Saturday 6 December 2008

Match discussion: Valencia

This evening at 10 pm bt,
Barcelona plays the thirteenth game of the league against Valencia.

You can read an extensive preview of the game here.

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.

from two hours before until two hours after the game you can join a match chat

(read more here)

Laporta: "To govern is to resist"

Barcelona president Joan Laporta gave an interview to Spanish newspaper El País.

Since you surprisingly won the elections back in 2003, a lot of the decisions you have taken have been courageous, and sometimes they even seemed reckless.
If you want to be a good president, you have to be courageous but responsible.

It looks like you took advantage of the exit of some board members in July to do what they didn't let you do before.
The decisions are certainly working quite well: the appointment of Josep Guardiola as manager, the organizational impulse with the new chief executive officer Joan Oliver, the challenge of collecting the 380 million euro we predicted and keep a surplus on the budget. We've paid all our bank debts and the new sports centre, we've reactivated the sale of the season-ticket holders’ seats, Barça TV will broadcast publicly and we continue with our solidarity activities. Every year we create new successes that all start from a competitive football project.

You now understand your predecessor Josep Lluís Núñez when he took some decisions against the public opinion?
We cannot be compared. I take a position and then the board makes the decisions.

The bid for an MLS franchise doesn’t seem very supported by the entourage of the club, like your visits to Uzbekistan and some of your relations with persons who are not linked to the world of football.
I feel the energy to keep on innovating. If we are more than a club and we live in a global world, you have to look at all the options. I have always been innovative and courageous when it came down to making decisions.

You have become richer since you became president?
I have my businesses and I try to make them work, but never at the expense of the club. Being the president of Barcelona, gives you more chances to meet people. It’s a phase of your life, a privilege. On the other hand, I’ve also gone through some very difficults moments in my private life.

Nowadays the politicians aren’t so keen anymore to get on the picture with you and there’s no talk anymore about your possible political career.
I already said a while ago that I’m not motivated to get involved in these matters. I would have liked to be the centre forward of Barcelona.

You are still true to the spirit of former sports director Armand Carabén and to the slogan “more than a club”, just like you are true to the football legacy of Cruijff and the Dream Team?
We keep on respecting the spirit of the founder and of Carabén. His example showed us how to lead the club, like Cruijff showed us how to play. The result is the club that I’m leading.

You’ve already found your computer that was stolen at the Camp Nou earlier this year?
I’m not looking look for it anymore.

Your outbursts, like the incident at the airport and the discussion with your driver, don’t cast a shadow on your work as president?
If that’s the only thing that can be criticized, this means there’s not a lot to criticize. The main thing are the ideals.

You think Barcelona will win against Madrid next week?
I’ve stopped thinking about things that don’t contribute anything. We’re focused on staying cautious and to keep on working hard. To govern is to resist. To win, you have to resist.

This was the second and last part of this interview. Read the first part here:

Barcelona interested in Essien

Asked about the exit rumours regarding Chelsea midfielder and Ghana international Michael Essien (26), Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has said at a press conference that Barcelona is one of the clubs interested in the player but that he wants to keep the player:

"Inter, AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid all want Essien but he is at Chelsea. If I stay for three years I don't want him out, I want him to stay with me.

This is because he is very good player who can play in five positions very well. He is young and dedicated. He is our player and I think he is happy here.

Michael Essien is good news for me everyday. At this moment he is injured but he is recovering quicker than we thought. He comes here at 10.30 in the morning and doesn't go until four in the afternoon. He tries to come back early. It is good for us. He is a fantastic example for other players. I don't want to put pressure on him but I think we will have good news sooner than we expected."

Read more:
Swap deal including Essien and Xavi
Mourinho's eleven
Busquets renewal could be closed this week

[Henrique] Monchengladbach-Bayer Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen played this afternoon their sixteenth Bundesliga game of the season. Bayer defeated Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-3.

Brazilian central defender and Barcelona loan out Henrique (22) 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.

Saturday 18 October - Bundesliga game 8: Eintracht Frankfurt-Bayer Leverkusen 0-2
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Friday 24 October - Bundesliga game 9: Bayer Leverkusen-FC Köln 2-0
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Tuesday 29 October - Bundesliga game 10: Werder Bremen-Bayer Leverkusen 0-2
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Friday 31 October - Bundesliga game 11: Bayer Leverkusen-Wolfsburg 2-0
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Saturday 8 November - Bundesliga game 12: Karlsruhe-Bayer Leverkusen 3-3
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes. Yellow card.

Saturday 15 November - Bundesliga game 13: Bayer Leverkusen-Schalke 2-1
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Saturday 22 November - Bundesliga game 14: Bielefeld-Bayer Leverkusen 2-1
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

Saturday 29 November - Bundesliga game 15: Bayer Leverkusen-Bayern Munich 0-2
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes. Yellow card.

Saturday 6 December - Bundesliga game 14: Borussia Mönchengladbach-Bayer Leverkusen 1-3
Starter. Henrique starts the game and plays for 90 minutes.

1. Hoffenheim 34
2. Bayern München 34
3. Bayer Leverkusen 31
4. Hertha Berlin 30
5. Hamburg (15) 27
6. Schalke 26
7. Borussia Dortmund 26
8. Stuttgart 24
9. Werder Bremen 23
10.Wolfsburg (15) 23

1st and 2nd place: group phase of Champions League
3rd place: third qualifying round of Champions League, winner enters the group phase, losers enter the Uefa Cup
4th place: qualifies for 4th qualifying round of Uefa Cup
5th place: qualifies for 3rd qualifying round of Uefa Cup

Marquez: "Guardiola is a born winner"

Barcelona player Rafael Márquez gave an interview to Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo.

The win against Sevilla was the definite confirmation of the candidacy for the league title?
We're working for that. We take match after match, like the coach wants us to do. There won't be any easy games and thinking from match to match is the way leagues are won.

One thing is the theory and another thing the confident way in which you settle the games on the pitch.
The truth is that we feel very confident. Every player who takes part feels very strong and, above all, believes in the coach, which is also important.

Guardiola is the main reason for the change?
He organizes everything and we need to follow him. But yes, I think he's is greatly responsible for the change, because of his ideas, his work. We just deal with the orders with a different mentality, a new chip for a new era.

You said that the group worked less with Rijkaard. A player maybe needs it to perform well that a coach is watching him closely?
Yes, Guardiola has set his rules very clearly and this makes us follow his way of dealing with things and it has worked until now. With Rijkaard it also worked at a certain point. We won a lot of trophies and this should be remembered.

Which fundamental change made you work all very hard from the first day this season?
Independent of the work, I think that it's also a mental issue. Guardiola is very pressing, he tries to motivate us and to prevent that we relax too much or get down. Not only in the games but also in every training session, every single day. This is good for us because we cannot fall asleep one second. Sometimes you're not really aware of things but he makes you aware. That's an advantage we cannot give ourselves.

Which detail of Guardiola has striked you most?
He's very persevering. He's always there. Sometimes it seems he's not but he sees everything because his staff is controlling things. His mentality and the motivation he gives us is important for the self-esteem of every one of us. It's all very intense. He gives everything for the club, wanting to be the best. It's a born winner.

The great performances on the pitch are only a matter of motivation or you also fear to have to sit the bench?
Every player of the squad has qualities. You only should try to get the player to give everything he has and he achieves this.

