The Mustache Was Kind to Us: Sporting 0 – 1 Barça

The bigger they come the...wait, he's little. Hmm.

There are two approaches to this match. First, there are those that think it was boring, stodgy, and a fairly miserable game. My brother found the game a pathetic excuse for a match, so much so that he thought it was bad while flying in an airplane. I don’t know about you, but I can watch paint dry on an airplane and find it fairly fascinating. That’s how boring this game was. Or there’s the other side, which is that Barça tried to play their way through a brick wall and were tactically creative throughout in an attempt to not only win this particular match, but also take the top spot in La Liga. That viewpoint might also encompass the feeling that on-field creativity is interesting and enjoyable, even if the score is low.

Some might claim there’s a middle ground in there somewhere, but as someone from the land of the 2 party system, I can’t accept that there could be an alternative to the theories already posited. Especially not since I’m going to align myself with the second camp and claim that while not the most heart-pounding of games, it was tense and exciting while also full of newfangled developments for the squad.

The thing that really interested me throughout was Pedro’s positioning. Given Adriano’s inclusion as a right midfielder and Dani Alves’ penchant for forward runs, there really wasn’t any space on the right for Pedro, but thanks to David Villa’s occupation of the left wing, the only place that remained available to Pedro was in the middle. That’s right, the middle. Maybe Preciado’s mustache saw it coming, but precious few others did. Perhaps even Lionel Messi didn’t know it was happening because they kept occupying space very near to each other, much as Messi and Cesc have done while learning to play with each other. The result was that Pedro began to occupy space further and further to the left, teaming up with David Villa, but also closing some of Abidal’s and Thiago’s forward lanes.

It was, however, because of that movement that Barça got a goal. Pedro swept out wide on the left and held the forward line with Villa, allowing Thiago to step inside and slide the ball to Xavi, who, because of the tremendous amount of space afforded him by Pedro drawing a defender backwards, took a shot and narrowly missed scoring. The rebound fell to Adriano who drove the ball into the back of the net (possibly off of Messi, but you don’t see Marca giving him credit for the goal, oddly). The rest of the game went much as the first 11 minutes had, except there weren’t any more goals.

It should be noted that Sporting Gijon committed 19 fouls–or at least were penalized for 19–while Barça was only whistled against 7 times. That’s a pretty wide discrepancy and while Sporting fans should feel free to point out that the ref was regularly lenient with Barça tacklers and overly quick to stop play when Busquets and Andre Castro got anywhere near each other, what appeared to be a clear foul on Messi by Miguel de las Cuevas in the box was overlooked. At least Messi laughed about it this time (and then tried to steal a march on Sporting? I’m not sure what happened since the TV was showing replays instead of the game itself). A note on Andre Castro as well: while I don’t think that his fouls were nasty or, for two of them, even fouls at all, there were 3 of them right in a row and he somehow avoided a yellow card. A rather random match from Clos Gómez.

And then Abidal got injured. Fortunately it looks like it was just a muscle spasm and not an actual pull and he may even take part in the international matches this week. It was, however, another problem with a hamstring and it’s left me wondering what is going on in the trainer’s room these days. Did we lose staff from last year? Did we make changes to the physical regimen? Are we not stretching before games and practice sessions? Is Pique stabbing people in the hamstrings as a practical joke? Whatever the reason, I hope it gets fixed soon. Iniesta is due back for the next match, but Alexis Sanchez is set to be out for another month while Afellay may have lost his whole season to knee ligament damage. Fortunately we have Pedro, Villa, and Messi to man the front line and a fairly light schedule over the next few weeks: Racing, Viktoria Plzen, Sevilla, @Granada, Mallorca.

Only 1 Champions League match and only 1 away match. By the time Sanchez is healthy, we should have a full squad minus Ibi and hopefully we’re over our injury woes as we have a tough slate of matches in November: @Viktoria Plzen, @Athletic Bilbao, Real Zaragoza, @AC Milan, @Getafe. It could be worse, of course, but rested, healthy players would be nice to take with us on our trip to Japan in mid December. Jet-lag ain’t no joke, though being in shape apparently helps a lot with that. I wouldn’t know.

Our 3-4-3 was fairly effective today because of Adriano’s involvement and that was nice to see, though we gave up a bit of creativity on the wing when we included him. Because of the aforementioned injuries, however, there wasn’t much else to do and seeing his versatility (RB, LB, RW) was nice.

