Barca 1, Almeria 0, a.k.a. “Wallowing in it.”

So. Happy. Right. Now!
So. Happy. Right. Now!

Wow. What a golazo! That it was the only goal wasn’t really surprising when you watched the match for more than 10 minutes, as Hugo Sanchez unveiled a new formation, the 0-10-0, in an effort to keep us from scoring, shamefully playing for a draw at the Camp Nou.

Thankfully, the footy gods brought us the new, calm Pedro!, who spun and smoked a shot into the far upper 90, that was astonishing. Maxwell will get credit for the assist, but it’s a gift because that goal was all P!.

Who knew that it would be the only goal?

Guardiola rolled out a lineup that gave me instantaneous pucker: Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Puyol, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro!, Messi, Ibrahimovic. Why? Because Busquets will always have his moment, Maxwell gives away corners too cheaply and Marquez is still experiencing his Great Decline, which makes Puyol grab his fireman costume and run around too much. And whenever that happens, we concede.

Thankfully, Almeria had about as much interest in attacking us as I have in showering with a brick of limburger cheese, as The Fear kept them in check. “Can’t have them beating us 6-0. Nope. No way. Just kick them and the ball and off we go.”

And it almost worked, were it not for the aforementioned moment of individual brilliance saving the day. And a few more words about that golazo. Because Pedro! always attacks with the ball, the three defenders forming a triangle around him were playing him for the run or the pass. To his credit he realized this and decided that something from distance was just the trick. It’s his second strike for us that was crucial, that was again done with power and accuracy. And that moment was needed, because Almeria decided to man-mark Xavi again, as that is the tactic of this season and will remain so until Guardiola finds a way to beat it. I’d like to hand him the clue phone, which has someone on the other end saying “Busquets and Marquez don’t help!” With one constant follower and another shadowing, Xavi was effectively marked, and rarely allowed to be our devastating puppet master, except in non-danger areas.

This meant that Iniesta had to be the orchestrator, and that we had to one-touch our way into scoring positions. Iniesta, however, was just too anonymous and unselfish to a fault. He also looks like a little boy out there, with a body ill-suited to play the physical matches that the officiating dictates. And you can’t even say that the ref was having a bad match. He just wasn’t calling the ticky-tack stuff that we usually get. In every replay, the defender got ball first. It could be argued that the only call he missed was when he awarded a corner for a challenge in the box, but the defender didn’t touch the ball. So it’s either a penalty or a goal kick, dude. A corner is a punk call.

We also wasted Ibrahimovic by throwing long balls his way and saying “Do your thing, big fella,” or not working overlaps properly, which left Ibrahimovic’s three defenders to keep him company, with nobody taking advantage of the space created by his presence. It’s early days yet, but I’m sure he could be forgiven for thinking, just for an instant, “I could have stayed in Inter for this kind of stuff.” Pedro! worked very well with him, but you could see him trying to find space in which to work, being constantly shadowed by much of the very determined Almeria defense.

There were spaces to play into, that would come whenever Ibrahimovic took the ball and moved, and someone moved into the space that he’d just vacated. He lofted in a perfect ball for Pedro!, who should have done better with it. Then it was a perfect setup for Xavi, who knocked off a shot that the keeper still has no idea how he stopped.

And we spent more time arguing with the ref instead of playing the kind of one-touch football necessary to rip Almeria apart, bickering over alleged fouls not called. But every side that we face henceforth is going to play us physically, and the trick is to give it back when you can, and play through it when you can’t. Alves understands this, so does Puyol. The calls aren’t coming. Why should officials make the rich richer? Get over it and play football.

There were many bad signs in this desultory match that was a lot more tense than it needed to be:

–On one play Messi was charging the box, and Iniesta and Ibrahimovic stopped running, because they knew he was going to not even consider passing.
–Xavi didn’t touch the ball for stretches of time, thanks to diligent marking.
–We didn’t really control the midfield in an attacking way.
–Our defense is susceptible to full-speed attacks.
–Marquez, in his role as defensive mid, sucked more than a Pop-Sicle convention.

But as I said, Almeria wasn’t interested in exploiting any of those …. um …. challenges, so we could wallow in our collective mediocrity. We kept the ball pretty much forever, and Valdes made no saves. None, as in zero. The only ball he had to control near his goal was off a pass, and he flubbed it but was bailed out by his defenders. And that was that.

This match was a win, but it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t really that exciting, because Almeria were never going to score. Never. Not with one forward playing behind the midfield line and everybody else defending. The sole remaining option is to counterattack, but that was never going to work, even when Puyol whipped out the blade for a play that might, at another time and place, earned a red card. As it was he got a yellow and Almeria, for just a second, were able to walk in our shoes.

So, how to deal with that Xavi marking business?

