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Josep Guardiola the Emperor as Barcelona Dominate in Rome

It was the Spanish Inquisition, and Manchester United just couldn’t find any answers. Barcelona boss Josep Guardiola must take the plaudits for an historic triumph…

Guardiola: Puppetmaster of one of the greatest Punch and Judy shows ever...

Guardiola: Puppetmaster of one of the greatest Punch and Judy shows ever...

Veni, vidi, vici.
They came, they saw, they conquered.
It may not be the most original summary of events in Rome, but it is the most accurate. Barcelona did not just beat Manchester United in Wednesday’s Champions League final, they demolished them.
They rendered their opponents mere spectators with their intricate passing game. They stood firm defensively as United probed desperately for an opening.
Like Spain in the Euro 2008 final barely 10 months earlier, the Catalan giants entered the game knowing that their opponents had a sizeable physical advantage. But by making the ball do the work, they exposed that advantage as insignificant and made sure the game was played they wanted it to be played.
From that point on, the comfortable 2-0 win was almost inevitable.
“I think the whole year we played the same way, we wanted to play well,” said Thierry Henry after the game. “We didn’t start well—United were better than us in the first 10 minutes—but once we had the ball we played the way we can.”
Once again, manager Josep Guardiola must take a huge amount of credit for the triumph. Like in the semifinal against Chelsea, he masterminded a tactical victory that belied his managerial inexperience.
Yaya Toure was again imposing as a make-shift centreback. But Guardiola gave him permission to push forward when necessary, and the Ivorian’s seemless interchanging of roles with the equally impressive youngster Sergi Busquets caused United a lot of problems.
Equally, Barca seemed to have done their homework in identifying Michael Carrick as United’s key distributor. For the first 40 minutes, Busquets surged forward to stifle Carrick whenever he got on the ball.
By half-time, the England midfielder was demoralised, and United were searching for other outlets.
In the second half, Barca had possession almost uncontested.
Carrick, like almost all of United’s players, will likely be forced to face some criticism during the game’s post-mortem. But it would be inaccurate to simply state that he didn’t perform—in reality, Barcelona just didn’t allow him to play.
“You’ve got to give credit to Barcelona, they played well,” admitted Rio Ferdinand after the match. “On a day like this you need to be able to play your best football, and today we couldn’t produce it. On today’s performance they were the better team.”
All the best managers seem to also be lucky managers, and there is certainly a case to say Guardiola falls into that category. “Pep” will no doubt accept that Barcelona enjoyed a crucial does of luck on Wednesday—just the sort of luck a team needs to win major finals.
Gerard Pique was lucky to get away with only a yellow after cynically blocking Ronaldo as the Portuguese winger threatened to bear down on goal inside the first 20 minutes.
And Samuel Eto’o’s goal—after only 10 minutes—came just as United had made an imposing start to the game, and immediately and irrevocably changed the balance of the tie.
If that first shot had not gone in, United might well have taken over totally.
Yet, even this critical moment was touched by Guardiola’s tactical hand. United seemed caught unawares as Barca started with Messi on the left, Henry in the centre, and Eto’o on the right—roles different from their traditional lineup—and Eto’o’s pace and quick-thinking enabled him to lose Patrice Evra, twist inside Nemanja Vidic, and poke it beyond Edwin van der Sar.
United were 1-0 down before they had tactically adjusted to the questions Barca posed.
“We started the game brightly and I thought we looked confident, played well, and could have been in front,” said Sir Alex Ferguson after the match. “But the goal was a killer for us. Trying to get the ball back off them is difficult, and they use it very well. They’re the better team.”
Guardiola, just 38 years of age, is 30 years Sir Alex Ferguson’s junior. But you wouldn’t have thought that from the action on the pitch. Blessed with the mercurial talents of Andres Iniesta and Xavi, two players built very much in his image, the former Barcelona captain was always going to know how to get his team purring.
Years ago, when Guardiola was captain of the first team, he took aside a young Xavi on the training ground, and directed his attention to a baby-faced Iniesta, who had just been promoted to the first team.
“Remember the first time you played with Andres,” Guardiola told Xavi. “You’re going to retire me; he’s going to retire us all.”
Little could he know that, almost three years later, the three of them would end up crushing United’s Champions League ambitions at the final hurdle.
Against arguably the best side in Europe over the last three years—lest we forget—the mercurial trio made sure the Spanish side played to the best of their ability.
That proved more than enough for victory.
After the game, Sir Alex Ferguson commented that Carrick and Anderson might have learned a lot from coming up against the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. If United’s midfield did learn from the footballing lesson they were given, then they will be back with a vengeance next season.
But for now, Barcelona are the deserved champions of Europe.
And in Guardiola, they have a manager who already looks destined for greatness.

Veni, vidi, vici.

They came, they saw, they conquered.

It may not be the most original summary of events in Rome, but it is the most accurate. Barcelona did not just beat Manchester United in Wednesday’s Champions League final, they demolished them.

They rendered their opponents mere spectators with their intricate passing game. They stood firm defensively as United probed desperately for an opening.

Like Spain in the Euro 2008 final barely 10 months earlier, the Catalan giants entered the game knowing that their opponents had a sizeable physical advantage. But by making the ball do the work, they exposed that advantage as insignificant and made sure the game was played they wanted it to be played.

From that point on, the comfortable 2-0 win was almost inevitable.

