In honor of Mother’s Day, we adapt the standard admonition, trotted out when there was some food that you didn’t want to eat. She assured you that your shameful wastefulness was a slap in the face for some starving child your age, as in “There are starving children in (insert country of choice) who would love to have that food.”
I’m sure there are strikers all over the world who, having watched our match against Sevilla, and the chance after chance after wasted chance, chances strikers yearn for, who were saying “Dude! I could have used that!”
And so it goes. I took a while wrestling with a match that, really, was a lot more interesting than it should have been because of four minutes of unconscionable stupidity, in which we let Sevilla back into the match on the scoreboard, but they really weren’t back in it. Not really. Not once we decided to batten down the hatches and play football again.
And yet, during the LiveBlog and probably in the homes and hearts of you who couldn’t make the LB, there was anxiety galore as Sevilla grabbed two goals to make a 0-3 laugher suddenly tense. Crazy people even said it was fine, because they wanted a thriller. Well, bite your tongues, but okay. I’ll take a thriller. What’s a little more difficult to countenance is my team losing its mind for a period, making a match that shouldn’t have been close, close — on the scoreboard, anyhow.
“This game is as dangerous as a snake pit,” said our beloved Ray Ray, and so it was, on paper. Until Guardiola’s lineup of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Keita, Busquets, Xavi, Messi, Pedro! and Krkic made mincemeat of Sevilla’s midfield. And as with any match, he who loses the midfield usually loses the match. But we did it with speed, effort and movement of a type that I have not seen in a very long time, movement and passing that created chance after chance after scintillating chance, because when we are playing like that, no team in the world can play with us.
And Width was back. Yes, capital w, because it is a factor so crucial to our game, because when we are passing and moving over the entire length of the pitch, forget about it. You’re doomed. Krkic was making his runs, Alves was earning his second Man of the Match, going hog wild on the right, left, front, back, pretty much everywhere and Pedro! was augmenting the field-stretching efforts with his own personal chaos theory. It just wasn’t going to happen for Sevilla, because we wanted it more than they did.
I haven’t been able to say that for a while, as other teams have wanted matches more than we. Sometimes, we’d lose or draw. Other times we’d win, but it was sloppy and kinda funky. This one, we wanted. Bad. Perhaps it was the lure of the Liga that focussed us in a way that we weren’t last season, with attentions split between three glittering pieces of silver. Maybe now we understand what is driving EE to keep winning and keep putting pressure on us week after week, to keep winning as well: Just one trophy. It’s all we have, and we want it. Bad.
So our sheer aggression, when we did and more importantly, didn’t have the ball, was unleashed. And Sevilla, caught with an attacking lineup, had to use attackers as defenders to neutralize our waves of effort. Capel was quiet, because Alves was driving him crazy, and nobody else was free to help because Pedro! was also running around like crazy, Xavi made a mockery of their efforts to mark him by passing and cutting while Messi drifted hither and yon, seeking wrecking space. So the first goal was as inevitable, as inexorable as the tides.
Maxwell popped a perfect ball to Messi, who chests, controls and shoots across Palop to the opposite corner. Just like that it was 0-1, but the goal happened so fast that it looked like pass, shot, goal. In fact, Messi was bracketed by two defenders and an alert, aggressive keeper. By controlling the ball away from his body and moving to it, he unbalanced the defenders, creating the space that he wouldn’t have got had he tried to control and dribble. As the defenders closed to shut him down he did a balletic pirouette and smacked the ball with that left foot of his, and Palop didn’t have a chance.
But before I go a word further, hats off to Palop, who played goal like a crazy man, in a match that could have ended with 7 or 8 goals on the board for us. He stopped Messi and Krkic time and again, playing like the captain that he is. Awesome and admirable.
Ray Ray said Messi’s goal was “truly, outrageously magnificent,” and he was right. We might be in danger of beginning to take his magic for granted, but we shouldn’t. That was a staggering goal. It also prompted the Ridiculous Ray Ray Moment, No. 12,993,487: “[Messi] plays like he’s got Woody Woodpecker down his shorts all the time.”
