April 28, 2011
He beat a hundred defenders, left them for dead, and snuck the ball into the far corner. He turned a 1 on 6 into a goal. He turned a good 0-1 result into a nearly unbeatable 0-2.
It wasn’t really unexpected (in that “He did it again!?” kind of way), but it was still beautiful the way the defense came unstuck in the face of his run. Or maybe he unstuck them. It doesn’t really matter, just a semantic exercise: he scored and how. Messi. Of course. 52 goals in a season.
Sure, there were hysterics. There were moments when it went overboard on the field, when Busquets and Pedro play-acted, when Alves writhed, but this match should be remembered for Messi’s brilliance, for Afellay leaving Marcelo in his dust, for 0-2.
April 27, 2011
I might as well not have a right foot. My youth coach joked that it was just for tucking the ball into the corner after the left had done all the work, but even I didn’t believe it was that useful. In the end my left isn’t that great either, seeing as it’s attached to the rest of me. But I love playing. I love getting out on the field and just having a kick at that spherical friend.
It’s the love of the game, of playing regardless of skill that I sometimes miss about the professional world. It has become a war of press conferences and a constant fight for headline space. Javier Mascherano is right: perhaps it’s time we just talked about the game itself. Football, soccer, whatever you call it. That thing. Yesterday I watched Pelada, a documentary about pick up games around the world, and it reminded me of sweating under the lights on basketball courts in El Salvador, watching the sheer joy of children in the Congo kicking plastic bags wrapped together with rubber bands, and my own thumping futsal league.
April 22, 2011
After absolutely nothing happened in midweek, Barça returns to action against Osasuna in La Liga. A win will edge the team that much closer to a 3rd consecutive league title and it's underdog Osasuna that comes to town to try and deepen the cule cursing concerning this week. The rivals in that absolutely nothing in midweek travel to Valencia to face the 3rd place team and could very well drop points, especially if they really have given up on the league as it seemed last week in the Bernabeu.
The goal for Guardiola and his men, then is to rebound in solid fashion from the Copa del Rey loss, which while painful, was as solid a loss as we're likely to get. Beaten by a good counter after laying siege to their goal and forcing Iker Casillas into several fantastic saves, cules can hold their heads high. The team played well, but was beaten by a team playing equally well. it's not as if we were beaten by, well, Osasuna.
April 19, 2011
His career was long, illustrious, and full of trophies. He won La Liga 5 times, 3 Copa del Reys, the European Cup and Cup Winners' Cup a combined 3 times, and 6 Super Cups. When he left Barça in 1998, Guillermo Amor left with the then 3rd most appearances in team history and the largest trophy haul at 17. After his retirement, Guille Amor returned to Barça as a member of the youth development staff, working 4 years under Laporta (2003-2007) before taking a 3-year break, returning once again in 2010 at the behest of Sandro Rosell to become the “Sporting Director of Youth Football.” That means he’s still an integral part of the club family, bringing in talent from all over the world (including the US now!).
April 17, 2011
There was a lot of hype going in to the Bernabeu edition of El Clasico. There's always hype, of course, but this year it was turned up to fever pitch because of the coming weeks when the teams face each other three more times. It's being billed as a multi-round fight to the death, so the question becomes who drew first blood?
It was a cagey affair, with one side camped out in their own half and fielding 3 defensive midfielders (or 2 and a defensively minded box-to-box mid, if that's how you think of Khedira) and, really, it was a lot less exciting than the previous several. Perhaps only because Barça didn't win, but probably because a game where one team gets 76% of the possession is generally not as interesting. And there were no actual goals, just some penalties (controversial or otherwise).
With a final score of 1-1, I don't think that there was a La Liga knockout blow, but Barça pretty much wrapped it up anyway. With 18 points remaining and an 8 point lead (functionally 9 thanks to the primary tie-breaker being head-to-head record), there's very little way back for a Madrid team facing away trips to Valencia, Villarreal, and Sevilla. The result itself, while not a win and certainly not a humiliating defeat of an arch rival, was quite the success for Barça. To describe it as anything less than a good result would be to forget where and against whom the match was played. That Guardiola had never failed to defeat Real Madrid as a coach is hardly a reason to lament a solid draw.
April 15, 2011
Saturday afternoon begins a journey. It is four matches long, but actually involved six. It will define the season, perhaps the era. It will supposedly make or break the career in the capital of a certain Portugeezer. It will definitely cement or erase the standard trope about Messi and his scoring abilities when it comes to Mourinho-led teams.
On Saturday the league is in play. On Wednesday it’s the Copa del Rey final. And the following week it’s the Champions League semi-finals. Three competitions that are being taken together, as if each match is a quarter of a single game, or an epic 4-game series. Winner takes all, of course, but it might be difficult to determine who won.
April 14, 2011
Everyone has said everything there is to say about him and yet everyone who writes about the game seems to be drawn irresistibly towards superlative-laden odes. And for good reason: Lionel Messi is something else. He has participated in 46 competitive matches this year for Barça and he has scored 48 goals. 29 in the league, 7 in the Copa del Rey, 9 in the Champions League, and 3 in the Super Copa de España.
But it’s not really his goal scoring that has been so spectacular. He is also leading Spain in assists thanks to his ever-improving vision and understanding of the game. He is, of course, surrounded by a corps of unbelievably good players—Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Dani Alves to name just 3—but he can still at times seem miles ahead of them.
April 11, 2011
Almeria weren't vanquished as easily as I thought, but you can never really guess as to what a new manager will bring to the table. Things were going decently enough at first, but then Bojan got kicked awkwardly and his season ended. That also puts an end to my constant nattering about what to do with the kid, but more importantly it puts an end to the question of squad rotation since there are only three forwards available.
Except that Thiago has stepped up, from a guy I was highlighting as possibly the next big thing, to the next regular (yet also spectacular) thing we all know about. And that means Iniesta is free to play a higher role, more like a second false No.9 with Messi while still maintaining width and the ability to drop deep when pressure forces the ball backwards. It's not his best position as evidenced by his less-than-stellar match against Almeria, but against Shakhtar Donetsk he put together quite the attacking display to silence some critics.
April 3, 2011
A brilliant save is worth almost as much as a goal. Or at least it can feel like that in situations where you've consigned yourself to defeat thanks to the brilliant through ball and the striker's recent form. Valdes came up huge against Villarreal, a complicated match that required Barça's keeper to be alert at all times. From the fourth minute you could tell that Villarreal were ready to pounce, but neither Giuseppe Rossi, level fourth in the Pichichi standings, nor Santi Cazorla could find their way beyond Valdes, even from point-blank range.
Villarreal should be disappointed with how the match turned out – a 1-0 win for Barca. They went out fiery and controlled portions of the match to the point where you could be forgiven for wondering who the league leaders were. With Thiago and Afellay starting, Busquets and Iniesta in unfamiliar positions, and Xavi, Puyol, Pedro, and Abidal all missing from the line-up entirely, Barça looked a shadow of their regular selves. Messi's introduction early in the second half made an amount of difference, but he was also not as active or creative as normal.