Wednesday, October 19, 2016

GROWING PAINS



If I were you i`d change my name again
They don`t care what they do to you believe me
This is the coronation of the king of thieves
His occupation is the king of thieves
He can steal more than you can save
You can take him on, but you`re not that brave


ALL HAIL THE KING OF THIEVES!

The 5th meeting between these two greats of European football coincided at last with City giving Barcelona a run for their money. No wait. That can't be right. City. Barcelona. Thumping win. Putting the upstarts in their place. Another inglorious notch on City's bums-in-the-air bed-post.

You do not give a team a run for their money and lose 4-0. You do not need to check the timelines of Mark Ogden and Duncan Castles to know that. 

Barcelona, fluent in Catalan, Spanish, football and mickey-taking, had all of the answers and ended up winning very comfortably despite missing a penalty. So Pep’s two returns to the sacred homeland have ended in a 3-0 defeat with Bayern and a 4-0 defeat with City and still they clap the bugger like he was walking on water

Estupendo!

A game that started as a poor copy of the northern clog dance hyped to the moon and back between United and Liverpool, gradually developed into a fast-moving pastiche of pretty shapes and impossible angles, impossible shapes and pretty angles. Barcelona, you just knew it, were right up for a game of football and City – didn’t you just guess it – had brought a tartan suitcase of silly disguises with them. 

First the tactics. Guardiola decided it was to be a night without Sergio Aguero. With a trident of Messi, Neymar and Suarez at the other end, City’s new messiah had opted for a strikerless formation. Or had he? These are always the questions that quiver on the lips. Maybe there would be three strikers. Might Kolarov appear up front. Kompany, at least, had made a three minute cameo appearance there in last weekend’s exercise in futility against Everton. Or was Guardiola drifting quietly towards his paradigm of a team full of little pretty midfielders with insignificant beards?

In the end all was fluid, with a 4-2-3-1 morphing into a 4-3-3 on to a 3-5-2 with Pablo Zabaleta suddenly trudging proud and strong in central midfield and then an anti-disaster 4-4-1 with rush goalie and all hell breaking loose all around us.

If Saturday’s tea party with Scouse Ronald had been a fascinating tactical skirmish, this was more of a run around the bushes. Barcelona’s precision gliding is on another plain of course, with Messi’s twinkling feet and Neymar’s exhilarating change of pace to the fore. Rakitic too is a prince of the subtle pass and the boy Umtiti, dragged with his unfavourable name from the Lyon banlieu was an absolute monster at the back, gobbling up yards like a new lawn mower.

After a ragged first quarter, beautiful things began to happen, both sides contributing to a tableau of colour and relief. Then, with a routine clearance to be swiped at, Fernandinho, apparently wearing his nan's carpet slippers, hit the turf teeth first, allowing Messi to glide in, swivel and touch the ball home. The Argentinean’s balance and change of direction is reminiscent of Maradona, or, dare I say it, Georgi Kinkladze, but his speed of thought and pace on the ball are better even than Il Pibe. Extraordinary how a little man like that can dance and dance and dance and still nobody can get a foot to him. Kolarov, keen to rake his studs down the genius's shin, wore the look of the man who has lost his coat. 

But City pushed. Lest it be forgotten in the howling and the wailing. From minute 35, the game was being taken to the home side. By half time, the away team in their party orange had had more goal attempts than the masters themselves. De Bruyne, with his hair crying out for a different-coloured shirt, and Nolito, both forced panic and Gundogan slithered through brilliantly to force a fantastic save from his compatriot Ter Stegen.     

"You hear a lot of criticism" - Bravo on being a goalkeeper.

In defence all was never far from dangerously unbalanced, but things were holding out. Fernandinho had a yellow to his name for trying to remove Neymar’s appendix and Otamendi was horizontally airborne to scissors kick the ball to safety, but it remained 1-0. A cleverly-thought quick corner from Nolito even put Gundogan through on the keeper again but he lofted it onto the roof of the net. Sterling too was running at Digne, a ropey replacement for the limping Alaba and getting plenty out of his exchanges. With Pique soon to burst a gasket too, hope sprang eternal. Certainly the sight of Mathieu arriving, a proper Jeremy in his loping gait, inspired some confidence.

But instead, we were forced to look at the other end. Bravo tapped a clearance two feet to Suarez and, as the toothy one lofted his chip, the Chilean stuck out a glove to save. Sadly, being a full three metres out of his area, it meant good night Florence and God bless us all.

With more gifts offered by De Bruyne and Gundogan, Barça were flying. Nolito, wearing number 9 and playing for a fleeting moment in the central attacking role, gave way, as injury to Zabaleta and Bravo’s shenanigans meant no Aguero. Instead we had Clichy! 2-0 down at the Nou Camp, a man less and Messi/Neymar looking like they could reinvent the turbine engine in their spare time, it was lights out, Aunty, and sleep tight.

Still there was time for rare stuff of gold to unfold. Gundogan’s foul-up gave Messi his hat-trick. Stones, on his big European night out, running for a third time into the back of his own net to join the ball. 10 wins were morphing before our eyes into 2 defeats and 2 draws. A crisis emerging. Guardiola struck down in his prime with his first debilitating bout of Cityitis. Crusty great carbunkles growing everywhere on his clean, smooth visage. It is surely the end of days.

Still more, yet more. Kolarov – for it is he – sliding in like a Belgrade bulldozer. Neymar’s penalty swatted away by the spot kick king Willy Caballero. Back comes the cocky little Brazilian. A bit of weaving and it’s 4-0. Cool, classy and untouchable. Pep stares into the neck of his water bottle. It’s getting narrower and there’s a metaphor in there trying to get out. 

City have played their best football yet in the Catalan capital and received their heaviest tonking. Football. Lovely football.

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Cheers, Ed. Delighted a new strain of Cityitis is on the loose. What a relief.

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