All Balls Don’t Bounce

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Posts Tagged ‘yaya toure’

Barça Still Can’t Wrap It

Posted by hiphopmama on May 10, 2009

silva joaquin
Valencia 3-0 Real Madrid
     1-0 Mata, 28′
     2-0 Silva, 32′
     3-0 Baraja, 68′

abidal villarreal
Barcelona 3-3 Villarreal
     1-0 Keita, 11′
     1-1 Llorente, 22′
     2-1 Eto’o, 36′
     3-1 Alves, 45′
     3-2 Fernandez (pen), 78′
     3-3 Llorente, 90′

Let’s be clear. The La Liga title is still a foregone conclusion. With three games to go, Barcelona has to face Mallorca, Osasuna, and Deportivo, not exactly the Spanish Armada. Real Madrid awaits the challenges of Villarreal, Mallorca, and Osasuna, a slightly more formidable list. Real do have the advantage of playing those teams after they have been run through the ringer by Barcelona, but given the miraculous occurrences that would have to happen for Madrid to catch Barça, I don’t see anything changing in the current position of the top two. However, with the treble still on the table and two other competitions demanding their attention, it does make it interesting that Barça is forced to keep working toward complete supremacy in La Liga. 

 They couldn’t have known, but if Real could have put up a better effort against Valencia, they might have made up two of the three points they lost in last week’s Clasico blow-out. Instead, they barely even showed up and let Los Che run all over them in a similar fashion to what Barça did to them the previous week. To be fair, Real looked the likelier of the two teams to score in the opening minutes, but Mata was the one to break the deadlock on 28 minutes with a beautiful team goal. Just minutes later, David Silva doubled Valencia’s advantage by doing the unthinkable and catching out Casillas. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as all that, and it does little to hurt his claims on sainthood, but Iker dove and made it to the ball but still allowed it to trickle through. Instead of fighting back with any of the pride we thought they had, Real rolled over and died, letting Valencia pour forward and create opportunity after opportunity. Iker kept the score at least respectable, but even he could do nothing about the incredible goal Baraja put in on 68 minutes. He hit it off a volley at the edge of the box, a once in a lifetime strike, just absurd. I won’t even try to describe it because I couldn’t do it justice. Just watch the goals below:

And here’s the full highlights package:

Barcelona’s fortunes looked to be much brighter when they scored an early goal against Villarreal, as the Real Madrid loss gave them a chance to clinch the title with a win. Keita’s deflected shot put the blaugrana in front, but Llorente benefited from a rare Yaya Toure mistake to even the match. Barça triumphantly reclaimed the lead when Eto’o finished off a ping-pong session through the box, and they must have been prepping the champagne in the locker room after Alves drilled a free kick. But Villarreal wasn’t finished and spent the entirety of the second half, all the way into extra time, chipping away at that Barcelona lead, and you couldn’t feel particularly bad for them losing late in injury time after what happened at Stamford Bridge last week. The worst part of the whole deal for Barça was the damage done to their squad list in pursuit of this draw. Abidal earned himself a red card and a suspension for the Copa Del Rey final this week against Catalan rivals Athletic Bilbao, making it the second cup final he will miss. Worse, Iniesta picked up a knock that may put him out of the Champions League final and definitely rules him out of the Copa Del Rey final. The word is that he has a torn muscle in his right thigh, and it seems as if their fast and furious schedule of games is finally starting to catch up with them.

Goals:

Full highlights:

They’re not my team, but to be honest they deserve to win the treble this year and I hope they do. It was difficult to type that, but it’s true, even more so because it’s nice to see someone win while playing such beautiful football. They withstood all the negative tactics (read: Chelsea) and futile pursuits (ahem, Real Madrid), and still no one could catch them. The only team that can stand in their way at this point is Manchester United, and I hope to god Sir Alex and his minions get put in their place by the best team in world football. For once, in three weeks’ time I will be wearing the blaugrana colors. Vamos Barça.

