The stats that show Ronaldo could be losing his magic

The former Manchester United man has struggled to convert chances in La Liga this term, though he could be set for a welcome boost against Getafe on Saturday

The stats that show Ronaldo could be losing his magic

Of all the issues facing Real Madrid this season, perhaps the most worrying for Rafa Benitez and fans at Santiago Bernabeu is the form of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portugal international found the net on five occasions against Espanyol on September 12, but has only netted a further four times in La Liga since as the Blancos slipped behind Barcelona in the race for the title.

And Ronaldo can only blame himself for his poor returns in front of goal, with the former Manchester United man’s shot conversion rate of 12.12 per cent his worst since moving to the Spanish capital.

Ronaldo’s efforts pale in comparison to Barca duo Neymar and Luis Suarez, who have been in electric form both with and without Lionel Messi in the side, though both are trailing behind Real Sociedad’s Imanol Agirretxe.

But there could be some good news this weekend for Ronaldo, with Madrid’s opponents Getafe having conceded more goals from the penalty spot this season and the reported Paris Saint-Germain target his side’s designated spot-kick taker.

Culled from goal.com

 

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Ancelotti: Messi’s return is not good news for Roma

The Italian does not think that the Argentine’s restoration to the starting line-up will affect Neymar and Luis Suarez, who have both netted 11 times in their past 11 games

Ancelotti: Messi's return is not good news for Roma

Carlo Ancelotti says Lionel Messi’s likely return to the Barcelona starting line-up is “not good news for Roma”, insisting that Neymar and Luis Suarez will be even more effective with the Argentine back alongside them.

Messi suffered a knee injury in a Liga game against Las Palmas on September 26, prompting fears that the Catalan club could struggle without their talismanic No.10.

However, Neymar and Suarez have flourished in his absence, with both men netting 11 times in the 11 games that they have started without Messi, sparking a debate over whether the pair perform better without the four-time Ballon d’Or winner, who made his comeback as a substitute in Saturday’s 4-0 rout of Real Madrid.

Ancelotti, though, says that the fit-again Messi is only going to make Barca stronger, pointing out that his wonderful on-field rapport with his fellow South Americans was the key factor in last season’s historic treble triumph.

“Messi’s return is not good news for Roma,” the Italian coach told Goal ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash at Camp Nou.

“It’s true that Suarez and Neymar are doing very well but clearly Barca with Messi are something else. Messi brings goals, quality… He brings everything!

“He brings  enthusiasm to his team-mates, who know that they have by their side a player capable of unlocking any game at any moment.

“It’s obviously better to play a Barca without him. Messi’s presence will only relegate Neymar and Suarez to the background in terms of media coverage, because on the field they do certainly not reside in the background.

“They had an extraordinary finish to last season, finding a special chemistry that allowed Barcelona to win everything.

“I don’t see them suffering with Messi, neither Neymar nor Suarez.”

World’s best? Neymar & Suarez putting Messi & Ronaldo in shade in 2015-16

The South American pair netted all three goals in Barcelona’s 3-0 win at home to Villarreal on Sunday and may even eclipse the usual suspects in the scoring charts this term

World's best? Neymar & Suarez putting Messi & Ronaldo in shade in 2015-16

It’s always one or the other. Even since Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid in 2009, it has been either the Portuguese or Barcelona rival Lionel Messi leading the scoring charts in Spain. But the duo’s dominance in front of goal could be under threat this term if Neymar and Luis Suarez keep up their current form.

Ronaldo and Messi have won the Pichichi prize given to the top scorer in La Liga three times apiece over the last six seasons, with those two also the leading marksmen in all competitions by some distance between 2009-10 and 2014-15.

The Portuguese has made his usual strong start this time around as well, with 13 goals in his 14 appearances so far in 2015-16. Messi, who has been out since September 26 through injury, is understandably further behind with six strikes in his nine matches.

But in the Argentine’s absence, Neymar and Suarez have stepped up with the goals. Barca’s other two South American forwards have now netted 20 of the side’s last 23 in all competitions – as well as all 16 Liga goals since the four-time Ballon d’Or winner limped off against Las Palmas.

Villarreal did not make things easy in Sunday’s match and Barca had to wait until the second half despite creating chances from the outset.

