Of Semi-Finals and Left-Backs

If anyone thinks that Spain’s progress in the Euros does not matter in Catalunya, last night in Barcelona, they would have been shaken out of their beds by the roars and cheers of celebrating fans; quaking in their boots as the salvos of fireworks and rockets exploded overhead, and deafened by the raucous tooting of car horns until the early hours of this morning.

La Nit de Sant Joan (St. John’s Night) has just passed. This is the only official holiday where fireworks are sold 2 weeks prior to the event and are legally allowed to be set off. Naturally, they are hoarded for the rest of the year, to be set off on nights like last night, when football results dictate a celebration. If Spain wins on Sunday night, the hidden stashes of fireworks may be decimated.

Behind the celebrations, and the euphoria of winning a place in the final, there is a sense of unrest at what we’ve been seeing from the Spanish team on the pitch – particularly up the front.

I can categorically say that last night’s performance against Portugal was one of the most boring and lacklustre games that I have seen from La Roja. If Portugal had not been the opposition, I would have said that they deserved to win. But they were, so they didn’t.

Spain’s game consisted of:  pass the ball – sideways, backwards, any way but forwards.  Lose the ball; regain the ball.  Rinse and repeat. It wasn’t until Pedro came on (and Xavi went off?) that some danger and movement started happening, but it was too little and too late.

Something’s not gelling.

Team tactics?
Tired players?
Not the right blend of players on the pitch?
Is VdB a one-trick pony?  (Cesc on for ?, Navas on for ? seem to be his favourite sub choices, no matter what.)

Let’s hope that La Roja has something extra under the hood for Sunday, otherwise we’ll be seeing a blitzkrieg massacro.

Germany takes on Italy tonight – expect fireworks on the pitch.

Abidal won this year’s Aldo Rovira Award.

Oh yeah – and apparently Jordi Alba is a done deal for 14mill and 5 years, pending medical tests.

*Edited to add:

Preseason is shaping up:
July 24th:  vs. Hamburger SV at Imtech Arena, Hamburg, Germany.
July 28th:  vs. Moroccan Selection at Grande Stade de Tangier (Ibn Battouta Stadium), Tangiers, Morocco.
July 31st:  vs. RCD Espanyol in the Catalunya Super Cup, Olimpic Stadium, Montjuic, Barcelona.
August 4th:  vs. Paris Saint-Germain at Parc des Princes, Paris, France.
August 8th:  vs. Manchester United at Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg, Sweden.
August 20th:  vs. UC Sampdoria for the Joan Gamper Memorial Trophy, Camp Nou, Barcelona.

*Further Addendum:

Mats Hummels is NOT available.  🙂


  1. Happy the Jordi Alba deal is finally done – though I’m sure it was mostly wrapped up a long time ago with last minute gamesmanship on a final price.

    That said – think Llorente did well for Valencia. To get 14M with no variables for a player with one outstanding season in the last year of a contract that has a 15M release clause is good business for Valencia.

    It wasn’t a bad deal for FCB per se – but 14M is more than I wanted the club to spend given the context. I suppose his performance in the Euros may have given VAL that last bit of leverage they were looking for.

    Alba’s a terrific player. He shown fantastic understanding with both Iniesta and Pedro already during the Euros. He’ll fit in well after he adjusts.

    But this leaves the club tactically more limited than they were a year ago. That was inevitable as there’s no way to replace Abi with one player.

    A major issue the club has now is that they really don’t have a strong way to play 3 at the back as they don’t have any players well suited to play L CB. Yes Puyol can do it in a pinch but that’s really not optimal. Again these are the problems of losing Abi.

    So that means you just have to admit that – to replace Abi you need 2 players and that’s what I think the club should do.

    Adriano is a fine player. But there’s significant overlap in skill sets between he and Alba. And Adriano is very injury prone and only has 2 more yrs left on his contract. He’s not going to renew as he can now leave and sign a good contract with a major team as a starter.

    For all of those reasons I think the club should seriously consider selling Adriano this summer and buying another defender. Now at baseline the team already needs a central defender. So what I’m suggesting is that the team should sell adriano and but another 2 players this summer.

    This way the team can use the fee from Adriano to acquire a player who will diversify the defensive template and allow them to more readily play 3 at the back.

    Think Inigo Martinez would be very well suited for this role. Sell Adriano for 12-15M and bring in Martinez.

    Alba + Inigo Martinez are almost sort of together “like” Abid (though with more attacking intent and more depth and less pace defensively to cover space behind and less height to defend in box).

    In addition they need to bring in another central defender to reinforce that area.

    Silva is off the table. I never thought Javi Martinez was viable as Bilbao have little reason to sell. Hummels would be great – but don’t see BvB having a reason to sell either.

