Valverde’s Barcelona balancing act turns crisis talk to treble talk

The coach used Neymar’s exit as a chance to reboot the faltering giants as Chelsea will find out in Champions LeagueSometimes football really is life. On Tuesday Barcelona face Chelsea in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge where in 2009 Andrés Iniesta scored a last-minute goal that he still watches occasionally. “It’s a moment that is always there, forever,” he says. For some fans, reminded of it daily, that is especially true. According to a spokeswoman for the maternity ward at the Quirón hospital in Catalonia, his goal didn’t only take Barça to the final, it provoked a spike in the birth rate. “I’m going to have to get more staff in if they keep winning titles,” Mercedes Rodríguez joked. Nine months after Iniesta’s goal, Rodríguez noted that births were up from nine or 10 a day to 14 or 15 in her hospital alone. “People asked if there Continue reading "Valverde’s Barcelona balancing act turns crisis talk to treble talk"

Time for Eden Hazard to show he can produce his best on the big occasion | Jacob Steinberg

Chelsea’s hopes of upsetting Barcelona rest on Belgian but he may wonder if his best chance of achieving greatness is to move This week a clip emerged of three Barcelona players being confronted by a metal railing, with each of them choosing to deal with the obstacle in a different way. While Jordi Alba continued to mooch along the suggested route and Luis Suárez dealt with the inconvenience by jumping over it, Lionel Messi could be seen scurrying under the barrier, like a small child setting off on an adventure at passport control, weaving through the legs and dividing lines and leaving his parents in a state of bewildered panic. Related: Chelsea’s Conte confident of new Eden Hazard deal despite Real interest Continue reading...

Thomas Vermaelen: ‘People think being a Barcelona defender is easy’ | Sid Lowe

The Belgian has overcome an injury nightmare to shine at Barça. Before facing Chelsea he discusses why his role is harder than it looks, how Messi makes him laugh and his sadness at Arsenal’s strugglesNo one was happier to find out the lineup than Raff and Ace, but their dad was not far behind. Thomas Vermaelen was in the tunnel at the Santiago Bernabéu and did not see the video of his sons excitedly running towards the TV screen shouting and pointing until later, by which time hundreds of thousands of others already had, yet the footage became a measure of how much it meant. The clásico is the world’s biggest match, watched by millions round the world, including a couple of small boys, aged two and four, and their little cousin; for the Belgian, it was even more than that. “I felt like I had finally made a Continue reading "Thomas Vermaelen: ‘People think being a Barcelona defender is easy’ | Sid Lowe"

Champions League: fans from around Europe preview the last-16 stage

Spurs dread in-form Juventus, Porto plan to cause an upset at Anfield and Neymar will show Spain what it is missing Juventus
If we play as solidly as we have done in the last few months, we will be tough to beat. After a slow start to the season we have picked up in defence and now, despite not looking electric going forward, we are becoming the Juve machine again. If we continue this ascent defensively, we will win games – we usually find a goal or two even when not playing brilliantly. Medhi Benatia has done well this season especially at home against Barcelona. I have also been impressed with Sami Khedira; he does a lot of work for the team. Blaise Matuidi also deserves a mention for giving us some much needed pace in midfield. Giuseppe Ciccarello Continue reading...

Understated Eibar continue to show size doesn’t always matter | Sid Lowe

Only Barcelona and Atlético can match Eibar’s results over the last three months as another unlikely run at Europe continues Iván Ramis took off his shirt and put his hat on, a flat red porkpie perched on his head as he stood in the corner of Butarque where a couple of dozen Eibar fans down from the Ego valley were going wild in wigs: some red, some blue and some Scottish, ginger locks tumbling from tam o’ shanters. As he had flung his top high into the air before running towards them shouting, they had thrown the hat on the pitch; so he wore it, along with a smile that even the referee trotting over with a yellow card couldn’t wipe from his face. “I don’t know why he took his shirt off but what am I going to say?” his manager José Luis Mendílibar shrugged . How about something Continue reading "Understated Eibar continue to show size doesn’t always matter | Sid Lowe"