Over and over
Gol! Gol! Gol! Messi! Messi! Messi! (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A week that began with a whimper and ended with a bang. Knocked out of Europe on Tuesday night despite a 0-1 win at Anfield and staring down the barrel of a 2-3 home defeat on Saturday to a functional but rather unspectacular Real Madrid side, Leo Messi's late late show, securing a draw and his hat-trick may just have saved Barcelona's season. After eighty-nine minutes at the Camp Nou things were looking pretty grim. Down to ten men for all of the second half thanks to Oleguer's gross stupidity (giving away a penalty before a needless foul on Gago that earned him a second yellow and an early bath) and trailing to a Sergio Ramos header, with Sevilla playing lowly 'nastic the next day, the wheels had well and truly come off.
Never have I seen Frank Rijkaard so agitated, pacing up and down the touchline, his face a picture of despair. Rijkaard's 3-4-3 formation, the new black in Barcelona these days, with Oleguer, Thuram and Puyol at the back and everyone else powering forward was ruthlessly exposed by Liverpool on Tuesday, a game they ought to have put beyond the blaugrana well before half-time, and again against Real, with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Guti and Robinho all exploiting the space out wide against a hopelessly narrow Barcelona.
As the seconds ticked down toward a defeat Messi ran onto a Ronaldinho pass (just about his only contribution of the evening), beat two Real defenders and smashed the ball past Casillas. 3-3.
A Frank assessment
Taking a step back from the heroics of Victor Valdes in gol and Leo Messi up front, there was much to lament about the blaugrana on Saturday night. 'dinho was off the pace, Marquez sloppy, Thuram played like he'd suffered a blow to the head and the midfield got bossed out it by Guti and Gago (just quickly a mention of Diarra, who is a load of bollocks, doing little bar fouling and getting in the way. I've seen him play about ten times this season and he's been dire every time) Eto'o, taken off at half time in order to bring on Sylvinho, was decent but he's still not sharp enough. 3-4-3 will surely be given the heave-ho on the back of this, with the team looking totally unbalanced and wide open at the back.
Still, there was much to be positive about, especially after Tuesday night's limp performance, the team only coming back into the game when Liverpool took their foot off their throats, having been besieged by the Reds in the first half. Messi was amazing, Valdes, despite conceding three gols, made crucial stops from Ruud and Higuain. Belletti and Sylvinho shored up the defense when they came on and Iniesta was positive throughout.
Barcelona now have a week off to get their shit together before a trip to the oldest club in Spain, Recreativo Huelva on Saturday night. I'll post up a short postmortem of the Champions League debacle in the next few days, I really didn't feel like it at the time.