Thursday, September 20, 2007
The New Cog
Although Barca eventually cruised home against a strangely supine Lyon, there were signs that the Ronaldinho-Henry-Messi trident might not be as frightening as first imagined.
Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy were long considered the two premier strikers in the English Premiership, but their styles were never all that similar. The Dutchman was the penalty-box operator par excellence, offering strength (especially in the air), an enviable ability to work in tight spaces, and a killer finish.
The Frenchman, by contrast, often liked to drift wider in search of meaningful action, and some of his most memorable goals were slashing angled shots following a wriggling run inside from the touchline.
This morning, Henry found himself in a static central role, and it was clearly anathema to him in some repsects. Frequently caught offside, and often forced to play back-to-goal pivot rather than off-the-ball panther, he came to life only in short bursts.
It didn't help that Ronaldinho, too, was far from his best. Barca's dominance of the first half had much to do with the fact that Leo Messi, in incisive fettle, basically forced the French side to double-mark him, thereby freeing up space in the midfield for the likes of Deco and Xavi Hernandez.
Around the hour mark, when Messi too began to fade, Barca were in serious danger of losing the thread of the game. It was only after Frank Rijkaard wisely replaced the out-of-sorts Ronaldinho with the much under-rated Andres Iniesta that the chances started coming again (Barca's long-awaited second goal, you may note, was set up very cleverly by Iniesta).
So, will Henry thrive in Spain? It's quite possible, but I feel he needs to be given rather more licence to roam, which would in turn require some of his attacking partners to play more centrally at times.
If Rijkaard can find a modus operandi that accommodates both Henry and the existing Barca spearhead, the Catalan club would surely be installed as Champions' League favourites.