Barcelona Exposed in Lob-sided Defeat

1

It was supposed to be a highly touted semi-final Champions League clash of two world football titans.  It was supposed to be Germany versus Spain.  It was supposed to be Lionel Messi and the unbreakable passing of Barcelona vs. Bastian Schweinstager and the complete team of Bayern Munich.  But what it turned into was a showcase of the pure physical talents of the Germans and it exposed a serious weakness in Barcelona.

The game in Germany started out as to be expected.  Barcelona had the lion’s share of the possession, and Bayern did its work on the counter-attack, feeding off a potent attack from Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben.  But the one thing that stood out even in the beginning was the physical dominance of Bayern in the air; they have a serious height advantage and looked to feed the ball in the box through the air.

Messi, the soccer golden-child, nursed a hamstring injury and looked a shell of himself against the physical Germans.  And it showed in Barcelona’s lack of ability to find the goal, both goals themselves and even shots on target.  However, midway through the first half, Bayern made Barcelona pay for their disadvantage.

In a brilliant build-up, Thomas Muller found himself in the box, but heavily guarded.  After a quick pass out to Robben, Robben chipped the ball through to Dante, who headed it directly back to an open Muller who headed in for the first goal of many for the Germans.  It was that airplay that would ultimately prove to be the demise of the Spaniards, who could not physically compete with the men of Bayern.

Early in the second half, they were once again exposed.  Off a corner, Robben found Muller on the far post.  Muller, everywhere on the pitch during this game, headed it right back to the center, where beloved German striker Mario Gomez was waiting to smash home the second for Bayern.  Barcelona looked lost and physically mismatched.  However, they began to build some momentum, driving and pushing forward and finding the ability to get good looks at the goal.

But the Germans were not finished.  Robben, who is regularly given flak for his disinterest in passing to his teammates, showed why he is capable of holding onto the ball with a brilliant bit of skill in the 73rd minute. With a little help from a Muller screen, he switched the ball from his right to his natural left and smashed home from an incredibly difficult angle to put the Germans up by an unthinkable score of 3-0.  Muller later scored again to make the score 4-0.

This was a very telling game for both squads.  The Germans asserted themselves and claimed their proper reward.  A dominant 4-0 win that made a statement to the football world and Barcelona, long thought of a football giants.  The smooth passing and game control of Barcelona have long been the staples of their huge success.  But Bayern played the counter-attack with brilliance and sent a message to both their opponent, as well as both of their potential future opponents in Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, who face off in their own Champions League semi-final Wednesday at 11:45 PST.

As for Barcelona, the opposite was true.  More questions were raised than answered.  They were unable to finish in front of goal with Messi hobbled.  They were unable to compete on set pieces and crosses.  They accumulated four yellow cards on ten fouls, and were majorly outnumbered on corner kicks, 11-4, and shots taken 15-4.  They melted down as the game went on and truly looked as though they were in a game out of their league, which is mind-boggling, because this is Barcelona we are talking about.  This team is essentially the Spanish national team, the same team that throttled Italy 4-0 in the Euro-Cup finals in the summer of 2012.

Now they head back home to the Bernabeu down 4-0 and they need to win by the same margin without allowing any goals to the visitors to even have a chance at penalty kicks.  Not the ideal position for the former Champions.

 

Player of the Match: Thomas Muller.  Muller was DOMINANT in this one, scoring two goals and registering an assist, not to mention making the physical play that allowed Robben’s goal in the 73rd minute.   His strength of pace and willingness to fight into the box was unparalleled on the pitch.

 

Worst Player of the Match: Gerard Pique.  Being married to Shakira has its perks, but the Spaniard was horrendous in this one.  His is the staple of the back four for Barcelona, but he looked lost, much like the rest of his team in the lob-sided defeat.  He also should have been called for a handball that would have resulted in a penalty kick, but he got away with it.  Karma struck though, and his team was throttled 4-0 in an embarrassing fashion

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Sammy Scherr
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Heat, Lakers & Quarterbacks, Oh My!

Lebron/Melo

Can anyone in the Eastern Conference knock off the almighty Miami Heat?

Sammy: Only one team can. And only one team will. And that is the red-hot New York Carmelos!

Tye: Carmelo’s playing great but he’s not LeBron. Melo can score but he can’t compare to LeBron on the defensive end. And JR Smith is nowhere near D-Wade’s level. The Knicks are like a poor man’s Heat.

LISound: The Heat will not be stopped, especially by a team in the Eastern Conference. LeBron has developed a killer instinct, and will stop at nothing to embarrass all of his critics from the last 10 years. Wade has been playing extremely well this season, but it has been overshadowed by LeBron’s dominance.

Sammy: No question LeBron is not a real human being. But the power inside game of the Knicks — especially the presence of Tyson Chandler — can (and will) cause problems for the driving game of James and Wade. Plus, it could come down to who makes more threes.

Tye: There’s no way in hell I bet against the Heat. LeBron had demonstrated he can do whatever is needed to win this year. The Knicks won 12 in a row. Miami more than doubled that with 27.

Long Island Sound: It will be hard for be Knicks’ inside game to be a problem when they get 5-10 shots a game. I don’t see a heat Eastern Conference playoff series going past six games.

Sammy: I’m more cognizant of the inside PRESENCE of Chandler on the defensive end. If he stays healthy he is a force, he will help with all the driving Lebron and Wade do.

Tye: He’ll help but it’s not going to be enough. If he tries to compete with LeBron and Wade driving, he’s going to pick up fouls early and be a quick out.

Long Island Sound: Gents, these are details that need to go right in a best-of-seven series. They won’t. Heat are going to roll the East.

Kobe

What is next for Kobe and the Lakers?

LISound: Bad time for all sports fans to lose such a star before the playoffs, but a positive of this would be for Dwight Howard to thrive and pave a future in LA.

Sammy: This is simultaneously a time for Laker fans to mourn the loss of a superstar and embrace a new one. Kobe’s injury, as a Laker fan, is incredibly tough to stomach. But can the inside-out approach of a Dwight-led Lakers work?

Tye: I personally like the idea of amnestying Kobe next year. The Lakers save big money and possibly improve the team. Kobe still gets paid and has the year off to recover, and then can come back on a cheap contract with a good roster to go for six.

LISound: No way Kobe will allow the Lakers to do that. What is best for the Lakers now is to start their identity with Dwight Howard. It’s needed for success now and in the future.

Sammy: And if Dwight bombs and the Spurs sweep the Lakers? Is his heart really into being “the man” in LA? Only the off-season will tell, but Kobe could conceivably be back by next season’s start. Is Dwight risking another hellish season? It starts (and ends) with Dwight, or else this is a team starting over.

Tye: If Kobe comes back next season then yes, using the amnesty won’t work. I think the team will be fine going through Dwight though. Diva Dwight gets his touches and the Lakers can still get good assets by trading Pau Gasol if they need more depth.

LISound: This entire Laker team looked good on NBA2K, but in reality their styles, especially with this coach, do not mesh well. As they near towards a first-round show down with the Spurs, not getting swept would be a positive at this point.

Sammy: The Lakers need to find a way to get some good young talent. They never do poorly enough to get a good draft pick and they rely heavily on free agency. It’s eventually going to stop being a good system.

Tye: I wouldn’t be surprised if they traded Pau to get a shooting guard and big man. The Lakers are one of the favorite free agent destinations and they’ll always be able sign players.

Quarterbacks

Would you draft a quarterback in the first round this year?

Sammy: This year, there is only one quarterback who I’d draft in the first round: Geno Smith. But only late in the first. Similar to how the Packers handled Mr. Rodgers.

Tye: Geno is worth a first rounder but if it was my team I wouldn’t want them to use it on him. There’s not a ton of separation between QB prospects and I’d be just as happy with a Matt Barkley or EJ Manuel along with using my first rounder for a different team need.

