Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stumbling Forward

The Champions League Semis are now set: beauty (Barca-Manchester United) and the beast (Chelsea-Liverpool). I didn't see the Barca second leg last night because ESPN decided, in their infinite wisdom, to show a tie that was conclusively decided in the first leg. ESPN's normal approach has been to show one quarterfinal on ESPN2 and then the second on ESPN Classic, but they instead decided that old Masters highlights were a better option. So anyway, my bitching at ESPN aside, I can report that the descriptions of the game last night seem consistent with the first leg: Barca won 1-0, but looked very shaky doing it.

Here is Sid Lowe:

Barça went into last night's match seven points behind Real Madrid in the league, with fans launching a white-hankie protest at the weekend, calling for the head of the president, Joan Laporta, and abusing their "lazy" players at training, demanding "less millions, more bollocks". The crisis grew even deeper in the run-up to the game when a high-ranking official admitted that the club had invented injuries as an excuse to leave "certain players" out of the side.

Xavier Sala Martín, head of the club's economic commission, did not name them but it is widely understood that he was pointing the finger at Ronaldinho and Deco. He said that some players had been "ostracised" because they were too often "out partying" and missed training sessions. He claimed that injuries had been invented in order to provide a pretext for leaving them out.

Rijkaard last night replied that "there are no players who have been separated from the rest of the squad". The sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, insisted there was "medical evidence" to prove Ronaldinho and Deco are indeed injured.

With the club seemingly teetering on the edge of the abyss, such revelations were the last thing Barça needed and the game against Schalke was presented as death or glory. And although Barça emerged alive, their lacklustre performance did little to placate the fans, especially as the night's star performer, Bojan Krkic, was taken off early, prompting a monumental bout of whistling and booing from the Barcelona fans.

The home side looked shaky in defence and disjointed going forward and the scrappy goal from Touré - the younger brother of Arsenal's Kolo - after good work by Krkic down the right and two failed clearances from the Schalke defence, did nothing to alter that impression.

Here is Nic from

Barça have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League after beating Schalke 04 1-0 (2-0 on aggregate) and will now face Manchester United for a place in the final in Moscow on May 21st. However, the performance, especially in the first half left a lot to be desired. Whether the recent declarations from directors had a negative effect I cannot say, but for the first half an hour Barça played so badly it looked more likely that they would get knocked out...

The only player who can really take any credit from tonight’s game is Carles Puyol. Bojan was good in the second half but disappointing in the first. Toure Yaya deserves applause for scoring and for lasting for 80 minutes but he doesn’t clean up in midfield as he did before his injury and at time looks like an injured elephant lumbering behind the pack. Worst of all was Eric Abidal whose form has dropped frighteningly in the second half of the season. Surely it is time for Sylvinho to take over at left back though I dread to think what Cristiano Ronaldo might do if he has a good day.

Barca haven't played a really good match since the first leg against Celtic in February. They've had good halves, but they cannot seem to put together a good 90 minutes. The club is plagued by rumors of internal dissension and the recent comments by Sala Martin seem to confirm that the club has sidelined its two biggest stars from the '06 European Champions because of indiscipline. I keep waiting for something to turn around, but at a certain stage, I have to consider the possibility that I'm waiting for a train that won't arrive in the station. The English media keep referring to the tie with Manchester United as "mouth-watering," but that's in name only. Barca are seven points down in a crap La Liga for a reason: they haven't a good team in 2008. Barring some sort of miraculous turn of events, United will win both legs. This is the only miracle I can think of:

As for the other side of the bracket, I did watch the Arsenal-Liverpool match and it confirmed everything I hate about Liverpool. The Reds progressed because of a dreadful penalty call that came right in front of the Kop. Arsenal's anger is especially justified because the penalty given against Kolo Toure involved far less contact than the penalty that wasn't given for Dirk Kujt's tug. Combine the crap penalty call with the highly dubious red card given to Marco Materazzi in the round of 16 (also at Anfield) that left Inter playing with ten men for an hour and you get the impression that Liverpool really do have a 12th man advantage at Anfield, only the 12th man is not the crowd. Chelsea know that it isn't enough to beat Liverpool; they have to do so decisively because the big decisions will likely go in the Scousers' favor.

And another complaint about Liverpool: their goals were the hallmark of a conservative team. They scored off of a corner, a long ball from the keeper, and a crap penalty. Liverpool scored without taking any risks and it can't be a coincidence that their only goals (aside from Babel's final marker when Arsenal had everyone pushed forward) came in response to Arsenal goals. Liverpool are fundamentally a reactionary team. Their goals weren't close to those created by Arsenal. This is probably the unrealistic romantic in me, but I'd rather lose playing properly than win playing like Liverpool. I can understand clubs with no money taking route one, but Liverpool fancy themselves as a superpower. Whether a club can be a superpower without winning its league for two decades is another matter. (I realize that this paragraph might come back to bite me if Barca beat Manchester United 1-0 on a set piece.)

My irrational bitching aside, the tie was also decided because the match-up that every Arsenal fan feared - Phillipe Senderos trying to mark Fernando Torres - was every bit the mismatch that the Gunners feared. Senderos was awful, which raises the following question: does Arsenal not have a back-up right back? Arsenal's first choice central defensive pairing - William Gallas and Kolo Toure - was available, but Toure was at right-back because of Bacary Sagna's injury. If Arsenal does have a replacement right-back, then what the hell was Toure doing playing out of position? And if Arsenal don't have a back-up right-back, then what the hell is Arsene Wenger doing with the coffers of the richest club in England? Is he really spending all that money on scouts to pilfer more teenage central midfielders from Barca's cantera?

And while we're criticizing Arsene Wenger, what will it take for him to stop playing Emmanuel Eboue? Eboue is terrible, he's a diver, and he's keeping the far superior Theo Walcott on the bench. WTF?


Tim said...

I totally agree with you assessment of playing the game right (and the horrendous officiating).

As for the squad make-up, Kolo at right back is a darn sight better than Justin Hoyte. I suppose Eboue could have played there to make way for Theo in the starting 11, but if I had my druthers Arsenal would have sold that diving punk already. I don't know a single Arsenal fan that actually likes him. As for Senderos, up until yesterday, he was actually playing much much better than Kolo had been since returning from the ANC.

Sagna at right back, however, has been a revelation this season. His injury came at the exact wrong time.

Tim said...

Oh, and obviously I'm pulling for Barca to win the whole shooting match now.

Anonymous said...

Michael hatin' on the Pool.

Also, Chuck James is dead to me.

Michael said...

Tim, is Hoyte really that bad? Worse than Senderos (who was also slow to react on Kujt's goal at the Emirates)?

If UEFA wanted Liverpool out, they should have sent a big league ref (Mejuto Gonzalez?) to Anfield as opposed to a Swede who isn't used to 45,000 people screaming at him. Sorta like how FIFA decided that South Korea had gone far enough in '02 and assigned Collina to the semifinal against Germany.

Ryno, just imagine what a post would look like if L'pool beats Barca in the final...on penalties...after Barca outshoots the Reds 18-3...and Carragher kicks out Messi's hamstring in the box with no call. Feel free to add to "Michael's Ultimate Meltdown."

Chuck James is not good, but I feel better about him being bad as the fifth starter as opposed to the third. Last night was the first bad start the Braves have had all year. Plus, a flyball pitcher at Coors is a recipe for disaster; James will be a little better at a normal park.

Kanu said...


Before Sagna, and post-Lauren, right back was Eboue with young Justin Hoyte as backup. Sagna was a rock, and Eboue moved up to right wing because he is {was?} better going forward than defending {now he's shit at everything, and a chronic diver to boot}

Hoyte and PS6 play different positions- PS6 is a true centreback and with his limited speed and height would never play right back, and Hoyte is decent on the right but too small to play CB, so there's no real 1 vs the other comparison to be made.

Toure is a great CB but also a wonderful utility player {bought as a midfielder, played first games for Arsenal as a forward, and the move to centreback was necessity due to injury at the time and he took to it and that was that}, so Toure at right back is still a better option than Hoyte, who is either 1) still too young/underdeveloped/not yet ready for CL prime time or 2) will in the end be judged to just not be good enough to make it at Arsenal, a la Pennant, Aliadiere, and so many others, and he'll move on to a lesser club.

Senderos in the middle isn't bad, he's actually good, but against world class strikers he is simply out of his depth. The only other option would have been to play Gilberto at CB, but he is truly a shell of his former self, whether in or out of position.

Losing Sagna before this tie, and Flamini during it, were crucial, as those two along with Adebayor have far and away been Arsenal's 3 best players this season.

Please, please, please beat United. Just like last year, the prospect of a ManUtd-Chel$ea final is too depressing to even consider for us Arsenal fans.


Also, aren't Chel$ea even more of a joke? 5 years, almost $1 billion in player transfer cash spent, more talent on the bench than most teams have in their entire squad, and their best offensive weapon still seems to be hoofing Route 1 balls up to Drogba and hoping for the best {just like Pool & Torres}?

Michael said...

Chelsea have something to show for their spending, namely two EPL titles and assorted other trophies. They played a crap style under Mourinho, but it was effective. Liverpool spend a lot of money (not as much as Chelsea, but a lot), they play a crap style, and yet they haven't come close to an EPL title in eons. Seriously, when was the last time they finished within five points of the top? Or led in the second half of the year? I'm asking.

The one other thing I'll say for Chelsea is that I like Michael Ballack and I'm happy to see him doing well. As much as we all think that Mourinho was a great manager, the fact that he couldn't figure out a way to use one of the best midfielders in the world is a strike against him.

Kanu said...

Curious to hear your thoughts, as a big Barca supporter, on R10 leaving for Meelan in exchange for $47 million if all these reports are to be believe.

Although if I've learned anything as a soccer fan, it's don't believe anything until it is officially confirmed by the selling club, and you actually see the player holding up the scarf of the new club at the presser.