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Archive for the ‘FCB’ Category

I recently found my way to RunofPlay.com.  The site seems to be an outlet for Soccer related content from freelance writer, Brian Phillips, who has a quality writing resume (certainly light years beyond anyone on the I Fischi staff).  Visually, the site verges on perfect.  The content itself is well written, literary in style and trending more towards opinionated, blown out anecdotes than anything terribly insightful; worth a look though.

What specifically struck me in such a fashion that I had to share my opinion on the internets again is this article on the Barcelona striker, 20 year old Bojan Krkic.  A drawn out wonderment of why such a promising youngster has yet to light the world on fire.

First the facts on Mr Krkic:

  • Youngest Champion’s League appearance for Barcelona
  • Youngest player ever to score in La Liga for FCB (breaking Leo Messi’s record)
  • 2nd Youngest Goalscorer ever in the CL (by 22 days)
  • A legend holds that he scored something like 960 goals in the youth ranks (not a fact)

With such a strong resume at such a young age, it begins to make some sense that Krkic has been a popular subject of both wild speculation and pointed criticism as he has spent large stretches of this season on the bench.  Add in the the integral role he played at the end of last season (7 goals in the final 12 games of La Liga and keeping overvalued Zlatan Ibrahimavic on the bench), and it is understandable that the negative opinions have become so loud that we are now voicing them in soccer-crazed America.

However, when looked at a little closer, it becomes clear that anything calling Bojan a bust at this point is, at best, a mis-guided reaction to his prolific individual ability.

The game as a whole has recently evolved around a more withdrawn striker, making the position less of a poacher/target player and more of interchangeable forward.  The positioning and movement involved are much more complex compared to the responsibilities involved in being a target striker  (ZonalMarking.net has a breakdown on the evolution).  It is now less about individual ability/goals, and more about being creating and moving as well as finishing clinically.

In the first team of such an advanced club, Krkic cannot just rely on speed and his ability to score but must also be responsible and answer to the complicated tactics preferred by Pep Guardiola.  He has had some reported struggles on the bench as any elite professional athlete yearns to compete, but he seems to appreciate that his development has actually continued under Pep, despite the lack of minutes.

On a personal level, to even be 20 years old and the 2nd choice striker on arguably the best team in the world puts him select company:

The only other striker born in the 90s on a top 4 team of a major league (Spain, England, Italy, Germany) that is also a top-5 goal scorer on their team, the extremely mercurial Mario Balotelli.  I would say he is ahead of Balotelli at this point in time.

A lot of qualifiers there but the point is that, to be an integral member at Barcelona at his age is quite an accomplishment.

For those who suggest that based on his playing time this year (753 total minutes, 1 league start) he isn’t integral, I would suggest you observe an entire European league season.  Barcelona has been very fortunate to have their preferred starting trio of Messi, Pedro, Villa in tact for virtually the entire season.  Bojan recently got his first start based on a Pedro muscle injury and just happened to score the winner.  In total, he has scored 5 goals over the course of a season that has seen him play a total of about 8 1/3 complete games, a pretty good rate.

Phillips also questions how at a team with such a tradition of developing world-class players, they haven’t developed this prodigy better.  He seems to have missed that there is a very well defined strategy for devleoping the youth, outlined to perfection at totalbarca.com; part1 and part2.  In short though, it is not just about displaying the talent but growing into a leader of the B squad before being promoted.  (Random relevant fact, Barcelona B’s leading striker this season is 25 year old Jonathan Soriano)

Krkic spent just a year at the B level before being promoted – in similar fashion to the reigning 2-time ballon d’or winner, Lionel Messi.  Because he is not Lionel Messi though does not mean he has failed to live up to his potential, Messi is an extreme example, a rare athlete that has been graced with an ability verging on super-natural.

Bojan is a fascinating young talent, the 2nd choice striker on the best team in the world with a very promising career in front of him.   He has had to learn from observing more often than participating, and performing when called upon, both of which he seems to have done superbly.

It is absurd to say he has failed to live up to his potential because he isn’t leading the Barcelona front-line at the age of 20.  Probably the most important reason though; Barcelona is a club focused on winning titles every year, and Bojan is obviously not mature/developed enough to the point where they could compete on multiple fronts if he was the #1 striker.

