Saturday, February 09, 2008

Five Thoughts on Sevilla 1 Barca 1

1. This game was the reverse of the same fixture last year. In 2007, consistent with their pattern of getting weaker as games went on, Barca started at the Sanchez Pizjuan by taking the lead and then earning a penalty/red card on a great move by Ronaldinho. Ronnie then missed the penalty, Sevilla took over as the game progressed, and Sevilla won 2-1.

Today, Barca were utter crap for the first half. Sevilla created every good chance and were only up 1-0 because of some wasteful finishing and great goalkeeping by Victor Valdes. Barca were playing so badly that I was thinking that Jose Mourinho was going to be the manager by next week's fixture at Zaragosa. At halftime, Rijkaard hauled off Lilian Thuram, who had an awful time with Fredi Kanoute, and Edmilson, who is s shadow of the player he was two years ago, and brought on Ronaldinho and Rafa Marquez. Ronnie wasn't especially good and Rafa nearly gifted a comical own goal, but the tactical changes (especially moving to a 4-2-4, a la Holland in SNES Super Soccer) led to Barca dominating the second half. Barca played like they did in the second halves at Stamford Bridge and the Stade de France in 2006, creating total one-way traffic. They scored a nice goal and would have won the match if Ronnie could get a free kick over the wall. 1-1 doesn't really help when you're six points down and rival is on a torrid pace, but it was nice to see Barca establish a deathgrip on the road against a quality opponent.

2. If Ronnie can get his free kick magic back, then Barca will have a useful offense. Leo Messi generates a ton of free kicks on the edge of the box because of his speed and control. The Blaugrana need a player who can put those chances in the back of the net. Ronnie isn't at that point now and I'm a stuck record on the fact that he's nowhere near the player he was 2-3 years ago, but he's always been a fine free kick taker.

3. Presas Oleguer was back from injury against Sevilla and reminded me that he's not a very good defender. Spanish starlet Diego Capel scored Sevilla's goal, totally unmarked at the far post. The only impediment he had to scoring was his teammate Fredi Kanoute going for the same ball. Naturally, the weakside was Oleguer's responsibility on the play. Here is the blurry evidence:

4. Speaking of Capel, he's really, really dangerous on the left wing. Sevilla are the Arsenal of Spain; their ability to locate and develop great young players is outstanding. Capel is what Giovanni dos Santos is supposed to be, but isn't. And while I'm singing Sevilla's praises, for my money, they are the most entertaining team in Europe. Losing Juande Ramos has not damaged their ability to play proper football.

5. The player who has changed my opinion the most this year has been Eidur Gudjohnsen. Last year, he was an inadequate replacement for Samuel Eto'o and then he was an afterthought when Eto'o returned. It was thought that he had no chance of playing time this year with Henry joining the club and Bojan and dos Santos getting promoted to the first team. Instead, he used a number of injuries in the midfield to reinvent himself as an attacking midfielder, which is really more consistent with his role at Chelsea. Today, he played very well when Rijkaard brought him on for a gimpy Henry and made an intelligent, Henrik Larsson-type play by holding the ball up in the movement that led to Barca's goal. He got the ball, headed towards the net, then held up and played the ball back to Messi. Messi then slid a perfect pass to an onrushing Xavi for the goal, aided by Gudjohnsen's run that created space in the middle). Xavi never would have had the time to get involved in the play if Gudjohnsen wouldn't have pivoted and reset the attack. More blurry evidence (and these are the replays, so you don't quite get to see Eidur's role in the run of play):

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