It’s time … Classic time, aka “Be happy I’m not Barça coach”

"Who's thirsty? I am! What are you thirsty for? Three guesses ..."
“Who’s thirsty? I am! What are you thirsty for? Three guesses …”

Yikes. Portents, anguish, violence, history, independence chants, the Best Player in the World vs the Best Player in the Galaxy … it’s the end of the world as we know it.

The Liga is in the balance, don’t ya know, as our beloved sprites stagger into this match off the heels of two … count ’em … TWO draws, as RM roll into the Camp Nou having won its last two matches. Oh, lawd, hide the Catalan women and children (never mind, they can’t get in anyhow), because it’s going to be ugly. Our defense can’t stop a schoolboy team from scoring, and legend has it that RM has a pair of colossi that doth bestride the earth, clearing countries at a single bound.

It’s so daunting that I am not even going to watch, preferring instead to cower in a corner, bleating in the hopes my mommy’s sixth mama sense will kick off and make her rush to my side to rescue me.

“Son! What’s the matter, son!”
“It’s those things in the white. Why are they killing my little ones? Make it stop! (whimper)”

Or maybe not. Maybe, what if this is just a football match, portents, weight and zillions of Euros in transfer fees and salaries aside. What if this is just the two of the best teams in the world, knocking heads in an early-season encounter that will decide about feck all.

And because the two sides have never been more alike, let’s have a gander at the similarities.

New coach

They have The Eyebrow, Carlo Ancelotti, who rolled into town fresh off riding herd over yet another collection of millionaires with immense transfer fees at Paris St.-Germain. Ancelotti has been well traveled, and is still wrestling with how to deploy his forces in a way that gets the most from them.

We have Mr. Pistachio, Gerardo Martino, who rolled into town under more difficult circumstances, after our previous coach, Tito Vilanova, had to step down due to a recurrence of the cancer he has been battling. Martino rolled into town, fresh off telling his wife not to put too much fabric softener in the underwear wash, but with a busy past that included an overachieving World Cup side and a beautiful Newell’s Old BoysBoca Juniors side. Martino has been well traveled, and is still wrestling with how to deploy his forces in a way that gets the most from them.

Did someone say transfer?

Neymar. Senior, Junior, whatever, the dude was spendy. Not as spendy as he would have been in the open market, but spendy nonetheless, at 57 million smackeroos. He came with a colossal amount of hype and some baggage, and started out with his new club in incendiary fashion. He is still integrating into the side, but is showing more than a little promise, as in “Holy crap, that boy can play some football.”

Gareth Bale was even MORE spendy than Neymar, with a world record transfer fee of in the neighborhood of 100 million. Whoa. He showed up kinda gimpy, then was able to play and tapped in a goal and supposedly the Bale Era was off with a bang. Until his back did or didn’t flare up, and is or isn’t potentially debilitating, dependent upon whose publication you read. It’s safe to say that Bale has NOT to date set the world on fire, though if someone were to get an open flame close enough to his gelled pate, all bets are off.

Wrestling matches

With new coaches, both teams are dealing with new systems, with mixed results. Barça, like its rival in the capitol city, has been rampant, clunky and all points in between. Form is fleeting as the club(s) wrestle with an injury to a key part, Messi and Bale.

Both sets of supporters say that our defense stinks, both sets of supporters with that the offenses would get the hell sorted, so that their club can return to the arduous task of ruling the galaxy.

Best. Player. Ever.

Ronaldo and Messi, Thong Boy and the Troglodyte. No matter how you slice it, both of them are brilliant. One scores a hat trick, the other scores a hat trick. One scores two against the other’s club, and the other one returns the favor. They are the two best players in the game, with the ability to take over and define a match like few players, and they play for the bitter rival.

