Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is Barcelona soccer's Greatest team ever?

More than most sports, soccer has a way of exalting its past. Time and pre-HD pictures have a way of making history seem better than it was. Which is why the fact that some are wondering whether Barcelona this year is the greatest club team ever is a testament to what's going on at the Camp Nou.

Domestically, Barcelona has won 18 of 20 Liga games and is on pace to gain 104 points, which would shatter the previous record of 99 it set just last year. At the current rate, Barca will score 122 Liga goals, pulverizing the previous mark of 107, and concede just 21, the second-lowest total for a 38-game season. In the Champions League, it's been smooth sailing as well, with four wins and two draws in the group stage.

But what sets this Barcelona apart from other dominant teams in recent history is the way it plays the game, which is, at once, breathtaking to watch and unlike any other top side in Europe. In a single game, a top team beating up on a weaker opponent might typically control 60% of possession—65%, at most. Barcelona has averaged 73% possession in La Liga and 72% in the Champions League.

It's not that having more of the ball automatically makes a team better: Inter won the Champions League last year despite having just 45% possession throughout the competition. Possession stats matter, however, within the context of what a club is trying to do. And Barca's game revolves around keeping the ball endlessly, which serves three functions. First and foremost, when the opposition doesn't have the ball, it can't score. Second, a lack of possession wears teams down mentally, because there is no time for them to switch off. And last, it plays to Barca's strength: with gifted players, Barca keeps them in a position to hurt the opposition—that is, have the ball at their feet—for a long time.

Barcelona's possession obsession is a way of maximizing the skill set of this squad, filled with creative, undersized players with a keen understanding of passing and movement. It's a sterling example of the old truism: Tactical systems and styles of play should suit the players at your disposal. Put Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola in charge of, say, Manchester United or A.C. Milan and odds are that one of three things would happen: He'd change his philosophy, he'd have to bring in a raft of new players or the team simply wouldn't be very good.

But there are a number of wrinkles to the way Mr. Guardiola has worked this season, his third as Barcelona's manager. For a start, he's rotating his squad less and using fewer players. Barcelona's 11 most utilized men have been on the pitch for 80.8% of the time in the club's La Liga matches. Last year, the figure stood at 72.5% and the year before, when Barca won the Champions' League, it was 72.3%. (As a metric it's somewhat imperfect, since injuries to starters—Barca haven't had many this year—can skew the results, but it's still telling.)

The implication, of course, is that while Barcelona benefits from this great chemistry, a regular's prolonged absence might have disastrous effects, especially since the squad looks rather thin in certain positions. If one of the two central defenders—Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique—needs a breather, Mr. Guardiola's preferred solution is shifting Eric Abidal into the middle or moving Sergio Busquets back from midfield and inserting Seydou Keita. He can do that as long as one guy is missing. But it becomes difficult to do with multiple absences. And the situation won't improve if, as it appears likely, Gabriel Miltio, Barca's only other veteran central defender who's hardly played this year, is sold in the January transfer window.

It's a similar story up front. When one of Lionel Messi, David Villa or Pedrito is out, Mr. Guardiola either turns to 20-year-old Bojan Krkic or moves Andres Iniesta into the front three, inserting the ever-dependable Mr. Keita into midfield. It's the kind of approach that might blow up in Mr. Guardiola's face is Barcelona hits a rough patch with injuries and suspensions.

There's another downside of this approach. If newcomers don't acclimate right away, the way Mr. Villa did, they're stuck in a vicious cycle: They don't play well, so they don't play often, which makes it more difficult for them to play well when they do get to play. Argentina captain Javier Mascherano, a $35 million summer acquisition, has suffered from this quandary. Despite his pedigree, he looks out of place in the Barca midfield—he's started just three league games in the past two months—yet without more playing time, it becomes more difficult for him to integrate. This may explain why half of the 22 men who have appeared for Barcelona in the league this year have come through the club's youth system, where they were drilled in the Barca way.

