Inter 0, Barca 0, a.k.a. “60+m for THIS!?”

Dude. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Gimme that ball.
Dude. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Gimme that ball.

I’m a little irritated right now, so pardon me if a bit of it seeps into this review of a match in which only one team came to really play football. And that’s fine. We should expect that. Why, oh why would any side in its right mind come out to play against us? All that awaits is death. So Inter took the same route as Chelsea, and Deportivo, and every other inferior side.

Keep 9 or 10 behind the ball, and stick your legs out.

Inter fans will say “That’s the way we had to play, we got a point from the best club in the world, blah, blah, blah.” And frankly, I didn’t expect Mourinho to play any other way. Call me cynical. I’m okay with that. Champions League football in the group stages is, first and foremost, about not losing. And Inter played not to lose, assisted by our loafing strikers.

We paid cash-ass money for this big Swede, who was supposed to be the answer against precisely this sort of nonsense. And Dani Alves did his part, by dropping a ball in front of Ibrahimovic, who got the yips, rushed the shot and sent what should have been a goal, into the second balcony. And when he wasn’t missing chances, he was being shouldered off the ball by Lucio, who played one hell of a match, as if to say “See, it was Bayern’s fault last year. Not mine.”

Then our aging French striker sort of ponced about with those same moves, losing the ball time and again, or falling down whenever a player got near him. Which is a shame, because Messi was on, Alves was on, Xavi was on. But who in the hell are they going to feed? Yes, Henry played well for about 5 minutes, but so what? If we have an effective attack, with our strikers actually deigning to play inside the box instead of acting like big, giant midfielders, we might have grabbed a goal out of this one. Instead, we wallowed in the shit pit that Inter set up, as 9 men with shovels just shoved every real chance away from their keeper.

And so it went.

Guardiola rolled out our best available side, of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, The Yaya, Keita, Messi, Henry and Ibrahimovic. And when Inter actually came out, trying to press the midfield and play possession football, I had hopes. Because if they’d kept playing like that, we were destined to win. But the Ibrahimovic chance as he got behind Lucio, seemed to scare them. So they went all turtle on us.

We’re clearly at half-speed right now, so we seem rather content to pass the ball around, knowing that the other club is afraid of us, trying for a goal if something comes up, but it’s okay if it doesn’t. Because as Guardiola has repeatedly said, we’re crap without the ball. So we keep the ball, even if we don’t have much intention of doing much of anything with it. Almost 64% possession doesn’t mean that you get any extra points in the standings, for a match that we should have won.

Do we have excuses? Sure. Iniesta’s just coming back, Henry got a late start, so did Ibrahimovic, etc, etc.

I don’t buy it. Champions League football is about taking your chances when they come. Ibrahimovic has to bury that first chance. He has to. Against Getafe, he chested the ball down to himself in space and laid off a perfect pass to Messi. If he evinces the same control, he has Julio Cesar at his mercy, and it’s 1-0 from a shot to the top corner. Inter then have to come out and play, and we destroy them. He had the match on his foot, and kicked it away. After that moment, it felt like a draw to me, and so it was.

If Messi charges the far post, he gets on an excellent Henry cross. If Messi and Alves talk, rather than both going for the same ball, we win. If, if, if, if.

Inter were very well organized, as we knew that they would be. And early on, they had us on the back foot as they possessed the ball and looked to make moves. Milito spent much of the match off side, and our defense did a great job of neutralizing the hard-working Samuel Eto’o. The one time that he got one-on-one against Puyol, you could see our Captain say “I’ve seen this move before,” and just knock the ball away. He and Milito worked like dogs today, to precious little real effect, because every time Milito sprung our way, the offside trap was rolled out and the flag came up, stopping yet another of their attacks.

Did I mention that my neck hurts, by the by, from trying to physically will the ball into the net, from trying to make our strikers charge the box and make a serious, concerted effort to score. Ibrahimovic should not be getting shouldered off the ball by anyone. He’s too big and strong for that, but Lucio was all man, all the time in this match. Very impressive. People will say that they defended well. Hell, any club can defend well with 8 behind the ball, in two stacks of 4. But you have to give them full credit for hard work and getting the result they were seeking.

