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The Reuters global sports blog

Barca end a terrible week on a high as Pep tutors Tito


By Phil O’Connor

Barcelona rounded off a rollercoaster week with a 7-0 drubbing of Rayo Vallecano – out of Europe and with the league already conceded by Pep Guardiola, the pressure lifted and Barcelona were able to enjoy themselves once again. The Copa Del Rey final on May 25 will mark Guardiola’s final competitive game in charge at the Camp Nou, bringing down the curtain on a four-year reign that has yielded a ton of trophies. Announcing his decision not to extend his contract at an emotional press conference, Guardiola weariness with football was apparent, but almost immediately speculation began as to when he would comeback – and possibly more importantly, where. If his career as a coach continues to mirror his time as a player, there are some rocky times ahead. This is the second time Guardiola has left Barcelona; after a glittering career as part of Johan Cruyff’s “dream team”, when he departed as club captain in 2001 he did so empty-handed, as Barca failed to win a trophy in his final season. In what seemed an odd move at the time, he moved to Brescia in Italy before stints in Qatar and Mexico, but the twilight years of his club career never came close to echoing the success he enjoyed at the Catalan club that raised him. Six years after his departure as a player, he returned to the Camp Nou to coach the reserve team and he became a winner once again, winning promotion with the Barcelona B team before taking over from Frank Rijkaard. Guardiola has already been linked with London club Chelsea, and no doubt he will be linked to every top job that becomes vacant this coming summer. But the 41-year-old will need to be very careful about the next job he takes on – despite all he has achieved to date, his methods are not guaranteed to succeed elsewhere. Everything he has achieved as both a player and a coach has been done surrounded by Barcelona players, and has been steeped in the traditions of the club. Many of those who won promotion with him with the Barca reserves went on to become loyal servants in the first team. Others, like Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, were schooled at Barcelona before leaving for England and then returning – despite their Barca heritage, both players had to work hard to adjust to Guardiola’s game plan. And if players raised at the club have these difficulties, what chance does a whole new dressing room adapting to his methods? Immensely intelligent with an obsessive attention to detail, Guardiola’s basic tactics have remained true to Barcelona’s heritage, and his tactical tinkering has amounted to moving players around within the system, rather than trying to change it. It is hard to imagine him suddenly sending out a team to play 4-4-2, or ordering his side to start playing long balls in desperation. It might also be difficult for him to inherit players who simply don’t understand his way of seeing the game, or those who cannot adapt to it. There are few other clubs in the world who can offer the embarrassment of playing riches that he had at Barcelona. A decent outside bet might be for Guardiola to take over from Vicente del Bosque as manager of the Spanish national side. Taking on that job would give him breathing room at the same time as keeping him involved in football. He would be out of the pressure-cooker atmosphere the Camp Nou but still operating at the highest level. Added to that, he would still have contact with players and a tactical structure that will be familiar to him from his time at Barcelona. As Barcelona’s performance at Vallecano this weekend showed, the shackles are now off and the possibilities are many. Probably the only one that can be ruled out at this stage is him taking over from Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid – other than that, anything can happen. PHOTO: Barcelona’s coach Pep Guardiola (R) and his assistant coach Tito Vilanova talk before their Spanish first division soccer match against Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas stadium in Madrid April 29, 2012. Guardiola will leave Spanish soccer giants at the end of this season and will be replaced by Vilanova. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Inspirational Guardiola leaves powerful legacy


The inspiration for a team widely considered one of the best to grace the game, a thorn in the side of bitter rivals Real Madrid and a symbol of Catalan nationalism, Pep Guardiola has been all these things and more as a player and coach for Barcelona.

The spectacularly successful 41-year-old, who announced on Friday he was quitting at the end of the season, led Barca to a club-record 13 trophies in his four seasons in charge including two Champions League crowns and three straight La Liga titles.

Barcelona and Real’s poetry lacked motion


By Phil O’Connor

On two nights when every football cliché went out the window, one remained true – in the end the only statistic that matters is the scoreline.

On Tuesday It didn’t matter that Barcelona owned the ball, or that they completed hundreds of passes over the two legs. When Chelsea got hold of it, they used it effectively – if we are to look at one stat other than the score, Chelsea’s four shots on goal and three goals in the tie tell their own story.

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich – Champions League semi-final live blog


So Chelsea pulled off an amazing coup to dethrone Barcelona and reach the final. Real Madrid meet Bayern Munich on Wednesday for the right to meet Jose Mourinho’s former club on May 19.

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There may not be a Superclasico in Munich after all


A mouth-watering clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona in this season’s Champions League final in Munich appeared to be on the cards when the two Spanish giants were kept apart in the draw, but the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi watching the showpiece on television instead of taking centre stage on May 19 now looks just as likely.

While Barcelona missed a hatful of chances in their 1-0 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a pulsating first leg of their semi, Real were maybe fortunate to escape with only a 2-1 defeat at Bayern after they were undone by a stoppage-time winner from Mario Gomez.

Barca tired? Not on this evidence


Men tuning in for lots of action in Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg ties would have rued the decision to stay in front of the TV on Valentines’ Night when Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen and Olympique Lyon against APOEL Nicosia reached the 40-minute mark.

Both were 0-0. APOEL had not registered a shot on goal. Barcelona had dominated their German opposition with 78 per cent of possession, yet no opening score.

Soccer team of the year?…APOEL Nicosia


Alright, alright I know most of you will be screaming “what about Barcelona?” right now but they get so many plaudits that I thought I could argue a contrarion position.

Yes World, European and Spanish champions Barca have been brilliant and in time we may say they were the greatest ever club side to play the game.

And Porto will play…..Europa League draw provides some stardust


There was the usual hushed silence and then sudden intake of breath heard in Nyon on Friday, though not for the Champions League Round of 16 draw but the first two ties of the Europa League Round of 32.

Holders Porto will play mega-rich Manchester City, they were the first two names out of the little plastic balls when UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino was finally able to open the second after Davor Suker had tried and failed, and Ajax Amsterdam will take on Manchester United.

from Mark Meadows:

Real’s psychological barrier key to Barca’s 3-1 win

By Drazen Jorgic

Annoyingly for Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, the supposed plot line of  El Clasico on Saturday did not follow the script. The much-anticipated power shift from Catalunya to Madrid did not take place and his team are back to the drawing board as far as playing against Barcelona is concerned.

Mourinho blamed bad luck for the loss, as you would expect, but a lot of the press have zoomed in on Real's psychological barrier when it comes to facing Barca.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Champions League kicks off but is there only one winner?

Can any team steal Barcelona's Champions League crown this term?

The easy answer is no.

They were so strong last season that even the final against a good Manchester United side was a stroll.

This term Pep Guardiola's men have strengthened, if that was possible, with the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez so it is hard to look past them and their silky skills.