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In – credible, iesta, and more.

May 8, 2009

“This is one of the happiest moments of my life. I can’t even dream of a goal like that. If I had attempted it on any other day, the ball would have sailed into the stands. I struck it with all my soul and it went in perfectly. After I took the shot, I didn’t even look at the goal until the ball entered the net. And after that, I was just overcome with incredible happiness.

We did a spectacular job playing with a man less and especially after being kicked a lot and going through a tough fight. We deserve this because of our work and because of the season we are having. When you put in the effort, as we did in London, the rewards are obtained. This goes for all Barcelonismo.”

I feel sorry for Chelsea. I really do. I feel sorry for Ballack. Damn I feel sorry for the man. He, more than anyone else, seems to be cursed on the biggest stage. Heartbreak at Bayer Leverkusen when Zidane scored in the Champions League final. Essien scored an even better goal last night (and that takes SOME doing) but it wasn’t to be. Out of the World Cup final in 2002. Semifinal losses in World Cup 06 and Euro 08. Last year’s Moscow tragedy. And he was great last night. He didn’t make any bad tackles, he played his role to perfection. And it’s so tragic that he’s the one who failed to block Iniesta’s winner. That shout for handball against Eto’o in the end was more hope and frustration than ANYTHING else, because out of all the penalty appeals, that was the weakest.

My take on the penalty calls and the refereeing controversy is that the decisions cancelled themselves out over both legs. Chelsea was unlucky on the night because yes, I agree that they deserved at least one penalty. But not four, hell no. The first appeal, against Daniel Alves, looked to be a penalty on first sight – I thought so too watching live – but the replay clarified that Alves pulled Malouda OUTSIDE the area and then blocked him inside the line. That would’ve been a very harsh penalty.

Abidal pulling down Drogba – that’s a penalty, clear as day. Abidal pulled his shirt in the box. That’s a penalty. Here’s where Drogba’s reputation as a diver and propensity for theatrics hurt him. The referee messed up too. By the way, Drogba kept posturing all match long, just like Alves in the previous leg. It was disgraceful. Yaya Toure made a great tackle on Drogba in the second half, that wasn’t even close to being a penalty.

Abidal’s sending off was just as outrageous as the decision against Drogba in the first half. He didn’t even try to tackle Anelka, he barely touched him and Anelka dived like Stamford Bridge was one big fucking swimming pool. That was shocking.

Gerard Pique’s handball was also 60-40 a penalty. It wasn’t a clear penalty in my opinion because (a) it was ball to hand moving less than a meter and (b) it appeared to be unintentional. But if that had been given, I would have accepted that.

Eto’o in the 96th minute? Never a penalty – if Chelsea had conceded that, all of English press would be screaming bloody murder, and justifiably so. He turned around and couldn’t even see where the ball was, for god’s sake.

You have to remember that Henry got pulled back in the box in the first leg too – and that was a clearer penalty than Drogba’s first shout last night, because he was in a great position and milliseconds away from shooting and actually fell over because of the pull back. Drogba had work to do, didn’t go down because of the shirt pull, AND went down a few seconds later (which probably worked against him.)

The Australian team in cricket has long maintained that poor calls by match officials cancel themselves out in the long run – and I tend to believe that. They can be crucial match-turners, like Ovrebo’s were last night, and Chelsea have every right to feel aggrieved. But sometimes they will get big decisions their way too. It happens.

I felt for John Terry last night too. Goddamn. What a man, what a player. He actually went to the Barcelona dressing room to congratulate them. He must be feeling like shit. He was Chelsea’s BEST player, BAR NONE, over both legs, and did a great job of marshalling his defense. He’s been Chelsea’s best player for quite some time – better than Lampard I strongly believe. Lampard was great last night, making great tackles and playing well offensively – that ball to Drogba which led to the irresistible force-vs-immovable object clash was genius – but he was anonymous in the first leg. Add to this the Moscow heartbreak and the unforgettable images of Terry blaming himself (quite wrongly) in tears in the rain…and I felt for Terry. And I felt for Chelsea. As a team they’ve wanted the Champion’s League more than any other team for over two years. It’s meant to confirm their status as a top team among the European elite – they’ve been derided for ‘buying trophies’ and John Terry, an old Chelsea stalwart, has felt the need to change that image, and he’s tried his best, and it hasn’t worked out for him. And it’s just heartbreaking when effort does not result in success. That’s coming from personal experience.

