We’re posting thick and fast now, so here are links to the last 3 things that we put up prior to this: Kari’s Clasico Podcast, Tito’s Return, and Soccermom’s Part 1 of the greatest book ever conceived. Read those!
Yesterday afternoon I watched the Basel-Manchester United Champions League match that ended with [Spoiler Alert!] Alex Ferguson’s team dropping to the Europa League for the first time in I don’t know how long. Some long amount of time. Part of what was so interesting about the match was how Basel played right through much of United’s midfield. Shaqiri was impressive, if also selfish at times, and he did a good job of simply taking the space given him and using it well. The same can be said of, say, Rafinha, in the match against BATE.
Kevin tweeted this before, but it’s worth reiterating: the players may be young, but the system is purring like a cat in the sun. That’s not necessarily a statement about the overall quality of the players, though they are certainly extremely talented, but it is a statement about the overall quality of the system put in place over the last two decades by a team always looking forward. Guardiola played it perfectly and the team responded in kind, perhaps against a weak opponent, but one that drew 1-1 with Milan.
Marti Riverola made his competitive debut, Rafinha and Thiago played together for the first time, and Sergi Roberto and Martin Montoya scored their debut first team goals. Pedro finished the match with 50 goals to his name in 140 appearances. Guardiola got his 150th win in 208 attempts (!).
Beyond that, it was probably Pinto’s last European game between the sticks and I think Maxwell becomes the first outfield player to ever be older than the combined ages of everyone else other than his goalie. But I suppose when everyone else is in the single digits, that’s not so crazy. Bartra is 4 and Cuenca is 5, after all. All around, a solid day.
There were some fluffed lines that could have resulted in goals for BATE, but they were never really up for it and from the get-go it was always going Barça’s way. The stats are the usual stats: 75% possession, 9 shots on goal to 0, 6 fouls to 16. You’d imagine that Xaviniesta were controlling the midfield and not Thiafinantos. Yeah, that one didn’t really work out, did it? Jonafinhiago? Dammit. Dos Alcantara just seems like cheating. Jonathiago works well enough, I guess, but leaves out Rafinha. Ah well.
My major thought about this match is that it calms the nerves of various cules prior to The Big Game. The matches against Rayo and Levante were also therapeutic and should really help the squad go into the match on Saturday with a big grin and some backhands to the jowls to give away like candy on Halloween. It won’t be easy, but these matches, ones where the team gets its swagger back, even if vicariously, are massive. Real Madrid will know they were lucky to get away with an easy win in Amsterdam–2 goals ruled out by a Portuguese ref, let the nonsensical conspiracy theories abound!–even if it was a relatively weakened side. Fábio Coentrão and Pedro both played 90 minutes, which suggests they won’t get starts on Saturday, but anything can happen. Benzema and Higuain also played large parts in the RM match, so the advantage of resting up goes to Barça by a smidge. The advantage of being at the top of the league and this not being a must win goes to RM.
The future is bright, folks, though we’ll need to find a new defender. That’s not based on any lack of quality in either Bartra or Fontas, it’s just that, well, what’s with the lack of hair, boys? With those purty little haircuts that make you seem like nice young men, how can you ever compete with this:
And now I’m hyped. Get ready. It’s here.