The Alexis Sanchez problem, aka “Nature vs nurture”

So. Look at the player in that video. When talk was going around about Barça being about to plump for Serie A player of the year Alexis Sanchez, who didn’t watch that video and say to themselves, “Boy howdy, are we going to have some fun. Him AND Messi running at teams? Stand back!”

But that glowing promise has become a frustrating reality for the player, the team, its coaching staff and cules. Let’s have a look at what happened.

Here are Sanchez’s 15 goals from his first season with the club:

It’s important to note what kinds of goals he is scoring. In every instance, the goals are coming from open play. It’s a very similar situation to his assist for Alba vs Milan. Sanchez is a fascinating player in that where cules are used to Masia-trained wizards who view the game as a chess match and already know what they are going to do with the ball as soon at they get it, Sanchez gets the ball and says “Hey, look! Let’s go!” And he starts running.

Some cules scoff at that, because it isn’t part of The Way. But it’s just a different way of playing the game. Notice that Sanchez’s goals against Udinese are the same sorts of space-gobbling, flowing, almost chaotic kinds of goals. Sanchez is a player who thrives on space.

The biggest problems for Sanchez are that a) the way that teams play Barça takes away space and b) he is an instinct player. I was talking with someone today who said that “All he does is pass it back to the midfield or defenders!”

Well first of all, this isn’t true. Second of all, his passing options are usually limited on the wing but most importantly, he isn’t a thinker, so the easiest option is to reset, and then run.

When Xavi, Iniesta or Messi get the ball, they see this maze of angles, and players running around, and defenders and potential passing lanes. Dani Alves gets the ball and sees passing angles and potential crosses. Alexis Sanchez gets the ball and says “How can I get to goal, to set someone up for something?” Because that’s what he does. And if he can’t do that task, he hits the reset button.

More Problems

When Udinese first got Sanchez, they put him on the wing, and he wasn’t very good. Then somebody actually watched video of him leading the attack for Chile, and said “Hey, let’s try putting him in the middle, and let’s see what happens.” Boom. Player of the year.

In doing some digging, the term for what Sanchez was for Udinese, rather than a trequartista, is actually a fantasisti, the kind of free-role playmaker who might come from the center or wing. They can score goals, but will be most likely seen assisting and setting up others, kind of a 9 & 3/4s.

In the real world, Sanchez and Messi would probably switch numbers, but that isn’t going to happen. Because Alexis Sanchez had the great misfortune to come to a team who has the best player alive, who is already playing the position for which Sanchez is best suited. That is a big, GIANT problem because it means that Sanchez must become something other than what he is: a freelance hellraiser.

Complicating matters is that he is a freelance hellraiser on a team that likes to play a system, and build play methodically. So when the ball comes to Sanchez in a scoring position, it seems like he is thinking too much because he IS thinking too much, precisely because he isn’t doing what his instincts would like to do.

Numbers and stuff

In Sanchez’s first season with the club, he notched double-digit goals, and it looked like he was going to rock the house. In this, his second year, he has missed sitters, done the headless chicken thing and seemed to have been plagued with indecision.

But he has also demonstrated an astounding work rate at both ends of the pitch, set up goals, created space so that others can score goals and facilitated in-the-box attacking.

The question becomes what people see, and how they perceive what they see. Look at this video, posted by AllasFCB, and tell me that this is a player who isn’t Barça quality. Further, tell me it’s a player who had the indecisive, error-prone match that many say he did. Pretty tough ask, and that doesn’t even get into the defensive plays.

But intangibles aren’t tangible. “He misses sitters.” “he can’t score goals.” Which isn’t quite true. But he has certainly become defined by not only those misses, but expectation. He was supposed to improve upon his past season numbers. He is supposed to put away the chances that he gets. Really? I’m sure that many of you remember Samuel Eto’o his last season with the club, and how many gimmes didn’t get got. You can even flash forward and remember Lionel Messi gimmes that didn’t get got.


Now. The answer will be “Yes, but Eto’o and Messi have scored goals for the club, and buckets of them.” But that isn’t the point. The point is that attackers miss gimmes. They all do. But few of them are defined by it.

More numbers: Sanchez has 5 total goals in all competitions for the club, in 27 shots. Last season he had 15 goals in 60 shots. Messi has 55 goals in just over 200 shots. Does practice make perfect? Good question. For a player bereft of a natural scorer’s instinct such as Sanchez, almost certainly. Which isn’t to excuse the Sanchez misses. Far from it. But it is to provide a bit of perspective.

Pedro has 34 matches, 7 goals and 47 shots. That’s a 14% conversion rate, even lower than Sanchez’s just over 18% conversion rate. I know. “Pedro doesn’t miss sitters.” And yet we know that isn’t truth. Does anyone think that Pedro isn’t Barça quality? “Well no, he has scored buckets of goals for the club.” Yes. In the past. If Sanchez is being defined by his present, why isn’t Pedro?

Oh. Where is that sparkling. goal-scoring demon from Udinese? Sanchez’s last season with that club, he had 12 goals on 71 shots. That’s a lower conversion rate than this season, which is appalling to the cules who don’t consider him “Barça quality.”

Now, let’s really have some fun.

More Expectations

When we got Sanchez, I expected that he would score about as many goals as Xavi or Iniesta, plus a few because of his constant motion. He has 5 goals, Xavi has 6. Iniesta has 5, so not too far off. Why didn’t I expect that he would score more goals? Because he isn’t a striker. The difficulty, in part because of his number, in part because he is always running forward, people are judging him as a striker, instead of judging him as what he in fact is, a playmaker.

Now. The valid question could be, “What the hell is Barça doing buying another playmaker, when we already have 436 of them?” Valid question. An even more valid question is what did we expect Sanchez was going to be, at club and cule level? So the larger question becomes what is Sanchez? If his natural role is playmaker, why aren’t Xavi and Iniesta being held to the same scoring standard as Sanchez, who isn’t any more a striker than Xavi or Iniesta?

Some Thoughts From Euler

Ultimately Sanchez is best basically as a “midfielder” or “wide creator” (not even as a pure winger). But that’s not the requirement of the role he’s being asked to play now. And perhaps as importantly, those aren’t the expectations that supporters have. Just think about how different goal scoring expectations are for Sanchez and say, Iniesta. In substance they aren’t that different as players.

Barça bought a player who really was a trequarista and asked him to reinvent himself as a goal-scoring wide forward. That was always the risk of this transfer – for the player & the club.

I was just going through in my head all of the major transfers Barça has conducted over the past 5 or so years. It’s very striking how many players were bought for large sums only to be asked to change positions. It’s a major reason why the transfer policy has had this string of “failures.”

Regarding the system issues & Sanchez. A major part of it is that the Barça midfielders are essentially asked to play minimal goal scoring roles. Any goals they produced are viewed as “extra.” That means goal scoring really falls to the 3 forwards in an almost disproportionate way. Barça should be able to afford to play Sanchez as a wide creator — but doing so would require more goals from midfield.

For example — Busquets has appeared in 32 matches this season. He’s taken 3 shots all season (in Liga and CL). The player who is perhaps most comparable in terms of quality at the holding midfield role may be Bastian Schweinsteiger. He’s played in 29 total matches. He’s taken 44 shots. Just think about that. Busquets has taken that many fewer shots than a midfielder who himself doesn’t shoot all that much. Javi Martinez has taken nearly twice as many shots per game this year as Busquets.

Schweinsteiger has taken 44 shots on goal in 29 league & CL matches. So he’s roughly taken 15 times more shots this year than Busquets. That is stunning. 15x more shots

If you have 1 player in midfield who creates such minimal direct threat on goal, it’s very difficult to play a wide creator on the front line.

I love Busquets. Best player in the world at his position, and 1 of the top 10 regardless of position. But it’s striking how little he looks to score. Just not in him. And in turn that puts much more pressure on the front 3, and confines their roles. On average the barca starting midfield trio of Iniesta/Xavi/Busquets takes only 2.6 shots per game. Again — that is just amazing.

If your midfield is going to do that, then that puts enormous pressure on the front line to score. And the issue isn’t Messi taking some huge number of shots. He really doesn’t shoot very much compared to how often he scores. That’s not the issue. The outliers are the midfielders just not shooting.

But even if Barça got more goals from midfield that wouldn’t make supporters happy with Sanchez I’d guess. Even if Sanchez excelled in a wide creator role (which he did in many ways yesterday) he’d still be deemed a failure and people would want him out. We often talk about Henry, Eto’o & Messi but I wonder if in a sense that’s become a destructive model in terms of expectation setting. It’s really not easy in any way to reproduce but it still sets expectations for new players brought into the front line. (Kxevin note: Note that many say it isn’t unreasonable to expect to have three forwards who score 20 goals a season.)

If Sanchez leaves and returns to playing the trequarista role — especially if it’s at Juve — he’s going to wind up being seen as an absolutely world-class player and people will wonder how Barca could ever let him go.

(Regarding the lack of midfield scoring threat) There is almost literally no reason to worry about Busquets as any kind of threat on goal. And you see that when teams do “park the bus” vs Barça. They play off Busquets and allow him to circulate in a very congested final third, but they don’t bother to jump out on him or track his runs deep.

Can’t have Sanchez or anyone on the front line play a creative role really in this context. Really difficult to do.

Ancedotally, I’m sure everyone knows the midfield doesn’t look to score. But looking at it quantitatively is just so stark as it’s so extreme. Pedro Leon take more shots on goal per game than Busquets/Xavi/Iniesta combined. Juan Mata takes 80% as many shots per game as Busi/Xavi/Iniesta together. David Silva takes 70% as many shots as Busi/Iniesta/Xavi do together.

Mata & Silva are in no way “selfish” players or ones who even look to score all that much. They themselves are primarily “playmakers.”

I guess this may be worth a post.

So What Does All This Mean

First things first. Euler and I don’t love Sanchez, or aren’t Sanchez “fanboys,” as a couple of anti-social folks via social media labeled me. But we both think that some perspective on the situation is necessary, as well as an attempt to understand what we bought, vs what we have and would like to have. And then there’s the larger question of why a player with such talent isn’t succeeding at Barça. For me, there’s a certain irony in that Sanchez would have thrived at RM, even as he never considered for an instant going there (and I hope he doesn’t now).

For me, it’s better if Sanchez moves on, as I don’t think he is going to succeed at Barça. His agent would be a fool if he isn’t shopping his player, and the player would be a fool if he isn’t letting his agent shop him. I can only speculate that Sanchez doesn’t want to leave. Far from it. Recall the promises made to a dying guardian, the promises that made him ignore all other suitors in favor of us.

But playing against instinct and type is too difficult for any player, even one as talented as Sanchez. And at some point, he has to cut his losses and go where instinct can once again reign. Whether our club will be the poorer for it is difficult to say.


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. I am hoping Sanchez continues and its just a matter of time, before he starts scoring. However, I feel very sorry for him, whenever he is unable to go past a defender, especially on one on one’s. Against Rayo in the last minutes he did an excellent run, if only he was successful with such runs always…

  2. When you paid 28 Million+ while signing, did you sign him as a striker or a classic 10. I vaguely remember the discussion going on in this blog at that time. No one told me we were buying a classic 10. Why did we then bought a classic 10, when all that space is occupied by Messi.

