Atletico ****** 1, Barca 2, aka “What an expensive victory!”

"Uh, oh .... this is not gonna end well...."

In the journalism business, we call what is about to happen, “burying the lede.” It’s shifting the thing that everybody cares about to later in the piece. Sometimes it’s crazy, other times it’s to make a point, as it is now.

Finish your chances!

We had about 913 chances to get the third, or even fourth goal that would have put this match to bed, done and dusted, and precipitated the Krkic for Messi swap much earlier than it in fact occurred. A match that is in the balance, in a place at which we haven’t won in three years, calls for your best players. And one of those best players is Lionel Messi.

Early in the match, as here as the ball is going past the Amazing DeGea for our first goal (you can just see the golden boot exiting the frame), Messi was razor-sharp and raring to go. He gave his all for the club, and shouldn’t have even been on the pitch. Look at the 5 straight times in which he ceded possession. It was a tired player out there, a player who should have been subbed.

And if we finish our chances, he is, and we’re discussing another very good match from Messi, rather than how long he might be on the sidelines.

The best thing about this match is that we won at the Calderon, that cauldron that has, for the past three seasons, been a place at which we have fallen. And we did it with style. Despite the pressure, and effort, Atletico never had a real chance in this one. Think about the match, free of the pessimism of the LiveBlog, and how many real chances they had at goal. Even the goal that they scored was a fluke, when Valdes came out and fluffed his lines as the defense said “He’s got …. no, he doesn’t.” And that was that.

Guardiola rolled out with our best lineup (minus Abidal, off tending to his grandfather in Martinique) of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro! and Villa. His intention was to go down with his best troops, if going down was in the cards. And we started off brightly, generating chance after chance, and putting Atletico on the back foot. And when they got the ball, we got it right back, with a combo platter of midfield pressure and aggressive defending, as we played our usual defense with offense.

Essentially, we won the war because we won the battle for the midfield. Anyone who has the match available, should find a 7-second sequence that begins at about 50:03. A wayward ball comes to Xavi, who gets it under control with a back flip, steering it toward Villa, who was running away. So Xavi hits the jets to outrun a defender who we all thought had a head start, slides the ball under his foot, controlling and letting him slide past, fakes out a second defender who has the angle on him by just stopping with the ball, then flipping a pass safely to a waiting Iniesta.

It’s about 7 seconds, but it’s a time span that so clearly indicates why we had this match under control. Without the midfield, you aren’t going to beat us, and we have the best midfielder on this planet playing for us. So your options are long balls, which are easily dealt with by our defense, set pieces, which you aren’t going to get too many of, counterattacks, which we aren’t going to cede because of intelligent possession, or attacks up the wing which, when our right and left backs are playing as solidly and conservatively as they were today, you ain’t getting, either.

It’s pretty simple when you think about it.

The inevitable first goal for us came after Villa was set loose by an absolutely flawless ball from Messi, only to have his shot somehow hit the post. Off the rebound, Pedro! slotted in yet another flawless ball for Messi, who did what has become his usual control flip score, all with one touch. That goal was hard. Really, really, hard. And he made it look so simple. It was 1-0, and we were off to the races. Now, I know that we had a 3-0 lead here, and lost 4-3, but this match was different. We were much more solid defensively (except for a couple of Keystone Kops moments), Busquets is a man now, and we had the wings on lockdown, so Reyes (booooo!) and Simao couldn’t hurt us.

They scored, yes, but it was pretty much a fluke of a goal that once we tightened up the zonal marking, wasn’t going to happen again, and they weren’t going to score off us in open play, because our two pit bulls, Pique and Puyol, were on. So after they scored, we regained possession and set about operating in their end a lot more, winning a corner.

We should pause for a moment here, and realize that we’re talking about a center back who stepped back from a defender, took the ball softly on his chest so that it plopped right at his feet, and smoked it past a helpless keeper. Pique scored goal No. 2 for us, and it was a delight.

And who knew that it would be the last goal scored in this hotly contested, but fairly one-sided match. Let’s look at some of the chances:

–Pedro! bollixed one up on the doorstep with a horrid first touch.
–Xavi gets stopped by a great save.
–Pedro! gets stopped by a great save.
–Villa hits the post.
–Villa somehow sends a shot over the goal.
–Xavi passed when he should have shot, P! blows the chance.
–Messi, on the doorstep, gets stonewalled.
–Villa bad touches another one away.

