Picking a Fight With Badgers: L’Hospi – Barça

Copa Preview: CE L’Hospitalet – FC Barcelona, Wednesday 4pm, GolTV(HD)

There are two stories. One is of a 13-year old Christian martyr during the persecution of Christians in the reign of emperor Diocletian in the year 303. The other is of a talking badger that meets his destiny while fighting a fox for a boat. Let’s be honest here, the second one is way more interesting, so we’re going to say that it’s that version that led to the founding of CE L’Hospitalet when 3 teams (UD Hospitalet, CD Santa Eulalia, and CF Hércules) were combined into one. That was the same year that the Camp Nou was built.*

So, after the badgers and the Roman demigod came together to form a team, they realized they should probably include the area where their stadium was located rather than themselves. So they did. And they made it to the Segunda in the early 60s, but were relegated in 1966 and have yet to really return from the depths. They were last in the Tercera in 2009-10. I guess they’re not honey badgers or they’d be in Primera.

What they do have, however, is their secret weapon: David Prats. He’s one of Xavi’s best friends from their time together in La Masia, but now Prats is playing forward for L’Hospi and could finally find himself on the same professional field as his much more illustrious friend. It’s very likely to happen since Thiago is gone to U-21 duty alongside Isaac Cuenca and Adriano and Alves are off to Brazil for their World Cup qualifiers.

This L’Hospitalet blog thinks the following squad will be fielded: Moragón, Peque, Moussa, Manel Viale, Lucas Viale, Rubén García, Marc Pedraza, Cirio, Corominas, Pitu, David Prats.

And don’t take them lightly. They may be in Segunda B (Group 3) but they’re in 2nd with 25 points, just 2 below the leaders, Atletic Balears, and are coming off a 3-2 victory this past weekend against Sant Andreu.  Those 2 goals account for a larger percentage of their 9 total allowed in 12 matches. That’s pretty stern defending. And, as the official site admonishes, you should remember Figueres, Novelda, and Gramenet. All of them were Segunda B sides at the time and all of them eliminated Barça from the cup within the last decade (and Gramenet almost did it twice in a row). Yes, they were in one-offs, but starting off with a loss can lead to bad endings, as Real Madrid can probably tell us, even with two legs.

At least travel fatigue won’t be a factor since the Estadi La Feixa Llarga is right around 5 miles from the Camp Nou via the circuitous route. The thing that will be a factor is international break taking a chunk of the squad away from Guardiola.

So who does Barça have available to respond to this local threat?

All the Spanish players plus Keita and Abidal are available, but Messi, Mascherano, Alves, Adriano, Alexis, and the aforementioned Thiago and Cuenca have all been called up to various squads. Jonathan Dos Santos, Deulofeu, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, Tello, and Miño all trained with the first team squad and seem like necessary additions to the squad for the match.**

Predicted squad: Pinto, Maxwell, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Tello

I mean, I guess, right? JDS should get a few minutes in there and might even make the start, but I prefer to see him as a sub and to get this game over with as soon as possible–if possible. I know you read these previews, Pep, because you always do something other than what I say and there’s no way that could happen every match if you didn’t read these. So please just start a really good lineup and let’s win this here away leg instead of leaving it for Messi to save us in late December when we’re back from the Club World Cup. Also, HI PEP!

Official Prediction: 1-2. Things happen, goals are scored, Pinto makes a magnificent save and then somehow contrives to let in a perfectly simple stop. Goals by Prats, Xavi, and JDS to win it and your hearts.

And, as a parting shot, because I said badger a bunch of times: here’s this again. And yeah, I kinda like the Copa del Rey. We’ll get into that in a different post later.

*For those interested, the Camp Nou was officially opened on September 24, 1957, the same day that President Eisenhower sent troops to protect the Little Rock Nine. Wikipedia really is awesome. Orvill Faubus, on the other hand, was not.
**That does mean, of course that with their increased fatigue and combined with the absences of Cuenca, Martín Montoya, Marc Bartra, Marc Muniesa, and Carles Planas on U-21 duty, the B team will have a lot of trouble this weekend with Girona. Fortunately, Girona is in 19th place, 5 points adrift of Barça Babies (that’s what the B stands for, right?), so they might be able to squeak out a draw or something with Juvenil players. But I doubt it; that’s simply too many pieces of the puzzle to lose or make play games so close together.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


    • nia
      November 8, 2011

      Speaking of revista, just watched a portion of it when Graham Hunter said something interesting. Guillem said Villa was not happy about the role he has to play and how much of it is getting ristricted more and more because of Messi. Graham said although there is a problelm it wouldn’t be a big problem if Villa would stop hitting the ball at the goalkeeper with every goood chance he gets and actually score.
      That was a good point he made there but also if Villa wants to get more goals, he should be putting the chances he gets into the back of the net. Hope this doesn’t start disrupting the dressing room coz if people wnt to be individualistic, we definately wont win anything.

