Purple Patches: Valladolid – Barça

They’re 15-1-0 and there are plenty of ways to criticize them. They’re 9 points up on second place and there’s a sense that they haven’t yet come together as a team. They’ve scored 54 games in 16 league matches (more than 3 goals a match) and the strike force isn’t putting together complete games. Lionel Messi has been scoring an absurd number of goals–16 in his last 8!–but he’s phoning it in so often it sometimes looks like he’s somewhere else. As in, literally somewhere else: if they cut to Messi and he was in street clothes in 20th minute, it wouldn’t be surprising.

And yet, they’re winning. And how. A solitary loss away to Celtic in the Champions League. Two dropped points in the league to the fiercest of rivals.

With Tito’s absence, the squad will most likely be extra motivated. They’ll want to score, want to kick out the massive jams, earn the plaudits going into Christmas. And really, 49 points before the break would be an outrageous number. Keeping Atleti at 9 points and Real Madrid at 13 would be fantastic. There’s outsized pressure on Jose Mourinho because of that gap. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel–not even La Decima can shine into December–and, truth be told, that’s how I like it.

So it’s to Valladolid the team goes–pucela de mi vida just a few weeks ago before they capitulated to an Ozil double–and the test won’t be easy. Valladolid have allowed the same number of goals as Barça: 18. They do sit in 10th, 24 points behind first place. They’re scoring just over a goal a game overall, but almost 2 a game at home. Of course, 6 of their 15 goals came from their 6-1 demolition of Rayo Vallecano in late September. They’re unlikely to repeat that outcome against Barça, but I suppose you never really know.

It’s Óscar that’s driving their team these days, the 30-year old midfielder has 7 goals, a remarkable number given his prior full season stats (6, 3, etc). Manucho has 6 (2 against RM). The awesomely named Patrick Ebert has 3 along with Victor. This is not a run-and-gun team, of course, but they’re capable on their day and actually somewhat interesting to watch. A break for a moment: the EPL is “the greatest league in the world” because it’s so equal, so competitive. Naturally that’s a subjective statement, but here’s something interesting: La Liga’s worst team is Depor with 12 points. There two teams in the EPL with fewer points: QPR (10) and Reading (9). Jump up the table a bit to 10th and you have Swansea City on 23, just one more point than Valladolid. At the top, Manchester United (42) are duking it out with Manchester City (36). Sigh. The difference between United and Reading is just one point different from the difference between Barça and Depor. But of course it’s wildly uneven! Argh.

Back to the real question: what will the final score be? With no Song and no Adriano (out for precautionary reasons with slight knocks), one hopes that a squad of Valdés, Pinto, Dani Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Dos Santos, Mascherano, Bartra, Sergio, Pedro, Jordi Alba,  and Montoya will be enough. Hopefully Alves is actually fully recovered, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Montoya get a game. Messi will play, of course.

Predicted lineup: Valdes, Montoya, Pique, Puyol, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Alexis, Cesc, Messi.

That’s some pretty ferocious verticality if Jordi Roura so chooses to employ it that way. Or ridiculous midfield control. Or just a bunch of hogwash meandering around in a pre-Christmas daze. More fruitcake! Less running!

Official Prediction: 1-3. Goals by Messi (2, duh), Alexis. Yeah, I’m calling it. Calling an Alexis goal. Wow. If I get this one right…

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Written by:

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Matz
    December 21, 2012

    A bold prediction to give Alexis a goal, but I sincerely hope you are right though. I love the guy and his work ethic. I find it tough to see him work so hard and get so little credit for it. He really could use a boost of confidence.

    I hope the team will do well without Tito and that he pulls through successfully.

  2. Messiah10
    December 21, 2012

    Thanks for the post! I stole your “EPL is greatest league in world” bit and posted it onto BBC Sport comments section on ManU vs EE blog. Can’t wait to see the reaction of English trolls. lol. 🙂 I had to change to texting font to make the paragraph fit into the character limit the BBC has now for some reason. They also have a time limit between posts! Ridiculous!

  3. Richzorz
    December 21, 2012

    Cesc back from injury already?!? :s

  4. Messiah10
    December 21, 2012

    I’d actually like to see Xavi get a rest and only come on if we absolutely miss his masterful running of the game. This would give him and extended break for the winter break coming up and re-energize him coming back off the break where we will need him fresh. I’d give Busi a rest as well and play Song there. Maybe let Thiago or Cesc play for Xavi.

  5. nzm
    December 21, 2012

    Not sure that Patrick Ebert is available for this game because he crashed out of a recent game with a bad injury.

    They were unfortunate in the game against Real Madrid and lost 2-3, but one of the Madrid goals was very opportunistic as a Valladolid defender slipped while trying to recover a passed ball and Madrid scored off the Higuain pounce.

    They really took it to RM. Manucho was amazing in that game in the first half, but was invisible in the second half.

    If Barca is patient and wears Valladolid down, the opportunities will come. Fitness and stamina will be the deciding factors.

    • December 21, 2012

      And desire. Don’t forget desire. Our team will be desperate to continue the winning streak and close out the first half of the season on a high note as a present for Tito.

