Levante 1, Barca 2, aka “Objectivity, cules and a team that won’t say no”

VALENCIA (AFP) — Real Madrid kept its title hopes alive Saturday with a dramatic, 1-2 win over Valencia after a late-match penalty was converted by Cristiano Ronaldo, after the referee judged that Mesut Ozil was impeded in the penalty box.

The team had to stage a comeback, after an hand ball penalty gave its opponents an early lead. The victory keeps them within 4 points of league leaders FC Barcelona, with a pivotal match coming next weekend, at the Camp Nou.

Fade to a Barcelona football blog, in a galaxy far away …


Hmph! Just once I’d like to see them win without getting a late gift. Why don’t we get those calls? And Penaldo does it again. I hope we kill them at home this weekend.

Pretty interesting, isn’t it? I got to thinking about this as I was coming down from the giddy aftermath of a match that I just didn’t think that we were going to win, and being lambasted over my assertion that both penalties were soft.

But let’s start by saying hats off to Levante. I have never been more nervous about a match in a loooong time than this one, because it was against a Top 5 side in their house, a side that plays its hearts out and defends so well, a side that beat our title rivals on that very pitch, earlier this season.

With two enormous matches coming up, one of which would be rendered meaningless if the team didn’t take care of business here, cause for concern was easy to spot. And it didn’t take nightmares long to come true, as we (as usual) missed some glorious early chances that could have made things very different, then conceded a penalty that technically, was correct even as the match commentators justifiably (to my view) labeled it soft.

The most common bicycle racing crash injury is a broken collarbone, because when you are crashing, instinct is to put your arms out, to try and catch yourself somehow. It’s absurd, but it’s reflex. It takes many years and many crashes to automatically let go of the handlebars, and cross your arms over your chest.

So I am sure that there are some defenders who, when a ball is headed for their face, keep their arms behind their back. Sergi Busquets isn’t one of them. For me, the reason that “in the official’s judgment” is supposed to enter into the picture is that a referee is supposed to rely on his years of experience, and ask himself the “intent” question.

Flash back to way early in the season, against Mallorca. Adriano thwacked a ball into the box, almost directly at a defender, who had little chance of avoiding it. The ball hit his hand, a penalty was awarded and Messi, fresh off his failure from the spot against Sevilla, converted with style. Then as now, some judgment needs to enter into the picture. To be sure, there are rules that govern moments such as that. And the prevailing trend in the Liga seems to be when the ball touches a hand, it’s a penalty. It’s one that I don’t agree with, and not just because it would have kept Busquets from taking a penalty and earning a yellow card. Every rule needs nuance, particularly when being ajudicated by human beings. That’s where the intent question comes in. Busquets was protecting his face. That the ball hit his hand was incidental. For me, it shouldn’t have been a penalty if the ref were to exercise judgment.

As an unfortunate consequence, note that later in yesterday’s match, on two occasions we hit balls directly at Levante defenders, then raised our arms in the universal “handball!” entreaty. That, for me, is where improperly applied judgment and notions of intent enter the picture. Again as the match commentator noted, why wouldn’t attackers just smack a ball directly at a defender’s hand in the box, if the call is going to be so automatic?

It must also be noted that if Valdes doesn’t flap ineffectually at the ball and clears it like he has a pair, it never comes to the Busquets situation. Ball up that fist, and punch that thing outta there. Then reset. He put his defense in a bad spot with that alleged clearance, and we know the rest.

We were down 1-0, against a team that was defending with 8, 10 when necessary, and we looked out of ideas and inspiration after Thiago pushed his header wide, somehow. And times were sad.

"Oh, woe is us!"

Guardiola’s lineup was one that I would call intelligently hopeful, with Valdes, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Fabregas, Pedro, Messi, Sanchez. It was a lineup that had scoring power and defense, one that should have pretty easily turned the trick against Levante, all else being equal. But with a Champions League grudge match coming midweek, THEN the Mother of All Clasics on the weekend, all else wasn’t equal and Levante played like a side that knew it could steal some points and maybe, just maybe, find its way into a Champions League spot, with the attendant riches.

Yep. But our play was distracted and desultory, and we got to the half with more than 70% possession and, as my dumb ass saw it, little hope. I even Tweeted that if we got to the half without equalizing, we’d get no better than a draw. Sighhhhh.

Doubt? No, more typicus culeus I believe is the Latin term, for that typical cule who sees doom around every corner. Panic? No. Situational pessimism? Yep. I admit it, just as I admit to being overjoyed to have been wrong, made so by two spot-on substitutions by Pep Guardiola, Iniesta and Cuenca. Suddenly, there was life but even then, it took a bit of absurd, “how the hell did THAT happen?!” magic from two players who I predict are going to be terrifying for opponents next season, Messi and Sanchez.

