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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Are They Back?

Are They Back (the team, Eto'o and Messi) ?

We are reaching the point of the season that is actually important, decisive in order to judge success or failure.
On either side of the games against Liverpool Barcelona will be meeting Valencia and Sevilla and shortly after Real Madrid in the league. All teams are candidates for the league title. It won't be definite but definitely important.

After a long break from Champions League and Barcelona scraping through in the last game, it will be interesting, exciting and an emotional encounter with Liverpool. While Liverpool are slowly getting better with confidence and hope regarding their future, after being bought, Barcelona have struggled. They have scored very few goals and suffer away from home.

Since September they have been without Samuel Eto'o, their main goalscorer in the last couple of years and he has been thoroughly missed. Barcelona were also without Messi and had to rely on Gudjohnsen who is not really a main striker and Saviola, who scores lots of goals, but not very often against tough teams. Most clubs would have suffered being without two of their three best players, but Barcelona are still top of the league, perhaps due to the other teams failures rather than their own merit. But still.

In Barcelona life is never very easy though, the team has been criticisised heavily and almost no one has escaped. It can go from that Rijkaard has little tactical knowledge and Ten Cate (former assistant coach) made all decisions, the debate Saviola or Gudjohnsen, that Deco and Ronaldinho spend far too much time in night clubs, that without Eto'o Ronaldinho is no one, that fans want Mourinho, that Puyol is not the rock he was and back again. The only players to have escaped criticism are Iniesta and Valdés. It is true that the team has not been itself, but perhaps people forgot how difficult it is to replace Eto'o and perhaps how much their system relies on him. He is extremely fast and opposite defenders have something of a panic attack when they see him galloping towards them, without Eto'o teams can build up their attack at their own pace. As he is very fast teams tend to push backwards in order not to leave any space, which in turn gives Barcelona the possibility to play higher up in the field. His aggression and competitiveness is needed in a team that has won everything and his character allows no complacency to take place.

Ronaldinho has struggled all year, the World Cup was a big blow which left him half depressed, with Eto'o and Messi out, the defender could concentrate on marking him, and he would often have two or three players on top of him, kicking him. It did not help he has not gained his form making it difficult to get away from opposite defenders, with Ronaldinho out of form, Deco has to work twice as hard, which has left him exhausted in the end of the games.

It will be a huge psychological boost to have these two players back, even if it could take a long time until they both get fully fit, with them on the bench it will scare teams and that it is a psychological advantage.

There has been criticism of Barcelona's arrogance in the U.K., especially with Laporta's comments that he was happy to go to Liverpool to visit the Beatles museum…I can reassure you though that the players are not taking Liverpool lightly, they know that they need to go to Anfield with a 3-0 cushion to have a chance, it is to see if Barcelona will have managed to reach some form of consistency and apart from pure physical superiority they will have to deal with height as well. It is a shame ex Barcelona player Luis Garcia is injured, but the rumoured interest in Xabi Alonso (whose father played for Barcelona) adds to the morbidity.

It will be extremely tight and an even knock-out phase and if Barcelona manage to beat them it will prove they have matured and it will bring confidence for the season. If they loose it might get the alarm bells ringing louder and a clear out in the summer. That is F.C. Barcelona for you.


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