    • December 21, 2012

      Both goals that Valladolid scored in that game were down to basic defensive errors on set pieces. Otherwise they I dont think they were able to trouble the EE defense. If we won’t be in a similar ‘giving’ mood tomorrow, I don’t think we’ll have much of a problem. Atleast their performance vs EE gave that impression..

  6. dsbarca
    December 21, 2012

    Cesc is out of the squad!!!

    Valladolid is very interesting opponent … they know how to score but every team that try to outplay Barcelona finishing with 3-4 goal in his net. Leading by out Capita – Puyol in defense and Messi + Villa in attack we will WIN this match.

    Visca Barca!

  7. KEVINO17
    December 21, 2012

    I still can’t believe that Milan won’t use a back-hoe to dig up their pitch before we play them. What were they thinking when they created a good surface. They certainly weren’t thinking: “Barcelona”.
    Surely, they have no chance against Barcelona if both legs are played on a good pitch.

    • Ezequiel
      December 22, 2012

      WAY too early to write Milan off. They always have been quite difficult to play against and still have the players able to hurt Barca, especially if they get Drogba this January.

      Besides, Chelsea also didn’t look dangerous last year prior to the semis.

  8. IamXavi6
    December 22, 2012

    I’ll see your Alexis prediction and raise you a Villa with significant game time and 2 goals!

  9. Momo
    December 22, 2012

    Thanks for the preview isaiah, although it would be great if you could include the timezone link that nzm always includes in her previews.

    • Nav
      December 22, 2012

      Google ‘fc barcelona’ and you’ll get previous and up and coming fixture details including times in your local timezone. Pretty awesome 🙂

      • December 22, 2012

        That’s noon my time. Hence I am up early on my first official vacation day so I can get to the market and back before the game. Hmmph.

  10. nzm
    December 22, 2012

    For the first time this season, Valladolid’s Zorilla stadium is sold out for tonight’s game.

  11. Barcaleya
    December 22, 2012

    Barca 4 – 1 Vld

    Messi brace and a goal each for Villa and Montoya.

    Merry Christmas everyone!!!

    • replayed
      December 22, 2012

      Neither Montoya nor Villa in the starting lineup. Villa is done at Barca.

      • Barcaleya
        December 22, 2012

        #FAIL Haha

        Doesn’t matter really who scores for me so long as we win. And really happy we won again!

        As for Villa – I’ll take Zubi’s word. He stays for the season.

        I don’t really want him to leave.

  12. no clue cule
    December 22, 2012

    No Villa again?
    I guess that’s it for him.EPL next

  13. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Villa woulda put the Messi pass at min. 5 away. Just sayin’. (Alexis did have a good defensive clearance early on. Just to be fair.)

  14. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Messi seems a bit sharper today than he’s been the last couple o matches.

  15. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Valladolid are taking the game to Barca. If Barca can weather the storm, there is room to be had in the Valladolid defense.

  16. pr17
    December 22, 2012

    hmm.. No villa again. Seems buying Alexis has put pressure to play him. Villa cant do anything but grin and bear it.

    Even though we play alexis (with his donkey loads of running) our pressing has hardly been effective. Might as well play villa. When he got a run of games he tracked back quite well.

    hope it is a easy victory with no injuries dedicated to tito.

  17. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Thiago’s habit of playing elegant loose balls in dangerous areas drives me up the wall.

  18. Blau-Grenade
    December 22, 2012

    Hello All, Alexis needs to get his finishing boots on, if Barca are to get anywhere in this game. Barca do not have control of the midfield, Messi is having to drop back and support Xavi.

  19. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Another pass to Alexis I would have fancied Villa to do better with (assuming he was onside of course.)

  20. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Wow, Mascherano gets to save Busquets’s bacon for a change.

  21. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Alexis is currently wasting the gift of playing 9.

  22. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Nice cross by Alves onto Messi’s head. Messi should have done better.

    • replayed
      December 22, 2012

      Messi, meet post. Post, meet Messi.

  23. Blau-Grenade
    December 22, 2012

    Beautiful free kick. Messi so unlucky with that freekick.

  24. Jafri
    December 22, 2012

    Why can’t Villa be the 9 in front of Messi??

  25. pr17
    December 22, 2012

    ahh.. if alexis plays like this, he will very soon be my favorite player like keita was. cmon fellas, buck up.

  26. olbucky
    December 22, 2012

    Does anyone have the bein sports link with Phil and Ray?

  27. Jafri
    December 22, 2012

    Casillas has been benched for the Malaga match… Technical decision, or has Mourinho lost it?

    • G6O
      December 22, 2012

      I don’t see a technical reason why he would be on the bench. Either it’s a minor injury, or…

      • daratboya
        December 22, 2012

        technical reason mean something bad going on between those 2 guys
        or mou trying to find his way out of the mess lol

  28. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Stay. on. your. feet. Alexis.

    (No, this isn’t a double post.)

    • replayed
      December 22, 2012

      Messi takes his revenge on the post.

      Do I dare say… brace?

  29. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Classic Alexis: A brilliant touch to relieve the Barca defense immediately followed by an egregious pass back right into the defense when there was plenty of attacking space. Sigh.

    Villa coming on. Come on, Guaje.

    • replayed
      December 22, 2012

      Poor final pass by Villa, but at least he took on the Valladolid defense.