    Of candidates left the one I’d focus on is Etienne Capoue. He’s been primarily a DM but he has experience at CB. And at baseline Toulouse is a very defensively oriented side where Capoue plays very deep.

    There will be an adjustment period – but Capoue IMO has the chance to become a tremendous CB, one whose skill sets form a strong partnership in complementing Pique.

    Regarding Spain – I find it remarkable that VdB can continue to send out a side that spaces the pitch so poorly. Multiple players occupying the same space, giving up the entire R flank and confining 9 outfield players to the L-Center, etc.

    This is a great generation of Spanish players. That they’ve survived and gotten this far is a testament to their talent and experience as champions. That said-their manager right now isn’t putting them in the best position possible to win.

    1. Euler, I’ve been frustrated w/VDB as well. It’s OBVIOUS that when Pedro and Navas come on they provide width and space down the flanks. Silva is a great player, but there’s no need to have him on the pitch w/Iniesta, Xavi, Busi, Xabi, etc. I was surprised to see Cesc as the 1st substitute when “we” needed width. If he doesn’t start with the 2nd half team in the final then he’s to blame for any negative result.
      I’m going to disagree about selling Adriano. I don’t think he’ll leave Barca. This season will be pivotal for him and I see him really transforming into a top class attacking defender. I would be in favor of letting Alba work his way into the line up. I hope he’s not an automatic starter. I don’t think Tito will do that, but you never know. We need to sit tight and see who’s available next season. I don’t see quality in this market. Maybe Jan. will prove different? The Euro’s inflate the market drastically. That said, I’m suprised Alba came as cheap as he did. Good business by Barca.

    2. Euler, do you know who Vlad Chiriches is?

      Within an hour of the confirmation of Alba’s signing, @barcastuff reported that Barca’s transfer team submitted an inquiry to Chiriches’ agent.

    3. Interesting guy. Plays CB and midfield. I’ve not seen him play, but at 22 and with his versatility, he could be a good fit.

    4. Euler, what can Inigo Martinez offer to the team? What are his skill sets? I’ve rarely watched La Real play, so I don’t know.

  2. Helo nzm, I would not say Spain was boring yday. But Portugal for at least the first one hour managed to limit Spain and made Spain very nervous that they lost the ball even from silly moves. Hats off to Portugal plan, but as we have always seen, against Barca, no team can play like that for complete 90 minutes and Spain improved with every passing minute from the one hour mark. The substitutions helped in big way too. Fabregas instead of Negrodo – complete useless and stupid decision – Pedro and Navas made a big difference, but by then Portugal were getting tired too. As you think, Iniesta instead of Xavi in the central midfield was a big plus. I have said this for long, since sometime in 2011, Barca always played at a higher tempo when Xavi was not there. Using Iniesta in the left, may it be Barca or Spain, is using your resources at 50%.

    Also, Spain had to conserve some energy and hence didnt really press like Barca does for a major part of the game. Once Navas and Pedro was in, they did press well, and from there the game changed. It was just a pity, the game went into penalty. With a player like Messi or even Villa, the game would have been over within 90 or 120 minutes.

    I am still perplexed by the decision to start Negrodo.

    Very impressed by Alba and his understanding with Iniesta is already looking good. Should be really good for us this season.

    1. It was boring. So much so, that our football-crazy 12 year old got out his Gameboy and started playing it instead of watching the game. I can guarantee that he won’t be doing that tonight! 😀

      I’d rather that Spain lost the ball from bold movements rather than silly ones. They allowed Portugal to control the game last night because nothing was happening up in front for Spain. If they had pressured the Portuguese defence, then the ops may have come.

      Instead, Silva lost the ball too many times to be considered a threat and Negredo only had one good move where he held the ball up to pass to Xavi but the pass went behind Xavi and was nullified. The midfield had practically no one to pass to up front.

      Thank goodness that the defence did hold and shut down Cristiano and Nani, and that Almeida couldn’t hit a barn door with the ball. Portugal didn’t have one shot on-goal over the whole game, including extra-time. Casillas did not have to make one save, where the ball would have gone in, during normal play.

      The pressure came too late. I want to see a bold Spain go out and grab the game by the short and curlies, not pussy-footing around the penalty box and tripping over each other on the wings and in the midfield.

      I want to see them play like they did in the Euro 2008, damnit! 😀

  3. Well, it’s official. Barca signed Alba. Good value for the money. I was against a $20-25 million move, but $11.2 is good value. He’ll add depth we desperately need.

  4. With Alba and Alves we might see more of a reserved Alves, like he plays when containing TB in the Clasicos. Maybe the full bcaks could take turns storming forward. But it’ll be great to have a left flank again!

    1. Good point. Alba acquisition could prolong Dani’s career. More rest, less chance of injuries.

  5. No doubt in my mind that VdB has been utterly unimaginative and cowardly in the management of his amazing resources.
    It is only the sheer talent in the squad that is seeing them through, Not VdB’s tactics or selection.

