Last week I saw a movie called 50/50. One of the few things that have remained affordable in a country with a ballooning inflation rate of 35% per year are pirated DVD’s. They can be found anywhere, from street corners to bus terminals to shopping malls. Hell, there’s a downtown market with at least a hundred stalls of ‘movie bootleggers’ that would give Harvey Weinstein many a sleepless night if only he knew how much money he is missing out on. The prices range from the very consumer friendly 8, to the bit steeper 15 bolivares per disc (averaging bout a buck fifty). Blue-rays cost more. Since I don’t like to waste my hard-earned cash on DVD’s that are barely watchable*, I usually get mine from a select group of vendors I have come to trust over time. Ever the movie lovers, my girlfriend and I buy about a dozen flicks every couple of weeks or so, which brings me to…
50/50. We bought it months ago and it had been lying untouched on the shelf ever since. Even as I wanted to see it I was afraid to watch it, because the subject of the movie, quite frankly, scares the shit out of me. Starring star du jour Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the ever lovable (or loathable, depending on who you ask) Seth Rogen**, it is about a young man who finds out he has cancer and has a 50% chance of survival. Suffice to say that the movie is both funny and touching, and definitely scary.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have a match review to get to.
1/3. For the first of our three January skirmishes with Málaga football club, strongman Tito entered Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Piqué, Masche, Alba, Busi, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Messi and Iniesta into the fray, against adversaries that are skilled, battle-hardened and fully expected to take the fight to us. Nevertheless I anticipated some serious butt-whupping. I don’t know if this speaks more about the state of La Liga or the form of our team. Probably a bit of both.
It only took seven minutes for a pass to bungle through the legs of Weligton that put Leo Messi eye to eye with fellow countryman Willy Caballero. Alone with the keeper the newly crowned record-breaking four-time balon d’or winner was sure to silence remaining naysayers, namely Cristiano Ronaldo and Edison do Nascimiento. Alas, with an excellent intervention Bill Gentleman*** stopped Golden Balls from dribbling around him for the easy goal.
Barça soon settled into its game, passing the ball around the park and leaving Málaga no option but to look for the break whenever they could get at the ball. They kept us at bay for almost fifteen minutes until Fábregas came knocking: first by shooting well over and wide from outside of the box, and then by setting up Iniesta who shot the ball straight at the keeper.
It was in the 27th minute when Pellegrini’s brilliant plot of confusing La Pulga by dressing his players in Leo’s beloved Albiceleste spectacularly backfired. Camacho, under no pressure whatsoever, picked out the Argentine for another one-on-one with Caballero. This time Messi, in a stroke of genius, completely faked out the keeper by dribbling towards the left before cutting back and calmly slotting the ball into the open goal.
62/38. The possession stats at half time. I must admit I am not a big follower of Málaga – in fact I can count the complete games I have seen of them this season with one finger – but I would bet that same finger that they are not used to spending so much time without the ball. They sit 5th in the league****. Topped their CL group with relative ease. Recently beat a €500 million team by three goals to two. And they were just made to look ordinary for 45 minutes by a Barcelona that only sporadically got out of second gear.
In the second half we revved up the engine. Pretty soon Leo shook a pass out of the peachtree that Cesc gobbled up whole. A work of art, according to some. Another day at the office, according to Messi.
Over the next half hour we steadily turned the Rosaleda into an octagon, as we held down their club in one long triangle chokehold. Barça is often accused of playing boring football by endlessly passing the ball around without creating any danger. True enough, during those thirty minutes we did not generate any clear scoring opportunities. But rarely do teams dominate games in such a beautiful fashion. There was nothing boring about how Xavi sets the tempo, Don Andrés escapes from defenders like Houdini and Busquets performs Zidanesque roulettes. Dani Alves never stopped running up and down (and sending crosses into Row Z). Cesc and Jordi look fully integrated, making our left flank more dangerous than ever. Perhaps most impressively, Mascherano cleared a corner with his head.
Soon Málaga players were fouling us in desperation. No malicious, mean-spirited kicks to the ankles by brutes out to hurt another professional, but weary fouls of players that were tired and simply wanted no more of it. And just when they had enough, in what almost looked like a role reversal Thiago played a quick one-two with Messi on the edge of the area and scored the third goal with his left boot.
A fourth was soon to come, but in the goal we least expected. Buonanotte bade us good night with a beautifully placed free kick over our one-meter wall. It might have given Pellegrini and Co. some consolation, but I doubt it. After all, even though they didn’t play badly they were badly outplayed. One can only imagine the mood in their dressing room, knowing that they will meet us another two times in the next ten days.
55/44/37. We are halfway through the season and we are leading Atletico Madrid by 11 points and Evil Madrid by 18. Nineteen games. Eighteen wins and one draw. At the beginning of the season we got three points from games where we should have gotten less. After what felt like a trophyless year, the will to win simply did not allow us to lose points. Now we are finally hitting our stride. Are we peaking too soon? Couple the will to win with the most talented team alive clicking on all fronts and we are almost unstoppable. There is still room to improve. Imagine the possibilities if what we see now is not our team at its peak. What first seemed like a curse – missing half of our defense – turned out to be a blessing. Adversity has made us stronger and will hopefully continue to do so.
Well are you going to be okay? What are your odds?
I don’t know, I looked it up and it said 50/50 but that’s the internet, so…
You’ll be fine. 50/50! If you were a casino game you’d have great odds!
100. It is great to see Tito back on the bench again. I don’t know what the next month holds in store for him, but from what I understand he will undergo (more) chemo therapy. I am not going to pretend to understand how tough that is, but what I do know is that I am grateful that Tito is our coach. We cannot always decide what obstacles life throws in our path, but we can decide how to deal with them. It seems that Mr. Vilanova, like a certain roi before him, gives strength to others when he himself needs it most.
Life is not a casino game. The way we are playing right now I consider our odds at another treble about 50/50. Even the best team in history depends on luck. Not even beating a team we completely dominated yesterday is guaranteed the day after tomorrow.
But the odds that I’ll take pride in our team, its players and its coach, no matter what trophies they achieve at the end of the ride? Most definitely 100%
*If you thought Batman 3 was badly written, overlong and just plain boring, imagine watching it dubbed in Spanish and recorded from the back row of the cinema with a camcorder
** I like him because he reminds me of a friend of mine. I know some who can’t stand him because he reminds them of a friend of mine
*** Brilliant translation for which all credit goes to Isaiah.
**** They sit in 5th because we put them there, having been surpassed by Real Betis this round