That football lives and dies in midfield has never been more true, even as the…
Category: Kevin Rating Synthesis
We have an assistant at work. Her name is Rosemary. And like that same type of person in roughly the same support position in so many offices, she is indispensable. She has all the answers, even for things that she isn’t supposed to have the answers for. She does so much, and is always there. You have a thought, and she’s thought of it already. The humor is always good, and you wonder sometimes about value.
The prima donna writers and self-important editors whip around, preen and demand and Rosemary just makes it all happen, stoic, good-natured and invaluable. Nobody ever says “We can’t get it done without her.” Ever. Even as it’s true, day in and day out, because it’s often true that the more important people are overlooked.
Like Seydou Keita.
Goalkeepers are like kickers in American football. The other players do their thing all day long, battling like gladiators. Then, when they are done, or have done all that they can, a little guy comes out, not even wearing a full set of pads, to decide the match. Or, a guy who doesn’t run, doesn’t do much of anything until it is time for him to do something, decides a match.
This was a weird one, in which positions were reversed. Usually, it’s us rolling into…
This was the face. Messi has, of late, undergone a degree of scrutiny that might make many believe he just stands around, waiting for the ball before he springs into action. But if you want to see how much this club wanted this title, just look at this image.
Better yet, watch this glorious, glorious match by the best club in football and one of the best in the history of the game, a beautiful thing that never fails to bring pleasure, even when it fails to fully execute its mission.
Notions of beauty fascinate me. Men and women, cars, objets d’art can all be justly labeled “beautiful,” by many a person who, subjectively, deems them thus. Disputes? To be sure. Recall when MOMA featured a blockbuster exhibition that featured motorcycles. “That ain’t art,” some crowed, “and it ain’t beauty.” But subjective definitions quake in the face of logic, since subjectivity is, by its very definition, unassailable. “I say it’s beautiful, so it is. The end.”
They won’t be putting our glorious club in any museum for people to gaze upon, though they should. There should be videos, and things so that people remember what this is like, rather than some elderly Catalan dude in the stands, waving around a cigar in open defiance of the Camp Nou’s non-smoking edict, talking about the Best Club He Ever Saw.
Though I confess to being entertained by Ray Ray, I don’t often agree with his stone table pronouncements about The Way Things Are. But today, as the match began, his observations about our side and its shape were spot on. He eschewed any real designations for the formation(s) that we play, instead calling it “amoeba.” How right he is, hell, even as amoebas move by changing the shape of their bodies, ask yourself how Messi, Cuenca and Iniesta got out of some of the spots they were in today.
Yes, we start out in a formation, but what can you really call it when Fabregas is playing defender, breaking up an attack in our box before threading a pass that starts an attack the other way, then dashing down to join in on the attack. A label-defying shapelessness. “Total football?” Dunno. I do know it’s beautiful, and when it’s played the way that it was today, it warms the cockles of my cold little heart.
My oh my, how we’ve grown to hate Internationals. The players travel hither and yon, sometimes not returning in the best of condition, usually to an opponent who has had everyone sitting around at home, watching our boys get tired via the telly.
And we look lackluster, drop some points and everyone grumbles. But we can thank EE, who is playing very good football right now, for the impetus necessary to find us razor-sharp this time out, against a Zaragoza side that was done in by its own pugnaciousness. It was a match that wasn’t as close as the score indicated, as we were light years ahead of them in every category except shots at an opponent’s Achilles tendon. It was one short of a manita, with the luxury of a second half through which we could coast, ahead of an important Champions League match against Milan.
It was that kind of a match, one in which both teams came out hell bent for leather, in which the winner was right on the tip of someone’s boot, a match that even as it didn’t feel like a draw, was destined to be so by the Footy Gods.
Guardiola: “I told Bielsa that his players are beasts. I never played against such an intense team, players that runs so much.”
Bielsa: “It wouldn’t have been just if we would have won the game. A draw is a fair result.”
It was a match that was characterized by mutual respect from the coaches beforehand. On the sodden, rain-drenched pitch that became something of a quagmire, it was one of the best matches we’ve had the pleasure to witness. Bilbao came out and, as their coach promised, turned things into and end-to-end track meet, like the basketball game Bielsa said he wanted.
A draw was fair indeed, even as we might not like the outcome.
This is the kind of match that gives fuel for the fires stoked by those who say that certain teams have no business being in the Champions League, that big clubs such as ours, even though Viktoria Plzen is a champion in its own right, can stroll along with a guaranteed 3 points.
Those people are stupid.
Fast, brave and resourceful, the scoreline could easily have been 2-0 for the home side, even before the Messi penalty. What kind of a match would that have made for, then? Plzen had two extraordinarily good scoring chances, both of which should have resulted in goals. One was the result of a brilliant stop by Victor Valdes. The other was just one of those moments when a professional gets the yips. It happens.
If either of those two goals go in, it’s a very different match. Would we have scored enough to win? Probably. Maybe. Dunno. But hats off to Plzen who, even when they went a man down on a call that was harsh, continued to try and try and try again, putting on a lovely show for their very vocal home fans and playing like a champion.
We were just too good for them on this night.
The most enduring image from this match for me came late, when they showed a rear view of Isaac Cuenca, whose No. 39 shirt was pristine. Then they showed Mallorca’s Alvaro Gimenez, and his No. 30 shirt was bedraggled, with the 0 just hanging on by a bit of adhesive, the rest of shirt all dirt and grass-stained, like dude had been dragged behind a truck.
He had. It’s license plate number was 10. No other letters, just the number 10. Familiar Messi watchers probably noted the “Godfather” stare on Messi’s pre-match face, and the fact that he was clean-shaven, then said “Uh, oh.” For whatever reason, after slumps in which he slouches around, unshaven and off-form, his comebacks are marked by a clean shave. Our fathers, back in the day, always believed that a shave and haircut were just the cure for whatever ails you. Maybe that’s all it took.
Or maybe it’s something more. Or nothing at all.
Um, wait a minute …. I like being right, but not about this. I kept blathering about a team malaise, wanting our players to prove me wrong, to have everything click into place in glorious fashion as they gave some deserving club the hiding that they didn’t deserve, but hey, there they were.
Not today. Today, it was again a club in disarray, a tired, disjointed, disinterested-looking club that played not only the worst match of this season, but the worst match that I can remember a Guardiola side playing. This team has always, always been characterized by effort. Even when not playing well, there was a collective effort that at least put them in a position to have things happen. Sure, we were hitting balls directly at Javi Varas, but stuff was happening.
Today, there was no effort, no fire, no nothing except one remarkable goal from one remarkable player.