Barça 1, RM 3, aka “Inches make all the difference”


The Chicago area, and the county in which I live, is having a winter storm. And I’m pretty sure that it’s Jordi Roura’s fault. Almost positive.

I ordered some cycling shorts, and the order is delayed. I can guaranTEE that is Roura’s fault.

Curse him.

And now that the humor is out of the way, let’s get down to some assessing here, shall we? We have time, after all …. just a bit, before we have to line up against this same team again, the same team spoiling for a fight, thinking they kicked the crap out of us in our house, eliminating us from the Copa del Rey.

Whatever, dude. I just don’t see it that way. For me, this was a match of inches before it became feet, which turned into something that, when our sprites went to the well of magic, they found no solutions for.

Let’s start by saying congratulations to our opponents today. They came, they saw, they conquered and are now moving on to a Copa del Reig final that I won’t care about a whole lot less than I would have not cared all that much about if we were playing in it. But that is known. 1-3 and 2-4 on aggregate is pretty convincing, right? Right? Or is it.

Hello? Is this thing on? Come in off that ledge and listen. There are reasons not to leap.

When the best team in the world faces off against the second-best team in the world, execution is crucial. A football match usually hinges on dozens of little moments, moments that usually result in the best team winning. Look at the Capital One Cup final in which Swansea thrashed little Bradford. The first goal found a rebound falling directly to a Swansea attacker. That ball could have bounced any number of ways, but it fell directly to the Swansea attacker, who slid it home for the 1-0. From there, Bradford had to chase the match, and that was that, as when you chase a match you expose yourself. Always.

In the Copa del Reig final against them, it came down to execution. A ball wasn’t cleared, which led to a corner, which led to the winning goal. In a Barça win, a ball pinged to Xavi who got the luck of the rub, was able to control it with a dazzling bit of skill, and slot it home off the volley. Inches and execution. Players doing their jobs to the best of their ability, a task that also involves a little bit of luck.

We conceded three goals to them. I haven’t looked at the comments in this space yet. I never, ever do before writing whatever I am going to write about a match. But I can guess that people are saying “We need a coach,” and “Our defense is done for,” etc, etc. But here’s what I saw:

— On the first goal, Messi pinged a pass to Xavi that was weighted wrong and never really had a chance of getting there, given the way RM was defending. It was a pass that to have a chance, had to be a whole lot better than it was. But it missed by inches, got intercepted as it deserved to, and they were off on a break. A ball to a streaking Oil Can was spotted by Puyol, who stretched out a leg and just missed it. A few more inches, before that damnable Pique screwed the pooch. Or did he?

Oil Can has bamboozled far better defenders than Gerard Pique, who didn’t do all that badly, just missing getting a foot on the ball by …. you guessed it …. inches. And that was that, the first goal for them off the justly called penalty.

— On their second goal, it was Messi again, trying to find Xavi with an ill-advised pass (again), that was intercepted by an outstretched leg and fed on a rope, perfectly, waaaay down the pitch to a streaking Jughead. Alba saw the ball, and looked directly at Oil Can, streaking in behind the play. It was at the moment he looked that the goal was done for, because he figured that Jughead was going to smoke his defender and he should cover the line, instead of assuming that his teammate had that one covered, and he should, oh I dunno, maybe cover the most dangerous player on the pitch. Too late, he made the decision to get over, and missed. Again, not by much.

Execution, successful by them, sloppy by us. But their third goal was the most ridiculous, for so many reasons.

— When a team takes a corner kick, the first thing defenders should do is get between the ball and their attackers. But if you freeze the image when Varane is heading home for their third, he is unmarked. Puyol is looking at him, Alba is looking at him, Pique has given up the inside position and Varane is thinking “This is like taking candy from midgets,” as he headed home. It was one of the easiest goals he is ever going to score, easier even than the other header he scored against us.

But even after those three goals, or more correctly before them, there were other moments of inches and execution, slivers that define an outcome.

— Iniesta took a long shot that clearly caught their keeper off guard, but the force field deflected it, and that was that.

— Messi got a ball in a perfect place to score, in an area where he is almost automatic …. but with his less-precise right foot, and he rolled it just wide of the net. That early goal, within the first three minutes of the match, would have dramatically changed things, forcing tnem to chase the match, while we lay in wait to strike on the counter.

— It was Messi again, on what really was a remarkable free kick that anticipated the leap of their defenders, drove to the corner and made a right turn almost, only juuuuust not quite sharp enough to get into the goal, past a stone-cold beaten keeper. 1-1 at the half is very different than 0-1. Less pressure, less risk, less everything. Instead we had to chase the match, throwing increasingly risky efforts at their defense, and that was that.

— Cesc Fabregas took a remarkable pass in the box that was screaming, “Score me! Score me!” He missed, as things didn’t go right by …. man, y’all must be clairvoyant! Inches.

So whose fault is it, then?

— I guess we should start with cules, for having expectations so astronomical that disappointment is an inevitable as the sunrise. We always beat RM, and this time there’s silver on the line (which arrogantly assumes that the winner of this draw was automatically going to win the final). Things are different now, however, even if the expectation of cules is still intact. No? Okay, how about ….

— Jordi Roura, who clearly lacked the genius of Tito Vilanova or Pep Guardiola in handling his charges, and making the tactical shifts that would have resulted in a different outcome. I can see that, because he had so many different players to call upon, or did he? Tello came on, didn’t make a real difference. Thiago came on for a little life, but no real difference. The goal came from two of the players who had been on the pitch the whole match, but who finally were able to execute to a degree sufficient to turn the trick. Did Roura make the passes that were intercepted, get beaten in the box or fail to mark Varane? Nope. What tactical changes could he have made to help his players execute better? But wait …. it’s gotta be his fault. We don’t have a coach, dammit! Gaah! No? Um, let’s try ….

