Rabu, 06 Januari 2010

World Cup 2010: Argentina Need To Take Advantage Of Lionel Messi's Talent - Carles Puyol

Iniesta - Messi - Puyol - Barcelona
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Iniesta - Messi - Puyol - Barcelona

Barcelona captain Carles Puyol did not hesitate in issuing a recommendation to Argentina coach Diego Maradona when commenting about his friend and team-mate Lionel Messi in an interview with France Football.

"The Argentinians need to take advantage of his immense talent. Leo [Messi] is an incredible player, an essential piece of our Barca. With him, Barcelona is much stronger. It is only logical that he be the same for Argentina."

Argentina is one of the national teams that Puyol ranks among the favourites for the World Cup title next summer along with "the usual suspects" like Brasil, Germany, England, or Italy.

As for Spain, "we will modestly try to change the established order. We are coming off our European Championship, which is not an easy title, and this should demand at least a little respect."

South Africa 2010 will be Puyol's third World Cup of his career and the Barca captain confirmed that he will contemplate retiring from La Seleccion after the competition, although he has not yet made a decision.

"It is something I am thinking about, but is a decision I will not make alone," he explained.

"In Spain, once you have passed the 30-year mark, they think you are finished. It is an opinion and one can respect it. But it can also serve as a form of motivation to demonstrate that even at 30 or 31 years of age, one can continue playing at the highest level."

Speaking of the Spanish national team, Puyol assured that "one should not confuse Spain's success with Barcelona's and say that Spain is winning because Barcelona is winning. Although there are similarities in the style of both teams, the group of players that come from Barca are just as important as the group that comes from Valencia or from Real Madrid since every element is important to the whole.

"Along with Barca's players like Victor [Valdes], [Sergi] Busquets, Xavi [Hernandez], [Andres] Iniesta, [Gerard] Pique, and myself, there are a number of excellent players like Cesc [Fabregas], [Iker] Casillas, [David] Silva, [Juan] Mata, Fernando Torres, or [Joan] Capdevilla, players that are very important that do not come from Barcelona."

Barcelona's Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The Referee Saw Something I Didn't In Nullifying Our Goal

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Barcelona  (Globoesportes)
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Barcelona (Globoesportes)
Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic remained only slightly euphemistic when discussing referee Perez Burrull's decision-making in last night's Copa del Rey 2-1 loss to Sevilla at the Camp Nou.

"In our nullified goal, the referee saw something that I didn't, but I do not want to speak of the referee, only my play and that of my team-mates", declared the big Swede in his post-match comments, reported by Sport.

The Barca number 9 has faith in his team's chances of reversing the first leg result at the Sanchez Pizjuan and believes that if Guardiola's team recovers their style, they will progress to the next round of the competition.

"There is still another match in the tie and we will give everything to progress. We can come back and if we play our style of play, we will succeed".

Barcelona Defender Gaby Milito Happy To Return To First Team Action Despite Sevilla Defeat

Gabriel Milito, Barcelona (Getty Images)
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Gabriel Milito, Barcelona (Getty Images)
Barcelona defender Gaby Milito says he felt good after returning to first team football in the Blaugrana's 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the first leg of their fifth round Copa del Rey tie at Camp Nou.

The 29-year-old Argentinian has not featured in a competitive fixture for Barca since rupturing a cruciate ligament in his right knee during the UEFA Champions League semi final defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford in April 2008 and subsequently had to watch from the sidelines as his team produced the greatest season in the club's history last year.

He admitted afterwards that he dreamed of making a return for Barcelona at Camp Nou but said that the defeat spoiled the return. Goals from Alvaro Negredo and Diego Capel either side of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal ensured the Andalusian side go into the second leg in pole position to book a place in the quarter finals.

"The truth is that I feel good. I still lack football, but that will improve with minutes and games," he told AS.

"I had dreamed of this, in our stadium, with our people. Too bad it has been a bit tarnished by the result."

Barcelona? That's Not Up To Me - Valencia's David Silva

David Villa, David Silva, Valencia (MARCA)
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David Villa, David Silva, Valencia (MARCA)
David Silva, who could reappear in Valencia's Copa del Rey match against Deportivo La Coruna after recovering from an extended injury, has spoken of a potential transfer away from Los Che in a press conference, as reported by the Spanish sports daily Sport.

The Spanish international has already been quoted as saying that he would adapt better to Barcelona's style of play than to Real Madrid's, but today the midfielder declared that he is "in the middle of the Liga and Copa del Rey competitions and am centred on my team".

"Right now I am only thinking of fighting for Valencia to be in a Champions League place next season. Further, signing for Barca is something that does not really depend on me", finished the player, who did not want to enter into more speculation about the future.

Sevilla President Jose Maria Del Nido Hails 'Greatest' Barcelona Side Of All Time

Jose Maria Del Nido, Sevilla (Peace Cup)
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Jose Maria Del Nido, Sevilla (Peace Cup)

Sevilla president Jose Maria Del Nido has declared that the current Barcelona side are the greatest team of all time.

The Andalusian outfit will try to put an end to Barca's reign as Copa del Rey holders when the sides meet in the first leg of their round of 16 tie at Camp Nou on Tuesday night and Del Nido insists his team are a match for the six times champions.

"This Barca team is the greatest of all time. Nobody has ever won all six titles that they competed for in a year and with such authority, but Sevilla are obliged to go out and try to win in all venues. We come with hopes of qualifying," he told a press conference.

Sevilla enter the first leg with just 14 first team players available due to injuries and African Cup of Nations commitments but Del Nido has faith in his side's ability to take on the best.

"We have to get the strength to stand up to the best team in the world and the best of all time. We will go with faith that we can make it," he remarked.

Barcelona Sporting Director Txiki Begiristain To Study Henrique & Keirrison Loan Deals - Report

Keirrison, Barcelona (Marca)
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Keirrison, Barcelona (Marca)

Barcelona's director of football, Txiki Begiristain, is set to study the loan deals of Keirrison (Benfica) and Henrique (Racing Santander) in the January transfer window to search for alternatives for the players who have found minutes difficult to come by at their respective clubs.

In a report released by Sport, Keirrison, who has been all but discounted in his loan deal at Benfica, will find another club this winter with the Barca director set to study an offer already on the table from La Liga side Real Zaragoza. In Portugal, the striker has only appeared in seven matches during the first half of the season.

In Henrique's case, Brazilian side Corinthians is reportedly keen on employing the young central defender. While he has failed to impress in Europe, the youngster is very highly regarded in Brazil and could begin to blossom in the comforts of his home country.

Henrique could make the move this winter if Racing is flexible. Otherwise, a summer loan deal looks to be the other option.

Barcelona In Danger Of Losing Four Promising Youth Team Players - Report

Gai Assulin, Barcelona (Getty Images)
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Gai Assulin, Barcelona (Getty Images)

Barcelona are said to be currently working out a contract extension for central defender Gerard Pique so that the former Blaugrana youth team player will never again leave the Camp Nou as he he did when he made the switch to Manchester United earlier in his career.

However, four of Barcelona's top youth team prospects could follow in Pique's footsteps as the Catalan outfit have lapsed in extending their contracts with the club in a report released by Barcelona sports daily, Sport.

The contracts of Gai Assulin, Jonathan dos Santos, Victor Vazquez, and Thiago Alcantara all expire on June 30 and according to rules stipulated in the players' agreements, each are now free to begin negotiating with other clubs.

The four youth players are very highly rated by Pep Guardiola and during the month of January, with the absences of Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita from the squad because of the African Cup of Nations, the Barca coach has publicly stated that he will count on the youngsters to fill in the holes in the team.

This past Saturday in the draw against Villarreal at the Camp Nou, Guardiola gave a starting role to one of the four players, Jonathan dos Santos, who performed admirably in his first Liga start for the Blaugrana. All four players were called up in the training sessions that preceded the match.

Retaining these four players is crucial if Barca are to remain faithful to their current model of grooming their very talented youth products for work with the first team.

The club has already lamented allowing some players to slip through the cracks, namely the aforementioned Pique and Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas. It is reported that after extending Pique's contract, Barca will pursue shoring up deals with their four young pearls

Barcelona's Pep Guardiola: It's Not Worth Signing Someone For One Month

Pep Guardiola, Barcelona (Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola, Barcelona (Getty Images)

Barcelona will not sign any new players in the January transfer window if comments by Blaugrana coach Pep Guardiola are anything to go by.

