At 8:58 on the clock, Valdes collects an errant clear from a defender. He passes it to Xavi, who pass it to Adriano on the wing, it goes back to Xavi, who pivots and sends it halfway crossfield to Iniesta near the half line. Iniesta dribbles forward and sents a ball to Messi, playing between Plzen’s banks of 4 defenders. Messi turns sideways with the ball and scuttles around the defenders coming back. He passes square to Xavi who has a man on his back and deftly flicks it to Adriano on the left wing. Adriano taps it to Busquets, who taps it to Iniesta. At this moment Pedro and Villa are occupying the two extreme flanks with Xavi and Messi playing on either side of the semi circle. Plzen is deployed in a flat 4-4-1-1, with the support striker defending Busi. Iniesta steps forward and one of the midfielders moves out to defend him. He pushes the ball around him and Messi steps back to give him a return pass. The defender nearest Messi steps up to defend Messi if he determines to keep the ball, but Messi has already given the ball back to Iniesta and the defender steps to his right to get in the way of Iniesta’s dribble. Messi merely stands where he was and Iniesta gives him a one-touch return pass and Messi is able to pivot and face goal before the ball arrives. Iniesta is, at this point, occupying not only the defender he has just beaten, but also the two defenders stationed in front of Xavi and Messi’s defender. The wing back has moved off of Pedro to cover Messi, so Messi just returns the ball to Iniesta on a diagonal, splitting his defender and the wingback. Iniesta’s little run is being covered by the RCB, who has shaded across rather than really stepping forward. The ball hops up for a moment and Iniesta flicks it sideways by him and onto his left foot for a cool finish beyond the keeper. Golazo at 9:31.
It sounds so very stodgy and logical when you write it out, so here, watch it, love it:
Live, I tweeted this: “Goal by Iniesta. That was just shockingly good. You’d think I’d be used to this by now. But how can you get used to that?”
And really, it was a superb effort, an effort worthy of being sung about by bards with harps. It was the goal of the year so far (for Barça, at least) and it is worth slobbering over. So, I’ll give you a moment to slobber. Ho hum, ho hum, dum diddle diddle dum. Done? Okay.
So what’s wrong with Barça? The first 10 minutes of the match were a superb display of ability, but after that it seemed to become a question of who could be fanciest with the ball. Backheels flicks and pirouettes were put on show and the fans duly ooh-ed and aah-ed like the crowd at a small town fireworks display. But that the team was playing like they were up 4-0 against a Tercera D side. But they were up against a Champions League side, regardless of their European record, and, honestly, they beat Rosenborg and Copenhagen–and remember, Copenhagen gave us some games last year–so you can’t take any team lightly.
And yet…it should have been 5-0, at least. By minute 20 we’d had 4 opportunities that, had you known they were coming, you would have bet large amounts of money on them scoring. But you’d have lost because, for some reason unbeknownst to mere mortals such as, well, everyone other than The Yaya, the team couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Or, rather, Messi couldn’t do anything other than fluff his lines. It was like watching Ian McKellen stumbling over MacBeth’s most important words. Minute 21 is a great example. Busi finds him with a tremendous throughball and Messi, with a defender on his back and the keeper in front of him, pushes the ball directly at the keeper and allows the defender to arm bar him out of the way.
But you know who was totally awesome and is going to win my Man of the Match award simply by being totally awesome? David Villa. The least of what he did was score that second goal. He was a workhorse out there, constantly moving, creating space, and most importantly, tracking all the way back on defense. At least twice he was on hand to stop a potentially serious attack and other times he was looking to make sure that things were covered and that he didn’t need to make a frantic dash back. Feel free to argue this decision in the comments, but I’ll just say that he created the second goal. How’s about that for hustle paying off?
Let’s also handle this: there wasn’t a penalty on Messi in the 23rd minute. I know it’s in fashion to say “The ref didn’t call a penalty!” Right, but the proper complaint in this situation is that a ludicrously bad offside call was made before that. Iniesta was completely onside–3 guys were holding him on!–but it was called anyway. Would it have been a penalty had the offside call not gone? Well, would it have been a penalty had pigs come out of my butt and swarmed the field? Who knows! It never got to that point. But Messi looked like he was trying to earn back the “best goal of the game” award instead of slotting in teammates. And he almost did it.
His second half run that ended with him schooling 3 players and hitting the post would have won the individual highlight award and his freekick to end the half would have been a highlight for a good long while as well. But neither went in and he seemed to get petulant late, as if he deserved the goal that fell to Villa. While it’s possible it was just his injury nagging him, he didn’t celebrate the goal and looked very downcast.
My solution to that? Sub him off. If he’s your most important player, a possible Achilles injury should be treated with a measure of sobriety. Sure, he may have said he was fine and could play the final 15, but take him off anyway. Sevilla is this weekend and you can put in Cuenca and Thiago. But it was 1-0 and Guardiola is bound by some strange law I wasn’t aware of to keep Messi on the field regardless of form or health.
They should have scored at least one. Let’s just put that out there. Barça was complacent at times and they should have paid for it in goals. Yet they didn’t and now Valdes’ current clean sheet streak is at 94,038,761 minutes. Which is a lot of games unless you’re Man United, in which case it’s just one game where you’re behind. Snark! Sure, Viktoria Plzen didn’t have any shots, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t inches from getting onto the end of something a couple of times–and once Alves tried to decapitate Valdes and gift them a goal.
You can check out extended highlights here (Messi’s super run at 7:41 on that video in case the embedded quality above isn’t to your liking) and Guardiola talking about Iniesta in the post conference here. Those videos, as you can tell by the URL, are from 101 Great Goals.
Also, feel free to rate the players in the comments cause I simply can’t do it. Other than to give Valdes an 8.534. Cause hey clean sheet, but miscommunication with Alves and…nevermind. Just let us know what’s going on in this picture:
Photo from AFP