Glamour Tie

– The pre-match talk has focused on how both teams play an attractive style of football. What is annoying is when journalists call us Barcelona “lite”. Despite adopting the 4-3-3 permanently this year, we’re not merely a replica of Barcelona nor do we attempt to mimic their style of play. If they’re talking about success, any team would have been Barcelona “lite” after what they accomplished in the past twelve months.

– Guus Hiddink’s tactical master plan caused Guardiola to change his positioning of Messi for the Champions League final and the next season in La Liga. Hiddink deployed a right footed Bosingwa on the left flank. That cut out Messi’s tendencies to drift inside, as opposite foot wingers are in vogue nowadays. If Messi got by Bosingwa, Essien was there to snuff him out. Chelsea did a good job on him last year, but an Iniesta thunderbolt prevented Chelsea from advancing to the final for the second straight year. The bottom line is, if you decide to take out Messi, it will leave others with more space and opportunities to bust you open. For that reason, Wenger has already announced that he will not man-mark Messi. I personally would have, but that means that Alex Song must be deployed in midfield to help zonally mark Messi. He is a supreme threat.

– Messi’s elevation this year is due to the fact that he’s playing more centrally this year. While operating on the right flank, your job as a defender should be to push him closer to the edge, so as not to let him pass the ball with his left foot or square up his body to take a shot. Now that he’s operating in the middle, he has an extra option which makes it that much harder to defend. With Daniel Alves patrolling the right side, he has enough energy and threat to defend and attack with vigor. For that reason, Arshavin needs to be at his best tomorrow. He needs to provide real menace to Alves to prevent him from becoming an offensive force. Frankly, it’s time for Arshavin to step it up. He plays better in the big matches, and his miss at Birmingham was the first time his error has led to dropped points. He’ll be aware of that, and on his best day, when he’s dribbling at a defender, Arshavin can scare people as much as Messi can.

– Zlatan Ibrahimovic was brought in as an attempt to provide a Plan B and variety to the attack. He was on a prolonged slump, but he has scored in the last two matches. He is the definition of a mercurial talent. He has all the skill, but I feel he lacks something that Eto’o provided to the team. That being said, he scored against Real Madrid and he’s capable of hurting us in a real way. But a part of me would fear this Barcelona team more if Eto’o was still on it.

– Messi was rested last weekend. Cesc was banged up last weekend.

– Iniesta is out for the first leg. A lot of Barcelona fans have been complaining about Iniesta’s form, and both Guardiola and Cruyff have launched attacks on him. He hasn’t been at his best, but removing him from Barcelona’s midfield takes away creativity from their team. They will probably field Keita along with Busquets and Xavi. That’s more like a Premier League midfield, but they still possess the ball better than most.

– Abou Diaby must play in this match. He picked up a “knock” (of course he did), but he’s come through training. Diaby is a player that Barcelona will not be prepared for. The way Diaby uses his body to shield players from the ball and retain possession, the way he quickly turns and swiftly dodges defenders, both things bring a smile to my face. He’s direct, but he has a lot of skill people don’t necessarily pick up on until you see him play. He’s made one huge error this year (the OG against United), but he’s been one of our finer players when he’s played. He provides something different, and in a team, you need that.

– Samir Nasri was great against Birmingham until he decided to square the ball for Arshavin instead of chipping Joe Hart. We need to be ruthless. That’s what the Champions League is really about, finishing the one chance you get. Still, I think he’s coming on strong, and he’ll be yet another threat on the right wing.

– We must defend like lions. If Sol is ready, we have no choice but to field him. Everybody needs to concentrate at all times. Maybe if Manuel is busier, he’ll play better. That’s all we can pray for at the moment.

– The tie will come down to who controls the ball better. Both teams rely on heavy possession to wear the opposition down. Naturally, whoever is playing at home will probably enjoy more possession. I expect us to shade them 55-45 in the first leg, and them to outpossess us 60-40 in the second leg. Can we maintain our composure, avoid mistakes, and strike some killer blows at the Emirates? Can we withstand a surge at the Nou Camp, one that will undoubtedly come? We shall see.

– For Cesc, this tie means everything. When we played them in the Champions League final, it was Thierry’s team. Barcelona was also Ronaldinho’s team. Now, with his peers in direct view, he has to show that he is one of the best players in the world too. I don’t think the result has any impact on what he’ll do after the season ends. They’ll come for Cesc, but I have the feeling he’s going to stay. And if we show the world that we can compete with Barcelona, why would he want to leave?

– The final note is about Thierry Henry. I don’t know how much he’ll play, but he can be a useful weapon for Barcelona. Pedro scores in big games, and that’s his main asset; he’s a goal scorer, but Henry would provide creativity that Pedro cannot give. For that reason, I’m glad Thierry is so beat up about playing us. It will affect his form. If I was Pep, I don’t think I could play him, but I’m sure we’ll give him a warm welcome. But after the referee blows the whistle, he’s just another Barcelona player.

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