CL Preview: Barça – Dynamo Kiev, Tuesday 2:45pmEST, Fox Sports en Español
In the 10th century, Русь, or Kievan Rus’, controlled what we know as the Ukraine, Belorussia, and eastern Russia. There were notable figures like Vladimir the Great and his son Yaroslav the Wise and Kievan Rus’ ended up controlling a vast swatch of Eastern Europe that extended into eastern Russia. They wrote the Russkaya Pravda and made the Dnieper a major trading route. Modern Kiev probably owes much to those centuries of rule.
It’s easy, of course, to get lost in the ramblings of history, to find ourselves connecting Kievan Rus’ to the present in a direct line, and, what’s more, to think about the Ostrogoths that came before that as somehow connected to the fairly ridiculous historical comparison we made last time with Visigothic maraudings in reverse. We could continue that and say that we are fighting the next battle in our made up war, moving from Italy to the Ukraine (with Barcelona as a proxy for the actual Ukraine), and ending up in Russia on Matchday 3, but that, of course, seems even more far-fetched than it did the first time I went about it.
Whether Lobanovskyi ever tried to channel Vladimir or Yaroslav, we’ll never know–perhaps there are better historical equivalents, but, again, I never did study Europe and I’m far too lazy to do a truly in-depth look at the history of these countries–but certainly there are connections between the Ukraine of footballing antiquity and our modern Barcelona-based juggernaut. Valeriy Vasylyovych Lobanovskyi, for those of you who are unaware, is one of the fathers of modern football. There are, of course, disputes about who developed what or influenced who, but it’s generally accepted that Lobanovskyi was one of the first to push players into that realm of physicality that allowed them to run for 90 minutes, to play, in essence, Total Football because they could stand the pace and no one else could.
Basketball fans will recognize the press, with all your players pushing up, up, up, harassing and yipping at the heels of anyone with the ball. You do not get a moment’s rest, you do not get time to think. That, as I understand it, is the basic tenant of Lobanovskyi. The rest is all icing on an otherwise brutally hardworking cake. Lobanovskyi played for and coached Dynamo Kiev in their most glorious years, pushing them to the exalted heights of a European Cup Winners Cup title and dominating the Soviet league for a decade and a half. He was their coach in 1999 when they made a run to the Champions League semifinal (losing 4-3 to Bayern Munich on aggregate).
Lobanovskyi passed away in 2002 after a stroke, but his legend is as big today as it ever was during his lifetime. He was a brilliant tactician and a taskmaster to the extreme, demanding everything from his players. A certain Catalan coach has learned well from the Lobanovskyi model, that much is obvious when you watch Guardiola’s side, but he has also seamlessly grafted in Johann Cruyff and Rinus Michels. Dynamo and a young striker named Andriy Mykolayovych Shevchenko have also learned well from Lobanovskyi and tomorrow’s match is as much a battle between competing tactics as it is between competing talents. Whether there are videos of Ostrogothic hordes bearing down on hapless Catalan families being shown in the Camp Nou dressing room prior to the kickoff is anyone’s guess, but no doubt Guardiola has at least studied the recent history of the club in order to ascertain their weaknesses. Chygrynskiy has, hopefully, given the good word on how they play and perhaps he can point out the historical significance of the mascot named Русь on the sideline.*
This is a bigger match than anticipated. I’ve known about it since the group stage draw, naturally, but somehow the actual value of those three points didn’t really hit me until earlier today. With Dynamo currently top of the group, having beaten Ruben Kazan 3-1 in the Ukraine, the results of this match will go a long ways towards qualifying us for the knockout stages or, if the result is a negative, a long ways towards sending us to the Europa League. What I mean is, I expect Inter to win against Ruben Kazan, even in Russia, so we need to jump Dynamo into either first or second now and never look back. Playing from behind (a draw or a loss would put us at the very best in second) is never fun, so we, uh, we shouldn’t do it.
What’s not so great for us is that we’re entering the match with a couple of injuries and some fairly fatigued players. Saturday’s stompfest at Malaga didn’t help, sidelining both Henry and Chygrynskiy for this match and forcing Ibra to make an early comeback from an ankle injury. While that ankle was obviously not too painful, the extra miles can’t be beneficial to his recovery and it’s very unfortunate that his appearance and subsequent goal came at the expense of Henry’s leg. Regardless of what your thoughts on Henry are (good, bad, who?), he’s integral to this side simply by being the only LW/ST that we currently have. Jeffren isn’t ready for the CL primetime and Bojan is injured as well, so losing our other LW was not a good situation.