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Madrid Gains More Ground

Posted by hiphopmama on February 22, 2009

barca-espanyol

Barcelona 1-2 Espanyol

  • 0-1 De La Peña, 50′
  • 0-2 De La Peña, 54′
  • 1-2 Toure, 62′

madrid-betis

    Real Madrid 6-1 Real Betis

    • 1-0 Higuain, 7′
    • 2-0 Huntelaar, 15′
    • 3-0 Huntelaar, 24′
    • 3-1 Oliveira, 30′
    • 4-1 Raul, 36′
    • 5-1 Raul, 42′
    • 6-1 Sergio Ramos, 45′

    In a seemingly improbable turn of events, Barcelona suffered just their second loss of the season to bottom-of-the-table Espanyol in the Catalan derby, while Madrid rolled to a 6-1 victory by halftime against Betis at the Bernabeu. The result was a three-point swing and a reduction of the point gap at the top to just seven. It seems like just yesterday the lead was double digits and comfortably in Barcelona’s palms. Oh wait, that was yesterday…

    Derby games are always going to have plenty of intensity, but Barça had a particularly tough time of it against Espanyol, even at the Camp Nou. Things started promisingly enough for the blaugrana, with Barcelona controlling possession and creating a number of good chances, a couple of which were just begging to be finished off. But Espanyol were able to hang on and make to halftime with the score level.

    The first half started all wrong for Barça and continued that way, as Keita picked up a straight red card on an iffy decision by the referee. It was clearly a reckless challenge, most likely a yellow, but the red seemed a little harsh. It wasn’t two-footed and he didn’t come in exceptionally late, either. From that moment on – and well before it, really – it was a slugfest. “Chippy” doesn’t even hint at the back-and-forth that went on. For the most part it was calmly managed by the ref, but you could argue that he failed to get it fully under control fast enough. And I’m sure the Barcelona fans would say he made a number of questionable calls that went against the home side. Whatever the case, going down a man was a real blow to Barça, who had mostly controlled the game up to that point. With the man advantage, Betis finally got their act together and started counterattacking with conviction. On 50 minutes, Nene secured the ball, kept it away from two defenders, and found De La Peña with a cross, and the little Buddha headed it home past a scurrying Valdes. Valdes was personally responsible for the second goal, which happened when he horribly flubbed a pass to Pique, sending it directly to De La Peña instead. As expected, DLP immediately put it away, chipping it over Valdes who was caught (or rather, caught himself) in no-man’s land. 

    Yaya pulled one back for Barça on a gorgeous one-touch strike in the 62nd, and they looked likely to level the match multiple times after that. But that second goal just never materialized, and they lost their first match since the season opener against Numancia, leaving the door open for Real Madrid to storm through in their match.

    That game was just an old-fashioned romp over an inferior opponent. It definitely helped that Betis were spent after putting everything into their draw with Barcelona the previous week, but Real was always going to win this one. Once again the defense was solid – if not as iron-clad as in games past, conceding a goal – and the offense roamed freely. When you put in six goals in the first half, you know you have it working, and the rest of the match was just about saving face for Betis. Higuain opened the scoring after Raul won a tough header and sent it in Gonzalo’s direction. All that was left was for Higuain to slyly round the keeper and slot it home. Raul got the brace for a second straight game, and Huntelaar scored two as well, finally getting his first since signing with the club. Ramos closed out the half with a diving header off Heinze’s free kick to make it 6-1. At one point, Oliveira closed the gap to 3-1 when the Madrid defense left him in way too much space just outside the box and he burned them on a rocket from distance. He had a chance to make it 3-2 a while later when Casillas went all Valdes on us and sent a perfectly weighted pass in the Brazilian’s direction. Oliveiras wasn’t able to put his shot on target, though, and he ended up hitting the post for Betis’ last real goal-scoring opportunity. 

    For as divergent as their destinies seemed during the first half of the season, Real Madrid and Barcelona’s fates seem inextricably linked once again. It’s no surprise that Real have the only team capable of competing in the long-term with Barcelona. What is surprising is how quickly they have transformed themselves into real contenders, with plenty of help from a Barcelona team that looks, dare I say it, human. As a Lakers fan, I know how inevitable it is that great teams will go through slumps at some point during a long season, and one draw and one loss hardly qualify as panic-worthy results, but it was entirely predictable that they would have to come back down to earth at some point. The key will be how well and how quickly they can rebound from their mini-slide, and how long Madrid can continue their blazing run of form. Because when all is said and done, the title is Barça’s to lose, and even if Real play perfectly the rest of the way, they need Barcelona to drop points to have a chance. I have a hard time believing that Pep Guardiola’s team, as well coached and disciplined as they have been this season, will stumble enough to gift the title to its main rival. It at least makes for interesting viewing, since the leaders must think about the reigning champions nipping at their heels. Unlike Serie A and the Premier League, both of which look as good as decided (although good luck to Liverpool, just in case), La Liga could have a feisty finish on its hands. I sure hope so.

