Old Futbol Buffet–A Loss, A Draw and A Win

These posts usually focus on the EPL with a smattering of Juventus information and analysis, but this weekend was all about El Clasico.  Saturday was spent nervously anticipating the big game (thank God I did not get up for Arsenal v Chelsea), in part because of the need for a win and in part due to the slightly unnerving loss to Chelsea in midweek.  I showed up to the bar early to watch Spurs lose AGAIN, as they could fall from third to sixth in a matter of weeks.  Don’t even know where to start with them.  But back to the confrontation between the two Spanish Super Powers.  Thousands of words were written before and after, and I won’t try to add to the deluge (too much). I also won’t try to break down tactics or drill down on the stats or put this game into the context of almost 100 years of conflict.  I’ll just concede the title and move on.

Barca’s team selection was surprising, especially Tello and Thiago, but exciting because the Blaugrana were going for it, aiming for the only result that would help them—a win that would cause a nervous breakdown in the capital.  However, Tello struggled.  He provided width, but lacked the final ball and his finishing was poor, to be kind.  Thiago came into the match, and in the second half I thought he had more impact as he dribbled the ball out of deep midfield.

Real Madrid’s first goal was a cluster, as Valdes could only kill the ball in front of goal and Puyol just didn’t hoof it out.  I helped organize an El Clasico Watch Party, and the crowd was pretty pro Barca so there was a lot of face palming at that moment.  A sense of doom and resignation was setting in until the equalizer, during which the place went nuts, but the celebrations were cut short after CR7’s goal.  The winner, stunning in swiftness and execution, was a confluence of factors: Ozil out wide, CR7 cutting in the middle, Puyol, Masch not coordinating their efforts, and Valdes out of sorts.

Barcelona’s goal was scrappy, but it was the result of driving at Madrid instead of passing side to side or negatively, which made the game feel like an offense versus defense drill.  Against Chelesa, the Blaugrana had tons of possession and were dangerous, just didn’t finish, while in the game against Real, they had possession but were blunt, not sharp, and relatively easy to manage for Los Merengues.

In my preview of the season, I opined that the extra games would catch up with Barcelona, and I feel that my thoughts are being validated.  They have reached the final of the Copa del Rey, the semis of the Champions League and participated in the Club World Cup this season, so as the Blaugrana hit crunch time, they are missing that extra gear, which allows them to put the necessary distance between them and their opponents.  Is this the end of Pep’s team?  We won’t know until it’s over and the heights are hit less and less frequently.  But look at next year.  Sanchez has been a decent signing and will continue to make an impact.  Cesc should be back to full fitness, both mentally and physically, which should give the manager more options.  Hopefully Pedro will back on song and Villa will be back from injury.  Plus the cantera players will learn and improve and add dynamism to the team.  Tello will learn from this match; Cuenca will continue to improve; and Thiago will grow as the heir to the midfield three.  Continuing on to next year, both teams dropped points this season and will drop points next year, but the rivals keep putting pressure on each other to be great and both will be at each other’s throats for silverware next year.  And that’s all we can ask.

Zonal Marking wrote an excellent summary of the game, noting that Barcelona did not have enough directness in the game (until Sanchez and Pedro entered) and were not clinical enough in front of goal.  Real’s set up was typical, 4-2-3-1, and they executed a brilliant game plan, which included a mixture of pressing and sitting back and swift counterattacks.

John Pelini at El Centrocampista had similar thoughts, noting that Messi did not have enough support in attack as teams are crowding Messi in an attempt to blunt the Barca attack.  Mourinho picked the same 11 as he played against Bayern and was rewarded with an effort that produced key goals, finely tuned counterattacks and organized defense.

On to Sunday . . .

United v Everton at Old Trafford was early Sunday morning, and I figured that it would be a drab 1-0 home win.  So I got up, started cleaning the house, checked the score: 1-1 at halftime.  Not great but . . . Next time I checked, United was up 3-1.  Great.  Title 20.  Check.  But then I refreshed and to my horror, I saw the score was 4-3 to United and while I was scrolling through the commentary, Everton equalized just before the death.  With City beating Wolves 2-0, the gap is down to three, setting up an epic confrontation next Monday.  I’m taking the afternoon off to focus on the game that will determine which half of Manchesterthe trophy will reside.  Can’t wait.

Andy at the Stretford-End.com enjoyed the exciting match, including an impressive performance from Fellaini.  He wondered if Ferguson might have gotten the substitutions wrong towards the end as United looked to add a fifth instead of protecting the three points.

Later that day, Juventus hosted Roma in a key match for both sides: Juve in their quest for the scudetto and Roma in their fight for a European spot, with an outside chance at third, the last Champions League spot.  My son had something that afternoon so I followed the game on twitter.  The Juventini were all over it, letting me know that Vidal had put the Old Lady up 1-0.  Shortly after Vidal scored a second, then Stekelenburg took down Marchisio, got sent off, and Pirlo converted the penalty kick. Milan’s draw and Juve’s 4-0 win puts the Old Lady up by three points.  With just five matches to go, the black and whites are close to a 28th title after years of suffering.  I think to fail now, Juventini might be more heartbroken than the relegation to Serie B.  Forza Juve.

Aaron recapped a devastating performance by the Bianconeri at Juventiknows.com.  High marks were given to the five man Juve midfield that ran the show and overwhelmed their opponents, while the defense has solidified into the best unit in Italy, only giving up one goal in the last six games and 18 for the season.

Finally, Grant Wahl did a feature piece on Brad Friedel, who has started every match for his clubs (Blackburn, Aston Villa and Spurs) since the beginning of the 2004/05 season.  An amazing reward for dedication, fitness and desire.

—-

Podcasts

The World Football Phone In on 4/14 was fantastic.  The panel explored why they loved this game; the Brazilian striker Fred and his prospects of playing at the World Cup; the rise and fall of the Uruguayan National Team, from the dominance of the 20’s and 30’s to their footballing wilderness to a fantastic performance at World Cup 2010; and the success both on and off the field of the Seattle Sounders.

Janusz Michallik was on Beyond the Pitch to look at the issues of the day.  His comments on the eventual use of video replay were interesting, in that the broadcasters will demand it in order to justify huge contracts for a game that is decided fairly.  Straightforward and opinionated, Janusz gives an interesting perspective on players, teams, leagues and topics.

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