Betis 1, Barca 2, aka “The record that matters most is yet to be calculated”

So. History was made today, and will continue to be made each and every time this club goes unbeaten in La Liga this season. In this, the 15th week of the Liga season, our beloved club is still undefeated and has only dropped two points, in a home draw to its most bitter rival. And as the club approaches the holiday break it is home to a potentially dangerous Atletico Madrid side, then away to Valladolid, a match that won’t be a walk in the park, either.

Today was circled on the calendar for me as a danger. This Betis side defeated RM, and they would be home to us, in a match fraught with danger, not only because of the opponent. After all, another kind of history was made today, as Lionel Messi broke the Gerd Muller calendar-year scoring record of 85 goals with his brace, both absolutely crucial goals in winning this match today.

But that history concerns me little. Even Messi downplayed it, saying what matters is that the club picked up the three points.

Exactly.

A team never, ever wins a match on sheer talent and quality alone. There is invariably a stroke of good fortune, luck in a baser term, something present in short supply last season. This season, however, it’s verging on absurd. Benfica players shoot balls wide of a gaping target, then today not only does Betis, noses wide open for a match they could positively taste a result from, hit the post. A header slams into the far post and caroms directly into the waiting arms of Victor Valdes, who fell on the ball as if it were a live grenade, and he was saving his mates from certain destruction. Mostly because he was.

But in addition to riding his luck, Valdes made two extraordinary saves in a match of two very clearly defined halves, a match as frustrating as it was delightful to watch, reminding me of a party held during the break between exams. Students return to the classroom all buzzed and well-fed, and the subsequent work suffers. So it was with Barca today, in a first half that was a master class of possession and attacking intent. Messi lashed his two goals home, both placed in the same corner and almost the same spot, and there was much rejoicing. Even Tito Vilanova got into the joyful celebration.

The match started with Valdes, Adriano, Pique, Puyol, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Messi and Pedro. But things had hardly gotten started before Fabregas was sitting on the pitch with a glum look on his face, before being substituted for Alexis Sanchez, which turned out to be a pretty good deal for a while.

The club’s first goal was a thing of beauty, as Messi latched onto a pass and, accompanied by a quartet of Betis defenders who pretty much knew what he was going to do, outran them all and spanked his shot home across the face of goal, taking advantage of a brilliant Alexis Sanchez run that cleared space for Messi to slide into.

More importantly, this goal came about 15 minutes into a match that was always, always going to be difficult, a match in which playing from behind might have meant sullying the club’s undefeated string. And everyone expected Betis, playing at home, to come out and fight for its honor, but it didn’t, playing as if the match was tied — nice and tight, retaining their shape.

The second goal was equally magical, as Adriano made a marauding, defense-shifting run before the ball was worked to Iniesta, who flicked the most flawless backheel to Messi, who spanked his second goal of the half home. It was 0-2 and now, surely Betis would come out to play, to chase a match their home fans were demanding that they win, but no …. the same discipline and shape was retained, a patient approach to things that took the long view, as Betis learned from history.

They have watched opponents come out great guns, pressing the crap out of us, clogging passing lanes, diving in front of shots, making last-ditch tackles and being all magical, until running out of steam. Then the knife goes in. This Betis squad was smart, sitting tight and playing for the counter, happy to take a goal if one came their way, but otherwise content to wait until the second half to raise hell. Suddenly, things were like this:

And like those sated party guests, we played right into their hands with the (these days) inevitable moment of defensive stupidity, that also required some excellence on the part of an opponent. But first, the stupidity:

–Jordi Alba, occupied by a Betis attacker, completely forgot about the offside trap.
–Nobody closed down the space on a Betis attacker, who was allowed to make a perfect pass.
–Adriano and Pique looked at the runner, said “After you, my dear Alphonse,” as a Betis player smoked a fine finish past a helpless Valdes.

Yes, the pass and strike were beautiful, and examples of why it is so difficult, despite what people insist about the porousness of our defense, to score against Barca: things have to be perfect. Now, the odds of perfection occurring more than once or twice in a match is worth considering, as well as the odds of perfection occurring enough, or combining with luck, to defeat this club. In other words, not likely.

The larger concern about the goal was that it came in the 39th minute, which gave them something to scream about at the half, while also allowing them to implement a game plan that was clearly in place all along. This is why in the second half, they came out and essentially punched us in the mouth. And like those revelers being rousted by the police, we gazed, bleary-eyed at a match that was falling apart before our very eyes as Betis reared its head and got in our faces.

Vilanova even seemed flummoxed, waiting until very, very late to sub for a disaster named Pedro, who essentially had us playing with 10 players until Thiago was subbed in, without much time left in the proceedings. Weird, but the intensity of Betis’ having clapped the lid on a cauldron positively roiling with hostility, can have a strange effect on folks.