And when the breakthrough came, it arrived from a familiar source: Neymar. The Brazilian dispatched a fine finish after Villarreal had given the ball away in their own half and Sergio Busquets had picked out the 23-year-old with a pinpoint pass.

In the meantime, Suarez’s shooting had been erratic, but he had the chance to make it 2-0 later on as Munir El Haddadi won a penalty and Neymar generously gave the Uruguayan the opportunity to print his name on the scoresheet. It was a gift too good to turn down and Suarez slotted home to double Barca’s lead.

The game’s most memorable moment, however, belonged to Neymar. The Brazilian controlled a bouncing ball in the area with his stomach, flipped it over his head with his right foot to leave his marker dumbfounded and volleyed past Villarreal goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. It was a stunning strike reminiscent of Barca legends like Ronaldinho and Rivaldo – and it won him a huge ovation from the Camp Nou crowd.

The Brazilian’s double means he now has 13 goals in 14 games for Barcelona in 2015-16, while Suarez’s strike saw the Uruguayan take his tally for the season to 13 in 17 games.

Ronaldo failed to net in Madrid’s meeting with Sevilla later on Sunday as Los Blancos lost 3-2, so both players are now level with the Portuguese and Messi (who is still recovering from injury), will have some catching up to do when he returns to action for the Catalan club.

Asked if Neymar is now the second best player in the world behind Messi, Luis Enrique said: “That’s up to others to decide. I’m just privileged to have unique players who work for the good of the collective.”

And on the excellent relationship between Messi, Neymar and Suarez, he added: “We saw that from the start. But it’s the same for the whole squad. We are lucky to have these players.”

The win sees Barca head into the international break on fine form and up next is the Clasico clash at the Santiago Bernabeu on November 21.

Messi and Ronaldo usually top the billing when it comes to meetings between Barca and Real, but the Argentine may not be back for this one and the prolific Portuguese is being matched in front of goal by the Catalans’ other two forwards.

So the latest edition of the famous fixture could be as much about Neymar and Suarez as it is about Messi and Ronaldo – and the game’s two greatest players from recent years may even find themselves eclipsed in the scoring charts this term if the Brazilian and the Uruguayan can continue their current form.

Barca showing there really IS life after Messi

Luis Enrique may be missing his main man, but since the Argentine has been out the Catalan club’s other two South American forwards have flown the flag in La Liga and Europe

Barca showing there really IS life after Messi

Panic struck for Barcelona when Lionel Messi was struck down through injury in the Liga clash at home to Las Palmas on September 26, but time and again since then Neymar and Luis Suarez have shown that the Blaugrana have plenty to cheer for even without their Argentine attacker.

Messi managed only nine minutes before limping off at Camp Nou and travelling to hospital for tests that later confirmed he would miss somehwere in the region of two months, placing his fitness in doubt for the Clasico clash at Real Madrid on November 21.

And with the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu now just around the corner after the forthcoming international break, it looks like Messi may not be back in time. Recent performances from his two team-mates, however, mean that may be less of a drama than it had first seemed.

Suarez stepped up immediately. The Uruguayan striker scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Las Palmas to get Barca through what was potentially a difficult afternoon, with the image of their finest footballer hurt and injured clearly in the minds of the players in an unpopular early kick-off at Camp Nou.

Since then, Suarez has scored in wins against Bayer Leverkusen, Rayo Vallecano, Getafe and BATE Borisov, as well as netting all three in the 3-1 victory at home to Eibar late last month. Nine goals in eight appearances and he has provided a couple of assists in that time, too. Messi, no doubt, will be pleased.

But Neymar has done even better. The Brazilian forward took time to find his best form after Messi’s injury, perhaps affected by the case accusing him of alleged tax fraud in his move from Santos in 2013. But he has hit eight goals in the Argentine’s absence: his side’s sole strike in the 2-1 loss at Sevilla (Barca’s only defeat in that time), four in the 5-2 win over Rayo, one in the 2-0 success at Getafe and two more in the 3-0 victory at home to BATE last week.

That’s one fewer than Suarez, but it is his overall contribution that is even more impressive. Since Messi’s injury, Neymar has racked up six assists in eight appearances, creating 36 chances for his team-mates and completing 46 dribbles to the Uruguayan’s 12.

“We miss Messi because he is the best,” Neymar said after his double on Wednesday night. “But I’m in a great moment and I’m confident I’ll continue like this.”

