Match Review Barcelona 8 – 0 Osasuna: The End of an Era

The hard part about communicating is that you can’t do it alone.  It’s not talking, it’s not a monologue.  It’s different than dictation.  And no matter how much we try to tell ourselves otherwise, it’s not reducible to transmitting data or information.  Communication requires at least two people sharing and in our modern, networked, world it often requires many more intersecting to make something meaningful.

The hard part about communicating is that it requires someone else to not only hear, but to listen.  And ultimately to understand, so that we can grow together and hopefully develop some kind of knowledge we can share and turn into mutual understanding.  Knowledge that will be worth passing on.  At our best – that’s what we do.  Learn, communicate, share, understand and pass on what we’ve come to know.

Often, we like to think that what makes humans different and special is the complexity of our brains.  But that’s not entirely true.  For example, cephalopods – octopuses, squids, cuttle fish – have, in certain ways, even more sophisticated levels of neural elaboration than we do.  What they don’t do as well however is communicate.  Cephalopods are far older than humans as a species.  They’ve been around hundreds of millions of years.  But every cephalopod makes it’s way in the world on it’s own all over again.  They are social creatures – but there is no connection between generations – so they have no real society or culture.  They aren’t taught by parents.  Despite their wonderful brains, they don’t conserve what they know because they can’t communicate it to others in ways that will last.  They prowl away in the dark of the ocean, brilliant and alone in the time they’ve been given.

If there was one moment I’ll take away from Barcelona’s 8-0 victory over Osasuna it’s from the few seconds that transpired in the fourteenth minute.  The team had just scored it’s second goal two minutes before on a brilliant combination play from Messi and Fabregas. After it defended an Osasuna foray with Mascherano stepping up to intercept a pass and one touching it to start a dangerous transition in which Alves and Messi played a brilliant combinations of 1-2’s that almost saw Messi sprung free despite Osasuna having six defenders against the two Barcelona attackers.  Osasuna only stopped the break by clearing the ball wildly out of play.  The moment I’ll remember took place right after as Mascherano moves forward to take the throw in and Fabregas pinches into the touchline to receive the throw:


Guardiola Never Satisfied, Not Even Up 2-0


Up 2-0, this is Guardiola.  This is the intensity.  The team has just finished a breathtaking display of imagination and skill – and it’s not enough.  But Pep isn’t dictating.  It’s not a monologue. What you can’t see in these still shots is how Mascherano stands and listens to Pep – and after gesticulating and pointing with his hands to his chest to make his own point, Mascherano starts to nod in agreement with his manager.   Mascherano isn’t just hearing.  He’s listening.  He’s a world class player – and he’s still learning.  And Guardiola is listening back.  And because of that Pep isn’t simply speaking or dictating – he’s communicating.  He’s teaching.  He’s again demonstrating what true leadership is about.

And just outside that pair is Fabregas who is listening to what Guardiola and Mascherano are discussing and amplifying that message on his own, passing it on to the team by repositioning them.  And Guardiola isn’t just done with Mascherano – he ends up communicating with Cesc with the same intensity, never satisfied, despite the new Barcelona number 4 having just put a sublime finish on the ball to secure the second goal.  It’s not enough.

Nothing can ever be perfect – but that doesn’t stop perfection from being the goal.

What makes it all work is respect and trust.  The team doesn’t take Pep for granted and laugh off his perfectionist concerns or take them for granted.  They listen.  They learn from the experience, insight and intelligence he possesses.  And out on the pitch that makes them less alone.  They don’t have to prowl around on the pitch in the dark and relearn everything for themselves.  There’s a system, there’s principles, there’s ideas that have been sustained and shared with patience over time.  There’s a leader they believe in, who teaches, one that they respect in turn.

What this small moment – up two nothing but still working to towards the impossible goal of perfection – shows is the process through which mutual understanding is created in an organization, how it evolves out of knowledge, dedication, accountability and trust.  Technical skill, ball possession, high pressure defense.  All of these things are a means to an end.  What Barcelona’s greatest competitive advantage in fact is, is this mutual understanding built out of a culture of learning, sharing and communicating that Guardiola has shaped.


The Story – Or So It was Said

Complacency.  That was the storyline headed into this match.  A few seconds before the screen shots shown above were taken the Sky Sports commentator asked whether or not up 2-0 Barcelona would get complacent?

2-0 up.  Dominating the match.  Just scoring a brilliant goal.  Look at Guardiola in those images, his expression.  Look at his players listening, learning, communicating.

Complacency is part of a story that bears little relationship to the truth of this team.

But on the heels of two 2-2 draws complacency was the narrative at hand.  The narrative we heard in the media, amongst supporters of other clubs, and yes, even amongst cules.  The end of an era.  The cycle was closing.

Those two matches couldn’t be two instances of where the team was just off.  They couldn’t just be because the Barcelona system requires such intricate orchestration that it takes a few matches to fully grow into – even for players who have played the system for years.  They couldn’t have been instances demonstrating how the team is human after all and far from perfect or infallible.  They couldn’t be indications of how hard it is to maintain the level of brilliance this team has made to seem the norm rather than the exception or how thin the margin is between success and failure.

Memories of the slow starts this team gets off to almost every season disappeared in the clatter.  Why remember last seasons slow start when there’s no time any more in our culture of instant reaction and “analysis?”  Why consider the limitations of small samples of games? Why do any of that when there’s a prefabricated narrative already out there built waiting to be inhabited?

This is a very old story many are waiting (hoping?) to see this Barcelona club lapse into.  Olbos.  Hubris.  Phtonis.  Ate.  Nemesis.  The Greek tragic cycle.  It’s a story structure that’s part of our world, it’s one that the media and people are constantly searching for.  It’s become a backbone of the manufactured narratives that underpin so much of what “communication” passes for on the internet.  And the key stage in that cycle is Hubris – it’s that kind of arrogant pride that triggers Nemesis, the ultimate calamity, the fall, the end

Arrogance.  It’s a word that many are constantly trying to pin on this Barcelona squad.  Even when Guardiola and the players complement the opposition – it’s not humility. It’s false humility!  Which is just another form of arrogance, it’s hubris.  Just wait – Barça’s success is going to finish one day – and it could be soon just look at the arrogance.  Even cules frequently attribute the few moments of lesser performance the team has had to complacency and hubris.  It’s arrogance that proceeds the end, the fall, and cules are often still too insecure to believe in what we have right now.  So they are prone to see a quality which is more a function of their perspective than the reality the team lives with.

Complacency.  The beginning of the end.  That was the story for many coming into this match.

The book end moment from this game I’ll remember took place int the final moments of the match.  In the 88th minute Mascherano played a long ball out from the back in the air to Messi in the center circle.  Messi is marked with a player at his back and tries to one touch a volley pass to Alves on the right wing.  It’s a poor pass – far too much pace and in the air on a line – the ball is clearly headed out of play.  Up 8-0 in minute 88 what does Alves do?  Does he just let the ball go out of bounds?  No.  He attempts to bicycle kick it back over his head to keep it in play because if he can just keep it in play he can spring Messi for a break away opportunity.   He will not give up on the ball – because that’s what he’s learned, that’s the culture he’s part of and his effort is of course part of what has shaped that culture.

As Alves attempts this bicycle kick pass, Thiago is standing a few meters away watching Alves’s dedication.

Complacency.  The end of an era.

Thiago learning from the example of one of the hardest working players the game has seen over the past few decades.  The youngest player on the pitch watching and learning.  And in doing so not needing to figure quite so much out for himself or on his own because it’s being communicated to him through tangible examples of the players around him and the words of his manager – none of whom is ever satisfied.  You can always play better.  That’s the message, the real narrative.

Of course this project and this level of performance won’t last in perpetuity.  Nothing does.  But complacency and arrogance aren’t part of this team’s picture of performance.  It’ll end.  Because everything human does – not because they are fated to fall into a prefigured story others are tying to write them into.  There’s no evidence for that at all.  All we can observe is a manager and a squad that is committed to defining the story of their own kind of wonder.


Match Analysis

Barcelona came into this match significantly shorthanded with Iniesta, Pique and Sanchez all injured.  And even with those players missing they put on a display of footballing brilliance that few if any other teams in the world could produce. I’m not even referring to the scoreline.  I’m referring to how it happened and the quality of play.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect to the match was that in an 8-0 game, the highlight wasn’t even any of the goals.  The high point of the entire match took place between minute 22 and 24 when Barcelona executed a sublime 31 pass sequence where all ten outfield players passed the ball, moving it fluidly for nearly two full minutes without Osasuna being able to touch the ball.  Just think about that. Two minutes represents 2.2% of the entire match.  The sequence ended with Messi completing pass 31 – a wonderful through ball springing Fabregas for what should have been the third goal only to see the keeper just deflect Fabregas’s attempt.  This was one of those sequences where you really hoped the team would score because it would have gone down as an el rondo like highlight remembered for decades.