Photos: Denis Doyle/Getty Images Europe

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. It’s been a disastrous 22 days since 10 September. Sanchez, Iniesta, Afellay, Fabregas, Abidal all injured in succession. I fear it may be hurting the players’ confidence. Messi certainly doesn’t seem himself, regardless of the goals he’s scoring, though it could be the new formation that Guardiola is trying to implement.

  2. Nice review Isaiah, but you might want to double check the scoreline.

    I really hope that Sporting stays up, but to do that they are going to have to score some goals, and their top scorer from last (Diego Castro with 9) just left on a free transfer to Getafe. So it’s not looking good for them.

    Barcelona weren’t really clicking, but part of that was probably due to fatigue after playing in Belarus earlier this week, and part of that was due to Sporting playing their hearts out. They’ll get better.

  3. It’s interesting that you mention Pedro moving out to occupy space on the wings, because that’s one of the reasons Cesc is so effective at the tip of the midfield triangle.

    Cesc often moves out wide while he is playing that position, getting very close to one of the wingers. Interestingly he often takes up positions on the far side of the field from the ball. This allows him to help the winger overload the opposing fullback and really cause danger quickly when the ball is switched across the field. This can destabilize defenses as they don’t have time to cover for this overload as they do when the wingers have to wait for support from the fullbacks or a midfielder from deeper on the field.

    The problem with playing Pedro there (among others) is A. Pedro wasn’t exactly sure what his role was, and B. Pedro doesn’t read the game on the same level that Cesc does. Cesc has the hard to define ability to be at the right place at the right time AND the ability to create space for other players. Pedro has made a reputation of popping up when needed, but that is largely due to his ability to take advantage of space his teammates have created. Cesc not only can see where space is on the field, but he can magnify the amount of space with his intelligence and reading of the game.

    I don’t think Pedro is a good choice to fill in for Cesc at the tip of the midfield diamond. Actually, it’s hard to think of anyone on the team who can effectively fill in for him. Thiago is an option, but his displays have been much more disciplined this season (on a side note, I think Pep is challenging him to be more disciplined on purpose this year to build his positional awareness and to help him develop that facet of his game).

    This is one of the problems I see with the 3-4-3. Instead of just having the “Messi-position” that no one else on the team can really effectively play (except, I would argue, Cesc), we’ve added the “Cesc-position” which I’m not sure anyone on the team (besides Messi) can effectively fill in at.

  4. Great match by the team. Loved how everybody played their parts. Just a couple of issues I noticed in the match.

    First issue in the match was that the Barca midfield were a little disjoint. This is because of the way the midfield link up play between Xavi and Thiago unfolded. No criticism of Thiago here. He is a fantastic player. Iniesta usually sticks to Xavi looking for a pass, whereas in this match, Thiago mostly stuck to his position. As a result Xavi could not do as many give and go’s. On the contrary Thiago and Villa had their own microcosm going on on the left side of the pitch without any support from rest of the team. In this match Xavi did not have a partner in crime, like Iniesta or Fabregas to make quick passes when he got to forward positions, which was a big factor why Barca had trouble breaking the bus.

    Second issue was the false 9 position which was being occupied by Pedro. His job was primarily to draw defenders to him so Messi could have space to do his magic. He was unsuccessful in his job. Messi had to beat twice as many defenders as a result of Pedro not being able to draw defenders towards him. This does not have any bearing on Pedro as a player. He is a wonderful player. But this is just how it played out tactically. I think most people have already discussed this issue to death. I have nothing more to add.

  5. Dios mio, 6 months for Affelay? Looks like we’re really going to have to trust in the power of La Masia in the near future. How long our Fabregas and Abidal out for?

    The one problem that seemed impossible this season was being light in the midfield. Perhaps Messi in more of traditional forward midfield position?

    Thank god Adriano is the man and I assume he will play every minute in upcoming games. Perhaps more of Maxwell too with Adriano up?

    Looks like Puyol will need to get back to full speed right away too.

    Let’s heard predicted line-ups.

    1. Both Fabregas and Abidal look likely to return in time for the next league game. Iniesta is back already. Alexis…maybe another couple of weeks. We are in reasonable shape.

