Apr 25, 2012, 8:35 AM EDT
Champions League soccer typically represents the game’s best version.
Yes, better that World Cup soccer; superior team cohesion and a higher level of player balance creates this sharper brand, not to mention an overall approach that generally leans more assertive, less cautious.
I tell people this all the time. Only yesterday’s eventful semifinal, full of brilliant talking points as it was, hardly made the case.
I still can’t quite figure out how to feel about Tuesday’s incredible night. Yes, Chelsea deserves credit for fortitude and finding a way, and praise rains effusive today across UK media stops. English soccer has long been hopelessly enamored with the blood-stained, desperate stand.
Only “blood-stained, desperate stand” is hardly how I prefer to see my Champions League semifinal play out. If we’re talking about Bolton needing a point to stave off relegation to a lower tier, bravely drawing its lines against mighty Manchester United or the like on a season’s final match day, then fine. But a moneyed team of Chelsea’s alleged quality?
In terms of what this means to the UEFA final in Munich, it’s like being presented with cough medicine or ice cream, knowing that either one will ease a sore throat – and choosing the cough medicine.
Yes, I understand the Blues were a man down on the road. And yet, building a line of six across the back, with two forwards stationed on the outside, is hardly the bright stuff of Champions League dreams.
All that said, it’s hard to reckon that Barcelona deserved to go through either. For all of the fabulous talent assembled at the Nou Camp, the Blaugrana simply failed in too many ways Tuesday to be considered among the most worthy finalists, either.
Shall we count the blue and deep red ways?
The goalkeeping wasn’t good enough. (By contrast, Chelsea’s Petr Cech wasn’t tested repeatedly Tuesday but certainly rose in the moments that mattered.)
Barcelona’s defending simply wasn’t good enough.
The tactics were wrong. Pep Guardiola’s over-thought 3-3-4 served only to stack more bodies along the black wall of death, a crowd of congested cleats drawn with anti-soccer purpose 20 yards from Chelsea goal.
But those were failures of the day; misdemeanor offenses compared to the felony crimes of a larger level.
Diversity of attack was sorely lacking Tuesday. True that its Barcelona’s beautiful style that makes Pep Guardiola’s side something special. It made Barca such a worthy and memorable champion a year ago. But it shouldn’t be carried like a burden, a precious cargo to be towed no matter the cost.
And yet, the ball went in, the ball went out. Again and again. With a curious, almost bizarre lack of bigger purpose. Hard-headed Barca was so dead-set determined to score the Barca way – and now they’ll have plenty of time to ponder the sorry consequences.
Shoot from beyond the 18? Not the Barca way, apparently. A few more speculative crosses, hoping to catch the visitors as they reorganized after the clearance? Nah.
Along those lines, at a bigger level, where in the world was Plan B? Going forward, Pep Guardiola simply must find one target player capable of changing the look periodically, or must otherwise find a way to be less systematically rigid when Plan A, stylish and pleasing to the eye as it can be, isn’t working.
So five things went wrong Tuesday from Barcelona’s side, undercutting the wealth of skill and smarts developed and gathered majestically at the Catalan home of soccer:
Goalkeeping not good enough; defending not good enough; over-cooked tactics; lack of diversity of attack; lack of a plan B.
But there was one more missing element (again, giving Chelsea proper credit for fiercely navigating the difficult night – even if they’ll be fighting in the Munich final with the shortest of sticks due to injury and suspensions):
Leo Messi picked an awful night to have a stinker.
That’s not Barcelona’s fault, and it’s probably not Messi’s fault, either. That just happens in the game from time to time. The timing in this semifinal case was just tremendously, notoriously ironic.
Jul 30, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Everton’s leading scorer returns to Goodison on a permanent basis.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
With immediate effect, U.S.’s women’s league will pause mid-half if when it’s too hot.
Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT
Liverpool roll into town and people freak out! Watch this incredible reaction to Stevie G signing autographs.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
Reports from Texas state Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are playing Colombia in September.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
Union grab Algerian goalkeeper Mbolhi, throw MacMath’s future in doubt.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
One of the most influential men in world soccer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
After success at the 2014 World Cup, vanishing spray is coming to the PL.
Jul 30, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Shaw: “I didn’t come into United thinking it’s going to be much harder and that’s something I made a mistake on.”
Jul 30, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT
Ronaldo flexing the abs as he is set to appear in the largest-ever Men’s Health front cover campaign.
Jul 30, 2014, 11:18 AM EDT
United make it three wins from three on their U.S. tour. Watch the highlights from Van Gaal’s men in action.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Will United splash the cash to sign Vidal in central midfield?
Jul 30, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT
Lukaku set to sign for Everton from Chelsea.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT
United to splash the cash? Lukaku on his way out of Chelsea? All the latest gossip, right here.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 AM EDT
Toure: “My decision is that I will stay at Manchester City for as long as possible.”
Jul 30, 2014, 7:48 AM EDT
After losing the PL title late in the season, then England being knocked out of the World Cup, can Gerrard bounce back?
Jul 29, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
“I can only say that I’m very happy at City and at the moment we are talking about a contract,” Dzeko said.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:36 PM EDT
The 3,600 meters of elevation will provide a stiff challenge, with many opposing clubs having fallen victim to the altitude.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Manchester United continued their success in the US with a third consecutive victory.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:01 PM EDT
Sturridge and Ibe step to the mic and hold their own.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
In team news, van Gaal has decided to go with his fabled 3-5-2.
- Romelu Lukaku completes permanent, $47 million move to Everton 0
- Report: US to play friendly vs. Colombia in San Antonio 1
- Transfer Rumor Roundup: Cuadrado to Manchester United, Lukaku to Everton 0
- Steven Gerrard endured “worst three months” of his life after Liverpool, England heartbreak 2
- Premier League on tour, Tuesday roundup: United beat Inter in penalties 1
- Liverpool complete $17 million signing of Belgian striker Divock Origi 1