Champions League: FC Barcelona 3, Spartak Moscow 2, Or, Squeaking By…By: Ade C. | September 20th, 2012
A win is a win is a win. Not all matches can be perfectly coreographed displays of tiki-taka. Barça won a match they would have lost in past seasons.
It’s fine. It’s all fine. We keep saying this, and it keeps working, and there are certainly no complaints to be had about the results Barça have got so far this season, but last night’s match certainly wasn’t anything to write celebratory posts about.
Tito played with VV, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Tello and Messi, which is as good as it gets considering the absences (Puyol, Alba), Alexis‘ 5-minutes-before-kick-off recovery, and Villa’s suspiciously long recovery time.
It took Barça a little while to settle down, but that’s what always happens, those first few minutes where the players don’t seem to realise they’re not warming up anymore, and luckily Spartak didn’t take advantage of the distraction, and ten minutes in Barça gathered themselves up and started to test the visitor’s goal. In the second attempt, Piqué -playing striker as usual- stumbled over a rival defender and hurt his left foot, requiring him to be subbed out for Alex Song; Piqué will be out between two to three weeks, meaning that we’ll have only one real CB (plus Bartra and Fontàs) available for the October Clásico.
But let’s leave the panic for later, shall we?
Two minutes after Piqué injury, Tello soothed culé spirits everywhere with a lovely shot from outside the box which bounced dutifully into the Spartak goal, putting Barça ahead.
Looked like things were going right along the script of every confident Barça fan who had at least predicted an easy 4-0 win at home.
So then Dani Alves had to go and make things interesting by scoring a lucky goal… past Valdés. I am not blaming Dani (though I wish that if he got it in his head to score, he checked he was at the right end of the pitch to do so), because the whole defence was rather in shambles at that point. I understand that Tito didn’t want to throw Bartra (who hasn’t played in like forever) straight into a CL match, but why not push Busi back and leave Song at DM, where he did fine last time?
1-1 at home with 60 minutes to go isn’t a big tragedy, or it wouldn’t be if Barça hadn’t looked so messy; though Tello and Pedrito were in Energizer Bunny mode, Messi was nearly invisible, Cesc was just passable, and Spartak were doing great at preventing any sort of order or passing sequence to exist.
The second half rolled in with no changes in the line-ups and no changes in the situation. There were attempts made on Spartak’s goal, but nothing that promised a swift return to our winnings ways. Alexis, who’d been declared fit five minutes before the match, started to warm up. Dani scored (in the right goal, even!), but was clearly offside.
And then Spartak scored on a counter through Romulo.
From a comfortable 1-0 to losing 1-2 at home, with 30 minutes to go. It wasn’t time to panic, but it was definitely time to make changes… so Tito took off Dani Alves for Alexis.
Defenders, man, who needs them?
With this new 3-3-4 thing going on, goals were bound to come. It was just a matter of sitting tight and seeing if they would be for Barça, or for Spartak.
Luckily, Barça count with a lovely, dynamic young forward who never gets tireds, gives lovely crosses, and -for some reason- is still officially with the youth team.
To a Tello assist, Messi scored the equaliser.
So of course Tello was the next to be subbed out, for Villa. Tito is bringing back Pep’s Baffling Subs.
With MVP back on the field, plus a lively Alexis, Barça was all about the attack… which was good, considering what passes as a defence these days at the Camp Nou. Villa attempted an ambitious overhead kick, Alexis recovered the ball and crossed it nicely for Messi to head it in like a trained seal.
A lovelier comeback from a comeback we hadn’t seen. It was slightly worrying that Barça then attempted to maintain the result instead of improving it, what with the defence having the consistence of melting butter, but it was only ten minutes or so of having small heart-attacks every time Barça conceded a set-piece before the ref blew the whistle and we could declare this officially a win.
If suffering is good for your character, like Calvin’s dad always said, we’re going to be amazing human beings very soon.
It wasn’t a good match. It wasn’t an encouraging match. Piqué’s injury -which, alongside with Puyol’s, pretty much dooms us to a couple of weeks of desolation and many worried looks at Masche-, Cesc’s failure at stepping into the Iniesta role, Tito’s delay in making changes that weren’t forced on him by injury, the vicious circle which is Titi’s reluctance at playing youngsters who haven’t played properly in ages… not to mention how effective Spartak’s chaotic defensive style was for long stretches of the match.
But we won, so there’s not much point in complaining now, is there? Let’s save my usual pessimism for the ratings instead!
VV: 7. Not much he could have done on the Dani Alves goal (perhaps consoling Dani afterward?), but I just get the feeling he’s not as confident in his abilities as he used to be.
Dani Alves: 7. Points off for scoring an own goal, obviously, but he was alright other than that.
Piqué: damn him and his penchant for getting injured early in a match! Just when he’s playing well, too…
Mascherano: 8. The only rock we have left to build our defence on; a giant hamster ball is on its way to him as we speak.
Adriano: 6. Meh. Some nice crosses, yes, but look at Romulo’s goal and tell me he couldn’t have done better there.
Busquets: 8. Not only was he his usual underrated by wonderful self at midfield, he came really close to scoring at least twice.
Xavi: 8. His usual class, but now with added not-terrible set-pieces!
Cesc: 6,5. He wasn’t bad, not really, but he’s miles behind Iniesta and even Thiago when it comes to associating with Xavi and making play flow smoothly through the midfield.
Tello: 9. MOTM! You can say what you want about his runs down the flank being predictable, but they work more often than not; his crosses are fantastic, he puts in a huge amount of work and speed, and he’s not afraid to shoot on goal!
Messi: 7. Points for scoring twice and giving Barça the match. But his free-kicks were all abysmal and he was nearly invisible for too long.
Pedrito: 8. Pedroadrunner is definitely back, and seeing his awkward runs and his attempts at defending is most welcome these days.
Song (for Piqué): 7. Can’t be too harsh on him, because he was thrown into a position he’s not used to, in a team he’s not used to (yet). He could’ve avoided that yellow card, though.
Alexis (for Dani Alves): 8. He put in enormous amounts of work, opened space for Messi, was generous with his crosses and didn’t fall down too often.
Villa (for Tello): 7,5. I can’t be the only one worried about how long it’s taking him to get back to full form, can I? Still, it was good to see him out there, and as his failed overhead kick showed, he’s not afraid to throw himself back into the game.
Still, it’s a good result to start our Champions League run this season. Now it’s just a matter of learning how to play without centre-backs before we meet Granada this weekend!