Supporters are funny. There was no way in hell that Granada, even at its house and before its frenzied supporters, was going to beat Barça. They knew it, the coaches knew it, the players knew it, the folks watching at home knew. The match for them was a hit-and-hope, a potential golazo against the run of reality.
There is a certain tyranny in football as the rich get richer as the poor hunt for scraps. Barça get Luis Suarez to add to Neymar and Messi. Granada get Barça loanees and castoffs. The odd upset notwithstanding, in which a superior team doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, football is about form and talent.
Rolling into the match against Granada, Barça was a team in form, that blip against Deportivo nothing more than the aftershock of you trying to work the day after you went on an epic bender. Good luck with that.
Luis Enrique rotated, not only of necessity but because it made sense. Even at that, the XI was Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba, Busquets, Rafinha, Gomes, Suarez, Neymar, Rakitic. That group doesn’t exactly suck, and was such that even the best possible XI available to Granada didn’t have a shot, couldn’t have a shot.
No Messi, no Pique, no Umtiti, and still. It was Neymar unleashed, Paco Alxacer showing a bit of why he was acquired, Luis Suarez playing like a titan. The better team won because that is what was supposed to happen, supporter fretting and drama aside.
The final score could have been worse. Barça also could have put out a deeper effort. But why? That is part of the cruelty of football — Granada kicked, ran, fought, did all that it could. Barça just fluffed its feathers a bit and knocked in enough goals to win, based on superior talent.
The pace, spacing and movement for the first goal, the absurd quality on display for the second, the football evisceration of the third, was all so inevitable. Supporters need to worry, need to create situations such as the Twitter consternation after that excellent Granada goal, which leveled the score at 1-1 but also strained logic to create a crisis. If they needed an error and then a perfect goal just to notch one, what would be the odds of them getting another?
Barça, on the toher hand was creating chances galore, almost for fun, then spurning them the way game hunters photograph their prey rather than shooting it, the photo from the range of the kill shot serving as evidence. More goals were only a matter of time.
Why do we watch, then, if we know that form and talent are absolutes, that our team is going to win? Because it’s fun. Football is a game, and it’s fun. Even amid all of the knowlwdge that tries to suck the fun out of the game, that dismisses a key goal as ugly or unworthy, it is a delight to watch our team win. Assessing the quality of a win is the refuge of the haves.
“We won, but the match should have been over earlier. We were in trouble for a while.”
But imagine being Granada, of confronting a Sisyphean task of facing off against Barça. During one second-half run, Neymar danced, pranced, stopped and started, hopped and shimmied, as Granada defenders, one after the other, lined up for their turn at a swivel-hipped game of Whack-A-Mole. “Missed. You try.” Finally, as even more superior opponents do, they had to foul Neymar.
How must it feel, not to have a player such as that on your team, a talent that too many supporters rake for granted every week, but to watch that talent rip your beloved team apart? That is tyranny, of money, talent, circumstance, opportunity. All you can do is watch, and hope.
Perhaps we reduce football to theory and notions because we want some measure of control, some predictability from an endeavor that is basically marbles in a bowl, kids chasing after a football in the park writ large, backed by enough money to make teams worth more than the GNP of a small nation.
When that ball is first kicked, the game becomes precisely that — and is the province of those who have the physical and mental capability to play it best. Alaves played very well against Real Madrid, but were let down by the second most prevalent thing lesser teams are let down by: decisions on ball. The final third is the key zone because the concentration of bodies is highest, where the keeper is waiting, where the margins are finest. If a pass is an inch off or held a fraction too long, it becomes an almost instead of a celebration.
Look at the winning Barça goal. Suarez took a pass, physically held off a defender and had the presence of mind to lace a perfect ball for Paco Alcacer to run onto, and slot home with sufficient speed and quickness to outdo a keeper who was having a brilliant match.
We want the game to be logical, want to talk of positional play, wrinkle our noses at individual brilliance and imperfect goals, but it is all marbles in a bowl, luck and talent. Iniesta makes those passes because he can. Isaac Cuenca misses those passes because he can. If he could make them, he wouldn’t be at Granada.
That is the cruelty of this game. PSG understands that, how their player stared into a potential reality and flinched. Neymar saw the possibility to make history, and grew larger.
Predicting that is impossible, even as we understand that the probability of Neymar doing something such as that is higher than Cavani or Di Maria because he is more talented, more tested at the limits of the game, physical and psychological. In that way, the game makes sense, even at its most illogical.
Football is beautiful, and illogical. That is why we watch. Sure, we talk tactics and formations, but we understand that they are one error, one amazing run, one moment of madness away from being reduced to what they are: another chance to be proved wrong by the whimsy of sport.