Champions League Match Preview: APOEL Nicosia vs FC Barcelona

Champions League Match Preview: APOEL Nicosia vs FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona will face APOEL Nicosia in Cyprus on matchday five of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday evening. There is still plenty to play for from both clubs’ perspectives. Barcelona is one point behind group leader Paris Saint Germain, while APOEL can still muster a Europa League drop-in should it overtake AFC Ajax.

In other news, having just become La Liga’s top scorer, Lionel Messi can break another record Tuesday by scoring one more goal, putting him one past Raúl González’s 71 Champions League goals. The record is Messi’s to lose however. Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo is hot on his heels and could potentially claim the record should Messi not score and the Portuguese net two or more against FC Basel on Wednesday.

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Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

“At the moment, I am living in the present,” said Leo. “I am thinking about having a great year and winning the trophies we want at Barcelona — nothing else. Later, we will see. In football, things change all the time. Although I have always said I would like to stay there forever, sometimes everything does not always go as you want.” Most of us will look at the comments above, and cherrypick the context that satisfies ones need to understand the situation. And not to sound like the hundreds of newspapers that took the free ride with Leo’s comments and create their own fantasies; the truth is – Something big is bothering Messi. Whether he eventually leaves for a bigger club, or leaves to his boyhood club, or even decides to retire in Catalonia, it will be his decision based on his satisfaction.

Let’s get one thing straight before we begin. My opinion on the subject is without a doubt that Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer to have ever graced the football world, let alone the Camp Nou. However, the article you are about to read will be a contradicting and confusing one. I have waited a few days after Leo’s comments to hear all the arguments at hand, the ones for and the ones against the Argentine’s departure, to finally present it to you so each one of you can make your own clear assessment of the situation. So let’s begin.

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Barça B: A case of mismanagement?

Barça B: A case of mismanagement?

Barcelona B were last year’s headline grabbers in the Liga Adelante. The team, despite having a dismal period in autumn (a time when even relegation seemed possible) managed to stage a spectacular comeback to finish in third place, always staying true to the Barça way. Fast forward to the present though, and Barça B find themselves in the same situation as last autumn. What on earth went so wrong?

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On patience, fatigue, and the long haul

On patience, fatigue, and the long haul

Only once the final whistle blew did the red haze start to fade from cule eyes. Looking at the scoreline, it was hard to fathom the bile and spite that had been spewed for the previous two hours. But as the rage started to subside, some questions started to come forward. Would Luis Suárez have been as effective if he had started the game against a fresh, hardworking and disciplined Almería side? Did two away games three days apart, including an unexpected overnight delay in Amsterdam, play a factor in Luis Enrique’s choice of lineups? The international break was put forward as a boon – no Barcelona games for Enrique to worry about – but these fixtures have always been more ache than break for Barça’s players, most of whom have tremendous responsibilities in their national teams.

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Champions League Match Preview: AFC Ajax vs FC Barcelona

Champions League Match Preview: AFC Ajax vs FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona is playing AFC Ajax Amsterdam in Holland, and despite last year’s loss, Barça will be coming out the gates with fire in their eyes, especially considering a loss would drastically change the face of this group. Also, a certain Uruguayan will be making his Champions League debut against his second European club with a point to prove, having missed out on the Ballon d’Or shortlist.

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Match Review: FC Barcelona 0-1 RC Celta de Vigo

Match Review: FC Barcelona 0-1 RC Celta de Vigo

Wastefulness is one of things you never want to have when playing a game of football. You know that you may not get many chances, but those that you do get you finish well. What happens if you get 19 shots, 15 of those being clear-cut chances? Are you allowed to waste them? Of course not. If you do, you are punished. The ball never forgives. If you make mistakes, it stings you. That was pretty much what happened with Barcelona in the match against Celta. The Blaugranas were looking for a response after the clásico, but ended up wasting a catalogue of chances and losing all three points against a valiant Celta side that did basic things well to inflict a second straight league defeat on the Catalans.

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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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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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First Impressions: Midfielders

First Impressions: Midfielders

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.

Over the past few years, FC Barelona’s midfield has arguably been the most consistent and strongest in the world, providing the fans with one less thing to worry about. What in the world is better than having Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets as your midfield trio? And along the way, we’ve seen amazing players like Cesc Fábregas and Thiago Alcântara come and go with both claiming they were’t utilized correctly. What they didn’t know was that change was imminent, and Luis Enrique has already begun reforming his midfield.

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First Impressions: Center-backs

First Impressions: Center-backs

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.

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First Impressions: Forwards

First Impressions: Forwards

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.

“With Neymar on board, I would have planned for the possibility of selling Messi, and some would agree with that, others not.” That was the legendary Dutch Johan Cruyff’s input on Neymar’s purchase by the club last season. And while the Barça legend might have had a point watching the duo last season, he cannot be any more wrong this season. A new coach, a new striker, and a new system. The cycle begins, and the face of its leader would be Luis Enrique. The former Barça player received a job with many problems. From ageing players, to over-dependence on certain ones, to lack of involvement from others. It was clear, the system had to change, and so far it’s been going smoothly. Let’s take a look on how the roles of the three men up front has changed this season.

