Barca 5, Levante 0, aka “Are we ready now, coach?”

"Hehehehehehe!"

Though I confess to being entertained by Ray Ray, I don’t often agree with his stone table pronouncements about The Way Things Are. But today, as the match began, his observations about our side and its shape were spot on. He eschewed any real designations for the formation(s) that we play, instead calling it “amoeba.” How right he is, hell, even as amoebas move by changing the shape of their bodies, ask yourself how Messi, Cuenca and Iniesta got out of some of the spots they were in today.

Yes, we start out in a formation, but what can you really call it when Fabregas is playing defender, breaking up an attack in our box before threading a pass that starts an attack the other way, then dashing down to join in on the attack. A label-defying shapelessness. “Total football?” Dunno. I do know it’s beautiful, and when it’s played the way that it was today, it warms the cockles of my cold little heart.

After the Getafe mess, Guardiola said this club will be fine, and he was right. There is too much talent for the club not to be fine. The simple complexity is that sometimes, that talent isn’t used to its full effectiveness, for whatever reason. And it’s soul-illuminating outings such as today’s destruction of the 4th-placed side in the Liga, that make those clunky outings so frustrating. There is so much beauty present in this team, this once in a lifetime bunch, that we get used to the sparkle, the footsteps that seem to strike ocular glitter from the pitch as our diminutive sprites work their magic. They make it look so easy, so fluent. It is just when we question the matches where they go through the motions. Is it the burden of expectations? Not for me.

No, for me, it is that such loveliness deserves its reward. Those brilliant “total football” sides didn’t have the success their mellifluous elegance deserved, the success that makes people say “See, the game can be beautiful and effective.” As they say of us. This club needs to pile up as much silver as it can, like a singer in her prime who nabs sales and artistic awards galore, stockpiling accolades to build a fortress of comfort for the time when the voice isn’t as pretty, its range shortened and suddenly rough around the edges.

And what a time for our beauties to return to us. Levante rolled into town a mere week before El Clasic, probably thinking they would find us distracted and nervous, anticipating the titanic struggle that is to come, rather than taking them seriously enough to be at our absolute best. They were right and wrong, right in that El Clasic was definitely on the brain, wrong in that the state in which they would find us. They also had the great misfortune of being the tuneup opponent, the one that helps the club figure out the form the week before a big match. Levante was therapy, in other words.

Guardiola rolled out with a lineup that I have mentioned being desirous of for the Clasic, Valdes, Mascherano, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Sanchez, Cuenca, Messi. But frankly, I was surprised to see it, even as its vindication was evident. Width, pace and movement were the hallmarks of a side that looked like marbles in a giant glass bowl. It wasn’t that Levante played poorly. Far from it. They were organized defensively, and aggressive at both ends of the pitch, determined to play like men, rather than just keeping 10 behind the ball. They came at us with midfield pressure and tight lines. But they had to hit the reset button after about 3 minutes, as Messi, Iniesta and Fabregas combined for the first of a series of exquisite goals. On paper and the pitch, it looked so simple: Messi passed to Iniesta who passed to Fabregas who slotted home.

In reality, it was one player, measuring the defense right down to the way it closed spaces and the pace at which it would do so, then striking his pass with the precise amount of weight to get it through that defense, but not so hard that the receiver can’t control and redirect it. It was a pass that was exactly right. Then the receiver has to, rather than controlling the ball and giving the defense the opportunity to close down, almost parry the ball with his heel, into space for the teammate that he already knows will be exactly where he already is, because Iniesta created the space with his run toward the box. So his backheel was flicked to Fabregas, who hit a shot that was hard enough to sizzle, but not so hard as not to be precisely controllable, placed in the sliver of space between the post and a diving keeper.

But on screen, it was “Pip, pang, goal.” And there was much rejoicing.

Ray Ray said that “Knowing where it’s going to be, you’ve won three-fourths of the battle.” Which is exactly right. Our players aren’t telepaths, even though they are footballing savants. But they know, because the system has taught them, the same system that nurtured every last one of them, the same system that fast learners such as Abidal have now become part of.

The biggest difference today was movement, movement of the kind that always leaves every player with a passing option, that helps the defense by shutting down the midfield by filling it with kicking, clawing little people who want the ball back, so they can resume making like the inside of a supercollider. Movement makes goals. But movement, the kind of movement we saw today, is admittedly impossible to pull off every match. But it’s the kind of movement that makes us the best club in the world, a club that today, would have beaten any club that it faced. It just happened to be Levante, who could only shrug and glare in wonderment and the opponent does the impossible.

The second goal was atypical for us, scored off a header from a set piece. And again, simple on its surface, as Xavi plonked a ball onto the poorly coiffed head of Fabregas, who headed the ball to the one spot the keeper couldn’t get to, something that Sanchez didn’t take notes on when he had his header opportunity, it must be noted. But again, it was a goal of such exquisite precision as to boggle the mind. Drogba today, against Newcastle, hit a rocket of a header that if the keeper had gotten a hand to it, would have knocked him back into the net with the ball. The Fabregas header was a deft, glancing blow that was flawlessly placed. With his head.

At this point in time, Levante were done. No way were they going to score two goals, because the movement and aggression were back, qualities that limit the comfort, the chances that a team has to score against us. They had two excellent ones. Valdes stopped them both. Done. Their keeper was excellent today, which didn’t matter, because none of our goals made all that much sense in a real world in which such things aren’t really possible. I think of a recent episode of the wonderful “Top Gear,” in which Jeremy Clarkson was driving a replical of a Lotus Formula One car. He explained that the car was difficult to drive because it was faster than his mind would comfortably fathom. So he would brake three times sooner than the car needed to make a corner.

So it was with our third goal, a work of art that saw Cuenca as the beneficiary of the largesse of Messi and Iniesta. Again, Messi smote a pass for Iniesta, who simply moved it along to Cuenca, who calmly bent the ball around a diving keeper, who probably figured he had it, that that …. that …. kid wouldn’t have the presence of mind to hit that kind of a shot, the perfectly bent ball that made diving, a keeper’s anticipation and knowledge, as useful as a umbrella in a rock slide.

Were we scoring goals for fun? No, we were scoring them for practice, reacquainting ourselves with being at absolute best. The goals were rooted in movement and excellence, not formations, Xs and Os. It was Alves scrambling, fighting, hustling to win a ball back and put it in the perfect spot for Messi to slot home. How do you defend the indefensible? Two weeks ago, Alves probably loses that battle. Not today. Not a week before El Clasic. Not when he and the club have to be at their absolute best.

In addition to movement, width was back. Real width, not the fake stuff that comes from players taking the ball out wide and cutting in to make an already congested middle of the pitch more so. Cuenca hugged the right sideline, and Sanchez set up station at extreme left. As both players were dangerous, when Xavi wisely sprayed balls out to them, Levante’s defense absolutely had to shift. A club would be crazy not to play the ball, right? It becomes a daft decision time of whether you just leave Cuenca on his own, staying home on the likes of Messi and Fabregas, or whether you play the ball. Whatever you do, the answer is almost certainly going to be wrong.

Yes, this means you’re a little loose, because Messi and Iniesta are the dangers. So when Sanchez takes a ball on the left, he has a little more space than he probably should have. He takes a little shimmy to create a bit more, then bends/lobs an amazing shot that caroms off the underside of the crossbar before nestling into its rightful place, in back of the net. It was goal that made me scream with delight, because it started in the very very back of the pitch, in the corner from which Abidal banged a foot-perfect pass to Xavi after some deft interplay with Cuenca. Then it’s Xavi to Messi to Sanchez to yield another offering at the altar of beauty.

