Monday, May 17, 2010
That was the term that Pep Guardiola used several weeks ago to describe the amount of points that Barcelona and Real Madrid were on pace to accumulate in La Liga. Sure enough, the Blaugrana finished with 99 points, a Spanish record by some margin, three better than their hated rivals from the capital. Barca have now won La Liga twice in a row and four out of six. Not bad for Guardiola's sophomore slump.
I'll admit to having been a little nervous for this match. Valladolid were a scant 60 points behind Barca in the table, but they had been playing well under Javier Clemente and they were playing for their lives. In terms of pure motivation, it probably matters more to a player to avoid being relegated than it does to win a title. Also, Barca were without Xavi and Iniesta, which raised the concern that the team would lack a passer in the middle of the pitch to break down a massed defense.
The Blaugrana shared my nervousness, because they played poorly for the first ten minutes. Victor Valdes did his best to quell the voices of his supporters who claim that he should be starting for Spain in place of Iker Casillas by mishandling a ball played back to his feet. As a result, Manucho had a chance to shoot at an open net, only to be foiled by Carles Puyol dashing back into the picture to block the shot. Valladolid then created a couple half chances before Barca took the game by the throat around the ten minute mark. It took 28 minutes for the breakthrough, but it came from Pedro whacking a cross into the middle and the ball bounding into the net off of a hapless central defender. Maybe there's a reason why Valladolid were in the relegation zone in Jornada 38? Pedro then added a second from a feed from Leo Messi and the rout was on. Messi scored twice in the second half to match Ronaldo's epic haul from the 1996-97 season (the season in which I became a Barca fan).
For me, the man of the match was Yaya Toure. Toure provided the spark in the midfield, setting up both Messi goals. He's the best defensive player of the midfielders, he is versatile enough to play central defense (such as in the 2009 Champions League Final), and he's got the dribbling ability and speed to beat a defender and get into the box. It's rare for me to think that Pep Guardiola is making a mistake, but I think he underrates Toure. The rumor is that Toure is headed to Arsenal, probably as a makeweight in a deal to bring Cesc back home. Arsenal fans should be pleased by this prospect. They have players who can approximate what Cesc does, maybe not exactly, but close enough. They haven't had a player like Toure since Viera. Their central defense will suddenly look a lot better with a proper screen. As for Barca, they can get by with Busquets as the anchor player, but I still prefer Toure in a match where defensive solidity is at a premium (like another trip to play Inter in the San Siro, perhaps).
All told, this has been a very good season for Barcelona. It was disappointing to miss the chance to repeat as Champions League winners, but winning La Liga with a record haul of points and a record goal difference (+74 in 38 matches) does nicely as a consolation. Moreover, denying Real Madrid a trophy after Los Blancos spent 250M Euros in the summer is pleasing on a number of levels. (Poor Real. They lost La Liga to Barca without scoring a goal against the Blaugrana in 180 minutes and they had to watch Atletico celebrate a European title, albeit one that Real fans consider to be beneath them.) Barca got terrific seasons from the usual suspects - Messi, Xavi, Pique, and Puyol all come to mind - and they got unexpected contributions from Pedro and (at the end of the season) Bojan, two attackers from La Masia. It's hard to pick out disappointments, other than the two major summer signings. Hopefully, I'll be saying something different next summer about David Villa.