    Real Madrid-Real Betis highlights, to some lovely musical accompaniment:

    Barcelona-Espanyol highlights:

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    Political Fandom And El Clásico

    Posted by hiphopmama on December 14, 2008

    Barcelona 2-0 Real Madrid

    • 1-0 Eto’o, 83′
    • 2-0 Messi, 90′

    After watching this game, I have decided to never again give any grief to Yankees fans. Sports are not nearly as politicized in the U.S. as they are in Europe – I can’t imagine ANY game in the States having the same tension or potential meaning as this one did – but people often like or dislike teams for reasons other than anything having to do with their geography or personnel. I root against most teams from Texas because I believe the state should, indeed, be messed with, while my dad hates all things Boston because of the city’s history of racist treatment of its players (and, I suspect, because he’s a Lakers fan with a natural beef with the Celtics). The Yankees are the easiest to hate because of how incredibly high their payroll is, especially compared to smaller market teams, and it seems vastly unfair.

    European football has a similar wealth disparity between teams, but the leagues don’t even pretend to regulate it so it’s less of an issue. What often matters more is what the teams stand for socially, politically, economically, perhaps none more so than in the match-up between Barça and Real Madrid. And while every bit of my conscience and political judgment compels me to root for Barcelona – or anyone besides Real Madrid, really – I still end up rooting for Los Blancos. I’ve given up trying to explain it. After watching the organization eat itself from the inside out, I’ve been somewhat turned off and have started to shift allegiances, willing myself to convert to the Blaugrana. But after this game, I realized I just can’t do it. I am stuck liking this team and will try to quit beating myself up about it. Because sometimes you just like a team with no good explanation, and that’s all there is to it. Yankees fans are no better or worse than me for rooting for an obnoxiously stacked roster and royally cocky management. Those things are just accidents and not the basis for moral judgment. I still choose to hate the team, but I will refrain from dissing its fans. And here ends my mea culpa.

    The game itself was an embattled one rife with intensity from beginning to end. From the opening touch to Canna’s last-ditch attempt to prevent the second goal, both teams gave everything they had and it was refreshing to see. In an age of jaded, overpaid players, here was a contest that really mattered to all involved, and it showed in their committed play. 

    Real Madrid played their hearts out, as was evident in their mud-caked uniforms, and they came painfully close to a 0-0 draw, which would have been as good as a win for a struggling Madrid team. Instead, it was a case of too much water eventually breaking through the dam. Real played better defense than I have seen them play all season long, holding a surging Barça side scoreless for upwards of 80 minutes, a moral victory in and of itself. Casillas saved their butts on numerous occasions, none bigger than the save on Eto’o’s penalty, and Madrid went into the locker room knowing they had had the best chance of the first half on a brilliant volley by Sneijder. Drenthe should have scored in a one-on-one encounter with Valdes, and there were a couple other chances left hanging. Barcelona utterly dominated possession in both halves, but Madrid defended with a fury, attempting to kick Messi into submission and playing wonderfully as a team. Sergio Ramos was started at left back in what turned out to be a great tactical move. He did his best, with lots of help, to keep track of Messi, and the team took turns chopping him down. The ref eventually started pulling the yellow card on it and it slowed down, but it had the desired effect early on. Yaya stormed forward a few times in the first half, as did Abidal, with Alves, surprisingly enough, being quite defensive-minded and making a number of key tackles. While it was a good half for Real, holding Barça scoreless, it felt more like they had survived than anything else.

    Like the well-coached team they are, Barcelona remained patient and effective all game long, knowing it would pay off in the end. Real continued the good defensive effort, but it just wasn’t enough. When Busquets was brought on for Gudjohnsen, Barça immediately increased their upper hand as the sub was awarded a penalty after being brought down by Salgado in the box. When Eto’o stepped up to take it, you could feel hearts sink across the capital. And then the amazing happened. Iker saved it. Not just saved it – he blocked it out of bounds so there was no chance for a put-back. It was in-fucking-credible, and it was then that I knew I could not convert my allegiances so easily. I raised my hands in triumph and got set for what was sure to be a slog the rest of the way. From there it only got better as Iker made an insane double save against Eto’o and then Messi to keep the clean sheet. And for a while it seemed like we might have a chance at getting something from this game. 

