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Not quite, but close.
For the record, yes, a match was played today. Yes, we lost. But everything was subsumed by the start of the second half, when our very own BAS took to the pitch to rapturous cheers. As he strode out with Messi and Alves, you could hear everyone thinking “This is it. It’s Hammer Time.”
Not so fast. But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?
Pep Guardiola, leading up to this edition of the Gamper Trophy match, was saying to anybody who would listen, “We really care about the SuperCup, and will use this match as more training.” Shudder! The impudence of this guy!
And nobody really believed him, until he rolled out with: Pinto, Montoya, Puyol, Fontas, Maxwell, Busquets, Gudjohnsen, The Yaya, Pedro!, Jeffren and Krkic. Then it was like “Uh, wait a minute. He wasn’t kidding.”
Let’s dispense with the goal against right away. It came off a busted play, as so many goals against us do. Busquets laid off a sloppy pass outside the Citeh box, and because we were pressing, the middle was open. A nice ball to Petrov, who was kept onside by a sluggish (injured?) Puyol. Petrov beat Pinto, who stood there, waiting to die. It wasn’t as much the high line that killed us as it was one player not lining up with the rest. Captain Caveman can be forgiven. S’all good.
And that was that.
We had more time of possession, more shots, more corners, more slick moves, more manicures, more ear tucks, more everything than those ten-behind-the-ball dudes. And it’s all okay, because there was more good to come out of this match than from a money truck whose doors fall open.
To start with, there was the future. Does any club around have more to offer, coming through the ranks, than we do? Jeffren, Thiago, Assulin, Johnny Two-Time, Fontas, Muniesa and Botia are just some of the names who are thisclose to being ready. Wow.
And then there’s he man who always energizes, Messi. When Argy Bargy rolled on and started waterbugging about, the only option was to kick him, which Citeh showed about zero compunction about doing. Early and often. Not that Messi stopped. This is a guy coming off a knock?
The guest of honor, Ibrahimovic, impressed the hell out of me with pace and movement. He has a first touch as soft as butter on a summer’s day, and is still learning about how to move in our system. But already he understands that when Messi is scooting up the middle, get to the wing to create space for him. Niiice! His best shot at goal was thwarted by a world-class reflex save from an excellent Premiershp keeper. Yes, 3-5 men were collapsing around him whenever he was in the box. He showed the presence of mind to keep the ball moving, always making the considerate pass. More on Ibra later.
Johnny Dos Santos is fearless. He has a bomb of a shot from the outside, and keeps the ball moving in the midfield with a style and efficiency that belie his tender age.
Keita is ready this year, for sure, for his role as a philanthropic Invisible Man. You rarely see him, but he’s almost always doing good.
Fontas had made it very clear why Adriano is being sent out for more seasoning. He understands positioning in a way that makes it clear that How To Play Central Defense At Barcelona is every bit as much of a school as midfield excellence.
And lest we forget, Maxwell is just the thing for those matches such as this one, when the other side gets a goal and wants to sit. Just imagine, for a moment, he, Henry and Iniesta knocking about on the left, with Alves, Xavi and Messi on the right and Ibrahimovic in the center. I’m just saying, is all.
Pedro! continues to impress, in preparation for his role as the New Giuly. We’re just too stacked for him to start, but in an offense-needed capacity, he’s my first sub right now.
And then there’s Jeffren, rooster haircut and all, a fluid, fluent ball of dynamism who, if we loan or send anywhere, I think that we’re out of our blinkin’ minds.
Gai Assulin showed some of what the buzz is about. Once he learns that you can’t show as much of the ball to grownup defenders, he’ll be just fine.
In the first half, The Yaya showed that he can indeed handle a Xavi-like role. He owned, and was really only lacking henchmen up to his level to seal the deal, in a match that we really should have won and probably would have, with the right players in the right spots.
Which leads me to the bad.
Something is going on with Krkic. I know he’s a kid, I know that we’re supposed to not beat on cuddly little stuffed animals and all, but he has to start doing better. Running him in the center of the pitch as an attacker doesn’t help anyone, least of all The Kid. Against big Premiership defenders, he was pushed off the ball too easily, and missed a dead-nuts sitter with the keeper dead to rights. There is talent galore there, but I think it’s time to explore his new life as a winger.
I know that Gudjohnsen was out there. I’m sure of it. Really. I am.
The astute have probably noticed that there aren’t the usual points for this match. It was a friendly. We don’t do points for friendlies, particularly when they’re played like one by a coach who has very clearly taken the long view. He has many problems to solve, such as:
–Back line help (Fontas, Muniesa)
–Midfield depth (Johnny Two-Time, The Yaya, Maxwell)
–Wing aggression in the absense of Henry (Final Fantasy, Pedro)
I think that he was, even though we came up on the wrong side of the scoreline, very happy with what he saw today, against a club that played to win, is tapped to finish top four in the Premiership, and really should have gone in tied or down to a starting XI of mostly kids, a galaxy and a Monument.
And I think he’s right to be pleased.
Now, back to Ibrahimovic. One comment during the LiveBlog was that he looked scared. Can you blame him? He is replacing 30 goals a year, spearhead of the best attack in the history of the planet, with an immense price tag on his head, in front of more than 90,000 fans.
Are you kidding me? I would have stood there, pooped myself and gone home.
He’s coming off of hand surgery, and is behind schedule, fitness-wise. He’s learning a new system with new players who, no offense meant to Inter Milan, are playing at a different level. Citeh could collapse on him, because we didn’t have any real threats out there. Our wingers were a right back and a kid. And he still looked good, and almost scored (twice). What’s going to happen with Henry, Iniesta and Xavi?
Yes, there were times when he looked a bit lost, and rather stationary. You betcha. Think about how you felt, first day at your new job. But he already understands the ball movement required, the pass back that keeps possession, and keeps and offense rolling, and effort. I like what I saw, and I think we are going to have a very good season. The squad isn’t as big as any of us (including Guardiola and Txiki B.) would like, but if the kids come along as they are supposed to, by the time the mid-season doldrums hit, we will have some willing subs, ready to go.
The next real match comes on Sunday at home, against Athletic Bilbao. At the end of 90 minutes at home, we will hopefully be hoisting our first silver of the season. Yes, we’ll be Web streaming it again, so be ready.