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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Barcelona outclass Athletic in Cup Final

I was going to put a "sneaky" 20 euros on Athletic (3/1 to lift the Cup) before the game. While Barça were clear favourites, I thought Athletic had a decent chance of causing an upset. They've been safe in the league for quite a while and have been able to rest key players with this game in mind. Barça's recent schedule has been hectic in contrast and they would be without the injured Thierry Henry and Andrés Iniesta: arguably their best players over the last six weeks or so. I didn't get my bet on in the end, just as well, as it happened.

This was one of those games you see on television and wish you were there: the atmosphere was fantastic with both fans making a lot of noise. In the second half an Athletic "fan" hurled a can at Dani Alves when he was about to take a throw. The Athletic fans near the incident were incensed and directed the police to the culprit. I was impressed with that. The fans were here to enjoy the game whatever the result and weren't prepared to let some idiot ruin the day for everyone.

Athletic scored first, after 9 minutes, and tried to close Barça down at every opportunity, but after the goal Barça started to find their front players from midfield. Touré scored a great goal before half-time and in a nine minute spell in the second half Barça scored three more (Messi, Bojan and Xavi) and that was that.

Friday, May 8, 2009

UEFA Conspiracy against Chelsea?

It's definite conspiracy and Drogba is a UEFA double agent: the fun and games at the final whistle were but a smokescreen. Márquez is in on it too, and would have played a bigger part only for his injury. Remember the pass to Drogba in the first leg, the only pass Drogba received at the Camp Nou? Did you think it was a mistake? The Drogba we know would have taken that chance nine times out of ten, but he missed. Very suspect. He also missed chances at Stamford Bridge that he'd normally put away. My missus who doesn't really watch football said: "How did he miss that? I would have scored there." "Yeah, Love, but you wouldn't have got into the position." I added sagely. "You're right, Love. Never thought of that."

Hiddink just falls short as Chelsea go out

It was a good plan, and despite the cries of "Anti-Fútból" from certain quarters, it really was the only plan. Against Barça, Real Madrid abandoned the counter-attacking game which served them so well since Spurs legend Juande Ramos took charge, and were duly thumped. Even with home advantage, Chelsea were never going to fall into that trap. At the Camp Nou, Chelsea conceeded three chances to Barcelona and very nearly nicked a goal on the counter-attack from Didier Drogba. On the smaller Stamford Bridge pitch, 800 square metres smaller fact fans, it made sense to continue with the same tactic.

Barça started well, but Essien's early goal conditioned the tie as it heightened Chelsea's resolve to continue with the gameplan. Barça now needed to be very precise in their attacks as any loose passing would be punished by a Chelsea side programmed to find Drogba with as few passes as possible.

The referee had a nightmare and both sides suffered from his ineptitude. Abidal was wrongly sent-off and Chelsea were denied a definite penalty when Piqué handled in the box. The other claims have been debated at length elsewhere on the interweb without a consensus being reached. All I'll say is that if I were a referee I'd think twice before I gave anything to Drogba in the box. That's all I'm saying, you know.

Hiddink replaced Drogba shortly after Abidal's sending-off with Belletti, Barça's hero from the 2006 final. The intention was clear: maintain the result. Football bit him on the arse, though, and Barça scored in a move which featured the only decent cross from Alves and the only intervention from Messi. Iniesta's outside-of-the-foot finish was a work of art.

At the final whistle Chelsea went mental. Was it because of the referee's failure to award the various penalty claims, or was it due to the realization that they missed clear chances to put the result beyond doubt? Who knows? Drogba, who missed chances in both legs seemed particulary peeved. Make of that what you will.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 6

Real Madrid's run of victories in the second half of the season was astonishing. I watched most of their games, and also saw them in the flesh when they visited La Roseleda. The run of victories was astonishing, but the football was far from impressive. Madrid sat back, waited and punished any slip by the opposition with the pace of Gonzalo Higuaín and Arjen "Man of Steel" Robben. Real Madrid and Barcelona are supposed to take the game to the opposition and entertain, not play on the counter like a small team: un equipo pequeño. Real Madrid is a small team.

