Tag Archives: Real Madrid

Leo Messi Is at the Olympics, but Barcelona Are Doing Just Fine

Earlier this summer when Leo Messi was attempting to get released by his club in order to compete in the Olympics, the Barça bosses said that they could not afford to lose him because of important Champions League matches during the Olympics.

Well, if yesterday was any indication, Messi can spend a good amount of time away from the club and they will be just fine.  Samuel Eto’o netted a brace and Xavi and Thierry Henry also scored in Barça’s 4-0 win against Wisla Krakow.

Was this the game they needed Messi for?

Sure, it’s always good to have your best players. But this was a chance for new coach Pep Guardiola to get a feel for his other players and give some of the newcomers a chance to prove themselves.

This was just another step forward for the Spanish giants in their quest to put last season’s disappointing run behind them.  They are doing well thus far—smoking every opponent they have faced.

It will be interesting to see with which lineup Barcelona starts the season. They have so much new talent and many players that can be successful at every position on the field.

One worry that plagued Barcelona last season and could come up again is their defense.  They have four strong players at the back, but because of their preferred 4-3-3 format they do not have the midfield help and the back line is often left alone.

Barça is at their best when their midfield and forward players are controlling so much of the ball that it does not matter because the opposing team never has the ball enough to be dangerous.

The real tests for this team will come once La Liga and the Champions League seasons begin in earnest and we see how this team responds to adversity—exactly what caused so many problems last season.

If the preseason means anything, though, Barcelona is going to be a team to be reckoned with in every competition this season.

I cannot wait for Dec. 14 at the Camp Nou for the first installment of El Clásico between Barca and Real Madrid.

Another note that I just come across in reference to Barcelona: Why are they going after Berbatov? Where would he play? Maybe on the six-man front line of Messi, Henry, Eto’o, Hleb/Gudjohnsen, Krkic, and Berbatov?

Wesley Sneijder’s Injury: How Real Madrid Will Cope

Good news from Spain’s defending Champion, Real Madrid, as their star midfielder, Wesley Sneijder, will only be out for three months and not the previously feared six.

The injury, suffered on a vicious tackle by Arsenal’s Abou Diaby in a friendly on Sunday in the Emirates Cup, was originally diagnosed as a torn cruciate ligament according to El Marca newspaper.

But after an MRI Monday Real Madrid reported on their Web site that Sneijder will avoid surgery and will only be out three months.

While this is much improved over the original assessment, it will still leave Madrid with out an integral piece for at least the first two months of the season, which is scheduled to kick off August 31.

Possible Replacements

Los Blancos did not any waste time adding midfield help in the form of Sneijder’s compatriot, Rafael van der Vaart. A deal that had been in the works for a few weeks between the Spanish club and Hamburg of the Bundesliga finally went through on Monday.

The 25-year-old van der Vaart—a central midfielder—will not directly replace Sneijder, who spent most of his time on the wings, but will be able to take on some of the playmaking responsibilities lost with Sneijder.

It will be very interesting to see how Madrid lines up to begin the season because Van der Vaart is much in the same mold as a Madrid standby, Guti, and manager Bernd Schuster will have to decide if the two of them can play together.

Besides Van der Vaart, the injury to Sneijder directly effects two players seeking transfer: Madrid’s Robinho and Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

I have read a few reports that say that the loss of a Sneijder will prompt Real Madrid President Ramon Calderon to step up his pursuit of Ronaldo, but I think this is completely the wrong move.

Real currently sports an imposing midfield and the last thing we need is another midfielder and especially one that is more focused on himself than the team—every player in this midfield is going to have to learn to share time.

A much better move would be to prevent Chelsea from signing Robinho. The Brazilian is incredibly skilled and is extremely dangerous streaking down the wing. Playing on one wing opposite Arjen Robben, Robinho can excel and help drive Madrid towards its title defense.

