Alright, let’s wring our hands, gnash our teeth, and do other various and sundry things that seem to be misspelled, but in fact, are not. Normally I have trouble writing reviews that are not simply recaps because I find that they do not have the benefit of man’s greatest ally, hindsight and time. Writing a review of a match without time to properly think it through is silly and short-sighted, similar to proclaiming the cultural significance of an album after its first listen (see any 80s album) or talking about how a movie is the “best I’ve ever seen” without adequate time to actually process it. Exclamations are just that: excited utterances we sometimes make without time to think properly. That is why they qualify for hearsay exceptions in evidence law and why we probably should not take anything as truth 20 seconds after we’ve seen it.
First things first: Barcelona won in the typical fashion it has to normally by avoiding a parked bus, using one moment of genius and skill, and playing solid defense on counter-attacks. The team did all of this without Messi to provide the magical spark and on 2 day’s rest. I am always happy when a game ends with no substantial injuries and the team takes all 3 points, especially from pesky bus parkers.
Now, the game started out with the normal fare. Gijon took to the fouling with some harsh, although admittedly fair challenges that were punished accordingly by the referee. Our boys took pot shots at the net while the keeper sprawled left and right and we were unlucky to take away at least 2 in the first 20 minutes. The movement was there to some degree although Keita seemed more invisible than normal, but this time in a bad way. Without the second midfielder making movements the offense usually tends to breakdown or suffer to some degree, although tonight it seemed like solid defense stopping us more than ourselves.
The rest of the half was a story of missed and half chances with Bojan going invisible aside from a few solid runs here and there and Villa being selfish and wasteful in front of net. Iniesta did his thing, causing severe holes in space for Gijon’s defense while taking lob shots to his heart’s content but nothing ever came of it. Xavi was somewhat there, providing control and all that jazz, but something was just off. It’s fine, everyone has those games, even Galactus, the devourer of planets, er, Xavi.
The second half was more of the same until Villa took an excellent through ball from Alves and punched it home from the right side, sealing the win for the good guys. It was a well-taken shot and a good ball, everything we have come to expect. After that the chances were there and the passes came and went but the team just could not make the most of them. Eventually Gijon had a corner and a dangerous free kick come to nothing and the Blaugrana took full points graciously.
Now, judging from the comments on the Live Blog and those floating around the Gore tubes, you might think that our boys lost another shocker. You would be wrong. I guess fans have expectations now and expectations are a lot like NASCAR races: big, loud, and stupid. Concerns about the team are to be heard and some of them are valid. The following would suffice:
1. Villa has been selfish in front of goal and offside far too much.
2. Bojan has been non-existent.
3. Mascherano is picking up too many stupid, cheap fouls, earning him too many cards.
4. Pedro has been in and out of the offense.
5. Maxwell’s defense, or lack thereof.
However, many of these are likely slumps or could be solved with practice and more time. Bojan needs to grow up and play better, but I am also not going to throw him under the bus forever. Likewise, Villa has to learn that the offside calls are going to always be worse for Barcelona and he will. We also have to remember he is one of the top producing strikers/wingers in the world for the past 4-5 years and has the quality, pace, and skill to score 30 goals in all competitions this season. Then again, he did score today and had a few other solid chances, so maybe people are being too harsh.
For those wondering why this was “only” 1-0 and not 5-0 like the “good ol’ days” (I guess 2008-09) I don’t know what to tell you. Barcelona won games against bad teams that parked the bus in this fashion last year when we had a holding striker up front and did so during the six trophy season. Perusing the score lines from those years confirms that the team has trouble against plucky, small sides hellbent on stopping us from scoring at all costs. Almeria last year. Espanyol normally. Getafe in 08-09. Betis in 08-09. These things happen and the team won’t always win big, even at home. Further, just because the team or a player starts out hot, scoring multiple goals and looking great does not mean it will stay that way (see Ibrahimovic, Z.). Nor do peak performances in great offenses take away from the fact that someone was incredibly lazy half the time and pouted the rest (Eto’o, S.). Finally, Thierry Henry was terrible last year and only “thrived” one year when Eto’o and Messi were taking defenses away. I am just saying.
The point is that if these problems persist into November or we are losing games to Hercules all the time, then there is cause for worry or dread. Missed chances and laziness in a few games is not a cause for uproar, or at least it should not be. Beside, all of those comments ignore the fact that Gijon played very well. They were steady in defense and repelled a number of solid chances. This is always overlooked in the bus parking conversation.
Guardiola-7: I would have started Pedro over Bojan but that’s just me. He put out a solid team to face this opposition.
Team-6: Some good, some bad, but a win always gets you over a 5 in my book.
Alves-7: An assist and was a constant menace all the way around. Solid play.
Puyol-6: Did not necessarily do anything wrong but was hobbled throughout the first half. He will be fine.
Milito-7: Solid start for the Argentine and had a couple of critical tackles.
Maxwell-5: Anonymous for large parts of the game but his defense was not so noticeably bad tonight, that’s a plus!
Busquets-7: Had little to do for large parts but played his sweeper role well and did what he needed to when called upon.
Keita-4: Largely absent and subbed out in the second for more offense.
Xavi-7: Played his game: created space and made the passes, just wasn’t his dat.
Iniesta-8: MOTM for me. He made space, moved well with and without the ball and abused defenders doggedly both in offense and tracking back. Excellent performance.
Bojan-3: Ugh. Just ugh. Needs to create more for himself and stop putting so much pressure on himself. Note: I do not hate Bojan or want to sell him like Kevin does.
Villa-7: A goal and a few other chances made him dangerous. Although he was wasteful and selfish he still had a huge affect here. Better than reported, worse than he should have been.
Pique-7: Came on at the half for Puyol and was staunch in defense, halting all comers and making the plays he had to.
Pedro-6: Made some plays but was also less dangerous than we would have liked.
Mascherano-6: Came on later for Bojan and provided defensive cover when Gijon tried to open up. Was abandoned once and was not at fault for the late chance as some have said.
That’s all tonight. We’ll have more later this week.
Photo: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images Europe