blitzen awards, the very short post-Sandy edition

Hey guys. Sorry for the brevity of this post, but even though my city was only peripherally affected by the hurricane, I personally have been suffering from pressure headaches all week. This is all I managed to write before my brain turned off again.

Anyhoo. I enjoyed the game and thought our boys played very well. I was particularly happy to see that Bartra and Sergi Roberto played a full 90 minutes and were outstanding. Villa was as good as I have seen him in ages, and was clearly not happy to come off after 70 minutes (but it was for his own good and he knew it). Alaves was…well, not very good really, but the stadium was full and the fans certainly had fun and can go home and brag about that time they saw Iniesta score a fantastic goal and made it look so easy. Good times.

Hallelujah, He’s a Bum Award: It is a truth universally acknowledged that the more Cesc Fabregas resembles a hobo in appearance, the better he plays. Right now he looks like the guy who has been sleeping in the parkette next to my house for the last 5 years, and has been in the best form we’ve seen since this time last year (Cesc, not the homeless guy). He has 5 goals from his last 6 games, plus a handful of assists, but more importantly, he has been playing with intelligence and freedom and making his teammates’ games better as well!

Brother Can You Spare a Dime? Award: Pinto, who was the special target of generosity from the friendly Basque crowd, who donated their small change to supplement his meagre salary. Unfortunately one of the coins connected with his head, which must have stung a bit. Some kind soul also shared his bocadillo, but sadly Cuenca was not available to be given it.

How To Make Friends And Influence People Award: What is it about Dani Alves? Something about his personality and playing style incites crowds to fury and causes opposing players to do things like deliberately kick him in the goolies (yeah, it looked pretty deliberate to me in the slo-mo replay). Is it his swag? His smirk? The fact that he just dun curr what you think? Or is it a deliberate strategy on Dani’s part to distract and infuriate his opponents to lead them into making mistakes?

MOTMOTMOI Award: This might be a controversial one, but I’m going to give it to Dani Alves, if for no other reason than his urgent desire to get the ref to allow him back into the game while still clutching his dented bollocks. Oh, and he also had an excellent game. He looked like a man with something to prove, and he certainly did. His high cross for Cesc’s goal was absolutely perfect!

That’s Zamora! Award: Including yesterday’s game, Pinto has a 100% clean sheet record this season! Maybe this is the perfect Valdes replacement you all have been looking for? 😛

Carpe Diem Award: Many of us (especially me) have been pretty harsh on Jonathan Dos Santos for stubbornly digging in his heels and refusing to go out on loan to get playing experience. I haven’t changed my mind on that, but I’m happy to give JDS credit for training hard and making the most of the two opportunities he has been given to play. He has only had about 30 minutes total on the pitch, but was very good both times. Well done, Jona.

My Left Foot Award: Unless you live under a rock, you will know that Lionel Messi has won the European Golden Shoe (or Boot, if you prefer) for the 2011/12 season. Congratulations, Leo! I couldn’t help but notice that both of his trophies represent left boots-which is fitting, since Leo scores most of his goals with his left foot. You would think at some point they could make him a right boot, mind you, so he can have a proper pair! 😀

By blitzen

Canadian, cule, corporate wage slave. Came late to the beautiful game, but fell under FCB's spell in 2006 and never looked back.


  1. LOL good one. As i found out on cuatro, the Alaves fans, after seeing Pinto go down clutching his nogging, accused him of teatro
    🙁 Pinto is my hero after setting Arbeloa straight but, contrary to the ref and the fans, that was no sandwich or teatro.

  2. I couldn’t stop chuckling at Phil Schoen’s speculation about why there weren’t more Bs in the side, rather than the simple reason that they had a match that next day, because of the cancellation due to a waterlogged pitch last week.

    1. Is he on twitter? Maybe you should suggest that he read this blog before each Barca game that he commentates!

  3. Neymar vs Aguero?

    Me? Aguero
    Why? Proven link up play with Messi and lethal finisher.

    How about you guys?

    1. Both are defensive liabilities, but I would rather think about the time when Messi isn’t Messi any longer. Messi is 25. Aguero is 24. Neymar is 20. Aguero’s up side is already known. He isn’t getting a lick better than he is right now. Neymar’s up side is immense, with the right coach/system/influences.

      Neymar, from what I have seen, is more than just a striker. Many a player links up well with Messi. That ain’t hard. “Here’s this perfect pass.” “Whoa! Thanks, little dude!” Done.

