Barcelona 4 – 2 Betis: Not a Statement Game

Coming into this match a lot of Cules were expecting a statement match. With yet another match with Madrid looming midweek there was hope that we would demolish Betis and emphatically cast off our recent anemic form. Couple this with the fact that the team hadn’t conceded in the Camp Nou yet in the league and it seemed harder to come to Barcelona and get a victory than it is to attack Russia in the winter. Unlike the Russians we were at a numerical disadvantage, with only 15 first team players fit for the match. It would have been an injury crisis for any other club, but it was just a typical day for Guardiola who started: Valdes, Puyol, Mascherano, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Cuenca, Messi, and Sanchez. It was an obvious 3-4-3, and the easiest formation to guess since, uhh, last match. A couple awards were presented and you could almost hear the Cules salivating as they anticipated a major win.

"Never attack Russia in the winter"

Apparently Betis didn’t get the memo, and like Napoleon’s march on Russia in 1812 they started brightly. Valdes was forced into action early as Abidal failed to pick up his mark and Mascherano lost track of his man running through, giving him a one-on-one. Valdes again showed his importance to the team on the resulting corner, punching out a bullet of a header. Betis looked hungry, they were pressing well, passing well, and creating chances. And the English commentator just called it the “Nou Camp.” Where is that mute button? Time for some Frank Zappa.

Yet for all Betis’ work, Barcelona is the first on the score sheet with what is essentially our first attack. Puyol makes a smart interception and feeds Xavi who begins to dance through the midfield, exchanging passes with Busquets and Iniesta as he moves left and finds Sanchez in space. Meanwhile Fabregas is doing what he does best and making an incisive run across the box. Sanchez again shows his ninja skills with a cleverly disguised pass, Fabregas has his evening cup of Earl Gray before he clips the ball against the far post, and Xavi is lurking to make it 1-0. A deserved goal for Xavi that earned him the right to a cute hop-skip-and-jump celebration with a fist pump thrown in for good measure.

I had barely finished my own, more excessive, celebration before Messi made it 2-0. The entire Betis backline is in full retreat as Iniesta dribbles at them before playing a simple pass to Sanchez who is in acres of space on the left. The Betis right back obviously didn’t learn his lesson about giving Sanchez too much space from the last goal and Sanchez punishes him with a perfect first time cross that Messi finishes easily. Two goals, both of which Sanchez created by maintaining width on the left and catching the Betis backline out of position. 12 minutes into the game and I started to relax.

Unfortunately I wasn’t the only one. Messi put Iniesta in on goal with a long probing pass but Iniesta looks like he is out on a Sunday stroll and the chance is lost. As a side note, Fabregas starts the play making an interception in the right back zone, and ends it making a slide tackle in Betis’ box. Fabregas dropped deep in midfield throughout the game, playing almost as a defensive midfielder at times without the ball. I’d like to see this more often as it fills the hole Busquets leaves when he drops into a back four (and hopefully will cure Fabregas of his “run wherever the ball is” positioning). The ensuing 20 minutes consist mostly of Barcelona maintaining possession deep but not creating many chances. Strangely the reason we struggled to create chances was because we weren’t patient enough in our passing. The team as a whole was too direct in the opponent’s third, constantly trying to play the hero ball when we needed to be besieging their goal (there was also Sanchez comically tripping over the ball when he was through on goal).

AND HOLY JEEZERS BETIS HAVE SCORED. A darting run from Molina through the middle beats Mascherano. Molina drops it back, and while our entire defense stands transfixed a perfect ball finds Castro camped all alone in our box. A very nice goal that we would have been proud of if our boys had scored it, but all of a sudden our Camp Nou clean sheet run is over. And I’m not quite so relaxed anymore. On a tactical note the worry with the 3-4-3 on defense is generally that teams can find space on the wings. With both Puyol and Abidal playing fairly wide throughout the first half the most danger has come when Betis isolate Mascherano against a quick forward and play a through pass – they’ve had several good chances this way. The rest of the half devolves into a ping pong match with both teams having a couple half chances. Overall it feels like an EPL game for a couple minutes there.