Because again, Champions League group stages are played not to lose, and both coaches did masterful jobs of that, defending in their own way. We were more than happy to keep the ball for what seemed like hours at a time, as Inter would just knock it long, to be picked up by one of our back line and dumped into the possession cycle again.

With all of my ranting aside, this was as compelling a 0-0 draw as you will ever see, with two defensive systems on full display. We said, “You can’t beat us if you don’t have the ball.” They said, “We don’t care if you have the ball, let’s see you beat 8 men in the box.” So both defenses “won,” if the principal object of a match such as this is not to concede. And make no mistake, we didn’t want to concede, every bit as fervently as they didn’t.

That said, if Henry and Ibrahimovic show half of what they’re supposed to, if the Henry that played against Serbia (for Les Bleus) shows up, we win that match in a walk. But that didn’t happen. I’ll leave it to Hector to do something more than spew bile, and get to the ratings.

Team: 8. Excellent group effort, defending in our own “We have the ball, nyah, nyah” way. Help was abundant, and the switching was excellent, as was the motion off the ball to create available spots for passers to dump to.

Guardiola: 7. Coached well in exactly the kind of match he was expecting. He didn’t have us go all-out on the attack, because he’s aware of how dangerous Inter are on the counter, and how their strike force can punish you with the slightest mistake.

Valdes: 7. Didn’t have a lot to do, but what he did was excellent, including his role as sweeper/keeper to keep the possession game and attack moving along.

Alves: 7. He loses points for being such a weasel. I hate when he acts as if he’s been slashed with a samurai sword, only to pop up and resume his incessant running up and down the pitch. His passing and crosses have been exceptional of late, and his passes to Ibrahimovic deserved better.

Pique: 7. Piquenbauer in full effect. Even early, when the defense was looking a bit panicked, he was on form. If he was gimpy, he didn’t really show it.

Puyol: 6. Our Captain has been better. Was it the knock that caused him to be outrun by Inter attackers when they were pressing? Good question. But it happened. Time and again. He showed why we need the ball to defend.

Abidal: 7. Was a little funky early, but played it off and worked his way into a controlling match in which his side was locked down.

The Yaya: 7. Again, he was off early, with some uncharacteristic balls being pushed about. But then he came on like a freight train, winning balls, pressing Inter attackers and destroying anything that came near his super-extendo legs.

Keita: 5. Yes, he’s out there to facilitate possession and keep anything from leaking. But on two different occasions, he had good long shot opportunities, and didn’t even hit the target. And early on, his passes were all over the place.

Xavi: 9. Good God, he was spectacular today, pulling the strings that make our offense go. He was a little slow in the box in the first half, leaving what should have been a good chance, begging. But that’s being harsh.

Messi: 8. All over the place on the attack, and deserved better. If he calls Alves off that ball, it’s a 1-0 win for us. But it’s early days, yet.

Henry: 4. In the second half he started coming on, looking very dangerous, but for the most part he was terrible, playing pillow-soft football and spending more time on the pitch than in Inter’s box.

Ibrahimovic: 4. Man up. You aren’t there to make like a midfielder, you’re there to put the damned ball in the back of the net. Great players make it happen on great stages, and this was one of them. Bury either of the two great chances you have, and we’re off to the races. And too much standing around. Move!

Substitute(s)

Iniesta: 6. Did an excellent job in his role as midfielder defender, helping us retain possession, but doing little on the attack.

If I seem hard on Henry and Ibrahimovic, it’s because when we had Inter reeling, they stood around, letting Xavi run about with the ball, waiting for them to create space so that we could play attacking football. And both of them stood there, leaning on their defenders or ball watching. This shouldn’t have been.

I’m just saying.

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Written by:

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.

