Yay for us, for winning at the Riazor for the first time since Wifred the Hairy ruled Catalunya.
Or something like that. And I was just about to say something impossibly stupid like “For me, this win is more exciting than the Clasic win because of what it represents.”
Then I remembered almost crapping my trou when Ibra’s glorious strike went in, and I reconsidered. But just so everyone will know that yes, I am prone to bouts of monstrous stupidity, the thought remains.
I’m going to start with the good, because there was lots and lots and lots of it.
Unleash the hounds! This is the first match this season, that we went at the other side like the pit bulls of last season. When we didn’t have the ball, we made Deportivo give it up. When we had it, we moved with intent, setting up shop in their end and driving their defense mad.
Pressure was what did it, constant pressure on the defense, their midfield, our constant movement that opened passing angles, incessant pressure that was rooted in aggression. Maybe they weren’t feeling all that manly, rocking the pink away kits or something. Whatever it was, even if it didn’t lead to excellent chances, it led to a decidedly un-Super Depor, who were playing on the back heel.
And we kept pressing. That the goal came from a bit of individual brilliance is really kind of surprising, given the team fury that was unleashed from the starting whistle, but that’s just how we roll sometimes. A blocked Xavi shot gave up a long rebound, that Alves sprinted in to capture for an instant re-set of the offense, and a little cut ball to Messi, who did the rest. He took the pass with his back to the defender, spun to create just a bit of space, faded and smoked a shot across his body that beat the most excellent Aranzubia, and gave us a 1-0 lead.
More importantly, it was reward for unalloyed excellence. Pressure and play such as what we laid on Depor, deserved a lead, and Messi’s strike from a stride is just so deceptive, because you don’t know if he’s going to continue running at you, so you track him with the ball, because you have to. And he starts a little dart that …. shit! It’s a shot! …. and just like that, you’re picking the ball out of the back of your net.
Xavi is back. I hope we were all watching our midfield maestro today, and the consummate control that he had in the face of a flooded, aggressive Depor midfield. No, he shouldn’t be playing defense, as the worst ball that he had all day was a clearance from the back, that went straight to a Depor attacker. But whatever malaise was affecting him appears to be gone, and that’s a beautiful thing, because he makes everyone on the pitch better. An on Xavi also contributes to our pressure, because his defense comes from his telepathic feeling for where the ball is going to be, and he just darts over there, bracketing the opposing player. The result is usually a turnover of some sort, whether from a panicked long ball that the defense intercepts, to a bad pass that we intercept directly.
We won a tough match with no Africans. Yes, Keita was a late substitution for Iniesta, but the meat of this match and all of the damage, was done without Keita or The Yaya. Does this augur well for an action-packed January in which we have immense match after immense match? Um, more on that later.
More Pedro!. When he came in for an ill-used Henry, I’m sure (I haven’t checked the LiveBlog yet) that there were cheers all ’round. That Guardiola was rewarded for his insertion almost immediately was pretty amazing. That reward also came as I was writing in my notes, “We continue to be a right-sided attack.”
Then of course, Pedro! squirted free, bursting past his defender and laid in a lovely little cross for the head of Messi, who banged it home. The real beauty of this goal is that Messi is learning that sometimes, an indirect threat is best. He hovered around the outside of the box, ghosting into a space created by the tracking of Ibrahimovic, and a ball-chasing Depor defense for his free header. Pedro! made an exceptional effort as well, giving us a glimpse of our happy wing future in the second halves of matches. No, I don’t think he’s a starter yet, and he might not ever be. But what a super sub.
Abidal is attacking. Whether he’s been watching his Maxwell videos, or practicing on his own, from his overlapping runs and give-and-gos with Henry, to the aggressive moves up the pitch, we suddenly have something of a low-rent Alves on the left side, but one who can get back to cover when he gets caught out. He went bursting up the pitch late in the second half, taking advantage of acres of space as the Depor defense said “Hell, they didn’t pass the ball to the left when Henry was out there, they sure as hell aren’t going to pass it when …. whoa!” His cross into the box was perfection, that found the foot of Ibrahimovic for a slick one-timer that leaves BANGS with 10 goals this season, and Maxwell with little consolation. Because if Abidal continues to do that, there really won’t be any reason at all to play Maxwell, except in Copa matches, or to give our French greyhound a rest.
Man, we’re good. This was the 5th-placed team in the table, one that could rightly be having European aspirations. And we owned em. You know how some matches are closer than the score indicates? Not this one. We were (mostly) quicker, faster, stronger and more precise, and we owned this match. Yes, there was the Busquets howler, but I knew we would score at least one more. Because Depor wasn’t stopping us, we were stopping ourselves.
And with every good, comes some bad.
