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Barcelona: The modern greats.

December 1, 2010 2 comments

Jose Mourinho is considered by many to be the best football manager in the world right now. His phenomenal success since guiding FC Porto to Champions League glory in 2004 has sparked almost a decade of non-stop winning. League titles with Chelsea and Inter Milan along with a second Champions League success last year with the Serie A winners, led to the hottest job in football, Real Madrid.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts at the end of his Spanish first division soccer match against Barcelona at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona, November 29, 2010.  REUTERS/Albert Gea

When we say hot, we mean park your arse in that cauldron Jose, hot. Galacticos and sackingos galore in the past decade have left the job as a mouth-wateringly attractive proposition to a consistent winner like Jose, but also a little bonkers. 1-0 wins earlier in the season had the Bernabeu shouting their displeasure.

Then Madrid started hammering their opposition, Cristiano started averaging two goals a game and everything seemed fine. La Liga was looking easier by the day as Madrid’s stars assembled at the top and Jose ‘I’ll take your big club and raise you’ Mourinho was looking like the saviour.

A decade of occasionally interrupted under-achievement set to be banished to history. Until that pesky little thing called Barcelona invited Madrid onto the Nou Camp and then played them off the park.

Monday’s 5-0 drubbing of Madrid was imperious. Magestic. Lots of words that you don’t use in everyday sentences come to mind. The execution of the goals was spectacular, for instance Iniesta’s ball for Xavi to open the scoring. Or Messi’s through ball for Villa’s second. However as this highlights package shows, the overall play was simply irresistible, even when Barcelona failed to turn the magic into a goal.

It’s hard to remember a time when a team of Mourinho’s has seemed so hopelessly out of its depth. A 2-0 defeat to Liverpool that was more routine than Chelsea supporters would have liked led to the end of his Stamford Bridge project. But this was simply something else.

Who would have thought that Madrid with Ronaldo, Casillas, Alonso and all could have been blown away in the manner that they were. The match will surely end the ludicrous notion that Ronaldo is a better player than Messi. While the Portugese complains about his treatment, in some cases fairly, at the feet of defenders, Real resorted to kicking Messi while Barcelona didn’t really need to afford Ronaldo the same treatment. He simply wasn’t in the same league.

Funnily enough Madrid may end up winning the league. Results have been stranger this year than in the past with Barcelona dominating the field. What is amazing though is that defenders still haven’t been able to get to grips with Messi. While many players sparkle and then fade somewhat as their tricks are learned by opposing players, Messi is still able to do the same moves at the same cost for opposition goalkeepers.

His trademark move infield from the right-wing to poke the ball with the outside of his right foot through the defence exposed Madrid again on Monday. How many times is that he’s performed the same trick? The pass infield and mad dash past the defence to retrieve the one-two seems like an old trick. But he’s still getting away with it. And above all he takes pride in his work. Every game is like his last and his desire to win still burns. Plus when he;s booked for diving, as he was on Monday, he invariably isn’t guilty. Wish we could say the same for Mr Ronaldo.

This Barcelona team has established itself as one of the greatest in modern football history. THE team of this decade. Comparable with the AC Milans of the late 80s-early 90s, Liverpool of the 80s and beyond. And long may it continue.

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And the Balloon d’Or goes to…..

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Yes the list doesn’t contain any English men. Few would even be considered. Yes Messi won it last year. But yes, he will win it again this year. Let’s just refresh your memory about what he’s been up to recently.

Why Birmingham need to keep Alex McLeish

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

There are reports today that talks over a new contract for Birmingham boss Alex McLeish have broken down, with some media outlets speculating he may leave the club unless a solution is found quickly, while bookmakers have cut his odds on taking the Aston Villa job to 12/1.

Alex McLeish has plenty to ponder amid rumoured interest from Aston Villa

Both McLeish and Birmingham’s board need to come to a solution as the club enters its most exciting season for decades. The deadline day signing of Alex Hleb from Barcelona is the type of move the fans could only dream of years ago, but they are now living the dream as Birmingham look to improve on last year’s impressive ninth-place finish, with the team currently unbeaten after three games.

McLeish’s career as a manager:
McLeish has had an up-and-down career as a manager. Reasonably successful spells at Motherwell, whom he led to second in the Scottish Premiership in his first year, and Hibernian, with whom he won the first division, were followed by winning two titles and five cups with Rangers over five years. After almost pipping Italy to qualification for Euro 2008 as Scotland manager, McLeish joined Birmingham who were relegated in his first season. However they rejoined the league at the first attempt and got their highest-placed finish for 50 years in the 2009-2010 season.

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Javier Mascherano: A disgrace

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

It has been reported that Javier Mascherano has refused to play in tonight’s Liverpool game against Manchester City, with the reason being he is demanding a move to Barcelona. Mascherano has been left out of the squad but the player and club have yet to confirm the reason why.

Mascherano has refused to play for Liverpool

If this is true it is an absolutely disgraceful treatment of Liverpool FC and its fans.

