Barca 8, Osasuna 0, aka “NOW do you see why we shouldn’t worry?”

This match, a match that ultimately wasn’t a whole lot of fun to watch, really, is why I kept saying that the worry shouldn’t be there, that the comparisons to the Rijkaard era were invalid, that this was a club that just glitched a couple of times and merely needs to regain timing and most importantly, focus.

Osasuna came into the Camp Nou with a Liga record identical to ours, at a win and a draw. They left the victims of a club that had something to prove to itself, a club that looked in the mirror and was determined not to have any letdowns, any flaws in concentration or lack of interest. The result was about as uncompetitive a match as you are probably going to see in La Liga this season.

You could see it in the players faces as they waited in the tunnel, faces that looked as though this were a Champions League knockout match in which they’d lost the first leg. You could see it in Messi’s angry face about 5 minutes into the match. It was concentration and fire, a focus that made this club determined that whoever the opponent was today, they were going to beat the hell out of them. Which is pretty much what happened.

Guardiola started with a no-nonsense lineup of Valdes, Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Fabregas, Messi, Villa. I call it the “marbles in a bowl” lineup, because that’s what playing against it is like when it’s on form. People will attribute this result to all sorts of things, such as “See, this is the difference between Busquets and Keita,” or “This is what happens when Guardiola decides to play with defenders in the back line,” etc, etc. But the simple reality is that this result was a consequence of amazing players deciding as a unit that enough was enough, that they needed to satisfy themselves that the successive 2-2 draws were flukes. And to do that, those players had to focus.

Yes, there was a talent gap between the two sides, a gap that was no more or less real against Sociedad. The difference there was, more than lineup, a group that just didn’t seem to care, and it got slapped in the face for it. As I noted in a comment, errors were made, and professionals learn from them. The errors were, simply enough, that you can’t lose focus against anyone, top or bottom of table. Today the players didn’t, and this was the result.

And rather than talk about the goals, I’d like to discuss what the goals represented, just a little bit. Euler might or might not have some tactical dissertation in the works to dissect this dismantling. But for me, it came down to four things:

MOVEMENT

Whenever this club stops moving, it becomes less potent a force because moving targets are harder to hit for the opponent, but easier to hit for teammates. As long as Villa stands still, why pass him the ball? When he’s running off it and being aggressive, the passing lanes open up and suddenly, it’s all so easy. There was movement on the attack, movement in the midfield that resulted in the kind of pressure that brought about an 85-15 first half possession statistic. It’s also the kind of movement that results in a player always having someone to pass to. Compare this match to Sociedad, where we were stabbing balls hither and yon, leaving teammates stranded on the sidelines to try and fight their way out.

Today, the triangles were tiny and tight, with pass recipeients moving to spaces, giving, receiving and moving. It was that constant movement that makes an on-form Barca impossible to play for anyone, even if you foul.

FABREGAS

When I mentioned in another review about wanting him to be the dynamic kind of player that he was at Arsenal, this is exactly what I meant. We don’t need another Xavi or Iniesta. We bought him to be a Fabregas, which means functioning like a combo platter of a midfielder in possession, and a forward in attack. His runs into the box were aggressive and well-timed. They were also unexpected and completely destabilizing for a defense built to worry about getting killed by Messi and Villa. So when Messi becomes the provider of balls, it creates complications that there aren’t effective answers to. And it all starts with Fabregas making himself aggressive and dynamic in a way that Villa can’t.

WHAT DEFENSIVE CRISIS?

The result would have been the same, no matter the back line today, because of the mids and attackers. When our system is working, attackers become defenders and vice-versa. So Villa gets a yellow card for a studs-up tackle, and Busquets or Abidal make runs into the box. Fabregas stops an attack with a sliding tackle in the 78th minute, and Mascherano pops a long ball to Thiago that makes the defense have to shift. When our system is working, there is no defensive crisis. When it isn’t, there still isn’t a defensive crisis, it’s just players being stressed in ways that don’t suit their talents.

