Match Review: Barcelona v Real Madrid

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Luis Suàrez netted a hat-trick as Barcelona demolished a poor Real Madrid side to heap more misery on Julen Lopetegui. 

Philippe Coutinho gave the hosts an early lead at the Nou Camp when he met Jordi Alba’s cross and Luis Suàrez doubled the lead from the penalty spot after being fouled by Raphael Varane on the half-hour mark.

Madrid stepped it up for the first ten minutes of the second half, with Marcelo pulling one back for Lopetegui’s side.

Benzema came close minutes later and Los Blancos struck the post in what would have levelled the game.

Despite this, Suàrez put the game to bed with two quick fire goals – the first being a delightful header from a wonderfully weighted Sergi Roberto cross.

‘Rey Arthur’ Arturo Vidal completed the rout from close range a few minutes from time.

Talking Points

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Valverde shows tactical maturity 

Barcelona fans are quick to criticise Ernesto Valverde if their side aren’t at their best, but when things go right tactically, Valverde deserves praise.

In this match, Valverde showed his tactical eye. Jordi Alba’s role was crucial, Barca reacted to Madrid’s early second half dominance with key substitutes, while Barca overloaded the middle allowing the likes of Roberto and co to thrive in the wing back roles.

In the first ten minutes of the second half, Real Madrid looked well on for at least a point. Marcelo pulled one back and Lopetegui’s side had a plethora of other chances, as well as dominance on the ball. That was thanks to the change at half time to a 3-4-3, which Real Madrid fans may become accustomed to should Antonio Conte take the job when Lopetegui is inevitably sacked.

This change of shape confused Barcelona, but after a crash course of a ten minute period, Valverde acted.

He sent on Nelson Semedo and pushed Sergi Roberto to a right wing role, which allowed Barca to thrive. His other change at this point was Ousmané Dembele, who changed the game back in Barca’s favour with his assists and overall play.

The whole tactics of the game are another issue, but in a very brief nutshell, Valverde should get much more praise than he has received.

Time to go 

*Disclaimer* When writing this, Julen Lopetegui is still officially the Real Madrid manager. The ‘Comunicado Oficial’ has not occurred, but it will, surely.

After the game, Real Madrid sit in 9th in La Liga. Before the fairly easy analysis of why Lopetegui should be sacked, which he should, it is needed to have a little sympathy for the man who gave up his country for a club, and now is on the eve of losing both.

The 52-year-old had the reigns of the biggest club in the world for just 14 games – winning six and losing six.

Lopetegui will argue the sale of Ronaldo had robbed his team of 40 goals. It did.

Nothing about his appointment felt right, and although you have to have sympathy for Lopetegui, the downfall of his career was written the second himself and the Spanish federations agreed to announce his appointment at Madrid on the eve of a World Cup that Spain entered as one of the favourites.

Florentino Perez worried that a poor tournament for Spain would have diminished the size of Real Madrid’s coup, making the appointment out of paranoia and worry over the national team.

The blame can be shared, but for on the pitch matters exclusively, Lopetegui must be sacked.

‘Flopetegui’ will go down as one of the worst Real Madrid appointments in recent decades, but to sack him now means there is still plenty of time for the new boss to recover the form.

Despite that, the embarrassing loss at the Nou Camp means that the league title seems more of a dream than a potential reality.

El Clasico del futuro 

All the headlines and buildup in Spain leading up to this one centred around not who was going to be on show in the classic fixture, but who was going to be absent.

Lionel Messi watched on from the stands, with an arousing smile on his face, while Madrid sulked in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, who they are missing greatly since his departure to Turin.

Barcelona showed that life can go on without Messi. Ousmané Dembele may not have the potential of the Argentinian legend, but he showed off the bench that he can mature into a key figure for the Blaugrana.

The worldwide viewing figures may suffer in the absence of the big two, but the entertainment will not: El Clásico is still the biggest fixture in club football.

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Player Ratings

Barcelona: ter Stegen 6; Roberto 8, Pique 7, Lenglet 6, Alba 9; Busquets 7, Rakitic 7, Arthur 8, Rafinha 7; Suarez 10, Coutinho 7.