Xavi said that you will at least win the Liga. You agree?
That's what we all want. After two years without trophies, we want to win again. We have to be cautious though and keep on working like we have done until now. If we continue like this until the end, it looks dificult we won't win anything.

After defeating Sevilla, would it be a final blow for the Liga if you also win against Valencia, Madrid and Villareal?
Not a final one because there will still be a lot of games left, but maybe it would indeed be a big knock for all the teams that are behind us. Defeating them would mean an important step to win their respect.

Valencia seems ready to take you on. There's something about them that you're afraid of?
They have a good team, but their attack is especially strong, with Villa and Mata, who are both in a good moment.

This was the first part of this interview. You can read the second part here in the coming days with Marquez talking -among other things- about the game against Real Madrid.

Read more interviews with Barcelona players here

Player of the Month: November

1. Lionel Messi
2. The whole team
3. Xavi

Player of the month September: *Andrés Iniesta* (read more here)
Player of the month October: Lionel Messi (read more here)

Man of the match poll results during the month November:

1. Xavi 76%
2. Messi 6%
3. Guardiola 5%

1. Messi 43%
2. Puyol 19%
3. No one 18%

1. Eto'o 67%
2. Messi 18%
3. The whole team 8%

1. Messi 41%
2. Caceres 14%
3. No one 13%

1. Messi 67%
2. The whole team 6%
3. Toure 6%

1. Alves 30 %
2. Keita 23 %
3. No one 11 %

1. Messi 48 %
2. The whole team 13 %
3. Caceres 9 %

1. Messi 62%
2. The whole team 10%
3. Toure 8%

Live Match Chat: FC Barcelona - Valencia CF

(original post by OmarX)

Have you ever sat infront of your TV or computer while you were watching a FC Barcelona game and hoped you could share your excitement, feelings, and opinions with other fans LIVE as it happens?

We are proud to present you the new FC Barcelona Match Chat. Now you will be able to communicate before, during and after the match. The chat will be available from two hours before until two hours after the match. In the future this could turn into a 24/7 chat.

The chat is designed to be very user friendly and just requires you to enter your desired nickname and join (no registration required!). It is open to everyone, therefore make sure to invite your friends and spread the message. If you encounter any troubles or difficulties please put them here in the comments section or contact omarx in the chatroom.

To make all this work, we're setting up a moderator's system. Until that's in place, please keep in mind the following basic rules:

- on the public chat the main language is English

- you can hold private conversations by using the appropriate button you find below at the right of your screen
(mark the person you want to have a private talk with and click the button)

See you there!

Chat Link:

FC Barcelona - Valencia CF

(Saturday 6 December 2008 @ 22:00 barcelona time)

Chat starts around 20:00 - 8 pm

Paris Saint-Germain interested in Eto'o

Asked about the future of his club, Paris Saint Germain president Charles Villeneuve has said in an interview with french sports paper L'Equipe that the French club could try to sign Barcelona forward and Cameroonian international Samuel Eto'o (27):

"We're interested in Eto'o. The player loves Paris. Gucci, Gianfranco Ferre, Dolce & Gabbana... I don't think it will be a matter of money. Paris Saint-Germain is worth more than Manchester City, so more than 200 million euro. A PSG that works, a PSG that can participate in the Champions Legaue, believe me that this would be worth a lot."

Read more:
Messi and Eto'o on Manchester City wish list
Paris Saint-Germain not interested in Gudjohnsen
Eto'o wants to end career at Marseille and Mallorca

Spain possible January destination for Arshavin

Asked about the continuous rumours linking Zenit Saint Petersburg forward and Russian international Andrei Arshavin (27) with several European top clubs among which Barcelona (read more here), the player's agent Dennis Lachter has said in an interview with football site Goal that his destination will be one of the three top leagues in Europe:

"We have not verified the situation just yet, but we know that there are several clubs in Spain, England and Italy who are all interested in Arshavin. I don't want to comment on which clubs are interested because there has been plenty of speculation regarding the situation.

It will be clearer in around a few weeks when the Champions League and UEFA Cup takes a break, and it will be much easier to understand where he will be going. The final match for Zenit in the Champions League could be his final accord with the club and this is significant for Andrei. He has won two titles in Europe as well as bronze in the Euros.

The key leagues for the player are the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga. I don't think it's right to comment about whether he will go. I don't think it's the right way to promote the player by speculating about where he could end up, but we will have a clearer idea around the middle of December when the interested clubs decide to come forward if they are serious."

Read more:
Arshavin agent invites Barcelona to move
Barcelona wanted Cesc and Arshavin was close
Barcelona could make a new move for Arshavin

Friday 5 December 2008

Facing the Bats

Playing against Barcelona is an event for any team, but this week, Valencia had something more important to be concerned of, financial crises! Lot of talks, the bank says this, the board says that, and of course “Marca” create something else, a big mess that I hope it ends fast, being an admirer of Valencia football club, I wish it end without turning Valencia neither to become a Leeds United, nor a Chelsea.

Another notable argument this week was that Valencia has to play two games without the normal 48 hours separating them, which I admit not fair, there was a rumor that Barcelona declined a request to delay pushing the game forward, now I have mixed feelings about that, as I mentioned Valencia has all the right to complain, but also Barcelona has to put the club interests over anything else, there are Barcelona fans who booked to intend that game in the stadium and they may have a plane to catch the next day (Sunday), so its not fair also to tell them “we are sorry, welcome to Barcelona, have a nice tour but the game is delayed, hard luck!”, the only ones who are responsible are the ones who planned the fixtures this way in the first place, so we have a clear conscious.



Valencia Visits Camp Nou after gathering 8 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats, parking at the third spot in la liga (Valencia Liga stat here), with a moral boost after confirming qualification to the next round in UEFA CUP.

And as Walid noted last night, Valencia coach rested the key players in the UEFA CUP game to keep them fresh for Barcelona Battle.

Unai Emery, Valencia coach, has all the reasons to suffer selection headache, Marchena booking and Alexis extended injury arrived at the worst moment, added to Edu injury picked last week, Things turned to be more complicated and more uncertain, How will he approach this game?

I think normal healthy Valencia would have made an attempt to cause surprise trying to play an open game and test Barcelona defense, the same as I explained in Sevilla game when I mentioned the Broken Bridge strategy, but with the kind of injuries they suffer, I cant see them able to do so, which means, they will go for another option that they have all the requirements to apply. I call it "The sponge", closing defense and dragging Barcelona to go all out attacking, absorb them in the traffic in front of the box then counter attack on the flanks using Joaquin and Mata, beside that Fox David Villa!

As a Tactical structure, Unai used Two-men central midfielders ten times and he used three central midfielders three time based on the opponent he face, he will no doubt feel so worried regarding the defense structure so I think he will end up using three central midfielders, with two players on the flanks in a 4-5-1 tactical structure, a sneaky Sponge.

While picking the players of the back line, he will decide one of three options to play beside Albiol as a central back, either Helguera, or Maduro, or Moretti.
1) Helguera is an expired card in my opinion- even though its still a possibility;

2) Moving Moretti to the center and having del horno as a left back may double the gamble, a risk that Moretti may flop as a central back – he is not stable even in his position on the left, and del horno lack of games may smash his performance on the flank, remember the monsters he will have to face!

3) Maduro to play beside Albiol with Moretti on the left to monitor the Alves-Messi invasion, if I would have been Valencia coach, I would take this less risky gamble, that’s how my logic tells, but my feelings say he will have a Moretti-Albiol partnership. Miguel on the right back is out of question.

