Osasuna 3, Barca 2, aka “Show me that you want it!”

Pressure is a nasty, brutal thing that manifests itself in various ways. Rolling into an away match 7 points down in the Liga standings, the querrulous might suggest that a cold, windy Pamplona is precisely the wrong place for a team whose away form has been, at best, funky.

But there it was.

For me, this piece isn’t as much a review, as a question: Does this club want it?

Osasuna wanted it. They wanted the hell out of it, and started the match looking a lot like we were supposed to, applying pressure on the ball, linking passes together and not giving the opponent a moment’s respite in pressing for the early goal. When it came, 5 minutes in, you could try to assess blame all that you like, but it was a team goal. No pressure, no possession, Puyol marking loose, leading to a shot that no keeper alive could have stopped. All three were team goals. When we are playing as we are supposed to, with want, Messi is as much a defender as Puyol. Everyone is all in. We aren’t all in, and ….

Suddenly it was 1-0, and Osasuna were rampant. Their pressure continued to lead to long clearances that did precious little more than cede possession. When it wound up 2-0, again it was done the Barca way, with style, aggression and lovely, lovely passing for a slot home goal that came at an exceptionally perilous time, and sent us into the locker room down 2-0.

At this point, it’s easy to hail the fight back, and the spike that youth players such as Tello and Cuenca brought to the side. Even Sergi Roberto, despite his lack of manliness on a clearance and maybesortatouch on our third disallowed goal, had a fine match. The future is bright, even if the present is still, for me, defined by a surfeit of want. It’s away matches that define a team and its desire. Hostile crowd, pumped up players, unfamiliar pitch.

Now what?

Unfortunately for us, it has too often been a lack of edge that results in draws and losses. You win the Liga by taking care of business against teams that you are supposed to take care of business against. In the past, we have. If we do this season, we’re sitting pretty. But we haven’t, and I lay it directly at the feet of want.

For you American football fans, recall that the Super Bowl came down to three plays: two passes from Tom Brady to Patriot receivers, both of which hit their hands and were dropped; that absurd pass to Manningham for an even more absurd catch. Want brings that little bit of extra concentration, that extra effort that gets you to the right spot at the fraction of a second that you need to be there.

When I’ve said it it before, I’ve been lambasted. I suspect that I will again. But I just don’t think that there is the same desire that drove the side in the past. Is it the lack of Xavi, the engine room for our attack? Nope. We’ve looked laconic with him in the side. Is it players going from doing it themselves, to thinking that someone else will do it? All valid questions whose answers lie in a 3-2 away defeat and potentially, a 10-point gap in the Liga standings.

For me, that gap isn’t due to injuries or fatigue. The club has had injuries before, it’s been tired before. This is different. Lack of fire? I can’t say. I can say that from what I have been seeing this season, and it’s easy to see how different the past few years have been via downloads or in my case, DVDs of seasons past. There isn’t the same edge, the same quality to the play. Would Pique have allowed his man to so easily get inside him for that third, backbreaking goal? Good question.

What I know is that championships come down to moments. Little things that change or define a match. It’s also a team’s best player stepping up and playing like that best player, not letting the club have things such as today’s match happen.

Yes, urgency came after going down 3-2. But it should have been there all along. And when people say “Oh, the Liga is dead,” I say not until it’s mathematically impossible, in theory.

But in reality, this team has to show me that it wants it. Is it foolhardy to bust legs and lungs, chasing after Liga points when the whole world thinks that EE’s victory is a forgone conclusion? Valid point. Champions League is what we have a real shot at, right? But I say that you take care of business, and put pressure on your opponent, as EE has done, week after week. Then you see how the opponent responds.

In our case, the answers have sort of been “Yeah, whatever.” But not in the obvious sense. It’s positioning, it’s hustle, it’s the concentration that allows a team to read a match and be in the right places, take care of the ball and snuff out danger before it has a chance to develop. As Guardiola said, without the ball, we’re crap. Osasuna, with its gritty, top-class effort, demonstrated that today. But to have the ball, you have to want it.

