There are still those, remarkably, who ask whether tactics really matter, still those who persist with the Luddite insistence that the best players will win out come what may. No matter that Lionel Messi never produces his Barcelona form for Argentina or that Dani Alves regularly flounders for Brazil, Barcelona, these flat-earthers keep saying, win because they have the best players.
Peace came via a punch up. Spain came from two goals down to win 3-2 against Chile on Sept. 2, Cesc Fàbregas scored twice to make it five goals in four matches, and Andres Iniesta was so good that one newspaper gave him four marks out of three, the Chile coach saying: "he destroyed us." But that was not the best thing that happened. The best thing that happened was a fight.
Sometimes soccer can seem a very simple sport. The great Dutch coach Rinus Michels, the father of the Total Football school of the late sixties and early seventies and the man who took that style of soccer to Barcelona, believed that his side should always play one more defender than the other team had attackers. If the opponent played three up, Michels liked four back; if two up, then three back. To an extent, that has been the theoretical orthodoxy ever since.
Barcelona striker Lionel Messi has hailed the performance of his teammates after the Spanish giants beat Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley on Saturday to lift their third Champions League trophy in six seasons.
WEMBLEY, ENGLAND -- Surely now the doubters have been won over: this Barcelona is one of the greatest teams there has ever been. In Pep Guardiola's three seasons in charge Barca has twice won the Champions League, and it was denied a hat trick that would have placed it statistically alongside the Ajax and Bayern Munich sides of the seventies only by the combined might of Jose Mourinho and an Icelandic volcano.
Barcelona's team we know; Manchester United's is a matter of speculation, a fact that, in itself, is indicative of two things. First, that Barcelona is the favorite, with such a defined and familiar style of play that, even in this age of rotation, it is possible, as with the greats of the past, to rattle through a first eleven.
Apparently, there was a soccer match last week in which something happened that had never, ever happened before: some players kicked, faked, dived, cheated and abused each other and the referee. This was an entirely unprecedented event. You would certainly think so from the fallout from the game.
Another week, another refereeing debate. This time it's about Lee Probert's decision not to award Manchester United a penalty when Javier Hernandez ended up sprawled on the turf at the feet of Newcastle defender Danny Simpson. Man United's manager Alex Ferguson, naturally, was adamant that a spot kick ought to have been awarded; Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, naturally, felt that the greater injustice was that an earlier Anderson foul on Peter Lovenkrands hadn't resulted in a penalty.
Surviving the first-half dismissal of midfielder Thiago Motta, Inter Milan reached the European Champions League final for the first time in 38 years by eliminating Barcelona in their semfinal matchup. Despite losing 1-0 to a late Gerard Pique-goal Wednesday night at the Nou Camp, Inter progressed 3-2 overall on aggregate score.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Pep Guardiola. At 33, he had chosen to end his career in Qatar largely because, as he saw it, the modern game had no room for a guy like him.