Barcelona 5-1 Panathinaikos: Hardly Herculean as Lionel Messi writes Greek TragedyBy: Chris Paraskevas | September 15th, 2010
If Barcelona keep on facing sub-par Greek teams in Europe over the next few years then Lionel Messi might just surpass Euripides as one of the great Greek tragedians based on his latest performance.
As the Greens walked away from the Camp Nou with a goal and thus an improvement on their last visit to Cataluña, they’ll know that they contributed in no small part to a disastrous start to their campaign but one that was entirely predictable.
For starters, for all his talent Nikos Nioplias is inexperienced on such a stage and it showed with the way he set out his team; sitting deep but not deep enough at times, each of his players didn’t seem to have a specific set of instructions to follow, aimlessly wondering around their own half and chasing shadows.
Yes, Barcelona are probably the best team in Europe in terms of movement off the ball but Pana made it incredibly easy by tracking virtually none of their runners into the final third and allowing a back-three of Puyol, the weakened Pique and a suspect Abidal to play out of defence with maximum comfort (I say back three because Daniel Alves played virtually as a right winger throughout the match).
I’m not saying play with three men up front but at least use as many when launching counter-attacks; the only time Djibril Cisse had a teammate remotely close to him inside Barcelona’s half was when Sidney Govou latched onto his genius back-heel volley and side-footed home for a lead that lasted only a couple of minutes.
If that wasn’t evidence enough that the best route to victory was via the amount of goals scored then what exactly was Nioplias waiting for? A simple clearance from the goalkeeper caused problems, so why not push on and really put some pressure on and expose recent insecurities?
The response to that goal and the performance from the La Liga outfit in general was predictable. Guardiola’s men were always going to add width to their play after the Hércules disaster and did so effectively, while Pana’s back four weren’t helped out at all by what were essentially three holding midfielders, the worst of which was the anonymous Kostas Katsouranis who was as bad on this occasion for his club as he has been for the national team.
It’s one thing to sit deep and get 10 men behind the ball but it’s quite another to do that in the name of executing a rather more sophisticated plan, something that was sorely missing on this occasion and a mistake which Pana dare not make again as they look to recover – something they are more than capable of doing.
PS. The performance by Barcelona was described rather colourfully by one Greek commentator as being “Playstation football” to give you an idea of the gulf in class