      • mega_tajh
        November 8, 2011

        You know what I kinda agree with Villa in a way. This season he just seems a bit lost. A couple of times he stands and just watch Messi make a move looking lost as if to either run for a pass or keep position. Messi to me has been so unpredictable this season with his teammates (even Iniesta was fooled with a couple of Messi passes). Thats not to fault Messi since Villa also share some of the blame with his poor shots.

        Villa’s most popular way to score is sliding the ball between the keepers legs which he have been trying alot this season but seems it doesn’t work anymore.

      • Dave
        November 8, 2011

        Yes they seem good points but I kinda feel that Balague is doing his usual attempt at sensationalism for entertainment purposes. Part of me wonders if this is because there has been no one on one interviews given to journalists over the past months. Also the fact he writes for AS is also significant imo.Storm in a tea cup over the Villa/Messi issue

        • Dave
          November 8, 2011

          I do agree that Villa is perhaps not fit.BUT WHY IS HE TRAVELLING WITH SPAIN IF SO? The shitty pre-season has screwed the players.We badly need a fit and proper Villa. Oh and throw in Sanchez,Afellay and Pedro? When is the club going to look for a serious long term replacement for Puyol? The lack of his leadership is crucial

          • Ryan
            November 8, 2011

            At least he scores for Spain – he can use all the confidence-boosting that’s available!

  1. Miguel
    November 8, 2011

    That honey badger clip is so bad ass! I imagined that narrator reading the rest of your preview.

    I thought Montoya was gonna be available for this game. Rats.

  2. nia
    November 8, 2011

    Surely Fonta should get a run out? If not, send him back to Barca B.

    • Dave
      November 8, 2011

      Exactly or let him go in January. I think Pep has made up his mind that Fontas is not cut out for Barca. By all accounts Bartra has the greater ‘potential’.

    • November 9, 2011

      All right, I admit it. I completely forgot about his existence.

      Sure, he gets a start.

  3. November 8, 2011

    The biggest difference in how the team is playing this season compared to last is the goal scoring contribution from both flanks.

    Ineffectiveness, injury – for whatever reason the team has simply stopped scoring from the advanced flank positions. And that’s on both sides of the middle.

    That must change if this team is going to achieve the kind of success it has in the recent past. It is of paramount importance.

    Pep needs to figure this out.

    The team really needs Villa. Not sure what’s going on or how much of the leaked rumors are true – but what is clear is that Villa has simply stopped scoring in the liga matches. And that’s not a recent occurrence. This is a problem that developed back in the middle of last season – for both Villa and Pedro. I was hoping that with the start of the new season things would change. But they haven’t so far.

    Hopefully the Copa and the international break will give Villa a chance to regain his goal scoring.

    On another note – it’s almost everyday now that simply extraordinary events are emerging out of Europe. Day after day. It’s difficult to get over. The bond market is thrashing Italy – it’s very possible that Spain will be next.

    It’s very possible that the landscape of European football will look very different a year from now. Perhaps even earlier. Very unsettling developments.

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      November 8, 2011

      outside the pitch, I don’t believe there’s a personal problem between Messi and Villa. looking at their characters, I just don’t see it.
      like Pep said, Villa is too nice and generous of a person. and Messi… is Messi.

      however, on the pitch, maybe there are tactical issues between the two.
      like mega_tajh said, couple of times he stands and just watch Messi make a move looking lost as if to either run for a pass or keep position.

    • mega_tajh
      November 8, 2011

      For now i can Excuse the lack of goals from the flank since Pep has been experimenting all this season more so than previous. That is why im not to worried with our dropped points as yet once it allows us to evolve more as a team. I think Pep is trying to get more goals from the midfield thats why he is trying so many different lineups and better he experiment now rather than later on. I’m a novice with tactics but with Cesc we have a goal scorer along with a midfielder so i assume now Pep is trying to exploit that by trying new options on the wings(Adriano&Cuenca and now a fit Alexis) so Villa is suffering goalwise from that change….just a thought i had.

  4. November 8, 2011

    I think Pep is trying to get more goals from the midfield thats why he is trying so many different lineups and better he experiment now

    I agree that Pep is very consciously and actively trying to experiment this season. He is extremely concerned about the team becoming complacent and is always trying to force the squad to grow its capabilities.

    But here’s my concern with what going on with regard to gaining more scoring from midfield. There are definitely benefits to diversifying the scoring. However, one of the side effects that has been a real negative to this strategy is that Barca are now playing even more through the middle than they have before.

    And this is something I am concerned about tactically. The team is playing so much through the middle now. Whether its the 3-4-3 or playing Cesc as a false 9 with Messi nominally on the right, the team has become so focused on attacks through the middle that its becoming easier to defend in some ways.