Dammit, Busquets! He started the match out very well, with solid, controlled play. Then it’s almost as if he grows overconfident, as he begins just sticking a leg out, which invariably deflects the ball to an opposing player, or laying off crappy pass after crappy pass. And of course, he notches yet another assist for the wrong side, thanks to lazy play. Instead of moving his body back to stay in front of the long ball, he just leaned back and headed it. It fell directly to a Depor attacker, who headed past Valdes. Should Valdes have done better with that shot? I’m going to say yes, as he was caught leaning the wrong way a little bit. Still. Dammit, Busquets!
I cannot state how emphatically against the notion of Busquets as our starting DM I am. I know that he has his fans, and I like the way he plays, when he isn’t screwing up. The problem is that his screwups, because of the advanced position that he plays, are almost always extremely dangerous, or fatal. I know that Guardiola wants him to build in confidence for January, blah, blah, blah. But the Murderers’ Row that is that month’s matches fills me with trepidation, with Busquets in the middle.
We’re a right-sided attack. Most of the time, when Henry got the ball, good things happened. But consistently, he was standing out there by himself, waving his arms at a midfielder who chose to ignore him. If he’s going to be lambasted for being ineffective, at least give him a shot to fail on his own. There were a number of times that you could have paused the DVR, drawn a line down the center of the screen, and found the entire Depor defense on the right.
And anybody who is saying “Oh, you just love Henry,” should shut it. I don’t care who’s out there. We have to develop a left-sided attack with some teeth. We had it last season, and it made everything better. But that also means having a player out there who is a scoring threat.
Messi needs some one-on-one practice. That’s another match in which he had a keeper dead to rights, just before the end of the half, and fluffed his lines. It wasn’t that difficult a save that he forced Aranzubia to make, but more importantly, why not just bend the ball around him, go high, chip him or something other than shooting it directly at him. The presence of Henry and Ibrahimovic is going to result in one-on-one chances. The Deportes commentators also mentioned this, bringing up his one-on-one against Casillas this Sunday past.
And with that ….
Team: 9. Aside from a few lapses, this was an excellent overall group performance. Yes, there was some fine individual play, but it was effort made on behalf of the collective.
Guardiola: 9. The right substitutions at the right time, including knowing when Pedro! would be able to take advantage of a softened-up defense.
Valdes: 7. He should have stopped that shot. Yes, Busquets screwed up, but it wasn’t like the dude hit a rocket header or anything. I know many will consider me harsh, and I’m okay with that. He still should have stopped that shot.
Alves: 8. His excellent run of play is continuing, as he moves toward being the Alves that we all know and love so much. And does anyone realize that we haven’t seen any of his antics, with a fly landing on his shoulder and him going down as though he’d been shot, and rolling around?
Pique: 8. Mostly a monster game, though he should have spent less time throwing up his arm and more time stopping Bodipo on that late-match break. Yes, they were off side. Both of ’em. But that assistant had been screwing up the whole match.
Puyol: 7. Not as stalwart as Pique, and his scrambling about in fireman mode nearly cost us a couple of times. But the good thing was that he didn’t have to be as stalwart as he did against the EE.
Abidal: 9. He was absolutely spectacular today, from attacking with Henry to making sure that his side of the pitch was closed. The assist was just icing on a cake of excellence.
Busquets: 4. A strong start dissolved into a stinker. Bad passes, loose passes, passes without enough weight on them, and his assist. Dude. Come on.
Xavi: 9. Majestic, and always in the right place at the right time, with the right ball. He’s making forays into the box as well, another very good sign.
Iniesta: 6. He wasn’t himself today, disappearing for long stretches, and being generally hesitant in his play. This manifested itself in him holding the ball too long, or running at the defense for one stride too many.
Messi: 9. Wow, what a match. He almost had two headed goals, something pretty surprising from the shortest player on the pitch. He’s also passing more, though I am getting a little curious about the on-pitch relationship between Ibra and Messi. I’m sensing a reluctance to pass to the other on the part of both of ’em.
Henry: 5. Should have been more influential. Yes, he wasn’t getting service. So step up and yell at somebody. His efforts resulted in some of our best scoring chances.
Ibrahimovic: 6. He wasn’t much more influential than Henry, despite scoring a goal. He has to have more touches, since every time he touches the ball, the defense freaks out.
Pedro! (for Henry): 7. Some very good overall play, and his assist was a delight. But not a whole lot beyond that, though the offense also switched into caretaker mode after that second goal.
Keita (for Iniesta): incomplete. Not enough time to really do anything except run into the box and show why he isn’t a striker.
Next up for our lads is a crucial Champions League match against Dynamo Kyiv, in a cold, chance-of-snow Ukraine. Expect to see a midfield featuring Keita and The Yaya for this one in which we really don’t have to score, as long as we don’t concede more than two goals. After that, it’s World Club Cup time, then January looms, a month in which we play Sevilla three times. Though they are slumping these days, having recorded a 1-1 draw with Valladolid today.
–Finally, the 2010 socio cards are in the mail! Mine came today, and it’s very cool, with the Three Cups in the background. Sweet!