      The biggest ways that Neymar has improved are ways that if Wrongaldo improved, he’d have more of a shot at people not giggling when you say he’s the best player in the world: he brings those around him into the play much better than he has in the past; much improved passing; end-to-end dynamics.

      Aguero is a hell of a striker, and I would argue that his choice of Citeh was misguided. He would have been much better at RM. Happily, he didn’t make that call. But for my 40-50m, I’d take Neymar any day of the week. It isn’t all about Messi, right?

    2. Completely agree. Aguero hasn’t peaked yet, but he’s pretty close to it. Neymar is more like Messi than we want to believe. His passes and runs are amazing. He would fit perfectly into the Barca system on the left hand side. He definitely would have to work on his defense. Pressing and tracking back are not really his thing. He is also allowed tons of space to run at in the Brazilian league because the Full Backs play a lot deeper there. He won’t get that space in La Liga and will have to have time to adjust. That’s why his comments yesterday about it NOT being the right time to move are misguided. He says he’s comfortable and happy there. That’s not necessarily a good thing. He has to continue to progress or he’ll start regressing. The only way for that to happen is to move soon. If not January then June. If he stays until WC 14 he’ll be far worse for it than Barca will. Visca Barca!

    3. We’ve also seen what Neymar looks like when given little space to operate. We did it to him in the CWC and good National teams do it to him. He definitely needs to move to adjust quickly.

    4. Not exactly an analogous situation. In the CWC he not only didn’t have much space, but barely had the ball to create any kind of chance.

      I do agree though that time has come for him to move, the longer he waits the more difficult it will be for him to adjust.

    5. Yeah I too noticed that Neymar improved a hell lot on his passing. He’s not all fancy dribbling now.

    6. Neymar vs Aguero? Neither, I would rather have a fit Tello and Cuenca, with an Alexis who takes on players(or plays naturally without thinking too hard), and a David Villa, who can make the right runs without going offside. Pedro has already earned his exclamation mark with his energy and speed. He needs to take on more players to get his second exclamation mark. I am happy with the current team.

    7. Idk. Neymar is a special talent. If you had asked me one year ago, I would have said no (in fact I think I did on this blog, hehe) but not anymore. I would love him at Barcelona next summer.

      It is not hard to imagine that he will be a better player than all of the ones you just mentioned. At 20 years old he has already scored 139 goals. And he’s not a poacher – he can dribble and pass the ball, too. If he comes in with the right attitude – humility and willingness to work his butt off at becoming as good as possible – the sky’s the limit.

    8. If he comes to Barca, will he be forced to play where Alexis and Villa play now? Wouldn’t limit his ability to shine?

    9. Blau-Grenade, the problem with your preference is that most of these conditions don’t exist right now and have never existed all at the same time:
      Cuenca – not fit
      Alexis – over-thinks
      Villa – offside

      Villa, additionally, is not young. He will need to be replaced in two years max.

  4. Well, maybe he said it was not the right time to move yet because he knows he is coming to Barcelona next summer, right?

  5. Twitter is buzzing about this: There is a campaign by Real Oviedo to, essentially, save themselves. Shares in the club will go on sale Nov. 3. Many folks are trying to organize something to get and funnel monies to the club, or figure out an easier way to make contributions. As many of you know, Sid Lowe is an Oviedo supporter. Huge. He’s willing to help organize efforts, so stay tuned. Information here:

  6. I asked barcastaff why Pique has been out for so long and this was their reply: got another injury while recovering.. 🙁
    Hope he recovers soon…

  7. For me Alexis Sanchez is untouchable. Unsellable.
    Much more so than Cesc Fabregas or David Villa even though i am a huge villa fan. I don’t understand all this concern about him not scoring goals. do we expect goals from iniesta? When this boy comes good, which he surely will, he is going to be a beast.
    I don’t care much for Neymar, mostly because i don’t know much about him and the usual cynicism that is reserved for swashbuckling brazilian forwards. but many here are saying he is the real deal, so ill take your word for it. but i keep thinking if we are going to splash 40 – 50 mils, i’d rather do it on a falcao.

    1. Pls why is alexis sanchez untouchable? He is just one of the team player afterall. I hope he is given time to prove himself though

    2. I love Falcao but if he comes, Messi will have to surrender his position and move back to RW. Not sure if he would like that but on paper it will work magically. Messi, Iniesta, Cesc and Xavi providing Falcao with passes and crosses and finishes them off.

