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Euro 2012 quarterfinals preview

Just give us a chance, coach!

Alright folks, the first round is done. Sorry I didn’t get in the final two days of highlights, but they were mostly anticlimactic anyway, except for maybe the disallowed Ukraine goal and the two very good goals from Balotelli and Ibrahimovic. Anyway, on to the quarterfinals! All times Pacific.

Thursday, June 21

Czech Republic vs. Portugal. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) Probably the least expected – and also least boosted by star power of the four games. Which is amazing, considering His Hair Gel is playing. Yes, I mean Cristiano Ronaldo. Nonetheless, it should be a good match. Portugal is favored, but the Czechs have been very good since their tourney-opening thumping at the hands of the Russians. Since neither team could really be called an offensive juggernaut, what happens is pretty much down to how successful the Czechs (and right back Theodor Gebrie-Selassie, who has been quite good so far) contain Ronaldo. The winner of this takes on the winner of Spain-France. Prediction: I want to pick the Czechs, but I just can’t. Portugal 1-0.

Friday, June 22

Germany vs. Greece. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) The other big shock of the tournament so far, with the Greeks coming back to knock off the heavily favored Russians. If they pulled off the upset again, it would be a really really really big upset. It’s not impossible, but this is an aging Greek team, not as defensively sound as in the past, with arguably the worst forward pool in the competition. Germany, meanwhile have stars at every position and are probably the most unstoppable attacking force in the tournament. But hey, it could happen, right? The winner takes on the winner of England-Italy. Prediction: Germany 3-0

Saturday, June 23

Spain vs. France. (11:45 a.m., ESPN2) This is the one game in the quarterfinals that is on ESPN2 – we can only presume that the Tennessee high school girls’ championship is on at this time. The media seemed pretty shocked that France, which was basically qualified by this point, didn’t seem all that upset to lose to Sweden in their final match, thus ceding the group to England and meaning France takes on Spain. Here’s the thing, though: France would probably have to play Spain at some point in the tourney anyway, and the winner takes on either the Czechs or Portugal, far less daunting than a possible semifinal date with Germany. So in a way, it makes sense. the defending champs haven’t lost a match yet, but aside from a 4-0 win over hapless Ireland, they haven’t been convincing. Prediction: France pulls the upset, 2-1.

Sunday, June 24

England vs. Italy. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) As kind of noted in the Spain-France preview, I thought people’s reactions to the seeding from Group D was curious. England fans cheered wildly with news that they were getting Italy instead of Spain in the quarterfinals. It’s true, Spain would probably beat England, but Italy are also very good. There is a question whether an England team with a not quite fit Wayne Rooney, an underperforming Ashley Young, and well, Andy Carroll (I think Danny Welbeck is decent, so I’m not including him) will be able to break down an organized Italian defense. They struggled to do just that against France (no shock there) and Ukraine, and both teams were inept defensively in the match with Sweden, so this will be the English team’s first chance to show they can score goals against a good defensive team. Italy aren’t high scoring, but Andrea Pirlo has played well, and their rotating cast of forwards has shown at least one guy can pop up and put the ball in the back of the net. Prediction: 1-1, Italy wins on penalties.

Euro 2012: Match Day 7 highlights

Antonio Cassano: Totally straight

TV Schedule

Croatia 1, Italy 1: Heading into this match, a lot of the debate was about whether or not Italy coach Cesare Prandelli would bench Antonio Cassano for saying he hoped there were no gays on the Italy team. In the end, Cassano played, and Italy were very good in the first half – particularly Andrea Pirlo, who is a great player, even if he’s an old man with terrible hair. Pirlo scored the opening goal with a fantastic free kick that you’ll see in the highlight reels. Croatia were much improved in the second half and equalized through Mario Mandzukic, who now has three goals, tied with Mario Gomez and Alan Dzagoev for the tourney high. Croatia were probably the stronger toward the end of the game, but didn’t score – nonetheless, they are tied with Spain atop Group C. Italy now needs to win its finale against Ireland by at least two goals to advance.

