Celtic 0, Barça 1, aka “Another day, another test”

celtic

Another day, another moving target for our wee ones.

Levante wasn’t fit to be in the Liga. Wait til Malaga.
Malaga was down on its luck. Wait til Rayo.
Rayo had more possession, we got lucky. Wait til La Real.
Yeah, whatever. La Real are playing like crap. Wait to see what happens against Celtic. And without Messi!
We won, but now Celtic isn’t good enough. So we’ll see who’s next.

This was a very interesting match, because it isn’t often that you get to see a new coach against the same European opponent. And boy, was today fascinating.

We know what happened last season: Celtic pulled out an historic win, cheered on by everyone including the homer Fox Soccer announcers. Rod Stewart wept like a baby, and Barça showed many weaknesses.

This year, same opponent, different coach, VERY different result, because of a great many things, all worth noting individually.

A Plan

Last year, the team was playing tika taka as if by rote. Lots of possession, no real purpose, no player available on the wings to change the match or cause pressure, with predictable results. There was much passing around of the ball in the midfield, few real chances, few opportunities for anything except watching Celtic cheer hard work and work that found them in the right place at the right time. Boom. Loss.

This year, the club had a plan, and you could see it from the outset. It wasn’t just tika taka, it was possession football that probed the opponent for a weakness, happy to be patient until an opportunity presented itself. When Celtic got the ball, almost each and every time, the Celtic attacker was presented by at least three sprites. Closed. There was pressure, and by every member of the team, not just 9 of 10. This meant that last avenue was closed off.

There was purpose and steel, two things that ultimately saw out the match.

Infinite patience

The intelligence of this club this season is not to force things. It’s very easy to pass the ball back to the midfield and reset. This is what Martino means by keeping control of a match. Celtic had a few chances, both from dead balls. But from open play? Nothing, because the match was under control. If you lose the ball, get it back and reset. Just one example, Neymar lost the ball to Ambrose, who took off on the break. Neymar tracked back, getting help from Adriano and Busquets. They stole the ball, and resumed the probing. Patience.

Barça-style defending

What this means is to keep play in front of you, to keep the ball in sight and the play at the defenders’ feel. The few times that things got out of balance resulted in Celtic having a sliver of an opportunity. Turn Pique sideways, or make him run backward and he’s in trouble. When he is bouncing on his toes, anticipating play, he is a hell of a defender. The play of the whole team helps keep the defense in its element.

Bartra roamed forward, Pique stayed home to keep the back locked down. This was the second match we have seen this, with a similar result: not a lot of drama, nor opponent goals. Part of that Barça-style defending was Valdes passing out of the back, instead of hoofing it long. Team attack, team defense.

Picking up after each other

Martino seems to have given everyone a clearly defined role. Xavi was usually forward, with Iniesta in the traditional Xavi role. Neymar and Alves functioned as wing attackers, and Busquets as a defensive-minded playmaker. The attention, the focus, the orientation was on attack, but patient attack. And when one person was found out or had a lull, there was always a teammate with a key intervention, interception or stop.

Bartra on the loose

Last season, when Bartra was asked to be a traditional defender, something that ALL of our defenders spent too much time doing last season, he looked uncomfortable and clunky. And tentative. Duh. When do our defenders play like traditional defenders? Compare that this this season, with the attacking defense. Bartra owned Samaras today, not allowing him much chance to do anything. Steals, interceptions and runs, Bartra made his second lobbying for MOTM. But again, as with the moving target, it is the next opponent who will find him and our terrible defense out.

Real wingers change everything

Neymar started, and Messi was out. And Neymar was a terror. Yellow card for one player, then another, red for another, movement, passing, faking, constant danger. This unbalanced the Celtic defense, and widened the field for them, because whenever Neymar beat his man, two other defenders were called upon. They then had to run back to defend other players.

To be sure, Neymar made a meal of a couple of challenges, the forehead hooraw, and the Scott Brown “Wait, you aren’t the ball?” moment. But you know what? Even those moments showed that he was capable of getting under the opponent’s (and opposing fans) skin. Boo him all you like, but Neymar is a difference-maker, on and off the ball. People aren’t booing him because he playacts. They’re booing him because he gets fouls called, AND he kicks ass. Get used to it.

