Then Saturday Comes… the half decent football blog

Relative successes for Barcelona and Burnley


Barcelona beat Manchester United 2-0 to confirm, as many have been claiming all season, that they are the best team in the world.

The Catalan giants swept the English champions away with the longest bout of one-touch passing I’ve ever seen.  To be honest, it could easily have been 4 or 5.  Although that would have been extremely harsh on a Man United team which didn’t play badly, it would have been a fair reflection of how far Barcelona are easily Europe’s best side (apart from Leicester City).

Much of the pre-match talk was about “who is better, Messi or Ronaldo?” . In the end, that debate proved irrelevant, as the true measure was “who is being fed by Andrés Iniesta!”.  The balding Spaniard’s breathtaking performance at the heart of Barca’s midfield with (the equally underrated) Xavi is surely the best midfield partnership since Lennon and Izzet during Leicester’s late-90’s pomp.

lionel messi

Although outshone by Iniesta in Rome, the boy is still rather good

Still, in the inevitable ‘Messi vs Ronaldo’ discussion, the Argentine clearly had the better game.  While the Portugeezer relied on howling piledriving efforts (all bar one off target) at the Barca goal, Little Lionel showed a far more pragmatic, cerebral approach.  He was happier buzzing around the outside of the box before deciding whether to pass, shoot or dribble.  Almost every time he made the correct choice.

Manchester United played with little of the verve or rhythm you would expect due to Barca’s excellent possession football.  I dare say it was a lesson that has been coming for a long time.  Although still the best team in England (by some way), they are increasingly over-reliant on individual brilliance helping them to squeak narrow wins.  They got away with recent scares against Aston Villa, Wigan and Spurs thanks not to Ferguson’s tactics, but moments of personal brilliance.  There was no way that was going to dig them out of a hole against a team as good as Barca.

Although it’s ridiculous to criticise Fergie due to them ‘only’ winning the two trophies, he really should reconsider that baldy Phelan as an assistant manager.  Quieroz has not been replaced, and this reliance on individual brilliance could prove their downfall even on the domestic front if Chelsea and/or Liverpool get their act together.

The best Manchester United player for me was John O’Shea.  Some might blame him for Messi’s goal, but for me that was Ferdinand’s territory.  I thought O’Shea put in a great performance that undermines all those people who say he’s just a squad player to make up the numbers, myself included.  If it was Puyol who was shadowing Ronaldo off the ball in the way O’Shea repeatedly did to Henry he would be praised to the high moon.  Inevitably though, he will still get a 6/10 and ‘weak link of the team’ tag in tomorrow’s red-top rags.

All in all it was a lovely match. Although I was happy Barcelona won, I’m embarrassed to be ideologically alligned to the ABUs who will inevitably updating their facebook status to show how bitter they are towards Manchester United.  There’s no shame in being the second best team in Europe.

Graham Alexander and Clarke Carlisle are all smiles after helping Burnley gain promotion to the Premier League following the memorable 1-0 victory over Sheffield United at Wembley

Burnley's Clarke Carlisle and Graham Alexander celebrate their 1-0 Wembley victory over Sheffield United


After the Championship Play Off Final, Burnley have been confirmed as Newcastle’s replacement in the Premiership next season.

About time, too, for one of the Football League’s most likeable clubs.

The Clarets finally gained promotion after beating Sheffield United 1-0 at Wembley thanks to a Wade Elliott wonderstrike (and some rather strange penalty decisions against their Yorkshire opponents).

Hopefully the Blades’ over-zealous lawyers weren’t watching…

Anyway, I was delighted because for many years I have championed Burnley and Preston as deserving of promotion (and after all, they are essentially the same team).  They have both finished between 3rd-8th every season for as long as I can remember, and never seem to spend a sizable amount of money on players with any name value.

They both remind me of Brian Little-era Leicester City, Joe Royle’s Ipswich or Steve Coppell’s Reading: not quite good enough to get promoted but always there or thereabouts.  Those sort of teams develop a strong ‘winning mentality’ that usually kicks onto the next season and gives them a decent chance of survival.