Real Madrid: Courtois 3; Nacho 6, Ramos 5, Varane 4, Marcelo 7; Casemiro 7, Kroos 5, Modric 5; Bale 4, Benzema 5, Isco 5.

 

 

Who Are Ya? Meet Huesca, Barca’s opponents taking La Liga by storm

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Barcelona host minnows Huesca on Sunday, which may not be the most exciting encounter of the weekend, but if you are a fan of little clubs taking on global giants, this one is for you.

Huesca have visited this stadium once in their history, that was in 2014, where Barcelona won 8-1, topping off a 12-1 aggregate win in the Copa del Rey. A lot can change in four years, especially in football – Huesca are no exception to that.

The game at the Nou Camp has a cup tie feel to it. That is credit to Huesca, the team from Aragon who only dreamt of games like this for the rest of their history, which started in 1960.

Sociedad Deportiva Huesca are two games deep into their inaugural season in in the Spanish top flight, and are currently taking the division by storm, registering 4 points from a possible 6.

When promoted, Huesca were ordered to renovate their stadium, Estadio El Alcoraz. It made history as the smallest ground in La Liga history, but have since added an extra 2500 to their ground. And why not? If history is anything to go by, Huesca fans should take their chance whilst they can and go and watch Oscence – the nickname given to people of the town.

Another nickname they use is azulgranas, due to the colours of their shirt, which is the same as the Barcelona Blaugrana. Why? Because Huesca were setup by a group of Barcelona fans, thus decided they would play in the same colours. They become the fourth team in La Liga to wear these colours, with Eibar and Levante being the other two.

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If the part where I described Huesca as minnows was understated or misunderstood, let me reel off some facts ahead of this encounter to drill home that point: you could fit the whole population of the town of Huesca into the Nou Camp, nearly twice; Lionel Messi’s weekly salary is greater than Huesca’s summer transfer budget; the club ran on just €100k per year when president Peton took over.

Speaking of Peton, he is the man behind Huesca’s success story. As the CEO, Jose Antonio Martin Otin (known as Peton), the ex-player revamped how the club was run slowly but surely since he took over a decade ago.

The side were looking down the barrel of relegation to the fourth tier, but they dodged the bullet and won the relegation playoff. Shortly after, they were promoted to the second division. Huesca were relegated not long after but remarkably, achieved two promotions in four years to enter La Liga for the first time ever.

Peton repeatedly says: “If you don’t understand this club, leave.”

Striker Alex Gallar understands the club as well as most, spent the majority of his career in the third and fourth tiers, but has had a Vardy-esque rise to the forefront of Spanish football, and scored a brace on Huesca’s opening day win against Eibar.

With little budget, Huesca have to rely on loan deals. Axel Werner represents a nice loan signing from Atletico Madrid, but the star man is Cucho Hernandez, on loan from Watford. The 19-year-old Colombian forward netted 16 goals last season in the promotion campaign and will be vital to the bid for survival.

Huesca won the hearts of social media with their last minute equaliser against Bilbao last weekend at San Mames – they are a romantic football story. Everyone loves a minnow, so the whole of the world that are not Barca fans will be rooting for the small side from Aragon in the Nou Camp on Sunday.

Should Huesca stay up, they will need a miracle. Sides like Eibar and Girona have showed it is possible, but the side with a 7500 capacity and a population smaller than the capacity of the Nou Camp, will need to show the fearless character they have in their opening games at Eibar and Athletic.

 

 

 

Opinion: Pep Guardiola’s all time XI

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Pep Guardiola is the man at the forefront of the Manchester City side that is quite literally tearing up the record books and re-writing them.

The Catalan is seen by a large majority of football fans as the best coach in world football, having brought success to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City.

You could be the best manager in the world, but you need good players to carry out your ideas on the pitch, like a craftsman needs good tools to succeed in a job.

Guardiola has never been short of that – he has always had the best players in the world to help his successes. But, who are the best?

