This article was originally posted at Soccernet by Isaiah. Visit there to read more of his thoughts that aren’t posted here on BFB. Do it!
Well, it’s over. The Champions League semifinal, the four clásicos in 3 weeks, the whole thing: kaput. And I’m immensely relieved to have survived. Or at least I think I survived. I’m not all here, mentally, so maybe I didn’t. But was I ever mentally all here? Next time I write a preview while hopped up on chocolate, you should feel free to point out the extremes of my not-being-here-itude.
The match itself was, like Aitor Karanka said, almost an afterthought thanks to the first leg’s recriminations and hoohaw, but like Kevin pointed out in a tweet, if it was an afterthought, why bother showing up? And, really, Madrid didn’t show up completely, which is nice because when they did, when they attacked with some intent, like they were actually interested in doing something (anything), they looked decent enough.
The moments of magic are what I remember most, I think. There are full match narratives in all of these encounters, but yesterday was about the little flashes, about Messi being Messi in that Manny kind of way, but where he’s simply good instead of talented and petulant. And, truth be told, the best flashes were Casillas’ responses to Messi’s flashes. He failed just the once, on Pedro’s slippery run and Iniesta’s great pass (dummied, it must be said, by Messi, which froze part of the defense), which was harsh on his full match and harsh on his full series. He won them the Copa del Rey and, had his team been at all interested in attacking, might have won them the whole shebang. Instead, he’s got his one trophy, one kiss at the Cibeles, and the replays of how he tried his very best, only to be beaten by the best. No shame in that, Iker.
I mentioned petulance before and I’ll admit to some petulance at the end of the match. I wanted them to get a red, just to continue the streak, just for Mourinho’s sake, just because it would be fun. Carvalho was my pre-match pick and here nearly came through, but de Bleekere was lenient to a fault and let the Portuguese cleatster and Adebayor—the Togolese Tangler?—get away with a few bookings. Adebayor, it must be said, was looking for his, while Carvalho was just shown to be the slow kickboxing artist we all knew he was. There were no straight reds to complain about, unless you take extraordinary exception at Ade’s first tackle on Busi, which I don’t but I was fairly pissed he didn’t get some form of card for it. But that’s Busi’s reputation coming back on him. That’s the previous dives, the previous face clutches saying hello in a ref’s mind. Sure, guy got kicked, but was it really contact?
And, to make sure that no one accuses me of anything other than what they’ll accuse me of regardless: Mascherano was Divey von Divenbrau throughout. I think he was legitimately fouled a couple of times, but the one called against Xabi Alonso was a Villa-esque “leave-the-foot-behind and trip” type of crap. It wasn’t in a dangerous position and it wasn’t all that important, but it was true. When Cristiano Ronaldo fell on his foot—after his own dive—Masche went down a half second later, but that was an embellishment, not a dive. He was knocked off his stride by illegal contact and even if he wouldn’t have made it to the ball before Higuain, he would have at least challenged for it and that constitutes a foul. Go ahead and ask yourself this: had Masche not fallen down there, would any ref have called what was a legitimate foul? I doubt it. So Masche goes down and earns a freekick and keeps them off the scoreboard. Eric Wynalda should watch the game instead of making unequivocal statements about “that’s a goal.”
Lassana Diarra was also rather immense, for the second time in a row. I’m surprised because very time I see him play, I think about how not up to par he is. But he sure was yesterday and even out raced Messi for a ball at one point, (legally) shouldering the Argie to the ground in the process. But he had no real support because Albiol is defensively disciplined like a wounded panther is docile and Carvalho was forced to pick up an early card through no real fault of his own (he was left out to dry and had to chop Messi down or risk a 2 v 1 with Albiol as the 1 and Villa the other half of the 2. That would have been a goal.
All of this about their team is to say that we played just as you’d expect: controlled, calm, and simply. No over-complication, fewer needless turnovers, and tons of possession, though not as much as you’d expect (68.7% to 31.3%). Barça attacked too, of course, with 6 shots on goal to RM’s 2. And those 2 came on the same play, so they’re effectively 1 (I also count shots off the post as shots on goal). So it was just our game, played out at the almost highest level (Wembley will be that) and, oddly, it was relaxed and felt like a foregone conclusion. The type of foregone conclusion with a rock in the pit of your stomach, but one nonetheless.
The one thing we didn’t do was take full advantage when they got tired at the end of the first half. They were lagging just a bit, having put in a brutal effort, and we should have been able to pinch one, but again: Casillas. Then we left it until the last couple of minutes to use substitutes, even though Afellay might have brought some added energy to the field. Pedro did look strong throughout, though: FIFA 12 creators, you need to up his stamina!
So, then, to Wembley. To the final part of this whole story. We face Espanyol at home this Sunday (1pmEST) in a match that is anything but a foregone conclusion, but hopefully we see Abidal from the beginning and a return of actual center backs playing the center back position. Fontas, perhaps, but more likely we’ll try to put the league to bed with a full on Pique-Puyol duo protected on the sides by Abidal and Alves.
If this post doesn’t come off as happy, rest assured I am and rest assured I’m looking forward to what will in all likelihood be a rematch of the 2009 Roma final. Let’s hope it’s just as epic.