It’s easy to blame Osasuna and just dismiss their effort.  Clearly they were overmatched and in a game this lopsided a systems level issues are clearly in play that make a match so imbalanced.  8-0 and Barça had 82% ball possession.  And the score could have been much worse as Barça hit posts several times and had dangerous opportunities they could have been completed.

The primary systems level issue was that Osasuna attempted to play in a positive fashion and do so in a way they are relatively accustomed to playing.  That involved playing a relatively high backline.  But they played that high backline without being able to pressure the ball higher up the pitch.  That is a disastrous combination but one that we see not infrequently against Barcelona because simply put – the ball movement is of such technical quality that it can be very difficult to pressure the ball – especially as Barcelona wears down the legs of the opposition.

The less ball possession you have – the more you chase.  The more you chase the more you get tired.  The more you get tired the less you can pressure.  It’s a kind of vicious death cycle out on the pitch.  Once a team enters that spiral it’s impossible to get out.  That’s the tension Barcelona puts the opposition under.

That said – Barcelona played a sublime match and you simply cannot take anything away from what they did.  To Osasuna’s credit they didn’t give up the entire match.  It wasn’t as if Osasuna just stopped playing and it’s not as if they lose in this fashion to other teams.  So yes goals number 7 and 8 were poor defending and goal four was an Osasuna own goal.  Barcelona still scored 5 goals – goals that would have been scored against many teams due to the quality of execution.  Barcelona was just that good and when they execute at this level they are nearly impossible to play.


Match in Microcosm

The fifth goal was a great example of the quality of play Barcelona executed through.  That sequence tells the story of the entire match in microcosm so let’s take a look at it in detail.

Osasuna starts the play with possession.  Thiago makes a strong forward from his deep quasi-right back position (more on Thiago’s positioning later) to run and intercept a pass high up the pitch.  Thiago cannot fully control the ball though.  He loses possession to an Osasuna player.   However, Thiago continues to fight hard to regain the ball.  He will not stop.

Thiago has been on a remarkable stretch of play since the Under-21’s this summer.  But the area where he has most impressed so far this season has been defensively.  It was the area of his game he needed the most work on and he has become a much more committed defensive player.  You can see that he understands that in order to play on this team you must defend and you better make the effort to do so at all times – because you are playing with the best players in the world and they are all breaking their backs to defend when needed regardless of their superstar status.   The image below shows the key aspect of the play:


Thiago and Fabregas Working Hard to Press Up High While Barca is Leading 4-0

Barcelona is up 4-0 and in complete control of the match.  The half has less than five minutes to go.  None of that matters.  Thiago continues to chase down the ball and Fabregas drops back to join Thiago in hunting to repossess the ball.  Fabregas misses the tackle but it forces the player with the ball into a poor touch.  Thiago stays on the play and then Xavi steps up as the next wave of pressure.

Thiago Keeps Working to Defend as Xavi Joins as the Second Wave of Pressure

Again – the effort is remarkable.  Xavi is 31. He’s one of the world’s five best players.  And in a game that is no longer in doubt he’s defending aggressively.  This is one of the qualities this differentiates Xavi even from other great central midfielders in the game’s history.

Once again facing a 1 vs. 2 situation, the Osasuna attacking player finally loses the ball.  This is a pattern we see over and over.  The opposition player may survive the first wave of pressure but it’s the second wave that does him in.  The key is Thiago’s persistent work staying on the man.  The play started on the right flank and Thiago has tracked and defended all the way to the center.

Because they repossess the ball so high up the pitch Barcelona creates transition play in very dangerous areas with the opposition poorly positioned to defend.

Dispossessing the Ball Up HIgh Allows Xavi to Move into Space - Note Osasuna's Disorganized Shape Due to the Speed of Transition

Above, Xavi is able to find open space because Osasuna, caught in transition, cannot maintain any shape nor can they systematically mark.  We often talk about Barcelona defending through possession.  This is a great example of how Barcelona creates attacking opportunities through their defense.  It’s a system in which both phases of the game work off of each other.

One of the subtle keys to the goal is shown in the image above.  An important aspect to the space Xavi finds and ultimately the goal scored is the width Villa provides. Notice how the the right full back is unable to attack the ball or to come inside to a more narrow position.  He feels compelled to mark Villa and in turn this leaves a dangerous open channel in the defense.

Also, notice how the defense has clustered in the middle to form a compressed shape around Messi and Fabregas.  The priority of the defense is to make sure Messi and any player in the middle is located and defended.  And that makes sense and Osasuna did what a defense needs to.  But Barcelona has so many weapons there’s only so much a defense can do.  Thiago pressuring high up the pitch and working hard.  Multiple waves of pressure that turn the ball over in one’s own defensive third.  Villa stays wide needing to be marked.  Messi is central needing to be at least double marked.  Fabregas trails behind Messi needing to be marked to defend against a run from deep.  And the defense needs to do all of that in an instant in transition play.  Osasuna is in a very difficult position defensively because Barcelona’s defense worked so hard to win back the ball high up the pitch.

The fact that Barcelona is this good and can execute at this kind of level – and with this kind of dedication up 4-0 – makes remarks critical of the opposition’s effort and play very misguided.  It simply isn’t that easy to face this Barcelona squad when they are executing their game.  This is well shown in the next still shot:

Osasuna Regains Shape to Defend the Ball But Fabregas Exploits Space that Opens to Start Diagonal Run

Osasuna has regained shape, forming a wall of players in front of Xavi and two players marking Messi.  But this shape leaves a diagonal channel to Fabregas – a player who makes remarkable runs from deep to goal.  But leaving that open channel was a trade off Osasuna needed to make in order to create a barrier against Xavi.  And Fabregas does not let the opportunity pass – he reads the situational instantly and starts to make a diagonal run through that space in the prior image.

Osasuna then attempts to close down the player with the ball – again it’s what a defense needs to do.  But it’s not that easy when it is Xavi with the ball.  As the defense comes to close down Xavi, other space has to open.  And of course Xavi is not going to let that opportunity go to waste as he sees Fabregas’s run.

Xavi Threads Pass Throught the Channel that Is Open Because Villa Maintains Width

As brilliant as all of this set up play is and as good as Xavi’s pass is – for most teams this opportunity would go to waste.  In the still shot above note how Barcelona is badly outnumbered in the center around where the ball is played 3 vs. 8.  Osasuna has over twice as many players in extremely compressed space.  Osasuna correctly reads what’s happening and two players go to close down Fabregas.  And on top of that because space is so tight it is very difficult to control the pass Xavi has made.  In fact, Fabregas’s run arrives a hair faster than Xavi’s pass.  For most great teams the play would end here.  It would ultimately stop because the requirements for it to go on are too intricate, space too suffocated.  But this is what separates Barcelona from so many great teams.  They can play with a level of skill that is hard to believe possible.

Fabregas not only controls Xavi’s pass in tight space but executes an outrageous piece of skill to control the ball while pirouetting and in one motion passing the ball.  To get a better sense of how difficult it this was to do – how unlikely it was for a team to be able to finish this goal let’s take a look at what Fabregas did in close up:

Fabregas's Exquisite First Touch to Control the Ball Despite His Momentum

Fabregas has had to make a very high paced run because space is so compact. There’s only an instant for the play to come to life.  Everything must accelerate now to create an end product.  Because of that Cesc’s momentum is taking him forward when Xavi’s pass arrives and he’s in a an awkward position to control the ball.  For most players the ball is lost.  But this is only the start of the play for Fabregas.

Due to His Momentum Going Forward Fabregas Must Control the Ball By Playing it Behind His Back

Fabregas controls the ball with his right foot because his momentum is going towards the far touchline and he arrives at the spot a fraction of a second earlier than the pass.  In turn, the only way to control the ball is by playing it behind his back.  It seems absurd on face to think this is possible in such tight space but that’s exactly what he does.  He puts a remarkably soft first touch on the ball to cushion it behind his back.   As difficult as the overall defensive situation is – Fabregas is already envisioning a solution.

Fabregas Seamlessly Spins 180 Degrees to Control the Ball - Notice the Defenders Tight Positioning and Closing Down

Notice how closely Fabregas is marked.  The Osasuna defender is well positioned and is tightly marking the attacking player.  He isn’t doing anything wrong.  It’s just that Fabregas is that talented and has that much field vision and imagination.  In the same motion as the first touch he uses to control the ball Cesc starts a 180 degree turn.   Again – of the few players who could make that run and control that ball – most would have either lost it or would have tried to just shoot it just to get it on goal.  But Fabregas has imagined his way out of taking a shot from a constrained angle.

Fabregas Continues His Pirouette Now Being Closed Down Tightly by Two Defenders

Notice the defending.  A second player has come to close down the ball.  Despite the lack of space and two men on him Fabregas has managed to control and turn.  There is no hesitation.  He knows exactly what he wants to do as he plays a brilliant pass to Messi.

Fabregas Executes Pass to Messi - Notice How the Third Defender has Stepped Off Messi To Stop Fabregas from Shooting off the Turn in the Box

What’s perhaps most interesting about the still shot above is the positioning of the Raitala, the third defender now in the image.  It’s easy to criticize him for leaving Messi.  But look at how how his right leg is positioned.  The defender is clearly trying to stop Fabregas’s coming shot on goal.  As he sees Fabregas execute this brilliant turn his instinct as a defender is to stop the shot.  The attacker is turning successfully in front of goal.  Raitala’s responsibility as a defender is to get himself between the shot and the goal.  But the shot never comes off the turn.  Instead the ball is played to Messi who calmly finishes this scintillating sequence of play that started with Thiago’s effort and hard work and ended in Fabregas’s sumptuous piece of skill.

In the bright light of this kind of brilliance, complacency is a mirage for those desperately thirsting to believe in something that simply isn’t there.

Tactical Analysis

There were four tactical issues in this match of note that I’ll touch on briefly.

First, when the official line up came out it once again was uncertain how Guardiola would line up his squad and how they would function dynamically.  Barcelona was playing with four midfielders again as they did with against Villareal.  But in today’s game there was no Alexis Sanchez or Pedro on the wing.  It was only Villa and Messi up top.

Ostensibly this gave Guardiola a few potential choices.  Play Cesc as a false 9 with Messi wide. Or attempt to play Thiago or even Cesc in a wider position like Pep does with Iniesta.  The problem with either of these formations is that Barcelona would invariably lose width on the right.  Whether Messi, Cesc or Thiago – all would pull in centrally.  Width was a serious problem they had against Milan and it’s an issue Barcelona would likely encounter again with Pedro resting, Sanchez hurt and Pep electing not to start Afellay who is still early in his own recovery from injury.

Of course Guardiola did none of the above.  Instead, he utilized Dani Alves as a right winger rather than as a full back, something he hasn’t done in a very long time (perhaps not since the Madrid match in 09/10?).  Alves played well in advanced of Thiago the entire game. Below is the average positions on the pitch for Barcelona:

Average Positioning for Barcelona

Alves played in a much more advanced position than Thiago all match.  In fact Alves on average was stationed higher up the pitch than even Villa was on the left (which is a testament to how much work Villa did to defend to decrease the burden on Xavi and how well Thiago defended behind Alves).

And this wasn’t only an issue of Alves finding space and moving forward on the overlap from full back.  The still shot below captures who the team initially lined up to start play:

Barcelona's Initial Starting Set Up: Alves is Clearly Stationed as a Right Winger With Thiago Deeper

Note Alves’ positioning – he is at the midfield line and pulled very wide to start play.  He is positioned as a winger.  Thiago is behind him and pinched inwards as the right sided player of the midfield diamond.  This is yet another interesting way Guardiola has addressed the issues of depth and injury that the team has faced to start this match.

And Alves’ rewarded Pep’s trust greatly.  He played a brilliant match from the wing position.  He played in a highly controlled fashion and provided absolutely vital width on the right flank.  With Busquets back at the holding role and assuming the base position, Barcelona played a much more structured midfield diamond than they did against Villarreal, a match in which Thiago positioning was highly fluid as he often dropped deep to support Keita and also often pulled very wide.  The problem with midfield diamonds is that they can become very narrow very easily.

Over and over Alves made runs from wide and used the ball to force open an Osasuna defense that itself was attempting to stay very narrow.  In fact it looked as if Alves’s positioning was something that not only surprised Osasuna, but something they had a great deal of difficulty adjusting to.  Alves’s one touch assist off the flank was a great example of that.   Throughout there was confusion on the Osasuna left side about how to balance playing Thiago and Alves.

Second, using Alves as a winger with four midfielders meant that Pep opened game with three in the back in terms of formation.  This was interesting because while Villarreal used two strikers, Osasuna played roughly a 4-2-3-1.

Against a one man striker formation two serious tactical problems can develop.  First, in situations where you are 3 vs. 1 against the striker there is an extra defender at the back.  Second, the opposition can in theory push forward four attacking players against your three man back line and one holding player leaving you 3 vs. 4 or 4 vs. 4 which generally are weak defensive positions to deal with.

Given how much possession Barcelona was likely to have and the fact that  they defend so well as a team, that second problem was a secondary one. But the first problem could be an issue if Barcelona played a conventional three man back.  Which of course they didn’t.  The key to how team efficient Barcelona could be was Abidal’s function.

With Alves so high up the pitch and Thiago inexperienced in his role, and Puyol recovering from a long lay off, Abidal had to make sure he could support the other two defensive players.  At the same time he had to be able to push up to provide width as he was going to have time and space on the ball.  Abidal read the game very well.  On numerous occasions he made dangerous runs forward – and he did so largely when Villa would pinch in wide off the left.  This prevented Barça from losing width when Villa moved central, particualarly as  Xavi was also usually pinching in off the left portion of the midfield diamond.

Third, when Afellay came on for Xavi it was natural to think that Guardiola would change shape.  Afellay would play in a wing position as he almost always does with Fabregas dropping deep to take over for Xavi.  However, that did not happen.  Instead Guardiola prioritized retaining shape, playing Afellay in midfield in Xavi’s prior  role and retaining Fabregas as the advanced tip of the midfield diamond so that he could continue to play fluidly with Messi up top.

It’s often been said that Fabregas would one day come in to “replace” Xavi or take his role.  That did not happen in this match.  Instead, from the evidence we have at hand, we may be seeing Fabregas invent an entirely new role for himself within the Barcelona system.  Fabregas has a very different skill set than Xavi and playing him deeper in a central midfield role can diminish some of the strongest aspects to this play.  We saw that against Milan.  In that match he played to “replace” Iniesta rather than playing his own game in a more advanced position.  That didn’t work well because Fabregas has a very different skill set than Iniesta.  The way the team played after Xavi came off suggests a high level of commitment to this fluid shape on Guardiola’s part.

Fourth, Thiago Alcantara is assuming an absolutely fascinating tactical role on this team.  In this four man midfield, Thiago is assuming a very fluid, multifaceted role.  Against Villarreal his job was to play deeper and support Keita and Mascherano when they had the ball.  He often played level with Keita as almost a second holding player.

Against Osasuna he again played as the right side of the four man midfield – but this time his role was very different. He was charged with supporting Alves in front of him.  He also had to be more mindful of covering space behind him as it was Busquets rather than Keita behind him.  While Keita is not as strong a holding player as Busquets, Keita does cover much more ground.  This gave Thiago additional defensive responsibilities.  And in this midfield role Thiago almost had to function as a modified right back.

The way Guardiola is utilizing Thiago is brilliant and it will do wonders for his development.  Thiago is learning to expand his game by playing in a more confined, disciplined role.  In a free, advanced role Thiago would continue to build on what he was already good at while also being forced to carry a great deal of the burden.  Now he is playing a critical support role that is requiring him to do things that he didn’t have to do in the past such as consider his positioning on the pitch, develop width for the team, and defend vigorously.  He is learning and becoming part of the culture of the team.  It is extremely impressive to watch.



Team:  What’s there to say.  Scintillating.  A game we should remember for a long time.  More impressive than last season’s 8-0 victory over Almeria.  Their level of play was higher and how they hurt the opposition more diversified.

Guardiola:  Phenomenal.  After a week of hearing his team criticized in a flurry of squawking, Pep stepped center stage to defend them and then had them ready to play, designing a perfect plan to make up for the many injuries they were facing.  One of the world’s greatest managers showed again how he could develop a template to get the most from his team.

Valdes:  Didn’t have much to do given Barcelona’s dominance on the ball.  But as usual when he did have something to do he did it well.  His ball distribution was again a major plus.