And I just don’t know that it does any longer, not in the way necessary to get it done against Liga opponents who are, increasingly, smelling blood in the water. It ain’t over til it’s over, but the players, the gladiators, have to want it to not be over.

It isn’t about blaming refs, or conditions. It’s about saying we didn’t get it done, yet again, this season, and having armchair pundits like me ask why. My want theory is just that, a theory, one supported in my own little mind by the lack of edge present in the side, a lack of edge that manifests itself in away matches at first. Can that home invincibility be the next flex point?

It’s easy to say that we didn’t want it enough, and not also give full credit to an Osasuna side that played its heart out. That would be a mistake. Those players worked like dogs, did all the right things and showed a heart and soul that always makes Pamplona a place where it’s pretty easy to get gored.

No, the season isn’t over. Nor is the Liga. But the want has to resurface, and I would imagine that Guardiola is wracking his brain, trying to figure out how to bring it back.

But not the blame game

This is a collective thing that shows how difficult sustained excellence is. For three glorious seasons, this has been the best club footballing side that anyone has ever seen. Psychologically, that’s hard to sustain, even harder to maintain. You can’t actually blame the players for a lack of want. They don’t even know that it has happened, really. How can you? You’re absolutely certain that you’re working as hard as you can. But the want factor is different, and that’s huge.

Excellence has a life cycle, the end of which is unavoidable. To be clear, I am in no way calling the players out for that lack of want. It’s like getting angry at your body when you get sick. Due to any number of factors, it happened. And now you deal with it. I can’t even begin to imagine the soul-crushing pressure that must attend every. last. match. for this side, knowing that the world is watching, waiting for a slip-up, the opportunity to say “A-HA! Told you they weren’t the best!”

What the world doesn’t understand is that these are human beings, striving, week after week, to make sporting magic. Like any other human, they respond to pressures, internal and external and suddenly, things are different.

Believe in this club

It ain’t over til’ it’s over, and it ain’t going to be easy. I’m sure some are saying that Guardiola, with his lineup today, all but said that the Liga is done with. But if you look at the chances that lineup created, he could just as easily have looked line a genius. That’s the game, and the breaks of the game. But a club also makes its own breaks.

The bandwagon is going to get a bit lighter. Let it. This is my club. It’s our club. It burns in my heart, and fills my soul with pride every time I look at my pile of soci cards. But it did the same thing during the last two Rijkaard years, the trophyless ones. That’s just what it does. But I believe, and will continue to believe in this club and love this club, irrespective of what happens in this, or any other season.

Because that’s just how it is.

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Written by:

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

151 Comments

  1. mom4
    February 13, 2012

    @ Helge (or anyone else with Bundesliga knowledge)

    How is the weather in Leverkusen?

    What is the quality of the pitch at BayArena?

    • nzm
      February 13, 2012

      Stadium and pitch are good at the BayArena.

      Weather – no so good. Predicting snow/sleet/rain showers for the evening tomorrow, and it’s cold. But they can be thankful that it’s this week and not last week, because it was even colder in Germany a few days ago. At least it’s only somewhere around 0degC this week.

      In other news, Michael Ballack pulled out of training, citing “discomfort”. Sounds of clucking fowls were heard soon afterwards. 😀

    • Huckleberry
      February 13, 2012

      Tomorrow it will be rainy at about 3°C – no snow, no ice. And the stadion has a heated pitch. So the conditions will be fine (for the season and the location). Similar to Stoke…

    • Helge
      February 13, 2012

      I’m living about 35 miles away from the BayArena.

      It has snowed a little bit last night, but everything has melted today.
      Tonight, there’ll be about 1°C and 2mm precipitation. Temperature will rise to 5°C tomorrow afternoon, another 3mm of precipitation so the pitch will be wet (and fast!), but far away from overflooded. They do have a heated football pitch so no frozen ground either (it would still be frozen from the last weeks if there wasn’t a heating).

      The lawn looks good, not as perfect as at the Emirates, but 100 x better than the pitch in the Reyno de Navarra.

