…Leo Messi demanded to be sold from Barcelona. What if he went to a club in a different country that was barely fighting off relegation… in a league already dominated by the status quo? Say Messi transfers to Wigan Athletic. Then goes on to win the Premiership twice, the Europa League, and the FA Cup… with Wigan! Oh, and Messi also does for cocaine what Lance Armstrong did for PEDs, fraternizes with the mob, and makes boldly divisive statements regarding English regionalism. (Basically, he becomes the anti-Messi off the pitch). Would you think more or less of Messi than if he stayed at Barca slaughtering teams? Would you not be entertained?
Numbers are numbers, but legends are legendary. And while the record breaker continues to make history, I just wanted to give you a friendly reminder that there is still another. Thoughts?
Saturday’s thrilling encounter atop La Liga provided the first act of a 3-part drama in Spain, Italy, and England’s top divisions. And at the time, I figured it was the most legitimate race in the three leagues. (Who had Man United drawing Everton 4-4 to give Man City control of their own destiny and the Premiership crown? The same know-it-alls that claim to have predicted Milan dropping points this morning before Juve thrashed Roma, no doubt).
Heading into the Clasico, Madrid had a 4-point lead in the standings, with 4 more subsequent matchdays on the calender. A Barca win, as most expected, would toss the two clubs right into the proverbial barbecue for a sensationally well done finish to the season (ugh, sorry). The Catalan’s 3-1 victory over their rivals in December justified expectations of a similar result. In case you live under a rock and missed it, or you know, have responsibilities and stuff, here’s how this one all went down (from my armchair).
Teamsheets announced. Cristian Tello starting for Barca. Are they showcasing him for a big money move, or do they actually have the audacity to, gulp, rest players for the Champions League Semifinals?! Pique, Sanchez, and Fabregas also find themselves on the bench. Surely they’re taking the mickey here?
Spare a thought for Pedro, who seems to be the invisible man. David Villa is practically a paraplegic and Pedro still can’t earn a start. Two years ago, this would be unthinkable.
Real, on the other hand, field what’s probably their strongest lineup. Higuain finds himself on the bench to accommodate Benzema’s red hot form. Would YOU drop this man?
Coentrao is my player to watch for the visitors. Struggled a little midweek in Munich, has to be said. I think he’ll be a good barometer here. If he can be unleashed, Real will win. If he’s pinned back with defensive duties, it will be all Barca.
Any residual effects for Barca from the Chelsea debacle? Let’s see!
It’s an early physical battle for both teams. Hope the ref is up for it.
Real on the front foot now; you get the sense they want an early “Mourinho lead.”
Pepe sloppily gives the ball away, and Casillas does well to pip Alves to a 1v1. Very nearly a breakthrough there.
Nice shot of Mourinho on the bench, arms crossed defiantly. He looks significantly older today. Life under the microscope has aged the Special One, it seems.
Benzema making Adriano look like Bambi on ice, but only musters a tame shot from the edge of the area. Could be a matchup to exploit for Madrid.
Benzema and Adriano
Tello’s offside but he didn’t know it as he glided around Arbeloa to work a nice effort.
GOAL KHEDIRA: 1-0 Madrid. Wow, that was ugly. Valdes does a 1920s flapper imitation as Pepe directs a corner goalbound. Valdes and Puyol unable to clear and Khedira somehow bumbles it home. 17th minute.
You’d prefer to see a prettier goal in such a marvelous encounter, but the German is celebrating like he’s done unbelievable tekkers.
Iniesta has been Barca’s best player so far. Messi’s been sharp, but quiet. Only a matter of time before he erupts…
Commentators describing Sami Khedira as a “former German Youth Captain.” Uh, anyone else a little uncomfortable with that description?
Barca’s faith in their width is inspiring. But still not paying dividends. Evenly contested but lively match nearly a third gone.
Xavi pulls a sitter wide! Messi brilliantly slipped Xavi through for a close range 1v1 with Casillas. But the (smaller) Spaniard perhaps waited too long to pull the trigger, before drawing the shot left.