LISound: All the teams that need a QB are in the portion of the draft where it could be too much of a reach to pull the trigger, but if able to trade back; Geno Smith is well worth rolling the dice on. I view him very similar to Donovan McNabb. QB capable of running, but wants to throw.

Sammy: Are we sleeping on Matt Barkley? As a Raiders fan, I know to be wary of USC QBs (See Palmer, Carson and Leinart, Matt). But Barkley was a solid prospect before his injury and performance this year.

Tye: He was the unanimous number 1 pick before this year but he’s been pushed down to the second round by most teams. I watched him since I was a freshman at SC until now and I think that the team who gets him is getting a franchise QB for a steal.

LISound: Jake Locker was a steal too, right? Barkley needs to be drafted into a West Coast system and time to develop. USC QBs come in from college where they had a plethora of talent at that level, and are now looked to succeed throwing to a mix of talent at skill positions and less than 10 bubble screens a game. I’m not sleeping on Barkley, just napping until the third round.

Tye: Locker went eighth overall while Barkley is looking at the second round. A much safer pick for a team to take a risk on. I wouldn’t use my first rounder on him but I think a team in need of a quarterback that uses their first rounder for another need then drafts Barkley in the second could do much worse.

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Long Island Sound, Tye Masters & Sammy Scherr
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Lakers, Warrior Uniforms, Manti Te’o & Oscar Pistorius

The Cover 4 is bringing you a different approach to today’s major sports topics.

Will the Lakers make the playoffs?

lakers

Sammy: I firmly believe there is a chance the Lakers will make the playoffs. With great energy from Dwight Howard, Kobe’s efficiency and HUSTLE defense, they can pull it out.

Tye: The Lakers are three games back with only 24 games left. They’re 10-19 on the road and 12 of those games are away. It’s not happening.

James: Although I chose the Lakers as preseason favorites, I don’t see it. Houston has the fourth-easiest schedule from here on out. James Harden is playing on a MVP level.

Sammy: This team is just now starting to jell. It finally has continuity and the veterans have settled into their roles. They need help, but the Lakers will be doing their part in the race.

Tye: It’s taken 58 games to jell? It’s a sub-.500 team and only 6-4 in its last 10 games. The Lakers aren’t suddenly going to dominate the league and roll past Houston.

James: The Lakers have shown that this group of players can’t get it done. Dwight doesn’t work in this offense, Nash isn’t the same, they have no bench and Kobe can’t do it all

Sammy: To get to a 45-win season, the Lakers need to go 17-7 in the final 24 games. It’s highly possible that Houston or Utah goes 14-10 in that stretch and the Lakers sneak in.

Tye: If Utah had traded Millsap or Jefferson I’d say they might slip, but not now. And Houston just beat a top western team in OKC showing it’s here to stay.

James: 17-7 the rest of the way? I see at least 10 losses on the remaining schedule. Final three games: GS, SAS, HOU. They will flop at the end. Kobe can’t do it himself.

Are the Warrior Sleeve Unis Legit? 

Sleeves

James: Absolutely! 26 percent lighter, trendy, stretchy, 360 rotation. Did I mention the $115 price tag? Soon all teams will rock these jerseys and money will be made on sales.

Sammy: They can make shirts that have all the pros you just mentioned WITHOUT sleeves. Lookout Christmas sweaters, here come “ugly jersey” parties.

Tye: The Warriors broke into Lance Armstrong’s closet and stole all his yellow jerseys. They beat the Spurs because he had sweated PEDs into all of them.

James: Haha. Nicely done boys, but the sleeves are here to stay; the kids are gonna love it. Now you can put those guns away and rock the sleeves with your jersey.

Sammy: Honestly what are they thinking? It makes them look like little boys playing against the other teams, which look like beasts. They need to dominate to make a statement like that, not just win.

Tye: Going from short shorts to regular shorts was a good move back in the day, but the NBA jersey is something timeless. Some things shouldn’t be changed.

James: You guys are missing the point! This is about money. The almighty dollar reigns supreme as this is another selling tool for the NBA. Wait until every team wears them.

