El Clasic, aka “The biggest match EVAH! Until the next one.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the most important player in this Sunday’s El Clasic ….

No, not the one in the foreground, the one in the background, leaning forward as if to say “Who, me?” Yes, you, Cesc Fabregas. Isaiah will be in the house later with a proper preview. But here are a few thoughts to tide you over, and maybe winnow their way into your brain pan like one of those awful pop songs.

For me, this is a great image because it depicts the world exactly as all of our opponents see it: Messi, with everyone else in soft focus, in the background. Which is, for us, a good thing. For me, Fabregas will be the most important player on the pitch Sunday because, even more than Pedro!, he is our Random Chaos Generator. He’s in the box, he’s in midfield, he’s working give/gos from the wing, he’s everywhere, even as he is all too often nowhere. He’s an at-times frustrating player who is enjoying a marvelous run of form right now.

He is also a player who benefits from the exertions of others, whether it’s a perfect pass, or latching onto a wayward or deflected ball. In many ways this is good, because the less Fabregas thinks, the better he is. And make no mistake, this Clasic will, as so many other have, be decided by instinct — reactions of great players at times where there is no time to react. Shoot first, think later.

Today’s Barca is more like the championship Chicago Bulls than ever before, even down to the Jordan/Messi rules. Foul him if you have to, just don’t let him kill you. No layups/tap-ins. Make the other players beat you. There was that first remarkable year in which the Bulls coalesced; Scottie Pippen played defense and made key shots, Horace Grant claimed every rebound, so that Michael Jordan didn’t have to do that as well, John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong ran the attack, to give Jordan time without the ball, and Jordan’s stats decreased even as the Bulls became an infinitely more dangerous team.

The winning goal, in the club’s last three matches, hasn’t been scored by Messi, which is a glorious thing. I can’t begin to imagine the headaches that Mou Mou is dealing with right now, because Sanchez scored in the last match, as did Fabregas. Villa killed Sevilla, and Pedro! is always there, ready to pounce. Last season at the Camp Nou, Sanchez was just coming back from yet another injury, Pedro! was still pedro, Villa was knocked and Fabregas was mired in a funk. We were easy to play. “Stop that little dude.”

What makes Fabregas so huge? He will be the one plying the margins, nibbling at the edges of the spaces left by a team determined to fall on the grenade that is Messi. And there will be opportunities for him, as there have always been. Of late, he has been converting them, as he did in the first part of last season. His conversion will be crucial, as Jose Mourinho has determined, as has every other coach scheduled to play FCB for as long as the present No. 10 is doing his thing, that Lionel Messi is not going to kill my club.

It is this determination that makes Fabregas become The Thing.

Xavi in Friday’s presser: “Nosotros representamos al Barça, que a su vez representa a Catalunya y estaremos al lado de lo que los catalanes quieran” (“We represent the club, which in turn represents Catalunya, and we stand behind what Catalans want.”

Now, at that same presser, Xavi said: “Intentarem aïllar-nos de temes extraesportius. La gent que s’expressi com vulgui. Vivim en una democràcia.” (We will try to stay clear of issues extraneous to the match. But people express themselves as they wish. We live in a democracy.”

These two statements fascinate the hell out of me, responses to questions rooted in the simple reality that this Clasic is mes que un match, suddenly.

Clasics are a lot of things, and yes, there is always an undercurrent of politics in them, rooted in the legacies of both clubs. But this is the most overtly political Clasic that I can remember in a long time. Independencia has taken real root, spurred by a very difficult economic situation. Calls have gone up for demonstrations during the match, and the club will use the above mosaic, which will mean a great many things to a great many people: Independencia!, Catalunya is not Spain, the club is for us, a REAL return to Mes Que Un Club-ness, or insert your own meaning.

Xavi, in replying to two questions about the matter, made his views clear. No, every teammate doesn’t feel the same way. It’s a pretty safe bet that among non-Catalans, sentiment varies in importance and intensity. This is probably true even among the Catalan players. But make no mistake, there will be extra spice in the match Sunday, as the white-clad Imperial storm troopers storm the Nou System to take on the Rebel Alliance.