Ozil has been strangely anonymous. Actually, I feel anonymous. I’ve been mesmerized by the methodical ticking and tocking of the last 5 minutes. Hypnotic stuff.
There are some (mildly) surprisingly impressive attributes on display. Things you know about, but always catch you off guard when you see them: Tello’s pace, Benzema’s strength, Messi’s left boot, Ronaldo’s change of direction… I just realized, I could list these all day.
Ozil works around the edge but his cut back is blocked.
HALF TIME. 1-0 Madrid.
Well, Barca do look spooked from the midweek defeat at Chelsea. Out of sorts to some degree.
2nd Half gets underway.
Immediately, Barcelona playing with purpose. Those 3 points, wanting them, needing them, taking them.
And then Ronaldo is almost through but the offside trap holds, barely.
Here’s an interesting tidbit. Both Messi and Ronaldo are level on 41 league goals. I’m not advocating for Ronaldo’s claim to be the best player in the world (and the assists stat concurs), but shouldn’t the conversation be at least less lopsided, for this season?
What’s Tello done?! His diagonal run was picked out by Thiago but the youngster sidefoots the ball a mile off target. Shameful stuff.
Can Barcelona diehards even tell the difference between Tello and Isaac Cuenca? I bet Ceunca could’ve thrown on Tello’s kit at the break and nobody would ever know. I expect Disney’s Spanish branch to send me a royalties check when they make that movie next year.
Nerves running rampant now. One hour in the books and I’m sensing another breakthrough. Way too many good attackers on the pitch.
Xavi just wide. Then subbed off. What the hell? Nobody is happy with Guardiola’s change, and you can count me as one of them. Ray Hudson is on the verge of tears.
GOAL SANCHEZ! 1-1.
In the 70th minute, Barcelona find their equalizer. Iniesta with a slick backheel to Tello, whose shot rebounds to the Chilean. Sanchez makes no mistake sending it home, but it’s just as ugly as Khedira’s bumbling goal. Like for like.
GOAL RONALDO! 2-1 Real Madrid!
Well, that didn’t last long. Just 3 minutes later Ozil plays a gorgeous long ball into Ronaldo’s path, and the Greasy One coolly finishes near post, beyond the hopes of the caveman Valdes.
This is Madrid’s game, surely. They must milk another 20 minutes of clock for a famous victory, and I have no doubt they will try.
My friend Cotter, who’s been watching with me, can sense it’s probably not going to be Barcelona’s day. He starts muttering anti-Franco comments, glumly.
Now Ronaldo’s rolling on the ground? In the deep? (Oh yeah, that’s why people take extreme pleasure extolling Messi as the unrivaled greatest).
Barca struggling to create meaningful opportunities. This like watching a dog walk on hind legs. Got to be another goal here somewhere!
Real milking with both hands.
Sorry I’m getting short. This is how these usually go. In squeaky bum time, I start losing myself in the contest. Here, I’ll throw you a bone.
FUN FACT OF THE DAY: Did you know Kaka still plays for Real Madrid? Okay, I’m kidding. 5 goals and 7 assists in La Liga is admirable. But when your club pays a billion dollars to get you, and can’t rely on you in THIS game, I get the right to make fun of you. Read your contract, Ricky.
We’re in injury time now. Barcelona keep passing, sticking to their principles even at the death. They came back from a deficit in their first clash with Real by playing their game, but it’s not to be tonight.
FULL TIME! 2-1 Madrid.
And now, Madrid go 7 points clear, with a Camino Real to the La Liga title. The power appears to be shifting in Spain’s big rivalry. Barca must lick their wounds, but cannot dwell on defeat. Otherwise, the Catalans will lose their 3rd consecutive match when Chelsea visit midweek, in the all important Champions League.
It’s another Clasico in the books. If you enjoyed this, feel free to look back on all my live commentary of World Cup 2010. Or…look…forward(?) to my coverage of EURO 2012.
