Thursday, May 14, 2009

Barcelona outclass Athletic in Cup Final

I was going to put a "sneaky" 20 euros on Athletic (3/1 to lift the Cup) before the game. While Barça were clear favourites, I thought Athletic had a decent chance of causing an upset. They've been safe in the league for quite a while and have been able to rest key players with this game in mind. Barça's recent schedule has been hectic in contrast and they would be without the injured Thierry Henry and Andrés Iniesta: arguably their best players over the last six weeks or so. I didn't get my bet on in the end, just as well, as it happened.

This was one of those games you see on television and wish you were there: the atmosphere was fantastic with both fans making a lot of noise. In the second half an Athletic "fan" hurled a can at Dani Alves when he was about to take a throw. The Athletic fans near the incident were incensed and directed the police to the culprit. I was impressed with that. The fans were here to enjoy the game whatever the result and weren't prepared to let some idiot ruin the day for everyone.

Athletic scored first, after 9 minutes, and tried to close Barça down at every opportunity, but after the goal Barça started to find their front players from midfield. Touré scored a great goal before half-time and in a nine minute spell in the second half Barça scored three more (Messi, Bojan and Xavi) and that was that.

Friday, May 8, 2009

UEFA Conspiracy against Chelsea?

It's definite conspiracy and Drogba is a UEFA double agent: the fun and games at the final whistle were but a smokescreen. Márquez is in on it too, and would have played a bigger part only for his injury. Remember the pass to Drogba in the first leg, the only pass Drogba received at the Camp Nou? Did you think it was a mistake? The Drogba we know would have taken that chance nine times out of ten, but he missed. Very suspect. He also missed chances at Stamford Bridge that he'd normally put away. My missus who doesn't really watch football said: "How did he miss that? I would have scored there." "Yeah, Love, but you wouldn't have got into the position." I added sagely. "You're right, Love. Never thought of that."

Hiddink just falls short as Chelsea go out

It was a good plan, and despite the cries of "Anti-Fútból" from certain quarters, it really was the only plan. Against Barça, Real Madrid abandoned the counter-attacking game which served them so well since Spurs legend Juande Ramos took charge, and were duly thumped. Even with home advantage, Chelsea were never going to fall into that trap. At the Camp Nou, Chelsea conceeded three chances to Barcelona and very nearly nicked a goal on the counter-attack from Didier Drogba. On the smaller Stamford Bridge pitch, 800 square metres smaller fact fans, it made sense to continue with the same tactic.

Barça started well, but Essien's early goal conditioned the tie as it heightened Chelsea's resolve to continue with the gameplan. Barça now needed to be very precise in their attacks as any loose passing would be punished by a Chelsea side programmed to find Drogba with as few passes as possible.

The referee had a nightmare and both sides suffered from his ineptitude. Abidal was wrongly sent-off and Chelsea were denied a definite penalty when Piqué handled in the box. The other claims have been debated at length elsewhere on the interweb without a consensus being reached. All I'll say is that if I were a referee I'd think twice before I gave anything to Drogba in the box. That's all I'm saying, you know.

Hiddink replaced Drogba shortly after Abidal's sending-off with Belletti, Barça's hero from the 2006 final. The intention was clear: maintain the result. Football bit him on the arse, though, and Barça scored in a move which featured the only decent cross from Alves and the only intervention from Messi. Iniesta's outside-of-the-foot finish was a work of art.

At the final whistle Chelsea went mental. Was it because of the referee's failure to award the various penalty claims, or was it due to the realization that they missed clear chances to put the result beyond doubt? Who knows? Drogba, who missed chances in both legs seemed particulary peeved. Make of that what you will.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 6

Real Madrid's run of victories in the second half of the season was astonishing. I watched most of their games, and also saw them in the flesh when they visited La Roseleda. The run of victories was astonishing, but the football was far from impressive. Madrid sat back, waited and punished any slip by the opposition with the pace of Gonzalo Higuaín and Arjen "Man of Steel" Robben. Real Madrid and Barcelona are supposed to take the game to the opposition and entertain, not play on the counter like a small team: un equipo pequeño. Real Madrid is a small team.

Against Barcelona they needed to win, so the option of sitting back and looking for the counter wasn't on. Chelsea hardly left their half in Barcelona last Tuesday because they knew they would be destroyed if they did so. Chelsea couldn't beat Barcelona playing an expansive game, so they neutralised their attacking threat and looked for scraps on the break. Madrid had to play a higher defensive line which gave Barça the space to weave their magic. There could be only one outcome.

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