It’s this kind of match: I already have my clothes planned for Sunday’s viewing with the Chicago Penya: Catalunya home shirt, bronze soci pin centered at the breastbone, and Barca scarf.

Yes, this match is only 3 points, as Mourinho said, and as he has always said. And he’s right, even as his breakdown reduces things to their most simplistic. Yes, unless RFEF does math in the same way they ajudicate red-card appeals (two-match ban for Medel, even as they found that there was no head butt), a win or loss is only 3 points.

But there is a LOT riding on this match. You can only imagine how fierce the celebrations will be if we win (which I believe we will, but I always do), how despondent the post-mortems will be if we lose.

“I’m not here. Which is good. Sorta.”

Mou Mou came to the Lair of Evil as much to beat Pep Guardiola as to beat FCB. And that was any way that he could: fouling, stifling, mucking up, anything. And last season, he got his wish, not only winning but watching his rival leave the field of battle. Whether this will mean a less-intense Clasic remains to be seen, but there just isn’t the same animus, the same notion of an unholy war with Tito Vilanova. How that lack of personal spice/animus will manifest itself on the pitch is still to be seen. The SuperCopas were rather different, but they didn’t really count for much.

Does this match? Yes. 3 points. On Monday morning, we will either be 11 points ahead of them, or 5 points ahead. 3 points that, in the context of this titanic match, mean so much and so little.

By Kxevin

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. Hey, are you guys making fun of my math skills? Because everyone knows when someone says “As anyone knows, two plus two equals four,” you can spot the journalists because we either whip our calculators, or our mouths move as we count off fingers, then nod.

  1. Damn, got Hectored. Here’s what I wrote on Puyol…

    Gogah has it right on Puyol in my opinion. If you think Puyol is proud of the fact that he is not on the team because he did something pretty rash, then I think you underestimate Puyol’s intelligence and ability to think situations through in retrospect.

    The problem, in my opinion, is not that Puyol was being Puyol, it’s that Puyol was pretending to be Puyol when he wasn’t. Crazy statement? Here’s why. Most players, actually, ALL players are never the same right after an injury. Besides the normal tendency to unconsciously avoid stressing the injured part, the things you did before you can’t do them right away after a long layoff.

    Small things like how fast you can run, how well you can tackle, how high you can jump will not be at their optimum. But the biggest difference is the ability to slow down a game. This ability is what all great athletes have. Everything around you could look as if its happening very fast to other people, but to the athlete himself, he is able to think and respond much faster than the situation, in his mind, everything is in slow motion. Messi is great at this.

    In Puyol’s case, at his peak, he would have been able to see the ball, at the same time see the challenge. He would have been able to either make adjustments in his body position, or angle of attack. He would have been able to know how to place his arms on his way down and roll safely. When you haven’t played for a while, it happens too fast. You literally find yourself on the ground before you could even think. It happened to me in my playing days.

    All this small adjustments come naturally over time. An experienced player like Puyol should know it. He should be able to recognize when he needs to take a risk and when to wait until he is back to his best. He would have lost about 20 games this season when he comes back, for what? Because he couldn’t help himself? Because he wasn’t smart in his situational awareness?

    A rookie is expected to have only one speed because they don’t know better. Not a veteran like Puyol.

    1. It’s okay to let it sit there, Bill. I replied in the last thread. Seems like we’re been getting better at keeping threads going if there is an interesting discussion, even as new threads rear their heads.

      FWIW, I disagreed. (I know. You’re shocked!)

  2. Looks to be a double pivot, with Xavi sitting deeper alongside Busquets; or at least that’s the direction Tito seems to be heading in… I wonder if Iniesta can create on his own in this system, maybe we could see Cesc in the middle and Messi to the right (as previously stated in the comments on the last post) – that would be interesting.

    OT: Little Thiago Messi hasn’t been born quite just yet, it seems.