In the midfield, the old guards Baraja and Albelda will act as permanent defensive midfielders, Fernandes is the third when the team defend, and a play maker when the team attack, Joaquin and Mata on the flanks penetrating deep, and Villa the striker we know.
Their strength is no doupt the high technique Trio Villa – Joaquin – and Mata (one of the season’s discoveries) on the counter attacks, supported by Fernandes, and Miguel if possible. Aside of that, we may only need to watch Baraja long shots.

I think one of the main weaknesses of Valencia is their inability to keep focused and dictate the momentum during the 90 minutes, they are more like waves of good moves and minutes of low concentration, against Barcelona that’s a suicide.

Valencia 4 - Numancia 0 - video powered by Metacafe

More Valencia Highlights ( Here )


After the win against Sevilla this is the next challenge and it will be a different kind of games, with Eto’o out and Iniesta still on the treatment table, the usual unpredictable Guardiola will have the joy to generate another unexpected selection, but hey lets admit, it always work!

Again, even though I belong to the rotation school I will stick to my policy in this mini league against the other top four, play the best selection! And for me the best selection is the one that won the game against Sevilla, so I recommend it without any changes if possible, not possible!

The back line is the same with Alves – Pique – Marquez – and Puyol.
If Guardiola will remain faithful to the 4-3-3, then Yaya – Keita – and Xavi are my choice, unless if Pep prefer Gudi runs over Keita Clashes. Forwards are Henry – Messi – and (Oh My God!) on the left!
Alright it’s either Hleb on the left, or Bojan.

But if you ask me, I will change that 4-3-3 a little, being a mean guy I will abuse the lack of security Valencia feel in the middle of defense.
And being radical, I will wonder what will be better? Keeping Villa away from the ball or keeping the ball away of him? If I can’t guarantee marking Villa out of the game all the game, so why not trying to keep the ball out of his reach? Possible?

I will play a 4 – 1- 3 – 2, same Defense mentioned above, Yaya as a defensive midfielder , with Gudjhonsen, Xavi and Keita behind Henry and Messi. Why?

While moving forward, the defense triangle of Pique – Marquez – and Puyol take place behind Yaya who park his tank in the circle; Alves moving Forward to be the forth Midfielder opening the flank on the right, in the box we test the shaky defense where Henry drive Albiol to the blind spot, Messi move out of the box and every time we move forward, either Gudjhonsen or Keita penetrate inside the area, now in my humble estimations Valencia defense will not handle two men in the box of Henry and Keita/Gudi physical size and moves, with Messi Hovering like a bee in and out, spreading terror. May be their only choice will be early fouls on the edge of the Area, where Alves and Xavi can seal the deal.

That’s when we move forward, now the moment we lose the ball, having the trio of Gudi – Xavi – Keita in the midfield will cause traffic and slow down Valencia counter attacks with Gudi helping Alves on the right controlling Joaquin, and Keita Dealing with Mata on the left, Xavi monitoring Fernandez movement, then Villa will be isolated between the defense and Yaya if he dare to drop deep to receive the ball, suffering already from tight marking applied by Pique all over the pitch.

This kind of pressure will earn us another advantage, forcing Valencia players to pass the ball to Albelda to build the moves, a player who is suffering already when it come to ball distribution, so we can benefit from that, shacking the systematic method Valencia use moving from defense to offence.

My only concern will be having Busquets and Yaya together, with Henry on the left flank, as I mentioned before this is a recipe for troubles. No matter how much we like and support Henry, but if in a match like this with Eto’o out, Guardiola still doesn’t trust Henry as a striker then he better sell the guy and let the Miami plans go to hell.

Last but not least, in this game against Valencia we will have a very decent representative in the stands, Kevin, our friend here and on “The offside” is there to watch the game, I prepared this Preview and checked the offside but he hasn’t post anything yet to link it here, but I will keep you updated, though you all know your way there.

Enjoy the game Kevin and be our throat supporting the guys and our eyes scanning the event and the game, I hope you get a seat close to Guardiola Bench incase he needed any tactical help, you are our man of the moment.

A doze of improvement:

Everything a player do on the field demand and suck energy, not only running, tackling and other obvious attributes, but also the mental part of the game including positioning, communicating and finishing. Why am I saying so? Again, Henry!

Recently his finishing is not the best, luck may play a part, lack of games or wrong position. But I suspect that age is starting to shrink the cycle of his boosting energy he needs to accomplish a complete physical demanding move during the game, including running on the left, cutting in, exchanging passes, dribbling(or desperately trying to do so) all that physical job burn fuel, leaving nothing for the rest of functions needed including finishing. So what?
So he may actually be the target man we are seeking! I think Henry now can add more to the team if Guardiola help him to make the last switch in his career, something similar to what happened when he moved from Juventus to Arsenal moving from Left wing to open striker. It’s the right time now not to switch from the left winger he has never been (successfully) to a striker, because people will say, Ramzi, he has always been a striker! What I mean is” striker-in-box” without the need of running around covering wide spaces, his Physical characteristics, intelligence and positioning added to his finishing can work well for that role of course he move out of box to open spaces but that’s deferent and less demanding physically, this position attributes are independent of the league style, so unlike the wingers, Target men (strikers in box) have it the same, and it may even be easier in Spain than England, where Defense have the methodology of guarding a target man in their genes.

Below I post The Mini league Bulletin board, Enjoy the game!

Ramzi Tanani

Verbal agreements on Aguero transfer

Argentinian sports site El Depornauta claims that Barcelona will sign Atlético Madrid forward and Argentinian international Sergio 'Kun' Agüero (20) next summer (read more here).

Barcelona would pay the 55 million euro° buyout clause of the player and Barcelona president Joan Laporta would be personally leading the negotiations with the player. With only a few details left, there would be a principal and verbal agreement between the two parties.

Barcelona manager Guardiola would have approved the transfer and sees a key role for Agüero in his team. Besides his football qualities, Agüero would also be appreciated because of his stable private life.

Argentinian football site Golpasión claims that Barcelona and Atlético Madrid have been holding talks for several months about a transfer of Agüero, who would be pleased with the idea of joining his Argentinian compatriot and close friend Lionel Messi.

With Barcelona willing to pay the buyout fee and Atlético wanting to hold on to the Argentinian striker until the end of the season, the two clubs would recently have reached a verbal agreement on a transfer in June of next year.

Read more:
Guardiola wants Aguero
Possible next Barcelona president wants Aguero
Barcelona board considers Aguero transfer

Barcelona players show new outfit at training

Barcelona's first team trained today for the first time with the new MÉS outfit.

read more about the MÉS charity project here

Laporta: "Mourinho was a more secure option"

Barcelona presidnet joan laporta gave an interview to Spanish newspaper El País.

Intuition? Courage? How do you explain your capacity to survive?
I believe you have to be able to understand Barça in a certain way. There were people who are true to club but who have stopped walking along with me for certain reasons. Everybody has his own way of being. I have not changed and I keep going on with those who continue at the institution. The ideals of the club are a lot stronger than personal ambitions and to bring them into practice the club needs to be governed. I believe in what I'm doing and I have the strength to overcome, the motivation, the energy and the innovative spirit that is needed to lead. Barcelona is an international reference at a social, sporting, economic and solidary level and we have to strengthen that.

