Rayo Vallecano 0, Barca 5, aka “Same as it ever was … NOT!”

“That’s right! All y’all can just bite me!”

To start. No, this isn’t a review. I have watched the match only once, and have a spare half-hour before bedtime for my sprinter legs. So call this a glorified comment, in post form.

Rayo Vallecano didn’t deserve that manita, really. They played their little hearts out at that closet-sized field of theirs, in front of fans who screamed, drummed and sung from the first minute to the last, never letting their players forget what real support is like. Full credit, and hats off were it not so ccccooold here up Chicago way.

But man, they took one in a match that was closer than the scoreline indicated, yet not really close at all. Statistics can be deceiving. You might think, from all of their shots and corners, that they were actually IN this thing even as they never really had a chance at it.

Things aren’t the same, so get used to it

Tika taka and endless possession to control a match? Those days are gone, replaced by a different kind of match control, in which brilliant players crawl through a sliver that someone leaves, and put the knife in. In many ways it’s a more cruel dispatching, that leaves commentators doing nonsense like comparing the Rayo and Depor matches, commentators who don’t really pay all that much attention because if they did, they’d realize that we hurt ourselves more than Depor did. Once the own goals, lucky bounces and silly errors were cleaned up, that was that.

This Vilanova side is direct, aggressive and out to take no prisoners. Last season, all of the pretty possession was so logical and inexorable that the reason defenses and keepers had career matches against us, was that at the end of the the runs, passes and curlicues, there was pretty much only one place for the ball to go. And they stood there and waited.

This season, swashbuckling runs are leading to open spaces, and dynamic goals of the type not seen since Pep Guardiola’s first year. And opponents will have to readjust their expectation for this side, because the Rayo match was typical of this season: Brave opponent comes out, plays their asses off, presses, runs, digs deep then deeper, gets just a smidgen tired, and that’s that. Why? Yes, we are tired as well, but great players have a bigger window. A fatigued good player becomes an average one. A fatigued great player becomes a very good one. And that’s the difference.

But it’s more than that. It’s the constant vigilance required against an opponent. Look at that first goal, which happened in about a nanosecond, and completely against the run of play. Possession flips, Fabregas slides a honey of a pass to Villa who shot out of the gate like a rocket, and that’s that. 0-1 in a way that had Rayo thinking “Wait …. WUT?!” Ka-boom.

This is a new Barca, one that will be more fraught, less (and more) assured and more (and less) fun to watch. Did Rayo have chances to score? Not really. The best one was off a low, hard blast that forced a brilliant save and hold from Valdes, the guy who must be replaced at the first opportunity. You know, him.

MOTM Fabregas

When Cesc Fabregas returned “home,” I was carping about it. Many of us were. “We don’t need him,” “He’s overpriced,” “He can’t even get a game with Spain, where the same players are with Barca,” etc, etc. Fabregas just worked, came in leaner and more assured this season, and is making liars out of his doubters by being our most consistently good performer this season to date. He’s tracking back, pressing in midfield and making the kinds of passes that he has always been capable of making. But he seems to have finally adjusted to the speed of the Spanish game (yes, I said that, despite the institutional arrogance that suggests the Prem is so fast) but more importantly, to the brilliance of his teammates. This manifests itself by being in the right place at the right time. “Messi is going to be there, so I will be here.” And bang. There’s the ball. Fabregas was extraordinary today and most encouragingly, he seems to be improving, rather than regressing.

But he had a bright start to last season as well, so what say we wait a bit before anointing his feet.

What back line problems?

Today, the defense did what it was supposed to do: Function as the last line of defense in front of its keeper. Did it have moments? Yep. Did it have moments that might have been capitalized on by a better team? Yep. But we were playing Rayo Vallecano. “If” is a game that people play when they often don’t want to admit that things are going well, so it becomes “If the defense plays like that against ….” I will suggest that today’s back line was a calculated gamble against a side that Vilanova knew couldn’t really kill us. So it becomes Montoya/Busquets/Adriano/Alba, a group that did just fine, because everyone else did their jobs. Funny how that works. And yes, that job includes the offense. If they score goals, it becomes a lot easier to defend as an opponent presses harder, and as a consequence makes more errors with the ball.

Da Playas

Jordi Alba was brilliant today. He’s the buy of the summer, by some stretch, since we didn’t really buy all that much, but also because he’s a diminutive wonder. He is a left-sided Alves, but in a very different way. He is all the offense and more, but a better defender and so, so fast. Our left side is open for business.

Alex Song had, for my money, his worst match in the colors. It’s funny how when he was actually playing rather well, people were getting on him for playing poorly. This match, however, was a seriously mixed bag. You could see some of the things that Arsenal supporters warned about: dwelling on the ball too long, slack passes in dangerous areas of the pitch, an annoying casualness that manifests itself in being a beat slow. And yet, he also made some excellent plays and passes. Still a work in progress.

David Villa shows what an early goal can do for a striker. He was all over the pitch today. Very good match, in yet another start. He is up right as others are down. That is one characteristic of a championship side, kids.

Alexis Sanchez is definitely down. Work rate saves his butt, but he’s plain in a funk right now, playing the wrong ball more often than not, even not being able to finish a scoring chance that most attackers dream about. He’s close, and will need careful care and feeding. Some will say that Villa starting was a slap at Sanchez. I disagree. But I do think that if he isn’t careful, he will dig himself onto the bench in a way that wasn’t possible with Guardiola. Vilanova isn’t as forgiving, or as kind. He’s a coach who knows exactly what he wants, and how to get it. If he doesn’t think you are The Way, you won’t be.

Holy shit, Jonathan Dos Santos played, and did so rather well. See? Digging in your heels CAN work, at least until January.

And that’s it. My half-hour is up, so let fly in the comments. What say ye?

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. Thought Song played pretty well – a few nail biters (as you alluded to), but 9 times out of 10 he managed to recover.