At Barcelona, Guardiola built a team that is recognized as one of the best club sides of all time, and possibly the greatest of recent history. Building on a rich footballing philosophy passed down from Johan Cruyff and reconstructed by Guardiola and co, Barcelona had some of the best players in the world with a talented pool of homegrown players such as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Valdes.

Following winning two Champions League titles, Pep decided he had taken Barcelona as far as he could, as well as got bored of the politics of the club, so left. A year later, he joined Bayern Munich, where he monopolized the Bundesliga, winning seven trophies in three years.

In early 2016, Manchester City appointed Guardiola as their boss. Since then, he has won two trophies in two years, including a 100 point haul in the Premier League, breaking all sorts of records in the process.

If there were to be a hypothetical ‘Best XI’ of all the players Guardiola has managed, who would make it? Would any of Guardiola’s current crop at City make it?

Let’s find out…

Pep’s tried and trusted 4-1-4-1 formation is his most used setup, so that is what we have chose for our fantasy XI.

Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer  

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This wasn’t the straightforward decision it may seem from the outset – Victor Valdes is very underrated in popular media for one reason or another. However, Neuer would surely get the nod in a Guardiola XI. When the Catalan coach arrived in England in 2016 one of the biggest headlines was that he wanted away with Joe Hart, instead to buy a ‘Guardiola goalkeeper’: a ‘keeper as adequate with his feet as he is with his hands.

The 2014 World Cup winner is just that. Whilst one of the best shot stoppers we have seen this century, arguably the best goalkeeper of the past decade or so, he is perfectly capable with the ball at his feet and has popularized the ‘sweeper keeper’ role that is so prominent on the continent now.

City’s current number one, Ederson, surely looks up to Neuer as an inspirational figure he can learn from.

Manuel Neuer represents a no brainer decision for the goalkeeper spot, being potentially the most complete ‘keeper of the past decade or so.

Right Back – Dani Alves  

Dani Alves, now of PSG, represents potentially the best right back of this generation, embodying all the needed characteristics of the ‘modern full back’.

The money Guardiola spent on full backs in 2017 was no coincidence, as full backs are central to his system. He likes fast, attacking full backs that are comfortable to tuck inside and play as auxiliary midfielders to pack the middle when ordered to do so.

Alves is everything Guardiola wants in a full back. Signed from Sevilla in 2008, the Brazilian revolutionized wing back play at club level in a similar way his Brazilian counterparts Cafu and Roberto Carlos did at international football at the 2002 World Cup.

Just as we see with Walker and Mendy now at City, Alves was given responsibility as a buccaneering right-back in name but a winger in style, often playing higher than the midfielders as he helped to break down stubborn outfits.

Centre Back – Gerard Pique

Oft cited as a teachers pet of Guardiola’s school of thought, Gerard Pique is probably the biggest individual success story for Pep.

Brought back to his boyhood club just as Guardiola took charge, Gerard Pique developed a formidable pairing with Carles Puyol at the heart of the Barcelona defence and blossomed into one of the best defenders in the world.

Leaving Manchester United after making just 12 appearances in four years, Guardiola nurtured Pique from a benchwarmer at Old Trafford to a pivotal part of the team who won the ‘sixtuple’ at Barcelona, as well as international triumphs with Spain.

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Centre Back – Carles Puyol (C)

 The captain of all of Barcelona’s success is a guaranteed feature in this side. The centre-back, known for his iconic long curls, spent all of his career at Barcelona, after graduating from La Masia.

Puyol gets the nod over Jerome Boateng, who was unlucky to miss out, because he was a mainstay in Pep Guardiola’s side that won everything there was to win at club level, not to mention his triumphs with Spain.

Now retired, Puyol managed nearly 600 appearances for Barcelona and will be remembered for his innate leadership traits, as well as his clever style of defending, which overcome the fact he wasn’t the typical defender in the physical sense. 

Left Back – Philipp Lahm

Mr. Versatility himself was another easy decision in this team. In truth, he could have slotted in at right back, defensive midfield or even centre back, if needed. That’s how he was as a player too, the dream player for all coaches.

