Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Barça Update: Valdes to the Rescue

Has anyone seen my cape?

Back to the Champions League, friends. For those unfamiliar, Barça find themselves in the group stage of this year's Champions League, specifically Group E, along with defending French champions Olympique Lyon, defending German champs VfB Stuttgart, and Scottish runners-up Rangers. Tonight's game, after Barcelona laid the smack down on Lyon at Lyon and Rangers bested Stuttgart in Glasgow, was a critical match in shaping the group dynamic. A win would place Barça solidly atop the table with four games left to play, while a loss would leave them in the middle of the group with Stuttgart (and potentially in a four way tie, depending on the outcome of the Rangers/Lyon game). So, off to Germany!

Stuttgart knew the importance of tonight's game and came to play. Not only did they come to play, they came to play rough. Part of what makes European soccer interesting to watch is the fact that most countries have very distinct playing styles, and you get to see those competing styles face each other. Germany is known for their precision and their defense, sort of what you'd expect from the land of on-time trains and BMWs. But they're also known for getting a little physical, which throws a wrench in Barcelona's finesse play. It's a standard tactic, though. When you're outclassed, outmuscle. Messi can't do his fancy dance moves if he's rolling on the pitch. You'll note that the standings don't give style points.

This tactic gave Stuttgart a good chunk of the game (about the middle half of the match) to try and steal a goal and put pressure on an increasingly frustrated Barça, and it almost worked until Puyol poked one home in the second half. Good think Victor Valdes is a freaking brick wall. Stuttgart put full pressure on an injured Barcelona back line and forced Valdes to make two saves in the span of five or six seconds. Twice. He was the Man of the Match before the first half was over. Think about that for a minute. He was so good in the first half that it didn't matter what anyone did for the final 45 minutes - Valdes was already the best player in the game. What if Messi scores a hat trick? Or Ronaldinho beats seven men en route to a goal? Doesn't matter. Valdes was that good. In the end, he took what could have easily been a 0-2 defeat and turned it into a 2-0 win, putting Barça in excellent position for the remainder of the group stage. Up next is Rangers at Ibrox on the 23rd, the only team I'll be giving a preview of in the group stage, for good reason. But for now, the standings.

Group E Standings:

1) Barcelona / 2-0-0 / 6 points / +5
2) Rangers / 2-0-0 / 6 points / +4
3) Stuttgart / 0-2-0 / 0 points / -3
4) Lyon / 0-2-0 / 0 points / -6

Pelé Sez: Barça's win tonight is a big deal. Remember, they only need to finish in Group E's top half to advance to the knock-out rounds. If they win their next game against Rangers, they would need to lose out and have either Lyon or Stuttgart all but win out to be eliminated, something that seems pretty unlikely. Had they lost or drawn tonight, the entire group would still be wide open. An excellent comparison is Group G, which looks like this:

Fenerbahce / 1-0-1 / 4 points / +1
Inter Milan / 1-1-0 / 3 points / +1
PSV Eindhoven / 1-1-0 / 3 points / -1
CSKA Moscow / 0-1-1 / 1 point / -1

A third of the way through group play and the only team in even marginally in trouble is Moscow. Meanwhile, in Barcelona's group (standings above), there is now hardcore pressure for Lyon and Stuttgart to win, or else their Champions League campaign is basically over. Not only that, but after Barça's game at Rangers, they will have gotten all of their road matches under their belts and play the last half of the group stage at home, which is huge. In a six game mini-league, three points are always big, but especially when you have a chance to blow the group wide open. After tonight, I say Barça will move on, and I'm Pelé, so you should listen to me. Love! Love! Love!

No comments:

free webstats