Athletic Bilbao 1 – 1 Barcelona: Wasted Chances

Keita says it all, eh? (
Keita says it all, eh? (

I hate being right sometimes. I don’t mind being second int he league, but I mind a lot being second in the league to That Other Team. I’m not too concerned, of course, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and forget that every game is important from here on out. Take nothing for granted: not trips to San Mamés, not hosting Xerez. Nothing. Ever.

Yet sometimes you can see these things coming. Off a tough international break that put us down a few options in all three zones (offense, midfield, defense) we were more vulnerable than we have been for a while. And Athletic knew that and played us defensively, working for the counterattack. They got one and it’s hard to fault them for coming out to play the only way they thought they could win. They were there when we won the Super Copa and they saw what playing from behind against us can do to a team. So kudos to them.But let’s talk about what we need to do: put away chances. Alves did and that netted us a 0-1 lead in a tough stadium. That, though, was in the second half, after a first half that we dominated, possession-wise and chance-wise. How many of you are beginning to doubt the ability of Messi to score goals 1v1? I am. He hasn’t done it in like 8 weeks even though he’s had chances galore. What’s going on? He’s obviously still the same player he was last year, so why does he seem incapable of putting the ball away after doing all the hard work.

Others have told me that Xavi’s chance in front of goal was by no means a sitter, but, from what I saw, there was a ball lifted across the box to him that he should have done more with. It didn’t need a spectacular finish, it just need a side foot and one that I thought, when the ball was in midflight, Xavi would accomplish easily. Perhaps I take these things for granted, that our players can do the impossible and make it look easy, but it struck me as a wasted chance.

We were dominate in midfield throughout most of the match, even when we lost the ball we were back on it quickly. The passing wasn’t as crisp as we’ve seen it in the past, but it was effective for most of the match. We weren’t as incisive as we could have been, but we were solid and made it into their box on enough occasions that it really shouldn’t have been just that solitary goal on our side of the scoreboard. But it was and that’s how it goes sometimes.

The goal they scored was somewhat of a fluke, but it was a fluke allowed by some fairly lazy marking. The ball is lifted into the middle of the field where Chygrynskiy is playing. He gets an awkward touch on it and the ball flies directly to Toquero, who puts some serious emphasis on his shot, leaving Valdes with no chance. But Toquero was open because Alves, who was just getting back onto the field after getting stomped on by Toquero, hadn’t bothered to get back goalside of his man. Get goal side of your man. Pique really had no shot at covering for Alves because he was busy also covering for Chygrynskiy, who, as previously mentioned, wasn’t quite in position because he was covering a man further up field.

So Alves scored both goals, in a sense, though the second one was more flukey and the first was more Xavi slipping a beautiful ball through the Athletic defense and Alves making hay out of that situation. Chygrynskiy has to get a better head on that ball and Alves has to track back further and Valdes needs some super powers to stop that.

A note about Chygrynskiy: this was a solid game for him. He was there defensively, wasn’t beaten for pace (maybe because Llorente doesn’t have any?), and he had a couple of seriously wonderful passes from defense to offense. He sprang Pedro! once in a situation that, had there been an Ibrahimovic-style striker to cross to, probably would have created a fairly threatening opportunity. Instead Pedro! was left alone up top and had no one taller than 3’4″ to pass to. Chygrynskiy, though, was able to break through the layers of Athletic defenders and get the ball, to borrow an NFL phrase, to the second level very quickly. Phil and RayRay on GolTV mentioned that his passing was very Marquez-esque and I have to agree: it was spot on 99% of the time and there was one “What the F were you thinking?” moment when he passed between Maxwell and Keita and out of bounds. He’s coming into his own.

And that brings us to Maxwell. Ah, Maxwell. You are quite the enigma because you’re on the other side of the field from Alves, meaning you are both expected to attack as well as defend more than you normally would. Alves is, of course, off on some sort of a run 80% of the time (though notably not during the goal they scored), so Maxwell has to be the third defender, much as Abidal is. But because he’s Maxwell, we kind of expect him to add to the offensive dynamic more than we expect Abidal to. That seems odd and I think that we’ve got to pick where he’s going to play rather than expect him to be Alves plus Abidal. That’s just not fair. He did a fair job throughout the match and I don’t remember many attacks arriving from his side of the field.