  3. First problem for Barcelona is that they seem to give this Madrid team way more respect than they deserve. Barca gets nervous, make bad passes, wrong or panicked decisions.
    Second problem is that it takes the team about 10 to 15 mins to settle down into a rhythm. This is when Madrid try their hardest to score.
    Third problem is that our defense isn’t exactly rock solid right now.

    I think we have to be tighter in defense at the beginning, keep the wing backs conservative for the first 15 mins and try to get into possession rhythm as quickly as possible.

    Or just take the game to them as quickly as possible and catch them off guard like Arsenal 2009 in London.

    1. Who would you start, to counteract that? One renegade part of me would have a conservative back line of Montoya/Song/Mascherano/Alba, then Busquets/Xaviniesta/Fabregas, with two up front and Fabregas shuttling back and forth to apply pressure, or stack the midfield as necessary.

      I think some of it too is they come out super attacking, to put us on our heels. It always take a bit for us to regain control. This might argue for something wild, like Tello/Sanchez/Messi up front, with same midfield excepting Iniesta, who I would sub. Fabregas is just too hot right now to leave off the pitch.

    2. Agreed. In the last few Clasicos we have found it hard to get our game going at the start down to the sheer determination of RM not to give us time. Lets start conservatively. Then when Tito is sure the tika Taka has warmed up go for it.

    3. Leave Alves out? The instability he will cause to the team by pouting and mouthing off about how he is not wanted wouldn’t be worth it for a new coach. It’s better to just ask him to play conservative in the first 15 mins, or make sure that either him or Alba stays back during attacks, depending on where the attack is happening.

      I think Tello is extra effective when he comes on later, when the other team is tired. He disrupts any sort of rhythm that may have been established, so he starts on the bench for me.

      I think Fabregas should also come in from the bench to disrupt. His loose touches, almost lazy passes and unrhythmic way makes it even more dangerous in those first 15 mins. But he pouts too. He complained simply because he didn’t start in the supercup even though he had played so many minutes for the team this season! So there’s another problem.

    4. VV,
      Alves (although the idea of Montoya…hmmm), Song, Masche, ALba
      Xavi, Busi
      Cesc, Messi, Iniesta

      OK, a 4-2-3-1 will never happen. But this could be fun. Why Xavi in the double pivot? Because our other two DMs are rather busy not being DMs at the moment. And will someone please tether Alves and Alba to our goal. I think this is as defensive as we could possibly get with 10 attacking players on the field.

    5. I actually wouldn’t be surprised at all if this happens. Tito’s been toying with a double pivot, and we’ve seen Xavi drop back/Busi push up. First half against Sevilla was just that.

      I’d like to see exactly the lineup you had, though I’d express it differently.

      Iniesta (on the right to torment Coentrao/Marcelo), Cesc (in the middle to play with Messi), Pedro (on the left to beat Arbeloa with speed).
      Iniesta and Pedro can switch if they want, it doesn’t matter.

    6. Seriously, I agree. Will we be able to get through the 1st 20 min. of the game w/out conceding a goal from a calamitous mistake? I hope so.

  4. Kxevin,

    Great preview. I love, “But make no mistake, there will be extra spice in the match Sunday, as the white-clad Imperial storm troopers storm the Nou System to take on the Rebel Alliance.”

    We are the Ewoks and Mou is the Sith Lord. Messi is Luke Skywalker and Xavi is Hans Solo always running things and making sure people get to where their supposed to be. Tito is Obi Wan Kenobi. Pep was Tito’s master, so he’s Qui-Gon Jinn.

    1. No, Mou is definately Sauron which makes Karanka the Witch King, and we just need for Harry Potter to fly in on his Nimbus 2000 and…I need to work on my metaphors.

  5. rivaldo visited the training today! wooo!!! we will definitely win on sunday, blessed by rivaldo.