Spain 4, Ireland 0: Fernando Torres reminded all of us why he was once considered one of the world’s greatest strikers by scoring twice in Spain’s predictable thrashing of Ireland. David Silva and Cesc Fabregas also scored. Lost in the bad scoreline was a very good performance by Aston Villa keeper Shay Given, who had a number of very good saves in the match. Ireland are eliminated. Spain should advance to the second round with a draw against Croatia.

Group C standings

1. Spain 1-1-0, 4 pts
2. Croatia 1-1-0, 4 pts
3. Italy 0-2-0, 2 pts
4. Ireland 0-0-2, 0 pts

Who will advance

Spain will advance to the next round with a draw against Croatia, as long as Italy doesn’t beat Ireland by five goals. They will also advance if Italy fails to beat Ireland.
Croatia will advance with a draw against Spain as long as Italy doesn’t beat Ireland by three goals or beat Ireland by two goals and score at least three. They will also advance if Italy fails to beat Ireland.
Italy will advance with a win against Ireland by at least three goals or a two-goal win where Italy scores at least three times, or a win against Ireland coupled with a victory for either Spain or Croatia.
Ireland is eliminated.

Power Rankings

1. Germany (2-0-0, 6 pts). Up next: Denmark, June 17

2. Spain (1-1-0, 4 pts). Up next: Ireland, June 14

3. Croatia (1-1-0, 4 pts). Drew 1-1 with Italy. The Croats had most of the good play in the second half of the match against Italy, but will be disappointed not to win. Now they will have to play their best to beat the defending champs. Up next: Spain, June 18

3. Ukraine (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: France, June 15

4. Russia (1-1-0, 4 pts). Up next: Greece, June 16

5. Portugal (1-0-1, 3 pts). Up next: Netherlands, June 17

6. Czech Republic (1-0-1, 3 pts). Up next: Poland, June 16

7. Italy (0-2-0, 2 pts). After a solid first half, Italy narrowly escaped from their Croatia match with a point. They will need to score as many goals as possible against Ireland if they want to advance to the next round. Up next: Croatia, June 14

9. France (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Ukraine, June 15

10. England (0-1-0 1 pt). Up next: Sweden, June 15

11. Denmark (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: Germany, June 17

12. Poland (0-2-0, 2 pts). Up next: Czech Republic, June 16

13. Sweden (0-0-1, 0 pts). Up next: England, June 15

14. Greece (0-1-1, 1 pt). Up next: Russia, June 16

15. Netherlands (0-0-2, 0 pts). Up next: Portugal, June 17

16. Ireland (0-0-2, 0 pts). The Irish fought hard, but just don’t have the talent to beat most of the teams in this tournament. Up next: Italy, June 18

Player of the Day: Fernando Torres, Spain. It seems like ages since Torres had a good game, but with two goals could he be returning to his past form?

Disappointment of the day: Richard Dunne, Ireland. Realistically, Dunne at the height of his youth would’ve had trouble with this Spain team, but now in his 30s, he definitely couldn’t cope with their speed or skill.

Goal of the day: Andrea Pirlo, Italy

All-Euro All-Disappointing Rankings

1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
2. Christian Eriksen, Denmark
3. Ashley Young, England
4. Ibrahim Affelay, Netherlands
5. Robin Van Persie, Netherlands

Euro 2012: Match Day 3 highlights

Unlike Fernando Torres, Soccer Kitty would finish in front of an open net

TV Schedule

Spain 1, Italy 1: A weird match that featured one team playing without a striker (Spain) against one playing with three central defenders (Italy, obviously). Italy actually had much of the good play, as Spain often seemed to have no outlet for its fancy schmancy passing, but didn’t score until Antonio Di Natale came on for Mario Balotelli and scored with basically his first touch of the match. Spain equalized through Cesc Fabregas, and then we were treated to 20 minutes of the usual “Remember How Good Fernando Torres Used To Be?” Show. Both teams are still in good shape to advance, though they’ll both want to beat Croatia for it to happen.