Barca played like shit. If they hadn’t scored, they did not deserve to go through. Just that goal meant that they deserved it. Guardiola was tactically off, because that line up could not control the game like it should have. The Blaugrana had 65% possession but that was because Chelsea were too scared to try and take the game to them. I saw that line up and I groaned because Yaya Toure, who is a crucial midfielder and one of the top DMs in the world, was playing CB. I saw Busquets in the middle. I saw Iniesta up front. Now, there’s been debate over Iniesta’s best position and I agree that he’s brilliant as a left winger, but against a team like Chelsea, he’s not effective because they close you down very quickly and you need width against a team like that, which Henry provides better than Iniesta. To his credit, Andrés did try to play wider out left last night but he’s a different beast from Henry – in my opinion a more critical one for Barcelona though. Busquets is way too raw to be playing against Lampard, Essien, and Ballack. There was no way he could handle that, and he was pure unadulterated shit as long as he was on. I was waiting for Iniesta to come back into the midfield and Bojan to replace Sergio and move up front, which happened about half an hour too late. Keita tried to make things happen rather unsuccessfully, but he was at least more enterprising and caused Chelsea problems with his linkup play if nothing else. But he wasn’t good enough to support Barcelona’s attacks against a defense of this caliber.

That was the problem Barcelona had last night. Xavi didn’t have support in the midfield and repeatedly kept picking out Alves, who had a HORRIBLE match and threw in some of the worst crosses you will ever see. Daniel Alves played as a right winger by the way, and Malouda as a right back, not RWF. And Alves has been playing horribly for several weeks now. He’s been arguably Barcelona’s best signing this year but the last month has been bad. He needs to remember how to cross AND how to take free kicks. I remember a great free kick he scored against Valencia last season for Sevilla – he’s been craptastic for Barca so far. I don’t get why he still takes the dead balls – Henry and Xavi are much better.

Eto’o was just lost amongst the blue shirts and had a horrible game, much like Adebayor. Messi played below his best but he was shackled brilliantly by the Chelsea defenders who always marked him very tightly with AT LEAST two men at all times. Very similar to what happened with Ronaldinho a few seasons ago, and he needs to adjust his game for that. Cristiano Ronaldo by the way doesn’t get that very often, firstly because the defenders marking him aren’t always world class (like Chelsea’s) and because he’s quicker and stronger. He doesn’t have multiple defenders marking his every move all match long.

I accept all of Barcelona’s criticism – they don’t have a plan B and they haven’t been able to penetrate a defense like this successfully. But that does not in any way detract from their wonderful play, from their artistry when they are able to play their own game, from the quality of La Liga, or from their success. If you really think Stoke can do the same thing Chelsea did, then you’re just reflecting a shocking lack of understanding of the game. It takes 9 quality players to do what Chelsea did. Other teams have tried it and they have failed. Manchester United and Chelsea are the only ones who have succeeded in two years.

Barcelona cannot play Route 1 football because they just don’t have a target man. There’s no point swinging in crosses all the time when you’re going to lose the header EVERY SINGLE TIME. That’s what was so frustrating about Alves’ crapshow, and also why Guardiola was so intent on getting Trezeguet before Eto’o decided he wanted to stay. Height makes a difference on headers, if that needed to be stated.

Barcelona have showed a lack of squad depth and an absence of a plan B. They’re not the best team in the world yet. They can do that, and they’re frighteningly good most of the time. Which is why they’ve succeeded so brilliantly. Lyon, Bayern, Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia are among the best teams in Europ with quality defenders – but they just got taken apart by a roaring Blaugrana monster. Chelsea figured out how to stop that monster and ALMOST succeeded.