Those two in effect, did a 1-2 in space equivalent to a telephone booth, before Messi spanked a high-speed curler into the near side, almost off the dead run. Another symptom of typicus culeus is that you just don’t consider that kind of stuff, even though it has happened time and again, that moment of genius that makes everything possible again, that raises hope from despair. That was a stupefying goal that deserved some Ray Ray commentary, which would have been right for the occasion.

Aieeeeeghhhh! Did you SEE THAT!? Messi makes rainbows and puppies from thin air, and can feed the multitudes with his genius, for genius was what it was Phil. Puuuure genius. You can follow him into a revolving door and he’ll come out first. Or some such. And with that goal, the mood of the team changed. And there was much rejoicing.

"Yay for us!"

It must also be noted that during the desultory phase, Guardiola didn’t look like a coach who considered the Liga lost. Whether this is because of the hypercompetitiveness that makes him want to win everything, or because he doesn’t believe his own boondoggle, dude was coaching his butt off, and looking worried as nothing that he was able to do could inspire his charges. And then came the magic.

From there it was 1-1 and the match felt different. Our speed of play increased and suddenly, there was purpose, drive and effort. Levante looked dangerous as heck off the counter, but that’s why the footy gods made Mascherano and Puyol. So that was that. Levante defended, and looked to be fairly content to play for a draw in their house against the best team in the world, as Cuenca kept on doing what he does, only to a) get ridden to the end line by a Levante defender or b) throwing a cross in to nowhere.

To his credit he kept trying and trying, with a vibrancy that these days seems to elude Pedro, but that’s another story. Then suddenly Cuenca took a pass, drove into the box at the Levante defender, and down he went. At first there was some hesitation as the officials wanted to be certain of the call, but then it came. Penalty. You can see it here. The Levante player shoves Cuenca. As to whether Cuenca shoves first, etc, etc, depends upon your worldview.

For me, again, it was soft. A correct call? Yes. Technically. But it was pillow soft. Some say there can be no “soft” penalty, that an infraction is an absolute. I quibble with that. You can have a penalty given in which a defender sticks his leg out to deliberately, cynically trip a player to stop him from scoring, thinking that at least the keeper will have a shot at stopping a PK, instead of giving up the sure thing goal. And up comes the foul.

Then you have the more nuanced situations such as the Cuenca penalty, one that he earned with effort and aggression, running directly at the Levante defender and battling for a position in the box. We scoff at EE penalties earned, but this is what they do: force a defender to make a play, then force the referee to either ignore it, or make a call. In this case, whether you believe it was influenced by the silly Busquets penalty or not, the ref made the call. Up stepped Messi, and it was 1-2.

From here, Levante struggled to change gears, to go from a team content to not let us score to a team that had to score. It took a while for them to do that, and there were some maddening moments in which they had possession in our end, and we just didn’t seem all that interested, or really able to clear the ball. We regained control, and saw things out to a peaceful conclusion.

Does the penalty tarnish the result? Nope. In my little mind, the two softies cancel each other out, and there’s just the Messi wonder goal. So the result would have been the same: 3 points.

I raised some ire by calling both penalties soft, and saying that we got a break in that match. Boy, did some people let me have it. Some even raised the “It’s silly when people seek equivalence by faking being fair in an effort to seem balanced,” etc, etc. But here’s the thing:

Admitting that we get some breaks doesn’t make you any less of a cule. What’s more, it doesn’t make you a fraud, or self-righteous, or any of the other words being thrown around. For me, it makes you honest. If we can admit that there are breaks that we don’t get, we can admit that there are breaks that we do get. It’s the same with penalties. We get some, we don’t get some. And because of the atmosphere …. okay, poisoned atmosphere, any and all Liga discussions feel like American political discourse. It’s a hyper-polarized world in which UEFAlona can only win with official interference, or we never get calls, and EE get all the penalties called in their favor.

The truth is, as usual, somewhere bouncing around between the two opposing viewpoints. Did we get lucky in getting the Cuenca penalty? Nope. Cuenca forced the play, and got the call. Would I rather have not put our Liga future in the hands of an official? You betcha. He made the right call. Which doesn’t mean that it wasn’t soft, or that anyone who says as much is a traitor to the Blaugrana.

