Lionel Messi is going to miss up to two months after the Barcelona forward tore his hamstring in a game against Real Betis over the weekend. Messi has battled hamstring injuries throughout his career. In fact, his career is something of a medical miracle. As a child, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Barcelona signed a young Messi and paid for his medical treatment. Since then? Well, you know ...
I realize the snake eating its own tail that is a member of the media writing about the lack of positive attention given to Barcelona by the media, but it does feel like the Catalan club have not quite gotten the attention they deserve this season. Over the weekend, Barcelona beat Real Betis, 4-1, without Lionel Messi for much of the game. They are at the top of La Liga, three points clear of Atlético Madrid. Alongside Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Atlético, they've clinched a berth in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Across all competitions Barcelona have opened their season undefeated through 19 matches. We should be talking more about them.
In case you were busy telling one of your employees to hit another one of your employees to settle an interpersonal workplace dispute, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
A fourth-quarter surge from the Pacers' reserves turned a close game between division rivals into a blowout, as Indiana ran away from the Bulls in a 97-80 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team is now a disappointing 1-3, said after the game, "I'm panicking! Of course I'm panicking! We've played four games! Derrick Rose is not playing like an MVP! We're all panicking!" Thibodeau then added, "Fire! Fire! I don't know what to do! What am I supposed to say? 'Just play your game, and things will turn around?' No! No one will believe me! Must make everything clean! Must make everything clean!" Thibodeau then pulled out a canister of gasoline and poured it over the team's jersey hamper as the media ran from the locker room.
Philadelphia lost its second consecutive game after opening the season a surprising 3-0, falling to the Washington Wizards 116-102. "I think we've got this all straightened out," said 76ers GM Sam Hinkie after the game. "Me and the boys had to come to a bit of an arrangement, see. Turns out just bringing in bad apples ain't enough. You have to make them want to play bad, you hear? But the problem is, shooting baskets is real fun. Almost too fun." Hinkie then smiled and said, "But defense? No one likes playing defense. Dames don't go in for defense. So I say, no defense, and they can keep their precious offense. Pretty clever, eh?"
In case you were busy wishing you could just be a linebacker, and not the go-to name when someone gets tricked on the Internet, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Chris Davis's 12th-inning single gave the Orioles a 5-3 win over Boston, leaving the Red Sox's magic number for clinching the AL East at three. "Yeah it is. Oh, three, is a magic number," Red Sox manager John Farrell sang after the game before leading his team in a Schoolhouse Rock sing-along that both raised team morale and clarified for second baseman Dustin Pedroia exactly how a bill becomes a law.
Desmond Jennings's walk-off single was the final blow in the Tampa Bay Rays' back-and-forth extra-inning 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers. "Even if we have a lot of kids and other team's rejects, we have a great team spirit that I think is going to bring us into the postseason," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was dressed as Oscar the Grouch in a strange bit of morale-draining one-upmanship. "Because we here in Tampa love trash. We love it because it's trash."
In case you were busy taking in that new Woodsy Allen movie because it doesn't have that nervous fellow who is always in them, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Alex Rodriguez responded to being hit by a pitch by Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster in the second inning with a rally-starting home run as the Yankees surged from behind to beat the Boston Red Sox, 9-6, on Sunday, claiming a win in the rivals' weekend series. When asked why he hit Rodriguez, Dempster explained, "I feel the best way to process anger is by throwing things really fast at the things that make you mad. Like when I get to the fridge, and one of my kids has finished off a carton of milk and put it back into the fridge empty, I throw a heater right at the fridge to say, 'Hey, fridge, why are you tearing this family apart?' Or when I'm stuck behind a school bus in traffic, I find a slider thrown at that flashing stop sign on the side of the bus sends the message, 'Hey buddy, I found school to be a harsh environment when I was a kid.'" When asked again why he hit Rodriguez, Dempster said, "Those fat cats down in Washington," and walked out of the press conference without saying another word.
Despite his heroics, Rodriguez and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman remain at odds, with Cashman saying he is "not comfortable talking to Alex." When told of Cashman's comments, Rodriguez replied, "Makes sense. Have you seen my body? I wouldn't be comfortable approaching me either. God himself couldn't make a body like this one. Hey, you want me to take my shirt off?" When told that would be unnecessary, Rodriguez added with a wink, "Yep, that's the uncomfortable look I've been getting. I can tell you're impressed."
I don’t really know why I’m bothering to show up for soccer season this year. Bayern Munich’s complete dominance is, after all, a fait accompli. Last season’s Champions League winners only went out and added their biggest rival’s best player, Mario Goetze from Borussia Dortmund, and possibly the best coach in the world, the architect of the all-conquering 2008-12 Barcelona, Pep Guardiola. Bayern’s possession-based style is a perfect match for Guardiola. Last season in Europe’s five biggest leagues, Bayern was the only team besides Barcelona to average more than 60 percent possession. We’re all playing for second, right? Well, maybe.
Nobody is going to dispute Bayern’s talent level. It’s absurd. Even their second team, which could feature the likes of Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos, Luiz Gustavo, and Xherdan Shaqiri, would probably be good enough to compete for a Champions League spot in most European leagues. But that doesn’t mean they’re primed and ready for Pep. Assuming Bayern’s approach last year was similar to Barcelona’s just because they both had a lot of the ball misses exactly what it is that makes Guardiola and the Barcelona program he built so unique, and also ignores exactly why Bayern were a treble-winning juggernaut.
This is the point in the program when I mention that while Pep left Barcelona before last season, Tito Vilanova, who took over, is as steeped in Barcelona’s Barcelonaness as a coach can get, after being Pep’s assistant for his entire Barcelona run.
In case you were busy giving birth to an heir to a throne (hey, Kate, what's up?) here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
If your favorite sports news is depressing drug suspension news, well, you're in luck, because Denver Broncos' defensive superstar Von Miller is reportedly facing a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Good for you, person who likes depressing news. Today is a great day to say about your favorite professional athlete, with a smug shake of the head, that "Everybody's doing it, it's just a matter of time until they're all caught." Me? I'm going to continue to live in denial, and will be literally burying my head in sand and living off nothing but hermit crab meat until this case is overturned as it inevitably, rightly, and irrevocably will be. Moving on, forever, surely …
Oh, we're not moving on? No? OK. Brewers star and former NL MVP Ryan Braun has accepted a 65-game suspension for his violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs both due to his role in the Biogenesis scandal and for previous statements related to his rescinded suspension before the 2012 season. Guys, you know that we here at About Last Night are all about fostering debate with regards to the biggest sports stories of the day, and this is no exception. I mean, are we really sure that Braun is guilty here? Really? What evidence do we really have? We have a positive test that was overturned because of improper handling. Stricken from the record. Then he have his name written down on paper at a Florida anti-aging clinic. Everything about those words is too sketchy to be believed. Anti-aging clinic? Florida? Handwritten notes? Come on. Handwritten notes? Seriously? What year is this? And finally we have a confession. But do we really know that no one has entered Braun's dreams, planted the idea of taking steroids deep within his subconscious, tricking his now conscious mind into believing that, despite a lifetime of clean living, he has used illegal performance-enhancing drugs? Do we really know? And if we think we know, can we really be sure that our knowledge wasn't planted in our minds by dream invaders out to take control of our family's massive wealth in a Braun-related scheme so convoluted that it is totally impossible to comprehend? Can we really be sure? Really? Checkmate.
I really have no inside information as to whether Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis, or David Moyes and Ed Woodward, or Jose Mourinho and whatever cabal of ex–Secret Service agents are handling Chelsea's transfers spend a lot of time watching the end of The Godfather. I imagine they have better things to do. Wenger certainly does ...
Regardless of their viewing habits, this is definitely the part of the European football summer transfer window when all Corleone family business gets settled. Financial Fair Play and contracts be damned, clubs are still allowed to pursue the players they please. The goal, as the buying club, is to improve your chances on the field. If you can take out Moe Green (a.k.a. cut the legs out from those closest to you in the league table) while you're at it, then that's just an added bonus.
The two big transfer rumors making the rounds this week exemplify this Corleone school of thinking.
This summer's European football transfer window has featured the usual telephone whispers and hysterical about-faces that one can expect from a three-month spectacle fueled by secrets, lies, roughly translated radio interviews, and unimaginable amounts of money.
These are the stories we read about during summer to pass the time while clubs are touring the world, playing friendlies. These players will be sold, or they won't. It's all basically bullshit until it actually happens. But one of these stories — the transfer of Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara — has risen above gossip and rumor. It involves old Barca manager Pep Guardiola, current Barca manager Tito Vilanova, Bayern Munich, the Brazilian club Santos, the Brazilian superstar Neymar, his dad, Johan Cruyff, old friends, political bickering and maneuvering, personal accusations, lines crossed, and grudges held.
In case you were out grillaxing (grilling while attempting to fend off an ax-wielding dwarf) here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Tony Parker had 37 points as the San Antonio Spurs completed a four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies with a 93-86 win. Despite having only two first-half dunks, the Spurs outscored Memphis 52-32 in the paint, as they once again reinforced the old Popovichian adage, "Dunk for show, make relatively uncontested layups and midrange jumpers for dough."
