Match Review Copa Del Rey: Barcelona 2 – 2 Madrid, 4 – 3 Aggregate: Simulation

Imagine if you could validly measure every dimension of football, every variable relevant to shaping the dynamics and outcomes of a match.  If so, you could build a model of the game and simulate matches in a computer with accuracy.

These kinds of computer simulators for football already exist in certain forms.  They are however very limited in utility and adoption because football is an extremely difficult sport to measure and quantify.  However, such simulations are commonplace in many different sectors of society, including other sports, such as American baseball.

So for a moment imagine that we could build this simulator and feed into it comprehensive, valid data.  This could be, in theory, all of the data from all matches each of the players on the teams of interest has played in his career.  You could then ask the simulator to predict what the results would be when the two teams play again.

When utilizing this simulator it would be meaningless to just run the simulation once, however.  Too many variables can change and too many different combinations are possible for one simulation to matter.  For example, a range of scores would be possible, some of them more likely to happen than others.  Just one trial would only give you a small slice of what was probable.

Instead what you do is to run the simulation many times. You would simulate the game at least 10,000 times.  Preferably you would simulate the game 100,000 times.  When you did that you wouldn’t get a single answer for what the score of the next match would be or which team would win.  Instead, you would get a distribution of possible scores for the next game.  You would get a distribution of probabilities for winning the next match and by how much.

Running this type of simulator 100,000 times you’d see a number of fascinating patterns emerge.  On the whole the best team would tend to win the majority of the time.  But the best team wouldn’t win all the time. At the extremes of the distributions, you’d see all sorts of strange scores and unlikely patterns of play.  Those strange games and scores would be low probability events – but they would still occur some of the time.  For example, in some of the matches you’d find that Xavi might complete 200 out of 200 passes.  In others Xavi might only complete 50 out of 100 passes.

And here we break from simulations and reenter life.  Ultimately, while you can simulate 100,000 games in a computer to see how the next game would unfold, what the scores of the next match would likely be and how often they would occur, in the real world you only play a match once.  The one game you play is only one instance of those 100,000 possible trials.  In a sense, this is what history is.  Our lives are the one trial that actually takes place out of all the ones that were possible.

And that’s the beauty of sports.  How games transpire, the nature of their play, the score, who wins – all of that is unknown and unwritten beforehand.  While we may be able to describe what’s probably going to happen – probability doesn’t tell you a great deal about any specific game in particular before its played. You can describe the overall distribution of possible games.  But you can’t locate where any one game is going to fall on that distribution. One of those unlikely games in the distribution may be the one that occurs next in the real world.  Getafe beating Barcelona 1-0 is a very low probability to occur if you simulate the game 100,000 times.  But in certain seasons in the real world, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Here We Go Again

When you play a team over and over in a relatively short period of time you start moving away from single matches to a series of matches.  The nature of the competition changes.  Larger patterns start to emerge as the sample of matches grow.  At the same time, exceptions will also invariably pop up.  If you took the worst team in Europe and played them against the best team in Europe enough, eventually the worst team will obtain a result.  It’s just part of the distribution of possible outcomes.  Eventually it will happen if you play enough.  All sorts of things will happen if you play enough, in fact.

Given a 2 vs. 1 break, Fabregas and Messi will put the ball in the back of the net the overwhelming majority of chances.  But not every time.  Eventually an instance will occur when Fabregas will inexplicably pass the ball clumsily behind Messi to ruin the chance.  That too is part of the distribution of possible events in a match when you play a team over and over.

Barcelona and Madrid have now played ten Clasico matches over the past season and a half.  Barcelona has only lost once.  And that one match was a 1-0 defeat that was 0-0 at 90 minutes.  Barcelona have now not lost in the last seven Clasicos – that is a Barca club record.  And over this period of time, Barca have, overall, played football of tremendous quality.  It is difficult for a team to dominate any ten matches against another side to that degree.  It is truly extraordinary to do so when the other team is likely the second best team in the world.

In the face of that kind of substantive, prolonged success, the result of one match isn’t going to change that underlying dominance.  Success has to be earned on the pitch over a significant period of time. That means that Madrid have to show that they can beat Barcelona multiple times over a series of matches.

This was the mistake people made in interpreting the results of last years Copa Del Rey finals and this seasons Spanish Super Cup.  Those isolated results – those parts of the distribution of possible events – were over interpreted.  Rather than seeing them as possible events in a distribution of potential outcomes, they were interpreted through a narrative in which giving which Madrid had improves so much that they had “closed the gap” while Barcelona was purportedly taking a step back.

But those matches didn’t prove lasting.  They proved to be more the kinds of matches that will occur if two teams play enough.  No team – not even the best team in the world – can play at top form all of the time in every encounter.  There is going to be some kind of distribution of performance.

And for the most part, that’s likely what we saw in the second leg match of the Copa Del Rey quarter finals.  Overall, it was an extremely strange match, one that went through multiple phases and had little structure or coherence.

Madrid played an outstanding match.  Credit to them.  This was the best Clasico they’ve played under Mourinho. They played at the upper end of their distribution of best possible performances.  Indeed, this may have been the best match Madrid have played under Mourinho.  They forced much of the play, especially in the second half.

At the same time, Barcelona played towards the lower end of their distribution of possible performances.  Now much of this is due to the quality of competition Madrid provided.  But Barcelona’s odd performance went past the issue of the external competition alone.  There were significant internal issues.  For example, to open a match, when Dani Alves is making an extremely poor back passes under minimal pressure that Pique doesn’t bother to run for as it goes astray and the mishap provides Madrid with a clear shot on goal – that’s most directly related to an issue of Barcelona’s internal performance.

I’m going to focus first on those internal issues just to describe them briefly.  Please note, I’m not saying in any way that the match simply came down to Barcelona not playing well.  Madrid played an excellent match and pressed the initiative of play.  The point I’m trying to make is that the overall nature of the match and its odd form was the result of Madrid playing very well and Barca playing relatively poorly.  Both happened at the same time.  Both teams operated towards different ends of their distributions of possible performances.

Barca – Poor Dynamics:  Off the Ball Movement, Rapid Circulation and Pressing all Limited

Regardless of what formation Barcelona plays, the entire system is highly dependent on the players performing dynamically.  The keys to Barcelona being able to play their game are decisive off the ball movement, rapid ball circulation and high tempo pressing.  None of these qualities were present yesterday.

The lack of off the ball movement yesterday was perhaps the most telling and influential issue in the entire match.  Barcelona played an extremely static, lethargic match in which there simply wasn’t enough dynamism and tempo.

Barcelona had 66% possession in the first half.  But even on rewatching the match – it never felt like Barcelona controlled the ball to that degree.  That difference was due to a lack of coherence in possession.  Madrid did a wonderful job of pressing and doing so with great energy.  Barcelona however has faced many teams that press aggressively.

There’s a clear route to address this issue – dynamic off the ball movement to open space and recreate triangles in new areas as pressure develops.  The team has done this many times against different teams in the past – including against Madrid in the first Clasico played this season.

Barcelona simply didn’t do this at nearly the rate or with the effort they usually do it at, especially in midfield.  They were far more static than they usually are.  And off the ball movement is something that a team can control itself – it isn’t up to the opposition – it’s about workrate, energy and speed.

One of the major impacts this had was that Barcelona wasn’t able to build out play from the back.  While the defenders had poor to mediocre games with their passing, the midfielders didn’t move dynamically enough to provide outlets.

A moment that crystallized this for me was on when Puyol played the ball to Abidal on the left.  The backline was being pressed.  Abidal tries to send the ball back to Puyol and Puyol rushes his touch and is forced to kick the ball up field wildly. (It was remarkable how many times Barca broke with their system and tried to pay the ball long.)  The main problem in that situation was that Fabregas was simply standing in space watching the play.  Rather than running to the ball to provide a new triangle and outlet, Fabregas tried to stay in “open space.”  The problem was that the backline players couldn’t orchestrate build up to get players in open space the ball with consistency or quality (more on this later).  This isn’t an indictment of Fabregas, Puyol or Abidal.  It’s just an example.  Similar dynamics were in play with Xavi, Alves and Pique.

Without crisp off the ball movement, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to circulate the ball effectively.  At the same time, slow ball movement limits off the ball movement.  They are different parts to the same subsystem in the possession game.

What made this even worse was that Barcelona’s press also lacked dynamism.  A disproportionate amount of the defending was done by the back line.  And that was due to the fact that the more advanced players didn’t pressure the ball nearly as aggressively as they usually do.  Again – credit to Madrid as they moved the ball very quickly and used their pace to make the field large.  That said – there was something off with Barcelona on the night.  They played a relatively lethargic, static match in both phases.

Tactical Analysis

Barcelona Too Focused on Static Space

Ironically, part of this static play stemmed from how Barcelona set up tactically.  Madrid came out pressing high while also leaving their back line relatively deep.  They took a similar approach in the first Clasico of this season – only in that match the Madrid match was even more intense in the opening phase of the match.  As such, there was space available on the interior of Madrid’s defensive block.

Average Positions (Sourse: Opta)

What Xavi and Fabregas were doing was to station themselves inside of the open spaces in midfield behind Madrid’s forward waves of pressure.  A significant difference between this match and the Clasico in December at the Bernabeu was that Xavi and Fabregas didn’t drop back as deep or as frequently to help relieve pressure and build play.  Instead they prioritized finding space in midfield.