A real Plan B

The counterattack, some say with a sneer. Barça is becoming a counterattacking team, something that is somehow beneath them. But you know what? During the vaunted Treble season, there were counter goals galore as the defense turned possession, then fired vertically to Henry or Eto’o on the bust-out. If you have an opponent who puts everyone behind the ball, how are you going to generate a real chance on goal? Wait for a sliver of an opportunity, then hit them on the counter. No tika taka, no 45,834 passes, just flying up the pitch and the keeper picking the ball out of the back of the net. Plan B works. Beneath Barça? Maybe. I don’t think so. I rather like it, because now the team has multiple ways of scoring, rather than just passing the ball around and waiting for Messi to make some magic.

And that goal was perfect. The ball was fed to Busquets, who saw Neymar streaking up the pitch. Rather than going for goal himself, taking the opportunity to do something highlight reel that might have failed, he opted for the surer thing, holding up play beautifully until Alexis Sanchez (subbed on for Pedro) came into the picture. A lovely layoff found Sanchez in space with the ball, and time to think.

When Sanchez gets the ball, there are SIX Celtic attackers, all with their attention focused on Sanchez and the ball. Meanwhile, ghosting into the picture on the left side of the box, is Fabregas. Sanchez takes, pauses, and as Fabregas continues his run behind a distracted defense, Sanchez lays the ball in a perfect spot. Fabregas heads across the Celtic goal into the far corner, and that’s that. What a goal.

Counter? Okay, sure. And why not? Meanwhile, your club is still perfect in Champions League and the Liga, until the next test. And I think that’s pretty cool.

celtic team

EXTRA SUPER-DUPER POST WITHIN A POST, ON MANLINESS

In the LiveBlog (thank you, VJ!!!!) thread, in the aftermath of the match, some were calling our players “soft,” and saying that they needed to man up. I don’t understand that, and here’s why:

I find this notion of “manning up,” and “playing like a man” to be a misguided notion that has its roots in this English-style mentality. Leaving aside the fact that the Premiership has more than its fair share of divers and embellishers, a foul is a foul is a foul. If you don’t want a player to exaggerate or make a mountain out of a little foul, I have a suggestion:

Don’t kick him.

On two occasions, Neymar made a lot of a foul: the forehead incident, and the Brown red card. The first episode was a bit silly, and he seemed to know it. But the second was legit, and yes, he did the right thing in calling the ref’s attention to it, just as, in the second half, a Celtic player was fouled by Busquets, and waved his arms around as if suffering the 47 Agonies, waving one arm in a “card! Card!” Gesture.

Where is the manliness them? When “our” player does it, it’s gamesmanship. When “their” player does it, it’s shameful.

Our players get kicked. A lot. Neymar gets kicked more than any of them, even Messi, which is pretty incredible. So why do players do it? To calm the match down. If you get kicked every time you get the ball, at what point do you decide to do something about it? The only way to get it to stop is to get a card on the person kicking you. So you flail around. Samaras was tapped by Alves, and his big ass dropped to the pitch like a stone.

Like anyone, up to and including Neymar, Samaras was trying to get Alves in trouble with the officials. And he was fouled. There is nothing manly about getting kicked, standing there and taking it. That’s just silly, particularly when your team is peopled by small, technically skilled players who don’t have the physical advantages that opponents have. So when you get kicked, to bring the match from their terms to yours, you exaggerate fouls that you receive. Why? Because being kicked hurts. A lot.

Try this: Get a friend to put on some football cleats. Now start running, and have your friend kick you in the Achilles tendon. See what you do. It hurts. Would you fall to the floor, flailing around and making imaginary card gestures? You might.

Some of the stuff that Alves and Alba do is silly. It’s also beyond the realm of exaggerating a foul received. Exaggeration is also different than diving. We have seen Barça players dive. Pedro isn’t considered a diver, yet Pedro has taken dives on more than one occasion. Iniesta isn’t a diver, but he will exaggerate the effect of a foul, so that the ref understands how hard he is being kicked. Messi will take steps to ensure that the ref understands that he is being kicked, and needs protection. No, Messi doesn’t dive. But Messi exaggerates, just like so many other players, including Neymar.

Notice as well how once the desired effect is reached, the exaggerating player calms down and plays through challenges. The kicking has stopped, so the point was made. People sneer about “cheating,” and how Barça are divers. This is nonsense. Barça players are using their physical DISadvantages just as opponents use their physical advantages.

And what in the heck is wrong with that?t

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Written by:

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.

261 Comments

  1. October 4, 2013

    Martino: “At Barça, I discovered the need for a weekly crisis. Sometimes they last a week, sometimes 3 days, like after the Rayo game.”

    • October 4, 2013

      Our Mister learns quickly.

    • lea_terzi
      October 4, 2013

      You beat me to it 🙂 Martino’s pressers are almost as fun to read as this blog.

