MESSI STILL THE GREATEST

Lionel Messi might not have won the Ballon d’Or award, but, Gerardo Martino, the Barcelona boss, still considers him the greatest footballer going around at the minute.

The Ballon d’Or award for 2013 was won by Cristiano Ronaldo a couple of days ago and rightly so because he performed much better than Messi last year.

According to Martino, Ronaldo might have been a better performer than Messi in the last 1 year or so, but, if looked overall, Messi is still ahead of the Portuguese.

Speaking in one of his interviews yesterday, the Blaugrana boss said, “First of all, I would like to congratulate Ronaldo for getting the award. He deserved that because he had played well last year. But, as far as the best is concerned, it’s still Lionel for me. Yes, he has had tough times of late, but, there is no one better than him.”

Martino also made it clear that the Spanish centre-back Marc Bartra would be given a contract extension pretty soon.

Martino said, “Marc’s contract is to be extended and I am glad about that. He has developed a great deal in the last few months and he is definitely a star in the making.”

Bartra is a product of Barcelona academy. He had joined the club as 12 years old boy and has been a part of the Barcelona B team as well. For the senior team of Barcelona, he has so far played 23 La Liga matches and has scored 2 goals.

Barcelona’s next match is the Copa Del Rey pre quarter final against Getafe CF. That will be the return leg and Barca will go into it with a lot of confidence because they are already ahead by 4 goals on aggregate.

INJURY LIST GROWS

The list of injured players for Barcelona just keeps on piling up with Daniel Alves being the latest addition. The Argentine superstar Lionel Messi is already confirmed to be out from the playing fields for the remainder of the year while Victor Valdes and Jordi Alba also picked up an injury that will leave them in the sidelines for an undetermined time lapse.

The medical staff reported that Daniel Alves will take between 7-10 days in making a full recovery.

Barcelona are topping the Spanish league La Liga with 37 points just 3 points ahead of Atletico Madrid and their rivals Real Madrid sitting in 3rd place with 31 points. This means that any kind of slip up from the team of Tata Martino can be the difference in being at the top of the League or falling behind.

Lionel Messi received the Golden Shoe award for the 3rd time on Wednesday after scoring 46 goals last season becoming the 1st player ever to accomplish this task.

“This is a beautiful award that goes to the entire squad for what it has done. It is recognition of the Barcelona dressing room and of all that the team has been doing all year,” Messi said. “It is a group award more than an individual one because those are a lot of goals. I wouldn’t have won it without them, this one or the previous ones.”

It seems however that the Golden Shoe award came at a high price for Messi as he being burdened by injuries in this season only allowing him to score 8 goals in this season and not gonna be able to play up until January.

Even though Barcelona will have to play without Messi and Valdes, Tata Martino is confident his team can cope with their absence.

“We will be without the best player in the world and without the best shot-stopper in the world, but I have little doubt that we will cope without them. We have some great players to replace them,” the Barca coach stated at a press conference.

MARTINO CRITICISED

Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino has come under criticism in recent weeks for the different style of football that he has been trying to implement at the club. Barcelona are widely known around the world for the passing stellar football while they keep possession for long periods of the match. They are even known to have in excess of 70% possession in some matches. However, the club recently had a match where they kept less than 50% of the ball for the first time in five years. Despite winning the match against Rayo Vallecano 4-0, Martino has come under a lot of criticism.

He has responded to this criticism by saying that it is normal that any manager of Barcelona who is not one of their own or isn’t of Dutch origin is going to be criticised. He has pointed out to the statistics where Barcelona kept 66% of the ball last season. He has said that this is the average position of the club has been 65.8%. So, he feels that the criticism of his managerial abilities is not right at this stage especially when Barcelona are at the top of the table with a perfect record. Martino stated after the Rayo Vallecano match that he wanted Barcelona to have a different dimension as well.

“We don’t want to change anything. Last year Barça had an average of 66% and now we’re at 65.8%. He said that each game needs to be analysed to see if it is essential to keep possession or not. Possession is very important for Barcelona. It was for Newell’s too. But it’s true that you need to look at the characteristics of your opponents, at previous games, and if the same coach is still in place,” said Martino in response to the criticism in recent weeks.

