Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dinho's gone fishing and Barca's gone missing

WHILE a certain classic was capturing our imagination last weekend, there was a far bigger derby hogging the headlines around the the world, the Super Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid on Monday morning our time.

It was far from a classic clasico, La Liga front-runners Real coming away from the Nou Camp with a clinical 1-0 victory courtesy of a smashing first half volley from Julio Baptista to extend their lead over the fiercest rivals to seven points at the winter break.

Last season's corresponding fixture, a 3-3 draw which featured a hat-trick from Lionel Messi was a indeed a classic. This one wasn't.

Instead we got a methodical display from the defending premiers and yet another insipid performance from Barca, particularly in the front third, and much of the blame for that has been placed on Ronaldinho, as detailed in this piece by The Guardian's Sid Lowe.

A couple of seasons ago, just before the 2006 world cup, Ronaldinho was the king of the world, the undisputed star of world football. Having just taken Barcelona to a second consecutive title and a victory in the European Champions League, he was being compared with the greats and his smile illuminated many a match.

At the time I wrote that he was on his way to becoming a "the sixth great" behind Di Stefano, Pele, Cruyff, Maradona and Zidane if he could influence the winning of a couple of World Cups and Champions Leagues.

Now we all know what happened to Brazil in Germany and how Ronnie was shut down by the stifling tactics of both the opposition and his manager, Carlos Alberto Pereira.

What followed for Barca last season was a 21 goal haul, impressive by anyone's standards, but not when compared to what we've seen in the previous two seasons. Gone was the trademark smile as rumours started to surface of rifts with teammates, excessive partying and a more missed training sessions than Harry Kewell.

The happiness had gone from Ronaldinho's game and Real went on to win the league.

By the start of this campaign, Messi had emerged as the new King at Barca, and with Ronnie on the sidelines in the early going, Barca were playing some swashbuckling football, such as this heaven-sent performance against Zaragoza in September.

But with the Brazilian back in the starting 11 of late and Messi out for a month or so with an injury sustained earlier in the month, Barca have been struggling, culminating with their first loss at home in what seems an eternity.

The prevailing attitude is that when Ronnie plays, Barca lose, and sadly, the evidence is mounting.

Here he wasn't Barca's only invisible man. All over the pitch and apart from Andreas Iniesta and Yaya Toure, who both toiled hard in midfield, this was Barca at their recent disjointed worst. Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol failed to lend support from the fullback areas, Rafa Marquez continued his recent hesitant work at the back, while the recently returned Sammy Eto'o, Ronnie and Deco looked hopelessly out of form in the front areas.

All this while the likes of Thierry Henry and impressive youngsters Bojan Krkic and Giovanni dos Santos warmed the bench.

Try as they might they couldn't crack the organised and deep defending Real, who absorbed the early Barca pressure and then hit with the classic sucker-punch, catching out the shaky Barca rearguard with a simple one-two that saw Baptista in behind Marquez.

After that, with Pepe in sublime form at the back, Diarra snapping around in midfield, Sergio Ramos controlling Ronaldinho and Ruud van Nistelrooy and a rejuvenated Raul looking lively up top, Real controlled proceedings.

Bernd Schuster continues to build a team that is not playing the sparkling football promised post Fabio Capello, but a team that has evolved from the Capello template - solid, hard working, organised, purposeful and damn effective.

The once free-flowing Madrid are now the stiflers, and Barca, it seems, are struggling to live with that.

While much of the heat is on Ronaldinho, a close inspection of Frank Rijkaard's recent work highlights the problems might lie with the manager. Since his assistant Henk Ten Cate left after the 2005/2006 'double' and was replaced by Johan Neeskens, things have been going pair-shaped at Barca.

Clearly something needs to change, and I, for one, am not convinced that Ronaldinho leaving will solve all of Barca's problems.

Sounds like Ronaldinho is off enjoying his Christmas and New Year break, so I think we all should. A big thanks to all TRBA readers for your interest and insight throughout 2007, and I hope you have a happy and safe festive season. See you all again in the new year, Tony.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, thank you for your insight in 2007 Mr TRBA, imo one of the brightest football minds in the country.

Thu. Dec. 27, 10:57:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous wayne said...

hear hear,
for he's a bloody good writer,
for he's a bloddy good writer,
and so say all of us..

sorry Tony, got all festive there for a second.
Have a splendid new year mate.

Fri. Dec. 28, 12:58:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

anonymous and wayne, thanks for your kind words and interest...blushing!

wayne, a happy new year to you also...although, it mightnt be such a great night for you if the mariners lose tomorrow....quite amazingly, after qr's just completed 4-1 win, the mariners mightnt be on top at the end of 07 if the victory continue this weekend's habit of away teams winning.

Sun. Dec. 30, 11:04:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger john said...

Best wishes for 2008 Tony
Great writing this year. The last few weeks have produced the best football the A-League has seen.

My wish for 2008 - Gold Coast get to joint in v4 - I'm sticking with the Roar but we need another well financed side and before AFL moves a team there.

Come on Ben B get us 9 (at least).

Mon. Dec. 31, 12:08:00 am AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

...well financed side...

the key john. thanks for your sentiments.

...The last few weeks have produced the best football the A-League has seen...

You talking about just this season or all 3 years?

if the former, i thought the two or three rounds at the start of the this season's second third was pretty good as well, but it's been great to see some entertaining contests in the past few weeks...of course, the ccm v sfc one stands out, but i enjoyed the melb - adelaide 2-2 at the dome, ccm's performance in adelaide, newcastle's performance in melb and the way sydney have taken advantage of the extra man the past couple of weeks....meanwhile, the roar have been quietly going about their business, the best way to do it.

Mon. Dec. 31, 01:40:00 pm AEDT  

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