Not to detract from All Things Lionel, but the Maradona parallels in the video are absurd. Leading Argentina to a World Cup in 2014 will definitely force him in “that conversation” with the mopheaded one and Mr. Arantes do Nascimento. Statistically, he’s there already. Club career? On point. Frankly, I don’t have the time nor the energy to list all of his individual accomplishment (or Barcelona’s). Watch the damn video; then realize it doesn’t show a single of his 84 assists, or innumerable flashes or sheer open-field brilliance. Now you begin to understand.
Personally, Messi signifies something else for me. Years from now when someone asks who was the most entertaining player I’ve ever seen, I’ll happily show a picture of Ronaldinho’s bucktooth grin. The most intelligent? Zizou. Favorite? Gerrard. Classiest? Maldini. No, if Messi continues on his path he’ll simply be the best… ever. Messi is on the verge of something Olympian; he’s inching ever closer to touching marks of perfection. And he’s totally smashing my Vice City Theorem to dust!
The Vice City Theorem is as succinct as it is powerful. Like a Cruyff turn, if you blink, you might miss it. Ready? It postulates:
Civilization peaked with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City; therefore, it’s impossible for anything occurring before or after its time to be superior.
There it is. Years of acute analysis, patience, and nostalgia balled up into a hackey sack of cultural philosophy. First released in October 2002, Vice City defined the gaming industry for approximately the next 3 years. While the open world gameplay and indulgent style of GTA 3 made it a breakthrough, it didn’t ignite every male between ages 10-90 the way Vice City did. Some combination of the soundtrack, the ridiculous storylines, and Lance Vance titillated gamers in a way that never grew boring or predictable. Every Scarface fantasy (minus an emaciated Michelle Pfeiffer) came true with the Miami underworld at our fingertips . Vice City was not only the game everyone wanted to play (certainly one of the greatest ever), but arguably the pinnacle of contemporary society. Digest this.
In the Vice City Era we had: the capture of Saddam Hussein, the high water mark and beginning of the end for the stock market/housing bubble/job market/economy, the DC snipers (mental), the Homeland Security Act (ipso facto Jack Bauer), SARS, the completion of the Human Genome Project, Martha Stewart jailed for murder insider trading, the launch of 4chan, Schwarzenegger elected, waterboarding (come on), the Friends finale, the Malice at the Palace, Kim Jong-il going nuclear, and papal succession. (Billy Joel would be proud).
More importantly, we witnessed: France get embarrassed in the 2002 World Cup, the Galacticos, R10, Greece winning Euro2004, the rise of Jose Mourinho, and the greatest comeback in sports history (see below).
And what have we gotten since the end of the Vice City Era? Justin Bieber, Dubstep, Nyan Cat, Kardashians everywhere, increasingly bizarre Disney shows, Twilight, and Gary Neville as a pundit. That’s about it. Sure, we’ve got a Balotelli here or there, but for every Mario B. there were a dozen Higuitas or Jimmy Bullards in the Vice City Era.
Ugh. This only sustains my belief that the world peaked some 8 years and everything has been in a steady free fall ever since. All the data appears to confirm the validity of the Vice City Theorem. Anecdotal and empirical evidence to the contrary always fell short. Well, that was true until Leo Messi came along. The record smasher, the whobanger, the mini mulleteer, the man with the golden left foot– made his debut for the Barcelona first team almost exactly 8 years ago. (How’s that for irony, Alanis?). And Messi has been getting closer to becoming “The Greatest” ever since, even better than Grand Theft Auto: Vice City; and he’s making the impossible… quite possible.
Pique, who met Shakira on set for the “Waka Waka” video, says the pair are “just friends.” Pretty original, Gerard. But I’m from the Biz Markie school of thought, “So please listen to the message that I send/Don’t ever talk to a girl who says she just has a friend.”
Of course, maybe this is a giant smokescreen for the Ibra Incident…
Here we go, we’re doing it live! Late start for me– hit refresh to get the updates.
Furious start to this one. Five minutes in and Messi almost chips Casillas– beautiful!
I haven’t even examined the lineups and there’s a goal!
GOAL BARCELONA! 1-0 as Iniesta finds Xavi’s through run who clips it over Casillas.