Guardiola was quoted by AS as saying in a press conference today: "It is not worth signing a player for a month" referencing the absences of Seydou Keita and Yaya Toure for the majority of January due to their participation in the African Cup of Nations. Pep also stated that he would continue to remain faithful to the club's cantera [youth system] to fill in the temporary absences in the squad.

Speaking of Barca's Copa del Rey tie with Sevilla tomorrow, Guardiola praised the Andalusian squad and its president, Jose Maria Del Nido, who has "one of the best squads in Spain and has been a big player in La Liga for many years now."

Guardiola also spoke of his possible contract extension with Barca, saying that he is remaining calm about the matter and is not worrying about it whilst there is more important work to be done. He assured the fans that they have nothing to be worried about in terms of his contract.

Sabtu, 02 Januari 2010

Henry: Barcelona Don't Need To Change Anything

Thierry Henry, Xerez, Barcelona (Getty Images)
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Thierry Henry, Xerez, Barcelona (Getty Images)

Barcelona didn't get 2010 off to the best of starts with a draw against Villarreal, but Thierry Henry does not think there is any cause for concern.

Speaking to Radio Marca after the match at the Camp Nou, Henry said, "Villarreal played very well tonight."

"It was difficult for us to find spaces. The first half was great, but we found it difficult after their goal.

"When you have won titles, you have to keep giving more. We tried today, but Villarreal played well.

"They like to keep the ball, and it is not easy to get it back."

Henry then dismissed suggestions that Barca were becoming predictable, continuing, "Barca does not need to do anything new."

"We should never change.

"Sometimes our style works, and sometimes it doesn't, but it works more often."

Finally, Henry spoke about the hectic schedule of the coming month, stating, "It is always like this."

"It is a very difficult month. It's the toughest one of the year.

"We know that we have to play the Cup, the Champions League and the League.

"We must accept it and put in the effort."

Barcelona's Ibrahimovic Suspended For Tenerife Game

Liga : Zlatan Ibrahimovic (FC Barcelona)
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Liga : Zlatan Ibrahimovic (FC Barcelona)

Barcelona will have to do without the services of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for their next league game against Tenerife, after he picked up his fifth yellow card of the season.

The Swedish striker was booked for a foul on Diego Godin in the 88th minute of the draw with Villarreal. Therefore, he will be suspended for the first time this season, having accumulated five yellow cards.

'Ibra' has only missed one other league game, the 0-0 draw against Valencia at the Mestalla.

In 15 league appearances thus far, Ibrahimovic has scored 11 goals.

Barcelona President Laporta Satisfied With Villarreal Draw

Smilin' Joan Laporta, president of La Liga leaders Barcelona.
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Smilin' Joan Laporta, president of La Liga leaders Barcelona.

Joan Laporta witnessed Barca's draw with Villarreal from the stands, and after the game, he offered his thoughts on the encounter.

Speaking to Marca after the match, he said, "Villarreal has great players, and they like to have the ball, as we do."

"It was a great game, that either team could have won. There is still more than half the season left.

"We will wait and see the results tomorrow.

"We have to continue in this way because today we played a great game, but we were playing against a great team."

Finally, Laporta spoke about life after his stint as president, stating, "I finish in June, but I imagine that apart from the football, everything will stay the same."

"I will not leave my profession.

"I have other avenues, and I will continue being a Barcelona fan and associate."

Barcelona Boss Guardiola: Villarreal Draw Will Make Us Stronger

Pep Guardiola - Barcelona (Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola - Barcelona (Getty Images)

After seeing Barca drop points at the Camp Nou for the first time this season, Pep Guardiola explained that the draw could be a blessing in disguise.

The Blaugrana drew 1-1 with Villarreal, ruining their perfect league record at home. Speaking to Marca after the match, Guardiola analyzed the game, saying, "It was a very tough game."

"To return from the break against a great team like Villarreal is complicated. Now we have to recover, just as if we had lost or won."

"This result will make us stronger."

Guardiola then touched on Zlatan Ibrahimovic's booking, that will rule him out of the trip to Tenerife, continuing, "He is passionate, but he should be careful, because we may end up with ten players one day."