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First Impressions: Full-backs

First Impressions: Full-backs

A pause in club football provides an opportune moment to do 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.

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The Wall

The Wall

Seven games, seven clean sheets. The thought of Barça maintaining such a record was unthinkable in recent years, yet Luis Enrique has achieved what no club in the history of La Liga has; a perfect start for the defensive line. And while the headlines tomorrow will praise the newly signed goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, I believe that the man behind our successes at the back is the same man many culés doubted when he signed this summer. That man, ladies and gentlemen, would be Jérémy Mathieu.

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UCL Rivals: Paris Saint-Germain

UCL Rivals: Paris Saint-Germain

FC Barcelona will travel to France to square up against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on Tuesday. On paper, the Parisians are Barcelona’s strongest opponents in Group F of the UEFA Champions League and should be Luis Enrique’s toughest match yet. PSG have certainly caused trouble for Barcelona in the past, nearly knocking out Tito Vilanova’s weakened side in the 2012/13 UCL quarterfinals. It took some dramatic late heroics from a half-fit Leo Messi to defeat Carlo Ancelotti’s men, but much has changed in the last year and a half. How will the French giants stack up against Barcelona this time around? Read more after the jump.

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You can see it in their eyes

You can see it in their eyes

I can see it in their eyes because I’ve seen them before. I’ve been on a lot of different football teams during my competitive years and each always had a unique emotional feel and dynamics. Ok, they all weren’t wildly unique to one another, but you knew the special ones from the less special ones. And yes, it wasn’t the Champions League to put it mildly, but for a group of teenage, competitive guys who almost exclusively knew they’d never be playing at a higher level, that they had reached the pinnacle, our treasured regional competitions may as well have been the World Cup to us.

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Match Review: Levante UD 0-5 FC Barcelona

Match Review: Levante UD 0-5 FC Barcelona

Ten minutes into the game, it was a familiar scene. Barcelona were away from home on a shoddy pitch, patiently working the ball back and forth as they tried to break down the two banks of five men defending deep in front of the opposition goal. Then it happened – a stray pass in midfield fell to Levante, who broke quickly into the spaces left behind the fullbacks. Down Barcelona’s left, evading a desperate challenge from the exposed centre-back, then crossing to the unmarked man on the opposite flank. An easy goal – Barcelona have seen it too many times over the past two seasons.

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Sergi Samper: A culé for life

Sergi Samper: A culé for life

Sergi Samper became the third La Masia graduate to make his official first team debut under Luis Enrique after Lucho trusted him with a starting spot in Barcelona’s Champions League opening match against APOEL Nicosia. Culés were clearly pleased with the 19-year-old’s performance on a night that didn’t bring out the best of the blaugrana, but many Barça fans were surprised by the midfielder, who seamlessly stepped into the shoes of the midfield’s Mr. Dependable, Sergio Busquets, his idol. This question was surely high on the post-match agenda for culés: Who is this kid, and what can he do?

Read more about Samper after the jump.

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Managing La Masia: The quiet makeover of Barça B

Managing La Masia: The quiet makeover of Barça B

Much has been made of the overhaul Barcelona’s first team has undergone this summer. 2014 has seen the departure of Victor Valdés and Carles Puyol, over 150 million euros spent in the transfer market, and what feels like a return to Pep Guardiola’s values with Luis Enrique. In particular, much has been made of Luis Enrique’s use of the youth team in preseason and the first two Liga games, in which 19-year-olds Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez each made their first-team debuts and scored.

A statistic making the rounds of late shows that Luis Enrique has already featured Barça B players more than Gerardo Martino did all last season. With Luis Suárez still banned and a sulking Gerard Deulofeu shipped out on loan, culés are delighted to have a seemingly ceaseless conveyor belt of talented youths to fill the gaps. Indeed, Barcelona B is brimming with talent in nearly every position, and seems perfectly situated to supplement the first team through the 2015 transfer ban. The timing couldn’t be better. Yet amidst the overwhelming focus on Luis Enrique and Andoni Zubizarreta’s renewal of the first team, few have drawn attention to the quiet work at Barcelona B over the last few years that have brought these talents to the surface. Read on after the jump.

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La Liga close-up: Real Madrid

La Liga close-up: Real Madrid

Spain’s incredible trio seems to be in line for another nail biting three-horse race. Atlético Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Real Madrid have stayed busy during the summer transfer window as they prepare themselves for another challenge, but did they strengthen or weaken their squads? Are their current players capable of enduring another trinity war? This article will focus on last year’s Champions League winners and the side that finally succeeded and ended the search for ‘La Decima.’ Barça’s fiercest rivals may face a tougher campaign than expected.

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The rise of Munir El Haddadi

The rise of Munir El Haddadi

FC Barcelona managed to begin the season with a 3-0 win against Elche, with Leo Messi bagging a brace and generally looking to be close to his effervescent best. However, the most grabbing storyline from the blaugranas’ winning league opener was the goalscoring first team debut of Munir El Haddadi. The 18-year-old, who will turn 19 on September 1st, put on one of the most complete displays a forward can produce, and scribed his name on the record books with his first Barça goal. Read on to find out who Munir really is, and whose feat he has been able to match over the past year…

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Remember La Masia!

