Monday, January 31, 2011

Barca Wins, Madrid Loses

From Reuters news service:

(Reuters) - Barcelona made it a record-equalling 15 league wins in a row and stretched seven points clear of Real Madrid, 1-0 losers at Osasuna.

Leaders Barcelona pulled seven points clear at the top of La Liga with a 3-0 win at Hercules on Saturday then Real Madrid slumped to a surprise 1-0 defeat at Osasuna on Sunday.

Pedro opened the scoring for Barca and Lionel Messi netted twice late on after Hercules had been reduced to 10 men. Their 15th consecutive league win matched the league record set by Real Madrid in the 1960-61 season.

Real fell to a second-half goal from Javier Camanus and the entry of new signing Emmanuel Adebayor failed to help turn the game.

Barca have 58 points from 21 games, Real are second with 51 and Villarreal are third with 45 after a Giuseppe Rossi cracker gave them a 1-0 win at Espanyol."

In related news, Barca legend Johan Cruyff has warned that despite Real Madrid's shocking loss on Sunday to relegation-endangered Osasuna, Barca fans should not yet count out Jose Mourinho's squad just yet.

"Seven points and the goal average are a lot, because Barca is not planning to give anything away.  But beware, no one should bury Madrid," he added.

"But they have a problem, and its called Barcelona," Cruyff added.

Monday, January 24, 2011

55 of 60 and Counting...

On Saturday FC Barcelona recovered from the upset loss to Real Betis last week, with a scintillating 3 - 0 victory over Racing Santander.  From the start, it was clear who was going to dominate-- Pedro scored for Barca in only the 2d minute of play, and that totally set the tone for the evening.  Although Santander gamely tried to come back, in the 33d minute the hole got deeper when Messi Wan Kenobi scored a penalty kick, followed by the final goal in the second half by World Cup hero and Ballon D'Or finalist Andres Iniesta.  And that was the match, 3 - Nil and Barca again pulls 4 points ahead of Premier Division rival Real Madrid.  As of the date of this post, Barca has scored a total of 55 of a possible sixty points in league play, an unprecedented pace in the Spanish league standings.

Which brings me to quote the New York Times: 'Is Barcelona Soccer's Greatest Team Ever?'  Sports writer Gabrielle Marcotti poses the question and has some fascinating statistics to back up the question:

If the New York Times is asking the question, then perhaps there is something to it?  After all, as the saying goes, 'Where there is smoke, there is fire.'

And as anyone can see, right now Barca is absolutely on fire.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Barca Loses & Advances

It's come to this: you know your side is the best, when they lose a tournament match and still advance based on previous wins over the same opponent.

Such was the case this Wednesday, when Real Betis avenged its earlier 5-0 humiliation by FC Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey competition.  Two early goals by Betis uncharacteristically placed Barcelona in a deficit position, and to their credit Betis succeeded in keeping the pressure on the Blaugrana.  Messi Wan Kenobi scored a goal late in the first half which gave Barca a fighting chance; but another goal by Betis made it 3 -1 at the break.  Early in the second half a missed penatly kick by Messi seemed to give Betis new life, and they went on to hold FC Barcelona to just one goal, snapping the club's 28 game winning streak.

Still, on the strength of their previous 5-0 victory over Real Betis in the Copa Del Rey, Barca advances.  With a place in the semifinals assured, there is no reason why Messi & Co. will not return to their patented Tiki-Taka Telepathic Total Football style of play.  Next up is Racing Santander, whom are quite unlikely to deal Barca their third defeat of the season.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The New Golden Age

It's official: the world of sports is witnessing a new Golden Age of football at FC Barcelona.

With half of the league play in the Primera Division of La Liga now done with, FC Barcelona stands four point clear of rivals Real Madrid, and in possession of their own destiny.  Assuming they win all their remaining matches, no team can now catch the Blaugrana. 

