Atletico XXXXXX 1, Barca 2, aka “Moments of genius, with an assist”

Goalkeepers are like kickers in American football. The other players do their thing all day long, battling like gladiators. Then, when they are done, or have done all that they can, a little guy comes out, not even wearing a full set of pads, to decide the match. Or, a guy who doesn’t run, doesn’t do much of anything until it is time for him to do something, decides a match.

Today, Victor Valdes was staggering. Those of us who have watched this club over the years, know how amazing it is to say that now. Because even when Valdes was learning his craft, coming up and making plays, he was also making errors. “Brilliant but dodgy” is one phrase used to describe him. Even when he nabbed another Zamora trophy as best keeper in the Liga, there was the nagging doubt, the belief that in the realm of lies, damned lies and statistics, Iker Casillas is the best keeper in La Liga.

In a week in which a legend-turned-stupid bellowed a staggering bit of idiocy, it was Valdes who allowed his team to live to fight another day, depending upon whether you believe coach Pep Guardiola, who has said that the Liga is lost. Diego Maradumber said:

“Barcelona are such a great team, even a bad goalkeeper seems good. It’s true. Valdes is bad! But with all the players he has in front of him even he looks good.”

And then came today’s match, when even the dumbest observer of the game will have to admit that FC Barcelona have a pretty good guy between the sticks. As Man of the Match, Valdes is, for me, a no-brainer, with the ref coming a very close second (kidding! kidding!). When his team needed him most, when his defenders saw fit to undo a pair of genius goals from the offense, Valdes said “No worries. I got this.”

Is this a match that wins championships? Again, depends on what you believe. What we do know is that we rolled into a cauldron of a Calderon, boasting funkyclunky away form, facing off against a resurgent Atletico, a squad that since its new coach assumed the reins, has lost only once, and concedes goals about as often as people can say a RFEF bigwig made a good decision. In other words, not a good time.

It was, nevertheless, a match that we had to win, even as we intermittently lost and regained control in ways that were at times excusable, at other times unforgivable.

Things started out beautifully as barely two minutes into the match, Xavi pushed a shot wide. Our applied possession and pressure as we set up shop in the Atletico end, were making Guardiola’s lineup of Guardiola starting Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Sanchez, Messi look a genius move. Never mind that they were pretty much the best XI available, never mind that you could see chinks in the armor as the match progressed. Those were glitches, not harbingers, we thought at the time.

Even Valdes had to work his way into the match, spilling a grab after making the right play, a pressing Atletico showing that they weren’t going to be the whipping boys they have been the past few seasons for us, even as they have been stronger against us at home. There was a sudden application of spine. The fast yellow that quelled Valencia’s tactical fouling made Atletico look over and say “Okay, your turn.” 172 fouls and 33 yellow cards since Simeone took over, is what that’s about.

Atletico was content to play off the counter while not being at all defensive. It was intelligent, straight-up defending of spaces and players, rather than a parked bus. It was also aggressive and physical, a defense that in tandem with an on-form keeper, was going to take some magic to defeat. You could see this as Sanchez got the ball and was immediately surrounded every time. If they couldn’t dissuade him, they just put him on his butt. Off-the-ball movement was rather sucktastic for us, and the one time that it was from open play, a goal was the result. A learning experience? Apparently not, as more than a few crosses slid through the box, just waiting for one of our players to tap it home. But nope.

And still, a second chance came early when Sanchez ran down a ball, owned about 14 ATM players then fed Messi, who bundled it into goal. But the goal was annulled, and Messi got busted for a handball, earning a yellow card that will keep him out of the next match. But that Sanchez/Messi move was the kind of genius high-wire act that was going to be necessary today, to buoy a side in which not everybody showed up to put in a full day’s work.

Atletico, showing that it wasn’t coached by a dummy, was shifting its defense to the wings with the ball, applying physicality, quickness and aggression to the cause. The conscious decision was “If Abidal beats us, that’s the luck of the draw, but Fabregas or Sanchez won’t. And Messi sure as hell won’t.”

They chose to cede some possession to keep things under control, bending but not breaking. And it was working until reality reared its nasty, sometimes irresponsible head as a team that doesn’t have an official Plan B when things aren’t going according to plan, can often rely on genius.

The description of the goal can be as simple as Messi to Fabregas to Alves for the tap-in. The reality is that a brilliant player slashed at the Atletico defense and, off the dead run, slid a flawless pass to another brilliant player, who, again off the run, popped another flawless pass to another brilliant player. It was a team goal of the highest quality, Messi’s run completely destabilizing a defense determined not to let him add No. 15 to the goal tally. Dynamic attacking was the reason for that goal, combined with having players of the quality to convert. 99% of teams on the attack don’t score that goal. But this time, today, it was a trio that combined for a bit of magic.

It was 0-1, and Atletico just kept pressing and playing defense, not panicking, applying pressure whenever possible as they worked their way into the match. Their reward was an equalizing goal not long into the second half as, off a set piece, an unfortunate clearance from Busquets knocked the ball almost like a pass to the dangerous Falcao, who slipped the shackles of Puyol to knock it home.

It was a silly goal to concede, one that left Valdes hung out to dry and disgusted as we began to fall apart as Atletico took advantage of the opportunity to press, harass and go for the win in their house. Usually when a side goes for the win, playing aggressive, attacking football, we kill them. Not today. Today, it was long clearances that fell to Atletico players, and the assault began anew as our defense was forced to be an actual defense, something at which it just isn’t all that good.