VILANOVA LEAVES

Barcelona recently parted ways with manager Tito Vilanova due to the health concerns of the former assistant manager. He had been a manager at the club for only one year during which time he helped the club lift the la Liga title. However, his issues with cancer meant that Vilanova had to resign from his job by saying that he would not have been able to give 100% to the club. This left Barcelona looking for their second manager in a year. They have managed to bring in Gerardo Martino as his replacement. The Argentine coach has signed a two-year contract with the club.

Martino has been hugely successful coach in Argentine football and he is right now in charge of Newell’s Old Boys. He helped the club in the Argentine title last season. It is believed that the Spanish club managed to confirm his appointment after conducting a video conferencing call. He is set to sign the papers and he will be arriving in Barcelona shortly in order to do so. This is not the first time Barcelona have gone down the route of appointing an Argentine manager. This, however, will be the first job outside the South American continent for the 50-year-old manager.

“We know about his career, he is a very good coach. He likes Barcelona’s playing style. I think all the names mentioned are capable of coaching this team. We have a certain way of playing; a philosophy. The coach that comes in will follow that line and I’m sure that Zubi (sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta) and the directors want a coach that can adapt to our characteristics,” said the Barcelona captain, Carlos Puyol about the new manager.

Martino will have to win the league title and also the Champions league in his first season at the club.

SUCCESSFUL SEASON

Despite suffering an embarrassing exit in the Champions League, Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova has said that the whole season has been a success for the team. Barcelona recently managed to win the fourth league title in five seasons, but the team has suffered disappointments in the cup competitions this season. This is especially true in the case of the Champions League in which they suffered an embarrassing defeat against Bayern Munich in the semifinals. The team was beaten 7-0 on aggregate. This has raised a lot of questions about the manager Vilanova.

However, he has said that the season gone by has been a success and people should not look at the final few months of the season alone. Barcelona have suffered numerous injuries in the last few months, while their manager only recently returned from cancer treatment in New York. The team managed to wrap up the title after the 2-1 win against Atletico Madrid during the weekend. Barcelona came into the match with an opportunity to wrap up the title after Real Madrid’s draw with Espanyol.

One of the major reasons for Barcelona being ineffective against Bayern Munich was the absence of Lionel Messi or for his presence in a partially fit condition.

“It has been a good season. The shame has been that we couldn’t compete better in the Champions League. Next season it will be even more difficult because to be in the semi-finals seven years running is very complicated, but the evaluation of the season is good because in the league we have had a great season. In the Champions League we were not fortunate and the referees haven’t helped us a lot. We are the best team in the league by a distance and there is no doubt about that,” said Vilanova after winning the title.

GUARDIOLA RETURNS

The former Barcelona manager Guardiola recently announced that he will be returning from his year-long sabbatical as the manager of Bayern Munich. The German club have been successful in their attempts to pursue one of the most successful managers in world football over the last four years. His former assistant manager at Barcelona – Tito Vilanova, who is currently in charge of the Spanish club now, has said that he is extremely delighted that Guardiola is back in football management once again. The former Barcelona manager not only made Barcelona successful, but by playing an attractive style of football.

He will be taking over from the current manager Jupp Heynckes at the end of the season. Vilanova has said that he is even though he is delighted at the return of Guardiola, he did not know prior to the announcement where he would be heading. Vilanova worked under Guardiola for four years as the assistant manager at Barcelona. He has since taken over the full-time management role at the club, and he has been responsible for the best start made by any Spanish club to a league season. The club has managed to drop just two points in the first half of the season before finally suffering the first defeat against Real Sociedad.

“I didn’t know where he was going, I didn’t know anything. I suppose he couldn’t say. I’m very happy that he’s returning to football and to one of Europe’s great clubs. I don’t know what possible teams he could have gone to, nor the kinds of contracts he was offered but I’m sure they were all of the top level. He had time to choose and would have thought it all over very well. What’s clear is that he couldn’t go wrong because they were all top teams,” said Vilanova.

NOT COMPLETELY RECOVERED

The Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova has said that he is far from being completely covered from the cancer he was recently diagnosed. The 44-year-old has been undergoing treatment for the cancer problems through chemotherapy and radiation. He missed a few weeks of the action for Barcelona, but recently returned to the dugout in the 4-0 win over Espanyol during the weekend. It was a comfortable result for the manager, whose health condition has been the main priority at the club over the last couple of weeks. Barcelona could not have had a better news than the 4-0 win over Espanyol.

The current world player of the year Lionel Messi scored after just 29 min on the clock with a penalty. Messi finished the year 2012 with 91 goals in all competitions, and he is already off the mark for 2013. The victory was made comfortable due to the early goal from Xavi, who opened the scoring after just 10 min on the clock. Pedro then scored two goals in the space of 12 min to give Barcelona a 3-0 advantage, which was then made 4-0 by the penalty from Lionel Messi. Even though Barcelona did not score the remainder of the match, it was enough to maintain the massive advantage at the top of the table.

“This is not over yet and there will be days that I can take training and others I can’t but I want the media to realise that this illness is mine and it is private even if I am a public figure. I would like to thank everyone for their support. This club has had a lot of knocks in the last couple of years but I always want to take the positive approach. What has happened to me could have happened to anyone,” said Vilanova.

REAL STILL IN IT

The Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova has said that he will not write off the chances of Real Madrid winning the title this season, despite the fact that their arch rivals are 11 points behind them in the table. It has been a strange season in Le Liga this time around, as Real Madrid have been unable to exert the same dominance as they have done in the past. The current champions also are behind Barcelona by 11 points in the table even at this early stage in the season. They have already suffered three defeats in the league, with the latest coming during the weekend.

Despite this massive advantage over their arch rivals, Barcelona will not be writing off the challenge from Real Madrid according to Tito Vilanova. Real Madrid will be playing against Athletico Madrid, who are eight points ahead of the in the table, during the weekend, while Barcelona will be up against Atletic Bilbao. Even though in the past, the Madrid derby has been a source of regular three points for Real Madrid, many reckon that it will be tough this time around. As a result, there is a chance that this lead might increase to 14 points by the end of this week. Barcelona will be able to set a new record for their best start to a new season by beating Atletic Bilbao.

“I wouldn’t give them up for dead. It’s not normal that we win all our matches. We should prepare ourselves for when we lose. We are talking about maybe being 14 points ahead [of Real] after tomorrow but maybe we’ll end the weekend only eight in front,” said the Barcelona manager ahead of this match. Athletico Madrid are the closest contenders for Barcelona, as they are just three points behind the Catalan club.

MOURINHO NOT WORRIED

The Real Madrid manager José Mourinho has said that he is not worried about the eight-point lead that Barcelona currently have at the top of the table. Due to the indifferent form in the early part of the campaign, Real Madrid allowed Barcelona to open an eight-point advantage in the division. The Spanish la Liga is one of the most competitive for the top two teams because they rarely drop points. Hence, there is a feeling that the eight-point gap might be a little too large for Real Madrid to close even at this early stage of the season.

The former Chelsea manager, though, reckons that it is only October and not March. Real Madrid had a 10 point advantage over Barcelona last season, but that was closed down to very dangerous levels before they eventually won the title. As a result, there is always the chance of closing the gap when there is a lot of matches remaining according to the manager of Real Madrid. José Mourinho saw Barcelona win handsomely 5-0 against Rayo Vallecano. Real Madrid also repeated the same result with a 5-0 win over Mallorca. Cristiano Ronaldo was once again the outstanding player for Real Madrid in this match.

“We were 10 points ahead of the second in March last season in March and we have always felt that the league is open. Today it’s not March; it is only October and November. There are not 10 points there are only eight, so we have to keep going and ignore our big rivals (Barcelona), and in this case two because Atletico Madrid also have an important advantage over us,” said Mourinho. Real Madrid lost the opportunity to close the gap to 5 points in the recently concluded El Clasico, which finished in a 2-2 draw.