Fans screamed as every pass was contested, every receiver of a pass was harassed, errors were forced, fouls were made, aggression was paramount from a team that said, essentially, pressing for a full 90 minutes is impossible. But for 45 minutes, effort and fire can be concentrated, and let’s see what happens. So holding the ball too long, as certain of our attackers (such as Sanchez) were wont to do, because Betis almost invariably forced it loose and went charging at our goal like demons. They were faster, moved more quickly to balls and wanted the match more, even as luck and ultimate quality conspired to keep them at bay. Betis played a hell of match against us, better to these eyes than the one they played to grab a 0-1 victory over RM. But RM didn’t have Messi, a player whose first goal came just after I Tweeted that he didn’t look 100 percent — until suddenly, he did.

This most fraught, perilous bit of precariousness was a match of three distinct phases. Our dominance, which was as much Betis lying in wait as anything else, the pressing, in which we came undone in the face of a vigorous, concerted effort on behalf of an opponent, then the regaining of control, late in the second half as players who were struggling, suddenly got it right. Ball control was regained and we put them on their heels, even as glorious scoring chances were spurned by finishing that was anything but clinical. Pedro right at the keeper, Alba somehow over the net after Messi blasted a PlayStation shot at the Betis keeper, Iniesta was saved, Thiago screwed up a chance. Betis closed down, kicked, grabbed and fought, to a surprisingly unsurprising effect.

Suddenly, Barca was a distracted, confused club, hanging on for dear life and looking surprised that Betis wasn’t doing what they were supposed to do, which was realize that a 0-2 lead against the mighty FC Barcelona was a sign to throw in the towel. Would we have lost this match last season? Who knows. Yes, there was grit aplenty displayed, but the luck was immense on three separate occasions, every one of which denied Betis a goal, including a crazy Valdes save in which he blocked a shot that caromed off the underside of the crossbar, and was covered up.

Neutrals will say that Betis deserved something from this match for the spectacular display that for much of the second half, had them looking like the team that was sitting top of the table, reducing Barca to individual moments of excellence rather than the collective magic that so defines this club in the eyes of so many. But that collective magic is what makes people forget that sometimes, on a crappy day or against an opponent who just plain wants it more than you do, great players do great things. And quite often, that is enough.

Hell, Betis can even feel hard done by at the hands of Fate, who clearly didn’t want anybody messing up Messi’s party, not even some churl in Chicago who really doesn’t care that much for individual records. Yes, cules can puff out their chests and say that the most prolific scorer of all time plays for FC Barcelona, their beloved club. But the thing that makes me puff our my chest is saying that, almost halfway into the season, my beloved club is undefeated, with the chance at home to extend its lead over second place to 9 points.

Sure, Messi is the top scorer. Which gets the club nothing. Ask him if he would trade his pichichi from last season for Liga or Champions League, and see what answer you get. You can’t diminish the accomplishment. It is absolutely staggering to consider. 86 (85) goals in a calendar year. But for me, individual awards on a club that thrives on team play, that has set a new standard for team play as it relates to sporting excellence, are go-withs.

And even as people talk about taking it one match at a time, some are daring to think, if not utter aloud, the unfathomable possibility that this club might be able to go undefeated this season as it faces challenge after challenge and emerges victorious. It has all the talent in the world, the most expensive roster in world football that is, to boot, almost all home-grown (10 Masia alums started today). It has the best player in the world who is now the all-time calendar year scoring king. In addition to all of that, it has luck.

And that just ain’t right, unless you’re a cule.

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Written by:

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.

102 Comments

  1. mei
    December 9, 2012

    That was fast!
    Alba and Adriano were at fault for the goal we conceded.
    Alba broke the offside trap and Adriano turned away from the player, as if the pass was to be made later.
    This is a common mistake in defenses – defenders either stand around protesting against an offside call not given or turn away as if the call on the pass will be made later. Just keep tracking the player and you might caught up to him.
    Pique rightly covered busquets that marked the player in the middle who eventually made the pass.
    Pedro can’t buy a goal for us sadly this year.

  2. December 9, 2012

    Whoa, Kxevin! How did you write so fast? Thanks for the write-up 🙂

    I just want to say: Congrats Leo!!!!

    And err…Tito’s jacket looks very interesting, esp. the button in the front.

  3. Anonymous_69
    December 9, 2012

    “And that just ain’t right, unless you’re a cule.”

    I love this line 😀

  4. Messiah10
    December 9, 2012

    Great review! Thanks for putting it up so quickly.

