Prologue: Salvador, up in northern Brazil, is so unlike Rio and Sao Paulo, the rest of the country refers to Bahiaians rudely as “slow”. As I trudged through the late afternoon sun looking for the Newcastle – Man Utd game, it struck me that the heat may have something to do with it. Certainly, when the cool of the evening sets in, the Bahaians are far from slow in their samba. It took me three tries before I could find a bar showing the “Inglaterra” game, as I described it in my limited portuguese; the first two were only able to offer a national youth cup, which surely talented, was not what I sought. Finally, in a bar that was completely empty and silent, thanks to the muted telecast of the game, I found my fix; and only six minutes in, with Manchester looking dominant and menacing.
Newcastle had a conventional 4-4-2 it seemed, with 8 players practically in the box. I noted that the backs did not even bother chasing the wings, allowing United freedom of play on the wide wings but closing down hard. It appeared like Barcelona-lite versus Real Madrid-lite – Man U playing the ball on the ground with quick intricately woven passes and runs, while Newcastle relied on a tight, hard defense that went higher and higher as the game progressed and they found their own groove of airborne counter-attacks, relying on their African force of Amoebi and the excellent Ba. (Forget Podolkski; I wish Arsenal would buy Ba!). My sound-bite for the game would be – “Three if by air, naught if by land”. As the back 4 and midfields managed to collectively harassed Man U off any attempt at comfort in their possession, the first goal was classic route one consisting of 3 touches – Krul to Amoebi to Ba for the finish. Is this a sign of the future? Just as Rory Delap’s long throw’s for Stoke has transformed that aspect of the game, will Krul’s kicks to the top of the box negate the need for midfielders? As goalies begin to kick further and further, will we see the game reduced to a volleyball like context of goal-kicks to the box and followed on into goal? Newcastle’s third goal would suggest that this may indeed be an indication of the future. If you don’t have the $ for the Xavis and Matas, just invest in a goalie that can cut out the middlemen!
All in all, an excellent day in Salvador for me, made finer by events in Tyne!