Raphael Varane 1, Barça 1, aka “Let’s take a moment for a bit of perspective here, folks.”


Short and sweet:

The mood after what was a good result in the first leg of the NIT Copa del Reig strikes me as rather odd, and a bit difficult to comprehend for many reasons, but let’s start with why it was a GOOD result:

–In their house, we came away from a two-legged tie with a scoring draw. This means that we have to do less to advance than they do. But let’s look deeper than that, shall we?

The team played kinda stanky (not very deep, I know), and still came away with a draw and an away goal. Xavi was messy, Messi was abysmal, Iniesta flailed, Alba now understands what it’s like to face RM, etc, etc, etc, etc. And still, an away draw. I’ll take that.

Have we really become so complacent, so expectant that we have forgotten the years in which Barça NEVER won a match against RM? Yes, it was years, folks. And now salad days have conditioned many to expect excellent play and a manita every time out. That is the second-best team in the world, it should be noted. Depleted? When you can roll out a back line of Essien, Varane, Carvalho and Arbeloa, in what way are you depleted? A good coach will alter his tactics to account for his available personnel, and Mourinho is a damned good coach. Not sure why anyone is surprised that a good coach got the most out of his very talented lineup. It isn’t like the absence of Sergio Ramos, etc, means that they were calling up players from their Castilla. When world-class professional players are absent, a good coach with a deep squad has plenty of other world-class professional players to call upon. And so it happens.

Look at their starting XI: Lopez, Essien, Varane, Carvalho, Arbeloa, Alonso, Khedira, Callejon, Ozil, Benzema, Ronaldo. Someone in the previous post somehow intimated that was a poor side. Compared to what? And further that somehow, we failed by not putting that weakened side to the sword. So after a result that many interpret as bad, there is the need for blame: Pinto, the ref, the ball, the pitch, sunspots, a stray chicken, the price of grain and how it affects diets at the training table (as if sprites don’t live on apples and fairy dust). But usually, the opponent has the biggest effect on a match result, and it was no less true yesterday.

Cules perceive an evenly called match as going against Barça, because we don’t play an aggressive, physical style. So any time a ref “lets them play,” so to speak, rare is the time that we will benefit. That doesn’t mean the ref was biased, or bad. It means that the opponent had a style that was better suited to the match that was being called. That match was fairly refereed. Were errors made? Yep. Errors are always made. In every match. Some benefit Barça, some benefit the opponent.

Some are blaming tactics, assaulting the notion of the false 9 with vigor, or suggesting that Vilanova’s more direct style of play, that has resulted in a record points haul so far in the Liga, big leads over 2nd and 3rd place teams, topping the Champions League group and coming out of the enemy’s lair with a scoring draw in the Copa, is somehow flawed.

In what way?

Let’s be clear about what happened yesterday: A big, strong, fit, exceptionally talented team got in our faces, and we flinched. It’s that simple. Opponents have done it before, and we have flinched those other times, as well. It’s just that when an opponent of a quality that matches ours does it, the flinching seems much more acute. But make no mistake, much of the reason we didn’t have a good match was because the opponent had a good match. Had they been able to finish worth a damn, their tactics would have worked, rather than the match being in the balance until they began to tire a bit and we could then exert the force of our game on the proceedings, which is what happened in the second half. And our best player was crap, unlike their best player. Heavily marked? You bet. But Messi is always heavily marked. When he is on, that marking doesn’t matter. When he is off, he can be marked out of a match but usually, he marks himself out of a match, by tilting at windmills, walking around and not being as involved as he can be. That happened yesterday. Nobody’s fault. Everybody has a bad day, and it wasn’t just Messi.

–Pedro missed a chance you can usually count on him converting.
–Fabregas missed a staggering opportunity.
–Xavi puffballed a shot at an open net, not suspecting that a young, fast, giant of a CB wouldn’t give up on the play.
–The defense didn’t man up, keep a body between the attacker and the goal on the equalizer.


3-3 would have been as fair a result as 1-1, as both sides had some ridiculous misses from players who are usually more reliable. It happens. But we shouldn’t sell them short. When Serena and Venus Williams took the womens’ tennis game by storm, opponents knew what they had to do to have a chance against them. On a deeper level, their presence actually mitigated against a certain kind of player. Our dominance and quality has made the world game better, and RM in specific. Teams are fitter, faster, stronger, all in an effort to enable themselves to play the kind of match against us that they know they have to play in order to get any kind of a result, even to be close enough to get some luck in there, and then get a result.

Assuming any kinds of failings without also taking into account the opponent’s quality, particularly in the case of RM, does us and our opponents a disservice. Xavi seemed slow because the game was moving so fast. He is used to a more deliberate, controlled pace to the proceedings. Ronaldo was contributing to their press today, which meant that their fastest, most physically gifted player also committed to the task of destabilizing his team’s opponent. Rock on.

Despite all of that, a young center back having the match of his life and our players being off song even when not being pressed by white-clad demons, the team left their house with a favorable result.

I watched the match yesterday with curiosity about a few things in terms of how the team would approach it. I mostly wondered about what a serious press by a fierce counterattacking team would do, and how they would handle it. The answer was, destabilize like crazy, and not well. My guess is that they will watch the match video and learn, as will RM, and the return leg will be interesting in very different ways. So I bet you that if Xavi gets another open net as he did yesterday, he tries to punch a hole in the back of it. Because if he had crushed that shot, Varane wouldn’t have been able to get there in time. They will learn the value of one-touch football, even against the hounds of hell, learn to have the confidence in the game that has created so much magic, and taken them so far. Most of all, they will have learned the value of doubt, which is a beautiful thing.

This season has, before the draw and (shudder!) loss, been a succession of salad days and rose petal-strewn promenades. Doubt, properly applied and absorbed, hones a person. You want to silence the doubters, you want to silence yourself but most of all, you want to eliminate doubt. So you elevate.

I have said it before and I will say it again: Barça is the best club in the world. If it plays its game as it can (not even to the best of its ability, it must be added), the team will beat any opponent in the world. When it doesn’t play that game as it can, it will usually still get a result, as it did yesterday. And that’s that. It’s nobody’s fault, the gods aren’t looking down in anger, it isn’t a referee or a coach. It is, as it always is, the players on the pitch, ours and theirs. Neutrals watched that match and thought, “Holy crap, now that’s a football match!” In a strange way, my Copa apathy allowed me to watch that match in the same way and you know what, it was. It was two great teams knocking heads like fiends, at times playing jaw-dropping football, and at times playing stunning football, as in “How the hell could they screw THAT up?” It was fun. And we got a good result.

Now it’s on to Valencia.

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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. Choba
    January 31, 2013

    I think cules are afraid of the premise indicating the start of this era ending.

  2. Josep
    January 31, 2013

    It gets tiresome having to hear people rag on the newer fans about how the hard times were. And how they’ve come to expect too much. You talk about how they’re not used to the years of losing to Madrid, and how this is a good result. Almost putting them down for having high aspirations and expecting more from their team. then you go on to say that this is the best club in the world. And it can be expected that if they perform like they should, they can win every match.

    So which one is it? So the newer fans can’t expect the current team to win every match, only the older fans can because they’re used to the pain of defeat?

    “That is the second-best team in the world, it should be noted. Depleted? When you can roll out a back line of Essien, Varane, Carvalho and Arbeloa, ”

    Second best? third in their league, 2nd in their CL group, and basically in shambles? I don’t see how they’re second best. And that back line? A DM at RB, 20 year old while great potential, hasn’t really been challenged CB. A WAY past it 30 something CB. and a shit RB at LB. That’s a poor back line.

    “Let’s be clear about what happened yesterday: A big, strong, fit, exceptionally talented team got in our faces, and we flinched.”

    Oh, alright.

    • January 31, 2013

      Morning, sunshine!

      Yes, RM is the second-best club in the world. That they have had crap moments and played below expectation for a number of matches makes them no less excellent than it made us not the best team in the world last season, when the same thing happened to us.

      Fact of that matter is as stated: An excellent team got in our faces, and we flinched. The club did NOT perform to standard yesterday. Not even close. And still got a good result.

      But the point is not “Lawd, we had to walk 200 miles to school in snow when I was young.” The point is that this team is human. The point is that there isn’t always blame when things don’t go according to expectation.

