Lev vs Isaiah: The Ballon d’Or Conundrum

-Real de Madrid/Espanyol Barcelone- Liga - 12.05.2007

Isaiah: With the Ballon d’Or voting coming to a close whenever UEFA stops pushing the date back, Lev and I decided to have a Point-Counterpoint discussion regarding whether anyone should even care. Going into this clash of the brainy titans, we have our sides squarely figured out: Lev thinks the Ballon d’Or is the bee’s knees and I think it’s as useful as a prophylactic in the Barcelona dressing room.

My main contention is that Most Valuable Player awards in team sports are stupid because they devalue the contributions of the winner’s teammates. The Ballon d’Or purports to pick the best European-based player over the last 12 months, but given that there are 10 other players on the field (most of the time, if you’re not playing with Pepe) and it’s hard to take on a solid mass of players with no defense to back you up in case you fail, I’m not convinced that there’s any particular merit to “being the best”. What I think Ballon d’Or means is “person people liked watching the most this year” and that is almost always a forward.

Lev: I am not sure whether a discussion between a person who understands and uses words like prophylactic and an ignorant bastard such as myself is a fair one, but here goes…

I don’t think the Ballon d’Or devalues the contributions of the winner’s teammates. On the contrary, I quite believe that the majority of players would want the best footballer of the world on their team to help them win the prizes that really matter, such as league championships and CL trophies. Only boys in thongs put their screwfaces on when their balls are not voted certified gold. And although I do agree that what constitutes “the best” in any given year can be a murky affair, the jury is made up out of a wide selection of journalists, coaches and team captains. The fact that the award is almost always given to a forward / attacking midfielder is very logical – they are usually the best players. The Ballon d’Or, while neither terribly important nor perfect, is simply a way of recognizing and paying tribute to the most influential footballer of the year.

BdO: when being rich, handsome and great at football isn't good enough.
BdO: when being rich, handsome and great at football isn’t good enough.

Isaiah: I think you’ve sort of hit the nail on the head, if possibly inadvertently: as far as I know, there’s no actual criteria for the Ballon d’Or, so it ends up being a popularity contest rather than an actual discussion of who is the best player at the time and popularity is so often measured in goals and highlights that it’s hard to separate the 2. In 2009 and 2011, Victor Valdes was absolutely crucial to Champions League victories—remember his string of saves to start off the 2009 CL final against Manchester United?—yet he was never even mentioned for the prize. In fact, I think only 3 defenders and 1 goalkeeper have ever been selected (Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, Mathias Sammer in 1996, Franz Beckenbauer in 1976, and Lev Yashin in 1963). The idea that “journalists, coaches and team captains” make for a responsible set of voters is, to me, laughable. In last year’s voting, Dutch captain Wesley Sneijder vote for Robin van Persie first. Spain’s captain, Iker Casillas, voted for Sergio Ramos. Germany’s coach voted for Mesut Ozil followed by Manuel Neuer. Colombia’s media representative voted for Falcao. Ivory Coast’s for Didier Drogba. Spain’s for Iniesta. Possibly notably, Germany’s journalist voted for Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi in that order. In the end, however, it is almost meaningless who specifically votes for whom because it will end up being a popularity contest rather than an actual discussion of what “most valuable player” really means.

Footballers or diplomats?

Lev: Are you suggesting Victor Valdes deserved a Ballon d’Or in 2009 or 2011? More on that later. If you are going to turn this into an argument about how to improve the voting process, then we can only agree. I personally think we should ban voters from electing countrymen and teammates in order to avoid what you outlined above. I also find it ridiculous that we are supposed to judge players on how they performed during a calendar year instead of one complete season. If FIFA applied these two quick and painless fixes the BdO would avoid a lot of criticism. Of course, no matter what they do, there will often be some room for discussion over a decision which is never reached unanimously to begin with. However, I don’t see that as a problem. As for Valdes, I think his best season was 2010 and I struggle to see how the argument can be made that he was more deserving than La Pulga in either of the seasons you mentioned. Goalkeepers are a completely different animal altogether, of course, and you can’t really compare them to outfielders. They should have their own award. As for the popularity contest and the influence of goals scored in determining the winner, it simply comes back to what I wrote earlier: forwards and attacking midfielders are usually the best players, which makes the ones who excel at those positions logical BdO candidates.

Isaiah: It’s not that Victor Valdes deserved the Ballon d’Or for being the best player in any particular year (whichever of those you deem his best, and it should be noted that the Ballon d’Or specifically does suffer from the calendar year versus season problem), it’s that without him, Messi would not have been considered the best. That’s the whole point: without a supporting cast, it’s impossible to succeed in a team sport. I like your particular tweaks to the voting rules, but in the end your last sentence is exactly what I disagree with: forwards and attacking midfielders aren’t usually the best players, they’re the most glamorous players because so few people understand what defenders and defensive midfielders do though they’re quick to jump on them for mistakes. To take a Barcelona example, Pique can have an immense game, but if the opposition scores because, say, Messi didn’t defend properly and let a 2v1 develop, it’s Pique that gets the stick for being “out of position” or “slow” or whatever adjective anyone wants to use to describe him. That’s not to say that Pique is always faultless–far from it–but in a team sport where ebb and flow is so important, end results are perceived as products of individual moments (ie, goals are scored by brilliant finishers and the last pass is always the most important one) rather than as the intersection of a million interconnected variables (a ball is recovered on the flank and a series of passes moves the ball up one side, a run down the other side by a winger draws a defender a step backwards allowing a forward the space to receive the ball). If we’re to talk about there being a major difference between goalies and outfield players to the point where there should be a second award for them, I would argue that there should be 4 awards: best goalie, best defender, best midfielder, and best forward. Comparing apples to oranges can be an enjoyable experience at a bar over a few rounds of beer, but the truth is that these are subjective notions and as such are remarkably affected by personal biases already in place.