What’s funny is that we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. So we rejoice and say “Huzzah! They got one right,” and people say “Cheaters, you can’t win without the officials.” But if someone says “Whew! That was soft, but I’ll take it,” then it’s “Stop trying to seem fair. That’s stupid.”

When we went down 10 points in the table to EE, I said that I would keep believing in this club until it was mathematically impossible. Now the lead is 4 points, and very possible. I, and others who admit that hey, we got some breaks don’t love this club any less than anyone else. And I have a pile of soci cards to prove it. We support, scream, weep, exult and share in the joy that this club brings just like any other cule. And yes, some cules can be objective in a way that says “I support my club, and will do so to the death, but I am also pretty adept at identifying a gift horse.” And that’s okay. It doesn’t make us special, or sanctimonious, or holier-tha-thou. It just makes us a cule who has an opinion that might be different than another cule’s.

As long as we all love and support the same club, where’s the harm?

Hell week

Are we ready? At present, our beloved club has won every trophy that it has set its talents to this season. But I don’t think I would be lying if I didn’t say that none of those trophies are “big” in the way that the Liga, or Champions League trophies are. We’re starting with a clean slate against Chelsea, and we are 4 points down in the Liga to EE, who are coming to our house next Saturday. If we win, the lead is down to a legitimate 1 point, rather than a “We played, now they have to match us” 1 point. And the pressure will be immense.

If we lose, is the Liga done? No. There would still be 4 matches left, in which anything could happen. It would be difficult, with a 7-point lead and only 12 points to play for, but it wouldn’t be impossible. Believe until you can’t believe any longer.

As for Chelsea, this is a grudge match that could get very, very ugly. That club considers that it has some unfinished business with us, and it will come out loaded for bear, particularly in their house. Pundits and folks who know the game are saying that we’re going to hand them their lunch. I say that with a few set pieces, they could hand us our lunch, then get to a situation where they can park the bus in our house, or something crazy like that. You never know. I do know that we will see a very, very different Chelsea than the rest of the Premiership has seen this season. You can bet your bottom dollar on that.

But we have the horses to do this. Our squad is as full as it’s going to get (boy, would I love to have Villa in the house for this tie, and the Clasic), and we’re playing great football. I’m ready, even as I’m not anything even approaching mentally ready for this. It’s two much too soon, so to speak.

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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. Peterj
    April 15, 2012

    Whenever a ref points to the penalty spot,there is no going back…i know you re trying to share your view abt the ”soft pks”,but its been given,no amount of saying its soft would change it…And anyways,madrid has been given way more softer pks than barca’s has this season

  2. Kimcelona
    April 15, 2012

    The difference between the Mallorca PEN and the one given yesterday is quite obvious IMO. The Mallorca player’s hand was outstretched, and get this: AWAY FROM HIS BODY, thus in an unnatural position. Busi’s hands were crossed infront of him, on his body..with the ball headed on to it.

    The issue for me is not that it wasnt a pen but I think the pen may have been given for his supposed charge in to the Levante player. Or it may have just been more stupid referreing in Spain where every ball’s contact with the hands are handballs and subsequently penalties (if in the box). Its ridiculous. I am not sure who said this but it was mentioned that more and more players are deliberately kicking balls on to the hands of opponents and asking for yellows and a PEN. This is one of those interpretations of the rule that is getting out of hand and especially in Spain.

    And I totally dont get this soft penalty argument. No where in the rule books does it say anything about the degree of softness or hardness..??? A pen is a pen..if its according to the rules. The softness argument seems like another way to discredit every decision given in our favor.

    Cuenca’s penalty was a penalty. There was a clear push of Cuenca from the Levante player with no intention to play the ball. Lev player stretched his hand out to push Cuenca off after he had touched the ball to play it (goalside). Thats a foul and a foul in the box is a penalty. Simples. There was no “shoulder to shoulder tussle” or a “tangle and in the box from good physical play,” as some have called it, it was an obvious shove from the Lev player on Cuenca. What was so hard in that to see? I dont get the uproar.

    But moving on…

    This week will be stressfull, season-defining and exciting..depending on your taste 😛
    I’d be happy with a draw at SB..Hoping for a win at home for the Clasico and ofccourse a win at home in the CL.

    • blitzen
      April 15, 2012

      his supposed charge in to the Levante player.

      Oh puh-lease! Watch it here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk6fUAedIOI

      Busquets barged into the Levante player, first with his shoulders and then with his hip. As a founding member of the Busquets Fairness Committee I am the first to defend him, but this was a foul in the box and a stone cold penalty. Handball or no handball, it’s still a penalty. No argument.

