Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Barcelona 1 - Lyon 1

I'll take it. I'll bloody well take it. Here are my thoughts on today's game:

1. If Barcelona win the Champions League this year - along with La Liga - there will be many heroes and contributing figures. Victor Valdes will belong in neither of those categories. He can make spectacular saves at times, to be sure. But his positioning and silly mistakes could (and have) seriously cost Barca. Over the weekend, he gifted Ivan de la Pena Espanyol's second, when the game was still in the balance. Today, he came forward to an admittedly wicked freekick from the maestro (Juninho) before realizing he really should have gone back. Of course, by then, it was too late. One nil down inside seven minutes, and Valdes once again showing that he is the worst keeper of Europe's top teams.


Barcelona have to be one of the few teams whose excellent defensive record has nothing whatsoever to do with their defence. At some point, Laporta and Beguiristainet are going to have to seriously consider spending some big money on a big goalkeeper, because this fellow is an idiot.

2. Give credit to Henry. He's clearly lost pace, he's clearly lost some of his striking ability, but he's an astute and intelligent player who often happens to be in the right place at the right time. He's a shadow of his former self, to be sure, but he's still an asset (though all bets are off if Ribery is available over the summer). During a period of increased pressure from Barca, they won a corner, which Marquez guided to the far post, which Henry duly deposited away with a diving header. One one at sixty seven minutes, and suddenly Barca had broken through. He's had a lot of moments like this over the season - seemingly in and out of the game, suddenly scoring or assisting a key goal - and deserves credit.

3. Speaking of giving credit, give credit to Lyon. They played a very interesting game tactically - they got in Barcelona's face, they challenged them high up the pitch, they were very quick and threatening on the counter, and they constantly used Karim Benzema (an absolute beast) as a pressure release valve. They didn't really allow Barcelona to settle in the first 35 minutes or so, and full credit to them for that. They showed up to play, which is more than what I can say for, ahem, some teams. This tie is by no means over; Barca may have the all-important away goal, but what Benzema showed me today is that you can't give him an inch of daylight. And, as always, Juninho is deadly in dead-ball situations (no pun intended), so Lyon are still very much in this.

4. I have said this before, but I'll say it again: no team tires you out like Barcelona. They regularly keep the ball for 60-65% of games, even against good and great sides. They keep you chasing shadows, and eventually simply wear you down. I heard one of the commentators mention today that close to one-third of their league goals this season have come in the last 15 minutes of play. That is not a coincidence - it is simply the opponents efforts' flagging as the constant defending and running takes its toll.

5. One encouraging sign, especially given last year's disastrous season, was Barcelona's ability to get back in the game (a) after going a goal down, and (b) despite not playing at their best. This is all Guardiola. Under him, the team has a steely disposition that was simply absent in Rijkaard's last two years.



Today, a number of important players - including Messi, Eto'o, Henry and Dani Alves - were below their best. And yet they stuck to the task and kept knocking on the door, eventually getting the equalizer. It bodes well for the rest of the season that they can salvage something from games like these, because they sure as hell didn't last year.

6. Speaking of Pep, he had a mixed game. I thought it was interesting that he changed things up in the second half, switching Eto'o and Messi in their roles (Messi playing a more central role; Eto'o switching to the right), primarily - I suppose - to give Messi more attacking options (he was crowded the entire game). This brought back memories of the dream 05-06 season, when Eto'o, Messi and Ronaldinho would regularly switch positions, leaving teams confused and in disarray as far as formation goes. Guardiola, as far as I have seen, is less experimental, but he brought it out today after an underwhelming first half, and it worked.

That said, I simply did not understand the Busquets selection. Look, the kid is a good young player, but should he be starting an away game in the friggin' Champions League? I don't think so. Frankly, he looked out of his depth. I would have much preferred Keita to play - indeed, the latter came on for Busquets in the second half - or even Gudjohnsen, with Hleb and/or Busquets possible substitutions. Maybe I'm being harsh, but I certainly did not see anything that warranted Busquets' selection.
____________________________________________________________________

Other results on Tuesday:

Manchester United 0 - Inter Milan 0 (I think Inter will be happy they walked away with a draw after that first half)
Roma 0 - Arsenal 1 (Enough of a lead to take back to Italy?)
Athletico Madrid 2 - Porto 2 (Athletico done and dusted, correct?)

Consider the comments section an open thread on Tuesday's and Wednesday's results.

