Clubs, FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain

Barcelona dominate PSG, again.

I’ll be completely honest – the first leg of Barcelona vs. PSG was somewhat of a joke: Ibrahimovic, Saurez LuizPSG’s world class striker: suspended… Verratti, PSG’s pace-setting-midfielder: also out… Thiago Silva, PSG’s world class defender: came off early with an injury… His replacement David Luiz (fresh off an injury): did not look fit for the pace of the game. And, this caused a total lack of team chemistry, and it showed – Barcelona had 68% possession in that first matchup, and Luis Saurez made their entire defense seem (and feel) insanely ill-equipped with his spectacular goals. In summation, PSG didn’t have a proper go at Barcelona in the first leg, and this lead me to believe that in the second leg they would come out swinging. Against Chelsea, the shear tenacity of their players lead them to victory – but in this game, they were just outmatched, and outclassed.

Ever since Xavi’s been replaced in the starting lineup with Rakatic, Iniesta has experienced somewhat of a revival – and the way he set up Neymar’s first goal today is purely an example of that. Rakatic tracks back and it gives Iniesta and their defensive unit cover in ways that Xavi wasn’t able to do over the last couple years as he’s gotten older. When Mascharano plays defensive mid for Barcelona, both Iniesta and Rakatic are more easily able to attack with reckless abandon, but I believe Enrique started Busquets today because he’s a but more technically savvy than Javier at maintaining possession. But back to Iniesta… in his golden days he used to glide through defenses with unbelievable precision, and I truly thought he lost that ability as he’s gotten older, but it seems as though he can still turn on the flair. Neymar Second Goal

Over the last couple years Barca have been rebuilding… and last year, Xavi was no longer himself, Neymar was still settling into the club… and they simply didn’t have time to jell together as a team. This year, Neymar has completed his transition into a left forward, Messi has gone back to his right forward position – where he started his career – and no longer needs to exhibit the work rate of a center striker, because that’s where Saurez comes in. Furthermore, at the right forward position, Messi is more likely to come into midfield to set-up his teammates for the attack, something that he does better than anybody else in the world.

PSG have a lot to work on, they truly missed Thiago Silva again, and the injury that’s kept Luca Moura out has been devastating. He is truly a player that needs to be used more – not many players can dribble through teams like he can, and the offense needs to work through him. The next round of the Champions league will be one to watch, especially as Barca continues to roll through the competition, let me know if you think they (or another team) are the favorite in the poll below.

FC Barcelona Logo

Clubs, FC Barcelona

The El Clasico Review

I know I’m a little late here, but the El Clasico was unbelievably defining, not just for Real Madrid, but more so for Barcelona. They had so many opportunities to score during this match, and they will continue to have more opportunities as long as Luis Enrique doesn’t switch back to his rotational lineup. The cohesion that Barca displayed was top-notch, and Messi, despite ending the game without a goal, lit up the soccer world with his performance at the right wing/forward position (where he started his career).Messi El Clasico

While Rakatic and Mascherano ran up and down the field constantly, Iniesta was free to be a bit more creative, and while he no longer glides and shifts like he used to, he still was able to spot the correct passes throughout the game. Rakatic would support the team in attack when necessary, and Mascherano seemed content playing back in front of the center backs, leaving Dani Alves and Jordi Alba the chance to do what they do best (support up the flanks).

Real weren’t terrible… in the first half. In fact, the game should have been a draw – considering Bale was onside for his “offside” goal. That being said, for the most part, Real were lethargic, despite a moment of sheer brilliance by Benzema to setup Ronaldo with his goal. Ronaldo had one more opportunity earlier, but he just couldn’t finish as the post denied him the brace.

