This will be the shortest review that I have ever written, unless I were to just copy/paste the word “frustrating” endlessly. Because that’s what this one was all about. The Fox Soccer commentators were laying our deficiencies bare, and they’re nothing I haven’t noted before:
–Nobody in the box
–Villa lining up offside
–One pass too many
So Kobenhagn were allowed to hang around and hang around, and really should have gotten at least one on us, but thanks to a staggering display from their forward, who stopped because of a phantom offside, then somehow missed an open net, we were let off the hook.
But know that a better team would have turned our asses inside out.
People will see that we won 2-0 and think “Hmph, must have been pretty easy.” It wasn’t, because of the aforementioned reasons. It doesn’t do a lick of good to gut a defense and find your way into the box if you don’t shoot, or your forward is lined up offside so that he has effectively removed himself from the play. People have been lambasting Alves for his crosses, but who is he to cross to, when there’s only one person in the box, and that person is a midget.
Abidal flipped in a perfect cross, but Villa didn’t deign to get grass stains on his uniform, and Iniesta just missed, probably because he was shocked that Villa didn’t tap that one in. And so it went, for minute after frustrating minute, with three goals disallowed for offside, and numerous last-ditch interventions by Kobenhagn defenders that kept passes from going through. But the interventions were easy, because all they had to do was camp out in the middle of the Camp, and stick a leg out.
Yes, Messi scored. Twice. Once off of a brilliant shot, smoked in when the Kobenhagn defenders didn’t mark up on the most dangerous man in the game, and the second off of a scuffed crosshot by Abidal, that essentially fell into Messi’s stomach so that he could almost walk it into the net (finally! We walked the ball into the net! Yay for us!)
For too much of that match, we appeared desultory and disinterested as a team, just kind of sleepwalking around at times, giving the ball away as if we wanted to make things more interesting for ourselves, and otherwise conspiring to, once again, cock up a series of great scoring chances. Once I finished giggling at the FCK on the scoreboard, there wasn’t a whole lot to smile about in this one.
People will point to the absence of Xavi as the problem, but that wasn’t it. We didn’t lack for scoring chances and opportunities in the box. We just don’t know what to do with them. I once quipped that giving Eidur Gudjohnsen, our late, great Icelandic Monument, was like giving a bear the car keys. “Arrragh! What this for!?” But that’s our offense with scoring chances now, and it kinda sucks.
Team: 5. Fast start that made it look as though we were going to run them off the pitch, then we lost interest and/or energy, and suddenly this was a tense match that Kobenhagn could well have won with the right breaks.
Guardiola: 7. Right lineup, right strategy, right substitutions. But sometimes he doesn’t seem to know how to get his side out of a funk, and standing on the sidelines applauding isn’t the answer. That much is evident.
Pinto: 5. We see why he’s the No. 2 keeper. He does some things well, but most not even remotely as well as Valdes. He plays with the ball too much, and like Valdes, can’t seem to clear the ball with a kick, with any remote degree of accuracy. He also needs better judgment. He gave up a late corner on a shot that wasn’t going in. He had precious little to do with the shutout.
Alves: 6. Play the ball more quickly. Simple as that. Players have made the runs, the defense is destabilized and Alves seems to want to take a moment to examine his laces, then cross the ball in. By that time, people are offside, or the defense has recovered. Got forward very effectively, and had an immense last-ditch tackle to save a sure Kobenhagn goal, which was awesome.
Pique: 5. Average match in which he started out exceptionally well, including functioning as an extra attacker to really destabilize the opposition defense. But woe is us if he gets caught up the pitch. Love the Piquenbauer thing, hate the pokiness.
Puyol: 5. Got seriously done for pace on a couple of occasions, and completely lost contain on his player, losing out to pace and positioning. Luckily, they didn’t score. Yes, he’s a lion. Always is. But this wasn’t his best day today.
Abidal: 7. Strong on offense and defense, and very good moving forward, with crosses into the box and overlaps that made him a significant part of the offense. Stupidly went for a steal that let Kobenhagn loose on our goal, but we were able to deal with it …. just.
Mascherano: 8. Dude was awesome again, from passing to defense. Time and again, he won balls for us with ease and style. He’s also a fine, fine passer who is most effective when he doesn’t get caught on the ball. Then, watch out!
Busquets: 5. We’ve had good Busi and bad Busi, this was okay Busi. He had some good moments, and some “what the hell was he thinking” moments, but overall, an average match, and his worst this season to date. He just wasn’t very effective working as part of the attack, leaving Iniesta to do a LOT of running and coverage.
Maxwell: 5. Drifted in and out of the match like one of those old radios. Also had some control problems that either led to lost balls, or a recovered defense. I like the aggression in the shots at goal, and I’m starting to think he makes a better midfielder than left back.
Iniesta: 8. Whoa baby, what a match! He was clearly meant to be the Xavi today, and reined in his high-risk tendencies for a blizzard of great passes and runs. Missed a glorious scoring opportunity, but was constantly setting up teammates during our innumerable attacks. An omnipresent, Man of the Match performance.
Messi: 6. Laid on a brace, but was guilty of moments that were as selfish as his first goal was spectacular. The way that he unsettles a defense is remakable. When we are playing well, you have to make the decision to control someone, which leaves the other players free. In theory.
Villa: 2. Losing balls at his feet or hitting excellent scoring chances right at the keeper, are just some of the things that found his match wanting today. Not even close. I’m not sure whether he’s trying too hard or not hard enough, but being caught offside then not racing to get back, doesn’t fill my heart with song.
Pedro! (for Maxwell): 5. Brought some great energy to the pitch, but was never a real threat. Had a series of great hustle plays, chasing balls down left and right and applying pressure to keep them in their end at key times.
Xavi (for Villa): 4. Hey, guess that Xavi wasn’t the problem with our lackluster display. He had hardly any influence beyond some typically brilliant passes that he can put exactly where they want and need to go.
Keita (for Iniesta): incomplete. Came on, but didn’t get enough time to really influence anything.
But hey we won, right? We go top of the group, and are an all but lead pipe cinch to go through to the knockout stages. We might not be winning easy, but we are most definitely winning. On to the weekend!
David Villa needs to start putting the goals in, or sit. Simple as that. Everybody was all over Ibrahimovic for all the things that he was doing wrong, even after he started like a house afire and wound up with 20+ goals with last season. It was “Bench him for Krkic. Yes!” But at least Ibrahimovic started like a house afire. Villa is getting more and more frustrated, and it’s showing in his play. And we can’t bench him for Krkic, because that option is worse. So Messi bails us out yet again.
I know, I know. I hate David Villa. Whatever. He’s a 40 million striker who can’t put the damn ball in the back of net.