1. While we are going into the break with a staggering 49 points out of 17 games, EE is just staggering into the break. I know, I know… starting a match review talking about that other team betrays a lack of class and humility and is a sure sign of an inferiority complex to boot. What can I say? I am a culé, after all. For me there is no ying without the yang, and our rival’s misfortune makes me sing with glee. Besides, isn’t their story so much more intriguing than ours right now? Has Mourinho lost the support of his players for the first time in his career? Has Casillas lost the support of his coach for the first time in his? Christmas came early this year and it sure as heck ain’t a white one. After sixteen wins, sixteen points now separate us from our bitterest rivals.
2. Hold on… What’s wrong with me? We have just made the best league start ever and I’m talking about them??? Doctor, help me, I’ve got madriditis! Let’s talk about what we should talk about. 49 points out of 17 games is unreal. True, not all wins have been pretty – quite frankly, I almost fell asleep during yesterday’s game – but that’s how leagues are won. By winning both the games in which you play well and the ones in which you don’t. By winning regardless. We cannot say that the league is done and dusted, but none has ever been lost after going into the break with more than eight points clear. It would take a remontada of mount everestic proportions to knock us off of the top.
3. Did I say I almost fell asleep? Or did I almost stay awake? The first half, at least, was a snore fest. As VV, Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Pedro, Messi and Alexis were struggling to find a way through Valladolid’s defense, I was struggling to keep my eyes open. And our opponents did not help – after showing some spirit going forward during the first quarter of an hour they went into the break with not one shot at goal, which brings me to my next point.
4. The first of the two most amazing things about our league run is that we have managed it with a defense more generous than Santa Claus in a Beverly Hills orphanage. Granted, we have had more injuries to deal with than a war zone hospital ward, but that is only part of the problem. Contract renewal notwithstanding, Puyol’s neck-breaking playing style will soon catch up with him… if it has not already. The problem is that Mascherano is playing like a back-up rather than an eventual replacement. Even in a game where our back line was hardly attacked, he looked unsure of himself at times and was careless with the ball. When Abidal finally makes his return upon our hallowed grounds, I will hail the king as loud as any, but whether he regains his previous majestic form remains to be seen.
5. Still, yesterday our defense as a whole held up fine. Valladolid played the toothless puppy and Barça, for the most of the first half, the sleeping dog. Then, after 43 minutes and barely a bark, we bit. Leo, whose danger had so far been leashed by timely pulls on his collar, dropped way back in midfield to initiate the attack. After combining with Thiago he found the Energizer surging into the box, who in turn slotted it neatly across goal for Xavi to finish off the move like a natural born poacher. Just like that, we went into half time with a 0-1 lead, and a distinct feeling that Messi’s brace was still to come.
6. It didn’t. He did score a beauty of a goal but hey, nutmegging a defender before striking the ball off the post into the goal’s bottom right corner is just another day at the office for the world’s favorite Argentine. The count finally stops, at 91 goals in this calendar year. And as much as I hope that he will score even more in 2013, thank God we have this record-breaking business out of the way for now.
7. The second of the two most amazing things about our league run is that we have managed it with our two most important wingers combining for the grand total of one goal. Yes, hats off to both Pedro and Alexis for working their butts off. And yes, I know that Alexis’ makes intelligent runs that create space for others to run in to and that Pedro has six assists so far. I do not question their importance to the team, nor whether or not they deserve their playing time. Our winning record speaks firmly in their favor. I doubt however that they would start if the Diabolical Flea weren’t treating us to 1.5 goals per game. Former hitman Pedro has lost his lethal touch so long ago one wonders if he has found religion, and Alexis is just plain scared of scoring. What is really scary? How unstoppable this team can be if those two find the back of the net more regularly.
8. In the meantime, our second leading scorer, David Villa, continues to play only meaningless minutes. Anybody thinking el Guaje is happy about his current situation is kidding himself, but he is above all a good teammate and a professional. I have repeatedly stated that I would love for Villa to evolve into the role Larsson played in Rijkaard’s Barça. It is one I am sure he could perform to perfection, though I fear the Spaniard has too much pride to accept a lesser role at this point of his career. Fair play to David, of course. I do believe and hope he will stay with us for the remainder of the season.
9. It seems to me that Tello! is not only above the Kid in today’s pecking order, but he has also robbed poor innocent Pedrito of his exclamation mark by doing in one minute what our man from the Canary islands could not in ninety-three. Impressive, indeed. How we allowed a buy-out clause of only 10 million euros in his recently renewed contract is beyond me.
10. One of the causes of turning the match into a sometimes pedestrian affair was the midfield of Busquets, Xavi and Thiago. To complain about a threesome that is the envy of most other clubs in the world would be sacrilegious, but with neither Cesc nor Don Andrés in play a certain attacking thrust is missing. Thiago has a very bright future which I hope lies forever at the Camp Nou but, as any player of his age, he has plenty of room for improvement. Patience is key, both from us as supporters and from himself as a player, since now fit he might not get the amount of playing time this season as he was afforded by Pep last year.
11. A big shout of respect to Jordi Roura and the technical staff. True, we could have probably sent our players out on the pitch and they would have won the game without any mister stalking the sidelines, but Jordi represented F.C. Barcelona very well. How many coaches would have sent in Puyol to tighten our defense in the last minutes of the game after Valladolid finally decided to grow a pair and score a goal. Instead he took off nominal forward Pedro Rodriguez, who would track back in time if needed, for young gun Cristian Tello. A move rewarded mere moments later. Sometimes the best defense is offense.
12. So now that la Liga is all but ours, the question remains: how good is this team? Are we the best team of the world? I think so. Is that good enough to win the Champion’s League? I honestly don’t know. Our league record may be flattering us into thinking we are better than we really are right now. Our weaknesses are plain enough for everyone to see, and they can be exploited. Our forwards don’t score. Our defenders stand flat-footed against counter attacks. Our midgets can’t defend corners. Scorelines can deceive; we have snatched many victories from defeats this year. With the business end of the season yet to come, how will we fare against top opposition? How many clásicos will we have to endure? The jingle bells might not be ringing throughout the Evil Empire this December but our two clubs are inextricably linked, and nowadays more so than ever. The upcoming six months will tell, and this team is still a work in progress. Let’s hope this is a good thing and that the best is yet to come.
13. At this point of that season, a legendary Arsenal team went undefeated in their league. However, after seventeen games they had ‘only’ racked up thirty-nine points. They drew six games instead of just one. Incredible as is sounds, we are on our way to improve upon their achievement. To go into the break undefeated in a league of which four teams qualified for the second CL round, and a fifth spanked the current European Champions 4-1 at the start of the season is an incredible thing all by itself. We have seventeen games down. To not lose any of the twenty-one still ahead of us would make this team immortal. Anything is possible. But the most important game is played off of the pitch.
14. While the players were in the dressing room, Tito left the hospital. We came out with shirts that read common sense, chest (strength) and balls (bravery). The greatness that is on stake in stadiums across Spain and Europe pales in comparison to the importance of the life of loved ones, whether they are yours, mine, ours or someone else’s. And just like they had when Abidal went under the knife, our most hated rivals wore shirts dedicating their best wishes to our coach and leader, Francesc ‘Tito’ Vilanova. A classy gesture indeed, as was Málaga’s who also wore a message of support. Life is greater than winning or losing a football game. For once, soccer unites hearts and minds rather than dividing them. Anims, Tito! Seny, pit i collons!!!!!!!!
15. Had anybody told me that at the beginning of the season that Adriano Correia would be injured half the games, I’d have been a believer. Had they told me he would be the team’s second leading scorer (together with Villa), I’d have checked for a fever. Note to our other Brazilian fullback, Dani Alves: we love you, but sometimes you take the tiki a taka too far. Chut the ball!
16. I don’t know if this was much of a review, but here you are. I’m gonna call it a review anyway, and as such, I will leave you with a quote:
“Liga season’s going great so far, it’s a shame there’s a break now…”
Xavi Hernández i Creus