    • G6O
      December 22, 2012

      Villa lost the ball every single time he had it…

      • replayed
        December 22, 2012

        Not true.

        Villa: 12 touches. 8 passes completed.

        • G6O
          December 22, 2012

          OK, every time he had and I noticed

  30. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Why the hell did Alves not shoot!?

  31. nia
    December 22, 2012

    REALLY DANI!!!? he was right in front of gol.

  32. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    My dream left side of Alba-Iniesta-Villa is about to get a precious few minutes together.

  33. nia
    December 22, 2012

    can’t even keep a clean sheet, damn.

  34. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Valladolid is the rare team that manages a lively finish against Barca. I guess it helps them not to have done much in the second half.

  35. replayed
    December 22, 2012

    Well done by Tello. I owe him props.

  36. nia
    December 22, 2012

    I guess we know who the mole is in EE’s dressing room. IKER IKER IKER!!! LOL. If Mou loses points here, he will be hung by the balls.

    Tried to go to the RM footy blog to see what they think of Iker being dopped, i can tell you it crashed.

  37. barca96
    December 22, 2012

    I could not believe it but I’ll agreed with Guillem. Mourinho is doing this to divert the attention away from him and their poor performance and instead all the media attention for the next 2 weeks will be why Iker has been dropped.

    Mourinho has done this numerous times already.

    And of course, it’s no secret that Iker doesn’t like Mourinho. Wasn’t it him who told the journalist that the gk coach is Mourinho’s mole?

  38. barca96
    December 22, 2012

    Tello got extremely lucky there. He thought he lost the ball. It was such a poor touch. Good composure to finish it off though.

    Man, we seriously should stop expect info Alexis to be a 20 goal a season player for us. Even 15 is something I wouldn’t bet on.

    If we drew just now, I would take a plane to Barcelona and slap Alves. Only reason why I think he did what he what he did was because he thinks he was offside. But then at least try.

    * now I know what my team mates feel like when I pass the ball back even when I’m on the line 🙂

  39. barca96
    December 22, 2012

    Did you guys notice that in the 2nd half the ball was hardly ever on the left side of the pitch. Everything went through the right.

    It wasn’t the case in the first half. It was balanced out then.

  40. pr17
    December 22, 2012

    What a great coach pellegrini is.
    Did an outstanding job at Villareal and at Madrid too. Now showing such grace under fire and inspiring an entire team which hasnt been paid properly to play such good football. A great human being.
    Madrid might win today but the real star is pellegrini. i hope they once again finish in CL places and go far in champions league. Mou is upto something real cunning or he has lost it already and going out with guns blazing.

    • Blau-Grenade
      December 22, 2012

      Lordy lord. Time for Mou Mou to Move Move…

  41. KEVINO17
    December 22, 2012

    Think it is too easy to say Mou has a fiendish strategy. This is about creating a stabbed-in-the-back narrative, plus a peevish desire to pull the temple down around his ears. Wonder if having to face ManU unhinged him a bit.

  42. KEVINO17
    December 22, 2012

    For 25 minutes, Roque is still one of the best strikers in the world.

  43. Jafri
    December 22, 2012

    Big win for Malaga – three goals past Adan, and Casillas has obviously not let in three all season. Please stay, Mourinho 😀

  44. K_legit in Oz
    December 22, 2012

    Nosotros te queremos, Mourinho quédate!

  45. December 22, 2012

    Let’s spare a thought for our tame madridista, Bassam. He may be sadly deluded, but I know he’s no fan of Mourinho and it’s no fun watching a club you love implode.

    You’re always welcome here for milk and cookies (with sprinklers!), Bassam. 🙂

  46. samarth-culé
    December 22, 2012

    Oh dear, what a night! WHAT A NIGHT!

    16 16 16

    In your face the ‘abnormal one’. And dropping Casillas was such a sour note…

    P.S.: Please stay, Mou. Whatever $hit you maybe, we love you. The rotten fruits of your labour are finally harvesting 😀

  47. lyd
    December 22, 2012

    La Liga, take a bow! It’s 4 horse race with Real Madrid, Malaga, Real Betis and Levante all going for the Champions league spot! 6 (!) teams advanced to the knockout stages of European Cups so far. Great stuffs!!
    The rate at which La Liga is setting records is slightly threatening for Messi.

    Lovely play from Pellegrini’s men. Isco is already a star. what a player!
    and Demichelis was a beast today. Would love to see him and Mascherano operating as CBs for Argentina.

  48. mom4
    December 22, 2012

    Just got done watching the game.

    Messi was soooooo much fun to watch. Dani was playing better than I’ve seen him play for a while (but really Dani, shoot).

    Fun fun game!

    My question to those who have watched this game longer than I:

    RM is so trigger happy when it comes to coaches. Has any other coach gotten away with this much before getting sacked?

        • Jafri
          December 23, 2012

          I believe blitzen already linked to the original article in a previous post. But thanks for this link from all us non-Spanish speaking folks 🙂

  49. Manish
    December 22, 2012

    From what i saw today.. the Malaga keeper Caballero is much better than Romero. shouldn’t he be the first choice Argentinian keeper…Demichelis for Malaga and Burdisso for Roma both played pretty well.. now i really get it.. it’s all based on the manager.. on how well the defense turns out..

    • nzm
      December 22, 2012

      I like Caballero.