Croatia 3, Ireland 1: A lot of neutral observers (including me, probably) were hoping that Ireland would shock their way into the second round, but after this match, it looks pretty unlikely. They were largely outclassed by Croatia, and it might not get any better against Italy or Spain. Mario Mandzukic scored twice for the Croats thanks to some shaky Irish defending, and Nikica Jelavic scored the other. Sean St. Ledger became the first defender to score in the tournament with the lone Irish goal. Croatia are probably a draw away from advancing, though it’ll still be tough in this group.

Power Rankings

1. Russia (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: Poland, June 12

2. Croatia (1-0-0, 3 pts). The Croats were tipped by many to reach the semis, and outclassed Ireland in their first match. If they can get a point against either Italy or Spain, they should be able to advance. Up next: Italy

3. Denmark (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: Portugal, June 13

4. Germany (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: Netherlands, June 13

5. Italy (0-1-0, 1 pt). No one really knew what to expect out of Italy after all the match-fixing allegations and injury, but based on their performance in the opener, their match with Croatia should be a good one. Up next: Croatia, June 14

6. Spain (0-1-0, 1 pt). A draw against a good team isn’t a bad way to start off the tourney, but the defending champs need to figure out who to play at striker if they want to advance out of this group, much less repeat. Up next: Ireland, June 14

7. Greece (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Czech Republic, June 12

8. Poland (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Russia, June 12

9. Portugal (0-0-1, 0 pts). Lost 1-0 to Germany. Up next: Denmark, June 13

10. Netherlands (0-0-1, 0 pts). Lost 1-0 to Denmark. Up next: Germany, June 13

11. Ireland (0-0-1, 0 pts). Lost to Croatia 3-1. A team with limited talent needs to play relatively mistake-free football, but the Irish didn’t do that against Croatia. Now in Italy and Spain, they face two teams that might just be too good. Up next: Spain, June 14

12. Czech Republic (0-0-1, 0 pt). Up next: Greece, June 12

Player of the Day: Mario Mandzukic, Croatia. The free-agent striker will certainly not have hurt his employment opportunities with an all-action display and two goals, tying him with Alan Dzagoev for the lead so far in the tournament.

Disappointment of the day: It is getting to the point where people have to struggle to remember when Fernando Torres was one of the most-feared strikers in the world. Now he seems almost Heskey-esque.

Goal of the day: Cesc Fabregas, Spain

Players Who Will Suddenly Be Wanted All Across Europe Even Though No One Had Heard Of Them Until Now Rankings

1. Alan Dzagoev, Russia
2. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
3. Theodor Gebrie Selassie, Czech Republic
4. Pryzemyslaw Tyton, Poland
5. Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Greece

Euro 2012 Preview

I don’t even really need to write a caption

Preview | TV Listings | Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

On Friday, the European Championship begins, and the biggest question going into it is “Can a Spain team that will be without its all-time leading scorer (David Villa) or one of its defensive stalwarts (Carlos Puyol) be able to be the first team to win three successive major tournaments, especially with the likes of Germany, France and the Netherlands gunning for them, or will they wilt under pressure like the Spain teams of old?” It is possible to shorten it to “Can Spain win again?” but then it would only be the most pressing question, not the biggest. Get it? Because it’s really long?

Oh man I’m good.

Anyway, you get the feeling that this Spain team is perhaps more beatable than the last two additions, what with Villa and Puyol’s absence, the fact players like Xavi  and Xabi are getting older, and the fulcrum of the attack, Fernando Torres, has been, shall we say, less than prolific lately? Nonetheless, the mind-numbingly dull way Spain ground out the 2010 World Cup title shows that they are a team that doesn’t need to be firing on all cylinders to beat Europe’s other top teams.