Guardiola saw Lahm as his most important player, probably as he does Fernandinho at City. He trained the reliable full back to one of the best defensive midfield players in the world, in the role Guardiola calls ‘El Pivote’.

Pep added a new dimension to the already accomplished game of Lahm, helping him captain his country to World Cup glory in 2014, whilst also leading Bayern to domestic success.

His leadership, versatility and tactical nous will make Lahm go down as one of footballs finest.

Defensive midfielder – Sergio Busquets

Dubbed the Octopus of Badia, Sergio Busquets is potentially the most cool defensive midfielder football will ever see. After a year together at Barcelona B, Guardiola promoted Busquets to the first team and no one has questioned that decision since.

For the decade to follow, Busquets has been Barca’s midfield lynch-pin and one of the first names on the team sheet every week.

In a position where the energetic midfield destroyer Fernandinho was a possibility, Busquets gets the nod for the way he manipulates the pitch in a unique manner: he is not quick, but he has one of the best brains in world football, and can pick a pass to the forwards, in an effortless style. His passes are weighted to perfection, almost giving the receiver telepathic instructions of which way to turn with their first touch, due to the crisp nature of the pass from Barca’s brains.

 Central midfielder – Kevin De Bruyne

The Belgian midfield maestro has been unplayable since he settled into his deeper lying role under Guardiola and was the star man that drove City to the title, registering man of the match performances against each of the other top six sides.

De Bruyne roams around the pitch picking passes and has the most assists in the league since joining City. His shooting range is phenomenal, as are his venomous crosses, making him City’s most devastating asset.

Central midfielder – Xavi

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Potentially the best midfielder of the generation, Xavi Hernandez is Pep-Ball to a T. The reliable and consistent mover of the ball won a staggering 31 trophies in his career, most notably eight La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, a World Cup and two European Championships.

He was the man that made the greatest club side of the century tick, as well as a mainstay in the great Spain team that won three tournaments on the bounce.

Assisting Messi for a total of 31 goals, Xavi was the heartbeat of Pep’s fast football that caught the hearts of many football purists around the world, making him a no brainer in this fantasy eleven.

Winger – Lionel Messi

If you ever needed an example for a dictionary definition of ‘no brainer’, here we have one. Lionel Messi slotted into this team without so much as a seconds thought.

Guardiola is often cited as the man who developed Messi to what he is today, teaching him new aspects of his game whilst admitting Messi helped him shape his managerial career.

Whether it be as a false nine, or in the case of this team a winger, Messi is the best player in the world and the best player I have ever seen.

Pre-Guardiola, Messi had devastating running traits and the ability to manipulate the ball and the opponent, but Pep added the end product to his game, turning Messi into the most prolific forward of all time, hitting unprecedented heights.

Striker – Sergio Aguero

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When Guardiola arrived in England, question marks were asked of Sergio Aguero. Can Aguero function in Pep’s system? Will Pep sign a new striker to replace him? Will Jesus keep him out of the team?

Manchester City’s record goal scorer has answered those questions, and then some. The Argentine striker now has a higher strike rate than Robert Lewandowski when Pep was at Bayern, and David Villa at Barca.

Having undergone a knee operation at the tail end of last season, Aguero looks as sharp as ever and will have his sights set on more records as he climbs up the list of Premier League all time top scorers.

Winger – Franck Ribery

Regarded by many as the greatest non-German to represent the red of Bayern Munich, Franck Ribery was unstoppable when fully fit and in form at Bayern.

In 2013, the French star finished third in the Ballon d’or rankings, claiming later that he felt he deserved to win ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. That season, Ribery took all the Bundesliga awards, as a team and individually, with Ribery citing politics as the reason Ronaldo tipped him to the illustrious award despite winning no trophies that season.

Under Pep, Ribery often played the ‘false nine’ role made famous by Lionel Messi. Due to this multifunctional characteristic, Ribery gets the nod over his Bayern teammate Arjen Robben, who also excelled under Pep.