If we deal with any of those, then this doesn’t happen:

He’s clearly thinking “Ball? I don’t give a rat’s ass about that ball. It’s the ankle that I’m after.”

And then this:

We’ve talked about it enough. But if we finish our chances, it doesn’t happen, because the Krkic switch is made 10 minutes earlier, when he was finished warming up, but the match was still in the balance. No, I won’t get into what this says about the confidence factor in Krkic. That’s another post, and another time.

Team: 9. Excellent performance, marred by that rather clunky goal that we gave up. But the passing and movement, and defense in depth were pretty amazing to witness, from a club that people think can’t defend. Oh yeah? Check out all those spearmint shirts in front of the ball when Atletico has it in our end. Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do, unlike last time we visited the Cauldron.

Guardiola: 6. Great game plan, the right lineup, but a coach has to read a match better. Everyone could see how heated it was getting, and how the ref had lost control of things. In matches like that, you get your best player off the pitch, particularly when you see that he’s playing like a zombie. No way a fresh Messi gets stopped by DeGea on the doorstep.

Valdes: 6. If you come off the line for the ball, get it. Okay? Strong match after that, controlling his space in a commanding way, and making some very difficult saves look easy. Communication with the defense needs work, though. You could see Maxwell and Puyol confused a few times as to what Valdes’ intentions were. That can’t happen.

Alves: 8. Excellent match, particularly now that he has the range on his passes into the box again. He did get caught up, leading to the play that led to the corner that led to the goal. But beyond that, and a couple of loose touches, his play was hard to fault.

Pique: 9. Piquenbauer had a stunner, from bringing the ball up to timely defensive plays to scoring the winning goal. It’s pretty hard not to award him Man of the Match, except that there was indeed somebody who deseves it more. Is he even better this year? How is it that a center back can be as offense-minded as our marauding right back, yet still be omnipresent on the back line?

Puyol: 9. Another MOTM contender, with a leonine performance on the back line. He ran everything down, took fouls, headed balls away and brought balls up the pitch. It was the typical match from a man who is making a liar out of some dumbass who said that last season would be his last as automatic starter.

Maxwell: 9. What a solid, brilliant match from him, going forward at the right times, but always, always making sure that the wing was on lockdown, frustrating whichever attacker Atletico ran at him, be it Reyes or Simao.

Busquets: 7. Excellent match, marred by some “Bad Busi” moments of loose possession in dangerous spots. He bailed himself out twice, and made up for it with winning ball after ball, and making excellent pass after excellent pass. And anybody wondering why Forlan had such an invisible match should check Busquets’ back pocket.

Xavi: 9. My Man of the Match is so because this match depended upon tempo, control and midfield excellence. Those three characteristics embody the match that Xavi played today. If he doesn’t play as well, we have a much more difficult time. Both coaches realized that the midfield battle winner would be the match winner. Xavi was amazing.

Iniesta: 9. And speaking of amazing, you could argue that his ovation from the Cauldron faithful was as much for his wonder of a match as it was his World Cup-winning goal. He was beautiful today, from making the right run and always being around the ball, to pass after pass after inch-perfect, ball controlling pass.

Messi: 7. He played himself down from a 10 with that tired-out phase in which he lost the ball 5 straight times that he got it. But what a match, one that for me was epitomized not by the goal he scored, but by playing catchup with Reyes on the break, and making a perfect sliding tackle to knock the ball out for a throw. When the best player on the team also works the hardest, stand back.

Pedro!: 6. Played in fits and spurts, but those moments were fine ones. And he really came into his own when we were killing off the match, with his constant motion, always being ready to receive a pass and inevitably playing the right ball to someone. Great assist on the opening goal, too.

Villa: 2. Awful today. From the offside calls and static play, to not moving to passes to missed chance after missed chance, this is match that he will want to forget as soon as possible. We can only hope that his slow start means a fast finish.

Substitutes

Keita (for Xavi): 6. He came in when were trying to kill off the match, and won the day with his athleticism and fresh legs, as he chased balls down and harassed attackers. Having him as an option off the bench is so reassuring.