Remember La Masia!

After the ruling by FIFA to uphold the ban on FC Barcelona from the transfer market in 2015, many a fan are in a panic about how the team will succeed without access to external talent. Fear not, culés! The team can find answers from within… More after the jump.

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Looking into Barça B 2014/15-Part 2

Looking into Barça B 2014/15-Part 2

Barcelona B are coming off the back of an historic season in Liga Adelante, having managed to equal the side’s best ever finish achieved by Luis Enrique’s team in 2010/11. However, last year’s squad has been stripped apart, with many players sealing moves abroad, others moving to La Liga clubs, and others released. Coach Eusebio Sacristán has a squad that includes just 15 players who were with the team last year, with the rest being new signings and players who were promoted from last year’s all-conquering Juvenil A side. Through this mini-series, which is to be split into two parts, we will attempt to give you an insight into your second favourite Barça team. Part 1 gave you an idea on those who are still here from last year’s squad. Read on to meet the rest of the squad, including all new signings…

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Looking into Barça B 2014/15 – Part 1

Looking into Barça B 2014/15 – Part 1

Barcelona B are coming off the back of an historic season in Liga Adelante, having managed to equal the side’s best ever finish achieved by Luis Enrique’s team in 2010/11. However, last year’s squad has been stripped apart, with many players sealing moves abroad, others moving to La Liga clubs, and others released. Coach Eusebio Sacristán has a squad that includes just 15 players who were with the team last year, with the rest being new signings and players who were promoted from last year’s all-conquering Juvenil A side. Through this mini-series, which is to be split into two parts, we will attempt to give you an insight into your second favourite Barça team. Read on to meet the squad…

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Canterano loans: A shift in policy?

Canterano loans: A shift in policy?

The announcement of Gerard Deulofeu’s loan to Sevilla sparked feelings of utter surprise for culés around the world. Nobody had expected the La Masia graduate to leave, as he had just made his return from a year-long loan at Everton, hoping to play some sort of role in the squad. Many question marks were raised. Is the club changing its policies? In order to answer this question we have to go back in time, and then view the situation in context.

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Barça may have sent Deulofeu away for good

Barça may have sent Deulofeu away for good

Barça may have sent Gerard Deulofeu away for good. Not literally, as he’s still under control till 2017 with a 35 million euro buy-out clause, but figuratively. Deulofeu has never been of the typical La Masia mould. He’s highly individualistic, at a younger age he named Cristiano Ronaldo his idol (in and of itself perfectly fine, but still an insight into the type of figure he aspires to emulate), was forced by the club to close a social media account (reportedly due to expressing an attitude contrary to the club’s) and has never been the “rah-rah Barça till I die” guy. He’s immensely self-assured, some say to the point of arrogance, and seemingly impatient. The club wasn’t sold about loaning him out last season, allegedly succumbing to the young man’s desire to seek more minutes. He left Everton feeling he “deserved to play more”.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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This is what Suárez misses

This is what Suárez misses

I’m aware doom and gloom is the order of the day (years?), but despite the Court of Sport Arbitration (CAS) ruling reducing Luis Suárez’s match ban, FC Barcelona should do just fine without him. Details after the jump.

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Have the fabled centre-backs arrived at last?

Have the fabled centre-backs arrived at last?

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?

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Match Review: FC Barcelona 0-1 SSC Napoli

Match Review: FC Barcelona 0-1 SSC Napoli

Being that it’s still preseason, I’ll be mild-mannered with my words. Given all the talk of revolution, changes, tactical shifts and experimentation, viewers were given nothing of that tonight in FC Barcelona’s 1-0 loss to SSC Napoli. That could have been any old game at any old time in the past three to four seasons. Is this really the new Barça given the mega-star attacking trident is absent, the first team mostly vacated on 60 minutes and players are obviously rusty and physically unfit? The answer is in the question. Nevertheless, despite dominating the ball, it was a match of minimal insight and anyone claiming to notice change at this point is willing it rather than seeing it.

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What to expect when you’re expecting

What to expect when you’re expecting

The season’s first official game against Elche CF is 19 days away, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about a new campaign as I am now. But things have changed, a lot, and so must we. Last season, many culés, including myself, expected a lot from the team. The first half of the season was incredible and the team was moving in the right direction. And then it all fell apart. We’ve blamed the coach, the players, and the board for the unsuccessful, trophyless season but we deserve some of the blame too.

Ever since the treble season we have been spoiled with spectacular football. We became used to watching the one and only Carles Puyol raise trophies up in the air as we celebrate yet another victory. But bit by bit these same players grew tired, and we just couldn’t accept that. I was furious at Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino for the way he managed the team by the end, I was disappointed at how the players showed so little hunger, and I despised the board for choosing to watch from the sidelines while football’s greatest ever generation neared its end. But then again, we always expected too much.

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