In some ways this made sense – if the back line and Busquets could get the ball forward Barcelona would find significant space and be able to attack rapidly behind the waves of advanced Madrid pressure.

The problem was that the passing of the backline was very poor all night long.  From that very first terrible pass Alves made – the defenders just didn’t circulate the ball well in the face of the very effective Madrid press.

What Barca needed to do was to drop the ball playing midfielders much more deeply and do so much more often to support build up in play.  This would have created more coherence in possession.  Instead, Barca prioritized keeping Xavi and Cesc in open space furhter up the pitch.

All of this was exacerbated by the loss of Iniesta.  In the last two Clasicos the left flank has been the one in which Barcelona was able to find the most time and space on the ball.  As such, the left flank served as an open outlet to relieve pressure as needed.  This is part of why Guardiola wanted to play Iniesta wide.

The same dynamics developed in this match.  Unfortunately, Iniesta getting hurt greatly altered how Barca could use the left flanks as an outlet to relieve pressure.  Pedro is still playing in very poor form.  And at baseline, retention of possession isn’t nearly as much part of his game as Iniesta’s.


On the whole, Barcelona wound up getting caught up in a vicious cycle.  The prioritized having their central midfielders find space while the holding player and backline build up play.  When the ball did get to those midfielders they looked to attack the space in front of them.  Barcelona was extremely focused on trying to attack the space behind the Madrid defense.  Repeatedly they attempted to play the ball forward or long to Sanchez very quickly.

While this made sense from the standpoint of attacking space, one of the things that resulted was that Barca uncharacteristically played without enough patience.  In a sense, the team played too directly.  That is, the balance between direct and indirect play was thrown off.

This was damaging because it added a kind of openness to the game which clearly favored the tempo and style Madrid wanted to play through.  This is part of why Barca couldn’t control of tempo in the match like they usually do.

Shots on Goal (Source: Opta)

Part of this issue has to do with Cesc Fabregas.  Fabregas has been brilliant this season in the final third.  He’s thrived there.  But as a midfielder in deeper positions he’s had challenges playing the Barca possession game.  He often looks to play very direct passes.  At times that works well.  At other times though it leads to careless giveaways and even more importantly – slows ball circulation.  Cesc seems to be looking to pick out the most direct pass rather than the most fluid one touch pass and this slows down how fast he moves the ball.  He doesn’t “dwell” on the ball.  It’s just different from how Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Thiago circulate the ball.

In a game like this one, what Barcelona needed in midfield – especially to protect the two goal lead – they needed more composure in midfield rather than forcing direct play to take advantage of space behind the Madrid line.

Madrid Changes Systems and Barca Doesn’t Adjust

Much will be made of the results of this match.  We’ll again hear refrains of Madrid “closing the gap,” etc.  This isn’t what makes this match noteworthy, however, from the Madrid perspective.

What makes this match notable for Madrid is that this is perhaps the first time they’ve played a game in which their system is built around the talents of Mesut Oezil.

This is a major transition for Madrid.  Even more than C.Ronaldo, in this Clasico, Madrid’s system was structured around Oezil.

What I mean by this is that this is the first match in which Mourinho has been willing to realign his team in ways which prioritize maximizing Oezil’s strengths while minimizing/ hiding his weaknesses by providing him protection through the roles of other players.

In the past, C. Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso were the ones around whom the Madrid system was structured.  Oezil was required to adjust his game to accommodate their strengths and weaknesses.

C.Ronaldo has improved significant in his areas of prior weakness.  His defending and work rate – especially against Barca – are significantly better.  This allows Mourinho different freedoms with his system.

Xabi Alonso is often described as Madrid’s “metronome.”  While Alonso has been a fine player for a long time, it’s simply not true for him to be considered the primary orchestrator of the Madrid attack.  Madrid are at their best when play is being run through Oezil – not Alonso.  It’s Oezil who plays in the style and in the space that provide a fulcrum for their attacking play.  Alonso’s skill sets are more supportive.  In addition, Alonso has had a relatively poor season so far.

Indeed, while many of the tactical challenges Mourinho has faced at Madrid have related to defense, what to do with Oezil has been a fundamental issue that he’s needed to address.  Oezils’ role was always going to be a defining factor.  For sometime Mourinho’s put the issue off.  Madrid were dominant enough against most sides to do so.  However, the challenges of beating Barcelona and an inconsistent season to date from Oezil pushed the issue to the forefront headed into this Clasico.

In this match – rather than trying to make Oezil into another player he isn’t or trying to make him cover for the limitations of other players – Mourinho – accepted Oezil for the player he is and created a system around him which would cover for his weaknesses.

Oezil is a fascinating player.  He does certain things at a truly world class level.  His vision, final pass and intelligent movement in the advanced third are tremendous.  But while he has good touch he doesn’t have great touch.  His dribbling is fair.  In addition, shielding the ball and holding it to retain possession aren’t strengths.  He really is a 10 rather, one who is at his best in advanced positions, rather than a central midfielder.

The lifeblood of Oezils’s game is finding space.  He’s brilliant at finding the interstices of a defense.  However, he is limited in his ability to create space for himself.  He needs other player to create space for him to enter.  And Barcelona have exploited this weakness to press Oezil out of matches over and over.

In this match Mourinho did two things to radically change Oezils’s role and the Madrid system.  First, he had Oezil start wide and gave him a highly free role from that right flank position.  Second, he played Kaka alongside him centrally.  Kaka’s role was very interesting.  One of his main functions in this match was to draw pressure away from Oezil.  In the past, when Oezil has played centrally against Barca, he’s had to play against Busquets and the Barca holding player has completely neutralized Oezil by preventing him from finding space.

Moving to the flank in a free role alongside another creator transformed how Oezil can operate against Barca.  Facing a defender who has to retain shape, Oezil was able to utilize his intelligent movement to find space.  Abidal as a LB cannot track Oezil across the pitch.  This meant that Oezil was free to come off the flank and move across multiple zones without a defender necessarily marking him.  In a sense, he turned the Barca LB position into one that wasn’t consistently facing an opposition attacker.  This turned that LB position into a redundant position (this is somewhat analagous to what Messi does to CB when playing as a false 9- they often wind up guarding no one).

In addition, when directly facing Oezil, Abidal was somewhat uncertain on how to play a wide creator whose game is built around subtle movement and vision in passing.  He looked surprised to be facing Oezil for through much of the first half and the unpredictability of his movement heightened this.

Oezil moved in a horizontal band from the left flank to the right in that free role.  Essentially he went where he could find space, dragging defenders with him or settling in open areas of the pitch.  He was Madrid’s most dangerous player for most of the match.

Madrid’s first goal exemplified this.  Pinto sends a poor clearance long to Xabi Alonso.  Xavi goes to pressure him.   Busquets is marking Granero centrally.  Abidal and Puyol are double marking C.Ronaldo.  Oezil subtly moves off the right touchline staying advanced of Fabregas and Pedro but deep of Busquets.  He’s found open space in the advanced third which has been created for him by Alonso, Granero and C. Ronaldo.

Because the Barca pressure is late to come, Alonso sends a simple ball to an open Oezil.  Free in space he Oezil has ample opportunity to send a perfectly waited through ball between Abidal and Puyol for C. Ronaldo to run onto.  The movement is very small.  It seems simple.  But it’s decisive when coupled with his vision.

In prior Clasicos, Oezil rarely had that kind of space.  He was the player being pressed and marked, most often by Busquets.

Unfortunately, Barca didn’t make effective adjustments to this new role for Oezil.  The thing that was needed was an extra holding midfielder.  That would have neutralized Oezil’s ability to find space.  Barca could have done this in several ways.  They could have had Xavi or Fabregas play deeper more consistently alongside Busquets.  This would have allowed them to better mark Oezil as he moved across midfield. Alternatively they could have taken off an advanced midfielder and played Mascherano.  Finally, they could have changed to three at the back withdrawing Alves deeper, shifting Abidal to L CB and taking off an ineffective Pique for Mascherano.

Playing Oezil as the nominal right winger also had the effect of having Oezil defend Barcelona’s most conservative player in attack.  This was a major benefit as Oezil is a limited defender who has been badly exposed by Barca in the past.  In addition, Oezil has fatigued quickly.  Defending Abidal helped him mask both of these limitations as the LB rarely got forward.  An interesting approach Guardiola could have taken would have been to move Abidal to CB and put Adriano in at LB.  This would have given Barcelona another ball playing outlet on the left flank to try to make up for Iniesta and would have forced Oezil to defend much more than he did.

It will be interesting to see if this match marks a turning point for Madrid where Oezil becomes the focus for how they structure their system against Barca or its only a temporary change Mourinho makes.  He’s had hesitancy committing to Oezil fully this season so this is something that will require time to clarify.  For example, when Di Maria returns how will he use Oezil?  Would he consider using Di Maria centrally in order to allow Oezil to retain his free flank role?  These are the kinds of issues that I’m referring to when I talk about the Madrid system being “built” around Oezil.  It entails major changes like moving Di Maria from his strongest position to accommodate Oezil.

Madrid in a 4-4-2

In the second half, Mourinho essentially played a 4-4-2 with the substitutions of Granero and Callejon.  C.Ronaldo and Benzema served as the strikers and Oezil retained his free, wide creator role.  This is a formation RM have never utilized against Barca under Mourinho.

In theory, it should have allowed Barca to dominate possession and control the flow of the match.  Barca had significant numerical advantage in midfield vs a 4-4-2.  Potentially 4 vs. 2.  But because of the problems Barca had with their passing from the backline and the overall team dynamics, this advantage didn’t materialize.