And the side could turn it down a notch or three, coasting home with the confidence that it is ready for the test that is to come, against an opponent that is better, more prepared than it has ever been, an opponent that cost Levante its dignity, as we took them seriously because of the task at hand: preparing for a titanic struggle against a powerful foe. Yes, it was as simple as that, but it was also indescribably beautiful.

Team: 9. Allowed Levante some time with the ball as Kone’s pace and strength were surprising. But apart from that, what a match, on every level.

Guardiola: 10. Right lineup, right strategy, right substitutions. He has his side at its best at the exact time that it has to be.

Valdes: 8. Extraordinary stop 1-v-1 against Kone. Yes, the attacker panicked a bit, but Valdes made himself huge and showed excellent reflexes. He has to stop spraying balls from the back, however. Could be dangerous against the wrong opponent.

Mascherano: 10. Ray Ray was justifiably having gush fits about his performance, including the one remarkable sequence where he stopped two different Levante players, then played the ball brilliantly out of the back. He’s our best defender right now.

Puyol: 8. Very strong match. He has a spiritual presence that is hard to define, but it’s there. The defense is tighter, better-marshaled when he’s in the side. He and Mascherano worked very well together.

Abidal: 8. A few fraught moments, including a lapse on the header that Valdes had to save but overall, an excellent match as he outran everyone and everything. All the time.

Busquets: 8. He played to a higher score, with omnipresence in the defensive midfield. He kept the ball moving, stole it from Levante attackers and almost always made the right pass. But his “I’m dead! I’m dead!” routine almost cost the club, as an attack streamed right through the space he would have been occupying, had he not gone fetal. Stop it. Just stop it.

Xavi: 9. There were actually a couple of (shudder) errant passes, but he was thriving in the space created by the presence of Iniesta and Fabregas. He understands the value of width, as he constantly played wide balls to Sanchez and Cuenca.

Iniesta: 8. What a match for La Illusionista, who had a hand in two goals, should have scored another himself and sparkled with the kind of aggressive movement that makes us a much more dangerous side. The difference when he’s in there is so easy to see.

Fabregas: 9. Scored a brace, made lovely passes, tracked back on defense, even threw in a Prem-quality strategic foul. Awesome, awesome match.

Sanchez: 8. A constant threat, with or without the ball, and what a golazo he threw in. His pace and creativity make him a very different prospect for teams to consider on the wing. I suspect he will start the Clasic, with Villa as the impact sub.

Cuenca!: 9. Some moments of positional uncertainty, along with a beautifully taken goal, and the tactical discipline that saw him hugging the right sideline to maintain width and the threat of an active winger. This dude is for real.

Messi: 7. The strongest match he has played in some time, even as he was a little subdued, clearly marshaling his energies for the big fish. A constant danger that would materialize at horrifying times for Levante. Two defense-splitting passes and one goal himself (which should have been three, as he badly missed a couple of sitters).

Substitutes

Keita (for Busquets): 5. Disappeared, with occasional appearances to do his Keita Thing. “I’m in the way. Neener, neener!” Then vanish again.

Alves (for Puyol): 6. Would probably have played to a higher rating with more time. He still gets caught pinched in toward the middle too much for my tasters.

Pedro (for Fabregas): incomplete. His pace energy are wonderful, as he seems to always be working under the instructions of “Go chase the ball!” And this he does, tirelessly.

For me, the revelation of the match was Cuenca. He is playing to a level beyond his years, and is creating quite the selection headache for Guardiola, who has to want him in, because of the effect that he has on the right side of pitch, as he seems to always be able to find a way around his defender. So in his honor ….

"All. My. Friends. Know the low rider."

Pedro (for

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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.

127 Comments

  1. BarcaGirl_Indo
    December 4, 2011

    Kevin is back!

    like Ahsan said from the previous thread,
    Pep will have a serious selection headache for El Clasico.

    too much individual quality to leave on the bench, but that’s a good thing. 😉

  2. Srini
    December 4, 2011

    Always great to read your objective stuff, Kxevin.

    This game against Levante was the best I saw so far of Barca this season. And I am not just saying it based on systematic performance, but for the pure aesthetics. Aesthetically, this was Barca’s best this season, in my opinion (apart from the 5-0 evisceration of a more miserable Villareal compared to a fighting Levante, as Kevin rightly points out).

    I mean, it was Clockwork Blaugrana. The pieces were toying around a defense that had barely conceded 14 goals all season. Granted, Levante had been pushing above their weight all season, but their defense was always watertight. This game, they couldn’t manage to keep their ship afloat as Barca were too clever, too nimble, too hard working and too focused. It is hard to single out someone in a game of collective brilliance, but you are right, Kevin. In a game of the illustrioustas, the blending in of the rookie Cuenca made him stand out. I mean who would have thought? A No 39 from nowhere doing his thing as much as the other well known single digits?

    As much as that can be said, I still don’t think it brings clarity to what the squad is going to play against EE. For one, this formation is dicey (3-4-3) and I don’t think we can afford 3 defenders against Madrid’s lethal foursome of Ronaldo, Higuain, Oezil and Di Maria. So as much as Fabregas provided the cutting edge in his top of the diamond role, I don’t know if he would even play in the first XI. And while that is adding to a terrific suspense, it is not necessarily good for frayed nerves in this tight competition between the two best teams on the planet at the moment.

    Be that as it may, yesterday’s performance was telling another story, that of peaking at the right time. And here’s hoping there is no trough when it matters and we get to see the Hillarys and Norgays on December 11th.

  3. December 4, 2011

    I agree with Srini, the most fun to watch performance so far this season. Both aesthetically and stakes-wise with the pre-match tension.

    Now I hope everyone gets a good rest in the BATE game.

    I’m really impressed with Cuenca. He is so dangerous and seems to fit in seamlessly. Even if Pep says ‘maybe the girls will not like him, physically speaking’ LOL.

    I’m rather confident for Clasico, even as I don’t know what we’ll do for selection. Puyol has to be there, no doubt. Abidal’s speed and Alves’ attacking seems crucial. Mascherano has been so amazing lately, but Pique has also always done a very good job of stopping Ronaldo and co in almost every club meeting between us and Real.

    And then up front as well. Villa has class, and looked a lot better in the past match and will definitely is being well-rested. Sanchez should start, both for quality and workrate, I think. And Cuenca has been fantastic providing width, and with Madrid overloading the middle through Pepe or other means width will be important. Then Pedro is Pedro, though I don’t know if I’d start him based on current form, but he really is a workhorse too though.

    And then of course, the dilemma of Cesc. I would not want to play a three-man defense in the Clasico in the slightest. I figure Cesc will have to be an impact sub… or I don’t know, Guardiola will pull off something crazy most probably and I like that since if we’re confused about what to expect surely Madrid will be too.

    I do hope we see the whole dynamic shift to another formation after Madrid have made subs to counter our original one thing, or the shift formation, cause Madrid to make subs or change gameplay, shift back thing again. Either way.

    I’m pretty optimistic.

  4. Kimcelona
    December 4, 2011

    Great review. I think I know your reviews so well now that I can predict what score you will give everyone. Before I scrolled down I thought to myself, “I bet he’s gonna give Messi a 7..seemed like a 7 kind of performance from Messi by Kxevin’s standards”. lol.

    I don’t know I feel like cules are jumping the gun with Cuenca. While I agree he’s the real deal and he’s fantastic, I just dont think he’ll take Pedrito’s place now. Its the same kind of excitement everyone had when Pedrito had his breakthrough in 2010 but now he’s being discarded because of a injury-ridden, slow start to the season for the young new promising La Masia product. I say lets be excited for him but not dump out other players as well.

    For Clasico:

    Apart from Messi and Valdes automatically on the starting 11 list first, I’m pretty sure Villa WILL be starting on December 10th as well. You can hold me to that!

    I also think Alexis will start (who else?). Pedro is still warming up for the rest of season and WCC. Pretty sure Iniesta and Xavi will be in there and Abidal in the back back..the rest of positions are a mystery to me, as well as the formation.

    AND I’m still cautious. After my euphoria subsided today it felt like a kg of bricks came down to crush whatever enthusiasm I had stored up for the game as I realized this (Levante)match was at home and we’ll be playing away at the Bernapoo for the Clasico.
    While I really loved the much improved performance of the team today I hope we can take this form away from home.

  5. flyzowee
    December 4, 2011

    I dont think villa will start the clasico. I mean unless Pep wants to play him in the middle and move messi out wide then playing him makes no sense esp with the revelation of both AS9 and cuenca on that flank.

    Having said that id still be dissapointed if he doesnt play.

    Of all our formations only the 3-5-2 seems to facilitate him and messi in their fav positions.

  6. barca96
    December 4, 2011

    Thanks for writing this review until so late at night Kxevin.

  7. Gogah
    December 4, 2011

    What a fix Pep is in to make a selection for saturday.
    Everyone is expecting mou to play a conservative lineup, playing for a draw. but they are at home and 3 points ahead. the way i see it, mou has nothing to lose, he will want blood and will want to entertain the crowd with attacking football. This is where Pep’s dilemma lies, in predicting what kind of a game EE will bring to us.

    Eitherways, i expect Pep to be bold and would really love to see him field a 3-5-2 exploiting maximum width at the Bernabeu.

    A lineup of Valdes
    Puyol Mascherano Abidal
    Alves Xavi Busquets Iniesta Sanchez
    Messi Villa

    would really be great to see. But Keita for physicality and aerial abilities and Pique for the same reasons would have to be considered strongly. And then there is the case of Cesc. He may be expecting a start after a brilliant game against levante in one of the biggest games in the world. but i think he’d be used as an impact sub along with cuenca/pedro.

    Cant Wait!!!!!

  8. Helge
    December 4, 2011

    Nice to read a Kxevin review after quite some time. The 3rd and 4th paragraph are my favourite, almost gave me tears in my eyes…

    And this one, a RayRay-esque metaphora, made me laugh:
    as useful as a umbrella in a rock slide.

    Maybe one could note that the Sanchez goal was a deflected one, not to take away from any greatness. I certainly think RM will not be happy to see Sanchez scoring almost similar goals from that position 🙂
    Cuenca has had a hell of a match, but he’s not yet ready to start in an away Clásico. I’d start him in the Camp Nou against RM, but in Madrid we should use him as a secret weapon. Kind a like Afellay was in one of the Clasicos at the end of last season, when he assisted Messi so brilliantly.

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      Agree with your point regarding Cuenca as a game changer like Affelay last season.

  9. Chiu
    December 4, 2011

    It’s been a while Kxevin. Great evaluation and fun to read yours, all the time.

    Completely magnificent performance! This match signifies the authentic beauty of Barca game, which evens our haters, will admit implicitly. The whole team looked so solid, the passing, the movement like Kxevin mentioned above, the telepathic network between players, aggressiveness, illusion that Iniesta brought, everything were all there last night.

    Somebody has uttered about Pep preparing the team to peak early December. Looking at our last two games, that sort of steamrolling opponents was what we usually experience by end Oct or early Nov seasons before. But now is just the best timing we could expect to reach our peak this season. I wish we could keep up this momentum till Xmas break. What’s greater than celebrating Christmas after winning the Classic and being crowned club world champion.

    Regarding classico, I think we’ll start the game with 3-4-3. Pep would surprise us and take risk by playing 4 midfielders so as to dominating EE midfield. Whilst simultaneously Alexis and Villa maintaining the width to free up some space in the central.

    I expect we could score early by shocking them with different approach. As I believe Mou tactics against us would not change significantly from last season. Score early would prove crucial. The trade off would be more fragile defensively. However, as long as we can keep EE chasing, there won’t be much chance for them to score.

  10. Humphrey Bogart
    December 4, 2011

    Very satsified with the game, compared to the last games VV looked alert, we had width, dynamik, work rate, directness and penetration. Nice to see that we score from a set piece.

    And from a female point of view: Alexis Sanchez, yikes

      • Xingxian
        December 4, 2011

        I really like the character element Alexis Sanchez has for the squad. I feel like team’s character is THAT much more awesome and endearing when we have at least one (and maybe no more) strutter oozing with cockiness (I SAY ALL OF THIS AS AN ALEXIS SANCHEZ FAN. I REALLY LIKE HIM AND I LIKE SOME OF MY FRIENDS TO BE SWAGGERING DOUCHEBAGS AT THE RIGHT TIME AND PLACE). It feels more… whole and complete. He represents, to me, an archetype that was missing, that Ibrahimovic maybe could have fulfilled, but didn’t (NOT playstyle-wise, that’s not what I’m writing about).

        To me, here’s where the primary difference lies between what little I saw of Ibrahamovic and what little I’ve seen of Sanchez (who I didn’t watch at Udinese and only saw play for Chile). Ibra, on the field, seemed to me to be an enormous ego who struggled to sublimate his jackassery to the Greater Whole. Alexis Sanchez strikes me as no less cocky, no less arrogant, but his actions on the pitch say to me that as impressed he is with himself, he’s far more impressed with the squad. As a result of it, he’s willing to stuff his swagger in and focus his sense of self such that he is optimized in his function for the whole. He does this to such an extent that I’ve read and heard quite a bit of criticism towards him for NOT being enough of a selfish one-man-show.

        For me, it felt like all of the wonderful 10/11 season, I’d have enjoyed it even more if we had some missing some sports-villain characteristics for me to gleefully love. Oh sure, some of the players love to engage in gamesmanship as much as anyone else (and I like that, I believe the professional game is meant to be won and the players should not be punished for doing what the rules/officiating/circumstance dictate is the optimal choice). But while Dani Alves is happy to taunt and be a rapscallion and con the ref and go in hard if need be, and while Busquets has the “My Face Hurts” thing down pat, we didn’t have a DOUCHEBAG EGOMANIAC, proper. The sad (for me) thing is that for all of Dani Alves’ rascally demeanor, for all of David Villa’s “Everybody Loves Me!” warmth (AND WE DO, DAVID VILLA! WE DO LOVE YOU!), Alexis Sanchez brings us something we were missing: a total, overwhelming confidence in one’s own glamour. He may come across to me as a team player, but he also comes off like he believes he’s the prettiest thing you’ve seen all day and that you should be grateful for it. He’s the living testament that even a primadonna should want to put the squad above himself, an element I felt the squad did not have.

        I guess the point I’m trying to make is: Alexis Sanchez prances around like he’s Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro despite being roughly 16cm/7″ shorter. You don’t often see a guy at that act like that. And I find it totally awesome to see in the team I scream for.

        Also, more importantly, he’s really good at soccer, especially in a way that works well with the squad.

        • BarcaGirl_Indo
          December 4, 2011

          Xingxian, I don’t see Alexis as a cocky/arrogant guy in his daily life. the way Pep and his teammates talk about him, they always described him as a great addition to the dressing room.
          Pep said he has a great personality and his teammates love him.

          but I do understand your point, especially this :
          Alexis Sanchez brings us something we were missing: a total, overwhelming confidence in one’s own glamour.

          he is indeed a kind of player that easy to love by his team + fans, and easy to hate by his rival teams + fans.

          • Xingxian
            December 4, 2011

            I’ve known people closely for years and to this day sometimes I still guess them wrong for who they are and what they’ll say/do/feel in a given situation. With that in mind, I don’t know Alexis Sanchez in person, so I feel like a very poor authority on what he’s like in his daily life and in the dressing room. But what I can comment is what I see on the pitch, and that’s how he comes off to me. I understand that others will interpret him differently.

            My bias with him as with all other players is that the more they fit my preconception of their on-pitch character, the more I’ll unconsciously focus on the parts of their on-pitch behavior that reinforce my prior beliefs, and the less I’ll notice the parts that contradict the characterization my subconscious has created for them. To be very clear, I do not believe my conceptions of who the players are is at all an accurate reflection of who they are in their personal lives, and I totally understand that many people will see the same person behave in the same way I do and have the same reaction.

        • Eklavya
          December 4, 2011

          I don’t see Alexis that way at all.

  11. BarcaGirl_Indo
    December 4, 2011

    I agree with Helge, maybe we can use Cuenca! as a secret weapon like Ibi before..

    you know, when legs are getting tired, put Cuenca to give Marcelo some trouble..

    this week Pep will spend a lot of time in his basement, watching Evil Empire videos.. 😀

  12. December 4, 2011

    Considering Cesc also plays in a sort of midfield free role kinda place with Messi, I’m wondering if playing Fabregas could be the answer to the Pepe-in-midfield problem.

    But then again, with Carvalho out, is Pepe even going to be able to play in midfield? How are Madrid going to play us? Direct and attacking like in the Supercopa, aggressive and physical like in the Copa del Rey final?

    This is probably the first Clasico in quite a while where we have no idea what to expect in terms of line-ups and style from either side…

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      I suppose Pepe would play CB as there are no more suitable selections there because of Carvalho injury. I don’t think Mou brave enough to put Albiol/Varane to pair with Ramos in such vital game. I guess EE employ Coentrao in DM to do Pepe-esque role (tailing Messi).

      I have just feeling we won’t see much change from EE strategy. They have 6 points advantage. Bearing in mind pragmatic approach from Mou, preserving the point gap is priority. So draw would be satisfactory for him. He would play securely from the beginning; observe how the game progress then decides.

      On paper, we’ll dictate the possession. It’s a must win game for us. But be cautious of their counter and direct play. I am kind of frightened with their forwards this season. CR7, Higuaian and Benz have been firing consistently. We require this Barca at its best to triumph.

      All in all – classico fever is on. Let’s enjoy this. Keep the faith on this team!

  13. December 4, 2011

    Also, BFB team, Isaiah Kevin Kari Soccermom Calvin Euler etc, I will be highly disappointed if you guys do not include at least five Lord of the Rings references in the previews and build-up to the Clasico

    • mom4
      December 4, 2011

      One does not simply walk into Real Mordor….

      • Ryan
        December 5, 2011

        Oh, we’re experts at walking the ball into the net of Real Mordor. 😀

  14. pr17
    December 4, 2011

    For once agree with kevin’s ratings though I always agree with his reviews. Seems that 3-4-3 is for smoking out parking bus teams. Cuenca was superb. Thing I like about him is he can go either inside or outside wingbacks.
    Srini- are you the same srini who used be regular on guardian’s Spanish blog. If yes, good to see you mate.

  15. Humphrey Bogart
    December 4, 2011

    So sad to hear that Socrates has died. The 82 Brazil team is one of my all time favourites. They were so artistic, so different, just so beautiful, and he was like the coolest dude out there. A qulified doctor (did not hinder him to drink and smoke)and phantastic player

    • Xingxian
      December 4, 2011

      RIP and thanks for the legacy, Socrates.

  16. hammeronmessi
    December 4, 2011

    for the first time in 12 years,not able to see the classico.

    will begin the journey to japan 2 hours before the match.

    what a shame.

    the standard 4 3 3 will be applied,i think.

    • mom4
      December 4, 2011

      Sorry you’ll miss it.

      “the standard 4 3 3 will be applied,i think.”

      Dunno. Pep says you can’t play 3 in the back against a team like EE so I wouldn’t put it past him.

      The amoeba formation will be played. Kinda fitting considering the blog’s slime mold conversation of old (We’re the protista team, apparently).

      • Chiu
        December 4, 2011

        LOL Protista? What’s that? Bet you get it from your kid biology book mom4 haha

  17. Xingxian
    December 4, 2011

    XINGXIAN’S MEMORY OF THE MATCH:

    That time when I remember Messi getting it to Xavi and then Xavi dictating the ball back to Messi leads to Messi making a quick judgment and passing it to Alexis Sanchez who Does That Swagger and fires a dreamy shot at the net.

    And then Fabregas runs in and realizing he could RISK claiming the goal as a tap-in, takes pains to cut down his run, even going as far as to do that “WHOA! I AM NOT TOUCHING THIS THING!” where one throws both arms up to extra emphasize they were not involved much like when Spain/Bilbao’s Javi Martinez does after he’s momentarily restrained a runaway forward with a hug.

    Caveat: I still don’t have a proper DVR setup

    • K_legit in Oz
      December 4, 2011

      lol that was fucking brilliant..
      Its called satire mate..look it up!

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      December 4, 2011

      holy moly.

      I can’t even. 😆

    • mom4
      December 4, 2011

      I read the title and was furious. Oh no, here we go again, another wet, rainy Wednesday thing.

      I read the article and Oh my gosh that was brilliant/ hilarious.

      “Also, he’s no use in a wall.”

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      Never check this site before. I read at first, what a crap that this guy wrote. After read that Owen part, I go to comment section and wanna write ” What planet are you living in the last 5 years? Did you never watch Messi play? Comparing Messi with Owen is absolutely ridiculous”

      After skimming some comments, fine he’s joking hahaha…

    • sd
      December 4, 2011

      I kept thinking this cant be serious but the way he wrote it he had me going until he gave it away “…and the mighty Jonas Gutierrez at right back.” This is when I cracked up.

    • swamidigital
      December 4, 2011

      That was hilarious in every way!

  18. BarcaGirl_Indo
    December 4, 2011

    http://www.fcbarcelona.com/football/first-team/detail/article/guardiola-this-is-very-long-and-we-must-persevere

    When asked if he will use three defenders against Mourinho’s side, the Barça boss was very clear: “playing with three defenders is good if you’re dominating, but if you aren’t it’s very difficult, not only against Madirt but against any other club in the world.” He added, “the challenge is to have the other team submit and to have more comfortable possession of the ball so we can attack. But against Madrid, getting them to submit for long spells of time is practically impossible.”

    so we will play with four defenders?

    • Ryan
      December 4, 2011

      I really doubt that Pep called Madrid “Madirt.” 😉

      That speech does seem to suggest that he’ll go back to 4 defenders, though. Maybe for the start only, and then he’ll modify the formation without using subs?

      • BarcaGirl_Indo
        December 4, 2011

        lol, obviously not, Ryan!
        that was just me..

        maybe he’ll start with 4-3-3 and change it during the match, or not.. depends on the situation I guess..

    • December 4, 2011

      This could be Pep playing mindgames, you know. To throw Mou off.

      • Chiu
        December 4, 2011

        Mind games? Could be, nobody knows what’s in Pep’s mind

  19. mom4
    December 4, 2011

    I got my coffee. I got my KRS. Estoy muy contenta! Estic molt contenta!

  20. BarcaGirl_Indo
    December 4, 2011

    I ‘m watching SuperCopa 1st leg at Bernahpoo highlights and really can’t stop giggling.

    especially when Messi scored and we were up 1-2.
    after their(EE) crazy and serious hard work all summer, they played so well but somehow we were up 1-2 in the 1st half.

    me gusta mucho. #trollface

  21. phunky
    December 4, 2011

    Excelent review kxevin. Loved it.
    Also, I doubt Pep will use the 3-5-2 or the 3-4-3 in the Clasic, for two reasons.
    -Our away form has been bad, so he would think twice to use it
    -We’re obviously playing Madrid, using 3 at the back carries too much risk

    Like you opined in the review, Villa will be an impact sub. Our front 3 might be
    Sanchez-Cesc-Messi

    PS: For Sanchez’s goal, you said Abidal passed it to Xavi from somewhere near our corner flag. It was actually Sanchez who collected the Abidal long pass, nodding it with his head to Xavi i think who passed it to Messi…

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      December 4, 2011

      PS: For Sanchez’s goal, you said Abidal passed it to Xavi from somewhere near our corner flag. It was actually Sanchez who collected the Abidal long pass, nodding it with his head to Xavi i think who passed it to Messi…

      correct, except Sanchez nod the ball to Messi, not Xavi. I just saw the HL again.

      it was Abidal’s long pass -> Sanchez’s header -> Messi -> Xavi -> Messi -> Alexis -> golazo!!!

      • Jnice
        December 4, 2011

        Great effort by Sanchez to win that header. He also got up well to nod the ball to Messi at the back post off that corner. And had a great chance himself but headed it right to the keeper. Like Thiago, he has a good leap.

      • Chiu
        December 4, 2011

        One of characteristic I like from Alexis is his determination and grit when chasing the balls or marking players. It’s reminiscent of Pedro-like but technically and interpreting the game better.

  22. December 4, 2011

    Great review Kevin. Completely agree about the issue on movement. It was back to the carousel like revolutions the team executes when it is at its best

    The central dilemma Pep faces for the Clasico is the following:

    Cesc almost has to play. But he has to play in a free role – that’s where he’s been at his best and where he adds a different kind of value.

    But the only way for Cesc to play in that role while at the same time maintaining width is to play 3 at the back.

    Do you risk playing 3 at the back at the Bernabeau in order to get Cesc into the line up in the role where he’s most dangerous?

    That’s Pep’s biggest decision.

    That though raises a secondary question – if you play a formation in which Cesc has a free role is David Villa the best suited player to play on the team on the flanks in that formation?

    Very difficult choices with significant trade offs.

    • Jnice
      December 4, 2011

      Cesc almost has to play. But he has to play in a free role – that’s where he’s been at his best and where he adds a different kind of value.

      But the only way for Cesc to play in that role while at the same time maintaining width is to play 3 at the back.

      Do you risk playing 3 at the back at the Bernabeau in order to get Cesc into the line up in the role where he’s most dangerous?

      Exactly. That’s what I kept thinking of last night (when I wasn’t studying, of course :p).

      So many questions. I think Sanchez will play, so that extra spot will be between Cesc/Villa. And Cesc brings us goals and goalscoring opportunities. But Villa has tended to show up for the big matches. Dunno….

      And on defense, for me, Mascherano has to play. He’s our best defender right now and has been our most consistent all season. Abidal has to play, too. We need his pace in the back. I know many people see Puyol-Pique as our best pairing, but right now, on a strictly sporting level (no feelings involved), I don’t see that.

    • just listenin
      December 4, 2011

      We had this discussion this morning in our house, and landed on;
      Alexis, Leo, Cesc, don Andres, Xavi, Busi, sMasch, Puyi, Alves, Abidal, Valdes – formation? Amoeba or a 4-3-3/3-4-5/3-3-2… This selection has a few tactical gaps and trade offs as well, but was difficult to leave any of these guys on the bench.

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      I presume EE would roll their typical classico formation 4-3-3 without genuine target man (read: Benz or Higuain). Their three frontliner would be CR7 – DiMaria – Ozil.

      We’d start 3-4-3 with Cesc and Alves included. Three defenders, Alves as right midfielder and Cesc with free role and could switch positon whenever Messi shift to central. With Alves there, we could effortlessly re-configure to 4-3-3 depend on match progression. So Villa would be benched. With 3-4-3, the risk that we take on our defense is calculated.

      With our 4 midfielder, I consider their frontline would drop deep to clog the middle area. Thus, less threat to our 3 defenders. However, if EE brave to play open game, or if on the last quarter of the match they subs in Benz or Higuain; just switch back to 4-3-3 to contain that approach.

      This hybrid formation adjustment is what Pep exercising throughout the season. Time for the real stage is the Classic. Roll on the 10th. I’m super thrilled.

      • Jafri
        December 5, 2011

        How about a 4-3-3 with Abidal, Puyol, Pique/ Mascherano, Alves – Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi – Alexis, Fabregas, Messi, with Alexis to provide width on the left and Dani on the right and both Messi and Fabregas roaming free in the middle?

  23. BarcaGirl_Indo
    December 4, 2011

    crazy stuff just happened in Serie A.

    3 red cards for Roma, including *takes a deep breath* Bojan.. the other two are Juan and Gago..

    Bojan Krkic. Straight red card. *smh*

  24. December 4, 2011

    I’ve started typing about 4 different comments each time thinking I have an idea about the team we will play next week but stop each time b/c for every point, there’s a counter point, for every selection here, there’s a domino effect there. So I’ve decided to not even bother trying to guess. The one advantage is if those of us who watch Barca obsessively have no damn clue, then Mou and Madrid can’t either, and they might be caught off guard.

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      I like your last sentence. So true :p

  25. DumbOx
    December 4, 2011

    Been enjoying reading all the posts from wonderful BFB authors, and what makes this community more amazing are the comments from its avid readers — keep it up! I love Kxevin’s sometimes, funny, but almost team-deprecating observations; best of all, I love his somber musings. Isaiah’s witty and subtly intelligent posts; Euler’s cerebral and mind-blowing post-game reviews;SOMA’s hip allusions and her inspiring writing; and last but not least Kari’s funny and lagh-out-loud compositions. This community is wonderful and its readers make it more so: Blitzen awards,Jnice, mom4(is she the same as SOMA?) — I can go on and on. Thank you guys! You bring Barca fans around the world closer together.

    As we face EE next week, I am confident good prevails over evil. There’s a group of Cal State Chico students who made a documentary on the El Clasico. Here’s a link to the project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/elclasico/el-clasico-more-than-a-game
    and the link to the preview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgMg1qGsiSk
    Many of us Barca fans are aware of EE’s Franco/Fascist ties and Barcelona’s “we refuse to be subjugated” cry. This pretty much carries on to present day: Barca epitomizes freedom, social justice, and equality. And like-minded people share these ideals on a community called BFB. Visca Barca!

  26. Jim
    December 4, 2011

    Enjoyed the game last night and the 3-4-3 seemed to work. However, listening to Pep’s interview he obviously realises that the calibre of opposition make it a huge risk. For me, defensively, 3-4-3 would play right into Madrid’s strengths ; moving the ball long and quick from the back and often diagonally. If you watch our last two games we’ve been wide open to a long diagonal ball with our right (or left) sided defender pulled in a long way as the other two have gone after the ball on the other side. Neither of our last two opponents had someone like Xabi Alonso to ping it a long way accurately but Madrid do.

    For me, 4-3-3 is a safer bet – the only flaw being, as mentioned above, that Cesc can’t really start then. It’d be down to Xaviniesta to work their magic in keeping the ball. I’m also in the Pique / Puyol camp as the two CBs have handled Madrid well in the past, eliminate the height problem for cross balls/set pieces and have experienced the Bernebeu. Pique also has something to prove I feel as he hasn’t really cemented his place as the next great world defender. Masch has done well but for me he still goes hunting the ball a bit too much.

    Finally, Madrid will surely attempt to sweep us aside in the first 20 minutes. We will have trouble holding onto the ball and they will get some chances. I’d feel happier with a full defence. We can always change if we have to later.

    I’m certainly happier now than I was a fortnight ago, ‘though.

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      As far as I remember, Valencia and Milan was succeeds in exposing our 3-4-3 weak points this season. Next Saturday, EE probably have better competence than those two teams to benefit from it. They’re playing the best direct football right now. Like Jim mentioned, “Moving the ball long and quick from the back and often diagonally” is their strength.

      So far, I still don’t notice and realize how Pep will correct those flaws. Perhaps with 4 midfielders, we could apply more intense pressing once we lose the ball in the middle. Limit the space and option for long or diagonal passing that could tear our defense apart.

  27. psqd
    December 4, 2011

    Fun reviewThanks!
    Much of this will be repetition, but I am stuck on the Tarmac in a broken plane so…
    First the easy part…with Alves and Sanchez starting there are far more formational options. The big question for me has been will dani be asked to stay at home or not. If cesc starts then dani has to provide the width on the right. That means three at the back or the DM dropping back.
    Given the inertia that can be a part of winding up the possession game I expect or I would feel more comfortable starting with four at the back. Hold the option of releasing dani up the wing. The issue could be who provides width if he gets stuck playing fullback for large potions of the game. I’ve liked Sanchez better on the left, but I don’t see Cuenca or Pedro starting.
    It would be interesting to see the revolving messi cesc show on the right to see if Marcelo is disciplined enough follow those machinations. I have been thinking that we might see something along the lines of that plus Sanchez switching wings and iniesta providing width there at times.
    So, I expect an amoeba with a back four base to start.

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      I’m also looking forward to watch Messi – Cesc combination to surprise EE. :p

  28. can_we_go_Xalvies
    December 4, 2011

    Mascherano will clearly start in defence over Puyol. I am a massive Puyol fan but I know I would rather have Mascherano starting on the field. I want to make sure we limit the chances of making early unexpected subs, Puyol is susceptible to having setbacks.

    I’m not too fussed about Cesc not starting Because I understand that he can have enough influence on the game coming on as a sub then starting the game.

    I’m more than confident Mourinho will look to defend heavily and play on the counter and around the 60-70 minute mark they will start to push forward and open up. Cesc will be a lot more handy as a sub then as a starter, IMO he will more likely be more effective later in the game.

  29. Jim
    December 4, 2011

    Not sure there’s anything clear about that at all. I haven’t a clue about anything to do with this particular lineup. I reckon it has never been less clear what Pep will do – and that’s saying something.

    It’s also a bit harsh on Puyol imo. He headered the defender full tilt. How his head didn’t dissolve into a scene from a horror I’ll never know. He managed to keep on running till the move finished and somehow he’s now susceptible to setbacks? Busi would have had to be airlifted to hospital. 🙂

    • Calvin
      December 4, 2011

      It was amazing that Puyol was able to continue playing after that for as long as he did – especially knowing that when he finally made it to the bench he started having trouble with his vision.

      However, I asked myself: “When was the last time Puyol played a full 90 minutes?”

      And I honestly couldn’t remember.

      The problem with Puyol right now is that one of the pillars of his game has always been his fearless nature. He reads the play well enough, but his willingness to go hard into every tackle has always been what sets him apart, and makes him special. The problem is that he is getting older and his body can’t handle that kind of abuse as well as it used to. His injuries are keeping him out longer, and when he finally does get on the pitch he still plays like he is 20. I love him for exactly that quality, but it certainly isn’t helping him prolong his playing career.

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      My bet goes to Mascherano. Too many physical issue with Puyol after that long injury.

      “Busi would have had to be airlifted to hospital”. This part is sarcastic. Maybe Busi is just too skinny to endure it LOL.

  30. December 4, 2011

    After much thought, I believe this will be the lineup:

    Valdes
    Alves Pique Masch Abidal
    Busi Xavi Iniesta
    Messi Villa Alexis

    This is the most flexible team we can put out there while having three good finishers as well as midfield control as well as width as well as our best defensive foursome. It can play a 4-3-3, it can play a 3-5-2, it can be a 4-3-2-1.

    I really can’t wait for Saturday. These next 6 days are going to go by really slowly.

    • ooga aga
      December 4, 2011

      i agree with this. alves and alexis have so much up-and-down in them, that this lineup allows us to have so much flexibility, 442 433 or 352, or as you say 4321.

      of course i am assuming here that messi is always one of the strikers but as we know he can drop into midfield as well.

      and we have cesc, thiago, pedro, isaac, puyol, keita on the bench. we are truly blessed

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      December 4, 2011

      that’s exactly my prediction, and I will be happy to see that line up, tbh..

      but I’m also preparing myself to be surprised by Guardiola..

  31. mom4
    December 4, 2011

    My guess:
    VV
    Masch, Puyi, Abi
    Alves, Xavi, Busi, Ini, Cesc
    Messi, Alexis
    …and the forces of hell EE shall not prevail against us! (I hope)

    Classi Barca-amoeba formation.

    Caveat: Only if Puyi has stopped, as Ray Hudson says, “seeing elephants climbing up the wall!”

    Pique is one of the few regulars playing mid-week. I wonder if Pep is ticked off at him for the stupid yellow and isn’t intending to play him as he’s not being rested like the others????? Mindgames???

    • Chiu
      December 4, 2011

      Hi mom4, what’s your protista formation? :p

      On serious note, I think Pep still should keep some first teamers against BATE (Pique, Pedro, Thiago included)to avoid unrespectable scoreline for us. Too risky to play whole B teamers in CL, even it’s meaningless.

      I just suspected that Pique yellow card wasn’t Pep instruction. I think Shakira that provoked him to do that. She said ” It’s not fun to watch Classico without you, please baby i want the certainty that you will play: joking**

      • barca96
        December 5, 2011

        He included them that you mentioned Chiu so I reckon they will be the backbone of the team vs. Bate.

  32. K_legit in Oz
    December 4, 2011

    Quite clearly Valdes is gonna play as a striker

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      December 5, 2011

      ^this. who needs a goalkeeper anyway? we are Barça 😛

  33. Srini
    December 4, 2011

    Valdes, Alves, Mascherano, Puyol (if the vision thing is just a temporary issue and he recovers), Abidal, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Sanchez are certainties…Its going to be between Busquets and Cesc and Villa and Cuenca.. and that would depend on what Pep is going to decide as the formation. If he is conservative, he will pick Busquets and Villa; if he chooses to surprise, he will be pick Cesc and Cuenca..if he wants to do either, he will pick Cesc *and* Busquets. Thats my gut feeling.

    Conservative-

    Valdes
    Alves Mascherano Puyol Abidal
    Busquets
    Xavi Iniesta
    Sanchez Messi Villa

    Surprise-

    Valdes
    Alves Mascherano Puyol Abidal
    Xavi
    Cesc Iniesta
    Sanchez Messi Cuenca

    Optimally-

    Valdes
    Alves Mascherano Puyol Abidal
    Busquets
    Xavi Iniesta
    Messi Cesc Sanchez

    I like the “optimal” as Ramos is most likely to play CB and Arbeloa is injured forcing EE to play either Coentrao (as they did against Gijon) as RB or Lass, neither of whom will be a threat down the left hand side for Barca. So I think Abidal will possibly play more upfront while Alves could station himself to contain Ronaldo.

    • K_legit in Oz
      December 4, 2011

      Umm no Pique?
      If Puyol’s vision is indeed hampered I’d rather have Pique and Mascherano in central defense

      • Srini
        December 4, 2011

        Only if Puyol’s vision is indeed hampered. The stats sometimes don’t lie. I don’t remember the last time we lost when Puyol played. Somehow, he keeps the team and its defense on its toes. Its between Pique and Mascherano and sMasch has been our best defender this season.

        • BarcaGirl_Indo
          December 5, 2011

          I agree about sMasch has been our best defender this season.

          but I also think we need Pique’s physical presence and his aerial strength.

    • Calvin
      December 5, 2011

      One of either Busquets or Keita will be in the formation, and possibly both.

      Our midfield lacks balance without one of them on the field – not enough defensive abilities in there.

    • Ryan
      December 5, 2011

      It seemed like a pretty solid save, to be honest! Pushed the ball wide, rather than spilling it in front of the net. 😆

  34. barca96
    December 5, 2011

    Don’t rule Villa out guys.
    Remember what happened the last time he was rested for two matches?
    29 May 2011 Man U vs Barca CL Final.

  35. December 5, 2011

    I wanted to say exactly what barca96 just said- remember how Villa played the last time he was rested two matches? And he does show up for big games and is always the kind of threat that will probably see him play.

    I also agree with the notion here that if even us diehard Barca fans have literally no idea whatsoever who is going to play- and not in just one or two slots, but all over the pitch, from type and personnel in defense to at least three positions in the front six up for grabs- then Madrid must also be finding it hard to predict how we would play.

    As for that Soccernet article by Netherton, I’m just facepalming reading the comments on it by the vast majority being outraged. Sure, many of his articles before have been poor so he has track record, but this one was quite funny at times, even though it also seemed to oscillate between genuine satire (Owen, the great Gutierrez, useless in a wall) and some wandering about how he isn’t that great (Maradona dragging a Napoli side to greatness comparison, all while doing coke, etc). Still it was clearly more satirical than not.

    I also think Puyol must play. We just look so much better with him in the side. I think Cesc can be effective as a sub to come in to his false 10 or whatever position to take advantage of whoever they put to try man-mark Messi in the whole, but starting I’d be happy with Alexis and Villa with Messi. Alexis and Alves seem to pretty much cover entire sides of the pitch. And that way we can switch between 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 at will.

    • Srini
      December 5, 2011

      Oh I am a Villa-fanboy as much as any. And he is indeed a big game player. I just think that with EE bound to overload the middle, we need more flank play than just Villa’s off-the-ball running and great finishing when it counts. With Sanchez and Messi willing to pinch in and take on defenders, not to mention Alves, or even Cuenca showing that ability, I find that option more optimal than Villa starting first up. No affront to the Maravilla though.

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      December 5, 2011

      lol, a lot of Barça fans at TB are furious, they thought it was serious.
      how come they not realize it was a sarcasm when they read “the great Gutierrez and useless in a wall”?
      I guess they didn’t read the entire article.

      about Clasico, my vote goes to Alexis – Messi – Villa.

  36. K_legit in Oz
    December 5, 2011

    Question:
    How do you say ‘Boss’ in catalan..I don’t wanna use google translate!

  37. I will be strictly against going to Bernebeu without our Captain. Puyol has to start. I would rest Pique and have a backline of Alves, Puyol, Mascherano and Abidal. If Mourinho decides to park the bus, Guardiola can move Alves to midfield and still have pretty quick three defenders at the back. Pique is too slow to play as a three man defense against RM.

  38. Chiu
    December 5, 2011

    FIFA Ballon d’Or shortlist: Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Cristiano Ronaldo. No contest, Messi will certainly win it 🙂

  39. lyd
    December 5, 2011

    How many of you think a 3-4-3 is going to work at a pitch with long grass?

    • lyd
      December 5, 2011

      Not me!

      Too much at stakes. Cant afford to concede an early goal which is likely to come from a set piece. That is why I dont get how many of you are still content to put Pique out of the equation.

      • mom4
        December 5, 2011

        Pique is awesome but, given a choice between Masche and Pique I’d pick Mascherano. Best defender we have right now.

        Given a choice between Pique and Puyol for this game I’d pick Puyol. In a game like this , the heart is more important. He’ll take care of business because, hey…he’s el P*t* crack.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl8PwkRaD2c&feature=related

    • Chiu
      December 5, 2011

      None of our formation would work optimally on long grass pitch. Barca style requires rapid ball circulation with quick short passes and dynamic movement from the players. Long grass would slow down the ball and hamper players’ agility.

  40. nustra
    December 5, 2011

    hi,
    am a regular reader, never commented but i have to because, i think your atttitude to Sergi Buguests is wrong… really wrong.

    while i appreciate your analysis here and think there are gr8, i have to point out there are some element of hindsight (which, i suppose, is inevitable) in them.

    on Busquest.
    no arguments, he is the most confident defensive midfielder in the game right now, he can dribble from in front of his 18 yrd box and he completes the triangle – which is the core of Barca possession play with the forwards, he brings the fluidity that Yaya Toure lacked.
    u calling him a dive and a cheat is just ridiculous.

    defensive midfielders are not supposed to lose the ball, if they do, they better have a good reason for doing so, and he does.
    Sergio is one of the most fouled player in Barca, (2 seasons ago, he drew the most cards from opponents). and considering his postion in the field, he has to let the ref know about it.

    have you ever considered that to be a tactic?

    in the match against madrid last season, a lot of you gave him grief for diving against Marcelo, but if u take time to watch the footage, you will see Marcelo’s failing arms (a well known xteristics of him) actually made contact.
    the extent of the contact is left to Busquests to decide, but i am dissappointed that “Barca fans” will not see the importance of this guy to our team and instead join RM in labelling him a cheat.

    Nice analysis, i love reading your point of view, but for once, try and write something nice about Sergio Busquests
    (i do hope i spelled his name right)

    • lyd
      December 5, 2011

      Look Nustra, more than a club is supposed to face more criticisms than usual.

      Sergio is not a diver. His face is just allergic to grass!

      • Gogah
        December 5, 2011

        Or maybe his face has an affinity to grass

        • lyd
          December 5, 2011

          Then he should not cover his face and pretend to die, like he does!

          (It’s not that he lies, cheats and steal but as if he falls on a sheet of steel, every time a tackle from the back cracks him up.)

    • can_we_go_Xalvies
      December 5, 2011

      Nustra has a good point. Someone in the team has to do what Busquets does and I’m not to annoyed about it. Sometimes he gets carried away and he does things that make things worse and I guess that is what most people point things out about him, Which is justified.

    • Nav
      December 5, 2011

      Busquets needs to learn the art of diving from the experts. His attempts are hilariously bad.

    • Ryan
      December 5, 2011

      I think most of us here recognize and appreciate Busi’s ability and role on the team, we just wish he’d stay on his feet for the minor fouls. His embellishment really hurts us if the referee does not call the foul, as he completely removes himself from the play.