Real seemed to miss something this game: Isco and Modric are great players, but they’re not pacey, and they’re certainly not able to produce speedy runs like Di Maria, or just put themselves in the perfect position to score goals like James Rodriguez. And Kroos is like Xabi Alonso, but much more attack oriented (which can be good, but not against quality teams like Barcelona). Real will need James moving forward, and they will need Modric to get back to full fitness since his injury – while he has been playing well, he doesn’t look as great as he was last year. It will be interesting to see how the calm Ancelotti handles his team moving forward, especially considering Bale’s lack of form. Saurez El Clasico Goal

Barca on the other hand… Suarez is the missing link on that team – he finishes chances with such precision, and he has the pace and technique to keep up with both Messi and Neymar. I’d go as far as to say he’s just as good a dribbler as Neymar (call me crazy). Barca seem to be on a roll, and with Messi being used on the right, and coming back into midfield to help create chances, Barca truly look unstoppable at the moment.

FC Barcelona Logo

Brazil, World Cup

It’s no longer Chile in Brazil

Chile has been a force to be reckoned with throughout the world cup – they manhandled a Vidal and Sanchez pic for blogdisappointing Spanish team, held there own against the Netherlands (who seems to be the strongest team so far) and they’ve played with grit and determination throughout the tournament. Their tenaciousness was truly evident today, as they disrupted the Brazilian attack all game.

In fact, Neymar didn’t seem comfortable in the first half when he arrived in the box with the ball… He kept trying to bring the ball back to his right foot which was very surprising considering that he’s proven to have a strong left foot strike (Spain is very aware of this – youtube Neymar’s goal against them in the confederations cup in the final last year). Chile’s defense held strong today against Brazil’s attack, but more importantly, their attack held their own against Brazil’s defense, and this had a lot to do with their midfield. Aturo Vidal might be the best box-to-box midfielder in the world – and quite honestly, he’s a linchpin in Chile’s lineup that a team like Brazil could have really benefitted from – because let’s be honest, Gustavo, Fernandinho and Oscar simply didn’t show up today and aren’t players that the Brazilian attack can run through.

Neymar Pic for blogThat said, Brazil need to find more of a rhythm considering their level of talent. The fact that a player like Lucas didn’t make their national team is quite disturbing, especially considering that Oscar had an extremely quiet year at Chelsea but still managed a starting World Cup spot (as a midfielder, rather than his more effective position on the right wing where he played best for Chelsea in his first season).

Brazil failed to emphasize the importance of creativity in the midfield, and instead have relied far too much on on moments of brilliance from Neymar this entire World Cup – and while that’s worked to an extent, this is the first time in a long time that a Brazilian squad lacks many players with that Brazilian Neymar-esque flair. In the past,Lucas pic for blog Brazilian teams have showcased a balance of flair and grit, but this year has been more about the flair of one man (Neymar) as opposed to that of the entire team. This was nowhere more evident than in their game against Mexico where it was proven that Neymar can’t do it all on his own.

In the second half of today’s game against Chile, players like Bernard and Lucas (had he made the team) should have been backing up Neymar in the midfield – especially because Oscar continues to be a non-factor (and let’s be honest, his first goal of the tournament should/could have been defended better).

Brazil Defense pic for blogA further note: With Brazil’s defense known to be so solid, they can afford to field more attacking midfielders.

Chile dominated the second half of the game, Neymar didn’t have as much space, and Jo was incapable of easily finishing off of a great cross from Hulk in the box… Brazil has never been known to have a bulky striker spearheading their attack… This is something that needs to change – I’d like to see Neymar up top, with Hulk on the left and Oscar on the right… In this way, Neymar is truly the focal point of the  Brazilian attack (although the one concern I’d have is that he would not be able to roam around as much as his current role allows). That said, it’s still a risk that I believe would pay off dramatically.

Extra time in today’s game was quite interesting, with Vidal out due to fitness, Chile lost some of it’s offensive prowess, and this ultimately lead to Brazil’s domination in the extra half hour. But, as we all know, despite that domination – the game ended at the penalty spot – where, despite the admirable performance of both teams, Brazil won.

Reflections: Neymar has played admirably at the Word Cup, if he brings Brazil all the way, and can continue scoring where Fred and Jo cannot – he should be a candidate for the Ballon D’or (especially with the lack of support he’s getting from Oscar).

One thing that can be taken away from this game is that the tournament as a whole will not be a cakewalk for Brazil, and they cannot afford not to play at the top level for the rest of it.