Against Barcelona they needed to win, so the option of sitting back and looking for the counter wasn't on. Chelsea hardly left their half in Barcelona last Tuesday because they knew they would be destroyed if they did so. Chelsea couldn't beat Barcelona playing an expansive game, so they neutralised their attacking threat and looked for scraps on the break. Madrid had to play a higher defensive line which gave Barça the space to weave their magic. There could be only one outcome.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Málaga 1 Deportivo 1

The beers went down well. Four cañas each to wash down the anchovies and the Russian Salad. Twenty minutes to kick-off, time for a rum and coke. This is the ritual now. Before it was the kiosco right behind the stadium where you had to jostle and shout to get an order in. I'm getting too old for that shite to be honest. Anyway, there's no draught beer at the kiosco, only cans. I'm not a big fan of beer out of cans and the spirits they have are the mini-bar bottles. Just not the same.

The game? Typical end-of-season stuff. I can't see Málaga qualifying for Europe at this rate.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Barca and Madrid win

Things remain the same at the top with Barca beating Getafe away and Madrid winning at Recreativo. The Madrid comic, Marca, said last week that Barcelona will win the league because the referees are on their side. Some decisions went Barca's way in their last home match and this lead to the Marca headline: "Champions by Decree?". Poor Real Madrid, they never get the decisions, especially at the Bernabéu.

It's still six points between them after the weekend matches. Well, it's really seven if you take goal difference into account. The game at the Bernabéu is going to be absolutely sensational. I don't really like that word it's Andy Gray territory, but what else can I say? Sensational, Richard.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Cartel

The knockout stage of the Champions League makes up for the turgid borefest of the group stages before Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I watch the group stages like everyone else, but due to the seeding involved it's not really geared towards any kind of upset. The only blip, to use Govan Toolmaker terminology, was when Manchester United failed to qualify a few seasons ago. Since then, and before, it has been a case of the big fish "easing" their way into the knockout stage. Perhaps groups of three, with the winner qualifying would make things more interesting. I'm not so sure the big clubs would go for that though.

In saying that, the quarter-finals also unfolded according to the script. Porto played better than Manchester United in the first leg, especially in the first half and were favourites to progess after drawing 2-2 at Old Trafford. In the return leg we saw the functional "Euro-United" kill the game after Ronaldo scored from about forty yards out. Ho-hum.
Villarreal, without Marcos Senna and Santi Cazorla, didn't really have a chance against Arsenal at The Emirates and were dispatched with ease.
The Barcelona/Bayern tie was settled in the first leg and the match in Germany was an exercise in damage limitation from Jurgen Klinsmann's side.

The match of the round was at Stamford Bridge. Crash! Bang! Wallop! as Alan Partridge might say. It wasn't really exciting because at no stage did Liverpool lead on aggregate. I've heard a lot of Liverpool fans speak of their pride in the team, but the reality is that they blew a two goal lead. Their second two goals were scored when even their manager had given up the ghost, having earlier substituted Torres and Mascherano.

So with Liverpool out, this year's "Big Four" is Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United. That's about right, I think. It's really any three of the Premiership four and Barcelona. So really it's a European "Big Five."

I don't think the Premiership itself is miles ahead of the rest of Europe, because the teams outside the top four are unremarkable. The top four is like a cartel. They also dominate the F.A Cup and the League Cup. Spurs fans and Portsmouth fans should consider themselves lucky that they have had the opportunity in the last couple of years to have snatched some crumbs from the cartel table. So, no Premiership teams outside the cartel are qualifying for the CL. The same four teams qualify each year and know Europe inside out. They dominate the competition because they qualify year after year. If say Aston Villa qualify next year they could possibly struggle with the extra demands. When Everton managed to break in, they were eliminated before the group stages. The cartel can ease their way past the group stages, and due to their annual experience, the knock-out stages aren't a great unknown. This domination reflects the cartel's hegemony within the Premier League, rather than the overall strength of the league.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Today's the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Anyone over the age of thirty with an interest in football will vividly remember that awful day. 96 people died because they went to a football match. Absolutely scandalous. Justice for the 96.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Villarreal 0 Malaga 2 Champions? Lets not run before we can walk

I had a hunch Malaga would get something from this one. People, well idiots in the press, are talking about Malaga qualifying for a Champions League place next season. Well I hope they don't because it would be a recipe for disaster. They don't have the resources to fight on two fronts and even a place in the UEFA cup, or Europa League (what a load of shite) as it's now called, would be an incredible strain on resources. Villarreal, who have a far bigger budget than Malaga, have struggled recently for that very reason. Before their 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal they lost 3-0 away to Almería. Malaga were decent, but this was a Villarreal side mentally and physically exhausted after an intense match against an in-form Arsenal.