  3. News of the Day:

    Eric Abidal will be taking part in a friendly against Ligue 2 club Istres today, as will (maybe even more surprising) Jonathan dos Santos.

    I would guess that the club wants to see how his stamina is, how he handles contact, etc, etc. Should be a hoot, and I rather imagine that the club will have a photographer or two there, eh?

    1. Should be official photographers at it, as it’s a Barca B game. Alex Caparros usually covers the lower grades, although Ruiz could be there, given the momentous occasion of Abi returning to the pitch and nothing else happening with the First Team.

  4. The last few games have showed that the ‘touchline hugging wingers’ are long history now. The front 3 plays a lot more closer to eachother, and thus the wingers are a lot more closer to the goal as well. In the last few games Alexis has clearly recived some introductions from the coaching staff to take defenders 1v1 and he has showed that he can beat them easily.

    Theres not a single doubt that he’ll succeed at Barca. He wanted to come Barca so badly he even took the lesser option in terms of money, City offered a lot bigger contract. If the rumors are true and he wants to leave to Italy now it just shows me how much there is wrong with todays fans. I’ve always said that Barca have the best and the worst fans in the world. The best who stays on the stadium after Chelsea knocked them out and start to sing after Torres’ goal and the worst he are never happy and constantly moaning about the players. Even Valdes, who I think has one of the biggest mental strenght, is leaving because of the criticism he gets from his own fans. Seriously, its time to look in the mirror.

    1. Expectation is a real problem. That first Guardiola season has become so heavy. It was like when the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl back in 1985 (swoon!). That team did it so easily and joyfully, that people were expecting a football dynasty. Didn’t happen.

      A Neymar/Messi/Sanchez front line makes me salivate. It would be like a pinball game. But I just worry that the Inter rumors, which are growing stronger/more vociferous, are true.

      And frankly, I think that if the club isn’t going to adapt to the talents that it has, it would be best to let them go. It’s my Neymar worry. And no, I don’t think Barça should sign Neymar and start playing joga bonito. But I also think it would be a mistake to get a player like that and force-fit him into a regulated, regimented system. Tika-taka works best when it has the flexibility to go freelance, on that moment of genius.

      It pains me to see Sanchez get the ball, start to run then stop, thinking “Pass and move? But …. ” And then people say “He’s too indecisive.” Duh. I can’t imagine how hard it is.

    2. Sanchez, it’s clear to me, is a confidence player. look at some of those goals from his time at Udinese in the first compilation. just ballsy, ballsy, ballsy. he was in the groove, full of himself and that helped him achieve some really amazing things on the pitch. there, 1-on-1 with the keeper he throws in *stepovers*, here he’d just fall on his face or miscontrol while trying to round the GK.

      he’s clearly a humble and hard-working kid who does sacrifice himself for the team; not an Ibrahimovic with a Matterhorn-sized ego. that to me says the coaching staff should work on getting him confident in his role and his value to the team; in that sense the worst thing fans and press can do is get on his back about missing opportunities. Kxevin in his heartless robo-Barça mindset (joking!) would doubtless say that “a world-class player shouldn’t need to be coddled, etc.!”, but he’s still just a kid and given the local nature of our dressing room a bit of an outsider as well. if we can get Sanchez confident, the goals and brilliance will shine out. if we pile on, he’ll move on, and that’ll be a real shame.

      oh and in no small part because, as was noted, if *crosses himself* Messi were to finally get injured i can’t think of a better player to play in his position than Sanchez.

  5. Excellent work, Kxevin and Euler.

    I am for Sanchez staying at the club – no one else offers what he does currently.

    I’d be gutted if the back-to-Italy stories are true, as I feel that Alexis deserves to stay – especially upon Tito’s return which will mean the the team will resume the work that Tito was doing with them before he left for treatment.

    If the decision for his return is performance-based, then you’d have to compare his performance to that of Pedro’s over this season.

    How is it that 2 players – Pedro and Alexis – who were so successful, are now going through the same goal-less funk together?

    They both have similar playing styles, both love open running games and both are brilliant defenders when required. I would argue that Sanchez is more of a play-maker than Pedro, and that Pedro is a goal poacher who turns up at the right time – although Alexis also has a bit of that trait too.

    It’s got to be the system in which they are playing, because when they play for their respective NTs, the results are extremely postive.

    It’s also fan expectation. Just because fans expect these players to be scoring a bazillion goals doesn’t necessarily mean that the team managers expect the same.

    If I was management and was asked to make a decision on who had to leave between Alexis and Pedro, I would choose the latter.

    That’s not to say that I’d want Pedro to leave either, but if it was a choice simply based on performance, then #17’s time would be up. (But then, I would want Tello or Cuenca to be loaned/sold before either Pedro or Alexis!)

  6. Sanchez needs to stay at the club. For all the reasons you mentioned above. The fact he offers something different to typical Barca players and has a direct ethos of running and gunning for goals. His workrate as a forward line player to press as well is an asset. Don’t judge him solely on goals- I believe he adds depth to the squad and as a utility player he has his place

  7. Those comparison stats on the mid-field are quite sobering. Just imagine what a force Barca could be if our mid-field took more shots at goal.

    It would provide more worry for opposition teams because they wouldn’t know how and who to defend if goal-threats came from more players. Messi could become less of a marked man!

    At the beginning of this season, I wrote about the need for Busquets to become more direct in attack, because he is the key in the team. It hasn’t happened yet, but the signs point to Busi being completely dominant if this aspect of his game could be further developed.

    If the 2 forward wingers are developed as hybrid attackers/defenders, then the mid-field has to take some responsibility to score!

  8. It should be noted that cules are ridiculous and their expectations are even more ridiculous. Didn’t win a treble this year? Don’t talk to me. Didn’t score 20 goals? Sell him.

    It’s currently March. In the big leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and we’ll go ahead and include France) there are 5 players with 20 or more goals: Messi, Crynaldo (see what I did there?), Luis Suarez, Cavani, and Ibrahimovic. In their respective teams, the next most goalscory person has 8, 11, 8, 9, and 5. That’s PSG’s Kevin Gameiro in there with that lowest number. David Villa has the 8 for Barcelona, if you hadn’t been keeping track, which might surprise you given that he’s shit and should be sold and is also shit. Or so they say because he can’t score goals. Robert Lewandowski is currently leading the way in the Bundesliga with 19; his teammate Marco Reus has 10.

    Here’s something interesting: of all those players, including Lewandowski, only 2 of them (Ibra and Messi) play for teams currently at the top of the league. Does it actually help to have more balanced scoring? Man United has 19 goals from Robin van Persie, 12 from Rooney, and 8 from Chicharito. Then again, they’ve scored 69 goals in 29 EPL matches while Barcelona has scored 88 in 28 matches. [An odd coincidence: they both have 74 points, with ManU having lost an extra time, and they both have allowed 31 goals. So much for terrible defense, huh?]

    So, then, Alexis: if he’s 3rd or 4th fiddle in the team, his numbers are about right. Sure, he’s well off his pace from last year, but it’s also true that David Villa has been eating up a lot more of his playing time. As has Cesc. It’s also true that he has 5 goals so far this season. He had 3, 6, and 12 goals for Udinese. That’s 21 goals over 3 seasons. He’s scored 20 total for Barcelona in under 2 seasons. But I guess he should be scoring more because, well, uh, well, uh, because. There’s no pleasing some people and, sadly, those people are more and more often to be found under the grand tent of barcelonismo. We’re rapidly becoming the Yankees fans of La Liga, which comes with a VIP section in hell. It was the domain of Madrid fans for so long that I didn’t even know it would be available for the taking, but there it is, For Sale sign in the window. All we need is to run another player out of town for no reason whatsoever and we’ll be there.

    Another interesting coincidence: Cesc Fabregas scored 15 goals last season. He’s a midfielder, so obviously he overperformed…except he plays in the mid-advanced role that allows him to see the goal a lot more often. If he were half the striker Sanchez is, he would have 20 goals this year already, but he’s not, so he doesn’t. But of course, he’s still overperforming because he’s a “canterano” (he’s not) and Sanchez is underperforming because “hell, even Iniesta is scoring more than him!” (they have the same number of goals).

    It’s sad. Alexis is killer. Sure, he could score more often and that would be great. I would not be opposed. He does get looks he needs to put away. That is fair criticism, but to act like he’s playing badly is absurd. What is also fair criticism, however, is to ask whether the club’s transfer policies are just bad. I say they have been horrible for the last 80 years, but then again, what do I know? It took a long time for Henry to adapt–he was simply not good enough his first year–but it’s also what Euler pointed out: why are we buying players that have to adapt? Are the skillsets we require not out there or are we starting to buy stars in hopes that they’ll work for us both on the field and in advertisements? Interestingly, the player who would have required the least adaptation was Ibra. And he didn’t give any fucks whatsoever about doing anything.

    And that is why the purchase of Neymar might actually make sense: he’s an out-and-out LW. There’s no real adapting to be done. Whether he can play with everyone is a different question, but I don’t see why he can’t. I’m not the biggest fan, but I’m certainly willing to see what comes of it so long as we keep Sanchez. We can drop Villa, especially if we can get some cash for him, but we should keep Sanchez. He’s too versatile and we won’t recoup anything close to the money we paid for him.

    1. Kick-ass comment, Fearless Leader. You should have written this post, instead of scratching your butt and drinking beer.

    2. Isaiah you hit the nail on the head! Alexis has never been an out and out goalscorer and somehow some Cules expect him to be a 20 goal a season guy suddenly!

  9. Good stuff. A lot of fun to see his goals from Udinese and his first season with our club. Some real crackers there.

    Some thoughts/questions:

    1. Alexis’ success has always depended on his ability to adapt to our team and our needs. We knew from the beginning he would play on the wing and we knew from the beginning that the wing got him benched at Udinese (before flourishing in a more central role)

    2. Not a big follower of the Serie A, but how de teams play Juve or Inter? I bet they set up to give up less space than however they played Udinese.

    3. About the numbers slash goal-scoring.

    They are distorted, because they do not take into account the number of one-on-one’s and sitters he has missed this season. It does mean, however, that even though he is being played on the wing where he is less comfortable, he consistently gets into excellent scoring positions.

    To me the argument that he simply is not a goal-scorer could be very true, but ultimately irrelevant. Last season he scored 15 goals, despite being injured quite a lot. THAT should be the benchmark of what he can give us goal-wise (on which he can improve, even)

    Furthermore, our opinion of him is also distorted because he won’t always miss so many one-on-one’s and sitters. He has already showed signs of this, scoring 2 goals in the last 3/4(?) games he started.

    1. Yes! Although he still gets fouled a lot and goes down a little too easily, IMO. But no outright dives and no waving imaginary cards. I really hated that.