"He has to be strong and forget about the referee, because he cannot control it."

The Barca boss then praised Jonathan Dos Santos, who earned his first league start, stating, "He played at a very good level."

"He moved well and played the ball with precision in a tough game."

Finally, Guardiola pais tribute to his opponents, saying, "Since the Roig family took charge, they are doing very well."

"They have very dangerous players."

Player Ratings: Barcelona 1-1 Villarreal

Pedro, Barcelona, Villarreal (Getty Images)
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Pedro, Barcelona, Villarreal (Getty Images)


Valdes - 5.5 - Nothing special, nothing bad. Clearly not his best game in a Barca shirt but couldn't do much about the goal.

Abidal - 5.5 - Same as above. Looked a little slow when challenged by the Villarreal front men but made up for that with some experience.

Pique - 6 - Solid enough but nothing special. Managed his space well and always looks a threat at set plays.

Puyol - 6.5 - Solid display from an experienced player. Got all over the pitch and filled in where he was needed.

Alves - 6 - Galloped up and down the wing well but missed some obvious signs of danger. Needs to work hard on long and accurate passing plays.

Jonathan - 6 - Did okay on his La Liga debut. Flew around the pitch with enthusiasm and the quality will follow with time.

Xavi - 6.5 - Good passes and ran his space well. Looked frustrated at times but his delivery and final ball was always a threat.

Busquets - 6 - Aggressive and sometimes a little clumsy. Runs around like a headless chicken but this compliments all of the other players around him nicely.

Pedro - 6 - Got about the pitch well and played some nice passes. Needs to work on his quality and be more aware of what's going on around him.

Ibrahimovic - 6.5 - Frustrating. For someone so gifted he really needs to do better when he is in good positions. Missed too many chance tonight.

Henry - 7 - A reminder of old times. Danced well up and down the left when he drifted and still has enough to put defenders on the back foot.


Iniesta - 6 - Immediately brought an aura of authority onto the field with him. His passing and awareness is what Barca lacked but couldn't do enough to get an extra goal.

Bojan - N/A


Lopez - 6 - Did well and made a lot of good, niggly little saves. Not a lot he could do about the goal.

Godin - 6 - Held his defensive position well and tackled with good timing. One to keep an eye on for rest of the season.

Venta- 6.5 - Given the hard task of taking on Henry and he did the job very well. Needs a little more quality in play from the back.

Capdevila - 6 - Solid enough but this was not his best game. Looked a little slow when he was forced onto the back foot.

Marcano 5.5 - Relatively quiet but made up for this with his awareness. Doubled up on necessary players and filled in with a second of notice.

Cazorla 6.5 - Brilliant first 45 and was unlucky to eventually be taken off. Full of energy, which makes up for lack of quality at times.

Cani- 6 - Good runs, good passing but always looked as though he was missing an added something, which would have made a difference.

Senna - 6.5 - Solid enough and got stuck into the midfield battle. On another day his delivery could have led to a goal or two.

Bruno - 5.5 - Quiet and a little disappointing. Got about well but lacked quality at vital times in the game.

Nilmar - 6.5 - Ran his socks off for the team and stretched the Barca defence at times, creating space for other players.

Fuster - 7 - Really did well and justified his starting position. Pounced for the goal and will be looking to cement his place in the team.


Rossi - 5 - Could have scored late on with a little glancing header but did not have enough time for a bigger impact.

Barcelona 1-1 Villarreal: Yellow Submarines And Cules Share Points

Pedro, Barcelona (Getty Images)
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Pedro, Barcelona (Getty Images)

Pedro and David Fuster were on the score sheet at the Camp Nou, as the league leaders were held to a draw.

Pep Guardiola chose to rest Lionel Messi by not including him in the squad at all, while Jonathan Dos Santos earned a start, and Gabriel Milito made the bench. Nilmar led the line for Villarreal, with Joseba Llorente, Giuseppe Rossi and Robert Pires all substitutes.

Barcelona dominated the early stages, and it came as little surprise when they opened the scoring after just seven minutes. Some neat build-up play saw the ball find its way to Daniel Alves on the right, and the Brazilian's cross was smashed onto the bar by Thierry Henry. Pedro, however, was alert to the rebound, and he fired home to give the Blaugrana the lead.