    It was not to be, though, as shortly thereafter Barça broke the deadlock on a corner that Puyol won in the air and headed to Eto’o, who calmly slotted it home. It was pandemonium in the Camp Nou. I was 100% in Real’s corner by this point, but I couldn’t help feeling good for all of Barça’s players, for whom it was clearly the most important goal of the season. After that, the resistance was broken and Barça got their second a few minutes later on a lightning quick counterattack that saw Henry set up Messi for the chip over Casillas. Iker could not have prevented either goal and was visibly devastated in the aftermath.

    Despite the result, the Real players should be proud of their effort. They played possibly their best game as a TEAM this year, something that speaks highly of Juande Ramos in his early days with the club. I can’t imagine Schuster eliciting this kind of performance from the team, so Ramos should be applauded for his team’s preparation. Literally everyone gave all they had in the defensive stand: Ramos played valiantly against Messi; Salgado did his utmost tactically to stay with Henry and protect the box; the midfield and forwards tracked back with abandon to help out; Cannavaro stuck his nose out there every time, sustaining a knock against the goalpost trying to prevent the final goal; and Metzelder had his most impressive game since joining the side. It was a well orchestrated effort that showed what they were made of, which was much more than I previously suspected. Even with all the injuries, they gritted their teeth and made a game of it till the final whistle. As a newly minted bandwagoner, I couldn’t ask for more.

    Highlights:

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    Thoughts Ahead of El Clásico

    Posted by hiphopmama on December 12, 2008

    el clasico

    Real Madrid makes the daunting trip to the Camp Nou tomorrow struggling to impart some semblance of order to their season against a Barcelona side displaying utter dominance in La Liga. Against any normal team experiencing Real’s current run of form and injury list, Barça would be virtually assured of a comfortable victory. However, with the contentious rivalry at stake and the symbolic importance of this match-up, you have to figure Real will be playing like their season depends on it and will have a decent shot at a good result because of it. 

    That said, Barça are still odds-on favorites to win the game, especially in front of their home fans, and any tactical analysis points to an easy victory for the Catalans. With the ridiculous number of Real Madrid players struggling with injuries and suspensions to be served by Robben and Marcelo, the Merengues are really up against it even in terms of fielding a squad of their usual caliber. Based on their play midweek against Zenit in the Champions League and available players, it seems likely that Michel Salgado will have the unenviable task of tracking Lionel Messi around on the right flank. While Salgado has a great tactical sense and plenty of experience in big games, there is no way he has the pace to keep up with Messi and will need every bit of help he can get to keep him under wraps. The rest of the back line is likely to be filled out by Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos, and Metzelder in some formation with Gago, Guti, Van der Vaart, and Drenthe in midfield. And of course Raul and Higuain up front.

    For their part, Barça’s lineup is likely to look something like this: Valdes; Alves, Marquez, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Yaya, Hleb; Messi, Eto’o, Henry. There’s not much to say about this group – it pretty much speaks for itself. This general assortment of guys has been kicking ass with no need to even take names all season long, and I expect nothing less this weekend. Xavi will, as always, be central (no pun intended) to the Barcelona attack, and Messi will probably be free to run wild all over the pitch, although with Salgado at left back he might be content to stay on the right. Henry is coming off an incredible hat trick – three goals all taken on one touch – in Barça’s 4-0 romp over Valencia last weekend. Gago will have a lot of work to do to protect a Real back line that has looked as porous as SpongeBob this year, and Hleb (or possibly Keita or Gudjohnsen) will surely look to stretch the Madrid  defense and create space for the three forwards. 

    In particular, Gago will have to keep Xavi off the ball as much as possible to limit his ability to initiate the attack. Gago is a capable player, but I doubt he has the wherewithal to snuff out Xavi or the help from his team to effectively patrol the midfield. Yaya will have a similar role to play in stopping Guti from engineering Madrid’s offense, but I foresee more success for the younger Toure. I don’t think Guti has the ingenuity of Xavi, but more importantly, Guti has fewer real threats around him that Barça has to watch out for, which will allow them to zero in on him. 

    In the end, I think Messi will run rampant and Alves will be a constant thorn in Real’s side, while Raul will continue his good form and Higuain will have another solid game, but all three Barça strikers will hurt Madrid and get the win for the cules. Prediction: Barcelona wins fairly easily, 3-1, and earns further breathing room at the top of the table.

