Neal texted me recommending that I watch the Barcelona/AC Milan Champions League match. So I did. Here are some thoughts:
Milan have five attackers on the pitch and Barca have two midfielders in defence. This should be fun.
Great run and cross from Keita for Barca's opener. And he's their holding midfielder! You won't see that from Mikel or De Jong. Though I guess you'd get it from Yaya Toure, who previously held that role.
Is Keita the next Viera?*
* That's a joke! Save your emails and comments.
How old is Zambrotta? He was established with Juve when I was watching Serie A in the mid-90s. (Wikipedia says I'm making stuff up now - at least a little bit. Sorry.)
Gorgeous ball from Thiago with which Fabregas can only hit the keeper. Come to think of it, is this the best accumluation of talent named Thiago on the field, ever?
Cliche alert: It would have been easier for Ronaldinho to score that than to miss!
... Messi too.
Sweet pass in from Seedorf for Zlatan's opener. Seedorf has always been one of my favorite players. I don't like him like say Neal like Denis Bergkamp, but he's probably my original soccer crush.
I think Christian Abbiati has an old family recipie tattooed on his forearm. So he never forgets what to buy at the market when he wants to make it. Smart!
Alberto Aquilani didn't learn much in England save for how to tackle like Paul Scholes. Two late lunges and he's in the referee's book.
Thiago has a really nice range of passes. The chip for Fabregas' shot, then the through ball that almost sent Villa... through. It's something you'd see in the Premier League from David Silva, or Luis Suarez, but not too many others.
On the half hour, the game descends into farce. Barcelona, clearly on top yet still vulnerable, win a penalty off Aquilani who climbs over Xavi's back. It's perhaps a bit soft, but not all too controversial. It gets odd when Nesta is booked (for something he said?). If that card was meant for "Il Principino" he would have been sent off. Messi gives a little stutter step and freezes on the spot - not taking the kick until Abbiati dives. That's a yellow card for him now as you can't stop in your run up. So what does he do on the re-take? The big F' you of hitting it as hard as he possibly can into the side netting. Abbiati guessed correctly, and the shot was at a good height for him to stop - but it was past him in a flash. Thankfully Messi doesn't celebrate by removing his shirt, as that would have just been too silly.
Speaking of too silly... almost directly from the restart Barcelona hare in on goal. With the entire Milan defence drawn towards Messi, he drifts into enough space to put the ball wide to David Villa who smacks the ball at Abbiati. The ball goes off the keeper's arm, travels down to the pitch... and bounces up and over the crossbar! The unlikeliest bounce ever, but Abbiati did well enough, I guess.
Van Bommell adds a yellow card to his own goal. Bad fantasy night for him, but great for anyone who bet on "Van Bommell Yellow card - first half". I'm guessing they didn't get great odds on that, however. #alwayslikely
Pato comes in for Robinho, giving Milan a little more muscle up-front without messing with the delicately balanced number or Brazilians on the pitch. It's clearly why we're not seeing Dani Alves tonight.
After almost ten minutes of mesmerizing Barcelona ticky-tacky football Milan break and a Mascherano clearance falls to Kevin Prince-Boateng. Nice control to gather then ball and then an amazing drag to put the ball past the covering Keita and keep the momentum going towards the goal! And he finishes beautifully at the near post as Valdez was caught leaning the other way. I was waiting for KPB to do something - Neal had warned me. And I was going to be snarky. Something along the lines of "If all you do is shoot when you get the ball - and that's why fantasy managers LOVE the Prince - then one of them will eventually go in." but that was a peach. No snark from me, I just want to watch it again in slow-motion.
The Milan crowd is almost exclusively decked out in puffy coats. #trendspotting
Xavi is amazing. Sometimes he's the outfield player who takes the ball off the goalkeeper and brings it out of defence. Sometimes he's the most advanced player on the pitch. Here he takes up the latter role and gets the goal that Van Bommell's earlier OG denied him. And all credit to Messi getting the pass through four Milan defenders. You could just see that Barcelona were unfazed by KPB's goal. They shipped one, so they go and get another one. It's simple to them, and it's just a joy to watch.
It took until 76 minutes, but there it is - the only thing more pre-ordained in this match than Van Bommell's yellow card - Busquet's over-reaction, most likely gripping a leg, to a tackle. It's an ugly part of his game, which is otherwise a joy to watch. And that's not something you say lightly about a holding midfielder and reserve center back.
The substitutions are coming thick and fast now. That leads me to two thoughts:
- I would LOVE to see these two teams play each other again in a meaningful match (knock-out stages, I guess) with their full line-ups. That means Mexes, Iniesta, Alves, Pique, etc.
- How deep is this Barcelona side? We who watch the Premier League are used to seeing some deep benches like the ones that Chelsea, Spurs, or Manchester City can put out. But this team can put out any number of players like Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Fabregas, Thiago, Villa, Pedro, Busquets, Bojan (if they buy him back from Roma after next season), Sanchez, Affelay, etc. They are mostly young, exciting players, and they all play a system - passed down from Guardiola to Xavi to Messi - to perfection. All they need to do is have a Manchester United-like transfer window(s) where they go out and buy the best few young defenders and their keeper for the next ten years. I don't think they can survive for too long with Mascherano, a midfielder turned defender, in the middle of a back three with Valdes behind them. But that's picking nits.
As for Milan, I worry that they don't have the balance between attack and defence correct yet, and that they're too dependent on yesterday's players. That being said, they have an array of offensive weapons and are going to be tough out for anyone in the competition who can't score with them like Barcelona can.