Write off Barcelona at your peril: The European champions show their worth at the Santiago Bernabeu

Saturday’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid lived up to all expectations; there was passion, spell-bounding skill and goals – the only thing missing was the heavily anticipated Madrid victory. Pep Guardiola’s European champions are not ready to hand over the Primera Division crown to their bitter rivals just yet, as an Alexis Sanchez strike, a Marcelo own goal and a Cesc Fabregas header gave the Catalans a deserved 3-1 victory.

With Jose Mourinho’s men top of the Spanish top flight by three points having played a game less and winning their last 15 fixtures in all competitions in menacing fashion, the stage was set for a change in power in the country and the continent. When Victor Valdes inexplicably gave possession away within the first minute and Karim Benzema converted from close range to give Los Blancos a 1-0 lead after 22 seconds, Madrid were ready to overtake their age-old rivals. However, this Barcelona team, as so many times in the last three years, collected themselves and showed world football just why they are the best club team on the planet.

After a mesmerising run and through-ball by Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez displayed a clinical finish under pressure to level things up. Madrid were rocked and needed half time. The second half saw the Blaugrana emerge from the tunnel as the team we have all come to love, applaud and fear, and complete dominance in the second half resulted in a comfortable victory.

Barca’s second goal did have a touch of fortune as Xavi’s shot deflected off Marcelo and the post to give the visitors the lead. Despite this, Barcelona were simply too good for their star-studded opponents in the second period, and their familiar brand of possession football had the Madristas chasing the ball like a bunch of schoolboys. The killer blow came as a sweeping counter attack resulted in Dani Alves delivering an inch-perfect cross for Fabregas to head home, and condemn the home team to defeat.

Messi was mercurial and at the heart of everything in the Camp Nou side’s attack, linking up with his midfield confidants Xavi and Andres Iniesta to blistering effect, and looking almost unstoppable every time he received the ball to feet. Pep Guardiola made a brave decision to select Sanchez for his first Clasico ahead of established European champion David Villa, but his decision proved to be a masterclass, as the Chile international forward hounded and plagued the home defence throughout. At the back Carles Puyol displayed as good a defensive performance as has been seen in recent times, as he, at times single-handedly, snuffed out everything Madrid had to throw at Barca.

With Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo up for this year’s Ballon d’Or, the 90 minutes in the Spanish capital should put any doubters over who the winner should be to bed. The Portuguese attacker missed two glaring opportunities and proved largely ineffectual throughout, whilst the Argentine gave a masterclass in a highly-pressurised environment to once more prove his mantle as the best footballer on this planet.

With Iniesta and Messi still attacking in the dying moments of the clash, Madrid were lucky to escape with only a two-goal deficit, as Barca could and probably should have scored more than their three goals. The teams were worlds apart in the second half; and despite all the hype surrounding the likes of Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo, the trio were completely and utterly toothless. Barca’s almost telepathic understanding between their midfield players, ability to completely dominate possession and pass their opponents to submission shows that the European champions should not be questioned; they are still at their unrelenting best.

If Madrid win their game in hand they will still lead La Liga by three points, but Mourinho and his men will be demoralised by the nature of their thorough defeat. Madrid can still win the Spanish top flight this season, but one thing has been proven in their defeat on Saturday; Barcelona are still Europe’s top team and will take some beating this term.

Published – http://soccerlens.com/write-off-barcelona-at-your-peril-the-european-champions-show-their-worth-at-the-santiago-bernabeu/86379/

Brazil’s strength in depth – the players that didn’t make the Copa America cut

The 2011 Copa America in Argentina kicks off in early July, with the hosts the favourites amongst most bookmakers. Despite this, eight time tournament winners and current holders Brazil, as always, have a star studded squad capable of beating anyone on their day. Coach Mano Menezes has named a mightily impressive squad, that includes the mercurial attacking talents of Neymar, Robinho and Alexandre Pato, and the Selecao fans must be confident of their sides chances in the competition. The nation’s true football calibre can be showcased not by the 28 players the former Corinthians boss has selected however, but by the names missing. The following is a potential Brazil international side that will be watching their countrymen compete from the comfort of their armchairs.

GK : Heurelho Gomes, Tottenham Hotspur (11 caps) – Brazil’s number one is Inter’s Julio Cesar, who has made the starting spot his own, and rightfully so as he is the best goalkeeper at Menezes’ deposal. Tottenham’s Heurelho Gomes missed out after one blunder too many may have blotted the copybook beyond salvation. The former PSV stopper’s club future is unclear also, with mistakes in high profile matches, such as against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter finals still fresh in the memory. Undoubtedly has the potential to pull off a match winning save at a second’s notice, but Brazil won’t miss Gomes in Argentina.