For a team that is weak at the back and thin up front after Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy, who are both aging, there are much better places to spend money than on more midfielders.

The Midfield Log Jam

Sure there is always the issue of what to do once Sneijder comes back and increases the log jam in the midfield.

Currently Madrid has three defensive midfielders in Mahamadou Diarra, Fernando Gago, and Ruben De la Red who all deserve playing time. I could see at least one of them tested out more in the center of midfield.

The heart of the Madrid machine will be run by Guti and Van der Vaart. Guti is one of the most inconsistent players for the team, but when he is on, he can be the best distributors of the ball in the world. Hopefully the young Van der Vaart can learn from the veteran Gutti and slowly take his place with the starting eleven.

Los Blancos also have Royston Drethe, Julio Baptista, and Javi Garcia in the midfield mix, but none of them have proven that they deserve consistent playing time as of yet.

How Schuster decides to figure out the players in the midfield could well determine how Madrid does this season.

What do you think Madrid should do in the middle? How much will the loss of Sneijder effect Real’s drive for their third league title in a row?

Look Out La Liga: Atletico Is on The Rise

When the summer transfer window opens, owners and managers make lists of players they would like to sign, but rarely are they able to complete what they set out to do. That is unless you are Atletico Madrid boss Javier Aguirre.

At the beginning of the summer Aguirre set out a list of six players that he needed to sign to push his team to the next level.  Of those six, he has signed five—all since July 1.

Aguirre has used the momentum from a surprise fourth place finish in La Liga last season and the prospect of playing in the Champions League this season to reel in five top players:

Tomas Ujfalusi. The defender captained the Czech team in the recent European Championships and had a strong season with Serie A’s Fiorentina last season.

Florent Sinama-Pongolle. The French striker is just 23-years-old and scored an impressive 22 goals last season with Recreativo in Spain.

Paulo Assuncao. The Brazilian midfielder spent last season in Portugal with three time champion FC Porto.  His arrival most likely spells the end of the line for Portuguese midfielder Maniche.

Gregory Coupet. The French goalkeeper joins Atletico from Olympique Lyon where he had won seven straight league titles.  While he is 35-years-old, he is still considered one of the best in the world.

John Heitinga. The most recent and the most expensive of the signings, Heitinga is a strong defender who was at only 24 was named the Netherlands’ player of the year last season.

These players will be added a team that is stacked with young talent in every part of the field and will surely challenge their cross-town rivals to the crown in La Liga this season.

One place where Atletico was weak last season was on the back line.  They were known for scoring goals but also giving them up.  Heitinga and Ujfalusi, along with Coupet, will immediately fortify the back line and give the talented midfield more freedom to roam.

Speaking of the midfield, Atletico has one of the most creative and dangerous midfields in La Liga and possibly the world.

While Assuncao is expected to play right away, it may be hard to sqeez him in.  The midfield is led by Argentine playmaker Maxi Rodriguez and Portugues winger Simao.

Last season Raul Garcia played in a more holding midfield position often joined by young star Ignacio Camacho. Liverpool cast-off Luis Garcia, José Reyes, Jose Jurado, Cleber Santana will all be fighting for playing time in the center of the pitch.

Up front was where Atletico were extremely dangerous last season.  The pairing of Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero and Diego Forlan combined to score 44 goals last season and was one of the most dangerous pairs in the world.

Add Sinama-Pongolle to that mix and this team is sure to score a lot of goals.

Atletico has not appeared in the Champion’s League in the last 11 years but with this club they have a chance to make a deep run.

If nothing else, Aguirre signalled the rest of La Liga—especially Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Villareal—that they are here to stay and are prepared to win.

Report: Real Madrid Signs Van Der Vaart

Rafael Van Der Vaart

Spain newspaper El Marca is reporting that Real Madrid have come to an agreement with 25-year-old Hamburg midfielder Rafael van der Vaart.

The Dutch midfielder would join fellow countrymen Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, and Ruud van Nistelrooy in the attacking half for the defending La Liga champions.