Both will be the most important men on the pitch for their respective sides, and culers have a bit more to worry about on that score than RM supporters. Ronaldo is fit and rampant. Messi is just coming off a nagging injury and has been, to be generous, mediocre in his last two outings, at Osasuna and Milan. If he shows up, ready and raring to go, it’s going to be a long day for RM’s back line.

So what’s going to happen?

If I knew that, I would already have money down on the outcome. Who the hell knows? It could be a manita either way, a 1-1 draw or any random assemblage of numbers you want to throw out there. They have been set up to beat us, their strengths cultivated to match up against our weaknesses, certain players deployed with the idea of minimizing the way that we play.

Traditionally, we haven’t cared. This is how we play. Now beat it. What has people worried is that in recent history, they have a pretty darned good record against us. But the matches have been close, with a play or two tipping the balance. But we have always played like we play, until now. Now, things are different for a few very important reasons:

— Bale. Until now it has been “stop Ronaldo,” even if we haven’t been able to always do that. Bale, if he starts, will be immense, potentially decisive coming off the bench to run at our tired defenders.

— DiMaria. Nothing like competition to make a lad find religion.

— Neymar. The left side is now open for business. If Arbeloa tries business as usual, even with The Great Mallenco reffing, he will be lucky to survive the half.

— Busquets. More. Better. Forward thinking. Badass.

— Puyol. The man he once was? Nope. Plenty of man to fire up just a bit of trepidation in RM attackers? You bet.

— Valdes. Never been better. A few stops here and there could be key.

— Martino. We have always played our way, until now. He is very good at making adjustments on the fly, and substituting to facilitate those adjustments.

Why you should be happy I’m not coach

I would roll out with:

Alves Bartra Puyol Adriano
Fabregas Busquets Xavi
Sanchez Neymar Pedro

That’s right. I wouldn’t start Messi, for a number of reasons:

— I hate him. It’s well documented.
— He isn’t on form, just coming off an injury and a somnambulant performance against Milan.
— A game plan set up to stop him is suddenly stood on its ear.
— We would win the psychological battle long enough (hopefully) to make them hesitant.

There is also the “let’s get buck-assed wild lineup:

Alves Pique Mascherano Puyol
Busquets Messi Xavi
Fabregas Neymar Sanchez

This lineup has creativity with the ball, the ability to keep it in a hurricane, shooting from distance and the potential for goals from the midfield with Messi, who in this case would be functioning as a true 10. Puyol performing as a defensive LB is well within his capabilities, also.

But because our actual coach isn’t a crackhead, expect to see the (?) gala XI:

Alves Pique Puyol Adriano
Iniesta Busquets Xavi
Sanchez Messi Neymar

We should all have confidence in that lineup (though you might see Fabregas in for Sanchez, and tactical permutations such as Messi on right wing) because it has gobs of ability, but on form, Fabregas is playing better than Iniesta right now. I bet you Martino knows that as well, but doesn’t yet have the carte blanche to go all cray cray like that.

The other argument for Iniesta is that he doesn’t lose the ball, and if Martino’s worries about RM’s transition game are genuine, look for less swashbuckling and more tika taka. That means Iniesta.


I have absolutely NO idea. Usually, you can pretty well predict how a Classic is going to go, based on form. But both teams are funky/clunky. Could be a manita either way, could be a 0-0 draw. I have about as much chance of predicting the final score as I do of predicting the direction of this squirrel scurrying around in my backyard right now. But, for the sake of argument, and folks having something to call me a dumbass about later, I say:

(If they score first) 2-2
(If we score first) 3-1

Strangely enough, I am as calm about a Classic as I have been in some time, in part because there are just too many unanswered questions. If Sleepwalking Messi shows up again, we’re going to be in trouble. If “Straight Flush” Pique shows up to dabble in his footballing hobby, we’re going to be in trouble.

Gloom and doomers say it’s easier for them to score, that we’re vulnerable on set pieces, that we don’t have pace to match up with Bale and Ronaldo, that a resurgent DiMaria will be a constant danger.

