“This continual erring by referees is eroding the whole credibility of the league.”
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I found the Champions League final a strange match. Barcelona should have had Juventus buried before Juve’s goal, and on the other hand Barça shouldn’t have won the game after that equalising goal.
The winning goal by Luis Suarez probably symbolised what Barcelona are about these days: the forwards streaking away and working something out between themselves, whether their midfield is on top or not.
The beginning was ‘pure’, I’ll give them that. Michael Cox had discussed before the match that not only did Barça’s forwards collectively score 90 per cent of their goals this year (up from 67% in their short-passing heyday in 2011) but that they also provide all of the assists for each other too.
Andres Iniesta has registered only one assist in La Liga for the entire season.
So it was back to the future with their short-passing, gap-finding first goal. It was a beauty too, involving Messi’s sweeping pass, Jordi Alba’s cushion, Iniesta’s dash into the space and Neymar and Iniesta’s double lateral passes.
Assist Iniesta, goal Rakitic, Messi statistically uninvolved – kind of.
The first 15 minutes were a procession in which Juve didn’t get into the game at all – Dani Alves’ saved shot could have ended the game before it began. After that Juve did get a grip, but the feeling of the match was that Barça had the game easily in their keeping.
The ball wouldn’t go in, but so what? Barcelona had their lead, what was going to happen? In the minutes before and after halftime Suarez had multiple pings but kept missing and perhaps chose the wrong option by shooting to the near post on a five versus three break.
I can’t say I particularly rated the forwards in this match. Neymar had been the main impetus in the opening barrage and was awesome but faded. Messi played much of the match like a combination winger/number 10 rather than a forward. He had one brilliant double one-two with the SN component but put his shot over the top.
Everything changed when Juventus full-back Stephan Lichsteiner was set free to pass inward into the penalty area to Carlos Tevez, who pivoted and shot at goal. Barcelona’s ter Stegen had not been overly busy but he made the close-range save. But the ball unluckily rebounded off his body to Alvaro Morata, who scored an easy goal. Morata surprisingly outshone Tevez up front, often getting the better of an average Mascherano.
A legendary boilover was on the cards as Barcelona’s game splintered and arguably Barça remained that way for the entire last 40 minutes. Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio were working things out in midfield for the first time. Thirteen long minutes passed in which Barcelona were rocking.
But they then led a counterattack out of the blue and won it. The winning goal was jarring by Barça standards. It was untidy and isolated, against the run of play. Buffon couldn’t push Messi’s shot away to safety. Suarez had cleverly sniffed a chance moments beforehand and peeled away from Evra a second before the shot, setting himself free to tap home the rebound ahead of Rakitic who would have done likewise.
Call this heresy but I’ve wondered if Buffon, while a champion in his 20s, is just your standard keeper in his 30s and is therefore a tad overrated. I’m being picky on this one, but could he really not have saved one single Spanish penalty of seven in the 2013 Spain-Italy semi-final?
Suarez’ goal was disappointing from a goalkeeping point of view.
It was an almost accidental lead but Barça kept it. Pogba should have scored a header and there was a scrambled clearance with three minutes to go as ter Stegan in Barça’s goal was finally given a workout. Neymar’s all-men-up goal at the end was from a scoreline point of view undeserved.
Still, Barça’s elegant and imperious first 55 minutes can now be enjoyed on replay knowing in hindsight that they finished the task.
This was an unforseen bounce-back season for Barça identical to 2009. Last season they had looked completely finished, with the same tiki-taka methods from the old days but no more effect. We wondered if Messi’s best was past him, if Neymar was just a show pony, and if Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets had had their day.
Then new manager Luis Enrique toggled the style, Messi recovered, Rakitic and Suarez reinforced the old guard and hey, look who scored in the Champions League final.
I personally have doubts about Barcelona backing it up next year, unlike the start of something wonderful that happened in 2009. Dani Alves is a bigger loss than anyone at the club will admit. If Messi and Luis Enrique have a pissing contest next year as occurred this January, Xavi won’t be around to get everyone onside again.
Iniesta can’t keep it going forever. Meanwhile, they will possibly serve a year-long transfer ban, which means no additional recruits to the club, no Suarez-ish revolution from a new boy.
Is change the only constant? If the transfer ban is enforced and Barça are forced to remain in stasis, we shall see.
2015 UEFA Champions League final
June 6, Berlin
Barcelona 3 (Rakitic 4, Suarez 68, Neymar 90+7)
Juventus 1 (Morata 55)
Barcelona: ter Stegen; Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Jordi Alba; Rakitic (Mathieu 90+1), Busquets, Iniesta (Xavi 78); Messi, Suarez (Pedro 90+6), Neymar
Juventus: Buffon; Liechsteiner, Barzagli, Bonucci, Evra (Coman 89); Pirlo; Marchisio, Vidal (Pereyra 79), Pogba; Tevez, Morata (Llorente 85)
Marty Gleason has reviewed each football season from 1998 to 2014 at martygleason.wordpress.com