The Netherlands and Germany are considering Spain’s main challengers, with other old standbys like France, Italy, Portugal and, ahem, England, thought to be longshots to win the title. Italy, however, is undergoing it’s yearly match-fixing scandal and has been rocked by player injuries. England has also had its share of injuries, and France in the post-Domenech era is still a bit of an unknown quantity (But I think they’ll be good). The Dutch and Germans stream-rolled through the qualifying process, though it remains to be seen if the Germans are still reeling from Bayern’s penalty shootout loss to Chelsea in Champions League.

Pre-Euro All-Euro Team

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon, Italy. The Italians will struggle to advance to the knockout round, but if they don’t make it, it won’t be the fault of Buffon, who allowed the least goals in the European club season and saw his team, Juventus stay undefeated in all competitions until the last match of the season.

Defender: Gerard Pique, Spain. Pique has struggled this season, but must be dominant for Spain, particularly with Puyol’s absence, if they have any hope of repeating.

Defender: Mats Hummels, Germany. Hummels has quietly been the defensive linchpin of the best team in Germany. With error-prone defenders Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng his competition for a starting spot, he should get a shot.

Defender: Ashley Cole, England. England is suffering an injury crisis, is missing Wayne Rooney through suspension and elected not to pick Anton Ferdinand due to a row with fellow defender John Terry about racially abusing his brother, but Cole is a good player, even if he’s just in it for the money.

Defender: Gregory Van Der Wiel, Netherlands. The Ajax full-back is highly coveted by many European teams, and since the Dutch’s only “weak” point is probably their defense, he’ll need to play well.

Midfielder: Xavi Hernandez, Spain. Spain’s midfield metronome might be playing his last tournament (unless he decides to try and stick around for World Cup 2014, when he’ll be 34), so enjoy his ball retention and passing range while you still can, casual fans.

Midfielder: Christian Ericksen, Denmark. Denmark are almost always woefully disappointing in these tournaments, but Ericksen, one of Europe’s most sought after young players, will at least show glimmers of his talent, especially when paired with Christian Poulsen, who is like the Winston Garland of European soccer. (That is for NBA fans)

Midfielder: Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands. I feel like Sneijder is a good player who gets unfairly slapped with the “World Class” tag more than he should, but nonetheless, he starts for the Dutch, and if he ever wants to get out of the aging morass of the Inter Milan team, he’ll need to have a good tournament.

Midfielder: David Silva, Spain. I think technically Andres Iniesta is more important to Spain, but hey, we need to get some wingers in there, right? Silva is clearly one of the best in the world, as his assist total (22 in all competitions for Manchester City) shows.

Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal. Ronaldo is a winger for Real Madrid, but starts at forward for Portugal, and though he doesn’t often show it for the national team, he is far and away the most talented offensive player in this tournament, even if you want someone, anyone, to take a red card for smacking him.

Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden. My first impulse was to pick Robin Van Persie for this spot, except for two things: 1. There are already enough Dutch players on this team. 2. If this was an actual team, we’d need someone that didn’t spend all their time fussing with Ronaldo over hair gel and who gets the shower next, and Zlatan isn’t what you’d call a pretty boy, though I’m sure he probably thinks he is the most handsome guy in the history of the universe.

Who will win, from first to last

1. Spain
2. Germany
3. Netherlands
4. France
5. Portugal
6. Croatia
7. Italy
8. Sweden
9. England
10. Russia
11. Poland
12. Greece
13. Ukraine
14. Ireland
15. Czech Republic
16. Denmark

EURO 2012 Preview: Group C

Super Mario needs to be on his best behavior if Italy hopes to win

Preview | TV Listings | Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

Spain

Ranking: 1; Qualifying record: 8-0-0; Best finish: Champion, 1964, 2008; Coach: Vicente Del Bosque; Nickname: La Roja
Spain is bidding to become the first team ever to win three consecutive major tournaments (2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup, now), and they’d have to be considered the odds-on favorite. However, missing top scorer David Villa and stalwart defender Carlos Puyol, they might be as vulnerable as they’ll ever be. Which is to say, not that vulnerable.
Player to watch: Fernando Torres. After a disappointing, well, 18 months, the Chelsea striker will have possibly his last chance to show he’s still a world class forward in this tournament. Spain will be missing Villa, so Torres (or if not him, Fernando Llorente or Alvaro Negredo) will have to pick up the slack.

