Roma's performance in yesterday's draw with Barcelona was testament to the fact that sometimes will overcomes talent. Rudi Garcia's men were outclassed in nearly every facet of that match, but thanks to their calm, resolute and relentless defending, they were able to hold back the Barcelona horde in the second half and preserve what will assuredly become a crucial draw.
Really, were it not for a controversial 21st minute goal from Luis Suarez, they may have pulled off the unthinkable, toppling the defending champs on matchday one. Whether or not the goal was offsides is immaterial to this discussion, we're more concerned with how Luis Suarez was afforded so much space on the back post to begin with.
So, what happened, was Kostas Manolas derelict in his duties, or were there more factors at play here other than lax defending?
On the surface it simply seems like Manolas lost track of Suarez, nearly blowing the match in the process, but when we dissect this goal, a confluence of circumstances emerges that makes Manolas look more like a victim of those circumstances than inept defender.
First off, sorry for the mixed font, by the time I noticed, it was too late...Notice how Rakitic receives the ball with ample space on the right hand side, but with Rüdiger bearing down on him (coming across from the left) the middle of the penalty area became exposed, ripe for the plucking by none other than Lionel Messi. Given the way the play was developing, Manolas made the right call by initially shading towards Suarez on the far post.
Now, here is where things get tricky. Manolas is simultaneously, A) keeping an eye on Messi who is slowly sliding towards the middle of the goal where he can easily tap in a Rakitic cross, B) watching Rakitic intently to see which move he makes and C) trying to keep Suarez within reaching distances without over committing either way.
The clip above shows the entire sequence of Manolas' mind being pulled in three directions, but check out the still shot below to see the crucial moment
At this point in the action, Rakitic has made his move towards the endline and his leg is cocked and loaded, so Manolas rightly follows Suarez, who by his vantage point is the more immediate/closer threat. However, look closely and you'll see that he has no possible way to know that Florenzi is suddenly closing down the space on option Messi (Manolas' priority A on the list above), but in this split second, Manolas has a decision to make: fully commit to Suarez or keep Mess in mind, which led to this:
You can see how Manolas, unaware of Florenzi's position and with the ball not yet off Rakitic's foot, hesitates ever so slightly to keep both Suarez and Messi within range, which turned out to be a costly decision; that little hesitation and those two or three shuffle steps towards the middle gave Suarez enough space to comfortably head the ball home.
However, if we look at this play in real time via Vine, we see just how quickly Manolas had to react to the three factors we mentioned above and how his decision was impacted by his positioning and that of Rudiger and Florenzi, the latter of whom he simply did not see.
There were simply too many moving parts for Manolas to make the correct, snap decision in that moment, and while in the microsense you can accuse him of ball watching, he really had no other choice—had he fully committed to Suarez, Messi could have slipped in before Florenzi even entered the equation and tapped in an outswinger from Rakitic, but because he had three options to consider and because he didn't see or possibly hear Florenzi negating one of the options, Barcelona were able to capitalize on this confusion. He was simply up the river without a paddle, stuck between a rock and hard place or whatever platitude you prefer.
Of course, none of this would have happened had Lucas Digne not lost his footing while back peddling, and yeah, it was probably offsides anyway, but it's yet another fascinating example of how minute moments like this can turn the tide of a match and possibly an entire season.
Millions and millions dollars potentially settled by two seconds and two steps. Amazing.