Those who have abandoned you are suggesting that your behaviour is too focused on your own person and that your management is not cautious enough. You didn't transform from a president into a manager?
I've always been an executive president. Barça is travelling at a high speed and you need a will to innovate. You need to hold the steering wheel firmly to get the club where we want it, without being turned away from our objective. There are things that were meaningful four months ago but that aren't anymore now.

The economic crisis has also an impact on the attendance at the Camp Nou.
We're talking about a global crisis. The fact that the games are broadcasted by non-pay channels and the hours at which most of the games are played also have an influence. Maybe we should start to play at different hours for more people to come and watch the games.

The fans sure have stopped watching at the president's box and are now watching the pitch again. You feel more comfortable than last season?
In the delicate moments, you should show that you're able to resist. There's a lot of pressure and I understand that other board members couldn't deal with that anymore. I stayed with those who believed in the project and didn't leave the ship.

Those who resigned were preparing a coup?
I don't feel betrayed or disappointed. I believed in the project and I had to assure the stability. It had been decided since February that Guardiola would be the manager this season in case Rijkaard wouldn't win a trophy, and if not, next season. And there also were the economic challenges and the project of the new stadium.

Why Guardiola?
The first who spoke to me about Guardiola as a coach was Cruijff in December 2007. At that time, I was worried about the performances of the team. It looked all very similar to the season before, so I asked Cruijff for advice. I mentioned the name of Guardiola because those who were following him as B-team coach were talking very positively about him, and especially sports director Txiki Begiristain. I realized that if we needed a substitute, we had one within the club. I talked about the situation with Rijkaard. Then the team made a good comeback and I decided to meet with Guardiola to tell him that if the team wouldn't win a trophy, he would be next season's manager. I also explained that to Rijkaard, who proposed to appoint Guardiola as assistant coach so he could prepare the change. Guardiola nevertheless wanted the B-team to win the championship and to get promoted. We chose Guardiola despite some board members prefering other options.

Mourinho and Wenger?
Among others. We chose Guardiola for his knowledge about football and the club and because of his football philosophy. Cruijff told me that Guardiola sees the game in a very clear way. It was my responsibility that the new manager would respect the history of the club. And Guardiola has a fine history at this club. I was convinced by his modesty, skills, knowledge and dignity.

Although people accused you that appointing Guardiola was a way to protect yourself, wouldn't appointing Mourinho have been a better umbrella in a way?
The president has to hold on to a way of playing football and not go after the brand of the day. The appointment of Guardiola shows the attachment to the cruijffian philosopy. After Rijkaard, there's now Guardiola and that's clear to everyone. When we appointed him as coach as coach of the B-team, I was convinced that he would end up as manager of the first team. Mourinho was a more pragmatic option, a more secure one, but Guardiola fitted our way of understanding the game of football. Now a lot of people want to make me believe that they've recommended Guardiola to me while in fact they advised against him. Guardiola is a constant source of football inspiration.

This was the first part of this interview. The second part will follow in the coming days with Laporta talking -among other things- about the MLS bid and his political ambitions.

Poll result: Who should replace Eto'o?

This is the final result of this blog's Who should replace Eto'o as centre forward? poll:

1. Henry 62%
2. Bojan 20%
3. Messi 12%
4. Gudjohnsen 4%
5. Other option 2%

Poll result: Who should replace Iniesta?

Xavi will sign renewal next week

Asked about his renewal negotiations with the club, Barcelona attacking midfielder and Spanish international Xavi (28), whose current contract expires in the summer of 2010, has reconfirmed to journalists that a deal has been closed (read more here):

"It seems that I will renew, although nothing has been signed yet. The president has given me his word and I gave him mine. If everything goes like planned, we will sign the contract next week when Txiki Begiristain will be back in Barcelona.

I feel respected by the club, in every possible way. I'm very happy. I hope to retire at Barça but when I don't feel useful anymore for the team of my life, I will go. I will be the first to notice that and I will leave. If I sign until 2014, I will keep on working as always and I hope to win some more trophies.

I'm in a great moment. I feel very confident and after the Euro, I have an incredible believe and motivation to try new things. I feel very comfortable on the pitch and I'm surrounded by the ideal teammates who help me show my game."

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo meanwhile claims that Barcelona president Joan Laporta misused the absence of Barcelona sports director Txiki Begiristain to close a deal by giving in to all Xavi's wishes regarding both the salary and the duration of the contract.

pep's opinion:
signature in the week before the madrid game. very well planned, indeed...

Read more:
Xavi confirms renewal until 2014
Xavi is top target for Manchester United
Agreement on Xavi renewal until 2014

One million for players taking part in Euro 2008

The European football association UEFA has announced that Barcelona will receive a sum of 955 090 euro° for the participation of Barcelona players in this summer's European championships.

Clubs who contributed players to Euro 2008 are set to receive solidarity contributions after UEFA finalised the calculations on the amount of money to be handed to national associations following this summer's tournament.

The club's share was calculated by the "per player per day" amount multiplied by the number of days each player was at Euro 2008. This started two weeks before the first match of a player's national team until the day after his team was eliminated. From this, the relevant percentage of the share was calculated to be passed on to the club(s) with which any player was registered in the preceding two years prior to the start of the final tournament.

The top three clubs providing players for Euro 2008 in order were first Werder Bremen, with a total payment of 1,093,732 euro, Olympique Lyon (1,039,115 euro) and Bayern Munich (1,018,109 euro).

The target total amount set for distribution to the national associations from EURO 2008 was fixed at 43.5 million euro. For Euro 2012, the target total amount to be distributed is set at 55 million euro, provided the final financial results of Euro 2012 are substantially similar to those of Euro 2008.

(for the total amount received by each club, click here)

Benzema and Cesc on the president's wish list

Catalan sports paper Sport claims that Barcelona president Joan Laporta dreams of signing Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fàbregas (21) and Olympique Lyon forward Karim Benzema (20) next summer.

Laporta, who will leave the presidency in 2010, would this way want to prepare the future and leave a legacy for years to come.

A serious economic investment would be needed for both transfers. Arsenal would ask 30 million euro° for Cesc but Barcelona doesn't want to pay such a fee for a former youth player since this would send a bad signal to the fans and the current youth players. The club therefore hopes that Cesc will put pressure on his club.

Read more:

Messi dedicated second Sevilla goal to sister

Catalan sports paper El Mundo Deportivo reports that while Lionel Messi ran to Barcelona second goalkeeper José Manuel Pinto after his first goal in Saturday's game against Sevilla, he dedicated his second goal to his sister María Sol, who celebrated her fifteenth birthday last Sunday.

After scoring his second goal of the game, which was also his fifteenth official goal of the season (read more
here), Messi ran to the closest television camera saying "Para vos, María Sol" (For you, María Sol). After this he touched his belly, which would be a reference to the fact that his sister had her belly button pierced against the advice of part of the family.

Read more:
To whom did Messi dedicate his goal?

Thursday 4 December 2008

Poll: Who should replace Eto'o?

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 dramatically 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) 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 Valencia on Saturday.

You put them in the right position, so using the 4-3-3 (or whatever you think they will play) and putting the players from the right to the left, so the right back defender is your first name after the goalkeeper. If your line-up isn't clear, my interpretation counts.

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 three hours before the start of the game, in this case: until 7 pm barcelona time.

If you give your line-up before Guardiola announes his match list (or if all the available players or at least 20 players are included in the match list), you get one point for the correct line-up. If you do it after that announcement, you get half a point. Who will have the most points at the end of the season, can call himself the winner.