Here's a nice highlights package. Duda got the first with a nice cut-back after a good ball from Apoño, and Eliseu finished off a breakaway by Albert Luque to make it 0-2. Marcos Senna will miss Wednesday's match with Arsenal. That's a pity. Santi Cazorla will also miss that game and it's difficult to see Villarreal getting a result in London.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Malaga 0 Real Madrid 1

This was painful. I watched the first half and thought: this is one of the poorest visiting sides I've seen this year. I really couldn't see a goal coming: from either side. Duda got into some decent positions for Malaga in the first half but his delivery wasn't up to snuff, while Real Madrid huffed and puffed. Higuain broke the deadlock with a very good run five minutes into the second half, but he really shouldn't have been allowed to progress so far: smarter defenders would've got a "professional foul" in at the start of the run. To add insult to injury, Eliseu was fouled at the start of the move. Ah well. The goal changed the game and Madrid had more room to attack a Malaga side obliged to open-up and could have scored a couple more. They are, however, a terrible team to watch and it's amazing they are within six points of Barcelona. It would be a sad day for football if they somehow manage to win this league.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The FIFA "Virus."

I love this expression. It's the name given by the Spanish media to the problem of La Liga's big stars going away on International duty and coming back injured, or tired, or in Lionel Messi's case, utterly demoralised. Oddly, the expression is hardly ever used with respect to Spanish players on international duty...

Real Madrid's Marcelo will miss the Malaga game. 1-0 to the virus. Hurray!
Arjen "Man of Steel" Robben is doubtful, but whether this is due to the "virus" is a moot point. Maybe he got a paper cut or something.

Barcelona are away, too, against Valladolid. I would be surprised if Messi starts and Guardiola will probably rest players with the Champions League match against Bayern Munich in mind. At least Real Madrid only have to worry about the "virus" as they are allergic to the Champions League. Did you see what I did there?

So, two potential away day banana skins for the top two and a virus to contend with.
I'll be at the Malaga game, let's hope we can at least take a point from it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bolivia 6 Argentina 1

I don't know how it finished, I didn't see the second set.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spain still unbeaten: "Bravehearts" smited

Fatih Terim maintains that his side didn't deserve to come away with nothing to show for their efforts in both games against Spain. He's probably right, but the great sides have a knack of winning when not playing particularly well. Winning is a habit, and for Spain it is proving a hard one to break. It's 31 games now without defeat for Vicente Del Bosque's side.

Turkey, for all the "Braveheart" bluster before the match looked like a team in awe of the European Champions. Even the crowd was subdued. They had chances though, but snatched at them. Spain lacked the fluency in midfield that was the hallmark of their triumph in the summer and played in fits and starts. Torres didn't play well, the Alonso/Senna partnership in midfield doesn't work: they're too similar in style and Xavi looked a little lost playing "in the hole." They're the European Champions though, and you get the feeling that teams are beaten before the game starts: Turkey certainly were and I was surprised by their attitude. So who will beat Spain? Answers on a postcard please.

Fatih Terim: "I'm going to put 11 Bravehearts on the field."

Turkey showed some bottle in the European Championships last summer. After losing their first match against Portugal they were immediately on the back foot. In the second group game they trailed Switzerland at half-time 1-0, but scored in injury time to win 1-2. In the final group match they were 0-2 down after sixty minutes but scored three times in the last fifteen minutes to win. In the quarter final they went a goal down in the last minute of injury time against Croatia but equalized a minute later. A devastated Croatia side lost the resulting penalty shoot-out.
In the semi-final against Germany they were severely handicapped by injury and suspension, but it took a goal at the death by Lahm to finally beat them. This is a team with serious balls.

They deserved a point against Spain on Saturday. Yes, Spain were better after the goal, but who wouldn't be? Goals change games, innit?

Turkey manager, Fatih Terim, says he is going to field "11 Bravehearts" tonight. I'd fancy this Turkey side against the English AND William Wallace.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Valdéz deserves the same money as Casillas"

Ginés Carvajal thinks so. Well he would, wouldn't he? He's his agent.
He stated that his client wouldn't demand such a salary, but deserved it as he's at the same level as Casillas and Buffon. Have you ever heard such nonsense? Valdéz is free to negotiate with another club six months before his contract expires and could "go abroad."