    2. So Levon, is Messi’s “standard” now 73 goals per season? That’s what he got last season, so that should be the expectation, yes, as the Messi benchmark?

      Or can there be aberrations in performance that are based in situations? Look at Pedro’s goal-scoring numbers, by way of example. Which is “truth,” his two 20+goal seasons, or last season where he scored 13, and looks to be on track for about the same number?

      “Benchmarks” are situational, I think.

      For me, we have to separate the player from the standard, and the double standard. Sanchez has a tough row to hoe. I kept thinking about what people would be saying if he were on the end of that Fabregas pass that Messi dithered around with, and ultimately hosed off. It would be another nail in his coffin with cules, as the miss was (which wasn’t exactly a sitter of the type he has missed previously this season, by the by.)

    3. Ooooh good point! Although I think Messi himself is an “aberration”, lol. And speaking of aberrations, that Messi miss, however ridiculous was an aberration when you take into acccount that he is scoring 1.5 goals per game in this Liga. You are right that Sanchez would have been ridiculed had it been him (a thought that occured to me also an approximate 0.2 seconds after the play had happened)

      I would certainly concede that benchmarks should not be set in stone. But he has been underperforming this season, in comparison to what he showed us he could do last season. Apart from the horrid misses, he has not had one single game in which he was consistently bad-ass over 90 minutes. He showed us flashes, yes, but last season he showed us a lot more. As to why? My guess would be confidence – the lack of scoring has made him more doubtful.

      I am definitely of the opinion that he is Barça quality and I still believe he can succeed here. As for the “benchmark”, I would think 10-20 goals per season are not beyond his reach and what we can reasonably expect.

    4. If he’d missed that people would have got on his back but not because he missed that but because it confirms an ongoing pattern . Messi scored two incredible goals and laid on one . Can we stop trying to draw some comparison between Messi and anyone else because the anyone else will come off worst. Messi can miss one or two because he scores barrow loads – Sanchez doesn’t. It’s not double standards – it’s looking at the overall goalscoring contribution.

  10. I’ve said this many times before.
    But Alexis Sanchez is a steal for Barcelona and should be treated as an asset. Besides his technique, pace, strength and talent, his willingness to slave for the team makes him an invaluable weapon.
    If we sell him, that’d be another evidence of how SHITTY Barca is, with business and player management. Not exaggerating, but this guy has the potential to be one of the top 3 players in the world!
    If goal scoring is the metric to be given the boot, then get rid of Pedro, Fabregas before you open the Alexis case.
    This impatience of Cules infuriates me. And that too, misplaced impatience, Which is never applied to Catalans or Masia graduates.

  11. Many thanks to Kxevin for this enlightening post. My questions are:

    In the “striker in front of Messi” strategy employed vs. Milan at Barca, there is no role for Alexis, no right wing player in front of Alves. He could play left instead of Pedro. Could he play in the Villa role? If not, could he play in the Iniesta role? Your discussion suggests that he might be an attacking midfielder in the Barca “system.”

    Since this post raises the question, “what is a striker” on the current Barca team. What are people thinking about Bojan K? Is it desirable for him to return? I know he scored a lot of goals as a youngster. He looks stronger than when he left and he appeared fast. Is he or just fresh legs? Could he succeed in the Villa role?


    1. (Slaps self in head.)

      Excellent thoughts on Krkic. Yes, he could actually have some success in that role, which is kinda odd to contemplate. Granted, skinning Pique off the wing isn’t that fancy a trick, but I don’t recall Bobo showing that kind of pace and guile when he was last here.

      It’s funny, because I don’t think that Barça has had a striker since Ibrahimovic left. We have players who can score goals, but not an out-and-out striker. My ideal Barça world sees Messi with his usual gaudy totals, and a lot of other players with around 10 goals (Pedro, Iniesta, Xavi, Villa, Sanchez, etc.)

    2. Bojan hasn’t been able to get consistent minutes at roma or milan. saw he said something about being a loan versus signing as why he wasn’t getting minutes at milan, but without a key injury and cup tied balo he wouldn’t have gotten into the second tie.
      Finally, playing against barca is often the opposite of playing with barca. Think it’s early to start the bad penny coming good narrative.

  12. nice points Kxevin & Euler!
    The first video was especially demonstrative of the difference between where sanchez liked to live. Taken in contrast to hugging the touchline and providing tactical width as he has been asked to do this season is a remarkable change. The conversion numbers are also very interesting. To me it is a reminder of the how both he and the team are playing. The conversion numbers say that he is doing about as well as you could expect and not out of line with similar players like pedro, but he isn’t getting many chances. From watching we know that he has missed, seemingly, quite a few easy chances. Together it paints the picture of a player spending most of his time creating space and working, and getting one or two good chances to walk the ball into the net per game. Kinda like the team overall. Because, aside from the second leg vs milan, nobody shoots from outside the box, the shot numbers are quite low for a team that seemingly creates a lot of chances and definitely controls possession largely in the opponents half.

    One of the things that i think is worth discussing about Sanchez that i didn’t see explicitly mentioned was his speed and athleticism. He is largely the anti-cesc in physical traits and largely in how he has been treated as an asset by the coaching staff.

    Other than messi, no one has been given more freedom nor more changes to the system made to accomodate someone in the team than cesc. I don’t think it was an accident that the best pressing we have seen came in a game in which cesc didn’t feature. Not to put it all on cesc, but including him in the team with xavi and iniesta forces iniesta into a sub-optimal position, costs a front line player who is faster than himself forces alba to provide the tactical width on the left and requires him to play so high as to invite attacks down the left, that cesc isn’t fast enough to cover as a tradeoff.

    On the contrary, sanchez is fast and remarkably good at holding up possession and winning headers for a lightweight midget. Further he has been forced, understandably, out of the area he prefers to play in and out onto the wing and asked to do an enormous amount of work defensively. A large portion of this is because he has the speed to do it and is to make up for the decided lack of pace in the midfield. As Euler pointed out, there isn’t any space for a creator in the front line because of iniesta, messi, and cesc. So why did they buy a creator? They didn’t buy a creator, cause in barca terms he would barely qualify. They bought a guy who was technically good enough to play in the team with a physical skillset that they don’t often produce, and when they have recently he either was a relatively huge success pedro or an unqualified failure jeffren. (Jury is still out on tello. if he can learn to defend and grow a first touch he will be a success here. Although impending Neymarness suggests he best head elsewhere regardless.) Anyway, the kid is fast and like pedro willing to do the donkey-work to make up for a slow midfield and messi only pressing when absolutely necessary.

    The follow up to that is he has been asked to stretch defenses on the wing to open up the alleys that iniesta, messi, and cesc like to play in. This has had an effect on the number of chances he and pedro and villa get during play. Don’t think it’s a coincidence that both he and pedro are having similar experiences. The other part of this is that when you play xavicesciesta you remove one of pedro, villa, or sanchez. So not only is the lone forward line player asked to spend the majority of their time and effort as a decoy, you have removed someone they could realistically be playing off and with. Oh and someone they are used to playing with last season when they were “good.” Some of sanchez’s best play last season was when he got to drift into the middle to play in front of messi and/or with villa doing the same. I am hopeful that the last couple games are a sign of a trend that will continue and villa and sanchez will get the chance to play more centrally in front of messi. First, it makes messi more effective. (He hasn’t been a false 9 for a while, and just cause you choose not to play a 9 in front of a 10 doesn’t make that 10 any kind of a 9 it just means your playing without a center forward.) Second, villa and sanchez will play better/look better when they get to play closer to the goal with messi. They are gonna create goals for messi, and by that i mean pass it to him near the 18 yard box, and vice versa.

    Anyway, it’s tough for a guy with that price tag on his head who plays up front if he doesn’t score 20 goals a year. But don’t think that increase in messi’s scoring isn’t partially due to the system built for him that sacrifices opportunities for guys like pedro, villa, and sanchez. As Kxevin has said or at least alluded to, having 3 guys score 20 goals isn’t normal, and should be expected.Having four guys score 20 goals, as is expected of messi, pedro, sanchez, and villa, is even less reasonable. Having 3 guys score 20 goals when the fourth is scoring 60. COME ON!

  13. Nice post, while I believe our intentions are the same (Alexis is an asset to the team and team would benefit if he stays but for his own good he should move) I have very different perspective.

    It isn’t news to the coaching staff that Xavi/Iniesta/Busi don’t shoot & score nor to any of us. Their primary role is to create boatloads of chances while maintaining defensive balance*. The entire forward lines’ role is to score.

    Please tell me if such an expectation wasn’t there. Because I have understood it to be so. It has been from Messi, Henry, Eto’o, Ibra, Villa, Pedro, Cuenca, Tello. Either we bought the wrong player for the position or the player didn’t meet the expectation of the position.

    There has not been expectation of midfield positions to score or get in scoring positions. An odd thing happened in this post. First Kxevin compared Iniesta and Alexis then Euler tells us Iniesta doesn’t take many shots. That is where the difference arises, Iniesta’s finishing is not called into question because he has been in far less scoring positions than Alexis. Alexis, for the chances he has gotten, finished very poorly. Same cannot be said of Iniesta. Alexis’ finishing this season has been worse than every player with an attacking role (other than Dani perhaps, if you count him in that)

    Let’s not make excuses about that, his finishing has been nothing short of disastrous. But key for me is that even with that Alexis has been the best forward other than Messi. He has played better than Villa, Pedro, Tello. His chance & space creation, defensive work have been exceptional. This dichotomy is what prevents him from being an automatic starter for CL matches. Another key thing is that his finishing form is a slump even by his own standards. We can expect it to reverse with time.

    A third point about expectation is that if this expectation is changed for his position then it either should reflect a change in expectation from another position or a modification in system. We have seen the latter with Tito trying to make Barca much faster and direct in transitions. IMO this change suits Villa, Alexis and even Tello much more. It will suit Neymar if he joins.

    We have to adapt a system that allows our forward line to express themselves. It has been crystal clear that both Villa and Alexis haven’t been able to do so in the older one. Adapting will ask more of our defence and midfield. We saw some of these changes in the Rayo match. Greater directness from the midfield, greater distribution responsibilities from defence (not to mention better/intelligent coordination between the FBs)

    *Cesc is another with dissonance from the expectations of his position.

    I have a major issue with how the club has gone about transfers, creating more issues rather than resolving older ones but thats a topic for another post

    1. Good points. But Pedro has a worse finishing rate than Sanchez.

      And spot on about adaptation of the attacking methodology. We can hope that recent trends are giving some indication as to that direction.

      I think everyone is in agreement about Sanchez missing sitters. My only point is that attackers miss sitters. I remember watching Eto’o his last batch of matches, with my hands permanently attached to the sides of my head in disbelief. Who knows why such things happen, but they do.

      I think that we bought the wrong player for the position, in the case of Sanchez. So either the system will need to adapt, or the player will have to go.

      Regarding our mids, note that early in the season, Xavi was scoring goals by ghosting in on a forward’s run from his midfield position. Scored a couple in a row like that. Those runs have stopped, and I have no idea why. Would be curious to know if it’s something coaching-related, or the fact that he has been playing semi-broken.

