Thursday, November 02, 2006

Barca v Chelsea: my take

This report is less objective than my usual - I criticize Chelsea, especially Mourinho strongly, alongside some criticisms of Barca. So if you're likely to take offence, please avert your eyes.

I must first say, just to start with, how pleased I am with Barca's performance, with the exception of some unedifying behaviour (come on, guys, we're supposed to be better than that.) The team fought hard, worked their asses off, produced one of the best performances so far this season and deserved more than they got. But that's football.

Rijkaard's post-match comments are as always worth looking at, although in this case I thought he was actually quite mad at the referee at the end, contrary to his claims. In any case, he's back to being sensible Frank again, thank god.

I'll start with the things that really made me angry about this match and go on to the good things. My report of the game at Stamford Bridge reflected the way that game went - without controversy, foul play or much incident. I accepted our defeat as due to us, and praised the Chelsea players because they'd proven to be better. This time, it was a little different. First, a roll-call of shame.

The divers

On the Barca side, Marquez and Deco were both guilty of going down far too easily. Not to be out done, Drogba replied for Chelsea, having 3 rolls on the Camp Nou pitch (perhaps it was comfortable?) in the first 5 minutes. Robben made a few abortive attempts, but he was hardly the worst offender.

The thugs

Messi should not have pushed Boulahrouz. His booking was fully deserved. I don't care what the circumstances were. As hilarious as his Mister Innocent act after the fact was, it's not what people want to see from a young, emerging talent. Happily he's usually much more sedate, and will hopefully go back to being so after this.

Marquez's stamp on Essien's crown jewels, whether deliberate or not, was too much. Even if he didn't mean it, he should have tried harder to avoid it.

Motta grows older but not wiser. I remember him getting into a fight with some Celtic players 3 seasons ago in the UEFA Cup. Sadly, he hasn't changed. Far too rough with his tackling, and far too eager to square up to Chelsea players. That sneaky trip of Drogba was disgraceful.

Carvolho wasn't the worst of the Chelsea players, but the tackle that injured Gudjohnsen was very untidy and his behaviour in kicking Messi in the chest and then gesturing at him to get up was breath-taking. Not in a good way. He then went one better by kicking international teammate Deco in the crown jewels.

Drogba had me seething for long periods in this match with the way he just charged into anything in ruby and blue that moved. Stamping, shoving, kicking out...Drogba does it all. Disappointing, given his recent (apparent) rehabilitation.

Lastly, John Terry - but only because he's captain and supposed to impose discipline instead of doing stupid things himself. Other than kicking the ball into Deco's midriff, he was fine.

other unsporting behaviour

Both teams were guilty of trying to referee the match, surrounding official after and before every potential call. Barca doesn't even behave like this against Real Madrid. Certainly neither team were like this in the last game at Stamford Bridge. Disgraceful stuff.

On a related note, Mourinho claims that Chelsea players only got booked because the Barca players were putting pressure on the ref. I thought they got booked for trying to maim the opposition. The articles I'm coming across blaming all the ugly aspects of the game on Barca are simply inexplicable to me. Although they are from mostly English, Premiership-following sources...hmm, maybe not so inexplicable. Different standards and all. I'll expand on this later.

the ref

Poor guy. I saw him referee the Milan derby and thought he was fine. Sending off Materazzi was stupid, but he had to follow the letter of the law. This time, both teams are complaining about his decisions afterwards, so according to the clique he's either done everything or nothing right. Personally, I thought he did the best he could. Probably shouldn't have booked so many players for dissent, but that's his call.

the game

There was no real rhythm to it because of all the stoppages, but it was still exciting stuff. Deco's opening goal created the perfect start for Barca. That's the way we need to start games, by rocking opponents back on their heels, catching them off-guard and scoring quickly. Then the team can relax and play their attacking game.

Lampard's equaliser was really bizarre. If he meant it then it was absolutely brilliant, but he's going to have his work cut out making the case for that because of his initial fumble with the ball.

I was so damn pleased for Gudjohnsen, scoring his first goal in Camp Nou. What a rebuke it would have been to Mourinho if the scoreline had stayed at 2-1, with the way he used Guddy - a loyal servant of Chelsea for six seasons - to stir up cheap controversy before the game. To be fair, though, a lot of the credit goes to Marquez's amazing long-range pass, and then Ronaldinho leaving Boulahrouz for dead to thread the perfect ball through for Guddy at the near post. He celebrated - oh, how he celebrated. I think there was even some club badge smacking going on.