— The players. After all, they were the ones playing the match, right? They didn’t do what was necessary to turn the tie and get the result that so many cules expected. It’s THEIR fault, surely. But is it really their fault for, on this night, not quite being good enough, not quite getting the rub of the pitch that would have turned things in our favor. Look at the want in Puyol’s face above, and tell me that all of the players didn’t want this match. But still, we have to blame someone, right?

No. Not at all. Sometimes, we just have to say “Well played, now let’s move on.” Because you know what? Despite the almost magical period of the last four years, nobody wins them all, not even this amazing football club. Is this a sign of the beginning of the end of an era? Not at all. With a few of the right acquisitions, coupled with some hard decisions over the summer, all that this club will need to do is hit the reset button, and continue the success.

Just to remind everyone, Barça has a seemingly insurmountable lead in the Liga, and if it plays against Milan as it did tonight, that 2-goal deficit WILL be overcome. Yes, it was that fraught an affair. Really, the only two matches in this recent era that have been lopsided, no-doubt-about-it affairs were the 2-6 win, and the legendary manita. The rest have been tight, tight, could have gone either way affairs. But the difference was, as it was tonight, concentration and execution.

Tonight, a rarity occurred, a thing so astonishing that so many people don’t know how to deal with it: We came out on the wrong side of the scoreline. But you know what? It happened at key times last season as well, and last season, we HAD a coach, a coach who has become a Barça legend. This season, we are ahead of that game, because who wouldn’t give up the Copa for a Liga title? Not I.

It stings. Damn right it does for many cules. Get used to it. Understand it. And when you’re done whining and hurling verbal thunderbolts and blaming this player, coach, club president, voodoo shaman whomever, cleanse your system and celebrate your club. But tuck that feeling away in the part of your brain in which those sorts of things lurk, so that you never, ever forget. Because remembering that feeling, this feeling, will make the victories that much more memorable, that much more moments that are remarkable and should be cherished, rather than expected as some sort of divine right.

Visca Barça.


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. Something else that comes to mind looking over the comments-it’s good to see people generally focusing on the underlying dynamics of the match rather than singling individuals out to blame as so often happens after difficult losses. There’s been some of that but not as much as we’ve had here this season.

    And I hope people remember this after the next loss if different players happen to be on the pitch.

    If Mascherano goes to ground like Pique did or if he misses the ball on the slide or gets beat by Di Maria like Puyol did-I hope he’ll get the benefit of the doubt. Because many times in the past he hasn’t even remotely been granted that. Or if Alves has a poor defensive match like Alba did I hope people will consider the challenges of playing FB in this system, etc.

    1. Euler – if you were to set a lineup that would include Iniesta, Xavi, and Fabregas, where would you play them?

    2. Glad you mentioned this. In fact, I was thinking Mach in place of Puyol, would have managed to stop De maria much before. He has done that many times too.

  2. Messi missed training today, btw, and I have to say that pisses me off. The official club line is that he had a “fever”, but I think it’s fairly obvious he was just upset at losing. I don’t like that attitude. I’m sure all the players were gutted after yesterday’s game, but if they can haul their depressed asses out of bed and go to training, so can Messi. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with things like that, especially since he will likely be made 4th captain after Valdes leaves.

    (Unless he really was sick, in which case I take it all back.)

    1. Why would you automatically assume that was the case ? It could just as easily be that he wasn’t well last night but wanted to play which might account for a below par performance. That certainly seems to be the case with Xavi.

    2. If he wasn’t well last night, he shouldn’t have played. That doesn’t make it any better.

      And as for why I would assume that, it’s not the first time Messi has missed a training session right after an important defeat. The club obviously doesn’t advertise it when it happens, but several journalists have mentioned it in the past.

    3. Why do you want to assume things when you don’t have credible information? Messi misses training after certain matches because he is usually in the gym doing recovery work. And it is not just Messi who does this. Other players including Xavi and Iniesta do it too.

      Seems like every single thing he does/doesn’t do is a scandal.

    4. Nobody said you weren’t entitled to your “opinion”. I just don’t understand why some people read too much into a fever and make up their own baseless “opinions”. But, hey, it takes all kinds.

      I didn’t say he was in the gym today. I said he misses training after certain matches because he is in the gym. I know the official line is that he has a fever. Got that information from barcastuff.

    5. And both JDS (the persistent little sod) and Pinto have recently shown up for training while running temperatures and been sent home by the medical staff. Commitment.

  3. blitzen:
    ‘Unless he really was sick, in which case I take it all back.’

    And yet you really can’t take it back, can you? You said all you wanted to say already with a little disclaimer as a relief valve.
    What if he is really ill and you outright questioned his commitment/work ethic- something he has oodles of?!

    1. Like I said, it’s not the first time he has thrown a sulk after losing a big game. Reputable sources have commented on it before. It’s not outrageous to think he has done it again.

      If I am wrong, I will apologize. But I’m pretty sure he will be fit and training with the team tomorrow.

      (And amidst all the questioning of his work ethic & commitment that has happened on this site previously, you may have noticed that I have defended Messi many times.)

    2. To be fair that’s quite the accusation to hurl out there based on speculation. I mean you’re basically attacking his professionalism and dedication… You can’t just throw something like that out there and say you’re not sure

    3. The question I always ask, is “What if it were Player X, rather than Messi?” Are there players on our team of whom people would indeed think, “Shame on him,” or have reacted differently had blitzen thrown that information out there? Players who might not have sparked the instant rush to their defense as Messi did?