Both sides are trying to outplay each other. I might need to keep a ‘meg count today.
Barca teamsheet looks as expected. Busquets getting the nod ahead of Mascherano. Wonder if Javier’s wife might get upset about that…
Mourinho has one surprise for Madrid. Benzema starting up top instead of Higuain. Sometimes I think Jose does stuff like that just for the extra attention.
Di Maria and Messi looking the danger men for their sides.
GOAL BARCELONA! 2-0 after the home side completes about 25 consecutive passes. Unbelievable! Pedro finishes into the open net after Villa’s cross finds him salivating.
I was just about to say that Madrid looked on the ropes, now they really do. The “Oles” ringing around the Nou Camp.
Only 20 minutes in and this could get ugly if Real don’t respond soon.
There’s a terrific Youtube clip called “Ray Hudson Needs New Undies” and I keep thinking of that title listening to him give commentary tonight.
Casillas makes a great save on a Pedro 1v1. The Spanish keeper would’ve slapped someone had that gone in. He and Sergio Ramos look like step-sisters at the moment.
I mentioned it in my Thanksgiving post, but I really miss Ronaldinho. He would’ve been loving this game tonight…
Watching a replay of the second goal: you really only have a 50/50 chance of ever stopping David Villa. He loves to cut inside on his right and his shot from there is pretty much automatic. Or he’ll go with his left towards the byline and whip in a deadly cross as was the case here. Which do you stop, his shot or a high percentage cross? Ramos guessed wrong, and he’s not the only defender in La Liga who’s been there.
…Inches wide off a phantom deflection. Valdes was done like a Turducken.
Tempers flaring. Yellow cards flying. Ronaldo and Pep Guardiola talking that mess. I can’t keep up with this, and I might mention that I really need to use the restroom. Too glued to this one to think. Big gulps were a bad idea though.
Messi is pulling out all the stops. He’s basically Lord Humongous is a bowl cut right now. Ronaldo must respond.
Pepe beasts a streaking Messi off the ball close to goal. Level of difficulty 10 out of 10.
Did Carvalho just punch Messi in the face? No, yellow for Lionel for diving.
Halftime, 2-0 to Barcelona. Annnnd breathe!
If anyone wonders why Spain are the reigning European and World Cup Champions, I’d introduce this match as Exhibit A. A real pleasure, watching this one.
Surely we’ll see Higuain after the break? Real seriously need him, and don’t call me Shirley! (RIP Leslie Nielsen).
Second half underway now…
Ozil off, Lass Diarra on. Best thing about Jose Mourinho = his sense of urgency in making substitutions? Second best = his coat and scarf selection?
The tempo is a bit more measured now. But Barca are still looking to slot a runner through. Real would be foolish to believe they have a sense of security.
GOAL BARCELONA! 3-0 as Villa finishes his 1v1 after being sent through by Messi. Just as you were. Wonderful.
On the bench, Jose looks about 10 years older now.
GOAL BARCELONA! 4-0 as (yes, I’m repeating myself) Villa latches onto a Messi through ball and glides it through the legs of Casillas.
Sub. Arbeloa on for Marcelo. Interesting note here. In the 2007 CL tie between Liverpol and Barca, it was new signing Arbeloa that completely shut Messi out. I mean, had him in his back pocket. Jose is auditioning him for the same role, if onyl for their next meeting in Madrid.
“Messi to Villa” is the new “Montana to Rice.”
All Real can do is clear the ball. 25 more minutes of pain and embarrassment, boys.
Carvalho has to handle the ball to prevent what would surely have been #5. Villa was through. This is a bloodbath.
About 8 nutmegs and 22 backheels have been witnessed. I poop you not.
Villa off, Bojan on. Rest for El Guaje. Immediately Bojan has a 1v1 but stumbles at the moment of shooting.
Some great camerawork really captures the immense sense of failure in the Madrid players’ faces.
Xavi off, Keita on.
Pedro off, Jeffren on. Messi will get 5 more minutes to grab his first goal against a Mourinho side.