Might he be sold this summer? Yes, but it could the result of a financial decision as much as a technical one.  Ideally, he would stay at Barcelona and continue his development, as he has proven a reliable replacement when called upon and is still on the road to stardom.  Plus, I would love to proven right.

Americans…

The connection from Barcelona developed talent to the American National Team isn’t quite a clear one but when it comes to the topic of potential, I think it translates well.

Specifically relevant based on the latest in the line of American’s to burst on the stage, Juan Agudelo.  Still only 18, but with 2 goals in his first 3 Senior Team appearances, it is clear that this young man has a very bright future.  However, as he continues to shine, and based on his performances in both the MLS and for the USMNT I have no doubt he will, the attention from Europe will increase.

What will follow is probably a well publicized transfer to a relatively high-profile European team, some waning attention as it turns out he won’t be immediately leading said team to a league title, and then the questioning of what happened to Juan Agudelo.

He won’t actually have failed to fulfill his potential but he will have gone from being a big fish in a tiny pond, to being a big fish in an ocean.  Whereas in America he is the only one at his age performing at that level, there are probably at least 10 Italian, 10 Spanish, 10 French, 10 Dutch, 10 British, 10 Argentinian and 10 Brazilian kids at the same level.  He will take time to adjust to the speed of the game and will undoubtedly struggle at times, whether it’s with injury or the culture or a coach that doesn’t like him.

This isn’t to say it’s the wrong move and in-fact it is a good move.  To become a top-tier team, the US needs their top talent to want the challenge of going abroad and experience alongside that the best in the world will fully display and teach what goes into being world class.

Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu both went overseas at a very young age.  Both have had some struggles but now find themselves in positions where they are getting quality playing time on a weekly basis.

Freddy Adu specifically seems to have benefitted from increased playing time, having scored at least 2x for his latest club.  Despite being in the 2nd division in Turkey, he hasn’t given up over there and has continued to make the necessary moves to ensure he continues to get better and learn what it takes to be a professional.  Despite his struggles, he hasn’t taken the easy road and come back to the US, a lot more than can be said for the young Landon Donovan after his struggles in Germany as a 23 year old.  For anyone to count Adu out as a future piece of the USMNT is short-sighted and probably a hater.

Those players who have had the most success abroad have had it later in their careers.  The best example being Clint Dempsey.  He recently became the highest single season scoring American in the history of the EPL, 10 goals this year at the age of 28.  He dealt with being a reserve in his first season at the age of 24, only 10 appearances and a single goal, before becoming a regular starter for the past 4 seasons.

For anyone to have thought that Freddy Adu would be leading a top-tier European club at the age of 22 was over-reacting as only Americans do.  The same goes for Jozy Altidore.  The adjustment period is intense and often longer than anticipated, that does not mean that these guys should be staying in the MLS though.  To be the best, you must consistently challenge yourself against the best.

Tonight

Coming off a quality draw vs Argentina, the US prepares for their 2nd International Friendly of the current FIFA break vs Paraguay (8PM tonight – Fox Soccer Channel).  This should be a more telling example of the state of the team compared to Saturday’s draw vs Argentina.

We knew before Saturday that this team is excellent at packing the back and trying to score on the counter-attack or from a set-piece.  The US can tie anyone in the world, and because of that, every now and again there will be a crazy result like the one vs Spain in the 09 Confederations cup.  Tying these elite teams teams does not mean they are on the verge of consistently beating them.

The next step forward is to consistently beat teams that are ranked near them by FIFA; Paraguay, Ghana, Slovenia, etc.  Teams that the US struggles with because they also like to play a disruptive style and hope for success on the counter-attack.  The fact that this game is at home really means that they should win.

On Saturday, the US looked a lot better when they moved to the 4-4-2 system in the 2nd half.  Agudelo is a nice replacement for Charlie Davies (already light years ahead of Edson Buddle/Robbie Findley) and showed a good understanding with Jozy Altidore, let’s see if he get’s his first start tonight, it is deserved.

The 3 CM combo of Bradley Jr, Jones, & Edu didn’t work out so hotly as they are very similar players and don’t have the ability or understanding to pass their way out of tight areas in their own 1/3.  Subsequently they were reduced to a lot of long balls vs Argentina, and once winning the ball, Jozy just had nowhere to go with it.  I think the 2nd half combo of Edu/Bradley is the best bet.

