On Song But Out of Tune: Barcelona 2 – 0 Viktoria Plzen

At 8:58 on the clock, Valdes collects an errant clear from a defender. He passes it to Xavi, who pass it to Adriano on the wing, it goes back to Xavi, who pivots and sends it halfway crossfield to Iniesta near the half line. Iniesta dribbles forward and sents a ball to Messi, playing between Plzen’s banks of 4 defenders. Messi turns sideways with the ball and scuttles around the defenders coming back. He passes square to Xavi who has a man on his back and deftly flicks it to Adriano on the left wing. Adriano taps it to Busquets, who taps it to Iniesta. At this moment Pedro and Villa are occupying the two extreme flanks with Xavi and Messi playing on either side of the semi circle. Plzen is deployed in a flat 4-4-1-1, with the support striker defending Busi. Iniesta steps forward and one of the midfielders moves out to defend him. He pushes the ball around him and Messi steps back to give him a return pass. The defender nearest Messi steps up to defend Messi if he determines to keep the ball, but Messi has already given the ball back to Iniesta and the defender steps to his right to get in the way of Iniesta’s dribble. Messi merely stands where he was and Iniesta gives him a one-touch return pass and Messi is able to pivot and face goal before the ball arrives. Iniesta is, at this point, occupying not only the defender he has just beaten, but also the two defenders stationed in front of Xavi and Messi’s defender. The wing back has moved off of Pedro to cover Messi, so Messi just returns the ball to Iniesta on a diagonal, splitting his defender and the wingback. Iniesta’s little run is being covered by the RCB, who has shaded across rather than really stepping forward. The ball hops up for a moment and Iniesta flicks it sideways by him and onto his left foot for a cool finish beyond the keeper. Golazo at 9:31.

It sounds so very stodgy and logical when you write it out, so here, watch it, love it:

Live, I tweeted this: “Goal by Iniesta. That was just shockingly good. You’d think I’d be used to this by now. But how can you get used to that?”

And really, it was a superb effort, an effort worthy of being sung about by bards with harps. It was the goal of the year so far (for Barça, at least) and it is worth slobbering over. So, I’ll give you a moment to slobber. Ho hum, ho hum, dum diddle diddle dum. Done? Okay.

So what’s wrong with Barça? The first 10 minutes of the match were a superb display of ability, but after that it seemed to become a question of who could be fanciest with the ball. Backheels flicks and pirouettes were put on show and the fans duly ooh-ed and aah-ed like the crowd at a small town fireworks display. But that the team was playing like they were up 4-0 against a Tercera D side. But they were up against a Champions League side, regardless of their European record, and, honestly, they beat Rosenborg and Copenhagen–and remember, Copenhagen gave us some games last year–so you can’t take any team lightly.

And yet…it should have been 5-0, at least. By minute 20 we’d had 4 opportunities that, had you known they were coming, you would have bet large amounts of money on them scoring. But you’d have lost because, for some reason unbeknownst to mere mortals such as, well, everyone other than The Yaya, the team couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Or, rather, Messi couldn’t do anything other than fluff his lines. It was like watching Ian McKellen stumbling over MacBeth’s most important words. Minute 21 is a great example. Busi finds him with a tremendous throughball and Messi, with a defender on his back and the keeper in front of him, pushes the ball directly at the keeper and allows the defender to arm bar him out of the way.

But you know who was totally awesome and is going to win my Man of the Match award simply by being totally awesome? David Villa. The least of what he did was score that second goal. He was a workhorse out there, constantly moving, creating space, and most importantly, tracking all the way back on defense. At least twice he was on hand to stop a potentially serious attack and other times he was looking to make sure that things were covered and that he didn’t need to make a frantic dash back. Feel free to argue this decision in the comments, but I’ll just say that he created the second goal. How’s about that for hustle paying off?

Let’s also handle this: there wasn’t a penalty on Messi in the 23rd minute. I know it’s in fashion to say “The ref didn’t call a penalty!” Right, but the proper complaint in this situation is that a ludicrously bad offside call was made before that. Iniesta was completely onside–3 guys were holding him on!–but it was called anyway. Would it have been a penalty had the offside call not gone? Well, would it have been a penalty had pigs come out of my butt and swarmed the field? Who knows! It never got to that point. But Messi looked like he was trying to earn back the “best goal of the game” award instead of slotting in teammates. And he almost did it.

His second half run that ended with him schooling 3 players and hitting the post would have won the individual highlight award and his freekick to end the half would have been a highlight for a good long while as well. But neither went in and he seemed to get petulant late, as if he deserved the goal that fell to Villa. While it’s possible it was just his injury nagging him, he didn’t celebrate the goal and looked very downcast.

My solution to that? Sub him off. If he’s your most important player, a possible Achilles injury should be treated with a measure of sobriety. Sure, he may have said he was fine and could play the final 15, but take him off anyway. Sevilla is this weekend and you can put in Cuenca and Thiago. But it was 1-0 and Guardiola is bound by some strange law I wasn’t aware of to keep Messi on the field regardless of form or health.

They should have scored at least one. Let’s just put that out there. Barça was complacent at times and they should have paid for it in goals. Yet they didn’t and now Valdes’ current clean sheet streak is at 94,038,761 minutes. Which is a lot of games unless you’re Man United, in which case it’s just one game where you’re behind. Snark! Sure, Viktoria Plzen didn’t have any shots, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t inches from getting onto the end of something a couple of times–and once Alves tried to decapitate Valdes and gift them a goal.

You can check out extended highlights here (Messi’s super run at 7:41 on that video in case the embedded quality above isn’t to your liking) and Guardiola talking about Iniesta in the post conference here. Those videos, as you can tell by the URL, are from 101 Great Goals.

Also, feel free to rate the players in the comments cause I simply can’t do it. Other than to give Valdes an 8.534. Cause hey clean sheet, but miscommunication with Alves and…nevermind. Just let us know what’s going on in this picture:

Photo from AFP

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Written by:

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.

84 Comments

  1. October 20, 2011

    Imagine how devastating we’ll be when we’re in tune.

    Yes, that sounds more and more like a cliche now..

  2. blitzen
    October 20, 2011

    I found this a very entertaining game to watch and I’m pleased with the result, if not the scoreline. Should have been 6- or 7-0 easily. Having the advantage of knowing the result beforehand, I found the near misses comedic rather than heart-attack-inducing, but Pep should seriously consider incorporating some basic target practice into the next training session! A few blitzen awards for you:

    MOTMOTM: Even without the “OTM”, it is Iniesta by a large margin. That goal was so beautiful it actually brought tears to my eyes. The entire game, his movement, his touch, his reading of space and where the ball was about to be, was just…breathtaking. When Iniesta is at his best, it is like watching music. This is why he is my favourite player in the world.

    Is This Real Life? Award: Less than 5 months ago Isaac Cuenca was playing in the 3rd tier of La Liga. Now he is playing (albeit for only 5 minutes) in the Champions’ League with the Best Team in the World, with every indication that more opportunities will be given him by the coach. He must wake up every morning pinching himself to make sure he isn’t still dreaming.

    Less Shiny, Happier People Award: The new kits look much better. They have lost that glossy, plasticky look and appeared much less sweat-soaked at the end of the match. I can only assume the breathability and weight problems have been worked out. And is it just me, or did they alter the design of the stripes slightly?

    I’m Ready For My Close-Up Award: With Plzň not taking a single shot on goal, Victor Valdes had plenty of time to practice his smoldering glare and pout for his new part-time career as a model. Women (and some men) around the world appreciate the Czechs’ generosity.

    Never Meet Your Heroes Award: Or if you do, try not to spend the entire game knocking them over in the penalty area, mmmk? Messi may never dive, but he’s not a weeble, either!

    Selfish Shellfish Award: Leo Messi, who on at least three occasions that I noticed failed to pass to a teammate (Pedro, Villa x 2) who was wide open and had a good scoring opportunity in favour of trying to dribble the ball through 5 defenders himself, with predictable results. Well, we did get a goal from one of them, but only because Villa was alert enough to get onto the deflection and rocket it into the back of the net.

    Dog With a Bone Award: Even after a full season and tons of minutes in important games, English commentators still insist on referring to Mascherano as a “backup” for Busquets and as “emergency coverage” at CB. Are they stupid, or just stubborn?

    • October 20, 2011

      I thought about making it Iniesta cause he was brilliant, but if I’m going to give out an award every time he does something brilliant, I’m quickly going to run out of trophies to mail to Barcelona. And money with which to do so (packages ain’t cheap!).

      Plus, Villa deserved mondo kudos for his workrate.

      • blitzen
        October 20, 2011

        So now we need a MOTMOTMOI (Man Of The Match Other Than Messi Or Iniesta) award? 😛

        Agreed, Villa was working really hard, even my English commentators were talking about his tracking back and defending. He looked exhausted (and a little pissed off) when he came off for Cuenca.

  3. October 20, 2011

    Blasphemy: My best starting back line doesn’t include Pique.

    Alves/Mascherano/Puyol/Abidal

    Yep.

    There’s also an interesting Messi debate going on in the LiveBlog thread, that’s worth everyone’s attention.

  4. blitzen
    October 20, 2011

    I love that last view of Iniesta’s goal, from the GK’s perspective. Imagine seeing that play coming towards you, with the magical 1-2-3-4 back-and-forth between Messi & Iniesta, the ball zipping so fast your defenders can’t track it, much less capture it, and knowing in your bones that if the one doesn’t score the other will, with the inevitability of the sun rising in the east.

  5. Eklavya
    October 20, 2011

    I missed the match. Saw the highlights just now though. Wow, those were some crazy dribbles by Messi 😯 The peanuts were not with him yesterday!

  6. barca96
    October 20, 2011

    It’s ok Kxevin, I love your Jordan analogy.

    What a wonderful post from Sheena. I totally agree with her. Even though the stats are good but we all know that it could be so much better. Maybe he just misses his partner in crime- Cesc.

  7. October 20, 2011

    Hahaha I laughed out loud at the Man Utd dig.

    That said I agree in part, Villa was great last night and Iniesta was mesmerizing- Iniesta was just brain-buzzing gorgeous play for stretches of the game, especially the first half, and our attack seemed to flow all through him, which would just edge him over Villa for MOTM.

    That said, Villa worked like a dog, was one of the most noticeably useful players in defense, and was threatening offensively as well.

    Also, Isaiah- an asterisk after ‘Tercera D side’ and I’ve been looking (well, Ctrl+F’ing) for the other half of it. What was that asterisk for? Don’t leave me hanging.

      • October 20, 2011

        Fixed. I removed it and left the joke unsaid. Hope that makes more sense now.

        • Eklavya
          October 20, 2011

          Eh? So we’re just supposed to pretend that the asterix never existed?! Are you joking?!

  8. barca96
    October 20, 2011

    Why didn’t Pep bring Messi off? The guy was really hurt! Pep really needs to man up sometimes.

    I thought to myself while he was limping that it is better to have an energetic player like Thiago and CUenca in his place rather than him limping around and possibly risking himself. TO my delight Cuenca came on but not for Messi.

  9. cita
    October 20, 2011

    Generally just a lurker, but in case folks weren’t aware (sorry if I’m repeating something that’s already been said and I missed it), Barca is currently livestreaming the new Masia opening ceremony: http://www.youtube.com/fcbarcelona

    The youtube feed is English dubbing.

    • nzm
      October 20, 2011

      Worth watching just to catch glimpses of our boys in attendance!

      • October 20, 2011

        Saw the alert on facebook, the dubbing in english is nice. Pretty cool spectacle with the fireworks now. The faces Pep has been making have been hilarious.

    • footballfan
      October 20, 2011

      Very interesting, especially the video about life in La Masia for the kids.

  10. Gogah
    October 20, 2011

    you pretty much spoke my mind.
    after a point it was a little annoying seeing messi throw away opportunities in search of that ‘best goal’. sometimes the best goal is just the goal scored. Why must he always insist on doing the ’rounding the keeper and chipping the ball onto himself over a defender’ trick when Villa is always waiting. Villa was definitely motm for me and i just cant get it why we dont run enough plays down the left. why are we NEVER playing him over the top balls behind the defense for villa to run onto.
    i just dont get it.
    but i do know they are deliberately avoiding it. Iniesta goal was orgasmic. i still cant believe how me makes it look so casual. Don Andres indeed. Infact the match started out superbly with alves having a glorious chance after a similar exchange of one – twos. If only Alves could keep a cool head in the box.

  11. olbucky
    October 20, 2011

    Kxkevin whatever happened to your player ratings? I miss them.

  12. hammeronmessi
    October 20, 2011

    iniesta,the most elegant player i have ever seen,but apart from the first goal he did nothing special,IMO.on the other hand,Villa was awesome in every department(he has still got offsidedititis).

    messi was sale fish,in the 2nd half he was trying to do all by himself.but the re action from our fans is too much,his task is different from iniesta,xavi,dv and pedro.if messi plays in the role of xavi or iniesta he can play as good as them if not better,but if iniesta plays in his position can he do 20% of what messi does?no, a big no.so please give him slack.

    messi is so far ahead of the others that he doesnt need to play an entire good game,just a couple of moments in a match,and the job is done.in the SSC 2nd half he was MOTM playing 90 minutes in full game on mood.agreed with sheena though,there is something missing,may be he needs the EE to feel that something again.

    can anybody tell why he didnt join in the goal celebration?its rather odd.

    • mega_tajh
      October 20, 2011

      I saw that to how he didn’t celebrate as much on Villa’s goal but then he eventually joined in afterwards. My assumption was that he thought he was surly to score and was disappointed in himself not to have and let the ball get cleared.

    • Jim
      October 21, 2011

      “he did nothing special,”

      Not for me. He looked dangerous throughout. His only “fault” imo is that he is so humble he is the sort of player who is prepared to let others shine unless he is needed. FWIW, Iniesta is probably a better dribbler than Messi but doesn’t have Messi’s acceleration.

      • blitzen
        October 21, 2011

        He also doesn’t have Messi’s physical strength to bounce off defenders and bull his way through. I don’t know if you can say that Iniesta is a “better” dribbler, but I have always said that no one in the world has a better first touch and control of the ball.

  13. hammeronmessi
    October 20, 2011

    @kxevin
    Blasphemy: My best starting back line doesn’t include Pique.

    Alves/Mascherano/Puyol/Abidal

    Yep.

    yes,masche and puyol doesnt complement each other,cb pairings shoul complement each other.there must be pique and alves in that backline.

    my ideal is

    alves/puyol/pique/abidal. 2nd one is

    alves/masch/shakira.abi

    • October 20, 2011

      Who says Mascherano and Puyol aren’t complementary? Not I. Mascherano excellent positionally, gets up and back like a demon and is our best tackler.

  14. Helge
    October 20, 2011

    Damn…

    Spanish sides not doing good in Europe this season. And the EPL is racking up loooots of points for the 5 years rating *puke*

    How can Bilbao trail Salzburg with 2 goals at half-time, @ San Mames ?!?

  15. adopted cule
    October 20, 2011

    My only criticism of Messi yesterday was that his finishing was off and at times he lost his close control. I found him a willing passer and his propensity to try to dribble his way through to goal was exactly what was needed to crack open the defense. He should have had at least one more assist and he was fouled 4 times in the box, twice clearly (the obstruction in which Iniesta should not have been ruled offside and on the unbelievable run toward the left post in the second half when he was clipped at the top of the box but didn’t go down). Tremendous last gasp defending from Plzen and his own lack of sharpness in front of goal (in which he was surely not alone on the day) are the only things that kept him from scoring 4 or more. He was easily the most dynamic and dangerous player on the pitch. I am flummoxed by the accusations of selfishness on his part.

    • Sheena
      October 20, 2011

      I’d say Iniesta was by far the most dynamic and dangerous player on the pitch, not Messi.

      And a very large part of that owed to the fact that Iniesta simply passed more instead of trying to go for goal himself. Defenders didn’t know what to do with him. When they surrounded him, he simply passsed the ball off to one of his teammates and the move would continue.

      Messi repeatedly darted into a crowd of defenders and tried to dribble past all of them. It would have been amazing if some of those dribbles had ended in goals, but here’s the thing: they didn’t. Would we be saying the things we were if those moves had come off for him? Probably not.

      Over and over again Messi would leave Villa or Pedro wide open in front of goal waiting for the pass/cutback and take a shot himself. It just didn’t make sense.

      Sometimes I think we all adore Messi so much that we’re afraid to criticize him. Is he a bad player? Not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that we’ve all seen what he can do at his best, this is most definitely not it.

  16. Kimcelona
    October 20, 2011

    I posted a responce to the Messi debate in the other thread but I’d like to reiterate it here as well:

    Its still only the beginning of the season. Who knows if Pep has been the one telling him to take players on. I have really only seen these long dribbles in one or two games and both games involved a team which conformed to defending deep with no less tha 8 players behind the ball. Running at defenders is needed, I think, for these kind of set ups. How many times have people here complained that Villa and Pedro needs to take defenders on more? Well yesterday Messi did it for them and I think with the idea of entertaining the crowd as well. What would be better is if, instead of standing around all the time watching Messi in awe, other players would run beside or within him, maybe he would have better options for a pass and or maybe the other players can pick up loose balls and capitalize on goal chances/opportunities.

    Also, I really think if Messi has scored a hattrick yesterday there wouldnt be as much outcry of selfishness as there have been. Its all about luck and bad finishing to me though.

    Villa was my MOTMOTM too.
    I love it when Daveed gets recognized here. By the way, he has 3 goals so far in as many games in the CL. Hope he keeps it up. Hes been much improved so far this season.
    Don Andres was a close second.

    On another note, is anyone as excited as I am for the return of Alexis and Cesc to the team.
    And whatever happened to Nuri Sahin, you know that Turikish, ex-Dortmund guy EE signed in the summer? Is he still a player there? What is his mystery illness/injury?

    • Sheena
      October 20, 2011

      One or two of those long dribbles is fine. But he’s trying it all the time and it’s beginning to get a bit predrictable.

      We sometimes complain about Villa and Pedro not taking defenders on because usually, there’s no better option and they need to be more aggressive to make something happen.

      You don’t repeatedly try to take on players when there’s an unmarked teammate in the box to whom you could easily slide a pass to.

        • mega_tajh
          October 20, 2011

          YESS exactly on Villa goal he could have easily pass to a very open Pedro but didn’t. Far from us to question Messi but this is happening quite frequently in games these season. I can only assume that it is direct instructions from Pep since we all know Pep would’ve correct him privately about it,

        • Kimcelona
          October 21, 2011

          But you said it yourself earlier though. If they had ended in goals we wouldnt be complaining. And Messi doesnt try it ALL the time. He does it when there seems to be an opportunity to do it. MOST of the time he gets pass all the defenders and its only the finishing that lets him down or the goalie saves or a defender FOULS him (which should be called). So my question remains, where are all the people who are supposed to be around for support or the so called people around who were supposedly available for a pass? Quite a number of times everyones standing around seemingly watching in awe as Messi dribbles, when they could be there to pick up the loose ball and/or rebound.

          Furthermore, if it was so predictable he wouldnt be able to do it “all the time” as you say. I still maintain that its sometimes necessary to do it, like against teams who defend with 10 behind the ball. And who”s to say Pep isnt the one telling him to take players on in these kind of matches.

          Ofcourse Messi is not exempt from criticism and he does make the wrong decisions sometimes in whether he should go for goal, shoot or pass but I just dont see where he was sooo selfish yesterday or generally for that matter.

          • Sheena
            October 21, 2011

            But you see, they didn’t end in goals. You don’t take a shot that has a 50% chance of going in, when there’s an unmarked teammate who would almost certainly score if he was passed to. And you definitely don’t do it multiple times in a match.

            Yes, he gets past four out of five defenders, but then there’s that fifth one that steps in and nicks the ball away at the last moment. I’m willing to bet that the fifth defender doesn’t get there if he passes the ball off instead of trying to go in on his own. When you’ve got that many defenders on you, the probability of one of your teammates being open is fairly high. So pass.

            If his finishing is letting him down, it’s probably because he’s attempting to shoot from angles from which the likelyhood of him scoring are much lower than that of his teammates waiting for the pass.

            There was a move in the first half where Messi was put through by a chip from Busi. He took the shot even though he had the keeper to beat and was under pressure from 2 defenders. Meanwhile, Pedro and Xavi were available in the middle of the box, waiting for the pass that never came.

            As mega_tajh points out, in the build up to Villa’s goal, after he was passed the ball he had the keeper and a couple of defenders bearing down on him. Last season, you’d almost always see him pass to a wide open Pedro on the left. This time, he tried to steady himself to take the shot, and was fouled. Was it a penalty? Probably. But penalties aren’t always called and it’s always better to pick the option that guarantees a goal.

            The reason that his teammates aren’t running right beside him looking to pick up the ball if he loses it could be (I wouldn’t know for sure, this is purely speculation) because they never had to do so in the past. The Messi of old nearly always looked to pick out a teammate. I remember reading an article a few months ago regarding Mascherano’s intergration at Barca that touched on how Pep taught him that to be of more use to his teammates, he should move away from the ball to make himself availble for the pass instead of running towards the player with the ball. The same thing probably applies here.

            Like I said before, it could very well be that Pep has instructed him to hold on to the ball more. Far be it from me to question Pep, but even he must know that the side could serve to gain a lot more if Messi brought back some of those killer passes.

            I’m not saying that he doesn’t pass the ball at all. He had some great combination play with Alves, and he was one of the few players who could have executed the skill required to create Iniesta’s goal. The guy has immense talent and when he needs to, he throws it down so hard it threatens to make a hole in the pitch. He just needs to find his spark again, that’s all.

          • jordi™
            October 21, 2011

            Sorry –

            “Last season, you’d almost always see him pass to a wide open Pedro on the left”

            -is not true at all.Messi clean through on goal always takes the shot, next season,last season, the season before.The only mistake he made there was not shooting first time.

          • jordi™
            October 21, 2011

            All 23 assists

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xpfl1Zi-bLc

            I think you’ll find none of them are situations where it was better for him to take the shot.Its one thing if you talk about situations like the one when he hit the post, or the side netting, those were excessive, but the villa goal when he was facing the goalkeeper? He’d only pass up a chance like that if the player he could assist was in some mega goal drought.Actually when that ‘team-mate in drought” scenario happens he almost obsessively goes into set up mode.

            In any event, when it matters, even this season, he still has shown he’ll make the right decision.Just look at the Valencia game, his dribbling was poor but he still recognised that and made the passes, including probably one of the best passes I ever saw to villa while surrounded by 5 players.

  17. blaunero
    October 20, 2011

    So has Fabregas been cleared to play vs Sevilla on Saturday?-, or must we wait till the trip to Granada? Sanchez has been 6 weeks out, or close to that to make no difference. Any news on his return?

    • blitzen
      October 20, 2011

      Dubbed in English, btw.

      That one kid was all “I got to touch Puyol! Yay!”. Adorable.

      And Pep was practically in tears from love and pride for his club. Awwww!

      • nzm
        October 21, 2011

        I think that Pep was in tears because he was thinking about what he could have done with all that money spent on the fireworks.

        He could have made thousands of colour copies. 😀

      • nzm
        October 21, 2011

        Actually, it was probably more to do with the fact that La Masia is now named after Oriol Tort who is the talent scout who discovered Pep, Xavi and Iniesta among others.

  18. mega_tajh
    October 20, 2011

    Hoping Malaga can land Hulk like its being reported/rumored.

    • Ryan
      October 20, 2011

      Hold on, didn’t Porto reject something along the lines of 80 million from that rich Russian team? Buying Cazorla would be pennies compared to buying Hulk!

      • mega_tajh
        October 20, 2011

        They didn’t reject it transfer window closed before deal finalized, his true valuation should be around the 30 Mil mark. IMO he’s a good player to rise them up.

        • jordi™
          October 20, 2011

          What they really need is defenders. Mathijsen and Demichelis are just too slow in both recovery speed and general reactions. Id invest in a goalkeeper better than wily caballero too.

        • Ryan
          October 20, 2011

          Ah, Football Ramble must have been mistaken then. They were having a laugh about how apparently Porto received an 80 million offer, asked for 2-3 more, and then saw their counter-offer get rejected.

          And what ever happened to Sergio Asenjo? I thought he went to Malaga…

          • mega_tajh
            October 20, 2011

            Yeah I always thought they kept Asenjo, guess it was a loan. I also agree they need new defenders but who will they be able to sign come Jan, they should keep their defensive shopping for the summer, when with Pelle eye for talent sign well.

          • October 21, 2011

            Yeah Asenjo went on a season-long loan from Atletico. They had De Gea then and Asenjo had been very streaky since his great spell at Valladolid.

  19. October 21, 2011

    The Football Pantheon, they try to make objective measurements and judgements to rank various historical footballing stuff like greatest club and greatest international sides of all time, greatest players, etc. Not definitive, of course, but still interesting to see that four of our current players are in the top 100, with Messi, Iniesta and Xavi all in the top 30.

    Goes to show just like from previous great sides this side also has players that will be remembered as all-time legends. Messi is already in the reckoning for one of the best ever, of course. Xaviesta has to be one of the great duos of all time and Villa is one of the great international strikers from any era both in terms of goals and trophies for Spain. Departed players from the Pep era are also there, with Henry and Eto’o in the list as well.

    http://footballpantheon.com/2011/09/the-100-greatest-players-of-all-time/16/

  20. blitzen
    October 21, 2011

    Just going to back to Kxevin’s idea of what works in the backline, the CB pairings that work for me are (in no particular ranking):

    Masch – Puyol (I think Puyol should be on the left side for this one)
    Puyol – Pique
    Puyol – Fontas
    Puyol – Abidal
    Masch – Abidal
    Fontas – Abidal (theoretically)
    Puyol – Busquets (if desperate)
    Busquets – Abidal (if really desperate)

    No to:
    Pique – Fontas (no pace)
    Masch – Pique (no leadership)
    Masch – Fontas (same)
    Busi – anyone else not mentioned above

    • nzm
      October 21, 2011

      Agreed.

      If the team is desperate enough to have to play Busquets back there, then there has to be at least one mongrel beside him with pace and slide tackles.

      If he can help it, Buckets only goes to ground if he falls over in a tackle made against him,

    • Jim
      October 21, 2011

      Puyol/ Pique gets my vote by a long way ( certainly atm and assuming Puyol gets back to usual sharpness). Mascherano has covered very well at CB , including big games such as the CL final, and is still improving but the acid test is who would I want out against RM and for me it’s not even that close. It may just be that Masch has had to put up with a string of different partners but for me so far I think he’s good at the one on one tackle but I’m not as convinced about his positional sense in open play and I also like the height offered by Pique ( who is also still improving btw).

      On the other topic, I hope I look forward to hearing all the objections about Messi being selfish next time he saves our skins by running past four defenders. You can’t pick and choose. He’s making decisions in the blink of an eye and based on gut instinct. Over the past season he has provided some of our best passes as well as our best goals. This will be a different team the day Messi is injured and the rest have to take the strain of breaking down a parked bus.

      Finally, my MOTM, and at the risk of being boring, was Xavi. I know, it usually is. However, I can’t take my eyes off him when he plays in midfield. He does things so simply that we don’t even remember them at the end of the match but when you see them again . . . I like this short compilation.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAxI8VkKK4k

      • October 21, 2011

        I agree. Pique-Puyol by a long way. I like both Puyol-Masch and Pique-Masch too.

        Pique-Masch I quite like actually. That’s even what I see as the long-term future for our defense when Puyol has to retire eventually (hopefully many years later). I don’t think there’s necessarily a lack of leadership there, Pique can be an idiot at times but he steps up whenever needed and held the defense together as the constant playing alongside a whole series of centre-backs (Puyol, then Abidal, then Busquets which I dind’t like much, then Mascherano) last season.

        I think Pique’s height, positioning, calmness and swagger is still our best bet in defense whenever he’s fit. Not to mention I think he makes the team better with his presence in an attacking sense as well. He’s bossed some of the best attackers in the world lest you forget, and occasional lapses will leave his game with time.

      • mom4
        October 21, 2011

        He’s making decisions in the blink of an eye and based on gut instinct.
        There were times when I was screaming at the TV for Messi to pass. Sure there were times when he should have passed the ball. But on that one run(second half) that ended up in the side netting (or did it hit the post?), you know the one were someone(was it Villa?) was wide open in the box, I got to thinking that the whole play took 2-3 seconds, he was creating something out of nothing, and how much time do you have to look up when you’re taking on 4 defenders. Could he have passed through all those defenders, could he see Villa through all those defenders, and if he takes his eyes off the ball for the pass surely one of said defenders gets the ball?

        Who knows, maybe Pep said to him, “They’re parking a bus. Run at them to destabilize the defense and see what we we can get out of it.” Most games, those shots go in and then he’s a hero.

        Aren’t forwards supposed to be a little greedy anyway? At least the good ones. He gets a pass from me for a while; I think he’s earned it.

      • Kimcelona
        October 21, 2011

        Jim, lovely post!
        I especially agree with your two cents in the Messi debate.
        Amen to that.

      • blitzen
        October 21, 2011

        Masch has done exceptionally well adapting to the CB position, but his weakness is communication with the GK. He needs someone like Puyol or Abidal beside him for that.

        • mom4
          October 21, 2011

          When he figures out communication with the goalie, perhaps he can teach Dani a thing or two. 🙂

          • nzm
            October 21, 2011

            I think that it has more to do with the non-communication from Valdes. He needs to be shouting out a bit more about his intentions. Dani wasn’t even aware that Valdes was anywhere near him the other night. It’s up to the GK in those situations to be screaming that he’s got it.

          • mom4
            October 21, 2011

            It would have been comical if it hadn’t been so dangerous (both for the outcome of the game and the health of VV and Dani). Really, I like that VV isn’t one of those screaming, bossy keepers but sometimes you got to yell, and not just to say Chut de bol to me.

        • yev
          October 21, 2011

          Puyi is just irreplaceable, but its amazing how well mach has adapted. I tend to think Xavi as great as he is, is more of a lead by example kind of a guy and a perfect co-captain. So here’s hoping for a few more years of captain caveman; but who will take the future armband? I’d feel better when Pique starts focusing more on order and less on his pranks…until then he is in good hands

          – Xavi: “Puyol is unbearable on the field. He concentrates for all 90 minutes and doesn’t stop for a second with ‘Pelopo, watch your back!’ and things like that. He doesn’t rest. Sometimes I think, ‘poor Piqué’ because he’s stuck next to Puyol and is forced endure his screaming.”

          – Piqué: “there was one game in which we were winning 4-0. When the ball went out of bounds, he started yelling at me. He told me that my head wasn’t in the game. I replied that there were only five minutes left, but it was useless… Puyi teaches you to give everything you have until the referee blows the whistle.”

          -from: http://rulethepitch.com/

          • yev
            October 21, 2011

            The way barca plays, as a system, i feel like as difficult as it is for external elements to adapt (ibra), i like how sometimes players try new things and make the system adapt to their strengths.

            For example with cesc, we tried the 3-4-3. Busi as CB demands different coordination as when he is DM. That is why everyone is so excited about more playing time for Alexis…and to some degree why Messi allegedly is looking “more selfish”; he may just be trying new things…
            TBH, i think its still kind of early for any real judgement to be made as to messi’s decision making; i feel we gather a better picture of what pep asks of his players when the system is placed under stress…but I could be wrong there

            anyway, I found this article by sid lowe to add to the puyi quotes: how different talents and personalities learn to work together and add new dimensions to the team/system:

            “Piqué has changed Puyol’s career too. More than that: Puyol admits that Piqué has changed his life. But for the former Manchester United player, Puyol might be a former Barcelona player. Opposites don’t just attract, they enhance – and these two could hardly be more different.”

            http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2011/may/26/gerard-pique-carles-puyol-barcelona

  21. hammeronmessi
    October 21, 2011

    can anybody tell where is JNICE?

  22. hammeronmessi
    October 21, 2011

    regarding the messi debate,i advise all to read the posts of mom 4 and jim.

    and i asked this question and i am gonna ask again.

    if messi plays in the iniesta role he can play as good as iniesta, if not better,but if iniesta plays in messis role,can iniesta produce 20% of messis productivity?

    iniesta is the most elegant player i have ever seen,if somebody takes iniesta over messi in the same way somebody takes cr over messi,no problem,everybody has a preference,but please dont ever compare anybody with messi,he is that far ahead of everybody.G always say the first player in his team sheet is busi,but I think in all our minds we all know that its messi.

    he can be greedy sometimes,can sometimes take on the entire defense,but without those traits we may never see the getafe goal,the CL 2nd leg EE goal,the zaraogoza goal,the liga 3 3 ee goal and countless other times.

    yes,he is not above criticism,but the amount of criticism/the debate is way way over the line.

    • mom4
      October 21, 2011

      Aw, hammer, I’m flattered. I’m just defendin’ my flea.

      To answer your question, IMO, yes, I think Messi could adapt to any role except perhaps GK, RB or CB. He would be great in Xavi’s role(if he could be disciplined enough(but that discipline would take away some of his edge)). He would be better at Ini’s position than Ini would be in his. Maybe when he gets older and slower he could move to a true midfield position. . Personally, I don’t see Iniesta as a false 9. Cesc would be better there if we’re resting(blasphemy) Messi and still want a formation with a false 9.

      One of the more knowledgeable BFBers would give you a better answer than I.

      • yev
        October 21, 2011

        total football: messi as GK!!!!

        /http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5cx0NYBwJC8

      • mega_tajh
        October 21, 2011

        It’s true what they say, Messi never dives……not even as a GK 🙂

  23. Calvin
    October 21, 2011

    My .02 on the Messi debate – I’m pretty sure he has more goals AND more assists than he ha at this point last year, or the year before, etc.

  24. yev
    October 21, 2011

    I agree with Jim and company but yea i did remember yelling at messi to pass, after of course lifing my jaw off the floor; but i usually am yelling for barca players to CHUUUT the ball! so i guess it balances out overall. I love this space, as everyone has provides great opinions and while we may not all agree overall it makes this site more interesting.

    Getting back to the messi question; it may have to be the way barca plays, as a system, i feel like as difficult as it is for external elements to adapt (ibra), i like how sometimes players try new things and make the system adapt to their strengths.

    For example with cesc, we tried the 3-4-3. Busi as CB demands different coordination as when he is DM. That is why everyone is so excited about more playing time for Alexis; his natural instict is so different, but his abilities are well suited to barca’s play. …and to some degree it can explain why Messi allegedly is looking “more selfish”; he may just be trying new things within the system; but that ‘recklessnes was the kind of thing thiago has eliminated from his game and made him into a stonger player (man u goal preseason

    TBH, i think its still kind of early for any real judgement to be made as to messi’s decision making; i feel we gather a better picture of what pep asks of his players when the system is placed under stress…but I could be wrong there

    anyway, I found this article by sid lowe to add to the puyi quotes: how different talents and personalities learn to work together and add new dimensions to the team/system:

    “Piqué has changed Puyol’s career too. More than that: Puyol admits that Piqué has changed his life. But for the former Manchester United player, Puyol might be a former Barcelona player. Opposites don’t just attract, they enhance – and these two could hardly be more different.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2011/may/26/gerard-pique-carles-puyol-barcelona

  25. October 21, 2011

    Messi: I disagree that the debate is “way, way over the line.” Messi is a player like any other. People have every right to discuss his qualities. I am with Sheena. The “split second” defense doesn’t wash with me. What makes great players great is their ability to compress time. Any conversations with great players in every sport always touches upon that, how the game moves in slow motion for them.

    To my view, a great player such as Messi has more time, in the sort of physics-defying realm that great players live in. And I don’t think that anyone is telling him to stop being Messi. But there is room for both, and the point Sheena made that what makes him excel is his intelligent use of both his passing and dribbling abilities is what makes him the player that he is.

    To say that he might bail us out with an extraordinary play doesn’t excuse the dribbling into spots where there can only be one outcome. And perhaps the passes that should have been made would mean that he didn’t have to bail us out, that Pedro or Villa would have had a tap-in or two that made matters academic.

    For me, no player is above criticism and analysis. Messi might be brilliant, and the best player in the world, but he has flaws, glitches that are, to some, evincing themselves right now. He’s only 24 and will work those things out. Just as (crap, there it goes again!) Michael Jordan realized that flying through the air and landing on the ground after a hard foul wasn’t always the thing to do, Messi will realize that the abuse he takes, match in and match out, is a bit too much to bear, and unnecessary.

    Messi changes the way that defenses play. When he gets into the box, defenses collapse on him. It then becomes incumbent upon his teammates to make intelligent runs to capitalize on those tendencies. The less that he passes, the less those runs get made, because “Hey, why bother?” Should players not think like that? Sure. But players also rely on instinct. If, 10 times you put on a certain jacket and every time you don’t take the dog for a walk after you put on that jacket, he will learn to see that jacket and say “No walk right now.” It’s instinct.

    Mascherano: People sell him short. He’s worth a rewatch during any additional viewings or rebroadcasts of the Plzen match. He really was extraordinary. I don’t believe that he has any positional deficiencies that are any more or less glaring than Pique’s. They are very different defenders, but now that Mascherano is moving up and back, making long passes and starting attacks, the differences between them on offense are much less. Will he ever score goals like Pique? Nope. But I can’t see Pique standing a player up, tackling the ball, leaping to his feet and slotting a perfect pass to Xavi, so that the offense can continue.

    For me, Pique is tall. But as attacks take a direct route to our back line with long balls and fast counters, a ball-tackling defender is crucial. That isn’t Alves. And Abidal is very much a position defender. So is Puyol, to a large extent. Think about the number of sliding tackles that you saw our defenders make before Mascherano came. With reps and time, he will become a brilliant defender and one who, right now, I’d rather see in the starting XI than Pique.

    • Dani_el
      October 22, 2011

      It’s pretty interesting to me, the Jordan – Messi analogy. I remember seeing the NBA finals against Utah Jazz(a lot of years actually), and I really liked Stockton being small (for their standards) and so technical, but of course I rooted for the jordan genius, what if Guardiola has told Messi to keep trying to subdue a lot of defenders, until we play Madrid, and there and then he will unleash the beast and Messi will have 3 or 4 assists, as a game we all remember. I know there are startrooper spies here, but I rest at ease because I know Mou doesn’t here anyone outside his circle of minions.
      About Masche, I believe he will be something as our next Puyol, I know he’s one of a kind, but close. He seems to be a good attitude, maybe him and Pique will be our center backs for years to come.

    • adopted cule
      October 22, 2011

      No player is above criticism. This is true. The criticism of Messi in this game really rests on 5 plays:

      At 7:22, Messi tries to dribble into 4 players and is dispossessed. Ten seconds earlier, Iniesta was guilty of exactly the same thing. Iniesta and Messi are not being selfish in these instances; they are trying to beat a couple of players and force the defense to adjust, creating space. I believe this is the best way to open up a congested defense.

      At 41:30, Messi receives a brilliant ball from Busquets and cuts back on a defender. As he is cutting the ball back, a defender is sliding across the passing lane to Pedro, so Messi decides to shoot from a narrow angle with another defender bearing down on him. The passing angle to a wide open Xavi also appears cut off by the defense. It is a low probability shot, but one he can make. At the end of the play it looks as though Pedro was wide open, but at the moment of decision he was marked. If Messi had held up the play for a nano second he could have found Pedro for a better shot, but he was very close to goal with a defender coming at him. Holding up in that position usually ends in a lost opportunity.

      At 53:15 Messi is fouled at the top of the box, knocking him off balance. He recovers and then instinctively beats two players racing toward goal. Alves has run and is wide open in front of goal. Messi’s body is angled away from the front of goal and he is trying to keep his balance. He has no opportunity to see Alves and, even if he did, he likely could not have struck the ball to him given the way he was physically situated. In addition, the defender has already begun his slide to cut off the pass. I doubt he could have slipped the ball through even if we assume he is super human enough to have seen Alves while miraculously maintaining his feet and the ball. Watch it again in slow motion, folks. There is no way he can get that pass off.

      At 59 minutes, Messi goes down the right flank and beats 3 players in route to goal, somehow keeping the ball in play on the touchline. He is one on one with the goal keeper from a tight angle. He does not look up to see Iniesta at the penalty spot. Had he looked up, he had a passing lane. He hits the post.

      On Villa’s goal, he finds himself 1 v 1 with the goal keeper. His correct instinct is to shoot. He is fouled off the ball before he gets the shot off (yes, I know the defender got a touch on the ball, but the last time I checked you weren’t allowed to extend your arm on a shoulder charge which the defender clearly does, tumbling Messi to the ground). When Barcelona are guilty too often of passing up a direct shot to secure the perfect goal, I find it odd that anyone would criticize Messi for looking to shoot there. Yes, Pedro had a tap in, but that assumes once again that Messi even saw him (also, it assumes that both the pass and the shot would be executed correctly; as Pedro well knows from his poor pass to Villa when he had a point blank shot a few minutes later, it doesn’t always come off right).

      What I find disheartening about this whole debate is that people are not questioning or criticizing his play as much as they criticizing his intent, his selflessness, and his overall character as a team mate. The analogy of the dog and the jacket is a perfect example of what I find disconcerting: The rhetoric there makes an analogy to a dog recognizing that a specific jacket meant never going for a walk. The inference I make there is that Kxevin is saying that Messi never passes the ball in specific situations, so why make a run. Messi completed 70 passes in this game, 14 of them into dangerous areas, had one assist, and was two flubbed plays (from Alves and Iniesta) of getting potentially two more. He was only dispossessed of the ball while dribbling 6 times (legally) during the game and only one of these was when he was driving into the heart of the defense. Iniesta and Villa were both dispossessed three times, yet no one is accusing them of selfishness. More often than not, when Messi dribbled at the defense, he drew players to him and passed. I believe he now as 10+ assists on the season and has made numerous other passes that have put a player 1 v 1 with keeper that they have missed.

      The idea which I find unsupportable by the actual game evidence is that Messi is far too often trying to run at the defense on his own and not passing enough in those situations. It simply isn’t true. Yes, he does have a go on his own at times, but the suggestion that he’s doing it too much doesn’t hold up based on what I’ve seen. His job is to put the ball in the net. He is the best player in the world at doing so. He must make decisions based on what he thinks is the best way to get the ball into the net. Did he make the right decision every time on Wednesday? Probably not, but I think he made the right decision based on the information he had available at that moment almost every time. (I wish he had seen Iniesta at the penalty spot, but I don’t think he did.)

      The word selfish has been used in this debate and Sheena and Kxevin definitely seem to imply Messi was selfish on the day without actually using the word. To say that Messi didn’t have his best day is something I am fine with, but if we are going to accuse him of selfishness in his play, I think we have gone way, way over the line.

      (PS. I don’t believe that Messi ever dribbled into a spot in which there was only one outcome. Messi can and does pull off those dribbles for both goals and miraculous passes with more regularity than any player on earth. Would it have surprised any of us if he had converted two or three of those runs into goals?)

      • Kimcelona
        October 22, 2011

        adopted cule, you’re my hero!

        FLOVE this post. Exactly what and how I wanted to respond. I think I agree with EVERYTHING in this post.

        Seriously, I dont know where this “Messi’s dribbling only has one outcome” argument has come from.

        “..they are trying to beat a couple of players and force the defense to adjust, creating space. I believe this is the best way to open up a congested defense”

        Couldnt agree more with that sentence.

        And to add, most of his dribbles IN THE BOX resulted in chances (which was either saved or he was FOULED..illegally, I think, but still chances nonetheless).

        • October 22, 2011

          For me, it’s more than 5 plays. I and others have noticed that Messi is lacking a certain something this season. The numbers are hiding it, but it’s there. I characterized it as a certain lack of joy. Others characterize it differently.

          But it’s significantly more than 5 plays, and the “I’m the best option” quality (perhaps that is more palatable to the legions than selfishness) is one trait of that missing something.

          There is an inevitability to Messi’s dribbling into 5 defenders that, while it doesn’t have one outcome, certainly has one likely outcome. You can indeed ask questions about a player without questioning his committment to the team and its successes. Any suggestions to the contrary grossly overstate themselves.

          This all started with Sheena making two very valid observations:

          1. Messi has lost a little something
          2. He’s choosing to do dribbles at legions of defenders, which causes problems, particularly when teammates are open.

          Both of those contentions are worth debating. Messi isn’t above criticism. People are defending him as if somebody is questioning Jesus. Messi is a young footballer, possessed of the kind of ego that probably does make him believe that he is always the best option. That’s fine, but it isn’t always true. We all agree that dribbles can open up congested defenses. But the pass has to be an option. Always. Not when a player feels like it, or somehow deems that this time, maybe he can’t beat 5 defenders. For me, there are two types of basic Messi runs, one where he has space to deal with defenders, and can easily beat 3, 4 or 5 of them in a series of one-on-ones, and those in which he runs into a massed thicket of defenders. It is the former that he has so much success with. He rarely has success with the latter, because of the space and proximity of defenders. There’s always one more of them in close quarters.

          And adopted cule, if you’re going to cite me, do so accurately. What I noted was if a no-passing tendency continues, then you could easily see athletes developing a “why run when I’m not going to get the ball instinct.” That is very different from what you suggest.

          There are very few moments in a match that can result in scoring chances. There are even fewer than can result in what we could call good scoring chances. When one player, whether he does it 1 or 12 times, squanders some of those chances by incorrect action, it’s worth commenting on.

          And to continue the Jordan analogy, in the clinching game of the Bulls first championship, things were’t going well and the Lakers were coming back, because Jordan was ignoring open teammates. The then-coach Phil Jackson asked Jordan, “Who’s open?” It was John Paxson, and Jordan admitted as much in the Bulls’ huddle. It wasn’t that Jordan didn’t see Paxson, he just didn’t even consider him being as good an option as he was. When he dribbled and dished, Paxson killed the Lakers. Voila.

          I’ve seen a few times the “maybe Messi didn’t see ….” defense. It isn’t one that holds water with me. If a player possessed of his talent, balance and vision can see defenders, plan for what they’re doing and beat them, time and again, that player sees open teammates. Most definitely. But again, it’s what he chooses to do with that knowledge that is at issue here.

          Back in the day, people in Chicago were pilloried when they suggested that Jordan was selfish as well, so there’s a history of it. He had the same exalted status as Messi. But whether you call it presumption that he’s the best option of selfishness, it doesn’t always present the best set of possibilities to the team. And it is the team that concerns me. I don’t care a whit about Messi, except as his contributions to the team matter.

          • adopted cule
            October 22, 2011

            Wow.

            Didn’t know I cited you incorrectly. Apologies if I did. I thought I was just pointing out that the dog/jacket analogy was a bad analogy because Messi does often pass in those situations. I don’t believe for a second that you think Messi never does pass in those situations. Also, players of the caliber and temperament of this Barcelona team should run for every opportunity, even if the probability is small that they will get the ball. The chance for a rebound alone makes this run the right thing to do.

            I have watched that game 5 times now and I am curious which other plays in this game have you doubting his spark (maybe it’s an overall feeling in his body language, I don’t know). All I know is that I saw a great player working his butt off out there and I was not suggesting that he has a “I’m the best option mentality”. I honestly believe he is making a series of instantaneous decisions about the best way to get the ball into the net that are completely divorced from his own ego.

            As for the Jordan analogies. I am one of the few that sincerely believes that Jordan was one of the most selfish egomaniacs ever to play any sport and he doesn’t hold a candle to Messi. Jordan had to overcome his selfishness to win. I just don’t detect that ego in Messi and feel the analogy as far as their character, if not their greatness, is not apt.

        • adopted cule
          October 22, 2011

          Blushing.

          To echo mom4 above, I was just compelled to defend Messi from what I felt were unjust criticisms. I don’t feel that Kxevin or Sheena have any ax to grind vis a vis Messi, but rather we are on different sides in the interpretation of some of the plays he makes. If anything, I think Sheena and Kxevin have even higher expectations of his greatness than I do and are disappointed when he proves to be human.

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