Time for a clear out at Barcelona

If Barcelona thought that they had a chance of beating Bayern Munich in their Champions League quarter-final tie on Friday, that notion was dispelled within the first few minutes.

That’s all it took for Thomas Muller to open the scoring for the Bavarians, and the signs were already ominous given how easily the Bundesliga side had carved open the Catalans’ back line.

A spectacular own goal from David Alaba briefly drew Barcelona level, and had Lionel Messi’s speculative cross gone in rather than hitting the post at 1-1, there’s a small, nay minuscule, chance that the game might’ve taken on a different path. Continue reading

Stubborn Allegri Costs Juventus Again

Juventus Training Session

With the league just about wrapped up, Juventus travelled to Madrid with massive expectations on their shoulders. Crash out of the Champions League, and their season is effectively over. Despite the magnitude of the clash, the bianconeri looked a broken side at the Wanda Metropolitano and allowed Atletico Madrid to dominate from start to finish. Armed with Cristiano Ronaldo, this season was supposed to be different for the Italian giants and yet, Juventus arguably put in their worst European performance in six years.

While many of their stars frankly didn’t show up, Massimiliano Allegri will have to shoulder much of the blame for Juve’s most recent European embarrassment. With the score tied at zero, and still all to play for, Diego Simeone acted proactively bringing on Thomas Lemar, Alvaro Morata, and Angel Correa, essentially giving his side the extra push they needed to claim the victory.

Allegri, by contrast, acted timidly both with his starting lineup and in-game substitutions, keeping Joao Cancelo on the bench in favour of Mattia De Sciglio and only introduced Federico Bernardeschi by the time it was too late. Meanwhile, the former Milan tactician had Dybala operating from the right, as if he was a natural winger. Naturally, what transpired throughout the ninety minutes was an unmitigated disaster, culminating in a heavy defeat, which if we’re being honest, could have been much, much worse for Allegri. He’ll will be thanking VAR and Diego Costa.

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Julen Lopetegui should never have taken vacant job at Real Madrid


Real Madrid’s latest defeat against Deportivo Alaves at the weekend means that the club have not won a game or scored a goal for 4 matches and the pressure is now on new coach Julen Lopetegui. Whilst that may seem unfair at this early stage of the season, it feels that Lopetegui has put this pressure on himself, because he should never have taken the job in the first place.

Let’s rewind back to the summer and Lopetegui was about to take the national side, Spain to the World Cup finals in Russia. With Spain, Lopetegui had remained unbeaten after 20 games with 14 wins and 6 draws. A few months before the World Cup he had watched his team dismantle Argentina 6-1 in a friendly. Talk switched from Spain were clearly past it to Spain must be one of the favourites for the competition. Lopetegui had come in fresh, dazzled some spice on the tika taka and for the first time in 6 years the national side had a belief in themselves once more.

And then on the eve of the World Cup Lopetegui was announced as new coach for Real Madrid. His thinking was that he would coach Spain at the World Cup and take over at Madrid immediately after. Of course that never happened and the Spanish FA sacked him on the spot for disrespecting the national sides duty and brought in Fernando Hierro on a temporary basis, he has been replaced by Luis Enrique now.

Getting an offer from Madrid may seem as if you can’t turn it down but the timing was wrong not just for the Spanish national side but also for Lopetegui’s career. Why would you coach a team that has reached the highest peak? The only way is down and this has been witnessed in recent years.

Take Jose Mourinho’s time at Inter Milan, where we won numerous titles and then in his last season won the treble including the teams first European Cup since 1965. He quits soon after and Roberto Mancini comes in only to see his new team collapse because they couldn’t keep the same intensity up with a new coach. Sir Alex Ferguson retired at exactly the right time, only for David Moyes to be the scapegoat and on a hiding to nothing. In short taking over from a great means starting a new era and perhaps Lopetegui should have left that to someone else and stayed with the national side.