      Falcao’s buy out clause isn’t that high I believe. It was around Neymar’s price.

    3. Falcao isn’t coming. No way, no how. Recall Vilanova saying that we would have to change our system if he came. This is true. Never mind the cost of the transfer.

  8. Messi didn’t train today because of a “personal issue.” Looks like Mini-Messi’s arrival is imminent!

    In other news, Arsene Wenger has been spotted on a plane bound for Barcelona… 😛

  9. Here’s a good take on the never ending Alexis debate. One key point I’ve made several times on this blog is that we should expect 20 goals from all of our starting forwards in this system regardless of their history. Even though Alexis never scored 20 before coming to Barca, he never had the opportunities he’s to score here. Never had the possession and distribution that makes a 10-15 goal a year scorer a 20 goal a year scorer. Yes Alexis should be given time but he has been time is ticking away and there are a lot of forwards out there that would thrive in this system. Personally I’m still on the fence. His defensive abilities are not unnoticed but as a forward goals are paramount. As well there’s the business end. The last thing we need is another boondoggle where we are getting rid of him at a loss. It happens far too often. So no easy answers here…

  10. You know, there must be something wrong with our system, maybe messi is the problem. Personally i thought the false 9 thingy waz temporary but messi doesnt look like he’s moving…during the days of samuel eto’o (his last season) we saw him moving right-left-center in the forward positions at will because the man loves his space, same can be related to alexis he was pretty gud and intense on the ball at udinese, a good mazy runner, creative hub and a constant presence to opposition defence, he comes to barca where nobody runs anymore and is nt allowed to take more than one player on(which he is currently nt doing at all)…for all of you saying he scores less or doesnt score at all, now envision a very pacey tello waiting for a cutback from iniesta in d 18 yards. Doesnt add right? These type of players hit the ball when they are running………he’s kind of a suarez type of player and will definitely excel in pooling on liver…… Plus pedro’s unwillingness to beat players one on one is kind of alarming(especially d full backs), went bananas versus madrid 4rm shouting “take on marcelo!”

    1. Depends on the coach’s willingness to occasionally adapt to the player…tito will try to fix him right this term, if he can’t the its bye-bye sanchezdo

  11. Affelay and ibra were relatively gud before they moved here and ronaldinho would have been our worst player ever if he transferred during peps era…no space no glow….neymar definitely will be a flop

    1. Sorry but imo R10 at his peak would have been exactly what we need on the LW. Nobody in the world better at breaking a bus. Great pass, great dribble, great shot . No tracking back but you can bet the opposition RB wouldn’t have any thoughts of attacking.

    2. This^^^^^^^^! Can you imagine Dino at his peak say 04-06 playing in this system! He’d pull the RB’s so far wide and even draw the CB covering for the RB. Messi would have a field day! 50 goals was thought impossible. I’m not sure Messi wouldn’t score 15 more with Dino in the squad at his peak. I still get depressed thinking of how much talent he wasted during his prime. He’s playing well right now with lots of pace around him. He’s picking passes out of his bag of tricks like the Dino of old. He doesn’t have to do the mazy runs anymore in the system he’s in and it’s working wonders for him. Hopefully, he keeps it up.

    3. And who will be hogging all the lights and scoring 90 ? It’ll just be another ronaldo-messi rivalry except we dont look to EE for their champion

  12. Vilanova ends the Sanchez debate:

    “Alexis is doing what I ask from him. If he won’t reach the level we expect, it’ll also be because I can’t get the best out of him”

    1. I don’t know that this ends the debate instead of adding fuel to it.

      The “if he won’t reach the level we expect” clause only tends to confirm that Vilanova does not believe Alexis is at that level yet.

      And leaving the door open to Alexis’s possible failure raises the question of when Tito will decide that moment has come and what he intends to do about it — especially from a lineup standpoint — beyond shouldering the blame for it.

    2. Because everyone is crabbing about what Sanchez is or isn’t doing, and what he is doing is exactly what Vilanova is telling him to do. He also says, as do many others willing to declare him a bust in the nanoseconds that comprise Cule Time for many players, that he is a work in progress.

      For me, the “Alexis is doing what I ask from him” is more pertinent to the discussion than the “If he won’t reach the level we expect,” though I can certainly see how that would be the “Aha! He DOES suck!” moment for others.