Burnley’s biggest name signing last summer was Martin Paterson, who is hardly world famous but a very good player at this level.  Although he more than justified his £1.2m transfer fee by scoring the rocket against Reading that sent the Clarets to Wembley, rather than individual brilliance it has been team spirit and intelligent management that brought promotion to the promised land.

First under (the criminally underrated) Steve Cotterill and now Owen Coyle, Burnley seem to do a good job of finding good young managers who are hungry for success.  If you don’t believe me about Coyle check out this video of him scoring a scorcher of a goal last month!

Fantastic stuff.  Sadly, Burnley may well turn into the Premiership whipping boys.  If so, Coyle might become the latest Iain Dowie/Aidy Boothroyd – lauded for innovation in the Championship, exposed as a ‘Del Boy Trotter’ in the Premiership.

Hopefully they keep him away from the clutches of Celtic and we get to see what he’s all about with Burnley in the top flight next season.




The Unfair Play (Off) League

Sticking with the Play Offs, and despite a pun that doesn’t quite work, it’s time to return to a regular complaint at this time of the year.

Every season the same arguments come forward that the Play Offs don’t gauge who truly deserves promotion.  And keeping with the annual tradition, the highest placed team outside of  the automatic spots have failed to get promoted in any division.

Indeed, the best league finish for any of this season’s Play Off winners was tth (see below).   League One winners Scunthorpe finishing 11 points and four places lower than the MK Dons.  In a true meritocracy it could be argued that Sheffield United, Franchise FC and Bury should all be promoted, but any true fan of lower league football will tell you why that’s wrong.


Do the Blades, Franchisers and Shakers have a valid complaint?

Do the Blades, Franchisers and Shakers have a valid complaint?

The Play Offs give hope to teams with nothing left to play for, and a route to promotion for those who can’t afford to keep up with the big boys.  As previously mentioned, Burnley have no superstar players and little with Premiership experience, compared to Sheffield United who can call on a spine of Paddy Kenny, Chris Morgan, Neil Montgomery and (for much of the season) James Beattie.

The Play Offs evens the field somewhat and allows for extra upward mobility in the football pyramid, rather than just tying things up for the usual suspects.

Most importantly, it keeps the season going beyond March for approximately 80% of teams.  If you’re not involved in automatic promotion or relegation, you still have something to aspire to.  If a team is in the top 12 of a division, they will probably still be aiming on getting to 6th until it is truly impossible.  If you are 16th or lower, you are worried about relegation.

That means that only four teams per division have a boring end of season.  That is great, and far more desirable than a situation in the Premiership, where Wigan have taken over from Charlton in the top flight’s ‘Athletics Who Give Up Once We Are Safe As There Is No Chance We Will Get Into Eutope’.

A snappy title and one that I hope will catch on.

In summary; the Play Offs are great.  They give the lower leagues a much-needed marquee game, they allow for a greater variety of teams to get a crack at a higher division and, most importantly, they prolongue interest in the season past Easter.


We'll bounce back with the final update on Sunday

We'll bounce back with the 2008-2009 season's final update on Sunday

One last aside – I had previously promised the season review Youtube video today but completely forgot that the FA Cup final was taking place on Saturday.  With that in mind, the season review video and Team Of The Year will be hitting your computer screens on Sunday.

Betcha can’t wait!

My prediction for the final?  Sadly I think Chelsea will walk out as comfortable 2-0 winners.

Everton have the aura of bottlers about them.  Any time they have been in Europe proves that.  I hope I’m wrong, but my local bet house is definitely going to receive £2 on Hiddink leaving town with a winner’s medal.


1 Comment so far
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lovely as always matty. Spot on apart from trying to suggest iniesta was better than xavi.
Ahh well, I’m just basking the glory of this beauty. All together now..

Comment by Conway

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