How likely is that?  Consider these facts:

* FC Barcelona has taken a league-record 52 of a possible 57 points through the first 19 matches of the season, an achievement never before attained by any Spanish league side;

* Barca won the 2009-2010 season with a record 99 points, more than any other Spanish side ever;

* Barca's winning streak is now extended to 28 matches, which is a new club record;

* Barcelona had 7 of 11 starters on the World Cup Champion Spanish football team this past summer, and every one of the goals scored by Spain in the tournament, was scored by a Barcelona player;

* Our franchise player Lionel Messi just won the Ballon D'Or for the second time, accompanied by fellow nominees and teamates Iniesta and Xavi;

* Barca is now challenging for its third consecutive league championship;

* In the last three years, Barca has won both the Copa Del Rey (King's Cup), the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup (the last achievement being a 'first' for a Spanish League side);

And these are only the most recent achievements.  Over it's history, Barca has won the Copa Del Rey 25 times, the Supercopa de Espana 9 times, and 10 European football chamionships.

So, its pretty clear that the achievements of the current incarnation of FC Barcelona, are quite worthy of comparison to the achievements of past Barcelona teams.

Can Barca win all of the rest of its matches?  Absolutely.  But regardless of that outcome or not, one thing is certain:

Right now, FC Barcelona is without doubt the most complete and successful football team on the planet.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Barca Opens Lead Over Real

Today FB Barcelona cruised to an almost-effortless 4 - 1 victory over Malaga, opening up a 4 point lead over rivals Real Madrid in the race for the Primera Division title.  Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Pedro all scored in the first half, and the Blaugrana were comfortably in control by the mid-point.  In the second half, Malaga managed to make it interesting with a scoring free kick, but just minutes later David Villa scored his second goal of the match, and that ended the fireworks.  With this win, FC Barcelona have now won 13 league matches in a row.

In related news, Cules everywhere will be pleased to know that Real Madrid effectively lost a match against Primera Division botton-feeders Almeria today, with a 1 - 1 tied score.  They almost lost the match outright-- Leonardo Ulloa scored for Almeria in the 59th minute, and Real had to scramble to even the score.  Substitute Esteban Granero tied things up for Real in the 77th minute, but despite a furious attack by Real, Almeria held on for the draw.  Sometimes a draw can be a win, and that certainly was the case today for both Almeria and front-runners FC Barcelona. 

This outcome costs Real dearly in the Primera Division race, setting them back more points than they can now make up in a single match.  That means that now FC Barcelona controls its own destiny--so long as they keep winning, no one can catch them now.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Barca Batters Betis 5 - 0

Like a Formula 1 driver taking a victory lap after the race, on Wednesday night Messi Wan Kenobi paraded his new Ballon D'Or in front of the Barcelona faithful at Camp Nou, flanked by runners-up Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, before Barca lined up and battered Real Betis into submission, with yet another 5 - 0 scoring performance.  The amazing sight of the three Barca Ballon D'Or candidates escorting the trophy around Camp Nou, was surely a historic moment for FC Barcelona.

Initially Real Betis managed to hold Barca at bay, and it wasn't until just before half time that Messi opened the scoring, with a pretty chipped ball over Betis Keeper Castro Espinosa, at the end of yet another telepathic through ball by Andres Iniesta.  Overmatched, Real Betis gamely did their best, pounding a shot off the cross bar at the end of the first half that perhaps should have gone in.

Returning to the pitch after halftime, Messi's trademark persistent aggression when the ball is at his feet, manufactured another goal in the 62d minute; and then eleven minutes later, Messi Wan Kenobi scored the hat trick on a clean breakaway run for his third goal of the evening.  Late goals by Pedro and Seydou Keita ended the battering with a final score of 5 - Nil.

After the match, Barca defender Danny Alves gave an interview to Spanish Television, in which he stated (in translation), "This game will end much of the debate [about the Ballon d'Or].  It is in good hands.  Messi is the best and he proves it every day. The other two deserved it as well, but it's clear he is different from the rest."


Monday, January 10, 2011

Messi Wins Ballon D'Or

Only hours after sparking yet another Triumph Deluxe for FC Barcelona with a 4 - 0 victory over Deportivo Corunna in La Liga play this past weekend, Lionel Messi, AKA "Messi Wan Kenobi" here at Jedi Soccer, has been named the winner of the FIFA Ballon D'Or (Golden Ball) award as the world's greatest professional soccer player, for the second year in a row.  His contributions on the pitch this past weekend included two assists to teamates Villa and Pedro, and one goal outright on his own.  The other Barca goal was scored by fellow Ballon D'Or finalist Andres Iniesta in the 80th minute.