UPDATE: Wednesday's results:

Real Madrid 0 - Liverpool 1 (They've done it again, haven't they?)
Villareal 1 - Panathinakos 1 (No way Villareal is getting a result in Greece)
Sporting Lisbon 0 - Bayern Munich 5 (Keep your pants on, Adeel, it's only Sporting)
Chelsea 1 - Juventus 0 (See Roma-Arsenal comment above)

Comment away.

17 comments:

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

I certainly think the title of the post should be Lyon 1 Barcelona 1 given it was an away tie, lol. Any crucial chances that either team could have converted?

I think Inter would be happy with a 0-0 but feel they should have scored at least once. The first half United domination was only for the first 30 minutes. Inter discovered their groove for the last 15. United's midfield simply kept the ball or kept taking it off Inter and passing it forward. Ibra and Adriano were starved of the ball. The obvious strategy was to go wide and pepper the United defence with crosses which is exactly what Inter did in the 2nd half. Cambiasso and Ibra both spread out wide left with Zanetti and Maicon going further down the right. Adriano missed a sitter and Cambiasso an even easier one late on from a corner.

United's formation was really a 4-2-3-1 with Carrick and Fletcher sitting. Both have developed instincts to drive forward and they clearly had instructions to do no such thing. It meant that we didn't crowd Inter's box enough in build-up play in the first 30 minutes, when the breakthrough seemed most probable. Park didn't bring enough defensively and should have been sacrificed for Rooney around the 65-70 minute but he played on beyond 80 minutes. The second leg is clearly up for grabs with Inter marginal favourites having the score draw result in their favour. United need a win, have home advantage and hopefully have Vidic too. Game most definitely on!

Ahsan said...

AFN:

Barca's name always comes first. Always.

As for your question, not really. Both Benzema and Eto'o hit the post in the first half, but that was about it. It was quite a cagey affair with not too many chances.

As for Man U-Inter, game on is right. I read somewhere that SAF might have kept Rooney on the bench to start because of his temper which was liable to blow up in the cauldron that is San Siro. Whether or not that interpretation is true, he can't possibly be on the bench to start in two weeks, can he?

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

Haha hope you have a good distinguishing name for the second leg then if the scoreline remains the same.

That is an interesting theory about his temper especially since he somehow managed to get booked for the handful of minutes he was on. I would have kept Rooney on the bench too simply because this formation was the most obvious. Berbatov as the spearhead with Ronaldo, Giggs and Park providing the support. I think the return leg may also feature the same line-up but with Vidic in the side, one of Fletcher and Carrick will be given license to push up. Rooney should be used as an impact sub after the hour mark.

I am catching up on the tabloids and it is amazing how they all say United dominated but came away with nothing. I wonder if they saw the same game as me. United pushed more coherently but Inter had the best chances by far.

AKS said...

I thought Arsenal played well. They should be going into the second leg 3-0 up and I'm afraid that they're going to pay for their misses.

As for the Inter-Man U game, I only saw bits of it but I didn't think that United dominated. Inter just seemed happy to soak up the pressure. Certainly game on.

@ Adeel (comment in other post)

Bendtner may well be horrible at finishing but the prospect of him being in a position to finish is in itself a rarity so woeful is his first touch. Ditto Song.

The biggest problem with arsenal right now is a lack of cohesion and team spirit. Don't know if you guys noticed, but after Van Persie scored he chose to celebrate alone and only passingly acknowledged his team mates (and that too only Sagna). Fabregas lost his two closest friends at the club in Flamini and Hleb. Nobody seems to like Bendtner and Adebayor and Bendtner have fought on the friggin pitch. Gallas has slagged off Nasri. Toure is far from happy.

@ Ahsan

Decent result for Barcelona.

"(though all bets are off if Ribery is available over the summer)"

This is just dumb. I really don't see the need for Ribery (especially as he's going to cost a fortune). Surely Barcelona will be better served by a Benzema or a Villa - two players who should be available this Summer.

But from what I hear, you guys are going for Adebayor instead. Can we please throw in Bendtner and Eboue as well? (To be fair, I do think that Adebayor is a good player.)

And is Eto now going to be a permanent fixture?

lala pathan said...