124 Comments

  1. Han
    September 17, 2009

    I’m not up to speed with the reply at stuff. My apologies ;-(

  2. Museum
    September 17, 2009

    I feel like if we don’t score and the other team defends without getting many chances, there’s a tendency here to say the other team parked the bus. That didn’t really happen in this game. Like that Inter fan said above, it had more to do with us not letting them get the ball in the second half. I never got the feeling they weren’t looking for a goal. And we probably should’ve won, but easily could’ve lost as well, that Stankovic shot was the closest call of the match for either side.

    • Luna
      September 17, 2009

      In this case I agree with this assessment. It seems we forget we were watching Catenaccio. Last year Inter played with only Ibra up top, and this time with two strikers. Mourinho’s teams, when on it, are well organized, collapsing well on men around them, but more importantly collapsing on the spaces. There was also 2-3 men surrounding Ibra…this is where they were exposing themselves some. It was like they sure as well weren’t going to let Ibra score, and he’s not fully fit, combine the two and you have a poorer performance. That’s where Hector was right, the midfield needed to come up at those points as those spaces were opening up. Needless to say. I think it’s a decent result.

    • Andrew M.
      September 17, 2009

      what about messi’s bullet?

  3. Museum
    September 17, 2009

    Also, they had that breakaway in the 2nd half where that kid they brought on would’ve been able to create or have his own huge chance if Yaya hadn’t pulled him down. Which was probably a good move on his part, I was yelling “Bring him down!” like Aragorn in Two Towers, but it’s not exactly the most “pro-football” move in the book.

    • Hilal
      September 17, 2009

      Yeah….love the YAYA…did what he had to do. Saw the danger, knew what needed to be done and took one for the team. Love it. Did he end up getting a yellow for it? Cant remember. I do recall the kid going down pretty easy though. Then again if the Yaya came anywhere near me I think i would go down too 🙂

    • Han
      September 17, 2009

      I bet if Santon would have been looking the other way, The YAYA might just have LOOKED him down instead of physically bringing him down.

      Good call by Yaya and a yellow card well deserved

    • Museum
      September 17, 2009

      Yup, yellow. “Did what he had to do” is a good way of putting it.

    • SC
      September 17, 2009

      Hahaha! Great reference. In my mind, I was like “Take him out, Muniesa-style!” Cynical, I know. But he needed to be stopped. Did you see Yaya’s face afterwards? He gave an angelic, “What?” to the ref.

    • Andrew M.
      September 17, 2009

      muniesa is my hero. i am getting his name printed on my new shirt!!

  4. Boat Forever
    September 17, 2009

    Okay now this is for all those who say Eto’o + cash(which is of course way too much!) & Ibra swap is a failure of an idea
    We had to face a similar bus last year in Champions League semi-final, when we were in full flow, had almost full squad, when each and every player in the team knew his team-mates well enough… What had we achieved then!? All we could create were 5 chances overall on the two legs combined!
    What had we done yesterday? Our team could create 8-9 chances? When our main striker in Ibra knows peanuts about the rest of the team compared to what chemistry Eto’o had & when Henry no longer looks the player he was last year. One thing we lacked was the finish and that can purely be attributed to Ibra’s lack of confidence as yet and lack of that bit of luck one needs to emerge out winner in CL. And regarding his work-rate, statistics show he ran more than Eto’o. That too when he had to play 90*4 minutes in last ten days. For a player who missed out during pre-season with an injury that’s quite a lot. Any body would get rusted!

    I say we only have positives to look up to from last match. We created more than double the number of chances against buses that we could create last year on two legs! That surely is because of this new player in the squad called Ibra. It’s because of him that our mid-field & Alves are trying to give more aerial passes instead of just the short passes on ground. That is definitely an indication of the team’s improvement against buses. Just show little more patience and I’m pretty sure Ibra’s gonna score against the likes of Chelsea. Those missed chances by Ibra that some of us claim to be sitters speaks for itself. They were not sitters, the fact that Ibra made them look so simple is a compliment for his incredible talent. A little more Pep-talk & he’d gain his confidence 🙂

    Sorry for my english

    • Hilal
      September 17, 2009

      Finally….somebody who gets it…thank you!!!!

