Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

“Men against boys” is an expression that springs to mind having witnessed what is undoubtedly the best performance of the season thus far, if not the decade. It’s five Classico victories from five for Barcelona supremo Pep Guardiola, with his most recent triumph fantastically surpassing the four that have gone before – yes, even the 6-2 spanking in May of ’09.

Superlatives are wasted in an effort to encapsulate the quality of Barcelona’s performance, as quite frankly, a word to describe such an outstanding display of the beautiful game has yet to be concocted by Oxford’s boffins. Messi & co. mesmerized Madrid with their meticulous passing and mazing runs from start to finish, and from front to back. As always, defending doggedly from the front on the very rare occasions they were lacking possession, Barca shut down their inferior opponents from the first whistle and tore Los Blancos’ embarrassing offside trap to pieces on countless occasions like a hot knife through butter.

Driven by the irrepressible Lionel Messi, Guardiola’s men dismantled Mourinho’s war machine in devastating fashion. Although not on the score sheet himself, the world’s finest footballer was instrumental in dictating proceedings and turned provider for his team mates on a number of occasions. His usual array of dazzling dribbling combined with a Xavi-esque trajectory ensured that the new age “Galacticos” had no way to halt his (and Barca’s) relentless advances.

Messi epitomised everything that Barcelona were about last night. He was, as always, at his brilliant best. Unlike his main rival Cristiano Ronaldo who’s lacklustre display personified Madrid as a whole. When can the “argument” be put to bed? The Argentinian wizard is as far ahead of his rival as Barcelona are ahead of Los Blancos. Light years.

Messi was certainly not alone in putting his arch rivals to the sword as the boys in blaugrana hardly put a toe out of place on a night where everything went right for the home side. The goals coming courtesy of midfield mastermind, Xavi Hernandez, Pedro Rodriquez and a brilliant brace from ex-Valencia hitman David Villa making his classico debut in front of a packed house in the Camp Nou ensured the result was a foregone conclusion before second-half substitute, Jeffren rubbed further salt in the wounds of the mortified Madristas.

Real Madrid were reduced to school yard bullying and heavy handed tactics long before the curtain came crashing down in Catalunya. Born out of the frustration stemming from possession starvation and the unsettling feeling of inadequacy in the face of Barcelona’s “champagne” football, the men in white lost their cool and showed their blatant lack of class as they were utterly humiliated in the biggest game of the season. With a number of cautions, Mourinho’s men were slightly fortunate to finish the game with ten men as Ricardo Carvahlo’s deliberate handball in the 71st minute should have warranted a dismissal long before Sergio Ramos collected his second red card of the week for a vicious lunge on Messi, followed by altercations with both Xavi and Barcelona captain, Carles Puyol.

The match was never even a contest as the hosts imposed their beautiful brand of “Total Football” on their hapless opponents. Every player in the Barca colours performed admirably as they made Madrid look like a second tier outfit, a far cry from the table toppers of La Liga. Before an hour had even elapsed, the men in white were out on their feet, akin to a punch drunk prize fighter begging for the bell. The only member of the Madrid staff, both playing and coaching, to show any humility in defeat, was unusually, Jose Mourinho who will make no excuses for the thrashing his side received at the hands of their title rivals tonight. Being an individual who does not tolerate failure, the Portuguese prima donna will be under no illusions that his board of directors will show him any mercy following one of the most embarrassing evenings in the club’s illustrious history.

Sour grapes leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many following the culmination of last night’s events. But the sombre mood in Madrid would certainly not have been mirrored in Barcelona as the victors would have enjoyed a carnival atmosphere in Catalunya. With Valencia just around the corner for Los Blancos, Mourinho will be hoping his side can gather themselves and recover in time for what will be their second big test of this season’s campaign against David Villa’s former colleagues. Having surrendered their advantage in the title race, Real Madrid must navigate a tricky run of fixtures to ensure they don’t lose touch with their mighty rivals, and the points gap becomes as vast as the gulf in class between the two sides.