A long pass fell to Falcao, who burst from between Mascherano and Abidal, our two best defenders on the day, forcing Valdes to make a brilliant, body-sprawling reflex save to keep us in the match, to keep the chance of winning the day and having a shout at the Liga, something approaching a reality.

To say it was looking dire doesn’t begin to explain matters as we%approached the 70th minute then still later, in a match that was feeling much like a draw was in the offing. We faced a skilled opponent that had all the answers, thanks in part to our reluctance to rush the box, to take advantage of spaces. The agony continued until the 81st minute, when Pedro drew a foul that made you think, “Oh, joy. Another godforsaken, ineffectual set pi …. WHAT!”

On the attendant free kick, Messi pulled off an astonishing bit of skill, taking advantage of an Atletico defense that was still getting set. You get the feeling however that even had the wall been perfectly set, that bullet of a curler into the far top corner, on the off side for a lefty, would have beaten anyone, anytime, anywhere. As Ray Hudson said, it’s “Where the insane becomes the routine. He is nothing less than a ball whisperer.”

Xavi was stunned, Messi looked stunned, an entire stadium was stunned. I sat there for a few moments as suddenly, in the most unlikely of ways, it was 1-2. Atletico gathered its wits and began to press. And it was hero time. Valdes saves. Valdes punches away. Valdes parries a howitzer of a volley that fell directly to an Atletico player, who ripped a textbook volley at our goal, a rocket that Valdes gets his body in front of. Yes, he spilled the rebound, but it’s impossible to imagine a keeper who wouldn’t. Most importantly, he kept the ball out of the net as a determined opponent battered at the gates.

It was a trio of heroes who ultimately decided this match, for in addition to Messi and Valdes, Mascherano was omnipresent, almost always with the right play. When Pique was sitting on the bench and Mascherano played, you wondered what would happen with two firemen on the pitch at the same time. What happened was the Mascherano Show. Everything, everywhere was his terrain as he was always in the right spot, always where the ball was posing the most threat. From direct steals to influencing play by positioning, he was every bit as amazing as Messi and Valdes.

As time ran down to the end of a gripping, often messy affair, the feeling that we’d been lucky was inescapable. And in many ways, we had.

Kill the umpire …. uh, wait a minute

The refs are costing us La Liga, goeth the refrain. But today they were an immense help to the cause, with a couple of offside calls in particular, that weren’t even that close. In one instance it would have found Falcao in on Valdes, 1-v-1, with the ball at pace.

Cesc Fabregas should have been sent off for his foul from behind on Juanfran, but wasn’t. In replay, it didn’t look at horrid as it did in regular time but clearly, it was retaliatory, an impetuous gesture that Fabregas got away with. Him getting the ball doesn’t excuse it. Ask yourselves what if Pepe or Ramos makes that tackle on Messi or Iniesta.

Then came that ridiculous Busquets handball late in the match. People will say he was jumping and his arms just happened to be up. People will say that he was knocked into the ball by the Atletico players, or that another angle showed a glancing header rather than the ball striking his hand. Immaterial. You keep your damn arms down in the box. Like the Pinto handling of the ball outside the box that was spurned, we got away with one.

Because for me his hand was the highest point on the pitch, affecting the flight of a ball that he wouldn’t have had a play on without raising his hand. Deliberate or not, ball playing hand or not, at that point an illegal thing has directly influenced the outcome of a play. That call has to be made. Would Valdes have stopped the penalty? We’ll never know. But “refs hate us” conspiracy theorists will have to put their notions on hold for another week, as we got luckyluckyluckylucky. We’ll take it, and the sheepishness of the grin will depend on your view of matters official.

And despite the taint of the unfair this, for me, was an extraordinary match on a day filled with extraordinary football. We weren’t anything approaching our best, yet genius carried the day because sometimes, that’s the problem with playing a club such as ours — you can do everything and come up with the best game plan, and a few moments of magic can still undo it all.

Team: 6. This one should have been in the bag, then they began making potentially calamitous errors, time after time, that led to danger for Atletico. There were a great many headed clearances, balls that were headed right to opponents.

Guardiola: 6. This seemed to be one of those matches in which he didn’t have the answer. He was outcoached, but bailed out by magic.

Valdes: 8. Astounding. He didn’t have a ton to do, and had a couple of errors. But for almost every time he was called upon, he was brilliant.

Alves: 7. Not his usual marauding self, but the ATM pressure has a bit to do with that, as well as generally lackluster ball movement.

Puyol: 6. Like most of his defensive mates, he lost the fire in the second half and suddenly, we were dicing with danger. Oh, and put a body on a man. Especially that man.

Mascherano: 9. This was his kind of match. Fast, aggressive and unerring. Very bad on losing contain on Falcao in tandem with Abidal, but hard to think of much else he did wrong.

Abidal: 6. Beast early, then got the stupids. Bad contain, screwed up the offside trap a couple of times and what the hell was with that header, late in the match? When you head a ball into the air, it is impossible to know where it’s going to go. And he had time to volley it clear.

Busquets: 6. Again, some early excellence, then he lost the plot. The more he has to actually defend, the more he can’t actually defend. Could have cost the club dearly. Not sure what he was thinking on that set piece, but it didn’t work. He should also work on learning to jump with his arms down.