This is the thirteenth time this game is organized.



mario ch

Dan R

Number of the day: 0


the number of away games Valencia has lost this season

Barcelona partner in new global charity project


Thursday December 4 of 2008 will be a landmark date in Barça history, for this was the day that Sala París was the venue for the unveiling of the MÉS project, an alliance between FC Barcelona, NIKE and ACNUR (UNHCR) to promote the education through sport of vulnerable young people and refugees around the world. It signifies yet another step forward in the Catalan club’s stance as ‘more than a club in the world’. According to president Joan Laporta, “it is the start of a grand project. We understand sport to be culture and through it we can help a lot of people.”

The agreement was outlined by Barça president, Joan Laporta; by Bert Hoyt, vice president and general manager of NIKE’s Global Football and by Olivier Delarue, senior corporate relations officer of the ACNUR (UNHCR) Foundation. Laporta spoke first, saying “a year ago we set up a project for refugees in Ecuador, Nepal and Bolivia, and that got us thinking.”

Laporta pointed out that the club “is a pioneer in solidarity affairs” and after thanking NIKE and ACNUR for their confidence, said that “as president of Barça and a Catalan I am especially proud that the chosen word is in the Catalan language and is taken from ‘Més que un club'. On a similar subject, NIKE executive Bert Hoyt said “we followed FC Barcelona’s orders on the matter and it is only natural to follow their leadership.”

Hoyt also described the multinational’s role in the project. “It will consist of creating a line of products to raise funds that will be launched around the world over the forthcoming weeks … We believe that sport can help a lot of children and we defend sport.” He then handed over to ACNUR representative Olivier Delarue, who said “it is a great opportunity for children that have been forced out of their countries. Without funding we cannot improve their futures.”

Asked by the many members of the media attending the event to explain why ACNUR has joined forces with FC Barcelona, Hoyt said “it is a story of love and you don’t choose the person you love. We know we have to keep on working together because we have common causes with a club that works in association with UNICEF and UNESCO.

To end the presentation, the three representatives were the first people to buy the pins commemorating the MÉS project, one of the many items of merchandising associated to the initiative.

read more here and here

visit the MES website

Hernanes will be put for sale next year

Catalan sports paper Sport claims that São Paulo midfielder Hernanes (23) will be put on the market by his club in 2009.

Hernanes will be sold by São Paulo to cover this year's financial deficit. A transfer will be discussed when the Copa Libertadores has come to an end for the Brazilian club next summer.

São Paulo would have rejected earlier this year an offer of 11 million euro° for Hernanes presented by Barcelona sports director Txiki Begiristain (read more here), but despite the buyout fee being 25 million euro°, the club could now change its mind due to the global economic crisis.

Sports marketing agency Traffic, that holds 17 per cent of the rights on the Brazilian midfielder (with 75 per cent belonging to the club and 8 per cent to the player), now thinks that Hernanes' value has reached its top last summer and that the transfer fees in international football will drop next year.

Read more:
Hernanes could come next summer
Hernanes waiting for Barcelona
Sao Paulo holding on to Hernanes buyout fee

Medical: Green light for Abidal

Barcelona left back defender Eric Abidal (29) received earlier today the green light from the Barcelona medical staff.

The Frenchman, who has been training with the squad since last Thursday, is therefore available for the league game against Valencia on Saturday.

After Abidal had to leave a training session on 30 October, a meniscal cyst in his right knee was discovered. The club preferred a conservative treatment rather than a surgical procedure (read more

Read more:
Medical: Iniesta returns to the pitch
Medical: Milito return three to four months away
Medical: Abidal out for three more weeks

International: Spain u-21 drawn in tough group

During yesterday's draw for the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Sweden next summer, the Spanish team has been drawn in group B, along with England, Germany and Finland.

Group A consists of Sweden, Italy, Belarus and Serbia. The tournament begins on 15 June. The top two in each group will advance to the semi-finals. The tournament concludes with the final on 29 June.

The group stage match schedule for Spain looks like this:

Monday 15 June: Spain-Germany
Thursday 18 June Spain-England
Monday 22 June: Finland-Spain

Barcelona players Gerard Piqué (21), Sergio Busquets (20), Pedro (21) and Bojan (18) have participated in qualifying matches for this tournament.

Read more:
International: Spain qualifies for Euro under-21
International: Busquets scores in Spain debut
International: Piqué, Pedro and Gai

FCB Miami: MLS not yet convinced by Miami bid

author: Michelle Kaufman
source: Miami Herald

date: 30 November 2008

Major League Soccer executives apparently still need some convincing that Miami will support an MLS team. Marcelo Claure, the Bolivian cellphone mogul trying to bring MLS back to Miami, was in Carson, California, last week with his partners from Spanish club FC Barcelona, and they made their pitch to MLS owners.

Claure said that the meeting went "really well", that everyone seemed excited about Barcelona's backing and that he left feeling Miami is "a frontrunner for an expansion team". But, he said, owners asked to see more proof of local fan interest and a plan to spruce up FIU Stadium to make it look "more professional".

MLS Commissioner Don Garber was in Miami last week scouting the stadium and the market. Miami is one of the nation's most soccer-crazed cities, but it remains to be seen whether those fans will support a U.S. pro team. Six cities are bidding for teams (Montreal withdrew its bid), and MLS executives met with the ownership groups from Miami, Vancouver, Ottawa and Portland late last week. Atlanta and St. Louis are also in the running.

"They said they want to see more support from people here, and there was some concern about the stadium not being up to par with other MLS stadiums," Claure said. "They want better press boxes, more amenities, and they had questions about the artificial turf, which we told them is the best turf there is."

Claure, who owns Miami-based Brightstar Corp., will embark on a media blitz next week "to get our name and face out there". He urges South Florida soccer fans to register and put down season-ticket deposits on the group's website ( More than 6,000 fans had signed on as fans as of Thursday, and 2,000 of those were interested in season tickets.

Miami's bid is hurt because the previous South Florida MLS team, the Miami Fusion, folded after four years in 2001. Claure, whose group is putting up a $40 million expansion fee, insists this team will do better because it will be based in Miami rather than Fort Lauderdale, because the demographics fit better now and because Barcelona, one of the world's top soccer brands, will have its fingerprints on the club.

"No, Miami is not a city where people support the team whether they are in first place or last, but if you put a good show on, people in Miami will come," Claure said. "Miami people are very picky, but if there's a first-class product, they'll pay, and there is no better style of soccer than what Barcelona plays. We will be their sister team, and we will be entertaining."

Claure believes the Miami team could become "the Yankees of MLS", with fans all over the world. "We have the No. 1 soccer brand in the world, we have the money, we have a stadium ready to go that is comfortable for what we need," Claure said. "I will be very disappointed if they don't give us a chance. I feel confident in this bid, and I am acting and planning as if we are going to have a team in 2010."

Garber discussed the expansion meetings in his state of the league address last Friday. It's hard to read much into his diplomatic comments, but one can deduce that Ottawa and Vancouver had outstanding presentations, but Miami would be a more attractive market if Claure's group can ease the owners' misgivings.

The Miami bid intrigued Garber, but he said he wanted to research more. "If we go back to Miami, we'd better be sure we get it right," Garber said. "Barcelona could make investments in lots of different countries but they believe in developing the sport here. Miami had a smart and focused bid and there are no stadium issues there, but Miami has long been a challenge for professional sports."