  5. December 9, 2012

    Full respect to Real Betis, they came out in the 2nd half and pressed our guys relentlessly. They knew it was the only way to stop us from playing our game, and even the presence of Xavi couldn’t calm things down. It came very close to working, too. If Valdes had been a little less on the ball they could have equalized or even gone ahead.

    I feel bad for Pedro, because he really has been playing well this season with not much to show for it. Today he had a bad game, really poor in fact, and that won’t do his psyche any good. On the bright side, Thiago looked great for the few minutes he had (except for that big miss!). I’m very happy he is fit again, especially since Cesc is injured. The lord giveth, and the lord taketh away…

    My MOTM is Iniesta. He was just…indescribable. Even in the 2nd half when everyone else was running around like headless chickens, he was relentless. Adriano also continues his run of great form. I never would have thought we could have a RB as good as Alves, but both Adriano and Montoya are giving him some hard competition.

  6. December 9, 2012

    A ‘potentially’ dangerous Atleti. Heh. No respect till you beat EE. Though they’ll come hard at us no doubt.

    The post saved us thrice this game. A nice departure from usually only keeping our goals out as it did twice the second half no doubt, hope this balance continues.

    Messi? Injury? Injuries are for humans. Speaking of, unlucky for Cesc. Hopefully he continues his good form in the next half of the season. Unlucky.

    The best thing that could happen to Pedro/Alexis is a goal. Things can only go up from there. Case in point, Adriano. Benching Alves? Who would’ve thought? Before that it was Pique, Abidal, Busi, Pedro etc. suddenly stepping it up out of nowhere.

    Also, unbeaten and 11 points ahead after 15 rounds? (of those who matter anyway) Who would’ve thought? No one expected this from Tito in his first season, although no one expected a perfect season from Pep either. Key is to keep faith and give them some time, and this team will come good, and I’m hoping the defense will now. We’ll need it for the CL..

  7. dean
    December 10, 2012

    Well the mantle has been passed to us this week, no longer s shared burden. With Manchester City finally falling to there rival at home, there 2 year unbeaten run at the Etihad has ended. Which also means in leagues competition we are the last undefeated team in Europe this season among the big leagues.
    As far as an invincible season, I doubt we’d manage that looking at how vulnerable we were today, but I think you exaggerate how lucky we were, considering we hit the bar the same amount of times. Also Messi’s pseudo offside, Pedro’s inability to buy a goal and jordi’s joke of a miss. They had there chances, we had ours.

    • Richzorz
      December 10, 2012

      Yeah, Betis played hard and well, but it would have been just as big a game changer had Messi not been called offside, or had that off-the-ball kick at Sanchez been seen by the officials as it would have been if their shots had hit the frame of the goal at a slightly different angle…

  8. IamXavi6
    December 10, 2012

    No Villa again. Very concerning that his talent isn’t getting used. Fully expect him to leave during the next transfer window.

  9. Bill
    December 10, 2012

    Good review as usual.

    Just one quibble with you Kxevin, your tendency to try and downplay Messi’s achievements. While the team first ethos is important, what Messi has done/is doing is transcendent.

    Ligas have been won in the past and will be won in the future. Heck, there is more than 100 leagues won every season all across the globe. This is not to say that winning them is not important, because it is.

    What we are witnessing is something that has never been achieved before and is highly unlikely to be achieved again by any other person whose name is not Messi. It is unbelievable what he has done and continues to do. Records that were 50 years old, that, not only were they never broken, but no one came even close, are being smashed effortlessly.

    Modern day strikers are no longer satisfied with a goal every two games, they now try to score a goal every game at the minimum. The limits have been shattered. Ronaldo, a great player in his own right, has had to work harder, change his style, change his attitude, become less selfish, all to no avail. Heck, I used to marvel at the old Ronaldo’s 47 goals, thinking no one could ever touch it, now I think “he could have done better”. All because of one man. Messi.

    So, as much as we love Barcelona, as much as we all love the team first ethos that the team displays on a regular basis, let’s not trivialize what this guy is doing. Its unique, its never been done before and its absolutely mind blowing.

    • December 10, 2012

      That’s right.

      I also want to add that, this was one match, were our midfield looked second rate for long periods in the game. We did took our foot of the pedal after some time from the second goal. Have we not learnt this is a big mistake, from last season. And our mid field looked inferior to Betis for long periods, therein.
      It is in this kind of moments we really need Xavi to up his game and take control of the match, he couldnt until the last 5/10 minutes. Inspite of all the qualities of this good review, I wonder why this was not mentioned. Just like Messi’s achievement is downplayed, this problem was completely ignored too.
      However, any mistake by Messi will be over played too. Xavi, loses control when two opposition players hard press on him. And here is this little man who scored so much, inspite of facing more than 2 markers always, with his team always playing against parked bus’s.
      Of course, team comes first, but this is indeed an achievement.

    • barca96
      December 10, 2012

      Kxevin can join Guillem 🙂

      But seriously Kxevin, I am sure deep down you know that you love Messi for always bailing put your club.

    • December 10, 2012

      Oh, come off it. Do I not very clearly write that Messi’s accomplishment is, in the words many probably read right over in the race to be the first to claim that I have something in for Messi, “absolutely staggering.” What should I do after that, have an orgasm and fall to the floor?

      I explain my worldview very clearly above, as I have in the past. Team over player. ANY player. Messi HIMSELF said the record is nice, but the three points are more important.

      I did not fall in love with FC Messi. There isn’t a picture of Messi where the club crest is on my soci card. I think he is a brilliant player. That has been established. But anyone expecting the sort of gushing about individual players that other bloggers engage in, will continue to be disappointed.

  10. KEVINO17
    December 10, 2012

    Spent the game wondering if Adriano is now the best fullback in the world. A couple of times , when he surged through the defence, it was almost Messiesque. Quick, perfectly two footed, combative and scores goals. He seems to have really gone to the next level under Tito,.
    Also wondered if Alexis is the smallest player to ever play as a back-to-goal striker. Boy, they took lumps out of him.

    • barca96
      December 10, 2012

      And we thought that Alves was bad at crosses..

    • Josep
      December 10, 2012

      He’s not even the best full back;
      In his league
      In his nation
      In his TEAM

      • Jim
        December 10, 2012

        I haven’t been very taken by Adriano so far but I have to say I thought he had a good match. Wouldn’t put it any stronger than that.

        • Messiah10
          December 10, 2012

          He’s definitely not the BEST fullback in the world, but he’s definitely coming into his own. He did get rounded by his marker a few times Sunday. However, his confidence in going forward has really added a fantastic dimension to his game. If he keeps up the offensive contribution, he’ll be hard to take our of the lineup. A fullback that can score goals, assist, and bring the ball up from his own end is special. There aren’t many that can do that. We have 3. Alves, Alba, & Adriano. Alves was injured and has been severely out of form. Alba has been fantastic, although Sun. was probably his worst game of the year, and Adriano has scored 5 goals and assisted 1. I would chalk up another assist for the play that led to Messi’s record. He essentially created the entire play and left it to Iniesta and Messi to finish off.

  11. Tank
    December 10, 2012

    Strange game. Seemed to me that nearly every player playing on the flanks had a sub-par game and every player in the middle was good or even better than that:

    Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Xavi -> good

    Busquets -> very good

    Iniesta -> sublime

    Messi -> Messi*

    On the other hand:

    Adriano -> strong runs, but horrible crosses, some stupid defensive mistakes too

    Alba -> nice reading of the game resulting in quite a few interceptions, at fault for the goal though

    Alexis -> fine run to open up space for Messi’s first, gave the ball away way to often and much to easily, resulted in 3-5 highly dangerous counter attacks from Betis

    Pedro -> worst match I’ve seen from him, nothing worked, poor finishing, poor crosses, lost the ball too often, worked but to no avail

    I think it seems logical that there is a tactical reason why the players on the flanks performed so much worse than their colleagues, but I honestly can’t see one. Simply a whole lot of stupid individual mistakes that shouldn’t happen at this level.

    * Although you can say a word or two about his role in the Betis goal. He was playing right winger at the time and, after initially tracking back, stopped doing so. That allowed the Betis player the time to pick a pass.

    • replayed
      December 10, 2012

      It so happens that the wings were under more pressure because, as most teams (other than the Madrid teams and Athletic ) do, Betis largely attacked Barca down the flanks.

      I’m willing to be less generous than you to Xavi and Busquets. When Betis rained hell on Barca in the second half, the two became more and more static, failing to make themselves consistently available for outlet passes from the wings to relieve the pressure.

      I kept hoping Tito would bring Song in for his usual willingness to work the width of the field. Eventually Tito solved the problem by bringing Thiago in to make up in numbers what was lacking in work in the Barca midfield. My sense is that the Betis midfield outworked Barca’s in the second half because Xavi and Busquets were acting like innocent bystanders to the slaughter on the wings.

      • Jim
        December 10, 2012

        I didn’t really see what you describe about the midfield although they were overrun for a while in the second half. Song would have been no answer, imo.

  12. nzm
    December 10, 2012

    Vilanova even seemed flummoxed, waiting until very, very late to sub for a disaster named Pedro, who essentially had us playing with 10 players until Thiago was subbed in, without much time left in the proceedings. Weird, but the intensity of Betis’ having clapped the lid on a cauldron positively roiling with hostility, can have a strange effect on folks.

