Doorbell rings, post-Classíc-cule answers ….
Hello, is this the Cule residence?
Yes, who’s there please?
This is the SuperModel Chocolate Ice Cream supply company. We have a delivery.
Okay, what’s with those shoes? What kind of chocolate ice cream is this? I’m picky, you know. Is that the supermodel’s natural hair color? It’s drafty in here …..
Something happened today, and exactly what it is, depends upon your worldview. For me, what happened leaves me with a feeling described by the above image of Messi. It’s an image of exultation, rage, joy, a ton of emotions, all having to do with the fact that an extraordinary thing happened today:
The hearts of champions were uncovered.
People often talk about season-turning events, those times when a team looks in the mirror and says “Yes. We want this.” You never, ever see the moment, but you do see the result. This club has come back tine and again this season, back from hanging against Sevilla, back from being down against Spartak, and we have gathered and said “Last season, this club would have lost that match.” But that’s Spartak and Sevilla.
On Sunday, FC Barcelona faced off against the second-best club in the world, and for about a half-hour, it got its ass handed to it. Wide-open Ramos header, Wrongaldo goal from a passing sequence that sliced our defense open like the jury-rigged thing that it was, a wannabe goal that smacked off the crossbar, attack after attack, play after play, until the collective said, “Enough. That’s it. We’re better than this.”
And our amazing club started to play its game. Pretty hard to attack when you don’t have the ball. Pretty hard to assault a makeshift back line when sprites are playing keepaway, and all you can do is foul them. And the match turned around. The submissive turned dominant, the greatest player on the planet took over and suddenly, everything was different. The back line didn’t matter, their size and strength didn’t matter. Everything paled in the face of the kind of want that shakes a ball loose in a goalmouth scramble, that directs a free kick on its S-shaped path to goal, resurgent, elegant tika-taka, designed to control the match in the only way that this club knows how: with the ball at its feet.
This club drew, and almost won a match that it wasn’t even supposed to have a chance at. The back line was Alves/Mascherano/Adriano/Alba. The enemy was supposed to have a field day, and for a half-hour, they did. But, as I have said before, if we play our game, it doesn’t matter who is in the back line. And it didn’t.
They were riding high, having destroyed no-longer-super Depor. We limped in, Capita and Bean Pole-less, probably planning to play a disaster in the back line, or something, and we were going to die. Yep. Smothered by goals, don’t you know? But our club didn’t play along, and the match ended as it began, us atop the table with a 8-point lead on our most hated rivals, a lead that no cule in his or her right mind would have told you would exist in their wildest dreams, had you taken a poll at the beginning of the season.
And yet, here they are.
That’s what I saw happen. Others saw very different things, suddenly feeling like points were dropped, Vilanova was a disaster, this was screwed up, that was screwed up. Count blessings? Hell, I don’t even see blessings. When people call many cules spoiled, it’s because they’re right. This club yanked an improbable draw out of the fire, covered itself in glory and took part in a Classíc that finally lived up to the billing.
All of that makes any negativity, or recriminations, or any kind of notions other than joy and pride rather difficult for me to understand. So I’m not even going to try. I’m just going to shake my head in amazement, and keep on typing.
Vilanova be cray, yo!
Adriano at center back. Think about that one for an instant. Adriano at center back. Yes, it was yet another fill-in, an adapted player in a specialist role. Turns out the club had been practicing with that alignment all week. Man, it could have used a lot more practice, because Adriano wasn’t good. No mention in the comments to speak of, though I’m going to suggest that if Alex Song had the match that Adriano had, people would be buying plane tickets to Barcelona, to give Song a sac shot.
Did the selection mean that Song was, in fact, as crappy as everyone says? Or that Vilanova figured “Hell, neither one of ’em is a CB, so I might as well put the fastest guy out there.” Dunno. What I do know is that Adriano got a lot better, as did our entire back line, when the rest of the sprites came back to help, and press, when the possession numbers began to eke their way toward FCB normalcy, because when we play our game, the back line never sees the ball, really.
Vilanova had confidence in that. Two goals were ceded, both team efforts, lest we think about blaming individual players. On the first, Alba and Iniesta(?) were lazy working a switch, and Ozil had scads of space in which to pass a ball to Wrongaldo, who Alves decided wasn’t worth marking all that closely, and Valdes played for the spectacular, rather than the mundane, maybe expecting Wrongaldo to curl one across his goal, rather that just blasting it past him on the near side. Collective failure.