Lev: Well, the difference between goalkeepers and outfielders is incomparably bigger than the difference between defenders, midfielders and forwards. And although your argumentation for soccer being a team sport where all the players depend on each other is sound, it fails to take into consideration a fundamental truth: the most talented footballers play in forward positions. Europe is filled with players who one day started out as attackers but were not good enough on the highest level until they were converted towards more defensive positions. Our own club is rife with examples of the same. Jordi Alba didn’t make the cut as a left forward, but he’s a fine left back. Puyol started out as a striker. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst was a playmaking midfielder at Feyenoord. Edgar Davids made his debut as a winger, as did Winston Bogarde. The list is endless and the reason very simple. Ball control, dribbling, vision and scoring are skills that are more special and therefore more difficult to develop than say, defensive positioning, tackling and build-up play. It is easier to prevent a goal than to score one, and easier to destroy than to create. Really this is about as subjective as 1+1 = 2

See? It’s easy.

Isaiah: Oh, so now we’re going to get into math? Did I ever mention that I love statistics and once attempted to design an efficiency rating for individual players because, well, that’s the sort of thing I used to have time to do? Well, I did. And here’s what happened: it fell flat on its face because there’s no way to assign an objective, numbers-driven statistical analysis to the contributions of an individual in such a dynamic sport as football. You seem to agree with this and then you digress into the idea that the most talented players play up front. Is that what the Ballon d’Or measures? The most talented player over the last year? I was under the impression that it was fetting thebest player. And, since we’re using statistics, wouldn’t on-field success define “best” more objectively than any other criteria? Whereas, if we were really talking about a Most Valuable Player, we’d be talking about a player whose contributions to his team led them to a greater performance than their talent would normally allow? Because talent is unquantifiable, how do you determine who is the most talented and what’s even the point?

But I’m not sure I accept your premise that the most talented play up front. There’s a particular genius that I’m thinking of: he’s not much to look at physically and he’s not really a goalscorer, preferring to pass, but the talent Andres Iniesta displays is hardly lower than all but one or two players on the planet. There are days when I think that he’s better than Messi and certainly there have been days when he was more effective. If Cristiano Ronaldo is the apex of the Real Madrid talent world, why is that Mesut Ozil’s departure was a major blow to the tactical makeup of that team? To take an example out of Real Madrid’s slightly more ancient past, remember when Claude Makelele departed and the team didn’t seem to function properly for years? So, then, the absence of a player seems to be as big a factor as the presence of another. It’s not that Makelele went on to light the world on fire–never his style–it’s that his style lent itself to allowing everyone else to flourish. So is that talent, value, or just destroying? It’s not that Iniesta or Makelele aren’t talented, it’s that they’re not goalscorers and as such aren’t the sexy footballers the media can rave over. Is this a beauty contest or a question of who contributes more to his team throughout the year? Can you quantify the number of points a mid-table team wouldn’t have without a particular player? What about a team at the top of the table?

Thank you Flor for selling Makelele!
Thank you Flor for selling Makelele!

Levon: Of course nobody can quantify the number of points any particular player contributes to his team. If it were all mathematical, which thankfully it is not, then FIFA could just pull out their calculator instead of having people vote. As it stands I think they should be judged on a combination of factors, talent being one, how well they performed another, and the value of their individual perfomance over the year to their team.

As for the talent question, I definitely include attacking mids in the top tier along with forwards. Özil is a rare gem who I find a lot more enjoyable to watch than Cristiano Ronaldo, but you can’t seriously think that he was a more important player for M*drid than the great Preener from Portugal. And are you suggesting that Claude Makelele should at some point of his career have won a Ballon d’Or? You are right that he was an exceptional player. His best shot might have been 2002 for what he did at M*drid, but of course his teammate Fat Ron went on a tear in Korea/Japan and, you know, France got torn up, so there’s that… 2003 and 2004 were kind of weak years, the first of which went to Nedved, despite the fact that Thierry Henry was taking the EPL by storm and ’04 should have gone to Deco or Ronnie or Henry but they gave the nod to Shevchenko instead. The case can definitely be made for Claude not to have received enough recognition during that time. Either way Flor made a monumental mistake when he refused Makelele’s request for a salary bump, as he stupidly thought he could substitute the Gaul for a Galactico. The problem was not just that the big guy left, though. Our dear president (hehehe) completely messed up the balance of the team by not only failing to replace the man, but the whole position.

Still, I am not arguing that defensive-minded players can’t be the best, or even most talented, player in any given year (have you ever known me to take the dogmatic approach?), but I will maintain that they form the exception rather than the rule. In general terms, attacking players are definitely more gifted footballers. Andres Iniesta is an attacking midfielder whose incredible abilities include most of the skills I mentioned earlier, namely vision, ball control and dribbling… Imagine how good he would be if scoring were part of his repertoire. He might, by the way, be better than Messi on some days, but there are never any days that I think he is a better footballer than Messi.

Come to daddy...
Come to daddy…

Isaiah: So it can’t be quantified, but it’s as easy as 1+1=2?

Here’s a real world example: in 2006, a team from nowheresville, Spain reached the Champions League semifinal. They were led by a brilliant, talented, and altogether incredible player named Juan Roman Riquelme. That Villarreal side had no business in the Champions League semifinal and they very nearly made it to the final but for a missed penalty. Their semifinal opponents were Arsenal, the team finally reaching the heights their previous brilliance had deserved. If you can name me 4 players from that team without looking, I’d be impressed. I can name probably 9 of Arsenal’s starting lineup from the resulting final. Riquelme was backed up by some good talent–Marco Senna, Juan Pablo Sorin, and a young Santi Cazorla), but the striker in front of him was Guillermo Franco. If taking that team to the semis of the Champions League doesn’t deserve some sort of credit, what does? Riquelme’s subsequent stand on the Ballon d’Or podium was inspiring–oh wait he didn’t make the top 3. Fabio Cannavaro won it, with Gigi Buffon and Thierry Henry 2nd and 3rd.

In 2010, the award went to Messi, with Xavi and Iniesta backing him up. Of course, there was a team that won the treble that year–Internazionale–and a player who not only won the treble, but also led his team to the World Cup final. Yet Wesley Sneijder was snubbed, failing like Riquelme to make the podium in a year when he was in scintillating form and failed only to have his teammate (Arjen Robben) score a 1v1 (created by Sneijder, if I’m not mistaken) against Iker Casillas. That was Sneijder’s grand failure of 2010: having a teammate that couldn’t score the goal that would have won a World Cup. So it was Messi, whose team was crushed 4-0 in that World Cup’s knockout rounds, whose team lost to Sneijder’s in the Champions League semifinals, and whose team was bounced from the domestic cup in the round of 16. That only makes sense, of course, because Messi scored an outrageous number of goals throughout the calendar year (Sneijder also won the Club World Cup with Inter).

In a lot of ways, the question for me is whether it’s more impressive for Leo Messi to take Barcelona to the Champions League final or for Riquelme to take Villarreal to the semifinal? Because the answer to that is a complex question involving teams, it renders the concept of a Most Valuable Player award in a team sport meaningless. If Messi were to beat Stoke on a cold Wednesday night you could easily argue that he had prodigious talent around him to help him along with that, but if Messi took Stoke to the semifinal of the Champions League, everyone would chalk that up to a fluke and poo-poo his Ballon d’Or chances because maybe they didn’t win the Carling Cup or it’s a World Cup year and clearly the winner of that team deserves the accolades (as if winning the World Cup isn’t enough personal glory).

This isn’t tennis, where you do all the work. And if it’s doubles, the whole team wins (and everyone agrees they had equal shares of the title), but somehow there’s an individual distinction amongst 11 players (10 outfielders, since you refuse to give goalies their full player citizenship!). I don’t get it.

The journalists' pick of 2010, Wesley Sneijder.
The journalists’ pick of 2010, Wesley Sneijder.

Levon: You are twisting my arguments. Whoever should win the Ballon d’Or in any given year is not quantifiable in mathematical terms, but attacking mids and forwards being more talented than defensive footballers is indeed as easy as 1+1… The fact that you proceed by making the BdO case for two classic number 10s seem to underline that particular talent question, but let’s move on from that.

I always felt that Cannavaro was a cop-out choice made to reward an Italy side that won a World Cup by playing maybe one good match during the whole tournament. Then again, no player stood head and shoulders above the others that year. Ronnie’s chances were crippled by a disastrous WC, in which Zidane shone after sleepwalking through the club season. Riquelme (or Henry) would probably have been more inspiring choices…

As for Sneijder, he was the heart of the treble-winning Internazionale side and of the Dutch team that somehow made the finals of South Africa 2010. My enduring image, however, was of Wesley yelling his lungs out at Howard Webb for failing to give us a corner when his free kick bounced off of the Spanish wall instead of tracking back to defend against the last-minute goal that cost my country the World Cup it historically so deserves. Still, if anything, his chances were hurt by the fact that the BdO is awarded for the performance during a calendar year and he did play like crap in his second season at Inter. Tellingly there were very few protests from the Dutch media and/or public when Messi was chosen above him. The Argentine’s brilliance was widely acknowledged.

So there you have it. As with most individual awards in team sports, there will be years where the winner is debatable, and the current set-up of the Ballon d’Or is total crap far from flawless. It is important to remember that as far as prizes go, this is just a bonus one, of which even its detractors like to argue over who should have received it. I don’t see anything wrong with honoring a single player every year with an award. The difficulty of determining who that player should be doesn’t make it meaningless… provided that we don’t seek to give it too much meaning to begin with!


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Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...


  1. ciaran
    December 1, 2013

    It is a popularity contest, one that is flawed by many many issues.

    Firstly, there is no definition of best player.
    Most effective, best scorer, best team player, naturally talented, most successful?
    This season, Ribery was the most successful player, Ronaldo was the best scorer, Messi is the most talented footballer, Ibra scored goals that no one else could. Which should you pick?

    Secondly, public voting makes it impossible to be an honest vote.
    As you mentioned, people vote for their team mates or compatriots. Ribery seems to get annoyed on a daily basis if X or Y doesn’t vote for him.

    Thirdly, every season people win the award for different reasons.
    Cannavaro won it for for a reason that should have meant that a Spaniard should have won it in 2010.

    Fourthly, the wrong people vote.
    I fully understand the importance of having coaches and captains of national teams voting for it but that list includes amateurs from dozens of national teams.

    For me, Messi is undoubtedly the best player in the world but Ribery has been the most effective footballer this year and should get the award but then again, what do I know

  2. December 1, 2013

    Isaiah, good to hear from you although you are not winning this ballon d’or battle with Lev, who has won one himself, way back in ’63. But no, jokes apart.

    The list should have read like this.

    ’08 – Penaldo
    ’09 – Messi
    ’10 – Xavi
    ’11 – Messi
    ’12 – Iniesta, but Messi’s 91 is hard to ignore. Still Andres would get it if the criterion that the best player in the most successful teams in the most important competitions be strictly adhered to. And finally..
    ’13 – Ribery going by the same / fair criteria even though Messi is clearly a much better player. Ribery would Pip Leo to the award because a treble that includes the CL does exceeds a Liga Title. TB would be completely out of contention. But alas, with all these stupid rules and public voting I think he will get it this year.