The other concern is that Barcelona is somewhat one-dimensional. The average height of the front five is just 5-foot-7, with Mr. Villa the relative giant at 5-foot-9, and there is no big man on the bench to provide an aerial threat. Mr. Guardiola has addressed this issue by moving the 6-foot-2 Mr. Pique or the 6-foot-3 Mr. Busquets up front in key moments of games, but it's obviously not the kind of thing he can do for 90 minutes. The decision to dispense with size and power up front may have something to do with what happened last year, when Barcelona spent a fortune to bring in 6-foot-5 striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, only to let him leave after just one season. Mr. Ibrahimovic, despite not playing badly, often looked like a fish out of water at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona is defying much of the conventional wisdom of modern soccer, which calls for physical, athletic players, a balanced team and ability to vary one's style. All of which points to the fact that if Barca keep this up, we will have witnessed something truly extraordinary. Barca isn't just breaking records. It's shifting paradigms.


Source from : Wall Street Journal

Why Lionel Messi is the Great One

Barring illness or sudden injury, Lionel Messi will break the Spanish record for most goals in a single season. The Barcelona forward notched two in Saturday's 3-1 win over Almeria, bringing his total to 47 in all competitions. That equals the mark set by the legendary Hungarian Ferenc Puskas in 1960, matched by the original Ronaldo in 1997 and Messi himself last year. Given that he is averaging more than a goal a game and depending on whether his club reaches the Champions League final that he has between nine and 12 matches left, it appears a certainty he will make history this season.

Soccer doesn't have the same numbers fetish as other sports. In fact, the only real statistic most casual fans know is that Pele scored 1,000 goals. That's mostly because there was plenty of worldwide hype in 1969, as the Brazilian superstar bore down on "O Milesimo." Yet "O Milesimo" was something of a media creation: Pele's total included exhibition games and tours, a bit like that of another Brazilian striker, Romario, who reached the milestone in 2007. (The other two members of the 1,000 goal club, Austrian Franz Binder and another Brazilian, Arthur Friedenreich, are somewhat more obscure.)

Generally speaking, that's soccer's attitude to records: They're a bit of fun, nothing more. And that's probably a good thing, since, generally speaking there's an apples-and-oranges problem. Comparing different eras is hard enough, and it becomes nearly impossible when you throw in different leagues of different standards, let alone exhibitions and non-competitive games.

That said, Messi's record will be special. Spain's Liga is universally regarded as one of the top two leagues in the world, and all but three of Messi's games this season have been either in the league, the Champions League or against top-flight clubs in the Spanish Cup. He also tied this mark last season, suggesting this year is by no means a fluke. He has 23 assists, also a league-best, which means he either scored or created more than half of Barcelona's already-astounding 132 league goals. In statistical terms, we're talking Wayne Gretzky in 1982: a dominant player on a dominant team pulverizing records.

The frightening part in all this is that Messi is still just 23. Based on the trajectory of the average player—not that there is anything average about him—he has not yet entered his prime, which usually falls between 25 and 28. If his next six seasons are anything like his previous six (and he remains in Spain), he will be on the verge of breaking Telmo Zarra's all-time Liga goal-scoring record before he turns 29.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Messi, though, is his size: 5-foot-6 and 148 pounds. At a time when players are getting bigger and stronger, it seems counterintuitive that a man so small should thrive.

West Ham manager Avram Grant has his own theory. "With footballers getting larger, more mobile and more athletic, there's a premium on space," he says. "To create chances, you need room. Because of Messi's control, quickness and agility, he needs less room than others."