For the second, Busquets knocked a header into the air, which fell to Iniesta, who was being marked by Marcelo. Iniesta lost the ensuring physical battle, and the ball pings away. Sanchez charges up and, in an effort to volley it to our back line, tapped it again to Marcelo, who fed Ozil, who slid an absolutely flawless pass through to Wrongaldo. For that pass to find the player, Montoya had to lose focus for a moment, then charge forward in a vain attempt at setting up the offside trap, because if he’d look at his teammates, he would have seen that Mascherano didn’t get the message, and was playing the attacker on. Valdes charged out of his goal and then hesitated. In that moment of hesitation, that was it. Would a faster charge have narrowed the angle, forcing Wrongaldo to get the yips? We’ll never know, because all That Valdes did in coming off his line then stopping, was to make the goal a bit easier to pull off.
Both goals were team efforts, for attacker and attacked. And still, through it all, Vilanova knew. Possession, for us, IS defense. The defenders are in fact just cogs in the possession wheel. They aren’t there to purely and solely defend as much as to help press, start attacks from the back, or serve as outlets for possession-controlling passes that they take, control and feed right back into the mixer. And when we gained control of the match, that is exactly what it did.
Results redefine expectations
Lots of people looked at this match and expected to lose. As events transpired, it would seem that the Fates had, as well, playing right into the hands of doom-spotting cules. When that didn’t happen, when a loss became a potential win became a draw became a smote crossbar away from a win, expectations changed. “We lost two points.”
Do I feel like we could have won that match? Yep. Do I feel like we left three points on the table? For about a minute, yes. They I realized that my expectation, going into the match, was victory. The quality of the opponent, the skill of its game and the aggression with which they played it, shifted my expectations as well, from “We’re getting killed out there,” to “Yay! We got a point!” Because I don’t know if we come back from the 0-3 halftime score that better finishing would have generated for them. Just sayin’.
Great players do great things
The two superstars in this match underwent intriguing transformations; theirs from cocky, “calm down” gesturing, preening talent to wincing, “Hey everybody, I have an owie” uncertainty. Ours went from no space and no real influence, to taking over the match. Both their superstar and our superstar had a brace. But the influence of our superstar, during his ascendancy, as glittering and omnipresent as the sun.
Sergio Busquets, my Man of the Match, was everywhere. Passing, breaking up, stealing, getting the way, making tactical fouls, doing whatever it took to hold things in abeyance until the rest of the team did the gut check, and started playing the way that it should. Then Busquets went from last-ditch genius to enhancement.
Andres Iniesta single-handedly increased the running miles of the Real Madrid back line by pulling them hither and yon, making them chase him, then the ball, even sometimes both. His sparkle increased at roughly the same time as Messi’s. He does things with the ball, magic tricks, they seem like, because the only way that ball could have gotten from here to there was if it dematerialized.
Jordi Alba isn’t a Great Player yet, but he certainly had a great match with scrambling around that was almost as inevitable and all-encompassing as that of Busquets.
Martin Montoya subbed in for Dani Alves, and had a wonderful match. Yes, he made errors. Everyone did. But for the second time in a Classíc, he came in and did yeoman work against their superstar who suddenly, was quiet.
What a match!
Passes flew, players flew, and for much of the time, both sets of players were so intent on playing the beautiful game as it was meant to be played, that they forgot to do all of the silly stuff, the flopping, the exaggeration and whining that have come to define the Classíc. Both sides played so quickly, attacked so savagely, moved the ball with such alacrity that it was a joy to watch, even as my heart was threatening to leap from my chest, such was the adrenaline. They are good. Make no mistake about it. So are we.
In many ways, I’m not sure that a neutral doesn’t ever feel cheated by this match, one in which expectations are so high that you are almost numbed to its actual existence. With a horse in this race, the quality almost doesn’t matter. The intensity, the feeling, the sheer emotion is such that the mere existence of the thing is enough to turn you inside out.
Ultimately, I don’t begin to know what is going to happen with the rest of the season, just as I don’t really know how people can witness the match that was played today, and have the virulent negativity that is popping up in this, and other spaces. I don’t know much at all, except we have a hell of a team, one bound and determined to make a liar out of dumbasses such as I, who had the nerve to suggest that it wouldn’t win major silver this season. And it bears repeating that boy, would I be overjoyed to be wrong.