Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lyon 1 Barca 1

1. Barcelona started their run to the 2006 Champions League title by conceding first on the road at Chelsea from a left wing set piece before they equalized from a header. Manchester United started their run to the 2008 Champions League by going behind 1-0 at Lyon and then fighting back for a 1-1 draw. If you believe in omens, this was a good start.

2. Barca's two biggest goals this season - the winner against Real Madrid and the equalizer against Lyon - were both corners from Xavi that were headed into the goal mouth by defenders and then knocked home by forwards. If you want a major difference between this Barca side and the versions of the last two years, it is the attention to detail on set pieces.

2a. Another difference with this team: they're in great shape. Pep only made one sub all game because the players showed no signs of fatigue. I'll be interested to see the line-up this weekend for a big match at Atletico.

3. I'll quote myself from last night:

Victor Valdes had an absolute howler to gift the Pericos their second goal. If he loses confidence as a result, then he could single-handedly give Lyon a result.

Is Victor Valdes Catalan for David Seaman? It's not so much that he surrendered a direct free kick goal from a horrible angle on the left wing as it is the fact that he was nowhere close to the ball. His feet were never underneath him, so he couldn't even jump for the ball. Valdes then made a hash of one or two additional chances. He officially has a crisis of confidence. In his defense, he did a great job cutting out a hard cross later in the first half that would have been a guaranteed second goal for Lyon. Valdes was better as the match went on, although nowhere close to the standard set by Lloris at the other end.

4. Barca were a little unlucky in two instances. First, Samuel Eto'o's shot crashed off the post with Thierry Henry sitting right there for the tap-in, only the ball caromed off in the wrong direction. Second, Fabio Grosso's deflection of a Dani Alves free kick was palmed out by Lloris, but if he deflects the ball anywhere towards the yawning net, then Barca equalizes earlier.

5. Barca's man of the match was Xavi. He was outstanding in the middle of the park from start to finish. He's the fulcrum around which Barca can dominate possession and get various players involved. Although I'm not his biggest fan, Rafa Marquez was fairly good after a nervy start. Then again, the same can be said for the entire Barca defense, who collectively appeared to be surprised that Lyon were daring to attack them and were correspondingly vulnerable for the first 20-30 minutes. Assuming there is no upset in the second leg, Lyon lost the tie by not going two up when they had Barca on their heels.

6. Benzema and Messi both had one instance in which they put their head down and dribbled while missing open teammates to their right sides. Those of you who thought that Boumsong could handle Messi in open spaces, raise your hands. That's what I thought.

7. Kudos to Lyon's support, who made for an outstanding atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, other than the slow death that is watching one's favored team trail for an hour.

8. Lyon employed the defensive strategy that succeeded against Barca last year: clogging the middle and daring Barca to attack wide. It worked just fine aside from Barca's new-found ability to score from corners. Barca did attack at speed on a couple occasions, which is also something they struggled to do last year. I'll be interested to see how Guardiola approaches Lyon in the second leg, as well as other opponents who use this old strategy.

9. EPL sides allowed three goals in 14 knock-out matches against non-EPL sides last season in the Champions League. They're two matches in this year and have barely allowed a quality chance. Maybe the talk of the English sides other than United looking suspect is inaccurate. Maybe the EPL is good enough to make good teams look average. I hate admitting it because of my preference for La Liga, but I'm also a numbers guy and these numbers are impressive.

10. Jose Mourinho, you had weeks to set your team for United and you came up with Nelson Rivas? Really?

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