It’s Lev time again, who along with nzm continues to carry the weight for your laggardly mods. And these efforts are much appreciated. Fear not, homie should have his own name before long ….)
An Alfajor is, you guessed it, a cookie. It consists of two biscuits pasted together with jam, mousse or other stuff, depending on where exactly on the globe you find yourself. It is coated with sugar, chocolate or other stuff, again depending on which corner of the planet you do your shopping. Especially loved in Argentina, it is also eaten in other South American countries and in some regions of Spain. At the time of this writing, tantalized by the picture above, my girlfriend desperately wants one. But she can’t have any, because she hasn’t scored a goal.
And He sure didn’t start well. Just over ninety seconds into the game and already he squandered an absolute sitter, his shot aimed wide. He lost the leather left and right, handily defended by eager Zaragozanos fully prepared to prove their mettle. Heck, El Cerebro slipped him a pass from less than 10 feet and he let it bounce 20 feet off of his foot with a first touch chunkier than bad yogurt. A long ball to his best friend/fiercely hated colleague David Villa Sánchez was easily intercepted. Double heck, only a couple of minutes after that he lost the ball twice in a single minute!
The player that has journalists admitting to have run out of words to describe him, didn’t cause any such problems on Saturday. Not at all. He’s not all that. Overrated, is more like it. Wasteful. Sloppy. Undeserving of the golden praise showering down from rainbows spread across the globe.
But let’s not wake up the haters just yet. To deal with a team we had comfortably dealt with on our previous eight encounters, Doctor Tito sent out VV, Montoya, Puyol, Pique, Alba, Song, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi and Villa. Cesc started the game on the bench for the first time in La Liga this season, as did Dani Alves for whom, if this trend keeps up, the novelty might wear off sooner rather than later. Joining Fabregas and Alves on the pine were Busi, Tello, Dos Santos and Pinto. The wood is deep nowadays, and gone are the years of complaining about a lack of options beyond the starting line-up.
The visitors kicked off, and didn’t waste any time in giving us the ball. El Guaje, back in his comfort zone on the left, found Jordi Alba running toward the end line who in turn set up la Pulga for the first chance of the game. The next quarter of an hour was spent in the all-too-familiar pattern of Barça looking for an opening, and our guests lurking on the counter. The fifteen minutes during which Xavi Hernandez reigned supreme along with Don Andrés were a beauty to behold — during which Villa touched the ball more than he had done the whole previous game. During which Song moved around the stage in sometimes-awkward positions but still sang well (one notable false note aside). During which Alba kept bombing up and down the field like Forrest Gump with a brain. And during which the best player of the world most definitely wasn’t.
And then Xavi, the MOTMOTM**, broke up an attack deep in our own half. He kept the ball close to his feet as he danced across the pitch PJ Gangnam style, turning several Zaragoza players inside out before giving the ball to Messi. La Pulga wasted no time in losing his marker and passed it forward to Jordi Alba who, with an understanding that can only have come from playing together for years upon years, held back and deliberately waited for Leo to position himself perfectly to receive the ball … perfectly … and then drop his shoulder … perfectly … to wrong-foot the keeper … perfectly … and deposit the ball in the net. He might have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, but he is still Lionel Messi.
Up 1-0, enjoying a record-breaking best-ever league start and playing a team we have beaten so many consecutive times, they should be called Zarasufre instead of Zaragoza whenever they find themselves on the same football pitch as us, a group of the best players on the planet against a group of the best players in uhmmm, well, Aragón. This should be easy, right? Rrrrright. Not quite.
Numerous as the x’s in our win column undoubtedly are; top of the table we might stand, and mighty we may be: we still give away goals like a drug lord handing out toys in the ghetto at Christmas. You know it, I know it. We know it and they know it. And in case anybody forgets, don’t worry. Our players consistently demonstrate a high sense of responsibility to remind us.
The return of Puyol has given us hope, perhaps never more so than the moment he came flying through the air to head out a corner shortly after our opening goal. And I must admit it felt good to see him scream at his teammates. But right now our defense has huge holes, and even when we work as a team and bust our butts to close down those holes, we still like to make sure our opponents have a fair chance. This time it was Montoya’s turn as he, instead of booting the ball upfield like any other defender in his position would have done when defending a corner, decided to set up Montañes for the equalizer.
Our mental make-up has seemingly fallen into a weird plus-minus pattern this season. On one hand, we are seemingly committing at least one blunder every game that not only very often results in needlessly conceded goals, but also invites each and every opponent to believe in themselves and really have a go at us, knowing that counters and set pieces will result in scoring opportunities.
On the other hand, our response to our costly blunders has almost invariably been to score more goals. In adversity we straighten our backs and aim for the jugular. Call it the “give up a freebie” ying to the “come from behind” yang. In this game it meant that if our initial lead was short lived, less so was the level score that followed. Xavi sent a peach of a through ball to Messi, forcing the Zaragoza keeper Roberto to come out of the penalty area in an attempt to and intercept with his feet. The resulting corner kick was taken low, and the ball was worked to Messi who found himself inside the box, surrounded by defenders. He slipped away from between his two immediate markers so fast it almost looked like a glitch in a computer game, and easily dribbled past a third before coolly passing the ball to Song for his first goal in blaugrana colors.
We one-touched our way into halftime, with both teams creating one chance each. And although there was a lot of pretty midfield play, which at no moment whatsoever got boring, not much was created in the second half … except of course for Messi’s second goal, a 20 yard-or-so strike of such beauty and precision that somewhere south of where I’m sitting, Pele is still shaking his head in denial. He is overrated. People favor him because of his media image. It’s his teammates who make him brilliant. He hasn’t done it yet on a wet, stormy night on Pluto against three-legged alien monsters.
… All the while ignoring the simple truth. Yes, Iniesta’s elegance at times mesmerized defenders. Xavi played like a boss and probably had his best game so far this season. Jordi Alba was immense, both a persistent offensive threat while at the same time making more key interceptions than any other defender. Pedrito ran his butt off, too. Song was solid, as was the defense, two Montoya howlers not withstanding. But only one made the difference. He was everywhere. The spearhead of the offense, who sometimes dropped two lines back to pick up the ball and set the tempo. Who started sloppily but ended with two goals and one assist. Who assisted the assist makers of his goals. The best player of the world, a culé through and through.
“When I was small, a person at the club told me that for every goal he would give me an alfajor. And when I ran onto the pitch to play I was thinking about the cookie. I really appreciate what the club has done for me in giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dream. My dream at the moment is to finish my career here before retiring in Argentina.”
–Lionel Andrés Messi
*Thank you, wikipedia
**Man of the Match other than Messi, I believe a Blitzen trademark boldy stolen without shame or remorse.