I say that for every benefit that people can point to, buttressing their claims that we are in trouble, I have a few of my own, such as Neymar 1-v-1 on Arbeloa or whoever they stick out there, Ozil’s difference-making movement and vision gone, the significant improvement of Busquets as well as the fact that Barça have more than one way to score. Graham Hunter says draw, Tim Stannard says a loss for us. Whatever. We have the tools, talent and are a better club than we have been since the manita side, diverse and dangerous, deliberate or dashing.

I have full confidence in our team and its players. Now let’s do this.

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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.


  1. IamXavi6
    October 25, 2013

    nice article. I agree that this match is one of the hardest to predict in a long time. I expect Iniesta to start on the pine though due to recent form.

    Im tipping 2-2 all actually.
    valdes, alves, pique, puyol, adriano, cesc, xavi, busi, messi, neymar, sanchez

  2. PrinceYuvi
    October 26, 2013

    Better not lose this one.
    Wont complain if messi kicks pepe’s big bald head into the net instead.
    Wont complain if we score on the counter .
    Wont complain if iker slaps ramos in the face either.
    Eh, better not get carried away.
    Own goal by Bale ?
    Too much to ask.

  3. fugacanonicax
    October 26, 2013

    Agree with Kevin about not starting Messi. He doesn’t look fit enough and i fear a Classico can put too much strain, and if he is in his ‘sleep walking’ mode that would be worse. It hampers team morale which thinks ‘Oh we hav Leo on the pitch and yet we are not scoring’ thus leads to frustration and impatience as each attack crashes against a white air bus. We have seen a lot of that before this season as well-> Not a pretty sight.

    Question however is did we learn to play a Classico without Messi? I don’t have the answer.

    About the whole Iniesta/Fabregas who is starting debate –
    Iniesta may be a bit out of touch and not his usual self but he would still look okay if we were playing the same system we used to back in Pep’s or Vilanova day. Verticality asks for more physical work rate than Tiki Taka and frankly our team at times looks like in Brownian motion. Players are not yet sure which space to pick to position themselves. Rhythm of play is missing against tighter opponents. While the ensuing chaos is better for some of the boys its not the best system for Iniesta(meaning its him who will have to adjust). Its possible to play Tiki-Taka while also employing Verticality to your play. Its the team that will need to improve in terms of better synchronization of movement-especially against aforementioned airbuses. With better movement transitions will be smoother and the players would be more comfortable and confident with themselves and their team mates. They will recognize known patterns of play and thus we would have major advantages going forward. It would also help in not loosing so many more balls than we are doing now thus allowing us to be better protected against Counter attacks.

    Fabregas is not the man to replace Iniesta. In fact I’m not sure he can replace anyone in this team. Its not because he is a bad player. Somewhere along the line Cesc just plain forgot how to take advantage of the brilliant possesion babsed system of Barca. He consistently looked confused during Pep’s and Vilanova’s era. He does look much sharper now and I would have started Cesc today to be honest. Not because he is better than Iniesta but simply because he is more direct and vertical in his passing and can actually pick the forwards. However Cesc would always be a liability(until he figures things out) and Martino perhaps knows that as well.

    P.S I don’t mean the side is totally without rhythm. In some of the games its been noticeable that they are still finding the system hard to work out, yet we have seen some fantasy football already.

    Visca Barça!

  4. fugacanonicax
    October 26, 2013

    @Kxevin Brilliant post btw. Its awesome how much fun they are to read! Really hope others start posting as well like the old days. Thanks for everything.

  5. FCBarcelona
    October 26, 2013


    At first, I would like to give you guys a huge compliment. I have been roaming around the internet for a good football blog (which of course had to be about my beloved club!) and, man, I am stunned about the quality of the articles I have read. Keep up the good work!

    This morning, I woke with a strange feeling in my belly. I’m just looking forward to this big match which will take place tonight. And while I’m writing this, I just became aware how fortunate we (as Barca fans) are to still see such a good Barca-side play.