Sammy: It doesn’t matter about money. The NBA isn’t hurting for cash. What happened to tradition? Basketball holds on to tradition better than any of the major sports. It’s a damn shame.

Tye: I agree that the new jerseys will sell. Hell, NBA players wearing rimless glasses made them popular and sell. It doesn’t mean that the product looks good or makes sense though.

Is Manti Te’o worth a first-round selection?

teo

Tye: With his performance against Alabama and his 4.8 40 time, Teo’s chances of being taken in the first round are about as real as his girlfriend.

Sammy: I have trouble believing that a spotty performance in the National Championship game and the combine can affect a Heisman candidate that much.

James: Sometimes too much emphasis is on combine numbers. He’s a first-round talent but my problem is with how guys will react to him in the locker room. Definitely worth a mid-late first.

Tye: You really want to use a first rounder on a player who can’t be an every-down linebacker? The 4.8 shows he’s not going to be able to keep up with NFL receivers.

Sammy: AT THE COMBINE, Scouts compared him to Lance Briggs. Briggs is an elite LB on an elite defense without elite speed. Ball speed is different than running in a straight line, which he won’t be called upon to do.

James: Plain and simple Teo makes plays. Before the hoax we were talking about him being the first true defensive Heisman winner. Alabama showed some weaknesses but he’s still playmaker.

Tye: I see him going late first, early second. When you perform poorly against the best talent, it creates doubt at what you can do at the next level.

Sammy: Not enough doubt that he drops that far. He could go in the middle of the first to Tampa Bay or someone that could use the LB boost, or he could take over for Ray Lewis. Regardless, he’s a definite first rounder.

James: Reading Kiper’s mock draft, Sammy? The guy is a first rounder but only in the right situation. He needs to go to a team with strong leadership. Letting him slip may help.

If Olympian Oscar Pistorius doesn’t get charged with the murder of his girlfriend, is it safe to say that athletes get preferential treatment?

debate

Sammy: Pistorius, Lewis, OJ Simpson, Donte Stallworth…what do they have in common? All have been involved in a murder in some way, and all might be off without any major punishment, if any punishment at all.

James: Without a doubt athletes get preferred treatment in these situations. If Pistorius gets away with this it will be a travesty. He has a history of violence!

Tye: Do athletes get preferential treatment? Of course, but it’s up to the attorneys and juries to come out with the right verdict. So who is giving them the treatment?

Sammy: There have to be back alley type plea deals or behind the scenes agreements. There’s no other explanation. The process is corrupt, unfair and it goes against everything a government should stand for.

James: Pistorius’ camp is making all the right moves to get him off the hook. He committed a crime, was taking steroids and has a history of violence. He better go to jail.

Tye: Did you ever consider that his fame could lead to him being made an example of and increasing punishment? We shouldn’t automatically assume guilt either.

Sammy: This argument is based on the assumption he is guilty and not charged. And yes, I’ve considered fame. But that is the same boat the other athletes have been in. Fame has let others off the hook. It has to stop.

James: Guilty until proven innocent is the new system. At the end of the day, Pistorius is a local hero and will get away with murder. It’s terrible and pathetic.

Tye: Guilty until proven innocent is pathetic. Look how many people have been exonerated by DNA after people assumed they were guilty. Though if he’s found guilty, he’ll do time.

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James Kaikis, Tye Masters & Sammy Scherr
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2 Weeks Later: Joe Flacco Still Isn’t Elite

flacco

Elite: A group of people considered to be the best in a particular society or category, esp. because of their power, talent, or wealth.

It finally happened.  Joe Flacco brought his team to the ultimate goal of any man who has ever dreamed of playing in the National Football League.  After five “long” seasons, Mr. Flacco and company are world champions after knocking off the favored San Francisco 49ers and their hotshot gunslinger of the future, Colin Kaepernick.

