Yesssssssssss. I’m elated. I’m not sure exactly what to say, how to put voice to this feeling, but it’s something akin to screaming Yesssssssssss for a prolonged period of time. I also want to hug Puyol and tell him that he’s a beast of epic proportions. I don’t know how the rest of that conversation would go, but wouldn’t that be so awesome, even if his next move was to karate chop me into oblivion for touching him?
He was immense. A mountain of flying hair and deadly tackling, a fiery bronco looking to trample madridista hearts. He saved our bacon time and again, sliding in to save the day and make Crynaldo sob. If I were in the habit of giving out Man of the Match awards, I’d consider him for it, but instead of trapping myself with that label, I’ll go with this: Caveman of the Match is…drum roll please…Carles Puyol i Saforcada! Congratulations, Captain!
Where to start with the actual review? Why not with the goal:
Pique steals the ball from Crynaldo in the box and begins a counterattack. He passes to Xavi near the center circle, who in turn plays it forward to Ibra who has dropped back, pulling Pepe with him. Pique continues his run up through the middle, becoming a center striker. Ibra one touches the ball back to Xavi, who has pulled left along the center line. Xavi turns and plays a long square ball to Keita, who then passes wider to Alves on the right. Alves is wide open because Messi is on the right in front of him, holding Arbeloa. Because Crynaldo has made a forward run and doesn’t play defense and Xabi Alonso and Marcelo have been held in the middle by Pique and Keita’s positioning, there is no one available to keep an eye on Alves. As he gets the ball, Messi makes a sliding run diagonally towards the box, which releases Arbeloa to go out and challenge Alves, but also holds Albiol on Messi. Pepe, then, is hanging onto Pique’s shoulder and Ibra is behind him. Sergio Ramos is covering Iniesta who has hugged the left sideline and sees that Ibra is ghosting in at the back post and makes an extraordinarily lazy attempt to get back as Alves lifts the ball across the goal over Pepe’s head to a waiting Ibra, who smashes the ball into the back of the net.
The blame for this goal, if you’re a madridista, goes to the entire team, which made almost no effort to get back, whereas moments before Crynaldo had run into the box and been chased down by the man who promptly made the space-creating near post run on the other end of the field. If you’re going to be lazy, you’re going to get burned. Kaka stood in the center circle and watched; Marcelo half-heartedly jogged back and confused himself by trying to figure out who to cover in our midfield, ending up trapping himself in between Messi, Keita, and Alves and covering absolutely no one; Sergio Ramos had no interest in getting goal-side of Ibra; Xabi Alonso didn’t cover anyone because he was playing the holding midfielder role and we cleared out the middle (in fact bypassing it completely as Pique stormed straight through it and Xavi actually ran down the left and then cut in behind Xabi Alonso into the middle as Alves received the ball); and Lassana Diarra took himself out of the play by attempting to win back the ball in silly situations far away, creating space behind himself that was easily exploited by Xavi passing around him to Keita–in fact, Lassana never got back on defense and Xavi was all alone at the top of the box when Ibra was scoring. Iniesta was following up behind Sergio Ramos and Messi was making the secondary run on the right side, meaning we had 5 players in and around their box against their 4 defenders.
Of course, if you’re cule, you’re fairly interested in pointing out that our offensive skill had a large part to do with scoring that goal. I’m not inclined to lay all the blame on RM’s players, but only because I want to give massive credit to the foresight, discipline, and creativity of Barça’s players. So when Marcelo got confused, I’d like to think it’s because he was confused by the brilliance of our midfielders and their Jedi mind tricks and whatnot. That makes me feel better.
And a snarky note, of course: why is it that Ibra can’t show up in big games? It’s unfortunate that he can score against minnows, but not big sharks. For instance, did you notice how invisible he was against Inter on Tuesday? It’s almost like he wasn’t on the field! His entry into the game changed so much today, but I don’t think I can really say that it was because Henry was so bad. When Henry was subbed off and Ibra on, we didn’t keep the same shape we had before, which was a tactical switch from Guardiola. Henry wasn’t particularly successful in that he didn’t score any goals, but he broke down the defense a couple of times and had some of the crosses been on target, he would have scored. Both Iniesta and Alves were guilty of poor final balls in the first half. Again, I prefer to think that Ibra was so good rather than Henry so bad and that that was the difference. Henry was playing what is now out of position for him (in the center as opposed to the wing), doing the heavy lifting, so to speak, by crashing up against their back line for 50 minutes. He is best for us down the left and I hope that soon we can see that again soon, though Keita and Inieta’s emergence as a dominate duo (or trio, with Xavi) is threatening to keep him out of the starting lineup altogether. Whether that is a long term negative or positive is not something I think I’m able to tackle right now, but it’s certainly noteworthy–Guardiola’s conundrum thanks to his glut of available talent is one problem coaches don’t complain about having, though.
Let’s talk to Busi, quickly, because of his obvious impact on the game. He was, in my estimation, terrible. I thought he passed the ball directly to opposing players at an absurdly high rate, including the moment just before our goal that sprung Crynaldo in a counter attack starting at midfield. We can’t have that in what was a fairly innocuous situation, but was turned into a potentially deadly one simply because Busi couldn’t put a 10 yard pass on target. Unacceptable at this level. What’s so strange, of course, is how damned good he was against Inter on Tuesday. I think that inconsistency is simply inexperience and that he’ll settle down over the next several years and show off exactly where he stands relative to other DM. The thing that’s obvious me, however, is that The Yaya should be ahead of him in the pecking order. Simply look at the way the midfield settled down once The Yaya came on, even when we were down to 10 men thanks to Busi’s stupid card.