Okay, this is all I’m going to say about Busi, who had a decent game most of the time: do not ever dive in your own box again. Seriously. Stop it. You got lucky that Llorente wasn’t one-on-one with Valdes after controlling that ball and your stupid flop. Be a man.

Xavi and Iniesta were fairly dynamic throughout thanks to Keita’s persistent running, but once Henry came on, we sort of seemed to lose some coherence through the middle. I can’t really put my finger on exactly why, but I think it was because there wasn’t enough time after Henry came in (83rd minute) to really get into any sort of a rhythm. Which is why I think that some sort of a change has to be made earlier in the match. Why do we not use our subs anymore? Does Guardiola not trust our bench ever? Sorry, but if Pedro! isn’t doing it out there or Messi is a bit injured, then they should be subbed out. If Iniesta would be better in midfield, put Henry out there with 20 minutes remaining and see what he can gin up. Why 7 minutes from time? Ridiculous.

I’m not going to rate all the players because I don’t rate the same way Kevin does, but I will say that this was a fairly good team performance; individual moments of anti-brilliance (dullness?) ended up scuttling our chances of getting three points. It would be too harsh, however, to get down on anyone in particular as no one was particularly horrible or brilliant. Basically, I’d give the whole team roughly a 6 and Valdes an incomplete because he didn’t have to do anything–which might suggest that the team actually dominated more than I’m giving them credit for. That means everyone should get a 7. But…that’s confusing my poor brain.

What I haven’t mentioned–the giant silverback in the room–is the fact that Messi was injured during the match. That is not good. Not good at all. But initial fears that he would necessarily be sidelines for the Inter match have proven false as his left thigh injury was downgraded to a Grade 1 tear and he might be able to start on Tuesday. Whether that’s a good idea or not is questionable, but in the short-term the Inter match is more important than the Clásico (in my world that’s an untrue statement, but we will still have the remaining 26 matches of the year to play in the league if we don’t win on Sunday while we may not have more than one match left in our CL life if we don’t win on Tuesday).

Obviously, much more tomorrow as I 1) write the preview for Inter and 2) gear up for el Clásico, which, if you’ve been reading me for long enough, you know will be one hell of lead up. I do not mess around with el Clásico.

And don’t forget the Logo and Design Contest! You can get to it here or here or even, if you so choose, here.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Tajh
    November 22, 2009

    Wow any1 seen this flash game about Henry game..its kinda fun

  2. Cesc Blanc
    November 22, 2009

    I really digged your post game analysis. No shot at Kevin, or do whatever you like, but I think giving a grade to a player after a game and bringing it down to a number misses the big picture big time. This however was a real fair analysis and gives the right context of the whole thing and game. But to each his own.
    I personally think that for various reasons(210 minutes of hard knock life against Ireland, that hand ball making him a Chuck D imposter everywhere (Public Enemy #1) etc.) were reasons not to play him, except when you really needed to. Somehow that need wasn’t felt until Messi had to be taken out.
    I was a bit shocked by Iniesta who played the worst game I’ve ever seen him play. Now maybe he would do better as an 8 in central midfield than as an 11 on the left wing, maybe he just needed a focal point in attack, but the huge issue is that Keite right now is kind of untouchable for various reasons and even in El Clasico he would be of huge importance to win the ball back against Madrid, so Pep has the tough choice of playing players in some position he would prefer others and having to pick between Iniesta and Keite in midfield.
    Anyway, first comes the Inter game and that’s a definite must-win game. I really don’t know what else to say about the Athletic game than “damn are we stupid” and “damn those déjà-vus” because it was almost the same as against the Osasuna game. We were fairly dominant, should have scored a goal early one, lead by some more and then we kind of stopped playing with purpose and conceded a goal. I guess Messi missing 1-on-1s is more a confidence and focus issue than anything else.

