On this episode of "This Week in Barça", we'll talk about FC Barcelona's 3-0 win over Elche, Munir El Haddadi's terrific debut, Angel Di Maria leaving Barça's rival and more. Let's go!
Barça 3-0 Elche: The New Era Begins
Luis Enrique and FC Barcelona got the new era started the right way with a 3-0 win against Elche at the Camp Nou on Sunday night. Lionel Messi looked like the Messi we're used to seeing as the little Argentine grabbed a brace on the night. The speed was there, so was the intensity, and you know the goal-scoring touch is always there. Messi had some solid passes to Munir and to Pedro that could have lead to goals as well. When Andres Iniesta was subbed out, Messi became the "capità" of Barça. With his two goals, Messi is now seven goals away from becoming the all-time leading goal-scorer in the history of La Liga.
Remember, he's only 27. Cherish every game you watch Lionel Messi play, as we are witnessing the greatest ever.
Munir El Haddadi made his La Liga debut in the 3-0 win. Munir looked good all game, despite some moments of inexperience displayed. Munir nearly had a goal in the first half but his bullet of a shot smacked off the crossbar. The kid's runs were good; he was causing problems for the Elche defense and worked well with Iniesta and Messi in attack. Munir put a great finish to his shot on goal for his first goal in his Liga debut. After the game, Munir told Barça TV that he couldn't sleep the night before the game. I'm sure Munir slept well Sunday night as his debut was a success.
When Gerard Deulofeu out on loan, many wondered-myself included-if Munir was ready to support Messi, Rafinha (when needed) and Pedro up front in attack while Neymar recovers and Luis Suarez remains unavailable until October. After Sunday's game, we all know now that Munir is not only capable of "filling in" on attack, Munir is already capable of doing terrific things for the first squad, despite his age or lack of experience. After the match, Lucho put it best about our expectations of Munir. "There are high expectations for Munir, but we shouldn't exaggerate. Things look good, but he still has to improve a lot."
Munir will go through some growing pains, but if he continues to work hard, there's no doubt Munir will grow to become an excellent footballer and will contribute greatly to Barça's present, not just Barça's future.
FYI: Munir El Haddadi is just 18 years old, born on 1 September 1995. If that doesn't make you feel old...
The Black Cat Incident
The Barça vs. Elche game got underway and before the players could even work up a sweat, there was a delay. A black cat ran onto the pitch and brought delight to many, but fear into some. The black cat ran past Claudio Bravo, Javier Mascherano, the Barça and Elche benches, toward the Elche side of the pitch, and finally ran off toward the near corner flag were a security guard grabbed the kitty. For the players, the Camp Nou fans, and even Luis Enrique, the cat was a bit of fun and humor to witness. But for some, the sign of a black cat running onto the Camp Nou pitch was though of as a bad omen. Many cultures consider a black cat as a symbol of wicked things and bad luck. However, there are other world cultures that see a black cat as good luck. Regardless of what you believe, arguably the only bad luck that the black cat brought was to Javier Mascherano, as El Jefecito got a red card just before halftime. Other than that, the kitty was no harm.
Perhaps he can become the unofficial Camp Nou mascot.
Best and Worst of the Barça vs. Elche game
Best: Pretty much the entire squad. But let me give a special shout out to Jeremy Mathieu. The Frenchman had some solid plays on defense-including a terrific, highlight-worthy slide tackle in the first half-and he looked very comfortable playing with the squad. Much criticism was made when Mathieu was signed, in part, because many Culés and Barcelona media wanted to see a "big name" like Mats Hummels or Medhi Benatia signed. Mathieu is not a big name, but Mathieu could end up becoming the most important thing of all: the best fit at CB for Luis Enrique, the squad and Barça's style of play. Mathieu had an excellent preseason and now a solid first game. Let's hope that Jeremy can continue to show that Barcelona spent their money wisely when they signed him.
The Worst: Mascherano's red card. Javier will miss the next Liga game at Villarreal.
Props: Let me give props to Luis Enrique for brining style back to the Barcelona bench. Like Pep Guardiola and the late, great Tito Vilanova before him, Lucho brings a stylish look to all games. Not that this helps win games, but it is nice to see Barça's manager looking very GQ. Out are pistachio-colored polo shirts; in are cardigan sweaters, skinny ties, and other hipster-esque apparel.
Last week for summer transfer signings to happen
With the summer transfer window closing on September 1st, this is the last week Barcelona can sign and send away players. With the transfer ban approaching, Barça may look to make one more signing before the ban prohibits them from doing so until 2016.
The three names that are at the top of the rumor list are Juan Cuadrado, Marco Reus and Douglas. As I mentioned in my previous article, Marco Reus is a Culé favorite and Borussia Dortmund could decide to accept a sign-and-loan agreement with Barça. However, time is running out to make a deal. Plus, BVB can take all season to convince Reus to stay long-term with them before having to accept a buyout clause deal. Douglas has been the player linked with a move to the Camp Nou the most. Recently, news came out that the transfer of the Brazilian RB to Barcelona was in doubt due to the transfer ban making a loan-back deal difficult.