The cards, of course, were rather random–I’m not generally the type that blames refs after a victory, but it’s hard to accept that the biggest match of the year (or at the very least this half of the season) is reffed by someone incapable of counting the number and seriousness of the fouls by a particular player. I’m referring, of course, to Undiano Mallenco refusing to give Lassana Diarra a card until the 48th minute, despite his cynical fouls throughout the entire first half. The commentators I was listening to (on ESPN Deportes) had a good point that Lass needed carded much earlier than he was and they counted off how many fouls he’d already committed, saying at one point that the next foul he committed, regardless of severity, would warrant a card. The next foul came moments later, but the card was withheld for Beyond that, the inconsistency with which Mallenco called fouls annoyed me to no end. It didn’t matter who was making the tackle, it was impossible to know what was a foul to him and what wasn’t. At least he seemed to be inconsistent for everyone…
Another thing: players need to be punished for diving. Crynaldo, of course, was guilty several times, most obviously when he tried to get a penalty against Pique (which Marca bought, but which was not a penalty, but was a dive), but Alves and Iniesta were both guilty of it too. Funniest detail about Alves over-selling a foul was when Crynaldo felt like he could yell at him. Are you joking, you diving punkass? You do not have the right to yell at anyone for overacting. Period. I’m sad that some of our players chose to dive–I don’t like that at all, but we should also point out that Messi stayed on his feet despite being hacked a couple of times. Not that Mallenco gave out cards after giving the advantage or anything.
Speaking of Messi, what’s going on with our little Argentine? He’s one-on-one with Casillas and then, well, let’s let Guardiola show you what happened:
Now, Casillas is the best keeper in the world, so it’s not shameful to miss against him, but it’s interesting (and distressing) that Messi isn’t scoring many of his one-on-one situations against any keeper. You can’t score them all, of course, but missing such a high percentage of them is not a good thing. If he buries that chance, it’s game over and that’s exactly what we need to do, a la last year’s late strike by one Lionel Messi.
To the ratings!
Team: 7 – This was a tale of two halves, with the first being trash and the second being much more our style. The defense was solid for the most part, but did fall apart at times.
Guardiola: 7 – Hey look, the same rating as the last match we played. How does that work!? We weren’t tactically superior in the first half, I don’t think, but we weren’t tactically inferior by any means. Then at halftime Guardiola adjusted and made the right substitutions (though I would still have liked to see a third one, but because of the red card our options were limited), though I thought that he should have subbed out Busi before his red card, but that’s just hindsight, you know?
Valdes: 8 – What else is he supposed to do to get a good rating from me? He effectively stuffed Crynaldo, which was great (feel free to argue that Crynaldo blew it) and didn’t make any mistakes. So…an 8.
Alves: 7 – This was a strange match for our right winger, which he started by flipping a series of crosses into Row ZZ of the third deck and which he ended up finishing by providing the inch-perfect cross for Ibra and the pass to Messi as well. He did dive several times, however, and was out of position defensively a couple of times, so I’m going with a 7 because he was good and bad.
Puyol: 10 – Read above.
Pique: 7 – Manly match, but he was burned for pace a couple of times both before and after he crashed their box.
Abidal: 8 – I thought he was fantastic and I wanted him to score that shot he took so badly. So badly. On Crynaldo’s shot it appears that Abidal was caught out, but he was dropped into no man’s land by Pique’s inability to stop Kaka’s run.
Busi: 4 – He was okay and was victimized a bit by the first yellow, but he wasn’t good and he was guilty of bad passing and getting a red card 30 minutes from the end.
Xavi: 7 – He’s been better and he’s been worse, but he was damned good anyway. 7 is not an insult, it’s just that he’s usually by far the best midfielder on the field and he wasn’t today.
Keita: 7 – A somewhat mediocre match for Keita, but he was obviously given more defensive duties and didn’t make as many forward dashes as usual. So disciplined and so willing to sacrifice for the team. It’s too bad he had to go off because of Busi’s mistakes.
Iniesta: 7 – A good match, but nothing spectacular. Him missing Henry on the back post was a disappointing moment and his dive was bad too. He certainly is talented, though, and proved he’s a better player than anyone on RM a couple of times. And yeah, I just said that.
Henry: 6 – Wasn’t as dynamic as I thought, but was still good. I’m hoping he continues to improve and continues to get playing time without getting injured.
Messi: 8 – An all-around awesome game by the little guy. What impressed me the most was his defense when were down to 10 and we needed someone back there to help out. Crynaldo could learn a thing or two from Messi. Or thirty things. Whatever.
Ibra: 8 (sub for Henry 51′) – Big dude scores goal. Jumps in air. Me likey.
The Yaya: 8 (sub for Keita 80′) – Does Laporta have a problem with the fact that The Yaya holds the deed to the midfields of every field in Europe? The guy is massive in so many ways. He’ll obviously have more playing time now as Busi will be suspended for the next match.
All right folks, have you say in the comments.