  3. AgrawalRahul
    December 1, 2013

    Hi guys, i am an old reader since the days of barcelona.theoffside, but this is my first comment and my English is poor, so please show some mercy. 🙂

    I feel the point you are discussing is a part of wider debate. In conditions where teamwork wins why we make single person heroes while clearly the victory is part of team work. And also generally the credit goes to the face of the team, who may or may not be the most important person for the success. I think this is a general human tendency because Human being a social animal need somebody to get associated with(for praise/love/hatred or any kind of emotion).

    Now coming to this point i think the point raised by Isaiah can not be truer. I am from India and cricket is a religion here, but because hitting 4`s and 6`s looks better visually rather than taking a wicket, now we are producing only batsmen and that too who can hit without any technique. Cricket as a sport used to be a contest between bad and bowl, the guile of bowler vs the talent of batsman. Now this has become a sport for batsmen. Bowler are like machine, throwing balls at batsmen with fear. Similar thing is happening to football in general. Attacking part of the game has been given so much importance that people are neglecting defenders. I love, really love seeing mazy dribbles, inch perfect through passes but i also loved watching defenders like Maldini, who can make attacking players virtually non existant for the whole match. Authorities will have to realize this.

  4. Jafri
    December 1, 2013

    Why does this place get so dead when there’s a game on? And yet we love to discuss all the fluff and drama that surrounds the actual matches.

    FYI Barcelona playing as poorly as I’ve seen them in a long while. (Didn’t watch the Ajax game though)

  5. psalmuel
    December 1, 2013

    Whats the use of playing fabregas as false 9 if he’s not going to get atleast a shot on target? He’s not even playing close to goal,so who do we expect to score for us?

    • Jim
      December 1, 2013

      For me our forwards are playing as three separate individuals. I’d like Cesc to get closer to Neymar. He can help pick him up if nothing else! Is the pitch that bad?

      They’ve done a power of running first half. If we can weather first ten I fancy our chances.

  6. psalmuel
    December 1, 2013

    looks like this is headed for a draw or loss

  7. Huckleberry
    December 1, 2013

    Barça unable to go the pace of Athletic.

  8. K_legit in Oz
    December 1, 2013

    Iniesta is to be blamed there.

  9. TITO
    December 1, 2013

    We surely have to play the blaming game. Who’s to blame now?

  10. psalmuel
    December 1, 2013

    We need a ‘real’ goal-scorer apart from Messi in this team. Fabregas is sh*t in the false 9 role. That true 9 signing has to take place this january

  11. ooga aga
    December 1, 2013

    a clear red denied by the ref, would have changed the entire game.

    on the other hand, we did not have a good second half. bilbao played a great game start to finish. the second half seemed like it never got started. so much garbage time, wasted time, especially after the goal. bilbao managed the game very well. we didnt create too much in the 2nd half, and we did wear them out…they might have worn us out.

    despite some moments of brilliance, not a great performance. this is always a difficult match at san mames.

    we missed dani and leo, and i think several other might not be 100%. but we should have had the gunpower to win this. at least we are still in 1st place.

  12. psalmuel
    December 1, 2013

    I don’t blame anyone. Thats what you get when your attack doesn’t have a focal point. Fabregas pissed me off but its not his fault that he doesn’t have the attributes of a false 9.

    • stefan2k
      December 1, 2013

      Fab4 was annoying … stumbling around most of the time but it was collective failure which lead to this loss.

      On the otherside I was quite impressed with Sergi Roberto. Could have been a good game for Bartra too.

  13. December 1, 2013

    Just a horrible horrible game from the boys. I had a feeling that we would drop points tonight, didnt expect all of them to be dropped especially after all the players unanimously agreed on how shit they were just days earlier.

    So many loose passes, scrappy touches, impatient long balls, miscontrols, and speculative efforts, Barca has become completely unrecognizable.

    The problem with having a pragmatic approach as opposed to a devotion to the style and the process is that as long as you are winning its fine, but when you dont you look like shit. You cant even take any solace from that fact that at least you have done things well.

    • Peter
      December 1, 2013

      I have to agree with you there. Athletic might’ve been nudged on along the way by the ref, but Barcelona played really bad. The red card could’ve changed a lot, but maybe not.

      Now, when I look back to the Betis game and how a lot of people including me were saying Messi couldn’t have picked a better time to get injured, because the only really tough game will be against Atletico… That was a bad week. At least there’s four days until the Copa del Rey match and they may be able to rest a bit and really recharge and shake things up. Xavi and Iniesta specifically looked quite lost. There’s something happening to the team. When even Busquets seems confused you can tell something’s up.

      I know that Messi is still missing, Alba and Dani Alves are still injured and Valdes is at least two weeks out, but come on, the defense looked like a deer caught in the car lights. Barcelona were getting out-passed, not in number of passes but in number of accurate forward passing, they were chasing the ball instead of anticipating it. I really don’t know what’s happening.

  14. ciaran
    December 1, 2013

    Another very disappointing match. We deserved the loss again but it could have been very different if the Neymar challenge resulted in a red card like it deserved. It was a goal scoring opportunity and it was denied by a blatant foul.

    Iniesta and Xavi in midfield together is not working this season. They possess no goal scoring threat which is not good for us.
    Fabregas is a great midfielder but nothing above average as a false 9.
    Neymar went down far too easily very often tonight.

    Mascherano was very poor again in my opinion. I’m worrying about him to be honest. He was our best defender last season and has been very poor this season.

    • G6O
      December 1, 2013

      Outplayed in midfield out of all areas….

