Wednesday, April 06, 2011

I Can Almost Taste the Bile: Five Thoughts on Barca-Shakhtar

1. I was very excited to see Shakhtar after they finished tops in their group ahead of some side from North London and then destroyed Roma in the Round of 16.  Oddly enough, Shakhtar didn’t disappoint, despite the 5-1 score line.  The Ukrainians created a good number of chances and if Luiz Adriano would have converted one or two them, then we would have had a game.  (Come to think of it, it’s a little odd to call Shakhtar “the Ukrainians” when their front four are all Brazilians.  If Franklin Foer takes another run at arguing that soccer is a metaphor for globalization, then he might consider writing about the front line of Adriano, Jadson, Willian, and Douglas Costa plying their trades at the Donbas Arena.)  Anyway, credit to Mircea Lucescu for playing his game at the Nou Camp.  His team deserved better than the final score.

2. After a while, Barca games start to run together in my head.  They all seem to follow the same script.  Opponent starts strong and has the better of the opening exchanges.  (Despite Barca jumping on top early, Shakhtar created the majority of the chances.)  Then, Barca’s midfield grabs the game by the scruff of the neck for the remainder of the first half.  Either Iniesta or Xavi sets up a goal by swinging a pass from the left to Dani Alves busting in from the right wing.  (This is a major difference between the Guardiola teams and the Rijkaard teams.  It used to be that massed defenses would work because Barca was a narrow team.  Now, with Alves bombing up on the right side, the massed defense in the center no longer works.  After Messi and Xavi, Dani Alves is the irreplaceable player on the team.  And if only he didn’t…)  Either Busquets or Dani Alves will embellish a challenge from an opponent.  Messi will do something wacky to set up a teammate.  David Villa will look a little out of sorts, but he runs hard and passes well, so Barca fans accept him in a way that we wouldn’t for Ibra.  Barca put the game to bed in the second half and bring on some combination of Bojan, the alternate left back, and Afellay.  The only difference is that Barca win their home games comfortably and struggles on the road.

3. I had a little chuckle when the play-by-play guy opined that Iniesta made a mistake by getting a yellow card by standing too close to a free kick.  I’m pretty sure that he meant to get the yellow so he would be suspended for the second leg (Barca were up 3-0 at that stage) and wouldn’t not face the prospect of a suspension for the semifinal against Real.  Speaking of which…

4. Despite the Manita, the fact that Barca haven’t conceded a goal to Real in over 300 minutes, Ronaldo’s dry spell against the Blaugrana, and the fact that La Liga has been put to bed, I’m worried about playing Real in the Champions League.  The experience of Mourinho coaxing his Inter team into an epic performance after Barca had handled the Nerazzuri comfortably in the group stages has stuck with me.  At some point, Real have to break through and they’ll have four bites at the apple.  Barca’s defense is just creaky enough that I could see Jose figuring out the right way to exploit it.  Also, I have fairly vivid memories of Real handling Barca easily in the 2002 Champions League semis.  I just have to channel Rick Pitino: Zizou ain’t walking through that door, Macca ain’t walking through that door, Hierro ain’t walking through that door…

5. Graham Hunter wrote a great piece this week on the underrated Victor Valdes after Valdes played a terrific game to earn a clean sheet at Villarreal.  So what did Valdes do thank Hunter for the faith?  He left his near post unguarded and nearly gave up a goal from a tight angle.  Yes, the exact same way he let Arsenal back into the tie at the Emirates.  Once is unfortunate, twice is careless.  There are few sports topics about which I can comment with first-hand experience, but goalkeeping is one such topic.  Victor, bubeleh, stop leaving your near post.

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