As James Brown sang in the amazing “Mind Power,” You know, we’re dealing with a very critical and crucial time, the most critical and crucial time that I’ve ever witnessed …. the educators, they call it ESP, positive thinking right? Some of the people over there on the other side of the pond call it mind vibrations. But I call it what it is is what it is.
So what your mind does is, it tells you things, even though you don’t want to listen to it. If you’re the mighty FC Barcelona, kings of all you survey, your mind is telling you “Dude. Chill. What have these guys scored, like 4 goals or something? We got this. Just relax.”
If you’re bottom-feeding Xerez, what your mind is saying is “You can make history today, if you find more than you think you have, more than you will ever have again. Be mighty. Now get to work.”
Let’s get back to James Brown for a second …. If you don’t work, you can’t eat …. so you got to have mind power to deal with starvation. It doesn’t take anything special mentally to enjoy the good times. You stroke the ball around, you score goals by the ton, everybody has a laugh and you collect the trophies.
But it takes something very special if all you have, all you can see, is nothing. If you’re a side that has round-trip tickets to the segunda, to play a match like Xerez played against us deserves some big-time, major credit. And do you know what? With a little more talent on their side of the pitch, we could have come out of this one with egg on our gold-plated faces. Which would not have been a good thing, rolling into a stretch that features something like 6,325,819 games in two days or something, a stretch where we can solidify our Copa aspirations, clinch the Champions League knockout stages and take a big step toward retaining the Liga title.
Other times, your mind tells you stuff, and it’s right. Then you need your coach to put things into perspective:
“It was very difficult for us. It was evenly balanced and in the end the quality of the players decided it. We didn’t play at our level but over the year you get this type of game. In part I understand it because we had to make a great mental effort after playing to remain in Europe and then facing the leaders. The head controls everything.”
So he rolled out a lineup of Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Txigrinski, Maxwell, The Yaya, Keita, Xavi, Pedro!, Krkic, Henry, thinking that these guys would be enough to scrape out a goal at worst. Because as an ex-player, the reason that Guardiola called the guys out before this match is that he knows the danger of a match such as this one, after a week that featured two ENORMOUS matches. And our lads hitched up their petticoats and strolled into a bar fight as Xerez and our own VicSan played like we were trying to steal something from them. And we were …. their dignity.
“If Getafe laid 5 goals on them, how many are Barca going to lay on them, 47?” Players have pride, and those guys clutched, and scratched, and ran, and clawed. They didn’t foul out of malice, they fouled because they were throwing their bodies around the pitch. And we just swanned around like a king frolicking with the peasants, knocked in a couple of goals and called it a day.
The first one came when Maxwell did exactly what we bought him to do: Took a ball in space, controlled it and smoked a perfect cross to an onrushing Henry, who knew exactly what was going down, and where his head needed to be to knock the ball home. So he hung back, then began his run at the precise moment that would make him unplayable, except at risk of a penalty, and headed the ball home.
That this goal came after a desultory, pretty much stankalicious first half by us is why this game is so cruel. Did Xerez deserve better than a bloody scalp and a loss? Sure. But sometimes you get what you get, not what you deserve.
Some will say that well, the pitch was bad, so we couldn’t really string our passes together, blah, blah, blah. Nonsense. We just weren’t sharp. As Marquez flicked around rotten pass after rotten pass, as Xavi popped a ball right to a Xerez attacker that a better side would have made us pay for, as The Yaya just stuck his legs out and lounged around, the evidence was clear. “Why take that extra step? It’s Xerez. Save yourself for the tough times to come.”
There goes that mind again.
Then came some key substitutions, just to get the lads some time before an important this weekend, against Super Depor. And consider for a moment, the luxury of being able to bring off of your bench, Ibrahimovic, Messi and Iniesta. For no other reason than to keep the motor purring in what for your side is a practice match.
And then you get a second goal, that just comes from sheer quality, as Messi slid a ball to Ibrahimovic for a cheeky, chipped goal that was a lot more difficult than it looked. So we won. Yay!
Can we fault our lads for not taking this one as seriously as they should, for not playing with the sharpness that their coach demanded? Okay. But as I said, that mind is a powerful thing.