We were up 0-1 in a match that Sevilla had to win, and they wanted to play. Really. We just didn’t let them, as Busquets and Keita were everywhere, with even Pedro! playing defense, using pressure to force turnovers that sprung us the other way to batter their defenders and keeper. Hell, Messi was cutting so hard that he injured a dude, who rolled over his ankle trying to follow a cut made by our Pulga. Our defenders pushed up, presenting what was in effect a flooded midfield that produced constant ball pressure. Much of that athleticism and aggression came courtesy of Keita, who had his best match in a long time in the colors.
Not only was he running like crazy and shutting everything around him down, but “Huh? What?” was also passing like crazy, with pinpoint balls that were almost unerring, be they short or long. And with the chances that pressure was creating, you knew that it wouldn’t be long. What I didn’t really expect was the next goal, which was of the highest quality and a typical Barca goal in so many ways.
Alves and Messi played a deft, perpetual motion 1-2 before moving the ball to Xavi, who took the deflected pass and one-timed it off the half volley over the defense and right onto the foot of Krkic, who slid it under Palop for the 0-2 lead.
What made me so giddy about this goal is that it was a product of our system, and our immense talent. Krkic saw Xavi get the ball and immediately began his run, understanding perfectly what’s going to happen, because it has happened at every level in which he’s been exposed to our system. Make the run when your midfielder has the ball, and you will be rewarded.
But two things made this one of my favorite goals in a while. First, it was the incredible talent on display. But just as importantly, most strikers don’t even make that run, because they don’t have a midfielder who is going to get them the ball, not in that situation. It’s the possibilities created by great players that make them make seemingly unreasonable demands on each other. It’s daring and bravery, skill and footballing eloquence. So Krkic says to Xavi with his play, “I’m going to make this run, but we only have a split second to make this play happen. In that time, the ball has to be exactly where I and only I can get to it and control it, and you have to do it with a defender shadowing me. Oh, and you know their keeper is going to charge me. Let’s do this.”
And there was moment after moment like that, from the overlapping runs that were rewarded with passes and stoned by Palop, to a backheel pass/clearance off the volley from Alves to Pedro!, that landed perfectly, sending P! off to the races.
Then came one of those moments, when Xavi and Alves again gutted the Sevilla defense with a pair of transcendent one-touch balls. Alves’ perfect cross for Messi found Argy Bargy somehow finding a way to put it over the crossbar. You can watch and watch, and not understand how it happened. But we were destroying Sevilla with grace, style and sheer effort, sullied only by a beautifully executed set piece that found our defense napping, and Valdes parrying an almost point-blank blast. Who knows why he had a subsequent spasm. Vexation? Thrill at how amazing that save was? Good question, one that we decided to answer by maintaining possession and creating even more chances.
When the second half began, the question was how would we play, and did we understand how we got a 2-0 lead vs Sevilla in their house, in a match that they, too, had to win.
We did. More aggression and pressure led to a blast by Messi, that was parried away from Palop’s goal, right to the feet of Pedro!, who made no mistake with his strike, yet another of those one-timed, half volley bits of amazingnes. That goal made it 0-3, and Sevilla were done and dusted. But we didn’t stop playing, as Messi, who was passing brilliantly, dive-bombed the end line and crossed a ball to Krkic with the net gaping, that Krkic shanked wide. Again, you can watch and watch and not understand how it happened, but it did. And then something else happened: Sevilla scored.
Their goal actually began from a bad pass from Xavi, which sprung Sevilla loose. Pique and Busquets converged on the ball, which was played to Kanoute up the middle. Puyol tried the stretch block attempt which failed, and Abidal just couldn’t close in time. Kanoute spanked it past a helpless Valdes and it was 1-3.
And then they scored again.
This time, it was off a set piece, a quickly taken free out of our own book. While everybody was standing arount pointing, trying to figure out who was marking who, Sevilla started. Zokora
Konko found Fabiano, who spanked it past Valdes. Our keeper was furious at his defense, and he should have been. It was 2-3 and suddenly, a stroll in the park became fraught. What made this goal even more stupid is that it earned Xavi a yellow for protesting too much, which rules him out for our finale, on yellow card accumulation
On the LiveBlog, a number of people mentioned 2007, the year in which everything that could happen, did. But no, not this time. This isn’t like that Rijkaard team, because as much as I hate to say it, those guys (yes, most of the same guys) stood around, waiting for something bad to happen. And it did. This team, so adapted to winning and excellence, simply played tika-taka to get its mojo back, and finished off the match.