Puyol:  Wonderful to have the Captain back.  The most important aspect of this match for Puyol was how he moved.  He looked free and was running well.  He fit back in as if he never left.  He was very composed in the center of the back three.  Still needs to be tested more but this was a very good game to get him extended minutes.

Mascherano:  Another great match.  His skill set maps so well to the way Barcelona want to play at the back.  He can play across the line – to the right in a three man line and then at the center when Puyol subs off.  His skills on the ball out of the back are tremendous for a defender.  If Messi-Fabregas is a very promising central axis in attack moving into the future, Mascherano-Busquets is almost equally so deeper on the pitch.

Alves:  Provided critical width and played at a very high level.  In a game this brilliant I hesitate to even pick a man of the match.  But tactically speaking – Alves was perhaps the key player.  His crosses and attacks off the flank were both consistent and high quality.

Abidal:  A slow start where he miscontrolled the ball and had some loose passes but once the game got into a flow he was outstanding.  He read the game extremely well and balanced attacking and defending wonderfully.

Busquets:  Was the player who often had the most time and space on the ball and was both composed and dangerous. It was great to see him play that dangerous attacking ball to Alves to start the first goal sequence.  Often Busquets can play simple balls to Xavi because Xavi is directly in front of him.  Today that wasn’t the case – Xavi was towards the left often in the four man midfield.  And Busquets was often the most central midfielder.  He expanded the scope of his game nicely to fill that role.

Xavi:  He’s the best central midfield player in the world.  And at the age of 31, he’s being asked to play a new role so that the team can evolve.  Look around the world at older players asked to modify their role and how difficult, if not belligerent, they can be about it.  It makes one appreciate Xavi even more.  He played towards the left today and often had to move wider than he usually plays to maintain balance on the pitch. He played a near flawless match completing nearly all of his passes and running the team brilliantly.  And on top of that he scored as well.

Thiago:  In some ways the most surprising player on the entire squad.  Coming off a great summer where he was running the Spanish u21 team brilliantly and scoring goals regularly it was hard not to be excited about what Thiago could do, especially after his strong preseason where he continued his form.  So far this season he’s been even better than we could have expected – he’s expanding his game in vital ways.  His two way play in attack and defense has been fantastic.  And he’s playing in a more composed controlled way.

Fabregas:  His impact on games through his movement is remarkable to watch.  His game is entirely different than Iniesta’s but he produces a similar kind of effect.  Iniesta can destabilize entire teams through his close control of the ball and vision.  Fabregas doesn’t have Iniesta’s ball control, but he can completely bring the opposition to ruin by destabilizing them through his runs and vision.  His interplay with Messi has the chance to create an entirely new central axis of play for Barcelona.  The fluidity of their interplay, its innovation and their respective ages makes this partnership one that could be the kind of relationship we talk about as a part of the history of the game one day.

Villa:  Strong game.  Villa worked hard to get himself in good positions both offensively and defensively.  Had a tricky role today given the need to provide width, support play centrally as players moved dynamically and track back to defend, especially when Abidal was pinched in as part of a three man back line.  In some ways he played the defensive role on the left that Thiago played on the right but did so from a more advanced position.

Messi:  What’s left to say.  He’s just so messi.  The world’s greatest player played one of his finest matches.  He scored a hat trick and still played unselfishly assisting on two other goals and creating numerous chances with his passing.  On any other day, Man of the Match but given how amazing Xavi was and Alves were and the whole team was there’s no individual to select.

Afellay:  Still getting up to speed after a long lay off which saw him miss most of his first preseason with the club.  Had a slow start where he was very poor but picked it up some as he got time on the pitch (or at least he stopped misplacing every pass).  Not only is Afellay coming back after missing the entire preseason, but he now has to integrate himself into a team that is playing differently from the squad he joined last winter.  It’s a huge transition for a player, made more complicated by Pep using him in midfield rather than out on the wing.  Afellay has spent very little time in midfield for Barca and it showed.

Adriano:  Played well when called upon but didn’t need to do much moving forward.  Read the game right and prioritized defending.

Maxwell:  Good to see him back on the pitch.  Like Afellay was adjusting back to match speed.  Very nice to have his experience to call on to rest the starting players.

The End:

The end of an era.  That was the talk coming into this match.  And in some ways that’s exactly correct – though for entirely the wrong reasons.  Complacency?  This team was having none of that.  Instead they are feeling their way into how best to incorporate new talent and to expand the dimensions of what they can do on the pitch by evolving their system to implement their managers driving vision.

So in some ways this is an end of an era.  This Barcelona team will not sit still and just rest on it’s accomplishments.  It continues to strive and improve.  An end to an era?  Yes. In as much as this is a team which has a tangible chance to be even better than it was the past three seasons.

Categorized as Tactics


  1. Thanks, Euler.

    I am fascinated by the chemistry between Messi and Cesc. I thought the injuries would derail Barcelona’s ability to further develop this chemistry, but Pep’s use of Alves allowed Cesc to be used as the fourth midfielder. Pep seems intent on this evolution of the team. I am very excited to see how this plays out.

    1. Agree. I think this was one of the major stories of the match and really provided insight into Pep’s thinking.

      Despite the injuries Guardiola prioritized the fluid “shape” he wanted which allowed Fabregas to play in the more advanced position he’s been so good in, particularly partnering with Messi.

      Pep had to come up with some creative ways to maintain that shape – that was his priority.

    2. Yep, the over-the-top threat is definitely a huge addition to our offense, and makes it much more difficult to defend than traditional tika-tika policy of flooding the middle and stacking the box.

      Also more difficult to defend give-and-go with Messi as he is much more serious shooting & scoring threat than Xavi (or even Iniesta I’d argue).

      I don’t agree at all with the assessment that Cesc’s positioning has been ‘lazy’, its very clear he’s still fulfilling the style of play at Arsenal of pinpointing distribution while other players move off the ball.

      At Barca we do both at once, which about 5 players in the world can do with the quality of Xavi, so he needs time and I think its more his style of play (Busi/Abidal type feeds). If he progresses into a more mobile player while doing the same, we will win the Treble.

  2. wow, thanks very much, Euler!

    I’ll read it later, still got something to do here,
    but I see now you give review for every player, I’m happy about it 😀

  3. Hey Euler-

    I’m still digesting my way through the piece; it’s pretty great (as always). I think there’s an unfinished sentence in the paragraph talking about Dani playing wide:

    “Over and over Alves made runs from wide and used the ball to force open an Osasuna defense that itself was attempting to stay very narrow. In fact it looked as if Alves’s positioning was something that not only surprised Osasuna, but something they had a great deal of difficulty adjusting to. Alves’s one touch assist off to There was confusion on their left side about how to balance playing Thiago and Alves.

    Just a heads up. Keep up the good work!

    1. Also, I may be reading this wrongly, but did you mean to say Villareal instead of Osasuna in this first paragraph?

      “Fourth, Thiago Alcantara is assuming an absolutely fascinating tactical role on this team. In this four man midfield, Thiago is assuming a very fluid, multifaceted role. Against Osasuna his job was to play deeper and support Keita and Mascherano when they had the ball. He often played level with Keita as almost a second holding player.

      Against Osasuna he again played as the right side of the four man midfield – but this time his role was very different.”

  4. “I am but an egg,” as Valentine Michael Smith would say in the famous book “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Excellent dissection of a match that represented so much more than the big boys whomping on the little boys. Thank you.

  5. tutomate mentions this in the liveblog comments: “My favourite part of the game was right after Villa’s second goal. Villa is casually walking back with Messi and Cesc when Busquests enters the camera’s shot to fix Villa’s awful hair.”

    In gif form:

    I can’t stop laughing. Busi totally is like, no, that’s wrong, must reach out and fix it. There, see?

  6. Thank you for a great review of the game. I have learned a lot from your game reviews such as this one and those on the 3-4-3 we played against Villareal. I’m sure they must take a lot of time and energy to write – they are some of the best analysises of Barca’s play and tactics I have read!

  7. This is one hell of a week for us. First we thrash Osasuna 8-0 and then yesternight Real Madrid lose 1-0 to Levante. I’m loving this. The moment of this week was Kone blusing when he received a standing ovation!

    Spot on with the Cesc comparision. I don’t think Cesc will be able to replace Xavi. He is a completely different player. Xavi and Iniesta have the perfect balance of attacking and defensive instinct in them. As far as Fabregas is concerened he is more of an pure attacking midfielder than anyone of them. Second Xavi’s biggest quality for me is that he completely control the pace of the match. Messi may be the star of this team but the pace by which we play is decided by Xavi. And he definitely is the best reader when to step it up and when to take it down. Fabregas doesn’t have those skills. Even Thiago may not emerge like that.

    Yes, Xavi is 31, so what! His game is never based on speed which will decrease with age. He will play at this level for atleast 4 years and I am willing to bet my life on that.

    The tricky part now will be how we will line-up against Valencia. For me it’s still a tough one. We have won two home game playing somewhet a similar style with scoreline 5-0 and 8-0. But the match on Wednesday is going to be crucial.

    1. “Second Xavi’s biggest quality for me is that he completely control the pace of the match. Messi may be the star of this team but the pace by which we play is decided by Xavi. And he definitely is the best reader when to step it up and when to take it down. ”

      I agree with this 110%! It is what impresses me most about Xavi (other than the obvious brilliant vision)- his ability to control the game and better yet, know HOW to control it depending on the circumstance at that exact moment/game.

      Especially when Barca NEED to score, Xavi is the first to spring to life. You can strongly sense (and see) his urgency on the pitch. All the others also display this urgency, but it is Xavi who makes you feel like the world will cease to exist if we do not score.

      A beauty to watch. I hope he somehow NEVER retires.

  8. On some days Alves just can’t cross to save his life but in this match, it was pass after pass that found it’s target.

  9. Apparently the Levante fans had a banner saying;

    “We’re ugly, poor and not very good!”

    If anyone can find a photo for it, it would be great. I couldn’t find anything (photo) when I search it in English on google. They might have it in Spanish.

    1. Somos feos, pobres y no muy bueno!

      Rough translation I guess, that banner would have been awesome 😀

    1. sorry about that.

      delayed the tour for a few months due to my workloads.hopefully in january i think.

  10. @ hammeronmessi, that article is hysterical. It might just have been amusing had results gone a different way at the weekend but given what happened it merits the upgrade!
    The Soccernet comments aren’t usually worth reading (much like the articles, with the exception of Phil Ball) but they are worth a read if you have a spare 5 mins. Netherton gets owned. If he had any sense he’d start writing under a pseudonym from now on (thus, safe to say he won’t).
    Some cule on there has listed other anti-Barca articles he’s produced on his own website. They are equally as juvenile.
    The article is (remarkably) loosely based on a fact, that EE are improving. They might win the league, and CL, but I hope they don’t, and we have regularly demonstrated that WE are the team of the generation and have NO plans on giving up that crown any time soon, as Euler so eloquently described above.
    Marvellous read to start my week!
    ¡Visca Barça!

    1. but it was awesome u gotta love was so bad that it is a must read for all cules.

      how the soccernet can post this rubbish.?may be it was so juvenile that they had to post it.

  11. it’s interesting you brought the story of how intense Pep and his players was.

    I noticed it too, they just scored the second goal, and Pep intensely gave instructions to Masch and Fabregas. he wanted to make sure Sociedad story won’t happen again. just amazing to watch.

    and only after the sixth goal Pep could sit calmly. 😀

    1. Yeah and I noticed that Pep didn’t relax until somewhere in the 2nd half after it was 5-0 or something. Amazing guy!

  12. read the article.kudos to u for the amount of time u spent analyzing this.

    while we played a brilliant game(which some u explained in),this(8- 0) was also due to the fault of osasuna.the channel which was covering the game in our part of the world,showed a still frame of the game during half time.i cant provide the still frame.

    the frame was about xavi receiving the ball in our half,while 4 osasuna players tried to pressure him in a disorganized way.the frame showed how xavi can render them useless by playing a simple over ball to fabregas, who at that time was near the halfline to xavis left or to a simple pass to thiago who was just a little bit right of him.

    if in the whole match osasuna pressurized barca this way then no wonder they conceded 8 goals.

    alves was TMOTM.FAB was MOMTM and i think DV played a fantastic game.

  13. Meets the brilliant standards you’ve met, Euler.

    Ah, how happy I’d be if Euler and Kxevin BOTH had the time to both review all matches.

    What would be even better is if all the staff wrote reviews after every match! 😀

  14. Euler,

    Thanks for another great review!

    On another note – I loved Levante last season. Love them even more now that they beat EE. And even after losing their Ecuadorian forward. Hope they keep up their form. Did all of you saw the video of their players singing for their fans? Very cute.

    1. Levante’s kit looked so much like the blaugrana, and I loved it (against EE at least). Maybe it reminded EE of a certain other blue and red team and it put them on a psychological disadvantage? The match certainly had the brawls, the red card, the diving and the post-match whining.

  15. Thanks for the wonderful review Euler. I love your philosophical discussions, and how you transition that into the match review. You are a wonderful writer. And, in the end you link it all back to the philosophical discussion at the end of your article.

    Instead of criticizing players, you mention what they can do better, and/or what they have brought to the team in the past, and will bring to the team in future. It is a pleasure and honor for me to read your articles. It says a lot about you as a person and a writer. There is nothing negative in your article, pure passion and positive notes. It is wonderful to read that, and it gives me a sense of hope as a person. Inspirational. I think inspiration was the main reason why I became a Barca fan in the first place. And you reinforce it in your writing.

  16. A thought on complacency:

    As you pointed out Euler, there were a lot of people who were tossing around the word complacency with regard to the two performances prior to the Osasuna match. I know that I used the term at some point to describe parts of the Sociedad match and I still think that was valid for some of the play we witnessed there, as the foot did seem to come off the gas pedal at times. I never thought it meant that the team wasn’t evolving, but that there was an increased danger this year of not being as focused as it needs to be over the entire schedule.

    For what its worth, I used to play brutally long hours of on-line poker. Specifically, I played no limit hold ’em tournaments. Tournaments have a beginning, a middle, and an end. How that pertains to Barcelona and complacency is that after going very deep in a tournament, I invariably found it very hard to work patiently through the beginning and middle stages of tournament play to get back to the end game, which is where the real excitement and pay off is in poker tournaments. This wasn’t complacency on my part, but rather the fact that the hours spent in end game mode left me in a enervated state that was somewhat incompatible with the tedium of beginning and middle stage tournament poker play.

    Barcelona are in a similar situation. They have spent the last three years playing for every trophy there is and they find themselves now facing a brutally long schedule and the league matches in particular will not offer the team the kinds of challenges that they have been feeding off of and responding to. It presumably will be difficult for the team at times to find their best game because in a sense they may suffer from becoming adrenaline junkies. Playing away at Sociedad is a far cry from playing Man U in the CL final or Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. As fans we want our team to be the kind of team that craves the big spotlight and we are blessed with a team that obviously does. The downside of this might be a completely human let down in terms of emotional involvement and focus in the tedium of playing early season la liga games.

    There are many in this community who live and breathe Barcelona football and they feel very close to the development and performance of this team. You, Euler, and Kxevin, among others, understand so deeply what makes this team tick that it seems incomprehensible to suggest that this team is complacent or ‘nearing the end of the cycle’, for what seems like very obvious reasons, which you elucidated on so eloquently in this article that I won’t bother to expand on it.

    Yet to the average fan or the so called neutral watcher of the game, these reasons are not so obvious. They see a 0-2 lead evaporate at La Real and a late equalizer conceded against Milan and correctly, in my opinion, conclude that these things shouldn’t have happened. They look for reasons why they happened and it is natural to conclude that the team was complacent, has been at the top for so long that it must end at some time.

    It takes someone close to the situation, in terms of hours spent really watching this team, to understand that Pep will never let them be complacent and that they are currently evolving into something new.

  17. Probably lost in all the TV money hype and comparisons to the Scottish League is that the Liga has been awesome this season. The matches have almost all been fun to watch, along with great stories like Betis and Rayo. Pity that the knuckleheads who run it don’t know how to capitalize on it.

    1. Agreed, especially compared to the “main event” in the Premier League last week, where the biggest spectacle was the amount of horrible chances and misplaced passes.

      I couldn’t watch any of the Liga games on TV, and I have Comcast’s soccer package! There’s definitely little work being done here to maximize the league’s exposure.

  18. It’s funny how neither Euler nor I picked a MOTM. I suppose if I were going to, it would have been Guardiola. If forced to pick a player, it would have probably been Xavi. But you could make cases for Alves, Messi and Fabregas, as well.

    Having Euler AND I review matches is a luxury afforded by the weekend, and the remnants of my off-season. We also this was an important match for what it represented philosophically.

  19. There was just a Tweet from @barcastuff that wasn’t a countdown or a quiz. Not sure what it means, but it made me pretty happy. He debunked the Gary Cahill rumor.

  20. Great Review!
    Just wanted to toss in that I saw somewhere. Thiago recovered the most balls in the game. Sorry I don’t recall the source or number, but thought it was apt support for some of your discussion. That is not a stat I would have bet on before the game.

    Very interesting to now see, I assume, what Pep had in mind for Thiago and Cesc. Certainly hastened and altered by the injury to AI, but utilizing them as individuals and not xavi or ai replacement legos.


    (though i wish you made it easier on yourself — i hope you enjoy writing it as much as we enjoy reading, because it looks like a lot of work. we are spoiled!)

  22. Thanks a lot for the review, Euler.
    All of your reviews are absolutely top class 😉

    That move from Cesc, it reminded me of some moves from Ronaldinho during his best times. There was a youtube video called ‘the impossible Ronaldinho’ – the piece of art of an assist from Cesc would fit in perfectly to that video.

    by the way, on a German football tactics blog, I’ve read an analysis of the match and at the end of it, the author makes a brave assumption:
    He suggests that Barcelona might be communicating in a non-verbal, non-gesticulating way: They use different types of passes (strength, direction, height, length etc.) to communicate how to attack, how to re-build a new attack, when to chip the ball over the defenders, when to play a one-two and so on. He says that the fluidity of the midfield is so brilliant, although it seems chaotic at times, it’s impossible that they have trained all the passing lanes, running ways. According to his thesis, it is the passing that dictates the attacks etc., but only a very few of the various combinations have been literally, they are developed and shaped spontaneously on the pitch – with the language of the passes.

    1. Helge,

      That’s a very interesting thesis. Unfortunately, not having read the article I can’t fully comment – but I think that author may have been suggesting something I was also trying to argue in this post (and others). Although I think the issue goes far past communicating through passing.

      In general the key feature for how Barcelona plays and why they are so hard to beat and so difficult to mimic or copy is that they play with extraordinary degrees of tacit knowledge.

      That’s what I was trying to illustrate in the examples of how they learn from Pep and from each other. That’s what I was trying to illustrate when I was referring to Thiago watching Alves never give up on the ball to the point where he’s trying to bicycle kick an errant pass to keep in in bounds in the 88th minute of an 8-0 game.

      They haven’t trained all the passes. Only the patterns.

      I believe your background is in science as I recall. Barcelona really functions as a complex adaptive system that is built with a few “simple rules.” What holds the ensemble together is the levels of tacit knowledge they share.

      The reason why Fabregas fits in so well and so fast is that he shared that same tacit knowledge.

    2. The reason why Fabregas fits in so well and so fast is that he shared that same tacit knowledge hive mind.

      Fixed! 😀

    3. You recalled correctly, I’m at least aspiring to be a scientist.

      So, what you essentially said is that Thiago & Co. are ‘learning by watching’. Or by listening to Pep’s words (that are passed on to the whole team or parts of it by the player who was first adressed by Pep).

      I think that only training the patterns and sharing a huge amount of tacit knowledge is pretty close to the thesis that I read about on the German blog.
      The author himself said that his thesis might be a bit overdone and too speculative, but it was a nice read and an interesting idea. It was the first time that I found a tactic blog on German that somehow reminded me of your posts (he also used some heat maps, average position maps etc. – something that hasn’t occured to me on a German Barcelona blog before^^). You don’t speak German, right? 🙂
      The difference between his approach and yours might be that he speaks about a sort of argot that has never been used by any other team in football before, and thus it cannot be deciphered or copied.
      Learning by doing, learning by watching, learning by Pep talk – that’s not really new and any team could copy it, theoretically. But he goes further and tries to explain the invisible bond between the players with the help of an argot, based on way of passing and collective movement (which is in the end still decipherable – our players are no Gods that can communicate telepatheically – but it is the most complex and hidden way of communicating for mere humans). You might call this argot the trained patterns.

    4. Learning “by watching”, doing, etc. are only examples. This gets a bit complicated to discuss on a blog.

      Let me be specific – I could provide you with very detailed, formalized instructions on how to ride a bicycle. I could get expert input on the best way to do that and I could standardize that procedure set.

      But if I gave those instructions to you and you didn’t know how to ride a bicycle they wouldn’t really help you at all.

      That’s because the knowledge involved is largely tacit. It’s implicit and difficult to verbalize or to make explicit in formal systems.

      Now all systems have varying degrees of explicit and implicit knowledge. You have to have both. If you make everything explicit then the system becomes too rule heavy and bureaucratic. Make it too implicit and it can tumble into disorganization. There’s a spectrum.

      It’s just that barcelona (like Ajax of Michels and Cruyff before them) play with enormous amounts of implicit/tacit knowledge. The system depends on that. There are explicit formalizations e.g. create triangles, one touch the ball, etc. – but those explicit formalizations are only a minimal handful to create a basic organization to work off of.

      It’s like Messi’s assist to Fabregas on the ball over the top – he just senses and knows what Fabregas is going to do. If you were to ask Messi how he knows I’d bet he would have trouble even verbalizing it. He just “knows.” That’s based on a large set of variables combining together. Vision, talent, training, experience, insight, etc.

      It’s that dynamic mix of variables through which communication is mediated. It’s that dynamic mix that really can’t be copied. That’s why organizational culture is so important (and true of any organization).

      That’s why it’s so difficult to copy. It’s why Batista’s attempts to restructure ARG like Barca were going to fail.

      It’s also one of Mourinho’s biggest problems at RM. His system depends on relatively high degrees of explicit formalism e.g. at Inter – Eto’o your role is to remain on the wing and play deep to track runs and only advance when a clear opportunity presents itself, etc.

      It’s very difficult for a system based on explicit knowledge to beat one based on implicit knowledge. Very, very hard. Not impossible but very difficult.

      I was toying around with writing a post about this subject this season but wasn’t sure if it was just too esoteric. Maybe I’ll do that if it would be of interest.

    5. I’ll read and think about your answer tomorrow, okay?

      Have to get up in 5 hours and take a 4h train ride to Bonn, in order to matriculate for my new field of study, meteorology. Good night 🙂

    6. Sounds like a post, eh, Euler?

      For me, Helge and the German “telepathy” article are onto something. What makes this current club so rare, and one that we might never see the likes of again, is that it combines three things:

      –World-class players
      –World-class players who have known and played with each other for years, all schooled in the same system
      –A coach who is intimate with that same system

      So I don’t think it’s outside the realm, while our players certainly don’t communicate telepathically, to be so simpatico that they just know.

      Part of how I knew my wife was the one was we went furniture shopping, and said we’d separate, look, the rejoin and show each other the pieces that we liked. We chose the same stuff. There was a bond that was already present. My sisters and I can share a look and crack each other up. We think the same, and just know.

      Similarly, Messi doesn’t send mind waves to Xavi, but Xavi has worked with, practiced with and played with Messi for so long that he just knows. He knows the signs, probably knows when Messi turns his body a certain way, what that probably signifies. He knows the little cues that tell him when Messi is about to break, and in what direction. Iniesta and Xavi have that same kind of bond, almost like an old married couple who can complete each other’s thoughts.

      Fabregas slotting right in isn’t really a big surprise. He was raised in the system, and worked in a somewhat similar system at Arsenal. It really is like coming home for him.

      Then, when you look at Afellay and Sanchez, or Villa and Henry, you can see the difference. Villa looks much better integrated this season. It takes time when you’re an outsider. Mind you, Villa will never have the bond with Xavi that Messi does. You can still see Alves having his clunky moments, and he’s as integrated as you’ll see a “foreigner.”

      So yes, I think there is something to the “mind waves” theory, only it isn’t mind waves as much as practice and the intimate knowledge that comes from not only playing with players for a long time, but growing up with them in some cases.

      Thiago is another example. He has the same training, but is in effect a foreigner to this group. It’s why his balls aren’t quite on the same mark, why he runs to the wrong spots, etc. Some of it is youth and still learning the game, but much of it is that he isn’t part of that same Masia class. Busquets just got in on the tail end, so he’s pretty well integrated after a learning spell.

      When people talk about our Masia as this magical place, it is, but that isn’t the full answer to this amazing club. For me, it’s that its core has the kind of knowledge that the modern player can never have with a teammate.

    7. I was toying around with writing a post about this subject this season but wasn’t sure if it was just too esoteric. Maybe I’ll do that if it would be of interest.

      I’d read it. (Very interested).

    8. Very much interested–no such thing as too esoteric– Barcelona and esoteric go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong!

    9. Too esoteric?

      Y’all have been bandying about concepts like tacit knowledge, argots, slime molds, hive mind, telepathy, and even rama lama ding dong and you think anything is too esoteric for this group?

      Of course we’ll read it! 🙂

    10. Your description of barcelona’s implicit/tacit knowledge remind me a lot of descriptions I have read of jazz musicians improvising together – a limited set of rules, that provide the structure so that each musicians creativity blends harmoniously with the other musicians creative freedom. Or as Pep says re Cesc (paraphrased)”his anarchy goes well with our structure. His job now is to fit his creative freedom into our order.”
      On another note, I for one would be interested in a post on explicit vs. implicit knowledge. It does sound a little esoteric, but I like a little variety in my Barca reading! 🙂

    11. So, I think almost everybody would love to read an analysis of the ‘esoteric’ Barça 😉

      Also some very good points and examples from you, Kxevin. There’s definitely potential to write a post about it, followed by a debate in the comments.

  23. Great Discussion Euler, I see things somewhat in reverse. When Barca bought Ibra it was in response to the parked bus. A big man with an aerial game with the touch to play in Messi working on the right. Excruciating for many, it failed on a lot of levels.

    Cesc is turning out to be the bus breaker. Aerial game, unselfishness, workrate, fantastic skill, finishing ability, Biggish size, enough at least to effectively shield in the box, attitude, you can go on

    Thing is Messi moved to the false 9 so now we are effectively playing even higher with 2 men constantly running in the box. Effectively 4 forwards. The genius is dropping a defender because they can’t go forward now anyway without getting in the way of the outside forwards.

    So now Thiago goes way up in the strength chart as Xavi, Iniesta and he have way more defensive responsibilities filling in the exposed flanks.

    Bunker busters opened up Villareal, Napoli and Sociedad like we haven’t seen. The cost was Villa working like a mad man closing down the space behind him, requiring a Terminator like Puyol at Centerback, and getting Busi back at DM.

    1. I like that Sid said this (in the comments):

      “And you commit the classic mistake that people do a lot (and I don’t necessarily blame you for that but it’s one that baffles me as it keeps coming up): you make the assumption that the level of criticism has to be the same for both clubs. That’s just not true. To use an extreme example: should reporters in the 1930s have been equally critical of the Nazis as they were of the Christian democracts, for example? The truth is not necessarily in the middle: it is not 5 eulogies of RM and 5 eulogies of Barcelona or 5 attacks and 5 attacks to be an objective journalist. It is: criticise what deserves criticism and priase what deserves praise, regardless of who does it. If one team is more criticisable (dont know if that is a real word), then so be it ….”

  24. good discussions.kudos to helge,euler and kxevin.

    fantastic to read such concepts in a football blog,but IMO the german author is over analyzing bout barcas play.

    why we r such a rare club and why its very difficult to copy and defeat us can be summarized in 4 crucial factors, 3 of which kxevin mentioned early.

    –World Class Players

    –World-class players who have known and played with each other for years, all schooled in the same system

    –-A coach who is intimate with that same system.

    –To have messi(once in a 3 decade player).

    as someone (maybe cruyff)said the more simple the more beautiful,these 4 factors made what barca is now. no need of telepathy,they just know when and how,just like need of over elaboration,just like the 5th goal where fab immediately know what to do and how.

  25. B e a u t i f u l and s e x y

    1. Yep, I re-posted his Tweets this morning:

      Got the apology and retraction from that magazine that made up an interview about me. Can’t believe some journalists. I will also get…

      …..damages that I will give to charity. Hope it teaches them a lesson. I would NEVER say a bad word about Arsenal Football Club.

    2. From the Mirror, here is the text of the apology from Sport:

      Now Sport magazine have apologised to Fabregas and admitted the interview never took place.

      A statement said: “On 16 September 2011 we published an article described as an interview with Cesc Fabregas. In fact, there was no actual interview (the player was speaking at two press events) and Fabregas did not say the words attributed to him, including and in particular about Arsenal.

      “We were unaware of these matters when we published the article which was written by a freelance journalist. We apologise profusely to Mr Fabregas for any damage caused.”

      Read more:

  26. Alex Netherton lol.

    if you’ve ever read surreal football you’d know he has a clear bias against Barca

    1. Complete and utter bullshit articles before and the last one was even worse. Saying Fab might be a problem for us but already applauding Mou for Sahin, Altintop and Coentaro if they were signings of the century. Assuming Iniesta, Xavi and Fab will all be injured as if EE’s player are some kind of mutants who don’t get injured.

      The best part was though that 2 days later the 8-0 and 1-0 happened and everybody on ESPN is massacring the poor dude. 😀

  27. RoSELL, with the vote coming up on Saturday about the Qatar Foundation, is using scare tactics, saying that if we vote no, the money might head off to That Other Spanish Team.

    1. So, is every Soci allowed to vote?

      Can you vote online or by mail? Or would you have to fly to Barca?

    2. Kxevin – as a Soci, have you received any official info on this? Is it the whole membership voting, or just the General Assembly attendee?s

    3. I just read on the Catala Barca website News section that it’s to be by vote at the General Assembly Meeting on Saturday.

      In that case, I expect that the results will not differ from the board’s decisions, as the 1,200 “chosen delegates” are doubtless a majority mix of the Board’s supporters.

      I’ll be very, very surprised if they manage to overturn the shirt deal.

      This is quasi-pseudo-powergiving by the board. Make it look as if the “Socis” have the final say, even though the deal is done.

      If anyone knows how the General Assembly delegates are chosen, I’d be interested in knowing as, even though we live in Barcelona and are Socis, we still don’t get to hear about what’s happening and how’s these things are decided. I guess that our names are not “Catalonian-enough”. 🙂

  28. I don’t understand this revulsion with Qatar Foundation. The club is in debt, and fans complain. Rosell sells the shirt to fight the debt; fans complain and make fun of his name in a hilariously clever way. Seriously, there’s no pleasing some people. In a way I hope they do revoke it. Maybe some of us will learn then, unlikely as that may be.
    Here is a charitable company from the Middle East that offers us serious money to put their name on our jersey. We won’t have it because it is an affront to what we stand for, etc etc ad nauseam. But we sure can have Nike’s logo on our jersey, a corporation that employs 7 year old kids and pays them 7 cents an hour to work 12 hour days. Where are the outraged comments against that?

    1. Actually, I’m on the record as being against any sale of the shirt in any way. As for the Qatar Foundation deal, there are any number of reasons I’m against it, irrespective of who the shirt was sold to:

      –We don’t know what kind of shape the club is really in, as numbers have been manipulated in both administrations, Party Boy Joan’s and RoSELL’s. Hence the (when RoSELL won) “We’re a fiscal disaster, and are all going to die.” And a year later, “Hey, we turned a profit. Aren’t I brilliant?”

      –Is the club in debt? Yep. How much? Good question. We’ve seen numbers in the 200s and numbers in the 400s. Now ask yourself how 26m per annum, to a club that will, this season, make almost a half-billion in gross revenue, make a ton of difference. I’m also on the record as saying I would have preferred to NOT buy either Fabregas or Sanchez, and keep the shirt clean.

      –Nike manufactures our shirts. Good luck getting a kit maker to refuse putting their logo on it, be it Nike, Kappa, Joma or Adidas. All shirt makers are, by the by, exploitative. And don’t even get me started on other things, such as iPhones. I haven’t screamed about Nike’s labor practices as they relate to the shirt a) because that ship has sailed and b) they make the shirt. If they didn’t make the shirt, that’s a completely different matter. Yes, they bid for the right to make the shirt and equip the team. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone comfortable with that, and their labor practices.

      –RoSELL used the previous agreement of a man that he hates to sell the shirt. Yes, Laporta received the consent of the Assembly to consider a shirt sponsor. Then finances turned around, and he shelved the idea. RoSELL said “Hey, look what I found!” and sold the shirt.

      –RoSELL isn’t anything “hilariously clever.” He sold Txigrinski, Ibrahimovic and the shirt. Controversial? Certainly. Was it time for Ibrahimovic to go? Yep. But by all accounts, Guardiola didn’t want to sell Txigrinski.

      –Debt is part of life in big-time football. As our club runs, I would be fine with making enough money to cover expenses, with a little bit left over. This club will never not be in debt. It is impossible, given the quality it demands. Bayern Munich isn’t in debt. Would you rather have their record in recent years, or ours. The trick is managing the debt in a way that doesn’t hamstring the way that a club operates. Party Boy did that. RoSELL can do that as well, without demonizing his predecessor or (again, my opinion) selling the shirt.