Barca continued to monopolise possession after taking the lead, and although they were not creating too many chances, they still looked by far the more likely team to score. On 25 minutes, Henry came close again, but his header was saved by Diego Lopez just before it crossed the line. Minutes later, the visitors had their first chance of the match, when David Fuster inexplicably headed Cani's cross over from inches out.

On the stroke of half-time, Alves caused more havoc down the right, but Henry could not direct his header goalwards, under pressure from Lopez. Ultimately, despite the best intentions of both sides, it was a half of few chances, as Barca went into the break ahead by one goal.

Villarreal had the first chance of the second half, but Fuster once again blazed over, this time having been played through by Nilmar. However, he did not have to wait long to get another opportunity, and this time he made no mistake. Cani swung a ball in from the right, and Fuster was on hand at the far post to tuck it past a helpless Valdes.

Just before the hour mark, Guardiola brought Andres Iniesta on, taking Dos Santos off. The midfielder was immediately in the thick of the action, as his first shot of the night was well saved by Lopez. Minutes later, he tested the visiting keeper again, this time with a fierce drive from outside the box that was tipped away from the corner of the net.

Chances continued to come at a premium, although Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have done better with a shot from inside the area that was dragged wide. However, it was Rossi, the substitute for the visitors, who had the best chance just three minutes from time, but his effort was cleared off the line by Carles Puyol, after the Italian had got past Valdes.

The winning goal never came for either side, and in truth, it seldom looked likely to do so. Ultimately, it was a lacklustre performance from the Blaugrana, who will need to improve if they are to repeat last year's successes.

Spanish Inquisition: Is Pep Guardiola A Genius Or A Fluke?

pep guardiola
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pep guardiola

Frank Rijkaard had Xavi, Josep Guardiola had Xavi. Rijkaard had Andres Iniesta, Guardiola too had Iniesta. Rijkaard had Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez, Yaya Toure, Lionel Messi, Eric Abidal, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o; Guardiola too had Valdes, Puyol, Marquez, Toure, Messi, Abidal, Henry and Eto'o. Rijkaard didn't have Daniel Alves, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Seydou Keita or Gerard Pique. Guardiola doesn't have Ronaldinho, Deco, Henrik Larsson or Ludovic Giuly.

Of Barcelona's starting XI against Manchester United in the Champions League final last May, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets were the only ones who didn't feature in their disastrous season of 2007-2008 when they finished third, 18 points behind Real Madrid and perhaps equally embarrassingly, 10 points behind Villarreal.

Guardiola assembled virtually the same set of players and won six titles in one and a half years. Six.

No, this is not to denigrate Rijkaard's legacy at Barcelona - after all, the Dutchman was responsible for the Catalans' first silverware in six years when the Blaugrana won the league in 2005 and also moulded Ronaldinho and Eto'o into world class footballers - but the radical transformation and reformation the club went under Guardiola in the space of just nine or so months is almost spooky. Even Sir Alex Ferguson took over a decade to win his first European Cup with United.

Pep, The Genius

Taught in the school of Total Football and mentored by Johan Cruyff, Guardiola 'simply' translated his playing style to his coaching method, demanding his players to play in the same way the Catalans have played since the days of the Dutch legend in the 1970's. Only, this time he added a touch of steel and made it more effective, but not defensive.

A 'Little' Pep Talk Has Done The Trick

Guardiola had to wrap skin on a skeleton - a skeleton on the verge of disseminating into a loose collection of bones perhaps, but a skeleton nevertheless. Which the 38-year-old did to marvellous effects.

Guardiola motivated his players, reinstated their self-conviction and asked them to play the way football is supposed to be played. Because he knew that he had the core of the unit that had bedazzled the world just over two years back. And results came, almost inevitably.

He made Xavi and Iniesta the best midfield partnership in the world, Toure a more intelligent defensive midfielder and Busquets his fierce competitor, Messi more versatile and an occasional withdrawn centre-forward, Henry an inside-left threat, Alves an 'outside' right-back, Pique a ball-playing central defender and Eto'o a less votalite character.