      “Unwell” is a rather unusual designation for the club to choose to describe a player’s missing practice. We get various flus, “discomfort,” “overburdening,” etc, etc. “Unwell” is a new one for me.

      blitzen has speculation, and it is her opinion. If something more comes of it, we shall see then. For now ….

    4. And the question I always ask is, would blitzen have posted that comment questioning a player’s attitude if it was someone other than Messi? Say, Iniesta?

      Personally, I don’t give a flying one what wording they used to describe the illness. Why make a mountain out of a molehill? We have enough problems as it is, groundless assumptions based on baseless speculation is the last thing we need.

      And, that my friends, is my opinion.

    5. It’s not based on speculation, it’s based on the fact that he has done it before.

      And no, blitzen would probably not have posted that comment if Iniesta had missed training because blitzen would know that Iniesta has never been known to throw a sulk. Unlike Messi.

      I’m a big fan of Messi, but I hate this blind devotion people have towards him that makes it impossible to point out his human failings without getting jumped on.

    6. blitzen hates blind devotion, blitzen knows that Iniesta has never thrown a sulk (oh dear). blitzen also knows that Messi throws a sulk. blitzen maybe have to look at his own blind devotions before pointing fingers.

    7. Kxevin doesn’t like it when things get personal, either. Kxevin thinks that the comments work best when commenters stick to the topic at hand.

    8. Mik doesn’t like getting things personal either. People disagree with disagreeable comments, there is nothing personal about it, it is the interweb after all. If you don’t like it, you know what to do.

    9. Mom4 finds writing in the 3rd person tedious at best so we will be using the “royal we” for ourselves instead. 🙂

    10. But there IS something personal in the accusations that someone’s worldview is rooted in blind loyalty, and that such a thing might be coloring their perspective.

      As to your “if you don’t like it, you know what to do,” comment, no, actually, I don’t. Or more directly yes, I do:

      I will suggest that you treat people with respect in this space. We can disagree in a manner that deals with the issue at hand. Yes, these are the Interwebs. But that said, if you don’t think that you can deal with that very simple request, you know what to do.

      I trust that is clear enough.

    11. I feel like I am back in school again. No, it is not clear enough. If someones disagrees with you and your pal, it is disrespectful? I am not the one who accused someone of blind devotion. So, why are you directing that comment at me?

      I suggest you stop treating people, especially the ones who disagree with you with disrespect. Respect is a two way street. You can’t expect to post a snarky comment based on some wild speculation and not expect some snarky responses.

      I also suggest you stop throwing around thinly veiled threats. And don’t dish it out if you can’t take it. Was that clear enough?

    12. May not be a frequent commenter but following this space since fcbtransferblog days. And how frequently we have encountered the “show me proof” stance time and again in this forum, which I think is absolutely justified by the way. But why to deviate from that ideology all of sudden? What proof Bitizen have against Messi sulking and not having some physical problem or discomfort actually? Again, as we in the forum preach and try to respect another person’s opinion and individuality, I am not sure how it bodes well to question someones logical thinking, terming his/her opinion as ‘blind devotion’ when it is differing from the one of yours. He/ she should also be that much entitled to have his/ her own version of ‘speculation’ and ‘opinion’, for which he/ she should not be challenged to show proof or facts to back it up always.

      Small rant over. This is nothing personal or not to hurt anybody. I enjoy this space tremendously. But somehow felt off late its losing some of its logical consistency in one/ two occassions and this is my humble ‘opinion’.

  4. I think this summarizes the problem nicely and hints on who’s to blame: It is now 12 matches in a row that the Barcelona defense has allowed a goal which would have been an unthinkable statistic had it happened under Pep Guardiola’s watchful eye.

  5. This team is living its own 15 minutes of glory for the past 5-6 years or so. Not many years are left for this assembled team to finish it with glory, and God knows when we will have a team of this quality again.
    That’s why they have to make additional efforts to make a bigger legacy in the history. The one now is already big.

  6. Re Ini and Cesc position; I think one of the basis to keep Cesc and Ini together in the lineup was because we dont have anybody capable to slot in L forward right now, except Iniesta. Alexis as the “usual choice” in that position is not in form or perhaps injured last night. Tello is too young to start a game of classico or CL level.

    The best option would be to “sacrifice” Iniesta because at least his skill set would make our left contribute something, though the impact of Iniesta magic reduced considerably.

    Optional, I just think maybe we could try Thiago as Left forward while our “real forward” is not available . He has some dribbling skill and directness. Shift Iniesta back to middle. I remember we hv tried this in CWC and it worked pretty well. Cesc could still be useful as refreshment subs for Xavi role.

    1. And isntruct Iniesta to penetrate continuoulsy and drag as many players as possible. The probability of Iniesta would lose the ball is very small because his excellent ball keeping. We have to maximise that weapon.

      Let messi stay in CF position. Because Messi being there already keep the central defenders occupied. So oppossition will have two major threats from Messi and Iniesta to consider. Resulting more space for other players to utilise.

      the next two liga games should be made for rotation and experiment to prepare Milan game. Try as much permutation as possible to be ready for whatever might happen in 12 march. I still believe we can turn the 2-0 deficit. We can do it! Keep faith

      Visca Barca!!!

    2. Good point about thiago on LW, he had a marvelous match vs santos in that position. Very Ronaldinho-like

  7. Looks like another month before Vilanova is back. This is, according to media critters, “the most difficult part” of his cancer treatment. So, beginning of April, if he’s lucky.

    — EMD reporting that during the meetings with Bartomeu, etc, Vilanova discussed accelerating the Neymar signing to happen this summer, as well as players who can be sold (Villa, Sanchez).

    1. He keep extending the treatment hint something. Just hope everything is OK and the progress is positive.

      I think we need to appoint the “real coach” as interim manager (and its not Roura)for the rest of the season. Its not disrespect for Tito. I just want Tito to concentrate on the treament and forget about the job. Stress factor is one of the biggest stimuli for cancer. we still have next season for tito as he already fully recovered.

      Zubi and Rosell could find somebody that understand our system like Luis Enrique (not sure available of not) or somebody within the club that available. We dont need high profile manager at the moment, just manager that have experienced to manage a team. He can collaborate together with Roura to set more solid game plan.

  8. If Neymar does sign, I hope Barca don’t “clip his wings”. Would be great to have a player on the wings that can dribble by their opponents. Seems that we haven’t had that type of winger since Thierry Henry left and Messi moved permanently to the middle.

  9. I could understand why Messi might be very, very pissed off right now. He came out and said that Roura should play someone in front of him, and they go back to the old strategy and he gets “caged in”.
    Barca obviously want another goal-scoring option. But Neymar’s not it. Barca clearly needs a back-to-goal striker who can occupy the CBs and give Messi room. Shoulda, shoulda got Llhorente. Technically good. Able to throw his weight around in the box. If Barca played him, they would not be sacrificing their pinciples. What’s the difference between playing a small central striker (e.g. Villa or Alexis) and playing a big one (Llhorente). Nothing, except that Llhorente would score more goals.

  10. People say about playing the double pivot used by Del Bosque. I don’t think it might be the answer, simple reason Bosque’s team always had the advantage of playing in a one legged knock-out match. Hence at some point the opposition has to come out and try to win.

    The 4-3-3 system with four defender we use effectively transform into a 2 defender system when we play teams which defend deep. This is because Alba and Alves move very much forward trying to exploit a weakness. Hence when a quick counter occurs, we suddenly id faced with a situation of having only two defenders against the breaking 1 or 2 players. Look at the second goal that’s the perfect example. The solution could be having play in a three defender system but also which does not take away the wing play. Something like this:

    I think the 3-1-4-1-1 formation would be good against Milan.







    So even if the opposition move into a much more aggressive tactic, Alves can drop back as RB and Puyol can switch to LB and sitll the system will work with a perfect 4-3-3 with Alba upfront on teh left wing. In Alba we have a beautiful asset which could fit into this system – he is a winger converted into LB by Emery, remember that.

    1. Also remember it’s not a bad thing to have both wings attacking. But the chance of them getting caught out has to be taken into account and the system should be evolved to accommodate that.

    2. I partially agree with you.

      1) I think we need some solidity at the back to ensure not conceding goal. Optional, we can deploy 3 CB and only 1 full back. I think we sacrifice Alba and play Alves because of his experienced in CL, so Puyi – Pique and Masch can all play. We can still use 4-3-3:

      Alves – Mashc – Pique – Puyol
      Busi – Xavi – Ini
      Pedro – Messi – (Villa/Alexis/Thiago)

      Depends on circumstances, Alves could shift to midfield to form 3-4-3 or 3-3-1-3. At least i dont want to see Milan counter to face only two CB, very vulnerable for crucial game like this. Conceding goal would kill the tie instantly.

      2) The option for L forward is pretty tricky I think. Villa and Alexis is on/off in performance. Thiago could be a good bet too, perhaps for alternative subs. But if I have to choose, i prefer Alexis. For his tracking back and Seri A experience.

      3) I hope we dont rush thing, esp in 1st half. as long as we dont concede, those two goals to equalise the aggregate can come anytime.Just circulate the ball rapidly to make chaos in Milan defense and make that killer pass when the bus giving hole. Penetration from Messi and Iniesta. Win as many freekicks as possible and try shooting from outside the box. approaching the game like the 1st half against Chelsea when we led 2-0 (before ramires goal) could be a reference. Last year we almost made,very close. I believe we can do it again vs. Milan.

      Visca Barca!!!

    3. Here is the problem. Against Milan you don’t need a guy to track back instead you need someone who can score. Sanchez cannot offer anything in that formation going forward. And Villa has proven that he is ill suited to be used as a winger. Also the formation you gave has one goal scoring threat and Milan could easily afford not to give him space. Villa has to play ahead of Messi as it could create space for Messi. Also doing that you could give the Milan defense a bigger issue – whom to stay close with – Messi or Villa. Both of them could create space for each other. In the formation I have given, if things don’t work out then you could easily replace Alba with Tello and increase the pace over there. May be you could start Tello instead of Alba also. But starting Alexis because he track back does not help. Can he create any kind of danger? With his current form, I don’t think so.

  11. For the next game


    Reasoning :

    GK: although pinto was not at fault but aginst RM we should always use our best keeper .

    DEF : montoya in for always to DEFEND not to attack because thats where that portugese oil can will be, mash in for puyol because quite clearly we need someone to handle speed more effectively , i am personally not a big fan of pique’s defending but thats all we got , and alba at the left .Alba should be instructed to play the left side alves though.

    DEF M : i really think after this match we have to express to the world that we can defend also , and sergio and song in these positions together with sergio being at the DCM position and song to be part of midfield whenever it seems fit will be a good.

    MIDFIELD AND ATTACK : obvious choices

  12. I recently commented on a post regarding playing Song and Busi at the same time, rubbishing the idea.

    After seeing this game, it made me wonder… Why not try to fight fire with fire.

    If, at 45 minutes, our tiki taka isn’t working (and lets face it, if we aren’t at least a goal up by half time, we probably aren’t going to win, such is the nature of the system), we switch to a double pivote…

    Bro-zillian – Wakawaka – Smasche – Chipmunk
    Soggy Biscuits – SingSong
    Pulga – Ghostface – Chileno
    Soul Patch

    That way, we seem to cover all the bases, with Messi playing his old position but rotating with Alexis and Villa, so theres plenty of pace and spark in the attack, Strength and passing ability between Busi, Song and Ini, with the creative/destructive pair of Pique and Masche at the back.

    I mean really its just our 4-3-3 with the midfield inverted (2 dms, 1 am as opposed to 1 dm, 2 ams) but it could work. Replace Song with Xavi, Iniesta with Cesc, Alexis with Pedro and finally Alba or Masche with Abidal when needed.

    I miss having Abi at CB…

  13. If Barca want to beat Milan they MUST revive the fabled Barca forward press. There was a period for about 20 minutes in the second half against Sevilla when Barca basically just suffocated them. Every time they scrambled the ball away it went out to a Barca player. It was a bit like Custers last stand. That is how we must play against Milan (who are not technically very good at the back). That’s why we should play our best forward defenders plus Messi. That means Song, Alexis and Pedro (no Villa, I’m afraid, and definitely no Tello until late in the game). We must get right into their faces and break down their confidence and cohesion. Every time they clear, it must be a rushed clearance. Even Messi must put in a shift (which I think he will do).

    1. I also note that Milan has a young team. I doubt many of them have experienced the sort of forward press that Barca can deliver high up the pitch. Its going to be fascinating to see how they cope.

  14. For the Madrid game this weekend, Barça should not start with Messi. The obvious reasons being that he deserves a rest, he’s “unwell” (if reports are to be true), and he’s already missed a practice this week. There are also tactical and practical reasons for this.

    Without Messi, the Madrid defense will not have someone to focus their efforts on AND the Barça attack will not always seek Messi. Now, players like Alexis and Villa who have changed their styles in order to be compatible with Messi can actually contribute a more direct and unpredictable attack. These players are skillful enough to do the job without Messi; it’s what they did before we bought them and it’s what they do with their national teams. If they can play to their own strengths and not Messi, the attack would be much more menacing than an attack completely reliant on Messi.

    Additionally, what kind of effect would Messi have on a game if he was a super-sub behind the attack, playmaking? Imagine if after sixty minutes, the Madrid defense has been dealing with an attack of Alexis and Villa, suddenly has Messi behind them.

    My proposed line-up for this weekend would be something like this:

    Masche Piqué Puyol
    Song Busquets
    Alves Alexis Alba

    Playing the fullbacks as forwards provides more width than having Pedro/Villa/Alexis out wide. The addition of Masche and Song fill up the holes of our porous defense. Iniesta can handle the role of linking defense with attack and Alexis can play behind the ‘9’, a role he is familiar with, and Villa can provide the focal attacking threat. Messi can be subbed in for anyone and play either where Alves plays with Alves dropping back to support the defense, or next to Iniesta, pulling the strings on the attack, or in place of Alexis.

    Of course, this scenario is highly unlikely, and if I have completely predicted the line-up, I might as well be able to see the future. I highly doubt Messi would accept starting on the bench for a game like this, particularly after the midweek loss, despite the fact that he needs a rest and that the attack should play without Messi for a change.

    What do you guys think?

    1. I would go even farther:

      Montoya Pique Bartra Adriano
      Song Mascherano Thiago
      Sanchez Villa Tello

      Now THAT is even more unlikely, given the opponent. I just don’t think that any of the starters should see the pitch for this match.

      Athlete psychology is very important. I look at Andy Murray as an example, who nibbled around the edges of the top three in mens’ tennis for years. This year, something happened and now he is beating the folks who used to beat him. The mind is a powerful thing. I think that another loss to RM by our “best XI” would be more damaging than the lost 3 points in the standings if a rotation lineup was out there.

      The other advantage to my lineup is midfield solidity in both defense and attack as Mascherano roams that space in front of the back line, and Song can shuttle back and forth between attack and defense.

      But I think that we are both kidding ourselves. We will probably see the same lineup that we saw midweek, with the addition of Valdes. And if that group plays the same way, the result probably won’t be much different. The Zonal Marking analysis of Fabregas and his movements is spot on, and it isn’t just Fabregas. It’s almost like the players don’t quite know where to be and how to get there. They look almost panicked against RM, which I think is another aspect of the psychology.

      We last saw severe psychological stresses against Chelsea, in that the way that Chelsea was defending led to poor finishing — there was so much pressure on the player who was looking for a defender sliding in, while being well aware of the scarcity of good chances that everything was rushed, rather than being calm and clinical. We know how that tie turned out.

    2. Exactly. Now that we play Madrid 6 times a year, the importance of one clasico, especially one in a La Liga where Barça is 16 points ahead, should be almost nominal, but that is not the case. Almost every encounter against Madrid, we always play the very best lineup, never truly using a reserve unless in the case of an injury. However, the very best lineup on paper has recently not been the very best lineup for a particular match. The fact that Xavi and Fabregas played through their injuries illustrate this stubbornness. We can only hope that the coaching staff realize this and make significant changes to the lineup this weekend.

    3. If one wants to be Machiavellian about it, we could play our best eleven to force RM to play their best eleven so they’ll be vulnerable to being beaten by MU at Old Trafford mid-week. Unfortunately, I think Mou is too smart to be drawn into something like that. Of course, we could also shoot ourselves in the foot.

      I bet that RM won’t be starting Ronaldo, Ozil and Xabi at the least. But we will probably see Pepe – all the more reason to sit Messi to prevent Pepe injuring him.

    4. The other possibility knowing that RM will be saving their best lineup and will be totally focused on the CL tie is to put a manita on them at the Bernabeau. That will be the mother of all comebacks!