Real Madrid have not only lost Ronaldo this season but also lost Zinedine Zidane and so this was always going to be a struggle. In short if Real don’t win another Champions League, then they have gone backwards and the only thing that could save Lopetegui’s job would be a league title. But Real have had the wind taken from them, and haven’t spent sufficiently in the summer. Lopetegui and Real Madrid were the perfect match but not in 2018, and it rather feels that Lopetegui has left his wife for a more beautiful woman only to be left standing on his own with no place to go.

Jordi Alba more than deserving of Spain spot

In international football terms, Spain’s team is one of the most distinctive. A few of their stalwarts have retired in recent years – Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique just in the last few months – but they still retain a side many can ring off the tongue. Their lineup reads like a world XI.

Jordi Alba is one such player who gives Spain such distinction. He is, after all, arguably the best left back in the game right now, winning title after title over the past six years at Barcelona. And yet Alba has been left out of the Spain squad for the upcoming fixtures against England and Croatia this week and next.


What is even more baffling is that Luis Enrique, Alba’s former manager at Barca, is the one who has made the decision, naming his first squad as Spain manager. Enrique won the Champions League with Alba at left back and was integral in turning the left back into the player he is today. Alba probably, with some justification, feels a little betrayed by his old coach.

In Alba’s place, Enrique has instead picked Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso and Valencia’s Jose Luis Gaya. Both players are of a high calibre, with Alonso in particular enjoying a strong start to the season, but are they really of the calibre of someone like Alba, who is also in good form at the moment?

It could be argued that Enrique is simply seeking to try out different options, perhaps planning for a future where Alba, now 29 years old, will enter the twilight of his career. But these upcoming games against England and Croatia are technically competitive fixtures for Spain, as part of the inaugural UEFA Nations League. There’s at least something on the line for Spain over the next week.

“We’ve not spoken about it,” Alvaro Morata said when asked for his view on Alba’s omission. “We miss him. He’s a crack, someone who adds to the good atmosphere and a spectacular player. I don’t think I have to offer an opinion on it. I think we were all surprised that he wasn’t called up.”

Morata’s surprise is reflective of the general mood within the Spanish game over Enrique’s refusal to pick Alba for his first squad. “It’s the coach’s decision,” said Sergi Roberto, who incidentally has returned to the national team fold after missing out on a place at the World Cup. “In this case, [Alba] has not been called up. But he’s an important player, he’s calm and he will keep working hard [at Barcelona]. If he gets the call, he will be happy [to come back].”

It’s difficult to envisage that Alba won’t be back at some point. He is one of the very best at what he does and so there’s only so long that Enrique can ignore the Barcelona left back. Alba is deserving of his place in the Spain team. Most can see that.

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Are Spanish giants Barcelona losing their identity?


It’s easy to say that nothing is fundamentally wrong when you are the champions of your country and this past weekend you just scored 8 goals against an opponent, but Barcelona one of the greatest teams in the history of football are losing their identity as a club.

That identity is wrapped around their academy known as La Masia and the cold harsh facts that the Catalan club have not produced a player from within that has gone on to the first team in 10 years.

Currently there are just five players that make up the entire Barcelona A squad that came from the academy, they are; Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Roberto, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique. At the beginning of the year that figure was six but Andres Iniesta has since moved on to pastures new playing in the Chinese league.

So why are Barcelona not producing more players from the academy level? One theory is written within the clubs recent successes. So good has it been that top European clubs have no longer wanted to raid the A team but go after the youth before they make the step up to play at the hallowed turf that is Nou Camp. So teams are coming in for the young players, tempting them with more wages and better contracts. To counter this Barcelona at the start of this year increased youth team wages by a whopping 160%. It remains to be seen if this will have a lasting effect.

But that is just one opinion, the other could be that the club are failing in their academy system because they have indeed lost their identity and have just become another big spending European heavyweight. And of course there is evidence to back this up. In the last 4 seasons despite selling players such as Neymar for almost £200m they still spent almost £700m. Now if you are spending that type of money why would you even look at players that are in the academy?

Sergio Busquets remains the last home grown player that Barcelona have developed at the academy and he made his debut 10 years ago, and youth players continue to be lured by other clubs because they see a lack of opportunity.