    3. I think that statement says more about what Tito thinks his potential is, than opening the door to failure…

    1. Of course I am. You got that, eh? What does one have to do with the other? Krkic is a B-team player who was promoted WAY too soon for his own good. He helped the club some, then went into a tailspin once people saw that he could be knocked off the ball by a stiff breeze. The club sent him on loan, never to return again (to my view) except as a stopover.

      Sanchez is a 30m purchase who was outstanding for Udinese, and just as good for his NT. He is a fast, dynamic player with an excellent work rate at both ends of the pitch.

      That’s the difference. As for teasing, I reckon you’re teasing us with litanies of players who were good before coming to the club, “maybe Messi is the problem,” etc, etc. Or are you not?

    2. Hmmm u were the one who brought bojan up…and messi(to many even within the barca ranks) is a buzz killer cause he outshines everyone else…truth is, messi wont be a 50 (dare i say 70?) plus player if he plays LW or SS. Anybody heading our attack should be able bag 30 every season and the wingers just pick minimal apples thats what i meant……..m just saying alexis can only score when messi isnt available

  13. Does the “Nobody will leave in January” apply to Dos Santos? Wow. Just wow. Looks like sincerity + training hard + patience + don’t talk trash + on par performance can change something.

    Did Dos Santos talk to Hleb? 😀

    1. I’m not sure if he was talking about the whole team, or just the forwards, because he went on to qualify with this, “We have 6 attackers, all give us something different, and that’s perfect. We want to keep them all.”

  14. At the end of the day Alexis must produce goals. Last year when Pedro didn’t produce as much as Pep loved him he benched him. I know he said in hindsight that may have been a mistake but forwards at Barca must score goals. When Henry’s production fell after his great year he accepted his role on the bench. We all tend to over analyze things. Yes there are other factors and some games call for certain attributes but I keep going back to our starting forwards should give us 20 goals. I have no doubt that Pedro, Villa and Tello can do that. I’m not so sure about Alexis. When he first came I was certain that he could but I have my doubts now. Everybody goes through slumps and maybe he’s just not being used properly…I don’t know? What I do know is that his contribution this season has not been good enough so far. In my opinion, . I don’t feel like he’s done any better than Bojan would have done.

    1. Correct…I mean David Villa is in form right now,,its obvious he deserves to start over SANCHEZ right now

    2. This doesn’t follow. The club is undefeated in official competitions, because players are knocking in goals. As Vilanova said the club has 6 attackers, each meeting different needs. Will Sanchez get some goals? Yes. Will he get as many goals as Villa or Pedro? Probably not.

      But part of being with a team is having players pick up the slack when someone is down. Villa was down. Now he’s back. Fabregas was up, then down. Now he’s up again. Likewise for Pedro, etc. And so it is for Sanchez. Will he come good? He has the talent to.

      Pedro was benched because he wasn’t playing well overall. I just watched the Copa match. Sanchez had a very good match, except for not scoring goals. Is that his sole responsibility? Absolutely not.

      But, Sanchez had 14 goals last season, his best tally to date as a club player for any team he’s been on. Is he struggling right now? No question. If this club sold every player who was struggling for a stretch, how would the lineup look?

      As for Krkic, he left FCB because he was ineffective and growing more so. He went to Roma, where he was also ineffective. Now he’s at Milan, where he is also ineffective. I know that Krkic is one of the players on my “hate” list, which is pretty long by now, but I don’t see he and Sanchez as part of the same debate.

    3. Maybe I got a little out of hand with the Bobo reference but you kind of make my point. 14 goals is not good enough. He gets a pass since it was his first year with the club but he is regressing. He needs to put up 20 as a starter. That’s been my point all along.

    4. Why does he need to score 20 or even one goal if he is helping the team score goals? Looking at who sticks the ball in the back of the net is incredibly short sighted.
      Against Alves, Alexis stole the ball that led to Iniesta’s goal and, for some strange reason the Villestas gave Villa the credit for toe poking the ball to Iniesta.
      I bet that if you asked Messi who he prefers to play besides he would vote for Alexis in a heartbeat, and that is why Alexis will be at Barca a lot longer than Villa.

    5. Yeah he recovered the ball and delivered a great pass to Villa who touched it on to Iniesta. Alexis deserved loads of credit for that.

      I think he will be at Barca longer than Villa simply because of his age though. I think this whole ‘Messi prefers to play with’ argument is stupid. You are presupposing that you understand someone’s motivations, and projecting this idea on the decisions of the club as well!

      Villa is a class player who brings something different from what Sanchez brings, and really different from any of our other forwards. We are lucky to have diversity in our strike force.