A nervous half time commenced. I kept hoping that the words a wise man once spoke would be true: “Betis always find a way of troubling us, even if we eventually win.”

Alves replaced Cuenca at half time – starting off at right wing where Cuenca supposedly played in the first half. Within six minutes he was dropping in to play right back, forming a 4-3-3, and within seven minutes Betis scored their second goal. Castro had the whole right side of the pitch to himself as Alves had been drawn way too centrally. Castro finds Santa Cruz unmarked at the top of the box and Santa Cruz nestles the ball in the far corner. 2-2.

And for a couple of minutes after the equalizing goal there were doubts. A dread seemed to hang over the stadium, and you could hear whispers from the peanut gallery: “Pep insists on using this formation even though it is weak defensively.” “The team lacks the killer instinct it had in years past.” “This is the type of match where Barcelona concedes the league.” For a moment I thought I could hear a Cule running down Las Ramblas screaming “Franco is coming! Franco is coming!” But there was lots of time left.

Barcelona started crafting some half chances, with Messi putting a weak shot on target and Xavi playing a nice chip that Fabregas blazed over. Abidal in particular was enjoying the change back to a 4-3-3, getting forward and causing havoc on the left. Fabregas and Messi play a cute give and go but Messi blazes over. Speaking of Messi he lost the ball all too often today, especially after Betis scored their second. 60 minutes gone, and there isn’t so much time left. My heart rate is getting alarmingly high.

The players also seem to be losing their cool, as both Messi and Xavi tell the ref exactly what they think about his call. Alves on the right causing trouble now. We are attacking their goal but the clear chances just won’t seem to come. Messi loses the ball again. Alves goes up with the keeper for a header but the ball just won’t go in the goal. ARE YOU TOO GOOD FOR YOUR HOME? I’m breathing hard now. Xavi is awesome. The ref denies Iniesta a penalty after Montero mistakes his shin for the ball in their box. Iniesta says to the ref “Sir, I must kindly disagree” and gets a yellow for his troubles. Damn this game is exciting. Messi drives through the center and gets wrecked by Montero, who sees his second yellow. Being a man up is great and all by why can’t we score?!?!?! Messi loses the ball again. Oh no Betis is attacking again. Pep is yelling. Sanchez gets a ball through from Iniesta but can’t finish. Sanchez glances a header just wide. 15 minutes left and the tension is rising to uncontroGGGGGGOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLL. GOAL GOAL GOAL.

Xavi has been providing dangerous balls for a half hour and he finds Sanchez running laterally through the middle. Sanchez still has it all to do and he finds space against two defenders and powers the ball past Casto. I may be developing a man crush on Sanchez. The final goal and the nail in the Betis’ coffin comes through an excellent attacking run from Abidal where he combines nicely with Messi and keeps the ball alive after the rebound and earns a rare Barcelona penalty. Messi duly finishes it, and the match is over.

The oddest moment of the match

Valdes: B+. Will be disappointed to concede in the Camp Nou, but can’t take blame for either of the goals. Made a couple excellent saves early in the first half. Distribution was solid as always.

Puyol: B. Made some excellent interceptions, but also got caught way out of position at times.

Mascherano: C+. Beaten several times in the first half to give Betis dangerous chances, although he was left isolated. Much better in the second half with Puyol next to him.

Abidal: B. The second game in a row where he cleared the ball out of bounds with alarming regularity. Looked unsure of his role and positioning on the left of the three man defense in the first half. Enjoyed his freedom to get forward in the second and played a huge role in winning the penalty.

Busquets: B+. Spent the first half somewhere between centerback and defensive midfielder, popping up at the right place with unnerving regularity. He reads the game incredibly well. Distributed well and created a couple dangerous moments when he attacked through the middle. Fouled and won fouls. All in all a stereotypical Busquets performance.

