We all might have hoped for an Arsenal victory, but the performance of Barcelona defied logic, physics and the dispassionate Sky commentary...
After arriving at my sofa a couple of minutes later than planned, the first line I heard on the game of the century (week) was this…
"A cool night in the Catalan Capital," wittered Jeff Stelling as the teams walked out on to the pitch, "but will it be white hot?"
This is the sort of bollocks rhetoric that makes me want to eat my own nose whenever I watch Sky, but if Stelling has spent too long in the dictionary corner AND bathing in formaldehyde, then at least he attempted to inject a bit of passion into the occasion.
Passion is not a word that you would associate with Martin Tyler and Alan Smith. I doubt if Alan Smith has ever smiled when having a wank, let alone yelped on climax. And as for Martin Tyler, to give the game to a man who makes Peter Cushing seem like the bastard lovechild of Dirk Diggler and Casanova is simply irresponsible. And when Tyler chimed “more than a club, more than a match,” I was close to smashing my wine glass against the table and holding it up to my own throat. But then the whistle went, and I turned into a child…
Barcelona settled into a rhythm straight away. Much has been made of tika-taka but to reduce what Barcelona do to something that sounds like a big order for Spanish pez dispensers is doing football, life and art an injustice. Maybe I was still seized by the ecstasy/podium flashback that grips me whenever I hear the Champions League music, maybe I was stunned to see Cesc Fabregas hugging his opponents BEFORE the match, but in all reality I was simply mesmerised by Barcelona.
Reverse passes, wall passes, movement, technique, skill, artistry, it all appeared within a trice of the whistle blowing. People like to compare football matches to ballet, but this was more than that. Arsenal started like Stoke, they were the drunken lothario lunging at the dainty old Doris in a ballroom dancing class. The only respite for Arsenal in the opening stages was Samir Nasri leaping through three tackles, like Zammo from Grange Hill running from Mr Bronson in search of a ten bag of heroin.
Men against boys cannot do it justice. Barcelona do not just play, they retain, hunt and kill. The Man United players call Paul Scholes sat nav, but as Barcelona rotated position and possession with such precision it was clear that National Geographic had been in the dressing room beforehand and tattooed a map of the pitch on the cerebral cortex of each player.
The other, Rene from Allo Allo, spouting sense upon sense but muddying it with a seating position that looked as if he was ready to shit. And maybe he was. He is, after all, a Madrileno…
Arsenal were game. Djourou tackling like a man possessed, Van Persie trying to hold the ball and release Nasri and Rosicky. But how do you spell futility? With a big fucking F, and it doesn’t spell Fabregas.
Arsenal’s skipper, the conductor of their orchestra, was nowhere in the first half. He can only fire when Arsenal dominate possession, without the ball, he is merely a bass player to the piss-poor indie band frontman that Jack Wilshere resembles.
As the first half rumbled on and the socios leapt to their feet, the pressure beagn to tell. Abidal found himself in the box, Messi came within several lunged boots of drilling past either Chewbacca or Aluminium and Villa, Iniseta and Xavi lurked. And then it happened. Fabregas, the man who came to the Nou Camp as a baby and played like it on this occasion, tried something ridiculous on the edge of the box. He tried to show that he was equal. He tried a backheel. Iniesta leapt on the ball, delivered a pass of perfect weight and Messi, who else, took one touch, chipped the ball up with his second and slammed home. He really is Maradona incarnate.
Half-time was disconcerting. Two men who have been through the ringer sat on bar stools. One, Souness, looking like he could leap off at anytime and nut the cameraman. The other, Rene from Allo Allo, spouting sense but muddying it with a seating position that looked as if he was ready to shit. And maybe he was. He is, after all, a Madrileno…
The second half began as the first had ended. Tyler made some ridiculous comment about ‘being at their best’, Smith banged on about the middle of the park. If I wasn’t writing, I would have turned down the volume and listened to Classic FM.
The only man on the field not on that frequency was Mascherano. The man who looks as if he was the pride of the litter in the same pack of Wolves that raised Tevez had the blinkers on, he swallowed Diaby, Fabregas and Wilshere whole. He has had a lot of shit since he left Liverpool, but tonight he destroyed without violence, moved through the midfield jungle like a panther and cut off every angle and portion of space that Arsenal created.
Koscielny spilt ink over his blank page with a leg outstretched from a broken soul. He had tackled, leapt, ran and dived, but he was as dizzy as everyone else.
And then, from nowhere, a goal. The uncomfortable Busquets strained on his leash and Abidal couldn’t get across in time. 1-1, all Arsenal needed to do was hold on and footballing redemption would be heading to London.
Did anyone really think it would happen?
And if they did, the thought was extinguished when RVP was dismissed for being unable to hear the whistle above 95,000 screaming nationalists. The dice settled on double six, the extra gear clicked and Arsene Wenger, wearing what appeared to be a sleeping bag, crumpled.
Out came the scissors. The movement intensified, the passing became crisper, Messi darted and jinked like an Elf with an STD. Press, push, press harder, push harder, if this was a porno it would be banned.
Of course more goals came. Following a delicious Barcelona move that culminated with the excellent Xavi rolling home, Koscielny spilt ink over his blank page with a leg outstretched from a broken soul. He had tackled, leapt, ran and dived, but he was as dizzy as everyone else. Down went Messi, up he rose, and the ball was rolled into the bottom corner.
As I left my sofa, full as a lion who has just persuaded his missus to fell another Gazelle, I saw the stats.
Nineteen shots to nil, 69% possession and 734 passes to 119.
As I said, men against boys does not do it justice.
It wasn’t white hot Jeff, it was unbelievable.
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