Saturday 4 October 2008

Match discussion: Atletico

This evening at 10 pm bt,
Barcelona plays the sixth game of the season against Atlético Madrid.

Last Wednesday, Atlético won their second Champions League group stage game against Marseille with 2-1, playing with Leo Franco, Perea, Heitinga, Ujfalusi, Pernía, Maxi (81 Luis García), Assunçao, Raúl García, Miguel (81 Banega), Sinama (66 Maniche), Agüero. Agüero and Raúl García scored.

Atlético is ranked seventh in the Liga, Barcelona fifth. You can read a preview of the game, with an analysis of the opponent, here

Atlético squad list:
Coupet, Leo Franco, Antonio López, Pernía, Heitinga, Ujfalusi, Perea, Álvaro Domínguez, Raúl Garcia, Luis García, Maxi Rodríguez, Paulo Assunçao, Éver Banega, Miguel de las Cuevas, Keko, Joshua, Kun Agüero, Sinama-Pongolle

Barcelona squad list:
Valdés, Pinto, Jorquera, Alves, Márquez, Piqué, Puyol, Cáceres, Abidal, Sylvinho, Xavi, Touré, Keita, Iniesta, Gudjohnsen, Busquets, Messi, Eto'o, Bojan, Henry, Pedro

Before (what are your expectations, what's your prediction, what should be the line-up,...), during and after the match, you can comment on the game here.

[Crosas] Celtic Glasgow-Hamilton

Celtic played this afternoon their eigth league game of the season. The Scottish champions defeated Hamilton with 4-0.

Former Barcelona midfielder Marc Crosas (20) started the game as central midfielder in a 4-4-2. He completed his first official game as Celtic player.

Marc Crosas joined Celtic Glasgow in 2008. Since Barcelona can buy Crosas back in the summer of 2010 for two million euro (read more here), this blog will follow the performances of the midfielder over the next two years.

Sunday 10 August - League game 1: Celtic Glasgow-St Mirren 1-0
Non-selectable. Crosas has signed his contract and is presented to the fans before the match.

Sunday 17 August - League game 2: Dundee United-Celtic Glasgow 1-1

Saturday 23 August - League game 3: Celtic Glasgow-Falkirk 3-0
Substitute. Crosas replaces Brown in the 73rd minute (3-0).

Sunday 31 August - League game 4: Celtic Glasgow-Rangers 2-4

Sunday 14 September - League game 5: Motherwell-Celtic Glasgow 2-4
Starter. Crosas starts the game and is replaced by Nakamura in the 80th minute (2-4).

Wednesday 17 September - Champions League group stage game 1: Celtic Glasgow-Aalborg 0-0

Sunday 21 September - League game 6: Kilmarnock-Celtic Glasgow 1-3
Starter. Crosas starts the game and is replaced by Hartley in the 74th minute (0-2).

Tuesday 23 September - League Cup 1/8 finals: Celtic Glasgow-Livingston 4-0
Not selected.

Saturday 27 September - League game 7: Celtic Glasgow-Aberdeen 3-2
Starter. Crosas starts the game and is replaced by McDonald in the 72nd minute (1-2).

Tuesday 30 September - Champions League group stage game 2: Villareal-Celtic Glasgow 1-0

Saturday 4 October - League game 8: Celtic Glasgow-Hamilton 4-0
Starter. Crosas starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

1. Celtic 19
2. Rangers (7) 19
3. Kilmarnock 13
4. Hibernian 13

Barcelona to pay additional fee for Pedro

Spanish television channel Cuatro claims that Spanish club San Isidro will receive 300 000 euro° once Barcelona wing attacker Pedro (21) has played 10 official games with the first team. This would have been part of the transfer agreement between San Isidro and Barcelona.

Catalan sports paper Sport claims that Barcelona has already paid the Canarias regional team a total sum of 30 000 euro: 6 000 euro as transfer fee back in 2004 and 24 000 euro when Pedro was promoted to Barcelona B.

Read more:
Renewal coming up for Pedro and Victor Sanchez
An introduction to the coming stars
Pedro and Victor Sanchez permanently promoted

[Henrique] Bayer Leverkusen-Hertha Berlin

Bayer Leverkusen played this afternoon their seventh Bundesliga game of the season. With a goal one minute before the end, Bayer lost at home against Hertha Berlin.

Brazilian central defender and Barcelona loan out Henrique (21) started the match and played the whole game in the centre of the Bayer defense.

Barcelona bought Henrique this summer and decided to loan him out to Bayer Leverkusen for one season (read more here). This blog will follow Henrique's performances during this season.

