It’s always as if you fell off a cliff. At first it’s exciting and new, but then about halfway down you realize the ground below is probably pretty hard. And you forgot your parachute because you’re the worst base jumper in history. Classic pull the cord and out comes silverware nonsense you only see in cartoons and YouTube videos. And maybe the next Jackass.
So it was a scoreless draw. And I have to say that it was a pretty one-sided scoreless draw for the most part. It technically could have gone either way given the corners that Athletic took and nearly scored on and that one slip in the box that destroyed a perfect opportunity. Yet all-in-all, Athletic did a wonderful job of defending and should be lauded for their technical abilities. Not that I approve of the tactic, but their utterly scared mentality—and make no mistake about it: they were terrified—got them a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou, which is better than anyone this side of Hercules and Mallorca can say. And that includes Real Madrid, Villarreal, and Valencia.
What I took away from all this was that we’re still a work in progress. I’ve written before about how amazing we are as a team and part of the proof is that many of us have become so used to success that the simple act of not losing isn’t necessarily a positive anymore. That’s kinda crappy, I think. If we score 1 goal at San Mames in the return leg (January 5, btw), they’ll have to score 2 in order to advance. Any draw other than 0-0 gets us through and obviously any win does too. Any loss knocks us out, but that’s par for the course and, really, as it should be.
And we got to see some minutes for players who aren’t necessarily used to playing these days. Guardiola’s “rotation” system appears to be “Subs, move around on the bench a bit, switch things up,” rather than on-the-field moves. But this time we got to see Bojan partnering Iniesta and Pedro up front with Keita, Mascherano, and Xavi in the midfield. The back line wasn’t a particularly strange one, with Alves, Pique, Abidal, and Maxwell and it functioned quite well most of the game, so I won’t really dwell on them.
The one thing that I saw throughout this match that I didn’t like was the lack of work up front. Some of that can be attributed, I think, to a lack of positional responsibility. An example: Pedro cuts to the end line and fires a ball across the middle. No one is on the back post for the tap in. Why? I read it as Pedro on the left, Iniesta in the middle, and Bojan on the right. With the ball on the left and Pedro cutting towards the line to create some crossing space, Iniesta has to react and cut in towards the keeper to try and get on the end of that cross. Instead, he ducked towards Pedro, as if to receive a pass, but Pedro was already going towards the endline. That vacated space in the center is where Bojan ideally wants to be, so being on the right and no one being in the middle, he cut towards it. Except the ball went towards where he should have been and, I think, would have been had Iniesta not tried to play midfielder in the box.
No one was particularly brilliant today, though Abidal and Pique stand out a bit, perhaps because of the possession we had. Everyone lost their footing about 8 times, Xavi and Pique should each have buried one from very close range, and Messi was shut down completely by a lack of movement around him. He can take the first 3 guys, but the fourth is the one a teammate has to keep away from him with a smart run. Those runs weren’t really happening and so we let them defend in 2 solid banks (4-5-1 that was often 5-4-1 or 5-5-0) and even though Dani Alves basically played goalie for them, we weren’t able to break them down. It was as if we couldn’t stay on our feet and couldn’t do more than make a lot of fancy passes horizontally. No one saw the few runs that were made over defenders’ shoulders and even Xavi failed to try to make a flicked pass. An odd day at the office.
But it’s okay because I like Athletic Bilbao despite their Petronor sponsorship (I’m not an oil and gas kinda guy) and if they can hold on to some hope before we crush it horrendously in front of their home fans, so be it. Guardiola wants to win this one again or, perhaps, to simply outlast Madrid. I don’t really know.
And now for a well deserved break from all of this action. For the team, of course, not for me. All of you have been extra special nice with your donations (we’re almost done with the drive, keep it up!), so I think you should get an extra special nice Christmas gift on Saturday. Even if you’re not celebrating Christmas, you’ll get something. Because I’m amazing. Until then, let’s do some End of the Year type stuff, shall we? Okay then. See you tomorrow with a stocking stuffer of a post about Ibrahim Afellay. Remember him?
Fun tidbits from the game:
I thought Mascherano was very good throughout, but that the decision to remove him was good because they weren’t threatening. Then they went and threatened a bunch because we played basically a 3-3-4 and there were gaps at the back that they nearly exploited.
Bojan spanked a shot from outside the box that the well-spelled Iraizoz spilled. If Messi had been on the field, we would have scored because of the follow up run, but again, no was making that run. That was Bojan’s territory, apparently, but he was outside the box on the left cutting in for a great shot.
Iniesta shoots now! WTF!?
Pinto’s braids are both terrific and terrible all at once.
The movie Machete is better than whatever your favorite movie is. Even if it’s Machete.