    Cesc and Alba were wonderful, but the biggest surprise to me was Adriano at CB. His positioning was spot on. Will he become the next in our long line of semi-permanent converted center backs?

  2. This match reminded me of the Espanyol manita of 2 yrs ago. It was a pretty even affair as well and Barca were clinical in that match.
    I take my hat off to Rayo coz they played their game today. They knew that they’d probably take a whooping for playing toe to toe with Barca but hey, i’m not complaining.
    I’m also glad to see other people on the score sheet but, i’d be happier to see Pedro and Alexis on there as well. Pedro has been working his butt of and he deserves to have more goals. As for Alexis, i don’t think he’s that bad, he’s just in a funk. Better a funk now than at the business end of the season. I’m sure he’ll get better or else, he’ll take over where Bojan left off on the bench and warming the sidelines for 60 mins.

    1. Agree, Wish Pedro and Alexis had got on the score sheet. Alexis had his chances and fluffed them. Pedro didn’t have many opportunities. He took one shot from outside the box that really had no chance because the keeper had the near post covered. That was Pedro wanting to score. Messi was actually a better option on that shot and could have easily scored with a nice cross over the top. It looked like Messi let Pedro know that too.

  3. Gotta say, I like this no-review half hour pieces better than nothing at all!

    Fabregas did well, but he is still very careless with his passing, loose with his dribbles and generous with his give-aways. His style is much like Song’s & Henry’s. Maybe it is an Arsenal thing.

    Xavi had trouble controlling this game, but Rayo did very well with their pressing game. Actually, they were impressive in the first half. 2 or 3 of them attacked the ball each time. No one told them that the secret to that is to do it in intervals because they were exhausted by the 70th minute, then Barcelona went to work.

    Montoya & Alba….I love those kids! Very assured, completely understand their roles, and provide things we missed last year. Montoya’s crosses are actually aimed! It got me wondering, was Alves really that good or were we just traumatized by the Zambrotta experiment?

  4. Some ratings, gratuitously personal:

    youngest son 9- screen captured the entire game for me. Crappy stream and no sound, but some Barca is better than no Barca. Deducted 1 point because it’s his varsity soccer schedule that has me working weekends in the first place.

    hubby 10- watched the game with me even though he had seen it live on a better stream and with Ray/Phil commentary.

    Wild game. On the positive side, maybe teams won’t press us so hard knowing a manita could be the result. Dunno. It’s a fun season.

    Hunkering down here in the mid-Atlantic region watching the projected paths of Hurricane Sandy. We may be in for Frankenstorm as some are calling it or it could be a great non-event. If I have power on Tuesday, I’ll have to find a stream for the Copa game. I hope a lot of babies play and a lot of big guys get rested!

    1. Whereabouts in the mid-Atlantic are you? Up here in northern Massachusetts, it’s predicted that strong winds will knock out power lines, starting on Monday. Hope that everything goes well for you (and anyone else in the same region)!

  5. Xavi’s presence alone does not guarantee control of the match, for us. The first 60 minutes of this game is proof, when Rayo pressed hard like posessed men, it looked like a game of equals, except for the 2-0 scorelilne. But our advantage is always there, no team can press so had for 90 minutes and we always have a chance for a manita at the end. And in such games, Cesc is a must for the team.

    For me, there was no specific man of the match for this game. It was more of a team game, if not we wouldnt have managed that kind of heavy press.

    Song had a pretty good game, for me. He is definitely much better, anywhere else than in the CB role.

    Very happy Villa will start the match now and his goal must be a big booster for him, and it was for the team too. Calmed us. However, I really didnt think he had a great game. But sure he will be back to his best.

    Alexis – Tito needs to talk to him. He needs support right now.

  6. Even after this match people are bagging on Cesc, but I see the same trend. He has started to grasp the right balance between running into space, making himself available, playing safe passes, and playing dangerous passes. He does take more risk, but Tito’s Barca takes more risk also.

    I loved this paragraph also:

    “But it’s more than that. It’s the constant vigilance required against an opponent. Look at that first goal, which happened in about a nanosecond, and completely against the run of play. Possession flips, Fabregas slides a honey of a pass to Villa who shot out of the gate like a rocket, and that’s that. 0-1 in a way that had Rayo thinking “Wait …. WUT?!” Ka-boom.”

    I actually paused for a second before reacting when I saw that, because I wasn’t sure it really happened so fast!

  7. Hang on a minute – Bartra has played in the last 2 games, JDS made it onto the pitch, Valdes kept a clean sheet, Fontas could be starting against Madrid tonight…is the apocalypse coming or what?!?!

    Admirable performance by Rayo, the 3rd goal killed the game for them – perhaps they should’ve been “braver” and just stuck 10 men behind the ball all game… (hope they can stay up again this season!)

    And Tito, is he making fun of Madrid’s current injury “crisis” by playing 3 fullbacks in every match?? 😛

  8. Song – you’re kidding. Lovely one-touch passing all over the park. Showed he was born to play for Barca.
    Alexis – so he fluffed some chances. Big deal. He helps Barca jell in a way that Villa just can’t. Seems to have a lovely understanding with Alba (vis the way he started the Xavi goal) and, because of his work rate makes Alba more confident going forward. Ask Messi if he would prefer playing with Alexis and Villa, and I bet he’d say Alexis in a heartbeat.

    1. Because Alexis is more generous with the football than Villa, creates more space and makes better runs. Villa never seems like he’s quite on the same page as everyone else

  9. What strikes me about this team is mainly two things that have been addressed after they started figuring as out:

    1) Players are making those runs into opposition area when they park the bus. It’s the kind of thing everyone was frustrated about in the previous years when most of our attackers stood and wait before the box and everyone waited for the perfect play in order to get a goal.
    And not just our attackers : alba does it, adriano does it even Bartra had two clear headers in the previous match, not from FKs or corners.