    They absolutely must get back to creating dangerous attacks off the flanks and scoring goals from those positions.

    And part of that for me begins with making Alexis Sanchez the starting, full time right winger when the team comes back from this international break. They absolutely need Sanchez to start fulfilling part of his potential. He is a weapon that could dramatically make this team better.

    • Ryan
      November 8, 2011

      Didn’t our “slump” start with Sanchez’ injury as well, as we went on to tie that game and look lackluster in the following matches? I’m also really hoping we get to see some of the promising aspects of his play that we were starting to see before he was sidelined for over a month.

  5. November 8, 2011

    I agree with Graham Hunter on Villa: Stop hitting the damn ball at the keeper and there wouldn’t be any problems, He does it time and again. Villa is suffering, goal-wise, because he isn’t converting his chances. It’s as simple as that. He had two excellent ones against Bilbao, and screwed the pooch on both. When we had a certain big, eventually dumbassed Swede, people were calling him a worthless failure during his extended scoring droughts.

    Villa hits shots directly at the keeper, and persists in trying to beat people 1-v-1 on the wing, when it’s clear that he can’t. He doesn’t have the pace or ball skills to do so. The real question, as Euler notes, is how are we going to get scoring from the flanks. Adriano might be a viable option, with enough time out there. But his early shot against Bilbao was riduculous. He could have gone left or right, instead of scuffing it right at the keeper, something that all of our guys are doing a lot this season.

    Weird, that.

    • November 8, 2011

      Villa is suffering, goal-wise, because he isn’t converting his chances. It’s as simple as that.

      I agree as well. Ultimately, whatever is going on with Villa – the bottom line is that he’s simply not converting opportunities when they present themselves. And that’s his main job. He’s simply not very efficient in front of goal.

      I do think a secondary issue is the number of chances Villa is getting to score. At times he taking too passive a role or is unsure what to do out on the pitch – pass, shoot, slow play down, etc.

      What ultimately links these two issues together – the efficiency of finishing and the generation of chances – seems to be that Villa is now thinking out on the pitch rather than simply playing within the flow of the game and letting his talent carry him.

      Pep needs to get Villa back into the flow of the match so that his natural skill can take over again.

      The other issue that he perhaps needs to now address is changing the pattern of his finishing. I do wonder if the scouting reports on Villa now tell the keeper that Villa will really tend to try to score by shooting through the legs of the keeper. He needs to vary his approach some.

      But mostly – he has to reintegrate himself into the dynamics of the match rather than thinking through the mechanics of what he’s doing step by step.

      • November 8, 2011

        Exactly. He looks stiff and tentative out there, like he’s thinking too much. He also looks like he isn’t having as much fun. Dare I say it, I think of the track of our idiot Seede, who started loose and free-flowing with Messi, then started thinking too much and getting stiff and tight.

        He will break out, I hope, like the jump shooter who makes a fes free throws to het his rhythm back.

        • mega_tajh
          November 8, 2011

          Guardiola: “Villa is having some little problems at his shinbone. But he keeps going, he’s very competitive.

          That can partly explain his lack off shot variety especially if he is suffering on his right shin.

          One thing for sure is that 2moro we get to see a Messi-less Barca and hopefully a central starting Villa.

      • mega_tajh
        November 8, 2011

        What I have to add is how routine our attacks have been this season. Before, when Xavi got the ball he had options from the left or right of him, now more often than not his only option is Alves who in turns passes the ball back to midfield. Usually when Alves got the ball defenses would adjust to defend him leaving space in the middle for some 1-2 with Messi or Pedro but now hardly any team defends the treat of Alves anymore.

        Teams are starting to take each game against us like a final doing the required research to stop us. Strikers of other teams are now frequently running back 20-40 yards just do defend our mid. Before teams use to defend us by parking the bus and leave their striker up top for anything, now opponents are defending and attacking us completely as a unit, which I must can only force us into a draw. I refuse to say our standard of play have dropped this season just opponents are studying us more so now than ever combined to the fact that our team isn’t 100% fit.

        Pep experimenting just gives me reason to believe that he sees our problems and are trying to correct our of use of attacking through the middle.

  6. November 8, 2011

    Before, when Xavi got the ball he had options from the left or right of him, now more often than not his only option is Alves who in turns passes the ball back to midfield.

    That’s because Barca is playing too much through the middle. It’s become extreme this season. Playing through the middle too much has always been an issue for Barca. Something they have to be vigilant against.

    But this season its become an even bigger issue. So much of the attack almost has to be routed through the middle. At times there are actually too few players even physically present in wide positions to even play the ball too.

    I’m sure Pep sees this and fully understands it. He’s got to get the team back to addressing this issue and diversifying how they can damage the opposition.