  3. November 22, 2009

    I read in the previous set of comments that Kevin heard on Barcelona-based TV that Messi had played 1420 minutes so far this year with us. That sounded about right, but I went ahead and looked it up and found that he’s played a total of 1397 minutes.

    What 1397 doesn’t take into account, though, is the added time in the Super Cups. Over the course of those 3 matches, were there really 23 minutes of added time? That would be over 7 minutes per match, which I find somewhat surprising. Anyone know for sure, though?

    Regadless, he’s appeared in 17 matches (14 starts, 3 subs on). On average he plays just over 82 minutes per appearance and just over 92 minutes per start (and 35 minutes 40 seconds per sub). In those 17 appearances he has 11 goals (one every 127 minutes of playing).

    He’s obviously being used a lot, but no more than anyone else as Xavi has played 1,596 minutes and Keita 1,622. Pique and Puyol have also played more with 1491 and 1460 minutes respectively. And obviously Valdes (1770), but that’s meaningless.

    And by the way, Bojan scores once every 120 minutes. Just thought I’d throw that out there…

    • Soto
      November 22, 2009

      You posted this while I was typing my comment below, so this may be redundant: I think any claims of fatigue have to apply to the whole team. And why not? They all have been working hard this fall with league, cup, UEFA, and world cup games, so I am not surprised if they start showing the types of mistakes that over-worked players show.

  4. Soto
    November 22, 2009

    Our Barcelona players passed poorly throughout the game. That was the one difference from previous games that stood out. I do not know why, but we seemed to give away the ball regularly through poor passing. This seemed to be team wide; although clearly Alves was auditioning to be the poster boy of bad passing. (I’ll give Alves due credit for the goal, but in all other ways this game was further evidence that the Alves-Messi magic from last year has failed to materialize this year.)

    I really believe that the internationals have taken a toll on this team. In all likelihood Messi’s injury is due to fatigue — at least I did not see a specific play that led to his injury — from playing so many intense games in such a short time frame. The poor passing and momentary lapses — yes, Xavi, I am talking about you — could also be due to fatigue. This is to be expected for a team like Barcelona, where a majority of the starters play, and start, on their respective national teams.

    Why is Guardiola, in whom I usually trust, waiting so late to make tactical substitutions, e.g. bringing in Henry? Guardiola does this a lot and it begins to infuriate me. For such little time Henry had to play, I would rather have seen one of the youngsters take a stab at scoring against Bilbao. Or the reverse, if Henry is the secret to getting a second goal against Bilbao, then put him in there with enough time to get some rhythm going.

    With all of our injuries and the generally fatigue that likely hovers over the players, the next few weeks are going to be interesting, in the old Chinese adage sort of way.

    P.S. As always, a well thought out post, Isaiah. Thanks.

  5. Alexinho
    November 22, 2009

    I believe it was Busquets that made that assist–I’ll check on that though. But I’m pretty damn sure. Speaking of him, I thought he had quite a good match save a few very obvious mistakes.

    • November 22, 2009

      Made the assist on the Alves goal? Definitely Xavi. 100% sure of that.

  6. Carles P
    November 22, 2009

    Great review. I also like the whole grading as a team. Also, that pass to Dani was Xavi all the way!

  7. Carles P
    November 22, 2009

    Great review, Isaiah. I also like the whole grading as a team. Also, that pass to Dani was Xavi all the way!

  8. Bassam
    November 22, 2009

    I didn’t raelly get to watch the barca game this week, but your preview Isaiah kinda sums it up.

    I love the enthusiasm about the classico, and you are right, the Classico is not something to kid about. I highlight my calendar every year for these two fixtures. Can’t wait to see the preview. Here is for the players getting back into shape and ready for the big show down.

    Hala Madrid 😀

  9. Tim
    November 22, 2009

    I’d like to see some sort of fouls received per minute of time played. Something like how “difficult” the minutes on the field have been for the player.

    • Soto
      November 22, 2009

      For Messi, I would like to see the number of kicks to his shins per minute. Against more defensive minded opponents — i.e. talentless cowards — that rate could be quite high. 🙂

      • November 22, 2009

        Tim, Soto makes a good point (on purpose or not, I don’t know) that fouls-per-minute don’t actually tell you how many times he was kicked because it’s up to the ref to call it or not and when they don’t, you miss that in the stats roundup.

        Basically, Messi gets kicked a lot, but Xavi and Iniesta I think get kicked more.

      • Blink Floyd
        November 22, 2009

        just because a player is defensive minded doesnt make him a “talentless coward”. If against Inter Milan Maicon constantly runs past Pedro, do u want the Barca player to just let him past? Just because a player is a defender doesnt make him talentless, look at Beckenbauer, Sammer, Hierro, Maldini, Nesta, Pique and Lucio. Tactical fouls have to be used sometimes in the game to prevent a goal scoring opportunity. Unfortunatly this happens to Messi a lot because he is a dangerous player, there is rarely anything malicious about the challenges.

  10. ElShowDeJason
    November 22, 2009

    f that man…

    i want some individual ratings!

    BTW Isiah, the reason why we lost midfield control when Henry came on was the fact that he came on for Xavi. So it’s not because Henry came on, but rather because Xavi came off.

    • November 23, 2009

      That’s a fair thought, but Iniesta rotated back into the midfield for Xavi. But still, yeah, that’s true.

  11. barca96
    November 23, 2009

    our passing this year is really not good.
    there is no urgency after we score a goal.
    same as in 06/07, we laid back for no reason and concede a goal
    whereas last year we just keep on attacking..
    no 1-2’s..messi-alves?
    xavi-iniesta i can understand as iniesta is playing LW..
    pep as usual makes late late substitutions..
    anyways i really have a feeling that it will be 06/07 season again..

    • Sid
      November 23, 2009

      Exactly. Urgency is the key word. Team is still playing pretty well, but the urgency and directness seems to be lacking. Thats what pissed me off about the Rubin Kazan game (Where they shud have been playing as if their lives depended on it).

      I think Pep wanted this game to be more less strenous and more practice as we will have time to gain points over Evil Empire in the long run. But right now, we have to somehow win against Inter and EE.

      I would have prefered if we were playing the Classico in Bernabeu first as that puts the pressure on Madrid to win.

  12. Liza
    November 23, 2009

    I found this website recently after a bit of googling. Thanks for giving an outlet for Barca news/reviews for those of us who don’t speak a lot of Spanish!

    Anyways, I think that in this case, a team numerical grade is in order seeing as no one played particularly well, yet no single person was responsible for any big mistakes. Overall, it was just disappointing.

    I have agree with everyone about the fatigue. I read an article recently that spoke about how some of the players have been going almost non-stop for over 2 years now. That’s pretty intense, especially considering they were so busy last year and again this year with the WCQs. The growing number of absentees hasn’t helped either.

    I’m not ready to cast a shadow of gloom on the season, but given that these next few matches are extremely important, I can’t help but feel apprehensive.

    I’m really questioning Pep’s decisions (re: subbing) lately. Why didn’t Pep take Messi off earlier? He obviously was struggling and I don’t think anyone on the bench would done much worse. That way he could rest and maybe someone new could have inspired a fresh attack. I’m not doubting Messi’s skill, but he just doesn’t have it in him right now to be at the top of his game.

    And I don’t know if I’m the only one who is also concerns about Iniesta, but he has not been having a very good season so far. I know, I know; he’s recovering match fitness. But hasn’t he been doing that for a while? He’s isn’t horrible by any means, but considering the high I saw him reach by the end of last season, I know he can do much better than what I’ve been seeing lately.

    I have my fingers crossed for the CL match. No one on the team is a big-match-bottler (the opposite, actually) so I have some hope that things might turn out for the best. But Inter is going to be difficult.