Its O.K barca can't be playing sublime football all year long and i like what you said that under pep they have been salvaging some thing out of a game even when they are playing bad or atleast not good...MAN U i think came out firing only because of JOSE and i think that inter did found there rythem towards the end...i think barca will thrash lyon at home but can't wait 2 c the inter vs man u game at old trafford...this will be the game of this year...i still believe JOSE will find a way to beat man u..and u r rite about valdes...he needs to go...he is an idiot..and by the way out of the topic....thank god younis didn't brake lara's record...my god i was starting to worry....hahahahha ..wat a joke!

Asfandyar said...

AFN: I'm wondering if you say the same game as I did as well.

Giggs easily had the two best chances on the night. The first one was lost because Caesar was having a blinder, as well as Giggs somehow not passing the ball to Berbatov.

Second was simply not converted because of a stunning block by Cordoba.

Not to mention Ronaldo hitting the post with one of his freekicks (surprisingly, each and every freekick of his - except one I think - was on target!?).

That said, Adriano's chance had me thanking the dude upstairs. I also don't think you can lay any blame on Cambiasso for his chance, it came at him out of nowhere. He just couldn't react fast enough - no one couldve. Well, maybe except RvN. :\

I also don't get the part about Park bringing nothing defensively. He's the reason Maicon was essentially not even in the game in the first half. And most of the second half. Maicon marauded into the United half what, half a dozen times if not less? He's widely considered to be their major non Adriano/Ibra threat, and for me atleast he was superbly nullified.


Ahsan: Rooney was on the bench because Berbatov was simply a better option. He gives us an old-school target man aspect to his game. Rooney is too all-action, he would've started running at the defence and the midfield would run up to support him. Except Rooney would lose the ball and then we'd be in shit. That said, if Fergie knew how shit Rivas was going to be, I'm certain Rooney would've started.

Also, if you see Rooney's booking it really has fuck all to do with his temper. It was a ridiculously good tackle.

The ref frankly though was shit throughout.

AKS: Again. Try to watch the game again. Inter were backpedalling the first 30 minutes all over the place.

United handed Inter a masterclass in how to play football (and NOT SCORE :@). Inter did buck up their ideas in the second half, but they really rarely threatened.

I'm fairly certain Van Der Sar never made a save in the game as well.


Anyway, I think United might have an edge in the second leg. Sure, on paper it seems Inter are in a better position - a score draw and they're through. They certainly are capable of scoring as well.

But, if you watched the game yesterday, our makeshift (I say that because Evans and O'Shea were hardly 100% fit) kept out the Inter attack with relative ease. At the same time we could've easily scored 2, if not more. To do what United did away (and we're hardly the best of teams away - barring last year's result against Roma) should give a lot of confidence to the players.

zeyd said...

That Valdes duff was hilarious. He looked like he was entangled in a net with 1000's of mosquitoes attacking him. Game's done though; Barca should win easily at home.

I think Man U will have enough at home to pip a win. 2-1, I would guess with some nervous moments for the home team. Of course, I'd be quite delighted if Jose can pull of another stunner at OT.

Arsenal V Roma is a tougher one to call as Rome is such a difficult place to play. Arsenal haven't conceded though, so all they need is a goal in Rome and suddenly the home side need 3. That should make the gunners favorites.

One would think that Porto are favorites after scoring 2 away goals, but Athletico are a very dangerous team with excellent attacking options. The teams are evenly matched and I believe the tie is wide open.

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

The first Giggs chance was a tame shot straight at Cesar. If he squared it for Berbatov that would have been a different matter. The second you're right was a great block by Cordoba although it still had to beat Cesar. Cesar did make a great save from the Ronaldo header.

Cambiasso's miss yeah you're right it was sudden but you know how those are. It may rebounded off his chin and in he was that close to the goal.

Maicon wasn't in the game in the first half because Inter didn't have the ball. When they did have the ball and he got it, he cut in more than once off Park and Evra, into the box with a couple of crosses that were too deep. He won a free kick in a dangerous position too. And its relative too in terms of what Park brings. You must've seen him against the big teams over the last year and he does very well on the flanks keeping the fullbacks and wingers quiet.

The Rooney tackle was spot on although his studs were slightly raised and I think that drew the whistle. His follow up tackle where he took the player may have been the reason for the card even though the whistle had already blown. Inter began to play very dirtily too in the 2nd half or at least I felt that way.

VDS didn't make a save and Evans truly has been a revelation. He makes me feel secure when Rio or Vidic are missing. Great reader of the game and learning a lot from his two senior partners.

