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.
May 30, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
Wenger’s men delivered a record 12th FA Cup title, as the Gunners eased to back-to-back trophies.
May 30, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT
Arsenal was fully dominant throughout as they hammered Aston Villa at Wembley.
May 30, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Pontus Wernbloom has a habit of showing up at important times, and he struck an 88th-minute goal to give CSKA Moscow a Champions League place.
May 30, 2015, 11:54 AM EDT
Theo Walcott starts in favor of Olivier Giroud up front for Arsenal as they look to defend their FA Cup title.
May 30, 2015, 11:24 AM EDT
With Champions League and Europa League playing time, West Ham added an experienced goalkeeper to challenge Adrian for his starting spot.
May 30, 2015, 10:16 AM EDT
The United States picked up the only 3 points of the opening day games as Argentina, Panama, Ukraine, New Zealand, Ghana, and Austria all played to draws.
May 30, 2015, 8:56 AM EDT
After 503 Premier League appearances, 6 Premier League titles, and 81 caps for England, the former Manchester United great is calling it a career.
May 30, 2015, 8:24 AM EDT
After winning his fifth term atop FIFA, Sepp Blatter said the United States is overstepping its bounds by arresting members of his organization.
May 30, 2015, 7:38 AM EDT
The Fulham midfielder returned from injury to assist the opener and score the winner in a 2-1 victory.
May 30, 2015, 12:48 AM EDT
Three talking points from the latest installment of MLS’s “Viernes de Futbol.”
May 29, 2015, 11:20 PM EDT
Final: Sporting KC 4-0 FC Dallas
May 29, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
Watch the lone first-half goal of the Sporting KC-FC Dallas match, televised on UniMas tonight.
May 29, 2015, 9:39 PM EDT
An important I.R.S official told The New York Times that more indictments in the FIFA corruption investigation will be released.
May 29, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Newcastle has released Ryan Taylor and Jonas Gutierrez.
May 29, 2015, 7:16 PM EDT
Orlando City SC made a big announcement earlier today regarding the future of the club.
May 29, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT
Barcelona has yet to pay the remaining 83 million euros of Neymar’s transfer fee, and his former club, Santos, will sue.
May 29, 2015, 5:41 PM EDT
The Men and Blazers speak with U.S. U-20 head man Tab Ramos ahead of the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
May 29, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
FA chairman Greg Dyke thinks Sepp Blatter’s fifth term of FIFA presidency won’t last.
2014 MLS Cup rematch: For the New England Revolution, it’s a new season, different game against LA Galaxy
May 29, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
On Fox Sports 1 this Sunday, the New England Revolution face LA Galaxy in a 2014 MLS Cup rematch.
May 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Chelsea’s title-winning team dominates our picks. But there are still plenty of surprise inclusions.
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