Iniesta: 5. Every time I was about to put him on a milk carton, he would pop up with a play that made it clear why we needed so much more from him. Tentative, almost fearful play, which is very much unlike him.

Xavi: 6. More misplaced passes in this match than you usually see from him in months. Again, disappeared for stretches. Made some excellent defensive plays, and was a hairsbreadth away from getting on the scoresheet.

Fabregas: 5. Still waiting for a convincing reason other than “we paid 50m for him” as to why he’s taking playing time from Thiago. And yes, he is. Dude’s like molasses in winter. Is getting better at playing within the system, and that was an excellent assist for the Alves goal, it must also be noted. I like his all-pitch game, but he has to show me a lot more.

Sanchez: 6. Nowhere near as decisive as he was against Valencia, and he has to keep the ball moving. Yes, some of it is the fact that he was too often the only player in or near their box, it must also be noted.

Messi: 6. As with Sanchez, not as decisive as against Valencia. Subdued and muted. Whether this was due to the blanket of pressure Atletico brought to bear or something else is impossible to know. Had a hand in both goals, as well as a few other chances. But as with Iniesta, if he is more like himself, this match isn’t as fraught.


Cuenca (for Alves): 5. A few bright moments, but very average. He still doesn’t seem to have the plot against aggressive, physical opponents.

Pedro (for Fabregas): incomplete. Good energy, and nice work to earn what turned out to be the decisive set piece.

Pique (for Sanchez): incomplete. Part of the late-match messiness, mostly brought in to solidify the back line after the Alves substitution.

Is the Liga done?

Guardiola says it is.

“I don’t think we will win the league, but we will fight until the end.” I leave it to everyone to suss out whether this is a motivational tool, or a simple admission of reality. Maybe he’d looking at his own squad, how it’s playing and thinking “No way in hell are we going to get to the end of the season without dropping more points, even if they do as well.” Dunno.

What I do know is that this is a rare admission from a coach, who has been a bit testy of late, tired of discussing his renewal and making the occasional statement that sounds more like a valedictory than the words of a man planning to stay at a football club. Time will tell how this one plays out, but I’m curious to know how everyone views his statement.

Money, money, money

It’s way early for this, but our treasurer says that we have 50m to spend this summer, a sum that is, of course, exclusive of any sale proceeds, which would boost the transfer kitty. Not bad for a club that stopped making color copies as part of an austerity program. I am sure that RoSELL will say that selling our soul gave us the fiscal boost necessary. Whatevs. There will be plenty of time for discussing who stays and who goes, but I find this information interesting, coming in February.

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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.


  1. Judas Pissed
    February 27, 2012

    Kxevin you are the only supporter of any team I know who actively & with much enjoyment points out how poor his team was, how much they got away with & where they got lucky. You seem to revel in their failings!

    • February 27, 2012

      Actually, no. But I am as fair as I know how to be. Sometimes, my views don’t jibe with what folks want to hear, and I’m okay with that. But I don’t revel in their failings, though I do certainly see them, as any good observer should.

      • bob
        February 28, 2012

        dude the way u hammer the team we dont need any enemies!!

        you are so overreacting. so you think barcelona must score 5 goals every game so you give ratings above 6 to them?

        atli is a strong team which had not lost under simeone. they play well and we still managed to win in their home and u make it look like we are having a disaster.

        what makes u think this team must be extraordinary week in week out.
        i think ur articles are very poor mate.

        messi has scored one goal and set up another. please go watch the video again when he was making the run see how many atli players were moving with him then give him 6!!!!

        if you keep writing this bullshit i will stop reading ur blog or i will answer even harder

        open ur eyes mate

        • nzm
          February 28, 2012

          Please stop reading if you’re going to come here and write such unecessary vitriol.

          Our BFB writers do this for free – in their own time, and I for one am grateful to have a site such as this where most commenters are respectful of the writers and of each other. There is not another site that I know of, like this that doesn’t have commentators with toll-like behaviour.

          Not that it needs explaining (again), but it seems that you missed the memo when the ratings were explained.

          5 is given when the player or team has had an average game. 10 is given when the player or team had played the absolutely best game that they can play. 10 is not easily achievable – it means that everything was perfect with the game.

          Did Messi have the best game? No. He was mostly quiet after he received his yellow card and popped up every now and then to show his brilliance. But he wasn’t brilliant the whole game. He didn’t defend too hard and didn’t track back in case he got another yellow and got sent off.

          Kxevin gave the team a 6 – I think that’s being fair. It means that Kxevin thought that they played above average but not the best that they can play. I agree with that, but also thought that our defensive game was sadly in disarray tonight in the face of AM pressure, and that we lacked quick and decisive movement going forward. If it hadn’t been for the wonderful VV saves, Mascherano’s actions and some errant off-side calls against AM by the linesmen, it would perhaps have been another result.

          Seriously, if you want to come on here and enter in the spirit of debate, do so with some manners. You’ll find that Kxevin, the rest of the writers and the regular commentators will be more than willing to debate, agree and let you have your own thoughts without thinking poorly of you.

          But if you come in the spirit of name-calling, threats and derogatory comments towards people (who are doing this for free – did I mention that?), then you won’t enjoy it here, because no one is going to play that game with you.

          Also, please find the Shift key on your computer – it makes capital letters for the start of sentences and for proper nouns.