    • nustra
      December 5, 2011

      Thanks Gogah for the spelling.
      if you upgrade Busquets from being a diver to “making a meal of tackles” that’s fine with me.
      am really glad.
      its just not right for fans to not see his xtremely important contribution and join his detractors. its like soliciting for the devil.
      since i started watching football, i havn’t seen a player who makes a meal of tackle like CR. and one who wants the opponent to get booked like Marcelo and Di Maria. but they are not known for these things because they will rather have u criticize their opponents (Barca, in this case) than focus on their issues.

      i expect an analyst blog like this to pick these things out and not join the bandwagon on isolated instances.

      fact:
      RM has had > 20 penalties awarded since Mourinho joined, Barca has had 8 in that period. that means something.

    • mom4
      December 5, 2011

      Dude, we all love Busi.
      Part of the reason he..um…embellishes is his position. But you gotta admit, he needs acting lessons. And sometimes it works against him as in two games ago when he was fouled and was called for diving. You can only cry wolf so often.
      But still we love Busi.

    • blitzen
      December 5, 2011

      I know this thread is dead, but I want to chime in here as well. You make a good point about the number of fouls Busi receives. In fact, along with Iker Muniain, he is one of the most fouled players in the entire league. So I personally don’t blame him for trying to get his due from the referees. He has definitely gone too far on a few occasions and been caught at it, which I don’t like, but from what I have observed this has happened after a long buildup of provocation (rather than from outright malicious intent of trying to get someone sent off).

  41. BarcaGirl_Indo
    December 5, 2011

    FIFA Ballon d’Or for Messi, but I have this ugly feeling Mourinho will win Coach of The Year.

    • Nav
      December 5, 2011

      That would be ridiculous. He didn’t accomplish anything of note in the 10/11 season.

      • BarcaGirl_Indo
        December 5, 2011

        he won a trophy that later run over by their bus 😛

        FIFA Ballon d’Or also count votes from countries representative (coaches and captains of international teams), besides journalists’ vote. to be honest, last year a lot of voters chose based on popularity.

        and you’re right, it will be so ridiculous if Mou win it.

        • Megster
          December 5, 2011

          If Mou wins it, I bet he poked someone in FIFA. 🙂

    • mani
      December 5, 2011

      Obviously biased but I’d give it to el mister, Pep. He won the two biggest trophies, La Liga and the UCL, with the other two coaches in the running being the runners up for each of those crowns.

      To fend off a very mighty EE coached by Moan-rinho is no easy task.

      As for goal of the season- my vote would go to Rooney. That goal was superb and in a very heated Manchester derby to boot.

    • Helge
      December 5, 2011

      I think Mou winning the Coach of the Year would be far more ridiculous than Messi not winning the Player of the Year.

      At least Xavi has also reached as much trophies as Messi, but Mou… he only got the booby prize.

      • mani
        December 5, 2011

        Though Messi was Messi last year as well, I felt (and personally wanted) Xavi to win the award. He has done so much for Barcelona and Spain, he is the beating heart of the club. He decides the tempo and he steps up to execute it to perfection. My point is- last year Xavi had a shot at winning, considering the World Cup success and all.

        This year, however, it will be Messi without a doubt.

        A side question: anyone who has been to the FCB Museum. The Ballon D’ors on display are labelled as replicas donated by Messi. How does that work exactly? Is Messi given the actual trophy and then a replica or two to give to the highest bidder? lol

        It was special though, seeing the shiny gold metal SO very close behind the glass. I had always dreamt walking up to the podium to collect my Ballon D’or. Sigh 🙂 Must be nice for Messi to have not one, not two, but very possible THREE of them. A DREAM for anyone who has EVER played the sport.

  42. Nav
    December 5, 2011

    That ESPN article is bloody brilliant. As is this article. 😀

  43. mani
    December 5, 2011

    Great article Kxevin. I am forever a fan of the numbered ratings. MOAR NUMBERS PLEASE! + love the caption on the first pep picture.

    SO the ‘6-point’ question BFB – where is everyone watching the big one? At home? A bar? El Cine? Nosebleeds of the Bernabeau?

    blitzen – curious, where do YOU usually watch the big one here in the GTA?

    • Nav
      December 5, 2011

      Watching at home because I’m way too nervous to be in a bar with the possibility of Madrid fans there.

    • Eklavya
      December 5, 2011

      -I guess I’ll be at a friends place so that I can watch the match on a TV instead of a choppy stream. Will probably join in the LB and tweet with my iPad, although its hard to do so much multitasking during such a game. We’ll see.

      -GTA? Grand theft Auto? …

      • mani
        December 5, 2011

        Yes, Grand Theft Auto, a city where we go about wreaking havoc, eye-poking pedestrians, and commondeering any vehicle we so please 🙂

        Greater Toronto Area. Basically Toronto and its surrounding municipalities.

        I myself will be watching on GOLTV (forever alone style). If only IF ONLY they had it in HD (damn you Rogers). Sigh.

    • Ryan
      December 5, 2011

      This is smack-dab in the middle of final papers and projects, so I’ll be at home. Although that means it’s on the blurry standard definition GolTV channel, rather than the spiffy HD version at the bar. Choices, choices…

    • Helge
      December 5, 2011

      Since I’m living in Germany, I cannot even watch it on pay TV, because the effing German pay TV providers do not show any la Liga matches since two (or maybe even three) and a half years. Thanks, stupid Sky Germany !

      So a stream will have to make do. Maybe I can find a GolTV (english) stream. And I’ll connect my laptop to the LCD TV, so that I can sit further away from the monitor and my friends can stop me from smashing it, if Real Madrid should take the lead 🙂

      Maybe I’ll offer some Blaugrana-Cocktails to my friends. All of them are Culés, by the way^^

    • mom4
      December 5, 2011

      Home on couch w/ hubby. Watching it on GOLTV with Ray Ray. This year with cava and an assortment of Spanish cheeses and meats (Serano ham, chorizo, manchego cheese) and really good bread.

    • blitzen
      December 5, 2011

      I watch from home on whatever crappy stream I can find. I’m sure I could find a bar that was showing it, but this time I will be on a race from the airport to get home in time. Pray that my flight isn’t late!

  44. December 5, 2011

    A few things.

    –I do appreciate nustra’s impassioned defense of Busquets. But when he goes turtle at inopportune times, it is a danger to the club, particularly when the ref doesn’t call it, then our out-of-position defensive mid has to make like Lazarus and find his way back into the play.

    Tactic or not, it is unbecoming, childish and doesn’t fit his status as one of the best DMs in the world, playing for the best club in the world. We lambast DiMaria for such things, and call him “Dive Maria.” His crap is as much a tactic as when Busquets does it. It is fundamentally unsporting, to my view.

    The naysayer would say “What if Busquets just has a low pain tolerance?” I suppose that’s possible. But would his recoveries be as rapid?

    Busquets’ rating would have been a point higher, but whether it is Alves, Iniesta or anyone, ratings points are deducted for those kinds of shenanigans. Play the damn game.

    –Every time I consider a preferred lineup for El Clasic, I talk myself out of it. But I would be perfectly happy with the Levante starting XI against EE. Yes.

    • barca96
      December 5, 2011

      I was going to ask you if you are back in Chi-town but based on the multiple spelling errors, my questions have been answered 🙂

      • December 5, 2011

        Hey, I was on the back of a very bouncy bus in Chi-town, I’ll have you know. Bumps, touchscreens and fat thumbs are wholly incompatible.

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