    He only had one sub left. His subbing plan had gone to hell in a handbasket because of 2 injury replacements – Cesc (10′) and Puyol (45′).

    He wasn’t going to risk taking off Pedro earlier. Even though Pedro was not playing well, he also wasn’t doing any harm as far as defensive errors were concerned.

    Tito kept his last sub option until the last minute, wary of the defensive pressure under which Betis had Barca which could have potentially lead to further injuries down the back – Adriano or Pique – Jordi Alba had his foot stamped on.

    Putting a 3rd sub on earlier and risking the loss of a defender which would really have left Barca with 10 men would have been harakiri, given how Betis was refusing to lay down and die.

    • December 10, 2012

      But Pedro was such a detriment to the attack that, with a more effective player there, that third goal woukd have made any defensive complexities academic. I have never seen Pedro have a match like that, and hope never to again.

      • nzm
        December 10, 2012

        You’re correct, but I think that Tito was waiting to see what was going to happen before that 3rd sub could be made.

        If Betis had scored again, it’s likely that he could have brought on Villa to make an all-out attack at winning OR he could have brought on Song and defended the draw. Bringing on Villa would compromise defence that was already shaky, leaving any attacking play to mean a long overhead ball and praying that Villa could stay onside. Bringing on Song meant that they were playing more defensively – and that’s not a tactic which is taken lightly at FCB!

        With less than 10 minutes to play, he brought on Thiago who can either attack or defend – in that way it’s a compromise that could have been more effective either way – they would either draw through Betis scoring again, or win through a goal being created.

        If either Alba had potted his sitter, or Pedro had scored, we would have seen a sub much earlier.

        • replayed
          December 10, 2012

          In fact, the choice of Thiago worked out perfectly along both lines. He helped the midfield regain a foothold and he almost set up Messi for a late capper.

        • mom4
          December 10, 2012

          I agree with the reason he waited but dang did we need more midfield control sooner. Song or Thiago were desperately needed.

          That said, Villa would have buried THAT chance 99 times outta 100.

          • Josep
            December 10, 2012

            No, he wouldn’t have. People seem to act like Villa is desperately needed for us but do you not remember miss after miss before he broke his leg?

          • mom4
            December 10, 2012

            8 yds out, nobody to stop him, Villa scores that. Despite his on again off again form, he’s pretty clinical(If he stayed onside during Leo’s run 🙂 )

          • teddy
            December 10, 2012

            indeed! pretty said for villa, considering I start following this club seriously after villa’s transfer. I know, I know, but the moments he signed for Barca, I’m happy for him, thinking that he got the recognition he deserved. Now, I’m not quite sure.

      • Josep
        December 10, 2012

        Isn’t this proven wrong by the sub we all wanted to see…missing a sitter that would’ve made the third goal?

        • Jim
          December 10, 2012

          The easiest way to secure that match was a further goal. In an open match my money would have been on Villa to do it. I think we’re all aware he wasn’t fully fit for a while before he actually broke his leg. He has scored well this season and is by far the most clinical finisher we have apart from Messi, obviously.

          • Josep
            December 10, 2012

            While true that’s saying very little. He’s also the only true forward in the squad, and even saying that doesn’t feel right.

        • nzm
          December 10, 2012

          No – because Barca still won. At worse, Betis score again and the game is drawn. At best, Barca hangs on for the win. Betis scoring twice was too much to think about!

          Thiago wasn’t brought on to score – he was brought on to shore up the midfield and to create a chance if there was an op. Too bad that his chances (a shot and an assist to Messi) didn’t bear fruit.

          But it was the stability to the midfield that he provided – suddenly Barca was on the attack again with an extra midfielder. Betis was tearing through our midfield like paper by attacking up the flanks – another mid-fielder stopped that from being as effective as it was earlier.

          “A sub we all wanted to see” – and then you argue against it? 😉

          Not sure if he would have been my choice, but then there wasn’t much of an alternative effective option. Tito knew better.

  13. Gogah
    December 10, 2012

    I think Messi should just retire now.

  14. barca96
    December 10, 2012

    Trivia time.

    Why is the Ballon d’Or is using the calendar year?
    And since they do so, why let the voters vote so early? Shouldn’t they vote in December?

    I prefer them to vote in May after the European season has ended. No disrespect to other continents like Asia, North and South America but most of the nominees are playing in Europe. Therefore they should use the European calendar.

    • Josep
      December 10, 2012

      It has something to do with how it was setup way back when, it fit more into the calendar year because International tournaments were top top.