We're heading back to Chicago as the Blackhawks overcame a second-period deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 4-3, to force a Game 7 in their Western Conference semifinal. The decisive goal was scored on a penalty shot by Michael Frolik, despite Red Wings coach Mike Babcock distinctly warning his goalkeeper Jimmy Howard: "I know his move, triple deke, hit the brakes, pause, glove side." Howard asked, "What if he goes stick side?" but Babcock insisted that Frolik was fancy and would go glove side. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, while Frolik did go glove side, he did not stop his action to grin at the opposing goalkeeper, keeping the entire audience in suspense before firing off his shot, instead taking it as part of a single fluid motion.
Let's take a look at what we learned (aside from "fear the rise of Germany") from four matches in which we certainly learned to fear the rise of Germany.
Life After Gotze
Borussia Dortmund midfielder (and soon to be Bayern Munich player) Mario Gotze was subbed off after less than 20 minutes of their second-leg match at the Bernabeu with a suspected hamstring tear. His removal had a rather negative effect. Kevin Grosskreutz, who by the standards of German midfielders is an elderly 24, came on for Gotze. Marco Reus, who started the match in a roving left winger role, shifted into a more central position, more advanced than where Gotze had been playing. Grosskreutz tucked in on the left.
While his positioning and tracking were acceptable, Grosskreutz's touch and decision-making were not. Too frequently play broke down as balls were funneled in his direction. Grosskreutz is a very good player to have as your first choice off the bench in the Bundesliga; he is not up to the standards of starting in the midfield for a Champions League finalist.
Gotze is a unique talent, but he will have to be replaced with someone capable of creating alongside Reus. Problem is, Dortmund already lost that player. His name is Shinji Kagawa and he plays for Manchester United now.
In case you were busy having an adorable cat on your chest and being unable to move, or breathe, or — hey, this cat's trying to kill me! — here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
We're headed back to Boston after the Celtics held on for a 92-86 win over the New York Knicks, forcing a Game 6 in their first-round playoff matchup. Kevin Garnett fueled the Celtics with a vintage 16-point, 18-rebound performance. "Man, that takes me back," Garnett said wistfully after his double-double. "Remember when I was crushing it up in Minnesota. Just me and Terrell Brandon. So young, so naive. Maybe I could get that TV show about my posse off the ground now. Do you think the breakthrough success of Entourage makes it more or less likely? I mean, it was gonna be The Monkees meets The Beverly Hillbillies. I guess it could be reality. That's basically what Carmelo's wife has going on. Nah, TV is a young man's game. I was just born too young."
Despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins took care of business by thrashing the New York Islanders 5-0 in Pittsburgh. "Oh man, that'll teach us to come on the mainland," Islanders captain Mark Streit said after the loss. "It's weird here. First of all, not everyone takes boats to get places. Also weird, the lack of nautically themed dining establishments. I'm starving for some fried calamari down by a marina; I can't find that in Pittsburgh at all. Total nightmare. They told me, 'Go to a river.' I told them to go up a river, with dumb advice like that. A butt river. Man, I'm hungry."
In case you were busy mixing up Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone, much to your own embarrassment and chagrin, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors, powered by Stephen Curry's 30 points, beat the Denver Nuggets, 131-117, to even up their first-round playoff series at a game apiece. Curry, who fought through a twisted ankle in the third quarter, said after the game, "Of course I overcame a twisted ankle. I'm Steph Curry. A twisted ankle to me is just an ankle. A sprained ankle for me feels like a twisted ankle for you. I need to have my entire foot removed from my shin at this point to be fazed by my ankle."
Despite a night that many would say was quiet by his standards, LeBron James and the Miami Heat used a strong fourth quarter to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks, 98-86. "Sometimes you have to be subtle, understated," James said after the game. "You can't just score 40 every night; you have to treat each game like it's a snowflake. Sometimes you have to be gentle with it. Let it know you care, that you see its unique qualities. And then some snowflakes you drop 60 on because that's what that snowflake wants. Tonight wasn't about that. Tonight was about the velvet touch."
In Joe Posnanski's recent profile of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, there's a quote from Bob Spear, Pop's old coach from his playing days at Air Force: "A team could do anything as long as the players just kept moving." The theory is the same in football: create and exploit space through motion, disrupt another team through pressing. Can Borussia Dortmund move enough so as to level themselves with comparably trained sides who also have effectively unlimited bank rolls? Is there room for a working-class Champions League winner in modern football? Or will Real Madrid's well-funded talent prove to be too much in the Champions League semifinal?