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    Barça Alone At The Top

    Posted by hiphopmama on December 7, 2008

    Barcelona 4-0 Valencia

    • 1-0 Thierry Henry, 20′
    • 2-0 Thierry Henry, 28′
    • 3-0 Dani Alves, 46′
    • 4-0 Thierry Henry, 79′

    The title of this post doesn’t just refer to their place in La Liga, which is nothing new; it’s about Barcelona’s utter superiority to every other team in Europe at the moment. I suppose there is a case to be made for Inter and even Chelsea until a few weeks ago, but I don’t think either of those teams or any other can hold a candle to what Barcelona is doing. They haven’t lost a game since August, and since then they have 17 wins and just 3 draws, including some mind-blowingly good showings against a range of opposition. There was the 6-1 pounding of Sporting Gijon, 6-1 over Atletico Madrid, 5-0 over Almeria, 4-1 over Malaga, and 6-0 over Valladolid. Their most impressive victories, however, have been the last two, when they absolutely dismantled a pair of top five teams in Primera Liga play. Last week, they demoralized a surging Sevilla side 4-0 on the road, and just this weekend they spanked Valencia 4-0 at home. While the goal totals have been impressive, even more notable is the number of clean sheets the team has kept. Sevilla isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse but they do have some serious attacking threats, including Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, who had just netted a hat trick for Brazil in international play. They got under Fabiano’s skin so much – not a difficult task – that he earned himself a red card and an early exit. The Valencia scoreline was even more surprising for the way they kept one of the hottest strikers on the planet, David Villa, off the score sheet. Villa undoubtedly misses his attacking partner David Silva who has been out injured for a while, but that hadn’t prevented him from scoring 12 goals in 13 league games coming into the Barcelona match-up. Yet the Barcelona defense held firm and stubbornly denied Villa and his teammates so much as a consolation goal.

    The element that makes Barça stand out from the pack the most is their complete play as a team. In top flight European football, everyone has a stacked line-up. Barcelona’s is no different, with Eto’o, Henry, Messi, and Bojan up front; Xavi, Iniesta (currently injured), Hleb, Yaya, and Keita fortifying the midfield; and Puyol, Marquez, Alves, Abidal, Pique, and Milito (also injured) manning the back line; plus Valdes between the sticks, just to name a few. The all-star squad doesn’t capture or explain their dominance, though. The complete cohesion does, and new coach Pep Guardiola has to be credited for that. With such an array of talent at his disposal, it’s quite a feat to successfully manage the egos involved and know how and when to shuffle the deck to get the best performance out of your team. Guardiola has done that almost to perfection this year, involving everyone to an extent and picking the right squads to get the job done week in and week out. His substitutions have been equally flawless, although the number of blowouts Barça has inflicted has made it unnecessary for him to perform much magic from the sidelines. 

    For all their attacking prowess, the strength of the midfield and back line has been their anchor this year, allowing the wing players to storm forward and facilitate the offense. Xavi has once again been masterful in his role as the team’s ultimate orchestrator, pulling every string at precisely the right moment. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Yaya, who has been a rock in midfield, winning a gazillion tackles and completing damn near every pass he attempts. His immaculate play has been absolutely central to the team’s success, and they would be foolish to leave him out of their plans, either by allowing him to languish on the bench amidst so much talent or by letting him make his way out of Barcelona. He has been repeatedly linked to his brother’s team of Arsenal – a scenario I thoroughly endorse as a Gunners fan – but I don’t see that coming to fruition. He fits with the Blaugrana and deserves to have his place with them cemented, at least for the rest of this season.

    If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am. When I first started paying attention to the Primera Liga, I was a Real Madrid fan, largely because Barcelona’s performances were generally uninspiring with an uncommitted Ronaldinho leading the way and a failure to achieve what they could have. With all the typical strong-arm wrangling going on in Madrid and the ever obnoxious Ramon Calderon making his team difficult to like (to put it mildly), I have seen my allegiances shift somewhat. I’m not an out and out Barcelona fan – in fact, I’m not a committed ANYBODY fan really, since I have only been seriously watching for a few years. Instead, I just enjoy watching great football and I appreciate the teams whose style and ethic fit in with my own. Arsenal has emerged as my favorite side in English football, but I have been more equivocal in rooting for teams from Spain and Italy. This season has made my allegiances even more tenuous, and Barcelona’s team mentality and outstanding play make it difficult not to pull for them. If they keep up with this pace, I might be the latest in what is assuredly a large group of converts.

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