Don’t forget to check out the Champions League draw post I put up a few minutes ago.
If you’d told me that there would ever be a match where Adriano, Keita, and Maxwell combined to score 4 goals while no one else ended up on the scoresheet, I’d probably have told you that you might want to lay off the wacky tabacky because it’s messing with your internal sense-making devices. Turns out I’ve just been neglecting my own creative concepts producer by not feeding it with whatever psychotropic fun you’ve been able to get your grubby mitts on. I’ve stuck with chocolate and the occasional Dr. Pepper when things get desperate.
And, as such, I was somewhat caffeinated (by my admittedly low standards) throughout viewing Barça’s demolition of Al-Sadd and not entirely focused on the match. But neither was Al-Sadd, so it’s not like I was missing a particularly interesting match. Was that the sound of Euler punching his monitor? It certainly sounded like someone attempting to reach through the tubes and strangle me for making such an anti-Pepian statement.
The lineup that was put out there wasn’t really that close to full strength, but showed that Pep was taking the match very seriously. Valdes, Adriano, Puyol, Mascherano, Abidal, Keita, Iniesta, Thiago, Villa, Messi, Pedro were rolled out and it quickly looked like another match where the opposition was simply not up for it. Al-Sadd played virtually a 5-4-1 and put little pressure on Barça’s midfield while also forgetting try and hit the team on the break. Mamadou Niang was all by his lonesome up front, backed by exactly no one until the second half, when the game was already over thanks to two Adriano goals.
That Adriano was able to have such an offensive impact is a credit to the consistency with which Keita defended and allowed the wing backs to make forward runs without worrying about a counter attack. Puyol and Mascherano were able to play a 2 man back line, with Keita dropping in sometimes to play backup, which is just silly. When the experienced Algerian international defender Nader Belhadj mishandled an imminently clearable cross from Pedro and pushed the ball sloppily to his keeper’s feet with Adriano bearing down on him, the Brazilian was gifted the simplest of goals.
After that, the match settled immediately back into its previous rhythm, with Barça looking to slip silky passes through and taking the occasional shot. A ball over the top sent David Villa on a run and then his plant leg seemed to catch on the ground and pop went his tibia. He immediately signaled to the bench and there went his calendar year, certainly, and possibly the rest of his season. He’d been struggling with a long-term tibia injury according to Pep, which kept him out of a few matches earlier in the year (namely the L’Hospitalet CDR match), but he was doing fine and even play pretty well.
Losing David Villa is a massive blow given his talent, creativity, and work rate. Pedro, who hasn’t been having the best of years, will have to step up and fill the void on that left hand side. Fortunately he looks like he’s coming back into form. With both Afellay and Villa out, it’s simply fantastic that Cuenca is available and playing at a high level. What a system we have that we can simply replace one world class player with another and then bring up a young kid looking like he’s destined for similar status. Absolutely amazing.
The match continued with Sanchez replacing Villa. And in the 42nd minute, Adriano got his second by playing a quick interchange with Thiago and letting Sanchez make a darting run to hold the central defender just a split second while Messi confuses him by occupying the space available for another pass. That’s all Thiago needed to return the ball to Adriano in stride, who merely had to settle and place the ball around the keeper. Admittedly the keeper should have palmed it out, but he didn’t. That the right back was able to have such time and space in the attacking third was a credit to the movement all around him, especially in the center where Messi, Iniesta, and Sanchez were causing all sorts of organizational problems. At the end of the move, the defenders had no idea where anyone was, much less how they should get a foot on the ball.
In the second half, there was a different tactical approach from Al-Sadd and Eric Wynalda rightly (!) point out that they should have played with more than 0 midfielders from the beginning. They retained the ball longer, pushed Barça back a little, and even created a few dangerous looking forward runs. And then Al-Sadd’s fear of Messi caused them to bunch formation around him and he simply passed through them in the 63rd minute to Keita, of all people, who, from the DM spot, was stepping up into the void created by other runs. That left him one-on-one with the keeper and he dinked it in for 0-3. Keita celebrated by running to Leo and lifting him up. It was a brilliant pass through the defense, but it was made all the easier by Messi’s darting little runs with the ball that terrified everyone into looking at him and ignoring everyone else. The defender ostensibly marking Keita was watching Messi 10 yards away even though Messi had 3 defenders around him. That little look, to see which way Messi would go, meant Keita won his shoulder and it was over from there. The ball just had to be put onto Keita’s feet.
The scoring was rounded off in the 80th minute by Maxwell, who restarted a play with a quick ball to Thiago and then raced into the box for the return pass. No one was able to mark him since the right back was pushed up to mark both Maxwell and Iniesta on Barça’s left wing. Messi again had 2 markers and Keita kept a third occupied. So Maxwell just ran into the box, collected Thiago’s pass, and shot it beyond the keeper, who let him score on the near post. We’ve yelled at Valdes for similar against Milan, so I suppose it’s only fair to say that the third goal should have been saved as well. That’s 3 of the 4 goals that you can at least partially blame on the keeper. Not a good night for him.
Overall, it was a lovely match from the squad. Negatives are Villa’s injury and now Alexis
and Pedro are both fitness doubts is a doubt for the final. That could have a huge impact on what happens. Cuenca will start, I’m sure of it and so will Iniesta, Cesc, Xavi, and Busquets in the middle. It should be a lovely game and one full of piss and vinegar. Or something.
So now it’s on to face Neymar in the FIFA Club Neymar Cup. Can’t wait to see the Neymar on Sunday!