    6. What kind of DREAM world have Cules gotten themselves into? Cules thinking that our forwards should each score 20 goals is incredible. Name me 5 other teams where 3 forwards have scored over 20 goals each season. You can’t. Because it simply doesn’t happen. EE had Ronaldo, Higuain, and Benzema do it last year, but if I’m correct, that was the only team to do so. Did Henry, Eto’o, and Messi score over 20 each in 08/09? I think they did, but that was 4 years ago and I believe EE were the 1st team to do so since then. My point is that it’s not something that can be done at will. Whether through form, injury, system, talent, etc., it’s just not feasible. So Alexis chipping in 14 goals last season was great. If we had Villa and Pedro fit they would’ve contributed as much if not more. We win the Liga and CL. Hoorah! 20 goals a season for a front line is unrealistic and needs to be put into perspective!

    7. Actually looking up the stats:

      Goals in all competitions:

      Messi 73
      Sanchez 15
      Fabregas 15

      Messi 50
      Villa 23
      Pedro 20

      Messi 45
      Pedro 22
      Ibra 21

      Messi 38
      Eto’o 34
      Henry 25

      Messi 18
      Eto’o 18
      Henry 17

      So actually it looks like it is reasonable to expect 3 Barca forwards to score at least 20.

    8. Also looking back Pedro had a really terrible season last year. I mean I knew he did when we were watching, but looking at goal scoring only (and yeah his work rate does mitigate this) he was really bad. Alexis had a pretty good goal scoring year for his first year with the club, and he was out injured for a number of matches. Hard to criticize him for that. Villa was on pace for 20+ goals before he got injured, and he was playing hurt before injury as well.

  15. Thanks for all the responses guys. Appreciate that. C’mon Kxevin, not everyone can have a good link up play with Messi especially in the Argentina NT.
    They only meet once in a while.

    And even in Barça where they train with each other they don’t get a good understanding that easily.

    No one in the Pep era up till now has a better link up play with Messi as Aguero. I’m talking about the forwards only here, LW, RW & CF.

    The only upside of Neymar imo is that he is more versatile. He can play on the wings. Aguero can play LW like he does in the NT but he is more of a center left. Not really winger style. Neymar is perfect for us position wise.

    Another one that I thought we missed out on was Oscar. I’ve watched a handful of Chelsea matches this season because of him and Hazard. What a lovely sweet touch does that kid have ey? I still stand by my stance that Oscar is a better player than Thiago.

    I love me some La Masia but I don’t mind swapping him with Thiago at all. Of course that’s not possible now as Oscar is more valuable now that has regularly proven himself with the big boys since the Olympics.

    1. Not sure what the obsession with Aguero is, but I’d rather have Villa than Aguero, frankly. I stand by my original assessment, as well as the up side predictions. Neymar could be an expensive bust. These things happen. But I’d rather take my chances on him than spending as much as Aguero would cost. Same with Falcao.

      Neymar has the potential to be a spectacular player. As good as Messi? No. Messi is a once in a lifetime phenomenon (even though I hate him). But Neymar, if he comes to Barca, has the potential to give the left side of our attack a punch not seen since Henry’s best season, and more.

  16. all this transfer talk, seems to be centering around attacking players; Neymar, Aguero, Falcao even?

    i’d trade any of them for a Mats Hummels the next time Madrid come calling and we have to play a midfielder and Adriano at center-back. the last time we looked really strong in depth in that position was 08-09′, when we had a fit Gabi Milito and a sharp Rafa Marquez in addition to Puyol and Pique (with Tyrannosaurus Yaya able to fill in). now we have a string of converted defensive midfielders, and it’s showing in the amount of goals we’re shipping; Mascherano had worked well in that position but he’s only played it for 1 1/2 seasons and at the moment he’s our only fit, “established” center-back. that’s insane, when you think about it. we need at least 1, i’d hope for 2 *real* center-backs to come in soon, and don’t talk to me about it being difficult to find “players who can fit into the Barça mold” for that position, since apparently we purchase players (Alex Song) who don’t even play that position and attempt to convert them instead of players who can play in the center of defense and teach them some positioning and passing.

    the center of our defense has to be our transfer priority, and frankly it should have been for the past 2 summers.

