It was a game that had a fair amount of buildup going in. There was a defensive lapse that led to an opposition goal, but the whole thing was over but for the bloviating the moment a red card was handed out. The winner, like the home team’s opener, came from the boot of an Argentine and the crowd whirred away in throaty contentment. And then the Barcelona game started.
Oh, you thought I was talking about Osasuna? No, I was talking about the much more intriguing Barcelona B – Real Madrid Castilla match just prior to kickoff in the Camp Nou. The Miniestadi was a caustic cauldron of hatred that suggests the next home meeting with the Bigger Merengues will be something of a verbal bloodbath: in what amounts to a glorified youth match, coins and lighters were thrown at celebrating Madrid players after Alvaro Morata put the visitor’s in front. Contrast that with the absolutely classy cheer that the crowd gave Victor Valdes when his name was announced prior to the Osasuna game. It’s a confusing time to be a cule, I guess.
What made the Osasuna game uninteresting was Alejandro Arribas’ second yellow for handball, the second one in the box for a penalty to boot. Reduced to 10 men and down a goal, the Gorritxoak quickly experienced the negative hat trick: they lost their manager when Mendilibar was sent off, further dooming their comeback attempt. Still, they weren’t completely out of it until, well, they were. Pedro scored on what was an offside play on Alves, but it should have been at least another goal to FCB anyway given that the linesman blew a terribly obvious call against Messi a few minutes earlier. It ended up working out this time, which is something everyone might want to remember next time there’s a disastrous call by a ref “bent on destroying Barcelona” or some such conspiracy theory hooey.
With a man advantage for so long, it’s no wonder that a team playing for (and perhaps expecting) trophies in 3 competitions were able to put 5 beyond a team 37 points beneath them at the beginning of the match. Osasuna is not best matchup to test strength in depth. Yet they gave us a run for our money in the away leg and held Madrid to a 0-0 draw just a couple of matches ago. Whether that’s indicative of a deeper La Liga field than some might give it credit for is a discussion for another day, but it at least signals that the focus I was speaking about in the preview is something the team is aware of too.
The team certainly has moments when it switches off, but then there’s that moment when Puyol flung himself absurdly at a ball in the Osasuna box, missed, dusted himself off, and then catapulted himself headlong into the fight to get the ball back. The look on his face said it all: we want this. And not just I. There’s no I in this collective. And that’s what Puyol brings to the table that few others do: commitment and leadership. It’s not that others aren’t committed or can’t lead, it’s that Puyol is exceptional at both. He’s so committed he’s the guy that’s all in pre-flop on the first hand of a billion dollar tournament because [bleep] you, that’s why. Maybe he’ll never won’t win a beauty pageant, but gosh darn it, he keeps winning my heart.
Up next is a Copa Clasico. Shudder at the specter of more clasicos, people. Shudder hard. But in the meantime, enjoy this: