December 20, 2012
Rise Of The Fullback

August 18, 2012
Barcelona's On Song

A look as to why Barcelona are interested in Arsenal’s Alex Song.

April 27, 2012
Guardiola. The end on an era.

"We have called you today to announce that Pep Guardiola will not continue in charge of the team next season" -Barcelona club president Sandro Rosell. Friday saw the end of an era with Pep Guardiola stepping down as manager of Barcelona FC. He will continue until the end of the current season, after which assistant manager Tito Vilanova will take over for next season. Inedibly the speculation will start as to what the future holds for Guardiola. Will he take the Chelsea job? Will he take the England job or any other vacant position available this summer? But this is really a time to reflect on the success that he has brought to his boy-hood club. Success that has seen him become "the best manager in the history of the club."

The loss to Real Madrid in La Liga and a failure to over come Chelsea in the Champions League appear to have over shadowed, or slightly tainted what has been an phenomenal period of joy for Guardiola. While these two results may not be favorable it shouldn’t distract from that fact that he has won 13 trophies in four seasons (there is still this seasons Copa del Rey to play for). Two Champions League crowns, three consecutive La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey, two FIFA Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups and three Spanish Supercups have all been won under his guidance. Something that surly even Guardiola couldn’t imagine when he took over from Frank Rijkaard in 2008. Prior to that, Guardiola had only managed the Barcelona ‘B’ side the year before.

As a player Pep made his debut for Barca in 1990 when Johan Cruyff managed the Catalans. He would go on to captain the side and was part of the ‘Dream Team’ that won four league titles in a row. He would remain club captain until he left the club for Italian side Brescia in 2001. He ended his Barca career with six league titles, two Copa del Rey’s and one Champions League title. He appeared for the club 370 times, scoring 11 goals. In the process he became a club icon for the Barca fans. His post-Barca career was not as fortuitous, he was banned from playing for four months in Nov ‘01 for testing positive for nandrolone (twice). He was later cleared of any drug charges after appeal six years later. Pep signed for Roma in ‘02 but did not settle there and after a brief return to Brescia was off to Qatar to join Al-Ahly in ‘03 for two seasons. He returned to Spain in ‘05 to under take his coaching courses which he completed the next year. In ‘06 he announced his retirement from playing and it was in July ‘07 that be became Barcelona B coach.

In 2008 when he took over the senior side, Barca had just finished the season empty handed and in third spot 18 points behind Real Madrid who finished first. Pep’s first act was to rid the side of the players who he felts ego were disrupting the side. Stars Ronaldinho and Deco were jettison while Eto’o stayed but would leave the following season. Pep went about changing the tactics of the side, he deployed three players in the middle of the park (Xavi, Iniesta, Busqets) who all played the game in a similar style to himself. He also went about installing a work ethic that would see his side pressure the opposition into submission as well as enforcing the ‘tiki-taka’ style that would serve the club so well. In his first season the club would win a treble of the Li Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles. The season also featured a 6-2 El Clasico victory at the Bernabeu.

The next two seasons would see the club retain the league title. It also saw the continued rise of star playmaker Lionel Messi- who embraced the move from the wing to the ‘false nine’ position- where he scored freely. Barcelona also continuied to play in a style that would see sections of the media hailing them as one the greatest ever football sides. There were the occasional hiccups- the failure to over come Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League semi-final, the failed experiment of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and losing the Copa del Reye final in 2011 to Real Madrid. Those aside the club’s peak performances were the 3-1 victory over Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final and the 5-0 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in November 2010.

Through out his time at Barcelona Guardiola has chosen to only sign short term deals with the club. Partially as an incentive to achieve success and also because of his belief that a coach can not stay at a club like Barcelona without the squad and even the coach becoming stale. “Players get tired of coaches and vice versa” he said “The same thing happened to me when I was a player. At a certain point I understood I had to leave.”

This season appears to have taken it’s toll on him. As he said in his recent press conference “Four years is an eternity as Barca coach. With time everyone runs out of steam. I am drained and I need to take a step back and replenish.” He went on. “Every day during four years, the demands are very high, the pressure, the necessary energy to push the players and enjoy it. I need to rest and move away.”  This season the club at times has appeared complacent, drawing games they should have won and having to rely on a squad that isn’t the strongest in depth. Barcelona finds itself in second spot, eight points behind Real Madrid and seemly out of the title race. Pep also seems to be tired of the mind games and bickering of Real manager Jose Mourinho.