The above video is cunningly titled: "Victor's Clangers - Part Two." Part Two!

Not really an opportune time to make such claims, is it? But that's agents for you.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pique the unlikely hero

Spain are on their way to South Africa, but they didn't have it all their own way against a very good Turkish side. Their campaign at the European Championships was one of the highlights of the tournament and they deserved a point at the Bernabéu. Turkey didn't let Spain settle and it took a set-piece move to break the deadlock, with Piqué getting the goal. The return match on Wednesday should be a cracker and I fancy Turkey to inflict Spain's first defeat in thirty matches. Put your house on it!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Calderón to run against Florentino

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the television, the biggest mouth in Spanish football is back and he's going to run against Florentino Peréz in the forthcoming elections. He hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of winning - I reckon even Alex Ferguson would stand a better chance - but that's not the point: he wants to put his side of the story to the Madrid fans and Spain at large, and sees an electoral campaign as a great means of doing this. Or it could just be out of spite. He's great fun is Don Ramón, this campaign will be a good laugh.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cruyff: Florentino knows nothing about football

Florentino Peréz is going to make everything better. This is the opinion of the Madrid press and the vast majority of their fans. Everyone has forgotten about the disasterous final years of his "Galactico" project and the ridiculous quotes:"Claude Makelele only ever passes the ball 3 metres." After he won it back, Florentino, after he won it back.

In any case, Johan Cruyff is not impressed with the construction magnate's credentials.

"I don't understand the construction industry and Florentino doesn't understand football."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

C.D Malaga 6 (Six!) Real Madrid 2

Malaga will unveil new strip against Real Madrid

The club will unveil a new strip, which is an homage to the old C.D Malaga one, in the next home match against Real Madrid. C.D Malaga beat Real Madrid 6-2 in the 83/84 season.

I'm worried about the Madrid game. Against Sevilla, Malaga were lucky to get a draw as they were completely outplayed and showed a lack of urgency in closing down the opposition. The less said about the Barcelona game the better. Hopefully they'll "be up" for Madrid.

Ronaldo. No, not the fat one.

According to As, quoting the bloody Daily Mail -you couldn't make it up-, Ronaldo is getting "no protection" from the referees in England. As believes this is the "reality" and "at the same time the perfect excuse to leave Manchester United for Real Madrid."

I don't like Ronaldo. He's too much of a whinger, and what about that pained expression when things go wrong? Eminently slappable. There's no doubting his ability, though. He's fast, can play anywhere across the front, can initiate attacks from deep, is dangerous from set-pieces and is a great header of the ball. Real Madrid is supposedly his "dream move", but things aren't exactly dreamy at Madrid. They're out of the Champions League and although they're only six points behind Barcelona in the league, their football is stone age stuff compared to the leaders. Florentino will be back at the Bernebéu and promises a shake-up, but has he learned from his past errors? Be careful what you wish for, Cristiano.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

International Break

So all the leagues around Europe go on hold for the International Break. The tournament at the end makes it worthwhile, I suppose. But it messes up my weekend routine of wall to wall football from England and Spain, drinking and posting codswallop on various forums while the matches are on. Ah, well. Can't be helped, can't be helped.

The Spain game should be good, though. Alongside Barcelona they've been my favourite side to watch over the last 18 months or so. They'll have to do without Iniesta, who's out for two weeks with a thigh strain. His absence isn't a massive blow to Spain as there are capable deputies available to come in and do a job, but Spain like Barcelona just aren't the same without him. I don't think it's a coincidence that Barcelona's recent slump coincided with Iniesta's absence. At times this season his level of performance has been as good, if not better, than Messi's. Barcelona fans will tell you that, but he has never received the universal adulation of the Argentine. Maybe he likes it that way. He reminds me of Paul Scholes in that sense: idolised by his own fans and deeply respected by his peers but light years away from the bullshit. Barca say he should be back for the game against Bayern Munich. I hope so.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Barcelona destroy Malaga

You would have to say that Malaga's 6-0 defeat flattered them. It could have been far, far worse.
In fairness to the visitors they were without Weligton and Calleja, two first team defenders and Duda, arguably the best performer this season, started on the bench as he wasn't 100% fit. Still, there was a lack of agression and intensity in the performance that seems to have carried over from the Sevilla match. To have any chance at Barca's place you have to be agressive. Even the great Real Madrid took turns to foul Messi in the first twenty minutes in their 2-0 defeat before Christmas. Malaga were soft and too respectful of their opponents.

Barcelona suffocated Malaga from the start last night. A lot of people ask why teams defend so deep at the Camp Nou as if there is an element of choice in the matter. They pin you back and defend from the front with the constant pressure of Eto'o, Messi and Henry. Although if you manage to break out, all you have to do is outplay Xavi, Iniesta and Toure in midfield. Easy, no?
Man for man, their defence wouldn't be as good as say, Manchester United's, Liverpool's or Chelsea's but their defence is starving the opposition of the ball thus reducing the opposition's chances. It worked for Spain in the summer.

Anyway, for what it's worth, Messi's goal was my favourite.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Hugol" returns to the Bernabeú

Next time you're on You Tube, stick Hugo Sánchez into the search bar and enjoy the show. What a player he was: a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals. Where most forwards need 2 touches to finish, Sánchez invariably scored with one. Right foot, left foot,with the head, chest it didn't matter. And what about those overhead kicks?

Today he's back as manager of Almería. He should get a warm reception from the home fans, but his team will have it tough.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It's Big

Malaga visit El Camp Nou

El Camp Nou is massive. It's kind of too big. The last time I was there, a 4-0 dismantling of Malaga, I splashed-out on good seats. We watched the game seven or eight rows behind the benches as Barcelona strolled to victory. Every now and again I looked up towards the Gods and thought: it must be shite watching it from there.

I'll watch this tomorrow on the box. Barcelona should win this one. They've started to play well after their little slump and Malaga will be without Baha (injured) and Weligton (suspended). Duda is back and Malaga will look to him to deliver from set-pieces, an area where Barca are weak.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spanish squad for matches against Turkey

Vicente stands firm.

Goalkeepers: Casillas, Reina, Diego López

Defenders: Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Albiol, Marchena, Juanito, Capdevila, Pique

Midfielders: Iniesta, Silva, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Riera, Senna, Cazorla, Busquets.

Forwards: Torres, Villa, Llorente and Güiza.

Hopefully this Raúl "debate" can be put to bed now......

Raúl and la selección

Most people thought the madness surrounding Raúl and the Spanish national side would've ended after the European Championships. Aragonés got rid of Madrid's captain for a couple of reasons. One, he lacked the pace necessary and two, he dirtied his copybook at the 2006 World Cup by causing a fuss when it was suggested that he might have to start some games on the bench: Raúl can't start games on the bench, you know. The 2008 side was a tight unit both on and off the pitch and those not of a rabid pro-Madrid persuasion feel that Raul would be a disruptive influence if he were called-up. His fans in the press keep flogging the same dead horse, unfortunately. While admitting that he is behind Torres and Villa in the pecking order, the fans with typewriters have been pushing for his inclusion for the third stiker's place.

I'm sure Del Bosque won't be swayed by the noises coming from the Madrid press. He just needs to sit tight: the dirty work was done by his predecessor. However, having to listen to this "¡Raúl Seleccion!" nonsence everytime a squad is announced has become pretty tiresome.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Malaga to reduce ticket prices for Madrid visit

The club has announced that it will reduce prices by 40% for the match against Real Madrid on the 5th of April. Season ticket holders have the opportunity to buy 2 tickets before they go on general sale. The club say they are doing it as a gesture of goodwill in these dificult times, citing the effect of the economic crisis on many families. On the surface it seems a pretty decent gesture, but some fans see it as an opportunity for the many Madrid supporters in the Malaga area to see their heroes on the cheap, although the club will say that the offer of two tickets to season ticket holders will curb the Madrid presence. That's if the tickets go to Malaga fans. I've already been asked for tickets by some Madrid followers. A friend of mine was moaning about it. "Let those Madrid cunts pay to watch." He has a point. However, it's a fine line. Almeria raised their prices so much for the visit of Barcelona last Sunday that only 9,000 fans turned up: even season ticket holders had to buy their seats. I watched that match on the television when I got back from La Roselada on Sunday and it had all the atmosphere of a pre-season run-out.

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