This was a match in which Barcelona played without needed energy despite it being a Clasico.  In some ways it reminded me of the second La Liga match the two teams played last season. Barca went ahead in that match only to see Madrid equalize.  Barca was going through a bad stretch then suffering from injuries to the backline.   It was clear the team was fatigued and looking to simply get through the match without losing.

Part of what we saw may have simply been due to the team losing concentration during the second leg of a tie they felt comfortable they would take, especially after going up 2-0.  However, this team looked fatigued – similar to how they looked in the second half of last season and I do wonder if that may have been a factor as well in this match.  With the extremely small squad and accumulation of injuries the players are putting in a lot of minutes.  Just something to watch out for.  It’s almost February, a month when the team has frequently struggled for form.

Messi in Space

Madrid’s pressure defending worked very well this match.  And many are saying this match and set up represent a major tactical victory for Mourinho.  And as I’ve recounted, the system he developed produced a number of positive effects, ones that Guardiola will need to design a response to.

However, there still remains a major tactical issue that Madrid have not addressed – there was still significant room on the interior of their defensive block.  In fact, Messi was frequently able to find significant space to work within – as the first Barcelona goal demonstrated.

The fundamental issue still remains.  When Madrid press high they do not stay very compact.  That means there is space open within their defensive block.

In the first Clasico Barcelona exploited that space very well.  Tonight their off the ball movement and circulation weren’t adequate to use the space they were afforded.  In addition, the midfield didn’t provide quality service to the front line, Messi in particular.  It seems unlikely that Barca will consistently make these same mistake.

Ultimately, Messi was able to find room.  How you feel about the way Madrid played tonight as a long term solution partly depends on whether you think it’s a viable strategy long term to allow Messi to have space to operate.  To date, Mourinho has not devised a system in which Madrid press high and also cut off the interior spaces in which Messi thrives.  This is not a minor issue.

Player Evaluations

Team:  Inconsistent performance.  A few moments of pure brilliance put them into the position to win.  But they squandered a lead at home and didn’t play well overall.  In the end they saw through the needed result and did so under great distress.  That’s a credit to their experience and mental toughness.

Guardiola:  Kept his first team line up from the prior two Clasicos, slightly altering his formation compared to last match.  Probably should have made additional changes to counter Oezil’s new role and Madrid’s switch to a 4-4-2.  That said, he had very few options to change the match with his small bench, especially with the injuries to Iniesta and Sanchez.  Ultimately, he shepherded his team to the next round of the CdR against their biggest rivals.  And that was his job.

Pinto:  His shot stopping was phenomenal at times.  In many ways, saved the draw with his critical stops.  His distribution, while better than prior years, still can be problematic.  And in this match he put the team in danger several times and generally didn’t promote possession, often playing inaccurate balls long.

Alves:  Wildly inconsistent match.  Overall Alves was off – his passing was especially problematic.  Scored an absolute wonder goal that will be remembered for years.  Not Dani’s best day by a long shot.  But he provided brilliance when it was needed.

Pique:  Very poor match.  Poor passing and lapses in concentration.  Pique’s form this season is concerning.  He’s not as consistent as he was in the past.  And that’s a major problem for Barca as he should be in the process of taking over the mantle at the back from Puyol at this time.

Puyol:  As usual, the heart of the defense.  Gave his all on the pitch.  Defended nonstop making one critical intervention after another.  His passing wasn’t particularly strong however and that made building play difficult.  Tired in the second half significantly.  That showed on both of Madrid’s goals – especially the second. Had to dig deep to get through the match but as usual he led the team to the result they needed.  52 matches without a loss I believe.

Abidal:  Played both a solid and somewhat confused match.  When required to directly defend was generally fine.  But he wasn’t exactly sure how to approach defending Oezil wide. Could have done better tracking C. Ronaldo’s run on the goal.  Next match against Oezil he’ll be much more ready and prepared.

Busquets:  He was often left as the primary midfielder to build play.  This was a situation where he couldn’t only circulate the ball short as he was often closest to the backline.  Played well.  Him not marking Oezil was a significant problem.

Xavi:  The team didn’t run its play through Xavi enough.  They became too direct and impatient rather than working it through him as a central control point.  Part of this had to do with the team often building play from the back on the left via Fabregas.

Fabregas:  Not a good match.  He didn’t spend as much time in the final third as he usually gets to due to Barca’s issues in possession.  His play in central midfield to support possession hasn’t been of the quality anticipated or needed.  Often he looks to play the most direct pass.  This has certain advantages.  But in deeper positions the benefits are often more limited and it leads him to play “slow.”  He keeps looking for that direct outlet rather than circulating rapidly.  It’s just something he’s going to need to keep working on.  As good as he’s been – he’s still integrating.

Iniesta:  Played a key tactical role as a wide outlet to relieve pressure.  Without him filling that role the team tried to play through the middle too much.  The loss of his possession skills proved to a crucial, especially in the second half.  His loss to another hamstring injury – for whatever time it will be – is a significant blow.  He’s fundamental.  And the team cannot drop any points if they hope to take La Liga.

Sanchez:  Made some nice runs that came close to producing scores.  Not quite as good as he’s been over the past two months or so.  This may in part have been do to him moving to a wider right position.  Given how Alves was playing – the advanced right position had limited support.  His loss is also very problematic.  The team simply is running out of forwards and Alexis has been growing into a critical goal scorer and all around force.  He will be missed.

Messi:  In a poor match for the team overall, Messi was the team’s best player.  Created the decisive first goal out of nothing.  Brilliant pass after a brilliant run.  Only player in the world that could have created that score.  Earned the free kick that set up the second goal.  Made numerous dangerous runs.  Worked hard defensively.  Man of the match.

Pedro:  Came on for Iniesta on the left wing.  Finished his chance off Messi’s brilliant pass very calmly which was very good to see.  We got a glimpse of Pedro the natural goal scorer again.  However, outside of that shot, he had very little influence on the match which was disappointing.  Given Madrid’s pressure this wasn’t a match Barca could afford to have a player function in a relatively anonymous role.

Thiago:  Very difficult match for a young player to come into given its intensity and pressure.  Overall he played well.  With the injuries to Iniesta and Alexis Thiago is going to need to step up and play an expanded role.

Mascherano:  Not on for long but did very well while playing.  Made a few strong interventions.  Bringing him in earlier was probably a move Pep should have made.

The End:

Two legged ties are really one match of 180 minutes divided into two parts and locations.  And while this second leg didn’t see Barca at its best – they didn’t need to be.  Over the 180 minutes of the tie there was no question who the better team was.  And that team was the one that progressed.

Madrid played an excellent match. But that’s not enough. And given the level these two teams occupy moral victories really don’t amount to much.  For the second straight season Mourinho has used extremely conservative tactics in the home leg of a two match tie and it has been a tactical failure, putting his team in poor position to advance.  Rather than learn from last season, he reverted to what he’s most comfortable with in that first leg.

Overall, much will likely be made from this portion of the tie.  We’ll likely hear another swing in pronouncements about Madrid “cutting the gap,” etc. Too much is made from each one of these Clasicos.  Prior to the first meeting of the season Madrid was seen as an overwhelming favorite.  Two matches later Madrid were seen as completely overmatched.  This was never true.  This was just an overreaction and swing in opinion that wasn’t warranted.

This latest individual match was not one where any kind of new, definitive conclusions can be drawn from.  It was an strange match in many ways, one that doesn’t provide any clear indication of a fundamental change between these two sides.  The second leg of a tie often turns out differently than anticipated.  It’s just a very different dynamic from a Liga match or the first leg of the tie.

The real story between these two teams isn’t being told any longer on a match by match basis.  The story is contained in the larger set of encounters that’s taken place over the past season and a half.  It’s that larger sample of matches that gives the most clear account of what these teams are.

Barcelona’s objective in this match was to make sure they advance.  It wasn’t simple – Madrid played very well and showed great strength.  But ultimately Barcelona overcame the challenges Madrid posed and achieved that objective.  And to continue to produce needed results against the world’s second best side even when you aren’t playing at your best is quite a testament to how good this team is.   Over a long season producing these kinds of results in difficult matches, in matches where you aren’t at your best, is what grows into overall success.


  1. Euler – a correction though – Messi earned the free kick which paved way for the second goal.

    YOu mention the team didnt really use Xavi in this game. But if you look at how we did not use some of the excellent counter attack opportunities we had in this game, Xavi was the culprit here. If I watch again, I can say exactly. But more than 2 times, when there was a counter attacking possibility, you could see the ball being played back to Xavi.
    Compare this with the Malaga game, almost all the time Messi got the ball after the, he turned around and made attacking movements.
    Just a thought from me, could be wrong.

    1. By penalty I was referring to the penalty that earned the free kick. I’ve clarified that.

      Were there counters the team could have made better use of? Sure. The biggest one was the 2 v 1 that Fabregas ruined with his awful pass behind Messi.

      But on the whole part of the point I was trying to make was that the team was rushing its play, trying to orient the dynamics too vertically and too fast. Their game was too direct when it really needed composure and possession.

      So I more than understand why Xavi may not have wanted to push the ball hard every time. I’m sure he knew play was being rushed.

      That creates a tempo that strongly favors madrid. Barcelona fell into that and it was one of the single major reasons why they couldn’t hold the lead.