    2. On the xavi question, which was interesting enough to go look. He scored only one goal with xavicesciesta on the field. I think he has been playing deeper and closer to busquets in those situations. Whether that is explicitly coached or just a result of having messi, iniesta and cesc in the space in front of him is a good question. As is, whether the tendency is accentuated by his injuries. This is potentially another way that shoe-horning xavicesciesta changes/limits xaviestas performances. How much can xavi commit to following the attack into the box where he scores those goals if cesc and iniesta are already there, neither of which have the pace to cover for him if he is caught out?

      and completely agree every player, even the most “clinical” strikers miss sitters. That’s one of the reasons I found sanchez’s conversion numbers so interesting. From a numbers perspective he is not converting too badly and better than pedro who is stuck working in a similar job and “funk.”

      I think the transfer was a case of getting the best player available rather than one fits the role the best. Eerily similar to the Song transfer, and arguably cesc too. Think it speaks to club’s transfer mentality and their expectations of the kids from la masia to fill in the gaps.

  14. Great post. Great comments.

    What bothers me is not so much what to do with Sanchez, but what to do with Cesc. IMO, he will have an important role eventually and has an important role occasionally now. But if I never see him in the same lineup as Xavi and Iniesta again it will be too soon. Forcing him into the starting lineup has been maddening.

    We will miss Alexis if he leaves.

    1. Agree!
      It has been disappointing to see how his integration has progressed this season. From my perspective he performs best in iniesta’s midfield role. He doesn’t seem to be ready or inclined towards xavi’s role. I’d say that Iniesta and Thiago have been better there. Also, there was a hint that the staff thinks busquets would work better there when they toyed with playing a song, busquets, iniesta midfield at the end of the deportivo game. As they played with alternatives for Milan w/o xavi, combined with the song making the milan bench and Thiago missing out. Oh, and yeah, Cesc not featuring at all.

      Anyway, iniesta has been protected much better through rotation this season. Which kinda makes you wonder why they couldn’t do the same with xavi. Part of the answer is that Cesc hasn’t been up to that task.

      @mochinegun tweeted this…
      it’s by far the weakest of the 6 CM combos. Xaviesta >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Xavregas > Thiniesta > Xaviago > Fabriago >>>>>>>> Fabriesta.

      while i might rearrange a couple towards the end. the point is very clear and well made. fabregas can work against teams that don’t organize as well around messi, but that isn’t going to be the big games, or the big CL games.

      The balance of controlling the midfield and getting messi the ball in space tips towards impotence too often with xavicesciesta in a lineup against well organized teams. cesc not being a like for like xavi replacement means he will require system level changes, like the side becoming more direct and busquets taking up more of the control, in order to be a first choice in the near future. The issue becomes transition as you can’t create a schizophrenic side with a xavi personality and cesc personality and be coherent enough to be successful the way barca is expected to be with this squad.

  15. I’ve lurked here a while, but this is my first time to comment. Wanted to add that I don’t see many people talking about Alexis’s turnovers. It’s not just that he’s missing sitters. He’s also be coughing up the ball quite a bit, which, naturally is anathema for the Barça style of play. shows him with an 82% pass completion rate on the season. That’s about 8 points lower than most of Barca’s starting mids and forwards. (Interestingly, the only two regular starters who come in nearly as low are Messi and Villa, at 86% and 83% respectively. I attribute Messi’s lower rate to trying to make a lot of passes through amazingly tight lanes, particularly in and near the penalty box while he’s double- and triple-teamed. I attribute Villa’s to getting back in form this season and being out of synch with the rest of the team.)

    Eight per cent doesn’t seem like a lot of hurt, but given that most of Barça’s passes are (for them) easy, no-brainer passes to work the ball around or reset it, then a large portion of Alexis’s (and other players’) turnovers come when they’re in an advanced position, in the latter stages of the buildup. Where other players may be turning over the ball, say, 20% of the time that they’re nearing a goal-scoring opportunity, Alexis may be doing it 35% or 40% of the time. That’s a big drain on the offense, and you can bet the coaches are noticing it. What’s worse, as Alexis’s confidence has sunk, he’s turning the ball over everywhere, including in Barça’s own half. Did anyone notice how in his few minutes v. AC Milan he must have turned the ball over nearly as many times as Villa did all game? And there were at least one or two times when, uncharacteristically, after turning the ball over, he didn’t even fight to get it back—and one of those was in his own half and nearly proved costly.

    Put all this another way: Alexis’s lack of scoring may or may not be a problem, depending on your point of view, but previously he made up for whatever he lacked on the score sheet with some very fine play elsewhere. Now, however, his ratio of play-creating/etc. to surrendering-the-ball is hurting him too. That, more than missing sitters, may argue for a transfer.

    Finally, on the question of fans’ support or not for Alexis. I agree that Barça fans can sometimes be harsh, but I think some of you guys may be putting too much emphasis on what you’re seeing in blogs, which in my view are harsher than what’s going on in Catalunya. I’ve been lucky to go to more than a dozen Barcelona games this year, and while there are certainly occasional (and, yes, increasing—justifiably) groans when he turns it over or misses an easy shot, there are very, very few whistles or boos for him. The culés in the stadium (home and away) have been very supportive. There was a game last December, I think against Atlético, when Alexis had some truly horrific gaffes. What did the crowd do? They chanted his name in support. Not just at the first gaffe but after his second as well. They may have quieted down after his third or fourth gaffe, but I ask you, at how many stadiums would you hear that kind of support? It’s certainly one reason I’m a culé.

    Incidentally, the fans were also wonderful to Valdés at the first home game after he had announced his departure. When he came out for his warmup and again when he came out just before the game for the roll call, he got huge rounds of applause. A lot of people were on their feet. It was a fine thing to see and hear.

    1. First of all, thanks for coming out of the shadows. Welcome officially to the family.

      Now, hang on here …. you attribute Messi’s low pass completion rate to trying daring passes, but not Sanchez? Assuming that neither of us have seen every pass that both players have attempted, what could the perception difference be? Because Sanchez often finds himself in the same situation as Messi, but on the sideline, where the touch line acts at an extra defender.

      And Sanchez does defensive work that should be taken into consideration, in looking at his pluses and minuses. The Milan and weekend’s matches were particularly good recent examples of this.

    2. Completely agree with you that what I’m thinking may be based more in perception than in fact. On the other hand, have a look below at the pass-completion rates of the starting mids and forwards, plus the backs who are most frequently involved in attacks:

      Xavi, 95%
      Busquets, 93%
      Iniesta, 91%
      Pedro, 91%
      Alba, 91%
      Adriano, 90%
      Cesc, 90%
      Alves, 88%
      Messi, 86%
      Villa, 83%
      Alexis, 82%

      As I say, I can’t say with any real assurance what’s going on (though, yes, it’s my sense that Messi is making more difficult passes, in part just because when he’s making them he’s often double- and triple-teamed. Sanchez is usually merely one-on-one). But I can say that Alexis is at the bottom of the turnover barrel. It’s fine for Messi to be on the lower end because, well, he’s Messi. Ditto Villa, whose goals-to-minutes ratio is, if memory serves me right, nearly as good as Messi’s. My main point here is that Alexis is having troubles that other players are not, and that’s perhaps hurting the offense as much as his missing a few shots in front of an open goal.

    3. Why is it fine for Messi to be on the lower end, because he’s Messi? Why should he be exempted from being sloppy because he scores goals? It’s not like he is expending energy tracking back, so shouldn’t his passes be even MORE accurate, because he’s fresher?

      And Villa gets a pass because of goals to minutes ratio? Yet those two are watching Sanchez chase a play, make a slide tackle, retrieve the ball and lead the break, then pass to one of them. See what I mean? Where is the exemption for Sanchez?

      For me, either everybody gets a pass, or nobody gets a pass. It’s usually the latter for me.

    4. I wouldn’t say Messi et al. get a pass for lower pass-completion ratios. Hardly my point at all. I *would* say that every player has several facets to his game, and it’s right to look at the totality of them. If other players–Messi, Villa, whoever–are firing on 7 of 8 cylinders (or 6 of 8, or 5 of 8–pick your number) and Alexis is firing on 3 of 8, or 4 of 8, he’s got problems. For every goal-scoring opportunity Messi blows, he makes up for it in some number of goals and assists. For every goal-scoring opportunity Alexis blow, well, he gets back not so much, at least in the way of offense. Of course, we can debate all day whether Alexis’s pluses (and his pressing on turnovers, as you note, is certainly one of them) make up for his minuses. But what is beyond arguing is that his higher turnover rate is one of those minuses.

      Personally, I think it’s worth giving Alexis more time (if he wants it), perhaps in one of the roles outlined by you or some of the commenters. But I also think it’s worth being clear about *all* of his drawbacks, which include his turnovers in forward positions, in order to reach the right decision on his merits. That’s true for everyone else on the team too, of course. No passes. Just balances.

    5. Another way of looking at it is that Xavi and Busquets are way too conservative when passing and should drive down their part completion percentages.

    6. I’m not going to attach too much importance in Xavi’s pass completion rate seeing that about 50% of it are side-way “safe” passes rather than defense splitting, ambitious passes

  16. Everything has been said already. I’ll just say that I think it will be a very big mistake to sell Alexis Sanchez. I don’t believe he has been playing badly (and I’d argue he’s been A LOT better than Cesc and Pedro for a while now). In fact, despite his finishing, he’s actually been playing pretty well recently. And it’s indisputable that Barca’s offense is simply much more dangerous when he’s on the pitch. He’ll miss chances himself, but we’ll create so much more and be more varied when he’s playing.

    I also disagree that it would be best for HIM to leave. Barca needs him, and contrary to what a lot of people are saying, I think, with Tito working to make the team more vertical and trying to make all 3 attackers get more involved, Sanchez will fit in very well. If he can keep up his form without injuries getting in the way, he’ll quickly become one of our most important players. I firmly believe this.

    One last note: the way Villa and Sanchez were both playing more centrally vs Rayo is the direction our attack needs to go. Sanchez and Villa are both perfect for that role. Ideally we’ll get another more powerful 9 as well. And it’s why I think Neymar isn’t exactly the optimal choice for our attack, even if he is absurdly talented. I don’t see him playing the central, second striker-ish role that Villa and Sanchez are playing. If we still used the flat 3 man attack, then he’d be perfect for our left wing. But he doesn’t even really go well with the more vertical game Tito is implementing, as he is more of a withdrawn winger who, like Messi, drops to the midfield and sorta just free roams.

  17. I’ve never wanted us to sell Alexis, as I believe he offers something different to the team. He’s still only 22/23, lots of years to go to fulfil his potential..and I do believe he has a lot of potential.