  15. psalmuel
    December 1, 2013

    We need a proven goal scorer apart from Messi in this team. Lexus is not a proven goalscorer,Ney is yet to find his scoring boots, Fab scores only against the celta vigos, xavi and iniesta each score once in a season. That implies no focal point in attack. Now,we know the value of messi and won’t complain when he sleeps walk on the pitch. These are the games, he makes a difference

    • G6O
      December 1, 2013

      It’s a very different game if Neymar had converted that chance early in the first half. That’s the differences between Messi and everyone else – Messi was able to convert such a high percentage of his chances (and half chances) that it masked a lot of the deficiencies of the team as a whole. Now he’s absent and we’re exposed 🙁

    • Peter
      December 1, 2013

      The FIFA “friendlies” were last week. Valdes and Dani Alves are still out, but come on, Barcelona weren’t the only team that had to send players. You can’t blame the FIFA virus.

  16. ciaran
    December 1, 2013

    I’d love if we could get Lewandowski on a free next summer. Someone who will take some shots and is a consistent goal scorer.

    The other problem is that we didn’t create chances really. Sure it was better than Ajax but Iraizoz still didn’t have to do as much as Pinto

    • Peter
      December 1, 2013

      Only two shots on goal for the whole match. It was embarrassing.

  17. psalmuel
    December 1, 2013

    We suddenly became an average team, bilbao weren’t scared of us anymore

  18. flyzowee
    December 1, 2013

    Its just like Kari said in her last (great!) post about a foward. Too many associative players upfront so little killer instinct. We didnt play poorly per se, the first half was quite even. On another day Neymar probably buries those chances and sanchez was a live wire with some great touches, runs and hold up play. But what can we honestly say for fabregas? In tight games like this you cant really afford to carry passengers. Its really no fault of his though and what other choice does Tata have.Just look at tonights bench…sigh

    • Peter
      December 1, 2013

      Very true about the bench. It seems like exhaustion is creeping in. While Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas were being rotated, with some Sergi Roberto minutes thrown in, the midfield looked very strong. Maybe it was a function of Dani Alves, Messi and Adriano/Alba all moving forward to help Xavi and Iniesta, but the midfield looked good. Not like tonight.

      Then again, when in a tough away game your subs include B and Juvenil A team players, you’re not scraping the bottom, you’re actually digging in the ground beneath it. 🙁

      • December 1, 2013

        Spot on, flyzowee. There was some beautiful associative football that resulted in some very good opportunities. Only the final execution was lacking. It happens.

        I confess to being stunned that the Neymar foul wasn’t a straight red, but he might not have been the last man (witness the Bilbao player running alongside/just in front of the player who fouled Neymar).

        The larger issue is that Martino is trying to make do with a team that should have been overhauled some time ago. Despite that, still just off a 20-match unbeaten run, will most likely win its Champions League group and is joint top in La Liga, with an injury roster that could account for most of a kick-ass starting XI.

        No worries.

        • mom4
          December 1, 2013

          So, if you could have any roster you want, how do you overhaul? Who stays? Who goes? Whom do we splash the cash for? And how do you do you keep the baby whilst ditching the bathwater?

          • December 1, 2013

            Sticking with what would have been possible:

            Pop for Martinez, take a chance when Vertonghen was offered to us for 15m. That covers the defense. Puyol takes on more of a player-coach role. This also means you have a backup for Mascherano, and probably doesn’t necessitate buying Song.

            Do whatever was necessary to keep Thiago, shift Iniesta role, make Xavi more of a big-match player rather than a full-time player.

            I’d have picked up Olivier Giroud from Montpellier when he was on the market. Price, profile was right, and he wouldn’t have minded not being a full-time starter at Barça.

            And yes, I still would have bought Neymar.

            In terms of players out, Villa would have been as gone as he is now. No way Dos Santos is allowed to stay, and I sell Tello last summer, and keep Pedro. So the roster is:

            Defenders: Alves, Adriano, Alba, Pique, Mascherano, Vertonghen, Martinez, Montoya, Puyol

            Mids: Xavi, Thiago, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Fabregas, Busquets

            Attackers: Messi, Sanchez, Pedro, Giroud, Neymar

            Keepers: Valdes, Pinto

            You have a 22-player roster with a more consistent quality, that also allows real rotation and fresh legs. Done.

          • mom4
            December 1, 2013

            I agree 100%. Unfortunately, that’s what we SHOULD HAVE done. Water under the bridge now. Where do we go from here should have been my question I suppose.

          • G6O
            December 1, 2013

            And the worst is yet to come. We will have to basically buy half a first team next summer (we need a defender, we need a striker, we need a new right back, we need 2 goal keepers, and all of a sudden it seems like, as shameful as it is for this club, we are weak in midfield too, so we will have to upgrade there with some fresh legs), and we will be desperate. Given the current market, that will be easily in the neighborhood of 150 million.

            So all those “savings” will turn out to be losses in the end

          • Peter
            December 2, 2013

            Kxevin, what about Bartra?

            When you say Martinez I assume you mean Iñigo Martinez, but from what I’ve seen Bartra is better.

          • DianaKristinne
            December 2, 2013

            No, he meant Javi Martinez. 😛

  19. Archie
    December 1, 2013

    It’s June of 2013, Thiago is stressing, buy as many of the following as possible:

    Jackson Martinez


    Diego Suarez
    Olliver Torres
    David DeGea

    In other words the a left footed defender, a striker who wants to run and gun, and 2018 Spain World Cup Team.

  20. Didn’t watch the match, but just saw the highlights. As far as the red card was concerned, i didn’t think it was a red card because when the challenge was made he may not have been the last man. The goal came from a classic steal and counter from Bilbao. We always are susceptible to it.

