Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ese Portugues…

We all interpret events through our own experiences and emotions. That little truism partially explains why I like sports analysis that focuses on stats and x’s and o’s, as opposed to armchair psychology and moralistic judgment. (That one sentence explains why I barely listen to sports talk radio anymore.) It’s hard to infect a diagnosis of the Braves’ issues getting on base or the proper shape of Barca’s attacking three with personal biases. Anybody can prattle on about a team’s motivation going into a game; not everyone can do the intellectual heavy lifting to explain in technical terms whether that team is a favorite or an underdog.

Sometimes, however, a story comes along that begs for a little Herbstreitian coverage. Pep Guardiola’s verbal fusillade directed at Jose Mourinho yesterday is one such story. Here is what Guardiola said regarding Mourinho:

Tomorrow at 8.45, we will meet each other on the pitch. Off the pitch he has already won.

In this room [press room], he's the f*****g chief, the f*****g man, the person who knows everything about the world and I don't want to compete with him at all. It's a type of game I'm not going to play because I don't know how.

I won't justify my words. I congratulated Madrid for the cup that they won deservedly on the pitch and against a team that I represent and of which I feel very proud.

Off the pitch, he has already won, as he has done all year. On the pitch, we'll see what happens.

Guardiola usually takes a measured approach in his comments to the media. He rarely complains about officials, even when his team ends up on the short-end of the refereeing stick. He also rarely takes shots at opposing players or managers. Until yesterday, Guardiola had mostly ignored Mourinho’s typical bullshit.

Given the uncharacteristic nature of Pep’s remarks, my first thought when I read them was “on crap, the pressure is getting to Pep. Mourinho beat Barca in the Copa del Rey and now he is under Guardiola’s skin. It makes no sense to get in the mud with a pig.” Later in the evening, I read a few tweets from Guillem Balague and Sid Lowe, both of whom took the position that Guardiola is sending a message to his players: “we’re done with Real being the aggressors. I am going to stand up to Mourinho; you stand up to Pepe, Xabi Alonso, and Sergio Ramos.”

I came to the realization that my initial reaction was colored by my own pessimism about the match today. Barca are without all three of their established left backs, which will mean that Carles Puyol will have to be shifted out to the left and one of the team’s two defensive midfielders will have to go back into the center of defense. (Putting Puyol at left back addresses the weakness that Ronaldo exploited for the goal in the Copa del Rey Final. Ronaldo came in from the right win and outjumped Adriano to head in the winner. Puyol is much better in the air than Adriano or Maxwell.) Additionally, Andres Iniesta is out, which weakens Barca in the midfield and reduces their tactical options as the match progresses. Barca haven’t looked good for several matches, whereas the Real reserves just pummeled Valencia at the Mestalla, illustrating the gap in squad depth between Spain’s two giants. UEFA have picked Wolfgang Stark to ref the match, which isn’t a good draw because he is a relatively permissive ref. And looming over the proceedings is Mourinho and two painful memories for Barca fans: the 4-2 loss at Stamford Bridge in 2005 and the 3-1 loss at the San Siro last year.

Maybe it’s recency taking over and I’m ignoring the fact that any team bringing Messi, Villa, Pedro, Xavi, Busquets, Mascherano, Puyol, Pique, Dani Alves, and Valdes into a match stands a pretty good chance of winning. The last time that Barca went into a match as the underdog (as Guardiola has portrayed them) was the Champions League Final in 2009, a match in which the Blaugrana produced a performance that will go on this team's "Best of All Time" application. The last time that the Blaugrana were eliminated by a Mourinho team in the Champions League, they won the rematch the next year with a famous 1-2 win at Stamford Bridge and then a 1-1 draw at home. Either of the results of the last two matches against Real over 90 minutes - 1-1 and 0-0 - would be good, so it's not like Real have shown anything other than the ability to play on even terms with Barca. Still, I can’t shake feelings of dread and that was the filter through which I heard Guardiola’s remarks. The (banal?) point here is that what we hear is determined by where we are intellectually and emotionally.

Now, go out there and shut Jose up, will you boys? To paraphrase Senator Martin from Silence of the Lambs, send this thing back to England.

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