Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Final Four

Final Four in Houston

Columnist Ed, with some thoughts on the Champions League Final Four:

The best league in Europe -- the one that doesn't feature either Manchester A or Manchester B -- is down to the final four.  And as all readers of this site know, Bayern took down Real Madrid in the first leg of their series last night in Munich by the score of 2 to 1.  Here are my thoughts.

-- Gomez is much better than I realized.  I never thought much of him, as I beleived it was Ribery and Robben that do most of the work for Bayern's offense.  While it is true that they do all of the delivery work, Gomez played with tons of energy Tuesday night, challenging defenders with the ball and bullying his way forward.  He is not necessarily quick, but he is certainly fast.  Plus, he anticipates the hard snap crosses they put into him remarkably well.  He had one goal but could have had three.  I can see now why he has 40 goals.  This was the type of player that Liverpool foolishly believed they were getting when they signed Andy Carroll.  There is still room for the big holder and finisher in modern football.  There aren't too many better than Gomez.

-- Ribery is a fantastic player who gives all he has on the field, but the flopping he did the other night was shameful.  He certainly fooled Howard Webb on a more than one occassion, and his flop in the penalty area should have been carded.  Ribery's behavior screams for post game yellow cards or fines.  When will this happen?  Some day please?

--  Ronaldo was also no stranger to the flop.  Ronaldo, I think, is used to being the Michael Jordan of his league, and getting the call any time anyone touches him.  Last night he was treated by Webb in the same way as a reserve teamer on Wolves.  Shoving is a part of the game also, Ronaldo.  Remember the BPL?  While Barcelona brings an elegance to the game that is unparalleled, there is also a diva quality to their game and it's found, as well, in Ronaldo -- something that is tough to swallow for an American like me.

-- The Bayern v. Real game was interesting on a tactical front as both teams have very similar styles of play.  Their formations, their conservatism upon scoring, their personnel -- all strikingly similar.  Neither of these teams are like Barca.  This was a battle of traditional tactics between old rivals.  Are these teams the last of this era, and will the possesion game eventually take over? 

--  I'm not sure how many more times Barca has to beat Real in order for us to close the book on that one.  Even should Real advance and Barca lose, it's hard to say Real is the better team.  And the likelihood of Real beating Barca seems in light of recent history to be silly.  Plus, who wants to watch another match filled with hair pulling and flopping.  These two teams desperately need to stop playing each other.  Let's hope Bayern moves on so we don't have to see this.  And as I've said ever since I saw Bayern crush a good Manchester City team, I think Bayern remain my favorites, even over Barca.
[Ed. Note: This was written prior to Wendesday Evening.]

-- Am I not giving Chelsea enough credit?  Don't they have a chance against Barca?  Well, not much of one I think.  Chelsea is, by the way, a very good team.  They are playing with much more discipline on defense and in a system they know well.  They are playing with great energy for the time of year.  And players like Ramires and Mata have added a lot to their roster from last year.  It would be fun to see an English team advance; I just don't see how they hold up in Barcelona even if they do well tomorrow at home.  Messi is playing out of his mind these days; I don't see Chelsea having a strong enough defense to keep him in check.  But we will see!!
This is farlieonfootie for April 19.

1 comment:

  1. Re: Chelsea's victory

    As an update to this day-late article, I should note that Chelsea was able to pull out a win despite being completely and totally dominated by Barcelona. I don't merely mean possession, I also mean chances at scoring. Barca hit the bar and the post, and there was a goal line save by Ashley Cole, who I thought played his best game of the year last night. I'm not even sure I heard the name Danny Alvez last evening, as the attacking fullback added pretty much nothing to the game. In addition, Fabregas pretty much whiffed on another chance in front of the goal. Yes, Chelsea ultimately stopped Barca and Messi from scoring, but we have to admit that a lot of that was luck.

    Frank Lampard was also notable last evening. As in the England game against Spain, he was one of the few players that is able to handle the immediate rush of players that Barca puts on the ball after they lose it. His steal from Messi and cross field pass to Ramirez were also stunning.

    Speaking of the pass and the break and the goal, one suspects that Di Matteo practiced this break as on several occasions upon a change of possession the indefatigable Ramirez sprinted forward for a long ball. Plus Lampard didn’t hesitate for a second on his cross field ball, and if he had he would have lost it to the charging Barca defense.

    Barca had the ball 78% of the time last evening. That’s stunning and once again should be embarrassing for the English powerhouse. It once again calls into question the system of Chelsea (and Real and Bayern). The announcers wrongfully noted that others may try the system but it simply is impossible without the Barca talent level. Clearly they haven’t watched Swansea this year.

    Did anyone notice the staggering size differential between Drogba and Messi as they walked out of the tunnel? Is there any better illustration of the two different systems in soccer than these two guys?

    Drogba’s antics were probably somewhat shameful, but I suspect this too was part of Di Matteo’s plan. When you never have the ball you need rest. You can actually see the Barca players step it down a gear and rest once they regain possession. Drogba was clearly working to give Chelsea’s team lots of short breaks to break Barca’s rhythm and allow time to physically recover.

    Barca insists on playing it out of the back, and they are very vulnerable when they do so. Their weakest ball handlers are Puyol and Mascherano, and their goalkeeper Victor Valdes. They often – as they did last night – get caught in possession in dangerous areas. This comes with the system. They’ve been lucky that teams haven’t capitalized on this more. Part is because opponents like Chelsea put initial pressure on the ball in Barca’s end but usually back off pretty quickly.

    I’m always surprised how often Barca beats people on the one-two pass. There was one moment when Messi passed it to Alexis Sanchez (I think) and three Chelsea players including the player marking Messi (Lampard I think) turned and ran to Sanchez who quickly put it back to a wide open Messi. Really? Follow the runner! Especially when it’s Messi!

    Victor Valdez had one save to make. It wouldn’t have been easy but it was also pretty doable, but he missed it. Peter Cech, however, having endured a pretty painful season in the BPL, was fantastic. Worthy of the Man of the Match for Chelsea.

    -- Corresp. Ed