Sunday, May 29, 2011

2011 Champions League Final

Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United

Saturday, May 28 2011 will go down in history as the day when a truly classic Champions League final was played out at Wembley between two giants of the modern game. The game unfolded as one would have expected but the extent of Barcelona’s dominance was still mesmerizing to watch. Barca are known to pass their opponents into oblivion but to do that in a final is a truly remarkable feat. Xavi is the king of sideway passes and once again he showed that there is a purpose to every square pass, that patience will duly be rewarded and if one looks hard enough, then spaces will appear out of nowhere. In an honest interview back in February, Xaxi talked about his love for finding spaces:

Think quickly, look for spaces. That's what I do: look for spaces. All day. I'm always looking. All day, all day. [Xavi starts gesturing as if he is looking around, swinging his head]. Here? No. There? No. People who haven't played don't always realise how hard that is. Space, space, space. It's like being on the PlayStation. I think shit, the defender's here, play it there. I see the space and pass. That's what I do.

And he once again found space for Barca’s opening goal. Patrice Evra drifted a few steps towards Messi leaving open a space through which Xavi played a perfect pass towards Pedro who calmly slotted home the opener. It was a truly remarkable goal which combined Barca’s passing, intelligent off the ball movement and their remarkable space manipulation.

Messi’s second goal was equally remarkable as well. He picked up a pass from Iniesta, took a few touches, managed to find space where none existed and then in an instant slammed a powerful shot past a static frozen Manchester defense. Barcelona’s constant pressure paid off for the third when Villa curved home a beautiful shot to seal the game. Interestingly, Manchester managed to score a Barca type goal of their own after Rooney and Giggs exchanged passes before Rooney placed his shot perfectly into the top corner to register Manchester’s only shot on target over the course of the 90 minutes.

Overall, it was a perfectly officiated game as well with the referee hardly visible during the entire game as he let the game flow perfectly without any stoppages. The fact that the first half had no stoppage time speaks for itself. Also, it was nice to see Dani Alves and Busquets not ruin the game by taking unnecessary drives.

My Champions League fantasy league for the final featured the following players:
As per the points rules:

A captain earns double points
A striker earns 4 points for a goal scored
A midfielder earns 6 points for a goal scored
A defender earns 8 points for a goal scored
A defender also gets -1 point for each goal conceded

Messi was my captain because I was certain he would score, which he did thereby earning me double points. I had a feeling that one of Hernández or Rooney would score but I picked both of them. Rooney scored but Hernández was invisible because he was left isolated and had no support. Originally, I started this Champions League season with David Villa in my first 11 but I dropped him a few weeks ago. Villa works extremely hard off the ball but I did not expect him to score a goal in the final because he always seems to get subbed off late in the game. This time around, he scored a precious third goal before getting subbed off, again.

My midfield was easy to pick. I picked the players that I thought would likely score or have an assist. Pedro duly scored off an assist by Xavi while Iniesta also notched an assist. However, I had expected to see a lot more from Valencia but that did not happen.

Defense was always going to be a losing endeavor. I did not expect either team to keep a clean-sheet so I knew I would not get any bonus points for a shut-out so at best I was hoping neither team would concede too many goals. Also, if a defender from Man Utd was likely to score a goal, I figured it had to be Vidic from a corner. But Man Utd got zero corners so Vidic never ventured into Barca’s penalty box.

As per the points system for the goalkeeper, each goal conceded is -1 point but a goalie gets 1 point for every 3 shots saved. This created the bizarre situation where Edwin van der Sar earned more points than Victor Valdés, despite Man Utd letting in 3 goals. Valdés let in one goal (-1 point) and got one yellow card (-1 point) but had no saves to make. Therefore, his total ended being 0 points with his 2 points for starting the game nullified by his yellow card and single goal conceded. On the other hand, van der Sar let in 3 goals (-3 points) but made 9 saves (+3 points), which meant he got 2 points (for being named in the starting 11).

[Update May 29:] van der Sar was only awarded 1 point as soccernet's reports show that he made 6 saves thereby earning him 2 points. This is in contrast to the official UEFA reports which show that he made 9 saves. Defense cost me valuable points as my selected 3 defenders + goalkeeper earned me a total of -1 point. Rafael did not play but I had his brother Fabio listed as a sub, who duly earned 0, the same as Alves and Valdés. Vidic got -1.


Apparently, there is a tradition that when an away team wins a final in the opponents country, the winning team cuts the soccer net and takes it home. So Barcelona’s players and staff found a few pair of scissors and went about removing the goal net after the trophy presentation. Piqué happily ran off with the goal net on his shoulders. Maybe, he will present the net to Shakira as a gift?


Sam Juliano said...

I am no expert in this sport, but I'll admit I am motivated when the World Cup comes around. Of course I wa sthrilled when the USA ties the Brits 1-1, but was disappointed when they were subsequently eliminated. As you are a Canadian my friend, you may appreciate that I held season tickets to the New York Islanders hockey team from 1976 till 1983, seeing that famed string of Stanley Cups, and at that impressionable time driving by care with friends to Philly, Boston, Washington and even Montreal to watch games. That was some time in my life.

In any event, this is a feature of deep and alluring passion, and it deserves exposure in the football community and beyond!

Sachin said...

Thanks so much Sam. I have a lots of friends who are always interested in soccer when the World Cup comes around. It is that one event which seems to unify (and sometimes divide) people. I had high hopes for the US team last year and had picked them to go further in my fantasy league. So I was a bit relieved to see them get past the first round.

I am impressed to learn about your hockey interest, that too in a golden moment for the Islanders when they won 4 cups in a row. Hmmm..I don't think the Islanders won a cup after 1983. So I wonder if that had something do with you not renewing your ticket? :) I hope you got to see some games post 1983 with the rise of the Edmonton Oilers and Wayne Gretzky. Nowadays, I mostly follow the sport in the play-offs only.

Sam Juliano said...

LOL Sachin!!! You may be right. After I gave up the tickets, the losses mounted. Oh I was there for the Great Gretzky, perhaps the smoothest player to ever wear a uniform. But of course I had no choice to root against him when he played the Islanders!