Drogba's late goal hurt. It hurt because we were far more effective going forward in the second half, created more chances, and couldn't finish enough of them. Because in between the stops and starts for various bits of foul play, we played some lovely football. But credit to Chelsea, they never give up, and Mourinho's substitutes were very astute.

Barca fell apart after Drogba's equaliser. Even if the ref had allowed us to play out the full 6 minutes of stoppage time we wouldn't have scored. Understandable, but also rather worrying.

If this were any other team, I'd say that we should have closed up shop after going ahead and attempted to cling on to our lead. But this is Barcelona, so the mere suggestion of 10 men behind the ball is insulting. Nevermind.

Barca

I'm not going to do my usual person-by-person comments. Only some random observations. I was greatly heartened by our display in general. We went back to basics - everyone attacks, and everyone defends. When an opponent has the ball, 3 or 4 players close him down. When a teammate has the ball, there's always support. I was worried about losing again, based on our sedate performance in Stamford Bridge. But if Barca play like this then we shouldn't be afraid of anyone.

The defence is getting flack for giving up 2 goals, both of which could arguably have been prevented. (Did you know when Barca last let in 2 goals at home in European competition? Well, it's been a while.) Zambrotta should have covered Lampard better for the first, although given the freakishness of the goal he can't take that much blame. In the second both Edmilson and Marquez went to sleep to let Drogba through. However, as Rijkaard likes to say, when we let in goals it's the whole team's fault.

I actually thought we defended very well in general. When he wasn't going down easily or roughening opponents up, Marquez had a pretty good game. Zambrotta's finally looking like clicking with Messi in attack. Puyol was regular old Puyol, enough said. Gio left gaps at the back when going forward but was solid overall.

Edmilson looked good - better than Motta, in any case. Xavi was fine (and perhaps shouldn't have been bought off), and Deco was man of the match, for me. He scored one of his typical goals from outside the box just when we needed it most, and ran the match from midfield with Xavi. Eager to defend, as well, which is always nice to see. Of the big names who were lacking form, Deco at least seems to be back.

Poor Gudjohnsen looked crushed at having to go off injured. He worked hard as always, tracking back and making runs, although he still doesn't look that threatening. We can't ask for more than a goal against Chelsea, though. Here's hoping he gets better soon.

Messi matched up against Ashley Cole much better than he did last time. He has something that even Ronnie has been lacking recently - the confidence that he will go past his marker. In this game, he failed to dominate, just like against Real, but did enough to make his marker look silly, just like against Real. That cutback to Ronnie early in the first half was perfect; Ronnie really should have done better with it. I was pleased with his display, just coming back from an ankle injury.

Ronaldinho was great in more than one sense. Sure, he's still not back to his best, but we saw more of the skill and audacity that made him so wonderful this time around. His pass for Guddy's goal was perfect. There were more inch-perfect passes, too, especially one into Gudjohnsen that was very similar to his effort in Milan last season. Guddy really should have done better with it. Welcome back, Ronnie.

More than that, though, he worked alongside Puyol, calming other players down and preventing confrontations. He wasn't wearing the captain's armband today, but he acted like one.

fallout

This result, while not disastrous in terms of qualification, is nevertheless a setback. I'm not expecting any favours from Mourinho. He isn't obligated to play a strong team in either of Chelsea's next fixtures. After all, they're pretty much through. So that's fair enough. Our fate is in our own hands, and if we manage to somehow screw it up, well, we'll only have ourselves to blame. The next 2 CL games are must wins.

In this game, Rijkaard opted to bring on Giuly and play Ronaldinho at center-forward rather than make a straight swap for Saviola. This combined with other recent behaviour has led me to conclude that club suits have been pressuring him not to cup-tie Saviola so that they can sell him in January. This is clearly madness. I will go insane if Rijkaard doesn't play Saviola while Gudjohnsen's injured. There's simply no other bearable or viable option. If Saviola doesn't start against Depor, he's never going to.

Speaking of that game, my biggest worry coming out of this one is the demoralising effect conceding a late equaliser will have had on the team. They battled so hard, only to come away with meager rewards. Hopefully they'll pick themselves up for the next Liga game, because Depor aren't going to be easy opponents.

commentary

I watched it with Chinese commentary from two guys who obviously spend a lot of time watching Chelsea matches in the Premiership and not a lot watching La Liga. (I gather this from their extensive comments regarding Ashley Cole's performances so far this season and from being told that Motta has been in good form. Take it from someone who watches all the Barca matches - he hasn't. Also, Giuly is not a center forward.)