      • Kimcelona
        April 15, 2012

        Oh puh-lease blitzen, you do not need to show me any youtube clips, I saw the match for myself!

        Yeah Busi blocked off the player, I guess. It was a PEN. I accepted it, didnt argue it wasnt. Moving on..

  3. dean
    April 15, 2012

    What is the situation with Villa? Does anyone know what date it’s speculated he might be back, talk about what a morale booster a Villa, who has attended all the games cheering us on, coming back into form would be.

    Also to the address the fairness, balance, devil’s advocate issue. Before I came to this blog, I posted on different barca blogs and sites and I noticed many for instance such as totalbarca, barca facebook all pander to just one attitude worship barca, and every comment is just praise-the club, it can do no wrong. The reason I continue to lurk on this site is because there is a lot more coherent discussion, dialogue and viewpoints. Please continue voicing your opinion because the penalty was soft however you dice it, and my madridista brother kinda alluded to that by walking out of the room swearing when the goal was scored. I don’t see why people care about the motivations behind a post, whether it’s to provoke discussion, to be self righteous or to be honest, if it can stand on it’s own then it’s worth reading.

    • April 15, 2012

      Thanks for the comment. Word on Villa is no word. Rumor is that he will be back before the end of our season, hoping to be available for the CL final if we make it, with an eye toward being ready for Euros.

      I’ve been watching some early season matches. Seems clear that the stress fracture really affected his play, in hindsight.

    • Peterj
      April 16, 2012

      Who do u expect them to praise if not barca? A penalty is a penalty whether soft or hard…whats the big deal abt that,lets just forget abt the levante game!

      • mom4
        April 15, 2012

        Ah, family vacations to Legoland. What fun!
        Can you imagine the pressure on this kid. What if he wants to be an accountant instead of be a football player.

        Won’t believe it fully until I see the steriotypical goal celebrations.

    • Bill
      April 16, 2012

      Messi’s goal scoring record this season is just ridiculous. He is determined to score in all competitions. 😉

  4. Soft penalty, not too soft penalty, semi-soft-semi-hard penalty, very hard penalty, stone cold penalty. Yeah, not something I want to talk about. So tired of this ref thing.

    I really wish no ref controversies for the next 3 crucial matches, but I guess it’s too much ask, isn’t it?
    It’s gonna be helluva week this week. It’s going to be ugly and full of media frenzy, me thinks.

    I can already hear people scream “UEFAlona!”, “Platinirato!”, “damn you, Unicef!”.
    Bring. It. On. 8)

    And congratulations for Leo and Antonella, if true she’s pregnant. Oh, imagining the future baby Messi makes me happy. ^^

  5. April 15, 2012

    This was a really odd match. Thought the first 35 minutes especially Barca were off in their play and tactics.

    Because Levante was so well organized and defending deep there was limited benefit from having so many players positioned in midfield.

    This was intensified because it was the two wingers who were the only player with space – and they kept utilizing long looping crosses. So not only is the “we’re midgets” issue relevant but we didn’t even have those midgets in the box – they were largely in midfield.

    In turn it was almost inevitable that the free midfielders – Thiago and Cesc kept – would have to move forward out of midfield. Functionally they wound up playing as 9’s frequently. This of course was extremely team inefficient.

    The player best equipped for that role was Sanchez – who was out far at RW keeping tactical width. It’s not optimal to have Sanchez sending crosses into Thiago. But that’s what was happening. Not that Sanchez is some ideal 9 – he’s not – but he’s best equipped for that role in the system and has played that position on the team this season and done so well (for example against Getafe).

    That’s why it was very clear that Sanchez had to be shifted central and a midfielder removed for an attacking wide player.

    Pep made a change in this direction in minute 35 when he took Thiago out of midfield and shifted him to LW, moved Pedro to RW and Sanchez to the “central striker” position.

    So in essence the team started out with 2 wingers, 4 midfielders and a false 9 and then transformed into 2 wingers, a striker, a “10” (messi) and 3 midfielders.

    That was a key change – and ultimately it was combination play between Sanchez at that Barca central striker position & Messi coming from slightly behind Sanchez from the 10 that led to the goal.

    The other issue that was very apparent early on was that Levante was defending narrow. This meant that it was the wide players who had time and space.

    Barca has to use width. But they need to use it in the right way. Looping in soft, high crosses is not an efficient strategy. They need to use width to attack off the edge. This means that they need to create penetration off the flanks through dribbling and combination play (e.g. 1-2’s off the edge).

    Pep ultimately added those elements by introducing Cuenca and then Iniesta. Cuenca does have certain classic winger skills – but his skill set is more diverse than that because he has excellent touch and isn’t a player who simply relies on pace or verticality.

    Given how much Levante compressed space a classic winger might have real difficulties because there was no space to run into. Instead what was needed was a wide player with the ability to operate in closed space.

    In a sense what was really required was certain midfielder skills-not in midfield-but in wide positions. And that’s really what Cuenca and Iniesta added. Their close control, dribble penetration and combination play was what destabilized Levante’s shape. That was in stark contrast to the more “routine” winger strategy the team was using earlier through crosses through the air into the box.

    • nzm
      April 16, 2012

      Barca’s style of play in these park-the-bus situations makes me sigh with frustration that they haven’t seemingly sorted out a gameplan for this scenario. It’s been 4 seasons now with Guardiola and Tito, and the team is still so static in the face of these defensive situations when they need movement – and fast moves at that – and long range shots at goal in the hope that one will go in, or at least that the rebound can be pounced on by a following midget and potted in.

      At least Cuenca did the right thing, IMO. He went into the box and forced the error to win the penalty. This is what needs to happen.

      This is why we see so many penalties, (justified or not), awarded to Real Madrid because they take the play into the box and force the opposition into committing fouls or making defensive errors. It’s not a pretty way to win, but in park-the-bus defensive situations, Barca must attack into the box instead of playing around its perimeter.

      I keep hoping that when Barca plays like this, in games before meeting tougher opponents, that it’s because they don’t want to give away too many tactics to the likes of Chelsea and RM!

      Cuenca’s penalty would have been soft had the Levante player not used 2 hands to push him off the ball. The linesman, in the better position to see that action from behind the players, had no doubt in raising the flag to call the foul.

    • Blau-Grenade
      April 16, 2012

      Thanks for the analysis Euler. It all comes together now. 🙂

  6. barca96
    April 15, 2012

    boy, would I love to have Villa in the house for this tie, and the Clasic

    I had to scroll up to make sure if the author really was Kxevin.
    I guess it’s true what they say, you never know what you got till it’s gone :p

    An amazing song where I learned that phrase, I present to you Immortal Technique;

    • April 16, 2012

      No, you just confuse not always positive evaluations of a player’s performance with a dislike of the player and his skill set. But the two are very different, which probably lies at the root of all the contentiousness about match ratings, etc.

      When Villa is on form, he is an excellent addition to the side. When he isn’t on form, he hurts more than helps. This is true of any player, but more acutely so of attackers.

  7. Chelsea also will be looking to defend us in a very narrow pitch. Hence it would be better to start with Tello on the left against Bosingwa/Ivanovic.

  8. April 16, 2012

    Hey we won!!! And messi scored a goal out of nothing, lets not dwell on the soft pk bit….
    Really enjoyed the game lots of nail biting moments and that “hey! ,oh ok its messi” goal

    Nice review kxevin…..i think the chelsea game is going to be a walk at the bridge…..they’ve been awful all season irrespective of the goal margin they won yesterday……………i double dare messi to score 75 this term

    • nzm
      April 16, 2012

      Not sure if you’ve seen Chelsea’s recent matches. They’re a different team to that under AVB. The fire is back in their bellies. It’s going to be a tough test. After 2009, they have a score to settle with Barca – this is going to be a grudge match.

  9. pr17
    April 16, 2012

    These penalties are getting out of hand. Since FIFA and RFEF are useless, i believe UEFA should come up with some guidelines on penalties for all of europe. They are the most proactive (financial fairplay, 2 extra officials behind goal posts) so maybe this wont be far away.
    I am sure with a bit of brainstorming one can come up set of easy guidelines on prickly issues like ball to hand or vice versa, ball not in control but fouled, last man rule, GK red carded for every foul in penalty area etc.

    Messi, cuenca and thiago were the positives. Seems pep considers cuenca a real tool in his swiss army knife to open bus parking opponents (justifiably so) with tello taking a backseat. Tello is good for games where opponents are open (leverkusen) or RB is slow. Cuenca to be used to bust the parking bus strategy.

    I am happy with the season already but hope we bag one of the big two (la liga and ECL). Not a vintage season like 08-09 or 10-11 but i am satisfied since opponents have evolved and we have evolved too.

    Reg chelsea, i hope we play with all of puyol, mascherano and pique to combat set piece dangers. Drog, cahill and ivanovic are real offensive threats. one +ve is stamford bridge pitch is expected to be comparable to camp nou standards.

