Sunday, February 27, 2011

Barca Blasts Mallorca 3 - 0

Despite fielding a depleted squad without first-line stalwarts Xavi, Puyol, Valdes and Alves, yesterday FC Barcelona put RCD Mallorca to the sword with a scintillating 3 - 0 performance that could easily have been more lopsided than the score suggests.  The Baeleric islanders were hoping to equal their 1 - 1 draw against Barca from earlier this season, particularly as they knew that that many of Barca's best players would be absent from the match, but to no avail.  Although Mallorca had a couple of chances early on, reserve Barca goalkeeper Jose Pinto was equal to the challenge, allowing Barca to open the scoring when Messia Wan Kenobi beat Mallorca defender Dudu Aouate in the first half, allowing Barcelona to head into the half with a one goal lead.

In the second half, Mallorca seemed overwhelemed by Barcelona's relentless ball control and persistent attacking, and one sensed that it was just a matter of time before they broke down.  When Sergio Busquet split the Mallorca defense with a fine pass to David Villa, the Barca striker calmly rolled the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net, and the rout was on.  Nine minutes later, Pedro unleashed an unstoppable cannon-shot from the edge of the box, and just like that the score was 3 - Nil.  One sensed that Barca could have scored even more, but it didn't matter, as the game wistle mercifully ended the execution, extending Barcelona's road-match winning record in La Liga competiton to an astounding 19 games.

In related news, Real Madrid managed to post only a scoreless tie against Deportivo La Corunna, giving them only 1 point in leauge standings and extending Barca's lead to an amazing seven points.  At this point in the season, with a seven point lead over Real Madrid, only a complete collapse by the Blaugrana would allow Real Madrid back into the race, and that does not seem likely to happen-- so far this season, Real Madrid has scored 55 goals, while the Barcelona trio of Messi, Villa and Pedro alone have scored 56 goals together.  I call this, 'Jedi Soccer.'

Saturday, February 26, 2011

DC United Begins Again

After a full week of training in California and no less than five exhibition matches against international sides and youth teams--most of which they won-- DC United finally squared up last night for its first MLS pre-season match against Chivas USA.  The action at the Home Depot Center was mostly uninspired on both sides--not surprising for a pre-season match-- with the best chance of the match going to Chivas.  A beautiful cross from Chivas forward Mariano Trujillo to Jesus Padilla beat the United defense and placed Padilla in position to score, but aggressive goaltending by United Keeper Pat Onstad blocked the shot at close range, which kept the match scoreless, ending in a 0 - 0 tie.

After the match, United Coach Ben Olsen remarked on his team's performance.  "It was good to play against some grown men.  It was a very good exercise to see where we're at right now. I saw some good stuff, and the things we need to work on."

With the MLS pre-season now underway, United now returns to Washington for two days of training, follwed by the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, South Carolina from March 5 - March 12 at Blackbaud stadium.  There they will face second division side (and tournament hosts) Charleston Battery, as well as MLS foes Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake.

United's season opener is on March 27 against the Kansas City Wizards, followed with their home opener on April 3 against the New England Revolution.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Barca Gets Past Basques


Lionel Messi rescued a nervy Barcelona with a late goal to earn a 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao in a thrilling La Liga match.

The World Player of the Year scored the winner in the 77th minute as Barça desperately poured forward after Andoni Iraola had cancelled out David Villa's early opener with a 49th-minute penalty.

Barça moved on to 65 points from 24 matches, with Real Madrid five points back in second after José Mourinho's side eased to a 2-0 victory over Levante on Saturday.

The Barcelona goalkeeper Víctor Valdés missed the match against Athletic Bilbao with a knee injury, his first league absence this season. The Spain international, a member of their World Cup-winning squad, has had the problem since Wednesday's 2-1 defeat at Arsenal in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. The club gave no indication how long the 29-year-old might be out of action but he could be doubtful for the second leg at home to Arsenal on 8 March.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arsenal Over Barca 2 - 1

Last night The Beautiful Game was on display in London, as Arsenal came from behind to overcome FC Barcelona at home 2 -1 in a thoroughly exciting and beautiful match in Champions Leauge competition.  Both sides played very well indeed; during the first hour Arsenal hit 203 passes and Barca hit over 400, dominating possession for an almost unbelievable stretch of 20 minutes at one point.  Lionel Messi set up David Villa in the 26th minute of play to open the scoring, and at this point it seemed Barca would surely be moving on from London with another Champions League victory.

