Okay folks, this is going to be a long one, because there is a lot to get into here.
First things first.
We are now at halftime of a very long game. Nothing has been won yet. On the other hand, nothing has been lost. All that has been decided is that we are leading at the half. It’s great to feel good about this, but there are still 90 minutes, at least, to go in this game.
Having said that, it was a great game to watch. I would have enjoyed watching this game as a neutral. In fact, just before this game started, I told someone that I wish I was a neutral for this game, and then I wouldn’t have this foreboding that I was going to be a witness to a slaughter.
It’s not that I don’t think that we have a good team, it’s just that I know how good they are.
Early in the first half, right before they killed us for turning the ball over cheaply in our own half, I thought, "we almost scored on Barcelona! At least we aren’t lying down."
At halftime, I thought, "At least we punched them in the mouth before we lost to them."
There are going to be a lot of players who deserve a ridiculous amount of praise for this half of the tie – and all rightly so – but there is one player who was above and beyond the best on the field. He shut down the entire right hand side of the field, did battle with Messi and Alves and won. Then he went to the other side of the field and did the same thing there.
Stats Home Team First
Shots (on Goal) 9(4) 10(6)
Fouls 19 21
Corner Kicks 2 4
Offsides 9 2
Time of Possession 29% 71%
Yellow Cards 2 5
Saves 5 1
Cesar: I don’t think the goal was his fault. I thought that he came up with 2 very big saves. 6.5
Maicon: I don’t know how much he was to blame in the goal and I liked how he tried to cover for Lucio as it happened. Was phenomenal going forward. 7.0
Lucio: Stood tall and won the headers that he was expected to win against a decidedly smaller and less physical attack. Didn’t like the hesitation to go after Maxwell on the goal. 6.5
Samuel: Before the game, one would have thought that Samuel was a liability against the small and quick. The fact that he is self sacrificing and brave enough to block shots without a seconds thought to health or pain often goes overlooked. 7.0
Zanetti: Simply outstanding. Versatile enough to cover for Maicon on the right and cover on the left, good enough to do both at a world class level at 36, Zanetti will never get the respect and the accolade that he deserves. 8.5
Cambiasso: I thought that this was a slightly off game for Cambiasso and that he didn’t handle the pressure well. I hope he gets his head into it before next week. 6.0
Motta: Like Cambiasso, I didn’t think this was a great outing for Motta. I was in particular disappointed with his passes forward. 6.0
Eto’o: The selflessness and the willingness to sacrifice for the team in putting ego to the side and playing so far back and wide from goal is really appreciated by me at least. I would have made him my player of the game if not for Zanetti. 8.0
Sneijder: The first goal was confident and well taken. The header that the third goal came from wasn’t. I thought his passing was a little lacking, but I appreciated the defence. 7.0
Pandev: I thought that Pandev did his job in keeping Alves honest. He made a few good passes as well. I can’t think of any real blunders, but he has got to get better in the air. 6.5
Milito: Excellent game scoring and assisting except for the 2 poorly taken shots that he could have done much better with. They don’t have to all be goals, but they should be on target and make the keeper have to work from that close distance. Or make the pass. 7.5
Are we as good as Barca are? Does this score reflect reality? This isn’t as dumb a question as it might seem.
We are better than Barca in some respects. We defend better, that’s for sure. And here’s a little tip for those who don’t know: playing defence isn’t Anti-Football. It’s the other half of the game. Some people will never get this simple fact. It’s not as pretty, it may not put butts in seats and it’s not perceived as refined. But it is part of the game.
And we are good at it. We are better at it than they are. Some have said that Barca play defence with the tippity-tap passing and the wearing down of the clock. But in my mind, winding the clock down so that the other team will have less of it is called “stalling”. This is a perfectly good strategy if it works for you. Defence, by definition, is what happens when you don’t have the material to score – in this case, the ball – and are trying to prevent the other team from scoring. I didn’t come away impressed with their defence from this game.
What do I mean? Well, let’s look at it this way. Inter had several chances in this game, all of them starting from the flanks. Eto’o had a decent chance forcing a save after beating Maxwell on the right flank. Milito beat Alves on the left twice for shots that went wide, and should have probably been crossed into the middle, soon after that. Sneijder, on the first goal was completely unmarked on the left flank after 2 or 3 defenders went to converge on Milito from a pass from Eto’o that started on the right flank. The second goal was Milito beating Maxwell on the right flank crossing to Maicon who poked home as he cut into the middle from the right flank. Eto’o crossed from the right flank to Sneijder who was, you guessed it, left completely all alone on the left flank.