    1. I agree that we need CB’s but as a correction Gabi Milito didn’t play a single minute during the 08/09 season.

  17. Having missed most of the last month of the season I find it very hard to follow the discussion about Alexis Sanchez. From what I’ve been reading many people are unhappy with his level of play, and the most common complaint is that he is not providing goals. Having thought this would be his break out goal scoring year (did I jinx him?) I can sympathize with that view, however it’s harder to understand when I look at the praise other players – specifically Pedro – have been getting.

    Sanchez has 1 goal in 12 matches this season, while Pedro has 2 in 14, and Tello has 2 in 11. I’m not going to crunch any numbers, but those scoring records can’t be statistically different. I’ll further point out that Pedro is currently on track to score LESS than he did last season (if he plays the same number of matches). Sanchez is as well, but people are praising Pedro’s play and then turning around and saying Sanchez hasn’t been good enough primarily due to his scoring record.

    For someone who hasn’t actually seen them play much lately, that seems like cognitive dissonance. There must be some other aspect of both Pedro’s and Sanchez’s play that has people praising Pedro and not-so-praising Sanchez.

    The real worry in my mind is how few goals the wingers are scoring this season. Both Pedro and Sanchez are on track to score less than they did last season, and last season was Pedro’s worst goal scoring season when he has played 30+ matches. Hell, even Tello is scoring less goals/game than last season. It worries me that only Villa is scoring well besides Messi on the front line (though I’m glad he is).

    Messi continues to dominate the goal count, but compared to last season we seem to be getting more goals from our midfield (specifically Cesc, although he is probably not scoring significantly (statistically) more per game than last season). Alba also looks like he could pitch in with a Keita 6-pack this season.

    Last season we saw our wingers/outside forwards struggle to score as we used the 3-4-3 a large portion of the season and the wingers were forced to keep tactical width. Just from looking at scoring stats I assume the wingers are being asked to do the same thing this season.

    The question becomes how can the wingers be employed to both maintain tactical width and score goals, or how can the width they provide be utilized to spread goals throughout the team a little more evenly so closing down Messi =/= closing down the team?

    1. Great “truthiness” to the stats you throw out there Calvin. I’m sorry you haven’t been able to catch the matches. They’ve been incredible intense! I’m not worried bout Alexis or Pedro. Both will hit form and grab their goals. All forwards hit a drought throughout the season. Except for Messi. That’s why he scores 50+ goals a season! Hopefully, Villa stays healthy and has a 20+ goal season. If that happens and Pedro and Alexis chip in with teeners than we’ll be good. Our back line is my concern and it’s not going to be fixed by buying 1 CB in the transfer window. That CB will have to adjust as well and take time to adapt. We need Puyol and Pique back pronto!

    2. Part of the reason Alexis has been criticized is because he has had the speed and vision to make runs and receive the ball in favorable scoring positions, but has finished poorly. At the same time, you have to applaud his ability to get into those positions as well. I agree that the standard applied to him is different from that applied to Pedro and Tello.

      Tello has finished well at times, but at others his touch has been poor, and he is not as diligent in work rate as Alexis and Pedro. I think Tello gets the most hype relative to his performance, because he is a youth player just now making good.

      Pedro’s finishing for the NT has been good actually, and to my eyes he has looked more confident and assured than last year. Still the goals have not come for him.

      I do agree with Messiah10 that we will probably have a 50+ goal Messi, ~20 goals for Villa and teens from Pedro and Alexis. If Cesc also chips in the teens, along with the current goalscoring from assorted sources (Alba, Xaviesta, etc) we are fine offensively as a team. And I agree that defense is a bigger concern! Which is why we should rate Pedro and Alexis’ work rate better, as that is an important part of the defense also.

  18. Any thoughts on betis??? Giovanni seemed a kid destined for greatness at barca and NT. I reckon he’s still an attacking threat

  19. Last season we saw our wingers/outside forwards struggle to score as we used the 3-4-3 a large portion of the season and the wingers were forced to keep tactical width. Just from looking at scoring stats I assume the wingers are being asked to do the same thing this season.

    Yes they are and that’s the heart of the issue. It’s first and foremost a system level problem.

    I strongly agree with Calvin’s comment above. Barca has gotten off to a remarkable start. In terms of results better than anyone could have reasonably expected. Then factor in the decimating injuries at the back – it’s way beyond expectation.

    The team is winning but conceding too frequently. The backline & team defense is an issue. Hopefully with injuries resolving that will change. It’s only been a small sample of matches.

    But it does feel like in the face of that success cules are searching for a problem to find and Alexis Sanchez has become the “solution” of sorts.

