There it is, kids, so live it up. It’s the goal that saved our wasteful, imprecise blushes, a penalty kick popped in by David Villa. The keeper guessed right, but Villa was still able to power it past him after Andres Iniesta was taken down in the box.
And that was that. Apologies for the lateness of the review, but some dude in a burgundy shirt was blocking my computer. Couldn’t get to it for the life of me. Then a whistle blew, and he left. Hmph.
It was that kind of a day, and that kind of match. As Kazan’s coach admitted, there is really only one way to play against us, and boy did they do it. But “parking the bus” does that aggressive, hard-working side a disservice. This was a draw that we had to earn, even though it’s a draw that should not have been.
Guardiola said after the Bilbao match that he wanted sharper finishing in front of goal. We listen to our coach well, don’t we? Ramzi popped in during the (as usual these days) pessimistic LiveBlog and said that this was a match that he was satisfied with. I agree. We created no fewer than 7 excellent scoring chances, not to mention the ones that would have materialized had someone made the right run. Both Pedro! and Villa were guilty of that crime.
More importantly, we created chances against precisely the kind of defensive-minded approach that most looked like what Inter threw at us last season: defend in depth, but be ready for the lightning counter. Rubin Kazan gets the ball up the pitch very, very quickly. It caught us out a couple of times, most notably when Obafemi Martins banged a point-blank header off of Valdes’ near post, after muscling Carles Puyol out of the way. Muscling! Yes. I said it.
Guardiola rolled out with an all-business lineup of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Mascherano, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro! and Villa. The clear idea was to attack like crazy folks, leaving our pit bull in the middle of the pitch to deal with any leaked attacks. And we created chances early, then we created more as the match progressed, clear scoring chances against precisely the kind of approach that has always, always given us fits. Here are just a few:
–Pedro! hit the crossbar with a chip.
–Villa pushed a sharply-angled shot wide of the mark
–Messi had two headers
–Krkic had a wide-open header that he pushed wide
–Iniesta proved that his force field is still in effect
–Villa punked out on a ball that fell to him at the doorstep
–Alves was surprised by a ball that fell to him at the doorstep
–Pique was surprised by …. you get it
That’s 8 chances to score, opportunities that even if we convert a third of them, we win in a romp. That we didn’t is vexing, and means extra shooting practice. But the reason Ramzi and I are thrilled at this one, is that we created chances, and a damn sight more chances to score than we usually create against an aggressive, ball-hawking, passing lane clogging defense of big, physical players.
So buck up, and know that we would have created even more chances had we played true one-touch football. We know this because every time we did, we created an excellent scoring chance. Two to three touches wasn’t going to do it, as that gave the Rubin Kazan defenders a chance to get into position. Speeding up play was the answer, but we didn’t do it.
Another problem is the second run. You saw it once when Pedro! worked a 1-2 with Alves, and when the pass was blocked the ball went back to Alves. P! should have made a second, diagonal run that was begging, positively screaming to be made. But he didn’t, and the opportunity went away. Villa guessed wrong on any number of runs, ones that if he guessed right, would have put him in with clear scoring chances. The first run sets them up, the second one should seal the deal. But we didn’t start to see that kind of a run until Messi entered the pitch.
This really was a simple match to dissect: Faster play led to scoring chances because of passing and movement. When we played deliberately, they were able to block every pass and get in the way of every run. Now we know that we can break buses. We just have to work on becoming more clinical in front of goal.
And a word about parking the bus. People speak with derision, as if teams are somehow being unmanly or less than sporting by parking the bus. “They should come out to play football and get killed,” we think as we crow away during LiveBlogs. But parking the bus is a legitimate tactic that, if properly pulled off, can grab your side a draw, even though it had the ball for about 14 seconds, and only a couple of shots on goal. It can be intelligent and effective if played as Kazan or Inter played it, defense with a mind toward the fast counter that catches our aggressive defenders up the pitch.
A coach does what he does to secure points for his side. Simple as that. Kazan played a hell of a match, and almost stole one at the death. Hats off to them.