Javier Mascherano has more reason than most players to be thankful to his club. After a high-profile move to West Ham, the Argentine began to suffer along with compatriot Carlos Tevez. While their ability was not in question, neither player was able to perform at their peak as questions surrounded the legitimacy of the deal that brought the pair to London.

When Rafael Benitez stepped in to sign Mascherano he offered the player a lifeline and Mascherano began to pay off the estimated £18m transfer fee with a string of impressive performances in the centre of the park. Under a coach with tactical prowess, the Argentine blossomed and was names the fans man of the match against AC Milan in the 2007 Champions League final. His performances were crucial as part of the team that came so close to Premiership glory in 2009.

Mascherano was also named as Argentina captain in November 2008 by incoming coach Diego Maradona. Tonight Mascherano was expected to line up in a crucial game against Man City but has dealt the club a bitter blow by refusing to make himself available for selection.

The tough tackling midfielder was made Argentina captain in 2008

This is an absolutely disgraceful decision. There are reports that Barcelona have offered £12m plus Hleb and Caceres and Liverpool have rejected the offer. Whether this is the reason Mascherano has gone on strike remains to be seen, but the club are not acting in any way unfairly by refusing the offer. Hleb and Caceres are not believed to be wanted by Roy Hodgson and Mascherano is probably the best defensive midfielder in Europe right now, so in fact the offer is desultory. Liverpool should make Mascherano play in the reserves rather than accept an offer of half what he is worth, particularly from a club who seem so willing to spend £40m on Cesc Fabregas.

Another disgrace is Mascherano apparently agreeing “personal terms” with the Catalan club. Under the rules of transfer activity, the clubs must agree that (a) the player is available for sale and (b) a transfer value. In this case Liverpool have made clear they want to keep the player but will accept an appropriate offer.

While from a personal point of view it is easy to sympathise with Mascherano, he has crossed a line tonight and will never wear the Liverpool shirt again. That his family are unhappy in England is a genuine reason to need to leave. However to effectively strike after his recent comments that he loves the club and fans and would like to play for Liverpool (just in another country) is an appalling way to treat the club and fans just weeks later.

Cesc Fabregas has his heart set on Barcelona. It is obvious for all to see. But as Arsenal captain he has knuckled down and decided that since the club do not want to sell, he stays and will no doubt play his heart out for the club. He came on against Blackpool at the weekend with a smile on his face.

In contrast, Mascherano came off after a terrific performance against Arsenal clutching a hamstring. That injury ruled him out of Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Trabzonspor making him free to play in Europe with a new club. However with the return leg approaching Maacherano knows he needs to move soon as Hodgson would no doubt play him on Thursday and thus he has orchestrated this act of petulance, on the eve of a massive game for the club.

Now is a true test for Hodgson to show he won’t tolerate this behaviour from the players. Unless the right offer comes in, Mascherano should be forced to stay at the club that rescued his career. The Argentine need look no further than the man who replaces him against City tonight, Lucas. The Brazilian has endured nothing but abuse since arriving at Liverpool from pundits and a majority of Liverpool fans. In the face of this, he has knuckled down and always gives his all – Shame on Mascherano.

Fabregas tugs at the heartstrings in Barcelona video

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

A video has made its way online of Cesc Fabregas welling up with emotion as he once again reiterates his desire to play for Barcelona. Appearing in front of a crowd of more than 2,000 people in his hometown of Arenys de Mar, north of Barcelona, Fabregas was presented with a medal in honour of his World Cup triumph and was shown a clip of his schoolboy era at Barcelona. After watching the video Fabregas struggles to keep his emotions in check and tells the crowd that he “hopes to see them more often and closer.”

Watch the video:

The crowd, who called for him to return to Barcelona, cheered throughout the video as pictures of Fabregas in Barcelona youth teams appeared on a large screen, with Fabregas circled in each. Fabregas, addressing the crowd, then wipes tears from his eyes in front of his adoring home town.

The video will increase the speculation that a deal will be reached between the London and Catalan clubs, coupled with the news that Barcelona are to submit another bid of around £33 million and that Arsene Wenger has said Fabregas will play no part in pre-season training due to his fitness levels. The Spanish star is due back in training on Thursday. Sources have told media outlets in England that he will not request a transfer out of respect for Arsenal and his “father figure” Arsene Wenger.

However the likelihood of a deal looks set to increase now, as it becomes plain to see that Fabregas sees his future with his schoolboy club.

Cesc to stay at Arsenal?

July 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Fabregas staying put?

Speaking after Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Barnet in a friendly today, boss Arsene Wenger told Sky Sports that Cesc Fabregas will be staying at the club. The influential captain has been repeatedly linked with a move to boyhood team Barcelona whom he moved to Arsenal from as a 16-year-old. Fabregas has maintained a neutral stance about a potential move, despite coveting the chance to move back to Spain and the Catalan club.

However Arsene Wenger today ruled out a move, with many commentators having criticised theSpanish champions for their seemingly relentless pursuit of one of the top young midfielders in the game.

Wenger said: “I always said that we are really, really wanting him to stay as he is such an important player for us.

“He’s our captain, we want to keep him and that’s why we are not listening to any offers.

“It just was not a problem of money, just the desire to keep him at the club.

“It is stopped (the talk). We never wanted to start anyway.”

It seems Fabregas will remain as Arsenal captain when the Gunners open their campaign, along with a number of new additions to the squad, at Anfield against Liverpool next month.

Champions League Update: 20/02/08

February 21, 2008 1 comment

All of the Champions League games are delicately poised going into the second legs in a fortnight’s time.
                 Late show eases Rafa pressure
Liverpool, Manchester United and Barcelona are in strong positions having secured an early advantage in their respective ties.
Liverpool produced a dominant performance to secure a 2-0 win over Inter Milan. Having been held by ten-man Inter for 86 minutes, the Italians were on course to pull off a terrific result having defended doggedly from the outset. However goals from Kuyt and crucially Steven Gerrard in the 90th minute, have given Liverpool a terrific platform from which to secure qualification for the quarter-finals. Gerrard’s goal may well prove to be the difference as Inter would surely have settled for a 1-0 defeat. Materazzi’s suspension and an injury to the superb Ivan Cordoba will also give Liverpool hope that they can grab a vital away goal in the San Siro.
The Inter Milan team may well be a much-changed outfit however, with the likes of Viera, Figo and Hernan Crespo likely to feature prominently in the second leg. While Torres was, for the most part, kept quiet by Inter’s excellent defence, the Spaniard will fancy his chances against a weakened defence in the second leg, especially as Inter will have to push far further upfield than they ever did in the game at Anfield.
               Evra - Benzema will be a star
An 87th minute goal from substitute Carlos Tevez gave Manchester United a vital away goal despite a lacklustre performance. Lyon took the lead early in the second half after United-target Karim Benzema scored a terrific solo effort, with four Red shirts around him the Frenchman somehow shifted the ball from his right foot to his left and belted the ball past Edwin Van der Saar.
In a free-flowing game Wayne Rooney’s 1-on-1 with Coupet was well saved while Juninho went close with a free-kick.
Benzema had a chance to make it 2-0 when he evaded a Rio Ferdinand challenge only for the ever-reliable Vidic to step across and sheperd the forward wide.
Ronaldo had a quiet night but produced a terrific save from Coupet late-on when his free-kick threatened to sneak in at the far post. However when Giggs and Scholes were replaced by Nani and Tevez, United began to look brighter and sure enough when Nani’s cross was deflected by Fred, Tevez pounced on the line to give United a foot in the quarter-finals.

              

Celtic and Barcelona put on a terrific game of football at Celtic Park but with the Catalans running out 3-2 winners, Barcelona will be confident they can secure victory in the Nou Camp, and they are already looking like the team to beat. Despite a disappointing campaign so far in La Liga, Barca have cut the gap on arch-rivals Madrid to just five points and on this display they look like peaking at just the right time.
Celtic took the lead through Venegoor of Hesselink, a terrific header against the run of play. However despite Robson’s goal to make it 2-1, a brace from Messi and a brilliant strike from Thierry Henry leave Barcelona in the driving seat.
Gordan Strachan joked after the game that he wouldn’t put his house on Celtic winning in two weeks time and he’s rarely wrong about these kind of things.

Elsewhere AC Milan and Arsenal played out an entertaining 0-0 draw at the Emirates. AC will be favourites as the old masters denied an exciting Arsenal team. Adebayor’s stoppage time miss will be giving him sleepless nights this week, the Togo striker slamming a header against the bar with the entire goal gaping in front of him…..Chelsea did enough to take a 0-0 game back to London and should progress past Olympiakos. With one eye on Sunday’s Carling Cup Final, Avram Grant rested Terry and Lampard and with one of the strongest squads in Europe, Chelsea should progress to the next phase in two weeks time…… Fenerbache’s 3-2 win over Sevilla makes for a hell of a return leg in Spain. An 87th minute deflected winner means the Turks can progress to the quarter finals for the first time if they avoid defeat in Spain. However, Sevilla will be confident they can turn the game on it’s head at home, and are many peoples’ tips as a dark horse this season…..Roma and Real Madrid served up an entertaining encounter which the Italians shaded 2-1. Despite a strong first-half performance from Real, Roma take the advantage thanks to two Francesco Totti-assisted goals….Shalke 04 lead FC Porto 1-0 thanks to a fourth minute Kevin Kuranyi strike. While the game was always likely to be tight, Shalke are firmly in the driving seat, aware that an away goal will give the Portugese team a mountain to climb. While Shalke’s defence has been their achilles heel so far this season, in Kuranyi they have a top striker and they will look to score and force FC Porto to gamble at the back, having to attack in search of three goals…