    Throughout the years this club has grown me to heart (dont know if this is a right saying). And some may think, well this is just another fanboy. I’ve seen many comments (especially last year) of ‘fans’ which made me sad. For me, these players made magic and they still can, will produce that same magical football. And how much did we celebrate together? Besides, Iosing is the worst thing ever!

    I do not think anyone on this blog still has negative thoughts about this team. If so, that is okay, because we all love are club (and emotions – frustrations included – are part of us). If not so, thumbs up. There is only one message that is suited for all who come here: always support your team. Because deep, deep inside your blaugrana heart it works like this: if they lose, you lose. If they win, you win.

    Tonight, we will support our blaugranas. We might win, we might lose. But that is not important. The only thing that matters is: Visca el Barca!

    PS: I do not think this comment is suited for this article, but I just wantend to post my feelings. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.

  6. Peter
    October 26, 2013

    BOCA Juniors side? BOCA?? BOCA???

    PrinceYuvi, I have the same hopes, but I think if Messi scores with Pepe’s head it won’t count. It’s Undiano Malenco after all, he’ll disallow it for some reason.

    I wish we were able to see Dani Alves, Bartra, Pique and Puyol in defence, Xavi, Busquets and Cesc in midfield, Alexis, Messi and Neymar in attack. Personally I would be much more comfortable during set pieces and counters, even though this will mean Puyol would have to take care of Di Maria or Bale.

    Pique and Puyol would get to play together, Dani Alves and Bartra as well, meaning youth and experience combined. Puyol could get help from Cesc to help leash Di Maria, Dani Alves would have the vital seconds in order to get back and help dispossess Ronaldo, and for me the most important thing – Busquets wouldn’t have to get back that much, he could focus on disrupting the opponent’s midfield.

    Besides, this would mean less area to cover for the defence, it would mean also more aerial presence for Barcelona – if Bartra and Puyol go forward to help during corners, Pique and Busquets would still be back to prevent the fast counters Real rely on.

    On the other hand, this would mean less help for Neymar, no overlapping runs from Adriano/Alba – they would have to be done by Cesc, and maybe this would be asking too much of him. After all, he would have Khedira and Di Maria in his zone. But talking about other hands, such a scheme may see Bartra or Pique venturing forward with the ball, or Bartra, Pique or Puyol going forward as acting target men.

    However, I don’t think we would get to see such a scheme at Camp Nou. At Santiago Bernabeu, Alianz Arena, Stamford Bridge or Westfallenstadion yeah, but at Camp Nou? Nah.

    Five hours left.

      • October 26, 2013

        Yes. Correct. “Boys,” “Boca,” doesn’t take much for a Classic-inflamed mind banging on keys to get confused. Fixed.

  7. Serena Andre
    October 26, 2013

    I tried to read your post during a (boring) seminar I’m currently at. I got to the line about Catalan women and children and accidentally chuckled out loud. Needless to say, the outburst earned me quite a few death stares, so I decided it might be wise to read it when I get home. If the first two paragraphs are any indication, it’s another fun post from you, and I don’t trust myself to keep a straight face and my mouth shut.

  8. Jim
    October 26, 2013

    Looking forward to this. It’ll be really interesting to see how Tata will play it and that will obviously decide personnel. I hope we have belief in our system because we aren’t better than them playing their game.

    For me, if they are fit Pique and Puyol pick themselves, both for individual abilities as CBs and for their knowledge of how to play as a pairing. Maybe can’t hold as high a line as we have in the past though. In midfield, unless we completely lose our brains and go for a gunfight we can have a big edge with the usual trio.

    One of the things that irks me at times is how something is said about a player, picked up by others then somehow becomes reality. It seems to have happened with Pique that he is prone to bad games – when was the last? As I’ve said often before he doesn’t have problems with Spain, he has problems with kamikaze CB pairings at Barca.