    5. There’s no need to go for a win at the Bernabeau this Saturday. Both FCB and Barca will be totally focused on their coming upcoming CL elimination matches. I expect Kaka to play, and Ronaldo to sit, which in Mou’s world means their B team. He’ll probably rest Ozil, di Maria, Xabi too.

      The Liga is as good as won. I think even if we draw all our remaining games and RM wins all its remaining Liga games we still get the trophy. AM as ever won’t be a real threat. If we get eliminated in the CL then Liga is the only remaining focus.

      So for the Clasico: I would go with Valdez, Montoya, Mascherano, Pique, Alba, Song, Busquets, Iniesta in the Xavi role, Thiago as a left winger, Villa and Sanchez. 4-2-2-2. I might not even bring Messi to Madrid. Bartra to sub Pique; Adriano to sub Iniesta (exchanging positions with Thiago).

      I would then totally rest the key players for the Depor game which is just 3 days before the Milan match. DC is at the bottom of the league table and even a babies team can beat or at least draw with them: Valdez, Montoya, Masch, Bartra, Abidal, Song, Thiago, dos Santos or Sergi Roberto, Tello, Fabregas, Pedro. Delofeau to sub Pedro. Of course, it would be the perfect first game for Abidal’s comeback in the Nou Camp. Adriano to sub him if 90′ is too much.

      For the Milan match: Valdez, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Alba, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Sanchez, Villa and Messi. We saw how lethal Barza was in the CL final at Wembley after a two week break for the key players. Milan will be an immovable object so we will have to be the unstoppable force.

  15. Nice article by Marti Perarnau : Two points in particular caught my eye:

    11.- Toquemos este punto. En el modo de juego más ortodoxo del Barça, Xavi era el Campo Base. El equipo sacaba el balón desde atrás y buscaba a Xavi. Era condición sine qua non, fuese a mayor o menor altura del campo. A partir de ese punto empezaban los auténticos movimientos de avance colectivo, al estilo de una cordada de montaña. Y solo cuando cada pieza -propia y rival- estaba en la posición adecuada se apretaba el botón Messi. En ese punto, libertad para Messi.

    12.- El recorrido, por lo tanto, nunca era directo a Messi, sino con Xavi de cartero intermediario. Pero todavía con Guardiola en el banquillo el equipo empezó a saltarse el peldaño de Xavi. A veces por precipitación, por querer correr demasiado; a veces porque el propio Xavi no estaba en condiciones óptimas (ahora mismo sucede algo así). Por unas o por otras, el área de descanso, el peldaño intermedio, fue desapareciendo, haciéndose menos habitual. El equipo dejó de jugar para Xavi y lo hizo directamente para Messi. Y Messi dejó de ser el punto final para convertirse en principio y final de todo, que es la mejor manera de diluirse…

    1. If it’s not too much to ask, could you or any other Spanish speaker translate this? Thanks in advance.

    2. My Spanish is for too rudimentary for this. I utilized the magic of Google Translate lol. For what its worth, this is what it spat out for the two paragraphs that I quoted:

      11. – Let’s play this point. In the gameplay more orthodox Barca, Xavi was the Base Camp. The team pulled the ball from behind and looking for Xavi. It was a sine qua non, were to varying field height. From that point began the real movements of collective progress, the style of a mountain climber. And only when each part-own and rival-was in position Messi pressed the button. At that point, freedom to Messi.

      12. – The course, therefore, was never straight to Messi, but Xavi postman intermediary. But even with Guardiola on the bench the team began to skip the step of Xavi. Sometimes by precipitation, for wanting to run too, sometimes because Xavi himself was not in optimal conditions (something happens now). For some reason or another, the rest area, the intermediate step, was disappearing, becoming less common. The team stopped playing for Xavi and Messi did directly. And Messi longer the endpoint to become the beginning and end of everything, it’s the best way to be diluted …

  16. “Midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas are both reportedly carrying hamstring issues, with Mundo Deportivo claiming on Thursday that each received a painkilling injection before Tuesday’s game.” espn.con


    1. No surprise. Xavi, Cesc and Messi did not look 100%. Though we don’t know if some of the RM players weren’t also carrying knocks.

    2. I’m sorry, but that is stupid, for so many reasons. We have qualified, talented players sitting on the bench. With a pain-killing injection, it’s difficult to know exactly when that point is where a player might be doing further damage. It’s absurd if true, and distressing/discouraging to boot.

    3. 100% Agree, I don’t understand whyyyy we put player that are sick/injured in the field, we have a great bunch.

    4. And what does it says to the player on the bench? “No, I won’t play you, I would rather play cesc and xavi through the pain instead”. We have a quality benches and not utilizing it at all, until it was too late

  17. Have we thoroughly flogged the question of who is helping Puyol and Pique OTHER than Busquets? Playing slow if positionally strong CBs against DeMaria, Higuain/Benzema, CR, plus Ozil with 2 attacking minded and actually attacking FBs? 4 of 5 goals in past two defeats appear to be down to lack of defensive support from midfield (see Allas.) For Barca, who had won the tie in the first leg, to become slightly more defensive and attempt to neutralize the strengths of RMadrid, they could have started two different players and otherwise played their normal game but kept the ball deeper as a time wasting tactic. Fabregas and Alba could have been replaced by Sanchez and Montoya who is on DeMaria duty and is told not to attack (let Alves attack, he’s used to playing two positions at once.) Don’t attack unless RMadrid become front heavy trying to chase Barca around Barca’s half of the field.
    The first half against Milan looked abysmal, but I contend that it was a tactic to stall the game, assert dominance and exhaust Milan. Barca doesn’t always attack.

    1. I think the answer is pretty much “nobody,” and that’s the problem. It’s also worth noting that two of their three goals came from looong passes that took advantage of their foot speed, to get directly at the defense.