    2. Sure I agree Euler.
      Our style is always controlling the ball and thereby the tempo of the game to suit us. We were really poor in that. But there were times, I felt (as I said I can the exact moments only after watching it again) the team could have continued on a counter as we had numerical advantage (I didnt mean about the moment when Cesc made that terrible pass at all).

      Overall, we played our worst match this season and made Madrid made look better than us. We played the game to their tempo, not ours. I would say the whole team had a bad day and that includes XAvi, who is instrumental in keeping our tempo.

      I just feel bad, the whole media is taking it as a Mourinho success. The moment Alves made that back pass for a free shot for Higuain, I felt we were not in. And then like many other time this season, we went complascent after the 2 goal lead.

      Thank you for your excellent review.

    3. Xavi is essential in ensuring that we play to our tempo rather than Madrid’s. If we speed up the game too much it becomes end to end and gives them more of a chance. If we hold on to it we gradually get to them but didn’t do that so they finished strongly. Imo, the major factor here was Iniesta’s absence as he is entirely in tune with Xavi and both have the skills to hold the ball in ridiculously tight situations which only Messi apart from them has.

  2. As mentioned before the game, the fact that RM will play(ed) this clasico using an anti-mourinho approach makes it more difficult by default. The pressure from players, media, etc… meant that they will play up to their best, and they did. A team like RM cant play conservative with ultimate tactical indiscipline, when they have quality world class players capable of making their own decisions on the field beyond the “Master plan”. Add that to the “nothing to lose, lot to gain” attitude made RM the team we saw in this game. Without denying that it was not easy for Barcelona players to be at their best after a very calming result on the road, being favorites for the game and especially after scoring twice.

    That, more than any other element played the deciding role for what we saw.

    I disagree that RM revolved their game around Özil this time – for the first time. In fact, I think for the first time, this was not the case. Whenever Özil played before, he had very rigid midfield behind him for defensive roles and very high offense in front of him and he was supposed to link and lead bu shuffling the buildup on his own from defense to offense – which made it easier for Barca’s midfield to close him down and dominate. In this game, all RM players played close to each other and Özil had less responsibilities as he became just another element in a teamwork process rather than “the one”. And he did much better than he used to.

    Saying so, It was a bit strange that Pep didnt switch to 4-4-2 during the first half. And it is worrisome that Pique is causing troubles almost in each and every game lately. Puyol cant save him all the time.

    The rest of the team, as individuals they were all alright -maybe beside Cesc. But the passing was horrendous. I have absolutely no answer about why the passing was that bad, especially that some of the very open easy and elementary passes went the wrong way.

    Injuries hurt the team way too much so far and still it does. Not only we miss indispensable players all the time, which makes a thin squad thinner, but this also lower the injured players form and condition even after they are back, and consume more energy from the fit players to overcome the absence of teammates.

    In anyway, the team qualifies. Mission accomplished. Long way to go…

    1. Hey thanks for dropping a comment.

      I can only comment on the injuries. Our strikeforce has been reduced to Messi. Pedro is not a goal scoring threat this season for some reason although I do regard him as a starter, I know he can bring back his form.
      But based on the past 6-7months, he didn’t look good.

      Now only have Messi as a regular goal scorer and Cesc who is a hybrid and Pedro who’s trying to regain form. Really really tough.

      I don’t like knee jerk reactions but I would sign Forlan. Or maybe Drogba. Or Chamakh.

    2. Maybe a decent run is what Pedro needs to get back to form rather than being in and out of the side. I’m maybe imagining things but I think he has got his speed back and I’m seeing signs of his touch returning. What isn’t is his old failing of “chicken without a head” syndrome. He just seems excitable at times.

      Just pray Messi and Xavi stay fit. Btw, what happened to the Xavi is finished due to injuries line of thought from last season? 🙂 Pretty much the same as the Puyol is finished due to injuries line of thought from earlier this season. Too many knee jerk reactions from us at times as has been said. Likewise with the Madrid has worked us out theory. It’s still all about us – and how we play – not them when we meet and that’s a good position to be in.

  3. Euler, do you think Xavi and /or Cesc was specifically asked to stay in the midfield, and was not required to help the defence and busquests in bringing out the ball. We saw in one of those past games, Xavi do that, didnt we?
    Or was it up to Xavi or Cesc to decide by themselves that the backline needed help? Normally, our players are very intelligent and make slight adjustments as required.

    I was wondering why one of them went closer to the defence and the other could have stayed in the center to use the space ahead.

    1. I think it was probably a combination. Pep likely sets a tactical outline and then the players need to read the game. Their instincts are to find space.

      I think there was also some problems between Cesc and Xavi coordinating their play and who would support build up and when.

  4. I know it wasn’t a pleasure to re-watch this match and write about it, Euler.. like you said to Kxevin, brutal rewatching.. so thank you..

    @Sidlowe Stats from last night (via Marca/EMD): posses FCB 59 RM 41, shots FCB 9(4) RM 14 (5), fouls FCB 19 RM 29, corners FCB 3 RM 5

    When we only had 59% possession at Camp Nou, you know there was something terribly wrong there..

    for the next El Clasico, whether it’s CL or La Liga, I think we know that Mou will built a system around Ozil again, because he knows now that it worked.. this must be something that Guardiola could see too..

  5. For all the paper talk, comments & web chat this morning you would have thought we got knocked out & EE went through! It’s like in England when a small team ALMOST knocks a bigger team out of the FA Cup – praise all round for the samll team, but the bigger & better team is through to the next round.

    Typical spiteful comments from EE though – no ‘well done Barca’ to be found ANYWHERE lol…

    1. Exactly. I find it so funny that they treat it as if Madrid actually won the game.

      It is such a big achievement for them to have more shots on target than us. Getafe beat us but it wasn’t this big of a deal 🙂
      This makes the defeat or actually the draw feel a lot better 😆

  6. It must’ve been really difficult for you to write a review of this match Euler. It was a match to forget. I can’t imagine having to sit through it again and then spending a few hours to analyse it and then a few more hours writing about it.


    Why didn’t Ramos protest at all when he received the red card? It looked like a bad call to me. It didn’t deserve a yellow card but then why didn’t he protest at all?

    And why did Mourinho had to be in the limelight again by going to the byline to whisper something into Ramos’ ears?

    Was it to show the world that they’re cool again?

    Where is JNice? I would love to hear his take on this.
    I have a question for you (Jnice).
    Do you feel the same as the one at the Emirates in 2010 when we were 2-0 up and then the players let Arsenal get into the game and eventually drew the match?

    1. Oh I see. He’s too cool for BFB now? 🙁

      Could you please ask him the question that I wanted to ask him?
      About the similarities to the 2-2 at the Emirates 2 seasons ago.

    2. I felt a similar feeling, but I think I was more pissed at the Arsenal draw because it was Champions League.

      The thing with this game is that I saw it coming. I didn’t like how we were playing in the 1st half, but then we still scored 2 great goals. At halftime, I was happy for the lead, but I stressed that we should still be wary.

      And once I saw us passing the ball around midfield without any real desire to go and grab another goal (especially w/ all that space Madrid were giving us), I knew we were in trouble. Once they scored the first, it was only a matter time before the 2nd went in because once we get into that state, we can’t seem to recover & play at a higher level.

      But yea, I usually get the same feeling when we play like this and let leads slip. The worst feeling being when we lost at Emirates last season.

  7. @OpinionCule posted a full interview with Cesc..

    my Spanish is very very bad, but this is what I think Cesc said about his performance, I just take some points:

    “I’m not happy about the match I did yesterday, I should improve a lot.”
    “I am the first to demand the best, the first to say that yesterday I did not playing well”
    “I lack of patience that Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets have”

    well, he knows he had a bad game.. with Pep, Tito and other players’ help, I’m sure he’ll improve, hopefully very soon..

  8. Hopefully it won’t be under moderation for the whole day this time.

    Now that I’m a bit free, I’m reading past articles and found these;

    JL3 • Indianapolis, Indiana • 2 days 7 hours ago

    RayRay is the best color guy out there. Magesterial! “he took the stars and Earth’s gravitational pull into account on that one!” Best lines ever! Check out Barcelona Football Blog or The Run of Play for fantastic blogs about football and the topics surrounding the beautiful game.

    That guy gave us a shout out! Anyone with a Yahoo a/c, please like his comment and thank him.
    The article is here.

    And I also found this horrendous error on Yahoo.

    Abidal is no longer an automatic first-choice selection at Barcelona and looked set to leave the club recently before he surprisingly signed a new contract that runs until June 2013. One of the contacts Yahoo! Sports spoke to revealed that Abidal’s spirit and popularity within the locker room was a significant factor in the club offering him a new deal.


    And some Pepe moments of the match.

    -Pepe tried to stamp on Alves this time;

    -Pepe throwing himself to the ground after a screen by Puyol. I actually started to feel sorry for him because I don’t categorize him as a sane person anymore.

    I wish somebody would upload the incident where Pepe acted as if he was shot after a soft tackle by Cesc I think.

  9. Xavi: “We suffered against a superteam. After the 2-0 we disconnected a bit. But in the end, if it’s difficult, you enjoy it even more.”

    Haha he enjoyed it. ‘Is that all you got?’ He wants more! Kimcelona I think got that right..

  10. Separately, would anyone have a link to an English documentary or clipping about La Masia and how Pep handles his forces? A friend of mine wants to use Barca as a motivational tool for his employees.. Let me know. Thanks in advance.