          Thank you.

          • bob
            February 29, 2012

            ah thanks for lessons of ethics, i wonder why u guys dont go sit in school and discuss english literature and where is appropriate!!! to use capital or lower case. i wish this was your bigger problem.

            your answer means nothing to me and doesnt really prove me wrong.
            i think you guys have no idea about football. have u ever kicked a ball in ur enitre life mate?

            again you also missed the point like kevin, messi was surrounded with at least 3 defenders every time he touched the ball , should i say this again?

            you guys simply dont understand that some teams defent better than others.
            for a good player 2 moments of shining is enough to win the game. now u can give him 4 or 5 or 6 , who cares

            you guys are absolutely blunt when it comes to rating. means u have no understanding of game whatsoever.
            and you ‘nzm’ oops sorry for lower case my bad!!

            better focus on ur writing skills!!!

        • blitzen
          February 28, 2012

          Do feel free to stop reading this blog at any time.

  2. James08771
    February 27, 2012

    Hi Kxevin,

    Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write up another excellent review. I know that these reviews will no longer be as regular and forthcoming, but I sincerely appreciate that you’re still interested in sharing your views on matches. I know it doesn’t mean much, but I want to say that I always agree with your player ratings. Other than a miniscule grading point give-or-take, your analysis and judgement based on the expectation of each player is always spot on. And deep down, we all know it. I initially discovered this site through Isaiah’s plug on one of his first pieces on Soccernet, but your unique and compelling writing style, along with Euler’s very insightful commentary, is what keeps me following. I realize that time has become more precious for you, but even if it’s not through one of your reviews, I hope that you will continue to at least share your views and analysis in some form, be it through Twitter discussions or the comment sections, although I admit that I don’t spend time here unless you or Euler post something.

    Anyways, I just wanted to thank you for everything. It’s such a delight to come here and read your work. You’ve helped me become more precise in what I should look for in a football match, and provided me a template of how to really capture a reader’s attention. Please take care and may your passion for Barça continue for years.

    James (Ottawa)

  3. blitzen
    February 27, 2012

    Dammit, Kxevin! You promised you wouldn’t be posting as much anymore. 😛

    And you forgot to give Fabregas a rating.

    Agree it was an uncharacteristically poor match for Iniesta. He didn’t have his usual spark. And Sanchez pretty much got played out of the game, the ATM players had his number for sure.

    Now I’m off to work on some blitzen awards.

  4. Momo
    February 27, 2012

    Thanks for the review.

    You forgot to rate Fabregas though…

  5. Peterj
    February 27, 2012

    Messi deserves a way he is on 6 with both xavi and sanchez that were never present in the game 2ruout the match

  6. February 27, 2012

    excellent review.

    must reiterate that i never said/thought/considered that refs have been killing us this season. rather they’ve been handing freebies to EE. same final result, but not exactly the same thing.

    i thought we were sloppy and simply didn’t go for the win, as if we’d have given up already [possible].

    Busquets is godlike only as DM. asking him to defend is almost recipe for disaster and one would think Pep had figured this out by now.

    Messi’s FK. i was so stunned to see the ball hitting the back of the net, i actually thought it had curled over the goal. yeah, this is how much confidence i have in our (Messi’s) freekicks. when i realised it was a goal, i automatically thought it was Xavi. yeah, i have no trust in Messi’s FK skills.

    our away form continues to be beyond average.

  7. kaynie90
    February 27, 2012

    great goal keeping from valdes.THIS WIL KEEP MARADONA SHUT 4 CRITICIZIN OUR NO. KEEPER!

    • swamidigital
      February 27, 2012

      When I hear Maradona’s pronouncements like this, I think of those Dave Chapelle Show, Rick James skits… “Cocaine is a hell of a drug.” lol

  8. Helge
    February 27, 2012

    I really wonder if the further progress of the team in the CL will have any influence on Guardiola’s decision.

    On the one hand, if we win it, he could ‘retire’ with having won everything, being in the record bookw forever as coach of the first team to ever defend the CL title. After that, he cannot achieve anything ‘new’, not at this club.
    Or would it spur him on, has he lost motivation, and belief in the team?
    Dani Alves said, it’ll be partially the players fault if Pep does not renew…

    For me, it’s very hard to look into Pep’s head and to interpret his statements. I just know that Pep’s renewal is even more important than the defense of the CL title. Best thing would be if both can be combined 🙂

  9. just listenin
    February 27, 2012

    I had Messi at a 4-5 yesterday, glad we can disagree in both directions 😉 Helps me better understand our respective calibrations, I may be both more harsh and generous.

    We did indeed get some favorable calls, this time.
    As mentioned in the last post, this ref discussion is so easy to confound. These ref decisions clearly cut both ways from time to time, but can for a variety of different reasons, sympathy for one side or the other, incompetence or, in the worst cases, pressure or some obligation (it happens), it would be very tough to tell which are which… us getting a good one doesn’t negate that we may have been getting a rash of bad ones. That’s the problem with these things, everyone wants to take an all or nothing stance, “they’re all against us” or “SNAFU, there’s nothing out of the ordinary happening”. That I think is the hard thing. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be both.

