So, JMo is right: That was rather a pessimistic liveblog during that second half, and for good reason, right? We couldn’t put the ball in the net, and Sporting Hee-hone was playing with pluck and determination, pressing hard and playing for the equalizer that was going to screw up all of our Saturday.
I should just run the LB and not even watch the match, because we pretty much kicked the crap out of Gijon, making a mockery out of our loan dude, Botia, saying that they would win 2-1. The possession stats were even more lopsided than they were on paper, as we were the only side with meaningful possession. Their one shot that had a chance at goal, when somehow an attacker got between Puyol and Marguez to flick a shot that was never going to trouble Valdes. Not the way he’s been playing of late.
Watching on the T and V, I was thinking that Sporting were lucky not to get a high-quality, Barca-style pasting in their own backyard, as we left goals a-beggin’. Pedro! left two, Messi left one and we were just off on a couple of passes, leaving me to think that perspective is everything. So I’d like to amend my liveblog comments to, “Them boys is lucky it wasn’t 6 or 7-0, yo.”
Or something like that.
Guardiola rolled out with an interesting, but not all that unexpected starting XI, of Valdes, Puyol, Marquez, Pique, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro! Ibrahimovic. The surprise was a starting role for Pedro! at left wing, a spot whose prevous occupant was one much-maligned Frenchman. And P! did pretty much what he always does: score a decisive goal. But he also made a liar out of my first half comment, in which I noted that he wasn’t playing that well, but still manages to notch goals.
And truth to tell, it was one hell of a spectacular goal, as Iniesta, who must have borrowed the Chameleon Eyes glasses from Xavi for the first half, laced a ball into space for Pedro! that the little hellion ran onto and, eschewing the blansishments of a dashing Ibrahimovic, popped it past the keeper on the near side. Yes, it was a hell of a shot, but that pass was absurd, a typical bit of Barca panache that we were showing a lot of, when we weren’t busy missing the ministrations of our Metrozilian on the right side.
Yes, Captain Caveman is our hero and all that jazz, but he ain’t no Alves, and our attack showed. The good thing was that it made Messi decide to pass more, and he was near-missing folks left and right. Had Ibrahimovic actually managed to stay onside, he probably would have had a couple of goals. Yes, he was making delightful link-up plays, deft passes and other bits of coolness. He even played defense on a Gijon set piece or two, including one ninja-style clearance.
Now put the damn ball in the net, dude. No. Seriously. Put. The. Ball. In. The. Net.
So now that that’s off my chest, Gijon started the match with what has become the Barca Formula: High pressure, flood the midfield so that Xavi can’t do his thing, and put pressure on us. But this time, the difference was that Iniesta was on. Spot on. With pinpoint pass after pass that, were it not for the translucent glow emitted by his forehead, would have made you think those balls were coming from Xavi.
And once that happened, Gijon didn’t have a chance, because as Xavi had his constant accompaniment, Ghostface had acres of open space in which to play, leading Hee-Hone to result to what I have dubbed Iniestabuse, as a defender comes charging in, too late, diving at a ball that is gone in the blink of an eye. The result is a foul, usually a card, and a wadded-up thing that looks like a white piece of paper with red and blue writing on it. And off we go.
Iniesta’s force field is still up, which explains why he didn’t have a goal after an astouding bit of high-speed interplay between he, Messi and Xavi. That, and a lightning-quick Gijon keeper who saw how that story was about to end and said to himself, “Stop the pale dude!” Our triangles were working with effectiveness, when Busquets wasn’t off doing his colt unbound thing, and Gijon were chasing the ball that they only got when Puyol or Xavi were carelessly throwing it away (yes, Xavi …. more than once).
Then it started to rain in the second half, and what looked like a lovely field turned into a divot-dealing miasma. And we owned that pitch, bombarding their keeper with shot after shot, and balls that who knows how in the hell they didn’t go in. And suddenly, it was rolling into the 80th minute, and then came the time that tried our liveblogging souls. Abidal gave up a free kick that we dealt with. Then we gave up another one. Then Puyol gave one up that, after it passed harmlessly by Valdes, saw the end of a match that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
Jim is right. We played very well, and almost completely controlled this match. They were about as likely to score as I am to announce my candidacy for FCB president. And we keep our 5-point Liga lead, since that Other Spanish Team decided that Saturday would be the day to smash their record of futility at the Riazor, home of Superrolloverlikedogs Depor.
And off we go.