      So. As someone who believes wholeheartedly in this club, yes. I believe that when it plays its game as it can, it is unbeatable. That caveat is important to understanding the point, even as the point is unrelated to anything else — fan tenure, etc.

      • January 31, 2013

        Your review does have a soothing power to it, to make the disappointed cules cheerful again. But, we played very poor, the whole team. We had a goal and we saved some goals, just because some of the players momentarily upped their game here and there.

        But, we still did not lose a match at the bernabeu, playing poorly. A very poor game from us can still manage a draw in Madrid, shows how good our team is. But were we not supposed to up our game when we come up against ‘A big, strong, fit, exceptionally talented team got in our faces’.
        We expected them to, but yday they didnt. May be like many cules they too didnt expect Madrid, with a poor backline, to be so good yday. Anyways, we have to move on. Was an off day for our players.

    • Messiah10
      January 31, 2013

      Have to agree with Kxevin and probably most football experts who believe R.M. are the 2nd best team in the world, regardless of current form, which is getting better and better. They have every type of player you would want in your team. Pace, power, height, technique, and imagination. Some of their play yesterday was on par with Barca’s. Their back line was a back line any top team would be proud of putting out every game. We were in THEIR house. I was disappointed we didn’t win, but am grateful for the result.

    • 505
      January 31, 2013

      i guess it’s just equally tiresome to hear people ragging on the team for not being perfect all the time.

      i think it’s perfectly justified to be disappointed, sad, a little angry — but not to the point of disrespect. they are human and make mistakes. a wise man once (allegedly) said he would forgive everything except not trying. i prefer to do the same.

  3. mom4
    January 31, 2013

    Hectored! Geez, you could warn a person! 🙂

  4. January 31, 2013

    I said yesterday that I would be happy with a scoring draw. Despite Madrid missing many players and being in poor form a couple weeks ago (their form has dramatically improved since then) when a Clasico comes around form usually has nothing to do with the result. Besides, while Madrid’s form has recovered a bit over the last week, our own form has been fairly poor. A scoring draw seemed like a decent intercept.

    All that said, I’m not happy with the draw. It’s not about missed chances, Madrid had just as many as we did. It’s not about the result, which was fair on the balance of play.

    We just played poorly. There was very little off the ball movement, midfielders would languish on the ball – giving time for Madrid to press effectively, our passing was slow, and then we would decide to launch a really quick attack and lose the ball. Huh? that’s not the Barcelona I know.

    We needed much faster ball circulation, more movement off the ball, and a little more patience – in essence, we needed to look a bit more like Guardiola’s hyper possession team last season and a bit less like Tito’s blitzkreig machine.

    That said, if we play as we are capable of in the Camp Nou, we will go through. In the meantime, we played acceptably so there will be no major shift in momentum between the two sides in La Liga

  5. January 31, 2013

    The only thing I really disagree with here is your comment about Iniesta “flailing”. He was by far the best player on the pitch.

    And I do think the ref let RM get away with too many fouls. Arbeloa should at least have been given a warning for that little slap to Messi’s face, and how on earth Xabi Alonso made it to the 89th minute before getting his yellow card I cannot fathom.

    Anyway, like I said on twitter, I’m OK with the draw. Both teams were pretty equal, with good and bad aspects to their performances. I hoped for more, but we have an important away goal, and that gives us the advantage for the second leg. Should be fun.

  6. Gogah
    January 31, 2013

    I also just don’t get it when people casually refer to RM as the 2nd best team in the world. How exactly did they get this rank? Is it because of the millions in the squad colouring people’s views?
    Lets take a moment for some perspective, shall we? Barca is the best team in the world because they won a whole lotta trophies, beat a whole lotta teams, convincingly, and for an extended period of time. What exactly has RM won? League and cup? So have City, Chelsea, Juventus, United, Dortmund, Shakhtar and the list goes on. A good measure of how to find out if a team is better is to imagine what would happen if team1 were to play team2 (frequent/multiple) times and compare the results. One can be sure of Barca coming out on top, but a lot of these aforementioned teams will give EE a solid fight and no one can be sure of who will be no.2 and no.3 for that matter.