    Is Sanchez playing up to his potential? No. He himself has candidly made that point on his own. But the primary source of disappointment with him is his lack of goal scoring.

    On the other hand cules are thrilled that Pedro is back on form and playing well. And we should be. Pedro has been excellent IMO.

    But if the parameter for judging success is goals scored then Pedro so far has been a significant failure as well. He’s simply not scoring.

    People can bring up Pedro’s past scoring record – but to be honest it’s not much of a record as he simply hasn’t played that many seasons. Pedro was non-existent as a goal threat not only last season but dating back to the mid-point of the 2010-11 season as well. He hardly scored at all the second half of that season. That continued last season and now into this one. Pedro doesn’t have the body of work that say Villa does.

    And Villa is an even more interesting case. We were assured that he would integrate seamlessly and the reason why it made sense to buy an older striker for so much was that he would produce immediately having played with the Spanish NT.

    Didn’t work that way at all. Villa – also playing on the wing in the evolving Barca system – struggled significantly to score goals the second half of 2010-11 and then into the first half of last season before breaking his leg.

    Villa is one of the great strikers in recent football history. Pedro early on looked like a natural goal scorer. Sanchez was the arguably the best player in all of serie A before coming to Barca.

    All get shipped out to a new kind of wing position within the changing Barca system. All struggle to score. That is not a coincidence.

    All of them – Villa, Pedro and Sanchez are selflessly sacrificing large sections of their game for the team. That’s the price of putting so much of the burden for tactical width on those advanced flank players. This is why it’s absolutely possible for Pedro to be playing brilliantly and yet not be scoring right now.

    You cannot retain tactical width and also be close to goal at the same time. You cannot retain tactical width and be closely involved with play of a team that is as center axis focused in attack as Barca is.

    Put Aguerro out there. Neymar. Deulofeu. Ask any of them to do this job and they will struggle to score.

    Now I do think Tito will evolve the system, particularly for Villa. It’s just too urgent a need to relieve scoring pressure from Messi and Villa’s skill set is poorly suited to play that wide. Jordi Alba creates the possibility of changing requirements for Villa. And we’ve already seen Villa getting more freedom to come central off that left wing than he did prior.

    But it’s going to be a major issue for Pedro and Alexis.

    Again – this isn’t to say Sanchez is playing at the level he can. The biggest problem in his game is that he is so focused on fitting into a one touch template and being unselfish that he’s killing his game.

    This was very evident in how Alexis played in the transition phase vs. Alaves. That was a phase of play he absolutely crushed opponents in at Udinese. He’s amongst Barca’s best players in transitions – you see it in spurts. But to be effective he has to take the ball and run with it. He just won’t do that anymore because he’s so focused on passing the ball immediately. In the advanced third he’s constantly playing with his back to goal because he is so risk adverse to losing the ball. So instead of creating danger he recycles the ball safely. He’s taken Busquets as his “template” when he needs to look at Iniesta. But he doesn’t want to occupy the ball more than a touch or more than with extreme safety.

    And now it’s to the point where he’s thinking about what to do rather than just playing. That’s a problem – but one he can work through.

    I just find it disappointing that so many are piling on him – especially for reasons that would support piling on Pedro.

    Cules and the Cataln media are just extremely hard on players who are transfers that don’t come from La Masia. Yes Barca paid 30-38M for Alexis and got Pedro for “free” but that’s not Sanchez’s fault. That was a business decision that Barca made – one he facilitated by taking less money in wages than he could have made.

    It’s just unreasonable to expect players new to the system not from La Masia to integrate quickly. We have to accept it takes years. That’s the time horizon for returns on the investment – years. Yes some can return value faster – but they are exceptions.

    And all of this is magnified much more when you’re playing wing in this system. If Villa and Pedro have struggled to score goals from the flank position it’s unreasonable to expect Sanchez to some how turn into a significant scorer without adjustments in the system.

    1. I just find it disappointing that so many are piling on him – especially for reasons that would support piling on Pedro.

      It’s fashion, Mr. Brains. And it bums me out. Many cules are like roving packs of “Who’s turn is it this week?” It’s Sanchez’s turn now. Pedro will never get a turn. Neither will Iniesta. But I always wonder if Iniesta is an attacker or a midfielder? If he’s an attacker, his goalscoring tallies verge on abysmal, right?

      But every team needs the Guy Who Does the Thing that leads to the Good Thing. We have a few of those guys, including Sanchez and Iniesta. Xavi’s assist totals, for his absolute control of the game, aren’t what they “should be.” Because Xavi makes the perfect pass that leads to the assist.