    1. I;m sure Graham Hunter’s new book will have lots of stuff like that. Ebook available from Backpage Press on Jan 30, and book book due out Feb 17 I think.

  11. I stopped reading at “Xavi may only complete 50/100 passes.” I mean, that’s not even a possible hypothetical situation.

    P.S. who is Oezil?

  12. I’ll have more to say later, but for now: Mourinho actually waited by the referee’s car just so he could insult him??? Classy. In England he would get a sanction for that.

    1. how is that left unpunished i have no idea! especially from a recidivist…

      i hope that referees will take note of this behavior; and of RM’s players – maybe they will stop tolerating it?

    2. I see what it says, and I’m saying its EMD so…

      But it appears its true and I already forgot the quote for whcih he said.

      Btw we have the same ref for the Villarreal match this weekend.

    3. I don’t understand why coach with Mou caliber acting childish as such. I consider he’s not mature enough in controlling his obsessive feeling to beat Barca. This obsession has caused “blind hearted” and inability to accept defeat graciously. Finding ways to complain and moaning about everything that sounds silly to provide evidence he always deserved to win against us, just because lots of reasons he couldn’t. Mature person usually could interpret a situation clearly; have perspective from both sides of coin and analyse the thing open-mindedly. He just faking doesn’t remember he could lose this tie from the same officiating basis (referee punish Pepe and Coentrao for their unsportsman violence, Lass red carded, penalty for Alexis, and so on). He must learn how to act like man. Too pathetic. /end rant

  13. Really smart observation on the significance that can be drawn from the latest game. It does seem that the team came on without sufficient concentration; it was mesmerizing seeing two huge chances in the first two minutes; i hope the right lessons can be drawn from this episode!

    How pathetic was Pepe acting after Messi’s hit? It was really appalling and reveals a sad mindset.

    I wonder how long will Iniesta be out?

  14. The opponent inflated the importance of this match. It was a quarterfinal in a tertiary competition. Did the players realize this, deep down, which contributed to some of the poor quality? We’ll never know, because they will never say, but it’s a simple thing, really:

    Uncharacteristically poor passing by us led to chances for them, all of which were not capitalized upon. They played a very good match, in part because we passed so poorly. Between that, and the Abidal “What do I do with this squid” complexities, stuff happens. And that’s football.

    1. “The opponent inflated the importance of this match.” they tied the best team in History, Espanyol also celebrated their tie accordingly.

  15. The Jersey Shore analogy of this matchup would be Ronnie and the Situation fighting over Snookie. Neither of them really care all that much about the prize, they are only concerned with getting one over the other person.

  16. Someone, somewhere, made a comment that Madrid’s 4-4-2 was not unlike Man U’s tactics in the Champions League final.

    A final that we absolutely dominated, after an initial period of shakiness from the pressure, of course.

    I think if Madrid play the same way again, we’re going to annihilate them.

    First of all, because we will dominate possession better next time. Second of all, because their players really should’ve been sent off–and that’s going to happen in the Champions League in a way that wouldn’t happen with these intimidated Spanish referees.

  17. OT: Wow! Messi in on the cover of Time Magazine. Huge! Maybe SI cover next??
    Haven’t seen the match yet but I guess we didn’t play so well.
    The aftermath of this match is crazy. I’m glad that Barca are not involved with the war of words. RM can do whatever they want, but I know sensible people will see them through their viciousness. So unprofessional! To quote something on the radio this morning: “Don’t hate, just congratulate!”

  18. Im I the only one worried about all this talk about Cesc learning to be patient and slower and less direct etc?

    I mean, I really enjoy that part of his game. He is not a particularly great dribbler so easing up on his direct play i feel has the danger of just reducing him to a more advanced facilitator of play which is a waste considering that he is playing ahead of busi, xavi, Ini and sometimes even Messi.

    The only thing I think he should be improving on IMO is how to position himself in pockets of space to avoid getting lost during general gameplay.

    His workrate on the other hand has admittedly been fantastic.

    1. It’s more about the balance I’d say. He needs to work on keeping possession when it’s required, while being able to be direct when needed. Really difficult what we’ve asked of him, but it’s Cesc. Full faith in him getting it right 🙂

  19. Yikes!

    RT @barcastuff Teixeira Vitienes (ref, to Pepe during game): “Please stop diving, act like a professional.” [via cuatro]

  20. Look at how many comments around the web are quick to point out that Guardiola is slipping, that Madrid, who had been handily beaten in the previous two Clasicos, has suddenly “found its touch.” Based on what? An inspired second-half performance? A change of formation that Guardiola will not be able to scheme for in future games? I’ve been around this fixture way too long to know that individual performances, no matter how impressive, never trump patterns and overall trends.

    Sure, let’s give credit where credit is due: Madrid played outstanding. Had they been more clinical with their finishing, they might have progressed. But can’t the same be said for Barcelona in the first leg? Regardless, Mourinho is still in a tight spot. Think of it this way: he’s asking his team to try a litany of tactics and playing styles that are so different from one another (high block; low block; 4-3-3; 4-4-2; 4-2-3-1) and which requires an incredible degree of flexibility from his players. That’s taxing.

    As discussed on here before, this is much easier for a team like Barcelona. They play a multitude of formations but rarely change their playing style. They have specific attributes that differ from formation to formation (Sanchez playing as a striker, for example), but they rarely change HOW the play. As such, they constantly reinforce their talent. Mourinho, on the other hand, is asking somewhat of the opposite. He’s having moderate success with a variety of formations (at Inter against Barcelona it was a low block — solved; at Madrid in ‘11 it was the 4-2-3-1 — solved; then the 4-3-3 — solved) but eventually these are planned for, unlocked, and discarded. One game’s minor success is another game’s foil. We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?

    At best, I think within the current parameters of the Real Madrid team the best way forward is to play Barcelona in “phases.” Perhaps even to do what Guardiola did in the December fixture: disguise your formation, play flexible midfielders/forwards, and play the game in a series of “minor games,” attempting to either win 2/3 or win one of those phases so handily that the other two can be barely lost. Again, this is difficult because you’re asking your team to constantly play away from it’s “hub,” away from the way it probably does in 98% of the league fixtures…but it’s probably the only way to beat this Barcelona team, which is indeed the best ever.

  21. We have the same ref at the weekend for Villarreal’s match. Great.

    Time for JDS to step up in midfield as more of a rotation role, Adriano to get some time at LW, Cuenca more time, and Rafinha to see some time? Maybe? Very versatile..

  22. The main point of the prologue is well taken: that this game represents Madrid playing near the top of their range and Barcelona playing near the bottom of their range. This probably occurred because this game was not played in isolation. The scoreline to open the game was essentially 3-1 and Barcelona showed all the focus and precision of a team that probably felt the tie was already won.

    There is a popular misconception that because a team is effective in pressing Barcelona, coupled with Barcelona having an off day, this somehow translates into the other team ‘dominating’ Barcelona. Despite some very poor passing and movement in the face of a great Madrid press, Barcelona was still far the better team on the day. One of the reasons that people conclude that Madrid was dominant for stretches of this game is the fact that they created so many scoring chances off of their press. A lot of what ifs pop up with regard to those chances: What if Higuain scores in the first 15 seconds? What if they convert the scintillating free kick from Alonso? Basically, the what ifs boil down to Madrid not finishing very well.

    However, the what ifs are not a one way street. Despite the disparity of chances created in the first half, the two teams differing styles of play create completely different sets of what ifs and a seemingly lopsided difference in goal scoring chances, yet when watched with a more discerning eye, it is clear that Barcelona was on the verge of routing Madrid in this game if not for a plethora of poor final passes that would have sprung players on goal. Barcelona, while having trouble moving the ball up from defense, still could have punished Madrid repeatedly when they did get the ball into the gaping interior space had their final pass been more accurate on the day.

    What also seems to be forgotten in the conclusion that Madrid somehow get a moral victory out of this and that they ‘outplayed’ Barcelona in this game is that Madrid are still heavily relying on the darker arts of football just to try to scratch and claw their way into contention. If the referee had done his job and sent off the players deserving of being sent off, then we wouldn’t have been biting our nails at the end of this one. Why players are only given yellow when bringing down Messi from behind with only one player to beat is a mystery. What Madrid does, far too often, is outright cheating and they are allowed to get away with it.

    To conclude from a 2-2 scoreline in which they created many chances that Madrid are somehow playing anywhere near the same quality of football as Barcelona is a mistake we should really too smart to make. Madrid is still a world away from being on equal footing with this fantastic Barcelona team.

  23. Madrid put one of their very best efforts yesterday, which made for a very exciting game. By de facto, if they play at the top of their potential, we will have less success, not because we are playing badly. Even then, they took huge risks defensively which we were unable to capitalize on. On another day they are sliced to pieces, and down to 9 men. Barcas left flank has given up goals to strong counter attacking teams for years, not new because of Ozil. Arsenal, Inter Di Maria, now Ozil have had success there. Still at 4-1 aggregate Barca was afforded a lesson for free. I think its fine for Pep to take the noble road with the refs. It can backfire and often doesn’t do any good and its a dirty job. But someone has to do it. If not Rosell someone high up. Barca could have lost more than a trophy yesterday, they could have lost a season or more. Madrid is showing the league how to get away with playing dirty. It is all out war and Barcas management are whistling in the dark. The players deserve our undying support and they are being butchered in front our eyes and no one is doing anything about it.