Mascherano (for Iniesta): incomplete. He didn’t do much, but giving that hard foul with the clear “This one’s for Messi,” was awesome. There was no real malicious intent, just a nice, hard professional foul.

Krkic (for Messi): incomplete. He didn’t have a chance to do anything at all.

And now we get to see if we can solve the problem of Messidependencia. If he’s out on the short end of things, we’re without him for three matches, two Liga and a Champions League. All should still be winnable, provided Villa stops playing like a dork. He gets a nice rest, and hopefully doesn’t come back too rusty. Even a month is still only six matches. I’d be a lot more worried if the club was, but all signs are very positive.

Krkic keeps getting chance after chance thrown at him. First we sell Ibrahimovic, then Messi goes down. Now we get to see, over an extended period, what our No. 9 can do. And boy, do we need him.


“Go get your own water! You’re going to make me cry!”

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

158 Comments

  1. Kari
    September 20, 2010

    This will probably get Hectored, but I just ask: how did this Messi video get >10 million views?! It’s not even his best goals of that year; he’s scored much, much better goals…

    /http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLW4DKoncvM&feature=related

    Ahh, YouTube. A necessary evil…

    • mei
      September 20, 2010

      well if I may speculate for the reasons , it was his first season as a 10 , playing a more close to striker role in a team that played spectacular football ,plus the battle with thong boy was pretty much on following the latters suberb goalscoring record the previous year as to who is the ballon dor contender this year and the best player in the world.
      Now its not even a debate :p

      • Kari
        September 20, 2010

        It gets worse. Here’s the 2010 one.

        /http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIHWnvjKJcI&feature=related

        The seventh best goal was a FREAKING TAP-IN that was all Xavi. Really, it’s not doing Messi any justice at all. I get the editing is nice, but man. People are honestly missing out if they think that’s anywhere close to his best goals. -.-

      • mei
        September 20, 2010

        its all debatable kari.
        If I were to make a video of him I wouldnt focus solely on his goals.
        The amazing thing over the past few years is his improvement in other areas as well.

        So I would include some killer balls, opening up space for others , dribbling , assists , battling and winning lost balls over two players , getting on his feet immediately andcarrying on play even when fouled and thrown at the pitch , his lightning fast acceleration , pace when carrying the ball and ability to turn so quickly .

        The point is , he is versatile enough to please even the most demanding viewer . But this is just a tribute video and even if its not close to perfection , it captures the urge that messi brings to the viewer : you want to see more of him , once you’ve seen him play.

        Its all about realizing the quality when its presented to you , and even watching messi just scoring goals , makes it really hard to skip it /dismiss it.

  2. September 20, 2010

    //http://www.elmundodeportivo.es/gif/20100920/iniestaaaaaaaaaaaaa6.jpg

    (Poll)
    Iniesta’s baby will be:
    1) a football star
    2) a booky
    3) more pale than father
    4) a baby girl…
    5) ____________

    • ballbeav
      September 20, 2010

      ini-utero?

    • poipoi
      September 21, 2010

      5) ballon d’or like his father

  3. September 21, 2010

    Well so much for my “Athletic is my second favorite Liga team.” That attack on Messi was building throughout the second half. I blame the entire AM team. Before they targeted Messi’s ankle I was already screaming at the TV for the we-can’t-keep-up-with-them-so-just-kick-them defense from yet another Madrid team I will now loathe. F AM!

  4. Helge
    September 21, 2010

    From Sid Lowe’s recent article about la Liga:
    “Getting increasingly desperate to score and shooting more wildly with every passing day (he has had 41 shots and no goals in three La Liga games), Ronaldo didn’t celebrate because he was so annoyed. He should have done: while everyone else, including the ref’s official report, gave the goal to Pepe, Marca have ridden to his rescue and given him the award. And Marca award the Pichichi at the end of the season. Even counting is crooked now.”

    What the hell, a (biased) newspaper gives out the official award for best goalscorer based on THEIR OWN statistics?!?
    I thought Marca organized the presentation of the awards, but I didn’t expect them to have so much power in the world of Spanish football…

    • Eklavya
      September 21, 2010

      I didn’t know that either…

    • Diego S.
      September 21, 2010

      Me Too .. But I wouldn’t give much thought about it .. There aren’t that much own goals and they can’t give it to Ronaldo every time ..