      • October 4, 2013

        This is another good one:

        Martino: “It surprises me that Alexis gets a lot of criticism when not playing well, while now no one mentions his assist on Tuesday.”

        AND

        Martino: “There’s an evolution ongoing, the team is making progress. We still have to take more steps, but we’re getting better each game.”

        He also said that Puyol is going to be back in the squad for the Osasuna match, and that Neymar could play as a 9 at some point(s) this season. Man, that would be fun to see.

        Valdes
        Alves Pique Mascherano Adriano
        Busquets Fabregas Iniesta
        Messi Neymar Pedro (capitalizes better on chaos)

        Yes, that’s right … Messi on RW. Imagine the poor defender over there. The whole defense would shift to the right/right center to account for the switch. I’d reckon Fabregas and/or Pedro would have a brace or something. Interesting.

      • Peter
        October 4, 2013

        I keep on getting back at the expression that combines incredulity, pity and maybe a bit of disgust, directed at the journalist(term used loosely) of “La Vanguardia” who asked whether it’s paradoxical that the team plays better and “more purely” without Messi. Priceless?

        Messi on the right wing would probably start a new trend in tactical schemes that have multiple left backs. 😀

      • October 4, 2013

        I’d position Messi in the center over anybody else, but I can see how a three man frontline with Messi/Ney/Alexis interchanging positions would be awesome…

      • barca96
        October 4, 2013

        I used to ask Messiah to be played at RW before this season but this season it seems that he spends quite a lot of time on the right and create chaos.

        I’ll swap Tello with Pedro on LW. Image them on a counter attack…

      • Serena Andre
        October 4, 2013

        Lennon had two right backs, Lustig and Matthews,
        trying to stop Neymar. We know how that worked out.
        Imagine if we had Neymar and Messi on the wings and opponents playing 4 fullbacks in their line ups. 😛

      • Jim
        October 4, 2013

        Yup. My favourite from the latest one :

        Martino: “Pique is one of the best centre backs in the world.” #fcblive

        This man will do for me 🙂

  2. DennyCrane
    October 4, 2013

    On the manliness thing: Maybe the question should rather be what’s so manly about kicking players around, especially those who are in a physically inferior position to begin with.

    btw. Hi Rami, this blog is great. Thanks for inviting me here.

    • barca96
      October 4, 2013

      Welcome. Where did you meet Rami?

      Btw noONE is saying that it’s manly to kick players around. If you read my comments careful, I find that illegal. But what me and others are saying is for our players to stop milking fouls all the time. Just get up and get on with the play. If it’s a foul, then ok, no need to roll around and pretend that it hurts so bad like you’ve been shot.
      If the ref didn’t call the foul, just get on with the play and chase the ball. Don’t put your team at the disadvantage by lying and rolling around.

      • DennyCrane
        October 4, 2013

        Sorry, should have made that clearer. My post wasn’t aimed at anyone here, but is merely a statement of its own since I always found it strange that people see a rough physical playstyle as manly, whereas milking contact is considered weak or even cheating.
        And I actually agree with what you posted, so no argument there.

        Met Rami in Barcaforum btw.

      • October 4, 2013

        Actually, they don’t put the team at a disadvantage. They get a foul or card on an opposing player, which earns a set piece and lessens the chance that same player will be kicking them a lot more during the match. Both those are advantages.

        They sometimes exaggerate to call attention to a systematic tactic by opponents to kick us.

        The times that our players leave the side a man down because of lolling about in the aftermath of a foul are so rare as to be almost nonexistent. They would get a sharp word from Xavi or Puyol if that happened.

    • Rami
      October 4, 2013

      It’s good to see you here Denny.

      As you can see, The pace in here is slow in terms of comments, And in many occasions dense with text, But i think it’ll grow on you, Just like it did with me.

      Looking forward to your future contributions on this space.

    • October 4, 2013

      It doesn’t suggest anything of the kind. His comment that he’d rather play 5 minutes for the first team than to be loaned out refers to the start of his career and is simply meant to illustrate his desire to play for Barcelona.

      • dl
        October 4, 2013

        Oh. So do you think he is just unhappy about the money?

      • October 4, 2013

        What I heard, and what makes sense to me, is that it’s about the number of years in the new contract.

      • October 4, 2013

        Iniesta, as well as his father, have both said it isn’t about the money. And I believe that. How much does a player need, after all? He isn’t that type.