Xavi: A. Scored a deserved goal, and controlled the match throughout. Played a bunch of dangerous balls as we searched for the equalizer – they all found their target, but only Sanchez could capitalize. Good match.

Iniesta: B+. He was a wizard out there with the ball at his feet. Played well with Sanchez in the early going. Created a lot of dangerous situations but just seemed unable to connect for the final pass.

Fabregas: B. He kind of reminds me of watching Pedro in his first season. Covered an unbelievable amount of ground. Made some dangerous runs in the box but could also be seen deep in the midfield at times. Some of his passing wasn’t patient enough and he still looks like he isn’t sure where he should be on the field a lot of the time.

Cuenca: C-. Hooked for Alves at half time after an anonymous first half. Contributed almost nothing going forward but worked hard and covered a lot of ground defending the right flank.

Messi: B. Scored two goals and drew a red card, but didn’t have a great game the rest of the time. A solid first half was followed by a second half where he lost the ball too often – whether on the dribble or a pass.

Sanchez: A. Created danger on the left wing the whole first half, and the first two goals as well. Faded a bit in the middle of the match, but emphatically scored the winning goal after a superb run through the middle. We haven’t had a player with his dynamism and versatility of play on the left wing since Henry circa ’08-’09. My MOTM.


Alves: B. Deserves the blame for Betis’ second goal, as he was ostensibly playing right back but was standing in the center circle. Created danger on the right, including a sumptuous cross for Sanchez right before we took the lead, but nothing quite seemed to come off for him.

Thiago: N/A. Replaced Fabregas in the 83rd minute to maintain possession and did his job without any fuss.

*All grading is done on the curve.


Overall it was an incredibly exciting game. No, Barcelona wasn’t at their best, and this didn’t turn into the statement game that many were expecting or hoping it to be. In fact it’s fair to say that our execution was off all night – maybe just by a little bit, but that small margin is what makes the difference. These matches are the reason I love watching this team – tense all the way through, moments of magic, and it feels unbelievably amazing when the boys in Blaugrana pull it off. Games like these remind the players, and fans, that even in the Camp Nou nothing can be taken for granted – a lesson that we may have forgotten over three years of success. In the end you can’t help but hope our season plays out just like this match – a strong start, a slump in form in the middle, and a blazing finish that secures the win.



  1. Great review! I agree everything except
    sanchez getting an A.

    Between him assisting our first two goals and scoring the 3rd, he was for me complete and utter crap. His decision making at times was just horrible. He cuts inside too much and its becoming predictable.

    Other than that he had a good game. I’d have given him a C.

    1. Great review! I agree everything except sanchez getting an A.

      Messi got a B from Calvin, flyzowee agreed.
      and B is a higher rating than C.

  2. You only gave Iniesta a B+?!? Kxevin Calvin, you biased idiot! 😛

    Iniesta was my MOTM. He was by far the best player on the pitch. Except for that one sloppy giveaway that led to the Betis goal. Um, yeah.

    Agree that Masche had an uncharacteristically poor game. He was caught out a lot by the Betis forwards and Abidal had to cover for him, making him less effective in his own position.

    A little harsh on Cuenca. He did what he was supposed to, but Xavi & Iniesta were sending almost every ball through Sanchez on the left, leaving Cuenca hovering uselessly on the far right. Not really his fault. Taking him off for Dani was a good sub, though, no question about that.

    1. Agreed on Cuenca. He only saw the ball twice that I can remember, but he did his defensive job well. Perhaps a little harsh, especially since he has been asked to pick up a lot of responsibility with all the injuries the team has.

      Don’t agree on Iniesta. He was full of tricks and looked like a wizard, but it just seemed he spent most of the match on his own world, never completely connecting with the rest of the team.

      And thank you, with the first biased idiot comment out of the way it should get easier!

