Thursday, April 25, 2013

An Enjoyable Flirtation

Yesterday I was forced to DVR the Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid match since I was stuck at work during the live broadcast. I normally am able to breakout early to watch Arsenal matches but for other good games (or "lesser" Arsenal matches) I will employ this strategy and to be honest, it's not as bad as some people make it out to be. The necessary social media blackout can make those last few hours of work a little slow and if you have asshole friends who like to text you updates without checking to see if you're watching it live, prepare to be filled with rage. But if you can get past these obstacles, the whole postponement of pleasure thing actually has some merit. I was excited all day yesterday to get home and flip the game on, mainly because I love watching Dortmund play. They are exciting, energetic, and supremely talented but without the douchiness that we often attribute to clubs that have won too much. Watching them is a delight and I was excited (while only marginally nervous) when I sat down to watch what most of the world had already seen.

*It should be obvious by now, but don't read any further if you have any need to keep the match unknown in your mind.*

Holy Jesus, the match did not disappoint. In short, Dortmund were electric. They buzzed around the pitch, pressuring the midfield and earning an early goal from world class striker Robert Lewandowski. Real were able to work their way into the game and even control it for a while, earning a fluke goal courtesy of a defensive mistake, but one that could have came on their own merit as well. In the second half, however, Dortmund made no doubt. With Westfalenstadion roaring, Lewandowski scored three more goals as last year's German champions buried Real and then spent the last 25 minutes patrolling the grave just to make sure. It was a fantastic sight and brought home the reason I feel both very happy and incredibly sad while watching such a vibrant squad.

It's easy to like Dortmund because, well, they're a very good team. They are loaded with exceptional young talent who play well together and are a delight for neutrals because of their attacking style. The style is what is so appealing because they are speedy and aggressive on both sides of the ball. The players attack relentlessly when the other team is in possession and break quickly once winning out. It is not at all uncommon to see quick one-twos through an opposing defense or one player gamely taking on defenders on a surging run (Marco Reus' early shot on goal came from just such a charge). While they are not a defensive stalwart in the way we normally understand that description, they are strong on defense and their overall style maximizes the ability of their players. It is attractive to watch and that is both the reason I love and loathe it: they play as Arsenal should.

This truly is the Arsenal style of play with gifted attackers fed through well won tackles and an aggressive bent. It is hard-working but not workmanlike because everything in the system feeds a beautiful style that is entertaining and highly effective. It is, in my biased opinion, the best way to play football and while it is so much fun to watch, it's saddening and maddening to have the team best executing it not be the Gunners. Arsenal has sunk into a strange hybrid style where they still try to break with speed when they win the ball, but they no longer press high which leads to a less frenetic pace, one that seems to bleed over into the offense. Possession often seems for its own sake with the ball moved around in a probing but lazy manner. It's both an inferior form of Dortmund's play and of the high possession Barcelona style and it can often lead to frustrating games where the lack of intent is the most damning criticism. Put simply, another team plays what I consider to be the Arsenal style with more skill than Arsenal. When watching Dortmund I feel like I'm looking at what could have been.

It's easy to be attracted to another, especially if they seem to be a better version of what you have. The thrill is there as is the awe, but what is also lacking is the attachment. I can enjoy how Dortmund play and still feel next to nothing if they lose save the usual "I wish they had won" or "I can't believe [insert team I don't like] had lost!" They are fun and they are wonderful, but they are not mine. I will watch them when they are on and I will enjoy doing so, but they are not Arsenal.

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