Team: 6. When they did what they were supposed to do, great things happened. When they didn’t, it was an effectively ineffective mess. And our keeper and defenders have to talk. You could see evidence of it during this match time and again, as people just weren’t where they were supposed to be. That can’t happen.
Guardiola: 8. Right lineup, right substitutions, right call on Mascherano. It really liberated Busquets, who contributed to the offense in a Keita-like way, as Xavi was being aggressively marked and blocked. I wouldn’t have made the Messi sub, particularly after we’d grabbed the
winning tying(!!) goal. Not on a wet pitch against a super-aggressive defense. But that’s why I’m writing this review instead of coaching a world-class football club, right?
Valdes: 3. Made some good plays, but cost his side with the shanked clearance that busted Rubin Kazan loose, that led directly to the penalty. Later, he did it again with a clearance that went straight to a Rubin Kazan player, who again sparked a seriously dangerous charge from them. He’s owed a stinker every now and then, I reckon.
Alves: 5. Not his fault people weren’t making runs at his fine crosses. He got caught out of position defensively a few times too many, but got forward with style and aggression to help create threat after threat. He fouled the Rubin Kazan barely, but the attacker made the most of it, as he should have.
Pique: 4. Wasn’t as bad as many thought. Yes, he had some wayward passes, but he also had some key interventions that broke up Rubin attacks. Went forward with his usual style, which relieved the midfield pressure that Rubin was applying.
Puyol: 6. Was doing great until Martins came in, then he often looked like a tired, aging defender as Martins beat him with pace and physicality. I also have to fault our captain for not more effectively marshaling his back line mates. And if Valdes isn’t talking to his defenders, Puyol has to remind him to do so.
Maxwell: 4. Not good. If he isn’t going to go forward, then why is he out there? Rubin had no real interest in attacking us except on counters, which would be coming at Maxwell too rapidly for his well-used legs and knees to keep under control. Invisible for huge stretches of the match.
Mascherano: 7. Color me impressed, with (mostly) his passing, pit bull-like mentality and high-quality ball winning. He was just gangstering the ball away from Rubin attackers, which as noted above, allowed Busquets the freedom to go hog wild up front. Probably would have had a higher score with a full match.
Busquets: 7. Aside from a couple of Bad Busi moments that were more than made up for with excellence, our lanky whatever position he is with a low tolerance for pain (funny, that observation by the announcer) was excellent. He had some great passes that should have received a better fate. He is flopping less, and winning balls more.
Xavi: 6. Strong match, but the tempo is in his hands. It was clear that we needed to play more quickly, and he should have been the one making that happen. The offense is in his hands.
Iniesta: 9. Man of the Match effort by our very own Ghostface, who needs to tell himself to shoot more. There he was, loose in the box with the ball at his feet. Why he didn’t shoot I’m sure only he knows. But his runs and passes were magical, gutting and almost unerring.
Pedro!: 4. Despite his stat-stuffer efforts that included demonic defense, he has to do better in front of goal. He was part of the sloppy imprecision that cost his side three points. His football IQ is improved this season, but he still has to learn how to move.
Villa: 4. Strong, active match with a number of excellent passes, including the one to P! that he clanked off the crossbar. But we must fault his finishing, and the fact that he still doesn’t know where to be in our offense. He will learn, but right now it’s frustrating to watch him moving the wrong way.
Messi (for Mascherano): 5. He entered the match and proceeded to single-handedly try to win it, losing the ball time and again. When he settled down and played within the system as he was supposed to, he was constant danger. He should have at least put that header on target, though. His passing and movement are glorious, and he is fearless, which sometimes isn’t a good thing for our ball control.
Krkic (for Villa): incomplete. He was only in for about 5 minutes, enough time for him to push a wide-open header wide of the goal.
Next up is a very winnable match at home, against Mallorca. In Champions League we’re second in Group D with 4 points, two behind leader Copenhagen. This draw helped a lot in securing our almost-automatic advancement, as the clubs below us have 1 and 0 points, respectively.
But as usual, we’ll see.