    • Chiu
      April 16, 2012

      Agree with your last statement. We need all the physicality in the form of Puyol, Masch and Pique all play, plus Keita should start as well. We need our entire “destroyer” on pitch to negate their set pieces and aerial attack. My back four would be: Alves – Pique – Masch – Puyol.

  10. Gogah
    April 16, 2012

    It looks like EE aren’t gonna drop any more points and everytime we peg our hopes on a team (now its only bilbao that remains) EE prevails.

    I had an interesting thought. Since Bielsa and Pep and bilbao and Barca respect each other and are in mutual admiration, pep can make a shrewd deal with Bielsa. He can tell Bielsa that if they can even manage to get a draw from EE, barca would concede the Copa del rey to Bilbao.
    I know thats cheap, but its a great deal and a win win situation for both clubs. Bilbao doesn’t care about the Liga, but they care about the CDR. Barca on the other hand would love to win the Liga much more that the CDR. Pep can view this in a way that its no shame to lose the final to Bilbao (remember we overcame them in a 4-1 win in the cDR final). Obviously this will never happen, just putting my dirty mind out there.

    • I’d rather lose both 🙂

      GIVEN the possibility of choosing a competition through a magic genie or something? Liga over Copa any day. (Partly cos a Liga win would mean a trophyless Madrid as well). But the idea of a deal is just against every notion of what Barca are about.

    • Chiu
      April 16, 2012


      I think Bielsa wouldn’t get beaten easily by EE. They have to sweat to take points from San Mames. Every team in la liga would involuntarily have enough motivation when play against the big two (Barca and EE). So keep placing our hope on Bilbao hahaha

      • pr17
        April 16, 2012

        Agree partly with keita starting. I am clearly part of anti Keita brigade but let try to br objective here. Keita has poor tackling skills and often gives a foul. He is good at coming between passes but we lose out in attack by playing him. Also Chelsea’s threat is physicality on set pieces. Most of our headers on corners have been done by busi, piqué n puyol. Abidal and Keita are notoriously poor headers on defensive pieces. Keita was at fault for toquero’s goal in copa 09 and also with thiago silva goal in CL this year. Bit of a generalisation there on Keita. I say pla iniesta, Thiago n busi in midfield and win vs Chelsea rather than a draw.
        Also let us not talk of madrid’s matches till we beat them in el clasico. I have a feeling mou is parking the bus. Expect diarra, Khedira, alonso n pepe as midfielders to clog it up.

    • Gogah
      April 16, 2012

      clearly when i put it that way, it sounds wrong.
      The very idea of a shady deal, the assumption that if barca were to concede the CDR title, it would be a pre determined game, (therefore not fair on the millions of passionate fans watching, cules only of course) against our values, etc.
      But if it is executed well, i wonder if it would be that bad. Barca can give bilbao and the fans a great, hard fought game, but could decide the match will small details, minor mistakes.
      It could be Barca’s way of showing some gratitude to a team that managed to do something many of the other liga teams couldn’t, either by way of a lack of quality or aggression/hunger or a lack of incentive. If the fans (cules) feel betrayed by the fact that Barca threw away a copa title, they can be reassured by the fact that the road to a much more meaningful title has been opened up nicely.
      From the bilbao standpoint, the liga or a CL place is definitely lost. But by giving ee a serious fight, they are getting a title in return (plus they could go on to win the europa league too).
      this is clearly just fantasy. But in theory, it is a deal that could totally work, with ee potentially ending mou’s famous 2nd year trophyless.

      • April 16, 2012

        Thats so “uncule” of u…….by the way its not all athletic u know, we’ve got to pray for a very bad game from madrid………i see a madrid slip-up but not against bilbao

  11. James08771
    April 16, 2012

    I believe that it would be in Athletic Bilbao’s greatest interest to do everything they can to take points off Real Madrid. By helping Barça win the league with gaining a result in that fixture, it guarantees Bilbao’s participation in next year’s Spanish SuperCup as either the Copa del Rey winner or runner-up. I think we can expect Bielsa’s men to fight like the lions the are.

  12. mom4
    April 16, 2012

    Pretty good article from Gary Neville:

    One thing I got a chuckle out of, though…
    “…and Chelsea will have to stop the best three midfielders in the world, Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas…
    as it is quite possible that Cesc doesn’t even get on the pitch at the Bridge. Busi, dude, our secret weapon is Busi. Keep him secret; keep him safe.

  13. nzm
    April 16, 2012

    It doesn’t matter anymore.

    To resurrect the battle hymn from last season:

    WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!!! 😀

  14. Richzorz
    April 16, 2012

    Nice piece, I still think the Busquets handball was a case of him trying to avoid the handball by bringing his arms in! Seemingly HAS to be penalised in La Liga but not the kind of penalty that you want to see given (irrespective of footballing allegiance!)