Claure said he and his group will work tirelessly through the next few weeks and meet with MLS officials again in late December. An announcement is expected by mid-January. The league is expected to add two teams by 2011.

Read the full and original article here

Read more:
Interview with Barcelona partner Claure
Henry could leave for Miami in 2010
Weighing the seven bids

Bayern declares Ribery intransferable

Asked about the continuous rumours linking Bayern Munich attacker and French international Franck Ribéry (25) with several European top clubs among which Barcelona (read more here), Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has said in an interview with the club's official magazine that the Frenchman is not for sale:

"A transfer of Franck Ribéry is not on the table this Winter or even next Summer. We know what a great player he is and I can reassure all fans.

There is no amount in the world which could make us think about a transfer for pne second. Absolutely none. The board is completely united on this: Franck Ribery has a contract until at least 2011 and he is intransferable."

Read more:
Ribery was on top of Guardiola's wish list
Deco top target for Bayern
Failed bids for Bayern duo Toni and Ribery

Messi confident of winning Ballon d'Or next year

The name of the winner of this year's Ballon d'Or was predictable...

Well, I already know the name of next year's winner!

(click the cartoon to enlarge)

see more cartoons here

Mourinho and Cruijff on list to replace Rijkaard

Asked about the succession of former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard, former Barcelona sports vice president Marc Ingla, who left the club in july (read more here), has said in an interview with Catalan radio station Catalunya Ràdio that José Mourinho and Johan Cruijff were both seen as candidates to become the new manager:

"In November 2007, Txiki and I came to the conclusion that the team needed a change. The coach and several key players had to leave. Losing against Madrid in December made us accelerate things.

We met in Lisbon with Mourinho. We looked at the option, among other things beause he really wanted to coach Barcelona. Mourinho is a phenomenon and would have been a great coach for Barça. But the option of Guardiola was always the one we worked on with the most firmness. In the first meeting I had with him, he convinced me that he was the best candidate.

Laporta also proposed to appoint Cruijff. As an idea it was good, but I just didn't see it happen. It was an option but if the players aren't doing their job, you won't change that, even when you put the best coach. The Maestro, like we used to call Cruijff, is comfortable giving advice from the outside and offering him the bench would have a been a poisoned candy for him."

Read more:
Meeting with Mourinho

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Guardiola's favorite, not the fans'


I already erased a long introduction starting from Dunga World cup 1994 to Zanetti to prove my case showing that the player who is less twinkling in the game, is not necessarily the less important, public opinion is created through a vast of catchy slogans and emotional judgments, which turn to be considered as facts for the fans, but not necessarily for the team coach. To save space on the article I will only paste the following about Dunga in the World cup 1994 where he was not even considered as a football player by the majority of Brazil fans but ended up being the key factor for winning the world cup:

“He would be consistently targeted by Brazilian press due to his supposedly thuggish style of playing. This period in Brazil's football history was called "Era Dunga", as according to fans and journalists he symbolized the less than thrilling, slow and defensive style of the team. In spite of that, Brazil's new coach Carlos Alberto Parreira kept Dunga as one of the starting eleven throughout the 1994 World Cup Qualifiers and Finals.”

“Raí actually started the 1994 World Cup as Brazilian captain but after a series of poor performances he was dropped altogether for Mazinho. Dunga took the captaincy and went on to lift the trophy. Dunga had redeemed himself in the eyes of the press and fans alike, and ever since has been considered a symbol of heart and determination.” (source: Wikipedia)

How often does it happen? All the fans all over the world believe in something, and feel it’s too obvious, and then get shocked that the coach does something else! How stupid is he? We all saw it! Hm…Really?

I believe the reason why fans can’t see things the same way coaches do is a result of the different criteria and situation each of the two parties come from while making an evaluation, and knowing that we are all fans here, lets try to figure out what make us get mislead while evaluating a team, a match, or a player performance:

1) We evaluate players performance in a game comparing them to each other and applying the same criteria (passes/goals/tackles…); we put Messi in one palm and Abidal in the other and start to make our evaluation comparing the performance of the two guys the way we see it, Xavi and Gudjhonsen, Puyol and Alves, and so on…But how often do we try to figure out the tactical role of each player and evaluate him based exclusively on how successful he was implementing what the coach selected him to do in the game, believe me we get a different impression when we do so, try it! If it’s all about “hey you Messi, attack! You Yaya, Defend!” then we can all turn to become coaches, piece of cake! But we all know that the devil hides in details, so aside of the obvious, do we really try to go in depth?

2) We get more influenced by players’ names than players form: We have the right to do so, simply because we only watch the players during the games, when they play or even playED before a sequence of good games then that’s it for us! This is our man, and he has to be a starter, but who know how this guy performance, form, moral and fitness level was during a week separating two games? Who know the progress of the alternatives that can play in this player position? The answer is simple, it’s the coach.

3) Again, we are so statistical oriented, whether we notice or we don’t, we hold a pen and paper and start taking notes: good pass, bad pass, goal! Missed! He earns this grade then! And even though I consider statistical data as a factor in building performance evaluation and decision making, but its only one factor of many forming that evaluation, so we cant consider Statistical numbers as a stand alone evaluation, its not that simple, we cant judge players only as individuals, a player does an assist successfully when a mate run to the right space, but not only that, also the other team mates move correctly to open space, make opponents busy and so on. While rating players we either give grade to the assist maker only or to the one who turn the assist to goal also, but where do we give the credit for those who are not visible on the Cam, without their moves this assist would have turned to become a failed attempt.

4) We exclusively focus on our team and ignore the opponent, and the most recent example is the game against Sevilla, it will be a reference in this article, I read a lot of evaluations about Alves performance for example, it was all based on him and ignoring the players he was playing against, you can't really evaluate his performance without taking in consideration the whole situation including opponents, he played against his former team, and that alone need an extreme mental strength – now if someone will throw the “he is professional” slogan on my face, I will hit back reminding that “he is a human” who will argue that? – we must not under estimate this factor both mentally and even football wise, those guys in Sevilla trained with him for years and know all the tricks. he also faced Adriano, one of the most dynamic wingers in la liga, then after Adriano it was Capel, still he managed to perform decently in the first half and perfectly in the second – I will come back to that later. So for me, this was one of the best performances of Alves wearing the Catalan shirt, if not absolutely the best, unlike the general opinion.

It was important to clarify the mentioned points before heading to the objective of this article, “the mystery of the third midfielder”.

When we analyze Barcelona midfield, we don’t need more than a second to understand Yaya/Busquets role as a Defensive midfielder and Xavi as a midfield maestro and ball distributor, then…we arrive to the third position in the midfield and we start scratching our head, who is playing there? And what exactly does he do?

I think its there where the unfair criticism of the players taking that seat start, in our subconscious Yaya role is to crush opponents, every time he do so we rub our palms with excitement and hail the guy.

The same goes for Xavi, the moment he gets the ball we know he will run the show, and it turns to become easy for us to evaluate how good he is doing so in a specific game.

But when it comes to the third midfielder, we stand in the dark cloud of confusion, how can we judge a guy based on his role if we don’t know exactly that role? So we start evaluating him compared to Xavi (the best when it come to ball distrebution and dectating tempo) and conclude that the third midfielder was out of the game, or we compare him to Yaya and of course the third midfieldewr was not as good as Yaya gaining the ball back, meaning, the third midfielder was a waste of space.

My question is, if we followed the same method and compared Xavi to Yaya regarding physical presence how will we rate him, the same as for Yaya ability to orchastrate the game compared to Xavi, will that be fair for any of them? Then how come it is fair for the third midfielder?

