Time for Barcelona to banish away day blues

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Here we are on the cusp of Barcelona’s biggest couple of weeks of the 2018/19 season.

At the time of writing, the match against Lyon is a few hours away, the first of four huge games for the Catalans, all away from home.

Following the trip to France, Ernesto Valverde’s side travel to Sevilla in La Liga before a double header against Real Madrid in the space of 72 hours. Continue reading

Barcelona’s incentive to end Real Madrid’s season

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There was a 50 percent chance of it happening, and once Valencia and Real Betis had been drawn out of the Copa del Rey hat, it meant that, yes, we were going to see a two-legged El Clasico semi-final.

Moreover, the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu precedes a league match between the two teams at the same venue just 72 hours later.

It’s the first time in Barcelona’s history that they will have played two consecutive games at the Bernabeu, and given their recent record there, the Blaugrana will be entirely confident of continuing their run of victories. Continue reading

Is a Copa exit a blessing in disguise for Barcelona?

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Wednesday night sees the completion of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals for 2018/19, and there’s little doubt that the fare on offer at Camp Nou will be required viewing.

Barcelona are 2-0 behind to Sevilla, and though they managed to turnaround a deficit in the last 16 tie against Levante, the Andalusian side is a different proposition entirely.

They’re also about as far removed from the team that were hammered 5-0 by the Catalans in last year’s final as it’s possible to be. Continue reading

Time for Barcelona’s kids in the Copa del Rey

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The draw for the Copa del Rey quarter finals has thrown up an interesting conundrum for Barcelona.

The Catalans have been paired with Sevilla for the two-legged tie, the Andalusians being one of, if not the toughest opponent they could’ve faced.

It will see a quick return to the Camp Nou for Munir El Haddadi, recently signed by Pablo Machin, and how he would love to put a spoke in the aspirations of his former side. Continue reading

Barca need to up the ante in the Champions League

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When your captain and talisman is steadfast in his resolve that this will be the year that the team is going to win the Champions League, the least that’s expected from every player is 100 percent concentration, commitment and effort in every game in the competition.

It’s a given at the top level, but since Lionel Messi uttered those words at the start of the campaign, the Argentinian has been the only one following his own advice in each European match that he’s been involved in. Continue reading

Lionel Messi is masking Barcelona’s problems

On the face of things, all went well for Barcelona on Wednesday night. Against a PSV Eindhoven side intent of giving it one last go to climb their way off the foot of Group B in this season’s Champions League, the Catalans claimed a 2-1 win to secure top spot. Dig a little deeper, though, and there was plenty to concern Ernesto Valverde.

Barca gave up enough opportunities for the result to be very different – ‘gave up’ being the key term. As effective as PSV were in the final third, hassling and harrying the Spanish champions, Valverde’s side were unusually slack with possession. Sergio Busquets surely can’t have had many looser games. Ivan Rakitic wasn’t much better, with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen also extremely uncomfortable.

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The xG plot maps produced after full time backed up the notion that PSV, had they taken their chances, probably should have beaten, or at least taken a point off, Barcelona. The visitors were fortunate to leave with all three points, once again owing to the brilliance of Lionel Messi, whose stunning opener changed the course of the match as a contest.

Fears that Messi may be slowing down have been, so far, unfounded this season, with the Argentinean as lethal as ever. Playing in a ‘false nine’ position on Wednesday night, with Luis Suarez missing for the match, Messi was both Barcelona’s attacking hub and their cutting edge. He is good enough to play both roles at the same time.

Elsewhere, though, there was reason for Valverde to be concerned. Barcelona’s midfield was far too deep against PSV, with Philippe Coutinho positioned only slightly in front of the central platform of Busquets and Rakitic. This resulted in Barca holding the ball closer to their own goal than is normal, which subsequently incentivised PSV to press high on the Catalans.

Last season, Valverde was criticised for not rotating his squad sufficiently. This resulted in Barcelona running out of steam when they reached the latter rounds of the Champions League, demonstrated by their infamous collapse to Roma in the quarter finals.

