Saturday, March 2, 2013

El Classico: Post Game Thoughts

Pepe in midfield again to disrupt the rhythm of Barcelona. He was there to bully. At half time, FCBarcelona had been dominating, but Madrid looked dangerous on the break. Nothing new there. Madrid breaking at speed, scored an overly easy looking goal in the 7th minute of the game. Thankfully, not long afterwards, Barca worked a couple of passes down the right; Alves sent Messi through, and the Flea burned Sergio Ramos for the equalizer. 
Late in the second half, Ramos got his revenge, nodding in from a corner to secure the win. It is clear Madrid no longer fear Barca. The tide has definitely turned. This win for them is like gin in the tonic. They will go into their Champions  League tie against Madrid feeling high. Never before have I hope more that a team was humbled by another than now. Common u Red Devils!

The Unneccessary Classico: Pregame Thoughts

This is the second Classico of the year in the regular lbva, and it has been under hyped. Most say Barca have already won the league and have nothing to play for. Madrid couldn't care less, according to most. They have already lost the league, and have a huge match on Tuesday in the Champions League against Manchester United. 

Barca's incredibly poor run of form of late need to be reversed, however, and this is the perfect match to do so. Madrid will try to obfuscate them by whatever means necessary, and my guess is that it will be ugly. Let's see.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Musings at the Midpoint

Here are my main thoughts on football so far, or at least what little I have seen of it.

The EPL: Though I live in Spain, I seem to watch more of the EPL than anything else. This is largely a result of scheduling -- it so happens that the EPL play games at reasonable hours here in Europe, whereas in Spain the games are so bloody late in the evening (though when you've got a toddler). I've caught some Man City, Man United, Arsenal and Spurs games - all have entertained. The Man City  Man United game was particularly entertaining. Neither team looked like world beaters, but both looked like they could score goals against anyone. Due to current standings, my money's on United for the title. They aren't spectacular now, but I can't see anyone else overtaking them.

La Liga: Barcelona are off to a tremendous start. I watched several games at the start of the season, and watched victories fall into their lap even when they scarcely deserved them. It seems they started believing in that luck, and eventually stopped having to rely on it for wins -- lately, their form has been tremendous.
It gives me no end of pleasure watching Madrid stumble as they have. Though I haven't watched them much this year, I have followed them closely in match reports. Unlike Barca, luck has not been with them much this year.  It appears Jose Mourinho has almost worn out his welcome in Spain - I won't be mourning his departure should it come in the summer.

The Champions League: Keeping with Madrid - theirs was the group to watch, eh? Dortmund was spectacular; Man City was apathetic, and Madrid were well tested.  Great games in that group. Kudos to Celtic for making it through in Barca's group, too. Neat to see them beat my club in that competition -- they deserved it. Chelsea - ha! Unlovable winners last year made for pleasant watching this year in their failure.
The next round has some great games - Madrid v. United being the real one to watch, of course. Though Barca v. Milan will be interesting. I went to their quarter-final game last year and it was great. Marcotti's take on some of the other matchups is worth viewing.
All for now -- hoping for more football and more posts in 2013.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Euro 2012 Poland - Ukraine: Early Observations 
It seems in every tournament, something spectacular happens in the kickoff match (think Senegal over France in 2002; Greece over Portugal in 2004; Lahm's golaso in 2006; etc). This year was no different as we saw Poland draw against Greece, with no less than two players red carded and a phenomenal penalty save by a replacement keeper. 

The second match was no less captivating, with both Russia and the Czech Republic trying to demonstrate their worthiness for the title. Props to Russia for coming to play and succeeding when it counted though the final score flattered them a bit). Arshavin again looked the part (why doesn't he play this well with Arsenal?), and the whole Russian team must now be considered a threat. 

This afternoon, Denmark (!) upset Holland in a big way, nipping a goal when it mattered and defending like lions for the rest of the match. Good for them.

Finally, though not unexpectedly, Germany beat Portugal. You have got to give the Germans credit - they know how to tactically nullify opposition, even when the attacking waves keep coming. 

Tomorrow we get to see defending champs Spain play, and you can bet this country is exited for it. This fan, too.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Where We Stand: FC Barcelona vs. Malaga from the Camp Nou

My vantage point

The first game for Pep at home since announcing his retirement.  When I bought the ticket to this game in March, Barca were six points adrift of Madrid, and may of us thought for sure the league was gone. A roller coaster ride from then to now, and it is officially true, the league is gone. Now, so too is Pep Guardiola. 
So be it. No turning back now. Tito will be the new boss, but there is the small matter of the remaining games this season, including one Cup Final, to consider.

Pep's first Post Announcement game away to Rayo Vallencano (a 0-7 thumping) was a serious statement by coach and players that this is not a team to bury their head in the sand despite some tough results. This game, at home, was sure to be remarkable as well.