But to their credit, Arsenal did not give up, demonstrating real grace under pressure and the kind of 'Total Football' that FC Barcelona is renowned for.  An uncharacteristic missed shot on an open goal by Lionel Messi seemed to deflate the Blaugrana, insipiring the Emirates to step up their attack.  Coupled with Pep Guardiola's controversial decision in the 68th minute to substitue Seydou Keita for goal scorer David Villa, Messi's missed shot seemed to bring Arsenal back to life.  12 minutes from full time, Robin Van Persie equalized the score; and then in the 83rd minute Russian dynamo Andrey Arshavin put Arsenal ahead for good, and that was the match. 

Despite this outcome, however, not all is lost for Barca's Champions League prospects this year.   In an eerie echo of last year's story line, Arsenal now has to visit Camp Nou holding a slender lead over Barcelona, well aware that last year in exactly these circumstances, Lionel Messi exploded at home against them to score four goals and end their Champions League campaign.  For their part, the Blaugrana are also well aware that this story is not yet over, and that now Arsenal has to prove a second time, that they can consistently compete with the Best Team in the World.  We shall see.

But for the momenet, Arsenal is savoring a well-earned victory that was won with football style and finesse, and not the physical 'clogger' tactics that Van Persie and his Dutch mates used against Spain in the World Cup, which many people were expecting to see as a response to Barca's dominance.  Hats off to Arsenal for staying true to their principles, and proving that it is not necessary to sacrifice The Beautiful Game for the sake of a chance to win, when facing FC Barcelona.

We shall certainly be looking forward to the next leg of this tournament.  On to Camp Nou!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pep Signs New Contract

From Reuters News Service:

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has agreed to extend his contract with the Spanish champions to the end of next season, the club said in a statement.

Guardiola's current deal was due to expire at the end of this season. Barça are seven points clear at the top of La Liga after 22 games.

Guardiola was appointed coach at the Camp Nou in 2008, after a successful season of coaching the Barcelona B team. In his first campaign Barcelona achieved the remarkable treble of winning the Primera División, Copa del Rey and Champions League, and they finished 2009 with six trophies in all.
Last year saw them successfully defend their domestic league title, and they are cruising at the top of the table again this season, seven points clear of second-placed Real Madrid who appointed José Mourinho as manager in the summer in the hope of overhauling the Catalan side.

Guardiola saw his team thump Real 5-0 in November to assert their supremacy, and they have also made serene progress in Europe this season, setting up the upcoming last-16 meeting with Arsenal in the Champions League.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Messi X 3 and Records Fall

For the fourth time this season, we have been blessed to watch the gifted Lionel Messi, AKA 'Messi Wan Kenobi' here at Jedi Soccer, score a hat trick and put the ball three times into the back of the next, as Barca marched onwards and over Atletico Madrid in the now-officially historic campaign of 2010-2011.  At the 17th minute, Messi drilled a low shot from the edge of the box to open the scoring, and then added a second close-range shot in the 29th minute to put Barca commandingly in the lead at the half time.  Although Atletico gamely resisted in the second half, near the end of the match Messi Wan Kenobi dashed into an uncontrolled melee in front of the Atletico goal, and calmly pushed the loose ball over the line for his third goal of the night.

This triumph deluxe for Barca was far more than yet another brilliant performance by the legendary Messi Wan Kenobi.  It also marks the sixteenth consecutive league victory this season for FC Barcelona, thus officially surpassing the 50 year old record of fifteen matches previously held by... Real Madrid.


In related news... here is a shout-out and a thanks to Jay and Alexis of the Penya Barcelonista Washington for their friendly company at Castle and Elephant for the match.  You meet the nicest people at Penya events.