Guardiola made the exact right substitutions with that very thing in mind, first removing Marquez in favor of Gerard Pique. The dividends were immediate, as Pique brought the ball up in his usual smart way, delivering it to the midfielders in a primo position. The result was an excellent Ibrahimovic shot on goal, that was parried away with a stellar save. This was a refreshing change from Marquez dwelling on the ball for too long, playing matador defense and generally being craptastic. So Pique was the first move, because by bringing the ball up, he bypasses Xavi and his marker, delivering the ball to the danger area and forcing that marker to track back on defense.

The second moves were to bring in The Yaya for the awful Busquets, who continued his recent trend of setting up attacks for the other side, and Keita for Pedro!. The only error of this move is that Keita should have come in for Messi, who was shit. Yes, shit. You heard me.

So suddenly, Pique and The Yaya were defenders, attacking with the ball in a move intended to move the entire pitch onto their end. Xavi could then come back to get the ball, or accept delivery from a big-ass house as it went rumbling past. Smart. Very smart. Yes, Almeria continued to play defense as if it were still 0-0, so we could calmly retain possession, and successfully stave off the occasional counterattacking foray in what might be one of the most unimpressive wins from us that you will ever see.

Evah!

Team: 4. Quit whining to the officials and play football. If you dwell on the ball too long, of course you’re going get fouled, or have the ball taken away from you. Duh! Lousy overall performance.

Guardiola: 7. He played people who we won’t be seeing against Rubin Kazan, which explains the Maxwell, Marquez and Busquets thing. But made the right substitutions when things began getting crazy.

Valdes: 5. Man up and control balls in your box. It’s your box.

Alves: 6. Good defense, but was too loose with the ball at times. His passing was also off, and he just wasn’t integrated into the attack.

Marquez: 4. This is how you play when you have a contract on the table? If you’re going to bring the ball up, don’t lose it. And at least try to stop an attacker, rather than putting your arms behind your back and letting him run past you. Oh, and playing a ball with your upper arm might be considered a hand ball by some officials. Yes, you had good moments, but they were outweighed by the bad.

Puyol: 7. Strong and solid, except for the late error. He continues to be the beating heart of this club.

Maxwell: 4. Did you at least yell at the guys as they ran past you? And stop conceding corners so easily. Oh. One word, three syllables: O-ver-lap. On the other hand, thanks for making Abidal feel so warm and secure.

Busquets: 4. How can you dribble a ball out of bounds? What the hell? And why are you so hell-bent on helping the other team score? That’s not what “Charity begins at home” means. You dwell on the ball too long and generally try to do too much. Did you watch how The Yaya played when he came in? No. Did you really watch? People are saying that you’re the future for us. I hope it’s a distant one. My heart can’t take it.

Xavi: 6. Had a few loose balls early, and he has to bury that chance. The keeper shouldn’t have had a shot at it. Controlled well when he was allowed to, but there were too many times that he made life easy for his marker.

Iniesta: 6. Our Ghostface nickname for you doesn’t mean you should disappear for stretches. And make up your mind when you have the ball, instead of getting caught in that “Should I shoot or should I pass” limbo? By the time you decide, the moment is gone.

Messi: 3. You did almost as much to kill our attack as the Almeria defense did, with your consistent ignoring of fellow attackers and constant one-on-one forays that lost ball after ball. Your first touch is a bit loose of late, and your passing lacks precision.

Pedro!: 7. Shoot, dammit! Yes, you did that second time, but you should have done the same thing that first time and you would have had a brace. Nice to see that you chose to take advantage of the acres of space that Ibrahimovic’s presence allowed you. It goes without saying that you’re my Man of the Match. But don’t let it go to your head.

Ibrahimovic: 6. Excellent play with and without the ball. But you can’t get discouraged when that little Argentine dude doesn’t pass you the ball. Nice passing, and you should have had two assists. But that’s life, right, against a defense shadowing you with at least three men. Oh, and happy birthday. Sorry that your present was to have your scoring streak broken.

Substitutes

Pique (for Marquez): 7. You made an instant difference with your intelligent forward runs. Nice work.

The Yaya (for Busquets): 7. See above, Man Mountain. Your control and defensive work in keeping your part of the midfield shut down rocked my world. And so calm with and without the ball.

Keita (for Pedro!): 6. Nice effort and movement. Funny what athleticism does for an offense and defense, isn’t it? Hope you’re all nice and loose for Tuesday, sir.

So, we’re atop the table, waiting to see what happens between the EE and Liga B front-runner Sevilla. Until then ….

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

196 comments

  1. seville are damn good. i like the work their wingers are doing. navas as well as perotti. dont understand why maradona chose to ignore the kid, he seems quite excellent.

    1. Yeah Perotti seems to be very good. Sevilla in fact have a bunch of good wingers now in Perotti, Navas & Diego Capel.

  2. that is such fucking bullshit!!!

    i’m gonna be so pissed if they wind up w/a tie or a w after that shit.

    that’s why casillas is #1 in the nt

  3. the game is so different then our game though. just going for it pretty much all the time. ill take 1 – 1 but it is unlikely it will stay that way.

