Malaga 2, Barça 4, aka “Them little blokes don’t like it innem, eh?” “No. And …?”


Ah, notions. Is the Doom Watch over? Because I’m running out of canned food and bottled water, so I sure hope that it is.

Many people were nervous yesterday, some even picked Malaga to advance. “Two away goals! We’re all gon’ die!”

As I tracked the match yesterday, I noted something akin to “If the players don’t start moving and moving the ball, they are going to be watching the Copa on TV.” They did, so they will be witnessing it in person, instead of on the telly. It’s as simple as that.

In the non-preview, I made things sound really simple mostly because they are: This is the best club in the world. If it plays at anything near its potential, it can’t lose.

It sounds simple. It sounds arrogant. It sounds like I am dismissing every single opponent we have faced, and have yet to face. I understand. But none of that changes the reality. This is the best club in the world. If it plays at anything near its potential, it can’t lose.

Going into the match against Malaga, the aggregate scoreline was 2-2, thanks to an unfortunate bit of Adriano poor traction, coupled with some defensive shenanigans. So all that Malaga had to do was, really, what they do at home: Don’t concede. I sincerely hope that nobody entertained, even for an instant, the notion that such a thing was possible. We were going to score. And it took less than 10 minutes to happen, as some remarkable football ensued, particularly Xavi getting the handle on the ball and sliding it to Alves just in time to find our resurgent right back onside. Alves then flicked a beauty of a ball to Pedro, and that was that. 1-0. Game on.

Scoring first was the best possible thing not only for the team, but for this match, as Malaga had to play …. and play they did. Their trainer, Pellegrini, came out with an excellent match plan predicated in the notion that our talented sprites don’t like people in their face. So he attacked. His side played football, and pressed, and tackled, and fouled, and tried to grab the match by the scruff of the neck with physicality and energy. Brilliant.

And it didn’t take them long to equalize, as a Busquets lunge for a ball knocked it directly to a Malaga attacker for a full-speed, springboard attack that resulted in Joaquin lashing a ground-skimmer past Pinto to draw the match at 1-1. It was a goal that was too easy, but also inevitable once possession turned, because rare is the attacking team that can stop a full-speed counterattack from a side of the quality of Malaga. And that’s us.

The Pellegrini attack plan has its roots in the misguided notion held by many that Barça would fail in the Premiership, because “them midgets don’t like it innem,” that Barça can be beaten through dint of effort, physicality and pressure. And you know what? They’re partly right. Our sprites don’t like it innem. No team does. Duh. The difference, however, is in the equipment that teams bring to the table. We respond to pressure with faster ball and player movement, trusting in the task of chasing shadows to wear down an opponent, which creates more possession and more danger until suddenly, the defenders are a step too late.

After a first half that saw Malaga executing their match plan to perfection, they started getting tired. But here’s something else that the “don’t like it innem” crowd is forgetting: This club has extraordinary players. Malaga was set up to control Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets. But on a club where attackers are defenders and the reverse, Alves was freed up to become the player he used to be, and Pique became a lanky forward. To have a defender who can take a pass like he did, control the ball perfectly and almost in the same motion lash it home for a 1-2 lead is absurd. And that is the difference. Whether it is Adriano blasting something in from the wing, Alba squirreling through a rabbit hole or Piquenbauer doing what he does, you don’t know where an attack is going to come from.


So while you’re busy getting all up in that, somebody else is waiting to hurt you, because you can’t control everyone, and everyone can hurt you. It must make drawing up a match plan an exercise in hair-pulling frustration.

And then, just like that, Malaga equalized again, but the signs were there: possession was beginning to climb, Xavi was finding more space to work, Iniesta wasn’t getting harassed as much on his runs and suddenly, there was free space for Messi. The human body is a remarkable thing, in that it can exceed its limits as capably as it finds them. Malaga was positively flying in that first half. It was a work rate that was unsustainable, because the body gets tired. You can work past that fatigue for a while, freshened by the halftime break, but eventually, it happens: the head droops a little bit and you’re a step slower. But when you’re playing Barça, the ball is moving at the same speed — only it seems faster because you’re tired. Dog tired. And you look up and there’s still a half-hour to go in the match and that damned Messi is still running around, and why won’t that Pedro stand still. If we could get the ball back we could show the …. dammit!

But there was something more. As I also noted in the non-preview, an angry sprite is not to be trusted, and this side had something to prove. A draw with Malaga and a loss to Real Sociedad and suddenly, there was doubt. Why I don’t know, but there was doubt. The club wanted this match, as ajudged by the lineup: Pinto, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Fabregas. This was the first-choice lineup (Puyol arguments notwithstanding) that showed things were Serious. So did the players’ faces.


The best player on the planet wasn’t even the best player wearing Blaugrana yesterday, and that’s another part of the problem. This might be, despite his gaudy statistics, the least Messidependent side I have seen in recent memory. It is a side in which there is always someone else. Pedro has scored 4 goals in the last 5 matches, seeming to have shaken off his slump to once again find he and the ball magnetized. Alves is showing signs of a desire to be the best attacking right back in the world again. Everything is happening in a team that isn’t even peaking yet, but just keeps playing its game, doing its thing, waiting …. and waiting …. because 90 minutes is a long, long time to chase shadows.

