Sorry BD, I dunno how to change the thread title...
Borgo: we'll, be using the Weber Smokey Mountain (purchased last fall in honor of the Sanchez debut-likewise one of the best buys of 2009) bullet smoker for our ribs today.
The ribs were obtained from one of our new favorite places. Patak's in Austell, GA. It's an old world smokehouse/butcher. Small, but awesome place: http://www.patakmeats.com/Welcome.html. The ONLY place in the Atlanta area I've found for amazing smoked meats and sausage. Just don't touch the glass, and stay in line. It's a little 'soup nazi'-ish, but worth it.
Xavi easily the best player on the pitch - whoever drafted him is a genius. Peach of a ball for Messi, who really couldn't miss. Pique sensational as well - also another player I have my eye on for the draft who I won't mention.
Xavi the best midfield player in the world, and has been for some years now - I'd even say he's better than Messi because he's the heartbeat of any team he plays for. Without Xavi feeding him, Messi's level for Argentina is not even half of what it is when he plays for Barca, hence the reason he has a lack of goals against quality international competition when playing for his country.
Xavi's pass completion rate is incredible - on average completes a pass to a teammate more than once a minute every game - he totally outplayed Xabi Alonso yesterday, and Xabi is absolutely world class.
Spain's current midfield stocks are probably the best crop of players in those positions ever in the history of the game - a claim that sounds hyperbolic until you look at the players they actually have. Probably the only team I can compare them to is the France side of the days of Platini, or Brazil in 82 with the likes of Socrates, Zico, Falcao etc. Cesc Fabregas, who would be a walk on starter in any other team on the globe, can't even get a start in the Spanish XI. Even the defensive midfielder role, traditionally not one Spaniards have produced great players at, is awesomely deep in talent when you actually look at how those players are playing for their clubs.
I don't know how Cambiasso and Veron are going to get the ball to Messi for Argentina in the way Xavi and co have been for Barca - if they don't Messi's World Cup could be an overhyped flop, which is what it is building up to already.
One o'clock Saturday night, Sunday morning in the bowels of the Bernabéu and somewhere behind that mop of hair there's a look of surprise. There may even be a hint of disgust. "If you say so, mate," replies Carles Puyol, "but I don't agree. Maybe some people don't give him all the credit he deserves. Maybe you have ignored him, but we haven't. Not us. We know he's absolutely fundamental; we know that he's among the best in the world and I think everyone recognises that." Well, almost everyone. When Xavi Hernández was included in the top five at the Fifa World Player award ceremony in January 2009, alongside Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Fernando Torres, the Daily Mail's headline famously ran: "The best players of the world (and Xavi).
They could not have been more wrong, even if they frequently are. That much was again shown by the clásico on Saturday night. It was billed as a title decider and as Messi versus Ronaldo. But while the same picture – Messi, fists clenched in celebration; Ronaldo, head down, shirt drawn sadly towards his face – occupied the covers of both Madrid sports dailies, in the aftermath of the match it was Xavi that most people were raving about. "Xavi's eye decides the league," said Marca; "Xavi," added Público, "hands down the sentence." While Messi and Pedro got the goals, Xavi gave them, with two wonderful assists: the first, a beautifully clipped first-time ball; the second, a perfectly weighted through ball. It was his sixth assist in two trips to the Bernabéu. And just in case anyone missed them – the Madrid defence, for example – he reproduced both assists, only for Casillas to save from Messi.
Last season Xavi provided more assists than anyone else in La Liga; this season, only five players (Alves and Messi among them) have given more. But it is not only about assists. The clásico was no classic. It was built up as the match of the millennium but wasn't – unless the next 990 years really are going to be rubbish. The ball was in play for less than half of the 90 minutes, there was a foul every 180 seconds, and there was little of the stunning brilliance of last season's 6-2. But in its own way it was just as painful for Madrid, and in its own way Barcelona were still impressive. They might not have torn Madrid apart, but they did control them – certainly once they had ridden out the opening storm. "The best team won," said the cover of AS simply. The concern for Madrid, argued editor Alfredo Relaño, was that "Barcelona passed by the Bernabéu without even looking nervous, winning without expending energy." "Barcelona are a better team than us," shrugged Pellegrini.
