Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Barcelona dispatches Bilbao to stay hot on Madrid’s heels.

Barcelona dispatches Bilbao to stay hot on Madrid’s heels.
by rick olivares pic by gustau nacarino (reuters)

After Osasuna piped Barcelona 3-2 at the Reyno de Navarra, Josep Guardiola’s men tore up La Liga with a seven-match win streak. Just when it was deemed that Barcelona had lost their appetite for winning after they have earned the sobriquet of ‘the world’s best football team of all time’ where they won 13 titles in Guardiola’s four years as manager, chasing Real Madrid has become the late mantra this campaign.

Barca closed the gap of 10 points to six after Real Madrid was held to back-to-back draws first by Malaga (1-1) then by Villareal (1-1). The favorable 0-0 draw with AC Milan at the San Siro (Champions League) meant the Catalan club was going home to Camp Nou to first play Athletic Bilbao and then the Italians in succession.

It wasn’t like Bilbao had the advantage to catch Barca being winded for they too came from a surprising 4-2 win over Schalke 04 in the Europa League quarterfinals.

Guardiola wasn’t taking it easy even if he rested Carles Puyol, Xavi, and Seydou Keita in favor of Thiago, Christian Tello, and Adriano. Xavi and Keita were listed as reserves in the event Bilbao threatened.

The Basque club did well, if only for the opening five minutes as they threatened early on and were aggressive in going after the Catalans’ midfielders. Then as if to say, ‘we’ve had enough of this nonsense’ Barca turned the game around with their trademark ball control and possession and riddle Bilbao’s goal. Bilbao keeper Gorka Iraizoz, like the 16 other La Liga goalkeepers that Barcelona routinely tortures, was given the ultimate workout as he fended off shot after shot despite shoddy defending by his back four.

It is a youthful side that Bilbao put on the field. Immensely proud of their youth system (they have looked to Barcelona’s La Masia Academy as inspiration), Marcelo Bielsa, one of the game’s bright minds after his wondrous work with Argentina, Chile, and Bilbao, hoped that they could challenge. They are still a galaxy far far away from Barcelona as they were reduced to a late tackling, hip checking, shirt pulling squad as Sergio Busquets, Leo Messi, and Andres Iniesta left them chasing the blades of grass.   

Bielsa would have been better suited to run a 442 to Barca’s 433 as his mids were routinely stripped of the ball. On the few occasions they got the ball to the final third, they maddeningly lost the ball and the animated Bielsa would let loose a tirade. Thus, Barcelona unloaded 20 shots at Iraizoz who was the only impressive player for Bilbao.

There were subplots galore. Guardiola has always looked up to Bielsa. But it is more like the youthful Guardiola is the master having won so much in so little time. And Alexis Sanchez, the Chilean forward for Guardiola once played for Bielsa in the Chile national team. And Messi did play for Bielsa with the Argentine national team before the unfortunate tenure of Jose Pekerman.

Bilbao has climbed La Liga in Bielsa’s two years thus far – eight to sixth last year. This year, they hovered in the top ten before only taking one point from a possible 12 in their last four fixtures. And they were away in Camp Nou for this one.

And it was a matter of time before Barcelona scored as they had their way with the game. After Messi found a cutting Iniesta, Bilbao defender Javi Martinez tried to tackle Iniesta. He tugged at Iniesta’s shirt but the Barcelona midfielder, who had gone down to the grass more than he would have liked during the match unloaded a wicked shot from his right boot that nearly took of Iraizoz’ head. That reminded me of Landon Donovan’s shot against Samir Handanovic during USA’s incredible comeback against Slovenia in the last World Cup. But 1-0, Barca.

Because of all the tackling of Bilbao, Tello won one although it looked like he went down rather too easily inside the box. Penalty. And Messi took an awful shot that Iraizoz could have stopped but the Flea’s momentary hesitation also caused the Bilbao keeper to pause. Goal. 2-0, Barcelona.

Bilbao nearly pulled back one when late sub Iker Muniain flicked one past Victor Valdes from the right post. But Gerard Pique, who early in the match looked to have lost a goal when it was headed out after it seemingly crossed the line by a Bilbao defender Jon Aurtenetxe, slid in to stop the ball’s progress. Valdes and Barcelona kept its clean sheet for the 2-0 win.

Madrid earlier waylaid Barca’s tormentor Osasuna, 5-1, to stay ahead with six points, 78-72 and a 25-3-2 slate. Guardiola’s squad in the meantime improved to 22-6-2. Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace against Osasuna still put him atop the Pichichi list with 37 goals to Messi’s 36.

Both Real Madrid and Barcelona know that there is no room for error at this stage. Any dropped points could be fatal prior to their April 22 match up at Camp Nou.

The upcoming match up could provide a thrilling finish to rival the 2006-07 season when Madrid won their 30th league title after beating Mallorca 3-1 when late sub Jose Antonio Reyes gave them a massive lift while Barcelona whipped Gimnastic 5-1. Because of Madrid’s superior head-to-head match up with the Blaugrana, Madrid won La Liga.

This is going to be one whopper of a finish.

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