    Now it is happening with Iniesta. He doesn’t lose the ball, his passing stats are incredibly high, when he wants to you just can’t get the ball off him and since when did he become any slower than Fabregas ? Iniesta looked out of sorts at the start of the season imo because he was struggling to understand how vertical Tata wanted to be but I think (hope) we have now realised that we should temper that initial thinking and he is more comfortable.

    I am a great fan of what Cesc offers but neither speed nor positioning in our midfield are in those skills. If we get this wrong any one of our three in midfield will suffer pace wise against RM but less so hopefully with our CB pairing staying at home. I have a feeling that RM will actually try to play against us today. If so, we will get more space and they could suffer.

    Up front I am a bit worried about Messi’s fitness – not anything else. If he isn’t completely fit , and he hasn’t looked it, he should be on the bench and give him thirty minutes with Neymar playing centrally till then. If Messi is fit then he plays from the start – no question. He is the only regular goal threat we have. Tbh, after his and Neymar’s names on the sheet I’m not sure it matters who gets the third spot. Neither Pedro nor Alexis do it for me at the moment although both would help defensively – I’d love either to prove me wrong today , beat a man and create something themselves but I doubt either is capable. So, I’d probably go for Cesc and tell Alves he has to be carful about when he attacks – does he add much these days anyway? Would we lose a lot if we told him to stay at home and look after CR7 at which he is quite good ?

    The only thing I’m really dreading is what will happen when the inevitable Madrid dives come. I have a feeling. RM’s two will be having a field day with this ref. If the ref has a good game I see us winning.

    • October 26, 2013

      Kinda sad how we have to figure Mallenco into the pre-match analysis, isn’t it? We know that he is going to allow rough play, which will put us at a disadvantage, and potentially neutralize Neymar if he allows the same kind of manhandling that he did in the Copa.

      For me, lovely stats aside, Iniesta is still struggling, and opponents have sussed him out when he attacks. Like Mata at Chelsea, he will have to hit the next floor up button and rise to that next level … even the astonishing level at which he was playing last season … and become himself again.

      Increasingly, buzz is about the Neymar/Fabregas/Messi front line, with the standard midfield of Xavi/Busquets/Iniesta and Alves/Pique/Mascherano/Adriano at the back.

      We’ll know soon enough, won’t we? Can you be calm and excited all at once? Well, I am.

      • Jim
        October 26, 2013

        My only worry about that forward line, Kxevin, is that we don’t have a lot of cover to offer our FBs. Hence my feeling that Alves needs to stay at home. We also need Cesc not to disappear as he can do occasionally. We’ll just need to see if Iniesta plays but if he does this is the sort of game where he can shine. Sometimes, he is content to just do his thing but if he feels the team needs him he seems to be able to up it without effort.

        I’m thinking from Tata’s viewpoint and in the light of what we were discussing last week about this game’s team being Tata’s preferred 11 that we might just see all three in the starting lineup.

        Thought has just occurred to me. Has Iniesta ever been asked to play RW ? With his ability to play a precise pass and beat his man with ease, not to mention he plays with his head up he could pose a better threat than Alves and would have Marcello on toast. I’d love to see him in some of the spaces Alves gets.

  9. October 26, 2013

    Nice one Mr.Williams.
    I laughed a lot at that bit with women and children and EE signing Mr. Eyebrows.
    But on a more serious note, I think you have forgotten one crucial bit when comparing our new buys. I think Isco may just be the wild card and one that may fill the void left by Mr. Fisheyes.

    Still, Personnel wise Barca has the talent to prevail. I just feel that the mentality and war time attitude might just be a little lacking when comparing the team under Mr. Pistachio and Mr. 3 piece suit. Hopefully Tata can fire up our boys well enough. This match promises to be pretty even, But I hope Neymar announces himself to the world in a big way tonight. Because god knows we need him tonight as messi clearly isn’t himself.