What made Guardiola the real 'Special One' in European football was his compelling obsession to play football the Barcelona way. Never for a moment did he betray his footballing philosophy and from start to finish in every game, his players were hungry for goals, goals and more goals.

The Help From Beyond

Calling Pep Guardiola a 'fluke' would be pushing it far too far, but there are a few factors that contrived to aid him in his 'sextuple'. Detractors would indicate that he has three of the best attacking/attack-minded players in the world, the best attacking right-back on the planet, an Arsenal God and a few defenders who are more comfortable playing with the ball than stopping the opposition from playing with it. Winning, therefore, is made easier.

Moreover, spending €80 million in the 2008 summer had strengthened the side in key areas and also blighted the notion that Barca's triumph came only because of home-grown players. Last summer he gave the green light for possibly the world's most expensive swap deal as Ibrahimovic replaced Eto'o at Camp Nou and added another much needed dimension to the Catalans' game.

Can Barcelona Repeat Their Feat This Season?

All of which is true and so is the fact that history and external factors helped Barcelona. Rarely have Barca and Madrid's successes coincided and in 2007-2008 Los Blancos were in institutional crisis. Their willingness to axe the branch they were sitting on augmented by the injuries to a number of key players contributed to Barcelona's domestic conquest. The game at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea would eternally remain a blot on Barca's European triumph and Guardiola was also lucky that his relatively small squad didn't struggle with too many injuries.

The In-Between

Yet Guardiola's achievements in 2009 cannot and should not be undermined. For those claiming that their grandma would have won the league with Barca's current squad should ask themselves whether they or their grandmas would have been able to manage the Blaugrana megastars. Perhaps Guardiola's coaching or managerial genius would be properly tested when he gets a less talented and more disorganised side but it is not easy to coach a team burdened with hopes and expectations either.

Moreover, Madrid's self-capitulation wasn't Barcelona's fault and whatever the conspiracy theorists suggest, Barca did not 'buy the referee' against Chelsea. There were fewer injuries because Guardiola imposed a strict fitness and training regime. He also imported discipline into the dressing room, crippling any germ of 'dissidence'.

But what now for the Santpedor-born? Where does he go from here? His contract with Barcelona expires at the end of the season and there are no discernible hints of a stay beyond the summer. Links with Manchester United have surfaced in recent weeks and Pep could be inclined to coach abroad. It is inevitable that it will alter him in one way or the other and could even belittle his legacy at Barcelona but for someone who didn't limit his playing career to just one nation, a challenge to coach in a foreign climate would be exciting.

Or perhaps he should heed the advice of this columnist's friend, who also happens to be a student at a British university: "Call it a day, stop coaching and remain the most successful coach in football history, one who won everything in one year."

La Liga Preview: Barcelona - Villarreal

Pedro - Barcelona (Getty Images)
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Pedro - Barcelona (Getty Images)
Kick Off: Saturday, January 2, 2010. 20:00 CET
Camp Nou, Barcelona

Utterly Dominant

There can be little question that the achievements completed by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona squad over the course of 2009 were utterly unique. The Blaugrana swept to Spanish, European and world dominance with grace, style and flair, and now the Catalan giants face a daunting task as they try to replicate such feats in 2010.

Renewed pressure has come on their Liga crown from Real Madrid, who have closed to just a couple of points from the champions. Such pressure is unlikely to especially faze the talented Camp Nou crew, who seem to rise confidently to every challenge placed in their way.

Buccaneering full-back Dani Alves has no intention of allowing the side to let-up, stating earlier this week, “There is too much experience in the squad to relax. We are attentive and we will try to improve even more. If we continue to work, we will stay on the same path.”

The first hurdle that Barca will have to overcome since being crowned world champions in December will be Villarreal, but the beginning of 2010 promises to be a real test. Though not badly hit by departures to the African Cup of Nations, the Blaugrana face a punishing schedule, including a hat-trick of matches against Sevilla.

Guardiola will know the importance of getting the year off to a good start, especially with the form that los Blancos are starting to display, and he will doubtless have his players fully focused on success on Saturday evening.

Going Up

Now regularly fancied as European qualifiers, the first part of the Liga season was something of a letdown for fans of Villarreal, who would have watched their side scramble unconvincingly into a mid-table position.

