Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Barcelona, Inter Battle To A Stalemate

What a truly enjoyable game that was. It's been a while since I saw a thoroughly engrossing and enthralling 0-0 game, and here was one. The match was cagey, a tactical cat-and-mouse affair, both teams looked like scoring, both defenses stepped up when they had to and both coaches, I suspect, will be satisfied with the result.

The first half, by and large, was controlled -- I won't say "dominated" because that would an exaggeration -- by Inter. This was for a number of reasons. First, the pace of Diego Milito and Samuel Eto'o always had Pique and Puyol on their heels. Milito, in particular, looked quite threatening when he was fed on the left and dragged Puyol into a foot-race. Second, Sneijder played excellently, hovering in the hole as the number ten, and troubled Barca with his dynamism. Third, Barca's passing game was not up to the mark. They attempted a lot of passes that they normally wouldn't -- perhaps trying too hard to feed Ibra over the top rather than work the tika-taka game they are known for -- and even when they attemped short to medium passes, they were often off the mark. In large part, this may have had a lot to do with the pressure Inter put on the ball, fairly high up too. In fact, in many ways, Inter looked like employing a cousin of Barcelona's tactics, both in attack and defense: using pace, well-timed runs and short passes with the ball, and pressuring hard to retrieve it when they lost it.

They didn't have too many clear-cut chances though; if anything, the best chance of the first half went to Ibra early on, when he was fed a ball over the top by Xavi, managed to keep the defender behind his right shoulder as he ran into the box, received it, and tried to shoot it on his second touch. It went sailing over the crossbar, but with only the goalie to beat, he should've done better.

The second half saw Barca return to last year's team, except without the goals of course. The passes were crisper and more accurate and the movement more dynamic. They did well to take the steam out of the game, which was probably played at too fast a pace in the first half for their liking. From the halftime mark to about the 80-minute mark, Barca looked on the verge of scoring a number of times, without getting a clear-cut opportunity. The interplay between Messi, Alves, Xavi and Ibra up top was good to watch but frankly, it lacked the supreme cutting edge of last season. Iniesta's absence until late -- working his way back from a four-month layoff due to injury -- had a lot to do with that, as did Henry's listless performance.

On the whole, I was satisfied with the result. An away game in Europe against a tough team like Inter, particularly so early in the competition, had banana peel written all over it. With no damage done, no major injuries suffered, another 15 minute stint for Iniesta as he works himself back, another game for Ibra to get used to his teammates, and a valuable point, there's a bunch of reasons to be content. Not least because that point might, at the end of the day, make the difference between playing a team like Arsenal and playing a team like Olympiakos in the first knock-out stage next spring.

Fans of other teams may consider this an open thread on the first week of the Champions League.

4 comments:

karachi khatmal said...

dude were we watching the same match? it was horrible to watch as a neutral, there were absolutely no exciting moments, and barca missed a lot of tap-ins, and were low on the spectacular gimmickery we watch them for.

for mourinho it was business as usual. hopefully the return fixture would have more masala.

Ahsan said...

KK:

Haha maybe we were watching different games. That can happen when one is a neutral and the other is a diehard fan. My own views are based on the 180-degree change from the first half to the second half, as well as the little battles throughout the pitch and also the tactical adjustments. For instance, it was beautiful to see Barca abandon the long ball (by and large) in the second half, and go back to what made them successful in the second half. That was probably a consequence of Guardiola giving a good team talk.

I just think it was a really compelling game, even if it wasn't exciting per se.

JJY said...

After watching that Arsenal game, I now know how a United fan must feel - week in, week out. Or for the last year or two, a Liverpool fan.

Play like shite, somehow pull off the win.

Even our goals were Kuyt-like.

Ahsan said...

Yes, you had your very own hand of god thing going there.

By the way, you might be interested to know that last week I went out with a bunch of people, two of whom were British. And guess what? THEY ARE STILL PISSED OFF AT MARADONA, calling him all sorts of names and whatnot. Bloody hell. It's been 24 years almost. You think they'd let it go, no?