    • Kxevin
      September 17, 2009

      Boat Forever, I like the way you think. And as I said, we’re going to be fine. I think that yesterday, we would have beaten any other side in the group.

      I admit that I was expecting more from Ibra and Henry. Not sure why they were so sluggish and stationary, but they were. I have come to expect a win every time out, because I think that we have the quality to meet those expectations.

      Yet from time to time, people just won’t be as we expect them to be, and we will have different results. It will happen. And to be clear, I don’t think that the Ibra chances were sitters. But I think that a striker of his immense quality has to make at least one of those happen. He played too soft in the box for my taste.

      But as someone else has pointed out, the pressure and tension in Eto’o and Ibra must have been almost paralyzing. That they could even move is a testament to their quality as professionals and athletes.

      So I’m content with the draw, but not happy with it.

    • Boat Forever
      September 17, 2009

      Hope you really mean it & are not sarcastic 😉
      I’m a li’l pissed at Keita now!! What’s up with his shots always being off-target!? I appreciate the fact that he’s one of the few who dare to attempt a long range one, but more than often he skies them 🙁 Hope he improves on his shooting efficiency. Every thing other than that is more than decent, I think he’d be the main-team player for any Europen team except select few. Messi started taking more of them lately… One more point off from Ronaldo’s pros into those of Messi’s 🙂
      Ibra should start taking long range shots. That lack of confidence hurts man. Also the free-kicks, at least the close range ones… Alves wastes way too many chances. Long range Xavi can handle so that the giants can head them in. What I’m saying is Alves shouldn’t be allowed any where near free-kick area.

    • Sumit
      September 17, 2009

      Woah Boat!!! I want to have what you had for breakfast. Good interjection there, l like the positives.

    • Vj
      September 17, 2009

      Have to agree.. Ibra’s first chance was tough.. And I recall one in which he was incorrectly flagged offside.. He was decent but showed a great deal of nervousness, maybe due to the fact that he was at the San Siro..

      Overall, I’d have to say we did a decent job.. We could’ve have gotten a penalty (but then again so could have Chelsea 😉 ) so I’m not harping on that..

      Inter is a title contender.. To think that they might roll over and die and that too in front of their own crowd is wishful thinking.. We’ll have to play better than we did yesterday at the Camp.. Good thing is we have time and hopefully we’ll sort out some issues till then..

      ¡Visca’l Barça!

    • SC
      September 17, 2009

      Great perspective, Boat.

    • Luna
      September 17, 2009

      I agree with this Boat. More importantly the amount of work Ibra had to do to make those chances happen are being glossed over. I think Hector brings up a good point saying this is where the midfield needed to crash the box. I don’t think they were looking for that. It’s a matter of all getting adjusted to what this new Barca game is going to look like, the new spaces that are opening up. It wasn’t a perfect match by Barca, but what I saw gives me great hope!

  5. Museum
    September 17, 2009

    Man, I’m going to be disheartened if we just say that the other team parked the bus every time this happens. Any team is going to look defensive when we have the amount of possession we did in the 2nd half. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what Chelsea did. That was anti-futbol, this was a team that was struggling to get the ball and hold onto it. They didn’t say “we don’t care if you have the ball, let’s see you beat 8 men in the box.” I just didn’t see that. And I’m sorry if I’m hammering it too much, it’s just that as much as I love Barca and enjoy this blog, it’s a pet peeve I have. No big deal.

    • September 17, 2009

      I agree with Museum about this not having been that negative a game. Once we were up to speed late in the 2nd half, however, Inter sat back and both couldn’t do and didn’t try to do anything whatsoever.

      There were periods during the game when Inter controlled possession and flicked the ball around midfield just like we do, but they didn’t have anything in the final third except for a couple of Milito runs (by the way, he outran Puyol, yeah, but he also outran Abidal at least once–that doesn’t make Puyol slow necessarily) and a questionable offside on Samu.