A worrying trend has seen quality players leave the club, no matter how big Barcelona are they are wising up to the fact that they are not wanted. Take Sergio Gomez who was voted the 2nd best player at the U17 World Cup last year, he now plays for Borussia Dortmund. And then there is Pablo Moreno who scored 200 goals in five years at the academy, where is he now? Playing for Juventus.

Whilst splashing out millions of euros on todays superstars is a problem, the root seems to stem from the managerial side of things. The last two coaches of Barcelona Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde did not come from the academy and so do not have a connection to it. Plus La Masia is in effect no more, the players now train elsewhere so a special relationship has stopped, and in today’s football world it wouldn’t be a surprise if it never came back.




Messi wins Clasico in final minute with 500th goal for Barcelona


It was a night where Lionel Messi who has had an indifferent start to 2017 turned it on at the highest stage as he helped Barcelona to a thrilling 3-2 win over Real Madrid to split open the title race.

Messi had entered the game at Santiago Bernabeu with a black eye, he left it with a few less teeth, cuts and bruises and his 500th goal of his Barcelona career.

Real Madrid knew that with a 3 point advantage over Barcelona and a game in hand that a win here would in theory give them their first Liga title since 2012. At the very least two feet would be sliding through the door. And the European champions started brightly, like a barrage of prisoners let free on Alcatraz, Madrid did everything to rattle Barca’s defence- a deafening Madrid support helped too.

Madrid took the lead after 28 minutes from an unlikely hero in Carlos Casemiro, and the stadium erupted. It lasted for 300 seconds that’s what it took for Messi to swerve his way through to the Madrid area and score a quite spectacular goal that took out three players. By this point Messi was reportedly missing a couple of teeth after he caught Marcelo’s elbow. The challenge looked dubuios from the Real Madrid defender, and the sight of seeing Messi, blood pouring from his mouth as he pay on the pitch, did not look good. But the player dusted himself down to get an equaliser, complete with sponge in soaked in his mouth to relive the cuts.

A breathtaking first half had ended and the second started again with Madrid taking the game by the scruff of the neck and dictating the pace. By now it was a miracle that Madrid were not down to 10 men after Casemiro’s challenges should have seen the goalscorer taking an early shower. Madrid would get that wish so to speak when Sergio Ramos a player that has sadly built his career on red cards was sent off after a terrible challenge on Messi.

And against the play it was the away team that took the lead after a beautiful curving shot from Ivan Rakitic was just too good. The Croatian did not celebrate as one expected, probably knowing that his goal might not be good enough to win the tie. Madrid roared back and so did Barca, as the final quarter of an hour was charged with more electricity than is used to run the city of Madrid. Both goal keepers were kept busy, as both sets of defenders were not up to the job, clearly every chance looked like being a goal. That the game was kept to just 5 was some sort of miracle.

With five minutes to go Madrid seemingly broke Barca hearts after James slotted in for 2-2. A draw at this point felt like victory for Madrid. And what about Cristiano Ronaldo? Apart from a couple of clear cut chances that were uncharacteristically missed from the Portuguese he was fairly quiet on the night that he was obliged to show up.

In the final moments Messi reminded the world of his genius and got his 2nd goal of the night after great team work. Messi celebrated with his shirt off, he knew that he had struck gold at the right moment, on the right day and at the right time. Now La Liga is a title open once again even if Madrid do have the game in hand. Psychologically it is Barcelona’s name they will see top of the standings on goal difference, and right now it seems Barcelona have found a new wind to go on and claim another title. And yet, well, you just never know what’s round the corner in what is Barca coach Luis Enrique’s final season with the club.

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El Clasico: Will Real Madrid beat Barcelona for first La Liga title in 5 years?

For a club of Real Madrid’s stature, five years without a league title does seem like an eternity. Nevertheless, everything seems poised for Real Madrid to win their first la Liga title since the 2011-12 season.

Real eliminated Bayern Munich from the Champions League and will have the opportunity to battle one from Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Monaco. If Real can reach the final and lift the trophy, Zinedine Zidane’s men will become the first to retain the famous Champions League trophy in its current format. With confidence running high, and superstar Ronaldo scoring 5 of Real’s 6 goals in the 6-3 aggregate triumph over Bayern, Zidane must feel confident about his team’s chances of ending Barcelona’s league title hopes.