Most of the Barca squad were present during his announcement. Some were in tears and there was also an applause from those present at the end of the conference. It is a show of respect that a man can command such a response from players and media pundits alike. He leaves the club after managing them for 242 matches (to date) winning 175 games, drawing 46 and losing 21. Thats a winning percentage of 72% for all the statistic junkies out there. Guardiola will leave the club with his head held high and his legacy intact. He has promoted (successfully) a number of players from the B team and installed a style of football has been praised world wide and entertained millions. We can all thank Guardiola for that.  

April 24, 2012
Chelsea into the Champions League final!

Just watched the Barcelona v Chelsea match where a dramatic Fernando Torres goal sealed the Londoners place in the final. With John Terry sent off, Braislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and Ramires all yellow carded (they will all miss the next match) it will be interesting to see what team they put out against either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in the final. What a dramatic and fantastic turn around in fortune it has been for Chelsea football club. Caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo must take all the praise for his ability to pull this squad together to achieve this amazing feat.

Yet again (as against Inter in 2010) Barcelona showed they have no plan B when a team ‘parks the bus’ in front of their goal. Always trying to play short passes near the Chelsea goal with no real danger of threatening Cech. They pushed everyone but the keeper forward and in the end left their goal exposed for Torres to effectively walk the ball in.

What a night of drama. First an injury to Gary Cahill- a sending off for Captain John Terry- then to concede two goals- Ramires to reply with a cheeky chip- a missed penalty from Messi and then a goal of redemption for miss-firing £50m man Torres. Chelsea will now have the chance to put to bed the nightmare of that night in Moscow in 2009. Whoever faces them in the final can not underestimate this side. They have been written off so many times only to defy the odds. Well done to Chelsea and all their staff. They are now 90 mins away from becoming the first London club to win the Champions League.

April 24, 2012
My preview of Barcelona v Chelsea

April 22, 2012

Patrick Kluivert playing for Holland in a friendly against Belgium in ‘98. Doing his best to maintain diplomatic relationships and also helping to enforce the stereotype that Dutch players are arrogant. 

April 21, 2012
Barcelona vs Real Madrid, El Clasico preview.

It’s the latest chapter in one of footballs greatest rivalries- Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi. Well that’s what you are lead to believe if you listen to various media outlets. But more importantly- the spectacle, magic and passion of El Clasico, Barcelona vs Real Madrid, is upon us and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Real Madrid will start the match atop of La Liga, leading Barcelona by just four points. This gap has been reduced from ten points as Barcelona have won 11 league matches in a row. Real Madrid have won eight and drawn three of their last 11 league matches, so they both head into the match in good form. Both sides will also be looking to bounce back from defeats in their first leg semi-final Champions League matches this week. Real Madrid will be upset with the late goal they conceded against Bayern Munich to lose 2-1 and Barca will be disappointed to lose 1-0 to Chelsea despite dominating the game.

Mourinho will remember the first time he visited the Nou Camp as Madrid coach where they lost 5-0. His heaviest defeat as a manager of any club. In that match Mourinho played an attacking line up, which is what Madrid fans demand, and they were completely over run. Since then he has being trying to find a balance between defense and attack for his side. He knows he can not play a defensive game against Barcelona as that would not be accepted by the Madrid fans or the club hierarchy. Much to his frustration, he has struggled to find the right formula to combat Barca. So far he has only managed to win one match (in extra time), drawing four games and losing five against Barca.

Pep Guardiola will be confident that his midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets will again dominate the ball. But they need to turn that possession into goals, which is something they did not do against Chelsea. The job of scoring will fall to Lionel Messi, he has already scored 41 goals in the league, a La Liga record. Messi has proved to be a bane to Mourinho’s men with the little maestro scoring six goals in the last nine games against Madrid.

For Madrid, Ronaldo is again the main threat, he has also scored 41 goals in the league. His aerial threat may be used to exploit a perceived lack of height in the Barca side. But it’s in midfield where the game has to be won for Madrid, therefore the focus could fall on their midfield general Xabi Alonso. He has not managed to hit the form of last season and that may have contributed to the recent form of Madrid where they drew three out of their last six matches. It is his link play and playmaking skills that has seen him only miss one league game all season.

An under current of aggression and distain seems to have developed against these two sides more recently. Keeping all eleven players on field became a problem for Madrid against Barcelona. Defenders Pepe and Sergio Ramos have become a figures of hate among the Barca faithful because of their recent antics. While for Barcelona- Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves have at times been accused of play acting.

It may seem cliché to say, but this is the biggest El Clasico to date. These games rarely end in 0-0. The last scoreless game came in 1989 so expect goals. It is not in the culture of these two sides to sit back and not go for the win. This game may very well decide the destination of the title. Mourinho has claimed that his sides always preform better in his second season and they will be desperate to end Barca’s dominance of the league. For Barcelona their biggest enemy this season has been complacency. It is hard to maintain the same levels of hunger and desire when you have won all that there is to win. But that should not be an issue in a game that divides a nation and where heroes and villains are made. Expect fireworks.

