Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Barcelona 5 - Sporting Lisbon 2

What a strange, strange game. Thoughts from today:

1. Barca had a team that represented Pep Guardiola's dilemma: you don't want to put too much into tonight (for reasons I will talk about later) but you also want to ensure top spot in the group so you avoid the other group winners in the first kncokout round. So Eto'o, Puyol, Yaya Toure started on the bench but Messi (iffy thigh), Xavi (plays week in, week out and needs rest) and Dani Alves (probably covers more surface area per game than any other Barca player) all in. Funny team, with Hleb on the right, Gudjohnsen and Sergi Busquets in midfield and Caceres (finally getting a full 90 minutes) in defense.

2. The game started off scrappy with both midfields crowding each other and no team able to string passes together. By about the 10th minute, however, Barca hit their groove, found their spacing, got a measure of the surface and the opposition, which led to...

3. The first two goals came within three minutes of each other. The first was created by, who else?, Messi. Henry won the ball in the last third, fed it to Messi on the right side of the penalty area, who simply blew by the defender as if he wasn't there, squared it back to Henry who carried on his run and had a simple tap-in. Too easy.

The second goal came from a cross from the left to the far post. Gudjohnsen rose to meet it, but realizing that his jump and the trajectory of the ball would mean the ball hitting his left shoulder/arm, turned his back to it. It fell awkwardly for the defense, right in the middle of the six-yard box, with Pique able to get a touch on to a defender and in the goal. Two nil inside 17 minutes, and the game, for all intents and purposes, was over (even though Barca were away).

As soon as the confusion-wrought goal was scored, I thought Guardiola should have taken Messi off. Look, the guy historically suffers one major injury a year, he's carrying a niggle, and when you're up 2-0 early, sometimes you can afford to be unorthodox in your substitution patterns. If he got injured for real at some point during the game, he really would have heard it from the press. I remember Rijkaard made a very similar mistake last year - playing the Messiah when he wasn't completely fit, and then not taking him off when Barca were comfortably ahead - but he actually paid for it, because Messi got hurt, and that was the end of Barca's season.

4. I can't think of a worse team than Barca for a team to go down early by a couple of goals (although I guess Milan five years ago would be in the discussion). They knock it around with such consummate ease, constantly ask questions, are technically brilliant, and leave you chasing shadows. It's hard to get back in the game when you can't even get the goddamn ball back. From about the 15th minute to about the 40th, Sporting looked completely lost. Just an awesome passage of play.

5. Barca scored their third cheekily. Dani Alves won a freekick from a handball right at the edge of the area, took it in about 0.3 seconds, fed Messi, who calmly rifled it past the poor goalie, who had no idea what the fuck was going on. The Sporting defenders were similarly clueless. Even the cameraman was caught by surprise; only on the replay from another angle were we able to tell what happened. I can definitely see how it's incredibly pissing off from the other team's perspective, but hey, it's not like it's against the rules, is it? Messi smiled his impish smile, crossed himself, pointed his fingers to the heavens, and promptly came off for Pedro (vote for Pedro!).

Set up the first goal, scored the third, and caused at least four heart attacks to opposition defenders: all in a day's (or 55 minutes') work for the Messiah. I'm pretty sure I love him more than the WTB.

6. The three minutes from the 65th to the 67th minute saw Sporting score thrice; however only two were in Barca's net. The game went from 3-0 to 4-2 in almost literally the blink of an eye. First the ref gave Sporting a freekick, evidently believing that Marquez's chest counts as his arm. That was the first (great freekick, by the way). For the second, Marquez decided to make the game more interesting by heading it in the direct path of a Sporting player making a run down the center of a pitch, left the defense and Valdes in an impossible position, and suddenly the game was wide open: 3-2 with 25 minutes to go.

The wind was taken out of the Sporting sails soon enough, however, as they scored an own goal with Caneira lobbing an attempted clearance above his goalkeeper's head under pressure from Pedro (vote for Pedro!). Just a really weird sequence...

7. ...which got wierder still around 5 minutes later, as Bojan was released and then brought down by the keeper by what can be best described as a clothesline. Penalty awarded, red card shown, and Bojan (barely) slotting in the spot kick past the substitute goalkeeper, who was almost twice his age (33 vs. 18). That was the final big moment of the game, except for a great save by Valdes from a point blank header, again proving that he's an excellent keeper when it comes to making difficult saves and a terrible keeper when it comes to keeping simple balls out.

8. Barca will be happy that they have the top spot in their group in Europe secured, because things in Spain are about to get real interesting. Despite playing sublime football for the first three months of the season, Barca's lead in La Liga is just three points. In fact, the top five teams in Spain (Barca, Real, Villareal, Valencia and Sevilla) are separated by five points. And you want to know who Barca's next four opponents are? Sevilla away, Valencia at home, Real at home, and Villareal away. Good times.


AKS said...

Listen Ahsan, nobody really cares about a bunch of pussies running around and kicking a stupid ball. I think it would be best if you refrained from writing about this horrible sport. And no cricket is not an alternative. You should follow my lead and channel your energies towards following a proper sport like Croquet or Egg and Spoon Race.

Ahsan said...

Hahaha. Calm down AKS, Arsenal will be back. Though I have to say, the Gallas outburst was one of the most entertaining sports stories of the year.

shez said...

Arsenal ARE back. nice post btw.

Ahsan said...


Really? One win, and they're back? That's all it takes?