Home advantage will play for us but a Mourinho team is set up to be solid. They may not be as disorganized for the first 30 minutes as they were last night. That is why I still think it is very evenly balanced.

Asfandyar said...

Completely agreed about Evans. When we let Pique go in the summers I was rather pensive about the whole affair, but the way Evans has slotted in has been phenomenal. Make no mistake, it does help to have either Ferdinand or Vidic alongside, but because of exactly that factor a lot of teams look to exploit Evans and rarely do they succeed. Him and Rafael make me giddy.

My point about the first Giggs shot was that it was a proper 'chance' as opposed to what you earlier said about Inter having the best 'chances' of the game. The fact that Giggs ended up hitting a tame shot shouldn't take away from the fact that it was a really good chance.

I agree about Mourinho's set up being solid at OT. We sure as hell aren't going to get another Rivas like performance from any of their defenders - unless we make that happen ourselves via Rooney's incessant running and the like.

But i'm still optimistic. Our performance at the San Siro bodes well for us - after all a lot of us thought we'd get dicked over easy. 2-0 maybe 2-1? But we came away and we're disappointed we didn't win!

Perhaps, aside from even the defensive aspect of Inter's game and their relatively blunted attack in the first leg, the most promising news for us is how our midfield dominated for large parts of the game. If Carrick and Fletcher (presuming Fletcher starts, and he should) can play the way they did in the first 30 minutes, then we're in with a very good chance.

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

Yeah Pique leaving worried me too. I feel he has the class to be as good as Ferdinand in his prime. Ahsan you have a fine player and I am jealous. You know I am still skeptical about Rafael because his positioning is often off a bit while defending. Some of his tackles are a bit rash too and you'll notice how many fouls he is blown for. He should gain though with age (he is only 18 after all). Fabio seems to be better on the positioning and tackling and he really excited me far more for the half game that he played.

I had a feeling before the game that Carrick and Fletcher would manage to dominate the Inter midfield. That is exactly why though Mourinho forced them to play wider in the 2nd half and I think they will do the same for the 2nd leg. One of the two (probably Fletcher) needs to drive forward more in the home leg. Other than the obvious threat on goal it will also put another body for the Inter defence to worry about.

In other news, the odds on Rafa leaving have been slashed. Were the last contract negotiations his last?

Asfandyar said...

AFN: I'm not sure they were his last, but reports are that bookies have stopped taking bets on him leaving Anfield at the end of the season. :|

super said...

ahsan;
touche at point no. 3!

urgh at that flourescent yellow though!

Ahsan said...

AKS:

Barca want Ribery to replace Henry on the left and Villa or Benzema to replace, or at least threaten to challenge, Eto'o up front. That's the plan. So it's not a set of mutually exclusive propositions.

Adebayor would be a fucking disaster. I want Villa or Benzema, otherwise, no one.

Asfand:

I would think Rooney steps into Park's place rather than Berbatov. Right?

Zeyd:

VV is a complete choot. He's not as dangerous in the league because it's 38 games, but one mistake, as you well know, could cost any team dearly in a knockout situation.

adeel said...

5-0!! 5-0!!!!! please welcome bayern back to the big boys club :-)

ok, it's more that sporting didnt show up but hey, at least frankie and toni took full advantage of it

Asfandyar said...

Ahsan:

Yep. I think Park's going to be benched at home. Rooney + Berbatov. He'll be on the left but it'll be more of a floating role. Fergie won't care much about controlling Maicon, at least initially. I just hope that if we get an early goal we do NOT sit back. For no other reason than the fact that my nerves after last season are shot.

Benzema/Villa are Barca would be fucking ridiculous. Challenge Etoo? For what!? He's been pretty much the best striker in Europe this season :o If only most gifted footballers weren't moody dicks.

Also, hats off to Bayern. Deserved to get past Milan in '07, so maybe this time around we'll see them in the semis.

AKS said...

"So it's not a set of mutually exclusive propositions."

Not sure about that, considering both of these guys are going to cost in excess of 30 million euros. Plus as you point out in your post, VV's shit so you'd be looking to buy a good keeper and maybe a central defender.

I say they go for Benzema but not Ribery.

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

Would a central defender be needed? Puyol, Pique, Marquez and Milito are still there. Keeper seems to be a priority though I wonder who they would go for. Maybe Jaaskelainen, lol.