    But the thing I can’t understand is that against Madrid we shifted from the false 9 strategy, then why can’t we try it when Messi is absent. People asking for Neymar to be false 9 should remember that only Messi has shone really well in that role, across the globe. And throughout his career in Brazil and national team, Neymar has always played with players in front of him. Without anyone in front of him, most of his mazy runs could become pointless.

    We need to start shifting from this false-9 fixation. Even Messi said last season after the Milan match that he was getting more space to operate with a player in front of him. Where is Villa when we need him? Let me see, he is playing at Atletico! If this is how we play at San Mames, then what will truly happen when we go to Vicente Calderon? I don’t think Messi will be back by that time.

  21. TITO
    December 2, 2013

    We played with two wingers in Alexis and Neymar and no attackers at all, cause Cesc was nowhere near their box. I didn’t get it. Was he instructed so or…?

    • morph73
      December 2, 2013

      C’mon say it he was just too slow…
      But all in all I would say Bilbao was the team with more hunger yesterday… They were attacking like a pack of wolves and maintained that over a period of 90 mins…
      Gurpegi (sorry if the name is misspelled) had his claws out during the game but he did play his part well in not letting the rhythm of Barca to kick in the attack…
      I think Barca midfield was good enough yesterday, not awesome but good, and more or less the attack wasn’t potent… Neymar slipping, Cesc kind of missing for a large portion of the match and poor Alexis did all he could whilst getting fouled…
      For the goal that we conceded I just have 1 thing to say “Where the hell was Mascherano!!! 😡 ”
      I do have a lot of ranting to do but I guess I will save some space for better comments 🙂
      All in all I think I just have to be more realistic going forward and not expect Barca to win all of the games… 😐

  22. psalmuel
    December 2, 2013

    Thanks Tito. You just re-highlighted the point of my frustration. Playing Fabregas at false 9 is a failed experiment and almost the most tragic thing after 9/11. When will Tata realise this? He’s slow and lacks the skill set required to play in that role. And he further complicates things by drifting away into midfield so when an attacking move is done, there’s no one in the box to finish it. Looking at yestaday’s match, our false 9, who was suppose to get the goals, had just one shot and it wasn’t even on target. Messi draws the defence centrally,beats his markers, squares it to the wingers and dashes in to meet their crosses or allow them to score. Fabregas in contrasts, draws no one to himself and either falls over or loses the ball. All we need is a real number 9, who can be a focal point when messi is playing or not. Like you have well stated, we were playing with two wingers and four midfielders. Their CB’s and goalie must have well adopted counting the number of turf that was peeled off as a hobby

    • December 2, 2013

      I understand hyperbole, but “the most tragic thing after 9/11” is not ever going to involve millionaires kicking a spherical ball around a nicely tended field of grass.

  23. psalmuel
    December 2, 2013

    Since we are good at playing players out of their positions, why can’t we play Pique at center forward and see how he fares? Or atleast before we sign a proper striker

  24. morph73
    December 2, 2013

    And Adriano is injured again… Sigh 😥
    Does anyone know the approx return date for Alba or Alves???

  25. ciaran
    December 2, 2013

    I have a few issues with our squad but I will again say that I believe that we have the quality to win La Liga.

    We have not enough genuine goal scoring threats. Last season it was even worse but Messi was fit until April. Without Messi we have people who can score goals but we have tactical issues that only Messi sovles.
    Cesc and Sergi Roberto are talented footballers but strikers? Come on.
    With Messi out, Alexis or Neymar need to be the central striker in my opinion.

    Iniesta this season has 1 goal in 22 games but over the past 3 seasons he has averaged 1 in 6. He isn’t beating players like he normally would and isn’t creating as many chances either.
    I don’t know if he needs to be benched for a couple of games or if he is thinking too much about his new deal but for me, he doesn’t deserve his place on the XI on current form.

    • BA
      December 2, 2013

      i’ve never understood the hesitation to play Sanchez through the middle, whether as a false 9 or even at the tip of a midfield triangle; it is in this position that he enjoyed his magical season at Udinese and is far closer to the position he plays to tremendous effect with Chile. with Messi out it seems a very obvious choice to make, but both Tito and Tata have shied away from doing it; maybe there’s a political element with not wanting to “base the team” around a young outsider (despite him being one of our best players this season) or not wanting to oust Fabregas who seems to have quite the cheering section in the current administration despite his poor form on the actual pitch.

      certainly it makes better tactical sense than putting Cesc there, and allows us to add another real striker to the front 3, in Pedro.

      as for pepping up the team, apart from the obvious deficiencies in defense i think we could stand to bring in a midfielder (or 2, after ditching the inadequate Song) in the likes of Gundogan or Arturo Vidal; a hardworking, combative all-rounder in the Deco mold. certainly the energy of such a player or 2 would have been helpful in yesterday’s game against teams looking to pressure us so intently.

  26. KEVINO17
    December 2, 2013

    Cesc as false nine really was a disaster. I think he’s a good CM because he’s a great passer. But Barca need someone who can spin past defenders and dribble at defenders. Tata has two options at false nine (Neymar and Alexis). Given the choice, I’d use Alexis because then he can drop back into midfield and really stiffen the defense with his mobility.
    Busquets did some good things today. He also lost the ball half-a-dozen times (maybe I’m exaggerating) in dangerous positions. Song did that just once and everybody would be saying he was a failure.

  27. KEVINO17
    December 2, 2013

    I don’t mind losing, but I totally hate listening to Gerry Armstrong tell me that Neymar took a dive when he got crunched in front of goal. What a total idiot. Also claimed that Neymar deliberately got in front of his defender (as if that’s not Neymar’s job: it’s called shielding the ball, Gerry). Just to repeat: what a total idiot.