    1. I thought he left Angola a while back? And is back at Mogwai or whatever Brazilian club that was called.

  6. Xavi said in presser today that Pique has a 50% chance of playing, otherwise, Song at CB.

    1. Fingers crossed that either that 50% plays out in Pique’s favor or Bartra’s at CB… Song is good but Mascherano cannot be trusted to be the experienced CB.

  7. I can’t really agree with the notion that Montoya will start. Alves has been crap, but he’s still Dani Alves. When was the last minutes Montoya has even seen anyways?

    I don’t know what to expect from Tito, but I imagine Madrid will go to pressing our back line from the start, and putting a lot of pressure on Song-Mascherano. I’m really nervous about this, I don’t know if Tito will adopt a more defensive set but we do have a rather large point lead that he theoretically could sit on a draw..


  8. Funny, we’re going into this Clasico with the weakest backline I’ve seen in recent times but the frontline finally looks like everyone is coming into their own and will be on form. Tito will have a headache on who to choose for the front 3. We know the backline; Alves, Song, Masche, Jordi. The middle is most certainly; Busi, Xavi and Iniesta. But the front 3 is unpredictable. Except for Messi, I honestly don’t know the best possible frontline to start with. There’s a case for all of them.

    Pedrito- has been playing well this season, finally back to his best and is always great in Clasicos..and big games in general. We may need his “Random chaos generation” as Kxevin calls it.

    Cesc- Great at false nine, has been on form, and is another “random chaos generator.” A surprise inclusion could unsettle EE’s plans..maybe.

    Alexis- Has come into his own, is great on the left and in the middle just ahead of Messi.Also offers great movement. He can occupy Ramos and Peepee.

    Tello- Fast, may be a nightmare for Arbeloa and injects an air of unpredictability with his pace, width and now improving shot. (I’d rather he start on the bench though)

    Villa- Able to score anytime, another target/threat for EE to worry about, great movement, will link up well on the left with Iniesta, Jordi and will offer width as well.

    Have I missed anyone?

    With that said, forwards are the least of my worries. I have bought a pack of Advil and have the emergency ambulance on speed dial for potential..malfunctions.. :/ The defensive situation does not give me confidence.

    1. lol @ your last sentence. If team crashes and burns on Sunday, we should start a “Cule Anonymous Support Group” here at BFB 😛

  9. My first thought is to have Pedro! for sure and Tello for width and directness. However, I think I’d start Alexis instead of Tello because of his ability to track back and defend extremely well. We can bring Tello on in the 60-70th minute if we need width. I don’t want to discount Villa though. He could come on for Pedro! around the same time. He’s a big game player like Pedro!, but I still don’ think he’s ready to start and play a full 90 minutes.

  10. I feel good about our frontline.
    Everyone is on fire it seems.

    Can’t say the same about the backline.
    I just nervous as hell.

    Our midfield and frontline players really need to help defensive duties to make our defenders’ life easier.

    It’s just another 3 points, but 11 points is surely a lot to catch.

  11. Defensively we look very vulnerable right now…

    I would ask Dani Alves to hang back more and defend. We have seen him shut down Crynaldo before and I also think it is a logical evolution of our strategy not that 1) Dani Alves is getting older and 2) we have Jordi Alba and the left.

    I would love a win but more important is that we don’t lose.

    And as far as the Star Wars analogy goes I was surprised nobody mentioned Puyol…A Wookie among Ewoks!

  12. Maybe I’m just saying this to calm myself down but the highlights of the supercopa clasico just came on TV and I have to say it will take a miracle for Song’s defensive performance on Sunday to be worse than what happened on that day from Pique and Masche. We might have been close to equalizing in the last few minutes but man how many chances did EE waste that day. This game is on our turf and I just don’t see them getting all those chances and I can’t see our defensive performance being worse than that day. (which we almost survived, btw.)

  13. I’m quite excited for this clásico! I mentioned forever ago that I’m doing an exchange program with a Spanish school this year, and the exchange kids are arriving tonight. Looking forward to watching a clásico with a group of Spaniards 😀 (Don’t worry; the group is from Zaragoza but the person with me says she supports Barca over Madrid any day.)

