There’s always two ways of looking at something, and today’s match was no exception. Your worldview depends on who you believe, in that proverbial “shoe on the other foot” business. And before we get to trying on some kicks to see how they fit, let’s look at the things that we know about today’s defeat:
–We were the superior team in every statistical category except goals, that most important one
–Guardiola started Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Sanchez and Fabregas
–It was chilly and raining in London
–This is the first of two legs
Now, it’s Speculation Time, where we look at some of the myths being propagated about this match, and its outcome:
Oh Lawd, we gon’ die!
Well, to be sure, humans have a finite lifespan, until science takes care of that as well. But for now …. well, yes. But are we going to die if our team loses? Well, a little bit of hope will die, and some brain cells as some depressed cules drown their sorrows in libation, but we won’t. And here’s something else: This is just the first leg of a two-legged tie, one in which, despite what the Brit-centric Britpress will tell you, Chelsea is lucky to still be in. Arsenal thought they were in good shape when they beat us. So did Milan. In both cases, they rolled into the Camp and took a right stout hiding. So, the Germans have bombed Pearl Harbor. Now we get to re-arm the SS Midget, and get in some Blue ass.
The tie is over
1-0 is actually a pretty darned good result for a team in our situation. They didn’t manage a shot on goal the entire second half. At home. And it wasn’t from lack of intent. We dominated that match, and were it not for better finishing, which we will have at home, this tie would already be over. Consider today’s match our gift to UEFA. Had we finished the way that we were supposed to and could have, there’d be no reason to watch next week now, would there? The tie is over when the scoreboard says it is. And that means it ain’t over til WE say it’s over.
Guardiola got the selection wrong
Did he really? As Euler noted, the inclusion of Fabregas meant that of necessity, the team would be consigning itself to playing in the straight and narrow, right into the teeth of the Chelsea defense. Even at that, we kept the ball pretty much forever, and ginned up some spectacular scoring chances that required Petr Cech to have a blinder of a match, and for us to boot the ball around in a way not seen since, oh, Villarreal or something. That is to say, not all that long ago. Away form has been a complexity this season.
Guardiola’s selection was conservative, rooted in not wanting to lose the tie in the first, away leg. Yes, he would have loved an away goal or two, but 1-0 is a very good result to take back to your place. If you can’t beat a team at home, you don’t deserve to progress. Simple as that.
People will say “I would have started Cuenca/Thiago/Keita/Jesus,” and they probably would have. But Pep Guardiola is the coach of FC Barcelona, and he kinda knows what he’s doing, just a little bit. Had you asked him in full honesty to lay out some negative scorelines that he’d be okay with heading home to play the deciding leg, Guardiola would say 0-0 or 1-0. Because both are easily overcome.
Chelsea have the upper hand
Does anyone really think that any of those players believe they have the upper hand? Professional athletes aren’t delusional. They understand that it was only sloppiness in front of goal that didn’t make the scoreline 1-3 or 4. They understand that they got lucky, and will be hoping to get lucky again. But ask yourself, when was the last time a team kept Messi down both legs of a two-legged tie.
The team played poorly
Puh-leeze. It played well enough to generate scoring chances against a top-class side that was defending with at least 8, generated more chances late in the match with some well-thoght-out substitutions, and hit the post late, then had Busquets smack the ball over an open net. The team finished poorly, but it in no way, shape or form played poorly.
And now for belief
For this cule, it is a measure of this club’s spectacular success that a 1-0 loss in a two-legged tie that we absolutely dominated the first leg of, means gloom and doom. It means damn, we’re good, that setbacks are so rare that people don’t know what to do. So they panic and think that all is lost. But know this: even if Chelsea play with 10 behind the ball, we are going to score at home, and more than once. Mark it down.
Belief is crucial. Did we go home with away goals in our pockets from Arsenal and Milan? Yep. But we still had to win at home, just as we do now. Does their goal complicate things? Not really. It rules out winning the tie with a 1-0 scoreline, as that would just get us extra time. But this club excels when pressure is at its highest.
At 10 points down in La Liga to our most hated rivals, people said “That’s it. Give them the trophy.” Now, if we win on Saturday, the gap will be 1 point. One lousy, stinking point. Pretty amazing, from a team that will not say die until the stake is in its heart. And I don’t believe that Chelsea is good enough to put it there. That everybody is lining up, talking about their successful game plan makes me giggle, mostly because it didn’t work. “Um, guys, here it is. Rely on them to finish poorly, scare up a solid counterattack, nick a goal and call it a night.” That’s not a plan, that’s a wish, and wishes were granted today.
Belief is a weird thing, because it requires a track record. A kid doesn’t touch a hot stove because he believes the admonitions of his mother. Nope. Let’s just see about this. Belief in this club has been earned by dint of its remarkable track record. 13 of 16 trophies since Pep Guardiola took the reins. Are you kidding me? If that doesn’t inspire belief, I have no idea what will.
This team wins big matches. And we have two of them coming up, one on Saturday, the other on Tuesday. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t believe in. I don’t believe that fans’ collective positive thoughts can do a damn to help a team win. I do, however, believe that they can make a fan feel so much better, as a placebo-based opiate. Only in our case it isn’t a placebo, is it? It’s 13 of 16 doses of faith and belief, each one making us say “Aaaaaahhh!”
I don’t really have a match to discuss, because we know what happened, and how it happened. We know that we didn’t convert our chances. But we also know that we have one more match coming up against this club, a match that is coming after a loss to that same club, a match that tests our belief in this club.
And for me, that belief is absolute, as clear as the point your mother is making just after you get a spanking. Because nothing crystallizes belief and focus like adversity. We have faced a little bit of it. Now we get to make it all right.
See you all next week.