Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blown to Bits

Inter took Barcelona apart last night. There, I said it. I'd like to blame the ref for allowing an Inter goal that was clearly offside and for denying Barca a penalty. I'd like to blame the volcano with the untypable name. I'd like to blame the absence of Iniesta and Abidal, not to mention the fact that Zlatan is clearly not fit. I'd like to imagine that there are other explanations, but the simple fact of the matter is that the better team on the night won. Inter aren't quite on Barca's level overall, but they're damn close and when they play like they did last night, they can be a lot better.

As much as it pains me to say it, Jose Mourinho has done a terrific job with Inter. I love to hate Mourinho, but part of that hate is based on fear. The guy knows how to construct a winning side. He reconstructed an Inter side that had been dominant in Serie A, but tepid in Europe, and he has turned them into a team that looks likely to claim the club's first Champions League/European Cup since 1965. The attacking foursome that the Nerazzurri deployed last night - Milito, Eto'o, Pandev, and Sneijder - are all new additions in 2009-10, as are Lucio and Thiago Motta. Mourinho has molded them into Chelsea II. As the third goal rolled in last night, I struggled to remember a big game in which Barca had been beaten so thoroughly. And then I remembered Mourinho's Chelsea putting three past Barca in 25 minutes at Stamford Bridge in 2005 and I had my example. This was the same: a counter-attacking team that hit Barca at pace and embarrassed the Blaugrana's defense every time they came forward.

If I had to point a finger, it would be at Alves, Maxwell, and Busquets. Dani Alves was horrendous last night and was largely to blame for the opener, as he completely vacated his zone to allow Wesley Sneijder an unmolested chance. Maxwell set up Barca's goal, so I can't criticize him too much, but Inter's goals all flowed from attacks on the left. And finally, when a central attacking midfielder runs riot as Sneijder did, it's usually the case that the opposing defensive midfielder didn't do his job. If you want to look at an explanation for last night's result, contrast Esteban Cambiasso's pitbull performance against Leo Messi with the time and space that Busquets gave to Sneijder.

Zonal Marking opines that Pep's decision to play Zlatan was the problem:

Playing Ibrahimovic backfired for three reasons:

1) It meant Barcelona changed their passing style and played longer than usual, meaning they were less fluid and suited Inter defensively.

2) It meant that Messi had less space to work in – against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu he thrived by playing infront of the Real Madrid centre-backs and on three separate occasions he reached through balls played by Xavi. Tonight, with Ibrahimovic taking up his space, he couldn’t play this role.

3) It meant that Barcelona were less secure defensively on their left-hand side. They were completely caught out for Inter’s third because Keita was playing relatively centrally and failed to track Maicon’s run. Had Eric Abidal been playing left-back with Maxwell infront, it’s doubtful that would have happened.

Barcelona’s switch to the system in the preview (and in doing so, taking a off striker (Ibrahimovic) for a left-back (Abidal)) when 3-1 down was surely an admission from Guardiola that his initial shape was wrong.

If ZM is right, then this is the second straight big game in which Pep has deployed a system and then had to change it when it didn't work. Against Real Madrid, Barca moved Dani Alves to right wing and then had to change for the second half. Fortunately, a moment of magic from Xavi and Messi had Barca ahead despite the tactical problem. Last night, Barca were down 3-1 by the time the ship was put right. Barca have been close to unstoppable at home under Pep, but I suspect that 3-1 is too much of a mountain to climb against Mourinho's Inter.

1 comment:

peacedog said...

Alves put on one of the worst cry baby jobs I have ever seen later in the game (post 80th minute? I can't recall). If he had done that in my box, I would have banished him to the Phantom Zone.

I saw the game from the last Inter goal on, pretty much. Barca had a nice attack going from most of then on (with a couple of decent inter counters), and might have been a little unlucky to not get another goal (which would have been huge, as winning at home and holding inter to a goal seems like a reasonably attainable thing), but the inter defense was packed in and playing pretty well themselves, and I think earned the finale score.

I think Alves became my least favorite active player yesterday.