Are we seeing a pattern yet? Do we now know where Mourinho has targeted the Barcalona weaknesses? It looks a lot like where he targeted Chelsea’s weakness to be too, doesn’t it. Kinda also explains why he keeps going back to this formation during the Champs League. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to do as well in Serie A. Says something about the league and how organized the teams are, in my mind.
More interestingly, it didn’t seem like Guardiola did a whole lot to change things so that the fullbacks who were getting burned out there were more protected. On the contrary, it seemed like he was content to just continue to all out attack even after the first two goals showed how exposed on the flanks his attacking made his team. I can only recall the 1 sub that he made. Was this because he wasn’t concerned, or was this because he didn’t have anyone to switch with?
Could this have just been a bad night for Barcalona? Yes. Could this have been a bad night because there was another good team there struggling against them? Yeah, sure, anything’s possible, but here’s the real question that’s going to start baking my brain in about 5 days.
Can Inter do it again?
Let’s get into the referee. Was he terrible? Not particularly, although I wouldn’t say that I agree with many of the calls – surprise, surprise I know.
Was Alves fouled in the box and was it a penalty? On first blush, when I saw the play live I thought that it was. When I saw the replay, I thought that Sneijder held his foot back to minimal contact and that it was going to be a penalty anyway. When I saw the replay yet again, I noticed that the ref and the linesman were right on top of it – one on either side - and neither made a move to call for the penalty. I was delighted to see that Alves get a caution, though. Here’s why I was delighted, replay showed minimal contact and he was clutching the leg. Not nice.
Look, these referees in the Champions League, in case you haven’t gotten it by now, do not want to 1. call penalties if there is any possible out and 2. don’t want to throw anyone out if they can avoid it. In fact, if I had to guess, I would bet that the UEFA brass made it clear that the game was to be won by the players and not the referees, especially after several *ahem* incidents last season. It would have to be extremely blatant for anything to be called a penalty and this wasn’t it.
Was Milito offside for his goal? Yep. I would guesstimate that he was about half of a step judging from the perspective of the camera relative to the field. In the replays I also noticed that the linesman was doing a poor job of keeping up with the play. It’s unfortunate – and I mean that, nothing bugs me more about this game as a whole than ref errors - but it stands.
Did Puyol deserve his caution? I really think that he did because he was impeding the progress of Milito without playing the ball. I mean he can say that he used his shoulder instead of an extended arm, but the ball was half a mile away. There was no challenge for the ball, there was only the knocking Milito – who would burn Puyol in a race to the ball - off stride.
Was Milito offside in the first 10 minutes when it looked like he was alone on goal? Nope. But again, the linesman looked like he was off the line and his perspective was off.
Did Thiago Motta deserve to be at least cautioned in this game? He probably did. He was responsible for at least as many fouls as Busquets was, but on the other hand, he didn’t yell at the ref either like Busquets did and this ref struck me as being the touchy type. It was just as well that the Barca players were the ones to surround this guy after some calls they didn’t like. I don’t think that helped them one little bit in the “ref sympathy” tally.
Was Messi’s shoulder/elbow on Maicon a foul? It’s really hard for me to tell. Messi definitely aims to hit Maicon, just as Maicon isn’t afraid to come into contact with Messi while chasing the ball. Does Messi’s arm come up to hit Maicon? I think it might a little, but it’s hard to tell. It might have been an unfortunate accident between two players going for the ball. The thing that bothers me, though, is that I didn’t see Messi going to check out Maicon while he was lying there and a quick look at Messi with the camera saw a very frustrated man playing in a tough game. So, I don’t know, but I would like to think that it wasn’t intentional. I know that Barca supporters will rush to his defence to say that he’s not “that kind of player”… but that’s hogwash. They all can be “that kind of player”. Even angelic faced Kaka, the militant born again, dives unashamedly.
Did Eto’o deserve to be whistled for a foul after winning a ball deep in Barcelona’s side of the field? No. Play should have continued and maybe we might have had a decent chance out of it. But I will tell you this, he definitely deserved the caution he got for stupidly kicking the ball after he was whistled for the foul. I get that he’s frustrated, but that was just dumb in a game as important as this was.
So, good chances were created, some great defence was played and we got some good breaks. How will Barcelona respond, will we be able to line up this way again, can we make this good feeling continue into the League, can we continue to split our attention, what’s going to happen next season when more big changes are looming?
These aren’t the only questions I am asking myself tonight as I reflect on things. I revisit another question of mine: If we don’t win anything having challenged on three fronts in a ferocious manner, is this a successful season? I still am not sure. I think that a lot matters on how we finish this season. If we lie down – that is, if we don’t play in what I think is our best - in any of the competitions, I will be supremely disappointed, but how bad can I feel after this, in many respects, wonderful season!?
Next up, Atalanta in the battle for the Blue and Black mesh.