    However, the fact that he has a long way to go but at times, don’t look to be improving in that journey, causes criticism. What I don’t get is the uproar (here) when he is criticized. This is about Alexis, not about any other player. When his finishing is criticized, I have to hear about other players, like Iniesta, not finishing either. When he’s criticized for falling over easily, we have to hear about how Busi did that too. Alexis is criticized because he warrants criticism, not for any other underlying reasons, as the writer tries to insinuate all the time. Maybe I should speak for myself. Its not because he’s not from La Masia. Its not because he isn’t Messi/Iniesta/whoever. Its not because I just don’t like him. Its not because I’m looking for a so called scapegoat.

    Let’s look at the most common criticisms that have been there since last season: Decision-making, finishing and going down easily.
    His decision-making is the most frustrating for me. He can get past his marker, do everything right till its time to make a decision that’s the best for the team to score, and 8 times out of ten, he blows it. Example; he forces to pass to Messi (most of the time), when he should shoot. Which leads me to his finishing. Sigh, guy needs finishing lessons, psychiatric help in dealing with his confidence in front of goal or some kinda intervention. Okay, he may miss chances once in a while but there are some chances, which he gets on a platter and you wonder how in the world he could possibly miss that. I think Levon described it best in his previous post. He can shoot high from 3 yards out with an open goal, shoot wide with all the time in the world or simply trip over his own feet and lose the opportunity. lol. Hey, looka there, this leads right into the next criticism of falling down easily! Its annoying, frustrating and possible detrimental to the team. I don’t see him whining as much or asking for cards for the opponent much any more but he still manages to succumb to gravity far too easily.

    So, after hashing out his 3 main problems, I can honestly say I don’t see the improvement I wish for, just yet. Do I think he can and will come good? Absolutely, we’ve seen signs of that. I just wish it wasn’t so inconsistent. One match, you’re like, “yes, Alexis was great. He’s finally coming into his own!” Then the next match you’re tearing you hair out. Or it can be within the same match- “Good work Alexis!”..5 mins later, “No, Alexis! What’re you doing?”

    Anyways, before I go off on a tangent, I’ll reiterate that I think Alexis is valuable to the team and I don’t think he should be sold, and definitely not this summer. I’d be sad if he decides to leaves. I think he’s the type of forward we NEED in some matches. He’ll be even better when he improves on his few deficiencies.

    1. The point that I think people are making is when one player is criticized for something, but isn’t the only player who has that issue, why is the one player then singled out?

      The other complexity is that a player becomes defined by failures, rather than successes, as other players are. Again, why is that? For instance, the bit about Sanchez and the “gravity” joke. Look at every time that Sanchez went to the turf on Sunday, and find one that wasn’t a result of a foul.

      Now, are people justified in wondering why Sanchez doesn’t sit there for some seconds, rubbing his owie like Busquets does, but why the latter isn’t criticized for it, while the former is? That’s a valid question.

      To a point made above, had Sanchez done in front of goal what Messi did after the pass from Fabregas, he would have been crucified. Messi? Not a mention.

      I think people are as justified in pointing out double standards as you are exorcised at having double standards paraded around in public, right? With Sanchez, it’s personal for many cules.

      The intention of this post was to try to get at some understanding of the player’s situation, how he plays, how he has had success in the past and putting his performance in a context that can be looked at with a reasonable degree of objectivity.

    2. “To a point made above, had Sanchez done in front of goal what Messi did after the pass from Fabregas, he would have been crucified. Messi? Not a mention.”

      I don’t see that as a double standard – Messi gets cut some well deserved slack because has been scoring an unprecedented amount of goals for the last two seasons (for the record, I made fun of both their misses in my review, lol)

      I also don’t see how comparing him to Iniesta or Xavi is a bit unfair. Alexis has the tools to score more than them. He is stronger in the air, and he does very well to get into more and better scoring positions than either Andres or Xavi.

      He might have a better shot, too. If anything, he should shoot more. Because of his confidence issues he has limited himself to close-ranged efforts and one-on-ones this season (which is why his finishing rate is deceptive, imo).

      I hope he stays. A line-up of Alexis – Messi – Neymar could be friggin’ brilliant.

    3. Slack. Ah. So should Sanchez get slack because he tracks back like a demon while Messi stands there and watches him, or no? It’s what I mean. There isn’t any excuse or pass that can be given one player that can’t in turn be extended to another.

      Petards are useful in that everyone can be hoist upon them, right?

    4. Well, I guess this is where me and a lot of cules differ then. When I make criticisms of a player, I’m talking about that player only. I won’t go around chalking his deficiencies down to “Well, others do it too.”

      I don’t know where the defining a player by their failure thing come from but if we’re talking about what aspects of a player can be improved, the failures are gonna be pointed out. Again, I may be speaking only for myself but, when I criticize players, its not to show that they’re just bad and thus need to be sold or benched, its because I genuinely care how that player does and believe they have the potential to be better.

      IMO, there isn’t any double standards. Busi’s deficiencies were pointed out ad-nauseum for years until we all saw the pro-longed improvement. Messi doesn’t always miss open nets, and trip over his own feet in front of goal, so of course you’re not gonna see lasting criticisms for his miss in Sunday’s match (though its been pointed out).

      In any case, my point is that, overall, I don’t think Alexis’ performances are looked at without a reasonable degree of objectivity.

  18. Messi and Alexis take turns playing 10 role. Every rotation game, when Thiago, Song and Cesc start in midfield, Alexis could play 10! Song in front of Bartra, etc… Tello/Cuenca/B teamer and Bojan ahead of Alexis…

  19. wow, and the class A comments just keep coming!

    Something I thought of last night after we were discussing Lexus is that perhaps for the first time in his life he is no longer (one of) the most naturally talented player(s) on his team.

    A big change, psychologically, and possibly one of the reasons that effect his decision making AND why it was so hard for him to get out of his scoring slump

    1. See, I don’t know if he has a slump as much as he needs to be in situations where he thinks less. Look at Messi, when he is forced to go to his right foot. We’ve seen it quite a few times in recent matches, and how …. ordinary he looks. Take even the greatest player of all time away from his strength, and he looks mortal.

      I think that the reason Sanchez’s goals come more naturally off the dead run than sitting on the doorstep, is that he has time to think. The ball is coming. It’s getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger and then it’s there. In that time, he is wondering about a defender coming, the keeper diving. What if the keeper is faking me out by being out of position, and really is going to dive back? I should probably cut the shot extra fine, just to remove all …. crap! Missed!”

      On the other hand, on the dead run, trying to stay ahead of the play, it’s “Ball. Hole. Shoot.”

      I think that Sanchez is the most natural, flowing player on the club, and THAT is what he struggles with in the context of what the club is doing offensively.

      Just a notion.

    2. uhmmm ok… I think the ball got bigger and bigger and bigger because of the pressure he felt.

      Btw I don’t think he is in a slump anymore, and I certainly think he is capable of converting more chances that he has showed us this season.

    3. Exactly. Pressure is felt as a consequence of thinking about something too much. Particularly when you do something so rarely that it isn’t a natural skill.

      It’s like writing for me. It comes very naturally. So I struggled with understanding why some reporters took eons to write what was in fact a simple story. But I had years as a reporter where I would average 7-10 bylines per week. You do something so much that it becomes natural. If you take 200 shots, making shots becomes pretty natural. If you take 25 shots, you have to think about it more.

      It struck me that Xavi and Iniesta both have WORSE finishing percentages to Sanchez. Pedro is slightly worse, and Xavi is actually poorer than Pedro. Xavi and Iniesta have also missed gimmes this season, by the by. There is something to that, and it’s eluding me.

    4. but what kind of shots are they taking? and what kind of shots are they being instructed to take?

      one of my statistics profs used to say that the human eye is often highly capable of looking at a data set, or looking at phenomena, and then summarizing them accurately…with no need for arcane statistical methods.

      so why do we have the impression that sanchez is finishing more poorly than pedro, when the numbers you cite are to the contrary? maybe because alexis’ chances have been more ‘gimmes’ than those of pedro. ones that he should have finished.

      that said, i think sanchez should stay for one more season…if his confidence doesnt return, he should go for his sake and the club’s. im not convinced that we cant find another, cheaper player that does what he currently does….though i KNOW sanchez can do better. why he isnt performing at a higher level, you do a better job of exploring…

      i think he is improving in the sense that he is giving away the ball less and not diving as much. i have to say, the diving (and whiny face) biases me against any player. like someone else said, we need to see him beating his marker to the end line and centering in the ball more, like he did near the end of the game vs Rayo. i know he can. and if he cant do it, i really think he should go. we can find someone else who tracks back and has a so-so contribution on offense much cheaper.

  20. More troubling to me is during that play in which Messi had the option of passing to Sanchez or Villa, and he chose Villa, who finished. In looking at the play, you can think “Villa was set up on Messi’s left, so it was a simpler pass for Messi, and Villa certainly has the track record of finishing, plus he’s on a hot streak right now. You always give the ball to the guy on the hot streak.”

    But one part of me thought, “Wonder if Messi would have passes the ball to Sanchez had it been, say, Iniesta at that Villa spot? Or Alves?” When players start to lose confidence in other players, you really have a problem.

    But the argument against this exists in the fourth Milan goal, where Messi had no compunctions about feeding Sanchez and letting him do his thing.

    But because I like examining every point of an issue, I wanted to bring this up. Thoughts?

    1. The exact thought crossed my mind – why did he choose to pass to Villa instead of Alexis?

      I think that it was because he was running in that direction more than anything. But Alexis was freer….

      Split second decision which paid off with a goal. If it hadn’t, I think that this question would have been asked with more rigour.

      Messi always kept passing to Villa when Villa was in his funk. I can’t think that he deliberately chose not to pass to Alexis – not after his Milan pass. I’d hope not!

    2. I think that the main thing to keep in mind is that Leo actually had a choice of who to pass to – 2 players!

      So rare are the times when we actually see a Barca attack where there is a forward line of 3 or more.

    3. Alexis was freer initially but Messi knew that Villa would be freer (or equally free) in time, as he can drag defender/s towards him at will.

      Messi would’ve have picked up the simple solution of passing to Alexis, on a different day. But him being the virtuoso that he is, manufactured a simpler one. An elegant one in this case.

    4. Coincidentally, just after I finished my comments, they are now showing the game highlights on GolT here in Spain.

      Messi chose correctly because the 2 defenders were running back and covering Messi, thinking that he might shoot. The direction in which they were running would have made it easier for them to run across to cover Alexis, but as they were running away from Villa, he was the right player to receive the ball for the shot.

    5. I think you may be over analyzing it a bit there.
      It wasn’t feeding the hot streak guy or less confidence in Sanchez, but rather than the best decision that can be made at the situation. I think after the brilliant first touch of Messi he just really wanted it to culminate in a goal? What do you do? I bet he’s not thinking “do i feed this or that guy” rather “which is the best pass i can make to set up the easiest shot for a goal”.
      sanchez was freer but would have to shoot across the keeper for a sure shot. there are chances to miss. if he wants to curl it, he’ll have to shoot with the left. In case of david Villa’s right foot with all options of near post, far post and rounding the keeper open, it was a logical decision Messi made. atleast what i think.