    Piti’s comments from Rayo, though sure not to get him anything but grief, are pretty direct. It is hard to conclude, whatever reasons one may believe are behind it, that it is all the result of just consistently bad refereeing that’s been going on. In the best case maybe it’s because of Mourinhophobia, and in the worst, there are some wheelings and dealings going on behind the scenes in a concerted effort to influence events, that can range from political pressure, to outright manipulation. But jeez louise it is a constant issue that is begging some serious questions.

  10. Gogah
    February 27, 2012

    Brilliant review and spot on ratings, as always.

    “I don’t think we will win the league, but we will fight until the end.”
    I was actually not surprised to hear this comment from Pep. In fact it actually felt very much like a Pep comment with the familiar sense of honesty, pragmatism and humility. Whats interesting is the timing. I don’t think its a motivational comment simply because its anything but motivating. the usual fight-to-the-end cliche.

    But Pep knows he is part of a club. He needs the ticket paying fans to come watch them, support them. Just like how he said the famous roller coaster words before taking over, this comment is yet another declaration, that every match will be an exhibition and a display of effort. Effort not to win the league. that is immaterial because its pretty much gone. But effort to fight till the end to help our official and unofficial reputation as the best team in the world.

    I really hope its not a valedictory as you suggest.

  11. ooga aga
    February 27, 2012

    dont know if anyone read the post match comments from pep and the players. but they all mentioned how ridiculously horrible the pitch was. usually they are very understated about the pitch conditions. we have seen how teams like to let the pitch go to hell when barca comes to town, and the players and pep usually dont spend a lot of breath remarking on it. this time they seemed simply shocked by the state of the pitch.

    considering all this, im extremely happy with the win…and the performance.

    • blitzen
      February 27, 2012

      What did they about it, specifically? On my admittedly crappy stream it looked very dry & slippery.

      • February 27, 2012

        The pitch was terrible. It was all over my notes yesterday. But you know what? It’s terrible for both sides. Put on longer studs at halftime, and get busy.

        • blitzen
          February 27, 2012

          True, but the home side would have had the advantage of getting used to it, while the away side only has one training session.

          Pointing out things like this is perfectly valid, you know. It doesn’t make us a bunch of whiners if we mention it as one of the things that contributed to a mediocre performance.

          If someone replaced your fancy (and no doubt expensive) racing bike with a $20 clunker at the last minute would you still perform as well?

          • February 27, 2012

            Actually, a more correct analogy would be moving an event from a nice, smooth wooden track to a bumpy asphalt one. But again, all the riders are racing on the same track. We’d just swap wheels to something more heavy-duty, and have at it.

            Surely our players can’t be surprised that an opponent would try to slow us down with a crappy pitch.

          • blitzen
            February 27, 2012

            But again, some of the riders would have had the advantage of more training runs on the asphalt track. That does make a difference.

            And no, I don’t imagine our players & coach were surprised that ATM would play a dirty trick like this. I do think they were shocked at the extent of the damage to the pitch.

          • nzm
            February 28, 2012

            Imagine what the pitch is going to look like in May for the CdR – 5 days after Coldplay has given a concert in the stadium. 🙁

      • Messiah10
        February 27, 2012

        The pitch looked like a pub side’s pitch or my son’s Sun. league pitch. C’mon. This is La Liga!!! PROFFESIONAL standards must apply. I think teams should be fined for substandard pitch conditions. It affect both teams and their play in the match. Thus, affecting the match FANS pay mucho grande deniro to see. Shame on ATM.

      • mom4
        February 27, 2012

        I spent most of the game rethinking my approval of us playing the CdR final there.

    • Helge
      February 27, 2012

      It was seriously not a lot better than the pitch in Russia or at Kharkiv, Ukraine during the EL matches.

      It’s strange, because the pitch at the Bernabeu was much better during the last weeks. So the bad state cannot be associated to weather conditions.

      Anyway, did you read Simeone’s comments after the match? Very classy guy. Imagine how the Mou would have reacted after the ref’s shortcomings!

      • nzm
        February 28, 2012

        The Bernabeu pitch is one of those half-artificial ones like the pitch at Wembley.

        Maybe that’s the reason it’s held up better.

        However, I suspect that AM doctored their pitch to not suit Barca’s playing style. Valencia didn’t water their pitch against Barca a few weeks ago; last season Bilbao’s pitch was a cow paddock which “happened” to be replaced only a couple of weeks after the Barca game there, and the Osasuna pitch was just plain dangerous in the last game.

        But – stuff like this happens. Players must adapt. So much is made of their origins as young boys playing in the dusty local village squares – they have to think back to those days and play that way!

    • Miguel
      February 27, 2012

      I was expecting the gopher from Caddyshack to pop out of the divots on the pitch.

      • February 27, 2012

        When we played Chelsea in Champions League during the Ronaldinho years, their pitch was this kinda mud boggy thing in the middle, and long on the edges. Even the announcers were like “Jaysus! That’s horrible!” As the home side, it’s your right to try anything you can with your pitch. Our perfectly flat, watered, wide pitch is just as big an advantage for our game as a bog is for other teams, right?

        • Miguel
          February 27, 2012

          I don’t get why pitch dimensions & grass length were never standardized.