It was interesting to hear their views on what was a foul, what should be or shouldn't be a penalty and Chelsea's game-winning methods. It's probably belabouring the point a bit to point out yet again that a foul in Spain isn't necessarily a foul in England. While exaggerating contact is seen as more acceptable in Spain, violent conduct is more acceptable in England. (It is my personal opinion that had the Stephen Hunt challenge on Petr Cech happened in Spain everyone would have blamed Hunt.

Mourinho

If I start, I'll be here all day. So briefly: the man is brilliant. But he'll do anything to win, and if he believes half of the stuff he says, then he lives in an alternate reality.

I'll let Edmilson speak for me (although it's from the Sun, so you'll never know if it's made up, but if it isn't, the quiet man has more wit than I thought):

“The worst thing about playing Chelsea is having to listen to Mourinho afterwards.”

I'm exhausted, but proud. I hope the Barca team feel the same. I know Chelsea will.

6 comments:

Antonio said...

If you go from a distance what is happening in Chelsea and it is not (much) happening in other teams can be shortened in two words: Mourinho Leadership. As you refer, any club like Real Madrid or other can imitate Chelsea tactics. There is no big news on that for top coaches - they all know each other secrets. What no one else can do is copying his unique leadership style. Are his press statements reflecting the reality on his daily work? Absolutely not. You are just witnessing one (very) clever man who diligently applies very effectevely some of his several easy and basic principles; two of them surely are 1) Club goals and his (team) goals are more important that players goals and 2) "all pressure" must be maximum poured towards him not on the team - good catarctic move for well being of the players and while raise self confidence and self esteem on the team. If you bear those principles in mind when analysing Moruinho's moves it becomes very easy to interpret (and predict!!) all his moves - for instances why continuing put pressure on competitors even when the game is over? Why no "different credo is tolerated within the team (Ex Galas chased out)? Why those comments on GudJonssen if they are "good pals"? You are witnessing the raise of utterly different "atitude-breed" amongst Chelsea players and how approach the game that has no precedent in history of football - not necessairily a good example for "sportsmanship". The key point is that it does pay off. Mourinho is bringing "new rules" for the game - whether you like it or not. And if you still think (...or wish the dream....) football can be related to a sport this is real "alternatve reality" (not Mourinhos' comments). This is history. It is all about show off and business interests and lowering scruples (ends justify the means) - and those who do not recognize or cope with this (unfortunate) reality either they are intellectualy dishonnest or naif. But it defenetly requires a very intelligent personality to shape this revolution of minds. I cannot help but being surprised that so manny key people continue very dorment and do not embark to the new waves of change and shaping the future from within and nof from without - for instances, A Wenger's recent comments about Chelsea ("cheating because english players on the team, or predicting Chelsea crises" are a complete joke, and help us understant why he will continue on the down loop...). Mourinho did not even bothered to reply like he did last year simply because he knows Arsenal is quite behind. But you will see him coming when matches come close or Arsenal moves up in the points ladder.

Gonzalo said...

I dipped in and out of this game, and did not catch the very end, so thanks for your commentary. I think it is quite measured, given the circumstances.

As regards to Mourinho, he's not perhaps the tactical genius he would like us all to believe he is; however, he seems to be as good as Alex Ferguson (if not better) at out-psyching his opponents, the ref, the media, you name it.

He's taken seriously because he's successful; if it ever starts to look like Chelsea are vulnerable, the press'll eat him up. We'll see then whether he can handle the pressure.

Isaiah said...

I'm so confused as to why Motta started. While I posted a little while ago about Edmilson not needing to play and my opinion has not changed on that score, he had a decent game and didn't really look to be screwing anything up. (I agree with USA Cule's Once Ideal thought to put Marquez in the holding midfield role and Thuram at the back -- it would better utilize Marquez' deep passing ability at the least and at best replace Edmilson's shakiness, though at worst you'd have an out-of-position defender sort of running around with like the proverbial headless chicken)

The game was a hard game, but I didn't think either of the testicle stomps were intentional, especially not the Marquez-on-Essien one. Marquez was looking at the ball and can't be expected to avoid what should have been incidental contact. The reffing was, I thought, fair on almost every foul and card. You hit someone hard, you get a card. Didn't mean to rhyme, but that's how all games should be and how it went yesterday.