    Now for the match.
    1-1, a good result? probably, in theory. (away ground, great time etc etc), but it is NOT a good result, considering the circumstances, form, potential etc of both teams. That is perspective too. Look, we played badly and this team’s biggest battle will be to figure how to stay motivated and show more want than opponents of lesser quality with something to prove. These buggers have just won so damn much and it’s understandable. But Don’t brand a Cule who loves his team as much as you spoilt, over reacting and demanding just because he/she opines the 1-1 as a poor and disappointing result. Which it is.

  7. January 31, 2013

    Cuenca to Ajax for the rest of the season on loan, to get him playing time. Also Muniesa going to B, again for playing time.

    • January 31, 2013

      Good move for Cuenca. Really think he has something to add tactically to this team as a “true winger”, but he needs playing time and he would never have the chance to get match fitness as the season snowballs towards the end.

      Said it earlier this season – I hate loans but I would be willing to loan several players to this Ajax team if they wanted them. Frank de Boer really is a good coach, has them playing good football, and so I trust him with our youngsters.

  8. flyzowee
    January 31, 2013

    Im also baffled at times at RM being hailed as the 2nd best team in the world.

    Would this argument hold if bayern munich were playing in la liga?

    What criteria exactly makes RM better than bayern. Is it…
    1. Chemistry?
    2. Pace?
    3. Athleticism?
    4. Technique?
    5. Silverware?

    Where lies the advantage that Mous RM have?

    I would really like to know what makes them stand out. At least with barca one can positively say that they hold a vice like grip on possession like no other team.
    Whats RMs slogan?

  9. Humphrey Bogart
    January 31, 2013

    it seems that now the spanish newspaper ABS has picked up that Messi insulting Karanka/Arbeloa story. Has anybody of our spanish followers more insights on that?

  10. January 31, 2013

    good morning / afternoon/ evening blog dwellers. Another review is up. Yup, that’s 2 for the price of none!

  11. Blau-Grenade
    January 31, 2013

    Excellent analysis by Zoal Marking:

    • replayed
      January 31, 2013

      Yeah, a terrific job as usual. It’s always nice to see an Englishman appreciate what Fabregas brings to this team, instead of being mired in resentment that he dared to leave Arsenal.

  12. Kimcelona
    January 31, 2013

    I don’t think a 1-1 gives us any advantage. We all know we’re gonna concede at least 1 goal to them at the Camp Nou. However, I’m okay with the draw because if anything it gives us equal footing for the second leg, which is at our home ground.

    Eventhough I thought we werent up to our usual standard, I still thought we played better than them overall. We had the more clear-cut chances but blew an opportunity, imo, to really kill the tie by: 1) missing too many chances and 2) Not showing enough killer instinct to finish the match off.

    While I didnt think Iniesta “flailed,” I didnt think he was the best player on the pitch either. He was missing passes, losing possession and dribbling into players like the rest of the midfielders. He had a few moments of brilliance (like he always does) but I dont think he was as effective as I thought he would/should be. Messi was not abysmal. That is a total joke. Must be some kind of ungoing joke with you. He definately was not his usual self but most things positive came through him, including our only goal. It was clear to me he was under the weather. He didnt take players on or run at defenders like he usually does (even if he fails), not even when RM tired. Pedro was disappointing and so was Jordi and Cesc, imo. There are trade-offs to having 4 middies in the starting line-up and normally the benefits outweigh the costs but for games such as this, against this M*drid team, I would much prefer a normal 4-3-3, with 3 real forwards and a S.I.X midfield. JMO. Xavi had an off match as well. He uncharacteristically gave away balls carelessly and the match felt like it was almost passing him by at times.

    I thought the remaining defenders had solid games. Pique was very impressive (my MOTM), and Dani had a great game in both defense and attack. Puyol was a lionheart as usual.

    I’m tired of this fairness bull though. Madrid players made cheap and cynical fouls that deserved for a few of them to be atleast booked (some, even sent off). That didnt happen and thus the ref is called into question. Spare me the “it went both ways” crap. There’s physical and imposing and then there’s just plain dirty. Some “fouls” were just plain dirty. I thought they had finally been able to put the thuggish behavious behind them, seems I was wrong. Silly me.

    • Laurentiu88
      February 1, 2013

      agree with the ref comments. the ref was horrible…and its not that one team is more physical and ref prefers a physical approach. we all know la liga standards (where RM recently has a red card per game).

      abysmal ref!!!!

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