      Valdes was money. If you were a keeper you couldn’t have had a better game in that position than he did. Gets a 8 in my book easily, maybe a 9 (a point off for a couple of dicey clearances). He did everything that was asked of him and did it without bobbling, without fear in the box. He commanded his area. Note that they never got a single header in our box.

    • Kxevin
      September 17, 2009

      I don’t think that Inter played a negative game. Nor did Chelsea. I think that there is danger of defensive football being damned as anti-football. Which shouldn’t be the case.

      But two stacks of 4 right in front of your box is defensive, and negative in that it doesn’t have any intention except to stop the other team from scoring. So they’d win the ball and fire it long. One of our guys would pick it up, and start fresh.

      I view completely negative football as when a side puts 10 behind the ball, not playing on the counter, not doing anything except kicking any attempts at goal away.

    • Museum
      September 17, 2009

      Well, Xavi seems to think it was negative football. That’s according to some quotes in a goal.com article. I don’t know, seems like frustration to me. I’d have to watch the match again to be 100% positive, and I’m not going to do that, but I perceived it as much more to do with our penchant for keeping the ball than any intentions they had about doing nothing but stop us from getting a goal.

    • Andrew M.
      September 18, 2009

      goal.com reads and tranlates from spanish as follows:

      “Guardiola, la mejor entrenador del mundo, dice que quisiera quedar con barca hasta 2018.”

      and goal.com publishes,

      “guardiola unhappy at barca and wants to go and coach argentina”

  6. bill
    September 17, 2009

    ALL strikers miss chances. That is something we should all accept. We saw Eto’o miss them, we saw Ronaldo miss them, we saw Drogba miss them, we see Villa miss all the time…and Torres too. It’s a very demanding position and only a select few succeed. What I like to see is a striker who is constantly putting himself in threatening positions and one who knows exactly what to do with the ball. A few inches here or there and it’s a goal. Hopefully Ibra will get there.

    I agree with museum, some teams Do play Barcelona with the intention of parking the bus, while others end up parking the bus simply because barcelona completely dominates possession, forcing them to pull back and help defenders. I thought inter belonged in that latter category. 12 fouls, as Mourinho pointed out, is more evidence that they didn’t come to hack anybody and constantly break up play like Madrid and Chelsea did.

    I disagree with anyone who blames last years chelsea debacle on one single player. I still can’t fully comprehend what happened, but the whole team played woefully below par, Messi too! The only guy I thought tried hard was Iniesta.

    I also disagree with the notion that a single player was brought in to break the bus. Too much responsibility on one person, and unless you have the ability of a young maradona, or Messi, impossible. Bus parking can be broken by box crashing (as hector pointed out), crossing the ball behind defenders (Ibra can take advantage here) or one that I would like to see more from barcelona, quick transitions into counter strikes right down the middle before defenses settle into their compact formations. Ronaldinho and Deco used to be good at these.

    As for Messi, you put him next to the ‘great’ Ibra and you realise just how much greater Messi is. I would think the same thing wouldve happened if you put Ronaldo in the same team as Messi. Dude is an outright animal….

    • Boat Forever
      September 17, 2009

      Never meant Eto’o was failure against Chelsea… Only he was no target man for our mid-fielders to be confident to provide aerial passes. Now that we have Ibra, they got that extra option to try and break buses and we have to accept they almost succeeded last night. Just a bit of luck and we’d have won by 2-3 goals at least

  7. bill
    September 17, 2009

    Biggest difference between Inter and Barcelona, no-one is willing to make that extra pass on that team. Eto’o will be crying for Iniesta every night!

    • Kxevin
      September 17, 2009

      True, bill. Very true. The other thing working in our favor, I think, is that teams are all too willing to fire long shots at Valdes, still believing that his weakness is the long ball. It’s like conceding possession.

      I think Xavi was just frustrated. Both sides fouled, but it was a fair match. It was certainly more physical than we would have liked, but seeing the official’s name should have made it clear that it was going to not be a match for the weak.