    2. I must agree on Calvin the biased idiot on Iniesta. sorry, Blitzen! 😀

      His first touch and control on the ball was magic, unreal, delicious to watch. but he didn’t really connect with his teammates, my friend from other forum said he was a little bit selfish on that game.

    3. Iniesta lost a lot of balls, including the one that lead to Betis’s second goal. He didn’t have a good game by any means

    4. Iniesta my MOTM too. At least an A- ?
      But grades are like an illusion to many (me), so its all cool with el ilusionista! So just give him a D next time, just for fun’s sake 😉

    5. New play on words:
      El ilu-genius-ta 🙂

      One more thing, is Andres Iniesta an alien?
      His initials… AI -> Artificial Intelligence.

      (Damn i must stop smoking this Belarusian stuff)

    6. Belarusian stuff, you say? A guy could write a pretty good review with that stuff it sounds like…

      And I may be forced to write the review for the Clasico. If true I’ll need all the help I can get.

    7. Its no good, Calvin! I mean, it was, when this little brother from London tried it at first. But then i possessed it for a while, but had other stuffs to smoke! Later, the stash traveled round the world and now its buzz has totally ebbed out. I cant even sell it or make anybody possess it!

  3. In other news, Hleb in taking responsibility for his own demise shocker!

    The useless one did an interview where he shows that he has reached some level of self-awareness about how his attitude and actions have messed up his career. Original German is here:

    On his time at Barça, via Google Translate:

    I wanted to be in every game here, and always from the beginning. I was pissed when I could not even play or was only a substitute. I have begun to quarrel with the coach about it, was offended and was always dissatisfied – and that despite our great success by winning the League, the Cup and the Champions League. Now I know that Barcelona is so great, because every player back is his ego (puts his ego behind him). At that time I could not see it.

    It almost makes me feel a bit sorry for him, really.

    1. Hleb and Rise are two opposites, Manish!

      or in other words, “Hleb rises” is a straight-forward, widely accepted contradiction!

    2. So where he will play then? His loan period in bundesliga team (forget the club) is ended this January.

    3. He is training in Germany right now and Barça is trying to find a club for him, preferably in the Bundesliga, but at this point it doesn’t seem likely. If Wolfsburg doesn’t want to renew his loan even now that he is recovered from his injury and even with Barcelona paying his wages, that is very telling. He may be undergoing an attitude adjustment, but I think he has just burnt too many bridges. His contract expires in June, I believe, and then we will be free of him.

    4. Hey, i saw this news that there is going to be a football tournament in India featuring Fabio Cannavaro, Robert Pires and Robbie Fowler as foreign stars. Pires claimed that he would be paid at least €395,000 for seven weeks!!! So my question is, why deny so many audience, especially the young and aspiring footballers of the Hleb? Here is this rare case when the reality is favorable for everybody. We get some money, Hleb gets to do his routine travel round the world and people at India gets to witness the mighty Hleb! And the tournament coincidentally, beings on Hlebuary 🙂

    5. wow!

      First Zlatan voting Messi and Pep, now this. I’m seriously astonished.

      The times they are a-changin’ right?

  4. The defense yesterday was horrible. Puyol was trying to be in too many places at once and got caught out more than usual. Midfield was bad too, leaving too much space and not closing down fast enough. I’ve noticed Cesc is having a harder time than i thought getting into the grove of this team. Yes he scores goals but, seem to be slowing play sometimes. Ir seems his decision making is kinda off at time and the boy loses the ball a lot. Cesc and Messi had a bad game despite the latter scoring 2 goals.

  5. My classico line up, we start conventionally with 4-3-3:

    Alves – Puyol – Pique – Abidal
    Xavi – Busi – Iniesta
    Messi – Cesc – Alexis

    Our obvious advantage over EE is our midfield quality in keeping possession and controlling the game. I expect EE game plan would remain the same, pressing high and trying to congest the midfield, as it’s been one of “textbook” approach for any opponent facing us nowadays. The more players we can shift to the middle during the game, the more complicated for them to get the ball and keep them running throughout.

