VIDEO OF THE WEEK: The greatest ever first half performance…?
On the 31 March, 2010, Pep Guardiola took his great Barcelona side to Arsenal for the Champions League quarter final first leg. What happened within that arena inside 45 minutes was nothing short of utterly spectacular, as Barcelona put on a mesmeric display. The irony? It was 0-0 at half time, and Arsenal eventually rescued a 2-2 draw.
How that happened is difficult to understand. As the Guardian’s live reporter noted at half time: “There’s no point me telling you the score, you simply wouldn’t believe it. How on earth aren’t Barcelona ahead? They could easily have been five up after a quarter of an hour.”
Similarly, the BBC noted: “Manuel Almunia produced a string of stunning saves to keep the reigning European champions at bay as they passed the Gunners into submission in a magical first half-hour that had everything – except the goal Pep Guardiola’s side deserved.”
Tactics guru Michael Cox on Zonalmarking.net would add: “Have you ever seen a side start a big game as well as Barcelona started tonight’s match? Within the first quarter of an hour they had already forced Manuel Almunia into five saves, and had a couple more shots blocked. How Arsenal went in 0-0 at half-time, it’s difficult to understand.”
The center-point of that display was Barcelona’s hyperactive technical genius, Xavi, in what was one of the finest displays of his career. This video is one of the better of its type, devoid of appalling music (granted, it’s Coldplay, make of that what you will), illustrating his incredible passing performance and vice-like grip over Arsenal’s bedazzled midfield.
This performance shows Barcelona truly at their peak, a time when they could convert their possession into goal-scoring chances. It’s worth celebrating football played at its pinnacle of excellence, and Barcelona played up to their world class tag on this stage. Performances of this calibre give credence to the analogy that this was one of the greatest teams of all time, a sign that footballing legend status is not something that should be measured purely by the number of trophies won (although Barcelona were sensational in that respect, anyway).
Bonus stats from that game:
- In the first 30 minutes, Arsenal played 97 successful passes. Barcelona played 234 successful passes – 141% more passes, with 80.1% possession in the same time frame.
- In the first half, the ball was only in play for 29:25. Of that total time, Barcelona held the ball for 20:48 -slightly over 70% of the total time played.
- In the first half, Alves (76), Xavi (71) and Busquets (66) had the most touches for Barcelona, totaling 213. Looking at Arsenal, all their starters – Almunia (32), Sagna (17), Vermaelen (17), Gallas (11), Clichy (20), Song (25), Diaby (20), Nasri (27), Fàbregas (23), Arshavin (9), and Bendtner (3) had a total of 204 touches!