Many people may be shocked by this outcome--after all, it is highly unusual for a player, even of Messi's caliber, to win the award two years in a row.  And surely, both Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez were also deserving candidates.  Iniesta's game-winning goal at the World Cup final was historic enough to have won the award for him on its own.

But there is one statistic which, more than any other, tells why Messi wins again:

GOALS this season / La Liga play:
Iniesta:   5
Xavi:       6
Messi:   24

And there you have it, my friends.  All other things being equal, the ability to put the ball in the back of the net makes the difference.

FC Barcelona is truly in the midst of a Golden Age in the history of the club.  To have three players named as Ballon D'Or finalists... and then to have our franchise player win it again, on top of all the championships that Barca has won the last few years, surely this is supreme satisfaction for any fan of the Blaugrana.

"These are the Good Old Days."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Barca Kit Preview

Well, Nike has released a mock-up of the new 'Qatar Foundation' FC Barcelona jersey, or at least the away version of it:

A few thoughts on this.  First, thank goodness they did not try and reproduce that blotchy Sidra-tree logo of the Qatar Foundation, it is UGLY and it would have look like a big glob of bird poop on the blaugrana from a distance.  Mercifully, someone at the Nike design team had the aesthetic sense to avoid trying to reproduce that on the jersey.  So, score one for aesthetic sensibility there, I suppose.

However: black?  To the best of my knowledge, Barca has never worn black before.  Don't get me wrong-- it looks good, like DC United's kit looks sharp on the pitch.  But DC United has always worn black, and Barca never has.  Again, we are seeing this 'Qatar Foundation' sponsorship morph into something that is outside of Barca's club traditions.

Verdict?  The new jersey is aesthetically pleasing and, visually, I like it; but it is still a betrayal of club traditions.  Since when does Barca traffic with royalty?  Or is that OK so long as its not the Spanish monarchy and they have a ton of money?

On so many levels, this new sponsorship is very wrong for FC Barcelona.  The deal is set to expire in 2016, along with Sandro Rosell's first (and hopefully last) term as club President.  I can't wait.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Barca Advances With a Draw

Needing only a draw to advance in the Copa del Rey competition, today Barca squeezed past Atletico Bilbao with a 1 - 1 performance on the road at San Mames to advance to the semifinals of the tournament.

Eric Abdiel gave Barca its only goal of the match late in regular time at the 75th minute, and for a moment it seemed Barca would win the match straight up.  However, ten minutes later in the 85th minute, Fernando Llorente put Atletico even with the equalizer, and that was the match.

Barca, the previous winners of 25 Copa del Rey titles, will next face the winner of tomorrow's match between Getafe and Real Betis.

Visca el Barca !

Monday, January 3, 2011

Barca Over Levante 2 - 1

Happy New Year!

Emerging from the winter break, this past Sunday Barcelona FC overcame a dogged effort by Levante UD to post a miserly 2 - 1 victory over their Spanish league opponents.  Playing without their iconic scoring talisman, Messi Wan Kenobi, as well as several other starters, Barcelona struggled to find the rythym and flow of their patented 'Tiki-Taka' style with their second team on the pitch.  The result was a scoreless first half, leaving the normally superhuman blaugrana looking merely mortal.

In the second half, however, the Barcelona backups finally found their rythym.  Dani Alves teamed up with Pedro Rodriguez twice in the fist 15 minutes of the second half, putting Barcelona up by two goals.  Perhaps relaxing just a bit, Barcelona was momentarily threatened when Levante's Uruguayan forward Christian Stuani volleyed the ball into the net past Valdes with ten minutes remaining, briefly giving Levante some hope.  However, Barcelona's reserves stepped up to the challenge and shut down Levante's last-gasp runs at the goal, thus escaping this dangerous match with a 2 - 1 victory.

This Wednesday Barca's 2011 campaign continues, with a critical match at Atletico Bilbao in the Cop del Rey competition.  Barca needs a win or a tie to advance.  Since this is not a league match, Pep Guardiola will likely use his backup team again, and give his regulars a little rest.  Assuming our reserves step up as they did this past weekend, this should not be a big problem.