The Chicago area, and the county in which I live, is having a winter storm. And I’m pretty sure that it’s Jordi Roura’s fault. Almost positive.
I ordered some cycling shorts, and the order is delayed. I can guaranTEE that is Roura’s fault.
And now that the humor is out of the way, let’s get down to some assessing here, shall we? We have time, after all …. just a bit, before we have to line up against this same team again, the same team spoiling for a fight, thinking they kicked the crap out of us in our house, eliminating us from the Copa del Rey.
Whatever, dude. I just don’t see it that way. For me, this was a match of inches before it became feet, which turned into something that, when our sprites went to the well of magic, they found no solutions for.
Let’s start by saying congratulations to our opponents today. They came, they saw, they conquered and are now moving on to a Copa del Reig final that I won’t care about a whole lot less than I would have not cared all that much about if we were playing in it. But that is known. 1-3 and 2-4 on aggregate is pretty convincing, right? Right? Or is it.
Hello? Is this thing on? Come in off that ledge and listen. There are reasons not to leap.
When the best team in the world faces off against the second-best team in the world, execution is crucial. A football match usually hinges on dozens of little moments, moments that usually result in the best team winning. Look at the Capital One Cup final in which Swansea thrashed little Bradford. The first goal found a rebound falling directly to a Swansea attacker. That ball could have bounced any number of ways, but it fell directly to the Swansea attacker, who slid it home for the 1-0. From there, Bradford had to chase the match, and that was that, as when you chase a match you expose yourself. Always.
In the Copa del Reig final against them, it came down to execution. A ball wasn’t cleared, which led to a corner, which led to the winning goal. In a Barça win, a ball pinged to Xavi who got the luck of the rub, was able to control it with a dazzling bit of skill, and slot it home off the volley. Inches and execution. Players doing their jobs to the best of their ability, a task that also involves a little bit of luck.
We conceded three goals to them. I haven’t looked at the comments in this space yet. I never, ever do before writing whatever I am going to write about a match. But I can guess that people are saying “We need a coach,” and “Our defense is done for,” etc, etc. But here’s what I saw:
— On the first goal, Messi pinged a pass to Xavi that was weighted wrong and never really had a chance of getting there, given the way RM was defending. It was a pass that to have a chance, had to be a whole lot better than it was. But it missed by inches, got intercepted as it deserved to, and they were off on a break. A ball to a streaking Oil Can was spotted by Puyol, who stretched out a leg and just missed it. A few more inches, before that damnable Pique screwed the pooch. Or did he?
Oil Can has bamboozled far better defenders than Gerard Pique, who didn’t do all that badly, just missing getting a foot on the ball by …. you guessed it …. inches. And that was that, the first goal for them off the justly called penalty.
— On their second goal, it was Messi again, trying to find Xavi with an ill-advised pass (again), that was intercepted by an outstretched leg and fed on a rope, perfectly, waaaay down the pitch to a streaking Jughead. Alba saw the ball, and looked directly at Oil Can, streaking in behind the play. It was at the moment he looked that the goal was done for, because he figured that Jughead was going to smoke his defender and he should cover the line, instead of assuming that his teammate had that one covered, and he should, oh I dunno, maybe cover the most dangerous player on the pitch. Too late, he made the decision to get over, and missed. Again, not by much.
Execution, successful by them, sloppy by us. But their third goal was the most ridiculous, for so many reasons.
— When a team takes a corner kick, the first thing defenders should do is get between the ball and their attackers. But if you freeze the image when Varane is heading home for their third, he is unmarked. Puyol is looking at him, Alba is looking at him, Pique has given up the inside position and Varane is thinking “This is like taking candy from midgets,” as he headed home. It was one of the easiest goals he is ever going to score, easier even than the other header he scored against us.
But even after those three goals, or more correctly before them, there were other moments of inches and execution, slivers that define an outcome.
— Iniesta took a long shot that clearly caught their keeper off guard, but the force field deflected it, and that was that.
— Messi got a ball in a perfect place to score, in an area where he is almost automatic …. but with his less-precise right foot, and he rolled it just wide of the net. That early goal, within the first three minutes of the match, would have dramatically changed things, forcing tnem to chase the match, while we lay in wait to strike on the counter.
— It was Messi again, on what really was a remarkable free kick that anticipated the leap of their defenders, drove to the corner and made a right turn almost, only juuuuust not quite sharp enough to get into the goal, past a stone-cold beaten keeper. 1-1 at the half is very different than 0-1. Less pressure, less risk, less everything. Instead we had to chase the match, throwing increasingly risky efforts at their defense, and that was that.
— Cesc Fabregas took a remarkable pass in the box that was screaming, “Score me! Score me!” He missed, as things didn’t go right by …. man, y’all must be clairvoyant! Inches.
So whose fault is it, then?
— I guess we should start with cules, for having expectations so astronomical that disappointment is an inevitable as the sunrise. We always beat RM, and this time there’s silver on the line (which arrogantly assumes that the winner of this draw was automatically going to win the final). Things are different now, however, even if the expectation of cules is still intact. No? Okay, how about ….
— Jordi Roura, who clearly lacked the genius of Tito Vilanova or Pep Guardiola in handling his charges, and making the tactical shifts that would have resulted in a different outcome. I can see that, because he had so many different players to call upon, or did he? Tello came on, didn’t make a real difference. Thiago came on for a little life, but no real difference. The goal came from two of the players who had been on the pitch the whole match, but who finally were able to execute to a degree sufficient to turn the trick. Did Roura make the passes that were intercepted, get beaten in the box or fail to mark Varane? Nope. What tactical changes could he have made to help his players execute better? But wait …. it’s gotta be his fault. We don’t have a coach, dammit! Gaah! No? Um, let’s try ….
— The players. After all, they were the ones playing the match, right? They didn’t do what was necessary to turn the tie and get the result that so many cules expected. It’s THEIR fault, surely. But is it really their fault for, on this night, not quite being good enough, not quite getting the rub of the pitch that would have turned things in our favor. Look at the want in Puyol’s face above, and tell me that all of the players didn’t want this match. But still, we have to blame someone, right?
No. Not at all. Sometimes, we just have to say “Well played, now let’s move on.” Because you know what? Despite the almost magical period of the last four years, nobody wins them all, not even this amazing football club. Is this a sign of the beginning of the end of an era? Not at all. With a few of the right acquisitions, coupled with some hard decisions over the summer, all that this club will need to do is hit the reset button, and continue the success.
Just to remind everyone, Barça has a seemingly insurmountable lead in the Liga, and if it plays against Milan as it did tonight, that 2-goal deficit WILL be overcome. Yes, it was that fraught an affair. Really, the only two matches in this recent era that have been lopsided, no-doubt-about-it affairs were the 2-6 win, and the legendary manita. The rest have been tight, tight, could have gone either way affairs. But the difference was, as it was tonight, concentration and execution.
Tonight, a rarity occurred, a thing so astonishing that so many people don’t know how to deal with it: We came out on the wrong side of the scoreline. But you know what? It happened at key times last season as well, and last season, we HAD a coach, a coach who has become a Barça legend. This season, we are ahead of that game, because who wouldn’t give up the Copa for a Liga title? Not I.
It stings. Damn right it does for many cules. Get used to it. Understand it. And when you’re done whining and hurling verbal thunderbolts and blaming this player, coach, club president, voodoo shaman whomever, cleanse your system and celebrate your club. But tuck that feeling away in the part of your brain in which those sorts of things lurk, so that you never, ever forget. Because remembering that feeling, this feeling, will make the victories that much more memorable, that much more moments that are remarkable and should be cherished, rather than expected as some sort of divine right.