    • December 2, 2013

      I dont like Gerry at all. I shockingly remember him screaming out when CR7 missed a sitter against us in the 10-11 season, and since then have always taken his word with a caution.
      But for me too, it looked too easy for Neymar to go down. He could have decided otherwise, and to test the goal.

      • barca96
        December 2, 2013

        Did you like the part where he said that “Messi would’ve stayed up”??

        When the ball was played, I was hoping that Neymar would not cut across the defender. It happens 99% in professional football. I don’t understand why they do that.

        If he stayed up, he could’ve shielded himself and taken a shot with his left foot. In the event that he didn’t have enough time to pull the trigger, there is a high chance that he will be fouled and at least get a penalty unlike last night where it was just a free kick.

        • December 2, 2013

          I was thinking that and he mentioned it. I was surprised, of all the people Gerry mentioned it.
          Exactly my thoughts, if he tried to carry on, he would have got a shot, or could have been fouled well inside the box.

          • barca96
            December 2, 2013

            Gerry Armstrong never came across as an anti-Barca or anti-continent football (Andy Grey and the EPL gangs and of course the old onion bag whom I can’t even remember his name because of my hatred towards him lol)to me. He seems good to me. I don’t know, maybe I’ve missed somethings he said in the past.

            But my cable tv is a bit weird. One week they show Sky Sports broadcast (Gerry Armstrong with the Revista guys) and the next some other broadcast with Duncan Castle (quite boring). I prefer Sky Sports with Gerry anyday. If I could choose, I would take

  28. December 2, 2013

    It is disappointing that we are trying to depend on a red card, so that the match would have been different.

    I thought, the ref got it right. There was yet another Ahtletic player running along. But all the more, Neymar went down too easily or he could have tried to stay on and and with another touch, could have got a good shot. I believe our no.10 in exile would have done that. The ref might have also thought about another silly dive of Neymar’s earlier in the match.

    In Ajax game, I found our midfield to be poor. In this one, both our midfield and attack was poor. For all the greatness of Xavi, when pressed intensely, Xavi is unable to do one thing that is his hall mark – controlling the game.

    In spite of that, I thought, there were still moments when with a bit more intelligence / technique / passion we could have at least tested the goalie. But the front 3 failed. I found Montoya to be better than many other stars on field.

    People are often talking about how we send long balls now. A long ball to a forward who is marked by a defender is useless, unless that forward is a Messi or CR or Zlatan. Most RM long balls, in contrast,lands in open space.

    For some reason, I believe we will still pick up. We may not face many parked bus’ here after. If we can manage the intense press, we should be able to manage. I am just worried, the team is really tired.

    • ciaran
      December 2, 2013

      Just to touch on the red card decision.
      The law states that if you deny a clear goal scoring opportunity it is a red card, whether someone is the last defender or not is slightly different argument.
      The Athletic player that was technically closer to the goal (arguably) was not in a position to stop Neymar from shooting so it had to be a red card.

      • barca96
        December 2, 2013

        Agreed on the card decision.

        And I was praying that they wouldn’t get a man sent off. I hate playing against 10 men.

        a) the win is not as nice when you have a man advantage,
        b) it looks bad to still not muster shots on target or let alone goals (eg. Ajax)
        c) teams might play ultra defensive which makes it even harder to score

  29. DianaKristinne
    December 2, 2013

    All I can say is that for about 2 years now we are building beautiful sand castles on a very shaky foundation. Last night I found myself asking for substitutions at one point in the second half. And then I thought who we could bring on. Our bench had: Oier, Patric, Bartra, Song, Sergi Roberto, Adama, Pedro. And I realized that neither one of those players, if brought on, could have really had an impact on the game. Or at least that’s how I felt at that moment. But even so, I still wish they had been done earlier.

    The first half was rather good, the first 30 minutes had some beautiful play and lovely, fluent, build-ups. After the break it all crumbled, like the aforementioned castle of sand. We were unrecognizable. I’m usually an optimist, I find bright sides, but after the goal we conceded I felt like the players were as demoralized as I was. I don’t know where our fight has gone, but I miss it. The midfield was completely overrun. As much as Busi is a genius and amazing at what he does, even he cannot stop a deluge all by himself.

    These last 2 lineups are not the ones I would have chosen. I love Masche, he’s a boss and everything, but there is absolutely no way I can justify him starting before Bartra right now. These games, with crazy-energetic-high-pressing opponents, would make me consider a Busi-Song-Cesc midfield. As a midfielder Cesc has scored 5 goals and assisted 8 in 9 games. As a false 9 he has scored 1 goal and assisted none in 6 games. This is absolutely terrible for any CF, be it false 9 or pure 9. He’s just not cut out for it. I would have tried playing Sergi Roberto there, at least the kid can run… Or have a fluent, mobile, interchanging Alexis-Neymar-Pedro front line. I really don’t know. At this point anything seems better than Cesc as a false 9. Even Piqué. 😛

    Adriano will miss the Villareal game, due to suspension. He could also miss the Celtic one due to injury. It seems that we have jinxed him when praising his 10 consecutive games without injury. Maybe Dani and possibly Alba will be back by then.

    All this being said, I have faith that this can be overcome in the next weeks. The Cup game should be dealt with by non starters. After that we have Celtic at home next Wednesday and Villareal at home on Sunday. 2 games at the Camp Nou should help us heal a bit.

    • barca96
      December 2, 2013

      Thanks for the Cesc in midfield and F9 comparison. Cesc is like a quarterback. I don’t understand why the constant failed experiment of him at F9.

      Why not try Neymar at F9?

      • barca96
        December 2, 2013

        But I don’t think Song is the answer. We need someone more energetic and faster than him. I do think we need to try and play Busi and Song together more often.