Since Messi’s injury, Barca have scored 13 times in La Liga and between them, Neymar and Suarez have been responsible for netting all of those.

In the Champions League, meanwhile, Ivan Rakitic hit a vital double to give the Catalans a hard-fought 2-0 win away to BATE and Sergi Roberto was on hand to net the leveller as Luis Enrique’s side made a late comeback to beat Bayer Leverkusen at Camp Nou. It was Suarez, though, who popped up with the winner in that one.

In total, Neymar and Suarez have contributed 17 out of 20 goals for Barca since the Argentine hurt his knee.

“We will always miss Messi,” Luis Enrique said recently. “But Neymar and Suarez have shown that we also have other options.”

After his side beat BATE on Wednesday with the two South Americans again taking the lead, the Asturian coach added: “We obviously miss Messi a great deal – but I’ve always said the team had resources.

“There is no mention of ‘Messi-dependence’ because the team is winning and playing well.”

And with the Clasico now just two weeks away, that’s the best news of all for fans of the Catalan club.

How Lionel Messi’s injury will impact Barcelona, Luis Suarez, team tactics

On the face of it, we’re about to learn something about the ability, character and talent of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona squad while Lionel Messi is absent for at least two months. Who will step up to the plate, who’ll be missing, and what “extra” will this bring out of the manager’s repertoire? These are the types of questions that fans, media and other teams will be posing.

But I think there’s a gaping opportunity to learn more about Messi himself.

Looking back to precisely a year ago and superimposing this “Messi-absent” template on Barcelona’s performances from late September to late October, it’s genuinely surprising to find that on paper only, the impact would have been very low. The Copa del Rey hadn’t started by then, so like now, all that were in play were La Liga and the Champions League.

Had Messi been absent from Sept. 21 to Nov. 22 last year (the span that medics are currently predicting he’ll miss), not a single Barça result in La Liga would have changed. They’d have lost out on nine goals and a handful of assists, but while the goal margins would have shrunk in many instances, not one single result would have been altered. Wins would remain wins; the solitary draw and two defeats would remain untouched, too.

So, in theory, Barcelona would have gone on to win the title, hypothetically — but let’s come back to that in a minute.

How about Europe? It’s remarkably similar. Even if you remove Messi for the final five group games, erasing his goals and assists, which takes that hypothetical injury absence into the second week of December and strips away precisely 70 percent of his Champions League goals last season, only one result changes: The 2-0 away win at Ajax becomes a draw, but every other result remains identical, albeit with narrower win margins.

Barcelona without Messi in the group stage last season still qualify but in second place behind PSG. Whether they go on to win the tournament via a different knockout route is a fun one for those of you who want to debate it, but it’s not my brief.

What I think that really rather strange picture underlines to us is that Messi’s importance, his contribution to the team, goes far beyond goals and assists.

Two clear ideas emerge, I believe. First, Barcelona play differently, think differently and approach challenges differently if they have a fit and fully-firing Messi in their ranks — whether he scores, “makes” a goal or not. I mention again the senior Barcelona player who shared with a friend last Autumn: “we are going to win trophies, not just a trophy, this season because Messi is really enchufado [switched on/in the zone].”

Playing with a problem-solver, someone who scares other teams and who can do things nobody in the current game even dreams of, also changes how robust and how confident the mentality of his teammates will be.

At Barcelona’s level (as with Madrid, Bayern, Atletico, Juventus, Chelsea, PSG, Manchester City and, increasingly, Manchester United) the ultimate difference over a significant space of time playing other top sides is mentality. The talent and fitness can be signed and honed, but winning “mentality” in all its forms is both the most fragile and the hardest to control.

A fit, happy Messi in your team is like a tiger in your tank. How to cope without that when he’s absent? Question 1 for Luis Enrique.

The other significant element of the two main “hangover” factors without Messi, if his goals and assists don’t actually vitally change statistics, is how other teams set up and react to playing Barcelona.

Tracking Messi has always been something of a nightmare; not only will his positional choices lull you into fatal complacency, but so will his tendency to spend a lot of time mooching about the pitch at walking pace as if he’d dropped a contact lens and was looking for it irrespective of the thundering herd around him. Then a split second later, he’s gone, you’re lost and it’s a goal.