    We need the focus in keeping possession and not giving away the ball easily like Betis game. I consider we should utilize Alexis dynamic like we did last Dec. He station in false 9 position to keep EE center back occupied while occasionally messi dropping down to support the midfielder and keep EE defensive midfielder occupied as well. Two destabilize type of player in messi and alexis would result less tense pressing from EE, because at least 2 or 3 players would keep shadowing on these two alone. Means more space as well for other players to penetrate in.

    Last time I checked, Carvalho and Khedira are still injured. Their potential CB pairing would be Pepe and Ramos. If they use trivote, we would see Xabi, Coentrao and Callejon/Granero perhaps. Lass is needed in RB as Arbeola is suspended. If Mou play Pepe as DM, their CB could be more vulnerable because the next option would be the inexperience Varane. I’m more worried if Pepe play DM, as he is EE best defensive presser imo. Both teams have problems with injury list, but looks like EE injury could cause their makeshift defense more exposed.

    EE probably play Ronaldo – Benz – Ozil in front. With the absence of Di Maria, it means less attack from one of their wings. So I expect we see more long direct ball from Alonso or some short passing playmaking with Ozil as their reference. We should also careful with dead ball situation, which one of EE strength.

  6. I agree with everything you said and the grades you gave, Calvin.
    I’m beginning to feel like I’m saying the same thing about Iniesta for a few matches now. He’s magic on the ball and he has me going ooooh and aaaahhh but his link up plays are off (and THATS whats helping the team in the long run). Its kinda like what people were complaining about Messi last year. We’re dazzled by the pretty plays but deep down we know they can contribute more meaningfully to the team play.

    And I may get tomatoes thrown at me but I think Cesc’s accomodation in the team is the thing that is messing up our midfield domination in matches, especailly away from home. Its hard for me to explain but it feels like this season we cant seem to take control of matches in the midfield as much as last season by simple passing the ball until there’s an opening, especially when we have a lead. Maybe its the “too direct” complaint I’ve seen people coming up with but Cesc’s presence always seems to make the midfield play a lot of vertical balls, and the play is either too quick or when the forward expects the ball to be played quickly again, then its played too slow and we have the forwards running up and down like they’re possesed. There just isnt that calmness anymore and we have lots of giveaways which lead to a scramble at the back. Add to that theres not as much system to our pressing nowadays. I havent noticed any phases of pressing like last season; The forward line and then the midfield.
    Maybe Pep doesnt feel like its necessary because of the extra man in midfeld which should allow us to control possesion more? I dunno..
    Ofcourse I dont regret us buying Cesc and he has been instrumental for us in terms of goals scored this season, heck, I was one of those who wanted him here, BUT I thought he would be more of an alternative in midfield when Xavi or Iniesta was out or being rested..

    *Getting ready for tomatoes*

    1. No tomatoes 🙂 – Maybe Sanchez seems to be adapting better than Cesc right now cause he’s having to learn a completely new system while Cesc is trying to implement Arsenal’s possession based/EPL mix here…

      What you said Kim, was something I noticed in the match as well… There was no calmness, no holding of the ball… Barca usually spend half the match camped on the edge of the penalty box, passing it around and waiting for the opening. On Sunday the ball was zinging back and forth like the guys just wanted to overpower them and go home after 45 minutes. It isn’t how we play and it allowed them to hit back.

      Having Cesc in a chaotic role, as Pep intends, creates confusion for all concerned. I get the impression that he believes our superior ball skills and possession will see us through the day. It can be devastating for opponents as we’ve seen, but when we’re having an off day, it can be super harmful for us to have one guy running around unsure of his position.

      Simply put, it raises the potential for great play and big time doodoos at the same time. I reckon we shouldn’t risk it against EE until we’re more comfortable with it.

      My prediction for the lineup is Kim’s squad as a 4-4-3, and I’m expecting it to morph into the 3-5-2 that won us the match in December, before Mou counters with 3 DMs and a double decker bus imported from London before we morph into the 3-4-3 and try to hack our way through the middle.