      If we don’t win tomorrow, it’s certainly not due to the condition of the pitch 🙂

  2. REM
    February 13, 2012

    We have had a very poor preseason preparation. Ans It’s the fault of Pep. I think he doesn’t know what to do. He has win everything, he has lose is motivation.

    I think that we need a new coach.

    Even when we loose or play badly he is happy because he as already win all titles. It’s the reason why the team is not motivate.

    In the beginning of Pep’s era he was never happy we the way the team was playing, He always want more, but since this season he is always happy.

    WE need a new coach

    • ooga aga
      February 13, 2012

      maybe it is only you that is confused by this psychology

      we dont need a new coach

    • February 13, 2012

      I completely disagree for so many reasons, but to comment on one of your points:

      I wouldn’t take what Pep says in press conferences at 100% face value, ever. Press conferences aren’t a time to bare your soul, and Pep knows this. As much as he says he doesn’t like to play the press game he knows that press conferences when handled correctly play a huge role in the motivation of the team. For proof of this look at last year when he called Mourinho “the f***ing boss” at press conferences right before we stepped up and dominated Madrid.

      In his first season Pep could say he was never happy with the teams performance and it was motivating as there were a lot of older players who needed that sort of motivation. The situation is completely different this year when we are relying more than ever on youth players. Youth players need encouragement to help them grow – if Pep was constantly going on about how the 19 and 20 year olds didn’t play well enough it could damage their confidence and have a really poor effect on team morale.

    • blitzen
      February 13, 2012

      My assumption is that you are looking to start an argument, but on the off chance that you are serious:

      The poor preseason was Pep’s fault? He personally booked that tour of the US, did he? And the international fixtures that a full 3/4 of our team was involved in? He’s responsible for those as well?

      And if you think Pep has lost his motivation, then you really don’t understand what he is trying to do at Barça. If all he wanted was trophies he would have quit at the end of last season. Instead he continues his project of building not only a great team, but an enduring legacy. It is no coincidence that Pep has given more youth players minutes than any previous coach. That is what motivates him.

      You are entitled to your opinion, but at least present a valid argument.

  3. barca96
    February 13, 2012

    Point is that we can’t beat Stoke at the Brittania on a cold wet Tuesday.

  4. Dave
    February 13, 2012

    Training
    We need a proper preseason. This should correct alot of the injuries and fatigue.

    Management
    Although it sounds like blasphemy I feel Guardiola could do with a year or two’s break. With Tito being sick and Guardiola looking fatigued maybe it has to happen. Guardiola’s biggest challenge yet will be to restore and renew the hunger and brillance of this team.

    Personnel
    I think the teams need alternative strategies to win games and keep players both physically and mentally fresh. We need to introduce a number of players that are more competitive physically and athletically. I feel the team was best equipped in Guardiolas first year when it had variety of styles of players see Toure, Henry Eto. Since then the team has become more uniform in both player and system. This has made us fluid but it has also made us more predictable and unable to cope with the physicality stakes. How often does the team score long distance strikes like Toure vs Bilbao

    -Here are some suggestions – Matieu from Valencia
    Bale from Spurs
    Silva from Milan
    Rb to challenge Alves
    powerful striker

    In my opinion the youth players should ideally be used as a luxury and cannot be expected to provide the backbone

    • February 13, 2012

      Montoya is ready to challenge Alves for RB in my opinion. I think Alba would be a better choice than Bale honestly.

      I do agree that we are putting too much pressure on players in the youth team at the moment. Players like Cuenca and Tello have been putting in good performances, but I’ve been seeing a lot of people holding them up as examples that we don’t need to make purchases next summer.

      Cuenca – he is having a good year and is a valuable asset, but he isn’t even having as good of a year as Pedro’s first season, and look at how Pedro is playing now. He may prove me wrong but I think he would ideally be an impact sub in the future, and man who can step in at either wing and provide a more direct to end line and crossing threat.