    2) Lightning counter attack is again a fearsome weapon :
    You want to press us high up? I dare you, double dare you !
    We won’t start building up our possession game slowly from behind,wait until all players have transitioned from defense to attack. All it takes is a pass from Cesc and co. , the attackers are already making those runs.

    Hats off to Tito Vilanova.

  10. Oh yeah, and Alexis put a goal on a plate for Messi and Leo hoofed it into the stands. Does that mean Messi is down on confidence? No, it means Messi plays centrally and gets a lot more and a lot better chances than Alexis, so he can hide his goof. And what about poor old Pedro. He,s consigned to the wastelands of the right wing and didn’t have any shots at all (so far as I can recall).

    1. Had the random blast saved at the near post from a narrow angle (again after Sanchez had done well to get the ball back to him), though might have been better crossing to Messi that one time…

    2. Yep. And Messi let him know. Also, no “might” about it. Pedro had one thought and that was shoot at goal. Near post was covered and no chance at going in. Messi was WIDE open at back post. I find it hard to fault Pedro though. He is a poacher and wanted on the score sheet!

  11. Worst performance of the season for me. I know I’m out of step (again?)

    The one part I would concede is that maybe as Kxevin says, Tito felt that they couldn’t hurt us so he was free to try this cavalier approach. If so, then everything i have to say below is less worrying for me. if that was Tito’s thinking, it was certainly correct as I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Spanish side so clueless and incapable in the opposition’s third. That shouldn’t mask the fact that we gave them more than enough ball in our half to hurt us badly and they didn’t . Wouldn’t want to be offering the same chances to anyone in the top five or six.

    Marcelino on Sky got it right for me when he said that as he was watching it he felt it could end up 5-0 or 0-5. That is not good enough for us imo. We have a one off team of unbelievable ability who came within an ace of winning everything again last year and maybe would have done notwithstanding the lack of goals from all bar Messi and silly, silly defensive mistakes in the two vital games – it still hurts ! However, back on topic, If we go toe to toe it becomes a crap shoot which throws away the one advantage we undoubtedly have over every other side in the world; our ability to make them chase the ball for 90 minutes.

    Our finishing was good but their tracking of players was awful and that’s why it ended up with us scoring five. I doubt if Xavi came off feeling anything other than this is not how he wants to see us play. If Iniesta, one of the top three players in the world in most people’s opinion, is going to be sitting on the bench on even a semi regular basis he could be off, especially if he has to watch us slugging it out every week.

    There were some positives for me- Montoya is gaining in confidence every game. His best isn’t as good as Dani’s best yet but I have a feeling we’ll see it more often. Villa is back – and boy have we missed him! As soon as I saw it was him played through for the first I was confident of the finish. His runs for the last two games have been top drawer and deserved more of the ball. I suppose he may benefit from a more direct approach . I loved Pedro’ effort and pace. Goals will come for him now that his confidence is high again. I also thought Adriano had a pretty decent game at CB . Decent positioning and a real desire to close own quickly. Most positive is Cesc’s contribution, both in offence and defensive duties. He will lose the ball more often because he, like Messi, is interested in the killer blow. Which brings us to the big dilemma- he should play because he carries a threat but it can’t continually be at Iniesta’s expense. I don’t have an answer for that.

    Too long a post for details but I felt Alba despite another great game had a wobbly first twenty, Song still looks half asleep in his movement. No wonder Xavi was struggling with pass completion rate. I’m gonna gloss over Alexis, except to say that this slump is not new- he’s been in it since he arrived. He will be benched from now on apart from small games, I’m sure of that, unless we see a dramatic improvement. Note, I’m not questioning his effort which is first class.

    The one thing for me which is becoming clear is that , as Kxevin says, Tito doesn’t see himself as any kind of caretaker boss. He knows his own mind and isn’t afraid of reputations. Could be an interesting season.

    1. Alexis will be benched? Really? It’s very obvious that Messi would prefer to play with Alexis rather than Villa, so Alexis isn’t the one who’s got to worry.

    2. Well, we’ll find out over the next few weeks now that both are available but if we want to lift a whack of trophies we need a forward line who can all contribute a fair amount of goals and I suspect Tito knows this. At some point Messi will get an injury and thats when we’ll see if we can keep the goals coming. Tito hasn’t really had to make the decision so far as Villa has been recovering but now it’s a pretty straight choice.

    3. “Worst performance of the season for me. I know I’m out of step”
      Out of step? Out of touch with reality seems more like it. Worst performance of the season is where we scored 5 and kept a clean sheet. I seem to have missed the performances where we’ve pumped 8-9 goals a game.

      “… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Spanish side so clueless and incapable in the opposition’s third.”
      Don’t watch a lot of La Liga I guess. Certainly didn’t see lets say Lotina’s Depor (Not a bad thing tbh). Oh and thats the sole reason for the clean sheet isn’t it? Not because we buckled up and stopped giving free passes. Right. How could that be in any way true?

      “Marcelino on Sky got it right for me when he said that as he was watching it he felt it could end up 5-0 or 0-5. That is not good enough for us imo.”
      Really? But I thought we were playing a side that was ‘clueless and incapable in the final third’. And they’d score 5 on us? Smh. ‘Pundits’ I know are paid for talking all kinds of BS but this one takes the cake.

      “Song still looks half asleep in his movement.”
      Yes because its expected that someone not from La Masia and without a preseason or regular playing time at that position should be at the same level as Busi. Cules, really. 🙄

      “I’m gonna gloss over Alexis, except to say that this slump is not new- he’s been in it since he arrived”
      So you mean to say he scored that wonderful goal vs EE while he was in a slump? Definitely worth keeping him around, just to see what he does when he gets in form.