      Sorry for hijacking your post Kim! 🙂

    2. Okay oops, I meant Chiu’s squad! And also, initially we’ll play 4-3-3 I meant. Although it’d be cool if the copa organisers let us play Thiago as a 12th man as well.

    3. I didn’t watch the Betis game, but some people saying Cesc was like a strayed player, didn’t know what position he should stay, just running here and there, lost the ball too often, and so on.

      LOL, Cesc have become common scapegoat every time we play bad this season 🙂 Poor cesc

    4. *throw tomatoes* 😛

      I can see your point about Cesc, I have that in my mind too..

      But then I remember the game against Sporting and Getafe, where Cesc couldn’t play because he got injured.
      In those game we thought “dammit! we are too indirect, no player run to penalty box, we miss Cesc here!”

      Lack of directness, too direct, we need a balance here.

    5. No tomatoes 🙂 However, just off the top of my head he did draw the defense by running at them then sliding a prefect ball into the path of Sanchez for a goal and should have been awarded a penalty with his turn which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. In the liveblog i was actually calling out for more service to him as he was the one who could destabilise them most imo. It seems Pep agreed as he was indicating to Xavi to sweep it left more often.

      Despite the above there is a fair point in that I’ve always thought Iniesta is the sort of player who is content to let others win the game and needs to feel that the team needs him to really turn on his best. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He is just content to let others take the credit.

  7. It’s come to the point where one of the major differences between the 3-4-3 and the 4-3-3 is each formation’s ability to handle the smaller sides vs. bigger sides. Barcelona have a very real chance to win La Liga, and Pep has always stressed that Barca must push to win every competition. However, one of the most important questions of this season has been ‘How can Pep extend this team’s legacy’. Certainly winning another treble would be fantastic, but where do Guardiola’s priorities lay?

    To me the CL is the most important trophy Barca can grab this year. 3 in 4 and the first back to back since Sacchi’s Milan would basically guarantee Barca immortality as the ‘greatest club side ever’. A La Liga would be nice, but I believe the preference is clear, and it’s clear in the tactics. The 3-4-3 is a fantastic formation against the more dominant sides (and who more dominant than Madrid away and Milan away?). And yet, when the side isn’t as “up” as it is against top-level competion, because of its structural weaknesses (remember, no formation is perfect) it’s defensively vulnerable to overloads and counter-attacks.

    But if you’re Pep do you switch back to the 4-3-3? The manager doesn’t seem that reactive to me- despite rapidly enacting his Bernabeu switch. I think it’s likely that Guardiola is maximizing the time the team has with the 3-4-3, even if it is possibly at the expense of La Liga. And I think that may be the right call.

  8. Also, in regards to people criticizing Cesc’s positioning and passing:
    He is often given a role that doesn’t lend itself particularly well to high passing percentage stats or recognizable positioning, especially in such a fluid side. It seems likely that Cesc is generally following Pep’s briefing. You know. Because he keeps getting playing time.

    1. I’m not entirely sure. I can remember a bunch of times he would appear deep in the midfield and would receive the ball, then proceed to play a long, diagonal, 30 to 40 yard pass (they neve found their target). In these cases he always had time and places to pass near him, but he chose to play long balls and lose possession.

      He has been deadly up front with his destabilizing movement and his eye for goal, but he just isn’t patient enough with his passing when the team needs to keep possession.

  9. Well we shouldn’t say that Pep is sacrificing the league for his formation. He has clearly said he believes his team wants to fight for every trophy.

  10. I totally disagree with Calvin for giving Dani the sole blame for the 2nd goal.

    It’s true that he was caught centrally. But he then managed to hold the player from getting inside the box. Job was done from his part, i felt. On some other parallel reality, Dani would have been far out on the advance right and we would concede in a different fashion.