The player who would have the easiest time being transferred to Barcelona is ACF Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado. The Colombian international told La Nazione that it is still possible he could be leaving Italy, perhaps to Barcelona. "Nothing has closed yet. There is still time."
Fiorentina is asking for €50 million for Cuadrado. But with the transfer window closing and with Manchester United reportedly committing £60 million+ to the signing of Angel Di Maria, Fiorentina may reduce the price on Cuadrado as Barcelona seemingly is the only club left interested in buying the player. Bayern Munich was reportedly interested in Cuadrado, but a few weeks ago, Bayern sporting director Mathias Sammer dismissed any interest from the Bundesliga champions.
Out of Juan Cuadrado and Marco Reus, it's Cuadrado that has the edge in possibly joining Barcelona, as €35-40 million would bring Juan to the Camp Nou immediately, whereas a buy-and-loan deal with Dortmund for Reus is more complicated.
Angel Di Maria leaves Real Madrid
This is "This Week in Barça", where we cover all things that related to Barcelona, even if it means having to talk about Real Madrid. In this case, the departure of Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid is significant and impacts Barça in future Clásicos. No Di Maria in future Clásicos is a welcoming thing for Barça.
Angel Di Maria is an exceptional player and has been a formidable foe for FC Barcelona. Yes, Di Maria is overdramatic. But over the years, Di Maria has been a stone in Barça shoe every time El Clásico rolls around. Last season, Di Maria was arguably the most important player for Madrid's two titles last season, including Madrid's Copa Del Rey victory over Barça. Angel was the man of the match in the UEFA Champions League Final as well. Di Maria had a solid World Cup with Argentina until injury ended his tournament.
Like Mesut Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain in recent years, Angel Di Maria joins a list of Madrid players that gave Barcelona a tough time and have been sold in order to make room for Florentino Perez's "new toys." There are many Madridistas who are not happy seeing Di Maria being sold. But typical Florentino: out with yesterday's hero and in with the new hype. It's Perez's show.
Good for Di Maria to ask to leave. He will not allow his playing time to be lessened by "new toys." Di Maria didn't want his talents to rot on the bench like Isco or Asier Illarramendi. Angel has proven his merit over the years in Madrid and it's obvious he feels disrespected.
Let me just say that I always respected Angel Di Maria's game. He is a diver and is overdramatic and I never liked that, but let's be honest, Di Maria is a solid footballer when he is not doing overdramatic things. He was a driving force for Madrid in Clásicos. Many Culés–including myself–worried more about Di Maria than Cristiano Ronaldo in Clásicos. You don't have to like Di Maria, but you cannot deny the man was/is always dangerous against Barça and deserves some form of respect.
I am glad Angel Di Maria is leaving Real Madrid, and yes, it's for selfish reasons. Like with Ozil, Raúl, and Higuain in recent years, I tip my cap to Di Maria for being a formidable Barça foe these past few seasons. I'm sure he will do well at Manchester United.
What to look out for this week...in Barça
Neymar's status: Neymar suffered a Grade 1 ankle sprain in training last week. Look out for updates on his status for the next Barcelona game at Villarreal.
Last-minute transfers: As previously mentioned, look out for any updates on potential last-minute transfers. Juan Cuadrado may be the player most likely to arrive to Barcelona.
Who wants Alex Song? Anyone?: With only a few days left until the transfer window closes, Alex Song is still a Barcelona player and there seems to be no concrete offers for the player. What will sporting director Andoni Zubizaretta do? There are some reports stating that Barça has made Song available on a free transfer. The first offer will surely be accepted.
Douglas deal?: Look out for news on Brazilian CB Douglas and if a deal for €6 million + incentives can be reached. As mentioned, the transfer ban could hinder any kind of buy-and-loan deal.
Next game: Sunday at Villarreal
Barcelona will play their first road game of the competitive season in El Madrigal as they take on former Barça players the Dos Santos brothers, Javier Espinosa and Villarreal on Sunday. Look for Gerard Pique to start, as he missed the Elche game due to suspension. It is still uncertain if Neymar could play, as he is recovering from an ankle sprain.
Xoel's Final Word
The new FC Barcelona era got off to a solid start last Sunday with a 3-0 win against Elche at the Camp Nou. Messi looked good and the team will only get better.
Lucho brings an exciting new feel to this new era of Barça. As I said on Twitter, which was featured on beIN Sports' "The Express Xtra" on Sunday night:
COOL! My comment made it on The Express Xtra on @beINSPORTSUSA! Great early b-day present, guys! Thanks/Gracias! :) pic.twitter.com/ZPMEQuBIPZ— Xoel Càrdenas (@XoelCardenas) August 25, 2014
Thanks, beIN. Much appreciated.
The long journey called the La Liga season is here.
It's a long road ahead, but FC Barcelona has shown it's a road they know how to navigate, dominate and reach its end of the road.
Destination: Futbol Club Barcelona's 23rd La Liga title.
Xoel, The Voice of Els Culés and host/creator of "This Week in Barça" every Monday on SB Nation.
PS: Monday, August 25th is my birthday. Thank you to those of you who have sent me b-day wishes. Gracias!