Some fifteen minutes before the match I wrote that I would be disappointed with anything less than a win. High expectations are a mo-fo. And so is our sense of entitlement.
We’re like the guy who goes to the prom, confident that his date will go all the way. And then gets upset when she doesn’t let him past second base. But we’re not even that guy. We wish we were that guy.
We’re the one who sort of dances and kind of tries to woo the girl the whole night, only for her to start making out with somebody else in the middle of the floor. The shock, as you stand there wistfully eyeing your would-be prize sneaking out the back with another dude; the horror, when she blows you a cheeky kiss goodbye before he closes the door behind her.
Now you’re probably thinking two things.
1. Make that three things: [expletive]! [expletive], [expletive], [expletive]!
2. Tonight is not my night.
3. Hold on…This all seems vaguely familiar… Haven’t I been here before?
Yup, tonight we were that guy. The same one as on those previous catastrophical encounters on which the night was not ours, etched in culé hearts like the emotional wounds they are:
Inter 3 – Barça 1
Barça 1 – Inter 0
Chelsea 1 – Barça 0
Barça 2 – Chelsea 2
Champion’s League games are always special. The history. The glory. The butterflies flapping around your stomach on the day of a big game. The millionaire teams parking their buses whenever Futbol Club Barcelona rolls into town. Incredibly enough, we won the whole thing twice in the last four seasons. And we also got eliminated twice. By buses.
Buses. There’s a commonly held opinion that the way to beat us is to dedicate an entire football team to crowd their own box and lure for the occasional counter strike opportunity. Based on the
soccer matches modern-day dramas listed above, that opinion certainly holds some merit.
Milan 2 – Barça 0
There are two significant differences between those four fatal semi-final legs and this game, though. One is that both Inter 2010 and Chelsea 2012 fielded more than a 100M euro worth of players, whereas Milan has just pretty much sold a 100M euro worth of players. The other, more important difference is the fact that I was as convinced then as I am now that we did not deserve to lose against neither Inter* nor Chelsea**. As much as I wish otherwise, we definitely deserved to lose against Milan.
Sleep therapist Roura induced the all-together surprising line-up of Valdés, Dani Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Jordi Alba, Busi, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Messi, Iniesta. Our strongest eleven, it is said. Featuring five players that were voted in the FIFA team of the year, combining a trillion votes for the Balon d’Or. The only Milan player up for Golden Ball consideration was cup-tied and hanging out on the sidelines with his posse. Be that as it may, I will dedicate the following paragraph to the scoring opportunities we created over ninety minutes.
Think about that for a second. We fielded our supposedly strongest team, of a squad that has dropped a mere 7 points in 24 games in what is one of the, if not the best league in the world and we created nothing. Nada. Res. Niente. The same eleven who went to the Bernabeu only a couple of weeks ago and carved out no less than a handful of one-on-ones while playing badly could not manage even one opportunity against what is, on each and every position, inferior opposition.
Football is a funny old game, that.
The first half was a largely dreadful affair of Barça passing the ball around without any apparent plan of attacking the goal. We were playing against ourselves, mostly. The only danger created was on the other side of the pitch, as Milan took a cue out of Mourinho’s playbook and booted the ball behind our full backs every time we lost possession. Puyol saved us from Al Sharaawy getting on the scoreboard, although the mohawked Pharaoh would have probably done just that had he not gotten freaked out by all the sudden space in front of him. Boateng narrowly missed from the resulting corner.
I thought we started the second half with a bit more menace until ten minutes in Busquets got booked for getting kicked by his opponent. That our concentration broke and the momentum switched ever so slightly is on us. Milan got forward and another foul gave them a free kick in a dangerous position. At that point the referee gave the Italians a hand. Literally.
You know things are bad when Madridista (!) students send me text messages saying “prof este arbitro es una porquería“, and “fue una mano grosera q abuso“***. What can I say. I am a culé so I am used to it. If you don’t wanna get screwed by the ref, go find another club to support. They say aribitral decisions even out over time but we live on an uneven slope, for sure.
So it’s the ref’s fault, right? Wrong. Like I told many a Gunner the day after Van Persie got that ridiculous second yellow card at the Camp Nou two years ago, there is a point where your team plays like such crap that you lose the right to complain about such stuff. On this occasion it is as painfully true for us as it usually is for them. So even though the wrongly allowed goal bothered me big time, the way we played bothered me even more.
We have seen this before.
If the games in which we don’t create anything against an organized defense are rare, even rarer is it that we do finally score a goal out of nowhere in those same games. I almost broke my wrist on the counter when Messi and Xavi aimed their free kicks too high, even though they were obviously going to do just that. Iniesta blasted the ball a couple of inches too far right. A bloodied Puyol headed the ball a couple of meters too far left. And Muntari put his effort too far in between the posts.
2-0 isn’t exactly a fair result, but that’s a moot point. The most incredible thing about the whole game was how little Milan seemed to have to fight to best us. Both Inter and Chelsea worked their butts off to knock us out. Milan hardly seemed to break a sweat.
I can’t even say our players played badly individually. Not one of our guys stood out, either positively or negatively. Puyol let his opponent get the better of him quite easily in the run-up to our second goal, but that’s about it. As a team we were listless. Tactically Milan played the perfect game, but again, this is beside the point. If we show up and actually do more than just show up their game plan becomes a whole less perfect.
Right now we are left with a mountain to climb. It’s not the mount Everest but uhhhm yeah, I’ll be honest with you, it is a pretty tall mountain. We can score two against Milan. We need at least three. And unless we keep a clean sheet for what would only be the sixth time this season, we will probably need four. Possible? Yes. It’s possibly more difficult than possible, but it is possible. Let’s not forget:
Milan 4 – Deportivo de la Coruña 1
Deportivo de La Coruña 4 – Milan 0 (Depor went through to the semi-finals)
Milan 3 – Liverpool 0 (first half)
Milan 3 – Liverpool 3 (Liverpool won the CL on penalties)
You see, there is hope yet. And let’s also not forget, ser del Barça es lo millor que hay!
“When you don’t show up for a game, this can happen. We’re capable of rectifying this mistake”
Andrés Iniesta Luján
*we got robbed in both legs
**we robbed ourselves by missing chance after chance after chance
***translation: “teacher, the ref is filth”, and “that handball was ridiculous, what an abuse”