The record will show that we beat Tenerife like they stole something, in a 0-5 runout featuring a hat trick for Messi, a passel of assists for Krkic and the kind of gaudy scoreline that we got so accustomed to running up last season, back when we were good.
Reality is that were it not for the man you see here, Victor “Human Wall” Valdes, that scoreline might have been reversed.
Which is why he’s my Man of the Match, by a country mile. Because we were pretty awful early in this one, and he came up with the key stops, time and again.
“We’re going to be brave, we’re going to be bold,” said Tenerife coach Jose Luis Oltra. And they were, with the kind of high pressure that has become the flavor of the month for teams facing us, who have collectively decided that we can be beaten at our own game. And when we kept laying out shite passes, not completing easy connections and making gifts of the ball, we can be.
So their pressure forced the ball loose from Iniesta, and Marquez was lazy, leading to the first “Whew!” Moment. Then Busquets puked up a horrifying pass that sent them off to the races, with their attacker one-on-one against Valdes, with the whole net to shoot at. Valdes did what he is so good at, which is to bolt from his line with the quickness, arms up, to at least force the shot to be better than it needs to be to beat him. It was this intervention that forced a too-fine line to be cut, and the shot smacked the crossbar.
Busquets was left in the box, holding his head, probably looking for his brain. But Valdes was keeping busy, snuffing out break after break as our defense decided to take the match off. Actually, I’m being harsh on our defense. The larger problem is that as teams run at us like a jailbreak, the lack of pace catches us out every time. Our back line is running like crazy to get back to cover, with their backs to the play, and they’re being outrun. It’s a fire drill, but nobody knows where to direct the hose. And Valdes was at the ready, every last time.
Guardiola rolled out with Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Puyol, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Henry and Krkic, a lineup that should have been sufficient to not leave a hint of doubt about this one. But there was doubt. Pressing, crushing doubt until three goals in about 10 minutes ripped the heart out of Tenerife, leaving them wondering what might have been.
Did we get lucky again? Yes. Because in addition to Valdes’ excellence, it was the quality of the opponent that saved our bacon. If we play like that, and offer up those chances against a top-10 Liga side, we’re down 2 or 3-0 before you know it, and we’re chasing a match that we probably aren’t going to catch. As it was, Tenerife’s finishing lacked just that little bit of sharpness that allowed us a shot, and allowed Valdes to come up huge.
Our offense was offensive, and I’m blaming the squiggly lines of the grass cut on the Tenerife field. I can’t think of any other reason for our invisible midfield, absurd long balls to nowhere that were quickly turned into breaks going the other way and the general ineptitude of the first half-hour of this match. But once again, another team found a direct route to our back line, which presented all sorts of problems.
Thankfully, Valdes kept us in the match until we could gradually, ever so slowly, find our way back in as we strung just enough passes together to create the first goal out of pretty much nothing, as Krkic decided that he would out-Henry Henry. He took a pass, did that little slow-fast move that Henry does so well, and dive-bombed toward the free space in the box before rolling a perfect ball to Messi, who did the honors.
Just like that Tenerife were down 0-1, and wondering how the hell they were. And yes, they were clearly a little irritated about it, as some late challenges and fouls began to pick up. Then they gave up a dim-witted free kick, and suddenly they were left to wonder how they were down 0-2, as Messi lofted in an absolutely perfect free kick that sat there for Air Puyol to head into the Tenerife net.
And then came the magical one, one of my goals of the season, as Iniesta dribbled through most of Tenerife, on a magical, tightrope-walking run before sliding the ball to Krkic in space, who knew what he had to do: feed Messi, who slotted home.
Just like that, the match was over. Three goals, with Messi having a hand in all of them, with two assists from Krkic.
So of course the second half was, not at all shockingly, boring. We passed the ball around a listless Tenerife, trying not to get hurt and just run out the clock. Valdes was called upon a couple of times, and the only real distinguishing moment was an absolutely transcendent goal that gave Messi his hat trick, and showed why he is about the best player on the planet right now.
Krkic took a pass and clunked up the first touch, so he reined the ball in and, seeing his opportunity lost, gave it to Messi, who with almost the same motion, essentially passed the ball into the upper far corner, an exquisite rainbow of a shot that put the knife into a Tenerife side that deserved better than they got. The fifth tally was an own goal, caused by panic sown by Pedro!, who demonstrated otherworldly control to retain possession as he charged toward the Tenerife goal. True to his word, he didn’t celebrate, only accepting congratulations from teammates, who understood his wishes.
–So, should a five-goal pasting be worrisome? Yes. Because once again, and for the third match in a row, we haven’t played our game. Villarreal were able to exploit it. Sevilla were able to exploit it. Tenerife lacked the quality of talent to exploit it, or they would have, as well. Midfield pressure is mostly absent, which means that teams are allowed to play with the ball more than they should, which exposes our back line.