Sunday 10 August - Cup round 1: Rot-Weiß Oberhausen-Bayer Leverkusen 2-3
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 120 minutes.

Saturday 16 August - Bundesliga game 1: Bayer Leverkusen-Borussia Dortmund 2-3
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Saturday 23 August - Bundesliga game 2: Vfb Stuttgart-Bayer Leverkusen 0-2
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Saturday 30 August - Bundesliga game 3: Bayer Leverkusen-Hoffenheim 5-2
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes. Right back.

Saturday 13 September - Bundesliga game 4: Hamburg-Bayer Leverkusen 3-2
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes. Right back.

Friday 19 September - Bundesliga game 5: Bayer Leverkusen-Hannover 4-0
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Tuesday 23 September - Cup round 2: Augsburg(2)-Bayer Leverkusen 0-2
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes. Yellow card.

Saturday 27 September - Bundesliga game 6: Bochum-Bayer Leverkusen 2-3
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Saturday 4 October - Bundesliga game 7: Bayer Leverkusen-Hertha Berlin 0-1
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes. Yellow card.

1. Hoffenheim 13
2. Stuttgart 13
3. Hamburg (6) 13
4. Bayer Leverkusen 12
5. Schalke 04 (6) 11
6. Werder Bremen 7 11
7. Borussia Dortmund (6) 11
8. Hertha 11
9. Köln 10
10. Wolfsburg (6) 9
11. Bayern München 9
12. Karlsruhe (6) 9

All available players included in Atletico list

Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola has this morning announced a list of 21 players for the sixth game of the Spanish league against Atlético Madrid this evening at 10 pm.

The list:
Valdés, Pinto, Jorquera,
Alves, Márquez, Piqué, Puyol, Cáceres, Abidal, Sylvinho,
Xavi, Touré, Busquets, Keita, Iniesta, Gudjohnsen,
Messi, Eto'o, Bojan, Henry, Pedro

Left back defender Sylvinho and goalkeeper Jorquera, who has been doing some specific training this morning, return to the list. With 21 players selected, three should still fall off. The names of these players will be announced shortly before the start of the game.

Víctor Sánchez, who has been playing the last three games with Barcelona Atlètic, couldn't be included since he cannot play due to a red card he received last weekend. Hleb and Milito are not available because of injuries.

Transfer of Aguero to Barcelona is unlikely

Asked about the rumours linking Atlético Madrid forward and Argentinian international Sergio 'Kun' Agüero (20) with Barcelona (read more here), Atlético Madrid president Enrique Cerezo has said in an interview with Catalan radio station RAC-1 that he doesn't think the Argentinian striker will join Barcelona one day:

"I think that football fans will only be able to see Messi and Agüero play together with the Argentinian national team."

Earlier this week, when asked about rumours linking Agüero with English Premier League club Manchester City, Cerezo said to journalists that he was calm about the issue: "Those rumours don't worry me. I think that football players play where they want to play and that Agüero wants to play with Atlético because he's very happy with the team and the city. At this moment I'm more worried about Barcelona than about Manchester City."

Read more:

First international call-up for Busquets

Barcelona defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets (20) has been called-up for the Spanish U-21 national team. This is the first international call-up for the Catalan player.

This month, the Spanish U-21 will play a two-legged tie against Switzerland to qualify for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in June next year.

Barcelona central defender Gerard Piqué (21), Barcelona wing attacker Pedro (21), who made his debut with the U-21 last month (read more
here) and Barcelona forward Bojan (18), who made his debut with the senior team last month (read more here) are also part of the squad. Almería central defender Chico (21), who played last season for Barcelona B, received his first call-up.

Barcelona Atlètic wing attacker Gai Assulin (17) will play a tie against Italy with the Israel U-21 national team.

Barça B - Official: Chico to Almeria

Friday 3 October 2008

Quote of the day: Abidal

I know all the players of the team, but I don't know what they're doing in their lives, if they are married, if they have children... On the pitch we're a family but outside we're not.

Eric Abidal, Barcelona player

Barcelona has its own lifebuoy

- life saver used at ships

-life saver used at airplanes

- life saver used at Barça
(and sometimes even this one doesn't save us)

(click the cartoon to enlarge)

see more cartoons here

The Points: Shakhtar

Valdés 6___6___7___7___7

Alves 6___4,5___4,5___4___5,5
Márquez 5___6___6___6___7
Piqué 4___5___5,5___4___5,5
Puyol 5___5___5___4___5,5

Xavi 6___6___6,5___5___6,5
Touré 5___6___6___7___5,5
Keita 4___5___5___4___5
Iniesta 6___6___6,5___7___6,5

Eto'o 4___5___6___4___6
Henry 4___5,5___5,5___4___5,5

Messi 9___8___8,5___9___8
Bojan 8___6___7___6___6,5
Gudjohnsen 5___5___*___5___6


If you have seen the match, you can give your own points. If you know other papers or sites that give points, you can let me know. See previous points here.