Italy

Ranking: 12; Qualifying record: 8-2-0; Best finish: Champion, 1968; Coach: Cesare Prandelli; Nickname: Azzuri
The usually reliably good, if a bit boring, Italians come into this tournament with expectations as low as they can get with this team, especially after their recent home defeats to the U.S. and Uruguay. This might serve to help this team shock some people in this tournament, but with their usual quality lacking (Diamante? Borini? Giaccherini? Who are these guys), it probably won’t happen.
Player to watch: Twin terrors. Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano are undoubtedly two of the most talented players in world football, but they are also arguably the two most unhinged players in world football. So they’ll either score lots of goals, or as Balotelli threatened in the event of racial abuse, walk off the field and kill someone.

Republic of Ireland

Ranking: 18; Qualifying record: 4-3-1 (beat Estonia in playoff); Best finish: Group stage, 1988; Coach: Giovanni Trappatoni; Nickname: The Boys in Green
Ireland are kind of a pleasing story for the casual fan, making only their second appearance in the tourney after missing out on the World Cup in 2010 on a Thierry Henry handball. In a group where only Spain could be considered a dead-on certainty to advance to the next round, it wouldn’t be too big of a shock to see Ireland advance to the knockout stages.
Player to watch: Robbie Keane. After a middling start to the MLS season, the LA Galaxy striker is probably relieved to be back with the national team, who he generally excels with. Whether he gets enough time and space to score goals in this tournament is another matter.

Croatia

Ranking: 8; Qualifying record: 5-1-2 (Beat Turkey); Best finish: Quarter-finals, 1996, 2008; Coach: Slaven Bilic; Nickname: Vatreni
Croatia are generally a competitive squad, and performed well in the last Euros, but have only won one out of their last 10 matches against teams that are appearing in this tournament. Whether they advance is largely dependent on getting off to a good start in their opening match against Ireland.
Player to watch: Luka Modric. Tottenham Hotspur’s pint-sized midfielder endured a difficult campaign as Spurs narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification. It’s possible that he’ll again push for a transfer to a bigger club like he did last year – will this tournament be his chance to push up his market value?

Matches

June 10

Spain vs. Italy
Ireland vs. Croatia

June 14

Italy vs. Croatia
Spain vs. Ireland

June 18

Croatia vs. Spain
Italy vs. Ireland

Jeremiah says: I’m one of those people that are tired of Spain’s domination at international and club level (I know Chelsea won the Champions League, but 9 times out of 10 they would’ve lost to Barca in the semis), so I’m secretly hoping that they stumble somehow. But with a relatively easy group, it’s probably not going to happen here. The other qualifier isn’t quite so easy to predict. Italy is missing some key pieces due to injury or match-fixing allegations, and neither Croatia or Ireland are dominant forces in world football. That will probably make for an interesting tournament, though.

Prediction

1. Spain
2. Croatia
3. Italy
4. Ireland

Handicapping World Cup 2026

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Hi all. Welcome to Only Love Soccer’s at-least-partially tongue-in-cheek look at who might win the right to hold the World Cup in 2026. This year’s “Decision 2010″ as someone, somewhere probably called it was a bit more contentious than usual, with England self-destructing amid a fire of accusations of corruption, Russia (who will host the World Cup in 2018), having their celebrity guest in Vladimir Putin withdraw at the last moment with claims of corruption, and the U.S. and Australia having Morgan Freeman and Hugh Jackman engage in a to-the-death cage match. OK, I made up that last part. Anyway, now that World Cups 2018 and 2022 have been dealt out – to Russia and Qatar, respectively, let’s have a look at who will be trying to get the World Cup in 2026.

