No, it ain’t THE picture from this year, but it’s symbolic. So symbolic. Club. Trophy. Essential Captain. Celebration. What you have to ask yourself, is what more need be said, really? This image speaks with an undeniable eloquence that mere words can’t begin to express. Not that it will shock anyone that nonetheless, I’m going to give it a go.
This match was immense for so many reasons, not least of which was that everything was on the line.
–Us vs Them and Their Money in a battle for La Liga
–Naysayers ready, if we’d stumbled, to say “See, told you this season sucked.”
–Beautiful football, and what it means.
–And oh yeah, a stinkin’ Championship, our last shot at silver (and what a prize!) for this glorious season.
And we were at home against Valladolid, a side who were rolling under its new coach, enjoying a great string of results while fighting for its Liga life. And they came into our house and started the match by spitting in our faces, thanks to an appalling first touch by Valdes that gifted a glorious scoring opportunity to them. The ball fell to one of their attackers, who scuffed it off the pitch, allowing Puyol to block it with a flying leg ninja kinda thang.
If that goal goes in, it’s a little crazy, right? But it didn’t, because finally this season, luck was on our side.
This was rather an odd match, in that we were without a midfield engine room, due to the suspension of Xavi for having a big mouth, and Iniesta not really being match fit after his lengthy injury layoff. So Guardiola rolled out with Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Keita, Busquets, The Yaya, Messi, Pedro! and Krkic.
So Valladolid flooded the midfield, got in our faces and raised all kinds of hell in an effort to save their lives (to no avail …. they will take the drop). For the first 15 minutes, they were all over us. They had more corners, more shots on goal and 10 minutes into the match, Messi hadn’t touched the ball. And after that early, heart-stopping chance, we began to slowly take command of the match, thanks to the World’s Largest Attacking Mid. And from then on, it was all over but the shouting. Messi got more involved, The Yaya began to control the midfield as Keita and Busquets did the dirty work, and it was off to the races, eventually.
Pedro! should buy a lottery ticket. Right now. Because he was a mess, scrambling hither and yon, chasing the ball, chasing the match, chasing his tail and anything else that he could. He took a ball, fumbled it as was his early wont today, and scurring toward the end line, accompanied by two defenders. Somehow, he comes out with the ball and decides to cross it into the box, despite the fact that nobody made a run, probably because they were all shocked by the fact that he came out with that ball. His cross to nobody deflects off a Valladolid defender for an own goal, a 1-0 lead and yet another example of why Pedro! is the luckiest man in Barcelona.
It was a goal not only out of nothing, but out of less than nothing, and Valladolid didn’t know what to do. The shock and horror on their faces, that this was their reward after playing their collective hearts out, was almost too cruel even for me to bear.
And from that moment on, the match was over. Because the footy gods had given them their one opportunity. Take it, and go for it. They couldn’t, so the footy gods snatched the match away from a side that didn’t look all that likely to score on us.
Then came our second goal, a piece of jaw-dropping brilliance that I will watch again, and again, and again, and again. It’s easy to write at this moment, but it happened so quickly, so improbably, that I had to rewind my DVR to see exactly how it happened. So here it is:
–Pique spanks a pass to Alves, who sends it back to Pique
–From there it goes to The Yaya who, facing some pressure, slides it back to Alves
–Then it’s back to The Yaya, before Messi decides that he wants to play, and rolls over to the scene.
–Alves to The Yaya to Messi to The Yaya to Alves to Messi, who begins one of those crazy-quilt runs of his, eluding both a defender as well as an in-the-way ref, who I’m sure was caught watching that amazing display of one-touch tika-taka, just like the rest of us.
–At the end of the run, Messi’s way is blocked, so he hits The Yaya with a pass to create some space.
–The Yaya back heels the ball back to Messi, who slots a perfect pass to Pedro!, who goes between the keeper’s legs for 2-0.
It was, for me, fitting that the championship would be in effect clinched on a goal so exquisite, one that showed off not only our attacking flair and passing ability, but ability to go from nothing to 2-0 in about 4 seconds. It was astounding, and now the match was really done.
But there were more goals, more moments in The Yaya Show. Our third goal came when he took a pass and rumbled forward, nutmegging the first defender, hurdling the second and knocking a perfect cross to Messi, who buried the shot.
Our fourth goal once again came from The Yaya, as he smacked a ball to Messi in the exact right spot for Messi to control and shoot back across the grain, beating the keeper while also tying, with 34 goals, the scoring record set by Ronaldo, El Fenomeno.
Here are some numbers to mull over:
–We dropped only 15 points this season, winning with a record-setting total of 99 points
–Only a single defeat, to those damned mattress makers]
–34 goals for Messi the Pichichi, who will add all kinds of golden shoes to his wardrobe
–Our 20th title
And here are some more numbers:
Team: 10. It was collective excellence that defeated Valladolid, even if individual players didn’t live up to that immense standard.
Guardiola: 10. At first it didn’t look like the right lineup, but it was. And I loved the substitutions, done with kindness at the forefront, particularly in the case of Henry.
Valdes: 5. Holy crap, did he about give us a heart attack, or what? Made up for it with some great saves, though.
Alves: 7. Indefatigable bundle of energy, who was a key component of our Xavi-less attack.
Puyol: 9. A key, brilliant intervention to keep Valladolid from scoring, and kick-starting us with his exhortations.
Pique: 8. Didn’t have a lot to do, but did it brilliantly. His play from the back makes me smile all the time.
Abidal: 8. That play in which he anticipated a pass, controlled it with his chest and started a break is why I love our French Greyhound.
Keita: 9. Majestic. Absolutely majestic in doing all the dirty work, attacking, defending and helping with possession. What a player.
Busquets: 8. Dude just wins balls. He’s been on a roll since the shame of his Inter dive.
The Yaya: 10. How can we even think of letting go of my Man of the Match? He was astounding, absolutely astounding.
Pedro!: 7. Really came into the match well after a wild-eyed start that found him trying way too hard. Nicely taken goal, too.
Krkic: 3. Verging on worthless. Pillow-soft passes that were easily intercepted, and not much else.
Messi: 9. What a match, not just because of the brace, but also the effort and sheer joy of his game today. Even late in the match, up 3-0, he’s still running at the keeper, trying to force an error. Wow.
Henry (for Krkic): 4. A nice gesture by Guardiola to give him a chance to play in his last match with us. But he really didn’t have a chance to do that much, though he should have had an assist.
Ibrahimovic (for Alves): 3. Might have played to a better rating had he had more time. And just head the ball, dude!
Iniesta (for Pedro!): 5. Boy, could you see how much we missed him. He moves the ball so beautifully. Again, would have played to a higher rating with more time.
Yes, this review is short. Deliberately so. We’re all busy celebrating, and I think the focus should be on us and our feelings about our wonderful, wonderful club. Thanks to it, the players and all of the personnel for a memorable year filled with beautiful, soul-stirring football. Can’t wait for next year.