Thursday, August 25, 2011

Barcelona or Buenos Aires?

Summer is ending here on the East Coast of the United States, and autumn breezes have started to blow in. We will get an Indian summer or two, but it definitely seems like a season change is upon us.

This is great for many fans of futebol, especially fans of European futebol. Seasons have already kicked off in England, Germany and France; this weekend will see the first games of La Liga and I, for one, am eager to watch some competitive games.

I pose the title question as I am rethinking life in New England. I don't have it bad, mind, but have been increasingly ready for a change for some time. So, if I, the missus and our little boy were to move in the near future, which place should I go from a footballing perspective?

Our top three choices, in alphabetical order, are Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. I know from personal experience that football in Rio is great. Pick-up games are easy enough to find, especially in the Parque do Flamengo. Believe it or not, I once played on a team that held the court (you have to win to continue playing) for seven straight games. That is practically the entire time allotted to pick-up groups on the main court in PdF. After that 7th game, two official teams with an official ref began an organized game on the court.

I don't know what it is like to play in Barcelona or in Buenos Aires, but will be doing some research...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Supercopa, the First of the 2011-2012 Clasicos

Last Sunday evening Real Madrid drew 2-2 against FC Barcelona in the annual preseason Supercopa. A two-legged tie pitting the winners of the Spanish Liga and the winner of the Copa del Rey, this is the traditional kick-off to the season in Spain.

The game was entertaining, but it clearly showed, to me at least, two teams in different stages of their development for this season. The Madrid players seemed to be revving at near top speed, building upon a successful preseason. The Barca players, on the other hand, were clearly not running well at all, in part due to a choppy preseason.

Both teams had players out for the Copa America in Argentina this summer. Di Maria, Higuain, Messi, Alves, Mascherano, Milito, Adriano, and Alexis Sanchez all represented their country in the games, altering their training schedules for the summer and preseason. Both teams also acquired a few new players, some of whom will become first team regulars if not starters.

My impression is that this preseason Pep, has been more lax with the most senior players, allowing them more down time and not being so strict about training regimes.

For the game, Madrid started what appeared to be a first choice team. Pep, the FC Barcelona manager, however, sat Pique, Xavi, Pedro and Busquets, all reportedly suffering from minor injuries. Personally, I think they just needed more rest.

In the first half, the irregular squad for Barcelona had a hard time dealing with the speed and diligence of the Madrid attack. When Barcelona possessed the ball, Madrid pressed hard and regularly won the ball back. Barca played a large number of long balls in hopes of relieving the pressure -- a sure sign that the squad was not yet firing on all cylinders.

In the midst of this, four great goals were scored, and it is worth having a look at the highlights.

A couple of positives to note: Alexis Sanchez looks pretty good. He is a definite asset to the team.

Also, even under intense pressure, all of the Barca players kept their cool, defended well (Alves and Mascherano were great) and showed considerable skill in their one touch, twenty-yard passing moves. Once they get settled, which will take considerable time on the training pitch (this strike may be a good thing for this), they should be quite dangerous.

Tonight's game will resolve the Supercup, and it should be a sight to behold.

Come on you Barca!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Klinsmann Era

So it begins --
Tonight's friendly against Mexico in Philadelphia marks Jurgen Klinsmann's debut as US Mens National Team manager. I have high hopes, but tempered expectations. The problems with the USMNT are easily identifiable, but they are not easily fixed. The two most immediate problems are a lack of technique in the squad, and a lack of unity. Technique is something learned at a young age over an extended period of development. Klinsmann cannot be expected to improve this in his players, especially because he will only work with them for a few days per year. What he needs to do is to uncover the technical gems that we do have, somewhere in the United States, and give them a chance in the national side.

I think he can do something about the latter issue. In Germany in 2006, Klinsmann (JK) was able to successfully galvanize his squad into a incredibly cohesive unit, one that combined work ethic with attacking flair. If JK can find the right combination of players, I belive he can bring them together in common purpose to deliver a reasonably successful World Cup campaign in 2014.