      He’s also the leading GK for the Zamora right now, too.

  50. Manish
    December 22, 2012

    And i think.. RVP and Rooney are going to destroy Madrid totally…

  51. elcapitan
    December 22, 2012

    After winning the league last season
    Karanka—We are in the real madrid era now.
    Arbeloa—barcelona is history, we are in the madrid era now, barcelona are not going to win anything again
    Wish a journalist could just ask them or remind them when they said this, I would wanna see their faces replying#Priceless and Stupid, maybe NZM could just pay guillem ballague to help us ask them both*grins*…lol

    • Manish
      December 22, 2012

      Karanka sounded more like Sauron from LOTR…

  52. December 22, 2012

    The Casillas situation seems analagous to the Villa situation with us. A very knowledgeable RM fan believes that Casillas is deteriorating in performance, based on what he’s been seeing. So maybe, like Villa, Casillas isn’t playing well enough in practice, and Mourinho finally made a coach’s decision.

    I think that player history is something to be wary of. Villa used to be better than he is now. Theoretically (I don’t watch RM enough to have a clue), can the same be said for Casillas? Interesting question.

    What I do know is this: We’re still 9 points up on the second place team, who also won today. It’s funny how we all assumed that Atletico would implode, and get leapfrogged by RM. It could still happen, but it looks more likely right now that someone from lower in the table will leapfrog RM.

    The two Malaga matches worry me. Them boys is playin’ some football, even with a couple of inexplicable Liga losses.

    • replayed
      December 22, 2012

      I think that player history is something to be wary of.

      Obviously, no one remains at top level forever.

      However, one interesting question is, are the alternatives better?

      Some numbers — most goals conceded in a match this season, average minutes per goal scored — might be seen to argue otherwise. As would more specifically that near post third goal against RM today, and the finishing performance of Barca’s “No. 9” today.

      Another interesting question: are the alternatives good enough to be given opportunities to develop at the expense of their more seasoned peers and all that implies?

      Of course, it’s up to those who fill out the lineup cards to make those calls. And up to fans to blow hot air.

      • December 22, 2012

        The parallels still abound. Casillas detractors are saying that he hasn’t improved in the skills such as coming off his line, set piece defense, the things beyond the reflex saves for which he is so well known.

        Likewise with Villa, who scores goals, where Sanchez doesn’t score goals, but does everything else, an all-pitch workhorse. So the question becomes what is more valuable to the club right now?

        Statistics such as “minutes per goal scored” can be misleading, as are statistics in general. Has Villa had a decisive or important goal this season? And that’s an honest question. I can’t remember.

        • Jim
          December 22, 2012

          If we’re talking parallels though Kxevin, did we not learn from RM today not to assume that the replacement will automatically be better?

          I’m not sure why minutes per goal scored isn’t at least an indication of effectiveness in front of goal. I watched the game today and still genuinely can’t see why anyone would be impressed by our two non-Messi forwards. Really, Villa hasn’t had a run of games to show whether he has deteriorated or not since his injury .

          If what we’re looking for in Alexis and Pedro is another two defenders fine but at some point Messi’s goals will dry up. Remember we all thought Eto’o was a goal machine then he couldn’t buy one. More likely injury than drought in Messi’s case but what if we sell Villa in January and Messi gets injured the next week? Will we still have the firepower? In that scenario would you rather have Alexis than Villa playing no. 9 ? The only thing I can think of that might explain it would be as you suggest that Villa isn’t hacking it in training but we’ll never know that.

          Btw, if we judge Valdez by the goalkeeping criteria you mention regarding Casillas, Pinto might find himself in with a shout!

          • alpinegroove
            December 22, 2012

            If Messi gets injured, the most likely replacement in the “9” position is Cesc, not Villa or Alexis, assuming that Cesc is healthy.

          • G6O
            December 22, 2012

            What if we sell Villa in January and bring Neymar earlier than expected?

            Santos are not playing in the Copa Libertadores next year so it is a complete mystery to me what Neymar is planning to do between now and June when the Brasileiro starts – scoring hattricks every week against Mogi Mirim and XV de Piracicaba does not look like the best way to get ready for the World CuP.

        • Nav
          December 22, 2012

          He scored the injury time winner against Sevilla. IMO that was a season defining game for Barca.

        • replayed
          December 22, 2012

          Villa hasn’t started any games this season anyone would describe as important, although he’s logged a few minutes in garbage time of some such ties.

          His only significant goal came in his — by far — best start, giving Barcelona the decisive lead at 2-1 against Celta de Vigo.

          He was magnificent in that match after another solid performance against Rayo. I’m theorizing that his spirit broke a little when he wasn’t rewarded for it, getting sent straight back to ride the pine. He’s been mediocre since, though I’d personally still take his mediocrity over Alexis’s.

          As for the Casillas situation, it takes way more generosity than I have to give Mourinho’s decision the benefit of any doubt that it may actually have something to do with the current form of Madrid’s goalkeeping choices.

          • replayed
            December 22, 2012

            That’s right, I forgot against Sevilla since he came in as a late sub.

          • Nav
            December 22, 2012

            Mou is way too emotional for that. It’s definitely a personality thing.

