Reflecting on Barcelona’s Champions League triumph in Rome on Wednesday..
So events at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome turned out to be anticlimactic, as Barcelona messi-merized Manchester Dis-United ‘two nothing’. However, prior to the game it almost looked the other way around. In fact, reading various websites and newspapers it seemed that Barcelona were coming to Rome to get a lesson in ‘complete football’.
It’s no surprise that most articles were views of journalists affiliated to the British media and although Goal.com had predicted a narrow win for the Catalans in its preview, predictions among some other Goal.com journalists were pretty much even.
Hence, at this stage I sympathize with United’s supporters, not just for the loss but for an unrealistic sense of expectation given to them by the British media. Mentioned below are 10 such instances of what was said over and over before the match and its contrast with reality.
1. ‘Barcelona lack flexibility and depth in squad.’
Reality – with 150+ goals (30% more than the next team) under their belt and not losing a single ‘must win’ game, the entire season, this was a perception way off mark. If 12-13 players can get you this much, they must be the costliest bunch of the world.
2. ‘Barcelona play the game only ‘one way’’
Reality – How else should the game be played – Like Argentina played in 1990 world cup with 11 men behind the ball? Even a United supporter would prefer Barcelona going for the kill, than just frustrating and defending a single goal lead. If authorities protect attacking players wave ‘play on’, if team has possession advantage and liberalized the offside rule, it’s with an objective that football sees more goals. The ball is meant to be kicked towards and into the opposition net. Why spend billion if 11 players are still going to defend in a CL semifinal, after two trophy less yrs? No wonder Roman Abramovich continues to shop for coaches and players.
3. ‘Pep Guardiola is too young and novice to win CL trophy vs Sir Alex’s vast experience’
Reality – Age of a coach isn’t a decisive factor, the way many were led to believe. Post the match; the same writers are now penning how Sir Alex got his tactics, formation wrong. Reality is also that, had United scored early or had Barcelona not scored early, the game would have taken a different shape and destiny. Even after the match, the ESPN commentators team said said that now that Pep achieved a treble, he would go downhill under burden of expectations!
4. ‘Absence of Marquez, Alves and Abidal weakens the Barca defence’
Reality – Marquez was a crucial loss, but Alves and Abidal are more known about their forays forward than their defensive abilities. In the semis, both were average. Hence the delta difference which came out of the replacements was minimal. In fact, it’s possible that the replacements defended more than what the originals would have done. What was not told to the world was that if Rio/Henry/Iniesta miss the match, the difference would be lot more and possibly decisive. Also that United have had a grueling season and fatigue could play a role with their defenders, while keeping away a barrage of never ending Catalan raids.
5. ESPN commentators laughed at Gerard Pique – sharing secrets of United, ways to shackle Ronaldo and that a United reject was manning the heart of the Barca defence
Reality – Of the eight defenders on show, Pique was the best on the night. Yet at the end of the match, he said he did feel bad for United’s fans, players and thought they were a champion team too. How we wish we had such humility and level headedness from the British media.
6. Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Reality – This was expected as you need material to spice up a final. But they seemed to miss out on comparing the midfield – the likes of Iniesta, Xavi who control the game. This had inverse impact on Ronaldo, as he tried too hard, in the process going for glory himself, when passing to Rooney was a better option.
7. Messi’s record vs. English team + his struggle vs Bosingwa + Evra is the best left back in the world = Messi will struggle.
Reality – It was foolish to write off Leo Messi, even more to assume that Pep would sit back and admire these facts and do nothing. Messi played much deeper on the night, had chances, created chances and broke his jinx. You write off such talents at your own risk.
8. Manchester United choked Barcelona in last season’s semis
Reality – During April 2008, Barcelona were in tatters, way off the La Liga race and fighting to stay in top four – very similar to where Athletico Madrid or Valencia are in April 2009. Despite that, Barcelona dominated possession and were a goal away from making to the finals. By simple logic, it meant Barcelona would provide more threat than last year and not similar threat.
9. Manchester United are a more complete team than Barcelona.
Reality – This is true, but what was not mentioned was that United have lost big matches this season, struggled against teams which attacked (Liverpool to Porto). Barcelona, apart from a thrilling 3-4 loss to Athletico Madrid, didn’t lose any big game.
10. United’s 3-1 thrashing to Arsenal in CL semis
Reality – Equating Arsenal to Barcelona is laughable. Arsenal were never serious contenders for the CL crown and when they were serious EPL contenders, they did beat United early this season.
Not for a moment am I suggesting that Manchester United were a poor, overhyped team. It’s a champion team, complete and deserves the tag of best team in the world over the past two yrs. But that need not equate to them starting as overwhelming favorites against Barcelona. The final was expected to be evenly contested with nothing separating the teams; the betting odds suggested so and the same knowledge should have been passed to fans of United and English football rather than create a false sense of over-expectations.