I do think, however, that it does spell the end of Iniesta’s bench-riding times. That’s a good thing. It also means that Keita will continue to have time on the field, which is also a good thing. Here are my thoughts on the Iniesta situation, quickly: Guardiola knows that we’re likely to play 60+ matches this year and that only 6 of them have currently been played (plus 3 super cup matches) and that Keita is currently in a superb run of form. Why disrupt that and put Iniesta back in when he can both give Keita the confidence boost and keep Iniesta fresh for just such situations as we find ourselves in now? I said this towards the beginning of the Malaga match, by the way, so it’s not me looking back on it and finding ways to approve of Guardiola’s moves. Now we have a chance to put Keita and Iniesta on the field in an important situation that highlights, I think, Guardiola’s trust in Iniesta, who has been relegated to the bench yet is also expected to come out and play 100% in a Champions League clash when called upon. That’s trust and understanding of Iniesta’s professional manner and nature.
So on that note, here’s my lineup: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, The Yaya, Xavi, Keita, Iniesta, Ibra, Messi.
That, I think, is a lineup most of us can get behind. It does leave us weak on the bench, but what choice do we have other than to roll out our best starting 11 and beat Dynamo with it? Messi is still going to be pissed, but much more controlled about it, and he’s going to slice through Dynamo’s defense time and again. Dynamo’s defenders are going to curse the name of Weligton for years to come, I predict, even as they try desperately to emulate him. The reffing won’t be as horrendous, I can pretty much assure you of that, but I’ll discuss the particulars of that later. Suffice to say for now that stomping on Messi or punching Pique will result in instant dismissal.
A tactical note from Malaga that won’t have been lost on Dynamo or their coach, Valery Gazzaev**, is the man-marking of Xavi and its influence on the game. Whenever you man-mark Xavi from the outset, it takes us a little bit of time to find our rhythm. I would be very surprised if Dynamo doesn’t man-mark Xavi simply because it’s an easy way to stifle our creativity (and far easier to do, I have to admit, than man-marking Messi out of the game). When Malaga stopped man-marking Xavi, the side began to look much, much better, but then Malaga reverted and the side struggled a little bit. That might not take place, as some have suggested, if Iniesta is played at his usual spot from last year as a pressure release valve and a second creative midfielder. For the moment, however, keeping Xavi in check is the only way to keep the team in check at all.
So, it’s Kievans and Catalans, Lobanovskyis and Cruyffs, Gazzaevs and Guardiolas, Ibras and Shevas. And of course the rest of the players.
As far as I know, the match is on Fox Soccer en Español, but if you’re a DirectTV subscriber you should get it in English as well. I’m not positive, though, because I don’t have DirectTV. The match is at 2:45pm EST, meaning your faithful bloggers will be tape-delaying it at their houses via DVR and won’t be able to liveblog it. Anyone up for the challenge?
Referee: Björn Kuipers (Netherlands); he appears to have no prior experience, having just earned his elite referee status this year. Will his first CL group stage experience mean he will be more or less likely to bend to the will of the home crowd? We’ll have to wait and see, of course, but inexperience could make for a bad night for some players…
Assistant #2: Norbertus Josephus C. Simons. He goes by Berry, naturally enough, while fourth official Bernie Raymond Blom apparently goes by Kevin. What? You Dutchies are crazies! Whenever there is a wrong offside given, we all have to scream “Norbertus!”, wherever we are. If your family/friends/coworkers begin to wonder about your sanity, just tell them someone on the Internet told you to do it.
Official prediction: 2-1. Goals by Ibra and Messi. It’s going to be a tense affair for the most part as Dynamo try to kick their way out of the stadium, but we won’t let that happen. Bring it on, baby, bring it on.
New York/EST: 2:45pm
San Diego/PST: 11:45am
Sydney, Australia: 4:45am Wednesday
Singapore: 2:45am Wednesday
India: 12:15am Wednesday (if you’re from India, a reader has suggested you check out this petition trying to get La Liga broadcast there)
* I’m pretty positive that they don’t have a mascot named Русь. But how cool would it be if my faux-historical ramblings made a real life connection? Sweet!
** Gazzaev is another famous name in Soviet football so there is probably some amount of tension between his approach and Lobanovskyi’s. I don’t want to make it seem like Dynamo’s coaches are all products of Lobanovskyi’s school of thought, but there has to be some amount of influence simply because of the name and presence (there’s a statue outside the stadium of him). Whether Gazzaev was ever a student of Lobanovskyi’s I’m not sure, but it seems clear that they functioned within the same realm and are both huge names in the Russia/Ukraine world. Gazzaev began playing a few years after Lobanovskyi retired as a player, but no doubt was at least influenced by Lobanovskyi’s Dynamo sides since he faced them often enough. For those of you reading at home with access to Inverting the Pyramid, I think there’s a passage about the two of them in there, but I’m not sure if my aging memory is right.