      Sanchez is going to be fine. The club is going to be fine. People need to calm the hell down. Last time I checked, this club is still undefeated in Liga and Champions League. I rather like that.

    2. Well said.
      One side note: while Iniesta is truly a god of futbol, the one area where I think he should be better is scoring goals, or at least putting more dangerous shots on goal. Often when he is in a good area where a shot seems a good option he either fails to get a shot off, it gets blocked, or the shot ends up being poorly hit. It feels like a sin even typing this because… its Iniesta for crying out loud. He’s incredible. But, I think its the truth. It is surprising to me that with all his guile, quickness, touch, and talent, he rarely gets a dangerous shot off. Am I being too hard on him? I understand that he is not a natural goalscorer and that he plays to his other, considerable strengths, but for me this area of his game could improve.

    3. These are all excellent points. However, one other thing should be mentioned in connection with this one:

      “But to be effective he has to take the ball and run with it. He just won’t do that anymore because he’s so focused on passing the ball immediately.”

      I agree with the point entirely. But it’s worth pondering *why* this is is the case. And my guess is that he’s simply not as comfortable in tight spaces as he sees that the Masia graduates surrounding him are. I’m thinking that his confidence has taken a beating as he keeps witnessing the ease with which his teammates navigate impossibly tight spaces. So, as you suggest, he tries to get rid of the ball as quickly and as safely as he can.

      While I don’t want him to turn into an overdribbler like David Silva, I do think it’s fair to wonder if he has — or can acquire — the instinctive speed of thought to consistently make risky attacking passes in the kinds of high pressure situations in which packed defenses and the resulting ponderous pace places the offense more often than not.

    4. And if anyone thinks that La Masia players are free, keep in mind it takes years and costs a lot of money to develop them (coaches, facilities, schools, parents, etc.), and after all that, you sometimes end up with Bojan, where you basically need to pay someone else to take him away. And there are many worse cases than Bojan. Only a small minority of La Masia players end up playing for the first team for more than a couple of years.

    5. First, you write as if Sanchez can decide how much he dribbles. He can’t really. Tito sets the parameters;
      Second, I wonder if you have really watched him at all. Sanchez is fantastic in tight spaces with his great touch and low centre of gravity. He also has great spatial awareness. You shouldn’t criticise him because he likes to one-touch and keep the play moving. That is a pretty odd criticism of a Barca player.

    6. ^THIS^

      Points very well articulated by Euler, as usual.

      I have commented on this on Twitter many times – how I have a soft spot for non-La Masia players who join us. Especially when they are superstars where they come from.

      It is very, very difficult to integrate into our system, especially when it means curbing instincts that have have been honed by years and years of practice. When you overthink, you just don’t get it right. Until you’ve done it over and over to be second nature.

      Not only do Alexi and Villa have to maintain discipline in keeping the width (essentially stop themselves from running to center), they also have to try to do one-touch passing and always making sure we minimize turnovers from bad passes or by indiscriminately kicking the ball to goal.

      Our defense has always been vulnerable and the way we help it is in not losing the ball. So the players are asked to pass and shoot when there is a high percentage of scoring and not when there is a high risk of possession turnover.

      It is easy for non-athletes to slag our players for what they see is incompetence. But the hard work of these players are evident to athletes of all kinds.

      Even in a sport like table tennis which I’ve played for years and years, analogy applies. It’s the sort of sport run by instinct at a certain level. I smash balls from top of table, spin is not my game. But sometimes, it’s just necessary to add spin to your arsenal. However, to spin, I need to wait for ball to fall below the table and hit ball softly/tangentially. Both these against my now instinctive play. I have to wait instead of hitting ball at apex and I need to hit softly instead of hard. Once I think of these things I need to do, I never get it right. My ball flies out. And I can never do it when I have to think of it in the middle of matchplay.

      That’s how it is with these players. And the scrutiny is tough because of the level they’re in and what’s at stake. But that’s why I would rather we support our own players more than we criticize them.

      I am always impressed at the humility of Villa and Alexi to integrate, to do what they have to do, to be second best to Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. it’s not easy. They can turn out to be like Zlatan and Hleb. But they’ve worked hard and try over and over. It must be hard to go home after matches feeling like they didn’t do so well. Completely different feeling from when they were in Valencia/Udinese or even when they play for Spain/Chile.

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