    6. Sure seems possible that Messi was thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t dish it to Alexis.” I base this more on Messi’s later pass to Alexis at the end of the game to set up Alba’s goal than on anything Messi did in the Villa goal. If you watch the replay of that Alba goal developing, notice that Messi looks around, sees Alexis open, looks around some more, particularly at Xavi, who’s covered, before he decides to pass to Alexis. Now maybe Messi was just thinking, “I’m not being pressed yet, so there’s no hurry to pass it to anyone, and in any case, we just need to hold the ball a while, and who better to do that than me?” But it also looks possible that Messi is thinking, “You know, if we want to hold the ball, or maybe even score, then perhaps Alexis isn’t the best person to pass it to.” He only finally passes to Alexis after a couple more seconds go by, Constant (I think it was he) makes a slight move toward Messi, Xavi is still covered, and Constant’s move leaves Alexis even more open. So then it’s a clear call: Pass to Alexis in all that open space in a forward position, or take on Constant one on one at midfield with all those Milan players behind me in our end.

    7. plus Villa had the option of cutting back and pass (due to peripheral vision) to Messi or Sanchez for a tap in.

    8. happy you brought it up.

      When Messi was bringing up the ball I was yelling at the TV set: “to the right, to the right, to the right”

      And then, a split second before he passed I yelled: “Noooo! To the left!”

      I like to think he passed it to the left because Villa was in a better scoring position than Alexis. Then again, he may have passed it to the left because it was not Alexis.

      Speaking of, was it just me or did Messi and the other player who was near the ball (I think Dani Alves but I am not sure) slumped their shoulders and seemed to think “of course”, when Sanchez missed his scoring chance?

    9. Messi passed to the left because it was the best option. But even if it wasn’t he probably would have passed to his left, because that’s what he does: he opens up his body and uses his left foot to feed the left winger.

  21. I can’t seem to get past the notion of certain players getting a pass and other players not getting a pass, so let me try this:

    In my ideal world, Messi wouldn’t have 73 goals. Or even 60. He would have probably somewhere in the 40s, but he would be an excellent defender and presser, as well. We saw how effective he could be in that role during the Milan match.

    Then I would have Pedro and Sanchez with something around 10-12 goals each, which would be right around their expectation, and Xavi/Iniesta with around 8-10 goals.

    Everyone’s overall contribution would be higher, with everyone taking more shots and almost certainly, scoring more goals. I think that the team would be more globally effective but yes, players would expend more energy.

    But for me what is happening now is that goals are the sole measuring stick, but that is an incomplete one when it comes to overall effectiveness. And I think that in the year of the Treble, work rate was the measuring stick. Everybody worked/ran like crazy, scored bags of goals (Xavi’s highest scoring year was the Treble season) and stopped opponents from scoring them in a manner sufficient to create the gaudy scorelines of that season.

    In a world in which goals are the measuring stick, only players that score lots of them will “measure up,” so to speak. Players that contribute in other ways … but only certain players, will have a very difficult time measuring up, so to speak.

    It’s funny, because the Castrol Index doesn’t really have much going on any longer (if it’s even going on), but it sought to somehow objectively rate players based on total contribution to a club. But even that index failed, because can you really measure when a player contributes something to a goal that isn’t tangible? I think of Mascherano’s interception that eventually led to the third Milan goal. Statistically, that would be a recovered ball. But would it get an exclamation point, gold star, or what in the statistics book?

    It’s probably no coincidence that the last player we had that so galvanized opinion was Thierry Henry, who was another stat stuffer in that he contributed in intangible ways, but only really “measured up” for one season in the goals metric.

    I still hold the view that Sanchez should be sold, unless the system shifts to accommodate that kind of player. It’s happening a little bit, but not to a degree sufficient to make Sanchez anything other than a frustrating player for many cules, ultimately never sufficiently effective to satisfy, nor sufficiently INeffective to be much more than a work in progress.

    1. Excellent post and I agree completely. Its a shame because I do think Sanchez is an exceptional player but I also feel like he is being a bit wasted at Barca. He should go to a club where he can realise his full potential.

      So do you not think Neymar would fall prey to the same issues? It seems to be a done deal and I am quite excited about it. I do think he is an incredible player and all the comparisons to Robinho are a bit silly because if you compare their stats in Brazil Neymar is in a different league altogether and the Brazilian league has gotten tougher since Robinho’s day. My only concern is like with Sanchez, our system doesnt really have space for that skillset. I guess Neymar is a different player though and wouldnt naturally occupy the same space as Messi, so maybe its not quite the same…. well i hope so because in theory that partnership could be insane.

    2. Agreed, the Robinho comparison is a very lazy one.

      But why doesn’t our system have space for Neymar’s skill set?

    3. Not disagreeing with any of your main points, but Xavi’s best goal-scoring season was 2011-2012 (14 goals), not 2008-2009 (10 goals). In the league he was particularly prolific (for Xavi anyway) – his tally was nearly equal to the previous 3 seasons combined!

    4. “In my ideal world, Messi wouldn’t have 73 goals. Or even 60. He would have probably somewhere in the 40s, but he would be an excellent defender and presser, as well. We saw how effective he could be in that role during the Milan match.

      Then I would have Pedro and Sanchez with something around 10-12 goals each, which would be right around their expectation, and Xavi/Iniesta with around 8-10 goals.”

      But Iniesta had 9 goals last year, Xavi 6, Pedro 13 and Alexis 15.

      Would you give up 25-30 goals to have Messi defend more?

    5. Yes. Because I think that Messi defending more yields more clean sheets. He is around or near the ball so often that he is usually the player most suited (and equipped) to stop attacks before they start.

      The last two clean sheets, note how much Messi was defending.

    6. Mmm…interesting. Let’s take a closer look.

      2011-2012 goals for 114 – goals against 29 goal difference +85

      2010-2011 95-21 +74

      2009-2010 98-24 +74

      2008-2009 105-35 +70

      A couple of quick observations:

      The last season, in which Messi scored 73 we also conceded 5-8 goals more than the previous two seasons, but 6 less than our much lauded treble season.

      Interestingly enough the season which is consistently held up as an example of how Barça functions when Messi presses and defends consistently is also the one in which we conceded most goals.

      Then again, the season when we had the highest goal difference was the league we lost.

      If you would take 25-30 Messi goals away from last season, how much less could one expect to have conceded? Even if you take the 21 goals against season as our most successful (defensively) the goal difference would still translate to below 70. I doubt that would have resulted in more points.

      What we most need to do to shore up our defense is to replace Abidal and/or Puyol. Not ask Messi to focus on scoring less (although if he can bring it like he did to Milan for the big games would be nice, thank you very much).

    7. Again, total numbers aren’t the best way to look at it. Let’s just look at one moment from last year. What if Messi had tracked back when he lost the ball at Chelsea, trying to nutmeg John Terry (foolish, for real). He charges in, maybe fouls someone, and what happens? No goal.

      That’s just one. I would rather win 2-0 than 5-4. Total numbers of goals scored doesn’t mean much. If you win one match 8-0 then lose the next two 0-1, you have an excellent goals scored/conceded ratio, but your record is 1-2, which ain’t so hot.

      Everyone wants Messi to score lots and lots of goals. Why, I don’t know. I want Messi to be the best COMPLETE player alive, rather than the most prolific goal scorer alive. That means pressing, passing, tracking back. He makes his team better by being more complete, if you ask me, rather than just scoring goals or contributing to them being scored.

  22. KXEVIN – Really Great piece. If I had a choice of where to play Alexis it would be in Iniesta’s slightly advance midfield role. Think he would be sensational there (just as sensational as the Don). That said, I think he plays better when Barca use Dani for tactical width and he can float around inside more, which he seems to be doing a fair bit these days, coming deep into midfield, etc.
    But you are right, he would probably be sensational for a team like Juve. Sometimes, when playing for Chile, he looks like he is everywhere on the pitch.
    Defensively, it is fascinating to watch how every time an opposing player with the ball turns him back on him (even if 15-20 metres away) he is off like a shot to strip it. It’s a wonderful trick he’s mastered.
    Barca may sell him. But I suspect they will be afraid he’ll go elsewhere and be sensational. They also might want him to play the Messi creative attacking midfield role if Messi ever gets injured. I can’t see anyone else on the team doing that.

    1. A Barça legend doesn’t insult us after losing a CL final (“next time I will learn how to dive, but I’m not a woman”) only to hold up our crest the first time he scored a goal in our colors.

      Sure was a good player, though. His contributions to the treble season outweigh the fact that I never wanted him at our club to begin with.

  23. Alexis defensive work, mainly pressing, is indispensable for the team. Ever more so now as we have not been in our usual, consistent pressing self. Unlike Pedro, Alexis doesn’t over-press resulting in a loss of shape and unlike Villa/Cesc/Messi, he rarely switches off from the defensive work. That’s why I feel he can afford to miss a sitter or two.

    The absence of Tito meant we haven’t responded tactically during games. Makes life harder for players like Alexis as opponents settles in counter our game (cause of indecisiveness). Recall the game vs Rayo last season, at Camp Nou (Euler wrote a great review of that). Alexis was outstanding on all fronts. We should be able to, or were supposed to, get more games like that out of him. I really hope we can though.

  24. Long time lurker, small time poster here.

    Firstly, great work from Kxevin and Euler to post the article in the first place. Some great points, made well.

    The problem with Alexis, and maybe the reason for him dividing opinion thus, is not so much the trade-offs required to be made as the value of the trade-offs. He does miss sitters but tracks back like a fiend to get the ball back. That’s merely a statement of the facts upon which I think most of us agree. But the question is whether that’s a fair trade? Needless to say, goals change games like no other single event in the game. The team gains confidence, settles down, obtains rhythm (in most cases). While I agree with most of the points Kxevin makes, I do think you’re somehow undervaluing goals (or maybe overvaluing pressing and defensive responsibilities, I’ll leave that to you to figure out).

    The point Hendricks made about his turnover %age is something I was actually pondering over myself but didn’t have the stats to back up. On a very basic level, if you don’t give it away as much, you don’t have to track back as much (although I know its far more complicated than that). Also, while we allow for Xavi’s reduction in forward runs to be a result of injury or explicit instructions from the coach, we don’t seem to do the same for Messi. There was a link on this blog some months ago to how specific Messi’s fitness plan is which enables him to play literally EVERY game. Lets say Alexis plays as much as Messi does (yeah, I know right?!). I’d put money on his pressing intensity dropping significantly. Of course we’d probably also see him shake off his scoring slump and score a few beauties. But that’s beside the point I’m trying to make.

    Alexis right now deserves time. I’d say the role he plays within the system doesn’t suit him (rather than the system itself not suiting his style of play). He’s got a great set of skills and Barca will miss him if he leaves. However, right now, there’s a lot he can do himself to improve from now till the end of the season. A lot of it is probably in his head. None of us knows what’s really going on underneath that well-parted head of hair when he’s in front of goal, but he needs to sort it out and soon.

    Bottom line – He’s contributing far more than is obvious to the eye in terms of statistics but there’s a helluva lot more he has to offer. The onus is on the coaching staff and the player himself to figure out how best to unlock that potential. If there’s isn’t a way , then he goes in the summer and I’ll wish him only the best.

