It is. They’ll tell you that their defense played poorly in the second half. What they won’t tell you is that Pep got out-coached by Manzano, whose second half subs (Kanouté for Zoko and Perotti for D.M. Capel) tipped the game in our favor. We started to control the ball on counters, we began to link passes together and catch them in uncomfortable positions, and we ran-ran-ran-ran our asses off.
I don’t think the opposition would agree, but it was pretty clear to me that we were the better team in the second half and they were better in the first. For all their possession, they really didn’t do too much with it in front of the box. Gary Medel was a rock, winning ball after ball and cutting off lots of passes. Alexis was largely unheard of: good. The entire back line generally withstood pretty well all the cuttings and dashings of the Barça trio Villa, Messi and Bojan (Pedro). Varas was also quick off his line multiple times to pounce on through balls.
In the first half, we were fairly packed in and couldn’t muster much on the break. It doesn’t appear we had any intention of playing overly defensively in this match. I get why someone could see 9 men behind the ball and think that, but that is simply a biproduct of defending all ten of Barça’s outfield players in our half. We’re not going to push out and leave space for them to have a man advantage. The main thing was we couldn’t link passes together to get out of there – it seemed like the strategy may have been to stifle them for a while until we felt comfortable. Either way, Manzano changed the match at the half and shortly after, bringing on Big Freddi and Perotti. Those two linked up over and over on the break, and Rakitic played excellently to Kanouté in the build up to our goal, putting him into clear space to pick out Negredo’s run. Rakitic became a different player once Freddi came on; he had much more sense of purpose and intent with the ball moving forward, and was able to elude the press better than he did in the first half on his own.
We (and they) nearly got the second goal on a few different occasions after Navas tied it in the 49′. Negredo’s cross came in from the end line after Kanouté put him through on goal where he rounded Valdes. Navas buried it into the back of the net just wide of a stretching Abidal, who later had the most interesting play of the match: a header while lying down to deny Negredo a 1v1 opportunity. It was end to end stuff for about 15 minutes of the second half, with Barcelona hitting the crossbar once and Valdes saving a Navas shot with his outside foot. Kanouté had a golden chance in front of goal in the 78′ only to see a feebler shot than he wanted roll wide.
Surprisingly, Barcelona made the more defensive subs of the two sides IMO, subbing Maxwell in for Adriano and Keita in for Villa (not defensive was the injury sub of Bojan for Pedro), whereas Manzano went aggressive in the second half, taking off the DM Zokora for Kanouté and an even swap of Perotti for Capel. Finally, when Negredo was subbed for Romaric we looked to be happy with the tie after 88 minutes.