Messi won the 2009 Balon d’Or a day after his team prevailed in the derby of the universe, a game that featured four or five of the best players in the world, capping an exceptional week-end of action. Chelsea’s resounding away win left Arsene Wenger bitter and defiant yet again. Sporting and Benfica could only muster up a stalemate, while Liverpool boosted its diminished chances, extending Everton’s misery in the process. Exuberance for Partizan and Olimpiakos in fiery Balkanic derbys, great joy for Genoa and San Lorenzo in Italy and Argentina.
Barca – Real measured up to anticipation, a fantastic match with so much quality on display. The Catalans’ movement and possession game was clinical as usual, but it was Madrid and their mega star that missed the opportunity to direct the fate of the match. Cristiano Ronaldo will dream over and over about wasting the golden chance that would have given Madrid a 1-0 lead and changed the complexion of match. No less stunning was Messi’s miss near the end, alone with the goal keeper from 10 yards out. Rare lapses of concentration for the current greats, maybe once every hundred chances. Ibra repaid a little bit of the enormous amount splashed out by Barca for his acquisition. The goal was sensational, typical Barcelona. If he was off, which is unclear, it was only milimetrical and not controversial.
Madrid can hold its head up, though, and tip its hat to a superior team. The result could have been harsher, but CR9 is still on the mend. No matter what Raul means to the club, it is illogical to play him in front of Benzema. An attack featuring Benzema, Kaka, Ronaldo and Higuain, with Marcelo in support, will generate a lot of goals. Pellegrini has to rise up and enjoy his opportunity, rather than trying to be everything to everyone. There is still time to get it right.
Genoa will savor for a long time the victory over Sampdoria in front of its own supporters, as will the people of San Lorenzo after El Ciclon trounced Boca by the same 3-0 score. Genoa is back in the mix near the top of the table, while La Samp lost its swagger from earlier in the season and needs to recalibrate. San Lorenzo was magnificent on Sunday, but it was Boca that should have been ahead first. Palermo inexplicably missed from 7 yards out with the keeper on the ground. San Lorenzo can now make a final push for the top, or at least assure its participation in the Copa Libertadores.
In Belgrade, the visiting Partizan fans experienced such delirium after beating eternally hated rivals Red Star that they set the stadium on fire. The encounter featured typically palpable tension, with 8 injured, 40 arrested and a variety of incidents. The match itself was decided by a masterful stroke by Partizan’s Brazilian forward Cleo on a counter, a player who moved from Red Star to Partizan over the summer. How sweet was this day for him? Despite playing with 10 men for most of the second half, Partizan held up for a memorable victory at Red Star.
Olimpiakos win over Panathinaikos not only opened up a little space between the clubs at the top, but also reinforced long standing psychological consequences. PAO maintains its supremacy and claims to be Greece’s greatest club, but can’t figure out how to overcome the Olimpiakos curse. Players and coaches come and go over time for both clubs, Olimpiakos still holds the edge.
In England, Chelsea and Man Utd are turning the Premiership yet again into a two team race. As talented as Arsenal is and, granted, without van Persie, there is no room to drop three golden points to a title rival and still maintain the mighty ambitions that Wenger professes. Sure, the score line looks harsher than reality, but where is Chelsea going to lose points as Wenger claimed after the match? Arsenal can finish third again, which maybe be fine with the directors who love Wenger’s thrifty business style, but not enough to satisfy Gunner supporters.
For Liverpool, another chance to string up a good run. When all of the key players are available and in good form, Liverpool should be able to play with anyone in England. What happens between now and New Year will determine the season, as well as the future of Rafa Benitez, Mascherano and others, including the severely under-utilized Ryan Babel. In any case, Liverpool will likely compete with Spurs and Aston Villa for the fourth and final Champions League spot, yet again.
Everton will bounce back, but only when the long list of injured players gets a lot shorter. Everton have a capable manager who will steer them through this difficult phase. Man City, despite Mark Hughes’ good intentions, is turning into an astonishingly under-achieving team of fat cats. Five draws in a row, three against Burnley, Fulham and Hull City, yikes! No amount of bad luck can justify this kind of consistency. Will the pieces of the puzzle come together under Hughes’ reign?
It was a fantastic week-end, simply marvelous. Thank you!