    And i cant blame Iniesta for losing out on possession. It was partly Busquetes fault for not moving two steps to the right, diagonally, where Lujan saw the free space. The absence of the usual “sergio-cal” precision is what led to the loss of possession. But bussi recovered and looked to track Santa clause’s run, initially. And Puyol did well to track the guy in the middle with Masche.

    And now our beloved Abidal only had to stay close to the guy on the far right. But nayyyy! He drifted with puyol for no apparent reasons, and Busi saw it and reacted in split seconds and took a decision to prevent a goal from a cross to the far right. That was the right thing to do, then. Damage control!

    So it was mainly Abi’s fault. But overall it was a combination of various factors. A team error to be honest. Not Dani’s fault.

    Please correct me if im wrong!
    (i’ve touched on this point previously as well)

  11. Mourinho : “Tomorrow’s match will be different to all the others we’ve played.”

    ooooo. scary.

    seriously though, from a football fan view, I’m excited to see what Mou and Pep will bring to the table this time.

  12. Formations are neutral. And Barca has played some of the best football we’ve seen it play under Pep out of a 3-4-3 type arrangement.

    But one of the things I think we’re also seeing this season is that for the team to really thrive in the 3-4-3 they have to be in strong form. The formation requires an extremely high work rate to cover space and balance the pitch, especially in transition situations.

    Similarly, it puts even more pressure than usual on the players not to concede possession.

    It felt in the Betis match that the team conceded possession cheaply several times. But if you look at the statistics – they don’t really correlate with that impression. We’re noticing these issues (e.g. giving up the ball in midfield) much more than we usually do because out of his 3-4-3, once Barca lose the ball it turns into a dangerous transition opportunity more often.

    Because there’s an extra man up field, on fast transitions, the backline is more on its own. The three defenders can get isolated.

    The reason why that second goal scored was that Busi’s instinct on the counter was to drop deep to defend. Betis then played the ball directly into the space between the lines where a holding midfielder is supposed to be.

    There’s less redundancy and fewer fail safe measures out of the 3-4-3. There’s also more opportunity when the players can play at their highest levels.

    The question is – over a very long season can the team play with the intense workrate, energy and precision needed for it to operate at a high level out of the 3-4-3? Or does the formation require so much that it’s just too difficult to expect players to be able to maintain that level game in and out?

    Are these requirements conducive to winning the long Liga season?

    We’re still finding this out.

    1. I argue that the 3-4-3 should only be used in those “big games” where midfield dominance is a must.

    2. 3-4-3 requires that much of an extra energy that I wouldn’t think it’s possible for the team to win so many trophies if Pep started with this formation from the very moment he took over.

    3. I am not sure we should read into the 3 4 3 formation too much. Pep has shown in the last few matches that he can shift the formation by giving a few instructions on the byline.

      The main problem last night was the large gap between the Barca defence line and attack attack line. There were wide open spaces in the Barca midfield when Betis got the ball. And this is the space that Betis used effectively, and were able to create havoc from. I am sure Pep has noticed this and will address this in the next matches.

    4. For me the three at the back doesn’t really play to our defenders’ strengths. Masch is a great tackler but isn’t good positionally in my book. Abidal is quick but has never been strong positionally and Puyol who I’d rate highest in terms of his reading of the game usually gets stuck on the right where he can’t really cover much. I’m also not sure that busi quite knows how to play when we have three at the back and the opposition break quickly.

      It’ll be really interesting to see what happens tomorrow. There’s part of me wants Pep to be brave and go with it and another part that thinks if they have the same amount of possession in our last third that Betis had we’ll have a car crash on our hands.

    5. The main problem last night was the large gap between the Barca defence line and attack attack line.

      Yes. The team had the same exact problem against Espanyol. But the formation influenced why this happened in the first place. That’s why it’s very relevant.

      It’s very strange to see the team have this problem. This is happening because in a sense the team is not compact enough.

      That’s happening because in the 3-4-3 they have an extra player upfield and they have a different distribution of defenders.

