Neymar is very, very, very happy at Barca – Zubizarreta on Madrid rumours

The Catalan club’s former sporting director is confident the Brazilian will resolve his contract saga and remain with the La Liga champions

Neymar is very, very, very happy at Barca - Zubizarreta on Madrid rumours

Neymar is completely content at Barcelona and will remain with the club, according to former Camp Nou sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta.

A goalkeeper for Barca and Spain during his playing days, Zubizarreta served on Barcelona’s board from July 2010 to January 2015.

Neymar’s controversial move to the Camp Nou came during this period and, while the ramifications of that deal are still being played out in Spanish court rooms, the Brazil captain has dazzled on the field in an irresistible forward trio alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Speculation has swirled over the 23-year-old’s future as he mulls a fresh contract with the Spanish, European and world club champions.

But Zubizarreta echoed the thoughts of coach Luis Enrique when he told Cadena Cope he could not envisage the forward leaving.

“Neymar is happy at the club,” Zubizarreta said. “Very, very, very happy at the club ”

Zubizarreta oversaw the acquisitions of Neymar and Suarez either side of Barcelona being hit by a player registration ban for breaching Fifa rules on the transfer of youth players.

Suarez arrived during the appeals process before the punishment spanning two full transfer windows took hold – meaning close-season signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal were only able to make their Barca debuts earlier this month.

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have landed similar sanctions for comparable offences, although Zubizarreta maintains that Barcelona were innocent of any wrongdoing.

“Barca did nothing wrong with the signing of underage players,” he said. “We complied with the law and were supported by the Catalan Federation.

“Fifa understood that a rule had been breached but we disagreed with them.”

Barcelona are level on points with Atletico at the top of La Liga, with Madrid four points further back.

Zubizarreta expects the title race to go down to the wire and be influenced by the three clubs’ participation in the latter stages of the Champions League.

“The league will be decided in the last 10 games” he added.

Luis Enrique targets further Barcelona success after a remarkable year

What an absolutely extraordinary week Luis Enrique has just had.

Exactly one year ago, he was about to rise from what seemed to be footballing ruins, and the events of the past few days have been a brilliant way to mark that anniversary.

In turn he has been idiosyncratic, daring and shrewd, but above all, the Barcelona manager has been true to himself.

It’s one of the all-time great comeback stories.

For context, do you remember early January 2015? Barcelona appeared to be mired in crisis.

There was the standup row with Lionel Messi in training on the Friday before losing to Real Sociedad — with the Argentinian and Neymar left on the bench — followed by the sacking of Luis Enrique’s friend and mentor Andoni Zubizarreta a couple of days later.

Four points behind leaders Real Madrid and only in second place ahead of Atletico Madrid because of their goal power, Barca were as close to Valencia in fourth as they were to first.

(One year later, a four-point gap between Real Madrid and league leaders Atletico was enough to see Rafa Benitez sacked at the Bernabeu.)

After losing in San Sebastian, Luis Enrique’s next match was at home to Elche in the Copa del Rey, and fewer than 28,000 fans turned up at the Camp Nou to see it. Albeit that he was a Barcelona hero as a player, it looked like a vote of no confidence for “Lucho.”

“The sacking of ‘Zubi’ weakens my position and makes me sad,” he admitted in his press conference.

The rest is history and represents one of the most astonishing turnarounds in football. Barca played scintillating football and barely misplaced a footstep in winning La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

But now it feels like the continued superlative football, especially from the MSN of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, as well as Barcelona’s five-trophy haul since that traumatic January, might be combining to leave some of Luis Enrique’s excellence in the shade.

So, how about this for his last week of work?

1. Barcelona 4-0 Granada

Messi hit a hat trick two days before he would collect his historic fifth Ballon d’Or, but the man of the match, by a distance, was Sergi Roberto. Perhaps the success story of Barcelona’s season so far, it was already clear just how much faith his manager has in the 23-year-old.

Comfortable in right or left midfield and stellar at right-back in Dani Alves’ absence, Sergi had already put in a stunning performance “overloading” Madrid in midfield and attack during the 4-0 Clasico win.

But this was an exponential step forward.

The single most demanding and specialist position in Barcelona’s version of the 4-3-3 formation is in central midfield. It’s called the “Pivote” and there’s a gatekeeping role.

Possession passing through this position needs to be ultraswift and shrewd, with no hesitation, no mistakes. It’s like speed chess.

If the player in this position loses the ball, misses a tackle or misjudges where to be, then it can leave Barcelona horrifically exposed.

Sergi deputised for Sergio Busquets in the middle of midfield and played brilliantly, looking as if he had trained and performed there for several seasons.

This was an exceptional decision by Barcelona’s manager and, suddenly, a relatively inexperienced footballer, who many would have been relaxed to see leave the club the previous summer, had shown he was the perfect deputy for a player who seemed not to have a proper replacement.

Luis Enrique retained Sergi, promoted him, used him in his preferred position and then kept on testing how many more challenges he could pass. Great vision by the coach.

2. Ballon D’Or Award

You might think him rude, and I don’t think he’ll be distraught if you did.

But Luis Enrique profoundly disapproved of the 2014 ban, which FIFA imposed on Barcelona for transgressing the rules on when and how to sign juvenile footballers. Accordingly, he was true to himself and refused to attend.

The Ballon d’Or itself, without its recent ties to FIFA, is an award of prestige and merit and one which puts winners in esteemed company. To opt not to turn up on a point of principle is, you’d have to say, staying true to personal values — something which the demands of modern football often undermines.

3. Espanyol 0-2 Barcelona

Eleven days after their city rivals harassed and pressed Barcelona into submission in a very aggressive 0-0 draw in La Liga, Luis Enrique saw no danger, only an opportunity in the second leg of this cup tie.

Now I have a vested interest here, having written for ESPN FC back in December 2013: “Why, given the myriad of tactical niceties out there, is this club hidebound to never, ever think about reducing deficiencies and augmenting remaining strengths with a team shape of 4-2-3-1?”

It transpires that Luis Enrique is open to that way of thinking and, against Espanyol, he lined his team up in such a formation. With a whole host of niceties that made the decision stand out:

– Drawing conclusions from Sergi’s performance against Granada, the two organising midfielders in this new tactical scheme didn’t include Busquets who, having played several hundred minutes more than at the same stage the previous season, was rested. That’s vital if he’s to be on form for the trophy-winning part of the season. In his absence, Sergi was paired with Rakiti, and the two functioned like hand in glove. Nice work, coach.

– The formation also facilitated Munir El Haddadi at centre-forward, Messi at No. 10 and Aleix Vidal as a winger. Munir, evidently classy in technical terms but shorn of goal confidence this season, was deployed nearer to his perfect position instead of wide right, which is largely the case when he substitutes for one of the MSN. This, with Suarez suspended, was probably the only formation in which Munir can start in the No. 9 position and the youngster responds by scoring twice. Round peg, round hole. Ring the bell for the coach.

– Messi, who has already been playing as a hybrid between the front line and that which Xavi Hernandez used to occupy, was returned to the position where he orchestrates everything. He plays superbly and sets up Munir’s first with a shimmering pass. “We want a formation which gives Messi, our best player, the most time on the ball, and we might well use this setup again this season,” admits Luis Enrique. Ring the bell twice.

– Vidal, who is technical, clever, quick and adventurous, not only turned in a vibrant performance on the right of the attacking three behind Munir but also saw the opportunity to change position late on and overload Espanyol down Barca’s left. It is a surprise move via which he supplies Munir with the second goal. Following Sunday night’s 6-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, it means that in the four games since the two players became eligible, Luis Enrique has used Arda and Vidal in five different positions, from where they have combined for three goal assists. Just ring the bell again.

Thus, it has been a great week, featuring personal excellence from the coach, as well as three Liga and Copa wins with an aggregate 12-0 scoreline.

But there’s no time for Luis Enrique to pat himself on the back, not that it is a propensity of his anyway. The Copa del Rey quarterfinals bring two more meetings with Athletic Club, starting on Wednesday at San Memes, where Barca lost 4-0 in the Super Cup last August.

And beyond that tie, everything is building to a miniclimax on Jan. 30, when current leaders Atletico play at the Camp Nou. In the same fixture last year, one week after that Real Sociedad defeat, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona sprang to life and never slowed down until everything was won in June.

Culled from soccernet.com

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

 

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.

Neymar: I don’t like watching football

The Brazilian says he does not follow the game outside of the pitch and also dismissed his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or

Neymar: I don’t like watching football

Barcelona star Neymar claims he does not like watching football when he’s not playing but admits he is enjoying life at Camp Nou after a strong start to the season.

The Brazil international has scored eight goals in his last six games for Luis Enrique’s side, who are level on points with Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

The two sides will go head-to-head in El Clasico after the international break, and Neymar says the first goal he scored against Real Madrid was one of the best moments of his career.

“It was a great moment. I always dreamed about a moment like this. It was one of the happiest days in my life,” he told BeIN Sports.

“Brazil – Argentina is very similar to a Barcelona – Real Madrid. It’s going to be a very difficult game

“This is my best year, I’m playing the way I like, I’m very happy. I feel like I’m at home. My first year was to learn, the second was better.

“I always loved the way Barcelona play and the players. I adapt to their play. Luis Suarez and I have to run to find space to receive passes from these great players.

“I don’t know if we [Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi] are the best, but we have great players. I hope we can be in our best form for many years.”

Neymar also insisted that he is focusing on winning more titles for last season’s treble winners, but dismissed his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or from Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

“I don’t like to watch football games when I’m not playing for Barcelona,” he added.

“I don’t watch Real Madrid games. I don’t like to watch other teams. I can’t opine about something I don’t see.

“For me the important thing is to win titles. The Ballon d’Or is always between Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, players from another planet.

“I don’t pay attention to this things, I want to help to my partners.”