      He will be benched from now on apart from small games, I’m sure of that
      Yes because people have till now correctly predicted how Tito has used his squad haven’t they? No surprises there huh? Oh you’re sure of that? Guess that changes everything huh? 🙄

  12. I just watched the second half first (due to the goals) again and i have to disagree with some things:
    1. Xavi was extremely poor in this half – maybe because he didn’t had Busi and Iniesta along side to pass the ball, nevertheless, poor performance.
    2. Contrary to him, Song was great with some minor mistakes, but a great overall performance.
    3. It’s ok for Pedro to not score, but his pace and efforts are great, so we will just close our eyes to that, but no, the same cannot be applied about Alexis. Maybe because we paid 30 mill euros for him, cause i don’t see a reason why we should separate them in terms of poor finishing and great efforts.
    4. Valdes made ONE good save and he was great, again, sure.
    5. Alves can calmly warm the bench for now, we’ll see when we will need him again.
    6. Cesc was marvelous, defensively, the middle and attack minded. He actually sometimes makes some passes that Xavi used to, in his younger days, when he was not afraid to make a longer killer pass, instead of always going for the safe one.

    I’m now watching the firs half, so i’ll comment on that later.

    1. 1. Don’t forget, he still took out the two CBs with his front post run to allow Messi more pace for his goal then scored one himself. Xavi is well capable of making as good if not better through ball than anyone on the planet. His mindset is just more cautious as he knows the better chances will come but, yes, these are his worst passing stats in a long time.

      2. Can’t agree. Have a look at how long it takes him to become available in the first half. He does have good feet, though.

      3. We know Pedro is capable of scoring over twenty a season. Is Alexis?

      4. This game doesn’t make him great again because he was never not great 🙂

      5. Agreed.

      6. Agreed, apart from the Xavi bit !

      Seriously, though, the first half is the telling one when things were still in the balance. After the second pal they had to become ridiculously adventurous to try to get anything back and suffered.

    2. 3. I agree that we are harsher on Alexis. But why was he bought in the first place if he has never been a 20+ goals player? Pedro is a certified 20+ goals player.

      4. It was one hell of a save but I still think his distribution is way below par. He’s practically helping the opposition with his clearances.

    3. Why do you assume he was bought as a striker/goal-scorer. He was bought because he brings so much to the table: tight control, a combative attitude, great vision, great pace, tremendous defensive work-rate. It’s not easy playing on the wing for Barcelona, getting chalk on your boots for half the game and then, if you’re lucky, a few half-chances in front of goal. I just love watching Alexis and Alba play together. They seem to have a great understanding and it’s obvious that opponents are terrified of their pace. It’s also pretty obvious that Alba feels confident getting forward with Alexis because Alexis has the pace to get back and cover.

  13. Would love to see how ATM does against EE this year.
    hopefully it will not be the familiar story.

    under pep there were many games where total domination didn’t reflect through the result or the scoreline. this year, it seems to be the opposite.
    whatever, i like it.

  14. What a game! I can’t share the mixed sentiments and am very happy with the performance and the result.

    If I had to pick on something i’d highlight Valdes’ long balls which DID NOT ONCE reach one of our players and he had a lot of them last night.

    Anybody else noticed Xavis amazing skills in the first half under relentless pressure? And Pedrito… damn is he fast.

  15. @mr JIM, you mean this is the worst barca game you ever watched?? go watch some chelski match brother

    1. I was talking about the performance, not the final score.

      Trust me, I’ve watched it more often than is good for me. Much better overall dominating performance imo. We just didn’t take our chances and we made that error…

  16. Two quick things:

    –Jim and I are on the same page. So either I’m coming around to him, or he’s (finally!) coming around to me. Ha!

    –You mean that all I had to do to get everyone to love Song (like me, of course ….) was to say that he had a bad match, so that everyone could say he had a good one? I’ll get the hang of this yet ….

  17. Alexis is kind of a conundrum for me.

    I was struck by Jim’s comment that he’s been in a slump since he arrived. He has certainly had his good moments, but I’m beginning to think that his strengths and limitations have been consistent all along. His problem is that his strengths and weaknesses actively work against each other.

    As a scoring threat, he’s at his best in space. I remember his early goals playing on the shoulder of high defenses and running onto through balls in acres of space before beating the keeper.

    But as time has gone on, the team started to value his physical strength — and the ability it gives him to hold up the ball under pressure — along with his overall defensive work rate. But this means he’s spent less and less time working in space as a pure striker, and more and more time as a donkey in a market place.

    Unfortunately, it turns out that he’s significantly less potent as an offensive force when he has to work in a crowd. His shots are more wayward when he’s close to goal. He seems to have lost the ability (or willingness) to beat defenders face to face. And his passing and crossing decisions in the final third become questionable when he doesn’t have time to think — he made three or four poor choices in a 5-minute stretch yesterday. More worryingly, even his ability to hold up the ball is being undermined this season by his tendency to fall over at the merest contact.

    Bottom line, Barca has in Alexis a player who’s most dangerous running into space but most useful as a spoke in the opposition’s wheels.

    Villa is now making the case that *he* is deadly not just playing on the shoulder of the defense but also with his movement and passing in a crowd. And he *can* track and tackle when he needs to — he had a spectacular intervention near Barca’s penalty area yesterday. He may not hold up the ball as well as an upstanding Alexis, but that’s not as critical when the team is playing Tito-direct.

    So it seems to me the choice to play one or the other will come down to Tito’s goals for any particular game. Does he want Alexis slowing down the game and helping to redirect the ball to the midfield? Or does he want Villa terrorizing defenders? I suspect we’ll see more of Villa starting against buccaneering high defenses of teams that aren’t much of a threat to Barca’s goal (e.g. Rayo). And Alexis will get the nod when the opposition is dangerous and possession becomes an essential defensive tool. Villa will come later into those games if a result is still needed.

  18. Thoughts:

    1. I don’t care what the possession stats are IF the team is doing something with the ball retention. Last night, I think that Barca had about 55% possession with 5 goals which is a pretty good possession to goal ratio. And they were hungry – especially Messi. He really really really wanted that 2nd goal for himself. You could see it in the way that he was moving and tracking back and wanting to get the ball forward late into the game.