      • Chiu
        October 4, 2013

        yeah, i also believe in iniesta words, it’s not about money

  3. Jim
    October 4, 2013

    Had to laugh. One of my Celtic pals read what Ini had to say about loving to play in an atmosphere like Celtic Park and how the standing ovation came from their heart and that made it real for him.

    He then interpreted this as Ini possibly preparing the way for a move to Glasgow for the last few years of his contract as he didn’t need any more money. 🙂 You’ve got to love your Scottish football fan. Depth of despair or La La land …

    • October 4, 2013

      The wee lad must be tempted by the weather!

      • Jim
        October 4, 2013

        Ah, lev, but in 50 years when climate change gets a proper grip Spain will be far too hot and we will become ……….

        …… well probably something just short of Baltic !

    • October 4, 2013

      My exclusive sources tell me that Iniesta will indeed be moving to Glasgow. However, he will be playing for Rangers.

      😈

      • Jim
        October 5, 2013

        I think Rangers will be doing quite well to still be in existence by then, Blitz, given the shenanigans going on there !

  4. drexler
    October 4, 2013

    Thanks for the invite fellas. This is off-topic but as much as been said about Barcelona’s lack of Plan B but i think it already ‘exists’ only not used as it make the team more counterattacking- something to be frowned upon(?). What do you guys think of an in-game formation switch like this:

    alves-pique-puyol/masch/adriano
    iniesta – busquets
    alexis
    messi
    pedro neymar
    cesc

    My thinking is with Cesc a bonafide aerial threat and passer, why not have 3 speedy players on the pitch with him at the same time? I admit this very much depends on a Alexis’ dribbling ability but the idea is similar to how Sabella has Argentina set up. Messi is an incredible finisher but an even deadlier midfielder when he plays as a roaming 10. With an onrushing Alexis combining with either Pedro/Neymar on whichever flanking he’s breaking into, Messi can be relied upon to provide that crucial assist. I reckon it’ll be a nightmare for any defense caught cold.
    Besides, the one blessing from the champions league drubbing at the hands of Bayern means that top teams are not going to do a Chelsea when they face Barca, meaning more space for this formation to thrive. Xavi can come on for any of the front 5 and the 4-3-3 is restored.

    • drexler
      October 4, 2013

      One more thing..this makes Barcelona even more unpredictable. Everyone knows for top games Messi will always play as a false 9 with Neymar on the LW and then either Pedro or Alexis on the right. So that means for any defending team, 2 out of the 3 attackers they’ll be facing and their playing styles will be known in advance. For instance the key to the win over Milan at Camp Nou was the Messi playing as a 10 and Villa as a 9. Allegri even commented about it as that having a disruptive influence – meaning they weren’t prepared for something like this. That’s the only time i sign Barcelona try an tactical switch apart from the Guardiola’s days. To buttress my point, can any of you predict with any certainty Bayerns midfield starters and their tactics, it’s increasingly getting difficult and that’s what Barca should be aiming for.

      • drexler
        October 4, 2013

        sheesh so many typos – too much caffeine here.

      • Peter
        October 4, 2013

        I don’t agree with this necessarily. There are quite a few combinations to be made, and then you can add the midfield which makes predicting the attacking trio even more complex. Examples as follows(LW-CF-RW):

        Neymar-Messi-Alexis

        Tello-Neymar-Messi

        Neymar-Alexis-(Dani Alves)
        ——Messi—-

        Of course you should never arrange your team in vacuum, you have the weaknesses and strength of the opposing team to consider, but in general the attacking team is easier to pick than the midfield. Off the top of your head, what’s the attack of Bayern, provided no injuries are present? Roben, Ribery, Muller and maybe Manzhukic, right?

  5. K_legit in Oz
    October 4, 2013

    We have an actual coach this season fellas!

    • October 4, 2013

      We had one last season as well. Tito managed the team really well for the first half of the season. It’s not his fault his cancer returned. I know you don’t mean it as a personal slam, but I am still sad that Tito never got a real chance to own that job. He was good, but all people are going to remember is the cancer and poor Jordi Roura doing his best to hold things together.

      • K_legit in Oz
        October 5, 2013

        No I was actually lamenting for the club because of the misfortune! It was not a slight at Tito or Roura for that matter and I am sorry if it came across that way!

  6. October 5, 2013

    I’d be very interested to see a hybrid 4-2-3-1 formation lineup this way:

    Alves – Pique – Masch – Adriano
    Busquets – Fabregas
    Alexis – Iniesta – Neymar
    Messi

    Gives an opportunity for Fab, Ini and Messi to constantly change positions to add verticality and breaking between lines. There’d be complete havoc in attack and decent defensive cover too.

