Friday, April 29, 2011

Four Clasicos in 18 Days! Game 3 Considerations

First leg of the Champions League Semifinal in Madrid

Barca were brilliant. Madrid came in to frustrate. Barca were motivated to create goal scoring opportunties; Madrid's objective was to disrupt Barca's play and hope to pinch a goal on a counter attack. Madrid's tackles were cynical and a bit dirty. Barca wasn't having any of it.

Highly motivated by the King's Cup loss and Mourinho's whining, Barca came to play. Dominating possession, they attacked the Madrid goal in waves.

In the second half, as Barca continued to dominate possession and frustrate the Merengues, the whites started to lunge into tackles. One such lunge, Pepe on Alves, Pepe came in reckless and with his studs up. Replays seem to show not so much contact was made. Alves spun around and fell to the ground. Red card to Pepe. A fair call based from an accumulation of challenges in my admittedly biased opinion.

Madrid could have responded differently to the red card, perceiving a conspiracy against them and fighting extra hard as a result, but this team is different; more petulant. They seemed to throw in the towel, especially after the Alfellay to Messi goal. Later, Messi scored an incredible solo effort. The kid is good.

All of that was overshadowed, of course by the negative bits. Busquets does play act a bit too much. I would prefer it if he didn't. Same goes for Di Maria, however, for Madrid. Tit for tat.

The final Clasico of the year is at the Nou Camp on Tuesday. Que gana el mejor.
Visca el Barca!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Four Clasicos in 18 Days! Game 2 Considerations

I watched the Copa del Rey final in the Phoenix Landing in Central Square. Good venue to watch games as it is generally full of fans. Inside it seemed the Madrid supporters outnumbered the Barca supporters. Still, with one hundred or so people crowded into the place, the atmosphere was good. Perhaps twenty to twenty-five were there for the Arsenal vs. Tottenham game going on at roughly the same time.

Madrid definitely held the upper hand in the first period. Mourinho put Pepe, the big Portuguese center half, in the midfield to lock Messi down and generally harangue Barca's midfielders. It was an effective tactic. Madrid looked sharp and worked extra hard to close Barca down whenever we got the ball. As is typical with a Mourinho side, there were a lot of rough challenges.

Barca played a much better second period. They kept the ball in Madrid's half and created several great chances, only to be denied repeatedly by Casillas and the Madrid defense. The second half ended tied at nil-nil. Pep made some attacking changes. Alfellay came on; so did Keita. Madrid's changes happened earlier.

At the start of extra time, the momentum shifted back to Madrid. Their goal in the first half of extra time was followed by intelligent defending, clever stall tactics, and a general greater desire to maintain the trophy that was Barca put forth.

I am not bitter that Madrid won. Ronaldo scored an impressive goal. Di Maria put in a great cross after beating Alves. Ronaldo out jumped Adriano to hit a picture perfect cabezazo into the corner of the net.

It all sets up a very tense Champions League semi-final. Madrid look supremely confident going into this first leg at the Bernabeu. Barca is missing Iniesta, Abidal, Maxwell and Adriano. Puyol is arguably not 100% fit -- our bench looks thin. Still, we will give them a good game. Visca el Barca!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Four Clasicos in 18 Days! Game 1 Considerations

Ay Caramba!

One down, three to go. This tie, the first of FOUR, took place in Madrid. For the millions watching, this was the appetizer, to help whet the appetite for the three, arguably more important, matches to come. I viewed this match as crucial in establishing a foundation for the following games.

Before the match I considered the possible outcomes. For Madrid, a win in this first game could rebuild confidence for moving forward. For Barca, a win would provide further vindication of superiority (firmly established in the first leg at the Camp Nou and in subsequent league games).

However, losing might not have been tragic for either side. Sometimes a defeat early in a competition is the best motivation for future encounters. See Spain's performance in the first match of the World Cup in South Africa; Barca vs. Inter Milan in the CL group stage in 2010. Mourinho returned to face Barca in the Semifinals of the CL that season and put us out of the competition.

As probably every other Cule around, I wanted Barca to win (this one and all of the others), but I wasn't under the impression that a loss in the tie was detrimental.

Both sides can take positives from this game: Barca proved that they can create chances and maintain possession, regardless what formation and strategy Mourinho employs; Madrid again demonstrated their incredible speed and agility on the counter, but also showed commendable courage in their fightback with 10 men.

I thought both penalty calls were correct. Alves' foul on Marcelo was not as egregious as Albiol's on Villa -- correct decisions in both cases regarding the red card (and lack thereof). The Copa final is next -- my cousin Victor is off to the final in Valencia -- hope he gets a cracker!