  24. Magisterial review Euler!

    If you’ll please indulge a few amateur observations, I’d like to know your thoughts:

    Barca’s possession game has generally been defined by passing, off the ball movement, and regaining possession by pressing in numbers. This season, I’ve noticed a distinct lack of emphasis on the third element.

    Barca have been criticised for being less accurate in their passing this season–yet the possession stats have not gone down as much as this would suggest. Yes, the passes are not as sharp as in the past, but I think there is also an increased perception of less accuracy, because of what happens when Barca give up possession this season. Last season every turnover was followed by an immediate and aggressive campaign in the opponent’s half to get the ball back. This season, I’ve noticed more and more that as soon as the ball is given away, there is more of a tendency of the entire team to retreat to prepare for a counter-attack. Inevitably, this puts them on the back foot and allows more dangerous situations in our half than before. I remember so many moments in matches last season where we briefly gave up possession, but the opposing team was lucky if they could string two passes together before we got the ball back. I remember feeling sorry for the opposing teams, who just weren’t given a chance to build any sort of attack. This season, it seems to happen a lot less. In fact, I find myself feeling panicked the second we turn the ball over because it almost always results in a break.

    Why do you think this is happening? I understand the need to diversify attacking style and mix in occasional direct attacks from the likes of Cesc and Alexis. But it seems there is too much of a departure from the trademark style that makes Barca truly impenetrable in the long run. Also, the departures from the norm take up so much energy for such short shelf-life–the element of surprise is so short-lived. The long balls over the top to Cesc in the beginning of the season worked two or three times before opponents started catching on and preventing it. It seems a lot more energy has been placed on developing tricks and plays (like Puyol’s set piece goal in the first leg of the Clasico) which only work a few times before you have to come up with a new one.

    I get that the team has to evolve in order to keep opponents guessing, but too much of a departure also seems to take Barcelona away from using their greatest strengths.

    Am I way off?

    1. This is a very interesting point. I really believe its who Barca presses which forms the foundation for their game. Or rather there is a intimate connection between the pressure defense and possession. You can’t really have one without the other.

      I think you are on to something here. The press is working differently in certain ways. Though I don’t think it’s just that they are trying to win the ball back high up the pitch.

      Much of what you’re seeing is influenced by the team playing new, even more fluid set of formations.

      For example, playing 3 at the back has definitely changed the way the team presses because the distribution of players on the pitch is different. The backline plays somewhat more cautiously for example. Before for instance, with a 2 CB pairing one CB could step up to pressure the ball while the other stayed deeper to cover. That’s more difficult with 3 at the back.

      3 at the back also puts more pressure on Busquets to have to read the game and drop deep to cover. So he also has a different role. Review Santa Cruz’s goal in the Betis match for example.

      The full backs are also in different positions now. And the team is still trying to fit new players in with Alexis and Cesc.

      Barca has essentially not played with two of their key pressing players from last season – villa and pedro. Coupled with the change in the way the backline operates and the full backs in particular – how Barca presses in wide areas has changed significantly.

      The injuries have changed the nature of the press. Different players are on the pitch from game to game breaking up continuity.

      A coordinated press is extremely complicated. Its very hard to do. If you watch the B team one of the things you’ll notice is that their pressing isn’t nearly as good as the first teams. I point that out not to criticize the younger players – just to suggest how difficult it is. And that’s something the new players have to figure out. And given the changes in formation its also something the established players need to adjust to.

  25. Great review Euler. Pep really needs to read the bit about Oezil you’ve written.

    Full credit to Real for putting up a fight, but they weren’t able to get past us when we were in sleepwalking mode. Missed chances and contentious decisions and luck aside, it says a lot that we still managed to hold on, without even changing our formation (Pep could have had five at the back but when Masch subbed on, Dani went up the pitch).

    I don’t understand the hype before every Clasico regarding Madrid and their perceived progress; hype that’s almost always forgotten after the match. I can remember confident predictions that Madrid were going to win back in November 2010. People said that it was a Mourinho team, they even had a long run of unbeaten matches then and were first in the league. What happened then? 5-0. And the post game analysis became ‘oh they simply weren’t good enough’

    They won the Copa finals last year and there were articles everywhere saying Mourinho had the measure of Barcelona. That Madrid were going to beat us in the Champion’s League, that our tiki taka had been ‘figured out’. That the gap was closing… We won the first 2-0, allowing us to cruise through the second. Madrid were knocked out and the press said oh didn’t you know? Barcelona were always superior.

    The Supercup. Madrid were supposed to have a great preseason. Barcelona a horrible one. THIS, it was said, was when Mourinho showed us that we were number two. His second season. Where he always wins. Madrid in phenomenal form. The gap, closing. They came out all guns blazing. It was close but we still prevailed.

    Then they went on a record tying winning streak in La Liga and we were predicted to be blown away in the December Clasico. Mourinho had figured us out, it was said. The gap was closing. Madrid was way superior in pace, form, athleticism. We were going down hard, it was said. But we showed once again that we could win. Not only that, but that we could dominate them.

    We were good last week. Fairly abject this week. But we got past them. But because we took our foot off the pedal this match is being viewed as the one where we’ve been caught out. That Madrid matched us blow for blow, even had the measure of us. That next time we meet, they’ll have us figured out. That they’ll beat us.

    Sound familiar?

    Like Euler said, it’s a continuum of matches; a series where you need to observe the trend rather than get lost in the specifics. But the thing that stands out for me is this: They’ve tried to beat us. They’ve tried pressing high. They’ve tried dropping deep. They’ve tried every formation under the Sun. And yet they haven’t beaten us in normal time even once. Every match has been hyped up to be a clash for the ages in which they show us our place.

    We were miserable this week. But the fact remains that they couldn’t get past us when we played one of the worst matches we’ve ever played under Guardiola.

    The next Clasico will be slated to be the closest one yet. People will say that the gap is closing. That Mourinho will beat us this time. That we’ve been figured out.

    And you know what we’ll do?

    We’ll go out there and show the world that we know how to play. That we know how to win. That regardless of what anyone says, when the mood takes us, we can dominate every single team out there.

    Because that’s what Champions do.

  26. First off, I don’t think Madrid played a great game as has been suggested. I think if you have to commit the high number of fouls on Barca to have a chance of winning the game, we are giving Madrid too much credit. Their game is about destroying play. This is neither great nor legal, at times.
    Secondly, I think our main issue besides being tired and not up for this game as much as RM, is that the link up between our advancing midfield and our forwards was missing. The reason for the long balls were twofold; first because there was a big gap between the midfielders (Cesc, Xavi) and the forward – Alexis. And secondly, because when Barca is having a poor passing game and RM is pressing, we are forced to give up our tiki-taka game for a more chaotic, long ball game.
    Barca did what they had to do but 5 more minutes and it might of been a different result. RM really wanted this game and played for pride (using dirty tactics), Barca came in with home field advantage and an away win, and they hadn’t lost to RM in the last 6 games. All I can say is that you could really tell.

  27. By the way, check out @youngcules on twitter. Just posted another set of possible kits for next season. They are pretty darn awesome! Pretty please let these be the real deal.

    Love the black away kit. Looks a lot like the Catalan NT shirt.

    1. Those are “fantasy” kits. Someone made them up because they didn’t like the Nike designs.

    2. Crap. These are so much better than the supposed real ones. Sigh. Would have definitely ordered the home and black away.

    3. way Better!! Here is link:


  28. The general consensus seems to be that we took the foot off the peddle in the 2nd half, but ummmm we never put the foot on it.

    This might come out to bite us in our blaugrana backsides later on. After very, very, very luckily being up 2-0 we should have killed them in the 2nd half. After a week in which M*drid was on the road to implosion it would have provided the external pressure to make their cooker go BOOM. Mourinho might very well have been fired had we not let them back in. More importantly, they would have zero, well ok, zero point five, confidence for our next encounters. I do believe we will meet in the CL, which to me this season is more important than the league. A lot of people still think the great Milan side of Sacchi is better than the current Barcelona team because of their back to back CL titles but they forget that they lost the league one of those seasons.

    Also, I agree with above sentiments that it is a disgrace that time upon time Mourinho’s M*drid is allowed to kick our players off of the park. I am getting fed up with M*dridistas complaining about the ref afterwards. I for one watched the game with a M*dridista who at least had the decency to count 3 yellow cards for Ramos…before he got the ridiculous one that got him expelled!
    However, however, however…Most of the first 35 minutes of the game the ref made no mistakes…and M*drid played us off the park (minus the goal). We kinda sucked last night! Big time!

  29. Haha the camp nou crowd is awesome..apparently at parts in the game they were singing, “Nosotros te queremos, Mourinho, Quédate!” 😀

  30. did any one notice the rating gave to Busquets after d game? 5.0 with the explanation dat he lost too many ball.but busi didnt loose too many,ive followed their post match analysis for a longtime and anytime they give busi lower ratings which pains me

    1. Busi, to some people, will never recover the damage done to his reputation after the Inter and EE semi-finals theatrics. Shoot, on the podcast The Football Ramble, they were saying that Pepe and Busquets were equally bad in the Copa matches!

      At least we know his great worth to the team (and luckily Pep and Del Bosque do too!)

  31. Euler, thanks for another excellent and illuminating review of the match. I did notice that Oezil (thanks for spelling it correctly, btw) seemed to have much more of an impact, but now I have a better idea why.