Teams will now mark Neymar and Luis Suárez quite differently. They’ll go more tightly on the Uruguayan in the knowledge that his first-time flicks and wall-passes are just that fraction less likely now that he doesn’t have Messi to play off. Likely they’ll attempt to bully Neymar more in the knowledge that free kicks are less likely to be punished with Messi not available and feeling safer that the Brazilian, too, will attempt to dribble more often than he does when Messi is on the pitch. Neymar the sharp and first-touch passer is far less easy to catch and bully than Neymar the dribbler.

Teams who play Barcelona will on the whole be surer that if they pack defensive midfield and the back four (aka “parking the bus”) they are less likely to be picked apart by Barcelona without Messi. I suspect we’ll see more opponents attempting to suck Barcelona in, thwart any attacks and then charge forward on the break. We shall see.

Regarding Neymar, it’s reasonable that the Brazilian’s reaction to Messi’s absence will be more relevant and more educational than that of Suárez, based on the contention that the Uruguayan’s reaction will be much more similar to what you already get at the moment.

When last Barcelona’s beacon of brilliance was absent for this length of time (between November 2013 and January 2014) Neymar was less integrated and significantly less mature than now. He more often than not stepped into the central striker role that Messi vacated, and Neymar patently enjoyed that “team leadership” position. His play flourished but not necessarily his goals: He managed just two in the league while Messi was out (albeit a pair in a 2-1 win over Villarreal) and three against Celtic in a Champions League rout.

Where Luis Enrique requires Neymar to play should, in theory, be quite different now. Suarez is well established as the club’s centre forward, so much so that Messi moved to the right wing last season and was operating in a quasi-Xavi role this season.

Saturday’s 2-1 win over Las Palmas doesn’t provide unequivocal proof of anything, but the initial reactions to added responsibility were at least interesting: two smashing goals from Suarez and a missed penalty from Neymar.

So, what of the third striker?

Last season it became clear that Luis Enrique sees something in Munir that he doesn’t yet in Sandro. The former lingered on in the first team squad long, long after he really needed to return to Barca B and get the game time his deflated confidence screamed out for.

Sandro was returned back to the B team much more quickly, and while that season was awful for the club and coach Jordi Vinyals, who lost his job, the striker has clearly benefited. Quick, confident, aggressive and physical, Sandro looks ready for duty.

It’s pretty clear that Munir has a greater technical array of skills. Without question, Munir is an unpolished gem of a player, but still with the appearance and the actions of a kid. He was first choice to replace Messi after that knee injury made the Argentinian rip off the captain’s armband and throw it to the ground in disgust at being forced to quit Saturday’s match.

Munir played a pivotal (and creatively clever) part in the first goal and then crossed really intelligently for the second. Head up, waiting for the melee to clear, vision engaged: what the Spanish call pausa. In between, however, Munir constantly showed the inhibiting effect of eroded confidence, choosing the right thing to do over and over but doing it badly over and over. Short with passes, mistiming the connection with a teammate’s run; he was talented but timid.

After featuring for Barcelona early in 2014-15, Munir's first team appearances have been few and far between.

As for Sandro? His position and movement for the last big chance of the game spoke of a guy who’s ready now. But his inexplicable ability to shoot just wide from a nailed-on scoring position undermined his case.

You’d imagine that the pace, pressing and maturity of Sandro would win his manager’s favour to complete Barcelona’s “trident” but knowing Luis Enrique’s ability to see the kaleidoscope differently, it’ll probably be Munir.

Andrés Iniesta could, of course, play wide left up front with Suarez and then Neymar across the line of three to his right. Were Xavi still at the club to supplant him in midfield, that’s what might be about to happen. But any further injuries aside, Barcelona still have options, regardless of whether they are allowed by FIFA to register Arda Turan to compensate for Rafinha’s season-long absence.

On that subject, what price might Barcelona now pay for their arrogance in telling FIFA that they may have breached some rules on recruiting junior talent but the rules shouldn’t really have an impact because the club is “elite” at youth development?

That’s the gist of the conversation which ended in this transfer market ban, meaning that the departures of Xavi, Pedro and Martin Montoya couldn’t be compensated for by signing players who can be registered and perform in this brutal first half of Barcelona’s season.