    Visca Barca i Visca Catalunya.
    I’ll go with a prediction of 1-0 or 2-0 to Barca.

  10. 86ed
    October 26, 2013

    You’d actually start with Pedro? Why not just roll out with ten men instead?
    I’d drop Pedro for extra muscles in midfield, along with Iniesta and Fabregas.

    Tello Neymar Sanchez
    Song Busquets Xavi
    Adriano Bartra Pique Alves

    But Martino will likely go with the usual 4-3-3 and we’ll go again without beating a tough opponent.

  11. October 26, 2013

    I have decided what my favored lineup would be, but its completely unlikely to happen with Tata Martino, it’s more of a Pep approach.

    3-5-2 formation:
    Lots of attacking width and defensive stability to begin with.

    Pique – Masch/Bartra – Puyol
    Alves – Xavi – Busi – Iniesta – Adriano
    Neymar – Messi

    plan : be defensively solid for the first half. Get a goal or two and bring in Alexis in place of one of the Central defenders (at which point it reverts to classic 4-3-3) and Fabregas in place of Iniesta / Xavi (whoever is having the worse game). Which will see us end the game with what many are expecting we’ll start with.

    This would be attack, attack, attack.

    • Jim
      October 26, 2013

      It’s more of a cover your eyes approach every time CR7 gets the ball in space one on one with Pique I reckon :).

      Hey, who knows though? This game just can’t be called because we don’t know either what the two best lineups are or how either side is going to play it. There can’t have been another Clasico like this in the recent past.

      • October 26, 2013

        Not so Jim.
        In the past, we have always given TB a lot of space, but with this lineup, I’d like to see us crowd him out, offer no space or time to think. TB won’t get to take pique one on one cos Alves will already be there when he gets the ball. In other words give him the Borussia Dortmund or Gattuso treatment.

  12. G6O
    October 26, 2013

    Barcelona line-up (official): Valdes – Alves Pique Mascherano Adriano – Xavi Busquets Iniesta – Messi Cesc Neymar

    Seems like Tata went with the Messi on the wing lineup.

    • Serena Andre
      October 26, 2013

      And here’s EE’s lineup. Ultra defensive.
      Diego López, Varane, Pepe, Ramos, Khedira, Ronaldo, Bale, Marcelo, Carvajal, Modric y Di María

      • Jim
        October 26, 2013

        That’s quite interesting. Do I make five defenders there or is Marcelo pushed forward?

        • G6O
          October 26, 2013

          Or perhaps Pepe as a DM? In which case sending Messi to the right looks like a good idea – in the past this has worked against the false 9.

          It’s also interesting that Arbeloa is not starting against Neymar.

          • Serena Andre
            October 26, 2013

            Rumour on Twitter is that Ramos is playing in midfield.

          • Jim
            October 26, 2013

            If he is starting there he’ll have his work cut out to stay on for 90, I reckon.

  13. Jim
    October 26, 2013

    Ok, here it is.

    Barcelona line-up (official): Valdes – Alves Pique Mascherano Adriano – Xavi Busquets Iniesta – Messi Cesc Neymar #fcblive

    Hmm, no Puyol. Ball retention and Messi from the right ? Not gonna second guess Tata. Must have a reason for leaving Puyol out but we could have done with him. Brave lineup.

  14. Serena Andre
    October 26, 2013

    I finally got home and got the chance to read your whole post. As I suspected, another brilliant piece that made me laugh out loud quite a few times. It’s so nice to come to a Barcelona blog and have a laugh. I wish there were more sites like this. Too much pessimism going around lately.

    I agree with your prediction. Even more so now that I’ve seen the lineups. If they score first, we’ll probably find it difficult to break through given how many defenders they have in their side.
    I don’t know, I have a good feeling about this one. I don’t know why, but I’m not as nervous as I usually am before Clasicos.

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