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There is always a sense of fear and trepidation when the mercurial genius that is Lionel Messi is sidelined, but although teams across La Liga and Europe are wise enough to know that Barcelona carry a serious threat, regardless of who Luis Enrique names in his starting line-up, we always have a slight doubt in our minds that things may not click without Messi.
This was particularly the case as the Blaugrana travelled to the North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany to face a Borussia Monchengladbach side who have made an excellent start to their Bundesliga season. Although the same could not be said for their Champions League campaign after Die Fohlen fell to a 4-0 defeat against Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, Gladbach were not to be taken for granted in their own backyard. Our opponents, who currently sit fourth in the Bundesliga table, had won eleven straight games at the Stadion im Borussia-Park in all competitions before we strolled into town. Food for thought perhaps for Enrique and the boys, although it should be noted that Barcelona went into the game with their own superb run of form away from the Nou Camp; seven straight victories and twenty-six goals scored was perhaps why Betway fancied us as slight favourites in the football odds, but we had to make sure we put in a complete performance to see off Gladbach and make it six points from six in the Champions League.
German stadiums are renowned for creating an electric match day atmosphere, and this game was no different as the home fans got right behind their team in the best way possible. How Gladbach approached the first half took many by surprise, with Andres Iniesta revealing after the game that they expected Andre Schubert’s side to follow the same suit as recent home games and press Barca high up the pitch. Instead, they chose to sit back and restrict the space that Enrique’s men were allowed in attacking positions, and while we inevitably managed to create chances, it proved harder than the manager and players had originally planned and prepared for.
Neymar and Luis Suarez both had more than presentable opportunities to open the scoring for the Blaugrana, while Ivan Rakitic tested the home goalkeeper from long distance and Suarez failed to square the ball to Paco Alcacer when the Uruguayan star was well placed to shoot himself. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who was facing his former club, had relatively little to do at the other end, but as is often the case in football, Gladbach took the lead from nowhere. The Germans broke after Sergio Busquests dallied on the ball and was dispossessed, ending up in Raffael playing the ball through to Mahmoud Dahoud who squared it to Thorgan Hazard to slot into an empty net. It turned out to be Gladbach’s only shot on target in the entire game…how you have to hate football sometimes. A fantastic volley from Suarez was kept out by Yann Sommer as Barcelona went into the break a goal down, with Gladbach doing a good job of making it difficult for us.
Enrique was stuck between a rock and a hard place – push more men forward and risk being caught on the counter, or simply step up the tempo and make the most of the opportunities when they come along. It was certainly not a night to be wasteful in front of goal, and although odds are that they’ll romp home with a victory in this weekend’s clash at Celta Vigo, staying top of Group C with a double header against Manchester City on the horizon was imperative. We began to prove why Betway made us favourite to make it two wins in two, with faster movement, tempo and intense pressing making it a matter of time before Gladbach cracked, despite keeping numerous men behind the ball. We are too used to that tactic by now, but the key is to unlock the door before it is too late.
Gladbach ultimately created their own downfall for the equaliser as they failed to clear the danger on at least two or three occasions, although we must say that Neymar’s ball over the defence was sublime. The lofted pass found its way to substitute Arda Turan who dispatched it high above Sommer with sumptuous ease in the 65th minute, and from that point onwards, Barcelona looked the only team that were going to win. And so it proved, although if the manner of the first goal was poor, the second just eight minutes later was criminal. Neymar’s cross following a short-taken corner found Suarez completely unmarked, and although his shot was straight at Sommer, the goalkeeper somehow fumbled it and allowed Gerard Pique to poke the ball home. It was a complete gift, but Barca deserved it for the change in emphasis after Rafinha and Arda Turan entered the game. The latter, in particular, made a big difference, with the Turkish star almost making it 3-1 with a sublime chip that was just tipped over the ball by Sommer. 2-1 was enough, but that would have been a suitable reward for the impact Arda Turan had on the game.
Barca march on in the Champions League without Messi, but while we may feel his absence in the first clash with Guardiola if the little Argentinian is not fit in time, the manner in which Enrique turned the game around with smart substitutions who really staked a claim for a place in the starting line-up bodes well for the future.
What can be worse than being passionate about your job, and not being able to do it due to an injury? If you have ever felt the disappointment of being unable to complete a task, imagine how Lionel Messi feels today, after Barcelona officially confirmed his hamstring injury. It’s not only the fact that he might be sidelined for a while but also the disappointment of his fans – and Barca’s fans – because of him missing from the playfield.
Take it slow
Messi’s injury has been noted by the team even before the player left for Argentina last week. Although the injury admittedly bothered him, Messi still scored Albiceste’s only goal against Uruguay. He played against Uruguay, but he won’t set foot on the field against Venezuela, and, according to Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza, he will most likely not play with Barca against Alaves either.
“Tests conducted today on first team player Leo Messi have confirmed that the discomfort in his left adductor muscle persists,” the announcement issued by Barca reads. “It’s advised he lowers the burden of training in the coming days and the evolution of the injury will mark his availability to return to action.”
“Everything is fine, I have to slow things down as I recover with physio, but it’s nothing to worry about”, Messi reassured his fans in a Facebook update this week. “Thanks to you all for your support.”
Since the evolution of Messi’s injury was discovered recently, and might still evolve, there’s no way to know when he will be back on the field. He might be out for weeks, during which he’ll have nothing to do but relax, see the doctors, and play – maybe even Football Star, among online casino games at Royal Vegas casino, so he won’t be missing the game too much.
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The good news
Although Messi is out for the time being, not all news are bad: Andres Iniesta announced that he is making good progress in recovering from the injury he suffered in the Spanish Super Cup. Speaking to online news outlet Cadena SER, Iniesta said that his knee is getting better by the day.
It seems an arrogant question to ask just one match into La Liga play, even if that one match was a 6-2 drubbing of Real Betis that showed the club looking as dominant as ever. Incidentally, that win came with Andres Iniesta sidelined due to injury and Neymar still playing in the Olympics, where he scored the winning penalty for Brazil in the gold medal match. But it’s still just one win, and against a middling opponent at best.
The real reason this question bears asking so early in the 2016/17 campaign is that as we approach the end of August, it appears Real Madrid just isn’t structured to compete up to its typical standard. As Betfair’s football tipsters noted in their section on La Liga heading into the season, many still view the league as a two-horse race. But Real Madrid was not active at all on the transfer market despite the fact that their chief rivals and defending champions went out and made a few acquisitions to become, possibly, even more dominant.
Barcelona acquired Samuel Umtiti to improve the defence (though as we’ve written, this could also mean the departure of Jeremy Mathieu to Arsenal); they signed Lucas Digne as yet another defender capable of getting creative with the ball; and they added young midfielders André Gomes and Denis Suarez to bolster their depth in an area of strength. There’s not one headline move in that bunch, but altogether it’s a comprehensive summer effort for a club that really didn’t even need to improve very much.
By contrast, Real Madrid largely stood still, despite the fact that Zinedine Zidane didn’t seem to view his own side as a very competitive one even as they hung in down the stretch in the 2015/16 season. The club brought back Alvaro Morata after the striker spent a few seasons on loan with Juventus, but otherwise there really wasn’t an acquisition to get excited about. Madrid made a lucrative offer for Bayern’s David Alaba and were turned down; there are whispers of Cesc Fabregas interest, but Zidane has effectively shot them down; and the club was fruitlessly linked to Paul Pogba (though most major European clubs were at one point or another) before the former Juventus star signed with Manchester United.
Of course, it’s not as if Real Madrid needed to do a whole lot. By any measure it’s still one of the most talented rosters in the world. However, it’s a little bit puzzling that Madrid failed to take advantage of the summer window given the likely impending transfer ban in January. As noted in BBC’s football section, FIFA suspended this ban (as well as one on Atlético Madrid) back in January, and both clubs are appealing. However, it’s currently expected that the ban will ultimately be imposed on Madrid this winter, which means they could effectively be stuck with what they’ve got for the duration of La Liga.
Again, it’s not as if that’s a bad thing for 99 percent of teams. Madrid is still a dynamic and talented club. A single dominant stretch or a few favourable head-to-head contests with Barca could put them right back in the mix at the top of the league. But the way things are starting off, and looking at the two rosters, the gap appears to have widened a little bit between the defending champions and the rest of the league.
It feels fair to say now, perhaps more than in past seasons, that if Barcelona performs to its potential, La Liga will be no contest.
Following the arrival of Samuel Umtiti from Lyon, compatriot Jeremy Mathieu has found himself further down the pecking order at the Camp Nou. As a result, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has added the Frenchman to a list of candidates to help ease his injury crisis at the Emirtates. Mathieu has provided defensive cover for the likes of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano since his arrival from Valencia in 2014, however with just 49 first team appearances in that time, it is perhaps now time for the 32-year-old to seek pastures new.
Despite the Gunners seemingly close to agreeing a deal for Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi, Wenger is thought to seek further recruits, with Per Mertesacker and Gabriel on the sidelines at present. is set to sign from Valencia in a big-money deal and it would now appear as if Mathieu is also being lined up. Mustafi is currently odds on in the football betting market with bookmakers Coral to secure a switch to the Emirates before their next fixture, while Mathieu remains an outsider for a similar move despite mounting speculation. For those looking to put money on such a move, today’s bet of the day at Coral is certainly worth backing.
Barca take on Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup this weekend, with a first leg tie at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán to look forward to. Luis Enrique’s men are 4/6 on with Coral to secure a first leg lead, despite their stuttering pre-season performances this summer. Enrique will certainly be looking to ensure that his team are firing on all cylinders come their opening La Liga match against Betis on August 20.
According to many sources, Barca are now finally close to announcing the signing of a much anticipated forward. Having been linked to numerous players over the off-season, a back-up option to the trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar Jr is imminent. Former Barca man Jonathan Soriano is believed to be the most likely arrival, with the 26-year-old currently odds on at Coral to return to the Spanish giants.
Barcelona’s quest for a historic back-to-back treble hit a slight bump in the road when Villarreal came from two goals down to earn a point in their La Liga clash.
Ivan Rakitic and Neymar put the Catalan club ahead in the first half but Cedric Bakambu and an own goal from Jeremy Mathieu earned a point for the home side at El Madrigal.
Luis Enrique’s men still hold a comfortable lead at the top of the table with the team nine points in front of Atletico Madrid and 10 ahead of their great rivals Real Madrid when this article was produced.
The Catalan club are in an extremely strong position as they pursue glory in all three competitions and earn their place in history.
They brushed aside Arsenal with ease in the round-of-16 stage in the Champions League, beating Arsene Wenger’s men 5-1 on aggregate without playing at their peak.
Barcelona now face a showdown against Atletico in the quarter-finals, which will feature a fierce contest between Spain’s most potent attacking force and its best defence. Meanwhile, only Sevilla remain as their final obstacle to clinch their 28th Copa del Rey crown.
The trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have almost singlehandedly guided Enrique’s side to the Primera Liga title. They have scored 69 of their 86 goals, while also netting 15 of their 20 strikes in the Champions League.
They have been unstoppable since their formation as a three-pronged force after notching over 100 goals between them in the last campaign, which guided the club to their second major treble.
Although Messi has not scored the ridiculous amount of goals he did last season, the 28-year-old’s game shows no signs of decline and the form of Suarez and Neymar may extend his dominance at the top. The burden for him to fire every week has been eased by his fellow South American duo.
Suarez has been the leading man for Barca this season, firing 26 goals in his 28 appearances in La Liga trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo in the goal charts.
The Uruguayan has been in equally fine form in Europe with six strikes in seven matches as well as three assists, while Neymar completes the fearsome trio with 21 goals in La Liga and another three in the Champions League.
Not even the Bayern Munich duo of Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski can match the trio’s efficiency in front of goal, which is why the oddsmakers have Enrique’s men at odds of 1/200 in the La Liga football betting and 6/4 to secure a European crown for the second year on the spin.
One glimmer of hope for Barcelona’s opponents will be with their displays at the back, with their 2-2 draw against Villarreal hinting that fatigue may be beginning to take its toll on the Catalan club due to their heavy fixture schedule this season.
2 – Villarreal are the 1st side to come back from a 0-2 at halftime against Barcelona in La Liga since Real Sociedad on 2011 (2-2). Effort.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 20, 2016
Atletico will – for once- be hoping their city rivals, Real, can produce a victory in El Clasico at the Nou Camp when La Liga resumes after the international break to give them a glimmer of hope in the title race.
However, should Barcelona prevail, it’s difficult see any side stopping them from recording a historic back-to-back treble.