There is, however, a distinct upward trend being displayed by Castellon club. Three league successes in succession have partially parried the blows dealt to the Yellow Submarine by an abject start and have allowed them to climb to ninth in the table.

Though victory in Barcelona is a tough objective, midfield talisman Marcos Senna has predicted that the club’s strong run can continue. “Things are going well after the last results," he noted to AS. “We have a lot of confidence for the future. It was important to win the last game of the year since we had two wins in a row, and it was our opportunity to escape from the relegation zone.”

Meanwhile, Cani wants to see Villarreal drawn upon strong past performances in the Catalan capital in order to achieve a strong result this time around.

“We have played well on the road against Barca in recent years but that does not mean we are assured of a positive result this time around. We have scored at the Camp Nou two years in a row so we hope to do the same again on Saturday,” he said, doubtless considering last term’s thrilling 3-3 draw.



WON 2-1 aet (n) Estudiantes (Club World Cup, December 19)

WON 3-1 (n) Atlante (Club World Cup, December 16)

WON 1-0 (h) Espanyol (La Liga, December 12)

WON 2-1 (a) Dynamo Kyiv (Champions League, December 9)

WON 3-1 (a) Deportivo (La Liga, December 5)


WON 2-0 (h) Racing Santander (La Liga, December 20)

LOST 1-0 (h) Salzburg (Europa League, December 17)

WON 2-1 (a) Atletico Madrid (La Liga, December 13)

WON 3-2 (h) Getafe (La Liga, December 6)

WON 2-0 (a) Levski Sofia (Europa League, December 2)



Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi may be rested by coach Guardiola, who is concerned about the number of matches already played this term by the Argentine genius. He has been excused training this week.

Seydou Keita and Jeffren are both injured and will not take part. Yaya Toure is already with the Ivory Coast side preparing for the African Cup of Nations.

Andres Iniesta has been training normally with the side since Wednesday.

Probable Starting XI:
Valdes; Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Ibrahimovic, Henry


Gonzalo Rodriguez will be sidelined for at least a fortnight with a hamstring problem, but he is the only injury issue for coach Ernesto Valverde.

Ariel Ibagaza is fit again.

Probable Starting XI:
Diego Lopez; Javi Venta, Marcano, Godin, Capdevila; Cani, Senna, Bruno, Cazorla; Rossi, Nilmar



It’s worth watching the whole Barcelona squad as they are such an effective unit, but it is Xavi that provides the grease and allows things to move in quite such a smooth motion. The midfielder has nearly everything in his armoury so expect him to shoulder some of the burden if Messi is rested.


A slow start in Spain has not stopped Nilmar catching the eye of late. The former Olympique Lyonnais man is by no means the most prolific of scorers, but he will be an important figure whenever the visitors are allowed the chance to attack their opponents.


Perfect thus far at home, Barcelona will face a tough examination against the Yellow Submarine so Saturday’s fixture may prove a game in which a rare stumble is possible. Don’t underestimate Barca’s strength in depth, an asset that should allow them to claim maximum points against a unit slowly regaining confidence.

Barcelona 2-1 Villarreal

Zaragoza Want Barcelona's Keirrison On Loan - Report

Keirrison, Barcelona (Marca)
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Keirrison, Barcelona (Marca)

Barcelona's recent acquisition Keirrison has found first team action hard to come by on loan at Benfica, leading to rumours that he may be bound for Zaragoza.

With the free-scoring Lisbon side preferring Javier Saviola and Oscar Cardozo up front, Keirrison is seen as surplus to requirements, meaning that his loan spell may be cut short.

And with Barcelona not yet ready to subject the former Palmeiras man to first team action, this could mean a further loan spell at Zaragoza.

The Aragon outfit are struggling to find the net at present, with key forward Ikechukwu Uche out with a long-term injury.

Thus Keirrison may arrive at the Romareda in the New Year if wages can be agreed upon.

Jumat, 01 Januari 2010

Messi, Barcelona Complete Triumphant 2009

It's fitting that Pedro Rodriguez and Lionel Messi scored the goals that carried Barcelona to a 2-1 overtime victory over Estudiantes de La Plata in Saturday's FIFA Club World Cup Final, a game that cemented the greatest year for a single team in the history of organized sports.