After being linked to Tottenham earlier this summer, van der Vaart had reportedly said he would rather stay with Hamburg than leave for a club at the same level. But he did hint that he would be open to a move to one of the major clubs in England, Spain, or Italy.

Over the last two summers Madrid has signed four dutch players—Robben, Sneijder, and Royston Drenthe joined the club last season—and will now sport five on their roster.

After watching this year’s European Championship, it looks like Madrid hope to replicate some of the attacking prowess that the Oranje showed in Austria/ Switzerland.

When my friend sent me a post from the German newspaper Kicker announcing the trade this morning, the only word of the article I understood was “Madrid.”

Both Kicker and El Marca are reporting that a deal is done with van der Vaart and a transfer is expected to be completed with over the next few days in the neighborhood of €20 million.

Where will van der vaart fit in with Madrid? The Spanish giants seem to have an abundance of attacking midfielders with Robben, Sneijder, Robinho, Baptista, and Guti.

If recent reports are correct, Robinho could be on his way to Chelsea which would explain Madrid’s thinking when bringing in van der Vaart.

Another big issue this raises is Los Blancos’ interest in Cristiano Ronaldo. Earlier this summer the transfer looked inevitable but with talks slowing down lately and this deal, it looks less and less likely that Ronaldo will join Madrid.

With this deal all but finished, here is a look at what Real’s starting lineup could look like as they attempt to defend their La Liga title:

GK: Iker Casillas.

DEF: Fabio Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos, Gabriel Heinze, Pepe.

MID: Fernando Gago, Sneijder, Robber, van der Vaart.

ATT: van Nistelrooy and Raul.

This is an incredibly potent team that can score goals and will not give up many. They also leave Bernd Schuster a lot of options whether he wants to play a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1, he has the players.

What do you think about this transfer and what it will do for Madrid this next season and what it means for Ronaldo’s future with Man U.

Hail to the Champions

The final 16 of the Champions League was announced on Saturday and what a doozy it’s going to be.

Immediately the matchups of Milan versus the Premiership jump off the page, with defending champions AC taking on current English leaders Arsenal and Serie A leader Inter welcoming hot and cold Liverpool.

From the beginning Liverpool looks highly overmatched against an Inter squad who currently hold a commanding 8 point lead at the top of the Italian tables.

But that is part of what the Champions League is all about. Liverpool has struggled in the Premiership, sitting in fifth well off the lead, but after a slow start in the group stage they came on to outscore their last three opponents 16-1.

Out of all the teams in the tournament, the defending runner-ups have the best chance to come out of nowhere to make a splash.

As for the “other” Milan team, AC appears to be on a steady downturn. After a loss this past weekend to Inter they now sit in 12th in Serie A and a whopping 25 points off the leaders.

But they are defending champions and should not be taken lightly. The matchup with creative, energetic Arsenal against the wily veterans of Milan should be one of the best in the round of 16.

The top two teams from La Liga, Madrid and Barça, both face interesting matchups.

After winning this past weekend’s clasico against Barcelona, Real is in a commanding position in La Liga seven points clear and in a groove that they will look to keep going after the holiday break against Italian side Roma

The Italians were one of my favorites coming into the tournament but will struggle mightily against the reigning Spanish champions who are playing sublime football right now.

Barcelona, on the other hand, are in a downward spiral that will take a genius move from Rijkaard to turn around.

And to make matters worse, they are coming up against a team in Celtic that has had their number over the past few years.

Whatever the outcome of these games, the tournament has reached the home stretch the this is when the real champions separate themselves from the rest of the field.

Full last 16 draw:

Celtic v Barcelona
Lyon v Man Utd
Schalke 04 v FC Porto
Liverpool v Inter Milan
Roma v Real Madrid
Arsenal v AC Milan
Olympiacos v Chelsea
Fenerbahce v FC Sevilla