Wednesday, April 07, 2010


An Early Final

So it is to be Barcelona v. Inter Milan in the semi-final of the Champions League.

It's a great pity that the draw matched these two at the penultimate stage, since it was surely the final many neutrals were keenly anticipating. Expansive Catalan flair versus shrewd Italian pragmatism. Eto'o versus Ibrahimovic. And, of course, the fresh-faced decency and dignity of Pep Guardiola versus the endless mind games of Jose Mourinho.

The manner in which both sides advanced this morning gives some indication of how the tie is likely to pan out. Barca were less convincing against Arsenal than the 4-1 scoreline suggested, and for all their impressive cohesion and combination play, it was individual brilliance that made the difference.

Mindful of his re-jigged defence, Guardiola had presumably advised his team to ease their way into the game; in the opening twenty minutes, the backline sat much deeper than usual. When Nicklas Bendtner scored the opener, it looked like a boilover might be on the cards. But no-one told Lionel Messi.

The incorrect offside call against Bendtner on the half-hour proved crucial, and becomes yet another monument to the continuing foolishness of FIFA in refusing to allow such decisions to be referred to a video replay (after a goal has been scored, please note). Instead, Messi scored twice in five minutes, and the tie was all but over.

Against Inter, Guardiola is unlikely to start in such a circumspect manner at the Nou Camp. Inter may be the masters of the breakaway, but Barca's best chance to advance would surely be to stick to their natural style.

As Zeljko Kalac mentioned in the SBS studio, Inter are a very well-balanced team, adept in every department, and seem to be playing with a real sense of purpose in Europe this season. There is a calmness and sense of effortless control about Mourinho's side that must worry Guardiola; one felt that seeing off CSKA Moscow - not a European giant, but hardly a poor side - only required them to play to 75% of their capacity (if that). Wesley Sneijder is quickly becoming the most effective No.10 in Europe, the South American quartet are grimly formidable in defence, and there is no lack of talent, or opportunism, in attack.

The winner of this tie will probably take out the competition. Even if they can get past Bayern, Manchester United are not quite the same proposition without Cristiano Ronaldo (and with Rooney not likely to be fully fit for a while yet), while the other three in their half of the draw probably lack the quality to topple Barca or Inter, although a Bayern with both Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery firing would be a tough nut to crack.

As much as I love Sneijder no discussion of Inter is complete without mentioning Stanković. Very underrated player (at least outside of Italy) but a huge part of Inter's recent success. I haven't actually seen much of Inter this season so I'm hoping that he's aging poorly (for Australia's sake). I'll be happy with a Barca-Bayern final.
I think it's a bit reminiscent of last year's Barca-Chelsea SF. Like then but unlike the group stage meetings this season, I expect Barca to have an extremely tough time against a very well-drilled, increasingly confident team playing with a defensive intensity that Barca hardly ever come up against (not they're fault), leading to many to proclaim "zomg Barca aren't as great as they look!!!111", ignoring it's just as much a matter of them not coming up against such teams regularly to be battle hardened enough to cope with things more comfortably. I also think they'll still scrape through like last time and be in a much better shape to see off such teams after two really grueling games, as I felt they were in and after last year's final against Man Utd.

Barca were lucky last time though that Drogba and his temperament failed the test at Stamford Bridge, and I think it's unlikely that Inter's attackers won't be more ruthless. That said I think Barca might just be a bit better now than they were in that SF, not least because of the increased match-winning ability of Messi in a more central and free-roaming role. The 4-2-4/4-2-3-1/assymetrical 4-3-3/call it what you like system that they're currently playing with is f****** awesome and having the second leg at home this time is an advantage over last year.

For what it's worth I like this Inter team and agree that it's a shame that the draw's worked out as it has. They're no longer used to and relying on Ibrahimovic to just do something and (through necessity I guess) are all the more match hardened and well-rounded for it, with the additions of Lucio completing an impressive backline and Sneijder providing the long absent midfield creativity. If they go out to Barca there will probably be plenty of criticism and angst over the continued failure to win the CL or even get to the final, but they've done well to get past Chelsea, comfortably get through the QFs and will probably give Barca their toughest test this season in the CL.

Anyway, fascinating match-up.
Just a quick one Mike. Your comment as follows, that "..Sneijder is quickly becoming the most effective No.10 in Europe". Is that inclusive of Messi, or....?
Suspect their on different planets...with respect.
Cheers, beers etc...and, see you in the box. oldie but a goodie.
Hi Danno,

I meant No.10 in terms of position rather than allocation. Messi's got the 10 on his back but he doesn't play like a classic No.10 - he's been either an inside-out winger or a false nine for Barca. Sneijder, though, is becoming the classic Italian fantasista with a touch of grit and physicality to his game as well - not many better midfielders in Europe at the moment IMO, Xavi and Iniesta included.
"The incorrect offside call against Bendtner on the half-hour proved crucial, and becomes yet another monument to the continuing foolishness of FIFA in refusing to allow such decisions to be referred to a video replay (after a goal has been scored, please note)."

Ironically, this incident highlights the limitations of video referrals. The linesman put the flag up because he thought the player was offside. You seem to be suggesting that linesman should not raise the flag when it's a close call, let the play run and if a goal is scored, then look at a replay to decide if it was legit.

Okay, what happens when it turns out to be offside but a goal isn't scored though the play runs on for a little while longer, say after save by the keeper, stays in the vicinity of the goal area, where a defender makes a tactical foul to stop a certain goal and gets sent off for it?

Can't just introduce replays without actually thinking of the implications.
I have no problem with that. I think it will encourage more attack and encourage defenders to actually chase attackers rather than standing with their hand in the air and then blaming everyone else when a goal is scored. Clear offsides will still be stopped by the linesman, if it is close you should be running back and defending so I really have no problem with allowing play to continue.

Also under the current rules what you describe is what is supposed to happen. If the linesman is not sure he should not be raising the flag, if he's 100% sure but it's close the same thing should happen whether there is a video replay or not, though of course in practice it will not. Introducing a video replay is really the only way we are ever going to get officials to actually comply with the rules. There is an interesting discussion of cognitive bias here but I'll spare you all the digression.

A "tactical foul" to stop a certain goal? There is a technical term for that, it is called cheating. I don't care if it's after the whistle, if you are cheating you should be at the least sent off and preferably hit with lengthy match bans and fines.

You do have a point here I think, that there is a problem with working out how divorced the play is from the initial offence. There will always be issues with any system I think the problems with the current system are worse than the problems of the video replay proposal. I think it's a fairly straightforward decision to make and the referee will always have all the information he/she needs to make it. Contrast that with trying to make an on the spot split second decision about the position of multiple players while trying to watch them all and the ball at the same time.

Video replays are not the simplistic panacea that its proponents think it is.

I can foresee officials being loath to make decisions because Big Brother is there to help them out, and thereby further divorcing incidents from the flow of the game.
Video replays are not the simplistic panacea that its proponents think it is.

No one is saying that, just like no one against video replays is saying that refs never make any mistakes.

Like I said every system has it's problem, the issue I have with video replays is that we may see the game stopped for an extended period repeatedly as officials replay an incident from all angles. I don't think it will be an easy fix, but I do think it will be a slight improvement and should at least be trialled. If it's a disaster then we can scrap it. No one is claiming that it will magically fix every problem just that it should result in more correct calls and if used correctly less stoppages. The idea being that officials let close calls play out and if nothing happens the game goes on. After all we come to see the players play not the ref whistle.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?