It was noticed since the beginning of the season that this is going to be the unlucky, unpopular guy, and after the Sevilla game it was too obvious to ignore, specially that the guy who took that seat was Keita, one of the best additions to Barcelona squad for this season, I know now you already feel upset of me for saying that, but I hope you give this a chance and that we all be open to seek the facts out of fakes, I already faced lot of criticism while handling sensitive Barcelona cases on this blog, starting with Iniesta on the wing, Abidal, Valdes, Henry, and some other cases, and I know this will be no different, but I prefer to be honest than popular.

Sevilla - Barcelona Game and a genius called Guardiola!
I still stand faithful to my early opinion, I will not evaluate Guardiola era before giving it enough time to mature, but if Sevilla game is a sample of what will follow then, I am more excited than ever been with this new project! What Guardiola and the tactical staff did in that game was something to be proud of, finally and after years of waiting it happened, we have on the bench the staff needed to turn a football game to a chess Battle!

I did no report after Sevilla game, and this article was one of the reasons, I will not do one now, I will only mention what I need in this article.

Two things won us that game more than anything else! Pre-season preparation and tactical brilliance, and it’s so strange that the two factors were ignored in all the evaluations I read after that game.

Pre-season preparations include smart signing that serve the project, and physical preparations that turned our ultra technical players to fitness monsters, if the first half scenario happened last season we would have definitely lost the game in the second half, a Titanic physical battle where bones crushed on bones while the two teams continuously blocked hits and hit back, as if the loser dies and the victorious will be crowned ruling the universe, this first half sucked lot of energy, and here the pre-season preparations, beside ROTATION, played a deciding role in the second half.

Now talking about our unfortunate guy – Keita- who played that doomed third midfielder role, his tactical role in the first half was to make sure Sevilla right winger loses the path of the right flank, so Puyol can focus covering Pique and Marquez in their battle against Kanoute and Fabiano, this is something Puyol couldnt do if De Mul bothered him continuously from the right flank. It’s a shame De mul may not play against Real Madrid now that Navas is ready, but keep following Sevilla and track this guy performance so you know later how lucky we are that Keita dominated this guy permanently in the first half, and forced Sevilla to forget about this flank and limiting Puyol contribution defensively as a left Back while acting as a third central back. Beside, and as a secondary role, Keita got involved shrinking the spaces so the ball holder get smashed on Yaya towers , slowing down Sevilla counter attacks both from the middle and on the right.

With Alves penetrating on the right, pique inability to cover behind him because he had to deal with his own mess (remember I told you before the game if Adriano succeeded to go forward don’t curse Pique after the game? You cursed him, but I will not comment on that now though its not only his fault being shaky), Yaya had to carry more than one melon in each hand, Keita moving forward when the team attack, Messi being forced to get involved in the physical battle he doesn’t like, Eto’o and Henry sprinting back and forth to help earning the ball then moving to the box, and Xavi getting hooked in the traffic jam tackling and distributing balls under pressure, it was a game of harmonic tide and current, where Sevilla were physically ready for this battle, sharing dominance, hitting back and causing threat.

And here is my favorite part, the tactical staff made their magical touch between the two halves, they created what I like to call "The Hammers and the Anvil" structure, and that’s how they squeezed Sevilla and crushed their hopes!

In the second half, the three central backs structure became permanent, then in front of defense (and here the piece of art show its face) Pep and co formed the Anvil creating a second line of Alves on the right, Yaya in the middle and Keita on the left-where Alves and Keita got the instructions to limit their offense doze for the defense favor, Xavi played in front of the Anvil while Messi, Eto’o and Henry switched the offence triangle, planting Messi as a striker, and behind him Eto’o and Henry who both have the physical structure needed to hit shoulders and chests against Sevilla players taking that mission of Messi shoulders, and so the second half started…

The line of communication between Kanoute / Fabiano and the rest of the Sevilla players was terminated. While the central backs trio contained the two strikers, the Sevilla midfielders were running for their lives, being crushed between the Anvil mentioned above and the hammers called Eto’o and Henry contributing with General Xavi.

With Keita-Yaya-Alves forming a solid wall, Sevilla counter attacks became history, spaces vanished and Sevilla found it impossible to see what lies behind that wall, they collapsed mentally and physically, and felt their weakness and lack of options in front of their opponents, that’s how the game was won.

Yes Keita was not the guy who scored, neither the guy who took the distribution role, but without his presence, things would have been totally deferent, which means in another words, he made a difference, though it was not seen or appreciated.

The Third Midfielder mystery of invisible impact:
The third midfielder is actually Pep Guardiola magical card, and he signed the right players to play that card as needed. Keita, Hleb, and Gudjhonsen are the players for various missions, if he needed a player for more physical dominance he picks Keita, if he wanted a distributing assistant he picks Hleb, while if he wanted a midfielder to penetrate to the box and score goals, thats Gudjhonsen. Things still need time to mature, and we already predicted that, Keep in mind that the three players are new signings, including Gudjhonsen who for the first time feels being valued and valuable, so I consider him a new signing.

We say it needs time for the third midfielder options to find their steps and roles in the team, but are they bad at the moment? Again, I think that’s not accurate, but another elusion we have, based on the previous reasons mentioned that make the fans get mislead by players performance, added to the fact that journalists themselves are more being fans than professionals, when it comes to favorite a player over another, which effect their judgments no matter how they try to cover it, and also they fail to see what’s beneath the surface, and when a Journalist in for example, or on make an evaluation, it turns to become permanent and unquestionable, specially when it meets the emotional taste of the fans, and may be they do it – journalists - for that purpose, again appealing, catchy evaluations is a must in the media, and it tops any other priority you may think about.

I decided to tackle this issue –the third midfielder impact- from various levels, Mixing football concepts with statistical data to create a complete figure, keeping in mind that the more we feel our permanent judgment is drifting radically toward numbers it means we are getting more theoretical and less realistic, the same as the more our evaluation is numbers/data free and only conceptual the more we need to doubt our objectivity, balance is the key for perfection, and that’s what I seek here, football concepts supported by Statistical Data, and i wish if Stigsby was here to help me in this.

When Pep Guardiola signed as a Barcelona manager, he was fully aware of the lessons provided last season, he was so clear about what he wanted to improve and the defects that prevented this quality squad from hitting the highest level, and for the midfield this is a bunch of points taken in consideration:

1. Lack of physical presence.
2. Fruitless possession with no direct touches and threat on goal (midfielders).
3. Lack of scoring in the midfield and being over dependent on the strikers to score goals – he even mentioned that openly in an interview.
4. Being more a team based on the quality of individuals rather than the performance of the group based on tactical skeleton and interrelated tasks for the players on the field.

In the tables below I posted the stats of six players, and I will build the statistical analysis part of the case on it before discussing the case from a pure football concept.

It’s important to mention the following before discussing the tables below:

1. The tables below included the midfielders of the team plus Henry. Why Henry? Because The third midfielder usually play on the left of Xavi, the closest player to that midfielder on the flank is the left wing – Henry for now- knowing that there is no permanent left back to include and usually our left back acts as a central back, so Henry is the guy who contributes most with the third midfielder in the operations of the left midfield space of the field, Hleb was excluded because he didn’t play enough as a midfielder but more as a wing, so his data is not reliable to be taken as a midfielder.

