Genius + Grit a.k.a Baca go home!!!!!

30 04 2010

I am about to say words that I never, ever thought I would say, words that I hope to never have to say again, as a cule :

I’m glad we lost. Because I didn’t want to win like that.

When Busquets took that dive after the slightest of touches from Motta, and was shown on TV, peeking through his hands to see if the appropriate horror was being registered by the officiating crew, my heart sank and I almost started crying.

The team that I love so much is not supposed to do that. It just isn’t. Last season when we swept all before us, we didn’t just win playing our game. We won doing the right thing, being sportsmen and doing the colors proud. Yes, it’s easy to be graceful when you are kicking everyone’s butts, some might say, but it isn’t. Not at all. When you have your foot on someone’s throat, it’s easy to be a lout, but we weren’t. So it wasn’t just the beauty of our football that seduced the globe, but the pride with which we played it, and the grace that we followed it up with.

This was supposed to be a match for the ages, the remuntada of all time, as we overturned a 3-1 deficit to go through to the Champions League final, to be played on the home pitch of our most hated rival.

But it didn’t work out that way, because our genius got out-geniused. I have always said that when you give a good coach too many chances to beat you, he will get one of them right. Mourinho got two of them right, though certainly our defense was complicit in the first one, when they played like extras in a Keystone Kops comedy, instead of like defenders for the best club in the world.

And Inter played their collective backsides off, and were the superior side over the two legs. The aggregate scoreline says so, their sweat-soaked shirts say so and I say so. Had we played with as much grit, fire and determination, this would be a very different match review that I have to write. So again, congratulations to Inter.

Guardiola rolled out with a lineup of Valdes, Alves, The Yaya, Pique, Milito, Keita, Busquets, Xavi, Messi, Pedro! and Ibrahimovic. Mourinho rolled out with a lineup that, on paper, looked dangerous but in reality, it played pillow soft, with the intention of doing nothing more than helping time go past. Milito was on the point, and got the occasional long ball, but really the prinicipal intention was to aggressively soak up our possession and pressure. “Let ‘em play with the ball. We’ll stop them when it matters.”

But in Mourinho’s putting real attackers out there of the likes of Milito, Eto’o and Sneijder, we had to play a little honest lest we get burned on the counter and concede a killer away goal. And time passed, filled with our minutes and minutes of meaningless possession. Messi unleashed an excellent shot that sparked an even more excellent save from Julio Cesar, and that was it for the real first half scoring chances.

Busquets’ appalling shamefulness had another unfortunate result for us, in that it made Inter resolve to just defend. Let’s pull it back, and just defend. And why shouldn’t they, being down a man? Suddenly, the shame in just fighting like lions just outside your box was gone, because they were morally in the right.

Further, it wasn’t anti-football. Not at all. It was intelligent football that we had no answer for, because our attacking was coming from the center, where the likes of Lucio just parried it away, and we set up to try again. What was missing was the overlaps from the backs, because Alves was having another stinker, and Milito is a fine defender, but he’s never going to set the world on fire as an attacker. So we had no real width, which made us even easier to defend.

Our goal, and the only goal of the match was beautiful, as Pique was the recipient of a killer ball that he controlled, spun and smoked past a helpless Cesar. Was he offside? Yes. Just. But that’s life in the big city, right? Each team had an offside goal allowed so all’s fair in love, war and football, right?

What was heartbreaking about that goal was that mere minutes before, Krkic, who came on for Ibrahimovic, had a free header, straight on, looking at the wide-open space that Cesar was helpless to defend ….

And he pushed it wide. The Kid wet the bed. It was a beautiful play that found him doing everything right, breaking at the exact right time and receiving an exquisite pass from Messi that pillowed right onto his head. And he shanked it. You could almost see Inter breathe a huge sigh of relief, and resolve to close up even tighter. If Krkic scores that goal, we need a single goal with about 10 minutes to get it, on a team that had absolutely no interest in doing anything other than defending. And they were getting tired. Instead, the time that passed between that gimme and Pique’s bit of excellence, meant that there was too little time left for us.

In another excellent play, we rushed the box as we should have been doing right from the outset of the match, playing with the urgency that finally, at the dying of the match, found its way into our legs and minds. A ball was whipped in that was cleared as far as our human wall, The Yaya. The Inter defender whacked that ball with all his might into the upper chest/shoulder area of The Yaya. It caromed off directly into the path of Krkic, who smoked it past Cesar into the top shelf. The announcer shrieked “They did it!” But no.

Everyone heard the whistle for the handball call, and stopped playing. After that, in the 92nd minute, it was all over but the shouting, of which there was plenty.

There are so many questions to ask about this match, such as why our lads didn’t play with any urgency at all until about 10 minutes to go in regulation time, or why Guardiola rolled out with Milito instead of Maxwell, thus sacrificing any attacking force and potential overlaps from the left. Or why he didn’t at least try Henry in a big match instead of Pedro!, who has a knack for scoring the big goal, but wasn’t the player to deal with what Inter was doing. What was needed was someone with a great first touch, to make a run at the defense, or to try to get behind the defense to cross the ball or cut toward the goal. Not having that made the left side even more impotent.

So Messi had his little shadow, who just hovered over his strong side so that our talisman could do anything he wanted, to his weak side. And we were pumping balls in to a static Ibrahimovic, balls that were easily defended by Inter’s stalwart back line, who are also big, in case nobody noticed. Maxwell came in and things immediately got a bit better, but there still weren’t the kinds of overlaps and significant aggression that widen the pitch, and make us so unplayable.

We played right into Inter’s hands. Now we get to watch the Champions League final on television, as we deserve to, judging by our play over the two legs.

And now comes the question of culpability. I didn’t look at the liveblog, didn’t even look at any comments, because I didn’t want to know, but also because the sites was down, in the aftermath of the biggest match of the season to date.That people are saying that Ibrahimovic sucks, we never should have sold Eto’o, blah, blah, blah.

But there’s plenty of culpability to go around. We lost that match in the San Siro, when our defense played like unmitigated dog dung, leaving our keeper awash to ship in three goals. Three goals, none of which should have happened.

–The first found our defense chasing the ball, rather than doing what it was supposed to be doing. Discipline fell apart at the wrong time. So Sneijder was standing there all by himself instead of being marked by Alves, as he should have been. Bang.

–Messi got fouled. So what. Stop whining ahd keep playing. Hard. We didn’t, and Maicon was able to easily get to the goal and fire past Valdes.

–Yes, Milito was offside. So play his butt until you hear the whistle, rather than standing around with your arms up, as lesser clubs do against us.

So we came home down 1-3, with the only real chance being to win 2-0. We didn’t seem to realize that until it was too late, and got outworked.

So sure, go ahead and blame Ibrahimovic, who missed that sitter …. no, wait …. that was Krkic. Blame Pep, who put out a lineup that was wrong for the occasion. And I’m sure that it’s someone’s fault that we went to play that exhibition down in whereever the heck it was, on a crappy, slippy pitch that caused Abidal to misstep and injure himself. There’s probably somebody around to blame for that one. And damn you Iniesta, for being so fragile. Ibrahimovic is supposed to carry you around so that you don’t tax your glass-like legs.

No.

We win as a team, and lose as one. The guys played their hearts out for not enough of the match, a match that would have been winnable had we come at it with the right attitude, which was damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead. We did for the first half-hour at The Emirates. Is Arsenal Inter? No, but our game, our speed of play is the same no matter the opponent, and those two things make us the best club in the world. We played tight and scared, scared of Inter, scared of conceding an away goal, and we lost.

So we go home. Justly, say I. They made the most of contact, wasted time and played as slowly as possible? You bet. That’s what a smart club that is down a man does. But it should never have come to that. Tactical hindsight? I leave that for others to natter about. Some say that Guardiola should have started with Krkic and the likes of Jeffren, let them run around like crazy and tire out the Inter defenders, then bring in Ibrahimovic and Pedro! to close the deal. Whatever. We lost.

The fans were awesome. I have not, in a very long time, heard the Camp Nou so full of fire and gusto. It was beautiful to see, and as heart-warming as Busquets’ bit of shame was bile-inducing. Guardiola was suitably classy, but he has always been, throughout everything. I rather imagine that this loss will tear him up, and maybe it should. He made, in my estimation, selection errors. He has to play this match like there’s no tomorrow. The move of putting The Yaya on the back line, then bringing he and Pique up as twin attacking towers from the back was excellent, but why not play a traditional back line, run Keita off the left and put The Yaya alongside Xavi, to raise some hell?

Good question. No more words said!!!!!!!!





The injury curse!!!

2 09 2009

Every club has one. That vital cog that keeps the team wheels turning. With the season in its infancy, supporters up and down the land are still harbouring dreams of glory (or at the very least over achievement, given that short of a billionaire Sheikh turning up on your doorstep, thoughts of the title are confined to a privileged few these days).

Dreaming of what could be is the lifeblood of every football fan, but there are few things more likely to bring even the most optimistic notions crashing down than a season ending injury to your clubs most vital player; a scenario all the more worrying now that that transfer window has slammed firmly shut on the prospect of further re-enforcements until January. Read the rest of this entry »





What A Champions League Draw THAT Was!!!

27 08 2009

Kaka will return to play the club he won this for

So the Champions League draw has been made, and it has provided, as predicted some absolutely mouthwatering ties. Both Milan clubs are the centre of attention, with AC in a group with Real Madrid, and Inter in with holders Barcelona. Meanwhile, Liverpool got drawn in a tricky group with Fiorentina and Lyon, Juventus were placed in a group with Bayern Munich and Arsenal face the challenege of AZ. Read the rest of this entry »





You’re Saying it Wrong! Sporting Lisbon, Inter Milan, and Other Incorrect Names That Drive Football Fans Crazy

27 08 2009

Football is a global sport. Which is one of the reasons we love it so much. But that international appeal is also the reason for many many misunderstandings, leading to football teams being incorrectly labeled outside their native land. And this can drive fans of those teams crazy. Read the rest of this entry »





Barcelona Foundations : Ball Pressure

17 08 2009

Pep-Guardiola 2

“Corred, cabrones, corred !”. That’s a great quote. It’s also slightly contradictory in a sense which you will see in a little bit. Who said it is pretty obvious given the photo. Read the rest of this entry »





Athletico BIlbao 1- 2 FC Barcelona, a.k.a. “watch out for the P!”

17 08 2009

P!

The face….the steely gaze that says “I will score”….the magic.

Ladies and gents, it was all about He Who Was Formerly Pedrito today, as he and Xavi combined to bail out what was really a desultory side today, with a few exceptions. Yes, it was the first, away leg of the SuperCopa but really, it was still pre-season for us and boy, did it show. Read the rest of this entry »





Barcelona Foundations: The Midfield

7 08 2009

Rumors of Javier Mascherano’s move to Camp Nou caused me to pause and reflect on the dynamism of FC Barcelona’s midfield: how does it function? how is it influenced by the players on the field? by the defensive shape? how would Mascherano – or any other midfielder – fit in to such a system? Read the rest of this entry »