Bradley could get a little experimental and give some time to Mikkel Diskerud, Benny Feilhaber, or Sacha Kljestan in the midfield.  Defensively you could see the young Red Bull, Tim Ream, get a start instead of Onyewu or Demerit.  Timothy Chandler probably deserves at least another 45 minutes after what was one of the most promising debuts of recent memory.

A good view from the NYTimes on suggested changes for tonight. Love the thinking.

Anyone have thoughts on any of the 1800 previous words (#ramblingconvolutedblogposts), please share, I like arguing….

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5-0 & Welcome Back

This is only a quick post to celebrate Barcelona’s 5-0 victory against Real Madrid yesterday evening.  Anyone who witnessed and is a fan of the good guys would surely agree w/me, it was a brilliant display of football.  I feel dumb calling it football but calling it soccer does a disservice to the style and class with which they played.

If you didn’t see it, here are some highlights…

Real Madrid surely have a good side but they are light years behind Barcelona when it comes to on the field chemistry.  It should be mentioned that Barca are playing at a level few teams ever reach; their comfort level and overall singular understanding of how they are going to play the game makes coming away with even a single a point a tall task for any visiting team.

Lionel Messi did everything but score, unfortunately, and quieted any burgeoning debate about whether or not CR9 might have passed him by.  Little Leo certainly benefits from been ingrained in the same system, with the same core group for years now, but the performances speak for themselves.

Finally, RM have an excellent core of exciting, young players and have put together some quality performances under Mourinho, but there is ground to be made up on FCB at this moment.  It will be interesting to see if the brain-trust has the patience to get there.

Other big news this week includes our own favorite US of A learning whether or not they will get the World Cup in 2022.  Check back tomorrow to learn more about the bid, the announcement is coming on Thursday.

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As the US Men continue their World Cup prep I figured it would probably be easier to post updates in one place rather than whole new posts every day.  Unfortunately I have a real job that prevents me from actually covering these kind of camps, so I will defer to the traditional outlets and just link to the interesting news that comes up as the “send-off” games approach.  Additionally, Barcelona is making major off-season moves already but that will be below the US news.

The Americans:

5/21

I am just pillaging the USSoccer.com camp material…but since they have the best access, why reinvent the wheel.  This is cool, raw video from camp drills.

Courtesy of their blog…some pictures from Thurs Afternoon’s session.

Additionally, according to their Twitter feed…most guys have today off except for a small selection of players.  Good news for Eddie Johnson’s injury concerns and his subsequent chances of making the team.  Interesting that Chad Marshall was chosen as well, he had some pretty poor showings in the February friendlies.  Of course, only BB and co. really know why they were chosen.

A NYTimes Goal blog post on the ongoing maturation of Jozy Altidore.  A very interesting subject which was covered in a larger SI piece earlier in the week.  He often says the right thing but he must now do the right thing, day in and day out….I guess that is what makes a professional, although I definitely wouldn’t know.

5/20

Apparently Jozy Altidore was at one of the Lakers playoffs games and found time to trash talk with David Beckham.

A few of the Goal.com American editors discuss the makeup of the backline.

Wayne Drehs updates his ESPN.com camp blog with “feature” on the fitness coach.  Interesting b/c the US is arguably the fittest team in the tournament, a key reason as to why you cannot count them out.  The pictures at the end are kind of funny…you can see the pain on their faces.

Some pictures from Princeton of today’s AM training session.  Whole Team.  Tim Howard.

Unrelated, Argentina and Spain have narrowed down their rosters to the final 23.

5/19

The official US Soccer blog is the best source for in camp updates; squad updates from Tuesday Morning and some pictures from Wednesday’s AM session.  Also word that Oguchi Onyewu trained for the first time with the team today after arriving late from Milan.

Their Twitter feed also provides some fun/random coverage; Tim Howard being interviewed by the Daily Show, Jose Torres in an SI shoot, and random shots from the Monday media frenzy.

The NYTimes has been providing excellent coverage from Princeton:

Jere Longman on the overall team picture going into this camp.

