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.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT
A 95th minute goal from Alan Gordon gives San Jose momentum ahead of next week’s second leg.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:54 PM EDT
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Mar 11, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Gunners prospect could soon be locked into an international career with Germany.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:56 PM EDT
Champions League was Milan’s last battle. Now, two months of auditions for next year’s team begin, with Seedorf decide who will return for the Rossoneri’s restart.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT
Over the course of two legs, Arsenal was outshot 41-15 and had only 27 percent of the ball.
Mar 11, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Legacy didn’t matter, Costa is ready for your love, and Atlético improved but imperfect.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Another sickening blow for Holden, who suffers knee ligament damage after latest comeback game goes horribly wrong:
Mar 11, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
With the Gunners falling at the first UCL knockout hurdle once again, what did we learn this time?
Battling Arsenal bow out, as Bayern Munich reach UEFA Champions League quarters after 1-1 draw (3-1, agg.)
Mar 11, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
Defending champions Bayern down Gunners to reach quarterfinals of Champions League:
Mar 11, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
With seven goals in five Champions League games, Costa has led Atlético into the quarterfinals.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
Three Vancouver Whitecaps, three Columbus Crew take their place in the first week’s Best XI.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Japanese youngster traveled with squad to Munich… then Arsenal found out he was ineligible:
Mar 11, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Nick Rimando snared the league’s honor, but the Dancing Bear claims PST’s first weekly award.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:02 PM EDT
Can the Gunners go on the road and beat Bayern 2-0 for a second-straight season in the UCL?
Mar 11, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
American investment company now owns 25 percent of United’s total shares on the NYSE:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
Newcastle boss full of remorse after unsavory incident lands him in hot water:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
Pardew reprimanded by the FA, is his ban long enough?
Mar 11, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
German youth international, eligible to play for the USMNT, set to extend stay with Arsenal:
Mar 11, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
Ankle sprain is “a very rare and unique injury, and we are trying to treat it as well as possible.”
Mar 11, 2014, 4:55 AM EDT
Milan’s failed to turn its season around, with Atlético has stabilized after a February swoon.
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