Malaga are a powerhouse team in the making largely due to the backing of newish club president Sheik Al Thani. His billions brought Santi Cazorla to the team, as well as Ruud Van Nistelroy, Martin Dimichelis, Julio Baptista and Joaquin.  All stars in their own right. This season, Malaga have been good enough to qualify for Europe.  

Pep fielded an interesting bunch, giving Pinto a chance to warm up for the Cup Final. He did alright, making a couple of clutch saves towards the end. Mascherano played another spectacular game, as did Cesc. Messi, not in the best form for most of April, looked quite a bit sharper in this game.
Highlights of the game for me:

  1. Pregame keepy uppy between Messi and Dani Alves separated by about 40 yards --- quina control!!!
  2. At 6 minutes in, an innocuous ball drifted out if touch near Pep and co. Pep noticed a lack of concentration from his squad and left the bench to issue some instructions -- chants of GUARDIOOOOLA rang throughout. An awkward but notable moment for the coach and crowd.
  3. Malaga's goal on 26 minutes was well earned -- Barca had lost focus for a stretch, Malaga via Rondon netted their goal right in front of me. 
  4. Messi's second penalty award was also right in front of me. It looked clear in the stadium, but I'm not so sure after seeing this one replay. Regardless, his chip over Kameni for his hat-trick was sublime.
  5. Diego Buonanotte is a tiny but very clever footballer. At 5'2" and 125 pounds, I couldn't see him cutting it in any professional sport in the US.   
  6. I got to see Ruud Van Nistelroy play. Legend. Roundly booed in the Camp Nou for his time at the Bernabeu.  He nearly scored with his first touch of the game.  
  7. Leo broke Muller's record -- nice one
  8. At 87 minutes in, the boixois nois unveiled a big GRACIES banner dedicated to Pep. Loads of Guardiola chants throughout from then to the end. He will be missed.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Clasico 2012 Post-mortem

Alright, so the blau-grana had a rough day at the office. From my seats just barely under la tribuna in the south-west corner of the Camp Nou, Barca just seemed to have an off night. The Madrid players were more up for this one, and their tactics proved effective enough for the win. The Barca players never got out of second gear.

This resurgent Madrid squad came to out fight Barca for every ball, to close the space down quickly, and to not let Barca get into any sort of attacking rhythm. They played out this strategy to near perfection. Like Chelsea at mid-week, when it mattered, they made their chances count.

So what now? So life goes on. We focus on the next game, at home to Chelsea, and we try forget about all of the misplaced and intercepted passes tonight.

Perhaps Pep played the cast he did with one eye on the CL tie in just a few days. No Pique, no Cesc, no Alexis, at least until later on. I hope that's the case; he's been saying for the past several weeks now that Barca will not win the league. Let's say Pep played a weakened side tonight so that he could deliver us he Big Eared trophy come May. Ya. That's my story and I'm stickin to it.

Everyone is entitled to have the occasional off night.  Barca's off nights in the league this year have sadly come a bit too often. Congrats to Madrid to have surely taken the title now. Hope the boys can pull it together in the Champions League.

Khedira scored the first goal on this play

El Clasico 2012 Preview

So here we are again, the Clasico. These games, and those of the Champions League, sort out who the best team, using the purest definition of the word, is. 

It is true that both Barca and Madrid lost their games in mid week ties, and it is entirely possible that one or both of these teams will not make it through to the Champions League final. Credit must go to both Chelsea and Bayern Munich for humbling the two Spanish juggernauts. Well done. Let's see if you can do that consistently now for a few years, as have done both FC Barcelona and, to a lesser extent, Real Madrid.

Those CL games are essential pretext for the Clasico tonight. Madrid arrive at the Camp Nou thinking primarily about winning the league, which they are in a position of strength to do, and rubbing it in the Catalans' faces regardless of the result. Of course they desperately want to win the Clasico and put an end to Barca's supremacy over the past three years, but a draw would suffice. A draw would keep them 4 points in the clear. This Madrid side however, might be a bit tired. Virtually an A-team played in Munich, and they were made to work hard by a Bayern team who was really more motivated than Madrid to win this one.

Barca, too, come into this one tired (loosing in the pouring London rain after complexly dominating Chelsea must have been exhausting). Problem is, they absolutely have to win this one to maintain any hope of winning the title. They would like to win this one also to keep their legend alive - a legend that puts this particular Barca incarnation among the best soccer teams in all time history.

Both sets of players will no doubt shake off their fatigue or play through it tonight. Both squads look to be at or virtually at (David Villa is still out) full strength. Pep is bound to surprise us with his starting selection (Cuenca or Alexis?); Mourinho is bound to park the bus, and instruct his players to rough it up.

This is my second Clasico and I feel supremely lucky to witness it, regardless of the outcome. I'll be watching this one from just outside the Tribuna on the south western corner of the stadium. Photos to follow tomorrow. C'mon you Barca!