    • September 21, 2010

      Ohhh Helge I saw you used my info above about the Champions League on the EE offside blog…I thought i was the only one who visited their space for some inside readings.

      • Helge
        September 21, 2010

        Ye, we’re not alone. For instacen, Kxevin makes insightful comments on their blog.
        But I see the reaction to my comment was not of the nicest kind… 🙂

      • Eklavya
        September 21, 2010

        Wow, what a stupid reaction.

    • blitzen
      September 21, 2010

      Forget Ronaldo. The Pichichi this year will be between Messi and Huguain. Ronaldo won’t even come close.

  5. Hilal
    September 21, 2010

    This is my favourite Messi video:

    *http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU4Qxd8nmPs

    For all his incredible goals and talent, this for me is what makes him the best, his desire to stay on his feet…

    • barca96
      September 21, 2010

      I think I’ve seen Messi dive/cheat only once ever since he debuted. It was the handball.

      • Jnice
        September 21, 2010

        I’ve seen him dive several times, but it really is rare. I love that about him.

        Wish Iniesta would take Messi’s approach at times, but maybe that’s asking too much…

  6. Diego S.
    September 21, 2010

    I wish we could see more shots like Xavi’s and Pedro’s .. It could be useful when the opposition is parking the bus

    • Jnice
      September 21, 2010

      True. Pedro has a pretty nice shot, too. He definitely needs to shoot more often.

  7. September 21, 2010

    Xaviniesta vs Atletico is here, people
    *//http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cXFtBQEoq8

    • September 21, 2010

      you can click my name to go to the same link

    • Diego S.
      September 21, 2010

      Thank you Cliveee !

      • Lev
        September 21, 2010

        Cliveee the tubemaster!

      • September 21, 2010

        6 minutes didn’t sound substantial for a complete midfield domination… maybe i was being too selective in the plays.

    • romario
      September 21, 2010

      nice! excellent video 🙂

  8. sab
    September 21, 2010

    can anyone translate this?
    -http://www.as.com/opinion/articulo/cristiano-genio-angustiado/dasopi/20100921dasdaiopi_3/Tes

    • blitzen
      September 21, 2010

      Yes. Why?

      • sab
        September 21, 2010

        coz a madrid paper criticizing cryonldo.thats wht i mtold in the guardian blog of sid lowe

      • blitzen
        September 21, 2010

        Basically the article says that CRonaldo has a big fat sensitive ego, and he is used to always being seen as the best player on the team and in every game, and when he isn’t, he can;t handle it. When he goes through a bad spell like he is now–not performing well at the World Cup, not scoring in a competitive game in over 48 days, having serious competition for the Golden Ball besides Messi, having his “goal” in the last game credited to Pepe because he touched it last–it hurts him psychologically. Then he starts getting reckless and making silly mistakes and messes up the game for the rest of the team. The article says that either Mourinho needs to “fix” Ronaldo, or he needs to get a couple of goals to restore his confidence, but either way it needs to happen soon.

  9. Eklavya
    September 21, 2010

    Off topic, but I liked the idea that someone proposed of making a private YouTube BFB channel. We could make a open account, as in giving people the password via this site so that they can put in their own stuff *cough clivee cough* or highlights or whatever.

    Dunno, if it’ll last though, but it sounded like an interesting idea…

  10. Kxevin
    September 21, 2010

    Rosell is going to renew the UNICEF association. This is a good thing, as it means that we won’t be selling the front of the shirt, and will continue to do the right thing. Let’s hope that MES also stays intact.

    • blitzen
      September 21, 2010

      Very glad to hear this!

    • Helge
      September 21, 2010

      It’s definitely a good thing for UNICEF and the image of our club, but for how long can we turn down jersey sponsorship? Our debts are not getting lower, we recently lost an appeal that will see us pay 26.7m € to a TV station, the club will want to pay another 50m per summer transfer window (rough estimation)… I just don’t want this club to ever be in the situation of Juve, Liverpool etc.

      • mei
        September 21, 2010

        lets not be deluded . Unicef sponsorship brings money , even if it is us who pays them .

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