Love ’em or hate them, the “Hard Men” of English football have stalked the hallowed turf since the game’s invention. A savage and unique specimen of player, revered by their own yet chastised by all at their mercy. Brutally disposing of those who dare stand in their way, leaving carnage in their wake as they drive their sides to victory…..and they don’t appear to be leaving any time soon……

From the days of Leeds United’s ruthless general Billy Bremner and Chelsea “tough nut” Chopper Harris to bruisers of more recent times, such as Steven Gerrard, Patrick Vieira and our very own Roy Keane to name but a few. Invariably the heart beat of the team, and more often than not the single most contributing factor to the club’s success. Inevitably, as a direct result of the role they assume, these players walk the tight rope between greatness and gore. Labelled as dirty players by rival fans and pundits, yet idolised for their passion and heart amidst the ranks of their own loyal subjects.

It is the respect they command and subsequent influence they possess over their fellow players that makes them ideal candidates for captaincy. Manchester United’s treble winning campaign of 98/99 was anchored by Keane, Arsenal’s “Invincibles” were driven by Vieira and the only reason Anfield still requires a trophy case is due, almost entirely, to Steven Gerrard.

In tandem with their phenomenal ability, these players developed a ruthless approach to ensuring victory and success for their respective clubs, quite often by any means necessary – Keane racked up a staggering 13 red cards, including one for a career ending knee-high lunge on Haaland in 2001.

This mentality ensured that many games would be won before a ball was even kicked with the damning psychological affects all too evident  when rival players took to the pitch. Not just as a result of the deep set fear of imminent defeat but also for their personal safety.

Nothing instills confidence in a player more than the stench of fear wafting from the oppositions dressing room just prior to kick off. A few yellow cards and a handful of suspensions is deemed a small price to pay in exchange for a psychological edge of that magnitude in the eyes of many managers.

And even though, players of the quality of the 3 champions mentioned above don’t emerge very often, the  “Hard Man” approach they adopted is alive and well in England’s top tier. You need look no further than the Premiership this season to see that the teams adopting the tougher approach to proceedings are the teams coming away with the points every weekend.

It must be noted that the three least disciplined clubs in the league – Arsenal, Bolton & Man City occupy slots in the top 5 of this term’s standings while the three teams who have been on their best behaviour so far – Everton, Fulham & Wigan are languishing in 13th, 16th and 17th respectively.

Bolton’s lofty league position is thanks in no small part to talismanic captain Kevin Davies who has chipped in with 4 league goals to date. It’s worth pointing out that Davies has also committed 45 fouls this season – 50% more than any other player – making him odds-on favourite to be, statistically at least, the Premiership’s dirtiest player……. again. Somehow, I don’t think anyone at the Reebok would be unhappy with that if they maintain their excellent start to the campaign and fight for a European place.

Arsenal’s Alex Song, although considerably less culpable, is another player quite regularly guilty of deliberate infringements and appears right at home at The Emirates in an Arsenal side that has had 4 players trudge down the tunnel ahead of schedule since the season kicked off in August.

Despite the excellent starts made to the campaign by both Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes before their form deserted them, they have accumulated over 40 fouls between them and Scholes has had his name taken on a handful of occasions already culminating in an early suspension for the creative wizard who never really got to grips with the defensive aspect of the beautiful game.

Sunderland are sitting pretty in sixth, despite their new club captain’s 2 red cards already  this campaign. At 22 years of age, and with five career dismissals so far, Lee Cattermole was fortunate not to see red for the sixth time last week after a dangerous lunge on Spurs’ Luka Modric. However, with Sunderland enjoying life in the Europa League spot they currently occupy, captain Cattermole must be doing something right at the stadium of light.

Tough tactics and a strong approach have long been proven tools of victory when it comes to football, not always attractive to watch….unfortunately sometimes sickening too but undoubtedly effective.

The players cut from this cloth possess massive influence ensuring the younger, more impressionable members of the squad develop similar traits and attributes thus ensuring the vicious circle continues and the so called “dirty player” will forever be part of the game, a major bone of contention in the world of football –  loathed by others, loved by their own.