The Ultimate Game: Get Inside Guardiola's Head

With Frank Rijkaard you couldn't get any honour by predicting Barcelona's starting line-up. Even hockey moms could. But this has drastically changed this summer. Until this very day, nobody has been able to crack the code of Josep Guardiola's brain. Nor has anyone got inside his sleeves.

So this is your chance to prove not only your knowledge about the game of football but also your psychological insight:


This is not (as in: NOT, n-o-t! I warn you, Ramzi!) a place for discussion on team tactics or personal player preferences. You just give the system and the eleven names you think will start the game against Atlético Madrid tomorrow.

Don't forget to add your (nick)name by clicking Name/URL under the comment box and fill it in, otherwise your after-game claim to glory will be dismissed.

You can give your starting line-up until four hours before the start of the game, in this case: until 6 pm barcelona time.

No Atletico match list today

Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola has decided not to announce today a match list for the Liga game against Atlético Madrid. He will give the list of 18 names tomorrow, probably after the training session that will start at 12 pm.

After that last training, the players will lunch together at 1:30 pm and are then free for the afternoon. At 8:15 pm they are expected back at the Camp Nou, with the match against Atlético starting at 10 pm.

Medical: Messi has high injury risk

Catalan sports paper Sport claimed earlier this week that the Barcelona medical staff has warned about a high hamstring injury risk of Barcelona attacker and Argentinian international Lionel Messi (21).

Messi would only be able to play 120 to 130 minutes a week, combined with specific training sessions and a lot of resting.

Counting the game of tomorrow, Messi will have played 15 offical matches (5 at the Olympics, 2 World Cup qualifiers with Argentina, 6 Liga games and 2 Champions Leagues games) in the last 60 days, which is more than one game every four days.

Read more:

Barcelona has to hand over part of Arteta fee

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo reports that after four years of judicial proceedings, Barcelona will have to pay Basque youth club Antiguoko a fee of 105 000 euro° related to the transfer of now Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta (26) from Barcelona to Glasgow Rangers six years ago.

Antiguoko board member Javier García 'Pitu' is satisfied with the decision: "We're very happy with the verdict. Barcelona argued that they didn't have to pay 'solidarity rights' because they already paid the 'origin rights'. But it's a FIFA rule and Barcelona didn't want to respect that. They thought they could get away with it but we won against a big shot. We hope this can be a precedent for other cases."

Mikel Arteta joined Barcelona from Antiguoko in 1997. The former Spanish youth international didn't make it to the first team squad and after going out on loan to French club Paris Saint-Germain for two years, Arteta was sold to Glasgow Rangers in the summer of 2002.

Read more:

Poll result - Man of the Match: Shakhtar

This is the final result of this blog's Shakhtar-Barcelona: Who was our man of the match? poll:

1. Messi 91%
2. Guardiola 1%
2. Marquez 1%

Ramzi Rambles: Adrenaline!!!

I CAN SEE YOU!! Barely sitting on that couch, I CAN SEE YOU! having a walk every once and while, then sitting back staring to that box of light, your TV, waiting the game, I KNOW…I know…you feel your stomach getting squeezed so bad that you can barely breath! You are hungry, no matter how much you eat! Don’t worry! You are not a psycho and need no cure, All what you need is …

But first, I’ll make a confession…
In the selection I suggested for Shakhtar game (read here), I picked Sylvinho. Well I strongly believe he is still needed to do that role, but against some middle–to-low teams in the league, not against Shakhtar. I didn’t take – by mistake- the physical demand of the game in account, and that was naïve, they would have crushed him without notice.

Aside of that, after watching the game, I became more confident that using the fresh blood selection suggested, with the roles I had in mind and based on strategic approach including starters and substitutes, would have yield a better performance, better result, and saved more energy.

Now let’s turn the page…

Barcelona – Atletico Madrid

Is one of the Milestones of the season, every game is important, but there are those games that offer you the right test and the realistic indication about where you stand, what you lack, and where you need to improve, if not even deciding the dimensions of your season ambitions.

So, for the importance of the game, allow me to be little bit clinical this time, taking in consideration that we all know the team we are going to face, so unlike Shakhtar, no need to introduce.