This was not the Barcelona that amazes. It was, though, the Barcelona that anaesthetises. Moving the ball around, controlling the game, avoiding Madrid's lunges, frustrating them, exasperating them. This time, in short, it was as much Xavi's Barcelona as much as Messi's.
Xavi is, says the Sporting coach Manolo Preciado, "the personification of simplicity". He is also the personification of Barcelona. Even when the passes are not telling, they are fundamental. Maintaining possession, using the ball quickly and accurately, is the key: Xavi completed twice as many passes as any Madrid player. "Xavi," said El Mundo Deportivo, "was gregarious, majestic, an exhibition, his football was a recital that never ends." In Marca, Miguel Serrano described him as "an extraterrestrial": "He ordered, he played, he directed, he slowed it down a sped it up. Every time he touched the ball, the very foundations of the Bernabéu wobbled." "He read the game like no one else. He carved out space, moved cleverly, and built football," said El País. "As always."
Well, quite. Everything Barcelona do is based on possession. Even defending. Even resting. As one of Guardiola's closest collaborators says: "Barcelona are the only team that can take a break in possession." "Receive, pass, offer," is the simple message, the obsession, a badge of identity that they insist runs right through the club, driven into players from the moment they join. Xavi joined in 1991 and no one represents that obsession better than him. "I am basically a passer," he says. Guardiola calls him maquí, the machine. The late commentator Andres Montes used to call him Humphrey Bogart because, like Sam in Casablanca, he was asked to play it again. And again. And again. And again.
Last season, Xavi completed almost 100 passes at the Bernabéu. Last week, he completed more than all of Arsenal's midfielders put together. This season he has made over 400 passes more than any player in Spain; in the Champions League, he is 400 passes ahead of anyone from any other club. Even his own team-mates are 300 behind. As Alex Ferguson joked: "I'm sure I saw him give the ball away once."
"I need team-mates, people to combine with," Xavi says. "With team-mates football has no meaning. I am no one if they don't make themselves available." But it is not just that he sees the movement first, it is that he often sees the movement before it has happened, that rather than passing to the movement, he passes in such a way as to oblige the movement. He makes players' runs for them. "Xavi plays in the future," says Dani Alves. Coaches at Barcelona privately admit that sometimes he moves into areas that he should not – but that his technique is so good, his passing so precise, that ultimately it ends up looking like the right thing to do. Then there's the commitment. Xavi is a football anorak that can wax lyrical on Matt Le Tissier and Paul Scholes, he looks after himself and there's not a trace of arrogance. "When he has a day off, he goes and picks sets [mushrooms] in the countryside," reveals Guardiola, "and someone who picks mushrooms can't be a bad bloke."
At the Under-20 World Cup, the Spanish Football Federation presented a formal complaint after Seydou Keita was named the tournament's best player ahead of Xavi. But, despite having made his debut under Louis van Gaal in 1998, he has not always had such a telling impact on Barcelona's game. So much so that he admits to thinking about walking away, with Manchester United, Milan and Madrid among those that approached him. The arrival of Frank Rijkaard and Edgar Davids in 2003 changed his future, giving him protection, a competitive colleague and freedom to step forward – away from the deep lying midfield position. It was a liberation. A revelation.
It is no coincidence that Xavi is the man imposing the style on both the finest national team and arguably the finest club side Spain has ever had. When Xabi Alonso returned from training with Spain for the first time, he could not get over his midfield namesake. At Euro 2008, Xavi was named player of the tournament (although, personally, this column would have been tempted to go for Marcos Senna), completed over 100 passes in the semi-final when Russia didn't even see the ball and provided the assist to Torres in the final.
When the inevitable question is asked about why Messi has not played as well for Argentina over the past year as he has for Barcelona, it is tempting to give a one word answer: Xavi. The last week has reinforced the belief that Barcelona are the best side in the world and that Messi is the best player on the planet. Without Xavi, they might not be.