AS Roma v Real Madrid CF - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg

Contrast the confident mood in Madrid with disappointment and a sense of bewilderment in the Catalan camp following Barca’s exit from the Champions League. Luis Enrique will try to put on a brave face claiming the defeat against Juventus in Europe will propel his side to a famous win in El Clasico yet he knows the odds are stacked against Barca.

Not only do Real have a 3 point advantage in the standings, but the Madrid does have a game in hand as well. Anything less than a win for Barca might settle the title race and give Real an almost insurmountable lead. Thus, Real can play with a more relaxed approach while Barca know they must go all in and battle to earn 3 precious points.

Attacking in numbers will leave Barca’s susceptible defensive line even more exposed and things can only get worse when considering Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent goal-scoring exploits versus Bayern. Ronaldo only needs half a chance to stamp his name on the scoresheet. Ronaldo is no longer the explosive player he used to be but facing the likes of Sergi Roberto will leave him asking for the ball time and again during the highly anticipated El Clasico.

Zidane’s midfield has been a reference point this season with both Luka Modric and Toni Kroos performing well and on a consistent basis. Their ability to keep possession and pick out the proper passes helping the team to create more decisive chances while also giving opponents less time on the ball to hurt the defensive line led by Sergio Ramos.


Real will be playing at home and are aware they can settle for a draw and still retain a massive chance of winning the league title. Their fans want the league following a five-year absence. It will be extra special for the fans if the league can be practically sealed by beating Barca but at the same time it is unlikely Zidane will roll the dice and opt for a more attacking approach.

Just as against Bayern, Zidane will ask his players for full focus while patiently awaiting the opportune moments to attack and hurt Barca. Real’s cause will be helped by Neymar’s absence due to suspension but with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the starting XI, Barca fans still have hope.

Will Real or Barca end up winning El Clasico? Or will the game end in a tie which will ultimately set Real on course to win the coveted La Liga title?

Los posibles relevos en el banquillo culé

Luis Enrique

Lucho termina contrato a final de temporada y todavía no ha renovado. No será por falta de méritos, pero la directiva todavía no se ha sentado a negociar su continuidad. A pesar de que aún hay margen, ya comienza a especularse sobre una posible salida en junio. Por tanto, ¿quién podría tomar el relevo de Luis Enrique en el banquillo culé? Comienza el baile de posibles sustitutos.

Ernesto Valverde

Sus éxitos rotundos en Bilbao le avalan y además cuenta con un buen bagaje a nivel internacional. Asimismo es un viejo conocido de la afición barcelonista, pero también lo es del Espanyol, el rival de la capital. En cualquier caso, actualmente es el mejor posicionado para sentarse en el banquillo del Camp Nou.

Juan Carlos Unzúe

El entrenador del filial supondría el cambio menos drástico para el club. En la última década, los mejores resultados del Barcelona han llegado de la mano de un entrenador del B. Es decir, de alguien que conoce el club y que daría oportunidades a la cantera.

Ronald Koeman

Un símbolo de la historia reciente del Barcelona. Este año termina contrato con el Everton y siempre se ha mostrado predispuesto a entrenar en el Camp Nou. ¿Será la próxima temporada?

Laurent Blanc

Un entrenador de primer nivel que ha manejado el vestuario de la selección gala y del PSG. Actualmente no tiene equipo y eso puede acercarle a la capital catalana.

Frank de Boer

Jugó en el Barcelona y el cuerpo técnico ya se ha fijado en el holandés, que además no tiene equipo. Como entrenador, ha brillado en el Ajax durante varias temporadas, pero en el Inter fue catastrófico. Este último mal dato puede alejarle.

Eusebio Sacristán

Otro viejo conocido del club, que despuntó como futbolista y que ha dirigido las categorías inferiores. El éxito que está brindando a la Real, y el hecho de que todavía no haya renovado, le acercan al Camp Nou.

The need exists for Enrique to remedy Barcelona’s inconsistency

Euro 2016

Inconsistency has characterised Barcelona’s recent form in La Liga.