        • Messiah10
          December 22, 2012

          Didn’t he score the winner or tying goal against Sevilla? When we were 2-1 down late in the game. I think Villa had one of those goals.

          • December 22, 2012

            This is what happens when I don’t do reviews any longer …. forgot about Sevilla.

            So what if scoring goals isn’t the criteria that our wingers are being judged by in the case of Vilanova? What if a tactical wrinkle is to use the wingers for tactical width, and the FBs as the real attacking threat. Dunno. I do know that if Pedro and Sanchez were as poor as people allege, Vilanova wouldn’t be playing them. He would have tried Villa, or Tello, or something to get some goals out of the club.

            Fact of the matter is that his system is working, and it’s working because Sanchez and Pedro might not be scoring goals, but they are influencing the match in significant ways, at both ends of the pitch. I just don’t think that goals are the sole standard by which to gauge a player’s effectiveness. Or goals per minute.

            We have a player who is scoring goals for fun. How many players do we have who are willing to suborn their own glory and do donkey work? Something worth considering.

            With Villa, Vilanova said he is running a meritocracy. If you earn it in practice, you start. Villa apparently hasn’t done that. As an example of that system, we need look no farther than Adriano.

          • Barka
            December 22, 2012

            The system is working because Messi is scoring so many goals. Of course he is helped by Pedro and Alexis who worked their asses off but it’s not healthy to leave Messi do most of the scoring. Every time I see the team play, I see Alexis and Pedro play as forwards who are supposed to score goals. I don’t see any goal from them. What if we play in the CL semi-final and Messi has a bad day and can’t score no matter what and we have to sub in Villa who hasn’t had a full match in weeks?

            Helping with defence is more than enough to earn them a place over Villa now but seriously need to score some goals. Relearn in Pedro’s case and Learn in Alexis’.

          • replayed
            December 22, 2012

            With Villa, Vilanova said he is running a meritocracy. If you earn it in practice, you start.

            It’s entirely possible I missed the quote where Villanova said or implied that Villa’s playing time was predicated on his performances in practice, but I don’t recall that particular bit at all.

            So what if scoring goals isn’t the criteria that our wingers are being judged by in the case of Vilanova? What if a tactical wrinkle is to use the wingers for tactical width, and the FBs as the real attacking threat. Dunno. I do know that if Pedro and Sanchez were as poor as people allege, Vilanova wouldn’t be playing them. He would have tried Villa, or Tello, or something to get some goals out of the club.

            If it all comes down to “The team is winning everything — therefore whatever Tito does is unimpeachable” then we might as well call it a night and stop all discussion. But me, I’d like to look past that, to anticipate how and why the team might stop winning everything.

            Let’s say I concede that an attacker’s contribution goes well beyond goals scored and that his contribution to defense is just as important in a team like Barca, is there a way to measure such total contribution? I think there might be.

            Rather than look at individual goals, I took a look at the rate of goals scored and allowed by the team while Villa has been on the pitch, and while Alexis has been on the pitch. Yes, there are many other complicating factors — including relative strength of the opposition faced by the two players — but this strikes me as a fairly useful thumbnail.

            What I discovered was kinda interesting:

            – For every 90 minutes that Villa has been on the pitch, Barca have scored about 4 goals, while letting in about 1.5 goals.

            – For every 90 minutes that Alexis has been on the pitch, Barca have scored about 2.15 goals while letting about 0.78 goals.

            So Barca are stronger in attack and weaker in defense with Villa, while being weaker in attack and stronger in defense with Alexis. We suspected as much, but here’s the interesting bit: Barca score 2.7 times more goals than they let in with Villa, while scoring 2.75 times more goals than they let in with Alexis. Practically a wash.

            And here’s why Barcelona spend so much time deflecting questions about Villa’s imminent sale: In spite of the time that Alexis has had to miss from injury this season, he has spent 921 minutes on the pitch, compared to 602 minutes for Villa. That’s 50% more playing time for Alexis.

            I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d say their respective contributions to the team hardly warrant such a significant gap in playing opportunities thus far. So I wouldn’t blame Villa for wondering if his attacking contributions might not be better appreciated at some other team that feels more secure about their defenders’ ability to defend.

            The moral of the story? Don’t buy a central defender, and you will risk losing a potent attacker.

          • alpinegroove
            December 22, 2012

            “What if we play in the CL semi-final and Messi has a bad day and can’t score no matter what and we have to sub in Villa who hasn’t had a full match in weeks?”

            Don’t forget Cesc, Alba, Adriano, Iniesta, Xavi. All of them can score. It’s not like Villa is the only alternative to Messi.

          • alpinegroove
            December 22, 2012

            “I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d say their respective contributions to the team hardly warrant such a significant gap in playing opportunities thus far. So I wouldn’t blame Villa for wondering if his attacking contributions might not be better appreciated at some other team that feels more secure about their defenders’ ability to defend.”

            People seem to forget that there was a lot of speculation about Villa leaving the team last year. He was really struggling, and pressure was mounting. There was even some reports about his leaving in the January. The he got injured. These issues started before Alexis, who was injured much of last season, took Villa’s place in the starting lineup.

          • alpinegroove
            December 22, 2012

            Additionally, Villa isn’t young any more. Perhaps the club has decided to give playing time to a younger player who has the potential to stay in the club for a long time, rather than to a player who might leave in a year or two, or less.