    What I don’t like are the needless giveaways of possession which put pressure on the Barca defence. The goalie’s kicking into touch or long kicking back to the opposition do nothing to help settle his team and build the attacks. The careless, too soft passes in midfield which don’t travel to the intended players, and the players who just stand there waiting for the ball to reach them, instead of moving towards the ball – we see so many interceptions when our team isn’t moving the ball sharply enough or not moving their bodies at all.

    2. We saw the team moving forward at pace last night – not just one forward, but several people in a row all going hell for leather. It unsettled the defence enough for 2 of the goals which left the scorers totally free and unmarked – Messi’s first and Xavi’s. That whole team moving forward tactic works – who knew? 🙂

    Comments on some of the individual players:
    1. Cesc
    He’s more effective in games where either Xavi or Iniesta aren’t playing. Why? Because it gives him space in which to work, and the responsibility is on his shoulders. When both Xavi and Ini are on the pitch with him, he’s running into their space and vice versa. The midfield becomes too clogged with play-makers to be effective. When Cesc has space, he becomes less “polite”, less deferential to the seniors on the team, and makes telling decisions and passes.

    2. Alexis
    We’re not going to see the best of Alexis when he’s stuck on the left wing. His true position is inside right which is where Messi works. I’d love to see Messi move left and Alexis slot into the right. Or even Messi not play and let Alexis play with Pedro and Tello with Cesc and Xavi.

    But his movement on the pitch and off the ball is amazing. He is continually working to draw the defence away from the ball carriers and playmakers. In a lot of respects all these Alexis traits are very similar to those of Villa – both of them adapting to the left wing, although Villa is more used to playing from that direction than Alexis is. But oh, the offsides from both of them! Not entirely always their fault though – sometimes the ball from midfield is not released quickly enough.

    3. Song
    If you’re looking for a speedy cheetah in this guy – stop looking. You won’t find it. If Song plays too fast, his momentum takes him too far – he’s like an oil tanker unable to stop in a short space and time. His movement is like a heavier and bulkier Abidal – elegant and understated which can look quite slow at times. Where Song’s strength lies is in placing his bulk in front of the ball carrier and holding up the play. When/if other Barca players become used to this, they can then double-team with Song to get repossess the ball. I think that Song and Alba will work well in this way, as would Song and Adriano, Song and Cesc and Song and Ini.

    4. Pedro
    Just needs to calm down when on the attack. Last night, he shot to score instead of crossing to a completely clear Messi standing in front of an open goal. Split second stuff, for sure, but when Pedro is in full-game mode, those decisions become instinctive. You can’t fault his defence though – he’s a terrier – constantly running and moving.

    There’s a lot of over-thinking going on in some of the players. I experience it myself when playing padel – too long on a shot and I muff it because I’m thinking too much about it. The best plays come when I don’t have the time to think too much.

    Villa, Pedro and Alexis just need to relax a little and let their natural game flow. Cesc is getting that opportunity now without either Xavi or Ini on the pitch. Perhaps Villa, Pedro and Alexis need the ops without Messi? 😀

    1. Agreed about Cesc–he works best in the Iniesta role. Which is a bit unfortunate, since Iniesta is at the peak of his career. Tito will be making some tough choices, but right now Cesc is in brilliant form and deserves to be played.

      As for Song, he is definitely more comfortable in his natural DM position, but he’s no Busquets. His passes are often just that bit off target–usually the person he is passing to can get to it easily, but he loses too many balls and takes that extra split second to decide what he is going to do with the ball when he has it. Hopefully that level of skill will improve with practice. He is very good at regaining possession, mind you, and doesn’t seem to pick up silly fouls like Busi–maybe the opponents are a little scared of him. That can only be a good thing!

    2. I actually thought that Iniesta should’ve come on in midfield to help Xavi control the midfield battle and have some longer possession since Busi is in defense. And move Cesc to LW.

      Song’s passes are also not to the intended player’s favored feet. He still needs to learn his team mate’s preferences. He will get there.

    3. Possession stats is important Nzm. If we have less of the ball that means the opposition has more opportunities to score isn’t it?

      Fortunately it was just Rayo, imagine it was Madrid or a strong CL opponent. We will surely get punished especially with that type of back line.

    4. Yes – that’s true – possession is important, but only if we’re winning, and by that I mean we need to be up by 2 goals.

      If Barca has possession of the ball and does nothing with it – it leaves 2 possibilities:
      1. a draw.
      2. the other team gets a breakaway winning goal, like Chelsea, and then all that possession means nada.

    5. blitzen: Yes, Song and Busquets are 2 different fish.

      Busquets plays for the ball about 90% of the time – he has an uncanny sense of where the ball will be and intercepts the ball, not the player. Sometimes he’ll get it wrong, and that’s when he makes fouls.

      Song 80% plays the man – the ball carrier. He places his body in front of the player and blocks the play. This is why he depends on a double-team effort to relieve the player of the ball – he blocks, the other team-mate recovers the ball.

      Both are, however, extremely effective at interceptions between players – they just know when to stick out their legs and claim back the ball.

      Both are also extremely good at distribution of the ball, although, even in the short time that he’s played, I’ll give Song the edge in this department because he’s willing to pass the ball to players other than Xavi. Perhaps that’s more out of not understanding the Barca “hierarchy” that Song passes to other players, but I think that it’s good that Song mixes it up a little so that the team loses some of the predictability in its plays.

      Busquets pretty much always makes his forward or side passes to Xavi as his first choice.

      This is an area of Busi’s play in which he needs to develop. He likes to play safe which isn’t a bad thing, but at times he needs to be looking for that faster, killer pass to the forwards for the goal. He’s more than capable of doing it, as he’s demonstrated a couple of times already.

      I like that there are choices in midfield for DM with Song and Busquets, and I trust Tito to utilise them in the best ways.