Specifically of their opening seven games in Spain’s top flight this season, the Catalan giants have won four drawn one and lost two, as they currently occupy fourth place in the table.

Although being a potent attacking force whereby they have scored 22 goals, with the frontline triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez combining brilliantly, Barcelona are at present defensively fragile, with that particularly the case during their recent 4-3 defeat to Celta Vigo.

Frailties exposed by Celta Vigo

Whilst Eduardo Berizzo’s team twice capitalised on the poor distribution of goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen to score, Barcelona’s defence were tormented throughout the game by Pione Sisto and Iago Aspas.  The 29-year-old Aspas not only scored one goal and provided an assist for another but also pressurised Jeremy Mathieu into an own goal.

As a consequence of that Barcelona have now conceded four goals to Celta Vigo at the Baladois for two consecutive years, since they lost the corresponding fixture 4-1 last season, with Aspas once again an inspirational figure in his team’s victory.

In addition to defending haphazardly against Celta Vigo, despite scoring three goals, Barcelona’s attack was low on both creativity and inventiveness, in the absence of Messi.  The mercurially talented Argentinean’s deputy Rafinha was replaced at half time by Andres Iniesta, with Barcelona trailing 3-0.  On his 600th appearance for the club, Iniesta inspired his teammates to deliver a vastly improved second half performance.

Nevertheless Celta Vigo resisted Barcelona’s best efforts to score an equalising goal and inflicted a second league loss of the season on Luis Enrique’s team.

Great performances interspersed by disappointments

After opening their La Liga campaign with two successive victories against Real Betis and Atletico Bilbao, Barcelona then lost 2-1 at home to Alaves.

That game represents the origin of their current inconsistency, since they then began their Champions League campaign with a 7-0 group stage win over Celtic, before beating Leganes 5-1 in La Liga.

In doing so Barcelona produced two typically dynamic and vibrant performances, to respond brilliantly to the disappointment of losing to Alaves.  Subsequently however for a second successive league game Barcelona failed to win at home as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Madrid.

Despite dominating proceedings and taking the lead through an Ivan Rakitic goal, Barcelona was denied victory as Angel Correa equalised for Los Rojiblancos.

Whilst his team’s failure to beat Atletico represented a major source of concern and frustration to Enrique, so too did the injury sustained by Lionel Messi during the game, as the 29-year-old suffered a recurrence of the groin injury which he suffered in the process of helping Argentina beat Uruguay 1-0 in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier last month.

Without Messi, following their draw with Atletico, Barcelona then emphatically defeated Sporting Gijon 5-0, as they delivered an extremely dominant and polished performance.  A chief architect of that was Arda Turan, with Turkey’s international captain scoring his team’s fourth goal.

Turan also played a vital role in his team’s 2-1 Champions League win over Borussia Monchengladbach, although he, along with Neymar, Luis Suarez and Paco Alcacer, who is yet to score in five appearances for Barcelona were powerless to prevent their team’s loss to Celta Vigo which marked a continuation of their recent inconsistency.

Defensive problems and uncertainty plague Barcelona

Ultimately that is largely attributable to the defensive problems which are currently plaguing Barcelona, since although free scoring they have also conceded goals at a high rate.

To quantify the susceptibility of Barcelona’s defence to exploitation, they have kept just three clean sheets in nine competitive games this season, with Alaves, Celta Vigo and Real Betis each having scored more than one goal against them.

At present, along with Sevilla, Barcelona have the joint third worst defensive record in La Liga having conceded 10 goals, although that is just one fewer than they’d let in at the same stage of last season.  Nevertheless whereas Barcelona had then accumulated 15 points, this term they have just 13, with them being two points adrift of the Madrid club.

Whilst that is only a marginal deficit and one which Barcelona are more than capable of overturning, in order to do so successfully Enrique must strive to ensure that his team overcome their current inconsistency.

Although currently far from being detrimental to Barcelona’s prospects of enjoying a good season, so as to ensure that they do not become so, their defensive frailties must be remedied as a matter of priority by Enrique.

