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‘David Villa to Liverpool’ rumour makes another unwanted apprearance

Sigh…

This first appeared on the Caught Offside website a few weeks ago, which should give you an indication as to its reliability.

Next to peddle this flagrant lie? Friend to the bored commuter, The Metro:

‘However, he has recently found he is no longer an automatic pick by coach Pep Guardiola and could look elsewhere for more first-team opportunities.

The Sunday People has suggested that will mean a reconsideration of the Anfield club, now managed by Kenny Dalglish, who would like to add the forward to their attacking options.

Villa will only move to a club in the Champions League, so any signing will depend on Liverpool securing a top four spot during the current campaign.

It is thought the Reds will have to find approximately £40 million to tempt Barcelona into selling a player who has been a regular goalscorer for club and country in the last two seasons.

I can’t believe they actually used The People as a source – who in turn had just made it up in their newsroom.

Given that this will probably resurface somewhere else at some point, maybe it’s best to nip it in the bud now.

£40m for a player who’ll be thirty next week, who is still by all accounts an important first team player at Camp Nou, and whose wage demands would far exceed what Liverpool would be able to offer – and that’s leaving out the issue of whether he’d want to play for a side that isn’t a title-challenger.

But other than that I’m sure he’s checking his passport, looking at property on Merseyside, and buying his Useful English Phrase book as we speak.

Lots of new content in the video section…

Barcelona launch public pursuit of Tottenham’s Gareth Bale

If you are ‘mas que un club’ then why don’t you behave like it?

I’m so bored of the self-righteousness with which Barcelona do just about everything, it’s becoming a cloud over all the undoubtedly beneficial qualities that they bring to the game.

Last Summer, and the year before, their pursuit of Cesc Fabregas was wholly unacceptable – Barca players on Twitter and in the press, club officials, Pep Guardiola; all publicly commenting on what was, at the time, another team’s player.

It’s hard to believe that UEFA/FIFA would tolerate such a flagrant disregard for the transfer rules from another club – certainly, if it was an English club behaving like this then Michel Platini wouldn’t be able to get the rulebook out quick enough.

So, another season and the potential genesis of another transfer saga borefest – this time over Tottenham’s Gareth Bale.

Barcelona President Sandro Rosell:

“Is Bale of interest to us? I won’t say and even if it was true I wouldn’t talk about it because that would automatically increase the price. Spurs wouldn’t demand 40m Euros but 50m. It is up to our technical staff to decide on the player. But we would never pay €40m for him.”

How dare they? Really, a club not fitting in with Barcelona’s valuation of a player? Outrageous. One thing Sandro; it’s not actually just up to your ‘technical staff’, the player belongs to another club, so they also have a little bit of a say over his price. Obviously I appreciate that that causes an inconvenient clash with Barcelona’s sense of entitlement and general level of arrogance, but still.

No doubt we’ll be hearing from Xavi et al about ‘how well Bale would fit in at Camp Nou’ over the coming months, so that’s something to look forward to.

Yes they play beautiful football, yes they’ve got a team stacked full of world-class players, but can we look beyond that now and realise what a pain in the arse Barcelona are becoming?

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An astonishingly creative ‘David Villa to Liverpool’ rumour

‘Liverpool make £34.2m bid for Barcelona star Barcelona’Caught Offside

Actually I just admire the temerity of anybody that can put something like this on the internet. Awful transfer-rumours and Caught Offside may go together like eggs and bacon, but even so this is a step beyond the usual dross.

It is thought that Villa’s unrest has come from manager Pep Guardiola’s commitment to deploying him on the flanks in order to accommodate Lionel Messi.

Villa has scored 30 goals in 69 games since joining Barcelona in 2009 but is craving the central role that he played at Valencia and with the national side.

It is believed Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is on the lookout for another striker to act as back-up for Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.

Amazing. So not only is David Villa’s supposedly indignant at having to play second-fiddle to Lionel Messi, but apparently Liverpool’s interest – their £34.2m interest – extends solely to making the Spaniard a ‘back-up’ for Andy Carroll.

One question though; was the specific ‘£.2m’ added for credibility reasons?

In summing-up, it’s probably best to borrow a phrase from one of the comments on this article…

‘If this happens I’ll cut-off my bollocks.’

Indeed.

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The Metro plumbing new depths with Barcelona rumour about Arsenal’s Walcott

The Metro have continued their stellar reputation for reporting absolutely nothing today -please tell me that whoever wrote this wasn’t able to keep a straight-face as they typed it.

Arsenal are apparently ‘bracing themselves for yet another battle with Barcelona’, this time over winger Theo Walcott.

Are they bollocks.

“Pep Guardiola was thought to be impressed with the winger’s match-winning display against his side during last season’s 2-1 Champions League defeat at the Emirates, and is now reportedly considering a surprise bid.”

Okay, so which one of Barcelona’s genetically-modified players is going to be left out to accommodate Walcott’s unique style of underwhelming wing play? Pedro, Alexis Sanchez, David Villa, or maybe Leo Messi?

Possibly not.

I’m also not sure that Arsenal would be ‘bracing themselves’ if Barcelona did come knocking for Walcott, more likely they’d be laughing hard and holding their hand out.

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Goals from yet another Clasico, and thoughts on Barcelona…

The highlights from last night’s game at Camp Nou are at the bottom if you want to skip there, but a few thoughts on Barcelona for what it’s worth.

Mas que un club? Really? The self-righteousness with which Barcelona conduct themselves is becoming a bit wearing, especially as it’s without much foundation. It’s very easy to publicly criticise Jose Mourinho, his abrasive managerial style encourages vilification, and he’s an obvious scapegoat for the more impure elements of the recent Barcelona/Real Madrid games.

Marcelo’s tackle on Cesc Fabregas was very poor, but the mini pitch-invasion from the Barcelona bench to protest against it was disgraceful – tackles like that have no place in the game, but nor do reactions like that. In fact, for every bit of Real rough-housing that we’ve seen in recent encounters between the two, there’s be an equal volume of flagrant simulation and exaggeration from Barca.

Dani Alves – Cheat.
Sergio Busquets – Cheat.
Andres Iniesta – Cheat.

Ignoring the footballing qualities of those three, it’s impossible to take some kind of elevated moral stance when your team contains players that are so very dislikable.

How about the deplorable club-wide behaviour during the pursuit of Cesc Fabregas?

The ‘sprinkler incident’ at the end of the Champions League Semi-Final against Inter Milan?

They may very well be the footballing benchmark in Europe, but they really don’t hold that position particularly gracefully.

Rant over – here are the highlights from last night…

Xavi and Paul Scholes; No Comparison To Make

Never listen to a football-themed podcast when you’re trying to fall asleep.

Appearing on a recent episode of the Gabriele Marcotti-hosted The Game, Patrick Barclay trod on a tender nerve by opining that Paul Scholes is ‘not even in the same class’ as Xavi Hernandez. It’s more irritating because of the reputation that Barclay has garnered as a – relatively – less smug, more thought-provoking member of the press-pack, and that really he should know better.

They’re different players, playing in different teams, with different systems. It’s a really lazy comparison.

Xavi is fantastic, his vision and awareness on a football pitch are peerless, but his role is really temperament setting. He receives the ball, he moves the ball – he shifts the focus of the play from one area of the pitch to the other, never allowing the opposition to really settle behind the ball. But this is the point, he passes for the sake of fluidity, he’s not an incisive playmaker – and he doesn’t need to be, Iniesta and Messi obviously fill the creativity quota amply. Make no mistake, there’s no down-playing Xavi’s importance to Barcelona, because without him the European Champions wouldn’t work as a unit, everything would collapse into the enormous chasm in centre midfield. Even the fashionable observation that he ‘never gives the ball away’ is, while true, not quite as impressive as it sounds. If your role is to move the ball and shift the focus of play, the chances are that you’re playing a lot of high-percentage passes – hence you’ll have a much higher completion rate than if you were responsible for unlocking defences.

During the apex of his career, Paul Scholes operated alongside Roy Keane as the more advanced central midfielder – Xavi’s role at Barcelona is somewhere between those two, and doesn’t exist at Manchester United. There’s no onus on Xavi to score or provide goals, he’s deployed as the link between the defensive and attacking halves of Pep Guardiola’s team. Criticising Xavi’s lack of goals is as worthless a discussion point as Scholes’ inability to tackle – they’re not a natural part of either player’s game.

In terms of technique, purely attacking creativity, and a threat to goal from anywhere inside thirty yards, you can’t make a case for many players being superior to Paul Scholes. A couple of weeks ago we wrote that his greatest enemies were his nationality and his appearance. If Robinho wasn’t South American, his stock would probably be about half of what it is in this country, and likewise, if Paul Scholes looked Latin and came from Argentina, we’d all have drooled over him for the past fifteen years. This is the classic trap with Scholes; we’ve grown used to seeing him week in and week out, and as such his talent is made to seem falsely mundane.

The one glaring disparity in their footballing CVs is on the international stage. Xavi is a European and World Cup winner, and Paul Scholes is English and subsequently medal-less. But in fairness to Scholes, this has an awful lot more to do with the quantum leap between the two countries’ talent-pools. Even before his premature international retirement, he was so un-English in his style of play that nobody other than Sir Alex Ferguson really appeared to know how to accomodate him. How many England Internationals did he spend stuck on the left of midfield, moved out of the very areas in which he could be so effective? In contrast, the current Spanish team is built in the image of Barcelona – and Xavi occupies exactly the same role for his country as he does for club.

Maybe Patrick Barclay has just been caught-up in the swirl of hyperbole that surrounds Barca now,Matthew Syed claiming that their Wembley performance almost reduced him to tears is the stand-out low point so far, but it seems ironic and contradictory that at the end of the game that spawned all of this, there were five different Barcelona players scrambling to exchange shirts with Scholes. Do you do that with players that ‘are not even in the same class as you’?

Arsenal & Tottenham to battle over Damio

This might be one of those transfer sagas that runs and runs.

Most of you will have heard the quotations from Giovanni Luigi, Internacional President, informing the Brazilian media that his club have rejected a £10.5m bid from Spurs for their forward Leandro Damio. Just in case, here are those quotes again:

‘It’s the first offer that we have received and we have refused it, I said I didn’t want to sell now. I warned that he’ll only leave at the end of the year and for more money. Tottenham has offered €12million for Damiao, but we think that it’s not enough for a player that is 21 years old and that has an excellent future.’

Despite Spurs’ special relationship with Inter – where Damio’s fellow-Brazilian Sandro was signed from – it seems that Senor Luigi is determined to dig his heels in over the fee. Ignore what he says about ‘no wanting to sell him now’, because more than one source is suggesting that a bid closer to £20m will change his mind.

Tottenham are not the only club chasing the one time-capped international, with Barcelona, AC Milan, and most recently Arsenal linked to him. The Sun, The Times, and a gaggle of online reports have suggested that Arsene Wenger wants Damio as a partner for the over-worked Robin Van Persie.

Why is this boy so popular? Click the image above of him and the Copa Libertadores for a bit of YouTube…

In the Premier League’s and Manchester United’s defence…

The chances are that you saw this coming during Clive Tyldesley’s commentary, that while he figuratively wet himself over every five-yard pass by Xavi or Iniesta, that this was only a prelude to a Barcelona-themed media love-in. Barca where absolutely sensational on Saturday night, and they made Manchester United look very ordinary – their movement, their vision, even their desire for the trophy-itself was superior. However, as ever with the media, the significance of their 3-1 win has been taken to far too deep a level.

The Barcelona team that sits at the summit of club football at the moment, is not there by default. They are not simply the best side in 2011, they are a generational team and one that will be spoken of for a long time. Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta are not just the footballing elite of this decade, they have a rightful place in any ‘of all time’ list – and in Messi, they may have a player who tops that list. Once the spectacle of Saturday night wore away, it was replaced with a series of negative accusations towards Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Why was the centre of midfield so immobile? Why is there such a gap between England’s Champions and Spain’s finest? Why did Sir Alex Ferguson appear to learn nothing from his Roman humbling in 2009? The last question was posed by Paul Smith of the Mirror, and is easily the most fatuous. The Barcelona team has been built as fluid concept, with interchangeable players that can function in a variety of postions. You don’t really ever learn anything by playing against them, other than how good they are. Beyond the anchoring Sergio Busquets, the five players ahead of him improvise their movement throughout each individual phase of play – if the players doing that are of sufficient quality, then there really isn’t a tactical system that can do much to subdue them. Those who disagree will point to Jose Mourinho’s ‘sugar in the petrol tank’ comment after Inter Milan’s victory across two legs last year – but really, if you played that game another ten times Barcelona would probably win eight or nine of them – Inter may have progressed, but it was Barca’s profligacy in front of goal that caused them to lose. If you look at all the great teams and individuals of history across different sports, there’s always a period where very little can be done to stop them winning Championship after Championship; the 90s-era Chicago Bulls, the AC Milan team of the 1990s also, peak-level Roger Federer, and the last decade with Tiger Woods. Playing against them doesn’t teach you how to beat them, you wait and hope to play them when they’re slightly less than their normal level. If as a tennis player you’ve been well-beaten by Roger Federer at Wimbledon, why would that give you any advantage the second time round? It’s too simplistic to suggest that encountering something of superior quality in person, should then allow to build a blueprint to overcome it the next time you face it. You don’t just hope to play your best and win against these teams, you’re also reliant on them under-performing. Losing to one of them, which Manchester United have, shouldn’t warrant a full-scale panic.

The natural progression for the media was to move from praise of Barcelona, through criticism of Manchester United, and then finally to a direct and unfavourable comparison between The Premier League and La Liga. The logic goes now that there is a growing disparity between the two league’s, and the Spanish side’s victory is affirmation of La Liga’s premier status. Nonsense. Barcelona are not an encapsulation of Spanish football, as the 25 point gap between them and third-placed Valencia should show. Barcelona are an exceptional team that happen to being playing in Spain, look, or example, at the gulf that exists between them and Real Madrid – who were cast aside with at least the same amount of ease that United were. Furthermore, if you were to pair off English teams with their corresponding Spanish counterpoint, so Manchester City with Valencia, Arsenal with Villarreal, Sevilla with Tottenham, and LIverpool with Atletico Bilbao, i’m not sure that would endorse Spanish superiority. Yes, the very top of La Liga is currently superior, but the separation of footballing wealth in Spain is also far, far greater.

The only point that came out of the weekend’s analysis that we found ourselves agreeing with, was the belief that England will never produce a Lionel Messi. There’s a slight caveat here, because a Messi isn’t ever really produced or created – a player like that just arrives. However, the point is that in England, the youth systems in this country are obsessed with power, size and pace – technical ability is tolerated, but flair is coached out of players and replaced with more direct attributes. If, as he was rumoured to be, a four-foot tall Messi arrived at a British academy, he’d probably be cast aside for being too small and pigeon-holed as a circus player that would never make it. Sadly, the same is probably true about a Xavi, or an Iniesta, or a David Villa – and is there a better case for proving this than England’s continuous failure at major competitions. Even against inferior opposition, our inability to retain possession is evident, and our direct and overly physical approach to the game looks archaic. Without getting into the National Football Centre debate, because that’s an entirely different discussion, Gareth Southgate and Trevor Brooking have an awful lot of distance to make up.

The media tendency to take a discussion like this too far will always exist, the need for ‘left-of-centre’ opinions in the press is too great for it not to, but it’s healthier if we just admire the star power of Barcelona while it burns at its brightest.

Manchester United: Our starting eleven for Barcelona

Well, the Telegraph really helped United’s cause by printing Alex Ferguson’s tactical ‘Plan B’ this morning – that’s the easiest and quickest way to make sure that journalists are banned from future United training sessions. Anyway, this is our tactical masterplan – honed over years of Championship Manager – on how to overcome the world’s best club side. On a humorous side note, apparently Nani was used to imitate Leo Messi in United’s preparation…

Edwin Van der Sar

No dispute here obviously, and a good performance at Wembley would round off a great season and wonderful career. One of the most consistent goalkeepers of the modern era.

Rafael/Fabio

Either one of the two gives you the same attacking outlet from right back that United had during Gary Neville’s tenure. Can they really defend and concentrate when surrounded by theattacking intricacy of Barcelona? Honestly we’re still not convinced, but they’re both a better fit than Wes Brown or John O’Shea. The challenge will come for them when Andres Iniesta drifts over to the left and creates an overlap with his full-back.

Rio Ferdinand

It’s become en vogue to lament his demise in the last season, but that’s part derived by the need for journalists to have opinions and part because of his injury record. In the last couple of weeks at least he’s looked relatively secure, and stil reads the game as well as any defender currently playing. Is there a more valuable commodity against Barcelona than footballing intelligence?

Nemanja Vidic

A concern has got to be his tendency to play the game right on the edge, and against a team who are so willing to exaggerate, deceive and manipulate, he could be found out. Will probably have been targeted by Pep Guardiola as an emotional weakness in the United team, and must not let his team down by falling victim to Barcelona’s ‘dark arts’.