  19. fun game to watch. our team won 5-0. clean sheet for a makeshift defense with no first stringers.

    i also want to say hello to chop, are you an RM troll? one of the most negative voices on this blog, ever. yo, 25 of 27 points with the injuries we have? and you still find place to say this is the worst we’ve been in years? cmon, lad.

    back to the game…tito is the man. he rests iniesta and we still come out 5-0.

    as far as bartra, tito has said many times that he knows bartra and knows when to play him. he’s not gonna rush him. we dont want another bojan. bartra is young and tito knows him best. in tito i trust.

    1. Why even acknowledge him? That’s exactly what he/she wants. You feed the fire instead of throwing a bucket of sand onto it.

  20. This has been a fantastic comments thread.
    I was going to say I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these posts (though I respect if(that) Kxevin would prefer to keep a more regular standard of ‘watching the game multiple times with notes’), but I’ve become downright enthusiastic if everyone else is going to pitch in like this. It’s great food for thought!

    I watched this game at the NYC penya. It’s not a short trip for me, but it was a lot of fun, I’d like to do it again! I didn’t try talking to strangers much as I was exhausted from the previous day, but I’d like to be more social next time.
    If anyone goes there, let me know, I’d love to say hi!

    Smithfield NYC
    215 West 28th Street
    (between 7th and 8th Avenue)
    New York, NY 10001

    1. I was there. Not all the time but esp for weekday matches cause other times I’m in Brooklyn.

      Let us know here on blog when you plan to go next.

      Not sure how we’ll find each other but there’s not many girls there who you can see are super into the match and obviously for Barca.

      I’m usually seated/standing by the bar, middle part.

  21. What you write about Cesc adapting and the team not playing the same way raises an interesting question:

    Has Cesc changed (slowed down, less chaos) to fit the FCB scheme or has the team changed (more chaos, directness) to fit Cesc’s style?

    1. I think its a little bit of both. Forwards are more hopeful making runs now knowing cesc will probably attempt some kind of ridiculous pass. Cesc has also become more adept at keeping possession and making himself available. He’s not perfect at it yet, but damn it if he keeps assisting and scoring like he is now, who really cares?

  22. To get the best out of Alexis we will have to play him central more often with Messi behind him, IMO. Like how we did in last year’s December Classico which we won 3-1.

  23. I read in the last post someone saying that it was Barca’s worst match since the Pep era to which I agree to a certain extent. It was imo our worst match along with the Supercopa match at the Bernabeu where we couldn’t string 3 passes together.

    The commenter got a lot of negative feedback. Fortunately I was on my phone and too lazy to type on my droid. Otherwise I would’ve gotten some stick too.

    What I don’t understand is, why is it so wrong for him to voice his opinion and everyone is perfectly fine when a regular commentor here posts the same opinion?!

    1. lets spend lots of time trying to figure out whether this was our worst match, or not. because we really, really need to figure that out.

      visca barca! love this team.

    2. Can’t say I agree mate. I think having cesc in midfield has essentially become our plan B if you will when dealing with heavy pressing/ brave teams. His direct play has been a breath of fresh air and his assist numbers have been outstanding.

      Tito can very easily get this team to play the mind numbing/almost pointless posession we saw in pep’s last year, or he can get us playing this type of uber direct ruthless football. I appreciate the fact that he has that tactical option now, which is why I think this is the most dynamic barca team since 08.

    3. Barca96, nothing was wrong with his comment. Same with those that disagreed with the original comment. Look both sides. Just opinions and don’t take them as facts.

      And in my opinion, the game yesterday was not the worst match since Pep’s era. I remembered one particular match last season that was worse than this one – Against Osasuna on one frozen winter day; nothing went in; possession was scrappy; and yeah, we lost that game.

      Here is a link to re-live that game 😉


  24. – Anyways it was one of our worst matches, not just by looking at the possession stats alone. We could hardly come out of our own half for goodness sake!!

    Most of it had to do with Busi playing in CB instead of DM. Busi is paramount for tiki-taka. Xavi alone can’t handle a high pressure match like this.

    – Song did okay but of course he is no Busi. He also doesn’t position himself wisely to receive the ball.

    – VV still punts the ball and giving the ball directly to the opposition or out at least a handful of times. If you want to punt it, punt it as far as possible!!

    – We will be punished when we face a strong side in CL or Madrid.

  25. I’m at crossroads. Busi is a better CB hence less goal scoring opportunities for the opposition but by putting him at CB and Song at DM, we lose a lot of possession especially without Iniesta to help Xavi out.

    Which would you guys choose? Busi at CB and Song at DM or the other way around?

    I choose the latter. If we have more possession, the opposition have less chance to score. Simple. Busi is just so important in midfield.

  26. Is if for real that Iker voted for Ramos for Ballon D’or? I really don’t buy into this. I mean, how can he choose Ramos over the more obvious, either Messi, Iniesta or Ronaldo??!!

    He is not doing any of his team mates a favor except for Ramos. It doesn’t even look like he’s trying to split the votes.

    Strange decision if it was true.

    1. Yes, it’s true. He did it because there’s a power struggle between he and Mou right now. He did it to spite Ronaldo and Mou. There’s a huge division between the Portuguese and Spaniards at EE. Iker has been getting a lot of abuse from the pro-Mourinho press the last couple of months. Iker making this choice public is him telling Mou to “stick it!”.

  27. Of course he will say that, we kept a clean sheet and scored five, which we haven’t done in a while.
    As for the possession stats and percentage. I just don’t buy the theory that more that you hold the ball, more chances you will create. It’s up to the opponent. With Rayo (no disrespect) or similar teams when we play them abroad it wont be the worst thing possibly that we can do if we let them have some possession of the ball, if that means that we can be more lethal with the pace, passes, directness and goal opportunities.
    The Barca last night looked more like the Barca of the 90’s, especially Romario, Stoichkov, Ronaldo era. And i liked it, for a change.