    One thing: my understanding of the game is far less than yours, but I was impressed with Thiago in this game. Somehow, he was usually in the right place all over the pitch breaking up Madrid attacks, and helping Barca to settle. I had wondered if there was some tactic that led to this, or if he was just reading plays well — or if my take on his performance is more optimism than reality.

    Also, your consideration of statistics makes me think you might know something I’ve wondered about. I often look at betting sites (like to see what odds they give, but I’m not clear how they come up with the odds. I kind of feel they’re relatively objective estimates of probabilities, because the goal is to make money, but it kind of depends on how the odds are derived.

    Option 1: They have experts who figure out how likely each outcome is, and come up with odds that reflect their estimate of the probabilities.

    Option 2: Alternately, do they just start out at 1:1 odds, and adjust the odds as people place bets, using the odds to balance out bets.

    For example, suppose Zaragoza plays Barca and for some reason 100 people bet on Zaragoza, while only 1 bets on Barca winning. Do they simply stick with say 1:20 odds for Barca winning because they’ve calculated that that’s likely and there’s probably a bunch of wacky betters (Option 1), or do they go with 100:1 odds for Barca to balance their payouts, since 100 people bet on Zaragoza.
    (It’s a bit more complicated in reality, since people make bets at fixed odds, but hopefully this gives the idea. There’s also a hybrid option where they start out with their best guess like Option 1, but then start modifying the odds as soon as people start betting like in Option 2.)

    Anyone know what the bookies do?

    1. I thought Thiago played well given the circumstances. That is just about as hard a match as there is for a substitute to try to enter and get integrated into, especially for a young player.

      The match was so intense, so fast paced – to come in cold off the bench is just really hard to do.

      He’s really become and excellent defender. Outstanding. His reading of the game is also terrific. I think he’s learning how to use his understanding of attack to make himself a better reader of the game when he’s defending.

      The issue about the betting odds. This is a bit complicated but here goes.

      The odds you see on betting sites depend on only one thing – making sure there’s equal wagering going on on both sides of the bet. That’s all the odds are designed to do.

      The use of statistics in gambling is strange. Those odds really aren’t designed to reflect how “good” either team is or their probability of winning. That’s the main thing you have to keep in mind.

      Those odds are developed to make sure that half the people wagering bet on one side and the other half bets on the other side. That’s it. If that happens the gambling house is basically guaranteed of making money. The only way they can lose money is if there isn’t equal action on both sides of the wager. If that happens – that’s when they can lose money – potentially a lot of money.

      The odds or the “money line” is exclusively set up to prevent that kind of imbalance from taking place.

      So what the odds makers are really doing is trying to estimate psychology. At what level should I set the odds so that I’ll get equal action? What odds do I need to set in order to get half the money wagered on one side half on the other?

      For example, let’s say a very popular team is playing a less popular team. Let’s say the less popular team is actually better than the more popular team. For example, in the EPL let’s say Spurs are playing Liverpool.

      Many people will bet on Liverpool just because they support them or because they’ve heard of them or because they have a perception of them.

      At the same time, Spurs are the better side this year.

      So what the odds makers will do is to set the line so that there’s a balance of these factors and half will bet for each side.

      The odds are about perception first and foremost.

      As long the money flows half-half the gambling sites will make money.

  32. Could somebody please explain to me why the correct spelling for Özil is Oezil?

    As for as I know the “oe” combination does not exist in Turkish. Or German for that matter.

    And the pronunciation of “ö” does not exist in the English language. So who came up with Oezil?

    1. No, the correct spelling of his name, in Turkish, is Mesut Özil.

      But it’s easier to write Oezil, I often write Barca although I know the correct spelling is Barça. In the past, the umlaut ö was written as an o with a small e above it. The ‘e’ was than replaced with a horizontal double point. But oe is pretty much equivalent to ö.
      Correct form is Özil, but you don’t do much wrong when calling him Oezil (unlike writing Barca instead of Barça…).

    2. He may be a German footballer, but his name is Turkish. And in Turkey, we don’t use alternate spellings to reflect phonetic pronunciation. So, to a Turk, the correct spelling would always be Ozil.

      (Germans may use “oe” to indicate the umlaut, but Turks don’t)

    3. Then it would be better to write “Barsa” no?
      Also TIL the keyboard shortcut for the ce-trancada is press alt and type 135 on the number pad

    4. Exactly–by that logic it would be a Clasico played by Barsa vs Reeyal Madreed in Camp Noo.

      Our squad would be Peento, Abeedoll, Pooyol, Peeckay, Alvez, Javee, Eenie-esta, Booskets, Sesk, Messy, and Sanchez.

      Theirs would be Casiyas, Cowentra-oh, Ramos, Pepay, Arbelowa, Loss, Jobby Alonso; Cry Baby, Cawcaw, Oezil, and EEgwayeen.

    5. “Jobby Alonso” 😆

      Also, I have to admit when I see Kaka’s name, in my head I hear it like the cry of a crow: Caw CAW! Caw CAW!

    6. Its in the pronounciation..the umlaut on the o gives it a ‘oe’ kind of sound..(Thanks german language class :D)

  33. Wow, you guys are on fire! great comments!
    this is why I consider this blog is the best cules community on the internet.. 8)

    so this is our Hlebbruary schedule with 14 players, (too much Unai Emery in one month) :

    Villarreal v Barcelona (La Liga) Jan 28
    Valencia v Barcelona (CdR) 1 Feb
    Barcelona v Real Sociedad (La Liga) 4 Feb
    Barcelona v Valencia (CdR) 8 Feb
    Osasuna v Barcelona (La Liga) 11 Feb
    Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona (CL) 14 Feb
    Barcelona v Valencia (La Liga) 19 Feb
    Atlético Madrid v Barcelona (La Liga) 26 Feb

    God, have mercy… 😯

    1. After seeing this schedule, and knowing about our injuries, our away form, our point deficit towards to EE…
      I hereby proclaim:
      If we win la Liga this season, I’ll consider it as a bigger achievement than any title before. 🙂

    2. deficit 5 points, horrible away form, injuries, small squad, tough schedule, inconsistency, and don’t forget we must survive one of the worst refereeing in the world.. brutal..

      I still have high hope for CdR and CL though.. 😉

    1. Wow..and I had thought that was some absurd joke when I first heard about it. Not only does Mou wait by the ref’s car ready to spew insults but now that club goes and does this. So now every time a referee doesn’t make calls in their favor they’re going to stamp their feet, and throw hissy fits like a bunch of toddlers so that the officials who don’t fall into their bullying tactics can’t officiate anymore of their games. I don’t think there are words to describe how incredibly pathetic that matter how much of a crappy ref this guy was.

  34. Florez (judge ESP federation): “Pepe not punished? If they’d have amputed two of Messi’s fingers, the committee might have intervened” [ona]
    well i neva..

    1. My Enlish comprehension is below average at best. What did the guy meant?
      That something like that (Messi amputated his fingers) for the FA to take action?

    1. That’s gold! 😀

      About 6 months ago, I bookmarked the original video and I watch it often. I hope that those kids’ values never change, and that they on and do great things.

  35. With so many forwards out, Pep insisting on playing a 9 ahead of Messi, and Pique being so inconsistent at CB, I think it’s as good a time as any to try Pique out at CF. Either that or in a box-to-box position. Almost every single time Pique ventures forward, we get a good chance.

    A Thiago/Pedro-Pique-Messi forward line can be great for now. It will allow Mascherano the chance to start more at CB, where he is currently playing at a much higher level than Pique. Pep is insisting on playing a central attacker to push the opponents’ CBs back.

    However, when Pique does go forward and create danger, it is usually a result of running in from a deep position. So that’s why I think a box-to-box role will suit him well too. Both ways will have good impacts.

    Pique at CF means we have someone who can hold the ball high up the field. This is especially important now as teams are starting to pressure us higher. Normally we can get passes this with super quick circulation. But with the squad getting thinner and form becoming much more inconsistent, this isn’t working as much. A long ball for our CF to bring down and hold is just as effective and can save us a big amount of energy.

    Pique playing box-to-box will probably provide a stronger attack. Pique breaking into the attack creates danger almost every time. Him playing in a position where he can do it consistently throughout a game can be amazing. Besides obviously providing more defensive stability, having this type of midfielder goes a VERY long way into breaking a team’s defensive shape.

    Really, at least just once, I want to see a Sanchez-Pique-Messi forward line this season. Pique occupying the fullbacks means one of Messi or Sanchez will be left only single-marked by a defender, which can be catastrophic either way considering Sanchez and Messi’s talent to beat their players. Sanchez playing a very direct game and running straight to goal will naturally force the team’s defense to drop deeper. But they will want to stay higher to keep Pique out of the box and kill the aerial threat.

    Whichever they do will directly give Barcelona one advantage or another. Also, Pique at CF will force teams to defend wider to block out crosses, which will open up spaces. To go along with that, I would want Barcelona to play two attacking fullbacks who will go wide and cross. Sanchez and Messi won’t be responsible for creating width and can cut inside. Playing two attacking fullbacks won’t work against a stronger team unless we play a double pivot, which will mean dropping Iniesta or Xavi. I would like to see it against a weaker team thought:


    1. I would love that too!
      Whenever Pique goes up, chaos follows.
      But sadly, most of the times, they ignored him and then he uncomfortably jogs back.

