Faced with another weekend of rain and cancellations, the Daggers Diary team headed to the Costa del Messi to do a scouting report on Manchester City’s next opponents.
In November 2012, Dagenham Dan, Neil and I were on our way back from a trip to Borussia Moenchengladbach, when the subject of Dan’s impending marriage to Aimee came up. Having wondered aloud about whether we would be able to continue our trips abroad for football, we had an idea as we made our way back to the hotel.
Fast forward to the wedding last July, and Neil is making his best man speech at the aforementioned wedding. About half way through, Neil produces a copy of the contract written up in the back of the car from that Germany trip, which allows Dan to continue his trips abroad with certain conditions. One of these is that Aimee will continue to come along with us on a Barcelona trip at least once a season, but will have unfettered access to Dan’s credit card for the duration of the weekend. So, in front of all of the assembled guests, Aimee signed the contract, and so it is with this in mind, that we find ourselves here in Barcelona for the weekend.
It has been an interesting few weeks for Barca. There has been the announcement of the stadium redevelopment, in favour over a move to a new stadium; we’ve had the resignation of club president Sandro Rosell, over the Neymar transfer from last summer, as well as a home defeat by Valencia, and Dani Alves criticising fans for staying away from the home leg of the cup semi final against Real Sociedad, which to be fair did start at 10pm on a Wednesday night. Given that the game was also on local television, it’s probably why many stayed away, although an attendance of nearly forty thousand still wasn’t that bad.
Throughout the week leading up to this trip, the weather dominated the news programmes. Whether it be the flooding in Somerset, or the Thames lapping up against the western suburbs of London, it was the seemingly endless wind and rain that dominated the bulletins.
As our flight approached, it was the gale force winds that concerned me. A quick glance at the easy jet website on Saturday morning noted that they were not expecting any delays from Southend, although Bristol was affected. The sound of the wind howling around on the Friday night meant a rough nights sleep, which coupled with the early start, wasn’t the best way to start a weekend away.
I am lucky enough to be a frequent flyer. Ok, so I don’t have my own security lane yet, but I consider myself fortunate to be able to do these trips. I don’t enjoy flying though, and it is a means to an end. Without the ability to afford the flights to exotic locations, I would be limited in my football journeys to those reachable by train.
Having met Dan and Aimee at Chafford Hundred, we made our way to Southend Airport. Being early, we were the only ones in the departure lounge for a few minutes, meaning that there was no queue in the cafe. We had a whole two hours to wait until our flight, meaning that we could at least relax before jetting off to Spain.
Unfortunately, that two hours soon became three, as our plane was delayed on the inbound journey. This meant that we had to sit and watch as flights for Dublin and Geneva left before us, leaving those bound for Catalonia waiting for our plane to arrive.
An hour later than scheduled, we are finally taking off, although it is very bumpy as we ascend through the clouds. As we hurtle down the runway, the plane is wobbling from side to side, and while it’s probably nothing, it doesn’t help my nerves, and I am grateful that I haven’t left any marks in the arm rests, having gripped them that hard.
Once over France, the flight becomes a bit smoother, and while Dan is making all kinds of noises with his driving game in the iPad, I start to feel hungry as the cheese toasters ordered by our fellow passengers are bought around.
Saturday 15th February 2014, FC Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano, Camp Nou
The ticket offices around the stadium are still offering tickets for the game, leading to a bit of speculation on our part that this might not be a particularly good gate. As it turns out, there are over seventy-four thousand in the stadium, although this isn’t visible from our seats.
We are seated in the back rows of the lower tier, making a nice change from our usual vantage point of behind one of the goals. It’s handy, as we are in a perfect line to see the first goal, which arrives in the first ninety seconds, courtesy of Adriano. It is the first shot on goal of the night, and won’t be the last; he is able to venture in from the right hand side, and curl a low shot inside the far post to start the rout.
To be fair to Vallecano, they continue to press despite the early goal, and are making life hard for the home team. It is also interesting to see Victor Valdes kicking the ball long so much; I doubt I have seen it hit long so often.
When we visited in November, I reckoned that the player that they missed most was Xavi, and for a while it appears to be the same thing tonight. The cohesion isn’t quite there in the first half, although Barca are able to double their lead, thanks to Lionel Messi getting his first of the night; Fabregas is able to thread the ball through to an on rushing Messi, who lifts the ball over the advancing keeper.
While Barca seemed to have controlled the first half, I opine that Manchester City will win, if they continue to play as they have in the first half. Sure, the score line of 2-0 would have seemed to guarantee the points, Vallecano have not threatened too much, despite their hard work.
The coach has clearly had words with his team, is the game is put of sight by the mid way point of he second half. First up is Alexis Sanchez, then closely followed by Pedro before Messi nets his second of the night, and the teams fifth. These three all arrive within fifteen minutes of each other, and Vallecano are now just chasing shadows. While on the first half they were making limited progress with their game plan, now it is shot to bits and they are getting nowhere near the home team. So much has the game changed that Gerard Pique is venturing forward when he can, clearly desperate to get on the scoresheet. This leaves Barca with only two at the back at times, but Vallecano are very limited in their attacking chances and it barely matters.
We have been to enough of these games to know that Barca generally declare on five, and having reached that by seventy minutes, we are starting to expect that the same will happen here. There is more chanting this time than on previous occasions, but then again, we also have a “Mexican Wave” go round, which is not so good, especially as it seems to go past us just when the home team are on the attack again. Luckily for us, Neymar is introduced, and while Messi will be denied his hat-trick (much to Aimee’s disappointment), they do add another one, and the substitute is the scorer with an excellent shot into the top corner of the net. After a bright beginning, Vallecano have been totally blown away, and have been lucky that they have only let in six.
For a while, it looked like the Barca of old; chasing down, trying to win the ball back within six seconds and all that. While they scored six tonight, they hit the woodwork at least twice, and went close on several other occasions. As we leave the ground, our feeling is that they should have had double figures.
And yet, I can’t help feeling that, as the Manchester City tie approaches, that this might be the year that the hopes of winning the champions league end early. While I think that the attacking side of the team may be getting back on track following injuries, it is the defensive side that bothers me. Against some of the more limited attacks in the league, they will clearly be ok, but it against a team like City, with over one hundred goals and counting this season, that the problems will be exposed. As a Barca fan, I hope I am wrong, but the local reaction to the draw was not positive, and I have to agree with that pessimism. However, a team doesn’t win trophies without having some ability, and I hope that it is Barca, and not City going into the draw for the next round.