2. Having Henry in the table offer us the chance to evaluate the third midfielder contribution defensively and in the midfield operation compared to the other midfielders, but also offensively compared to a forward who play on the third midfielder flank and face the same deffenders/midfielders while going forward, and the same midfielders/full backs while doing a deffensive job.

3. Another reason for including Henry is a belief that is promoted recently that aside of Yaya and Xavi, its Henry who is bouncing back on the left midfield to contribute in earning possession back and dominating the midfield while the third midfielder is usually inactive, so let’s see what the numbers tell about that.

4. I considered the Minutes played from the start as a focal coefficient for all players rather than the minutes played in general, it will not change the rates much but I thought this is more appropriate taking in consideration that the starters played at least 75% of their games before being substitutes, so the substitute enters after Barcelona already finish most of their games in the first half then things go easy, so the substitutes were more to finish the game, not to earn it, because it was by then mission accomplished.

5. The data are from Barcelona official website.

6. I am aware that its still early to take the numbers as accurate indications and that it will become more certain after the team plays twenty games or so, but aren’t we already judging the players worth in the club based entirely on emotional reactions even when it is masked by numbers we create to serve our point? Then it’s fair enough to take the numbers of Barcelona website seriously as it is more reliable than any numbers we may create or find somewhere else.
First this is a general table of the data used in the following two tables, I will not use it directly so if it is confusing jump over the first table to what follows.

MP: Minutes played, MS: Minutes as a starter, SP: shots on post, SG: Shots on goal, FC: Fouls Committed, FR: fouls received, BW: Balls won, BL: Balls Lost.

And here the rates per game (90 minutes) - Offense, based on the previous Table

SP: shots on post, SG: Shots on goal, %SG: Is the percentage of successful shots between the posts out of shooting attempts.
"The 3rd midfielder" come up from the fact that gudi and keita never played together in the midfield, they were rotating on the same position, so creating a record for the third midfielder position as a combination of both keita and Gudjhonsen rates seems to be a must for a wider scope of evaluation.

GOALS per game: As you notice, Offensively Keita and Gudjhonsen scored more goals than any other midfielder; Gudjhonsen rate ,up till now, is even higher than Henry, the forward, while the combination (third midfielder position) is almost the same as Henry.

ASSISTS per game: aside of Xavi, the master of assists worldwide, we cant consider the third midfielder assist rate as a defect, specially Keita, who made more assists than Henry per game, and as a combination of “third midfielder” this position comes naturally and as expected slightly above the defensive midfielders assists rate, now we can admit it can go higher and it must, but is it bad at the moment?

SHOTS on Goal: Keita and Gudjhonsen are making more shooting attempts than the rest of midfielders in the team, but what’s more important is that the shots on goal percentage is pretty high, which means its not true that keita for example shoot more wide balls than acceptable, his rate (46.18 %successful shots-on goal) is close to Henry (49.86%) while Gudjhonsen percentage is even better (50%), so the Third midfielder took more attempts to shot on goal (an average of three successful shots per game) and have the highest percentage of successful shots (47.65%)

So regarding the offense output, Xavi is the Assists generator, while the third midfielder is the scoring addition to the Mix.

And here the rates per game (90 minutes) – Defense and Possession.

FC: Fouls Committed, FR: fouls received, FR-FC: fouls committed per every foul received, BW: Balls won, BL: Balls Lost, BW-BL: Balls lost per every ball won.

Defensively: it needs no discussion to confirm that Yaya and Busquets are the kings of winning balls, though yaya game is still more clean with less fouls committed, Xavi numbers are also interesting, and the third midfielders (keita Gudjhonsen) even though not impressive in that part, but not as far as some people may think they are. I demand more improvement on this part and I think it will happen, now that we are playing against strong opponents, more defensive instructions will be given for the Third midfielder while Xavi keeps his role, and same does Yaya/Busquets.

Ball possession: the numbers above reveal lot of signs regarding ball possession, which is the corner stone in Barcelona style, dominance, and efficiency. It is simple, when you commit a foul there is a chance that your team lose the ball (if your team has the ball already), the opposite happen when you receive a foul, you earn the ball if it is between your opponent legs. But that’s not really the most important factor in ball possession.

The most significant factor is Ball Won (BW), the more you win balls for your team, the better possession your team enjoy, under one condition that you don’t lose much more balls than you earn, and for that I added a column (BW-BL) and it shows for every ball won, how many balls were lost by a player in return.

Again, Yaya is the key earning back possession, wining back 7.22 balls per match (as an average) and losing only 4.90, Xavi and Keita are almost equal in that part Gudjhonsen come little bit behind while Henry actually suffer on this level. And Based on that, I think its safe to say statistically what I believe in based on tracking performance that the saying "Henry is playing a better role in getting back the ball and earning possession than the third midfielder" is a myth, for every ball he earns back he lose possession almost six times in return, with an average of twelve times per game, even Messi who is always accused to lose the ball too often while dribbling lose 8.34 balls per match, so as a side note I say, Henry REALLY need to improve this to have a better role and less passive impact on ball possession and team performance as a whole, without denying that his runs and challenges specially lately are serving the team, mainly against strong opponents, but without having a left midfielder who slow down the opponent counter attacks, Henry would have no chance to follow the ball holder and tackle him, or the ball.

Now reading that on the left flank, even though Henry play a more positive role defensively as well as offensively than his critics admit, but still not the role imagined by his die hard fans, and adding to the fact that the left back usually play a third center defender role when things get serious, the question is how come the opponents find it easier to go forward through Barcelona Right flank than left? They try to get advantage of Alves forward runs? But it was the same thing when we played in Lisbon and Sylvinho was our left back, the only answer I have is the role of the left midfielder (third midfielder) blocking that path.

Removing the third midfielder and installing Iniesta in his place for example, and if you monitor the tables above, this will increase the ball distribution, guarantee more possession but at the same time the threat on goal coming from the midfield will decline, less shooting attempts, less goals (how often will Iniesta penetrate to the far post to meet a cross and head it to the net?), it remind me of a scenario I have seen before –fruitless possession, yea now I remember! Last season!

This season is different? Well I don’t know if it’s just a coincident that the only game we lost this season was that game against Numancia when we had Iniesta and Xavi together as midfielders.

A very important point is that both Keita and Hleb are new signings who also got a knock by getting injured, so they are still not offering their best and their numbers will improve, may be the same for Gudjhonsen who is more a new born player, while aside of Busquets the rest of players listed in the tables are playing for the team since at least a year already, so the numbers and rates give a more accurate idea about their performance for the rest of the season, it will be more stable while the third midfielder rates will most probably improve.

I think with a structure of a Defensive midfielder and a tactical midfielder, Xavi is freer to do his ball distribution job moving around without being hooked by tons of tactical instructions, now that the team has a guy who carry those responsibility acting as a third midfielder.

Though the numbers say something but you only believe what your eyes see, and you can’t see the third midfielder that efficient when you watch a game, Is it all confusing?

If you think those numbers above say nothing serious then even though I can clarify it more using the football concepts away from stats and numbers, but then it will be more as if we are writing a book, not a long article, so there is nothing more in this article I can do to shed a light on the third midfielder performance.

If you feel it may be true but you will wait to notice it while watching a game, well my friend that’s another story, so may be together in another article we discuss the techniques that help us noticing what the cam don’t show during the game, because it is exclusively tracking the ball and the ball holder, while the serious business is whats happening behind the curtains.

Ramzi Tanani

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