  12. psqd
    February 27, 2012

    Thanks for the review. A goodly read as usual.
    Because you asked about thoughts on Pep’s comment…I think it is a combination of frustration, pragmatism, intelligence, and motivation. First, he does seem to be getting annoyed with answering the same questions over and over. Foremost amongst them his renewal and the gap to RM. He has told them to piss off until further notice on the renewal and this is essentially the same. He is admitting that it is unlikely the gap will be pulled back. He gave them what they wanted and was realistic about it. Importantly, to my thinking though, is that he didn’t say it’s unlikely they will drop points or it’s unlikely we won’t drop points. He tiptoed up to the line, was honest, but carefully avoided providing RM with motivation. What can mou do with the line? Not much as far as I can tell. Finally, it is motivational in that he states what he expects from his team, that they fight, whilst possibly providing them with a new challenge. Winning the league, done that, overcoming impossible odds to overhaul and humiliate RM. Hmmm, haven’t tried that. Maybe we could have a go at it.

  13. Messiah10
    February 27, 2012

    I agree with your match grades. Poor performance but I’m giving credit where credits due. ATM played fantastically. I think a draw would’ve been deserved but I’m so THANKFUL we have the WORLDS greatest player. ATM was brillant at stoping our link up play in midfield between Xavi and Ghostface. I honestly don’t remember those 2 linking up much at all during the game.? Am I wrong? Xavi was so deep during the game that he either passed back or to the wings. Every time FCB were receiving the ball ATM players swarmed us like bees. Great away win and great show of MAGIC from MESSI!!!

  14. mom4
    February 27, 2012

    I watched this game without a single shred of nervousness. Helps that I had to DVR it because of work and I already knew the final score.

    Agree with all grades (helps to know that 5 is average to you).

    VV and Masche joint MotM:
    Mascherano(MotM) and VV(MotMotM(ascherano))

    • Miguel
      February 27, 2012

      Agree with all grades (helps to know that 5 is average to you).
      Right? “High Pass, Pass, Low Pass, Fail, & Incomplete” would be so much easier to understand, Kevin.

      • mom4
        February 27, 2012

        O = Outstanding; E = Exceeds Expectations; A = Acceptable; P = Poor; D = Dreadful; T = Troll ?

  15. nzm
    February 27, 2012

    It’s games like this when I feel that Pep’s coaching is one-dimensional and only works when the other team doesn’t pressure high.

    Yet, we’ve seen games where other teams have pressured high, and Barca has ridden through it to a winning score. However, in those games, the oppposition have ceased their pressuring upon tiring. AM didn’t – they maintained that pressure for the full 90+. The early 2nd half goal was the impetus they needed to carry on with the pressure.

    The same old doesn’t-work tactics were on show last night:
    1. Iniesta playing wide – he’s too slow for a winger.
    2. No crashing the box.
    3. Ineffective wingers.
    4. Subs on too late.

    And we were so lucky with some of those offside calls against AM and, at the same time, I have to wonder how obscure handballs played by Messi and Alexis can suddenly be seen, when more blatantly obvious ones haven’t been pinged!

    • February 27, 2012

      nzm nails it. I also would have gone for Tello over Cuenca, but that’s just me.

        • blaugranaDOOM
          February 27, 2012

          I thought Tello would have been perfect. Whenever the ball came out left, the CM would pull over to help and prevent passing or cutting inside. It would have take Tello about 30 seconds to realize he can just kick the ball towards the endline and the right back was beaten. Cuenca was a waste as Alves was providing enough on the right (though Guardiola may have been protecting him from a second yellow).

      • nzm
        February 28, 2012

        Scary thing was – Tello wasn’t even on the bench!

        Pep preferred an out-of-form Pedro over Tello for an important match against a big team.

        I’m not sure what his reservations are about Tello, but he seems very reluctant to put him out for games. True that he is still a Barca B player, yet Pep has always advocated using the B players for their reserve supply.

        We suck badly on the left, and opposing teams know it. Bring back Henry! Seriously, Iniesta is not a winger, and when he plays out wide it leaves too much of a gap in the pitch center for him to be able to hook up with Xavi and Messi. Abidal was playing more forward of Iniesta at times – that was scary!

        Once Messi gets a yellow, he effectively closes down and doesn’t defend because he’s too worried about a 2nd yellow which will send him off. Luckily he was able to still play forward!

  16. Kimcelona
    February 27, 2012

    We didnt get lucky. We won. As Simeone said, Atleti were beaten by a moment of brilliance. Simple as that.
    (I would also add, “and some brilliant saves by superVV!”)

    I failed to see how the match was sooooooo unfair. Two stupid offside calls that werent.. we had one as well! Busi handball? That wasnt. He did not raise his hands willingly to meet the ball. All the players in that instant used their hands to gain lift off the ground while jumping for the incoming ball. He jumped and his hands were pushed up by the players jumping with him. Unintentional and would have totally been unfair to call. I seem to remember you (kxevin) protesting a penalty, saying it was soft, that we had gotten in the Mallorca home game where Nsue had his hands up and the ball hit it. Whats the difference here?
    I didnt see ONE protest from anyone of the Atleti players, not even the crowd.
    It just seems to me that in the name of trying to be objective and “fair” some cules are trying too hard to find something to say, “see we get CALLS for us too!”

    A part from that gripe. Great review!

    • February 27, 2012

      If the “ball to hand” incidents are called on the other end, what differentiates this one, is the first question.

      As for the two offside calls, they were not trivial: both would have released players on a solo rush toward our goal, behind a high back line, with just the keeper to beat. Would Valdes have come up big? Who knows. But potentially, those were two goals. And then the handball would have, again potentially, been a third.