Atletico Madrid Selection:
After CL game, it’s not easy to pick a definite selection, especially for a team having a reasonable depth as Atletico, and trained by an ultra versatile coach like Aguirre.

The most likely 4-4-2 selection will be:
Franco, Perea, Ufaljusi, Heitinga, Pernia, Maxi, Assuncao, Maniche, Luis Garcia, Sinama Pongolle and Aguero.

If Aguirre wants to be mean, he may bench Sinama for the first half and play Raul Garcia, he knows that if Barcelona doesn’t score in the first half, they will go crazy, if he watched Espanyol game, he will know what to do.

Barcelona Selection:
After CL…it’s easy to pick the selection…

Valdes, Abidal, Pique, Puyol, Alves, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Eto'o and Messi.

That’s the selection in principle, more to come.

Atletico Madrid Brief dissection:
Perea: strong and solid, if it will turn to be a physical compact between him and Iniesta, he will make it difficult for our man, but he lacks mobility, that’s where Iniesta can no doubt outclass him while smoking his cigar! Will Aguirre switch him with Ufaljusi? That’s possible but unlikely happening. But he will not be alone anyway; Maxi Rodríguez will be there also. Perea is not a big threat going forward, though he has good shots, which is a trend in Atletico current squad.

Ufaljusi, Heitinga: a strong duo that with time will prove its worth, still not clicking yet, Ufaljusi is a born leader with great abilities to play long balls to the forwards, so the high defense of Barcelona need to be fully aware of that.

Pernia: is almost the opposite of what Perea is! May not be the best fullback defensively – though not a bad one, but his best quality is going forward, plus being a free kick specialist.

Maxi Rodriguez: one of the most complete midfielders when he is in form. This guy knows how to defend, how to distribute the ball, how to cross and he has the wide shots that Valdes needs to expect.

Assuncao, Maniche: while Assuncao will play the holding role, Maniche is having one of his best periods since Euro 2004, he is back to meet expectations, very dynamic, aggressive for the ball and “also” shoots from wide range.

Luis Garcia (or could be Miguel de las Cuevas): the one who will work as a left wing, both of them are skillful enough to link with Kun, and Sinama.

Sinama: what a bad news for Atletico, Forlan injured, but that wasn’t all bad, Sinama is the good news at the beginning of the season, scoring and linking up with the Kun perfectly.

Aguero: after CL game, Marseille Coach, Gerets, paid tribute to Atléti striker Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero, he said: “We know that Aguero is a phenomenal player, he scores goals that others do not. He is somebody who goes, just at the right moment, behind defenses. I had informed them (his players) of that 25 times and that makes me frustrated… but I cannot kill my defenders.”

Barcelona dissection:
Now I understand the belief that Atletico will play defense that some fans may predict, but Barcelona must not keep anything for chance, and no doubt Pep will instruct his players how to deal with various scenarios, and here is a sample.

Valdes: after a great performance in Champions League, we hope he keep it up and prove being decisive.

Being fond of Mathematics since youth days, let me break down my message in two equations:

Marquez + Puyol = troubles.
2 CB+ 2 backwards = troubles.

Those are definite facts for me now.

And lets not let names bluff us, if Puyol played against Shakhtar in Abidal's place, it doesn’t mean he was a third CB, if you watch the game again you will notice he was doing the fullback job going forward more than Abidal ever does.

So that’s the first I expect, three central backs dedicated to their defensive role, as mentioned above, my favorites are Pique, Puyol, Abidal. Yet Caceres may turn to be one of the selection surprises, but I will stick to what is tested for this game.

How to defend?

First, let’s deal with the Aguero case, aren’t we all in need for that?

This guy just loves to penetrate from the week side between the fullback and central back. In this game I can see him working through the right flank of Barcelona, penetrating to the box.

By doing that, he seeks to force Alves to stay back, so he accomplishes a defensive role for his team, and at the same time makes the defense busy so Sinama positions himself where he can finish, and the midfielders position themselves well to take wide shots.

The solution is not through Alves, that will be harmful for Barcelona set offense. When Aguero moves toward to the box edge, its Pique's role to mark him, Alves turn comes when Aguero drop back to the midfield to the right, there is when Alves takes his man, while Pique creates depth on the right, Puyol and Abidal secure things in the middle.

The last card for Atletico on that flank, is to try to confuse the Alves/Pique contribution, through moving Pernia (the left back) forward, hoping to confuse the defense system, but that’s when Messi's defensive contribution start, first by positioning himself on the left flank of Atletico in a way that makes Pernia think twice before leaving his spot and move forward, and if needed tracking the leftward back.