Longman, again, on the talented but oft-criticized Landon Donovan. Offensively, this team lives and dies with him.  He is probably the best American yet, and this is his chance to really take the US to the next level on the World Stage.

As I have stated before, when Alex Ferguson talks, listen.

A good piece from the upcoming SI issue on Jozy Altidore.  He has been slightly overlooked lately but will be integral to the American front line next month.

Not to be outdone, the WWL is also providing some comprehensive coverage:

A ongoing blog from Wayne Drehs, reporting on the vageries of this camp session.

Insider required; a good piece on the the elusiveness of everyone’s favorite vague term…form.

A nice feature on Jay Demerits non-traditional road to the US team.

A good, non-fluff, piece on questions that the US is looking to answer in this camp…or at least before June 12th.

FC Barcelona:

5/21

A report out of Barcelona on the impressive turnout for David Villa’s unveiling at the Nou Camp.  I like those new kits.

They have also released the official FCB Toon of David Villa as well.  These things make very little sense to me but they are hilarious/awesome.

5/19

Within just a few days of winning their second La Liga title in row, the Blaugrana made the rumored signing of David Villa from Valencia official.

Goal.com does a nice profile of the player who is on track to become the all time leading scorer for the Spanish national team in the next few years.

They also make sure the rest of Europe and, especially Real Madrid, is aware that Barca has no intention of resting on their laurels.

Captain Fantastic, aka Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal, has stated his desire to move back to Barcelona, his native region and boyhood club.  A significant blow to their squad but one which will add even more funds to Arsene Wenger’s already significant offseason fund.  How Barcelona would handle another attacking midfielder would be a challenge but luckily that is what they pay Pep Guardiola for.

Continue to check back throughout the next week for continued updates on both fronts…..

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With a 4-0 victory over Valladolid yesterday afternoon Barcelona secured their 2nd straight, and 20th overall, La Liga title.

While it seems to pale in comparison to last years historic trophy haul, 99 pts and only 1 defeat is very impressive. Throw in the unpredictability of knockout style soccer and a run like last years would be of the utmost difficulty to duplicate (no back to back CL champions yet).  Additionally, outclassing the mass of money spent by Real Madrid last summer through a stable of home-grown talent undoubtedly gives Joan Laporta and the FCB brass a level of smug satisfaction.

One of the English language ESPN commentators yesterday stated that this years Barcelona team was probably not as good as last years due to this difference in hardware.  An interesting and valid statement but it should be noted that last years victorious haul of 87 points would have fallen 9 pts behind this year’s Real Madrid squad.  99 points is an all-time record, while the +74 goal differential was also greater than last years mark of +70.  Alas, you must win, and the 2010 version didn’t do that quite as grandly as the 2009 version.

There are too many contrasting variables to really make an accurate comparison of the two teams.  What must be noted is this Barcelona team has continued to play beautiful and consistently victorious soccer for two seasons running now.  They are edging the way into the category of great all time teams (although that is an article for someone with more historical knowledge) and you know that Sr. Guardiola will have them back and hungry for more next September.

The bitterness of losing to Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-final will surely be a motivational tool as they seek to recapture European glory which great teams are judged upon in this globalized version of the game.  The La Liga rivalry with Real Madrid is enough to keep even the most successful Blaugrana teams energized, although one can’t help but imagine Catalans salivating at the idea of Jose Mourinho being the next “Gallactico.”

As far as personnel goes, the core should remain very similar to this year.  Although, after the CL defeat it seems as if there is now a question of what to do with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  One season at a club is hardly a fair trial period, but given his overall quality there was more expected this season.

Mixth together the news that David Villa and Catalonians seem to be pining for each other along with Bojan Krkic’s late season emergence and all of the sudden you have a very crowded attack force.  Guardiola obviously likes how the team has performed over the final month of the season and probably likes the idea of continuing in that mold.  Ibra could also use a little display that his spot on this squad is far from guaranteed.

Thierry Henry seems to be on his way out; this was probably sealed when he spent extra time on the field at the Emirates after the first leg draw in the CL quarter finals.  If you play for Barcelona, you are expected to be Barca through and through.  The speculation here is that he will be coming to NY and playing for the Red Bulls in Harrison, NJ as soon as the WC ends.

