Paris. The city of lights. Of sandwichs grècs and fries. Of tiny, dusty apartments made instantly awesome because you can catch a far away glimpse of the Eifel Tower through its one and only window. Of Parisians that are surprisingly non-arrogant as long as you are arrogant enough to hang. Of métro, boulot, dodo¹. Of expensive coffee and rude waiters. Of metal subway doorhandles you must open yourself if you wanna get out. Of black and arab ghetto youth that turn their words around keli siht so that people don’t understand them. Of a football team a city is just not all that passionate about but might just yet become a European powerhouse.
Paris. What do I care? Brush up on your high school French and read on.
Le retour du chef²
Awesome. Beautiful. Poignant. Heartbreaking. Rarely fair. Among these and many other things, life is also funny. It’s funny how we have all been waiting for Tito to come back, and now he is finally here: guess what? Life goes on.
I know we might try to deny it, but in a lot of ways football is bigger than life. Millions of people die from cancer and millions of people come back, but football will always be there.
Of course it makes us happy when before the game starts we see our coach on the bench. We imagine what he has been through and we love and support our team, our coach and our players because Futbol Club de Barcelona is part of our lives. But when the whistle blows, the game is the game. And we worry about insignificant little things, like goals and such.
Still, when the camera switches back to Tito we remember how awesome and beautiful and poignant life is, even though it is also heartbreaking and rarely fair. And it puts a smile on our face…until the camera pans back to the pitch, that is.
So welcome back, Tito! Benvingut. May you be blessed with many more years because yes, life is more than a game.
For his stay in the French capital, a city of crappy restaurants in a country of excellent food, Chef Tito prepared a ratatouille of Valdés, Dani Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi and Villa. Within minutes Busi did his best to justify his automatic starting spot by almost scoring the opening goal when he poked the ball past the keeper onto the inside of the post. In light of fairness I should add that it was the wrong post of the wrong goal behind the wrong keeper.
Paris-Saint Germain looked the most dangerous of the two teams for the first thirty minutes. In tried and proven fashion, they kept a lot of men behind the ball and looked to create chances on the break. Victor Valdés did very well to prevent us from having to chase the game. Ex-Barça player turned Pep-hater turned Leo-lover Zlatan Ibrahimovic came close to scoring twice. For our colors, el Cerebro almost opened the account with a delicious curler.
Slowly but surely, we settled into a rythm that let us do our thing while having to take great care to not expose ourselves to our opponent’s counter attack.
When we don’t create opportunities in big games I get antsy. Given our record in big games this year, this happens even more so as of late. Who better to scratch that itch than our very own Flea?
He was not having the best of games, to put it mildly, but after Dani Alves’ sumptous pass with the outside of his right foot that brings to mind the ball skills and flair of the great Brazilian wingers of the early seventies, the Argentine killed it like a poacher.
One-nil for the good guys. Finally warmed up, Leo served a further reminder of his class by wriggling free and almost putting a second in the top corner. However he seemed to have pulled a muscle on that action. The last minute of the first half were spent standing hurt by the sideline waiting for the break. He was not to return afterwards, and Fabregas took his place.
Contrôle du Match⁵
The last twenty minutes of the first half and the first fifteen of the second half were characterized by an exceeding control of the game. We did not give up any shots over a period of 35 minutes during which we probed for scoring opportunities ourselves, sometimes successfully.
Busquets tried from a distance, a skill that I would love for him to possess – although I don’t foresee that ever happening. Jordi Alba also tried and Alexis Sanchez uncharacteristically *clearing throat* fluffed two good opportunities.
We should have killed the game here, while the Parisians were submitted. However with Villa largely invisible, Cesc as our false nine and our midfield trying in vain to carve out any more clear chances, we did not such thing. Admittedly the Brazilians Thiago Silva and Alex make up quite an imposing defensive duo.
Hors-jeu et autres décisions bizarres⁶
What do you call a 6 foot 5 Swede that stands two yards offside? Goal!
In a bizarre sequence of events the arbitral team turned the game on its head. Dani Alves, one of the standout players on our side, got fouled quite hard deep in the French half of the pitch. While he was sprawling and squeeming on the floor (granted, he does do that from time to time) Paris Saint Germain broke out. At almost the exact opposite spot where our wingback was
assaulted tackled, Wolfgang Stark booked Mascherano for a foul I am still not sure was a foul.
We cleared the free kick and tried to break out through Villa. El Guaje was called for another foul which in fact could have gone the other way. This free kick was headed onto the post by Silva after which all Zlatan had to do was tap it in.
At one-one, the score was equal with eleven minutes of regular time left to play.**
Justice (première partie)⁷
After a deft pass by Cesc, the first Chilean ever to play for Barça combined very well with a truly moronic effort of keeper Salvatore Sigiru to give us the game.
A penalty in the 89th minute, gratefully converted by our captain on the day, Xavi Hernandéz.
The bad taste left in our mouths for the non-call of the German linesman well and truly rinsed. We had our justice. Right?
Justice (deuxième partie)⁸
It is only justice for Barcelona if we don’t let the lead slip away. PSG had been more dangerous than us throughout various parts of the match. Valdes saved our hides a couple of times. Ibra missed a short-ranged shot by letting it hit his shin before his foot. Their defense had a constant outlet in their star striker who, although not an aerial threat, will use his body and strength to receive any long ball played from the back.
