First off, let’s deal with the Nadal-Federer match in Madrid. In round #12,781 of Swiss-crafted Machine vs Mallorcan Donkey, the Swiss finally came out on top. el Gaffer’s hit the nail on the head as far as the mental battle is concerned between these two: Federer may not be able to consistently beat Nadal on clay (few can, these days . . and by few I mean no-one, if Nadal is well rested), but he needs to believe that he can, in fact, beat the young Spaniard – whatever the surface.

Ever since Wimbledon last year (what a match that was), one feels that Federer has found it difficult to convince himself that he can beat Nadal. Much of this is down to Nadal’s sheer dogged determination and fitness . . he almost never gives a point up for dead, and for someone like Federer, who is used to pinging a winner down the line or cross court and then admiring his handiwork while his opponent slopes off the court, weeping, this is difficult to deal with.

And, it must be said, Nadal’s no slouch when it comes to technique, either.

Rafa may still take the French, but Federer now has belief, and a Federer who knows he can beat anyone on the court is a very dangerous Federer indeed.

Also, Fernando Verdasco is incredible . . he’s my replacement for Juan-Carlos Ferrero (remember him? He still plays, incidentally) as far as favourite players are concerned. If only we could convince him that he doesn’t have to throw it all away at the final hurdle.

*

On football:

Let’s face it, Manchester United are slight favourites to edge the Champions League final in Rome. It kills me to admit this, being a Barca fan through and through, but for your reading pleasure I’m willing to put my allegiances aside, here.
This Man U. side is solid enough in defence, and plays excellent football when they’re on the attack. Vidic and Ferdinand are rocks in the centre, allowing other players (Carrick, Fletcher, Anderson and Co) the luxury of really pushing on and contributing in attack. Thankfully, Ronaldo’s phenomenal 40+ goal last season has been proven to be what it actually was: a fluke. However, he’s still a talented winger, the diving bastard (don’t worry, a separate post shall be dedicated to the Oscar-winning antics of this petulant Portuegese ponce). The key in the side, for me, is Rooney: he is tireless, has great vision (and the ability to pick out a teammate 50 yards away) and shows great strength in the box. And the man who looks like an overgrown baby can shoot, too.

Barca, for all their beauty, lack a little of the beast needed at the back. Yaya Toure has been great in protecting the back four this year, but in Rome he may well be playing as one of them, what with the injury and suspension woes. Marquez’s loss will be keenly felt, and may well end up deciding the outcome of this one. Personally, I’d like to see Caceres play in the centre-back role alongside Pique (who’s had an incredible season), with Puyol on the right and Silvinho on the left. I’d understand, however, if Pep feels the game is too big for the young Uruguayan to start.

For Barca, the key will be to take the game to Manchester Utd: monopolise possession, keep them on the back foot, and rather than dinking the ball around the outside of the 18 yard box, space the play out a little more, so that the opposition can’t simply put two banks of four behind the ball. An early strike will be crucial, and another will be necessary, because Manchester Utd will score against the Barca defence.

Also, a phrase I heard one of the better Sky Sports commentators uttering at the end of a Barca La Liga game earlier this year, just about sums up Guardiola’s coaching chops: “Pep Guardiola has created a monster!

This post has rapidly gotten out of hand, so I’ll sign off here, for now.

– el kapitan

Hold on a tick. I haven’t disparaged SuperPippo yet.

SP, you must understand, has far too much free time on his hands, seeing as he runs an IT company and all. So you’ll excuse his constant disagreement with virtually anyone he comes across, and his obsession with involving AC Milan in every post.
Don’t get me wrong, AC Milan are one of my favourite sides, as well, but really . . . do we need to hear that much about Maldini, Inzaghi, and, in particular, Clarence Seedorf? He isn’t the second coming, SP, let it go.

How about this – if SP refrains from the merest mention of Milan in his next five posts (minimum length 400 words (thought I’d left you a loophole, didn’t you?)), I pledge not to utter a single negative remark about his lumbering defensive efforts at our weekly AKFC football game.  You up for it?

-e.k.

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