My take, quickly: As a Barcelona fan I was disappointed, but as a football fan I was pleased because the game was a good one, much like the Arsenal-CSKA game today. It always leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth to see Mourinho happy, but much of the time it's the price you pay for playing Chelsea and to put in what I consider the best performance of all the games I've seen Barcelona play this year (only 5 or 6 total) is definitely a good result. I would have liked to have seen Saviola on for Gudjohnsen, if only to continue the general style of play and keep Messi on the wing. He, like Giuly, is also not a true forward -- or a forward at all, in my opinion.

If only Ronaldinho would do more running at his marker, as you pointed out. Messi is doing it and it makes him look 5 times the player Ronnie is, which certainly isn't true, but I could see believing that if you had never seen Ronnie at his best...

linda said...

Antonio: I'm not saying he's not clever or successful. My comment about him being disconnected from reality was a matter of courtesy: I'd rather accuse someone of being delusional than a malicious liar. Chelsea fans are entitled to be pleased they have a manager who will make them successful. But I don't have to respect his methods, or like what he's doing to the game.

Gonzalo: You're right, the press have been waiting with baited breath to have a go at him. When they got knocked out last season the general tone of the articles was a clear indication of that. If he fails to win the CL or the league this year then we'll see what happens.

Isaiah: Rijkaard loves Motta. Fair enough when he's on form, but Motta isn't very consistent. Marquez stays at the back because him and Puyol are our best center-back partnership. Puyol and Thuram don't play well together at all. (Marquez and Thuram do.) Edmilson was not good against Valencia or in the first leg, but he's been injured and his form is improving. As I commented on your blog, he's actually pretty good when operating at his usual standard.

I agree with you that it was Barca's best game so far this season, which is a good sign. Perhaps the team is finally hitting some form. And yes, Messi should never be made to play center forward. He's totally wasted in that position.

Saurabh Bhattacharjee said...

A very interesting post as usual. It is really a treat to read your posts which reflect your passion for Barca without compromising on objectivity.

Antonio. Your explanation of what you call ‘Mourinho Style leadership’ is very helpful in understanding his coaching philosophy and locating his seemingly irrational gimmicks in it.

The way he ensures that “all pressure” is directed at him and not on the players is valuable coaching lesson. Even his worst critics have to concede to his aptitude in playing mindgames with media, opposition and the officialdom. Therefore, he ensures that the focus of the opposition is not entirely on football and more at his rather vile antics.

As Frank Rjikaard had demonstrated in the previous two seasons, the trick is to ignore him completely and focus on the game. Unfortunately, it appeared that Mourinho finally got under Rjikaard’s skin this time. I think that was critical as Chelsea is happier with a stop and start game than the free-flowing Catalans.

I would agree with Gonzalo on Mourinho’s tactical abilities. His strategies, at times of crisis, betray hints of desperation (John Terry/Huth as center-forward) rather than analytical genius. But it appears from some really fine Chelsea displays when down to ten men, down a goal or after a poor first half that he has unmatched motivational skills. Remember Chelsea’s foray at Barca after Del Horno’s dismissal in CL last year. It required Barca to be at its best to subdue them.

But as a long Chelsea supporter, even as I am grateful to the Portuguese for delivering trophies to the Club, I cannot support his bloody mindedness. It is no crime to be mentally tough and be aggressive. But his cheap antics and repeated senseless, insensitive and below-the-belt comments are completely disgraceful. The way he turned Cech’s tragic injury into a circus with his unjustified comments on Reading medical staff was shameful to say the least. His comment on the referee on Barca-Chelsea tie in 2005, which led to his retirement, is another such sordid example.

It appears that the costs of winning a trophy are immaterial for Mourinho. It is unfair on players of fine mettle like Cech, Terry, Makalele, Shevchenko, Joe Cole to be associated with such disgraceful behaviour.

linda said...

Saurabh: thanks! I try to retain a bit of perspective. Good to know it's working. :-)

I also agree with you that Chelsea have some of the finest players in the world, and a lot of them are class acts. Lampard's comments after this game, for example, were very fair-minded. There's a lot to admire about their team spirit and the way they never give up. Mourinho's the only blot on the whole thing, in my opinion.