In Wednesday's semifinal defeat of Cancun's Atlante, Pedro became the first player to score in six separate club competitions in a given season. On Saturday in Abu Dhabi, his looping 89th-minute header drew Barcelona level with an Estudiantes side that took a shocking first-half lead then spent nearly an hour holding on for dear life.

Twenty minutes into extra time, the world's best player clinched the trophy for the Catalans. Defender Dani Alves whipped a cross toward the six-yard line, and the irrepressible Messi slipped behind two defenders and chested the ball past goalkeeper Damian Albil.

One player symbolizes Barca's unprecedented haul of honors in 2009: the Spanish league, cup and super cup, the UEFA Champions League and Super Cup, and now the Club World Cup. The other symbolizes the peerless style with which it accomplished the feat. Messi is the best player in the world, and Barcelona plays soccer with a commitment to creativity, skill and precision and homegrown player development that represents everything great about the sport. They were justly rewarded on Saturday against a team that put up a far greater fight than Manchester United managed in Rome seven months ago.

Barcelona surely will continue to play their game, but we may never see a year like this again. Even coach Pep Guardiola knows that. In a pre-match news conference, he told reporters that Barca's "future is dark," and that "beating this [year] is impossible." The magnitude of the accomplishment surely set in following the final whistle on Saturday, when TV cameras caught the manager in full-blown tears.

And that emotion is yet another indication that Barcelona seems to get just about everything right. They clearly wanted to win this tournament. Players always throw out all the same cliches beforehand, but Barca was not paying lip service to a world title. Their desperation to tie the game, relief when they did and joy when they won revealed a genuine desire to be champions. It was the only major trophy not sitting in the Camp Nou museum.

FIFA's annual competition, which opened itself to the hinterlands beyond Europe and South America in 2005, continues to be dismissed by a significant number of people. It's far less prestigious than the Champions League, some say. Asian, African and CONCACAF teams can't compare, others argue. It's a time-waster in an already crowded calendar, the executives who schedule lucrative offseason tours in America and Asia would have you believe.

In the big picture, all of that is nonsense. England had no interest in the World Cup when it started, thinking they shouldn't have to stoop to proving their obvious superiority. The NFL thought the same of the AFL. U.S. basketball people believed it. That sense of exclusion, of arbitrarily dismissing the competitive ambitions of a certain segment based on pedigree, goes against everything sport stands for. It's why we hate the BCS. It's why we romanticize the FA Cup and the NCAA tournament. Everyone deserves a chance, and any true sportsman would jump at the opportunity to earn a legitimate, rather than a mythical, world championship.

In addition, the super clubs of Europe that so many insist are above slogging it out with African or Latin American teams are rife with talent only because they plunder it from those regions of the world. If clubs in England, Spain and Italy are so inherently superior, let them enter the Champions League without their Argentines, Brazilians and West Africans. To make use of the human resources of those parts of the world, then deny the clubs that develop those players an opportunity to compete for a world title, would be borderline immoral.

The Club World Cup is one thing that FIFA actually gets right. Every continent is represented. It's brief and easy to follow. The European and South American teams get the bye they deserve, and the other continents get a seat the table and the opportunity to pull the upset of a lifetime. And if you believe that's not going to happen, you're kidding yourself. At some point, a Japanese or MLS or Mexican or Nigerian team is going to make the final. That's the inevitable evolution of sport, and it should serve as a real motivator for the elevation of the club game in the U.S. to international standards.

Give the competition time. It'll get there. People thought the Super Bowl and Champions League were dumb ideas when they launched as well.

Saturday wasn't perfect. For some dumb reason neither team wore their iconic uniform. Instead of being treated to the Blue-and-Red vs. the Red-and-White, we were forced to watch Barcelona in that hideous orange/pink and Estudiantes in another boring all-white kit. Even worse, Thierry Henry is wearing a gold medal. Mr. "I am not a cheat and never have been" punctuated a listless performance with a pathetic 82nd minute dive just outside the Estudiantes penalty area, for which he was justifiably booked. Henry is more than a cheat. He's a disgrace.

But those are about the only negatives that can be conjured. A legitimate global competition that will continue to grow in stature and competitiveness produced a champion for the ages. It's hard to ask for anything more than that.