Chelsea defended brilliantly this week, much better than they were at the Bridge. And they deserved to go through until they conceded that goal. The moment they conceded, Barcelona deserved it more. Tactically Chelsea won the game. But they failed to convert their chances – Drogba in both legs was one-on-one and Valdes outplayed him BOTH times. That’s not luck, it’s just better play by the Barca keeper. I think Chelsea gave Barcelona a great fight but I also believe that they sort of deserved to lose for their lack of initiative over both legs. With ten men down and needing to score, Barca were there for the taking. It was obvious. But Chelsea just sat back and took the risk, and it didn’t pay off. They didn’t try to score, and failed to do so when they could have, and that’s what hurt Chelsea more than any referee. Barcelona just never gave up and continued to relentlessly try and find a chink in the armor. Which they did last week as well, but failed to exploit. Last night Iniesta could’ve missed that shot easily – it was a special effort, outside of the foot curling away into the top corner, impossible for Cech to save – but he was good enough. And that’s why I think Barcelona deserved to go through. Going back to the luck issue, fortune favors the brave, and Chelsea weren’t brave with their defensive mentality. Barca were most definitely the braver side – I mean you had a side with only ten men, playing away, and the CB made at least 4 great attacking runs and even had a shot off target! They went all out and got rewarded for it.

Before I end, I need to point out Pique and Valdes who have been absolutely brilliant over the past few weeks. I never believed Valdes was a truly great keeper, but he has proven himself so many times over the years that it’s difficult to criticize the few mistakes that he does make. For every gift to De La Pena, there’s a magical double save against Drogba. His saves have been CRUCIAL to Barca’s success.

And Pique has just matured into a taller Puyol, like someone pointed out. Playing with his heart on his sleeve, fighting to win the game no matter what, displaying true love for the Blaugrana shirt. Making great challenges, winning headers, and has anyone noticed that he makes those offensive runs just like Puyol? Takes the ball, runs into the center, fakes and then keeps running on, then lays off. He’s picked up Marquez’s vision too. He’s even picked up Puyol’s habit of over committing at times – his slide across Drogba on that save could’ve been fateful, but it also probably but the Ivorian off. He’s been just so amazing over the past few months really. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to his head and that he continues to improve and stays at Barcelona for several years.

Ah, just before I finish, quick thoughts on the final. I think Manchester are the better overall team right now, and my head says they’ll win. Barcelona will suffer if anyone else gets injured, I’m praying that our front 6 remain the same – Henry, Eto’o, Messi, Yaya, Xavi, Iniesta.

I’m also praying that Caceres can be a great left back. He’s played there several times this season and hasn’t been horrible. But we’re going to miss Alves and Abidal a lot. Alves was bad today but he can get back to his best. Plus he adds a lot of offensive value to the side. That’s what will be missed more than anything else. Those runs that demand opposing wingers to play defense and that thorn down the right wing. There’s no substitute for Abidal right now, because he brings power AND pace. I’m hoping either Caceres or Keita takes his place. Yes, that’s what I’m going for – Puyol and Pique in the center, Caceres on the right, Silvinho in the left. Except Ronaldo will rip Silvinho and his 36 year old legs apart, so I say Keita can fill in on the left. He wasn’t that bad last night as left back. Caceres and Puyol might switch.

There’s three weeks to go until the 27th, and I don’t know what will happen. But I hope that game isn’t marred by any controversy at all, and that no one is denied a great game of football by human error or luck. I’m hoping the referee won’t have to make controversial decisions, I’m hoping no one will slip.

Looking forward to a great game. The Ten Sports broadcaster noted last night that Manchester United and Barcelona are probably the only teams that truly defend from the front. Manchester have a better defense but I think Yaya-Xavi-Iniesta are slightly better than Carrick-Anderson-Park (I think Scholes and Giggs will bring experience and a calm head but also won’t be able to run around too much). Ronaldo and Rooney have the ability to rip open Barcelona’s defense, but so too can Iniesta and Messi. Let’s see what happens.

UpdateI forgot to add this before, but  for the longest time I felt deja vu. Another Premier League team defending most of the time, another miracle long range goal, Barcelona playing the second leg of a Champion’s League semifinal away again. It was too cruel. But this is not 2008, as so many matches have proved.

Iniesta!!!

Until the whistle has blown you have to believe.
Andres Iniesta.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. sportologist permalink
    May 8, 2009 2:16 pm

    and what do you think about that:
    http://sportologia.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/away-goal-rule/
    rgs

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