      The Nsue penalty, if I recall correctly, was ball to hand in that his hand was just kind of in the way. Very different from Busquets, who jumped with his arms extended, a stupid, rookie mistake that is just begging for a penalty with the match on the line.

      I thought that the Sanchez handball call was kinda ridic. The Messi one was spot on, however. Protests, or the absence thereof, doesn’t make a call fair or unfair.

      Irrespective of how it might strike you, some cules are trying to be fair. And impartial. In every instance. Simple as that. Not sure how deep your crystal ball goes in trying to read my intentions, but you should start with that.

      • Kimcelona
        February 27, 2012

        Where in my post did I say the offside calls were trivial?
        You also failed to address that we also had an unfair offside call just seconds after Atleti’s first.

        Nsue’s hand wasnt just “in the way” it was raised, while he jumped, just like Busi..but he didnt have other players surrounding him and he wasnt being pressured. He just had his hand raised, in an unnatural position. It was ball to hand though…

        I really dont understand where you get off talking about crystal balls and what not. I wasnt trying to assume your intention. I made an observation. Obviously the cap fits you, so you responded like that?

        • February 27, 2012

          The “crystal ball” comment references:

          It just seems to me that in the name of trying to be objective and “fair” some cules are trying too hard to find something to say, “see we get CALLS for us too!”

          A part from that gripe. Great review!

          I don’t look for anything, I don’t try to find anything. I respond to evidence (i.e. the match in question), that’s there.

          As for the Unsue handball, I’ll have to take your word for it, rather than trusting my memory. I’d love to see video of it. Not that it matters, but other cules over on Twitter were also saying that it was a stone-cold penalty on Busquets. Not just me. But believe you me, anyone who thinks that I don’t apply the same standards of fairness across the board is mistaken.

          We get calls for us, we get calls against us. As I noted in the referee post, when a ref is bad, he’s usually bad for both sides. Hats off to Atletico for not saying they were robbed, even as I believe they were hard done by, much more so than we were.

  17. messifan
    February 27, 2012

    Thanks for the review, Kevin! Agree with your assessment of Pep. He got the tactics wrong and subs came in too late. I’m a little frustrated to see so many games with little width and penetration.

    I agree with other posters that the pitch was awful and it did affect the team. Yes, they probably expect the pitch to be bad because that seems to be the norm nowadays for most opponents. But how can Barca play their usual smooth and quick passing game when they keep on slipping and sliding?

    About the referee: as a fan of La Liga and the game in general, I just WANT impartial decisions regardless of which teams are on the pitch. I don’t recall refereeing being this poor last season. Yes, Barca have not been playing well and maybe deserve to be in second (I say “maybe” because I don’t watch RM outside of the clasicos, so I can’t judge their performance), but every time I watch other liga games, there’s always red cards, diving and uncalled fouls, and referees can’t seem to get those decisions right!

  18. justsayin
    February 27, 2012

    Great review, thanks for posting Kxevin.

    Two additional things stood out yesterday. One was how narrow ATM were playing us, clogging up the middle so there was absolutely no room for through balls or one-twos. Yet, we never really used the width of the wingers to spread out ATM’s defense. Maybe Alexis at times and even Dani on the right, but who was supposed to be on the left? Cesc? Iniesta? Not sure, but neither one was doing a very good job. I believe Pep missed the perfect opportunity to insert Tello, for his speed and ability to get wide and either cut in or cross. I can’t fault the players because that’s not their natural position so in order to take advantage of the width ATM was affording us on the left wing, we were foolish not to take advantage.

    Secondly, the zonal marking for corners is questionable in my eyes. Not sure how Pep sets his men up, but we’re always vulnerable on corners and not to have a mix of zonal and man marking during a corner, just puts us at a disadvantage. Who was watching Falcao? And if their philosophy is to not mark the man, but mark the zone then whose zone was Falcao in when he scored? He looks to have moved out of Puyols, as it appears that Puyol is aware of Falcao being directly behind him, but one the ball is airborne, Puyol watches Falcao move to left, placing him in what I believe might be Fabregas’ zone? Yet, he has his back to him and no one picks him up.

    All in all, difficult game to play on that crappy field. ATM played a good, aggressive game, didn’t park the bus and was pinged on 3 bad calls.

    • February 27, 2012

      But notice how their defense moved laterally, in unison whenever we tried to use width. Very impressive. They were a completely different side from the last time we saw them. And that’s coaching.

    • sd
      February 27, 2012

      I think after reading the zonalmarking system description the other players are there to win the ball incase the initial ball is not cleared at either the near post or the penalty spot. In this case the fault lies with a few players. First of all for Busquets for not winning the header cleanly at the near post. This is his zone and he is responsible for clearing that header. Secondly, it lies with Alves for coming out of his zone into Busi’s zone which may well have been the reason Busquets din’t get a clean head on it. Third, Falcao moves from Puyol’s zone into Fabregas so Cesc should have picked him up. However, both Puyol and Cesc are at fault because the ball happens to be in between them and neither clears it and Falcao is in the right position to score. So I think its a system breakdown and not individual faults. In addition, maybe in the case Pique is not there another person should be responsible for the near post area. This is the second time that I remember Busquets has made an error at this near post role. Against Arsenal he failed to get a clean head and put it into our own net. Of course, I dont remember the hundreds that he didn’t fail at.

