Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Uno Mas

Or whatever the Catalan equivalent would be.

A few thoughts in advance of the game (which I will be taping and watching tonight thanks to a heavy day at work, an arrangement that works out in the sense that I won't be watching the game surrounded by a fan base that thinks that George Graham was a great coach):

1. Rather than linking a whole bunch of articles on the game, I'm just going to give you, the loyal reader the Guardian's Preview Page and let you go from there. David Pleat's tactical guide is especially useful if you want a glimpse at the roles that the players are going to be playing tonight in Paris. If you want to know why I ordered a Puyol jersey as opposed to one of Barca's more famous players, this will explain my preference, although given Oleguer's left wing politics and greater obscurity, he might have also been a good option. Maybe if next year's alternate jersey isn't nuclear yellow...

Not the best option for a fair-skinned redhead...or anyone else who doesn't want to be visible from outer orbit.

2. The conventional wisdom is that Barca's weakness is Gio defending the left wing and that Arsenal should attack there. The problem with this line of thinking is that it necessarily involves Emmanuel Eboue, Arsenal's right back, overlapping and attacking in conjunction with Jose Antonio Reyes or Alexander Hleb, and thus would create acres of space for the best player in the world, who also happens to play on Barca's left hand side. Eboue is noted for getting forward and his pace could create problems for Gio, but in the process, he's would expose Arsenal's defense. I suspect that Wenger is going to tell Eboue to stay home more often than not. And I'm also not buying the notion that Gilberto will be used to control Ronaldinho, since Ronaldinho stays left for most of his time on the pitch and Arsenal would be exposing their back four to Deco and Iniesta if they drew their defensive midfielder to one side.

3. I was happy to see that Sol Campbell, who is off form and in a questionable mental
state these days, is going to get the start in central defense. Personally, I wouldn't change a damn thing about a defense that has gone through the entire knock-out phase of the Champions League without conceding a goal, but Wenger does have to manage egos and with Campbell and Ashley Cole healthy and well-paid, he probably has to start them. I would worry a lot more about that shutout streak if Arsenal were starting the same back line.

4. And one other issue mentioned in the pre-match hype in the English media: they keep pointing out (or implying) that Arsenal have an advantage because Barca has only won the Champions League once and that Barca is 1-3 in European finals. Uh, shouldn't the team that had never made a Champions League semifinal be a little more concerned about stage fright? The point that Barca have not been in a one-off cup final in a while is a salient one, but how much difference is there between that and the second leg of a Champions League tie? Or a World Cup Final, something that Ronaldinho knows about?

5. Why I feel confident:

a. Barca have navigated a tougher road to the final, vanquishing the best teams in the Premiership and Serie A (on their homefields, no less) on the way to Paris. I know that Juve finished ahead of AC Milan in Italy, but Milan is a far more imposing adversary in Europe (look at the disparity in results there) and Juve was tailing off when they went to Highbury. The win at the Bernabeu was moderately impressive, but unlikely to scare a team that won 3-0 there in November and left to the sounds of the Madrid fans applauding.

b. Arsenal will have a very difficult time scoring if they don't get their midfield forward. Henry is a great player, but Edmilson, Marquez, and Puyol can handle him if he isn't supported. If Cesc and Ljungberg win their battles in the middle and can get forward to support Henry or if Henry can help Reyes and Hleb win their battles on the wing, then I'll worry, but I suspect that Barca's defense will hold up.

c. Ronaldinho.

d. Barca are a better side, as evidenced by the fact that they didn't finish 24 points off the pace in their domestic league.

6. Why I'm worried:

a. The prospect of Lehmann vs. Valdes in penalties.

b. The fact that teams I root for never win in penalties.

c. The fact that Arsenal's defense is good enough to force the game to penalties.

d. Henry doing something wacky like his solo goal at the Bernabeu.

My pick is 2-0 Barca, but I'm fully willing to concede that anything can happen against an slightly inferior, but young team with momentum and nothing to lose in a 90-minute game.


Eric said...

I've got to give the edge to Barca as well (although, I'm pulling for the Gunners).

I'm shocked Arsenal got this far, when it appeared their glory days were behind them. Barcelona, it appears, are in their prime, right along with their best player.

As long as it is a good game, and we get some inspired play on both sides, I'll be happy. Of course, I'd prefer it be something on the level of last Saturday's FA Cup Final.

I love watching both teams play their games, so this will certainly be a treat.

Tim said...

I too was edgy about Sol's inclusion. I was wrong. He was massive.