Addressing the International Shortage of Barcelona Hype
Just what the world needs. Some more words about how (insert superlative here) Barcelona are, how (snappily dressed/ tactically advanced/player inspiring) Pep Guardiola is and the sheer (genius/ virtuosity/alter boy features) of Lionel Messi. But their 5-0 thumping of Atletico Madrid was a perfectly crafted lesson in creative football which made you pinch yourself to make sure you hadn’t been hit by the bus on the way to work and had wound up in Valhalla.
I’d had a long day. Spending your entire Saturday taking x-rays at the nearby hospital (a blogger with 8 readers ain’t giving up his day job), as opposed to watching a host of premier league games with the appropriate hydration, is not exactly the stuff dreams are made of. A tough day at the office with a steady stream of demented pensioners with busted hips, a few sideway noses from the night before’s streetfighting & a young man from Madrid who’d come to Sweden to study for a year at the local University. Seeing his address as Madrid on the request form, I began by enquiring as to which team he pledged his footballing allegiance, with the difference being a wait of about 3 hours (I have a tendancy to abuse what little power I have). But when he assured me that he was hanging out to see his beloved Atletico play Barcelona in tonight’s game and was generally unimpressed by the arrogance of Real, he was ushered into the room in a timely and courteous manner. As I was x-raying his ankle (which was fine by the way, he practically jumped off the table – not usually a strong indicator of a fractured tibia) he rolled his eyes as he spoke of the seemingly impossible trip to Camp Nou. But there was also something that resembled hope in his voice when he recounted his team’s recent 4-0 victory against Sporting Garlic Dijón and the early success of their new signing Falcao. He had a reason for positivity as their new striker had scored 2 goals and created another in their midweek win and his record playing in Portugal (72 Goals in 87 Games) was nothing if not prolific. Despite losing some key players over the summer, Atletico Madrid is still one of the most feared teams in La Liga and they were Europa league winners the season before last. But tonight they looked like the world’s whitest man trying to keep pace with Usian Bolt.
I’d got home just in time to bung some spring rolls in the oven, empty the modest contents of my online gambling account on a Barcelona win (@1.18 it sure beats bank interest & seems a somewhat safer investment) & and kicked back on the couch to enjoy the spectacle. And enjoy it I did. How can you not revel in watching the most free-flowing, enterprising, ESP-laden team to ever grace a football pitch (at least in my lifetime)? The number of times a Barcelona player was released into miles of space after a perfectly timed run & through ball made it obvious many of them had been playing together since they were young boys. Lionel Messi bagged a sublime hatrick with an honorable mention on a 4th as he played the ball into the keeper which in turn ricocheted off the unlucky Atletico defender Miranda for Barca’s 2nd goal. The Sex in the City ginger’s namesake not having the best of nights as he was also at fault for the first goal scored by David Villa following a pinpoint long ball from Xavi. But for all there attacking prowess, the secret of Barcelona’s success tonight stemmed from the back.
Carles Puyol & Gerard Pique have been world football’s most formidable centre back pairing over the last few seasons and were sitting on the bench. The current & future Barcelona captains sitting side by side on the pine, as 2 defensive midfielders were preferred in Busquets & Mascherano. Pep Guardiola chancing his arm with his team selections with the belief that if Atletico couldn’t get the ball, the complete lack of a specialist centre back would be nothing to worry about. This move was absolutely on the money as the two makeshift defenders, along with their backline associates Abidal & Danny Alves, knocked it round with such flair & confidence you’d have sworn they were in their own attacking third. At one point Valdez even played a goal kick square to Abidal in the corner, who bent a cheeky ball across the face of his own goal (no doubt to the utter disgust of his U12’s coach) to Alves on the right flank. Cesc rolled back on occasions and provided extra cover for the first date pairing but, like a second Durex, it was an unesscessary level of protection as Athletico’s attacking raids were few and far between. This caused Busquets to push forward on occasions, leaving but one diminutive Argentine cutting a lonesome figure in the centre of the back 3. The first half saw Barcelona at a canter and enjoying 70% of the possession, with the Referee seemingly the only person on the field able to intercept a pass when he took a Xavi Henandez bullet straight in the rump.
On this wet night in Cataluyna the goals flowed like cava and the only thing dampened by the downpour was Guardiola’s slim cut suit. Barca were in complete control and appeared to be attacking the entire match. They took eight corners compared with Atletico’s one, who considering the state of the game, would have been better off building a shop on it to sell overpriced bread and milk.
As is so often the case, the true star of the show was Messi with his weaving runs and relentless attacks. If the Argentine striker kept the game ball for every memorable night he’s had at Camp Nou, he’d need a warehouse to store them all so the fact he tracked down the ball straight after the whistle and marched off the pitch with it tucked safely under his arm demonstrates just how memorable his performance was. During the build up to his first goal he took a quick throw-in to Pedro, who played an immediate return pass to a now briskly moving Messi who jinked to lose the defender on the edge of the area and smashed it home to the near stick. Two equally impressive goals were to follow, but to do justice to his teammate, it must be said that Barcelona were outstanding right across the park. The only possible downside for Barca was the fact they now have Qatar Foundation plastered across their famed jerseys. and you can’t help but wander if the players get an occasional waft of the stench of corruption that still lingers from the 2022 world cup bid.
It could be argued that Real Madrid’s 6-2 win ealier in the day was just as impressive. But the fact they conceded 2 goals at home (with Rayo Vallecano denied a third when it clearly crossed the line) shows us that like the victim of a questionable curry, they have some leakage problems at the back. Barca on the other hand had no such problems, all on top of fielding an experimental side which made you think you’d one day be telling your Grandkids “You know sometimes, they didn’t even field defenders”. I mean what next Pep, no keeper? With Barcelona’s two shock draws now behind them, their performance tonight reiterated the very realistic possibility that they could go undefeated in the league this season. I have great difficulty seeing any team matching them over 180 minutes, home and away, virtually assuring them Copa del Rey success and another Champions League Final appearance. That might sound like it’s all a bit too easy, but for this amazing team from Catalunya, that’s exactly what it is.