06 May 2009

On Barcelona, Chelsea, and Andres Iniesta

I’m no expert on Spanish football, but the ubiquitous praise for Barcelona and the fact that I’ve got GolTV this season has led me to watch a substantial amount of that team. And that’s why I’m not surprised Andres Iniesta was the one who won it at the death. If you asked me to pick one player – just one – to improve Liverpool, it’d be him.

Much more willing to put in the work to run at Chelsea’s locked defense and try to make something happen (I’m looking at you, Lionel), it finally paid off when he sent a wicked toe-poke past Cech from the top of the box. He’s quick and strong, able to play anywhere along the front three, likes to have a run and shoot from distance, and can both score and set up goals. There’s absolutely zero, ZERO chance he’s leaving Barcelona, but he’s a player I’ve come to adore watching.

Today’s was an amazing game in a number of ways. It’s incredibly harsh on Chelsea – I almost empathize, and then, remembering the team, break out in a mischievous smile. I delight in schadenfreude far too much. Plus, Chelsea’s hysterics after the final whistle – culminating with Drogba hypocritical enough to call someone else a disgrace – were the icing on the cake.

But they’re not kidding when claiming four penalties weren’t given. Two out of the four were seemed stonewall – a free kick given outside the box for a foul that was inside (I’ll buy that it wasn’t a foul, but if you’re giving it, it was clearly in the area), and a Marquez Pique handball, which even if it was incidental, prevented Anelka from getting through. But thems the breaks. Abidal’s red card was never a red, so it’s not as if the ref gave them all to Barca. However, I am 100% open to conspiracy theories involving Platini not wanting a repeat of last year’s final, especially one comprised of two English teams.

Even though it was anti-football at times, I thought it completely compelling. Chelsea simply would not break down – and Lampard and Essien were fantastic. Granted, Barca had no plan C – plan A was pass through the middle and bring Messi in (and there was no space for either), and plan B was Alves crosses in from the right (and he was off all night long). But Chelsea played the stunting, stifling game that always seems to work for English clubs.

This is the first time an English club has been knocked out by a non-English side since Liverpool lost to AC Milan in the 2007 final. Last year, Liverpool dumped out Arsenal in the quarters, Chelsea dumped out Liverpool in the semis, and United won damn thing. This season, Chelsea put out Liverpool and United beat Arsenal. This is why I seriously wouldn’t put it past Platini to fix this game.

And Chelsea’s solitary goal was one that deserved to win any match. I’m probably forgetful in the heat of the moment, but Essien’s might be the best non-Liverpool strike I’ve ever seen (I am too biased to judge otherwise). So what if he couldn’t do it again. Volley with his weaker foot from 25 yards, and hit so perfectly that the keeper has no chance. Simply stunning.

But at the end of the day, a one-goal lead is never enough, as Liverpool’s proven before. Fix or no fix (I haven’t decided yet if I’m kidding), it sets up the final I’d much rather see. That it ends with such a stomach punch amuses me – I admit, I’m a petty, petty man who holds grudges.

But it sucks that Barcelona will be missing Marquez, Alves, and Abidal in the final – if today is any guide, the best bet will be to soak up pressure and attack on the counter, probably targeting the flanks with Puyol coming back and both fullbacks out. Which, sadly, is just how United prefers to play.


mikey said...

neither here nor there, but pique was guilty of the handball, not marquez. marquez was injured..

was a great match with a great result that happened to have two of the best strikes in this year's CL campaign..

nate said...

thank you, fixed.

as always, i'm an idiot.

Anonymous said...

Great post as always. Iniesta is indeed a wonderful player. I was impressed by how much time he had with the ball and how easily he slipped himself and his passes through Chelsea. He had no help throughout - the forwards were MIA and Messi and Xavi...were they even in?

I can understand why someone would feel sympathy for Chelsea, but I won't shed even a crocodile tear. I know almost every player cheats and dives (even our captain) but any team with Dropba will never, ever get a pinch of respect from me. The man consistently brings dishonor to the game.

irfaanfr said...


iskoppa said...

I have not stopped smiling all day!

Anonymous said...

no sympathy to dogba and his team.
only pity is that chelsea might prevent united getting another european cup and barca was oh so poor and now depleted.

mjs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I know he's not in the same mold -or class - as Iniesta, but why I like Yossi ... he attacks. As you say, he puts in the work to run at a locked defense - which Liverpool see a lot of. And when he's attacking they're a more creative side with options (back, forward and wide).