What is Sod’s law? The rule that things will go wrong at precisely the time you can least afford them to. A spate of injuries at a time when Barcelona aren’t allowed to replace with new signings? Sod’s law. Do people like the departed Sandro Rosell and current president Josep Maria Bartomeu feel a bit peremptory now? A bit stupid? I hope so.

Finally, there’s the little genius himself. Doctors reckon that it’s touch and go that he makes it back for the first clasico of the season, in Madrid on Nov. 21. Previous injuries have shown us that Messi will be pawing at his physical recuperators, fitness coaches, doctors and coaching staff to let him back early. Previous injuries have also shown us that that can easily be a false boost for him and the team.

The debilitating effect of Messi playing early, following injury, against PSG and Athletic Club in the spring of 2013 was in fact catastrophic for Barcelona’s chances to perform competitively against Bayern Munich in the semifinal. There in body but absent in spirit, Messi was anonymous in Munich and not picked for the return in that 7-0 aggregate humiliation.

Have these lessons been learned by club and player? We shall see.

Two months without Messi will mean less fun for all of us, apart from Barcelona’s direct opponents. But it’ll cast up dozens of ways in which we’ll learn a great deal about him, his fellow players, his manager and those who’d like to topple Barcelona from the power seat in Spanish and European football.

Culled from Soccernet.com

Everything is better with Messi – Neymar

The former Santos forward praised the Argentina player and insisted that his arrival changed the game against Diego Simeone’s side on Saturday

Everything is better with Messi - Neymar

Neymar hailed Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi‘s impact against Atletico Madrid, with the Brazil forward claiming “everything is better with him on the pitch”.

Messi came off the bench for Barcelona on Saturday, playing just 30 minutes but still producing the winner in the Catalans’ 2-1 triumph at the Vicente Calderon.

Neymar, who struck Barca’s equaliser with a direct free-kick after Fernando Torres had given Atleti the lead, was full of praise for Messi’s impact, with the Argentine forward having missed Friday’s training session due to the birth of his second child.

“We got a quick equaliser which was very important,” Neymar told Movistar Plus.

“Messi then came on and he always makes the difference. We went on to win the game.”

Luis Suarez’s deft touch set up Messi’s winner in the 77th minute, with the latter lifting his shot over the onrushing Jan Oblak with the outside of his left boot.

Barcelona full-back Sergi Roberto added: “There is nobody like Leo. He’s a father again, he could not train with us, but today he decided the game.

“We are proud to have him on the team.”

Barcelona lead La Liga with a perfect nine points from three matches having already beaten Athletic Bilbao, Malaga and Atleti this season.

But Neymar was not getting carried away with the Catalan club’s title defence despite Barca having maintained their two-point lead over Real Madrid.

“It’s too early to talk about but it is true that we have started the league very well,” he said.

“We have worked well and we have won three big teams.”

Messi should win Ballon d’Or – Bartomeu

The Barcelona president says that the Argentina international deserves to reclaim the award from Cristiano Ronaldo

Messi should win Ballon d'Or - Bartomeu

Lionel Messi is the world’s best player and deserves to win this year’s Ballon d’Or, according to Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Messi was named Uefa Player of the Year for the second time following a final vote during the Champions League draw in Monaco on Thursday.

The 28-year-old broke Telmo Zarra’s record for La Liga goals scored in the 2014-15 campaign and went on to find the back of the net 58 times in all competitions.

Bartomeu backed the Argentina captain to add a prestigious fourth Ballon d’Or to his collection of honours, having been beaten to the award by Cristiano Ronaldo in the past two years.

“Lionel Messi is the best player in the world and we know that he desires, he works, he makes a lot of effort in all the matches and his confidence is incredible,” Bartomeu said.

“That’s why they give him a trophy like the best player of Europe. As for the Ballon d’Or, well, Leo Messi is the best player in the world so it’s normal that he wins everything.”

Bartomeu lauded Messi for his role in Barca’s successful 2014-15 campaign, which included 43 league goals, 10 in the Champions League and five in the Copa del Rey.

The Blaugrana supremo now hopes that the European champions can add the Club World Cup to their trophy cabinet in December.

“The important thing is the feature of Leo Messi. He’s doing this year an incredible season,” Bartomeu said.

“We won of course the Copa del Rey, Liga, the Champions League and the European Super Cup. And now we have the Club World Cup and I hope we can win this and have five titles this year.”