Like LL said, don't call it a comeback. After my weekend in Barcelona, the Champions League semi-final, Sammy's apparent wish to leave, 'dinho's sky high price tag, Deco's return to the futbol pitch and a half decent fifteen minute cameo by one Thierry Henry, there is, as ever, much to write about.
Let's begin with the derby. While most of the Catalan press painted the draw against Espanyol as being fairly disastrous, in truth that ship had sailed a long time ago. La Liga is over, Madrid have won and they've not looked like relinquishing their grip on the lead since Barça fell apart in March, having gotten to within two points of the summit after going on something of a run in February, taking ten of a possible twelve on offer. No, Saturday night was always going to be preparation for Wednesday night's Sant Jordi's Day showdown. It was about Messi and Iniesta getting a run out. About Marquez seeing some playing time in defense. About at least starting to play like they can. And that's pretty much how it played out. The first half was fairy cagey, with Espanyol almost scoring from the jump-off but failing to threaten a whole lot afterward (they were bloody awful in fact, shocking) Gio dos Santos and Ice Ice Baby had a few cracks but neither looked particularly good and it was no surprise that they got hauled off at half time.
dos Santos, though I am fond of his unselfish style of play, he keeps his head up, is a long way from being the finished article. He frequently holds on to the ball too long and is easily dispossessed due to his lack of upper body strength. He reminds me of a young Dominico Morfeo, a very talented player who didn't quite get there, who didn't make the leap. I fear dos Santos may suffer a similar fate. Guddy on the other hand, was just rubbish.
Their replacements, Andres Iniesta and Messi Messi Messi made a huge difference to the blaugrana's play. Messi's first run took him past four Espanyol players only to have his shot saved by a sharp Kameni (puta!) Barcelona would go on to huff and puff but fail to blow down Kameni's house, Eto'o being guilty of a shocking miss midway through the second half. The game was a microcosm of Barça's season, completely dominating possession yet not really doing anything incisive with it. Bojan, lively in the first forty-five drifted completely out of the game with all the play going down the right side of the pitch once Messi came on, with Leo, Xavi and Zambrotta all tearing along the wing to little avail. It's worth mentioning also that the best player on the pitch was Toure Yaya, who was incredible, making forward runs, good passes, he was always in the right place to make an interception or head away a corner/ set piece. He would continue to be fabulous against Utd. on Wednesday. Let's move on to that lot then.
Ooh are ye?
The first leg of the CL semifinal was pretty much an action replay of the Espanyol game. Barcelona enjoying the lions share of the possession without ever doing anything with it. United were fucking dire and Ronaldo's crap penalty and Carrick's dink past Marquez (who'll miss the second leg thanks to a booking. Enter Carles Puyol) that went wide aside they didn't have a shot on gol let alone force Valdes into a save. Rooney spent much of the night a right back and Tevez was frequently lying deep in midfield or drifting out wide to no great effect. As for Ronaldo, holy fucking shit, what a petulant child, going over on a gust of wind and doing his best Gary Neville every time things didn't go his way. And like one might expect from a Premier League team they gave the ball away like it was going out of fashion, either hoofing it long to no-one in particular or just making stupid passes that were never going to find their intended target. Not that Barça could make anything of this of course, with Eto'o blasting wide when he ought to have slotted past Van der Saar and Henry forcing the Dutch 'keeper into good saves late on.
Ah yes, Henry. About as popular as Ronaldinho at the moment, he came on to fairly good effect in the seventy-seventh minute for Deco, who played brilliantly for a man who hasn't seen competitive action for months. It's hard to know what to make of the whining git at this late stage of the season. Will he turn it on just as the going is getting tough and he's within sight of another Champions League final or will he continue to play like a man with lead in his boots and go back to doing damn all. I'd be tempted to give him a run out from the start against Depor and see what he can do as a possible pre-amble to starting in place of Iniesta at Old Trafford. He didn't quite set the world alight but he showed signs.
So what will be the outcome in Manchester? Surely Utd. can't play that badly again. Can Barça, three nil-nils in the past four games score a gol? Will Utd. romp past them ala the Roma game last season, will Messi last the ninety? I don't know. Much will depend on the weekend's games with respect to injuries and results etc but I'm confident. Well maybe not confident but hopeful. It's there to be won.
Round-up aka I need to go to bed
A few brief stories before I fall asleep. Eto'o's comments. It would seem that he didn't quite say "I'm out the door yo", but instead he was just expressing the frustration we're all feeling at the prospect of a second season without winning anything. I have no doubt that if Barça go three years on the bounce without a trophy he'll of course consider his options. But I'll worry about that if and when...
Next up in the out tray is 'dinho, who will probably end up in Milan, despite their initial failure to agree a fee with Barcelona. I echo Sid Lowe's comments on the Guardian's Football Weekly Podcast, that the blaugrana are trying to negotiate with as many clubs as possible so as they can get a decent price from him. He's in no way worth £40 million and the final fee won't be anything like that but if it's closer to twenty five than twenty then this bluster will of course be worth it. And that's your lot. I'll get to posting a few pics from our trip (I didn't take all that many) on Flickr before the weekend is out and also coble something together about the Depor game (kick off is at seven and it's live on Sky Sports Xtra). I'm gone.