  7. PrinceYuvi
    October 5, 2013

    Hope song plays today or perhaps montoya. Whatever our lord tata wishes. He knows the best )

  8. psalmuel
    October 5, 2013

    these days i always look forward to watch our games because even we the fans don’t know the expect frm tata

  9. raj
    October 5, 2013

    Anything going on here todays matchup?

    • Jim
      October 5, 2013

      If it’s the same story I think Messi and his dad denied any knowledge.

    • PrinceYuvi
      October 5, 2013

      It’s not messi’s )

  10. Rami
    October 5, 2013

    I get an uneasy sensation in my stomach everytime i think of this match, Hope nothing goes haywire.

  11. PrinceYuvi
    October 5, 2013

    Dortmund, Bayern, Monaco (Abi was awesome) & all the Moneypants from England are losing points.

    Except the Lucky barca, That must be some luck.

    It’s ridiculous how good our team is. Its given, we took helluva beating last season, but still most interesting team to watch )

  12. October 5, 2013

    So. Bayern Munich, the most fearsome team in the world, where women and children tremble and grown men have been known to rip their own heads off rather than face it?

    Draw. To Bayer Leverkusen. Didn’t watch, but apparently Bayer kept their defensive shape, played and pressed well, and Bayern couldn’t solve that shape problem.

    Imagine that!

    • 86ed
      October 5, 2013

      I watched it.
      Bayern were all over Leverkusen. I mean they had some chances even I could have scored. Mueller`s high header with an empty net topped it. I still don`t know how it ended 1-1. In the last minute of added time, Bayer had a clearance on the line.
      As for their defensive shape, Ribery, Kroos, and Shaqiri, who missed a glorious chance as well, tore it apart. Only the end product was missing. It is the most important part, I grant you, but all teams go through this someday, where the ball just won`t go in.
      We may joke about it all we want, but Bayern is indeed fearsome. They are the team to beat now, whether we like it or not. The team that wishes to win the CL will have to face and defeat them at one point or another, and as things stand I don`t see any team capable of doing it.

      • October 5, 2013

        And when that happened to Barca vs. Chelsea, I can’t recall many comments of us being fearsome!

      • 86ed
        October 5, 2013

        You`re confusing situations. And I don`t think there`s a need for comparisons anyway.

        Bayern drew in the league, away to the third-placed team, in a match I felt they dominated and should have otherwise won. This does not diminish their ranking as top dogs in the Europe.

      • October 5, 2013

        No. nzm is exactly right. We were all over Chelsea that year, lacking the end product. But people here were saying we couldn’t beat a parked bus, rather than how fearsome we were.

        Respect this club. We have just a wee bit of talent lying around.

      • October 5, 2013

        Not confusing anything.

        What’s so different about the situation?

        Bayern draws to 3rd place Bundesliga team and is branded as “fearsome” by you. 18 shots on goal.

        We faced a similar situation in CL vs. a team that goes on to win the trophy, yet we’re not fearsome?

        We dominated Chelsea; we were still considered 2nd in Europe (1st was Real Madrid in that year based upon previous 5 years’ results) despite going down to Chelsea.

        http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/uefarankings/club/index.html

      • Chiu
        October 5, 2013

        yes michelle. this!

      • Evan
        October 6, 2013

        Let me get this straight, you are a Barca fan, a team that has won all the matches it has played this year in La Liga and the CL, a team that has players like Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas etc, but you don’t think we can beat Bayern? This is exactly the type of comment that you would expect to see from a hater, not from a fan. The beating they gave us last year is not relevant now because both teams have changed coaches and altered their playing styles a bit. Plus, we signed Neymar and Alexis is playing a lot better this season. In my opinion, after watching both teams play this year, we are the slight favorites. But even if you don’t think we are favorites, not believing we stand a chance against Bayern when we have the best generation in the club’s history, is really mindblowing.

    • PrinceYuvi
      October 5, 2013

      Watched it. It was a Meh )

    • Messiah10
      October 5, 2013

      Leverkusen have been very very good this season. They made some good acquistions in the summer and are scoring a lot of goals this season. I definitely see them finishing in the top 4 for sure. That said, with the form Munich have shown and the players they have, they should’ve won. However, you could say that of EE and us. Watching the EE/Levante match. Looks like a matter of time before EE score to win the game.

  13. PrinceYuvi
    October 5, 2013

    Neymar as CF, Song is playing. Wow Tata, No Cesc as false 9 finally.
    Hope Song succeeds, afterall he’s our player.

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