Did anybody else spend Saturday evening hiding behind the sofa, afraid to watch, like a scary episode of Doctor Who? No, of course you didn’t. You watched it and you shrugged. It may have seemed that Real Madrid were ripped apart with the ferocity of a werewolf but funnily enough I doubt any of us are suffering nightmares. Such is the level of eulogising about this current Barcelona team that it would be no wonder if the Bridge crowd bow before them, amazed that such beings now walk amongst us. Or, and the papers may find this hard to believe, we actually back our team to the hilt as they overpower them with brute force and incisive play. The win that sends us to our second successive Champions League Final is there for the taking.
Without doubt Barcelona are the form team in world football, with arguably the world’s best player and they play breathtaking stuff at times. But they’ve also had all this in their locker the last four or five times we’ve played them. (see Figo or Ronaldinho for Messi) As I recall we don’t have a bad previous record, especially at home. So there’s not much to be too concerned about. Sure, the front three have scored more goals than the accumulation of entire leagues, but they drew a blank on their home patch last week. They can be stopped and, more importantly, can be stopped by us.
The midfield is capable of some great touches, slick passing and could happily keep the ball between now and forever. That’s if you allow them the amount of time on the ball as Real did on Saturday. They had the unusual tactic of backing away from a Barca shirt, refusing to tackle as if repelled by sheer awe. Without the home crowd’s moans to protect them, the lightweight midfield of Xavi and Iniesta can be muscled off the ball by a midfield juggernaught such as Essien. Similarly a powerhouse performance from Drogba and he may prove to be unstoppable on the night. The unfamiliar back four, with Pique as the defensive linchpin, can be scattered aside like toddler’s building blocks.
All of this is dependent of course on us using the ball well and keeping hold of it as much as we can. Too often we took the easy option of a punt to the big man last week. Barca impressively hunted in packs, high up the pitch, to swiftly regain possession. If we can use the ball cleverly, not panic and exploit the gaps a high pressure game leaves, then we can get considerable success. In particular Alves seems weak having to do the dirty work of actually defending and a swift break to Malouda could be a feature. For the same purpose it would be great to see Anelka on the other side. Not only can he hold onto the ball for fun under pressure but he can also provide a quick outlet ball and help support Drogba on the frontline. We would lose a lot defensively on that side so it may need a busy shift from Essien or the added security of Mikel as anchor.
What was apparent from the first game was that Barca don’t like it when things don’t go their way. If we can frustrate them in key areas and play the high tempo game of our own, we can knock them out and reach the final. They have been explosive games in the past and we need to be on the front foot from the first whistle and impose our game and footballing style on the most highly regarded team of the moment. Plaudits and hyperbole have meant nothing to us before and it’ll mean nothing to us again. We can take a huge step towards another historic final by claiming what would be one of the most famous wins of all.