GOAL BARCELONA! 5-0 now as Jeffren finishes a slow roller from Bojan on the right wing. Too easy.
I can’t believe he have to wait until April for the return leg of El Clasico…
FIGHT MUSIC! Ramos sent off for a Materazzi tackle on Messi. There’s blood and dirt on Khedira, whose jersey looks like Rainbow Sherbet. Someone else in the book– can’t see who.
Fulltime! 5-0 Barcelona.
Wow. Rarely is a one-sided affair so entertaining all the way until the end, but that’s what we got tonight. To call this anything less than one of the greatest masterpieces by a football team would be an injustice to Barcelona. They defended in numbers, remained immaculate in possession, and proved clinical in their attacking runs and finishing. Do yourself a favor and re-watch this sometime soon, eh? Now if you’ll excuse me, Ray Hudson and I have to go shopping for some new Fruit of the Looms.
I know, I know, it’s so tough to schedule your weekend activities. These days the weekends creep up on you like ninja warriors. What once was T.G.I.F. should probably read more like O.M.G.I.F. You finish up work/school/whatever Friday afternoon then you immediately have to flex your social muscles/unwind/support your kids’ fledgling social biceps. By the time you wake up Saturday morn, you could already have missed it.
I’m talking about you, Mr. Everton 3-3 Man United at 7:45 AM ET aka at the buttcrack of dawn in Sanchez timezone. A contender for Thriller of the Season and you (like this idiot) missed it. And for no good reason, except for that fact that you’re too busy taking the family or your roommate Ravi out for Indian food to prepare for that sort of double-espresso morning clash.
I mean, the warning signs were all there. Wayne Rooney fresh in the headlines for alleged infidelity (I’m not even going there, nice try) and he has to return to Goodison to face his old colors. (There’s a great “once a blue, always a blue” joke somewhere in there but I’m too impatient to let it mature)… Rumors of a “No Woman, No Kai” song spreading like Yo Mama jokes in 1994… Alex Ferguson preparing to do the unthinkable and drop an undroppable player because of gossip/fan abuse…
So, we shouldn’t have been surprised to see read about a 3-3 injury time comeback stunner, right? And yet, missing a game like that still stung like a Saguaro jockstrap. But cacti undergarments for you no more! I’m making use of my Friday squeaky bum time to give you the lowdown on what you need to be watching this weekend. If you really want to tailor your sports viewing schedule to fit mine, you could throw in 3 NFL games and “the golf” on Sunday, but I wouldn’t wish that kind of obsession on a Chelsea fan. So here’s ye olde soccer:
Wolves at Tottenham 10:00 ET Saturday
-Two of the most interesting teams in England. The promoted side was a favorite pick to be this year’s whipping boys, and they still look at times like they could go down 6 or 7. But they haven’t. An opening day win over Stoke and draws with Everton and Newcastle (as well as a 2-1 defeat at Fulham) show they’re not ready to become pushovers, yet.
-On the other hand, Tottenham seem to make a habit of randomly demolishing teams. That whole “Crouch only scores for England against little teams” argument looks just as true when he’s wearing a Spurs top, but no less helpful to his team (club and country). And yet, there they are, dead even in points with Wolves. Perhaps the Champions League campaign will make them an easier scalp in the Prem.
Catania at AC Milan 14:45 ET Saturday
-Ibra watch continues. Shoot, even he‘s watching himself. Check this quote. “I’d like to think I’m a spectacular player, a guy who can do extraordinary things and I’m at the perfect club with this mentality. With brilliant attackers and creators like Robinho, Ronaldinho, Pato, Pirlo and Seedorf around me, this is the perfect stage… We are the new dream team.” Well, time to back it up. Last time these two met it was a tasty 2-2 draw at the San Siro; should be a fun one tomorrow. Oh, and Ibra also did this:
Real Madrid at Real Sociedad 16:00 ET Saturday
-Let’s face it, you might as well pencil in every Mourinho-Madrid match in the “must watch” column. The biggest managerial ego in the hottest seat in football– everyone wants to see how the experiment turns out. Throw in the fact that Barcelona have gone from captivating darlings of the game to whiny, poaching elitists and you have a 38-game soap opera in La Liga. Oh yeah, Sociedad will be turning up Saturday as well. They’re actually even with Real too on 4 points, with their win coming at the expense of disappointing Villarreal. So, maybe they’ll make something of this. Either way, just as good.