  18. I’m convinced we can still press. They showed signs of it all in a handful of matches this season, must notably in the first half of the season.

    Now I’m just worried that they
    1) don’t have the legs and fitness for it because of a different training drills and/or
    2) just plain tired (which can bring resolved by being rested more) and/or
    3) just are not bothered anymore

    1. The great beauty of Barca’s press is that it doesn’t require great amounts of energy because Barca players rarely have to run far to do the pressing. Thus Barca’s ability to press is the flip side of their ball retention and technical ability. Indeed, if Barca doesn’t press hard it is throwing away the greatest benefit that comes from its style of play.

  19. So Alba doesn’t have a driving license yet. How does he go to work (Barca) nzm? Bicycle? Bus? Cab? Or driver? I wouldn’t mind a single bit to be his driver 😉

    1. He makes enough to afford the cab. There’s also the T3 tram line that stops nearby the joan gamper.

  20. Looks like the club is in a bit of bother for the flare incident during the Copa semi-final match. The club is expected to be fined in the aftermath.

    The distressing thing about this is that it comes amid rumors that the Boixos are back in the Camp Nou, which is pretty emphatically NOT a good thing. Laporta put his ass on the line to get them out of the Camp. I would hate to think that the Camp would suddenly not a be a cool and safe place for everyone, again.

  21. I think this is the right time to change from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 with villa as our central striker, messi as our 10, helping by iniesta and alexis. For strong team, busquet and song as dm while put thiago for decent team in the place of song. Sorry for xavi and cecs, they did not play well recently.

  22. Xavi will almost certainly not be available for the Liga game against Real Madrid on Saturday. News will be confirmed tomorrow. [onda cero].

    Don’t want to make excuses but, Xavi hasn’t played well for a while. Might be a blessing in disguise. Wonder who will fill in for him. Cesc or Thiago.

  23. It seems to me that the only way to ensure that Messi has plenty of room in the middle is to get a plan-B striker (Mario Gomez, puleeez). The moment opponents realised that Barca is raining crosses down on Gomez’s head, their full-backs would have to shift wider.
    It’s absolutely nuts that whenever Barca are chasing the game they send Pique forward. But if Barca accept that necessity, why not do it properly and have a true target-man.
    Barca’s big man won’t even have to be very mobile (let’s get a crock for cheap, if necessary). All he’ll have to do is occupy the CBs and crash into the box.
    Instead, it looks like Barca are going to waste money on a fancy-pants like Neymar who will flatter to deceive and add nothing when it comes to breaking down parked buses.

    1. Maybe during the false-9 era (or earlier). But that era is now over, because CBS just come out and press Messi. This is now the parked bus era. Barca seems to be accepting the need for a central striker in front of Messi (indeed, Messi has said he liked having Villa in front of him). But surely, instead of playing little guys (Villa, Alexis) in there, Barca should use a brawny centre-forward who will provide a real target.
      By dropping back, teams basically expose their neck to Barca, but Barca can’t finish them off because it’s blade is too rusty.
      Tactics against Barca are evolving so Barca must evolve.

    2. Or to put it another way, Barca cannot continue to let sides vacate the flanks because they’re not afraid of Barca’s crosses. There must be a serious penalty for doing so.

    3. ibra was a major fail in this sense. he is not a header of the ball, he is afraid to stick his neck out. he is more likely to try a roundhouse kick when a ball comes in at head level.

    4. Ibrahimovic was not a “major fail.” He scored 21 goals for the club, turned the Arsenal Champions League tie and helped the team grab the Liga that year. I would hardly describe that as a “major fail.”

      The first half of the season, when Ibrahimovic and Messi were trading goals and driving teams crazy with their two-pronged attack, it was a stellar success. It was only when Ibrahimovic had that first injury, and returned to a team that had raised its level that the problems began. We have seen that before, as well, though.

      The problem with Ibrahimovic is the same problem we are seeing with Villa and Sanchez: Fitting into a system that requires a degree of regimentation that can be a bit stifling for players who like to wing it.

      Ibrahimovic is big, but he has never been a header of the ball, much preferring to play with it at his feet. He is still the most talented striker in the game today, even as he has an attitude that means I wouldn’t touch him with a 100-meter pole.

      Barça doesn’t need much in attack. If Neymar comes, and the coaching staff shifts the priorities so it isn’t “get the ball to Messi,” the attack will be fine with Neymar, Messi and whomever (would love it to be Sanchez).

      I think this situation is rooted in a bad run of form and poor execution.

    5. In Mario Gómez, you have a forward whose only talent lies in waiting in the middle of the box for the cross ball to come in. That would put him off-side a lot if he played for Barca.

      He doesn’t defend, doesn’t tackle, can hardly dribble a ball and stands there for most of the match doing the best Macaroni Penguin impersonation that he can summon up.

      If Ibra was bad, this guy would be worse. At Bayern Gómez is falling down the pecking order in favour of hungrier and leaner Mario Mandžukić.

      I honestly can’t think of many well-known forwards who would fit into the Barca system without the system having to adapt to the forwards.

      Lewandowski and Reus from Dortmund would be the closest fits.

      I also really like Iago Aspas from Celta de Vigo. His forward playing style could be quite useful in the Barca system.

    6. I really dont want club to go and make hasty sale/buys.

      But still Lewandowski is a wonderful player, an excellent ‘pivot’ for the attack.

    7. Rumours are that he’s headed to Bayern next season, but we’ll see! If Pep wants him, it’s a good sign.

  24. I like Gomez BECAUSE of his limitations. I don’t want him to run much. Against a parked bus you want a fairly immobile centre forward. Its not as if he’ll have to join a counter attack. He should spend most of the came in a fairly tight zone waiting for a header or to goal poach. Barca just needs a big unit who can hold his position in the box. Thats why Gomez might flourish at Barca unlike anywhere else.
    Its interestingcthat Barca usually play with a rotating centre forward, sometime Villa, sometime Alexis, sometimes Mess stand with the CBs. Why not give that job to one man who can physically intimidate the CBs.
    Wont happen of course, but just a thought.