          • replayed
            December 23, 2012

            People seem to forget that there was a lot of speculation about Villa leaving the team last year. He was really struggling, and pressure was mounting.

            Some people remember that Villa was struggling so much during the first half of last season because he was playing hurt. The team knew that his shin was fractured and allowed him to continue playing with diminished capacity until the leg shattered.

            I bet Villa remembers even if the club doesn’t.

          • December 23, 2012

            But replayed, you could have stopped at the revelation that we concede more goals when Villa is playing. That is the precise point. Every coach will tell you that winning begins with not conceding. If two players have the same number of goals scored while on the pitch, but one has more goals conceded while on the pitch, a coach will NEVER start that latter player. Ever. Because the core of winning is not being scored upon. That way even if you don’t score, at least you have a draw.

          • replayed
            December 23, 2012

            But replayed, you could have stopped at the revelation that we concede more goals when Villa is playing.

            No, I couldn’t. That wasn’t a revelation to me.

            That is the precise point.

            That’s not my point.

            If it’s blinkered to compare Villa to Alexis strictly on the basis of their contributions to the attack, it’s at least as blinkered to compare them strictly on the basis of their contributions to the defense. So I tried to measure both sets of contributions together.

            If two players have the same number of goals scored while on the pitch, but one has more goals conceded while on the pitch, a coach will NEVER start that latter player.

            If two players have the same number of goals conceded while on the pitch, but one has more goals scored while on the pitch, a coach will ALWAYS start that latter player.

            Because the core of winning is not being scored upon.

            All those who’d prefer to see Barcelona play more like Stoke, please raise your hands.

          • Messiah10
            December 23, 2012

            The only thing I see problematic with Replayed’s analysis is that Villa has come on in games late this season. Most of the time he comes on we are already 2-3 goals up and the game may not be definitively decided, but it’s just about wrapped up. Therefore, of course team goals scored when he’s on the pitch will be greater. Sanchez has started more games and finished them. His overall stats are more telling because he’s had more of an impact on them than Villa has with his.

          • December 23, 2012

            No, you are shaping an argument to make it for Villa playing, when that isn’t happening. Coach’s decision. Why? Because Villa isn’t playing well enough.

            As for Barcelona playing like Stoke, I will assume that was a joke. Tika-taka has its roots in defense. If they don’t have the ball, they can’t score. Our rondos are no less parking the bus than Chelsea putting 10 men in the box, though cule arrogance would like to suggest otherwise.

            No coach wants to concede goals, because conceding goals guarantees that at some point, you will concede too many, and lose. It is precisely why I say that championships start with defense. And that is the fundamental argument against Villa being on the pitch. We concede more goals when he is on it, and the thinking of every coach, including Guardiola and Vilanova, starts with not conceding goals. It’s as elemental as kicking a ball in this game of ours.

            Yes, Barcelona attacks. But you’d better believe that if we had to win every match 4-3 or 5-4, Vilanova would be freaking out. No matter what argument anyone makes, Villa isn’t playing well enough to start. That is why he isn’t starting. It’s as simple as that.

            And yes, if we score the same number of goals with one player on the pitch, but concede more with the other player on the pitch, a right-thinking coach will always, and I mean always, start the player with whom we concede fewer goals. You don’t have to play like Stoke (who, by the by, wouldn’t consider the way that they play any sort of an insult or thing to be scoffed at, yes?) to not want to give up goals. A coach can be romantic, but not stupid.

          • replayed
            December 23, 2012

            Most of the time he comes on we are already 2-3 goals up and the game may not be definitively decided, but it’s just about wrapped up. Therefore, of course team goals scored when he’s on the pitch will be greater.

            A hypothesis that’s easy enough to check. And guess what? It’s wrong.

            Of Villa’s 17 appearances this season, 10 have been as a sub.

            Of his 10 substitute appearances, 5 have been while Barca were leading, and 5 while Barca were trailing (3 times) or tied (twice).

            Across the 5 times he came on while Barca were leading, the team went on to score 5 goals with him while letting in 2.

            Across the 5 times he came on while Barca were trailing or tied, the team scored 7 goals with him while letting in 1.

          • replayed
            December 23, 2012

            Coach’s decision.
            As I said before, if all discussion must stop at that point, then this is all hot hair.

            No, you are shaping an argument to make it for Villa playing, when that isn’t happening. Coach’s decision.
            And after accusing others of ignoring Alexis’s defensive contributions to focus on Villa’s goal scoring numbers, you’re dismissing an argument that tries to look at both sets of contributions by the two players in order to focus your argument solely on Alexis’s defensive contributions.

            As for Barcelona playing like Stoke, I will assume that was a joke.

            Good assumption.

            However the serious point contained within the joke is that football requires a balance of attacking and defending. Which is what my analysis tried to look at.

            When it comes to football, I don’t subscribe to the old American sports saw about defense being the best offense. And I think the TPTB in football agreed with me when they decided to start awarding 3 points rather than 2 for a victory. They wanted to tilt the balance of tactics in the game towards attacking at the expense of defending. It worked, even if it’s not been enough to prevent the advent of Mourinho’s Chelsea and their numbing strings of 1-0 victories.

