Well, now what? We let an undermanned Sevilla club with no stars come into our home and rub shit in our faces. They walk out with not one, but two away goals, goals that allow them to park the bus at home. Yes, Ibrahimovic scored a goal for us but really, who would bet against them on their home pitch, against a club that seems to have, however temporarily, lost its swagger.
I have one and a half pages of notes for this match, that was not only awful, but boring. If losses can be wake-up calls, this one was the equivalent of someone stringing every alarm clock in Spain together, amplifying them with an 8×12 Marshall stack, roping the lot to some church bells and turning it all loose.
The lineup made me nervous as hell, in part because it was a real Copa lineup, with Pinto, Alves, Milito, Txigrinski, Maxwell, Marquez, Iniesta, Thiago, Pedro!, Messi and Krkic. It made me nervous because we had a guy just back from an injury layoff, with a big, slow Ukranian, and an even slower Marquez as our DM. And since all they were going to have to do was mark Messi, where were the goals going to come from?
Sure, Messi did his part, with an absurd first half display, but he was bound to run out of steam, and he did.
And I know that losses are supposed to get the same level of analysis as wins, but a) there isn’t a lot to say about this one. It wasn’t even that we played that poorly, we just couldn’t put the ball in the net, and we had two key defensive breakdowns that, with the A defense in there, don’t happen. But that’s life in the Copa, right? And b) I’m just too disgusted with watching that display. I hate losing. I hate watching us lose. And I hate watching us lose matches that were there for the taking.
It’s also another side that got in our faces and succeeded in doing so, because the passing and movement that were such beautiful hallmarks of our game last season, are absent. So we have to hold the ball longer, giving the defense more time to get set. There were interceptions galore, as we sprayed balls all over the pitch. It was a pretty vile display by a club that played like it started with only three first-teamers in the side. Once you get the collective shits, it’s hard to stop the flow.
Let’s deal with their goals, because they were pretty illustrative of our defensive complexities right now. Recall that Guardiola has said that without the ball, we’re pretty bad. So what is making us not contest every pass as we did last season, and strut around the midfield like it’s ours? “No, you can’t complete a pass. Not with our ball. Sorry, but give me that.” This season, it’s “Go ahead and play, we’ll just stop you, because we’re mighty Barcelona.”
Problem is, we aren’t. Not when we don’t have the ball. So when Alves got smoked in the corner with his loose man charging into the box, suddenly the whole defense had to shift. Txigrinski did his usual, lazy, “sweep the leg Johnny” defending, and missed the ball. So suddenly, two of the four defenders are WAY out of position. Milito and Maxwell moved in, covering their men, and luck of the draw saw the pass get through to a completely unmarked man. Should the DM have come back when he saw the fire drill happening? You betcha. But he didn’t. Another man in the box prevents that goal from happening. And Pinto, not being the keeper that Valdes is, missed the one chance that he had to shut the play down, by letting the pass come through the box to the unmarked attacker. At that point, charging at him just opened up a better shooting angle, and in it went.
The second goal was just a stupid, schoolboy club error, as we celebrated our goal, full of pride and the belief that we were coming back. So Sevilla just started play quickly with a charge directly at the heart of our vulnerable defense. It found Txigrinski all alone against a small, agile attacker, so Txigrinski did about the only thing he could do, which was give up the foul. But it was a stupid, stupid play because we were caught with our drawers down, not really paying attention, and got screwed. There were so many errors on that play that they are impossible to chronicle. We can sum them up by saying that nobody was home. Nobody.
Most critically, nobody was home between Txigrinski’s ears. The reason they’re called “professional fouls” is that you do what you have to do, but you do it in a position that gives your team a shot. Read the situation, and foul his ass outside the box. It’s a set piece, and we can defend that. Was he waiting for help that wasn’t going to come? Stupid, stupid, stupid. He had been having a reasonably good match up to that point.
Our goal was exquisite, by the by, from the pinpoint long pass by Marquez, to the control and finishing by Ibrahimovic. Shame on us for ruining it so.
Team: 2. We don’t want to win right now, and we aren’t playing like it. The urgency is gone, so is the midfield pressure and the movement. People are standing around waiting for the ball, instead of scrambling, hauling ass to get open. Nor are we supporting each other. Shameful. Just shameful.