      • barca96
        December 11, 2012

        Thanks.

        No matter what, they should change it asap.

        It is not really fair for a player who performed so well in the football season from October to May and then have a dip in form from the start of next season in October until the voting time in November.

      • barca96
        December 11, 2012

        @Josep

        Thanks.

        No matter what, they should change the voting and awards at the end of the European calender season asap.

        It is not really fair for a player who performed so well in the football season from October to May and then have a dip in form from the start of next season in October until the voting time in November.

  15. December 10, 2012

    Away at Betis was always going to be one of the more difficult challenges Barca would face this season. Betis are an excellent side that play a terrific systems based game. Pepe Mel is just an outstanding manager.

    Enormous victory. It’s been said so many times before – but it bears repeating-last season, away Barca doesn’t take 3 pts in a match like the one yesterday.

    It was a struggle though. Betis were excellent. The better side in the 2nd half. It was interesting – after Betis fell behind 2-0 they upped their tempo and increased their pressure even more. This made it even more difficult for Barca to orchestrate possession and construct moves.

    Very happy for both Messi and the team. One can argue a calendar yr record is contrived but any time you score more goals than Mueller-it’s something of note.

    I really liked the context of the game Messi set the record in. Brutal away game. Close. Messi scores both to seal the victory. On top of that – his efficiency (which is very undernoted). 4 shots attempted. 3 on target. 2 goals.

    The fact that he can score so much while taking so few shots is an enormous lift to the team as a collective. This means that Messi not only scores at this outrageous rate but he doesn’t force the team to concede possession by off target shots.

    Watching Iniesta this season – it feels like we may be seeing him enter the zenith of his game and skills as a player. Feels like he’s entering a peak. Let’s just hope he stays health during this time and that peak isn’t eaten away by missed games.

    A few areas of concern for me:

    Yesterday’s match reminded me of how Xavi looked last season when he was clearly playing hampered by his achilles. Don’t think Xavi was “hurt” but he didn’t look normal. His movement wasn’t as crisp. First time this season he looked that way to me. Really did remind me of last year.

    The team must find a way to get him more rest. It’s imperative. We’ll need him for April & May. Losing Thiago was a real blow because it forced Xavi into playing more minutes than he otherwise would have.

    One of Barca’s biggest opponents for the rest of this season will be it’s own depth. I’m concerned about the back. People often note something to the effect of, “we just need to get Puyol and Pique back together and things will be ok…”

    To me that notion – let’s just get Puyol back and pair him with a healthy Pique – that’s more of a hope than a plan.

    Puyol is a warrior. A legend. But he’s given his everything. And at this point anything you get from him has to be considered an added benefit. He’s simply recurrently injured and his body is breaking down. That’s not to say he’s “done” as a player. Far from it. Skill wise – he’s outstanding. And there’s no doubt Barca is at it’s most solid with him back there.

    We just can’t count on him being back there. It’s too much to ask. He needs to be saved for the major matches and used sparingly otherwise.

    How to do that – is one of Tito’s biggest challenges due to available depth and Mascherano’s form. Pique has been fine this season – but the club would really benefit from him lifting his game back to the level he’s achieved in the past when he was in top form. He’s still not back to that level.

    • KEVINO17
      December 10, 2012

      All excellent points as usual.
      I just add a few more:
      Would love to see Song playing a more advanced Xavi (or even Iniesta) role, with Busquets just behind him. He’s shown throughout his career that he can play lovely through-balls. He would also add real bite to Barcelona’s high press (which was a bit lacking against Betis). Pep used Keita against physical sides like Betis. Song would be even better.
      The other thing that Betis showed is that if a good side is prepared to put on their turbo-boosters and spend a lot of fuel they can play better than Barca for at least 20 – 30 minutes . But at some point the gas runs out. It’s a 90 minute game.

  16. TITO
    December 10, 2012

    Don’t know if anybody already mentioned it, BUT, our bench was composed of: Villa (40mill), Song (20), Alves (35), Masch (30)…am i missing someone? It makes you think again when we talk about other clubs benches, how expensive they are.

    • Richzorz
      December 10, 2012

      Lol true, but then how many other teams have the starting 11 having “cost” about 1/3 as much as their bench!?! 😛

    • Josep
      December 10, 2012

      Well when your starting lineup is…
      Free
      12? 5 Free 14?
      Free
      Free Free
      Free Free 40m

  17. TITO
    December 10, 2012

    Well, then that makes you wonder why did we spend so much money on that bench. Right?