            I understand that some people may get more thrills from a team’s defensive organization — whether it’s two banks of four or tiki-taka around the opponent’s box — but I personally get more excited by someone doing something really creative in attack than by someone showing me effort doing defensive work. But then I’m not one to, say, dismiss Messi’s offensive contributions in order to mark him down for not working hard enough on his defensive work.

            YMMV and all that.

    • nzm
      December 23, 2012

      It’s funny how we all assumed that Atletico would implode, and get leapfrogged by RM.

      I made no such assumption. 🙂

      That’s why I categorically defended my belief that the best outcome for the Madrid – Atletico game was a Madrid win.

      However, at the time I also commented that I was interested to see if Atletico could maintain their quality play all season. IF Falcao does leave in January, their task will become more difficult, and the pressures of doing well in La Liga and Europa League may prove to be too much. But there’s no way that I’m not writing them off just yet.

    • December 23, 2012

      I’ve watched 6 full RM matches this year, so not too many. However Casillas is the same as last year in the matches I’ve seen, I don’t think he’s looked any worse for sure. Some people are blaming him for Madrid’s weakness on set pieces, but it’s really down to bad marking from what I’ve seen. I don’t see how you expect Casillas to go out and claim every ball to make up for the bad marking, and then say he’s deteriorating when he’s just not really that type of keeper. So for me it’s a political move. And I’m glad our squad doesn’t seem to have this type of political undercurrents today, but you see this all the time with Mourinho. It’s part of why he has to run away to a new club every so often.

      As far as the match yesterday, Malaga played fantastic, and I’m inclined to say it’s more down to their play winning than Madrid’s play losing. Though Ronaldo did have a pretty terrible match, and the only one for RM I thought played well was Ozil. But Malaga were brilliant over all. Will be a tough opponent.

  53. nzm
    December 22, 2012

    Barca B imploded tonight against neighbours Girona.

    They were leading 4-1 until, in the last 15 minutes of the game, they let Girona score 3 to end the game in a draw. Awful defence. Oier was sent off after he went off in the ref’s face.

  54. December 22, 2012

    Look, if we can continue winning without Alexis and Pedro scoring, there’s nothing like it. If we can win without [insert random occurrence] happening, I’ll be fine with it too. Thing is, Messi is taking care of the scoring for the rest of the line. But there may come a day when he wont score and others will have to come through. In such a scenario it is absolutely essential that Alexis and Pedro are confident enough to put a few chances away.

    Is scoring goals the only parameter to judge a player, especially a forward’s performance? No. They are performing well on the field as it is, even taking on the defensive responsibilities which has contributed to the team’s success.

    All I’m saying is it wouldn’t hurt to put those chances away, and neither are the players thinking after every game, “Hey, so what if I didn’t score”. Not those guys, not during this period..

    • Nav
      December 22, 2012

      Others have stepped up when Messi didn’t score. Cesc, Adriano, Xavi, Villa.

      • alpinegroove
        December 22, 2012

        And Alba and Tello and Iniesta.
        Maybe Messi should be asked not to score so many more goals that his teammates.

  55. December 22, 2012

    I still believe in David Villa. Right now, it’s working well with Pedro & Alexis in the starting XI (they’re contributing in ways other than scoring goals). But it’s a long season, and Villa was crucial in winning several games (Sevilla, Celta de Vigo). We’ll surely need him again at some point, and I’d hate to see him shipped out.

  56. December 22, 2012

    Barcelona have completed the first half of the league season unbeaten. The best start to any season in La Liga history. They are the only team unbeaten in any of the major leagues in Europe.

    The team played an outstanding match – yet again today.

    Just an amazing season-despite crippling injuries. What a team this is.

    This is such a special team, one that really deserves appreciation. We may never see this level of play again in our life times.

    • December 23, 2012

      Given the early season panic over injuries and the lack of CB signings, things have shaped up amazingly through December! The team has fought through everything with innovative thinking and evolving play.

  57. December 23, 2012

    Villa is just a victim of messi’s awesomeness, personally i prefer a tello coming off the bench to a villa. Villa strikes me as a very grumpy player, i know hell, we all know that he was the star player at valencia but in barcelona theres no room for one-man showmanship, ask leo, he thinks his team-mate deserves the fifa balon d’or. That aside villa wasnt playing well before he got injured in my mind that served as a big break(one too many though), thats the reason he was even playing in l’eshospitat(whatever!) in the first place. But on the otherhand, i dont want him to go atleast not now, maybe summer.

    On alexis an pedro not scoring, have you seen this lads charge at the opposition whenever we lose possesion? They are like angels using demonic tools to light heavenly candles so nobody cools. Hard to find a winger-cum-striker-cum-wb-cum-lmf/rmf, they are everywhere…love these guys wholeheartedly and a few goals every now and then will make me love them even more.

    Now i’m thinking, its been a crazy thought buh i’m saying it anyway. What if we actually start producing coaches as well? What if after tito jordi roura or any of the junior coaches take over at the helm? Are you guys seeing a trend here? pep guardiola===>tito vilanova===>jordi roura/any other junior staff/ jose enrique…that would be very nice wldnt it?