Will Aguero switch to the right? There is no question, he will do for sure! And for that the same system should be applied, involving Keita and Abidal.

Sinama meanwhile must be contained by one of the other two free central backs, while the third creates the depth.

In the midfield, Busquets acts as a midfield sweeper, with Iniesta dropping back as a fourth midfielder, and Alves acting as a fifth, the team has no doubt enough troops to contain the trio Maxi, Maniche and Garcia.

If it happened that Atletico only used one forward (Aguero) with five midfielders, then Pique plays “full deny” marking on Aguero on the right, and Abidal does so on the left, with the other two defenders creating depth, keeping Alves and Keita focused on the midfield battle.

Pressure on Atletico's defense is a must, they make lot of mistakes under pressure, Barcelona needs to work for that.

Let’s stick to what works, Alves on the right supported by Messi from deep, Iniesta from the left supported by Keita, and Xavi orchestrating the symphony from the middle.

Eto'o being the wild horse running all around creating spaces for those who penetrate from behind, and you all have the name of Messi in mind right now.

I believe this forward style needs no further explanations, we all know it already, but there are some points Barcelona need to be aware of:

1) Xavi: We hope it never happens, we don’t like it, but it will happen sooner or later, a team Barcelona play against will successfully contain Xavi.

It’s obvious that he is Barcelona maestro, and the one who dictates the tempo – which we lacked in Shakhtar game by the way, and that was one of the hidden nodes that caused that unattractive performance- will that be a disaster? If the team expects it, then it's not at all, unlike last season, and that’s one of the blesses of the new system.

Last season we used to play using Messi on the right, Ronaldinho/Henry on the left and Xavi with Iniesta in the middle, it was a piece of cake to freeze that offence set up, simply the left fullback and left midfielder freeze Messi on the right, the right fullback with right midfielder freeze Henry on the left, the two central midfielders with one dropped back forward deal with Iniesta and Xavi, while Eto'o is locked between two central backs.

This season with Messi playing deep and leaving the right flank for Alves, it'ss not that easy anymore, because to freeze the playmaking process u need to deal with both Messi and Xavi in the middle assisted by Keita – for now till Hleb is back, can you imagine?!- now how many players you need for that?

Man marking will not work anymore, so teams work more with tight zone defense, and through opening the flanks wide using Iniesta and Alves, plus Messi's silky moves and Eto'o's bothering runs, with the hope to see more shots from the edge of the box, this defense system is something Barcelona can deal with, even while lacking the big striker in the box.

2) Positioning of the players to meet the crosses: one of the nice things Xavi mentioned in his interview, is that they are trying to develop more tactics to take advantage of corners, which is a need when you know that at least Barcelona gains ten corners per game.

But what about the crosses? I noticed that all the guys go to the same spot when a cross is made (both defensively and offensively by the way) we need to balance the move to cover both posts and the middle, al what needed is some training, this is attainable.

3) I don’t want to create another debate about positions, I am already exhausted after months of debate regarding how good Iniesta can be on the wing, so I will hit my note and run! I would like to see Toure playing the Keita role while Hleb is missing.

4) To make sure he gains the midfield playmaking dominance, Pep may decide to play Iniesta in midfield again, and use Henry on the wing, don’t be surprised if it happened, I am not so excited about that idea, but there is certainly a point if it happened.

5) Fatigue: Barcelona players had a very difficult week with two demanding games played already, but hey! Atletico had there fair share of that mess, played two highly demanding games. Even when it comes to injuries we have Hleb and long term Milito, they have Simao and Forlan, so let's skip that factor aside.

6) Free kicks: Alves hold your stick in the field, no one else dares to take it! Even my beloved Xavi :)

Finally regarding Pep Guardiola, I recommend that we resist getting addicted to whipping ourselves, it's boring now to keep saying this team needs time, but hey! It’s already going good, five wins in a row, lot of people haven’t expected that!

He was lucky? Well as a person who doesn’t consider luck being a daily loaves, I suggest that we make a decision, either to believe that the lightning never strikes the same place twice (his substitutes seems to work all the time), so we give him the credit, or we consider it all for luck – the win and defeat - so let's stop analyzing so we all go to spend our time with praise, and if it didn’t work, don’t blame Pep, its just bad luck.

I vote for offering the guy his fair chance, I suggest that you visit the following webpage, it may inspire how dodgy beginnings may lead to glory if given time and patience even though Pep beginning is quite promising so far, knock here and get in.

Enjoy the game, and good luck!

Thursday 2 October 2008

The Pictures: Shakhtar

(click on the pictures to enlarge)

(click on the pictures to enlarge)


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