Team: 3. Mind or no mind, they didn’t put out, and with a little more quality, Xerez would have scored a goal or two.
Guardiola: 8. Did pretty much all that he could, and made the right substitutions. He tried getting them mentally ready for what they were going to face, but sometimes the kids just don’t listen.
Valdes: 8. Dealt well with the Xerez chances, and continued his excellent run of play. Mentally, this was a match that was hard to stay into, but if he doesn’t, things might have gotten messy.
Alves: 7. Laid up some crosses that deserved better, and didn’t succumb to the overall malaise. Yes, he got caught up the pitch on a few breaks, but you just aren’t counting on your teammates to screw up and just gift the ball to the opposition.
Marquez: 4. A coterie of awful passes kept finding Xerez players. And he strolled around with that “Waiting for the train” face that he has. He made a few reasonable plays, but overall, ick. Yes, he played better in the second half, but he was climbing Shit Mountain.
Txigrinski: 6. Just a nice, solid match as he works his way back toward being the player that he was before his injury.
Maxwell: 5. Man, how could I forget Neo Soul? Overall, some good, some bad. I like his offense, and want to see more of it. Positionally, he needs focus to make up for his lack of sheer pace.
The Yaya: 4. Played like he wanted to be somewhere else. After talking all that shit in the days previous, you’re supposed to take that starting spot, shake it by the scruff of the neck and dominate. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen our man mountain play a worse match in the colors.
Keita: 7. Nice job as the foul magnet. Charged the box very well on set pieces, but needed to finish better. Those don’t cost you against Xerez, but they could against Depor, Valencia, Sevilla, etc, etc. I love his defense. Love!
Xavi: 5. Mind. Vibrations. Yes, I give him some slack for coming off an immense week in which he was absolutely magisterial. Still….
Pedro!: 4. Where did his first touch go yesterday? Oh, wait. Never mind. Mind. Vibrations. He’s still going to be erratic as he continues his path toward excellence. This was one of those matches. Nice that he looked so bummed coming off because of letting the side down. I like that.
Krkic: 4. Dude, what the hell. This is supposed to be your kind of match, and you’re out there with Henry and Pedro!, taking feeds from Xavi. That excellent ball in from Alves demonstrated the Cuddly Quandary. A similar ball from Alves to Ibrahimovic on Sunday was volleyed past the best keeper in the game. Krkic took it, hesitated, ran around and the chance went begging.
Henry: 5. He had one of those Etch-A-Sketch matches, where the pitch gets a shake and he disappears. Again, he should have owned this match. Hell of a goal, for sure. He was working hard, and it was nice to give him time with Messi and Ibrahimovic as that trio tries to come together. But we need more.
Messi (for Pedro!): 7. He knew what he had to do, which was get some match time in his legs and get warm, and he did it. Had a few nice runs, and slotted through that excellent ball to help Ibra beat the offside trap.
Ibrahimovic (for Krkic): 7. Again, he knew what he had to do, and he probably played a little harder than Guardiola wanted. But what a lovely goal. Should he have slid the ball back over to Messi? Maybe. But no striker on the planet is going to give that ball back, not with the goal yawning like that.
Iniesta (for Henry): 6. Nice effort, but please, please, PLEASE tell me how you missed that sitter. Talk to a brotha.
Bonus news and notes:
–FIFA is considering some form of punishment for Henry, after the l’incident du main. Stay tuned for that one, but I’m with the announcer in calling bullshit on any sort of sanction. If you’re going to punish someone, punish the ref who blew the call. Shame on them for not manning the hell up. It was a mess. Add the 5th offcial and move on. But if they do that, that would be admitting that anything was wrong. Let’s instead punish the player. FIFA=Fail.
–Laser pointers? EE players are saying that there were some naughty cules pointing laser pens at them during the match. It gives the likes of Pepe and Casillas the chance to grumble, and Jorge Valdano says “they are both dangerous to the eyes and violate fair play.” Agreed. But come on, dude. That was war.
–And the burden of excellence can be heavy, but did everyone know that this year, we are off to our best start evah, with 10 wins and 3 draws? I know that last year felt like we were doing a lot better, but feelings can be deceiving, right? We also have tallied one more point to this stage in the season than last year’s treble-winning squad.
And to send you off smiling….