So I guess that means that Flacco joins the ranks of the “elite” NFL quarterbacks, right?  I mean, he already owns the most road playoff wins for a quarterback ALL TIME in only his fifth season.  After all, he has won a playoff game in each of his first five seasons.  And he threw for an immaculate 11 touchdowns with ZERO turnovers in the playoffs.  So, he’s elite now, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, do not mistake me saying that Flacco is not elite as saying that he is not one of the best young quarterbacks playing the game.  Wins speak for themselves and there is no denying that he is about to get paid the big bucks, possibly the biggest contract of all quarterbacks (keep an eye out Aaron Rodgers).  However, a look into the numbers is all one needs to see to know that the word elite might be a bit out of the reach of Flacco’s skill-set.

To begin with, this year and this postseason run were both incredible for Flacco.  But the numbers can be a bit deceiving.  Despite the beauty of his numbers, he still had a total QBR of less than 50, at 46.8 in the postseason.  That lends belief that while his mistakes were few, he was helped by big plays and the commitment of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, not to mention the running game, where Ray Rice continued to be a workhorse and Bernard Pierce appeared to break out.

In fact, let’s talk quarterback numbers.  In the 2012 season, Flacco’s QB rating was a pedestrian 87.7, a number surpassed by 11 other quarterbacks, including Philip Rivers and Tony Romo, not to mention ROOKIES Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III.  This year was his highest yardage total of his career, but he still did not break the 4,000-yard mark, as he has yet to do in his career.  Thirteen other quarterbacks had more yards this year than Flacco.  Also, his 59.7 percent completion percentage was the second-worst in his NFL career. Eighteen quarterbacks had a better completion percentage..

Furthermore, Flacco was inspired just as the rest of the Ravens and the city of Baltimore were by Ray Lewis’ postseason push, deer antler spray or not.  Things happened to go the Ravens way.  Jacoby Jones was able to take advantage of a second-year mistake by Rahim Moore to grasp victory out of the jaws of defeat.  Bernard Pollard once again became a Patriot killer, this time, with Stevan Ridley his victim.  And while I agree with the call that was made, there is a very strong case to be made by 49er fans that there was some holding on their final offensive play of the Super Bowl.

Everyone catches breaks.  It’s not possible to go the distance in this competitive era without catching a few.  The Patriots were 18-0 until they faced the New York Giants and were victims of one of the greatest, albeit luckiest, catches in the history of the NFL.  Half of the football fans in the world would not have been able to tell me who David Tyree was before that game began and now his lucky break has given him football-god status.

Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens are no different.  They are champions, they played like champions and they deserve to be champions.  But this postseason run was about the Ravens, this was not about the rise of Flacco to elite status.  He is a very good quarterback on a very good team.  But to use the word elite is to compare him to modern-day greats Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, as well as historic greats like Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and John Elway.

Just compare Flacco’s numbers to the stats of Brady, Brees and Manning. Those three have
career passer ratings of 96.6, 94.3 and 95.7 respectively. Flacco’s career passer rating is a
more average 86.3. Over the past seven seasons Brees has averaged 4,796 passing yards per
season, and Brady and Manning aren’t too shabby either with career season yardage numbers
of 4,066 and 4,250 (based on full seasons played). Flacco’s season average for yards is 3,500
on a team that has made the playoffs in each of his five seasons.

Numbers aside, Flacco also has never made the “esteemed” NFL Pro Bowl. Brees, Manning
and Brady have combined for 27 Pro Bowls in their illustrious careers. Those three have also
combined for 11 All-Pro selections, another accolade that has so far eluded the new champion
Flacco.

Flacco is about to be a very, very, very rich man.  There is no denying that.  And he deserves to be paid; likewise, the Ravens can ill-afford to be rid of their star quarterback who just led them on one of the most impressive postseason runs in NFL history, knocking off two number 2 seeds and a number 1 seed in the process.  But that is all he will be.  A good, maybe even great, rich quarterback.  Not an elite one.  He needs more championships and a steady stat line before he can be elite.  After all, if Eli Manning, who has two Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl MVPs cannot be considered elite, why should Delaware’s treasure be any different?

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Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 4.34.53 PMSammy Scherr
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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