  15. Laurentiu88
    April 16, 2012

    seen some highlights from the CDR final… can’t believe Undiamo will referee the classico. That was one of the worst refereeing ever!! If ref allows for the same kicking game at Nou Camp he won’t leave the stadium, he won’t even get to the parking lot…

    • April 16, 2012

      Holy crap! Not the (not) Great Mallenco. Our players had better wear shin pads on the back of their legs, as Messi did for a couple of Clasics. Lordy ….

      You can hope that he learned a lesson from that match that he lost control of.

  16. mangut
    April 16, 2012

    Watching Chelsea this weekend against Tottenham showed some things that I hope Barca will not underestimate. Drogba can still be dangerous. Ramires, Mata (and Sturrige) have great pace. Chelsea’s set pieces are dangerous. Whether Chelsea try to surprise and play wide open…or park the bus or clog up the midfield and send bombs to Drogba to pull off a circa ’08 Drogba goal…it all depends on how well Barca maintain the ball and how quickly they move it. The days after Villa had surgery I thought his absence would be mostly felt in these kind of games when you need his class and experience. They need to be efficient and put away chances. They need to look to the wings rather than stubbornly try through the middle. They need to not be conservative and go out to win!

  17. Blau-Grenade
    April 16, 2012

    The next two weeks will define Barca’s season. Very excited to see how it all pans out. 🙂

  18. April 16, 2012

    I don’t see Chelsea doing anything different from what the home team does in any two-legged tie: Play for a draw or a narrow win. It is absolutely imperative that we score early, then control possession and NOT give up any set pieces. This last bit will be difficult, as pressure tends to lead to just clearing the ball out, and Drogba is going to draw a foul or two at the offensive end. Which is why possession will be crucial, and insanely so.

    As nzm notes, Chelsea is a very different club now that it isn’t pouting in an effort to get a manager fired. That is a very, very dangerous side, particularly at home. Drogba is a very different striker than Ibrahimovic who was ultimately easy to contain.

    Possession, possession, possession.

    I’d love to see:

    Alves Pique Mascherano Puyol
    Busquets Xavi Iniesta
    Cuenca Messi Sanchez

    But we’ll probably get Pedro in the place of Sanchez, as Guardiola tends to rely on vets for the big matches. I wouldn’t rule out Keita, whose skill set is of immense value in what is almost certainly going to be a physical first leg, however. Sanchez is the wild card. If he plays as he has been, I think we will advance with surprising ease. It’s also why I like Cuenca on the wing, both tactically and in terms of what he does with the ball, even as I wonder about him being overwhelmed by the occasion.

    • messifan
      April 16, 2012

      I don’t know if Pique is ready to play on Wednesday. He hasn’t started since the Milan game. I would go with Alves-Masch-Puyol-Adriano at the back. Adriano will have to be bit conservative but he has a long-range shooting ability that we should use more often at S.B. Cuenca might be bullied off the ball too easily by Chelsea. But if I were Pep, I’d choose Cuenca over Pedro at the moment. The problem for Barca is who will score. Besides Messi and Alexis(recently), we don’t have many obvious candidates.

      Watching their game yesterday, Spurs tried to attack too quickly and thus turning the ball over too many times. I agree with you the key for us is possession. Must be patient when attacking Chelsea. It might allow them to reset that their defense but that also means their offensive transition will be slow down.

      Imo, Mata, Ramires and Drogba are key players for Chelsea. So we must contain them.

      I just want to see a good football game. No drama.

      • April 16, 2012

        Drama, even if it has to be manufactured, will come. It’s part of the deal. Look at how Malaga got hosed on the weekend by craptastic Liga officiating, and nobody (except Malaga fans) gives a toss.

        As far as we are concerned, with enough scrutiny you can find anything.

  19. April 16, 2012

    Fabregas stats that are interesting. Anyone have a reason?

    14 goals in the first 23 games, 1 in the following 19.

    • mega_tajh
      April 16, 2012

      In the past 3 years he has never finished a season. Usually around this time he has some sort of injury keeping him out for the rest of the season, so maybe its just fatigue from his body not used to games around this time.

      Could also be a reason as to why his runs have been fewer, to conserve energy during games, thus less goal scoring opportunities. People are saying he shouldn’t start against Chelsea but I want him to, he is that kind of big gamer player who rises to the occasion.

    • blitzen
      April 16, 2012

      Bad hair = goals.