This would be a major signing for the MLS and provide evidence that David Beckham was not an anomaly but a trend-setter.  However, and I cannot stress this enough, the transfer market is ALWAYS rife with rumors.  Any player is a candidate to go to any club and you should never believe what you hear until the club makes an official announcement, and even then…make sure his work permit is in-line.

News outlets always want to be the first to break the news and then pat themselves on the back.  Honestly, don’t trust it.  ESPN.com says it? SI.com says it?  I know.  Thierry himself has already come out and said that he has not reached an agreement.

I am not saying it won’t happen, it does sound like the two parties are talking, an always necessary step.  However, please temper your expectations.  A good World Cup could see him make a more high profile move and stay in Europe for a few more seasons.  It has been rumored enough to say that his arrival here wouldn’t be a surprise, but please temper your expectations.

Finally, you cannot mention the 2009/2010 campaign with out some form of a shout out to Lionel Messi.  I slurped him some a few months ago and to avoid being redundant, I am not going much further.  The only thing that is worth calling out is his ability in front of goal; his calm demeanor is uncanny and his ability to keep opposing ‘keepers completely in the dark about what is coming has allowed him to finish the season with34 goals in La Liga, tying the cool Ronaldo for the single season mark at FCB.  The range of goals he scores is so broad and the amount of joy he brings to the game unrivaled, one can only hope that he maintains this level for as long as possible.  He really did carry Barcelona on his shoulders this year and proclaimed to the World that he is Barcelona and Barcelona is his.  It should be fascinating to see if he can carry Argentina come June.

Some thoughts from others out there on La Liga/Barcelona:

FC Barcelona’s English language Twitter feed has appropriate reaction from all appropriate parties

Phil Ball from ESPN.com reflects on La Liga in its entirety

Cyrus Malek from Goal.com on Barcelona’s 99 pointer

Videos (I will continue to post here as I find good stuff)

Other random good stuff…

A funny piece from Seth Vertelney at Goal.com about the overload of hackneyed World Cup related pieces.

Oguchi Onyewu makes a gesture that is unheard of in professional sports, even the Italians are gushing

This is a crazy goal from the Paraguayan league…

As the US progresses through their warm-up camp, I think I am going to start one post and just continuously update it when I see anything worth mentioning.  I will get back into the entirely inexact science of providing my own insight as the friendlies approach….

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While numerous soccer pundits believed that Barcelona and their beautiful brand of soccer would prevail yesterday evening, I believe most were picking with their heart and not their head. If Mourinho decided (as he did) that Inter’s two goal lead was enough and all they were going to do was pack the back and defend with discipline, it was going to be asking a lot of Barcelona to score twice.

Pack it in

You can say many things about Mourinho’s tactical choice; it’s ugly, it’s boring, it prevents progress of the game, it’s “anti-football.” However, the purpose of the the Champions League semi-final is not to play soccer beautifully or attack at all times or maintain as much possession as possible but rather to win.  Mourinho has never owned a “style”, he has always focused on the task at hand…winning, and he will not allow anybody to influence how he will do it.  It must also be stated that he is fortunate enough to have squads at his disposal which have a litany of talent, as many La Liga sides will tell you that just “packing the back” isn’t enough to stop Barcelona.  But his ability to orchestrate his side with such exacting standards time after time puts them in position to win, a lot.

His self proclaimed “specialness” is a little tired at this point; his Porto CL triumph still fueling much of his greatness, he did a good job with a Chelsea team loaded with talent and money but his inability to win the Champions League questions whether or not he got maximum value out of them, additionally, he inherited the only top level Italian side which wasn’t (possibly incorrectly) implicated in the Calciopoli scandal of 2006, it would have been embarrassing if he hadn’t won Serie A with every chance he got.

The reason he was brought to Milan has always been to win the Champions League though. Now he has the chance to prove that his Porto victory wasn’t an aberration but the coming out party of manager with very few equals.

The Final

The final is probably not quite what Fox was hoping for when they moved the game from FX to Fox proper, but it should be a fascinating match-up. Inter has been excellent throughout the knockout stages, beating both Chelsea and Barcelona en route while Bayern had a little more trouble, leaving it until late against both Fiorentina and Man Utd. Their performance against Lyon was excellent though and they only seem to have improved throughout the competition.