      When Barca plays 4 at the back there’s a 2 man CB pairing. In the past when transition opportunities occur one CB would step up to close down the gap between the lines. The other CB would track a striker or drop deeper into space.

      With one player at CB now that’s not an option. The lateral backs are too far to assist without losing shape.

      So this often puts the lone CB in a difficult position – should he step up into the open space between the lines or should he drop deep?

      This is why Mascherano appeared to have an off game. He was repeatedly caught in this dilemma.

      The “safer” option is to drop deep and this is why that space kept opening up.

      This was also in part how the second goal scored. Alves was playing this sort of hybrid position and the backline lost shape. Mascherano and Puyol both shifted to the left of center with Abidal along the line. Alves dropped back to the center of the pitch.

      When Iniesta’s pass was intercepted Puyol attempted to step up and close down open space – but he didn’t get the ball or stop play. He got beat. Betis then played a simple ball into space on the right flank and the created chaos.

      The formation itself makes defending more complex. More movement and coordination is required. And it increases the risk of space developing between the line as theirs only 1 CB rather than two where one can step up and seal space.

  13. After just posting the above I realised I meant to add that at least 4 at the back gives me a comfort blanket ( 3-4-3 gives me the jitters during games) , then I got to thinking when was the last time we dropped points with four at the back. Genuine question, I can’t think.

  14. So tomorrow we have the chance to make our head to head vs EE equal. Right now it’s 85-86 to them. I know there’s no trophy for that kind of thing but it’d be still cool if we surpass them in the head to head stats.

  15. How heart-breaking for 2nd division Mirandes.

    Leading 0-2 vs. Espanyol until the 85th min and then stupidly let Espanyol score 3 goals in 5 minutes for Espanyol to win.


    1. Yeah, they pulled a Mallorca. Not the Mallorca that fell apart vs Real Madrid in La Liga, but the one that fought back to go to the next round of the CDR.


    2. Yeah, but Espanyol will be put to a real test in the away leg… Mirandes are probably going to drag them through Hell…

  16. I liked the emotional rollercoaster ride that you described, especially after the 2-2. Perfectly reflects my perception of the live match 🙂

    How are we gonna survive the Clasico, this was only Betis ^^

    Oh, and it’s a shame that Mirandes LOST against Espanyol. I only knew about the 0-2 after 85 mins and thought it’s over. Then I ‘accidentally’ read the upper post from nzm and now I think wtf?!?
    Also, according to AS, there was a clear penalty for Mirandes not given, foul by a player who was already on a yellow. Seems like there’s one team from Barcelona that has luck / refs on their side this season *argh*

  17. Those who are still dipping their pinkies into the steamy waters of La Liga may not be aware of exactly what the ‘Villarato’ is.
    This term – oft-used in Spanish football – was coined by Madrid-based daily newspaper AS to describe an imaginary conspiracy said to have been cooked up by FA President Angel Villar, Barcelona and the country’s referees to make sure that all decisions went in the Catalan club’s favour and against Real Madrid.
    Apparently, the ‘Villarato’ is no more. Instead, the ‘Anti-Villarato’ is in play, as demonstrated by the failure to award Barça a late penalty for hand-ball in last week’s derby clash against Espanyol, and the booking of Andrés Iniesta for a dive when another penalty was probably the right decision.

  18. It is quite apparent that Espinosa was man of the match..and why did my comments never come up on the love blob?

  19. Well is calling a 2-1 lose for us…All we need is Sid Lowe to make it complete.

    1. That’s no surprise, they also predicted us to lose in Manita game.. Don’t know about the other Clasicos.. We just need Sid Lowe to do his job now..

  20. I agree on almost all points in this review, but i can´t blame at puyol for two errors, i mean, B+ could be a better grade for puyol.
    Another thing, Barcelona didn’t play bad, i prefer to say that Betis played a great game. For a long time ago I didn’t see a so difficult game for Barcelona. Merit to Betis for trying hehe.

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