LB : Marcelo, Real Madrid (6 caps)– The national coach chose to omit the 23-year-old from his 28 largely due to indiscipline, with the former Fluminense full-back reportedly feigning injury to avoid an international friendly against Scotland and stay in Spain to focus on pressing affairs at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite his small number of caps, Marcelo has progressed this season with excellent performances for Jose Mourinho’s side both domestically and in Europe and is a player of quality despite his off the field problems.

CB : Alex, Chelsea (17 caps) – The former Santos defender has been replaced both at club and international level by the emerging talents of David Luiz, and has not made the final cut. A solid centre half with a venomous left foot, he will be missed more for the thunderbolt free-kicks than his defensive prowess, with Brazil most likely electing Thiago Silva and Lucio in the starting XI in his absence

CB : Juan, Roma (79 caps) – The 32 year old is maybe past his best but brings a wealth of experience to his current club employers Roma. He formed an effective club and country partnership with Lucio whilst the pair were at Bayer Leverkusen, but a potential move back to the Brasiliero will be the Rio born veteran’s only reason to return to South America this summer.

RB : Fabio and/or Rafael, Manchester United (0 caps) – English football fans will have recognised the progression of the 20 year old brothers this season, who competed with each other for a starting spot in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Both have flair going forward but need to work on their positioning at the back, and were understandably overlooked in favour of Dani Alves and Maicon. New Bayern Munich signing Rafinha is another right back who will not feature in the tournament.

MF: Anderson, Manchester United (8 caps) – Another Manchester United first-teamer not to make the cut, Anderson has become an increasingly important player at Old Trafford. The former Porto player has an energy and work-rate that would be beneficial to Menezes, but has been overlooked in favour of Premier League compatriots Lucas Leiva and Sandro. A lack of goalscoring has blighted the 23-year-old.

MF : Douglas Costa, Shakhtar Donetsk (0 caps) – The 20-year-old was a key figure in the Shakhtar Donetsk side that made it to the Champions League quarter finals, with two riveting displays to eliminate Roma stuck in the memory. The ex-Gremio man is being linked with a move to a bigger club, and unfortunately for him, despite his talents and a good season, the tournament has come too early for the future international.

MF : Hernanes, Lazio (3 caps) – Has had a very impressive first season in Europe with Lazio, becoming their go-to man in the centre of the park. The 26-year-old former Sao Paulo midfielder has a good range of passing, is excellent in possession, and proved his eye for goal by hitting the back of the net 11 times in 2010/11 for the Biancocelesti. A very good player, unlucky to miss out.

AM : Kaka, Real Madrid (82 caps) – The former Ballon d’Or and World Player of the Year winner has struggled to emulate his scintillating Milan form in Spain, and has had an injury-prone and frustrating two years at the Bernabeu. Recovering from injury in time was one thing; the 29-year-old simply didn’t get enough game-time in 2010/11, finding himself in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow. There is no doubt the talismanic playmaker will don the yellow of his country again in the future, but he needs to get back to his best to oust the likes of Sao Paulo wonderkid Lucas and Santos’ Ganso.

FW : Hulk, Porto (3 caps) – The fact that Hulk is not in the 28 is a testament to the strength of Menezes’ squad, given the excellent season the 24-year-old has just had. Strong on the ball, wonderfully talented and a ruthless finisher, the former Tokyo Verdy frontman was one of the standout performers in Porto’s vast domestic and European success in 2010/11, scoring 31 goals in the process.

FW : Ronaldinho, Flamengo (88 caps) – Another Ballon d’Or past winner to miss out, at 31 the now Flamengo attacker still has gas left in the tank. An unmatchable talent on his day, the former Barcelona hero never settled at AC Milan but still has a lot to offer. 32 international goals to his name and a mesmeric career behind him, Ronny’s bucktooth smile will be missed in Argentina

Other unlucky players to have missed the cut are Internacional’s Leandro Damaio, who is a £15 million target for Arsenal and Spurs, and Villarreal’s Nilmar who continues to impress at El Madrigal.

An unwanted team capable of potentially winning the tournament shows the Selecao’s strength in depth and continual production of top class, world beating players. Mano Menezes’ side start their campaign on July 3rd against Venezuela, and will no doubt prove to be real contenders to retain their crown come the final on July 25th.

Published – http://afootballreport.com/post/6716295666/brazils-strength-in-depth-the-players-that-didnt

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