  8. UAI
    September 17, 2009

    Henry did have a bad game. But since we didn’t score, you may consider our bottom line to be when we created danger/scoring opportunities against the other team. He produced at least two of those with dangerous crosses in that night, probably more than anyone except Xavi.

    I didn’t think Keita had a particularly bad game either, he was doing fine other than the two shots he misfired (and one of them wasn’t easy to get on target)

    • Jnice
      September 17, 2009

      I really thought Keita was useless. If Yaya had been beside Xavi, I think it would have been a different story. You saw the two runs he made towards the end of the first half and he isn’t afraid to move the ball forward like Keita is a lot of times.

  9. Jim
    September 17, 2009

    Great review, Kevin. Agreed with almost everything you say.

    No great damage done but some worrying signs. I don’t mind passes going astray when we’re trying things (Messi was a good example of this) but I get really worried when someone of Xavi’s class is constantly looking up and seeing nothing moving in front of him. Henry and Ibra need a rocket from Pep for lack of movement and I hope i didn’t see signs of the start of a sulk from Henry. If he thinks he deserved to stay on he’s kidding himself and will be on his way in January.

    Keita just doesn’t have the ball skills to play in midfield for us. His passing is predictable and his movement limited. He was partly responsible for us moving the ball too slowly in the first half. He chooses the obvious ball all the time and half hits it rather than pinging it about. Can’t blame him for missing shots but i do blame him for not putting his boot through the ball rather than the pathetic half hearted efforts.

    Finally, and on a high, I liked the look of the defence. They kept a good line at the back, Valdes looked confident and tackling was generally pretty hot. That plus the return of Iniesta means that in the short term we will be fine. Do we have enough to take out the EPL teams later on? Not at the moment but let’s not judge too early. They’ve surely done enough last year to keep us off their backs for the next month or so.

    • Museum
      September 17, 2009

      Loved the defense, including Valdes, when he was needed. I’d take any of the EPL teams right now, I think we’d do fine. None of them have been especially impressive. Chelsea hasn’t lost, but hasn’t really been tested either.

  10. Kari
    September 17, 2009

    Was hovering over at the Inter Offside hoping to see the game from their point of view (e.g. being self-critial of the team like Kxevin for Barca) only to be disappointed. Bar a few commentors, there were a few comments I thought were pretty unfounded

    Of course they’ll defend their own team, and I get that it’s some post-match “bile” that comes out straight after the game (it happends), but some of the comments were just ridiculous. I stopping reading after they starting saying Messi was diving and the Chivu hack on Messi didn’t deserve a card. Yes, it was his first (or something like that) foul, but you have to take in the NATURE of the foul as well. Dude, it was a rake down the calf (even his shinpad came off) It was a physical game, but it takes two to tango and the physical play went both ways. Duh, the Yaya was playing!

    Obviously they’re biased ( we probably are too) and they’ll defend their team and say some stuff that is unfounded because of that, but COME ON! Suddenly it’s like we’re this hypocritial, overrated team with bunch of divers and dirty players with a twelfth man.

    (e.g. “I just don’t get what goes on in the minds of these referees.
    I don’t care if he misses some calls, just miss them for everyone. Chivu’s card was a phantom.”

    Sorry for the rant, but I was hoping to see some honest tactical discussion over there on the blog, but it’s like they say, “Don’t like, don’t read” and it’s their blog. Still, kinda disappointing. I really would have liked to read their point of view.

    • Jnice
      September 17, 2009

      I feel the same way as you do. Ramzi had enough too, I think.

  11. jordi
    September 17, 2009

    Anything but a 5-0 in our favour will disappoint me now 🙂

    //http://www.goal.com/en/news/12/spain/2009/09/17/1507506/atletico-madrid-keeper-roberto-hoping-for-comfortable

    “I would like a 3-0 victory, and I expect a 2-0 win”

    Well nice to see hes confident.

    • September 17, 2009

      OH IT IS ON NOW, ROBERTO.

      3-0 would be nice, indeed, but I expect a YAYA-0.

    • Helge
      September 18, 2009

      Haha, this comment makes me more confident than he could ever be 😉

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