    1. Possession isn’t everything and doesn’t guarantee you chances but when most of that possession is in the opponent’s half and when they have to chase around knowing they can’t make a single mistake in covering it does wear them down. Also, the more they have the ball in our half the more we run and potentially they have a better chance to score than if hey only have the ball 25% of the time.

      There are a lot of teams as good at attacking as us, a lot better at defending but nobody as good at keeping the ball and wearing down the opposition. If we slug it out we will win some and lose some because of it.

      I’m not in the slightest worried about the smaller teams and whether they have a go or park.. As was said on TV last night they are only choosing how they die. The games at the business end of the season are a different matter altogether.

    2. I think lots of people in here are viewing it backwards :

      We had a makeshift defence and Song at DM against a team that was pressuring high while playing on their small field;
      tito ordered the defense to not take any risks so that’s why the clearances to the wide lines , Valdes not preferring to short pass to them since we could get punished for it.

      Also Tito wished for having a more relaxed game at some point in the previous match conference after the game with Celtic and he made sure that was it following the above principles.

  28. rayo was courageous.

    despite having a high back line and possessing a high percantage of possession for a barca opponent they had very few chance.

    we scored 5,some brilliant forward play,some lovely play from our fullbacks,beautiful reading shown buy a Fb converted to CB,more than ok performance from a newbie DM,kept a spirited and courageous Rayo to only limited chances and yet the talk is “is this the worst play of this season? “or “is this is the worst play of the past 3 -4 years?”

    Cules never ceases to amaze me.

    my player review.

    VV :done ok. punted unnecessary when there was no pressure.

    montoya: pretty decent.nothing spectacular. fantastic assist to messi.

    Adriano:fantastic. showed good anticipation and speed.sometimes played with the ball too much .my MOTM.

    Busi: meh. cannot got away playing him as a CB against the top sides.

    Alba : the r8 sided Dani of the 08-09. we got the best LB for a very cheap price.

    Song: he was not busi.but he was no slouch either.got physical.needs to improve his positioning and speed of play.very very good replacement for busi.

    Xavi : worst player for us. he missed busi thats for sure.

    Fab: fabulous.simply fabulous.his first time ball in the attacking third to me is what separates him from the other la masia midfielders.great defensive work also.

    pedro: pedro was pedro.tireless work,showed great pace.fantastic cross for cesc.his contributions are often ignored by the people.but to me he is untouchable when in this kind of form.

    messi: meh and meh.nothing special only 2 cracker of a goal.

    villa: he is threatening when he played in the middle,in the left he is nothing now at this age.neat finish.


    Jds: people talk bout xavi replacement,i always thought him as the player who will take the xavi role,may be that boat had sailed.but showed great defensive work and fabulous vision by giving the ball to alexis who as usual fluffed a chance which was difficult to miss.

    alexis : so timid and short of confidence right now.always looking for the passes even when there were no defenders in front him.great work ethic and his inclusion made alba very adventourous.but if he continually misses his chance i think he will soon find the bench permanently.

    he is so impressive playing in front of messi.why didnt tito try this combo from the star?

  29. I can see a lot of Song-bashers are now taking a half-way staging position: he’s improving (better at DM anyway) but his passing is a bit off-target and he slows the play. In a few weeks, of course, after he’s hit a few defense splitting passes, you’ll say he’s now fully arrived. Why wait? He’s the real deal now. Come on over to the supporters club.

    1. The fact that Busi and Adriano are playing CB and not song, should be a clear enough statement.

    2. I think a lot of us are taking a practical approach. Why wait? Because he hasn’t fully arrived. There is still a lot of work for him to do to fully integrate into our team and system. He’s played well and I’m of the opinion that he will be fantastic. However, I can also recognise what others have pointed out as deficiencies in his game. I am rather surprised at his lack of speed, because all the reports on him coming in were that he had speed to burn. He won’t replace Busi, because no one can. He will help give Busi rest while we compete for 3 trophies a year and give Tito options that he wouldn’t have had otherwise. He can also fill in when all of our CB’s are injured or on red cards. Basically, it’s called intelligent dialogue between supporters on this site. I’m all for different opinions on all players, even Messi. That’s why I appreciate Kxevin’s reviews. He sees what he sees and doesn’t pull punches to appease anyone. It’s his truth. I don’t have to agree with it. I respect it.

  30. Haven’t seen the match yet, but with multiple people claiming their surprise that Song isn’t faster I wonder if it has something to do with that Cruijff quote:

    “Speed is often confused with insight. When I start running earlier than the others, I appear faster. “

  31. Thanks Kxevin for the mini review!

    Vilanova isn’t as forgiving, or as kind. He’s a coach who knows exactly what he wants, and how to get it. If he doesn’t think you are The Way, you won’t be.

    This quote is interesting, and though it may be true that Tito doesn’t favor a particular player, I still think there’s an exception and his name is Cesc Fabregas.

    Totally speculating on my part, but I do feel that Tito really wants Cesc to succeed at Barca, not that he doesn’t want Alexis to reach the same height, but I just sense that Tito is more emotionally invested in Cesc’s performance at the club.

    My reasons:

    1) Cesc’s purchase was heavily influenced by Tito’s advice. We worked for two or three years to buy him.

    2) Tito coached Cesc as a kid, and on more than one occasions in the past, Pep always said that Tito knows Cesc’s strengths and weaknesses.

    3) This season with Tito in charge, Cesc has seen a lot more playing time (ok, at the beginning of last season, Cesc also gained some playing time but not that consistent). This season, I think Cesc starts in almost every game.

    4) Tito has worked to accommodate Cesc, believe it or not. Maybe sometimes he’s done out of necessity, giving Xavi a rest etc… but when it’s time to choose his starting 11, Cesc is always on the list. I think Cesc starts in every game except one of the Spanish copa clasicos.