  4. Seville should be at least 4 – 1 ahead. I am enjoying it immensely right now. go seville!

  5. i love that Madrid are handicapped by the egos of Raul and Guti, who play in place of superior players just sitting on the bench collecting dust.

  6. Can some body explain why Pellegrini didn’t include Granero & Higuain in the starting line-up!? Granero is a very good winger & Higuain is being played in wings lately… So starting them would have been the right move as I see!!!

    1. Yep. I remember making fun of Heinze and the many mistakes he made. Marcelo is not far behind from what i see. He has been taken around pretty much every time in this match. And we will have Messi on that side. Bring on Clasico!

  7. i dont think marcelo connected with a tackle all game, he didnt even manage to take down any players.I hate him though epecially when he scores and does his stupid celebration.

  8. What a great weekend. Thank you Sevilla, for giving AS and MARCA something to choke on. Did anybody notice how the entire game was basically counterattack-counterattack-counterattack-counterattack-counterattack-counterattack-counterattack ??? That soccernet article by Phil Ball I believe is pretty accurate. EE play like two separate teams, counterattacking all game long. I can’t believe how fast Sevilla was hauling ass all game long. Kudos to them.

  9. That was a fantastic game. Jesus Navas was impressive! Is it true he doesn’t play for la seleccion b/c of panic attacks?

    1. He’s now playing in CL… Expect him to wear the Spain jersey in near future πŸ™‚

    2. He has homesickness and anxiety attacks but i think he said hes working on it cause he wants to go to south africa. Which would be awesome.

    3. The announcers on the spanish stream were talking about it, but they were being asses, saying he was a momma’s boy.

  10. Can any one else see Madrid going for a new winger during January transfer window? Hope it’s not Suarez πŸ˜›

  11. Jesus Navas was just brilliant. Hands down their best player. Though I do agree that Marcelo was just purely horrendous the whole time. But I’ve said he was pretty shit for a couple of decades now (it feels like).

    Woohoo top of the table!

    Only reason it wasn’t 4-0 was Casillas is a beast.

  12. Watched a little, when Sevilla had gone ahead. What’s with the lack of ball pressure? You can’t just let a side pass the ball around! Neither side put any realistic sort of ball pressure on, and the midfield was like a revolving door.

    Then the nausea started to build, and I switched back to the Chicago Bears game.

  13. So is the Thongboy playing for his country? I wish not & I wish Bangs would get to go to South Africa πŸ™‚

  14. Sevilla made my double week if only the top 3 positions in the table remain the same till we meet EE and send them to HADES!!

  15. Cristianodependencia. New word πŸ˜€ .atleast they cant say it about us and leo anymore.

    *http://www.marca.com/debate/2009/10/480/prevotaciones480.html

  16. Actually, Sevilla are still third. They have identical records with EE, but EE have greater Goal Difference, despite the head-to-head record.

    1. i thought it went: head-to-head –>goal differential? is that only the case in a runoff? who cares?

    1. The Sweeper and the Libero always get mixed up. The former plays BEHIND the defensive line and has freedom to roam the whole horizontal span of the field to make stops. We call Valdes a sweeper keeper because sometimes he plays so far up that its as if he were an extra defender sweeping up the defenses mistakes. The Libero plays in FRONT on the defensive line and, like a sweeper, is given freedom to roam and make plays. This was the Beckenbauer position and he had the freedom to start attacks from that position.

      Some call Pique a libero but I think Yaya is closer to one than Pique in the defensive sense. I see Pique as a stopper on defense (the last centerback on defense who holds the line as opposed to a marker who hounds forwards in constant man marking) but occasionally as a libero on offense.

    2. If you play a defender behind the defense line (Sweeper), wudnt the defense be vulnerable from attacks of a strikers lurking behind the defensive line (Since there wud not be an ooside trap) ?

  17. If they are tied, then you go to head to head, where Sevilla are up. As far as I remember, even if one game hasnt been played yet, you go by h2h. Thats how it was done between barca and ee since ive been following la liga…

    1. Basically, a ‘stopper’ is a more traditional defender, who just likes to defend. A ‘sweeper’ is a more technical player, capable of bringing the ball out of defense and starting attacks.
      To put faces on the terms, think of it like Puyol and Pique, with no disrespect to either’s abilities.
      Puyol is, first and more foremost a defender. He’ll man-mark an attacker, tackle often and win balls in the air against them. His primary job is to dispossess the attacker and/or clear the ball from his goal.
      Pique is much better on the ball, than the average defender and can easily push up to play as an extra midfielder when we are in possession. He builds attacks from deep and plays spaces rather than players.

      Did that help?

  18. Another note i think on this match is that will be far from pushovers when we meet bar injuries

Comments are closed.