Team: 7. A dominant display that looked less so through a Web feed, coupled with the paranoid, hence pessimistic eyes of demented cules. Everybody was helping each other, and the defense in layers was impressive.
Guardiola: 8. I don’t know how, but he knew that Marquez was due to not suck, and that this would be the match to start Pedro!. We questioned his late, late substitution pattern, but given how the team was playing, it made sense. Why introduce a potentially upsetting factor into that mixture, since they weren’t really working all that hard.
Valdes: 10. And this is a problem, because he didn’t have all that much to do. Four things, as a matter of fact. But any of those four things, not performed perfectly, could have caused a complexity. But he didn’t do that much, in the overall match context. I’m still wrestling with that one, frankly.
Puyol: 5. Yes, Guardiola praised him. That was to make him feel better. He was throwing bad passes around, getting beaten and losing balls. When he tried to do an Alves, the ball made like a lunar module. Bummer.
Marquez: 6. Dude was pretty damned effective, with a number of timely interceptions and sound positional play. He still has an unfortunate tendency to lope when everyone else is running. Now, part of what made him look better was that the ball was so rarely in our end, but he’ll take it.
Pique: 7. Starting to play out of the funk he was in, and donning the Piquenbauer cape again. Were it not for Abidal, he would have been our best defender.
Abidal: 9. But this dude was just crazy. For me, the single best argument for Abidal was when he got caught up the pitch and, with the Gijon attacker off to the races, Abidal just ran him down, passed him and broke up the play. Craziness. Our French Greyhound is in fine form right now. With him healthy, our defense is a lotta lotta lot better.
Busquets: 7. Fine match from our DM, with a number of strong tackles, nice passes, and good help defense. He was more of a destroyer today rather than a creator, but that was what was needed. Between he and Abidal, Gijon rarely got close enough to trouble Valdes.
Xavi: 7. Boy, did he play his way out of that funky first half, including a jaw-dropping sequence of passes in the second half, where on three consecutive attacks, he delivered an inch-perfect ball. Guess he took his Chameleon Eyes specs back.
Iniesta: 8. An extraordinarily typical match from the man who belongs at Xavi’s side. When he’s playing as he was, you can vex Xavi all you like. The other dude will kill you. When he has the telepathic sense of exactly when to stop his runs, as he did yesterday, he’s otherworldly. Xavi uses that spin to create his space, Iniesta uses that little, 5 or 6-step forward run to paralyze and bamboozle.
Messi: 6. I liked his match a lot, particularly the early passing. But he really, really, really should have fed Xavi instead of opting for the shot from the acute angle. Xavi isn’t the kind of guy to throw up his arms, or gesticulate. But if Messi squares that ball to Xavi, it’s 2-0, easy peasy.
Pedro!: 7. I know, I know …. “You hate Pedro. He scored the winning goal, and deserves better than a 7. You suck!” Whatevs. I still see signs of the situational deficiencies that P! has. He doesn’t quite have that great player’s sense of where the ball is going to be. You see it on plays where he’s chasing the ball like a crazy man. But the dude scores goals, and crucial ones. You hardly ever see P! piling goals on a 5 or 6-0 pasting. He was even playing defense in spots yesterday, and creating the same kinds of crosses to nobody that a certain Frenchman does.
Ibrahimovic: 5. Ah, the 63 million Euro question. What the hell is wrong with our Big Swede? What if my answer was nothing? He’s doing everything right, crashing the goal, working the give-and-gos and creating space for himself with touches in the midfield that force defenders to account for his presence out there. The goals will come. I’m more worried about the fact that he can’t seem to keep himself the hell onside. He has to develop a better rapport with his midfielders. I’ll have to look up the offside stats between he and Eto’o, but I bet you Ibra is pretty far ahead.
Krkic: incomplete. The Kid really was a time-wasting sub this time.
In Other News
–Just when I was going to have my “Free Keirrison” t-shits made up, he has a deal with Fiorentina, thanks to Adrian Mutu and his …. erm …. complexities. Suddenly, with their striker suspended from all games pending the resolution of this drug thang, Fiorentina suddenly had a spot open. Keirrison is signed on a two-year deal, with a purchase option if he impresses.
I’m not sure how I feel about that one, but I think that he’s going to be the One That Got Away, I think.
–What do Sandro Rosell and Alfons Godall have in common? They both have pledged to spend way to goddamn much dosh for Cesc Fabregas this summer. Um, yay? Or something.
–Messi is still pichichi by one goal over David Villa.
And just because this is a cool-ass picture: