Barca/Sevilla thoughts, aka “No, this isn’t the review.”

L. Paredes/Sport

Euler is coming to the rescue with the review, which is a good thing, since he’s a lot better at it than me.

But what he isn’t better at than me is stirring up the villagers, like Frankenstein on the roof, dropping trou to moon the peasants. So let’s do this, in the form of (mostly) bullet point-y type stuff.

Does anyone still think Messi is on form?

If yes, go stand in the corner. Let’s state this for the record: Messi is the greatest player on the planet right now. Even off song, he has a pigpile of goals and assists already. He’s also a player who is having significant complexities right now, and that is damaging his team.

Who doesn’t remember fondly when Messi was Leo the Lion, who wanted every ball that came close to him, moving constantly, reading the game like a dog-eared favorite childhood book that he’d memorized 10 times over. Compare that to the player who doesn’t seem to quite know the right spot to be, where to put the ball. That little extra shimmy and step is consumed by fatigue, so he is playable, stoppable by a physical, disciplined Sevilla side who rolled into our house thinking “Point. Let’s get a point.” A walking, trotting, aimless Messi directly contributed to that well-earned point.

Guardiola will have to summon whatever courage he has, and sit Messi. Otherwise, it will only get worse and eventually lead to an injury from overused muscles. Yes, 80% of Messi is better than most players alive. But not 50%. Sharp players don’t play the way that Messi does. I know that he wants to play all the time, but it can’t happen. Not any more. The evidence is too clear.

Is the Argentina NT stuff wearing him down? You bet. If his NT were playing better, I rather imagine there would be more spring in his step. But today, when they showed Messi face on, he looked terrible. And I mean physically. Tired, thousand-yard stare, like a guy who, if he were at work in the real world, his boss would ask him, “When was your last vacation?” Then he would suggest that he take one. And not tomorrow.

Let’s not wet ourselves over Javi Varas

If you hit the damn ball right at the keeper, it’s pretty easy for him to look brilliant. Yes, he evinced some good reflexes, but except for the horrific Messi penalty kick, he didn’t really have to move much to make his saves. We helped a lot by basically doing what Sevilla probably does in practice, which is hitting the ball at the keeper to keep his reflexes sharp. Is he Sevilla’s Man of the Match? Absolutely. And probably overall MOTM. But keepers have had better matches against us.

Keita and Busquets are different

Keita was brilliant today. So was Busquets when he came on. I’m happy that we have both on our side, but it isn’t an either/or, it’s a both. Keita is the physical facilitator who was everywhere today, truly from box to box. Busquets is the offensive addition. But I do think that both substitutions were in error. I wouldn’t have brought Pedro on. He’s been crap all year, and we lost something. If Keita is in the box raising hell, maybe some of those scrambles have a different outcome. Busquets for Xavi brought energy, but robbed us of the killer ball.

I’m sure that people will blame Keita for the result today, rather than listless, stationary attackers, when all the man did was go out and play his butt off. But he’s as unfashionable as Messi is fashionable. The other argument for Keita today was Thiago, who serves as the bridge for both he and Xavi, making the Busquets inclusion less of a necessity. That said, the Busquets substitution was too late, and shouldn’t have been for Xavi.

We stayed up too late reading Plzen a bedtime story

By not putting them to bed early as we should have, it cost energy that we needed today. It’s energy that resulted in everything being just a little off …. not enough to really notice. We still looked like us, but just enough so those amazing balls to the likes of Iniesta and Villa were overhit just a smidge, and the player’s legs were just a little bit heavier, the result being a near-miss, rather than a goal. The real way to beat the kind of defense that Sevilla was playing today was movement and one-touch football. That requires so much energy. So instead, we would get so many instances with Villa or Messi standing there, surrounded by a pigpile of Sevilla defenders, because people weren’t moving.

And by the by, the whole team is off song

We’ve been fooled by hammering some lesser clubs, but we can’t be fooled any longer: This club is having a bit of a spell. Yes, Sevilla came out and played the precise match that they needed to in order to get a point from this one. But if we are on form, we win 3 or 4-0. Easy. We were tired and off, they were fresh and on. It happens. What concerns me more is that there are no windows, no ways for the club to get that freshness, that sharpness back. It will just have to play through this patch.

One way is by finding new ways to freshen the stew, such as Adriano, who was almost a real difference-maker today. Mascherano is another. When Sanchez comes back, that effect should be immense. Speaking of ….

Boy, did we need our crocked Chilean today

Villa, Pedro and Iniesta were all faced off against ex-homie Martin Caceres, and all came up short. Caceres is too strong, big, quick and physical. So the very deficiencies that made him not cut out to play our system, make him perfectly suited to own the folks we put up against him. Ain’t that just about a bitch? Caceres had one heck of a match today, but a player who can run right past him would have created a great many problems. Villa is a brilliant striker, but he can’t beat my mama 1-v-1. Pedro is just off, and relies on being in the right place at the right time, rather than a skill set that would let him take on Caceres. And Iniesta is, and will always be, ill-used on the left wing, even if he had more success against Caceres than anyone else. Sanchez, or even Afellay, would have been perfect. Size, quickness and guile would have come in handy. As it was, it left us with only 2/3rds of the pitch. Adriano had fleeting success, it must also be noted. Why? Pace.

Speaking of Messi, he shouldn’t have taken the PK

Yes, you go down with your best. And had Varas stopped Villa or Fabregas, it would have been “Why didn’t Messi take the PK?” Those are the choices that a coach has to live with. Here’s a story: One of my bicycles was creaking like crazy. My genius of a mechanic and I just couldn’t figure it out. He disassembled, reassembled, lubed, Teflon taped and still …. the creak. A lesser mechanic put it in his workstand and said, “Hey, the chainring bolts are loose, and one is missing.” Creak gone. Problem solved. The moral? That sometimes, you need someone with less, to do more. Messi is smart, talented and a footballing genius. So like my mechanic who did everything except check the obvious, with too many things to choose from, you don’t get the right kind of stupid.

A striker, like Villa, doesn’t think. Blam! Goal. Done. Hard and low, or hard and high are pretty much a striker’s PK options. Then direction, as in left or right. Done. Fabregas? Same thing. Blam! I ain’t got time to think about that crap. It doesn’t even occur to me. Blam! Or how about Iniesta?

But as it was, Messi tried to outthink a quick, on-form keeper, which just wasn’t going to work. There are very few keepers in La Liga who wouldn’t have stopped that shot. Yes, your best player should take your PKs. But what about when your best player is far from your best player on that day? What then? Good question.

Mascherano? Yes, Mascherano

Another day, another match in which Mascherano was our best defender. How you gonna keep him down on the farm? He needs to be in the regular starting XI. What he does is just too awesome not to have. He has pace, physicality and an unerring sense of where to be. Does his short stature mean set piece problems? Yep. So don’t give up set pieces. He had a monster of a match today, that was fully Puyol-like. The midfield is crowded and the back line is crowded, so I don’t envy Guardiola that selection headache. But Mascherano has to play for this side. He owns everything in front and around him too often for it not to be so, and he did it on both sides of the pitch today.

Can we break a bus?

Yes. I know that some have said that this team has the same problems that it’s always had against parked buses, but I don’t agree. I think this team is light years better at breaking them, but it has to be on song. Look at the near-misses today, any of which with a club that didn’t play a looooong match (thankfully at home, away, and we might have lost today) on Wednesday would have been goals. The movement, the passing options, the dizzying high-wire act that works so well for us, was just a bit off today, so no goals. But the chances galore that went begging very capably demonstrate that we can break the hell out of a bus. Recall the time when we didn’t even get shots on goal against parked buses. And now look. It takes a keeper who has probably been presented for Sainthood by now, such is the effusion. But change one angle of a shot just a little bit, and he’s another close but no cigar losing keeper, and we’re still top of table.

Oh, yeah …. some ratings:

Team: 6. Some good, some clunk, some overthinking and not enough movement on or off the ball, making it easy for Sevilla to do what it did. This should have been a win today, which is easy to say from the fever-addled cheap seats.

Guardiola: 6. He got the starting XI right, but the subs wrong. Pedro shouldn’t have seen the pitch in this match, and Busquets should have a lot earlier. Same for Fabregas.

Valdes: 8. And would have gotten higher had he had more work. Unlike Varas, who had balls hit right at him, Valdes actually had to work for his brilliance, particularly when Abidal tried to give me a heart attack, on top of the flu.

Alves: 5. Off-song, and takes too many touches. The fluid, fluent, dynamic Alves needs to come back. The ball that he took in the box is a prime example. The moment was there to one-time it. Instead he tries to control it in the face of a charging keeper. That isn’t going to end well. Defensively, he is (increasingly) getting caught pinched in toward the center, requiring the likes of Abidal or Mascherano to bail him out.

Mascherano: 9. He was an absolute monster today from sideline to sideline, with key interventions and tackles. Not much to say aside from my effusion above.

Abidal: 7. He’s getting better and better, once he stopped trying to kill me with too-soft chest passes. His pace allows him to contribute to the attack and still get back in defense. Alves has to rein in his roam, by contrast, in the face of a more active attacking opponent. He’s so calm on the ball, and is more and more, making the exact right pass from the back.

Adriano: 7. Very good match today on both ends of the pitch, but particularly as the destabilizing attacking fullback. When the match started, his presence on the right was tactical brilliance from Guardiola, as it let him be Alves while Alves was …. well …. Alves. I understand why the switch to the left was made, but don’t agree with it, even as Adriano did pretty much the same thing on the left, which was cool.

Keita: 8. I might have to change his nickname from “Huh? What?” to The Facilitator, because that’s what he does. His presence, physicality and in-the-wayness doesn’t work against every club that we face, but it worked perfectly against Sevilla today. Time and again, when something happened, there he was with a foot in the way, a tackle or interception.

Thiago: 7. Interesting how Ray Ray and Schoen kept suggesting that he was having an off match, because of their offensive expectations. But if you think of Thiago as the Busquets to Keita’s Keita, he was having a delight of a match. He’s so aggressive and pacey on the defensive end that teams have to really watch the back door when he’s out there, or he will blaze in and kill an attack. And he’s so fast to loose balls. But man, is he still too casual with possession and risky passes.

Xavi: 7. Lovely and inevitable, the only thing he lacked today was willing targets. He had to drop a bit deeper at times today, resulting in more work. It’s also a tactic that Thiago, as the bridge-maker, facilitates. Sometimes the best pass is the pass that you don’t make. Xavi demonstrated that today, instinctively feeling the Sevilla pressing and lane-closing and being more circumspect with the ball.

Iniesta: 9. He’s my Man of the Match today, attacking, passing, shooting, beating off the dribble, earning what should have been a penalty (“All ball,” my ass!) and tracking back on defense. He was an absolute wonder, and the value of the energizing effect of an injury, though you never wish such things on a player. But sometimes, forced rest still works.

Villa: 4. Move, dammit! Too stationary, and overmatched physically against Caceres. Moving him more toward the center just stuck him among the tall trees, where he had about the same effect. Yes, he had some chances, and really should have put the one away, but his right at the keeper tendencies continue apace.

Messi: 3. There were moments where he turned it on, and animated the attack. But he spent too much of the match not being at all effective, with misplaced passes, being in the wrong spot at the wrong time and not fighting as he usually does. I know it’s conserving energy for that late charge, but as noted above, below a certain percentage of quality and overall effort, Messi just isn’t as effective. He was way, way off today.

Substitutes

Pedro (for Keita): 2. Worthless in his return to headless chicken mode. On form, Pedro never seems like he’s chasing the match. Off form, he’s like that kid in a football game who is always chasing the guy with the ball, running hither and yon. Lots of effort, precious little effectiveness.

Fabregas (for Thiago): 3. Didn’t do much, aside from taking a right stout thwack from Kanoute.

Busquets (for Xavi): incomplete. Not enough time to get a rating, but boy, what an effect he had on the proceedings. His energy and presence were just what the midfield needed.

Programming note

Party Boy, aka Joan Laporta, will be on GolTV’s “A Solas” show, which airs Thursday at 7 p.m. Central Time (do your own math. You know I don’t do math.) Could be interesting, if they ask him the right questions. Finally ….

L’Affaire Fabregas

When the preternaturally calm Kanoute took a poke at Fabregas, the post-match nattering started. “What made Kanoute go nuts like that? Must have been something that Fabregas said. Was it racial?” And the elephant in the room again became a barrier, as initial reports were that Fabregas called Kanoute a “terrorist.” That must have been it, right? And the buzzing began. But Fabregas’ girlfriend is Lebanese. Hmmmm …. And Kanoute is from Mali and is Muslim, which must make him a terrorist, right? And so it went.

In fact, Fabregas called him out in no uncertain terms, for kicking the ball away from the spot as Messi prepared to take the PK. Simple as that. But in a hot, aggrieved situation in which Sevilla felt as if they had worked so hard for so long, to be thwarted by a dubious (to them) call, emotions were white-hot. Kanote snapped.

Note also that the player didn’t make these allegations, unlike the most recent “He said, he said” episode in which Patrice Evra has accused Luis Suarez of dropping the N-bomb on him not once, but ten times. No, this was just the rumor, nonsense kind of crap that was all facilitated by the elephant in the room, racism.

Until football confronts this beast in a significant, meaningful way that goes beyond bullshit two-tone “Respect” patches on player sleeves, it is going to be a problem. You can’t change the way that people are. Sometimes, life and exposure to people are are different can. But the game can, in a truly serious effort, remove them from the game either physically, or with penalties that make such behavior unthinkable. Monkey chants? Ejections. If it continues, empty the stadium. Maybe then bystanders won’t be so quiet. If a player is proved or heard to have done it, suspend him for the remainder of the season. Period. If a player makes an unfounded allegation, bye-bye. Zero tolerance. It can be done. The game’s governing bodies just have to get serious about this problem.

As it stands, it’s all lip service, and when a black player such as Kanoute snaps on a white player such as Fabregas, the first answer that will come to too many lips will always be that something horrible must have been said, and that “something” is invariably racist, right? And it’s all because the game is, from a human rights perspective, broken. Until the people who run it are serious about fixing it, this crap will continue.

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

162 Comments

  1. barca96
    October 24, 2011

    And the win by City over United can’t be compared to ours over Madrid cos United played with 10 men for a long time.

    But do you guys think that there is a chance for a similar thing to happen to us? Madrid playing at Camp Nou and tearing us apart… I do fear it..

    • October 24, 2011

      Anything is possible in football so I would never completely rule it out, but considering the way we play, the amount of possession we tend to keep and the level at which we control most games I find it difficult to think of a situation where we would concede 6 goals, even with only 10 men.

  2. barca96
    October 24, 2011

    Who ever has this on DVR or downloaded the match, watch the move by Iniesta at 87:53. Simply breathtaking. Simple but so elegant.

  3. mom4
    October 24, 2011

    Oh, congrats to the NZ rugby fans here.
    Did they do the Haka before the game? I think it’s so cool that they do that.

    • October 24, 2011

      Sighhhhh Les Bleus continue to break my heart. So close, yet so far. I knew this match was going to be ON when, during the All Blacks Haka, Les Bleus formed an arrow shape and advanced toward midfield. It was an excellent match, though I have to agree with the announcers about the pragmatism of the NZ approach to things. I think that more of their fluidity and creativity wouldn’t have made the match as close. Hard to fault Weepu for the missed kicks. Those were some pretty crazy angles.

      Anyhow, excellent match, and I’ll echo the congrats to all the Kiwis in the house.

      • nzm
        October 24, 2011

        Defence won through for NZ. That late second-half passage of play where the Kiwis kept out France for 15 consecutive phases – that won them the game.

        The fact that they kept calm, didn’t panic, didn’t concede a penalty during that whole period, (that would have surely gifted the game to France), and then used the Frenach error to get up the field to hang on until the final whistle? Pure class!

        Richie McCaw played the game of his life.

        Report and links to photos of the (very NZ down-to-earth!) victory parade: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/rugby-world-cup-2011/news/article.cfm?c_id=522&objectid=10761378

      • Nav
        October 24, 2011

        I love Weepu but in any other game he nails those angles in his sleep. I reckon the pressure got to him. Still, what a game.

    • nzm
      October 24, 2011

      mom4 – yes, they did do the haka, as always. This is a newer one that they do now which involves a throat-slitting movement. 🙂

      Kevin – it was so close! I think that once Aaron Cruden was injured, the game tightened up – the ABs weren’t so confident in running it anymore. Especially as his replacement Stephen Donald (the #4 choice for first 5/8th) was vilified as the guy who lost the Bledisloe Cup against Australia in Hong Kong, due to his poor kicking. In the end, however, his penalty kick won the match!

      Weepu was simply awesome in the quarterfinal against Argentina – drilling them through the posts from everywhere on the pitch, and then his kicking went to pieces against Australia and France. He practically subbed himself off each time. Came out later that he’s been playing the last 10 days or so with effects from the flu’!

      Here you go, mom4 and Kevin – the haka from the final!
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo3dG5t5MAU&feature=share

      • October 24, 2011

        Lord today what a moment that was. Thanks for that. Apparently Les Bleus didn’t come up with the arrowhead thing until the night before, at their hotel.

      • nzm
        October 24, 2011

        Les Bleus have been pinged $5k for stepping over the halfway mark during their advance on the NZ haka. I did wonder about that at the time – some of the French players were itching to get closer.

        I reckon that the French will still think that it’s money well-spent!

        http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10761451

      • Nav
        October 24, 2011

        Aaron Cruden is from my high school!

  4. mom4
    October 24, 2011

    FCBarcelona_es FC Barcelona
    El jugador @Carles5puyol sigue notando pequeñas molestias en el pubis y es baja por precaución para el partido de mañana #fcblive

    AW CRAP!!!

    • mom4
      October 24, 2011

      my stab at translation:

      Puyi has noted some discomfort (in a sensitive area) and is out of tomorrow’s game as a precaution.

      • mom4
        October 24, 2011

        a little discomfort- not some

      • October 24, 2011

        No “new girlfriend” jokes, people!

      • Eklavya
        October 24, 2011

        Ahahahaha

      • ooga aga
        October 24, 2011

        i think “pubis” is “groin.” that is what also kept him out against sevilla. hell beback no worries

  5. Josep
    October 24, 2011

    varas was absolutely amazing. even if the ball is kicked right at the keeper there’s a big responsibility there, how often do you see the ball spill out?

    and in hindsight Messi shouldn’t have taken the PK. you can say that now, yeah.. I think after the fracas maybe swap him out but not before it.

    • October 24, 2011

      Oh, I still think he’s overall MOTM. He was delightful. I’m just holding off on the canonization.

      I go back and forth on the Messi thing. In hindsight, for sure. But if I’m Guardiola, I probably do exactly what he did, for psychological reasons if nothing else, even though I rather imagine Messi would have understood once Guardiola explained it to him.

  6. October 24, 2011

    Hey, did anyone see that Sevilla struck an unpaid deal with UNICEF for the front of their shirt? Del Nido just kills me. That dude is awesome.

    http://www.sevillafc.es/nuevaweb/actualidad/noticias/22507

    Yes, it’s to tweak our noses, doing good while doing personal good. I love it.

    –In other news, Puyol and Sanchez trained apart from the group, Pique with the group.

  7. October 24, 2011

    And MARCA scammed the prolific Allas by changing the logo on one of his videos to their logo, to make it seem as if they had produced it. Wow.

  8. October 24, 2011

    Just a few thoughts as to why people think that teams “roll over” for the EE, while playing their hearts out against us:

    –Two very different styles of play. We are inexorable and logical, so a compact, fully committed defense can control us. You have to be willing to accept that you will be playing for a 0-0 and might get a lucky counter, rather than playing a straight-up match. That is, the game plan has to start with defense.

    They are slashing and fast, capable of destabilizing defenses by getting from end to end of the pitch with 2 or 3 passes. And when they get there, they have (don’t take this the wrong way, folks) better finishers.

    As Ramzi noted above, as we pass the ball around, it’s easy for a defense to shift to the point of attack, to defend in depth. It isn’t as easy against them, because they’re running at you full-tilt. It’s also why our possession-based attack works so well against them. The more possession they have, the greater the odds that they are going to kill you. Now this is also true of us, but not AS true. We keep possesion anyhow, but we don’t always move the ball as quickly or as adroitly as we should (like on Saturday). If our passing and movement are up to snuff, that match is a win. No question.

    We also need some pace. I remember one break where our wee midget was off to the “races,” and you could see Sevilla defenders outrunning him to get set up, and there was about zero support coming back. Compare than to the jailbreak days of Eto’o and Henry, where those two greyhounds could convert defense into offense like that.

    I think that the biggest reason for the desire for Sanchez, not the Messi-like abilities, but the infusion of destabilizing pace that he will bring to the table.

  9. October 24, 2011

    We are too used to our excellent football, fantastic passing goals, beautiful teamwork and incredible Messi which make us very not used to seeing teams playing so well against us and force us to play differently.

    Keita is not the best DM for us, but it doesn’t mean he is not suitable for this kind of match. Sevilla has a history of playing physical and strong against us. If you look at how many small players we have on the team, and how frail our first choice DM is, then you may understand why Keita started this match. It’s a safety option which can make changes to.

    Keita is not the best DM, but when Sevilla played unexpectedly defensive, and not as aggressive as we expected, Keita’s DM role become less meaningful. It made him look useless DM-ing because there is no (huge) need.

    I agree with Kxevin that the subs are too late (Busi) because if Busi came on a bit earlier, Keita would be able to crash the box which we in fact never saw him did in this match. That is exactly his best strength and we needed that so badly against a team parked so tight at the back and us not being at our tiki-taka best. But Oh, we think he is not suitable for this game because we are too used to beautiful team goals and fantastic passing attack.

    Keita crashing the box allow the unexpected happen. Sevilla and their coach envisioned the game EXACTLY RIGHT. That allow them to play at ease psychologically because everything they saw is just as they expected. With our random chaos generators malfunctioned, clogged space didn’t have enough movement, width support kinda sucked to produce anything good, we are down to a very expected passing around doing nothing mode.

    No we don’t need a Zlatan as we know midgets could head a goal, but if Keita has the work rate to do the dirty, defensive sense to prevent chaos, and more importantly the aerial threat and physicality to crash-a-box, why is he not suitable for a compact side that thinks a draw is like a win?

  10. blitzen
    October 24, 2011

    Just called out Tim Stannard (LLL) for referring to the Cesc/Kanoute racism nonstarter in his piece for F365. He should know better. He knows very well that Kanoute made no allegations of racism at all. Publishing Cesc’s denials without mentioning that there was nothing to deny in the first place is the kind of rumour-mongering I expect from the Sun, not him.

    His defense? “Everyone else is covering it.” Very disappointing.

    • October 24, 2011

      Agreed. It doesn’t make sense when usually careful journos aren’t as careful as they should be. Nice call-out.

      • blitzen
        October 24, 2011

        Thank you! And I note that Sid Lowe refrained from going there in his Guardian piece.

  11. adopted cule
    October 24, 2011

    Messi was clearly off in this game and I speculated throughout the proceedings that the knock he took at the end of the last game was the problem. I still don’t believe Messi is off form this season, though he does need a rest. The irony for me, and others have commented on it, is that Messi didn’t do much running at the defense at all in this game (perhaps because he was hurting or perhaps because maybe he heard some of the criticisms of his performance in the Plzen game) and his activity in this regard was missed by me, if not by anyone else. There was a bus to crack and his ability to draw defenders is the best option available. By the time he started to get active in this regard, Sevilla had already dug in deep and could see the finish line.

    As for the penalty, I called for Cesc to take it in the live blog because Messi didn’t seem to be 100%. I still want Messi taking the pks, but I felt with Varas feeling his oats and Messi not feeling his own, having Cesc step up and blast one was the better option at that moment. If Cesc had taken it, he wouldn’t have been in the fracas casting racial slurs at Kanoute either (just kidding).

    In Pep we trust.

    As a Barcelona fan, I live by this. In fact, before Pep came along, I was more than a casual fan, but let’s just say that I didn’t revolve my game days around making sure I caught the game either live or at the earliest possible moment the way I do now. Pep is the reason I love this team so much. That being said, I feel that this loss is on Pep Guardiola.

    I have so many questions that I can’t answer about this game. I can’t bring myself to watch it again, but I don’t think I’d get any closer to the answers even if I did.

    1. Why did Keita start instead of Busquets against Sevilla? This is not an anti Keita query, but rather a pro Busquets one. Perhaps it is Busquets theatrics that keep people from seeing his brilliance, but for me, in big games, his presence is as required as Xavi’s, Iniesta’s, and, Messi’s. (You can add Pique to my list as well, when he’s healthy. If Mascherano is indeed now a must play member in central defense, I believe it is Puyol who must make way, but I remain on the fence in that debate, feeling completely comfortable with either Puyol or Mascherano. A fully fit Pique offers things on the offensive side of the ball that neither Puyol or Mascherano can and possession is the best defense.) Busquets’ positional sense and the ball distribution and support of the possession game cannot be overvalued. I completely agree with Kxevin that Pep left his insertion into the game too late, about 87 minutes too late.

    2. I thought Pep would go with a 4-3-3 to start the game and insert Cesc at the 60-70 minute mark for a central defender to go to a 3-4-3 only because I didn’t think Cesc would be physically fit enough for an entire game. Instead, he started in a 3-4-3 with Adriano on the right wing and Barcelona looked dangerous to start the game in this formation. Also, I wasn’t at all worried about the Sevilla attack at any moment in this game, but I was concerned that in the 3-4-3, Alves was moving up too high on the pitch instead of staying at home. Why did Pep move Adriano back to the left back? This essentially had Barcelona playing a 4-4-2. I’d have to watch again. Was Iniesta really responsible for width out left? Alves spent a lot of time very forward on the right wing (ineffectively for the most part in my memory) but was still tracking all the way back to defend. Messi was out on the right wing at times, but I recall that he was dropping very deep, so deep he was almost taking himself out of the game. (Also, Messi was repeatedly dispossessed by a single defender!!! from this position, contributing to my–and others’–belief that he was hurting.)

    3. After the Adriano switch to left back, Villa was playing very centrally. With Messi dropping so deep and Iniesta kinda sorta playing the left wing, weren’t Barcelona playing basically a 4-5-1 and relying on the defensive backs Adriano and Alves to provide width in attack. (By the by, Adriano was either terrific or horrible in this game. His passes were atrocious too many times, but he wasn’t alone in this.) Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I don’t remember Villa being involved much at all in the game and I think he would have been better suited in his usual role out left.

    4. Why Pedro for Keita? And didn’t Pedro come onto the left wing and Villa stayed central while we continued to rely on the ineffective Alves on the right wing? I said in the live blog that I thought Pedro would replace Adriano (and Cesc for Thiago). These moves would have allowed Barcelona to play the formation that has seemed most dangerous this year, with Cesc at the tip of the diamond combining with Messi, while Villa and Pedro provide width.. Instead Villa continued to clog up the middle and Thiago moved back to DM, where he would be replaced by Cesc. I can’t even write about this game without feeling like it was just a big messy pile of players. Did Sevilla do this to Barcelona, or did Barcelona do it to themselves?

    All that being said, as happy as I am to have Iniesta back and playing with soooo much brilliance at times, none of this would be anywhere near as big an issue if Iniesta had finished better on the day.

    I agree with much of what Kxevin has to say on this game, but the one thing I am in complete lockstep with him on is that Varas’ game was not all that spectacular. If you keep shooting the ball directly at him, he obviously has the reflexes to keep knocking it away. Barcelona was profligate in front of goal and that’s what cost them the win.

  12. October 24, 2011

    Record corrected above, the Party Boy “A Solas” will air on GolTV at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday, not Tuesday.

    • Josep
      October 24, 2011

      yep, I’m pretty excited for this as well. the show is quality.

  13. October 24, 2011

    So Phil Ball argues against Puyol/Mascherano, as well: 😀

    What is Mascherano? A defensive midfielder? Maybe. But when the occasion calls, he’s essentially a centre-half, all 1.74 metres of him. His anticipation of the play is first-class, like an Argentinean Bobby Moore, and his passing is simple but effective. He’s also very quick, and players like him, who are comfortable on the ball and who float somewhere between the defensive midfielder and the centre-back role, are the new vital ingredient in the post-modern game – as long as there’s a big guy around too, to clear those corners.

    • adopted cule
      October 25, 2011

      Seems to me Phil is saying that Mascherano is doing a great job back there, but the real point of most of Phil’s article is that ball playing center backs are vital for supporting possession and keeping offensive pressure on the opponent. Pique is Barcelona’s best ball playing center back. So you’re probably right in assuming that Phil would not think Puyol/Mascherano would be the best starting option. Pep has always said that the best way to keep the opposition from scoring is by maintaining possession and Phil is echoing this idea in this article. I happen to agree and that is why I think Pique is the first center back in the starting XI.

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