Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Turquoise Blue Period for Barca

Manchester United 1 Barcelona 0

Barcelona was decked out in their turquoise blue, a beautiful color for a jersey, but with the end result being they failed to advance it more symbolized the somber blue period for this once renowned Barcelona club.

As the camera scanned the players during the Champions League anthem, Eto’o gave a wink. He would also race off the pitch when he was substituted out for Bojan with about twenty minutes to go. I just like his forthrightness, his seriousness and his joy of the game. I was hoping that we’d see more of Eto’o and his wink and smile, but it wasn’t to be. Not many clear cut chances for Barca again with all the possession.

It was a day for Paul Scholes, who at 33 years old doesn’t have too many finals left in him. Scholes latched onto a poorly cleared ball from Zambrotta (centered right into the middle) and knuckled the ball into the far corner on the hop. You never see much emotion form Scholes but it was all over his face after this one. He was like a child at a surprise party with his face all joy and disbelief at his good fortune.

I think the game deserved another goal, and one from Messi or from his magic wand so to speak. As the announcer said, he was a wizard with the ball, cutting up Manchester United at times, slipping past and around defenders, or straight up dicing them as he did Paul Scholes in the corner towards the end of the game.

One thing did show through, Barcelona did battle to the very end, all the players showed respect and heart in the game, but they just lacked that extra punch. Messi never seemed to be phased, no matter the stage of the game, he just kept plugging away but didn’t have enough help. If there was anyone who didn’t get involved as much he normally does it was Iniesta.

Alex Ferguson referred to Barcelona’s style as the ‘passing carousel’, and said they wouldn’t change their game. He was right, there was no change and there were moments that it looked like Barcelona might nip on in for a goal. But there was no momentum for Barcelona, nobody that lifted the game’s emotion. Messi was steady and deadly. Deco was clever and shifty but that extra something wasn’t there. In some ways it’s like they just need or are used to Ronaldinho adding that something else—the older brother taking things on the chin. Stepping up to take the free kicks and score important goals.

Perhaps Gudjohnsen would have been a smart player to start, used to the English game having played with Chelsea?

It was a sparkling match from the get go, and Manchester was lucky to get a break and thankful for Scholes exceptional finish. Before, the first fifteen minutes were all Barca, looking like a repeat of the game at the Nou Camp. But once the Scholes’ goal was in they were off and running, momentum on their side and a new spirit in the team.

If you look at all the players from both clubs you can’t really find fault with any of them. Henry, even though he played a short time, did create and have a few chances on goal. He’s never been one to score with his head. Henry, even more than Eidur Gudjohnsen should have been given the start since he knows the English league so well. Maybe he’d add that spirit.

One player that stands out though from both teams is Tevez. He holds on to the ball so well, knows when the team needs to win a corner, knows amazingly how to use his body and let the ball bounce where it needs to and scoop it up, he’s always steering the ball into his own space and then laying it off. What I loved though is when he chased back and slid in and won the ball.

The emotion was clear in Cristiano Ronaldo; a few times he drove at Barcelona and ended up with good chances on goal. But he also mopped about and complained, even earning a yellow card as Zambrotta shielded him off the ball.

Giggs came on late and settled things, but did try to force a lofty through ball over to Tevez. He’d just come on though, and had to get a sense of the game. I’d say if there’s one thing that’s different about Giggs and then Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s that he’s more apt to make that extra pace or cross when he should. A few times Ronaldo or Nani had broken free exceptionally well, dragging the defender in on the dribble and then cutting back out for their shot. But there were moments when they’d done all this, drawn all the attention, and there was an unmarked teammate on the far post wide open. I just see Giggs seeing those players—he’s the wise old veteran and these players will soon learn to find the player. Look out when they do. Both teams really are full of incredible young players.

Ji-Sung Park is what Dirk Kuyt is for Liverpool, a tireless workhorse who plays smart soccer. Only Park is a bit more skillful I’d say.

The crowd at the Theater of Dreams was loud and boisterous, more so than they have been, with flags waving and songs being song. In the past they’ve been castigated for being too sedate and posh, there was nothing but noise form them today.

On to Moscow to face The Blues or The Reds—the EPL is quite good it seems.