      • TITO
        December 10, 2012

        Very expensive rotation for my liking.
        But, it gives results, so…

        • Josep
          December 10, 2012

          Okay, I’d like to hear yoru suggestion.
          Currently the club has this option; we make superstar signings, for big players, and some others.
          With the exception being drastic needs;
          Alba
          Versatile midrange players;
          Song, Adriano, Mascherano
          Too cheap to say no;
          Afellay

          The rest are big name signings. You’re suggesting we buy cheaper players, just to make that number look better? The problem is, unless they fit into those categories, a cheaper option will hurt the club too much.

          You spend 10m on a mid range player, what does it say to your youth player who should be given that spot instead? It says, oh I should look elsewhere.

          It’s go big or go home. They buy big price players who can slot into the 18, and in most cases hopefully the 11. Not players that can make the occasional 18.

          • TITO
            December 11, 2012

            What i’m suggesting is that we cannot spend money on something that we don’t use as much as we hoped to use. Being that a player.
            If you don’t use them, they become a luxury, which can be avoided. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pay those amount of money for them, just that i want the club to take advantage of them in the most efficient way.
            For me, that is playing them, unless they are off-form of course. This season nothing is suggesting that Villa should spend time on the bench while a certain Pedro is continuing to play.
            Masch was in now way a cheap buy, or Alves for that matter.
            You are saying that if we buy a 10 mill mid range player, what message would have that sent to our youth players. I can make an opposite case. Why should a “big” star player come to Barca, if he is going to lose a starting place to some cantera because of our policy?
            And playing here and there for 10 minutes or so is not rotation. Talking about Villa or Song and to some extent Alexis. Even Cesc was in that position last season.

          • cliveee
            December 11, 2012

            Re:Tito
            Expensive bench only proves the quality of the starters. It’s only natural if we have even better, more expensive starters.

            Moreover, bench is not useless. A coach is allowed to make 3 subs only. Within that 3 subs, a coach has a bunch of cards (players) to play. They are the only 3 changes a coach can make to change a game. Having quality subs means every card you play can potentially change the face as well as the result of the game.

            Barcelona is THAT expensive anyway.

  18. mom4
    December 10, 2012

    Class:

    barcastuff‏@barcastuff

    Gerd Muller (ex-Bayern): “My record stood for 40 years and now the best player in the world has broken it. I’m happy for him.” [sport1

    barcastuff‏@barcastuff

    Gerd Muller: “Messi is fantastic. An incredible player, a giant. And such a nice and modest guy. Only one defect: he doesn’t play at Bayern”

  19. Josep
    December 10, 2012

    Also Messi sucks, this is a team game and he ain’t shit.

    • Messiah10
      December 10, 2012

      Manish, thank you so much for posting! I’ve seen quite a few Messi tributes, but that’s my favorite. I love the quotes at the beginning. The ending is fantastic, heart pounding, jump for joy, awesomeness! You almost get the speed at which Messi moves in real life. So many times Messi makes what he does look easy, but this video illustrates the speed at which he does it. Messi is!

    • Ryan
      December 10, 2012

      So much fun and yet it’s missing all his exploits from 2012! Then again, Messi has to be the easiest player to make a highlight reel out of, so there’s plenty of material even when subtracting his 86 goals.

  20. simple_barcafan
    December 10, 2012

    *cough* *cough* Messi also broke Cesar Rodriguez record of 192 goals to become Barca’s all-time leading league goalscorer after they had been level before the match …

    • nzm
      December 11, 2012

      Saw this last night on Cordoba’s website – funny!

      Love the little Artur Mas caganer sitting on the table beside him!

  21. barca96
    December 11, 2012

    Oriol Romeu is out for 6 months. I feel terrible for the kid. It will be hard for him to impress clubs now as he still hasn’t been able to establish in the first XI although with the arrival of Benitez he has been getting more minutes.

  22. barca96
    December 11, 2012

    @Josep

    Thanks.

    No matter what, they should change the voting and awards at the end of the European calender season asap.

    It is not really fair for a player who performed so well in the football season from October to May and then have a dip in form from the start of next season in October until the voting time in November.

    • barca96
      December 11, 2012

      Damn. I jsut found the original comment up top. And there are 2 of them!! The comment box was at the bottom after I clicked reply to Josep which is strange and then after I submitted it it disappeared. I didn’t expect it to go up.

  23. barca96
    December 11, 2012

    I asked this in the last post but I didn’t get an answer so I will ask again. Kxevin, I remember you said that you were an editor of the music department so maybe you have any clue.

    Mom4, I suspected that you are 40 and above. That is why I was counting on you. Apologies if it offended you.

    Did anybody else watch the match from a Sky broadcast?