    P.S. – Our transfer policy is just unbelievable. I know I shouldn’t be surprised but yet here I am, still wondering why we bought Henry to use him in the role that we did.

  25. Alexis has never been an out and out goalscorer and somehow some Cules expect him to be a 20 goal a season guy suddenly!

    He was brought in as a forward/striker/winger. And for that alone we should expect him to be that type of player, a 20 goal/season player.

    I’m sure the coaches/manager/Pep/Txiki did tell him what they expected of him during negotiation. Where he will be played etc.

    I am sure they didn’t tell him that he would be a midfielder or a forward/winger that we don’t expect many goals from.

    1. In my ideal world, Messi wouldn’t have 73 goals. Or even 60. He would have probably somewhere in the 40s, but he would be an excellent defender and presser, as well. We saw how effective he could be in that role during the Milan match.

      Then I would have Pedro and Sanchez with something around 10-12 goals each, which would be right around their expectation, and Xavi/Iniesta with around 8-10 goals.

      You think if Messi would run more = pressure, that would equal less goals?

      In the Milan match he did pressure more and still ended up with 2 goals 🙂

      How are we going to ask Messi to score less goals? He gets into positions to score goals. Do we want to ask him to pass the ball instead of shooting?

      The other players simply have to get into scoring positions in the first place.

    2. Most teams will have one main striker scoring 20+ goals a season, with a few others chipping in with around 10.

      At Barca, the circumstances are unique and absurd. Messi is not a 20+ goal striker. He’s a 40+ (conservatively!) goal striker. Even if you can expect a team to have more than one 20+ striker (which in itself is quite rare), I’d expect that from Villa more than Alexis in the current setup.

    3. They bought what they boughtt. If he’s not what they want or expected, that’s their fault, not his

  26. As mentioned above, I really think the absence of Tito has hurt Alexis because we seemed to slip into a conservative selection policy and the team stopped evolving.

  27. Neymar, Sanchez, Messi with Pedro, Villa & Cuenca as power subs is a great attack force and one for the future. Tello can be sold with a buy back option. I really find the ‘its best for Alexis to leave’ talk as absurd, unless the player himself wants to leave.

  28. The Neymar question is an interesting one in the Sanchez context. Sanchez is now being also linked to Arsenal and /or United, by the by. Rumors all, but generally where there’s smoke there’s fire.

    If Neynar comes, he would be the first signing that this club has made in a loooong time who would be playing his actual position. That’s huge. It reduces the “Wait. What am I doing again?” factor. I also think the Villa renewal offer is as much as anything confirmation that Neymar is coming this summer.

    Messi in his spot, Villa in his new spot, Neymar at LW. Even if Neymar isn’t tracking back as much at first, because of what you gain with a player of that quality there, Alba becomes a pure defender in the Abidal mold, using lateral pace to solve problems rather than vertical pace to solve left-side attacking issues.

    So I don’t think Neymar would be another Sanchez because he already knows what to do. Only instead of his current teammates, he is passing or linking up with Messi and Villa. Potential dynamite, as I have said before that I think Neynar is an extraordinary talent that if he worjs out, can have this club’s attack set for years to come.

    The Villa renewal offer also lends heft to the rumors about Sanchez. If Neynar comes, one of them will have to go. Sanchez’s value is much higher than Villa’s, and given the expensive moves that the club is going to need to make this summer (CB, keeper), we are going to need all the dosh we can get.

    This summer, I see going:

    Krkic: 5-7m
    Valdes: 5-10m (bidding war)
    Sanchez: 20-25m
    Cuenca: 3-6m
    Afellay: 4-6m

    Another surprise sale wouldn’t shock me either, like an Alves or Adriano.

    1. I don’t believe Alexis will be sold this summer. As for Cuenca…if they were going to sell him, why did they explicitly NOT include a buy option in his loan contract with Ajax? Cuenca was the one who had to convince Tito to let him go, btw, which tells me that Tito wants to keep him.

    2. Well, let’s see how he develops under Frank De Boer.

      As for Krkic, aren’t we obliged to buy him back for 13M or something like that?

    3. I dont think we loaned Cuenca to see how he will develop. Rather, club wanted to see how he develops with his injury situation. And disappointingly he is injured again, which is not helping. (this is just my thought, I could be wrong) I liked a lot of what I saw. He isnt one diamensional like Tello, and with a great attitude and work rate. ideal for Barca)

      I really hope Bojan wont come back to our team.

    4. We are obliged to buy Bojan back if neither Milan nor Roma want to keep him. There was a story in one of the papers recently that the club is considering slashing his price to around €7M if Milan will take him permanently.

    5. @fotobirajesh
      right, but if he plays badly at Ajax? I like him a lot as a player too, and although he is not one-dimensonial, the dimension he IS lacking is exactly what we need: scoring

      The Bojan deal is mind-boggling to me. It makes me feel stupid. I doubt Milan will pay 7M for Bojan, and even less so upfront. Especially cause they got Balotelli, El Sharaawy, Pazinni, Niang and Robinho for the forward positions.

    6. Agreed, although I think Villa’s renewal has as much to do with a desire to get a more productive forward line. I’m actually quite excited at the thought of Neymar being added to the mix. He is a real finisher as well as the other skills.

  29. When are we going to stop this ‘adaptations’?

    Barça buys DM Mascherano, adapts him to CB, David Villa who used to play as a Proper 9 at Valencia, adapts him to LW, A Classic 10 Alexis, adapts him to RW/LW. Bought Song to adapt him to CB. What experiment next? Messi as a GK?

    I’ve no problems with Alexis. He’s an amazing player and I do want him to stay to prove all his doubters wrong.

    But Barça should stop with this “Buying a Player who plays there but try to adapt him to play here” philosophy. Why not buy players who needs no adaptations but play where we want them to? If not for La Masía & a wonderful playing style both evolved over the past 20+ years (Thanks Jesús Cruyff), Barça would’ve been doomed. Our transfer policy is poor to say the least.

    1. We bought Cesc after 3 years of chaos in transfer market. Good, we bought him. Best Mid Fielder in PL at that time. We needed to take burden off Xavi’s shoulder slowly. La Masía graduate, knows club’s philosophy. We needed Cesc. I agree.

      But what happened? We bought him for giving Xavi some rest, instead they are playing together with Iniesta on the wings. Jeeez!

      Giggs extended his contract making him play into his 40s. A comparison post 30 between Xavi & Giggs. Playing Mins (Between Age 30 & 33) for Club & Country – Xavi: 17,681 mins. Giggs: 13,452 mins. Xavi played 4229 mins more (equal to 47 games in 4 Seasons), than Giggs at same age in that period. Inference? Xavi will retire sooner! (*Tears*)

      Why’s the Club not realising Xavi should play lesser & should preserve him if we need a longer career for him? That’s where we’ve to make use of Cesc’s transfer properly. Instead we’re playing Xavi/Cesc/Iniesta all together (for majority of the season) which doesn’t serve the prime purpose of Cesc’s transfer.

      Again, bad management. Improper planning.

      I know it’s been a tough season for Barça with all what happened with Tito. But really hope these things get corrected next Season.

  30. Sport says Deulofeu is about to renew for 4 years. Good news. That kid could be badass.

    Also, Guardiola is apparently going to try to hire away a physio (hopefully the one in charge of Adriano) and two scouts for Bayern.

    “Reports” are that if the club is going to sell Villa this summer, the asking price will be 20m, which means in effect the club has no interest in selling him.

  31. I didn’t know Seluk (Yaya’s agent) lives in Barcelona. NZM, if you meet him, please tell him to shut up!

  32. It is OK to turn around or have the pass intercepted. We need to look at what was the idea he was trying to accomplish, whether his assessment of the situation was correct and he chose one of the right options. In this regard Alexis currently performs much worse than the rest of the team and this contrast is perceived by many as him not being good enough for Barca.

    To quickly and correctly assess the situation requires the certain mental state called Flow:
    It is a state of deep immersion in the task and blocking of any nonrelevant information. In this state you are not consciously evaluating all options, mind does it for you much quicker and in parallel and you are not aware of the process. You just look at the situation and see the solutions. So your mind is actually thinking harder but you are consciously not aware of the process, just results.

    To get in the Flow is tricky and things like distractions, mental or physical discomfort usually make it impossible. So there are many possible causes why Alexis is not in the Flow, but one of the most obvious could be his constant running which exhausts and distracts him too much. Is there a negative correlation between his level of play and amount of running he is doing? Is he running more this season? Is he running less with Chile?

    1. Very interesting. My view on the impediment to his flow is uncertainty, rooted in not doing what he does naturally.

      It’s like rap battles. Some rappers excel at them because the stress makes them focus on lyrics in a special way. And the flow happens. Others freeze up. Flow is a remarkable thing, and you see it often referred to as the “zone,” when a basketball shooter can’t miss, or when a quarterback suddenly completes some absurd number of passes in a row. Whole teams can get into zones as well.

      Excellent thought.

      The other flow question, particularly regarding the distractions thing is that our Sprites have been TRAINED to do the passing/evaluation/assessment thing. Sanchez is still learning it, which further impedes his flow.

    2. This is an interesting point and I think it makes sense. I noticed multiple times when Sanchez was on the bench or on the stage, he didn’t really show interest in the game. His teammates always showed disappointment when attackers missed a golden chance or crazily celebrate a goal from the first second when a goal is in. But Sanchez’s face expression often looked like he was just awaken by his crazy teammates. Several times when the camera caught him, he was either checking his cell phone or yawning like he had a bad sleep last night. These are small details, but compared to the passion of Xavi, Messi, etc for football off the field, I can at least draw a bold conclusion—Sanchez loves playing football on the field, but he doesn’t like reading football off the field. This could explain why his mind on the field is slow because his brain doesn’t have enough information to process.

      Everybody knows Xavi is crazy about games. He can watch games all day long on no-game days. Messi doesn’t watch games a lot. But he plays football video games like crazy. This is actually a good way to help read the game better.

      I am a neuroscience researcher. I often feel players playing games on the field is like us doing bench work in the lab, while players studying games off the field is like us analyzing results and reading papers. It’s common researchers won’t get any results for a long time. Sometimes it’s not because you don’t work hard enough. It’s because you spend too much time working but forget you need sit down and analyze your results and compare to previous published results to find better solutions.

      My guess is Sanchez is currently in this “working too hard but not thinking enough” mode. He need learn how to read games like other Barca players. And the very first thing he wants to do is starting to watch enough games. At least, when he is on the bench, he should be more focused on what’s happening on the field, instead of playing his cell phone or having a blank face (or a blank brain).

    3. excellent comment.
      I always thought his speed of thought is rather slow.
      We have three players – Messi, Iniesta and Xavi who are really fast in this (I doubt Alba too is very fast). Ozil is the best in RM.
      With Alexis – as you point out – he must be thinking less.