China – The Middle Kingdom has been a bit of a football afterthought for, well, its entire history, but with their economy growing by leaps and bounds, the country seemingly embracing a slightly less turbulent view on free speech and minority rights (emphasis on slightly), it seems logical to think that China will make a big push for 2026. The Chinese soccer team has been probably the worst of any major country, but they’ve started to make a bit of progress on the world stage after their painful appearance at the 2002 World Cup (three losses, no goals scored, nine conceded), winning the 2010 East Asian Championship and looking likely to advance deep into the 2011 Asian Cup. With the country’s rapid growth and importance on the world stage, it will be hard for FIFA to justify not letting them have a World Cup, especially with the country’s relative success at hosting the Olympic games in 2008.
Pros: Growing economy; diehard fans; established venues; up-and-coming team; experienced at hosting world events
Cons: Cultural Revolution; big brother; baijiu
Odds: 3-2
Editor’s note: It’s been pointed out, and rightly so, that China can’t get it with Qatar hosting the previous World Cup. Our apologies for this oversight.

United States – English fans might shudder at the thought of their little brothers getting to host another World Cup before they do, but FIFA can’t possibly make the United States wait 36 years between World Cups, can they? Add to that the fact that most soccer pundits, myself included, have been banging the “The U.S. will be a soccer power within x amount of years” drum for quite a while now, and in theory, 2026 or thereabouts should feature an American team of exquisite skill and determination, not unlike Spain 2010.  Or at least, that’s what we’ll say today.
Pros: Americans love to spend money; super-nice venues; lots of money to throw around; theoretically decent team
Cons: The U.S. has a habit of “angering” other countries; FIFA likes to spread the love around a bit; American sports fans tend to be critical of the sport at large
Odds: 2-1

England – The English probably think that they should host every World Cup. Unfortunately, generally speaking, FIFA generally treats England like the prodigal son it’s always ashamed of, which is why it’s hard to ever believe Great Britain will host the World Cup anytime soon. FIFA and UEFA also seem to be openly critical of the dominance of England’s Premier League, though that has seemed to wane a bit the last couple years ago. With that said, it’s also hard to see the country being bypassed again, so if they don’t get World Cup 2026, they will probably at least get one of the European Championships. Surely, right?
Pros: Birthplace of football; world’s most passionate fans; state-of-the-art facilities; established team
Cons: English snobbery; FIFA’s occasionally difficult relationship with the English FA
Odds: 15-4

Australia: For me, if the USA doesn’t get the World Cup, I personally would like to see Australia get it. Why? Well Australia is a great country that has never had a world event of this caliber, at least that I can remember. Imagine watching Slovenia v Uruguay in Perth, then traveling to Sidney to watch China take on the Socceroos with Elle MacPherson. It’s hard to say what state the Australian football team will be in by 2026, but South Africa weren’t exactly dominant in this last World Cup, not sure if you notice that. And Qatar? Does Qatar even have a team? (Yes, I know they have a team.
Pros: Country has never hosted a World Cup; modern country with nice facilities; football team are sort of a modern day Bad News Bears – quirky upstarts you can’t help but cheer for
Cons: It’s not China or the USA, and the English would probably be even more upset if Australia got it and they didn’t than if the US did. “‘At wuz our bloo’y prison colony, innit!”
Odds: 6-1, were they still in the Oceania confederation – unfortunately, now they’re in Asia

Spain/Portugal – Spain and Portugal were probably the runners-up in the bid for World Cup 2018. Both countries have national teams which could be called legitimate world powers, unlike arguably any of the other four countries we have discussed. In addition, their status as also-rans for 2018 might give them a leg up over the competition. With that said, though, I find it hard to believe that the FIFA selection committee could justify giving the World Cup to a non-English-speaking country other than China for 2026. Also, with Spain, you always have to worry about people throwing stuff at officials and players while they’re on the field.
Pros: Beaches; beautiful women; competitive football teams; the 2010 World Champ is from Spain
Cons: Germany hosted a European World Cup in 2006 so FIFA might want to spread it around a bit; those headband string things the Spanish players wear
Odds: 8-1