It is really a shame that we grafittied our own Mona Lisa with those two stupid, stupid goals, that allowed people who didn’t see the match to think that it was a lot closer than it in fact was.
Team: 9. Would have been a 10, but those goals you conceded were crazy stupid, like.
Guardiola: 10. Not sure that kind of speech you gave the lads before the match, but man were they ready to play. Perfect substitutions, as well.
Valdes: 7. You let in two, but they weren’t entirely your fault. Excellent stonewalling of Fabiano in the first half, as well. Unfortunately, your post-kicking, screaming moment didn’t really seem to inspire our defense.
Alves: 10. Your second Man of the Match, that you earned by understanding that the best defense is a good offense. You owned that side of the pitch, when attacking, and pass after pass after pass asked intense of questions of Sevilla. They couldn’t answer, obviously.
Pique: 6. Solid, solid match. Don’t think you were 100 percent, but luckily you weren’t tested all that much. You were, however, part of the Train Station Defense that we deployed for that second Sevilla goal.
Puyol: 6. Captain, you know that lunge doesn’t work. Almost every time you’ve tried it recently, it hasn’t worked. Just saying. And you should have had your forces ready for the Goal That Should Never Have Happened. We start play fast, what makes you think an opponent wouldn’t, as well? Entirely your fault? No, but you’re the captain.
Maxwell: 7. Strong match, and you got injured at the right time, since Abidal is back for us. Your passing has been excellent of late, and that assist for the first goal was just sick. Massive Man Points for playing as long as you did with an injured hamstring.
Keita: 9. You were majestic today. During the LiveBlog I actually asked how you were playing, because I didn’t notice. Blame a shite Web feed, because you were exceptional, from passing to work rate and willingness to bleed for the colors.
Busquets: 9. A couple of stupid fouls conceded, but you were everywhere, including one sequence in which you blocked a ball out of bounds to stop their attack, then made the interception of the subsequent effort in our box, then slipped a pass to Keita, who spun and kept the attack rolling. You’re also moving forward in the attack, which is nice as can be.
Xavi: 8. Command and control. You probably wish you had that pass back, the one they intercepted and charged down to score. I haven’t seen you as active as you were in a long time. Pass and move, pass and move constantly. You are the master of that, and our attack.
Messi: 8. Great match, including the passing that so serves to destabilize defenses, since they are so used to playing you to make the run. Why you started doing precisely that in the second half, I have no idea. Yet you were so excellent that your rating overcomes that moment of weakness.
Pedro!: 8. I know that I always natter about your deficient sense of tactical awarenes, but it’s rapidly going away. You were constantly where the ball was on offense and defense. And you’re playing solid defense when you have to, and understand the professional foul.
Krkic: 8:. You were part of a trident of agony. Your movement, intelligence and constant runs make the life of your midfield general as easy as pie.
Abidal (for Maxwell): 7. My Abidal Moment came late in the match, when he was battling a Sevilla attacker on our endline. Once their guy decided to knock it off Abidal to gain a corner, Abidal slid away from the Sevilla man, avoiding the corner kick and any late-match danger.
The Yaya (for Xavi): 7. You came in, and things calmed down. Your passing was very sharp today, and I loved the way you went flying through the midfield into their box, waiting for a ball that never got there.
Jeffren (for Krkic): incomplete. But the timing of your substitution was excellent.
So here’s the bummer of all this for the rest of the world/Liga: Pique, Busquets, Messi, Pedro! and Krkic are all no older than
2223. That means years we are set for years and years to come.
Next up is Valladolid, at home. Win that match, and we are Liga champions. Simple as that.
P.S. It might not be us, but Barca is still European champion. Congratulations to Regal Barca, who spanked Olympiakos to win the Eurolliga de Basquet, the Champions League of Euro hoops.