  36. Alright. I watched the game again (yes, I am a masochist, why do you ask?). It wasn’t as bad as you think. If I had been a neutral I would have thought that was one of the best games I had seen all season. Except for all the fouling. I have just a few blitzen awards for you:

    Trollhattan Memorial TOTM Award: The referee, obviously. He trolled us all. Special Runner Up Special One Award for Mourinho going out of his way to wait for the ref in the parking lot just so he could insult him. (I wonder if he stole the ref’s lunch money too?) Good try, Mou, but we’re still not letting you past the city gates!

    Why You Never Listen To Me? Award: Before the game I tweeted Cesc, Pique and Puyol and asked them to make Iniesta play in of these kits: Did they listen, NOOOOO! And look what happened!

    Who’s Got Swagga? Award: Pinto gets a lot of stick around here. We all know he is nowhere near Victor Valdes’ level. But this game showed that he is still a very good keeper as well as being an asset to the dressing room. He made several really key saves when it counted and is my joint MOTM along with Messi. #WMelimperio!

    Skeleton Staff Award: Maxwell, come back! You can have minutes, lots of lovely minutes! Soriano, we’re sorry we snubbed you. Come back and be promoted! We need you! Umm…Hleb? You, um…doing anything right now? Maybe we could…hang out?

    Sound And Fury Award: I have to hand it to Iker Casillas. He did exactly what a captain is supposed to do–protect his player. When he charged the referee after Lass Diarra’s dangerous foul on Messi, he made such a fuss that he successfully deflected the ref’s attention from Lass and took a card himself for dissent. He tried to make it look like he was breaking up a fight, but actually he was shoving Barça players away from the ref to stop them from demanding Lass be sent off. Well done.

    Kiss Of Judas Award:Sergio Ramos, whose pregame smooching ritual included not only members of his own team, but Barça players as well, including a very unenthusiastic Busquets. Someone must have slipped him some pieces of silver before his cowardly attempt to get Messi booked by taking a free kick early from the wrong spot and shooting it onto Messi’s boot. And they accuse Barça players of gamesmanship? Luckily that was one call the ref got right.

    Messi Is Not A Chair Award: And he’s not a frisbee, either, Lass, so quit throwing him around! I honestly don’t know how Messi has escaped a major injury this year.

    Heart In My Mouth Award: That moment when Andres sat down on the pitch and gestured for the medical staff to come for him. He looked devastated. You knew it was serious because no one was near him at the time. Until the ROUS decided to stick his nose in with his hands on hips and a “what are you whining about NOW?” expression on his face. SMH.

    Oh, and who knew Kaka was still a good player? Best game I have seen from him in a long time (injuries aside). He can have a Participaction Award. (Canadian content FTW!)

    1. Messi escaping injury is miracle blitz. If someone could make video compilation on all tackles he got, that would be one of the best rugby video 🙂 What amaze me also, he was emotionally stable and not reacting excessively everytime he was fouled.

  37. the more i think about how full our schedule is, the more i’m convinced that i’d rather not see our boys with the spanish nt. there’s so many of them called up at any one time, and it makes them tired and more prone to injuries… and for what? to play for a captain who treats them like crap when they go back to their clubs? sometimes i wish puyi or xavi would just put their foot down and tell iker, no, what you’re doing to us is not ok. it really irks me that they’re all okay after. it’s the professional thing to do, and i’m proud that our boys are always diplomatic, but still. i’d like them to have a “puto amo” moment and just say enough is enough. let’s face it, the seleccion would be rubbish without the barca boys.

    what irks me even more is why there’s no reaction from the other teams. how come they can get all up in arms about the tv schedule, but not about how badly rm is manipulating the sport and how crappy the rfef is? do they not realize they’re all affected? and the refs, geez. why allow your profession to be maligned week in and week out? i’m tempted to write to them and encourage a full-on boycott. no ref for rm, no match for rm, right?

    anyway. sorry for the rant. it may just be my knee-jerk reaction to the game. i’ve watched many clasicos before, but i don’t remember the intensity of it being this tangible before. i remember the likes of ronaldo (the real ronaldo) and figo losing 3-0 at the camp nou — but losing gracefully and with dignity. now that seems like a distant possibility. ever since mourinho arrived, he’s had a terrible influence on the game. suddenly “morbo” seems like too weak a word to describe how things are.

    1. Yeah sometimes I whish that too. And what Ramos said about Busi theatrics is NASTY and clearly shows that between and spanish national team he is choosing the first. Busi DID NOT do theatrics on Ramos elbow hit, he got up in like 10 secs unlike Ramos compatriot who took an even lesser hit by Pique and stayed down for like 1 minute. Not only that but Ramos even says on his twitter that he didn’t touch Busi?? Thats beyond ridiculous because an elbow DEFINETLY hit Busi in the face
      don’t think it was a yellow card but many others were and they didn’t get them.
      To conclude Busi is still 23 years old and I think that this year he has already improved greatly his on pitch behavior and he very rarely over reacts now…Can Ramos say the same about his teamates?can he say the same about Pepe who is becoming worse by the age?

    2. yeah i was totally pissed about ramos too… to think he had me fooled with his “respecto al arbitro” line… shouldve expected that he’d follow it up with the usual nonsense, fanning the flames…wouldn’t want to be del bosque now 🙁

      i often wonder how our new signings must feel when they’re thrust into this mess. last year, villa, masche, adriano and ibi didn’t seem too affected. i guess villa and adriano were used to it already. but this year, alexis and cesc seem much less willing to just take all the abuse in stride. their tempers flare on the pitch, and i get the impression they’re not going to turn the other cheek. which makes me happy in a way, knowing that there’s that kind of balance in the squad

  38. Wow..just wow

    Mourinho’s spokesperson – “What’s changed since he [Dani Alves] came to Spain. He’s undergone surgery on his ears, they’ve become smaller. And he’s wearing glasses like an intellectual. However, a donkey with small ears and glasses is not all of a sudden a doctor, he’s still a donkey,” Parames said on Twitter.

    “I’ve already said it before. When Barcelona play well, they’re winning. If their opponents play better than them, the referee will help them to win.”

    Parames than went on to reveal what Jose Mourinho said to referee Teixeira Vitienes in the parking area after Wednesday’s game.

    “You have no respect for professionals. You’re going to smoke a cigar now and have a good laugh, you b*****d,” Mourinho said, according to his spokesman.

    1. And here I put my 2 cents..
      ‘Mourinho, you are a cunt. Not only have you tried to question the upbringing of a guy like Alves who grew up in poverty and only with his ability to play has made it so far but you are also insulting his appearance?
      I love it when we beat you and will continue to beat you because cunts like you deserved to get spanked again and again and again..
      You will end up where you deserved to end..An afterthought, an also-ran, a deleted file in the recycle bin of football history.
      You are ruining the game I love with your macchiavellian attitude, your callous disregard for decent human behaviour and you total lack of respect for anything sacrosanct. Your idolatry will lead you to self-destruction and I hope you unravel. Then finally the world will see you as you are. You are the psychotic girlfriend that got dumped and in the desperation to win your once paramour back you will strip yourself down and douse everyone and anyone around you in flames. You, and your enormous ego have convinced you that you not coaching Barça is somehow a loss for us, as if it is!
      I have zero respect for you, a indiscriminate waste of protoplasm”

    2. Dani Alves ( response to Mourinho’s spokesman’s ) : “It’s true I come from a poor background, but my heart is noble, that’s how God made me!!”

      I love this guy..a true professional and one hell of a footballer!

    3. Wow K_legit!10000+
      Thanks for putting all this rage and disgust I’m feeling these last two days into words!
      This guy is messing with my psyche…I cannot even laugh about it anymore, its not funny, its not amusing…Its utterly disturbing, a demented mind finding demented followers…
      I just cannot and will not ever accept this type of behavior by any human being…unless they’re undergoing therapy

      “…You are ruining the game I love with your macchiavellian attitude, your callous disregard for decent human behaviour and you total lack of respect for anything sacrosanct…”

      K_legit for me you just turned K_legend

    4. curious to know what madridistas think of this… then again, after the “mou, your finger shows us the way” thing, i dont want to find out 🙁

      but kudos to dani for such a dignified response

      kind of disappointed that the other guys haven’t tweeted anything in support… being called a donkey shouldn’t be taken lightly

    5. yeah i know you’re right… these days it’s just so hard to figure out where to draw the line 🙁

    6. is Mou also say Rijjkard has conpiration with referee when that man (who say himself special) coaching Chelsea?

      if yes, that man (who say himself special) is never change, constant (not football) tactic

    7. It seems that coward has now deleted his account, at least I couldn’t find it. Can anyone confirm?

    8. no, it’s @realeladio

      I can’t even find a word to describe how I feel about Mou.. this human is so digusting.. oh, wait, he’s not even good enough to be called “human”..


      como esta diferente daniel alves desde que chegou a espanha. Foi operado as orelhas, que estao mais pequenas,usa oculos de intelectual…
      mas um burro mesmo de orelhas pequenas e de oculos nao passa a ser um doutor, continua a ser um burro!

  39. Looks like Madrid is now outwardly run by a bunch of twats. Hope the fans are appreciating this.

    1. oh, I think they are.. thanks to Mourinho now every referee in Spain will be afraid to make a call against Madrid, beacuse they could lose their job.. great job, RFEF..

    2. i am curious how will referees respond to the fact that they have in JM a guy who follows them out of the stadium…

    3. Please don’t use that kind of language here. I understand you’re upset Nav but we take the culture of the site seriously.

      How we communicate is critical to making sure this site remains what it is.

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