The last two goals were scored because not only is this the best team in the world, but it’s also one of the fittest, one that has worked on ball control and passing until they become reflex. People marvel at the things that Iniesta, Xavi, etc do, but muscle memory is a remarkable thing. They have done those things so many times that the control, the movement, the passing become reflex — like breathing. It’s automatic, a response to a stimulus. And they do it again and again and again and again, and when an opponent tires, blammo. That’s that.

Yes, it’s true. The sprites don’t like it innem. Further, there will come a rare opponent possessed of incredible fitness, and luck, who catches the side on a down day and pulls out a win. It happened this past weekend and even then, that match could easily have been over in the first half. Potential, realized and unrealized, all in the same match. I just don’t see such a confluence of events happening with sufficient regularity to keep this club from major silver of some kind this season. Why? Because this is the best team in the world.


By Kxevin

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.


  1. Kxevin, thanks for the review. I hardly doubt the hunger, ability and commitment of this Barca team, even when they occasionally slip. Thats normal.

    I knew it was going to be an interesting game, capable of placing some of us on the edges of our seats. I became relaxed the minute we scored our second goal. Malaga really stretched us, and thats very good for us.

    Iniesta and Messi were so good. Everybody was good.

    1. On the first goal, he sort of froze, then shifted his weight the wrong way. Joaquin used that movement and shot past him. On the second, he was almost in the same situation, let down by his defense and having to pick one area to defend, almost like a penalty. This time he shaded the near post, and Santa Cruz went across, as Joaquin might have done had Pinto shaded the near post on that goal. In both cases, he had to guess, and guessed wrong.

      Could he have done better? Yep. He has in the past. Should he have done better? Always the question. I dunno.

    2. Yeah, he was caught wrong-footed both times. Not terrible errors by any means, I just think he could have read the strikers better.

    1. Comes from the Prem crowd, who believe that a few hard, “manly” fouls and Barça would wither and die like wimps. “In their face, hard and heavy, Prem style.”

    2. Yeah I love how you put the response to that.

      It’s more like kicking a beehive, because as you say, “The difference, however, is in the equipment that teams bring to the table. We respond to pressure with faster ball and player movement, trusting in the task of chasing shadows to wear down an opponent, which creates more possession and more danger until suddenly, the defenders are a step too late.”

  2. You usually don’t do review for cup games such as this and CL. Good to see a change.

    Allas can make a video of nutmegs alone. There were heaps of them last night.

    This is probably the first time this season where we utilized both the right and left wing. Amazing work rate front Alba and Alves!

    I missed the match because it was raining. It’s pretty lame that the cable tv freeze during a rain. So I read on Guardian that Messi was the least effective of the forwards and had an off game. But when I watched the match, it didn’t seem that way at all. I don’t understand what an off game for him is.

    Yes he had like 5-10 intercepted passes. It’s pretty normal I think. Nothing of the ordinary there. Had a few successful dribbles. Check. But of course more unsuccessful than successful but I’ve never seen a player who dribbles that much having a higher success rate. Do fans especially the neutral ones only rate him if he has an assist or a goal of a dribble after beating 4 men?

    There was a moment in the 80th minute when Pinto passed the ball dangerously to Pique at the corner and Pique passed it to sMasch. He had a Malaga player behind him and unlike Thiago last week, sMasch one touched it sideways to Alves.

    Btw. Not saying that Thiago is a bad player or anything but just pointing out the difference on how to deal with that kind of situation when you’re facing you’re goal. One touch it if you’re not sure of the danger.

    1. It also could be that he learned from the mistake of another player, one with better touch and passing than he, that it should be one touch and gone. Just seemed an unfair dig at Thiago, that comment.

    2. I agree with you completely. Actually it is getting very difficult to understand what people expect of Messi. Messi played more deeper yesterday for long periods and was always dragging at least 2 Malaga players with him. He did try many final penetrating pass, most of which didnt go through yesterday, but he was not bad at all yesterday. He was a good team player, like he is always, but with more work in the mid field. In fact, Iniesta except for his assist, was having a real day off in the first half. He just got better in the second half, like almost all our players.
      Wonder if Messi is realising how hard it is now, for him to please all these online critics?
      I remember that PInto pass to Pique near the corner. But what followed was some beautiful one touch passes at our back yard. Which team can make such text book triangles just outside their penalty box, when opposition players were pressing hard? – none. ONly Barca.
      The situation with Messi is also nearly the same for Busquests. Busquests does things on the field, which we will least expect from a DMF. Infact his ball control is only next to Messi and Iniesta. What a player. When will he get all the recognition he deserves.

    3. Online critics? Most of Messi’s critics write in English, behind masks. I doubt he gives two fucks about any of that.

    4. I doubt that Messi cares about anything that doesn’t involve kicking a football and (apparently) spending time with his damsel.

