There are two approaches to this match. First, there are those that think it was boring, stodgy, and a fairly miserable game. My brother found the game a pathetic excuse for a match, so much so that he thought it was bad while flying in an airplane. I don’t know about you, but I can watch paint dry on an airplane and find it fairly fascinating. That’s how boring this game was. Or there’s the other side, which is that Barça tried to play their way through a brick wall and were tactically creative throughout in an attempt to not only win this particular match, but also take the top spot in La Liga. That viewpoint might also encompass the feeling that on-field creativity is interesting and enjoyable, even if the score is low.
Some might claim there’s a middle ground in there somewhere, but as someone from the land of the 2 party system, I can’t accept that there could be an alternative to the theories already posited. Especially not since I’m going to align myself with the second camp and claim that while not the most heart-pounding of games, it was tense and exciting while also full of newfangled developments for the squad.
The thing that really interested me throughout was Pedro’s positioning. Given Adriano’s inclusion as a right midfielder and Dani Alves’ penchant for forward runs, there really wasn’t any space on the right for Pedro, but thanks to David Villa’s occupation of the left wing, the only place that remained available to Pedro was in the middle. That’s right, the middle. Maybe Preciado’s mustache saw it coming, but precious few others did. Perhaps even Lionel Messi didn’t know it was happening because they kept occupying space very near to each other, much as Messi and Cesc have done while learning to play with each other. The result was that Pedro began to occupy space further and further to the left, teaming up with David Villa, but also closing some of Abidal’s and Thiago’s forward lanes.
It was, however, because of that movement that Barça got a goal. Pedro swept out wide on the left and held the forward line with Villa, allowing Thiago to step inside and slide the ball to Xavi, who, because of the tremendous amount of space afforded him by Pedro drawing a defender backwards, took a shot and narrowly missed scoring. The rebound fell to Adriano who drove the ball into the back of the net (possibly off of Messi, but you don’t see Marca giving him credit for the goal, oddly). The rest of the game went much as the first 11 minutes had, except there weren’t any more goals.
It should be noted that Sporting Gijon committed 19 fouls–or at least were penalized for 19–while Barça was only whistled against 7 times. That’s a pretty wide discrepancy and while Sporting fans should feel free to point out that the ref was regularly lenient with Barça tacklers and overly quick to stop play when Busquets and Andre Castro got anywhere near each other, what appeared to be a clear foul on Messi by Miguel de las Cuevas in the box was overlooked. At least Messi laughed about it this time (and then tried to steal a march on Sporting? I’m not sure what happened since the TV was showing replays instead of the game itself). A note on Andre Castro as well: while I don’t think that his fouls were nasty or, for two of them, even fouls at all, there were 3 of them right in a row and he somehow avoided a yellow card. A rather random match from Clos Gómez.
And then Abidal got injured. Fortunately it looks like it was just a muscle spasm and not an actual pull and he may even take part in the international matches this week. It was, however, another problem with a hamstring and it’s left me wondering what is going on in the trainer’s room these days. Did we lose staff from last year? Did we make changes to the physical regimen? Are we not stretching before games and practice sessions? Is Pique stabbing people in the hamstrings as a practical joke? Whatever the reason, I hope it gets fixed soon. Iniesta is due back for the next match, but Alexis Sanchez is set to be out for another month while Afellay may have lost his whole season to knee ligament damage. Fortunately we have Pedro, Villa, and Messi to man the front line and a fairly light schedule over the next few weeks: Racing, Viktoria Plzen, Sevilla, @Granada, Mallorca.
Only 1 Champions League match and only 1 away match. By the time Sanchez is healthy, we should have a full squad minus Ibi and hopefully we’re over our injury woes as we have a tough slate of matches in November: @Viktoria Plzen, @Athletic Bilbao, Real Zaragoza, @AC Milan, @Getafe. It could be worse, of course, but rested, healthy players would be nice to take with us on our trip to Japan in mid December. Jet-lag ain’t no joke, though being in shape apparently helps a lot with that. I wouldn’t know.
Our 3-4-3 was fairly effective today because of Adriano’s involvement and that was nice to see, though we gave up a bit of creativity on the wing when we included him. Because of the aforementioned injuries, however, there wasn’t much else to do and seeing his versatility (RB, LB, RW) was nice.
Photos: Denis Doyle/Getty Images Europe