      Tello – he is promising, and lightning fast, but he can’t have more than 270 minutes in the first team yet. That’s just not enough time to tell how he is going to progress. Jeffren was extremely promising early in his first team days, mostly due to his pace, but then over time it became apparent he didn’t have the quality to be a long term forward in the team. It’s too early for us to be looking at Tello and saying, for example, that he will be scoring 20 goals a season in the future (just as an example of something I read – not trying to single anyone out, I can’t even remember where I read it).

      • Dave
        February 13, 2012

        Overall Bale is far more talented than Alba. His acceleration, strength, versility (lb, wb, lm, rm) and goalscoring would be very welcome. Also his would bring an excellent diversity to our attack with far more directness allowing to us to counter quickly.

        While I like Alba and think he would fit the system better than Bale, the latter would offer something terrifying for other teams by taken the emphasis off our right side to attack. He would provide great width on the left and allow us to counter at huge pace.

        If the money can be got, Bale for 30-35mil is a investment

      • February 13, 2012

        I don’t watch Bale that much, but I’m having a hard time agreeing that Bale is worth 20-30 million more than Alba.

        Besides, Alba is a left winger who has moved to left back. Bale is a left back who has moved to left winger. I think Alba’s situation would be more beneficial to the team.

        If we are going to plop down that much money for another forward (and I think we should) it should be someone who can play across the forward line (esp. in the center) as a lot of the young forwards we have are primarily wide forwards.

  5. messifan
    February 13, 2012

    So do we know where the copa final will be played?

    If RM doesn’t want to host, then I don’t think Barca should force them. I can understand why they don’t want to, and IF they play in the final in the future, they better not demand for the Camp Nou.

    It’s sad to see the current deteriorating relationship between these two clubs. One thing for sure, I’m not counting on Spain to win the Euro.

    • blitzen
      February 13, 2012

      It’s not up to Barça, it’s up the RFEF. They have said they will take another week to bribe Real Madrid into hosting it decide.

    • February 13, 2012

      In 2003 RM and Zaragoza requested the CDR final to be played at the Camp Nou but Barcelona refused. Not sure how this situation is any different.

      • February 13, 2012

        I may be wrong, as I haven’t been following the situation that closely, but I didn’t think Barcelona had requested the match be played at the Bernabeu (although with their recent track record there they should – ZING!)

        But seriously, I wouldn’t care in the slightest if Madrid refused. I honestly can’t figure out what the big deal is on either side of this issue.

      • February 13, 2012

        The RFEF takes recommendations from the two teams participating over where they want to play. Both teams, it seems, have asked for it to be played in Madrid. Reasons? Bigger stadium, better pitch and more seats (read: more money on ticket sales).

        In 2003, for the same reasons right now, both teams requested that the game be played in Barcelona.

        You can also add, Madrid would have loved to win the kings cup in Catalonia. The same way the Basque and Catalans would love to win it in Madrid.

      • February 13, 2012

        Well there’s always a bit of rivalry in these issues.

        Barcelona (and Athletic’s) reasons for requesting it at the Bernabeu are fair.

        Madrid’s reasons for wanting to reject it are fair.

        I just can’t get worked up over this issue.

      • Jnice
        February 13, 2012

        The Spanish FA already came out and said Barcelona never refused…

      • February 13, 2012

        Thanks for the clarification. From google translate i understand that we didn’t request the Camp Nou?

  6. blitzen
    February 13, 2012

    For god’s sake, people! We are NOT getting Bale. This is real life, not Football Manager.

    • February 13, 2012

      That brings up something I’ve been wondering about.

      If Redknapp takes the England job and leaves Tottenham (any chance they will let him work both jobs until the end of the season?) will we see a massive exodus from Tottenham?

      • February 13, 2012

        Not if they reach the CL. There are rumors coming out they already sealed a deal for Eden Hazard. That would be massive.

  7. REM
    February 13, 2012

    Since the beginning of the season I knew it would be complicated. PEP does not know what to do. The pre-season was a catasthrophe. The team was not ready. The whole team played for MESSI.