While Valverde is rotating his squad better this season, his changes on Wednesday night were peculiar. Busquets and Rakitic were quite clearly struggling from the 60-minute mark onwards, yet the Barca boss chose to withdraw Ousmane Dembele rather than resting one of his fatigued central midfielders.

This only accentuated the positional issues that Barcelona were experiencing in the middle of the pitch, giving PSV a way back into the match when the points should have been secured with the scoring of the second goal through Gerard Pique. Against better teams, Barca could come unstuck if they continue to play in this way. They might be through to the Champions League last 16, top of their group, but Valverde has plenty to think about.

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Time to stop talk of a Neymar return to Barca

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Not too long ago, Barcelona’s Pep Segura made a simple statement that could be easily understood and with no room for misinterpretation.

Any player that leaves the club is not welcome back.

It was almost as if he was saying ‘if we weren’t good enough for you then, you’re not good enough for us now.’

An understandable point of view, particularly when it relates to one of the biggest names in world football. Continue reading

Ballon Bore – How the awards have become a laughing stock

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There once was a time when the Ballon d’Or awards really seemed to mean something.

Being the best in the world in the eyes of your peers was a gong worth winning and most of the time there was no real argument as to who the eventual winner was.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have monopolised the award, however, we’ve seen ridiculous tactical voting and even an unprecedented extension of the voting period in order to allow the Portuguese to win it during the year in which he was well behind the Argentinian at the original cut off point.

The situation has only been made worse with a splintering of the award in the recent past.

Now we have FIFA’s ‘The Best’ as a rival to France Football’s Ballon d’Or, as well as the UEFA Player of the Year.

We’ve seen people crowned as the best in their respective position who’ve then not made the team of the year (Thibaut Courtois), and Mo Salah winning the best goal of the year in the Puskas Award when it was abundantly clear that his strike was nowhere close to the best effort.

Though it was probably a knee-jerk reaction at the time, Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo’s agent, saying that only Real Madrid players win the award, when FIFA’s The Best was given to Luka Modric rather than his client, was telling.

With the greatest of respect, including Karim Benzema on the list of 30 players for this season’s Ballon d’Or is utterly farcical.

The Frenchman has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net for the best part of a year now, and after an initial burst of goals at the start of this campaign, is back to the poor form of 2017/18.

There is literally no reason for him to be on the list other than the fact that he plays for Real Madrid.

Lionel Messi is unlikely to win it this year, after missing out on both the UEFA Team of the Year and FIFA’s The Best, however, out of every candidate, with the possible exceptions of Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann, the Argentinian deserves it.

Griezmann has already been vocal in saying that the best player has to come from the best team, insinuating that a French World Cup winner has to win. As he’s also won the Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup, there’s a school of thought that would agree with him.

Equally, a third successive Champions League trophy for Real Madrid gives Ronaldo a shout.

However, the Ballon d’Or is an individual award, and no one player has done more than Messi to rightfully stake a claim.

Goals, assists, key passes, completed passes… the No.10 reigns supreme.

Frankly, if the governing bodies can’t or won’t give the award to the players who deserve it the most, what’s the real point of making such a song and dance about them in the first place?!

All it’s doing is alienating the public further and treating them with contempt.

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Tottenham need more than Kane to beat Barcelona

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Injuries to key players in Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham side couldn’t have come at a worse time for the north Londoners.

If losing Dele Alli wasn’t bad enough, to hear that Christian Eriksen, Serge Aurier, Jan Verthongen and Moussa Dembele were out too would likely have sent even the most optimistic Spurs fan into meltdown.

Hugo Lloris returns in goal in one bit of good news for ‘Poch,’ who will be heavily reliant on the talismanic Harry Kane doing the business. Continue reading

One year since Neymar blew the transfer market wide open

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This time last year the football world was still reeling from the astonishing €222 million capture of Neymar by Paris Saint-Germain.

It was a stunning coup by the French side, taking a player destined to become one of the world’s best from one of the footballing super powers that PSG aspire to be.

Barcelona were dumbstruck and, as a result of that particular deal, have been careful to ensure much higher buyout clauses for their best players. Continue reading