  32. Lets just say Barca dodged some bullets in Giovanni and Fontas. I hadn’t seen the former in play before, but the first question one had after this display against Madrid, what part of Giovanni’s double helix has any blaugrana in it? Looks a selfish player, always trying extravagant dribbles only to look a fool, especially against Ramos and Varane.

    Fontas, boy, was he a disaster yesternight? Utterly responsible for EE’s second goal; poor circulation, misplaced passes throughout and thoroughly outplayed (also out of position as DM! – Caparros surely had a brain dead night). It is no wonder that Tito thought Fontas wasn’t even good for the squad. It is going to take a yeoman struggle for him to try come back in the next year surely.

    1. Fontas was embarassing … although I wouldn’t make him responsible for the goals as at least goal 1 and 2, which was all I watched, resulted from defensive mistakes of his team mates.

    2. Was Fontas that bad? Ok maybe he made mistakes that led to them conceding but was he overall bad?

      Can’t believe Mallorca don’t have any better player than him.

  33. Now Txiki has followed Soriano to Man City. Hopefully this doesn’t mean that Pep will end up at City one day. Really don’t want to see that. The only club I wouldn’t mind seeing Pep coach other than Barca is Man Utd.

  34. Didn’t have time to scroll through 76 comments but; has anyone mentioned Dani Alves?

    And by that I mean, his huge downfall this season. Is it the typical Brazilian curse that we have seen time and time again?

    I’d love for someone to do a dedicated post on the scenario, as for me he has been basically rubbish all season, which pains me to say as I love the man and what he has done over the last few seasons on the flank.

    I’d love to know more about whats going on with Dani; as I genuinely fear he wont be back to what we expect and I can’t help but fear a exodus back to South America or even one last paycheque call over in Anzhi beckons…


    1. I really hate when people say “I can’t be bothered to read through the comments” and then expect people to read theirs. Because yes, there has been plenty of discussion regarding Dani Alves.

      However. To answer your question, Dani has picked up several injuries already this season, starting with the broken collarbone. This may have something to do with him not being at his usual level of performance. He hasn’t had a chance to get into a proper rhythm. Montoya has been great in the games he has played, but let’s not write Dani off just yet, hmmk?

    2. I just said I didnt have time. Now I’m back at home I can peruse the comments at my leisure 😀

      Agree with your sentiments, it’s hard not to hold certain key players at a set standard, and then it’s also human nature to get concerned when they “drop off” that 10-15%.

      Not doubting what your saying re: injuries (did my own collarbone playing soccer back when I was 17) – Montoya has been handy, and with the rotation of players minutes are not as freely given as they have been in the past (a good thing).

      I still can’t help but have that nagging thought that its more than just a funk though – that’s the pessimistic Cule comming out but…he’s at that crazy Brazilian age where they all go loopy lol…

    3. Brazilian fullbacks sometimes play on at the very top level until their mid-30s though (Sylvinho CL final, Cafu…). Wouldn’t be too quick to write off Dani, he’s barely had the chance to get to 100% this season!

    1. Great to see that Messi is wearing a suit. So many of the players turn up to events looking like they’ve just stepped off a running track.

    2. Oh God – Marca just went up in my regards.

      Along with the big trophy, they just presented Messi with a small Golden Boot for his baby!

  35. Looks like we’ll be seeing a new frontline combo tomorrow in the CdR game – Messi, Pedro, Xavi, Alba and Valdes aren’t travelling to the Basque Country, according to barcastuff.

  36. Nice of the officials in other leagues to make our Liga officials not seem all that horribke any longer. First that ridiculous Juventus offside debacle, in which Catania was hosed not once, but TWICE.

    Then Mark Clattenburg turns in a howler in, oh, only the biggest match in the Prem that week. To boot, Jan-Obi Mikel is alleging that Clattenburg called him a “monkey.”

    Suddenly the occasional blind Liga dude diesn’t seem so bad ….

    1. I’m watching, with interest, this year’s La Liga referee participation in the “Send Off A Manager” game that they appear to be playing. Rayo’s Paco was about the 8th manager to be sent from the sidelines, so far, this season – seemingly for trivial reasons, and sometimes not of the manager’s doing. The standard punishment seems to be a 2 match ban from the sidelines.

      The Clattenburg event will be a major. The English refs are mic’ed for sound, so that their comments can be monitored. He would have to be an idiot to say what he’s being accused of uttering, in which case he needs to go.

    2. It does seem that the referees have decided en masses to crack down on dissent/abuse from managers. I don’t mind, as long as the punishments are applied equally—and so far they do seem to be.

    3. To be fair to Clattenburg he didn’t make that bad of calls. Ivanovic was a straight red. No brainer. Torres was questionable. He has a history of diving. He shouldn’t of gotten a yellow earlier in the game and then leave it to the ref to decide his fate. The non offside call on Hernandez wasn’t his call. It shouldn’t been the assistant referee’s decision. So, I wouldn’t say he had a howler of a game. It’s more like the English media’s over hyped microscopic analysis of the game because of the teams involved and their status in the league standings.

    4. He lost control of the match. That Torres call was a very tight one. Diving should be a certainty. The shin clip was clear, even if it wasn’t of sufficient venom to make Torres make like an Olympic diver. If you aren’t sure, err on the side of not affecting the match. That should be Ref 101 stuff.

      The Ivanovic call was clear-cut, and you’re right about the assistant’s decision. But that match went so bad because he wasn’t in control. Everybody was going down as if shot, because why not? You know people are going down a lot when Ashley Young is one of the restrained ones.

    5. I was watching that match. Ivanovic was a straight red no doubt. But the Torres 2nd yellow was a mistake. I reckon it was more due to the recent attention to diving that made Clattenburg be happy to punish a player for diving.

      Now that diving is a hot topic, referees seem to not give the players (fouled players) any benefit of doubt.

    6. In the few matches that I’ve watched Man Utd play, I must say that Rafael da Silva is one hell of a dirty player. Thought so a few years back and still is. I thought that he would’ve matured by now but he is still reckless and dirty.

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