    3 years ago, PEP was never satisfied. even if they win. He always had a comment. In recent months, the team do draw or lose, PEP is satisfied. I think this is a cause of the failure of this year. PEP does not know what to do. It is always satisfied. Result, FCB has 10 points behind, so it’s all over.

    I think that PEP is finised

    • blitzen
      February 13, 2012

      I think you have already said this, People have replied to your original comment. Go read them.

      • REM
        February 13, 2012

        sorry !!!

    • Ryan
      February 13, 2012

      It’s the end of the world as we know it!

  8. REM
    February 13, 2012

    I think MOURINHO outperformed PEP.

    PEP does not know how to motivate the team. The 10 points behind EE is the draws.

    At the beginning of every game except against EA, the team is arrogant. As soon as we led the scoring, you begin to play. Too late, there is more time and it ends in a draw.

    • REM
      February 13, 2012

      We are still in febuary and the liga is over !!! What a shame !!!

      Many people like PEP and they are right. I also like him. But now he has reached its point of incompetence. He needs to step back. This is why he has not yet extended is contract. It is unclear whether he can still bring something to the FCB and he kwons that.

      Rossel has give him a blank check, so all is in the hands of PEP, but he is himself no sure what to do.

      • K_legit in Oz
        February 13, 2012

        What..i don’t even….
        *sigh*

      • mom4
        February 13, 2012

        No wait…he/she has a point. Track record and trophy haul be damned, there’s no end to the list of managers more qualified than Pep. Isn’t Rafa Benitez still available? Wolves just sacked McCarthy so he’s available.

        *yeah…just sigh*

      • February 13, 2012

        Trade you Pep for Mou and a bag of cookies. No sprinklers on them though!

      • mom4
        February 13, 2012

        Um… no thanks, Bassam. As sweet as you are to offer, I think I’ll stick with Pep. Now, if instead of cookies you go to Barcelona and buy me some churros and chocolate to sweeten the deal(must buy on Carrer Petritxol)… no make that a suizo…nah, no deal. 🙂

      • ooga aga
        February 13, 2012

        i can only assume from your name (REM) that you are asleep. that explains it.

  9. February 13, 2012

    WE HAVE ALREADY WON 3 TROPHIES THIS YEAR! ARE IN THE FINAL OF THE COPA AFTER BEATING MADRID! ARE IN THE KNOCKOUT STAGES OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE! HAVE BEEN PLAGUED WITH INJURY ALL YEAR! MESSI IS STILL SCORING AND ASSISTING AT AN INCREDIBLE RATE!

    This season is not a disappointment. Put things into perspective people. You are killing me.

    I had the great fortune of being able to watch every barca team since 2005 at the camp and have seen the transformations of this club for 7 years in front of my own eyes. PEP has done nothing but make this club and team better. He understands how this club works better than any other possible manager in the world. Please stop with all this nonsense just because we had to prioritize our season after already winning 3 trophies(dominating the CWC) and being in a final and CL still. We were plagued with injuries this season, it happens.

    This team still has a ton of motivation and hunger, they were bred to be that way. Sometimes a small squad has injury problems, it happens. When you can’t have our strongest starting 11, and have to constantly throw in youth players, mistakes happen. The kind of mistakes that would normally never happen if we had our strongest 11, because the pressure that is put on the back line is too much for any team to deal with when dealing with our problems at the moment.

    This team is still amazing and jaw dropping. Just wait to see what we do when we have everyone back healthy here soon. Playing a game on ice, without our trident of busi, iniesta, xavi and cesc starting on the bench really says something. Example, look at argentina with a great midfield like that. I rest my case.

    BUT SERIOUSLY PEOPLE! WE BEAT EE TO MAKE IT TO THE SEMI’S OF THE COPA, WE DOMINATED THEM IN THEIR HOUSE 3 TIMES THIS SEASON ALREADY AND THEY STILL HAVE YET TO BEAT US! THEN WE WENT AND PUT IN GOOD PERFORMANCES AGAINST VALENCIA! STOP ALL THIS NONSENSE! THIS IS STILL BY FAR THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE WORLD AND PEP IS STILL BY FAR THE GREATEST MANAGER IN THE WORLD FOR THIS CLUB!