Match report: Barcelona 5, Real Madrid 0

Monday’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid was interesting, not for the football on display, of which there was one clear victor, but rather because it allowed us to see the rare glimpse of a Jose Mourinho-coached team get utterly battered by their opponents. It was the worst loss ever by a Mourinho-coached team – the previous worst being a 3-0 loss to I think, Middlesbrough (go figure, right?). While this match certainly wasn’t a title-decider – Only 13 games in, Barcelona is leading by just two points, but Madrid fans and players have to be concerned by the way their team capitulated, particularly on defense, where they played as if they’d never seen, nor heard, about Barcelona’s style of play. In the end, Barcelona ended up with 67 percent possession, outshot Madrid 15-5, and probably could’ve scored more than five goals.

Some stats: In six matches against Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to score. Xavi Hernandez completed 110 passes before being subbed, most in La Liga this season. For some perspective, Stoke City completed 195 passes as an entire team against Manchester City. Real Madrid gave up five goals after conceding six total in their previous 12 matches in La Liga.

Scorers: Xavi (10), Pedro (18), Villa (55, 58), Jeffren (90+)

Player ratings:

Barcelona
Valdes, GK – 6: Didn’t have anything to do, but never looked like he would give up a goal
Puyol, D – 7: Typically rugged and uncompromising performance.
Pique, D – 6.5: Didn’t even notice him out there, but it didn’t matter.
Abidal, LB – 7: A good attacking display; also kept di Maria quiet on the right.
Alves, RB – 6.5
Busquets, DMF – 7: I know it seems weird to give relatively low scores in such a defeat, but Madrid were so ineffective I can’t say much about his play.
Iniesta, MF – 8.5: Typically great with passing. Along with Xavi, dominated the Madrid midfield.
Xavi, MF – 9: Scored a great goal, passed excellently. Typically world class.
Pedro, RW – 8: Scored second goal. Has been in good form lately, with six goals and an assist in his last six matches, all competitions.
Villa, LW – 8.5: Set up Pedro’s goal, then scored a brace in three minutes after the break.
Messi, F – 8.5: Assisted on both of Villa’s goal. Typical excellent passing and movement.
Bojan, SUB – 7: Nearly scored twice after coming on.
Keita, SUB – NR
Jeffren, SUB – NR

Real Madrid
Casillas, GK – 6: Has looked suspect lately, fumbling Villa’s pass for Pedro’s goal and letting Villa nutmeg him for the fourth goal.
Carvalho, D – 5.5: Yellow-carded for a handball, and probably lucky not to get a card for elbowing Messi earlier.
Pepe, D – 5: Seemed more eager to fight and argue than actually play defense.
Marcelo, LB – 4.5: Has been one of Madrid’s best players this year, but continually misplaced passes and was left for dead a couple times by Pedro.
Ramos, RB – 3: Might have been too caught up in the emotion of the game, making several mistakes in defense, then getting sent off for an idiotic foul and an even more idiotic slap at Puyol late in the game.
Xabi Alonso, MF – 4: A bystander as Xavi and Iniesta dictated the play in midfield.
Khedira, MF – 4.5: See Xabi Alonso’s description.
Ozil, AMF – 3.5: Utterly and completely missing in this match. Far below his abilities as a player. Withdrawn at half-time.
Ronaldo, LW – 5: Occasionally looked dangerous, then just petulant as the outcome of the match was decided early.
di Maria,  RW – 5.5: Didn’t have the best match, but deserves credit for at least trying in the second half, more than you could say for many Real Madrid players.
Benzema, F – 5: Didn’t have a chance to have any effect on the game.
Diarra, SUB – 5
Arbeloa, SUB – 5

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