Sunday, February 13, 2011

Maybe Andy Gray Wasn't As Deluded As We Thought

“I don’t know if Barcelona have ever gone to a place like the Britannia Stadium and suffered the kind of onslaught from Tony Pulis’ team of long throws and free-kicks or been up to a place like Blackburn and been beaten up by their long ball into the box.” 

When Andy Gray, while still holding down his position at Sky, indicated on live television that he doubted Barcelona's ability to handle the sort of assault that they would be afforded on away grounds all season in the Premier League, the now disgraced Scotsman was ridiculed to no end. Journalists at home and abroad derided Gray's remarks profusely, insisting that they were just more evidence of how deluded English football has become. What chance would the likes of Rory Delap and Ryan Shawcross stand against players of the ilk of Lionel Messi and David Villa, they asked. And how would Dean Whitehead fare in a center of midfield dominated by Xavi and Iniesta? Though these responses to Gray's claims were somewhat justified, Gray was right in pointing out that often times teams just roll over for Barcelona, letting them pass the ball for fun and not putting up a fight, seemingly in fear of being the player that ended the great Lionel Messi's career. However, just yesterday, we finally were given a glimpse as to how Barcelona might fare if they were dropped into the Premier League. On Saturday, Manuel Preciado's Sporting Gigon team finally offered up a firm resistance to Barcelona's lovely style of play. From the first whistle the Gigon players went at Barcelona not allowing them to click into any sort of rhythm, while still managing to create chances for themselves. The Sporting team was helped as well by a vociferous home crowd, which roared on each and everyone of the Sporting players, all the way until the final whistle.  

On 16 minutes Sporting striker David Barral handed the home side a 1-0 lead after a fine solo run, a piece of play which once again revealed the deficiencies of Argentine defender Gabriel Milito. In response, Barca began to dominate possession but could not find their way through a Gigon defensive wall, marshaled by a center back pairing of Alberto Botia and Ivan Soto. Rocking from the early concession and unsettled by the aggressive nature of Sporting's midfield play, Barca were unable to find any kind of momentum, and a series of misplaced passes from players usually renowned for their accuracy typified Barca's play during the first period. At the start of the second half Pedro came on for the disappointing Ibrahim Affelay, who will surely have better games in the famous red and blue jersey, and though his introduction made some impact, Barca could not gain a precious breakthrough. Unable to get past the brilliant Ivan Pichu in goal for Sporting, the Barca players became frustrated and the normally unflappable Pedro Rodriguez was booked mid way through the second half for dissent. Though a Barcelona equalizer eventually came, through a sublime David Villa chip, yesterday's match at El Molinon still managed to open the eyes of pundits and fans alike, who, previous to this match, had become convinced that Barcelona were invincible. 

As ludicrous as it may seem to imagine a team such as Stoke taking anything off Pep Guardiola's brilliant Barcelona side, Saturday's events at El Molinon indicated that the likes of Messi and co. may struggle, if they are ever to have the opportunity of playing at the Brittania Stadium.

What place would Barcelona come in if they competed in the Premier League?

Would Stoke City take points off the mighty FCB?

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