    • can_we_go_Xalvies
      November 9, 2011

      I’ve noticed that Messi moves out wide as RW more often then he has been in recent seasons, I know he is naturally a RW, but having him play both in the centre and on the right just makes his game a lot more complicated for him, kind of like a mild dose of what he has to do in the national team and pretty much be all over the pitch.

    • nzm
      November 9, 2011


      It used to be just the left side that played to the middle: LB/LW – Iniesta – Xavi

      Now they’re doing it on the right as well: RB/RW – Xavi – ?

      Something’s not making sense. I’m still smelling rats.

  7. barca96
    November 8, 2011

    Didn’t our “slump” start with Sanchez’ injury as well, as we went on to tie that game and look lackluster in the following matches?

    How many manitas have we had since then?

    I don’t understand what the big fuss about Villa being unhappy with hew new position. He was playing LW ever since he got here. Why is he only unhappy now right when Ibra releases a book saying that he was unhappy at being played out of position.

    It’s as if people heard Ibra’s comments and apply it on Villa.

    And Villa was doing just fine in September. He was better than ever in fact.

    • Ryan
      November 9, 2011

      And how many draws? Like someone said before, alternating between complete domination and dropping points is not a good way to contend for the league.

      I don’t pay much attention to the Villa-Messi rumors, but Villa was certainly not near his best in September. He’s not feeling like the great goal threat that he was and should still be. When he’s on the Spanish NT, opponent defenders seem to know he’s eventually going to score. With the chances he’s getting most games he should be instilling that same kind of fear in Barca’s opponents!

  8. barca96
    November 8, 2011

    Guardiola: “If players don’t understand now they start on the bench, they will when they’re older and become coaches themselves.”

    Who was Pep referring to?

  9. November 8, 2011

    There’s one other issue with Villa that also adds to the situation – though its total influence I’m not sure about right now.

    There are times in matches when he really looks exhausted.

    His work rate and willingness to defend since joining the team have been exemplary.

    However, it may be taking too much of a toll on him. Last season being tired was clearly an issue. The break he got before the CL finals really transformed him back to the player we expect.

    This is why the issues of depth along the front line are so critical. Villa is considerably older than the other Barca forwards. He probably needs more rest then he’s been getting.

    • barca96
      November 8, 2011

      Right… And before his slump he was everywhere on the pitch. I guess it has taken it’s toll already. And another important fact is that he couldn’t be substituted because there was no other attacker available.

  10. nia
    November 8, 2011

    OT: Mundodeportivo just reported that the clasico might be played on Nov 29, just like last season. don’t know wether to be happy or sad coz this day could be either happy or sad for the 5 known reasons from last year. I know Barca can raise their level when it comes to clasico’s but, i’m not so confident this yr, mmmmm!!

  11. November 9, 2011

    Part of the answer was to bulk up – match the Europeans in physical terms, said Brazil’s footballing technocrats, and our technique will tip the balance. But there were also changes in the way the game was approached. Previously it was full of intricate moves through midfield. In the future there will be no space for such things, said the technocrats. If a move has more than seven passes the chances of a goal are reduced, they claimed.

    The future lies in the counter-attack, in quick breaks down the flanks. And that is how Brazil evolved. The central midfielders, once the best passers of the ball around, became auxiliary defenders, holding the fort while the full backs made their forward bursts.

    When critics pointed out that this would never produce the flow and the brio of old, the technocrats said the physical evolution of the game could not be turned back. There was no alternative.

    And then along came Barcelona/Spain. Brazilian football had become dominated by the idea that the central midfielders should stand six foot tall. But here were little Xavi and Iniesta running rings round all comers. And the counter-attack stuff and the idea that passing was a problem – refuted by Barcelona on a weekly basis.

    Current Brazil boss Mano Menezes is living in the aftermath of this bombshell, his position made more difficult by the fact that his team are hosting the next World Cup.


    That’ll probably be the legacy of our side, as in we’ll have a legacy the way previous great sides like Ajax and Milan did that changed the history of the game and its evolution. I don’t mean for just Brazil, but in general.

    In the years before Barcelona/Spain starting 2008, it was almost generally accepted as fact that counter-attacking and physical play was the way forward. And now you see national teams and tiny newly-promoted clubs in England and other big sides and all these places having a new focus on possession play, technique, youth training with a consistent system from youngest to the first team (ironically enough, even Real switching to that) and all those.

    • barca96
      November 9, 2011

      Great article! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Helge
    November 9, 2011

    Sport.es and other websites suggest that the line-up will consist of much more B players and just 2 (or 3) Spanish internationals.
    That would almost imply that Pep rests them for the friendly vs England on Saturday – it should be the other way round!
    So I hope for a line-up similar to yours, Isaiah.

    Oh, and thanks for all the badger videos, I love them 😉

    • nzm
      November 9, 2011

      According to Spanish Football Fed rules, at least 7 first team players have to be “fielded”.

  13. November 9, 2011

    Hospitalet’s players will evoke memories of football from a bygone era on Wednesday night as they step onto the pitch to face Barcelona in the Copa del Rey sporting moustaches.

    The Segunda Division B side are supporting the men’s health charity Movember, which raises funds and awareness for prostate cancer in the 11th month of each year through sponsored upper lip growth across the world.

    “It’s a fun way for people to get to know the types of cancer specific to men,” said Hospitalet midfielder Ruben Garcia Arnal in quotes published by ABC. “And we would like people to raise money for the investigation of prostate cancer by letting their moustache grow.”

    According to Movember Spain, 5,900 men die from prostate cancer every year across the country.

    Okay. Badass.

    • blitzen
      November 9, 2011

      I now have a desperate need to see Busi with a handlebar mustache. People already see him as a villain, so why not?

      Seriously, why can’t Barça players participate in Movember? Iniesta with a Fu Manchu needs to happen!

    • nzm
      November 9, 2011

      Saw Pep with a mou the other day when being interviewed on TV. Let’s hope that the mou above his mouth stays in better control than the Mou in Madrid. 😀

  14. blitzen
    November 9, 2011

    Today’s game is going to be played on artificial turf. Is anyone else concerned about that?

    • mom4
      November 9, 2011

      Yes, hugely. Xaxi should’t get near this field, imo.

      • blitzen
        November 9, 2011

        Completely agree. I fear for Xavi’s tendons and I hope Pep doesn’t let him anywhere near the pitch.

    • blitzen
      November 9, 2011

      Fabregas has begun a journey of rediscovery at Barcelona and whether he starts or is on the bench against England on Saturday, there cannot be any doubt that those who bet against him and his move to the Nou Camp have lost their stakes.

      Fantastic article, thanks for posting it! Graham Hunter always gives a good read. Can’t wait for his Barça book to come out. Must preorder.

      (And Graham, if you are reading this, I’m still waiting for an answer to my last tweet re. the Messi/Villa rumours!) 😛

  15. November 9, 2011

    Euler, I am not sure if not playing out wide is the main issue.
    Its only a series of hard fought battles (and their results) which made us look like we are struggling in every single issue.

    Our home form is still rampant (except when Sevilla came in and played like beasts), but we are doing noticeably bad in away matches. Statistics tells me that we are play very well except putting the chances away:

    Sevilla 21 shots (6 on goal), 13 corners.
    Granada 16 shots (7 on goal), 10 corners.
    Mallorca 18 shots (10 on goal), 9 corners.
    Plzen 18 shots (11 on goal), 3 corners.
    Athletic 16 shots (9 on goal), 1 corner.

    I don’t know how bad these shots could be, but from what I remember, a lot of them could be converted and change the results. Of that 21 shots against Sevilla, which deserved the credits, I don’t know how bad those plays built up, but 21 shots and 6 on target suggest me that we need to start hitting the ball better(!).

    In the Athletic game, Despite the awful rain, I thought we played above average. The ball rotation was obstructed, but we still penetrated their defense and had numerous good chances. Messi was particularly sharp and (over)ambitious in those thru balls, but they did create 9 goals on target for us.

    Playing out wide has been our asset, but when nobody is willing to receive those crosses from Alves, Adriano or sometimes (!) Fabregas. Then I don’t see why we should do it. Of course, if we consciously try to run inside to finish those crosses, we will rediscover what we learned from the Eto’o-Henry-Messi trio combo, which scored more than 100 goal in a season.

    Now it does seems like Pep has changed the way we attack, but we are not any less dangerous. He is fine tuning things, I believe. Once the experiments are done, goals will come. To me, the experiment is already successful, but the likes of Pedro, Villa together with Iniesta must start putting chances away.

    • November 9, 2011

      Note: Statistics is not everything, but from what I remember, we played above average in many matches.

    • November 9, 2011

      I agree on the Bilbao game, we were very good but the conditions had a huge effect.

      We were genuinely terrible against Granada though, but I do agree with the overall sentiment as well that we haven’t been particularly awful as much as various circumstances (amazing Milan defending and sloppiness in a Milan game we dominated, off days which happen to every club and doesn’t signify a greater trend in the Sevilla-Granada double, a waterlogged pitch that blocked everything against Bilbao) just getting in the way of results.

  16. mom4
    November 9, 2011

    Well,VV seems to have picked up an ouchie booboo on his elbow and is out of the squad(not that he would have played) . I hope he is able to play for the NT. He’s the one guy I don’t mind getting a cap. The rest should rest.

  17. November 9, 2011

    “I am not sure if not playing out wide is the main issue.”

    There’s a number of factors at play as you point out. However, as I look at the team its the attacking play from wide positions that is the major difference from last season and the primary reason that the team has dropped more points this year than they had at a similar time last season.

    Here are Barca’s leading scorers this year in La Liga:

    1. Messi
    2. Fabergas
    3. Xavi
    4. Iniesta

    What do all of those players have in common? Obviously they all largely play in the middle of the pitch.

    Compare that to Barca’s leading goal scorers from last season:

    1. Messi
    2. Villa
    3. Pedro
    4. Iniesta

    That’s a much more balanced distribution of goal scoring.

    And the problem isn’t just the distribution – it’s the total number of goals. I’d have to go back and check the statistics, but I believe Barca is simply scoring less this season than last.

    Messi’s producing as are Iniesta and Xavi at levels one would expect. Cesc has surpassed expectations in terms of goal scoring (especially given his injury and total playing time).

    So by all expectations one would imagine Barca would be well ahead of their goal scoring pace this season than last. But they aren’t.

    And the reason why is that their second and third leading goal scorers have simply stopped scoring. Villa has 3 Liga goals. Pedro has 1.

    In turn this is allowing teams to get away with defending Barca much more narrowly without Barcelona taking advantage of the space on the flanks that defending narrow opens up.

    That was the story of the Sevilla match. Sevilla played extremely narrow. Barca generated little danger in the open spaces from wide and in turn couldn’t score efficiently.

    Left to their own devices, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and Cesc are going to want to play through the middle. Now that scoring from the flanks has collapsed they have even less reason to try to spread play.

    For me this is an enormous issue that must be addressed.

    Someone earlier commented on how Messi was playing more on the right again this season.

    This is both a symptom and a cause of the problem of playing through the middle too much. Against Sevilla Messi moved to the right because that’s where there was more open space. At other times he plays on the right to try to get Fabregas in the game.

    Either way – he is going to come off that flank quickly and move back into the middle. He is not going to create a great deal of width.

    So in that last match against Bilbao – yes weather was a huge factor. But so was the fact that Messi and Cesc were both playing essentially in the same space in the middle. That’s where both want to be. Iniesta was playing in the same space Xavi was as well though a bit deeper.

    Alves was the only player on the right. Adriano was the only player on the left (and was largely ignored) with some support from Abidal. Adriano is a very good player – but he’s not going to be a major goal scorer. That’s not his skill set. So Bilbao really didn’t need to worry too much about him or Abidal. And their defense was set up as such.

    Right now its far easier to defend Barca than it should be because the attack is so focused on the middle of the pitch.

    • November 9, 2011

      Euler has it exactly right, re: width. To my view, it’s also a symptom of Messidependencia. He’s in the middle, and so is the ball. I, for example, would have been a lot happier had Messi’s goal tally not been quite so gaudy last season, while Villa had another 10-12 goals. But that isn’t going to happen because Villa is a dead-reliable 20+ goal man per season. You won’t get much more, but you won’t get much less, either. That is his beauty.

      But if Sanchez becomes what I think many hope, Villa will be expendable. We don’t need players to be in the space where Messi is. We need a wing player who can beat his man off the dribble either with pace or ball skills, get into the box and create or score. If Sanchez can score goals, look out.

      And on the other side we have Cuenca, who it seems has the skill set to do both of those as well. Width is absolutely crucial to what we do. I also don’t like that Messi has such a high percentage of our goals.

      We can get width in a number of ways. Abidal’s overlaps have been pretty wonderful this season, and I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the Adriano as LW experiment. I also wonder if some effectiveness in the case of the 3-4-3 is lost in the case of Alves, who is, by the by, having his own complexities (one touch too many, trying to beat players rather than keeping ball moving, etc).

      Note also that when Messi moves right as Euler notes, Fabregas moves to the center and the left side of the pitch might as well not exist. That’s a repeated problem, just as our right-looking players complicated the lives of Henry and Ibrahimovic when they were here. You set up space where you know you have the opportunity to be effective, but the ball has to come out there. We play it to Villa, but that too often doesn’t lead to anything good. We have to put the ball out there. Even Adriano’s goalscoring chance, though he was the LW, came in the center of the pitch.

      • November 9, 2011

        Very well said. I think you’ve raised a number of good points.

        One question I do have is this – how much of this is a symptom of dependence on Messi and how much of it is a cause of needing to depend on Messi.

        I believe both of those issues are confounded – which makes it more difficult to fix. And also sets up a situation where the team can enter a kind of vicious cycle. Which is where they are sort of now.

        The less effective the goal scoring from the flanks is the more the team has to score from the middle and the more they need Messi. But the more the ball goes to the middle through Messi the less its going to go to the flanks. That’s what I mean by the vicious cycle.

        How to break that? I think you’ve outlined key steps that need to be taken.

        The most important is Sanchez. They have to have a player who can beat defenders 1 vs. 1 with the ball and get behind them with pace. Sanchez can do that.

        And one of the things we’ve seen from Messi is that if players from wide positions make quality runs diagonally behind defenders – Messi will find them with the dagger pass (think Villa’s goals in the Manita Clasico).

        The challenge for Sanchez is still how to integrate his talent into a one touch system that is built around Messi. Part of this is going to require the system itself to change to accomodate Sanche’s talents.

        Cuenca – he’s very promising. He has real, substantive skills, ones that Barcelona really needs out wide.

        Most of all – they need Villa and Pedro to get back in form.

        At this point I just don’t want to see the team give up on play from wide. But they’ve implicitly done that in too many games already repeatedly trying to thread perfect passes through absurdly congested space in the middle.

  18. November 9, 2011

    Bumpy Graham is sure that we’ll sign Thiago Silva? And Milan will agree easily? If its true..

    • November 9, 2011

      I think this is a very real possibility as well.

      What’s happening in Italy right now is simply extraordinary in terms of their economic situation. And if you look at the financial situation of Milan – it’s already under so much duress.

      It seems like they are going to need to sell a player to make things work there – and the players who they can sell who will bring back the large sum they likely need are Pato and Silva.

      The financial situation in Spain is perilous as well. But Barca has globalized their business so much that domestic downturns in their respective home countries will affect them far less than they will Milan.

      The financial situation in Europe is truly remarkable. Nearly every day now some new event takes place that is hard to believe.

      The landscape of European football is going to change.

    • Eklavya
      November 9, 2011

      At 10 PM CET (Barca time). So that’s 2:30 in the morning for you. Yay. 4 PM for those living on the east coast of the US, I believe.

      • Eklavya
        November 9, 2011

        Why do I have to do all the Maths for you though, dangit?!

          • Eklavya
            November 9, 2011

            Yeah, but that implies that you keep checking the site every few minutes or so, and its annoying for those who would also like to know the match time but live in another time zone.

  19. Eklavya
    November 9, 2011

    *Makes Keita face* Huh? What? I’ve been busying last few days reading a new book but it seems like I’ve been missing something.

    -Thiago Silva to Barca? He could have been included in the Ibra deal? Eeeeh?

    -What is going with Europe’s finance? Why is football’s landscape going to change?

    – Bumpy (LOL) Graham is cool. Good article + fun tweets with Blitzen and Ramzi. Yay.

    – There’s a match tonight? I hope loads of Barca Babies play.

  20. blitzen
    November 9, 2011

    And just in case we haven’t all had quite enough of Ibrahimovic, here is another excerpt from his book (via The Fiver of Guardian fame):

    On the Special One: “[He won me over] via SMS. He hadn’t even joined [Inter], I was playing for the national team and after a match I got a message saying ‘well done’. I had never had a manager who sent me text messages. So many … He showered me in attention. I need it. For Mou I would have done anything.” (Emphasis mine.)

    So there you have it. All Pep needed to do was give Zlatan more love and all would have been well. Every ninja warrior likes to feel special. A few texts, some phone calls, maybe a candlelight dinner. Would it have killed you to buy him flowers once in a while, Pep?

    • November 9, 2011

      I’m sure Pep delegated this work to Pique, who seemed more than effective..

  21. November 9, 2011

    On another note – Neymar has signed a new contract with Santos.

    He claims he will be staying until 2014.

    Salary was increased and his buy out clause was increased as well. Before it was 45M. Now – unclear. It makes more sense now why his reported price for going to RM was 60M.

    What a circus this has been. Now its only going to continue to draw out.

    I’d guess this contract revision is mostly about increasing neymar’s salary – but mostly about increasing his buy out. As I remember, Neymar gets a significant percentage of his own transfer fee. So its in his interest to be sold for as much as possible.

    I was hoping this would be put to bed by this summer. But him signing this contract reopens the chances he winds up at Barca rather than Madrid.

    I’d still guess Rosell would like to sign him…

    • November 9, 2011

      The other thing, in addition to raising the money that both he and Santos will make from the deal, is that it relieves the pressure on Santos to do a deal, in case a supplicant isn’t happy with being bent over a chair and had at, for the privilege of purchasing Rooster Boy.

      I just don’t think we will buy Neymar while Guardiola is with us. As RoSELL said, “It’s Guardiola’s decision. Go ask him.”

      • November 9, 2011

        The new deal was done to re-establish and increase the leverage that the seller has in the market.

        They are clearly looking to play this into a historic pay day. The notion that sums of 60M have already been discussed are ludicrous.

        I was hoping FloFlo’s desire to find his “own messi” and throw a pile of cash around would have ended this. But now it drags on.

        I agree that I just can’t see him fitting into a Guardiola side unless he dramatically changes and improves his work rate and overall game.

        With Deulofeu, Rafinha, Cuenca – and Sanchez being so young there’s limited need to spend so much on a player who is largely projection.

        Hopefully its still Pep making the decisions.

        • blitzen
          November 9, 2011

          1. Rosell wants Neymar, but won’t break the bank for him.

          2. Neymar will cost a ludicrous amount of money.

          3. Rosell is desperate to keep Guardiola. (For the trophies, and to keep Messi happy, not out of any sentiment.)

          4. Guardiola has not yet renewed his contract.

          5. Guardiola doesn’t want Neymar. Messi probably doesn’t want him either.

          6. Rosell, despite appearances, is not stupid. He’s not going to spend a huge amount of cash on a player his coach doesn’t want.

          7. Cuenca > Neymar. 😀

          8. Ergo, no Neymar.

        • November 9, 2011

          It actually doesn’t drag on. Recall Falcoa? He signed a new contract with Porto during Copa America. Two months later, an investment group helps Atletico Madrid sign him for 40m.

          Neymar was on a deal till 2015, while this leaves him on a deal till 2014. Even if Santos was going to hold out, now they are forced to sell either this summer or the one after. Otherwise he loses most of his value.

          The kid is talented. Very very talented. With that said, he fits the system Real Madrid has (quick direct football) rather than the system that Barcelona has (lower tempo possession football). It would really surprise me if Pep does opt for him, but if it goes past this summer, Rosell might be thinking of a Barca post Pep. Especially if this year RM can pull of a major trophy.

          • nzm
            November 9, 2011

            The other option would be for Barca to buy him even they don’t want him, keep him for a season, and flick him off to any other club but RM. 🙂

  22. nzm
    November 9, 2011

    On Catalunya TV just now, we got a brief glimpse of Cesc coming off the bus.

    I think he’s cut his hair! 😀

    • nzm
      November 9, 2011

      Ah no – he’s just got it really slicked down.

  23. blitzen
    November 9, 2011

    Barça starting XI: Pinto, JDS, Puyol, Fontàs, Maxwell, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Cesc and Tello.

    Fontas! He’s alive!!!!!

    Xavi starts? If he gets injured, imma cut someone. 👿

    • November 9, 2011

      I blame Bojan. Guess Pep wants to put this to bed before the 2nd leg..

  24. November 9, 2011

    Not sure why Pep is using so many first team players.

    Why does Xavi have to play so many minutes at his age?

    Bringing Cesc in hasn’t really decreased Xavi’s workload much at all.

    Would have liked to see Sergi Roberto start.

    No Deulofeu – didn’t make the bench.

    • blitzen
      November 9, 2011

      “at his age”? Xavi is only 31, not 51. Geez.

      I don’t want him to play this game either, but let’s not act like he is geriatric or something. :roll:

      • mom4
        November 9, 2011

        He looks good for his twilight years!

      • November 9, 2011

        Oh come on. You know what I meant. Nowhere did I call him geriatric. Obviously he’s not geriatric but he’s clearly on the older side of where players – especially midfielders fall into.

        Xavi and Alves regularly run more than any other player on Barca during an average match. Xavi continues to play enormous minutes.

        31 is not young and Xavi continues to play enormous minutes – both for the club and for country.

        And he continues to do this despite the club bringing in Cesc and promoting Thiago. I don’t think this is positive.

        • mega_tajh
          November 9, 2011

          Pep is a smart dude. Playing Xavi now kind of forces Del Bosque to rest him against England doesn’t it? Rather he plays now than travel to a cold Wembley and play.

          • jordi™
            November 9, 2011

            Vicente hardly rests our players so i wouldnt be so hasty.

          • Ryan
            November 9, 2011

            Spain plays much worse with Xavi absent, so don’t hold your breath about Xavi being rested.

      • nzm
        November 9, 2011

        51 is geriatric? Oh My God – there’s no hope for me after next year! LOL

      • nzm
        November 9, 2011

        I just ordered my walking frame. 😐

    • Helge
      November 9, 2011

      So who is on the bench?

      I hope Rafinha plays the complete 2nd half! 🙂

  25. November 9, 2011

    As much as I wanna see Bobo miss chances the youth given a run out, I’m too baked right now to watch it over a flaky feed. Besides as Kxevin already pointed out, #dumpthecopa. I hand over all my peanuts to Ek to SELL..

  26. mom4
    November 9, 2011

    I’m not sure how I feel about this lineup. Xavi and Villa are carrying knocks and yet they start on artificial turf. At least, according to my penya notice, this is supposed to be the latest and greatest in artificial turf so there’s that.

    Gotta love what their coach says about the turf advantage:
    Vinyals (coach Hospitalet): “Artificial grass an advantage? Well, it smells different.. Their advantage is we can’t let it grow like others”

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