A huge win for Barcelona last night against Saragossa, 3-1, with two gols from 'dinho and a late header from Saviola, in a match littered with injuries (Messi, Edmilson and Celades), yellow cards (ten in total), red cards (two of 'em) and no small amount of lethargy in the second half.
Let's begin at the beginning (a very good place to start). With Sevilla drawing 0-0 away at Santander, a win for either Barça or Saragossa would see them go top. Barcelona started the game the brighter of the two sides, having seventy nine percent possession but creating few guilt edge chances. Messi looked lively but after only twenty minutes he sustained a foot injury, a broken metatarsal (the bone invented by David Beckham) and he'll be out for up to three months (more on this later). He was replaced by Ludovic Giuly. The next five minutes would see both Edmilson and Royalist Celades limp off. At this stage the blaugrana were 0-1 down thanks to some awful defending by Marquez that allowed Gabriel Milito to volley home from a corner. Barça's equaliser would also come from a corner, 'dinho rising higher than Sergio to tie it up at 1-1.
And that was pretty much that until the seventieth minute (with the exception of a massive roar for Javier Saviola when he came on in place of the, 1nce again, hopelessly ineffective Gudjohnsen). That's when it all, ahem, kicked off. Motta, on for Edmilson, won the ball from Diego Milito in midfield. Motta's right hand made slight contact with Milito's chest but nothing that would constitute a foul. Milito however, dropped to the ground like he'd been shot, clutching his face ala Rivaldo. Motta, on the advice of the assistant, Rafa Guerrero, was promptly sent off. The entire Barcelona bench surrounded the ref and Guerrero, 'dinho, Puyol and Thuram went mental and Frank Rijkaard looked like he was about to punch someone. Four minutes later, when play finally restarted, poor control from Gabi Milito (the other one) let in Saviola, one-on-one with Cesar. Milito hauled Javier to the ground and received the second red card of the evening.
Crikey, what to make of all that then? Diego Milito is, to borrow a phrase from James McFadden, a fucking cheat. While much of today's coverage of the game in the Spanish press has centred on Guerrero getting it wrong, there's been surprisingly little about Milito's diving and feigning injury. His behaviour was disgraceful and yet there will be no consequences for the Argentine forward. There never are. Players dive, roll around, call for other players to be booked or sent off all the time and until there's a real disincentive to not do it (an automatic suspension as opposed to a meaningless fine) it will continue to infect modern futbol. *Phew* End of rant. Gabi's red card on the other hand was completely justified, Saviola was through on gol, he was the last man, he can have no complaints. Happening so soon after the Motta incident too, he made it easy for the referee to send him off.
Right, back to the futbol. Motta's sending off stiffened Barcelona's resolve and roared on by a crowd of over eighty thousand, they went all out for the win. With four minutes of normal time remaining, Saviola was brought down on the edge of the area and 'dinho stepped up to take the free kick. There are times when you know 'dinho's head isn't right and that he's going to blaze it over the bar or into the wall but looking at him as the stood over the ball, eyes focused front and centre, you just knew he was going to score. And what a gol, a belter of a shot that swung over the Saragossa wall and into the top right corner. The Camp Nou erupted, with Ronaldinho leaping into Frank Rijkaard's arms and the rest of the team piling on top of them. The sense of relief was enormous. For 'dinho, a player who's been far from his best all season, for the team who had seen such a poor run of results lately turned around in spectacular fashion, for Rijkaard, who must have had the "here we go again" feeling when he saw Motta sent off. For all this catharsis, Valdes still had to make a smart save two minutes later to deny Real a late equaliser and it was only in injury time when Saviola (at least two yards offside) headed home the rebound from another Ronaldinho free kick that the game was well and truly won.
The fall out
Last night's game could prove to be season defining. Before Motta was given his marching orders, the blaugrana were nowhere, misplacing passes, playing over-elaborate futbol with no end product, shaky in defense and lackluster in attack. The red card was the slap in the face they needed and they played like a team possessed after it. There's still huge room for improvement but they are back in the game and back in first place.
Now, the not so good news. Messi is out for three months. Edmilson, who has an ankle sprain, is out for a slightly less "Oh. Mi. Gawd." inducing ten days. Thankfully it's Mallorca next week and not Madrid. In addition, Gudjohnsen started again and was fairly brutal. Again. Saviola came on and was brilliant. I'll stop going on about this when Guddy is dumped into a wheely bin somewhere on Diagonal.
Motta's red card will surely be rescinded on appeal as he didn't actually foul the cheating Diego Milito. I know that Barcelona have their fair share of divers (take a bow Deco) and maybe I should get off my high horse but this kind of play acting has to stop.
To follow up on my Santi article the other day, Real Sociedad have confirmed their interest in the striker. Ezquerro, for what it's worth, says he's perfectly happy at the Camp Nou. He certainly didn't look it yesterday, looking forlorn in the stands (he did make it down to pitch side for the whole red card fiasco) Whether Messi's injury means he'll see some playing time now is debatable. It'll be Ronaldinho, Guddy and Giuly upfront with Saviola coming on after an hour to show Guddy up for the plodding waster he is. Poor Santi is still at the back of the queue.