There has not been a great deal of continuity in Enrique’s selection of defenders this season with the year-old manager naming six different defensive line-ups in seven La Liga games.  In doing so Enrique has fielded all eight of the officially recognised defenders and two of the three goalkeepers within his squad, as he experiments to try to find his best defensive base.

With the exception of Gerard Pique, neither any defender nor goalkeeper has been an ever present for Barcelona this season, as not only has Enrique’s team selection lacked consistency but so too has the form of his players.

Outlook remains bright for Barca

Nevertheless in many of Barcelona’s early season performances there has still been a wealth of positive aspects, with it now being the responsibility of Enrique to inspire his players to combine those so as to embark upon a consistent series of games free from fundamental errors and graced by their universally acclaimed elegant style of play.

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Cillessen and ter Stegen to compete to become Barca’s no.1

Euro 2016

For the last two seasons, Claudio Bravo has been Barcelona’s first choice goalkeeper in La Liga.

Brilliant Bravo bids farewell

During that time the 33-year-old helped Blaugrana achieve great success, whilst at the end of Barca’s 2014-2015 campaign, in addition to receiving the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for being the best goalkeeper in La Liga, he was also named in the division’s team of the season.

As such Bravo has played an extremely important role for Luis Enrqiue’s side over recent times, but will no longer do so, after being sold to Manchester City for 18m.

ter Stegen and Cillessen chief candidates to succeed Bravo

The departure of the Chilean internationalist centurion, who has made 106 appearances for La Roja, from Camp Nou, leaves Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jasper Cillessen competing to become Bravo’s successor as Barcelona’s first choice goalkeeper.

Whilst ter Stegen is now beginning his third season with the reigning La Liga champions, they have just signed Cillessen from Ajax for €14.9m in order to compensate for the sale of Bravo to Manchester City.

ter Stegen – Barca’s cup competition specialist

Since joining Barcelona from Borussia Monchengladbach for €12m in May 2014, despite Enrique preferring to field Bravo ahead of him in La Liga, ter Stegen has played all of the club’s Champions League and Copa Del Rey games. Whilst instrumental in Barcelona’s 2014-2015 Champions League success, ter Stegen has also been vital for the Catalan giants as they have won successive Copa Del Rey titles.

As such the 24-year-old 6-times capped German internationalist has proven himself as being capable of handling the considerable pressures associated with playing for Barcelona, whilst his Dutch counterpart Cillessen is still to learn of those.

Cillessen shines for club and country

After signing for Ajax in August 2011 from NEC Nijmegen for a fee in the region of 3m euros, Cillessen displaced Kenneth Vermeer as de Godenzonen’s first choice goalkeeper at the start of the 2013-2014 season, when he helped the club win the last of their 33 Eredivisie titles.

In doing so Cillessen performed brilliantly, with that being acknowledged by Holland’s then international manager Louis Van Gaal, who made the 27-year-old his first choice goalkeeper for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Subsequently Cillessen played each of his country’s games at the tournament, as they finished in third place, although he was infamously substituted for Tim Krul at the end of extra time in Holland’s quarter final against Costa Rica.

With that game entering it’s 121st minute and the score line locked at 0-0, Van Gaal made the decision to introduce Krul for the impending penalty shoot – out, which turned out to be an inspired choice since the 28-year old saved two Costa Rican spot kicks as Holland won 4-3. Ironically following Cillessen’s move to Barcelona, in order to replace him, Ajax manager Peter Bosz has signed Krul on a season long loan from Newcastle United.

Ultimately Krul faces an extremely difficult challenge to emulate his predecessor’s superb performance levels for Ajax, which were recognised as Cillessen was named as the club’s player of the year for both 2015 and 2016.

Dutch – German rivalry set to evolve for no.1 spot at Barca 

By taking into consideration Cillessen’s past achievements for both club and country, it is rational to surmise that Barcelona have undoubtedly acquired a top class goalkeeper, whilst they have one such other player in the guise of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Therefore during the upcoming season, ter Stegen and Cillessen are set to compete keenly to become Barcelona’s first choice goalkeeper, although the German is potentially the favourite to occupy the role, given his prior experience of playing for the club. Nevertheless Cillessen also represents an excellent goalkeeping option to Enrique.