      Poor Afellay may lose his whole season, though. 🙁

    2. Good, now I can sleep like a baby tonight. Missing Sanchez still hurts though.

      If Abidal is back, we can always throw El Capitan up to wing:) Probably not in shape enough yet to do that but pretty funny to know it’s a possibility. Puyol, Adriano, and Alvez could all start on forward/wing for most teams in the world, arguably Abidal too.

      Damn it feels good to be a Gangster.

  6. I guess it’s Karma. We used to make fun of Arsenal and their injury crisis. And now we have got ourselves one. Sigh.

    Where is Kxevin?

  7. This hamstring injury count is really worrying.
    How many hamstring injuries did we have last year?
    We have already suffered four of them.
    Cesc curse or not, it has to be something.
    Alexis really needs to come back and integrate quickly with the team.

  8. Now that Iniesta is back, could Thiago move into the ‘false Messi’ position vacated by the injury to Cesc?

  9. Apparently Michael Laudrup will be featuring on tonight’s Revista de la Liga. Might be worth a download!

    1. It looks like Caparrós is taking over the Dane’s old gig.

      Algunos futbolistas que tuvo a sus órdenes dicen que es un vendedor de humo, un tribunero que maneja el mensaje y los actos para calar entre el personal; otros le tienen como un forjador de ilusiones, un catalizador de la cantera, con valentía y pedagogía de sobra para convertir a adolescentes en profesionales. Al margen de fobias y filias, Joaquín Caparrós es un tipo avispado, un entrenador visceral, metódico y con un punto obsesivo que hasta la fecha garantiza resultados, un técnico acostumbrado a partir de situaciones complicadas como la que le espera en Mallorca.

  10. “It’s a scandal!” screamed headline on the front cover of Tuesday’s Mundo Deportivo, alongside a picture of a grinning Leo Messi sitting on his backside.
    “What’s a scandal?” thought La Liga Loca, trying to put itself into the heads of the MD journalists – not a fantastic place to be, even for a few seconds.
    After shivering uncontrollably in a corner for ten minutes after the experience, the blog gave up and looked inside the paper to see what was cooking MD’s chicken just two days into the traditional whack-job fest in the Spanish media calendar – the international break.

  11. It’s hard to put a finger on what’s missing, but here’s one way to think about it. In a classic sports dichotomy, you know that each player needs the other. Their whole careers would be different, and somehow lesser, if they hadn’t been faced with this rival. (Yes, even if the void meant they would have won more games.) Had Roger Federer never taken up tennis, Rafa Nadal’s legacy would be altered beyond recognition. Same goes for Russell-Chamberlain, Brady-Manning, Ali-Frazier, and any number of others. But how would Messi’s legacy change if Ronaldo were a waiter in Lisbon right now? It’s a little easier to say how Ronaldo’s career would be different if Messi had never played — Madrid might never have plonked down $130 million to buy him if they didn’t need a counterweight to the Argentine star. But he’d still be a divisive superstar scoring absurd numbers of goals for one of the world’s biggest teams. It would just be a question of which one.

    Actually, that’s only half true. Ronaldo’s game wouldn’t be transformed (nor would the mirrored shades, rhinestone belt buckles, hair-gel doomsdays, et al.), but the way he’s perceived might be. Ronaldo is, at the moment, pretty seriously underappreciated by soccer fans. Everyone agrees that he’s a great player, but he’s a great player whom it’s weirdly cool to disparage. English commentators speculate about whether he’s really better than Nani.3 Aficionados turn up their noses at his high-octane, super-elaborate, step-over-heavy style.

    1. “The speedo-sporting asshole of the pair.” Had to laugh. Ronaldo gets a lot of shtick, I think, most of it unfairly. He is a hell of a player and Real’s best player. He’s a bit of an ass, but what can you do, eh?

    2. I agree on the article pretty much,but most of us always compare him wrt messi,which is unfair and thats why he is underrated.

      off the field i know he has done some good stuffs which we cules dont wanna recognize

  12. This whole injury thing may indeed be contagious, maybe even virtually – I blew out a calf (fortunately not a hamstring, I assume this is a weakening due to virtual contagion) myself last night at my son’s practice. Ouch! If you haven’t done one of these lately or ever (I didn’t much until I got old) it’s easy to forget how it seems to come from nowhere, without warning, when you least expect it, and you think you are fine without a care in the world just before it happens, …and then just how debilitating it can be for a while. It hits you mentally really quickly. Sigh… I thought I was fine…so easy to take walking for granted. Makes you appreciate and admire what these guys do day in day out at the highest levels, they are phenomenal.