    Now onto Alba, I must say I’m not totally excited about the deal mainly due to my preference of Barca’s left back role to be in the mould of Abidal, Thuram, etc. Its always good to mix things up in the squad. Whether that be in terms of talent or even nationality.

    Now we are overflowing with Catalans and midgets. Alba has only added to that. This might be a dumb thing, don’t know if it’ll prove to be a factor in the long run.

    1. Ok, tactics were awful but in VdB’s defense, he has been doing a good job managing squad harmony. We saw how egos can destroy teams, e.g. Netherlands and France.

      It’s not easy managing players from Barca and Real Madrid if you consider incessant Spanish media coverage, politics, etc. Maybe Spanish players are more humble in general, but they are still well-known players for their respective clubs. A few months ago, I thought the squad was broken, so I’m pleasantly surprised to see how well they manage to play and be cordial toward each other.

      So I applaud del Bosque for managing that aspect well.

  6. I think it’s a good time to start talking about Xavi’s future. He’s been ridden with injuries to his achilles and hamstring the last 2 years. The amount of games played since 2008 has definitely taken it’s toll. IMHO I think he’s slowed Spain down and made them easier to defend. It was similar with Barca this year. Is it time for him to take a backseat to Iniesta & Cesc? If we use him sparingly this season he could fully heal and be the force he once was. If not, I feel his career will end quickly. I’m not hating on him. I’m a HUGE Xavi fan. As Ray Ray said, “old camelion eyes is stratispherically out of this world” I just don’t see the Xavi we know and love. He’s a shell of him self. Credit to him for playing through pain for glory and country, but it’s time he take a long deserved rest.

    1. Xavi’s been playing very high up with very few passing options ahead of him. He’s not a goal scorer, of course he’s been quiet.

      I just sense that del Bosque is gradually phasing Xavi out of the team. Evidence: giving Alonso Xavi’s preferred space on the pitch.

    2. That maybe, but I also mentioned his play with Barca last season. It was apparent that he was not involved and seeing the entire field clearly like he has in the past. Whether that be due to injury, fatigue, age…? I’m not speculating as to why. I’m suggesting what to do about it.

    3. But at least for us he had his highest scoring season ever. I think he’ll be fine in Barcelona, but he’s just not effective the way VDB uses him in Spain.

    4. But you said “IMHO I think he’s slowed Spain down and made them easier to defend.” I was just offering a reason for that 🙂

    5. So both of you think that he’ll be ok playing 30+ games this season coming off a summer of Euro’s. He’ll be at his best? I’m concerned. I think Tito will sit him regularly and give him rest. I hope so.

      I do think he’s slowed Spain up. It maybe his position on the field. It may also be the VDB continues to play Alonso and Busi together. It could also be he’s playing 5 midfielders who all do the same thing and are not wingers. It’s probably all of those. It’s also Xavi’s drop in form this season for said reasons.

    6. I think he’ll be ok for ~30 games a season. Not for a full season of 60 matches, but at least we won’t have the CWC games in the winter to worry about.

    7. Xavi is 32 and will be 33 soon, so it’s natural to find a suitable replacement. That being said, I think Xavi will be a starter next season, esp. in big matches. He won’t be playing every game. No one on our squad will play every game, rotation is a must. We saw how fatigue was a factor last season. And Cesc and Thiago need another year before they can fill Xavi’s shoes.

      All in all, I think Xavi still have so much to offer if we don’t overuse him.

    8. I’m not sure if any of the facts bear out what is being said in the posts above about Xavi’s decline.

      Time on the field for Barca? Goals scored ? Assists ? Starts in this tournament for Spain? He’s bound to be more tired than Iniesta because of the amount he has played while Ini was inexplicably being subbed by Pep.

    9. Facts? I mentioned all of the minutes he’s played in the last 4 seasons, let alone this year. His injuries. He’s clearly not on his best form. He’s older then Ghostface as well. My main point is that I don’t want him being rolled out against Ossasuna when he’s not needed. We should be capable of handling them w/out his services. I think if Tito uses him sparingly, and in only important matches, he’ll be able to provide that “special” he has over the years. I’m really concerned about his health. Physically and Mentally

  7. Official: Manchester United
    confirm they will play a friendly
    game against Barcelona in
    Gothenburg, Sweden on
    Wednesday 8 August

    1.Alba welcome!!!
    2.Xavi needs rest
    3.Pique,I’m not impressed wit his form
    4.sell adriano n Ibi
    5.I would buy hummels for €25m

    6. I will take the fifth penalty

    1. For the last time(doubt it, since it’s repeatedly been mentioned and he’s still brought up as a transfer)…Hummels is NOT available. I don’t know where any notion that he was came from?

    1. Nope. My money goes fast enough without it going up in smoke! 😀

      I guess that I got it out of my system at a younger age. Growing up in Fiji with Guy Fawkes, Diwali and all the festivals, fireworks were always part of my childhood.

    2. hehe…here’s in the States, the Fourth of July is coming up next week. I think it’s probably the biggest fireworks display of all U.S national holidays.

      I won’t be buying any fireworks myself, but I’ll be watching 😀

    3. Yup – my favourite festival of all time. Love the Festival of Lights! Big Indian population in Fiji.

    4. Vj: one of my dreams is to also experience Holi in India.

      I want to be in the middle of all the action, with my camera, getting covered in powder and having the time of my life. One day… 🙂

    5. Yes I love Holi too, much more fun.

      You might wanna leave the camera at home with all the water though..

  8. Edited the above post to include the dates, venues and opposition for the friendlies (so far confirmed) to be played during Barca’s pre-season.

    1. Apparently Cristiano is also getting married on the same day? At least, that’s how I first heard the news re Iniesta – that they had both chosen the same day.

  9. nzm, if VDB is indeed a one trick pony in disguise (?), then Jesus Navas is surely his mascot who wears the pony.. or perhaps a wannabe one trick pony – a worse case!

    thanks for the info regarding St. Johns day.
    Firecrackers are cool 🙂

    1. hehe you bet!

      This Jesus, also perform miracles i believe.
      Normally, under his godfather VDB, he’d resurrect 3 or 30 mins before the end of a match. Can perform the same dribble (only way he knows) at will and then cross ofcourse, at water, dry pitches (Xavi disapproved ones), indoors etc. Unlike The Jesus who could calm the storm, this Jesus Navas can add unbelievable chaos to still water in short time. Can turn water into wine (applicable for frustrated fans who must drink to get over the show) and can turn wine into water i.e, make Iniesta suffer.

  10. Mr.Dull Bosque needs to realize, that Xavi-Alonso-Busi are not compatible in his double pivot system. 2 of them should play for maximum fluidity. Alonso is a brilliant player no doubt, yet he is nowhere near Xavi as a deep lying play-maker. In order to accommodate Alonso (who happens to eat up spaces for Xavi and Busi, and its not his fault), VDB is playing his key players out of position + lineup.

    I get it that VDB would stick to HIS template stubbornly all the way (which is basically not follow an effective system like Barca’s, or any other logical ones for that matter!), but if he can experiment with Negredo in Semis, then why not push himself a bit further? Why not play Cazorla for Alonso/Xavi, so that Iniesta can drift into the center with greater ease, with him and Santi swapping roles? Since Alba is playing good, why not play Pedro on the right for balance, and save everybody from the trouble of watching the Navas? (Surely Pedro can dribble+cross like Navas even without his exclamation)

    //rant over (for now)

    1. I have the same rant as yours.

      Dull Bosque fails. He has no guts to ditch Silva and Alonso all together. Starting Arbeloa is flatout disastrous. I totally see Javi Martinez owning CB with Pique so Ramos can fill the void on the right. He is playing too safe, uninventive, copycat and dull. All he did is copy from what he saw in the club level and put them together, but they clashed.

  11. Yay for Jordi Alba! Now we have not one, but two Energizer Bunnies.

    –Spain was like watching paint dry. I agree with nzm. I had hoped that it was just watching on a computer monitor that made it seem so. But I went home and fired up the big plasma. Prettier, but still boring. “Hey! We’re in the box! Now what?” Passing, passing, more passing and a cross to nowhere. I’ve said it before and will say it again: Messi changes everything.

    Spain didn’t have a point. Pedro provided the incisiveness there attack needed, coming on to rock it like a boss. And the (already) verging-on-telepathic vibe between Iniesta and Alba will make next season very interesting. I suspect the left side of the pitch will no longer be a no-fly zone, which can only bring goodness.

    Wrongaldo had the opportunity to end the match, but he fluffed his lines. Then Iniesta did Portugal a favor by hitting the ball right at the keeper. But you knew Spain was going to progress in penalties, even if Fabregas will tell you that his bank shot was planned.

  12. Yesterday’s game was a snooze fest, hopefully today’s isn’t.

    I thought I’d share this video of Iker’s girlfriend making a fool of herself by asking Iniesta if he would have liked to have taken part in yesterday’s penalty shoot out. Talk about akward!


  13. Michelle,

    Kindly inform me/us of the Supercopa dates when you know.

    I am especially interested in the game at Camp Nou. If the Gamper Trophy game is on the 20th of Aug, does that mean that the tentative Aug 22 Supercopa won’t push through?

    Thank you!

    1. Will do, but those in here on Twitter will probably hear it first.

      The RFEF will most likely announce the dates about 2 days before the matches are to be held!

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