Ten seconds before the end of the game the equalizer fell. A quick build-up resulted in enough room for Blaise Matuidi to shoot the ball goalwards. A slight deflection off of Bartra was sufficed to offset Valdés’ reaction, who despite his earlier heroics really should have stopped the shot. After he got a full hand on it, the ball rolled over the goal line at an agonizingly slow speed. Justice for them, and a definitely more complicated home game to follow.
La parfaite réponse de l’enfant merveilleux…ben…presque!⁹
You can bet your house on the fact that few culés were as excited as I was upon watching Alexis play today. He was as involved against PSG as he was uninvolved against Celta de Vigo.
His constant movement and looking for space when in possession and chasing down space when out of possession were evident from the start. He showed confidence with his touches and rarely turned the ball over – he even created and took a shot from outside the edge of the box in the first half, something I don’t remember seeing from him in a long time.
This Alexis Sanchez does not get subbed two-thirdway through the game. And I don’t care if two-thirdway is not a word.
He was almost bad-ass. That is, until he found a way to miscontrol the ball and fall over five yards from the goal with only the keeper to beat when presented with the 2-0 on a silver platter. With diamants encrusted into the rim. He then scuffed an almost similar opportunity about sixty seconds later. Damn, Lexus, you’re one frustrating Chileno.
Still, he had a good game and I am very happy about that.
People could be forgiven for thinking that I take pleasure in blasting Alexis the way I did after the Celta game. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I take cheap shots at some (ok, all) of his misses. Then again, he has missed an obscene amount of sitters in the most embarassing ways this season. I also feel that he played better overall in his first year, which is a big reason why I have been so disappointed with him.
But continue like this, and you will succeed at Barça. And the goals will come as well, you’ll see.
Des opportunités ratées¹⁰
So, missed opportunities. Had Lexus scored either of the two I mentioned above, the game and tie would have been done and dusted. And Villa would not have looked at him with such an expression of disgust (two photos up). Then again, Villa did not exactly drape himself in gold either, missing the opportunity to make the most of his resurgent big game starting role. He almost had as few touches as the other Maravilla last Saturday, and not once created a shot to threaten the enemy goalkeeper.
I am quite sure that I was not the only one ruing the missed opportunity, if it ever really existed, to buy Thiago Silva last summer. Man, what a player. During 90 minutes of playing among modern giants of the game, he still stood out. Of course he is exactly the type of player that we have needed for quite some time now. Defenders like Silva don’t come a dime a dozen and it is not unreasonable to believe that we would have been solid at the back for years to come with him in our squad.
Last but not least, the biggest opportunity we missed today was the one to win the game. A team of our quality and reputation should not have given this lead away. That we have indeed done just that might come back to bite a big chunk out of our butt cheeks next week.
Let’s be clear: in the first game of a two-legged tie, a multi-goal draw away from home is an excellent result. Any team in the knock-out stages of the Champion’s League would happily take this score back home with them, regardless of the opponent.
Barcelona’s out of Camp Nou experiences on the path towards Rome in our first European campaign under Pep Guardiola were one-one, one-one and one-one.
Two-two is twice as good.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get to the bad. Leo Messi has suffered a muscle injury which first reports indicate will sideline him for three weeks. He will receive further medical checks in the course of the day but is at the time of writing extremely unlikely to play the return leg.
Not counting early Copa match-ups against lower division teams, I recall two games we started without Messi this season. A 3-1 league win over Getafe and a goalless draw against Benfica. Also we do not tend to do well in games in which la Pulga does not score.
In addition Javier Mascherano is out for 6 weeks after our very own left back Jordi Alba cut through some ligament inside his right knee and left him bleeding to die, while we are already missing Puyol and Adriano to injury also.
For reasons unknown to mortal culés, the powers that be have not given Bartra the minutes needed this season to prepare for this exact eventuality. The option of Song, who was bought to cover the holding mid and central defense positions, has been abandoned in this particular case. We cannot count on Abidal to make any significant contribution and to make matters worse, Pique has left the outstanding form he displayed during the starting months of the league behind him.
Not for the first time in recent years, we are entering the business end of the season with a defense that is close to bankruptcy.
So no defense, and no Messi. That is quite a challenge. Let’s discuss how we are gonna meet it during the week to come.
“Sanchez likes to dive”
¹ Subway, work, sleep
² Return of the Boss
³ The Opening
⁴ The Flea
⁵ Control of the Match
⁶ Offside and other bizarre decisions
⁷ Justice (part one)
⁸ Justice (part two)
⁹ The Perfect Response of the Niño Maravilla…well…almost
¹⁰ Lost Opportunities
¹¹ The Challenge
**DISCLAIMER The TV set I watched the game on had very bad reception. I am positive that it was a foul on Dani Alves, possibly even a yellow card one, as the player came in with an outstretched leg and kicked him on the foot (along with part of the ball, true). However, if any of you have seen the Mascherano foul and the Villa foul that were given more clearly than I have feel free to come forward (as a matter of fact, I trust you will). To me it seemed Masch did not make contact and to me it seemed that Villa was fouled upon when trying to break free with a sombrero, but I could be wrong on both counts.
***Speaking of which, don’t you just love it that our coaches rarely comment about referees in the way of the Mourinhos, Wengers and apparently also Ancelottis of the world? They make themselves look ridiculous by accusing Alexis of diving (which he didn’t) while their own player was more than a yard offside when scoring the equalizer.
Another note on the refs… I kinda like we have had so many calls against us in so many big games this season… If it hasn’t killed us, it is bound to make us stronger, right?