Barça 3 – Спартак Москва 0, as Tito did one better than Napoleon

For most people, the first thing on their mind upon finding out our Champion’s League group opponents was:  “Damn. Our boys will have to go to Russia in the winter”.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that few Barça players know the cold as some of us do.

Isaiah lives in Brooklyn, where old folks will freeze to death should their boiler break down come February. Kxevin writes from the Windy City, aka “does that sound hot to you?” Blitzen and Kari are Canadian and thus caught up in a lifelong love triangle with Mr. Wind Chill Factor. I personally never got accustomed to him using his cold wintery ways to sneak up my orifices, so after 7 years in Québec I fled to the South, gladly accepting a higher inflation and staggering homicide rate in exchange for a raise in temperature. It’s one thing for teeth to rattle and another for legs to shiver. Having your nostrils stuck closed because your snot freezes over the moment you step out the door is something else altogether.

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Not used to the cold

General Tito Vilanova made it clear from the outset. After the lost battle of Hyde Park we could ill-afford another mishap. The road to qualification had to lead through Russia, the final station and premature demise of many ambitious figures of years past.

The warriors that came out to play? Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Iniesta, Messi and Pedro – facing a Spartak Moscow that almost took all three points home from the Camp Nou at our group’s opening fixture, (if not for a late Messi double), with coach Emery keeping the defense tight and the offense loose. With an artificial pitch on foreign grounds, this promised to be a tough one.

The Luzhniki Stadium was filled for the first time since the CL final of 2008 and our boys walked out of its chambers to play in what must have felt like a gigantic throat, as more than 78,000 partisans amazingly blasted out of their lungs what sounded like the same military chant for the duration of the whole game. It did not bother us in the slightest. Apparently it didn’t do all that much for Spartak either, although they did get the first shot at goal.

History will tell us that we finished the game in the first half, and history is never wrong, except for when it’s right. After the first half we led 3-0, which was also the final score of the game. According to the Catalan newspapers the team is finally finding its rhythm. It is now a well-oiled machine. The defense is no longer a cause for concern. Masche is a rock when played alongside Gerard. This I do not know.

I do know it could have just as easily been 3-3. Within half an hour Moscow had more opportunities to score than Celtic over the course of a whole game. However Källström, Kambarov and Emenike all failed to put the ball on target.  We didn’t.

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Russian Iker-face

I know Messi scored another 2 goals and had yet another assist. We all know that much, nuff said. More interestingly, it was the first time Busi, Cesc, Xavi and Iniesta played together this season – mainly because it was the first time that the circumstances allowed it, according to an ever enigmatic Tito Vilanova.

This put Don Andrés on the left wing, and although we prefer to see him in midfield he played very well, indeed. In one particular instance he made such a fool out of a myriad of Muscovites that it had fellow spectators and myself cheering and shoulder clapping, as if he had just scored the winning goal. Whether this is a set-up we will see more, or less of, remains to be seen.

I know that if Daniel Alves da Silva (Juazeiro, average temperature 25+ °C) plays like he did yesterday, he will subdue the legion of voices that are clamoring for Montoya to be the starting full-back. He not only scored the opening goal after his favorite Argentine fought and scrambled to provide him with the assist, but he also had his best game in a long time. When at the dawn of winter a Brazilian steps on a Russian pitch wearing a short-sleeved shirt, it’s on. He has been saying all the right things so far this season, and yesterday he finally put his money where his mouth is. Let’s hope he will continue to do just that because, when on form, he is invaluable to this team.

Write him off at your own peril

I know Sergio Busquets showed us again why the great Yaya Touré no longer plays for us. Just like Martin Montoya can push Dani Alves to play at his highest level, it must be somewhat disheartening for Song to see what he is up against. And even though he only scores furious red goals these days, Pedrito played his heart out. I have no idea whether or not he dived when Messi set him up for a one-on-one, but I do know that Pedro(!) used to score those with a quick shot from the hip instead of trying to round the goalkeeper, a move Leo showed how it was done a few minutes later.

I think I know that all who have been bashing Victor Valdes over the last couple of months, myself included, put both hands on our chests to check if our hearts were still beating when he was laid out wincing of pain late in the second half. It made me realize that full of flaws he may be, it is hard to find one better in the current market. A very important piece of the Barça puzzle, and undoubtedly the one who suffered most yesterday. He could not run back and forth to keep warm like his teammates on the pitch, and he didn’t have a nice comfortable blanket to hide in like the ones on the bench.  Although he did sport a very fashionable turtleneck sweater more traditional keepers wouldn’t have been caught dead in. I’m looking forward to the day Madrid plays in Russia to see if Cristiano Ronaldo will wear one too.

FC Barcelona's goalkeeper Victor Valdes runs during the Champions League Group G soccer match against Spartak Moscow at Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. Spartak lost 0-3.
Catalunya’s next top model

I know some players are not meant to play in the cold (more often than not they’re Brazilian). Romario’s steady excuse after being invisible for 90 minutes, the only action of note being the craning of his neck toward the bench with pleading eyes to be substituted? “Beetje koud.”  A bit cold. Such an attitude does not exist in our team. More than four years after Pep told them that he will forgive bad results but not bad performances, the most amazing players in the world still go out hungry to do just that: perform. They do not allow circumstances to turn into excuses. Barça secured the win in the first half and mainly kept control in the second.