Indeed, Messi's ability to sail through crowded penalty areas with the ball seemingly super-glued to his foot is the stuff of YouTube highlight reels. But he is also a deadeye finisher and a creative passer who slots perfectly into Pep Guardiola's system at Barcelona. There is no denying Messi benefits tremendously from playing for such an attacking, pass-and-possession-oriented side. Lining up alongside other prolific forwards like Pedro and David Villa—who have 20 and 21 goals, respectively, this season—helps take some of the pressure off. And because they're on the same wavelength and complement each other well, it has a multiplier effect both on Messi's numbers and Barcelona's fortunes.

In that way, he's also like Gretzky, who had the luxury of sharing time on the ice with hockey's equivalents of Messi's supporting cast: Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier.
Suspending the Soap's Star

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was suspended for two games last week for swearing at a camera while celebrating a goal in his club's 4-2 comeback win at West Ham. The four-letter expletive—accompanied by an angry-sounding "Come on!" as if Rooney were challenging the television camera to a fight—was clearly audible to viewers around the world. Rooney appealed, citing the fact that he apologized shortly after the match, and insisted his outburst was also the result of abuse he had taken from the home crowd, but the ban was upheld Wednesday. He served the first game of his suspension in United's 2-0 win over Fulham Saturday, and he will sit out next weekend's FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City. (The suspension doesn't apply in the Champions League, so he is expected to start against Chelsea on Tuesday night in the second leg of United's quarterfinal.)

Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers' Association, the English players' union, criticized the suspension.

"Whilst the use of foul and abusive language is not condoned, there is an acceptance by all parties within the game that 'industrial language' is commonly used," he said in a statement. "If sanctions are to be imposed in such circumstances then this has to be done in a balanced and consistent manner and participants made aware of this fundamental change in approach."

Taylor is correct in saying that the rules need to be clearly laid out. And as anyone who has watched (or played) soccer at any decent level can confirm, foul language is common.

The difference, however, is that Rooney is not just a soccer player. He's an actor in an unscripted soap broadcast around the world on a weekly basis. And he's rewarded handsomely, not just to play the game, but to be on stage. Manchester United's television revenues in 2010 were close to $100 million—some of which pays his salary.

While it may be unrealistic for broadcasters to demand that players maintain a PG rating on the pitch, it's reasonable for them to demand that a guy who walks up to a microphone and rattles off a series of live F-bombs is punished—especially the way they bankroll the sport. Given that this was evidently unclear to Rooney and Taylor before last week, maybe the United striker should have been let off with a warning and a fine. But from now on, ignorance—or crowd abuse, for that matter—should not be an excuse.

Source from : The Wall Streer Journal
Monday, May 16, 2011

News Update, blogger is back

Update (5/15 10:55PM PST): Blogger should be back to normal for the vast majority of people affected by this issue -- if posts are still missing, please check your drafts (you may need to republish). We are in the process of restoring comments made during the affected period from 7:37am PDT on 5/11 to 1:30pm PDT on 5/12. If you still have other issues, please contact us via the temporary form we’ve set up for this particular issue. Thanks again for bearing with us, we’re deeply sorry for the inconvenience we caused. We’ll share an incident report later this week.

Update (5/14 5:37 PM PST): We're making progress restoring comments, some blogs with a lot of content are taking a little more time. Thanks for bearing with us.

Update (5/13 7:46PM PST): Nearly all posts since Wednesday are restored, now bringing back comments from last couple days. We expect the comments to be back this weekend or sooner.

What a frustrating day. We’re very sorry that you’ve been unable to publish to Blogger for the past 20.5 hours. We’re nearly back to normal — you can publish again, and in the coming hours posts and comments that were temporarily removed should be restored. Thank you for your patience while we fix this situation. We use Blogger for our own blogs, so we’ve also felt your pain.

Here’s what happened: during scheduled maintenance work Wednesday night, we experienced some data corruption that impacted Blogger’s behavior. Since then, bloggers and readers may have experienced a variety of anomalies including intermittent outages, disappearing posts, and arriving at unintended blogs or error pages.

A small subset of Blogger users (we estimate 0.16%) may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts. Yesterday we returned Blogger to a pre-maintenance state and placed the service in read-only mode while we worked on restoring all content: that’s why you haven’t been able to publish. We rolled back to a version of Blogger as of Wednesday May 11th, so your posts since then were temporarily removed. Those are the posts that we’re in the progress of restoring.

Again, we are very sorry for the impact to our authors and readers. We try hard to ensure Blogger is always available for you to share your thoughts and opinions with the world, and we’ll do our best to prevent this from happening again.

Source : Blogger Buzz

An important note about legacy accounts

There was a time early on in Blogger’s life where we had our own, custom account system for handling login authentication. Starting in 2006 all new Blogger accounts were created using the official Google accounts system, and then in 2007 we started the process of moving all of our legacy users over to the Google accounts system. Now, four years later, we’re finally at the home stretch of the transition.

For a number of technical and operational reasons, we’ve decided to finally end our support for migrating legacy accounts and blogs after June 25th, 2011. So if you have a Blogger account and haven’t logged in since 2007, you will lose access to the account and associated content permanently unless you update to the Google Account system before June 25th.

Updating to the new account system is easy and should take just a few minutes. We really do value all of the content that has been created on Blogger and we hope that as many people as possible will reclaim their blogs. If you’ve been avoiding this task for a while, we encourage you to head over to the Legacy migration page and update your account.

We’ll be sending a similar notice later this week via email to all of the email addresses associated with the legacy accounts we have in our database. In a few weeks we’ll also make another announcement here on Buzz, with more specific updates on the transition.

If you have any other questions about this process, please let us know by posting your issue in the Login section of our Help Forum.

Source : Blogger Buzz

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Have you ever wanted to write up a quick blog post on the go?

Have you ever wanted to write up a quick blog post on the go? Now there is an easy way to do this on your Android phone! We are excited to announce our first version of the Blogger Android App. Using the app you can easily compose a post, attach a photo that you just took with your phone, and either save it as a local draft for later or immediately publish it to your blog. If you are an Android user, you can start using the Blogger app today by downloading it for free from the Android Market.

Have you ever wanted to write up a quick blog post on the go? Now there is an easy way to do this on your Android phone! We are excited to announce our first version of the Blogger Android App. Using the app you can easily compose a post, attach a photo that you just took with your phone, and either save it as a local draft for later or immediately publish it to your blog. If you are an Android user, you can start using the Blogger app today by downloading it for free from the Android Market.

Have you ever wanted to write up a quick blog post on the go? Now there is an easy way to do this on your Android phone! We are excited to announce our first version of the Blogger Android App. Using the app you can easily compose a post, attach a photo that you just took with your phone, and either save it as a local draft for later or immediately publish it to your blog. If you are an Android user, you can start using the Blogger app today by downloading it for free from the Android Market.


Have you ever wanted to write up a quick blog post on the go? Now there is an easy way to do this on your Android phone! We are excited to announce our first version of the Blogger Android App. Using the app you can easily compose a post, attach a photo that you just took with your phone, and either save it as a local draft for later or immediately publish it to your blog. If you are an Android user, you can start using the Blogger app today by downloading it for free from the Android Market.

Have you ever wanted to write up a quick blog post on the go? Now there is an easy way to do this on your Android phone! We are excited to announce our first version of the Blogger Android App. Using the app you can easily compose a post, attach a photo that you just took with your phone, and either save it as a local draft for later or immediately publish it to your blog. If you are an Android user, you can start using the Blogger app today by downloading it for free from the Android Market.

Have you ever wanted to write up a quick blog post on the go? Now there is an easy way to do this on your Android phone! We are excited to announce our first version of the Blogger Android App. Using the app you can easily compose a post, attach a photo that you just took with your phone, and either save it as a local draft for later or immediately publish it to your blog. If you are an Android user, you can start using the Blogger app today by downloading it for free from the Android Market.
 
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