      Good hair = no goals.

    • nzm
      April 16, 2012

      It’s all been a ruse – a dastardly plot by Pep to draw the attention away from Cesc.

      As of Wednesday, Cesc will suddenly start scoring again. He’s been playing badly on purpose. He’s gonna be the WMD.

      You’ll see. 😀

    • Gogah
      April 16, 2012

      3 Reasons:

      1. most recent barca signings / promotions start off brilliantly, then enter a lull phase (before finding or not, their rhythm again). Ex: cuenca, tello, villa, Ibra, Sanchez, and now Cesc.

      2. cesc was initially deployed in front, and in free roles. he was scoring for fun. as the season progressed and for the benefit of rotation and adaptation, cesc was moved back to midfield to leanr the trade. As a result, the goals naturally started becoming fewer. Cesc is a bit overwhelmed in midfield.

      3. like someone pointed out, Cesc is simply not used to performing during the fag ends of the season, because he is used to being injured or out of contention for trophies, by this time (with his earlier club of course).

      i think he and sanchez can really come good next season.
      provided pep stays.

  20. Josep
    April 16, 2012

    for me the first should’ve never been a penalty. ball to hand, foot away, arms inside his chest.

    don’t bring up the adriano penalty the arms were away from the body.

    cuenca went down, was shoved, “soft”, yes, softer than the first one? no. you push an attacker anywhere on the pitch you know it may be a foul. in the box? penalty.

    yes, its okay to admit we got lucky sometimes…but you’re striving for too much objectivity. So we can admit we got lucky but according to you we can’t/shouldn’t admit when we’ve got unlucky? you just want all cules to be humble and admit defeat/lucky victory on occasion but lets be real that won’t happen.

    • barca96
      April 16, 2012

      Yay! Finally you’re back. You’ve been on MIA for the past 6 months or so and then making cameo appearances where you pissed some people off. Let’s hope this time you can keep it down.

      • Josep
        April 16, 2012

        i do my rantings and getting blocked/berated on the twitters

    • April 16, 2012

      Note this line, from above:

      “If we can admit that there are breaks that we don’t get, we can admit that there are breaks that we do get.”

      It’s fine to admit when we’ve been UNlucky, as well. There was the unjust handball call on the The Yaya, Pedro’s offside goal in the Copa final, etc, etc. It goes both ways, right? And the journalist in me doesn’t think that you can ever been too objective, even as it raises complex questions in the fan-rooted world of football blogging.

      • Josep
        April 16, 2012

        Pedro was offside for that goal btw. 😉

        • April 16, 2012

          Then scratch one from that list, and add Abidal’s sending off against Chelsea. There’s always something for both sides of the ledger.

    • Nik
      April 16, 2012

      Blitzen pointed out earlier that Busquets charged into the Levante player during that play, which most definitely deserves a penalty (it’s in the rulebook). Though it wasn’t a handball, it was a charge, so Levante deserved that penalty.

  21. barca96
    April 16, 2012

    Chillex Kxevin. It’s a running joke that you’re an anti-Villa around here.

    I miss Villa so much when I finally played PES again, and when I with Villa shot directly at the keeper, we had a good laugh because it was exactly what he was doing before he got injured, shooting directly at the keeper 😆

    • Blau-Grenade
      April 16, 2012

      If somebody starts tallying how many times Villa has been offside for each game he played this season, and all the times he was offside this season, and compare it to the other top strikers around the world, it would be easy to see why some people might hate him.

      • Ryan
        April 16, 2012

        I imagine people were expecting him to post numbers like he does for Spain, even though his role for Barca is quite different.

    • April 16, 2012

      With angelic eyes that gaze lovingly at the referee as he flies through the air.

  22. April 16, 2012

    New post up. A piece on some recent tactical issues in the system Pep implemented vs Getafe.

  23. TITO
    April 16, 2012

    The Special Five (as i call him):

    Mourinho then stressed that he trusts Howard Webb will do a good job on Tuesday, but admitted that the English referee could make some erroneous calls, in a thinly veiled reference to the controversial penalty Barcelona were awarded in their 2-1 win over Levante on Saturday.

    “Webb is a good referee, with a lot of experience in matches of this level,” the former Inter boss mused. “Madrid have good sensations with every referee.

    “We will help him do his work for him to make good calls, knowing that he could err and that there could be a debatable penalty, like one of those which gives three points …”

  24. BarcaOwl
    April 16, 2012

    Thanks for the review, Kxevin.

    Probably not one of the team’s better games, but I think the players still have a lot of fight left in them yet. And that can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

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