    Do we think Iniesta will start? Sub on sometime in the second half? When healthy he’s automatic to start over Fabregas, and even when not match-fit I would say Iniesta starts and Cesc comes on for him, but this is Iniesta’s first game back from injury.

  14. I think based on form that Cesc and Alexis should start. Iniesta might not be totally match fit but the difference when he is on the pitch is like the difference between a Barca that is well oiled or rusty.
    So 4 midfielders: Xavi, Ini,Cesc and Busi. With our makeshift CB defense, ball possesion will be the best defense and the key to bp is the midfield.
    Cesc and Messi can fluidly shift False 9 roles, a further evolution of the False 9 to confound opponents that have learned to plan against it.
    I expect Alves to stay back and without the ball, Busi will also play in the back 4 as Jordi assumes a more offensive role. Contrary to years past, most of our attacks this year are coming from the left side and that is directly attributable to Jordi’s different strengths compared to Abidal.
    Modric will be directing traffic for EE as Mou saved him from their CL game. He’s assumed a more important role than Ozil. So I think Xavi will be doing what he did to Pirlo, closing down his angles.
    This battle will be won and lost in the midfield. So we might even see Ozil and Moudric on at the same time and EE playing with 4 mid-fielders like we are.
    TB is on form the trick is to deny him service from the mid-field to help our makeshift CBs.

  15. I’m gonna try to abstain from any clasico pre-match anything until Sunday. I almost gave myself a panic attack this afternoon trying to process the thought of losing on Sunday, lol. I’ve never felt this anxious pre clasico before, it’s not even funny. I’m gonna have to send my medical bill to them soon. Maybe me reading in almost every blog that we’re gonna be demolished coz of our lack of defence, i just couldn’t handle it anymore. I know, i know, i’m over reacting and we’ll still be 5 points ahead of them in the worst case senario but! eeee!!! How do you all cope?

  16. [Cesc is] an at-times frustrating player who is enjoying a marvelous run of form right now.

    Yes, exactly. Like I said, he is both very very good and very very bad at times. Right now he is in the groove, confident, enjoying his game and scoring and assisting goals. For me he is 100% a starter on Sunday. Which makes the rest of the lineup a bit difficult.

    Do you play Sanchez and sit Pedro!? Tough choice. Personally I would go for Pedro. Does Villa start? Iniesta must start, mustn’t he? And don’t forget Tello!

    Unlike our backline, we are spoiled for choice up front. (When is Cuenca coming back?) I’m glad I’m not Tito.

  17. I don’t see Iniesta starting. He’s had about 15 minutes of football in 3 weeks. Cesc will retain his spot in the midfield and Tito will probably opt for two wide energetic players in Pedro and Alexis to help their respective full backs in covering Ronaldo and di Maria.

    Count me in the group not convinced by Song at CB. Mascherano too has not been at his best recently (strangely, I feel his best season at the club was his first one). They will score, probably twice (at least). Just a matter of whether we can score more; it’s not like their defense has been great either. I’m hoping the scent of 11 points drives the team on Sunday. My prediction is a 3-2 win.

  18. How about this?


    I think Song-Busquets could surprise Madrid and foil their initial game plan, while also balancing the team. Messi on the right will scare Marcelo/Coentrao and limit their attacking influence more than Pedro’s work rate can.

    Other good ideas IMO are: 4-4-2, with Cesc as a 10 behind Messi and Villa/Sanchez/Pedro, and 4-4-2 with Messi as a 10 behind Sanchez-Villa/Pedro. A big NO to the 3-4-3, which has been rumoured. I wouldn’t mind seeing the 3-3-2-2 that Ramzi suggests though.

    My favourite selection for tomorrow though is the first 4-2-3-1. Kill their offensive game plan, be very patient in possession for the first half. In the second, we have the options of Tello (certain super sub IMO for tomorrow), Pedro, Villa, and Cesc.

Comments are closed.