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May 28, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | Leave a comment

Despite Chelsea Moans, Don’t Overlook Barcelona’s Tactical Victory

The spotlight might be on Chelsea’s grievances with the referee, but Barcelona and manager Josep Guardiola deserve all the plaudits for engineering their progression to the Champions League final…

Iniesta: Silenced Stamford Bridge

Iniesta: Silenced Stamford Bridge

Much has been made of the fallout of Chelsea’s last-gasp defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday night, in particular the reaction of Didier Drogba at the final whistle.

Much has been made of the fallout of Chelsea’s last-gasp defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday night, in particular the reaction of Didier Drogba at the final whistle.
Yes, many might agree with the Ivorian that the refereeing was a “disgrace”, but the truth is only one of the four shouts the Blues had was worthy of a penalty being awarded (Pique’s handball from Anelka’s flick).
Indeed, a case can be made that Chelsea profited from referee Tom Henning Overbo as much as they were disadvantaged—in particular Eric Abidal’s sending off for a challenge only the Norwegian saw handed Chelsea a numerical advantage for the majority of the second half.
The fact they did not take advantage of this, but instead were content to sit on the slender lead they had, cannot be blamed on the referee.
Over both ties, Chelsea showed little real adventure or ambition, and looked destined to go through on the back of one unexpected moment of exquisite beauty from their midfield linchpin. To moan afterwards about the refereeing is simply disingenuous—the misplaced anger of an emotional team devastated to see victory snatched away from them in the cruelest of manners.
Blame must start at home.
Where is the dissection of Cech’s questionable technique, that allowed Iniesta’s shot to rifle past him?
Where is the post-mortem of the defensive organisation, lax enough to allow arguably Barcelona’s most threatening player on the night space on the edge of the box?
Why didn’t the team go in for the kill when their opponents went down to 10 men?
These questions, ney criticisms, for Chelsea should be raised and answered. Hiding behind the excuse of poor referring will not change anything in the long-run. But a bit of self-awareness and reflection, currently so conspicuous in its absence, just might.
Due to the fuss made by much of the Chelsea hierarchy, the consensus already seems to be dismissing Barcelona’s triumph as a result of extreme good fortune.
This paints an inaccurate picture.
If anything, a Barcelona triumph would have been the only fair reflection of the tie.
Barcelona’s manager, Josep Guardiola, deserves great credit for steering his side to success. Yes, Iniesta’s strike came dangerously late, but to restrict a powerful and imposing Chelsea side to one goal in 180 minutes (and a Yeboah-esque wonder strike at that) is an impressive achievement equal to anything their opponents were lauded for at the Nou Camp.
Considering in the second leg Barcelona had to do without the influential presence of Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez, and Thierry Henry, Guardiola should be lauded for enabling his team to progress—especially on enemy territory, having seen his side go a goal down.
Playing Yaya Toure in central defence was a masterstroke—the key pre-match decision in a selection full of them. Guardiola had other options—he could have opted for admittedly inconsistent Martin Caceres at the back, or put Busquets as the makeshift defender in order to keep the team’s traditional midfield core together.
But he went for Toure—and the Ivorian proved himself to be the correct choice.
The 25-year-old helped Pique cope with the physicality of Drogba, and nullified the threat of a striker that has been in top form in recent weeks. Crucially, though, he also acted as a invaluably distributor of the ball when in possession—bringing it out of defence with panache, and starting attacks with intelligence.
He created another facet to Barcelona’s play in attack, without sacrificing too much defensive security.
Attacking threat was something they craved, especially as the absence of Thierry Henry appeared to considerably blunt the Catalan giant’s threat. Iniesta did a solid job deputising in the Frenchman’s unfamiliar role, creating a lot of width on the left and generally giving Bosingwa food for thought.
But, thanks in part to Chelsea’s dogged and disciplined defence, it rarely looked like anything tangible would come of his prolific industry.
Until the last minute, that is.
In midfield, Sergi Busquets stepped up to the plate admirably, as did Seydou Keita. At times they did bend, but never did they break. Confronting arguably the most imposing midfield trio in world football, that is not something to be overlooked.
Still, the nagging feeling for Chelsea fans today might be that if their team had applied more pressure on the two newcomers, they might have got some reward.
In his career, Guus Hiddink has been on the end of as many fortunate refereeing decisions as poor ones, and would undoubtedly admit privately that the team cannot really blame anyone other than themselves for the defeat.
Ultimately, Abidal’s red should have been the rag to the bull—spurring the Blues on to go in for the kill. That it didn’t only serves to demonstrate the team are not yet worthy of becoming European champions.
Last night’s match was not a triumph for refereeing, nor a triumph for Chelsea’s style of play—but it was a triumph for the beautiful game.
And it was a triumph for Pep Guardiola.Much has been made of the fallout of Chelsea’s last-gasp defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday night, in particular the reaction of Didier Drogba at the final whistle.

Yes, many might agree with the Ivorian that the refereeing was a “disgrace”, but the truth is only one of the four shouts the Blues had was worthy of a penalty being awarded (Pique’s handball from Anelka’s flick).

Indeed, a case can be made that Chelsea profited from referee Tom Henning Overbo as much as they were disadvantaged—in particular Eric Abidal’s sending off for a challenge only the Norwegian saw handed Chelsea a numerical advantage for the majority of the second half.

The fact they did not take advantage of this, but instead were content to sit on the slender lead they had, cannot be blamed on the referee.

Over both ties, Chelsea showed little real adventure or ambition, and looked destined to go through on the back of one unexpected moment of exquisite beauty from their midfield linchpin. To moan afterwards about the refereeing is simply disingenuous—the misplaced anger of an emotional team devastated to see victory snatched away from them in the cruelest of manners.

Blame must start at home.

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May 7, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , | 3 Comments