    4. Messi always says that he tries hard not to think on the field. All the great athletes say they try to think as little of possible. What did Kevin Costner say in Bull Durham: clear the mechanism. Archery with an aimless aim, and all that.
      Very few people read a game as well as Sanchez. That’s why he makes such great off the ball runs.

    5. I think you partly misunderstood what mic and I were discussing. The “thinking” we talked about doesn’t happen on the field. It happens off the field. As you said, if you think too much on the field, you will miss the best chance to score, pass a ball, etc. The flow mic was talking about is actually something you have to build up in your brain off the field. You have to watch enough games, analyze enough games, and discuss with other players to have this kind of ability. When you have done enough work like this off the field, it will become an instinct and your thinking on the field will be lightening fast, just like what Xavi and Messi do.

      Sanchez reads the game very well when he doesn’t have the ball. But I found his biggest problem is when he has the ball. Often he dwells on the ball too long. I noticed in recent games he was determined to dribble pass defenders first and most time he failed. But he didn’t think there were better choices like passing the ball to a close teammate and then run to a better open position to receive the ball. I understand he is trying hard to prove himself useful and his best recognized talent before was his impressive dribbling. But at Barca, the most valued talent is reading game fast, making decision fast and being a team player. Busquets is the best example. He rarely does fancy stuff on the field. But he is a quick mind and he integrates the play as well as Xavi does. This type of players will definitely be good coaches in the future.

    6. In my opinion, nobody reads the game faster than Alexis. So it’s a matter of impression isn’t it. I could cite, for example, his last assist to Messi or lovely pass to Jordi Alba. I’m sure you will say there are counter-examples.
      However, as I have pointed out below, if he doesn’t release the ball, that is not necessarily his fault. It is mostly likely the lack of options presented. Alexis respects possession of the ball. No target, no pass. I respect that.

  33. @barcastuff just tweeted this:

    Barcelona source: “Tactically, Alexis is the player we had been looking for for a while. Key player for future. Works hard, goals will come”

    And that’s my only contribution to this discussion.

    1. My estimation of the board would go up a lot if that quote were true. But the club denied the hell out of the Ibrahimovic rumors too, until suddenly Uncle Fester showed up with his oxcart and a pittance, to haul his prize away.

    2. So barcastuff reports that Alexis is being shopped and, on the other hand, reports that he’s staying.

      Which is true?

      Which came first?

      Which one to believe?

      I’m going for ice cream. 🙂

    3. I told you, barcastuff just repeats all the current rumours. The only difference this time is that they specifically say it comes from a “club source” rather than one of the papers.

    4. It says “Barcelona source” which could mean someone out of a million or so people. 🙂

    5. A lot of people above have commented on the fact that both Pedro and Alexis haven’t been scoring much. Query whether that has something to do with the fact that they usually play on the right.
      Barca’s main attacking option is Messi cutting across from right to left. If defenders step up, he then feeds the ball to the left winger (Villa, Tello) rushing in on goal. He doesn’t go the other way. He very rarely feeds the right winger. As a result, the right wing seems to have become something of a scoring black hole.
      Pedro also has the disadvantage that he never plays CF (like Alexis does sometimes) and Alexis has the problem that he is naturally right footed (though his left foot isn’t bad when he lets it off his leash).

  34. Not sure if anybody has posted this yet, but this Messi video is amazing and made me choke up. Non-spanish speakers might get frustrated with it, hopefully someone can subtitle it:


  35. I can’t believe Alexis is being criticised for dwelling on the ball, waiting for a target to hit in front of goal. That is his job. Indeed, he obviously takes pride in not just blasting the ball into the box. The flip side of this approach is that, often, no opportunity will open up and he will look like he is dithering – and then people on this blog will claim he’s slow of thought.
    Messi has gone nuts at players for not looking up and trying to find a target in the box. He’s never done that to Alexis, who is very disciplined in that regard.
    So who’s to blame – Alexis, or those who don’t create a good target and make him look like a ditherer.
    Some people on this blog have overthought whole issue!

  36. Villa and Tello sold

    Neymar bought and Cuenca back

    Add another solid CB that can start important matches

    Keep Valdez for another year until we get some cash to buy a good keeper

    1. “Keep Valdez for another year until we get some cash to buy a good keeper”

      Yes, if Valdes wants to stay for the remainder of the contract that might be the best option.

      To help finance the CB and Neymar I would keep Villa and Sanchez but sell Tello and Song. Despite the latter’s strong performances I just don’t see him as a player we need for that position, although if we can raise the money without needing to sell him I am fine with that as well.

    2. My impression of what needs to happen in the transfer market. The team needs to add athleticism.
      I think the team could do with a bit of a shake up

      – Top class cb, in particular a pacey, stopper who is good in the air
      – Maybe a second back up cb or a , in case alves leaves.
      – Neymar

      Obviously if players leave like Pedro or Villa, they will also have to be replaced.
      I thought Barca missed a real opportunity in signing Moussa Sissoko before Newcastle United. He would have provided much need size and power for the midfield to compliment the flair.

  37. a sad, sad man


    maybe i shouldnt post this link, well i did…

  38. When it comes to important players at Barca, my main issue, and i believe that’s an issue for almost everybody here is that i WOULD never wanted to see a player of that quality to succeed somewhere else and be a complete fiasco in our club.
    It can happen for various reasons, but the bitterness remains. Our failures to be some other club successes.
    I dont want to see Alexis leave, no way, we should give him the chance to prove to all of us that we made the right choice when we bought him. Yes, we do tend sometimes to buy players just for the sake of it, or because they are the hottest purchases in the market, regardless the fact to we actually need them or not.
    But as i said, i would HATE it if we sell him and he becomes the player we all wanted to be somewhere else.
    He’s got the balls, it’s just that they are probably hiding.

    1. You do realize that even in what was by many considered a bad season for Cesc he gave us 15 goals and 20 assists, right?

      Cesc will most likely retire at Barcelona.

    2. Always understand anyone who come in to midfield will have a difficult time. It’s because in Iniesta and Xavi we have two midfield stalwarts who are so magnificent in defense and offence. Cesc fabregas is a player in different mould. His offensive side of play overshadows the defensive side. Or simply put he is a better offensive player than a defensive(retaining possession in simple Barca term) player. The best he can do will be to take the role of Iniesta . He cannot replace Xavi ever because he is not that refined. So the best option is to have Iniesta taking Xavi’s role and Fabregas moving into Iniesta role. But there is another problem. Thiago has already staked his claim as credible replacement for Iniesta role. So Fabregas situation is kind of complicated.

      It doesn’t mean he cannot make it a success in Barca. He can but our system has to evolve. He will be perfect in a 3-4-3 diamond role as an AM. He is a AM rather than a CAM. So to get best result we may have to use him in a role like that. In an Attacking midfielder role , he could be deadly dangerous as he and Messi could swap their roles.

  39. Barca is designed to support messi. As long as messi scores, barca will win most of the time. Barca cannot win, if messi does not score does not score most of the time.

    Fabregas is a detriment to the team, sanchez has not had an impact. and song just exists. Both fabregas and song should be returned to arsenal. I wish pep and ibra got along better, but ibra needs to be the star. Ibra was always good for 20 goals per year, but he rarely scored in big games. Villa will score 20 goals per game this year. Pedro is not a finisher anymore, and I am starting to hate him. Oh, I hate him, change that. Or, I hate how he is an automatic starter especially over villa until the 2nd milan game. So, I blame the coaching staff for giivng him so much playing time. I think pep went to tello against chelsea to early, but this year tello deserves more playing time. Being able to score on barca is a big deal as after messi, it is villa, then fabregas then iniesta who can score than jordi alba?, sanchez, pedro, xavi, and alves.

  40. One more post, not sure what it would cost but if you are going to get an attacking player, and pay neymar money, I think luis suarez would be a better option for barca. Him, and Messi upfront would be fast dribblers who still pass at times. Suarez would be a go to guy if messi ever gets hurt, he can score even if teams defend to stop him, and he is a can’t miss goal scorer.

  41. @fiazhamsath

    i’m gonna put it here to make sure it gets read. Your comment about Cesc and Xavi is right on the money.

  42. Just a quick note to say that this has been one of my favorite threads ever, because of the quality of the discussion. It has been characterized by thoughtfulness and consideration. In addition, the family has some new names that have joined.

    Too cool for words, y’all. Thanks so much for making the work and the passion worthwhile.

  43. People often say that the age is a burden for Xavi and he will slow down. I tend to disagree, I think he will continue in top form for at least 3 years. Xavi’s game is not dependent on pace, so even if he drop pace a bit he will be still miles ahead of others.

    Meanwhile the injuries are a concern. But then people should understand it is not because he is aging, it’s because he has been taking pain killers and playing for the team for sometime. It is necessary we start resting him at every available opportunities the rest of the season. In league I would say he should only start in places like Atletico. Against others Thiago and Cesc should share the burden. And most importantly he should not be taken to the tour of Asia. He should be given extended rest at that time.

    He looks tired because he is one of the over worked players of Barca. He needs a bit of time off.

  44. Alexis case is rather strange. I was one of the person who was dead against his transfer because I thought he was coming at a huge price. And now it looks like that tag is the one hurting him. Let’s clear one fact – Sanchez was brought as a striker as far as I understand. So if he is not scoring, then it’s natural that price tag will harm him.

    But what is worrying is the transformation that happened to Alexis. When he started with Barca he used to occupy the left wing with menace. I remember how people kept on complaining why Villa can’t play like Alexis on the left. But it’s after the La Liga Clasico he started moving more into a center role. I would like to see him play as a left winger again, with Villa in center and Messi in a free role starting from right.

    Alexis will never be a great center forward because his first touch inside the box is horrible. Many time his first touch in the box take the ball too close to him, which make him to take another touch before scoring. I think all these is confusing. I would strongly ask Tito to start him on wide left and just see how he work back as a winger. Maybe a bit of freedom on the left wing could bring his confidence back.

    1. As much as I appreciate his contribution, I don’t think he is a Barca legend. He disappointingly only performed constantly for 1 season, in the sextuplet season.

      He should’ve come a season or 2 earlier like Villa and now Neymar.

    2. The club, who would know better than any of us in assessing that sort of things. Ronaldo is a Barça legend, and he only played one season. Henry played three, helped the club to more glory than Ronaldo. He also injured himself in that 2-6 Classic victory, and played hurt in the subsequent CL final, which essentially trashed his next (last) season with the club.

      He subsumed his star ego, ran his ass off and worked like a dog for this club. And if you watch that video, you will see how many crucial goals (first goals, equalizers, some winners) he notched.

      If the club says he’s a Legend, then for me he’s a legend.

  45. “‏@barcastuff
    Del Bosque (coach ESP): “Villa is shining from joy and optimism again. The best goalscorer in Spain’s history is back.” #fcblive”

    Strikers, it’s all in the head. Good to have him back.

    Del Bosque (coach ESP): “Xavi almost hasn’t trained with us, but
    he’s optimistic ahead of the game against France on Tuesday.” “

    I swear that I will throw things at the TV if Xavi starts for Spain against France.

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