Guardiola: 4. Did what he had to do, made the subs that he had to make, but for some time now, we haven’t been ready to play crucial matches. We scraped by in the Club World Championship, but against better sides, we are being made to pay. And what the hell were you thinking, with Marquez as DM? There was no pace in the back for us, and it showed.
Pinto: 4. Sorry, but Valdes prevents that first Sevilla goal. It is inexcusable for a keeper to stand there and watch a ball roll across the face of his goal. Yes, he made a couple of very nice saves, but it’s clear why he isn’t a starting keeper.
Alves: 5. Some good, a lot of bad. Made some fine defensive plays, but of late, he’s getting beaten like a gong by quick, skilled attackers, and it puts our slow defense at a disadvantage. Last season, we had the ball all the time, so that deficiency wasn’t too apparent. This year, it’s like an infected mole on an alabaster ass. And we paid for it today.
Milito: 6. Nice match for his first time back. Made some positional errors, but that’s to be expected, given that he’s been injured for most of an adult lifetime. He was about the only defender who did the right thing on their first goal, which was to man up on the nearest attacker, which is also the least complicated thing.
Txigrinski: 3. Careless with the ball, put Pinto in … um … challenging positions time and again, and the penalty was inexcusable. It’s the one that might have knocked us out of the Copa, and it just didn’t have to be. If you have to foul, foul … outside the box. And you have to do more than lazily stick your leg out at a pass. You had an excellent chance to save Alves, and you blew it.
Maxwell: 4. Capel owned his ass, and dude, you can’t just lunge at a ball that is in the box, because it might deflect to, oh, an opposing player. Clear the goddamned thing. And if you’re going to be mediocre on defense, attack and make up for it on offense.
Marquez: 5. Solidly anonymous. Nice pass to Ibrahimovic, but he just wasn’t quite sure where to be, so he did a lot of standing around, instead of influencing the match and the attack, as Barca-style DMs do. Should we expect better from him? Yes. Or don’t be out there.
Thiago: 7. I like this kid. Fine effort both on offense and in tracking back on defense, and nice work to keep attacks going. His sub was inevitable once it was Xavi time, but nice match. He’s a keeper.
Iniesta: 7. Brilliant first half, tailed off quite a bit in the second as we pressed more and Sevilla packed it back a bit.
Messi: 5. It isn’t just you. Majestic first half, but you were just too selfish in the second half. You have to make that pass to Ibrahimovic. You just have to.
Pedro!: 4. Keep going like this, and I’m going to take away your exclamation point. Cloaks of invisibility are supposed to be worn to help your club, not hurt it. Matches such as this one show that he isn’t ready to start, because of his (yes, I’m a broken record) tactical deficiencies. He just runs, without knowing what or where he’s running to.
Krkic: 3. My view on Cuddly Toy is that it’s a wasted roster spot. He plays in the Copa only, and he can’t even do that any longer. He was worthless in the first half, and all but in the second. Yes, he had a goal ruled out by a silly foul on Ibrahimovic, which does nothing to convince me that he deserves a spot in the side. Between the standing around, lost balls and wayward passes, he’s going in the wrong direction for my tastes.
Ibrahimovic (for Pedro!): 6. Beautiful goal, excellent effort, and you should have had two, had your heading skills been a bit sharper. Upon review, I have to say that you/we got hosed on the offside call.
Busquets (for Milito): 6. Simple Busquets is good Busquets. Keep the ball moving, don’t get in the way of the grownups and contribute to the attacks with laser-sharp passes. Crap, what did I warn you about thinking too much. Now look at your rating.
Xavi (for Thiago): 5. With more time, he would have made more of a difference. Beautiful pass to Alves for the goal that was offside, but just.
Now we have it all to do in Sevilla. Guardiola admitted that he screwed up with the selection, saying that “Hey, I have to play guys, right? Everybody wants to play, and we need everybody.” Not a direct quote, but that was the gist of it. He’s guilty of underestimating Sevilla in its damaged state, not because they were so good, but because we were so mediocre. I hate to say it, but this match doesn’t happen last season, because we wanted every last match that we played, except when we were on a championship hangover late in the season. This year, we’re playing as though we’re content.
And I don’t like it.