Liverpool at Manchester United 8:30 ET Sunday
-Come on, dude. Best fixture in the Premiership. Title implications, legacy implications, decades of animosity, and an array of talent. I don’t know what else I can say. This matchup hasn’t seen an uneventful game since 2006. And it won’t tomorrow.
Blackpool at Chelsea 11:00 ET Sunday
-Chelsea are yet to drop a point in the league, and even better, their scorelines are much more attractive than the flat-chested 1-0 results of Mourinho Times (like Medieval Times, but with the Special One). Until they slow down, they deserve to be thoroughly watched (if only for the goal parade). Blackpool, on the other hand, appears to have the brain of big club in a minnow’s body. They don’t park any buses or stack any midfields– they come out to play football. I think this might be the day Chelsea hit double digits…
Barcelona at Atletico Madrid 13:00 ET Sunday
WHERE IS YOUR MEAT DRESS?
-Barca. Once loved, now loathed. Hercules showed them to be mortal and Spain rejoiced. They want your favorite team’s best players, but they aren’t willing to pay megabucks (uh, thanks City?) because they’ll chirp incessantly about how Barca are entitled to said players. Congrats, Barca, you’ve become the Lady Gaga of football: can’t-take-my-eyes-off-you entertaining, but really starting to get annoying with your high-and-mightiness. (How awesome would it make my analogy if Barca signed a player named Alejandro?).
-Atleti. The Legend of Diego Forlan and the Ujfalusi Underdogs. Two wins in two for the ugly Madrid stepsister, and just maybe the slightest bit of hope for an outsider winning La Liga. Don’t say it any louder than a whisper though, it’s still too newborn a challenge. Forlan…
You Might Want To Flip Over For…
-Cologne at Bayern Munich 9:30 ET Saturday for Podolski versus Schweinsteiger and the old team.
-Mainz at Werder Bremen 9:30 ET Saturday to see if perfect Mainz are for real, playing legit competition.
-Arsenal at Sunderland 12:30 ET Saturday just on the off chance Wenger’s boys decide to repeat their midweek theatrics.
-Juventus at Udinese 9:00 ET Sunday because Juve is a “big” team and Udinese is fun to watch despite losing both their first two matches.
-Hamburg at St. Pauli 9:30 ET Sunday as it appears there’s something brewing there, and it ain’t St. Pauli Girl. (Hint: it’s the Iroquois ensemble that is Hamburg).
-Manchester City at Wigan 10:00 ET Sunday for the City show. Period.
Was Steven Gerrard attempting to cross or was he actually trying to score in the far corner? Before you answer that, let me remind you this is a man who has done this and given us that little audacity. Either way it’s a special goal and an excellent omen with games against Fiorentina and Chelsea this week.
*****Elsewhere on Saturday*****
Robbie Keane scored 4 against Burnley. Now he can take his holiday until Christmas.
Chelsea make me look daft for waxing about their play, losing to Wigan 1-3. Cech sent off, should miss Liverpool at the weekend (we’re even). Ashley Cole carted off. Boy how quickly things change in a week!
United go top on goal difference beating Stoke 2-0. Berba and O’Shea. Read three sentences back.
Portsmouth lose AGAIN. Everton beat them 1-nil and they currently have 0 points in the League. Paul Hart can’t blame the impending ax on the economy.
Bobby Zamora DOESN’T score against Arsenal. You can’t knock his consistency.
Barca win 2-0 at Malaga, but drop to second in the table as Real better them on goal difference, having beaten Tenerife 3-0 earlier. Ibra and Pique grab the goals, and how many times will we be hearing that this season?
Sampdoria beat Inter 1-0 to go top of Serie A. Ibra is winning the pundit debate between him an Eto’o.