Look. I know this one is a tough pill to swallow. I’m right there with you. But don’t make the mistake of blaming refs, of screaming about missed penalty calls, of offsides goals, of fucking disgraces, and all that bullhooey. It’s not even that we were outplayed or cheated or shown up or outfoxed or any of that. We lost and we lost because we couldn’t put it together. We didn’t work hard enough and we didn’t push ourselves.
We looked shaky from the offing, like we weren’t good enough to be playing in this stadium, on this level; they got shots on goal, could easily have been up a couple of goals and then Xavi slots in Maxwell after a bad giveaway by Lucio and Maxwell just strolls to the byline and feeds Pedro for a goal. 19 minutes in and we’re cruising, looking better, looking like we’re going to be able to pull this one off and do it handily. And then, of course, we went and relaxed. Why? Why did we do that? Who do we think we are that we can relax in a Champions League semifinal?
If we thought we could, well, in the 30th minute, Eto’o receives a cross-field ball, misplays it to Maicon, who plays it back to Eto’o, who shoots a horrendous cross through our box and we go to sleep on it. Dani Alves inexplicably sucks and when Milito collects the ball far too easily, he easily slides it to Sneijder who tucks it away beyond a stranded Valdes. An absurd goal off a freekick at the halfway line. But it’s still 1-1. So we limp into the halftime and we can collect ourselves, right?
Wrong. We came out of halftime and…within 40 seconds give them the ball and a full on chance that Pandev couldn’t get to. But then 2 minutes later we gave them the goal they were looking for. Because we kept fouling them without cause and sure, they kept going down without cause, but whatever, we gave them the chance to do so and it’s the Champions League semifinal and maybe we should wake up and realize that. And maybe we should play defense even if Messi is fouled and it’s not called–and it wasn’t really a real foul, but it sure was a ridiculously bad defensive play by us. Stop standing and staring at the ref, Leo. Work for the ball, dammit. Care.
And then, of course, yeah, Milito was offside for their third goal, but we let them walk through our defense anyway. Thiago Motta, of all people, steals a ball off of Xavi, of all people, and slips in Eto’o, who chips to Sneijder, who heads horribly to Milito, who was offside behind Puyol. So yeah, maybe keeping possession would have solved that? Maybe not sucking in midfield would have solved that? Maybe having a defensive midfielder who was interested in playing, you know, defense in, you know, the midfield, would have solved that?
Maybe we’re tired, maybe we’ve got a lot of miles in our legs, but what about Inter? What about the miles in their legs? They’re in the Coppa Italia final, the Champions League semi, and fighting for the Scudetto. Why is no one talking about that? Because it doesn’t matter. There is no tiredness, there are no excuses. We either play to be Barça, to be beautiful, to be good, or we shouldn’t bother playing. And fatigue is meaningless.
When Maicon went down–and I hope he’s okay because head injuries are horrendous and you should never wish injury on anyone–we took over. We started to play how we all knew we could play. Maybe it was Maicon’s injury, maybe it was Diego Milito’s substitution, but I think it was us finally getting into our stride, figuring out what they were doing and, to a certain extent, playing without Ibra. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m pissed that Ibra was subbed off, that we put on Abidal for him, but we did dominate without him. Of course it would have been nice to have someone other than, um, no one to sub on for the final few minutes. Where’s Henry? Where’s anyone? I know that Iniesta is out and that hurt us, but that’s no excuse.
We had our chances: Xavi through to Pedro in the 77th, Pique’s forward bombs, Messi’s runs into the box, a few free kicks. Sure, there were the penalties, but we have to put away the real chances, the ones that aren’t up to the referee’s discretion. Because they are. Because they did. Because if we don’t, we’re gone from this competition.
You all love ratings, so here you go:
Team: 4. Way to show the spirit, folks. You put in 20 minutes of work. Yay for you. How about 90?
Guardiola: 4. Way to show faith in the full squad, to sub on Henry for someone if you really wanted a goal. We need to be ready for these matches and you didn’t help us out there, it would seem. You gesticulated on the sidelines a lot, but were you outfoxed or were you outmotivated? Let us know in the second leg.
Valdes: 5. A spectator except when your defense let you down. You did nothing bad, really, and a few good things, but you were mostly just left out to dry.
Alves: 3. Learn to cross, eh? Sure, you looked to have earned a penalty, but how about not going down so easily for 85 minutes prior so that you actually get those calls? That might be a nice change of pace.
Pique: 7. A rare bright spot in an otherwise gray and dismal blaugrana sky. You could have scored and it would have been brilliant if your first touch hadn’t failed you at the crucial moment.
Puyol: 5. You were burned a couple of times, but you were there and you weren’t horrible. You’ve got to get the boys going, though, you’ve got to get in their faces and get their blood up. You’ll be watching the return leg, but hopefully they can hear you screaming from la grada.
Maxwell: 5. Beautiful work on the offensive end, but, um, how about some of the defensive end?
Busi: 2. Good job out there. You really played…where did you play? Defensive midfielder? Wait, you were in either place? Terrible, terrible match. Invisible and careless, incapable of shutting down their midfield, incapable of opening up their defense. Either step up or go home.
Keita: 4. It would have been nice if your touch hadn’t deserted you, especially when trying to clear in front of Maicon. And also if your touch hadn’t deserted you everywhere else too. But still, you were there defensively a lot and were working hard, which is hard to fault.
Xavi: 5. Another off match by the maestro, which is strange to say, but this one was much better. You still fed several players good balls that they did nothing with, which is hard to fault you for, but you let frustration get the better of you at several points and that’s not a good thing. Keep it together and your passes will find open teammates.
Pedro: 5. Good work today, but you need a bit more steel and a bit more work on the tactics, which would keep you less frantic and in better position. A little more speed in front of goal late in the match would have given you a second goal and would have greatly helped the cause. Still, nice goal, and thanks for putting that one away.
Ibra: 4. You really didn’t have much support, but you sometimes do have to work a little with the team to get the ball and, um, get it towards goal. Your ninja-like move in the first couple of minutes would have been on Sportscenter for years, but how about just scoring it instead? That would have been a good way to start off the match, right?
Messi: 3. You looked distant and un-Messi-like for most of the match. These are the moments when you have to play smarter, not harder, which is something you’ll learn in time, but which, right now, would be great for you to know. It’s not your style, I know, but maybe you can become a passer when you’re shutdown offensively?
Abidal: 6. You were playing well from the moment you got on, you just didn’t have enough time to really make the impact I’m positive you can have. If you’re back and healthy for the rest of the year, the league is ours and we have a legit shot at blowing out Inter at home. Let’s hope it’s so.
So, it’s the Camp Nou, but not until after Xerez visit and we’ve had a chance to get our legs back under us in the league. I know we can do this. In fact, I know we will do this. This club never quits and it never will. Visca el Barça and long live beautiful football.