      And these are all my opinions, and I can’t speak for others, unless by “some people,” you mean me, in which case we should be far enough along and comfortable enough where you can call me by name, yes?

    2. If I meant you I would have replied to your post; honestly. There are at length quite a few fans who are still outraged at the sponsorship deal, and I can’t understand it. Idealism is commendable, but, as Wilde said, it is easier to sympathize with emotion rather than with thought. Wouldn’t it have been even more idealistic not to fall into debt in the first place? We will be better financially with the deal than without it, won’t we. Rosell has sold players (the best of them was Yaya, in my opinion, but he probably wanted to leave), but plenty others have been brought in, certainly enough to keep us competitive.

    3. I believe this has to do with political evaluation of Qatar’s funding coming from what is effectively an absolute monarchy with a questionable history of social equality & voting rights.

      The premise is oil/middle east money is ‘dirty money’, or at least dirtier money that that of a corporation, or even gambling organizations like Bwin (pot calling kettle?)

      Also that funding and policies for the Foundation come from some of the same families involved in lobbying & fundraising for the World Cup, which is rampant with allegations of bribery.

      I don’t have a strong viewpoint on the issue, but in my mind this is more than enough to warrant healthy dialog.

    4. Even if you take an impartial look at the deal for the shirt, it’s a bad deal.

      Eur30 million per year for the next 5 years? Gimme a break. The Barca shirt is worth more than that, if a price needs to be put on it.

      As for the stadium naming, we were commenting on just that fact after watching our recording of the Osasuna game. (We were in Germany over the weekend and couldn’t watch it live – sob!) Already, the Qatar Foundation signage is prolific within the stadium.

      Etisalat (a United Arab Emirates Telecommunications company) has been a premium Barca sponsor for the last 2 years, and they have moderate signage in the stadium too.

      If the stadium naming rights are up for grabs, I’d expect a slug-fest between Qatar and the UAE, with expressions of interest from Nike and Turkish Airlines. Maybe even Herbalife. 😉

  29. Just a quick question:

    Is anyone willing (and able) to run the Liveblog tomorrow? Mods are constrained by that pesky thing called life and can’t do it.

    If you’re willing to give it a try, and possibly become drunk with power, scroll up to the ‘Contact’ heading and leave a message.

    1. Really? the most sexist thing ever? I see more sexist things at the super market on a Monday. Why are you so outraged? Just curious not trying to mock?

    2. Lol that’s really funny. Insulting to both sexes actually. Unfortunately, my peeps quite are skilled at creating “D’oh! What were they thinking?!?!?!” moments…

    3. Well, it does seem like a clever way to institute a penalty but still have a fun atmosphere in the stadium. Can’t say I’ve seen any female hooligans, but I’m sure there are some out there though.

  30. Pep Guardiola: “I lived there with my family for 2 years, they treated me well and I have very good muslim friends there. They want to open themselves to the world and they should be given time.”

    I don’t really have a firm stance on this sponsorship deal but I’ve had enough of the “Qatar doesn’t stand for what the club stands for and they are not good enough for us!”

    I really like Pep’s sensible words here.

    1. I agree with Guardiola. I don’t want anyone there. It isn’t a question of anyone not being “good enough.” I think those notions are misguided.

    2. where do you get pep doesnt want anyone on there? i read that interview and did not get that at all????

    3. yeah i still dont see how kxevin thinks that he is agreeing with pep in that he doesnt want anyone there. i read the google translate of that page and totalbarca’s translate of the entire press conference and he never says anything like that? am i missing something?

      if anything he seems to just go on and on about how great qatar is.


    4. I agree with Guardiola’s sentiment that people who think that QF somehow “isn’t good enough for us” are misguided. It isn’t just them. It’s everybody. It isn’t a question of being good enough or not good enough for me. It’s a simple question of whether “it” should be there at all.

    1. Finally someone is brave enough to say that la Liga is a two horse race between Valencia and Betis! 😆

  31. The exclusiveness of our shirts is long gone; the damage has already been done. After having “Qatar Foundation” branded upon our chests for 13(?) games already, we might as well accept this and move on. Although it does not sound like we are making the greatest amount possible, we are still making a nice amount for it. I say we save our discontent and rioting for preserving the Camp Nou name, if such a dreadful day does indeed come. FCB is “mas que un franella”.

    1. I predict that the stadium naming rights will be up for sale within two years. Recall that they were thinking about it, but the ruckus made them reconsider. After a couple years of a sold shirt and another “debt crisis,” why not have some white knights come to our fiscal rescue? “Hey, is the BWin Camp Nou really so bad? Look at how much money they paid!”

      Unfortunately, I wish I was kidding.

    2. It doesnt really work as smooth as that.

      Renaming a stadium which is widely known by a specific and popular name is not just a gamble on the fans nerves, but also not really looking promising to get a sufficient reward for any willing investors.

      Its why Old Trafford has remained as such – nobody will call it by any other name- and if everybody calls it by its former name theres not really much for marketing purposes , is it?

      Its also probably why we got a new La Masia instead of renaming our football youth academy(which has attracted worldwide interest) and not “Big Cahuna Burger” as its new name.

      So maybe the question hasnt come up because its not that smart to ask it afterall and cant be answered with financial criteria in mind.

      Even if we take as granted that the board only cares how much cash can it milk out of the club , which it doesnt.

      We are still winning trophies with them at helm , right?

    3. Exactly, nzm. The Qatar Foundation logo on the arch at the exit of the tunnel was pretty jarring this weekend. Meant to comment on it, but I confess that I’ve been sucking pretty badly of late.

      The biggest reason that the sponsorship deal will pass Assembly with flying colors is because it will be turned into a referendum on the current sporting success. Ding! Off to the races.

      To mei’s point about stadium renaming, the Chicago White Sox park is U.S. Cellular Field. True Sox fans still call it Comiskey Park, and always will. It’s just the default setting. I do believe the same will always be true of the Camp Nou.

      As an aside, while riding to work I saw a guy rocking a black away shirt. All I could think was “That shirt would be so badass with just our logo on the front,” which would be true even if it were still UNICEF there.

    4. Now that would make me 10 times angrier than the shirt deal. We had a good thing going for us (not selling the shirt) but we caved in as other did, at least we lasted that long.
      I know this stadium thing is popular in the US but not in Europe and I don’t see it happening anytime soon unless we’re building a new stadium a la Arsenal, which we won’t because we already have plans to add another 10000 seats to the Camp Nou.

    5. The stadium deal is quite another matter all-together. That is bad Karma. I mean, look at Arsenal: downhill since they left the Highbury.

    6. Holy crap, that’s true! Even if they were kinda headed that way even while at Highbury.

      P.S. Does anyone else feel bad for them this year? Snakebit doesn’t begin to describe their situation.

  32. Has anyone else noticed that even vikingo strongholds like AS and Marca have turned against Mou-Mou this week? Even Tomas “The Mad Madridista
    Roncero had words of criticism. Signs of the turning wind or a temporary set back?

    1. There was also a vote on ‘Who is the culprit for Madrid’s loss vs Levante’
      Possible options: Khedira, Mourinho, Pepe, Referee.
      It was about 64% Mourinho, 19% ref, 9% Khedira, 8% Di Maria (from a total of ~160,000 votes). So more than 3 times as many people blamed Mourinho instead of the culprit made out by Mourinho – the ref.

    2. Well, the 3rd option was obviously Di Maria, not Pepe (must be the image that Pepe once again conveyed on the pitch that made me think he would be available as the culprit – according to AS or Marca, he never played more than 10 consecutive matches for EE^^).

  33. Most importantly, how is SANTANDER-Real on ESPN3 tomorrow but not the Barca-Valencia match? My, how Valencia have fallen. What am I supposed to do from 1-3 tomorrow, actually sit at my desk and work??

  34. To the person who is interested to run the Liveblog and willing to work it out

    We got your message, but not your email. Can you contact us at ?

    I’ve set everything up (like Liveblog, how you’ll access it, what to do, etc., but I’m going to be out all day so I can’t forward it to you.

    Also, leave your name please. 😀

    (If you’re still unsure if I’m talking to you, your subject was: Still need a live blog moderator)

    1. Everyone tell Ryan how awesome he is! Replied back. Hopefully I was clear enough.

      If you go to Demo Library, you’ll see, uh, demos telling you how to launch the LiveBlog and everything.

      (Somehow managed to find a computer in a hospital. Wooo!)

    1. I’m glad he mentioned Betis. There are precious few words of praise for the way that team played in Bilbao.

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