April 18, 2012

Ronaldinho’s goal for Barcelona against Chelsea during the knockout stages of the 2005 Champions League. I love this goal! The shear brilliance of him to try something like that. To take the ball on the edge of the penalty area and find himself surrounded by five to six Chelsea players AND THEN to just toe poke it?! Unbelievable. In terms of imagination and ingenuity, this goal ranks very highly in my list of favourite goals. The reaction of goalkeeper Petr Cech says it all really. Hopefully we’ll see some more great goals in tonights game against the two sides.

April 18, 2012

Tonight see’s Chelsea take on Barcelona in the second semi-final of the champions league. Chelsea manager Di Matteo faces a decision on who to start out of Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres. Torres has a good goal scoring record against Barca, scoring seven goals in ten games against the Catalans. Above is a montage of his goals against them whilst he played for Atletico Madrid. Of the two strikers Drogba is arguably more in form at the moment after playing in Saturday’s FA cup 5-1 win over Tottenham.

In football teams tend to have sides that, for some unknown reason, they don’t not always play their best against. A bogey side. There is also a theory that some players seem to always play well against certain sides. Drogba has tormented Arsenal ever since he arrived in the Premier League. So while Drogba may have scored a fantastic goal in the FA cup on the weekend, Torres history against Barca may see him in with a shout of starting. It may have a physiological effect on the Barca defenders knowing Torres is starting. He has also trained numerous times with Barca defenders Puyol and Pique with the Spanish national side, this may give him an advantage.

Personally I would start with Drogba, as he is better at being played long balls and holding up the ball, while Torres often requires the ball played into his feet or into space for him to run onto. But against Barca, Chelsea will find they face long spells without the ball and may be reduced to long balls up to their front man when they do win the ball.

April 16, 2012
Chelsea vs Barcelona preview.

So here we go again. In what is rapidly becoming a staple fixture in the Champions League calendar, it’s Chelsea vs Barcelona. The two sides go head to head in the semi-finals, with the first game being played at Stamford Bridge on Thursday and the return leg on the  24th at the Nou Camp. 

This tie has quickly built up some history including a referee retiring amidst death threats, numerous penalty decisions not given to Chelsea in the ‘09 semi final which lead to Didier Drogba screaming “It’s a f*****g disgrace” on live TV. Add the odd sending off and spectacular goals and you have a tie that is hotly anticipated. 

Going into the match, both sides find themselves in good form. Chelsea defeated  Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final 5-1 and Barcelona overcame Levate 2-1 thanks to two goals from Messi. Chelsea have seen their form dramatically improve since Roberto Di Matteo replace Andre Villas-Boas. That is mostly due to the new defensive structure that Di Matteo has installed at Chelsea, something that will be put to the test against a Barcelona side that has scored 96 goals domestically, with Lionel Messi scoring 41 of those goals.

The Champions League has provided a welcome distraction for Chelsea as their league form remains inconsistent. Di Matteo is said to have studied hours of video footage of Barcelona’s play and says there is a weakness. One of the main issues for the Italian will be who to start with up front? Didier Drogba scored a sensational goal against Spurs and that is exactly the kind of goal that Chelsea will have to try and repeat against Barca. Barcelona are always going to win the possession battle so Chelsea may be reliant on a goal from a long ball from within their own half, which is exactly what Drogba did on Sunday. However Torres does have a good record against the Catalans, scoring seven goals in ten games against them while playing for Atletico Madrid. 

For Barcelona, the formation coach Pep Guardiola goes for will be very important. Guardiola has been trying to implement a 3-4-3 system this season with varying degrees of success. However it could be argued it is because of this new system that Barca find themselves behind Real Madrid in La Liga. Messi remains the main man for Barcelona, his form this season has been unbelievable -  scoring 63 goals in 52 appearances. There appears to be no major injury doubts for Barca with only Eric Abidal missing due to illness. Iniesta, Pique and Dani Alves were all rested on the weekend and should return against Chelsea. The only question is, who to drop out of Fabregas, Pedro, Mascherano, Thiago and Adriano? Quite a nice headache for Guardiola to have.

This is in stark contrast to Chelsea who played a strong first team against Spurs which resulted in an injury to David Luiz while John Terry continues to play with cracked ribs. Michele Essien did not feature in that game and should expect to start and will be expected to mark Messi just as he did so successfully in the match in ‘09. Will the lack of rest affect either side? Difficult to say. What we should expect is some sort of controversy and some fantastic football. You can be guaranteed of this if history is anything to by.

"It’s a f*****g disgrace"