    VISCA BARCA!!!

    • Laurentiu88
      February 13, 2012

      we don’t disagree with that:) we just notice some slip ups, game is slowing, chances are missed. we must not be blinded by our history.

      the team was doing amazingly at the CWC but after that something happen – maybe with the physical prep, maybe injuries, maybe something else, but we did out on some weaker performances from the december standard.

      from 3 points behind RM we are at 10. this is a fact. we must ask the questions not to weaken our support but as a sign of it!

    • Blau-Grenade
      February 13, 2012

      Amen!!!

  10. Lev
    February 13, 2012

    Oh my god the end of the world as we know it has arrived and nobody even freakin’ mentioned it:

    PUYOL HAS LOST A MATCH!!!! 😮

    • Jim
      February 13, 2012

      Well, strictly speaking he didn’t as he was removed at half time. Would we have lost had he stayed on? 🙂

  11. February 13, 2012

    We are seeing right now the effect that winning virtually everything imaginable in the last 3 years has had on the fans.

    Many fans now expect that we win every game and every trophy – forgetting that this is not a realistic expectation.

  12. Lev
    February 13, 2012

    Also being overlooked is that, yeah we can now focus on the CL, but so can EE because with so many points ahead they have practically already bagged the Liga :s
    If we had at least kept the difference a bit lower they would have to focus and spend energy on both competitions also.

  13. K_legit in Oz
    February 13, 2012

    After a really long time, I am actually quite nervous about our prospects in the BayArena..
    Prove me wrong as you always have, Barça.

    • mom4
      February 13, 2012

      We have a well rested Xavi (oh please don’t let his achilles be totally crocked as in gnawed upon be lions (dang, that was a fun Isaiah skit) again) and Iniesta, a mostly rested Cesc, a possible return of Busi, and a pitch which several BFBers above have confirmed will be fast, wet, and in good repair. There is hope.
      Let’s do a
      VV
      Puyol, Masherano, Abi, Adriano
      Xavi, Cesc, Ini
      Alexis, Messi, Tello
      Pique sits in the stands and writes 1000 times “I must focus more on football and less on waka” Alves sits on the bench and writes 1000 times “I will get my act in gear because Montoya is going to be promoted this summer”.

      I just want to see some pretty football again. So everyone get your Doritos ready like SoMa above, and wave them at the TV screen and yell, “Want it, damn it!” tomorrow!

      • Blau-Grenade
        February 13, 2012

        You are too funny mom4!!!

  14. ciaran
    February 13, 2012

    AC Milan top Serie A with 2.04pts per game.
    PSG top the Ligue 1 with 2.17pts per game.
    Dortmund top the Bundesliga with 2.19pts per game.
    We currently have 48 pts from 22 matches which is 2.18pts per game.

    Only in 2 of the major leagues in Europe would we not be on top of our domestic league, La Liga and the EPL.
    Man City top the EPL with 60pts or 2.4pts per game and EE with 2.63pts per game.

    Basically, we have become too accustomed to getting over 90pts in our league season which is definitely not normal. All accolades must go to the Real Madrid players for the consistency that they are achieving, it will not last forever though.
    We must make sure that we get past Leverkusen and hope that EE’s form takes a dip.

    Don’t go firing our manager and spending money that we don’t have with hypothetical transfers. We have a solid team but one that has gaps in our squad that can’t be filled by our youth team. Next summer is going to be a cautious one IMO. The important thing is going to be to get the likes of Pedro and Villa fit and firing and spend wisely with the funds we have.

  15. Huckleberry
    February 13, 2012

    Real Madrid will be worn out at the end of this season and Mourinho, having won la liga (hopefully not more) and accomplished one of his missions, goes on to another club for another short time success.

    • Jim
      February 13, 2012

      I’m hoping he stays. I reckon this is as good as it gets for them.

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