    5. not so sure Kxevin, Messi has commented that he was sad about all the criticism against him in Argentina. If he was worried about that in Argentina, he will note that anywhere else too. It is impossible for a human being to not listen to critics. You cannot even ignore, without listening first.

  3. Found this comment at Guardian. Had me
    in stitches picturing Casillas
    driving with 1 hand to the hospital.

    Furthermore as if Perez press conference
    isn’t enough to point out Marca’s
    unfounded allegations, Relano from AS tries
    to add fuel to the fire by writing an opinion
    piece on Casillas having to drive himself to
    the hospital using only 1 hand
    . This anti-
    Mourinho campaign is really getting absurd.

    It just doesn’t make any sense. Even if it’s true that Mourinho forbid anyone at the club to help him but for sure Casillas has a friend or family who could’ve helped him. Good laugh though.

  4. The least Messi dependant? The amount of players that he attracted last night really helped the other players. It’s just that the others didn’t really exploit the space coupled with some great defense from Malaga.

    That alone proves that we need him. Just imagine him not playing. There will be so much less space for the likes of Cesc and Iniesta to operate.

    1. We only have to wait until Sunday to find out. But it’s a home game and against a struggling team. I would like to see us going against a top 10 team in an away match with Messi.

      And also when Alexis and Ibra and others are getting praised for simply dragging players and giving space to Messi to score , same could be said for Messi giving the other players the benefit. Right?

    2. The system doesn’t need space. The system needs ball movement. Look at the two halves. In the first, there was too much dribbling and caressing of the ball. In the second, the ball moved, independently of the players. Big difference.

      Sounds like we will find out on Sunday, as there is talk of resting Messi against Osasuna. I like that.

      This club has never been more selfless in its execution of a system. We haven’t seen this at its fullest flower much, because of the presence of Messi, who can take on defenders, dribble/draw, etc. The system lives in ball and player movement. Last night’s first goal is a textbook example.

    3. I thoroughly enjoyed the review Kevin!

      I would argue that our team is at its most dangerous when they combine their fast ball movement with Iniesta and Messi’s dribbles to destabilize the defense.

      I would also like Leo to rest on Sunday. A lot of big games coming up.

    4. I wouldn’t want to rest him if Tito’s not around on Sunday… Anyone have any news on how his chemo’s going?

    5. “the system doesnt need space” does this mean effectively that the one thing Sanchez has been said to be good at,offensively, (creating space) is the thing we do not need? Where does that leave Sanchez? i also disagree with the premise, ball movement is used to create space. When we have not played well it is because the ball movement has been too slow thus not creating space out wide or in the middle.

    6. No, ball movement is used to create opportunity. Good teams will never allow the space that so many think this team needs to thrive. That is what makes a pressing, physical opponent so challenging. Players such as Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and Messi thrive in cramped quarters because the rondos and passing drills that become reflex also become automatic in close quarters.

      Space isn’t necessary. Movement is. Of both player and ball. From that movement comes opportunity.

      As for where that leaves Sanchez, he isn’t good at creating space. He is good at making space to make a move. It’s the same close-quarter work that so many of our players are good at.

  5. This is gonna be a clasico of all clasico’s.


    Mou had wonderful insight in giving Adan some play time, brilliant.

    1. yeah, it sure has backfired spectacularly. He’ll look like a right idiot now if he tries to get another GK this transfer window.

    2. Well seems like they have signed former youth keeper and Villareal glory days stoper, Diego Lopez from Sevilla… signed and not on loan. 3.5m euros me thinks. Read that somewhere.

  6. I just found this site and read some of the articles. And this site is the awesome!!! It doesn’t merely state obvious comments like ESPN or (though i love both). The writer actually goes into depth about the tactics. Great Article

  7. In the interest of avoiding more debates and finger pointing (although one person’s finger pointing is another’s reasonable observation), I’d just like to add – great game, great review! Visca Barca!

    1. But which is the best finger to point with? The index finger gets all the glory, but the pinkie has a great work rate and is sometimes unjustly criticized by people around here!

    2. Then there’s ever popular “who’s got 2 thumbs and tickets to the Mallorca game?… This guy!

    3. I actually really like how president Obama points with his thumb on top of a closed fist – he does it all the time.

      Stealing that…

    4. All politicians do that. They get trained by body language experts because people don’t like being pointed at.

      But, yeah, Obama is especially great at body-language in general. He really looks the part.

  8. For what it’s worth, I believe the British phrase about allergy to aggressive tactics is “don’t like it uppem.” In recent times, that tag has often been applied to Arsenal. At least the post-Vieira Arsenal.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Replayed. I was going to mention that but wasn’t sure if some might regard that as a bit offensive 🙂

      For this current generation their knowledge of the phrase probably comes from an old sitcom called “Dad’s Army” set during WW2 about the Home Guard. It was one of the main character’s favourite expressions.

    2. “We are the boys who will stop your little game
      We are the boys who will make you think again.”


    3. Can’t dispute what you heard or what’s stuck with you.

      Google though heard and remembers differently.

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