But without Abidal, our back line has absolutely no pace, so the quick Liga attackers put us as sixes and sevens. Sometimes Valdes bails us out, other times we concede. And matches that should be on lockdown, become troubling affairs. Our back line needs either a quick infusion of pace, or we need to start playing like we do in spurts, like a team that owns the ball, and plays defense through possession. This means cutting out the silly long passes that get picked off and become breaks the other way, or the dimwitted giveaways in dangerous positions.
–Why in the hell, when Henry gets the ball on the wing, doesn’t everyone head to the front of the net, to wait for the cross that always comes? Just asking. Time and again today, he created space and threw in a cross that went begging, or that late-arriving players watched roll through. He almost always gets them in there, and we should be taking advantage of them.
Now here’s something interesting:
Last season: 13-2-1, 48 goals scored, 10 goals against
This season: 13-4-0, 42 goals scored, 10 goals against
In both seasons, we are top of table. The only difference is that this season, the EE didn’t have a pigpile of injuries that dropped them far behind us. And we have only scored 6 fewer goals than last year, putting the lie to the perception that last season was filled with gaudy scorelines, and we aren’t scoring goals this season.
And yet, everything feels more tenuous, because we aren’t working as we should. I’m sure that Isaiah has a post that will analyze the hell out of why roughly the same numbers, leave us feeling very different about things.
Team: 4. Don’t let the scoreline fool you. This wasn’t a very good group match. We’re being caught in possession because people aren’t moving as they should, presenting passing options for their teammates.
Guardiola: 6. Got lucky with one, as once again he didn’t have his charges ready to play. I liked the experiment with Txigrinski at DM. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that one.
Valdes: 10. Perfect. Made all the right moves, probably got a bit lucky that his charge forced that first, most dangerous shot a little high. But what a match. Remember when people were throwing around all the names that we should have signed instead of renewing Valdes?
Alves: 5. Adequate, but this match was bereft of his usual flair on the offensive end. His defense was mostly good enough.
Marquez: 3. Good defense is all about position, and you have to have pace to be able to get into position. He doesn’t, and when you couple that with his tendency for the giveaway, the result is danger.
Puyol: 7. Except for a couple of pig-headed plays, he was excellent, far and away our best defender. And boy, does he like scoring in Tenerife. Must be the sunshine or something.
Maxwell: 4. Can you blame teams for attacking on his wing? Yet he doesn’t compensate for it with an attacking presence. Liga defending is different from Serie A defending, dude. Get with the program.
Busquets: 4. Giveaways and wayward passes were not sufficiently offset by his good plays, of which he had many. The problem with Busquets is that he still either does something glorious, or cocks it up massively. I prefer less drama.
Xavi: 5. A rather ineffective performance by Xavi, characterized by first half invisibility. He picked it up in the second, to his credit, but without its governor, our midfield engine was running like crap.
Iniesta: 6. Good performance, but he bears some responsibility for the atrocious first half and poor start, as well as our overall lack of midfield control. Yes, he got it together, and started playing very well. And what a run to set up our third goal.
Messi: 8. Yes, he scored a hat trick, and was involved in 4 of our 5 goals. But his passing was off, and when he wasn’t directly involved in the offense, he was doing a lot of standing around. Last season, he was part of the incessant midfield pressure that created so many good things. He’s allowed a low-energy match, but he has to have a greater effect on a match than just scoring goals.
Henry: 6. One sign of a fully involved Henry is if you see him tracking back on defense, and helping to apply pressure in the midfield, as you did today. Brotha can’t buy a goal, though. That snap shot of his was excellent, and hit the post loud enough to be heard back in Barcelona. He needs to start finishing his chances. But he worked like a dog today, and deserved better that he got in the scoring ledger.
Krkic: 7. He has work on consistency, and playing in areas where he can be effective. His pace was back, and he seemed more involved in a match than he has been in a very, very long time. He’s still thinking a little too much, as when he was in the box, alone with the ball and didn’t quite seem to know what to do. Then by the time he decided to shoot, the defense had closed up. But a fine, fine match today.
Pedro! (for Iniesta): 6. Great movement, energy and interplay from he who is Supersub. He won’t get full credit for that own goal, but it was almost like he put the ball into the net, so comprehensive was his move, control and effort.
Milito (for Puyol): incomplete. By that time, the ball never entered our end of the pitch. So he really didn’t do anything.
Txigrinski (for Xavi): incomplete. But this substitution was interesting, as Guardiola played him at the DM position.
Hey, did anyone note the Tenerife fans singing “Yellow Submarine,” as a very clear taunt to us? Very funny, and you have to love their spirit. Nice one.
Next up is the away leg of the Copa tie v Sevilla. Let’s hope that this goal scoring flurry will leave our lads flying high, ready to kick out the jams against a vulnerable-looking Sevilla side, who lost to Santander yesterday.
Finally, as usual, some joy: