El Clásico x4 (part the first)

April 15, 2011 — by Sean

Is this the man to unlock Barça's defense?

There are a number of matches worth watching this weekend: the Manchesters facing off Saturday in the FA Cup semifinal is certainly worth your time, as are Udinese at Napoli and Arsenal hosting Liverpool on Sunday. But these games pale in comparison to the first of four el clásicos taking place over the next three weeks.

Saturday’s match at the Bernabéu won’t have quite the impact on the league table that Madridistas would’ve hoped for at the beginning of the season (specifically after that 5-0 spanking at the Camp Nou), but even with the league gone and the teams meeting in the Copa del Rey final next wednesday you can expect a full-blooded affair. Mourinho went full psychological battle this afternoon when he sat silently next to his assistant during a press conference, refusing to answer any questions himself. A classic tactic by the Portuguese, who prefers to draw attention to himself around big matches rather than leave his players open to excessive scrutiny.

As for fitness, Barcelona sorely miss Puyol and Abidal in defense and have looked vulnerable when teams have pushed past their high pressing midfield. Madrid have a few absentees in Lassana Diarra and Pedro Leon, but they do have Higuain and Benzema fit again, and Adebayor didn’t look half-bad against Spurs mid-week.

So which team is in better form? Through most of the season it was clearly Barcelona, but they’ve seemed a tad shaky of late while Madrid are looking pretty comfortable on the pitch. Madrid have also had an entire season to learn Mourinho’s defensive principles…then again Barça tend to have their way with what seem at the outset to be the most prepared of teams.

The key to a Madrid victory will be to limit Messi’s time with the ball. When his teammates have looked less than otherworldly this season, the little Argentine has stepped up his game to amazing levels. Very often it’s some combination of Iniesta and Xavi that pop open the defenses, with Messi finishing the movement, but Khedira and Alonso will collapse on them very quickly and it’ll be up to Lionel in isolation (and also finding Villa moving off the shoulder of his defender).

For Barcelona to walk away with the win they’ll have to retreat quickly when they lose possession (Madrid have a very quick counter attack) and not give Özil any time on the ball. The young German is a key link between back and front, and with him contained Barça can maintain their high pressing and look to turn the ball over quickly, as they do.

Though this isn’t necessarily the most popular prediction, both in the CultFootball offices and around the world in general, I think we’ll be looking at a 3-1 Madrid win. Truly this game could go either way. Both coaches are great tacticians, and both teams are really a joy to watch, but I’m a little tired of Barcelona’s dominance.


Adebayor to Real Madrid (& a Map of 18th Century Gold Coast of Africa)

January 26, 2011 — by Sean

Ex-Togo international Emmanuel Adebayor has completed his move from the stands of the Eastlands to a place on the pitch at the Bernabéu. It’s no shock that he was destined to make a move in this transfer window, seeing as he’d fallen to fifth in the Man City striker pecking order (behind even Jo, of all people). His training ground fight with Kolo Toure at the start of the month was an obvious indication of his frustration (though the two have apparently been at each other in some manner since their time together at Arsenal). How well will he do in Madrid? Considering he’s joining a coach who consistently gets the best out of his players, we imagine he’ll be back on top of his game in no time. It won’t hurt to be removed from the antagonistic relationship with Toure.

Abdebayor and Toure training ground skirmish

When their fight first happened, and it was revealed that theirs was a longstanding animosity, we thought perhaps the issues ran deeper than the training ground, and perhaps even so deep as national pride. Toure is Ivorian, while Adebayor is Togolese, but the countries are separated by Ghana, and don’t seem to have had much interaction in the way of modern conflict. Knowing as we do about language traits of natural-born Africans (the population generally knows a minimum of three languages: a European/colonial language (usually german/english/french in the west), an African language (often within the Niger-Congo language group, again in the west), and a very refined tribal language. Toure is Mandinka, a very large and old ethnic group that doesn’t extend into Togo. We’re uncertain of Adebayor’s tribal associations, but we’re pretty confident he’s not Mandinka. It’s not a stretch to think there’s been some baiting going on based on tribal stereotyping.

Further on this, let’s take a look at an 18th century European-made map of the Gold Coast (that includes tribal divisions, to some degree, and trading outposts). Overlaying a modern map, we’d see a run of African countries that have provided us with the best football from the continent—Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Nigeria are all along this coast. There’s not a ton to say about this map other than suggesting we appreciate it’s historical significance, and we wish we knew more about the history of tribal conflict in the area. (Also, unlike the editors of the newly sanitized edition of Huckleberry Finn, we think it’s important for us all to remember the proper history of names and naming, to appreciate the power of language, and to the understand importance of learning about the past to help inform our actions in the future.)

18th Century Gold Coast of Africa (from Univerisity of Florida Archives)