Ribery will likely spend the final in the stands, unless UEFA breaks with tradition and lessens his suspension, but this shouldn’t be too much of a concern as his off the field issues had obviously begun to mess with his head.

FCB

Barcelona’s showing yesterday was admirable, they gave it their all and came only within an incorrectly called handball of another late winner. However, if I had to nitpick i would say there wasn’t enough urgency in the first half; the possession was there, the position was there, but besides a few close calls, they didn’t test Julio Cesar enough. It wasn’t until the final 30 minutes when they decided they had to shoot and shoot often. Full credit goes to Inter though who completely won this tie.

If I was going to call out one player it must be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for he was the player Barca valued at Samuel Eto’o + 50 Million Euros. He probably deserves another season but he was held in check aerially by Lucio/Walter Samuel and when he drifted out wide he was not finding any space for himself. I understand that he often occupies two defenders and opens up space just outside the box for players like Messi, and yes he can score in an instant but with Inter being so dominant in the air, maybe Pep should have tried to go small and make an attempt at winning with speed. That is absurd for me to question Guardiola though, my knowledge pales in comparison.

The early sending off of Thiago Motta sent the crowd into a frenzy but as Gerard Pique (one of FCB’s bright spots) contends, “the red card was counterproductive.” It made Barcelona push a little too hard while also making Inter’s task very clear, defend defend defend because we can no longer afford to push men into attack. (Click on that link for some further reaction from Barcelona players).

A more complete look at “tops and flops” from Goal.com…

In his weekly ESPN Soccernet column, the excellent Phil Ball takes a look at the current environment in Spain post Champions League; most appropriately whether Inter’s win means that Mourinho will be at the Bernabeu next fall and

Onto some World Cup news and the mass of press surrounding the US’s imminent 30 man announcement…

Daily World Cup Dosage

From Goal.com a debate over whether or not Charlie Davies will make the flight to South Africa

From ESPN.com a look a position by position breakdown of who is going and who is still hoping

Again from the WWL, Bob Bradley’s current ambiguous views on Mr. Davies chances

EPL Talk takes a look at two additions ESPN’s roster for this summer…one and two

A good breakdown from the No Short Corners blog on the USMNT’s current injurty situation;

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This was originally going to be a post about the lack of an EPL team in the Champions League final since 2003; however, being a Barcelona fan, I must give due credit to today’s 2-0 result at the Bernabeu. Rather than talk, here are some ghetto highlights…

If anyone had a doubt about the level at which Lionel Messi is playing, there is no longer an argument about him being the best player in the world right now. You could argue that I am just making a statement for the self important reasons of making a statement like that, but it is so easy to say, there should be no illusions about my motive. It’s true, thats it.

Due credit must be given to the team around him with out which this wouldn’t be possible. If I had the resources, I would love to know the % of Messi’s goals which have been assisted by Xavi Hernandez. He served the first one today on a platter and played an inch perfect pass on Pedro’s 2nd half effort to put Barca up 2-0. With out some excellent goal keeping from Iker Casillas, there is no doubt that Lionel could have had an additional 2 goals, both supplied by Xavi.

The game itself was everything it was billed to be, probably only because in my opinion there are fewer things greater than watching Barcelona completely outclass Real Madrid. Carlos Puyol brought his usual ‘reserved only for El Classico’ performance, Pedro continued his breakout season, and it was evident that Real Madrid were frustrated after Messi’s opener.

Credit should also be given to Pique and Milito for anchoring the defense, Keita for being relentlessly active in the midfield, and Dani Alves for providing a right sided attack when Guardiola moves Leo into the middle.

The fact that Real Madrid attempted to spend their way to Barcelona’s level and are already out of Champions League only made it sweeter. Barcelona is now in prime position to win their 2nd La Liga title in a row; 7 games remain and they are up 3 points, leading on the first tiebreaker (head to head record).

Coming less than a week after Messi’s incandescent personal defeat of Arsenal (an obvious overstatement, but more than one website has listed that performance as a perfect 10…video just below) is what has actually put an end to any debate about his current form. His control is immaculate, his time to top speed unmatched, and the overall rythym of his game set him apart from absolutely everyone else out there.  In fact, that statement alone trivializes his game right now.  Enough Slurp?  Ladies and gentlemen, the hilites…

Ever??