    1. Ha!

      I injured my knee playing padel (a Spanish game which is a cross between tennis and squash) about the same time as Afellay was injured.

      My thoughts echo yours!

      Hope that you recover soon. My physiotherapist is working hard with me to get me going again.

    2. Thanks. You too nzm! Get well soon. Knees can be tricky, good luck to you. Hope all goes well. It is frustrating being “compromised”, but patience is a virtue, and discipline in recovery helps. Still, time takes, time.

    1. ‘dweeb’ 😆

      Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Piquira is still on. Shakira just tweeted, “Good luck to the ESP NT and my number 3, muah!”

      Dunno why people believed a Mexican tabloid in the first place. Silly, silly gente.

  13. I mustache you all a question but I’m shavin’ it for when Cesc cuts his hair. #mensfacialhygiene

  14. Whoa! (via PedrithoFCB over at Twitter):

    Barça→ 12 penales a favor en 121 partidos. Sólo CR7→ 11 penales en 40 partidos. Platinato, Villarato, todos ayudan al Barça y bla bla bla.

    1. This might also be a testament to how much less time we spend in the box. Usually when we’re in the box, an opponent is already doomed. Too late to foul, or do anything except watch the ball hit the back of the net.

    2. I read something like that on MD and Sport too. It’s a good point. I only hope it doesn’t stoop to the levels Relano over at AS and his former colleague at Marca have done over the years. Those two grabbed any scrap they could get their hands on and magnified to suit their needs.
      I prefer not to talk about the refs. A ref makes a mistake and they crucify him. A striker misses an open net and nothing happens. The incident I am thinking of is the game at Stamford bridge. Everyone including Drogba could not stop talking of how Chelsea were robbed. Few pointed out that actually Drogba had missed two sitters in two games… They do this because it’s easier to empathize with anger than with rational thought and because players don’t like facing their own shortcomings.
      I tell ya it is considerably better not getting penalties than getting them. That’s the PR battle half won right there.

    3. “I tell ya it is considerably better not getting penalties than getting them. That’s the PR battle half won right there.”

      ??? :/ ??? Not sure if serious.

    4. It’s a twisted logic, the ref thing. Barca outclassed Arsenal in March; it was Arsenal who won the PR battle and so saved Wender from humiliation. AS and Marca prattle on and on of how the refs don’t give them penalties only when they don’t win. Why? Because it’s convenient. Not getting penalties gives you an exterior motive for why you lost or didn’t win and so it is in that sense better. It’s counter-instinctive.

  15. Valenti Guardiola (father): “I’m a bricklayer. Josep came to help a few days, but he didn’t like it. It was not his thing.” [tv3 via sport via barcastuff’s fb page]

    Imagine that!

    1. I suspect that if Pep had stuck to bricklaying he would have ended up building beautiful crazy castles in the sky like Gaudi…

    2. Instead of starting from the bottom up with the foundation, he would start from the top.
      Or instead of the bottom being bigger and wider, it’s the other way around.

    3. Ha. I think he would note the process included 3 elements, the defensive Mortar that holds everything together, the Brick itself which sits in the middle, and the attacking Spade to start a new brick.

      But he would come to the conclusion and ask his father “Why do we need all three??” Surely we can make all the pieces bricks, that fit perfect together so need to mortar and no spade, for the most fluid, dynamic, quick to build driveway possible?

    1. My hats off to him…handling it in a very classy manner when he has every right to rant. I’m not sure what is going on in the mind of these so called football fans..but psychological help is obviously needed. How about those despicable atleti fans and their chants about Antionio Puerta(RIP) during the atleti- sevilla game? This is going beyond the game and into something personal. Hopefully someone can come up with a solution to prevent situations like these from occurring ever again.

  16. Villa has a hamstring niggle, sayeth Sport, while with the NT

    Pilates for the Barça first team..pronto!

    1. Don’t panic. Reports are that it is just a minor muscle fatigue and he left as a precaution. VDB won’t injure our prize striker–Silva or Torres probably bribed Villa to fake it anyway, so they could get some playing time. 😛

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