So it wasn’t that Puyol brought something magical to the back line, it was that the mids and attackers worked in such a way that his defense rarely saw the ball. When Villa is standing around at the other end or strolling around, or Fabregas just saunters around as if he’s waiting for the Metro, attackers will be able to get at our defense. This doesn’t mean there’s a crisis, it just means that players aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. As long as they do what they’re supposed to, security is omnipresent.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

Has anyone noticed the large amount of balls over the top that we’ve been playing on attack this season? Interesting, right? Here’s the thing: Tika-taka can work, but sometimes, as during the Milan match, a more direct approach is needed. So this season, we’re seeing a lot of over-the-top attacks. Worked incorrectly, it just gives possession away, which can be a dangerous thing when we aren’t pressing properly in the midfield. Worked correctly, it drops balls at the feet of players in the box, an area where caution must be exercised in how defenders play our attackers. Throw in multiple attackers and you have a problem for anyone, anywhere anytime. We saw this any number of times today:

1. Alves headed cross in the air to Messi
2. Over the top for Fabregas to volley
4. Abidal long ball for Villa
6. Messi chip for Xavi

Some wondered why it always seems as though Guardiola is starting from scratch every season. It’s in part because stasis is easy to plan for. If a team does the same stuff the same way all the time, it becomes easier and easier to defend against. Announcers are fond of saying “Everyone knows what Barca is going to do, but few can stop it.” Eventually, that becomes less true. Our new aerial show is a way around that, a way to present the direct threat of an attacking “9” without having a big “9.” Whether it’s planned for EE or Champions League opponents remains to be seen, but you can bet that there are some coaches right now, at drawing boards, swearing and erasing, swearing and erasing.

These three things excite me more than taking care of business today. Yes, normal service has been resumed, and all 8 goals were of surpassing quality, the kinds of high-wire acts that our talent makes seem so easy. But when I start thinking about the fact that Fabregas isn’t even fully integrated yet, that Thiago has, even though he was spectacular today, only just started to scratch the surface of his potential, that a fit Sanchez means when we get the ball in the opponent’s end we won’t have to gradually work it out but instead, can just bust it up the line to a runner, it makes me happy. Far, far happier than whomping Osasuna 8-0, because that score in and of itself still results in the same 3 points that a 1-0 scoreline would have.

But in considering the portents, the way that this club responded when it was being doubted, I’m very excited for the future.

Team: 9. As direct, as fluent, as remarkable as I have seen it in a long time. There were some “phone booth” moments as Thiago, Xavi, Messi and Fabregas all have the same instincts, leading to those “Wait, who was that pass for” moments. And things got a little loose at moments in the second half, thanks in no small part to Afellay.

Guardiola: 10. To think about what he must have had to say and do to make these players do what they did today. Right substitutions as well, although you could certainly say that when he started subbing, it was already 5-0 and over.

Valdes: 7. Probably would have played to a higher rating with more to do today. But he was super sharp, quick and aggressive. His outlet passing was also excellent, short and long.

Alves: 9. Wow. Pretty cool what happens when Alves doesn’t have to play any defense. We’ve carped before about the accuracy of his crosses and passes into the box, but not today. And he almost nabbed quite a golazo off that half-volley in the second half.

Mascherano: 8. Exceptional match. Every time Osasuna got into our end and into his zone, the attack ended at his feet. And his running slide during a late Osasuna jailbreak made the attacker have to hesitate just long enough to make the shot angle too difficult. Worked very well with Puyol.

Puyol: 8. Speaking of Puyol, it’s good to have our captain back, spiritually. The results would have been the same had he not been in the back line, but his presence heartens his teammates.

Abidal: 7. A few loose balls early, including a howler that almost resulted in a 0-1 early scoreline. But once he got into the match on both ends, he was sterling, including two great long passes for Villa that both led to goals.

Busquets: 8. Aggressive and dynamic on and off the ball. Like Keita, you don’t see a lot of what he does when he’s on, because a lot of it is getting in the way to restrict access to passing lanes. Nice passes and some very good runs, as well.

Xavi: 10. For me, he was extraordinary today. Yes, some of it was the space that he was afforded, but he was as alert and aggressive as he’s been in a very long time, and it’s easy to forget how good a defender he is, until he reminds you.

Thiago: 8. He had a delightful sequence that led directly to the 5th goal, where he stole the ball and fed Fabregas, who lost it, so Thiago stole it again, this time feeding Xavi, who sent Fabregas and Messi off to the races.

Fabregas: 8. He still has times where he looks lost out there, and he was way, way too casual on that scoring attempt that he should have buried. But an excellent, excellent match for a player who must be feeling a ton of pressure. This was as unbound as I have seen him play, for us or Arsenal, in a very long time.

Villa: 8. His work rate was off the charts today. Yes, he scored but for me, seeing that studs-up challenge and the other times he busted his butt on the defensive end, warmed my heart. That’s the second match in which we have seen this new, uber-Villa.

Messi: 8. He continues to move toward being unplayable, and his partnership with Fabregas is already looking impressive. He has a new confidence this season that has resulted in unselfishness. Assists make him just as happy as goals. Opponents should be very worried about this.

Substitutes

Adriano (for Abidal): 7. And that rating is with a bullet, as more time would have assuredly brought a higher rating. Saved Afellay’s bacon on a couple of occasions as well, and demonstrated sideline-to-sideline range.

Maxwell (for Puyol): 5. Solid positionally, but showed signs of rust, which is to be expected. The way that Abidal and Adriano are playing, however, I fear that his future will be in matches that have been put to bed.

Afellay (for Xavi): 3. Whoa, 3M had some serious suck today, giving away passes including one that led directly to a good scoring chance for Osasuna. It happens with young players, but whoa.

Next up is a mid-week match, away to (present league leaders as EE have not played) Valencia. This should be a good one. Until then, here’s what’s looking like our new Dynamic Duo.

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Written by:

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.

166 Comments

  1. Jackieboy
    September 18, 2011

    Horrible game from Madrid, especially that Coentrao lad. That Aranda dude was a great sub too.

    On another note, the spanish press claims that Neymar is going to be a RM player in ‘hours’.

    • Srini
      September 18, 2011

      We are dodging a bullet. Yet another prima donna added to the Madrid squad. From what I saw in the Copa America, Neymar is Robinho-six-years-ago-redux-and-some-more-perhaps.

    • Helge
      September 18, 2011

      That would top it all off. I’m sick of the rumours, and frightened of the possibility that he might spoil our dressing room.

      From my point of view, he’s an arrogant prick, thus a perfect player for EE 🙂

      • Chiu
        September 18, 2011

        Yup Helge. Not judging, but after watched some video of him, seems his attitude is not fit with us.

  2. Eklavya
    September 18, 2011

    END OF AN ERA! 😀

    Nah serious, Di Maria dived and Kheidira pushed the guy who supposedly ‘fouled’ Dive Maria and got himself a second yellow.

    BWAHAHAHAHAA. In yo own face!

  3. Judas Pissed
    September 18, 2011

    I have just one word to say about EE tonight:

    LOL

  4. mega_tajh
    September 18, 2011

    Every-time I go out and miss a Madrid game they drop points!!! I’m going and get haircuts each time they play now!!!

    • Eklavya
      September 18, 2011

      I was eating sweet and sour pork!

  5. footballfan
    September 18, 2011

    So Mourinho decided to do a little rotation and got beaten eh? I bet he will be scared of not playing his best XI from now on 😀

  6. mega_tajh
    September 18, 2011

    I feel sad seeing Villarreal in such a slump, sitting 2nd from bottom. Hope they bounce back since I hardly see them doing anything in Europe this year with such a killer group. Also Napoli is the real deal this year, such a together-team

    • Helge
      September 18, 2011

      I said it before the season started, Villarreal will struggle to reach the EL, i.e. to finish top6…
      Although they have only lost Cazorla and Capdevila, they are far away from the performances of last season. The replacements don’t work so far, or do not exist at all (in Cazorla’s case – who used to be at the heart of every attack for years in Villarreal).

      Napoli, next to Udine, play the best football in Italy. Would be nice to see them break the phalanx of Inter, AS and (formerly) Juve. Or to see them kick ManCity out of the CL 😀

    • September 18, 2011

      The first year after Pellegrini left (09-10), they had a similar start. I remember they were bottom of the table after 5-6 games and won only one of their first 6-7 games. But then they recovered nicely. I’ve always thought they play the second best football in Spain but unfortunately their bench strength is not great which means they really struggle when they have to play in Europe in midweek.

    • Chiu
      September 18, 2011

      LOL. Excellent dive

  7. Vj
    September 18, 2011

    This has been one of the better weekends sporting-wise. I officially declare my B’day jinx over!

    Visca el Barca! Onto Valencia!!

    • Vj
      September 18, 2011

      Also, this couple of rounds reminded me of the noughties, where the big two happily dropped points on the road and no one cared..

  8. Ryan
    September 18, 2011

    There goes another assumption that EE were not going to drop any points. Levante were the 3rd best team for the 2nd half of last season, if I recall correctly. Good to see them continue where they left off!

  9. mom4
    September 18, 2011

    My Ravens lost… so sad.

    Then I come home from work and find that EE lost. Suddenly my Sunday no longer sucks.

    And Kari can watch EE games w/out jinxing us, good for her (why she would actually want to, I dunno)!

    So glad I missed the plagiarism drama. Glad it worked out.

  10. September 18, 2011

    It’s the Chicago Bears axiom. Last week the Bears won, and Barca didn’t. This week Barca owned, and the Bears went down. I’ll take that latter, please.

  11. September 18, 2011

    Mou Mou quote of the day:

    “My players are not suited to the dirty side of football, to the provocation, to the simulation.”

      • September 18, 2011

        Some players are thugs (Van Bommel) and some players are sneaky (Ayala) but some players simply belong in an asylum, and Pepe is the top of that list. There is a mad-dog-feel to him sometimes and you really wonder when/if something really major will happen with him.

      • ooga aga
        September 18, 2011

        like, when will he violently rake his studs across someone’s back as they lay prone on the ground?

    • September 18, 2011

      And Mou Mou is entitled to his opinion.

      I’ll just continue to laugh at and ridicule it.

    • SoccerMom
      September 18, 2011

      Who said this, then?

      “El fútbol es para hombres, no para que te caigas al primer [soplo noise]”

      I guess Mourinho’s men are not accustomed to provocation, simulation and aggressive defensive play … from their opponents.

      Today was a cracker of a match. Levante played down, they played hard, and they played a little dirty. They allowed Madrid to believe they could walk and then they stood up. Koné has a heart of Yaya. And Aranda out-balded Pepe. It was a good strategy: Get them a little frustrated and then give them a little patada. And watch the red cards fly.

      I admit to relishing a CRomplainer about every missed pass and whiffed opportunity … only to go on out there and miss passes and whiff opportunities.

      And speaking of Ikerface … what’s with Iker’s face? Is he planning on tying a helpless young girl to a railroad track in an old-timey movie? Or standing against his míster in a snowy duel in some Russian novel?

      • say2
        September 19, 2011

        guess levante coach made his players watch a rugby world cup match before the start:)

  12. PhepheSa
    September 18, 2011

    Has Mou ever discussed the actual game in his press conferences. Like talk about tactics and stuff. I really would like to know about his tactics, game plan and all that but all he ever does is complain all the time.

  13. September 18, 2011

    The Neymar news cited above and here http://www.metro.co.uk/sport/875805-neymar-chooses-real-madrid-transfer-over-chelsea-move makes me very happy. If Guardiola is indeed on the record as not wanting the player and we aren’t buying him, that means Guardiola is staying. Yes.

    That’s my view and I’m sticking to it.

    And never mind that Neymar can’t be an EE player in “hours,” as transfer windows are closed. I assume they mean pre-deal for January. Either way, good. If he becomes something more than Robinho II, I will be surprised.

    –In the “Jaysus!” file, Sport had a yarn about someone speculating that Villa’s bangs are lucky. Kinda makes him look like Pepe Le Pew, if you ask me.

    • ciaran
      September 18, 2011

      To anyone who has watched Neymar more than me, every time I’ve seen him he is always lazy without possession.
      Santos’ coach always says that he is better suited to Barca because they are more tactical and we are more technical really must not watch us often as we are far more defensively demanding than EE.
      To be honest, Neymar will probably suit EE better with his CURRENT skills as he can just stand on the wing and wait for long passes from the EE defenders, like CR7 and Di Maria do

    • September 18, 2011

      Please be true, please be true, please be true.

      • Vj
        September 18, 2011

        Marca/AS don’t seem excited. I call BS on this one..

    • Renata
      September 18, 2011

      I wish so hard for Neymar to go *anywhere* but Barça.

      I honestly couldn’t deal if we signed him.

  14. September 18, 2011

    This thread has jumped the shark, officially.

    • September 18, 2011

      With some moderation, it will be back on, Ahsan. Don’t worry. Apologies in advance for any collateral damage, folks.

  15. mom4
    September 18, 2011

    Guys, don’t feed the trolls, duh!

  16. September 18, 2011

    Note to all

    Yes, some heavy moderation has taken place. I don’t like to do it, but I think that when a commenting space is in danger of being derailed by a feud, steps need to be taken. Again, apologies for any collateral damage.

    Jubei, thanks for registering. My e-mail address is kevvwill@yahoo.com, if you’d like to shoot me a note about any lingering complexities regarding the situation of earlier today.

    Beyond that, we like to keep the space clear of any bickering. We moved to registration after a Fabregas post that resulted in nothing short of a war that got very ugly, very quickly, despite our best efforts to keep things civilised. Since then, the registration has helped. Obviously, people can still register and say anything they like. We’d love to say that we don’t censor, but that wouldn’t be truthful. We don’t allow insults to members of this family, by members of this family or outsiders, nor do we allow insults to folks outside the family. Those posts will be moderated, which means editing or deletion, at the discretion of the moderator.

    So again, thanks for the visit, and congratulations on the success of your blog.

    • kinukinu
      September 18, 2011

      Awww–family. That’s so warm and fuzzy. well said.

      • blitzen
        September 18, 2011

        I haz family. 😀

  17. culegirl3
    September 18, 2011

    Moving on from what just happened here in the comments section..seems Mou can’t go a day without making a reference to Barca in his pressers! Right after the Levante game he said “Es mejor perder un partido que empatar dos” which means its better to lose one game than tie two.

    And the claws have come out(again).

    • chaospheory
      September 18, 2011

      Interesting. Mou’s math is off. Let’s hope he calculates this way for the rest of the season.

      • mega_tajh
        September 18, 2011

        lol well maybe his comments about getting 40 points are true.

      • chaospheory
        September 18, 2011

        My bad. My BRAIN is off. /blushes

      • Ryan
        September 18, 2011

        Well, a win and a loss (3 points) is better than two ties (2 points). He didn’t mention the winning part though, so maybe he’s just going crazy. 🙂

  18. mom4
    September 18, 2011

    Back to Barca…

    So how ’bout them Levante dudes? Betcha Mourinho will complain that he has to practice playing with 10 men anytime he prepares to face Levante now.

    EE lose, and it looks like EE gets Neymar along with all the accompanying attitude problems(sorry Dani). It’s a good day to be a cule.

  19. BarcaGirl_Indo
    September 18, 2011

    okay, Hala Levante!

    now cules who believed EE will drop no points this season can breath and relaxed.. 😀
    I never believed they will finish this season with 38-0-0..

    but tbh, I didn’t think they drop points so early, so… hahahahaha! 😀

    • September 18, 2011

      Remember that when we dropped points last week, they were saying the same thing about us. I always find that shoes fit pretty tightly when they’re on the other foot. This is going to be a long, intense season. Not only with both clubs be battling each other, but they will be getting the absolute best match from every opponent that they face. We saw this vs Sociedad, they saw it vs Levante.

      And as Champions League and the Copa ramp up to speed, it’s going to be even worse. So settle in, everyone. This is going to be a humdinger this year. I do think that if Mourinho’s dudgeon is already this high, how will he survive the year?

      In his press conference, he also called out some of his players for their bahavior, and culpability in the result. I rather imagine that like us, whoever they face next is in trouble!

      • September 18, 2011

        I rather imagine that like us, whoever they face next is in trouble!

        Yep. As fun as it is to antagonize and hate on RM, they usually find a way to get it done. (Which is why their rare defeats are very enjoyable). Their next game is at home, right? God help that team. 😛

      • BarcaGirl_Indo
        September 18, 2011

        apparently not, they play an away game against Racing Santander…

      • BarcaGirl_Indo
        September 18, 2011

        I rather imagine that like us, whoever they face next is in trouble!

        ha, agreed. that’s what I also think. they will be angry and hungry, just like us.

        it’s a good thing Levante and Sociedad have proved that Barça and EE aren’t invincible in La Liga.
        because some journalists wrote after the first week, where we smashed Villareal 5-0 and EE 6-0 against Zaragoza, that this season probably both teams won’t drop points other than from El Clasico. wrong.

        this is gonna be a very intense season, phew..

  20. BarcaGirl_Indo
    September 18, 2011

    from SoMa :

    I guess Mourinho’s men are not accustomed to provocation, simulation and aggressive defensive play … from their opponents.

    spot on. a taste of your own medicine, MouMou? 😛

  21. September 18, 2011

    So I was having a conversation with my sister earlier and she was wondering why people support football teams (and sports teams in general) when it makes one so mad and bitter sometimes. And TBQH, I tended to wonder about that myself.

    I said it’s because it’s fun. It’s fun to watch your team and support them, angst over… And to laugh casually at other teams or admire them too. I dunno. It’s like being part of a giant club, you know?

    Like, during the Clasico apocalypse, I tended to be in a little bit of a bad mood, but it’s not like I was snapping at anyone or difficult to be around. (On the inside, maaaaybe a little cheezed off :mrgreen: ). But then, when Messi scored his second goal at the Bernabeu, I just stopped and my jaw literally dropped, and for a moment I forgot what I was p*ssed off about.

    And on that note, there were times and days I genuinely despised RM, but at the same time, deep down, it just wouldn’t be the same without them y’know? It’s fun to hate on them, to have one source where you could bemoan even the littlest things (that even your club does sometimes).

    I think football should be enjoyed. Sure, you love it so much that you feel negative stuff (like anger, frustration, etc.), but you should also, deep down, enjoy it too and feel the positive stuff.

    I don’t know if there’s another sport where I could just shake my head and laugh at yet another Atleti implosion, or facepalm at yet another comment on how Barca would do on a rainy day at Stoke, or smirk at Man Utd killing some EPL team (and people say La Liga’s a two-horse race, I’d scoff)…

    IMO, if football makes someone too angry and/or bitter, to the point where they don’t enjoy it (e.g. spend most of their time hating on other teams, quickly demeaning, or downplaying a genuinely good goal being scored, etc.) they should take a break.

    /random post

    • ooga aga
      September 18, 2011

      i love it when we go down a goal, the suffering is so sweet…

    • chaospheory
      September 18, 2011

      I also love the stories. I got sucked in by Messi’s story of his boyhood, of course. The little engine that could. And by Iniesta’s Dani Jarque story. The story of the two battling kingdoms plays itself out every year, but last year they added an evil wizard to the mix. And THE story of last season, the tear jerker: Eric and his illness.
      This year, the wizard continues with his dastardly deeds, and the Prodigal Son returns. Who knows what the rest of the season will bring? Pop star heartbreak? Contract renewal drama? So many narratives, I love it.

    • Xingxian
      September 19, 2011

      I believe this is where one says…

      “You’ve just been Hector’d”?

  22. September 18, 2011

    New post up. My take on the Osasuna match.

  23. mega_tajh
    September 18, 2011

    Now watching over the Napoli-Milan game and I must say Cavani is truly a talent…He got a perfect hat-trick in that game, the perfect opportunistic striker.

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