  25. forget about tomorrow’s classic …. is there any hope in the Milan game? I want 5 reason why Barca can still qualify

    1. 1. It is only two home goals. People forget that and act like they have two AWAY goals.

      2. We have the best club in the world, recent results notwithstanding.

      3. It will be mid-March, when the team is out of its form dip due to its periodization schedule.

      4. It is illogical to expect the team to play as poorly as it did in Milan ever again.

      5. The coaching staff and players have watched the match video, and understand what went wrong. Solutions will be devised.

    2. 1- it is three home goals against an intelligent bus – as long as we dont concede – our recent tradition is to not score against bus and concede too
      2 – sigh..
      3 – our true big hope
      4 – we almost did it in our home against Madrid, with a slight improvement – 2 shots on target
      5 – Watching el classico, it didnt look like any solutions were devised. in fact we lack specific tactics pertaining to specific match
      Anyways, we are without our coach. so all this is ok. Whatever happens, Visa Barca

    3. See, the idea is to come up with your OWN 5 reasons, rather than countering someone else’s 5 reasons. Go for it!

      I know we can be positive, folks! 12 and 16 points on our nearest rivals in the Liga, and two measly home goals that need to be scored to force extra time, 3 to win, 4 to win if they score one. As soon as we get those two (we will by halftime), they will have to come out and play. When they do, we got ’em. Pow.

    4. 2 early goals in the first half and we will cruise to the quarters. We will then have our coach back and will be back to our best. This is what I am hoping for.

  26. Vilanova is scheduled to return in early April.

    — Coaches ate considering putting Abidal in the squad for tomorrow, which would be a perfect match to do so. Quality opponent, meaningless fixture.

    — Xavi will not travel to the match. “Slight” thigh muscle tear.

    — Messi has apparently improved enough to train normally, and will be included in the squad for tomorrow. Sigh …..

    — Mourinho is planning to rest Oil Can for tomorrow, with Old Trafford in mind.

    1. Yep. Came from an obnoxious BeIN commercial featuring him, that mentions him changing the oil in the hair. And voila.

  27. Barcelona have only played their supposed best team [the Gala XI] on six occasions this season [allowing for Jose Pinto as their Copa keeper]. These have brought just two wins [4-0 at home to Espanyol and 4-0 at Levante], one draw [1-1 in Copa at Madrid] and three defeats [3-2 at Real Sociedad, 2-0 at Milan and Tuesday’s 3-1 to Madrid].- ESPN

    Can anyone justify these facts? Just saw it and thought it to be interesting.

    1. Don’t think Villa will have started many of those so as far as I’m concerned its not our best eleven. The ones that stand out there are the two Madrids and Milan. We won’t be judged over time by the others. It’s what we do in the big ones. That’s been the problem for me this season. It’s as if we didn’t realise this year’s habit of relying on Messi alone in a more vertical system wasn’t going to hack it against the quality teams.

    1. Which makes the rumours about him & Cesc playing on painkillers on Tuesday even worse, if true. He will amost certainly not be back for the game against Milan.

    2. Oh good! So he can play half-crocked again and tear it more. Give him injections and send him out there so he can’t feel it when he’s wrecking his hamstrings. Sit someone who’s fit and wreck the bench’s confidence. We had that whole abundance of caution thing going on for Villa and we give Xavi 2 weeks to recover from hamstring issues…AGAIN!

  28. No one can orhestrate defensive possession football better than Xavi. No one in the history of the game and maybe not ever. So even on one leg he’s our best bet when we are leading and just need to finish out the game.
    Remember when Guardiola said to Xavi when they were watching a 15 year old Iniesta…..”he will retire us both.”…or something to that effect.
    Well, the time has come. Not to actually retire Xavi literally but to allow Iniesta to become the fulcrum of the entire system in certain games especially when Xavi is not fit. The few games I’ve seen when Xavi was absent and Iniesta played his role, I seem to recall us winning and the latter having an excellent performance.

  29. I wanted to share this video. It is from Cristian Pulina’s blog in Eurosport. I don’t necessarily agree with everything the author states, but he has good arguments saying that something else apart from inches, bad finishing and key players’ low form, had some influence with the result. Keep in mind, that the first thing he writes in the video is that in spite of everything Madrid was the just winner.

    Let’s discuss.)

  30. In football, memory is very short lived. No one remembers the Brilliant Barça that went unbeaten in the League a month ago, setting the all time record of most points in the first round of Liga. One bad week and the Sky have fallen, earth have split in half. People need to just calm down.

    Having said that, Barça need to play a little more tactical football, and stop with this “We play with our philosophy no matter what.” We were ahead in the tie with the away goal, it was Real Madrid who wanted to score. What did we do? Pressed high, with 2 full backs high up the pitch, with a single pivot, against a team containing pacy wingers. Is there anything more suicidal in football? We should have played little conservatively. A little is whole I’m asking for.

    Bulk of this team is young. To call for an end of the era is pinnacle of stupidity. But Barça should learn from their mistakes. Who doesn’t make mistakes. But make use of those mistakes by learning from them. Slight tweaks here and there, then we are right up there.

    And for the Culés expecting the same level of perfection of Guardiola era through out their life as Culés are just being deluded. That was a dream, no, that was more than a dream. The closer we get to that dream, the better. But Guardiola Era won’t be repeated again for sure. The harsh reality!

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