We needed to qualify for the knock-out phase, so we did.


“Luckily, I scored in the right goal this time”  ~ Dani Alves

By Levon

Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...


  1. Although I can actually read Cyrillic characters, I can’t help but read that team’s name as Craptak Mockba, which might be a little unfair to them. 😛

    I’ll peruse your review properly once I get home from work

  2. Look at Lev all growed up and with mod privileges!

    Good to see Dani playing like Dani again. I’m not too worked up about their chances. Yes, they could’ve had 3, but we could’ve had 5 or more. They had 9 shots, zero on target. We had 12 shots, 7 on target.

    Oh, and my eldest kid called it. When he heard that Di Matteo was out he said, “Well, the only one I can think of who’s available is Benitez.” Pep is too smart to go there. Really, the only coach who could survive Abramovich is someone with a very strong personality like Mou…Oh, nevermind. (Wonder if Mou would go back?!)

    1. Well – Mou was fired. It would be a case of if Roman wants him back, and if Mou is willing to accept that Roman is da boss.

    1. Thanks, nzm. I don’t know if the reference will play outside of North America.

      A propos of nothing, the Man City – Madrid match is a corker. Not news, but Casillas is a very good goal keeper.

  3. so, the only teams that have cliched first in their group are Barca and Manchester. actually i think Dortmund might have clinched first as well, but not sure.

    qualified teams are: barca, manchester, dortmund, madrid, porto, PSG, schalke, arsenal, malaga, milan, shaktar, valencia, bayern

    the rest: either juve or chelsea; celtic or benfica; cluj or galatasaray

    1. Dortmund have also clinched first. Pity the first place team that gets Real Madrid in the round of 16. Here’s hoping it’s Juve (they scare me).

    2. Anyone can score on us these days, so there are no easy matchups. Juve is the scariest because of their stingy defence. I think we might be able to outscore Bayern and Dortmund, strong as they are. Not to write off old foes Real, Manchester and Arsenal, as well as new guns PSG who can really bring it on some nights. The others can also pack a punch. A lot of strong teams in the CL this year.

  4. Any truth in the story that “Messi” is asking 15 mill euros a year salary to renew the contract?

  5. Great review, Lev – and welcome to the team! 🙂

    I have to say that the stadium did go pretty quiet after the second goal, and the stadium announcer grudgingly spat out the words that #10, Messi, had scored. Truly funny.

    1. Thanks nzm! It really went quiet? I was amazed how long they kept the chants up and I kept hearing them throughout the game, but I’m not doubting you.

      Did you guys also notice that they announced the goals in Catalan? I thought that was quite classy.

    2. Yes – heard the Catalan announcements. I think that has something to do with UEFA CL rules where announcements are made in the languages of both teams.

      When Chelsea and Celtic played Camp Nou, there were English PA announcements as well as the Catalan.

  6. Our prospective opponents for the next leg would be one of:

    Juve/Shakhtar (Even Chelsea if they get lucky again)
    Bayern (if Valencia nose ahead on the final matchday)
    Cluj/Galatasaray (Wouldn’t want a visit there)

    Tough draw this time.

    I hope we have our defense sorted out come Feb/March. We can afford to concede a couple of goals in La Liga, but the CL knockout rounds are far more punishing. But I guess we’ll get to that bridge when we get to it..

    1. I want Chelsea to qualify and draw us..just so that we can get our revenge..(yes..I am feeling vengeful..)

    2. Yeah next round going to be very interesting for the competition itself a blessing.

      I can see EE getting Man Utd as opponent,hehe.

    3. Please, please come to Galatasaray. As someone who lives here, I reckon GS would still lose, but we would be thrilled to host one of the best sides to ever be assembled. I wouldn’t dare cheer for our boys in public though.

    4. That wouldn’t be a good idea! 🙂 I’d love to visit Istanbul. It’s up there with the great cities in the world. I would be fearful for out boys though. The “Welcome to Hell” sign doesn’t exactly give you warm feelings! lol.

  7. “More interestingly, it was the first time Busi, Cesc, Xavi and Iniesta played together this season – mainly because it was the first time that the circumstances allowed it, according to an ever enigmatic Tito Vilanova.”

    not quite true, all four started the Liga matches against Real Madrid and Celta Vigo. Tito did say something like the only reason it didnt happen *more* was down to circumstances.

    not to nitpick…loving your reviews, Lev. keep up the great work. if you want.

    1. I stand corrected! Lemme think….against Madrid Cesc played as a nominal forward and against Celta Busi played in the defense…you’re right, thank you for pointing that out 🙂

  8. Kxevin, I know you haven’t done any reviews but at the top of your head, who do you think has been our most consistent performer this season?

    I think that Alba would’ve gotten the highest rating.

  9. Alba for sure…someone should come up with a mechanic name for him…i was thinking albanator (yeah yeah i know it sucks)…lev? Anybody?

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