The British announcer calls him “the most talented footballer of his generation,” others will make similar statements for various reasons, and there is an argument to be made there.  Personally, I would say that to be considered among the truly great footballers of all time, that  rare tier of 3 or maybe 4 players, he must succeed on the world stage.

He is currently turning himself and Argentina’s success into the main story line during the lead up t0 the upcoming World Cup.  It is a different game though and single elimination can be a doozy for any team.  While failure doesn’t rule him out, it will mean another 4 years until he is afforded the opportunity again.

Others…

A good collection of world reaction to Tuesday’s win from the NYTimes.

A good look at Messi’s status around the World from one of America’s most connected soccer writers.

Champion’s League Final Four

If Barcelona are able to repeat Champions League glory in the May 22nd final in Madrid, it will be the ultimate proverbial icing on the cake of 2 years of beautiful soccer, or cherry on top, or any other food related superlative. They will also be the first ever back to back champions in the “Champions League Era.”

Of course getting there will be very difficult. The upcoming semi-final is against an Inter Milan team which has the class, experience, and determination to stop Barcelona from playing their style. Of course, no one has really been able to effectively do that in a long time.

Eto’o coming back to send Barcelona packing almost seems true before it happens.  He is one of those athletes who elevates his game when he’s convinced he has been slighted or disrespected and the trade of him +43.25 Million Euros is, in my opinion, slightly disrespectful (this is the nature of running a successful professional sports team).

Additionally, Jose Mourinho has provided problems for the Catalans in the past, it should be noted that Barcelona got the better of the group stage battles (0 0 tie in Milan, and a 1 0 victory in the Nou Camp).

Mark it on your Calendar, April 20/28, 2:45 PM EST; second leg in Catalunya.

Donde Esta El Brits?

As stated earlier, up until today the headline from Europe must have been that this is the first time in 7 years that there is no English team in the final four of the Champions League.  While there was the obvious overreaction on the part of the British, this does not a represent a decline in the EPL but rather just the end of a great run of continental football.

In elimination style competitions, even two-leg versions, there are bound to be surprising trends (witness the Big East’s variation from the 2009 NCAA basketball tournament to this year’s version).

It was a brilliant goal from Arjen Robben (one of the deftest signings of last summer) which sent Bayern through to a semi final date with Lyon.  If you haven’t seen it….

While the Inter/Barca semi-final is the marquee matchup, neither of these teams should be counted out in the final. They have both beaten teams which many believe to be better them; Lyon over Madrid in the round of 16 and Bayern outplaying Man Utd in the Quarterfinals.

Lyon has experience in this competition and the confidence that comes with getting to this point. They are willing to sit back and take the goals when the opportunities present themselves. You must be finishing effectively for this to work and Lisandro has spear headed some excellent counter attacking football.

Munich’s attack pairing of Ribery and Robben is as fast and lethal as anything out there. With a goal in each leg vs United, Ivica Olic’s European performances have added that in form striker who can change the game on his own accord.

That is all for now…I continue to want to provide some updates on the USMNT but right now your soccer focus should be on the culmination of the European season over the next 6 weeks.

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The first two Champions League quarterfinals this afternoon kick off a blistering 3+ months of soccer across the globe. In short…

Real Madrid leads Spains’s La Liga based solely on goal differential.  They welcome Barcelona to the Bernabeu the weekend of April 10th for what should be the most entertaining domestic league match of the season.

4 time defending Serie A champions Inter Milan saw their lead dwindle to only 1 pt after Luca Toni grabbed a late winner for Roma at the stadio olimpico on Saturday.  AC Milan lurks 2 pts beyond Roma with only 7 matches left for each squad.

Chelsea seem to be dialed into the Premier League race after crashing out of Europe but still cannot seem to shake a Man Utd side leading the league by a single point.  The two sides face off at Old Trafford this Saturday morning at 7:45 AM here in the states (ESPN2).  Arsenal sits 3 pts back of Chelsea as well and have continued to find a way back into the mix after being counted out numerous times this season.