    After the post match talk with Guillem and Mikel, they played a clip of Messi with a nice background song that goes something like this;

    “Now he was born in the city, raised on the farm, comes in like superman”

    It’s sang by a lady. It sounds like a song from before the 60′s or even 50′s. American definitely. Been googling it many times but I couldn’t get a proper result.

    • December 11, 2012

      Googled various permutations of that lyric, and got nothing. Are you sure that you heard it correctly? I’m old enough to know a lot of songs, but these days they have all been pushed out by loud guitars and men screaming like Cookie Monster.

      • nzm
        December 11, 2012

        Or sounding like they’re coming out of the tinniest, no-base speakers ever made on the planet. 😉

    • mom4
      December 11, 2012

      Maybe if I were older than 29 I would be offended. 😉

      Lyrics sound country-ish? I don’t do country so it’s beyond me. You lose me on old songs if it’s not rock or punk.

      • barca96
        December 11, 2012

        Thanks guys. Will check it out tomorrow morning and provide a longer version of the lyrics.

    • nzm
      December 11, 2012

      The song that you’re after is sung by my all-time favourite, Ella Fitzgerald, and it’s called “The Greatest There Is”.

      I just heard it on the clip on Revista. I think that even I don’t have it, and I thought that I had all of Ella’s songs. But the lyrics did sound familiar when you gave them, so maybe I do. 😀

      • nzm
        December 11, 2012

        It’s in the iTunes store.

        Damn – now I’ll have to check all my Ella recordings when I’m back in NZ next year. 🙂

      • Messiah10
        December 11, 2012

        Ella was one of the greatest of all time. That’s what I love about this blog! So cool that you love Ella. I’d never seen or heard those lyrics before myself. Nice spot!

        • December 11, 2012

          Ella! WUT! It’s funny, my late, great husky/akita mix just loved her. And who doesn’t? So much brilliance. One of my favorite Ella moments is from a live in Berlin recording, where she forgets the words to “Mack the Knife,” and starts comping, remaining on beat, rhythm and melody:

          What’s the next chorus
          To this song, now
          This is the one that
          I don’t know ….
          But it was a swingin’ tune
          And it’s a hit, too

          And then the killer kicker:

          You won’t recognize it
          It’s a surprise hit
          This tune, called Mack the Knife

          Do we know the title of the Revista tune? It must be the one that Graham Hunter refers to on Twitter. I must have it in my Ella Files. And not to sidetrack too badly, but “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie” is my favorite recording of hers. Wow. So cool.

          • nzm
            December 11, 2012

            Love that Live in Berlin recording – she’s laughing, half-embarrassed, her band keeps playing and she keeps winging it and the audience is lapping it up.

            The song title is above!

            You had an akita mix? My cousin is on her second fluffy Akita – absolutely gorgeous dogs. So loyal – gentle bears.

        • nzm
          December 11, 2012

          Yeah – and a whole lot of us are showing how old we are, right about now. 😀

  24. barca96
    December 11, 2012

    Alexis’ agent did nothing to quell the Juve rumors by saying that “Juve is the greatest team in the world”.

    Now I’m not sure if Barcastuff made a typo or he really said that. If it is the former, I can understand as I noticed that they’ve been making a number of typos of late.
    If it’s the latter, then it surely means that he is trying to make a deal happen. If not why would he wouldn’t be sucking up like that.

    • ooga aga
      December 11, 2012

      a heard a rumor….a dirty rumor,….they say you got a broken heart…

    • Messiah10
      December 11, 2012

      Damn. Dude has a full head of hair! My son was bald for over a year!

    • Manish
      December 11, 2012

      totally brilliant.. so awesome fun…

    • December 11, 2012

      That was a fun and clever piece, didn’t expect to see something like that on SBNation.

  25. simple_barcafan
    December 11, 2012

    I don’t understand..This is the Copa..why are ppl like Xavi, Messi traveling? shouldn’t they be rested…

  26. ooga aga
    December 11, 2012

    iniesta is not traveling, tito said that after fabs’ injury he wanted to make sure iniesta is “fresh” for the atletico match.

  27. December 11, 2012

    Buzz from Cadena Ser, via @barcastuff, that Cuenca could go on loan in January. This would make sense, actually. After a layoff that long, the last thing he needs is to go full speed, trying to get on this roller coaster that is Barca.

    • December 11, 2012

      Why not send him down to the B team for a month or two instead? They are planning to do that with Muniesa, and he has said he’s fine with it. Rafinha will be away for all of January anyway, so Cuenca would get playing time (no, they don’t play the same position, but some of the newer boys would get time in the middle, with Cuenca on the wing). Seems to me like a good solution. Then he would be available to be recalled to the first team, especially in case of injuries. Hlebuary isn’t far off.

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