  58. elcapitan
    December 23, 2012

    last year
    Jose Mourinho : Barcelona is no longer the example to follow.I think the time time has come where people start talking less about Barcelona, and that people are no longer trying to make comparisons with them
    PS—the example to follow now should be #A16. Merry xmas in advance bfb’ers

    • Richzorz
      December 23, 2012

      I guess in his own “special” way he’s getting more and more people to talk about Madrid… 😉

  59. KEVINO17
    December 23, 2012

    If anyone wants to see why Pedro and Alexis are almost the first chosen they should read the great tactical analysis linked above. At Barcelona the forward press is VITAL because we don’t have a very athletic midfield or defence. So attacks MUST be nipped in the bud. So many times people admire Busquets anticipation in cutting off a pass. But so often he does that because Pedro or Alexis have pressured the passer. Watch how many times, every game they hurry a passer and the knock-on effect that has downfield. Without them, our defence becomes very exposed.

    • Jim
      December 23, 2012

      Defence is primarily about how many bodies you can get between the opposition and the goal and what you do with them. Our defence is looking a lot better now because the proper CBs are back and we’re not leaving so much exposed at RB. If we score more there is more pressure on the opposition to come out and play. There is also an assumption spreading that Villa doesn’t chase back or harrass defenders which isn’t true.

      I’m enjoying this run as much as anyone but I’m also clear we generally aren’t playing anywhere near top form and are still going into the last third of games not having finished them off. We have also carried way more luck than we ever saw last season and the big games are ahead of us still.

      • December 23, 2012

        True, Jim. Villa does track back. But he doesn’t do it as often or as effectively as Pedro and Sanchez do.

        You’re also right about not being near top form. Man, I said that somewhere else and got hammered for it. But it’s true. The holiday break is well-timed, I think. Rest always does a body good. But, our next two Liga matches are Espanyol and Malaga, teams I would rather face after an extended period of play, when the oil is flowing through the engine. But we’ll see.

  60. December 23, 2012

    Whoa! I just realize that Jive Ass got the final scoreline right, even if he incorrectly predicted that the slacker-ass Messi would only score one goal. We should sell him now, before the decline really takes hold. Lord today! Only one goal!

  61. December 23, 2012

    The other thing to consider (a couple, actually):

    –The side isn’t doing anything special to get Messi his goals. They are coming during the run of play, as a consequence of the way that the team plays. Yes, there is the occasional Messi Goal. But for the most part, no.

    –Goals come as a consequence of Barça football. Look at the first goal against Valladolid. That was a team, playing its game. Xavi made a forward’s run to get on the end of that cross, and bango.

    –I have full confidence that this team can score goals and win matches without Messi. It’s the system. Put another way, you can get to the office driving a Ferrari, OR a Ford. Just because the Ferrari is more fun, doesn’t mean the Ford won’t get you to work. As long as the team plays its game, goals will come.

    Finally, has anyone noticed how much Messi has been tracking back lately? That, to me, is a sign of confidence in the rest of the team scoring goals. Recall that last season, when he and the rest of the free world recognized that he was pretty much it, he saved everything for offense.

    • nzm
      December 23, 2012

      Yes – Messi is tracking back more. It’s good to see.

      I had one “good grief” moment during the match when our energiser squirrel sprinted back out of nowhere to dispossess Valladolid of the ball when a good attack was on – he was amazing – it took a while for the TV picture to catch up with him! 😆

      My thoughts are that if Pedro and Alexis are to be used as they are, and I do believe that the defensive work that they do really does help the midfield and backline defences to quash most attacks, then the onus should be coming on our midfield to start scoring more.

      In La Liga games, Xavi (4 goals), Ini (1) and Busquets (1) need to be stepping up. Adriano and Puyol have scored more this season. Cesc is the only one scoring with regularity.

      There are a lot of support players on the pitch to feed just one consistent goal-scorer, and that’s where Kevin’s comment (about Messi’s goals coming as a consequence of the run of play) makes sense, because the whole team is playing to make that happen. A lot of his goals (this season) have been as a result of him being the guy to finish off a team movement – not necessarily individual Moments of Messi Magnificence.

      I think that the second half of the season may see some small changes in tactics. Now that Messi has his calendar year record, the pressure may come off the others to feel the need to support him and the others may start taking more chances for themselves.

      • December 23, 2012

        I had one “good grief” moment during the match when our energiser squirrel sprinted back out of nowhere to dispossess Valladolid of the ball when a good attack was on – he was amazing – it took a while for the TV picture to catch up with him!

        He was also covering for Pique, who was in the opponent’s box at the time! 😛

  62. nzm
    December 23, 2012

    Holy cow – I thought that the Brazilian team should be looking at Leo Baptistao from Rayo, but it turns out that he’s applying for Spanish nationality because he wants to play for La Roja.

    Goodbye Fernando Torres – both the Chelsea one and the Bilbao one.

    And in other news – Pinto has signed an extension to his contract until 2014. Messi will be happy.

  63. mic
    December 23, 2012

    Awesome teamgoal by Xavi. Just shows how switching positions tactics can leave the entire defense clueless what to do. This is barca magic that made this team so special in the eyes of experts and fans.

  64. Messiah10
    December 23, 2012

    I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and is able to spend it with the ones they love. The break is going to be tough because we won’t be able to see the club we love and the players we adore doing what they do best. Best wishes to Tito and his family. Feliz Navidad!

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