barça’s goals came from Lionel Messi in his first start since recovering from injury. However, the game was interrupted midway through the first half after Neymar Jr. suffered what seemed like a sprained ankle but more tests to come. The team will face Levante UD in the next round.
The game was always going to be tight, but a 0-0 finish does not typically go with Atlético Madrid versus FC Barcelona. Perhaps it’s something to get used to because one of the most impressive managers in world football, Diego Simeone, has created one of the best drilled, physically fit and tactically disciplined teams around. Three encounters this season, 1-1 the combined score-line. Each team won a half, it ended scoreless and there is still nothing to separate first from second in Spain.
The holiday festivities may have come to an end, but FC Barcelona emerged from all the jollity and merriment with a ruthless 4-0 mauling of lowly Elche in La Liga.
Now with a looming clash with second-placed Atlético Madrid on Saturday, coach Gerardo Martino must resist the urge to use all his ammo on a home match against Getafe in the Copa del Rey, having just bested in the final game of 2013 the very same club 2-5 in Madrid in the league.
FC Barcelona started the new year with a bang, defeating Elche CF 4-0 at the Camp Nou. The King from Chile, Alexis Sánchez, led the way for the hosts, scoring a hat-trick, while Pedro Rodríguez carrying on his goal scoring form, also put in an excellent performance. ‘El Tata’ Martino’s Barça was entertaining on the eve of the day of the Three Kings, and sent out a clear message to a certain Madrid side waiting for Barça to visit the Vicente Calderón next week. The team can now look forward to the cup tie against Getafe CF.
More after the jump.
In a somewhat similar vein to El Pivote’s Christmas Holiday Report Card, totalBarça youth specialist Savi Marquez tackles the Barça B side and lays down his mid-season progress reports. The grading utilized here, different from El Pivote, is in the fashion of the standard A-F system, including plus and minuses.