Patrice Evra

The lights are on, the world is watching, and Lionel Messi is your responsibility – horrible. Although it’s been written that Evra will be ‘marking’ the Argentine, that’s really not true – because of his tendency to drift around in the corridor in front of the defence, dealing with Messi is actually more of a collective task for United. He’ll prod and probe, dance and rive at United’s defence, but as long as those moments as fairly fleeting there’s no need for terror every time he gets the ball. Just don’t let anybody get isolated against him….

Ji-Sung Park

…And one way to ensure that Evra doesn’t get stuck one-on-one with Messi is to deploy Park in front of him, on the left hand side of a flat four in midfield and get him doubling-up when United defend. He’s also good enough going forward to present a problem for the ‘not quite as good as he thinks he is’ Dani Alves, and has the uncanny ability to score goals at important moments in important goals.

Michael Carrick

We prefer him to Darren Fletcher in this game, purely because he’s better in possession than the Scot – the energy and tenacity that you lose is a worry, but the ability to keep the ball away from Xavi and Iniesta is a huge plus. Fletcher also has the tendency to be a bit of hatchet man sometimes, which with Busquets prone and ready to ‘simulate’ would be another risk not worth taking.

Ryan Giggs

Harassed all week and will probably be mightily relieved to get to the sanctuary of the pitch. The beauty of the Welshman is that he’s such a complete player that he’ll be an asset anywhere on the pitch – so play him where Barcelona are strongest, and put your most experienced player in the centre of midfield with Carrick. Of all the United players, he also has the best first touch, which is going to be the key to maintaining possession as Barca hunt for the ball in packs. Neither he or Carrick is unlikely to cause disruption to Xavi’s passing rhythm, but how many players in world football actually do?

Antonio Valencia

If there is a weakness in the opposition, it’s at left-back. If it’s Maxwell, then give Valencia the ball at every opportunity and try and get him in behind and looking for Rooney or Hernandez. Also, much like Park on the other side, gives United another player that will work in both directions – he’s a great athlete, so use that as an asset.

Wayne Rooney

What you don’t want to see is him dropping so deep that he fails to impact anything in the attacking third. That’ll be a question really of quelling the player’s enthusiasm, because if Rooney’s starved of the ball then he’ll go looking for it. He needs to be dropping wide left or wide right, or receiving the ball 40 yards from goal, and attacking individual defenders. He needs to be playing towards the opposition goal at all times and getting the ball to feet.

Javier Hernandez

No special instructions for him, just ‘do what you do’. Sit on the last man, and use the pace that’s terrorised many a Premier League defence this year. Neither Pique or Puyol are particularly rapid, and like to play the game with the ball in front of them and at there own pace. Hassle them while there in possession, and be an open option in space when United have the ball. He mustn’t get too far away from Rooney though, because without a supply line he’s in for a long night of running and very little else.

Early Morning Notes: Barcelona & Fabregas, Birmingham, Chelsea Manager, and Transfer Betting.

A little bit of shenanigans from Barcelona yesterday, who have taken up residence at Arsenal’s training ground ahead of the Champions League Final tomorrow night…

That’s obviously Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol pointing longingly at Cesc Fabregas – and that was posted on Twitter yesterday. Cheeky.

Birmingham look like they’re about to be stripped and sold for parts, as the papers have Seb Larsson, Roger Johnson, and Scott Dann linked with greener pastures this morning. Blackburn supposedly want Larsson, Sunderland are courting Johnson, and Dann is apparently going to Liverpool. Yes, probably, and I doubt it.

Arsenal are being linked with a lot of spending, with Christopher Samba being linked with a move to London – as he has been for a while now. More surprisingly, Stuart Downing is rumoured to be on Arsene Wenger’s radar – really? I’m not sure another wasteful winger is top of the Emirates priority list at the moment. Downing’s a bit of a strange one, but Samba would add some bite and aerial menace to that defence.

The Sun get all over-excited with a ‘Harry Redknapp is about to be the next Chelsea manager’ story, based on the Spurs manager leading the betting odds market. Well, no he’s not, you can get 6/4 on Marco Van Basten, and 2/1 on Redknapp – Ian Holloway and Diego Maradona both a tempting 100/1. Holloway at Chelsea would be absolutely priceless…

The bookmakers are usually a good source of information for what’s about to happen, so a couple of transfer odds for you: Wesley Sneijder is 2/1 to join Manchester United, Didier Drogba is at evens to move to Turkey and Galatasary, Alexis Sanchez is a very short 4/11 to be a Man City player next year, and Ashley Young is 2/9 to go north to Old Trafford.