Even the recently Lyon dominated French Ligue 1 (despite last years Bordeaux victory) is incredibly tight at the top this year.  An astounding 6 clubs are within the 3 pts of each other although the Bordeaux must be given the advantage at this point as they are tied at the top but hold 2 games in hand.

All these battles will however have crowned their champions by the time the final two Champions League survivors meet on Saturday, May 22nd at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.  While Real Madrid spent preposterous amounts of money this past summer to ensure they were one of those teams, we all know that didn’t work as hoped.  With the final 8 kicking off in just under 1 hour, lets get into the meat of it (First team listed gets to play the second leg at home…

Bordeaux v Lyon – March 30/April 7

While the French were understandably enthused about being 1 of 2 leagues with 2 teams in the final 8 and were liking their chances of having both in semi finals on the strength of their round of 16 victories, they got drawn together which instead guarantees there will be a French team in the final 4 for the first time in, um, a long time.

Lyon’s victory over Real Madrid is more impressive than Bordeaux’s expected triumph over Olympiacos but Bordeaux does have the confidence that comes with their 1-0 victory in Lyon in mid-December.  Due to the lack of any US coverage of Ligue 1, I am not terribly familiar with either team.  Both have quality throughout the ranks though and a level of familiarity that should result in a very entertaining draw over the course of the two legs.

Manchester United v Bayern Munich – March 30/April 7

In a repeat of the classic 1999 Champions League Final (highlights here and well worth the 5+ min) these two European powerhouses should produce a bruising 180 minutes of soccer.  Manchester United has been in great CL form for over 2 years now and last year saw Bayern get absolutely outclassed by FC Barcelona at this stage.

Mario Gomez’s injury is probably going to make scoring goals more difficult for Bayern but with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben both healthy and playing well, this is a team that can cause issues for anyone going forward.  Robben on the right should produce an excellent battle with Patrice Evra but Bayern are going to be in trouble if Thomas Muller or Miroslav Klose cannot cause some trouble in the middle.

United comes in with a level of experience in this competition that is unrivaled except in the Camp Nou.  Alex Ferguson will be unafraid to play a defensive style and leave Wayne Rooney upfront all by his lonesome to create and finish chances.  Is there another striker in the world right now who could be counted on to supply all the offense needed at this stage in this competition? Definitely not and thats why United has to be favorites.

CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan – March 31/April 6

As Inter’s multi-year stranglehold on Serie A is slowly weakened they were rewarded with probably the easiest Quarter Final matchup.  They face a CSKA Moscow side which did go to Sevilla and get a win in order secure passage but that could be attributed more to a crumbling Sevilla side than a performance worthy of advancing; it was by all accounts a proper smash and grab job.

Mourinho brought hopes of European success to Inter and he is only now delivering.  They have the class and discipline to advance here and should do so with no problem.  The main obstacle is that the second leg will be played in Moscow and therefore it is very important for Milan to stay tight tomorrow night while also trying to grab at least 1 goal.

FC Barcelona v Arsenal – March 31/April 6

The other premier matchup of this Quarterfinal round pits the two clubs which are probably playing the most attractive soccer in the world right now.  FC Barcelona comes in with the experience but Arsene Wenger will surely have Arsenal believing that they can play with and beat Barcelona over the two legs.  This is so interesting b/c of the striking similarity between these two sides.

I counted Arsenal as ripe for an upset at the hands of Porto after the round of 16 draw as they were having trouble scoring and didn’t seem up for this competition.  After a first leg defeat however and with Nicklas Bendtner coming into form, they soundly smoked Porto and showed the level of class necessary to win this competition.

If Fabregas is healthy and they can use some of their speed on the counter attack, they could cause issues for Barcelona.  However it remains to be seen if they can keep their composure while not maintaining possession for long stretches as they are used to.  Barcelona should be able to win the possession game and Arsenal cannot let this unnerve them, they must take their chances when they come and remain tight in the back.

The concern for Arsenal has to be their lack of results against top quality opponents throughout this season, they must hope not to concede at home and play an opportunistic style which they are not familiar with.  Barcelona has drawn an intriguing opponent here but they should be able to give the Gunners a first hand lesson in beautiful football.

Some various US updates from around the world coming later this week….thanks for reading…

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