      • February 27, 2012

        Nice analysis. This is why I always say that we score as a team, and concede as a team.

      • nzm
        February 28, 2012

        You nailed it, sd.

        Again, it’s a common fault of the Barca defence – a lot of goals that are scored against Barca come from an undefended opposition player located near the far post. The zonal marking tactics desert the team when this happens.

        If you can, get a video of the Basel game against Bayern if you haven’t already seen it.

        That was a textbook display in zonal marking. No panic – every player knew what to do – double-teaming on the threatening players like Ribery. Basel defence was first-class that night.

  19. Srini
    February 27, 2012

    The ref errors this game does not take away from the glaring ones that denied Barca points in other games. Saying it as it is.

  20. barca96
    February 27, 2012

    Yet, we’ve seen games where other teams have pressured high, and Barca has ridden through it to a winning score. However, in those games, the oppposition have ceased their pressuring upon tiring. AM didn’t – they maintained that pressure for the full 90+. The early 2nd half goal was the impetus they needed to carry on with the pressure.

    I don’t know if you guys have noticed or not, it’s either due to other teams being fitter or our passing is meaningless.

    My guess is the latter. In the past, our players used to do triangles. That will tire one player and drag another player into the mix and in turn take two guys out. We used to let the other team and the ball do the running even though we were under pressure. Imagine doing triangles sort of passing and obviously the other team would have to chase the ball more, they will definitely get burned out in the 2nd half from all that chasing.

    But this season I am seeing less and less of that. So I believe the lack of triangles is one and the other one is the inability of our midfield to over run the other team. Our midfielders just can’t seem to take control of the match.

    Maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about hehe.
    Maybe Euler can elaborate better.

    • nzm
      February 28, 2012

      The triangles don’t work against a team that is pressuring high like AM did – they brought 2 men out against the ball carrier on most occasions, and 2 men defending in an attempted passing triangle will win the ball on a rough pitch like that.

      This is when Barca needs Plan B – a faster running game in which players run into the box to either score or pressure the opposition into making errors.

      Too many times Barca is too slow and gives the defence time to reassemble and wait. Damn frustrating.

      Biggest error was when Cuenca received the ball on the edge of the box and was so clear to go right and shoot for goal, but he chose to kick left and take the ball back into traffic? Flipping heck!

      • Jim
        February 28, 2012

        Not sure if I’ve understood you nzm, but I’d fancy my chances as part of a triangle with the ball against two defenders any day. if you switch that to Iniesta,Busi and Xavi you could play all day and not see the ball. Pitch doesn’t come into that much.

    • nzm
      February 28, 2012

      Just another thought to add to this:

      if you watch again, you’ll also see that AM held their 2 lines of defence and often didn’t chase the Barca ball carrier. They just waited in their rows. The Barca players were stopped in their tracks and didn’t have anyone clear to pass the ball to. There was no movement in the Barca team to counter this.

    • February 28, 2012

      I reckon Guardiola is expecting that Pique start actinglike what he is, which is an important part of a championship side. Tweets that pop up after 1 a.m. that show him playing Scrabble with Shakira ain’t it.

      For athletes, sleep is huge. On training days, if I don’t get at least 7 hours, I’m not as good the next day. And I’m just an amateur bike racer, not a CB for the best club on the planet.

      Abidal got the stupids yesterday. Everyone else did as well. I’d single them all out. This hasn’t been Abidal’s best season, but he’s usually better than he was yesterday.

      • Jim
        February 28, 2012

        I caught the Scrabble reference but not when it was. Was this the night before the match? I would, and have, defended Pique in that I think he’s had a raw deal from some fans over the last few games when I reckon he has shown a big improvement over earlier in the season. However, if he’s doing this the night before the match he’s on his own !

  21. Ratu
    February 28, 2012

    I think pitches are an extension of a club’s playing style. Our pitch suits our game and it counts as part of our ‘home-advantage’. Similarly, what pitch our opponent puts up for us is down to helping their playing style or the strategy they’ve planned against us – it counts as that too. It does not seem like a good enough excuse(not that you should make any anyway).

    Even if they have a small advantage of extra practice, the fact remains that we need to perform on every criteria(weather, clingy heavy shirts, pitches, tackles) and nothing is going to bend over backwards to suit us and our passing. If we’re not winning because of a ‘bad’ pitch it’s just down to us to rise above it.

    If we’re going to have to play a final on a crappy pitch then I think we better prepare for it. Nothing else is going to help out cause. And that is the inconvenient truth.

    • Jim
      February 28, 2012

      I suppose I partly agree with this in that we need to cope with whatever is thrown at us but a good pitch helps both sides, not just us, to play better football. you wouldn’t catch Andy Murray complaining that a good court at wimbledon helped federer or Luke Donald that good greens helped the Americans in the Ryder Cup. Would it be accepted if the americans allowed the greens to deteriorate to make putting more difficult? Teams which try to ruin a pitch to suit their limited style ( including RM here) deserve our understanding but also our scorn.

  22. Blau-Grenade
    February 28, 2012

    Lovely review Kxevin. Pleasure to read your blogs, as always. It was definitely a tough match, and a nail biter. I enjoyed it very much. I was just dumbfounded with that Messi goal and Valdes clearences. Nothing much to add to what other people have already said.

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