No one likes a long ball, a half-field length diagonal pass to a man waiting at the edge of the enemy defence. We prefer to quiver as rhombi spontaneously form in the midfield, the ball pinging around in a human Plinko board inside a slow moving amoeba rolling toward the opposition goal. That’s part of the magic of the 8×8 Dutch philosophy, the Cruyffian tea infused with the fresh water of Spain’s innate technical talent, together the epitome of the Idea of Barcelona.
But like many things Dutch, the liberation of the Barca Way is is actually anchored by a stern ideology of which Pep Guardiola was a passionate adherent. Tiki-taka is a high ideal; you don’t adapt it to present circumstances, you bend present circumstances to meet it. Teams however can only bend for so long before Things Fall Apart. That’s the Three Year rule of possession football…you need the right team to sustain it, and those are either bought at an enormous price or made once in a generation.
So when rumours emerged that Tata Martino would carefully reconsider the efficacy of an over-the-top pass at Barcelona, the broad swath of international culés had their excuse at hand for any failure and perhaps a reason to believe Barca had seen their best days. But it’s equally possible to regard tonight’s Champions League fixture as Tata’s raison d’etre. Manuel Pellegrino’s Man City has few weaknesses, but one of them has been coping with teams willing to break at pace in numbers. They’ve been vulnerable where big teams are usually vulnerable, like set pieces. Yet as Chelsea demonstrated, a bit of attacking guile mixed with discipline at the back might save Barca from a Build-Up Battle with as much likelihood as boring the pants off Europe as scoring a multitude of goals.
Why can’t there be an aesthetically pleasing long ball? A long pass to feet, rather than a goalkeeper’s hoof in hope? If any team were capable of it, it would be Barca.