  13. Kxevin
    November 23, 2009

    About to run over to Camp Nou and pick up my match tickets now. 😀 Not that I’m excited or anything. Oh, no.

    I made a point in the LiveBlog thread about the post-match commentary/analysis here, and the commentators’ Txigrinski observation, buttressed by Pique telling him to keep the attacker off of him. It’s a trait of the good defenders and one that, had Txignasty evinced, would have kept the goal from happening.

    If he keeps physical space from his man, he heads that ball to safety. As it was, the proximity of the attacker means that rather than one thing, heading the ball away, he has to concentrate on where the attacker is, not fouling him, playing too physical and having the dude dive, etc. No wonder the attacker got more head to the ball than he did.

    Keeping your marker off of you means that a defender can do one thing at a time. We are all better doing that.

    Alves’ sin was of overconfidence. He’s thinking, “My man Txiggy’s got this.” When he didn’t, it became a fire drill that Alves doesn’t have the pace to extinguish. It’s why I said that with Puyol at RB, that goal never happens. Captain Caveman never assumes that anyone is going to do anything, sometimes to the side’s detriment.

    Alves was lazy, for sure. Which brings me to the fatigue point. Last season we could be so aggressive and energetic because we didn’t have match time in our legs. This year, with the two Cups, exhibitions and Intenationals, we’re taking shifts off, so to speak. Alves did, and a goal was the result.

    But as Isaiah rightly points out, their goal should have been strictly for pride, to take up some of the 3-0 scoreline.

    Cesc Blanc, you’ll have your happiness for a few more matches, then Kxevin’s back with the scores. Because you’re right, boiling a player’s performance down to a simple number, as does, is not my idea of a party. Which is why there is also plenty of context to go along with those number grades, to put a player’s performance into context as regards individual standard and team standard/performance.

    No offense taken, either. It’s why there’s more than one flavor of gelato, right?

    • November 23, 2009

      I had to be there also…:D

      – Alves problem with the far post checking is not new.

      – Didn’t understand if Isaiah was criticizing or praising Maxwell in this game. I think he played a very balanced game. No brilliance, but confident enough to be considered as a good second choice full back. At least, so the talking about buying a new left back freeze for a while.

      – Xavi lost more balls in this game than I’ve ever seen him losing. Hope he didn’t get a Cesc infection from the last international.

      – Iniesta so as Messi, trying too much recently. More spontaneous performance will deliver more positives. He started to feel the responsibility of becoming a game changer. But it doesn’t mean he has to dribble everyone every time. Choose your battles.

      – Nothing yet confirmed regarding Yaya. In this game he is more important than Messi (you may like this one Kevin). Though even if he overcomes his sickness, will he recharge enough energy to start?

      – Busquets is improving. But that dive in the box was Complextremabsolutotaly stupid!

      – This pique-Chegsomething thing is just not clicking. There has to be a point of reference for defense. And with two center backs who love to think forward, I don’t know…

  14. Jim
    November 23, 2009

    I’m not pushing any panic buttons until I see our first string midfield of Yaya, Xavi and Iniesta playing together and behind Henry, Ibra and Messi and failing to create a decent winning platform. We have struggled to put out our top lineup this season and all we have been shown is that the replacements aren’t quite up to the task. Sorry, but bringing on Pedro, Bojan or Jeffren doesn’t change a game.

    I’m also not convinced by the fatigue excuse for us. We’re not even halfway through the season. Talk again about this in March. I do think there is a slight lack of confidence which affects our type of game badly and a lack of movement up front which should be creating the gaps.

    Biggest worry for me at the moment is Yaya’s disintegration this year. I didn’t think he started the season well, then he seemed to get less time on the ptich ( don’t know why) and now finally we get relentless tales of his replacement. He is still for me a huge part of our midfield dominance, physically for Xavi and Iniesta as much as anything. Busi doesn’t cut it atm and we look the weaker for it.

    However, and this should lift the players, two good results in the next few days and everyone will be asking again who can stop us.

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