        Yaya would’ve been perfect as he could defend and attack! But that’s water under the bridge now.

        • DianaKristinne
          December 2, 2013

          For me Xavi would play every 10 days. In the other games we can play Cesc with a double pivot or a Busi-Iniesta-Cesc midfield. Or Sergi Roberto for Song in the first one. But no more Cesc as a false 9. And no more playing Xavi every 3 days….

  30. psalmuel
    December 2, 2013

    Maybe I’ll stop watching any of our matches that fabregas starts at false 9. During Pep’s era, Sanchez played in the 9 role and scored some goals. Considering that sanchez is more in form now, isn’t it more reasonable to playing closer to goal? Instead, he was played on the wing where he was easily boxed out. Is the false 9 also part of the barça philosophy? Why can’t we play according to the squad we have at the moment. If there’s anything that pissed me off yestaday then its fabregas at false 9. Once I saw the line up, I knew we were headed for a draw or a loss

  31. wind9
    December 2, 2013

    The manager & the players are both responsible for this.
    Considering the Ajax game can be filled by lots of youth players and players who want to prove themselves more,was quite surprised Xavi played 2 games consecutively.

    Plz forgive bringing the last Bayern match as a reference to this match: ~ formation, ~ pressing intensity, ~ tactics(crossing& then[]),
    malfunctioning midfield.

    In addition, in both losses, >=1 SB is exposed. Flashes about Montoya can be seen in that 2-2 game vs RM. But he really needs a huge improvement to challenge for the 1st team spot.He need to imp his tech & conf. He does not look comfortable when pressed by attackers. Decision-making? [clear the ball to concede a corner kick /clear to the sides further up the pitch.
    Or else Barca needs to look for a new RB for Montoya’s replacement.
    Now,someone can think of possible replacements.

    The possession suggests otherwise, but the shooting attempt : possession(closer to the goal) once again suggests otherwise. People better not complain about less possession closer to 60% in the future. Definitely a worth trade-off btw the 2.

    The manager’s direction is correct, however has to rethink that in high intensity matches(which are pretty obvious beforehand). Are all the young mids not qualified to be necessarily experimented in dire circumstances(when hand is forced).

    It may seem an antithesis for 2 DMs to appear in the formation.But when form & injuries forced the situation?!!. It does reduce the attacking capacity, then give more freedom to the AM to compensate it. Better than risk conceding a goal when being heavily pressed in mid(especially when the body can’t sustain the heavy pressing due to the obvious physical issue). He may want to give it all, but the body signals otherwise.

    ‘Trad Italian strag’-based teams: think of the color, seems familiar?
    They play diff sys. ~ that Juve playmaker(mid) will probably get suffocated in Barca’s offensive system if he play for Barca in these high intensity matches. The earlier Barca reduces reliability on Xavi, the faster the growth of the team can be. That’s why Barca’s style does change compared with the past coz the players and System have to mix in the best possible proprotion. A balance needs to be set btw these 2. Some players will have to accept the ultimate role change for a better overall team performance & possibly better results. Because fact is, Barca also NEEDS goals from the mid, not only from the forwards. When the mid can perform better in these big matches, linking the back & front better(tech&skilsl is imp/but needs enough fitness&stamina to sustain them), both off& def will perform better. That is one of the huge difference that separates Bayern from Barca now. Bayern does not feature a goal-machines if one looks at their goal scoring distribution and overall the goal(attp)/scoring resp are shared among to compensate for it(esp from (certain ang<s/deep)MF(runs)).

    Messi is out for now.He wants to play.But he won't play until fully healed & match fit, unless someone want to see what happened again after that UCL match vs PSG. Barca players need to cover the goal-scoring resp, like what Bayern does.

    And once again, history may repeat itself, injuries hit, potential holes in the def…vs the Villareal. They may need 3-4-3 again, (even if some may not like it). Certain, high pressing/variations/fluidity are essential for that formation.They need youthful,energetic ones to link the def & attack(esp on the sides).
    Interesting role changes may need to occur…

    For certain, sthg unusal about the injuries, so many.. many investigation may be needed?..

    [Another question, better awareness, strag& stamina& fitness, faster speed may help to ulitize that very space(esp btw the SB& CB). Both recent games'teams' SB pressed quite high against Barca. Quick passing &dribbling/ may be + counters may be required). Barca CB has to mind that as well.

    Someone mentioned, scrap the next match. Better throw in as many youth players as possible with the aim to win , avoiding that poor performance vs Ajax.For some teams, conf needs to build step by step,game by game. Good things happen with Bale after the 'mini-preseason". Why not give a 'mini-midseason' to Neymar to improve his shooting accuracy, and both Cesc & Alexis to improve their dribbling?
    A time for some heavily used players to recharge and to improve coz after this one comes the important…

    • December 2, 2013

      Nice comment. There are complexities. Fabregas is never going to be anything other than slow of foot and mind, which makes him, for me, ill-suited for little else than those Champions League knockout stage matches, where everything is slower, tighter and more positional. As a false 9 against a pressing team, he’s usually out of position or caught with his back to the ball.

      Sanchez needs space and the less time to think he has, the happier and more effective he is. Problem is against a pressing team, he is often caught solo on the wing, confronted by two defenders. He tries some stuff, and often either passes back to midfield, loses the ball or gets fouled.

      Neymar is a similar player. Both he and Sanchez have excellent close control, but thrive in space. They are also good and dealing with physical pressure of the type that worked the ball loose from Iniesta yesterday, leading to the Athletic goal.

      The real issue for me is fatigue, and fatigue as a consequence of having too few of the right players. The reason that Bayern works as well as it does is because they have a consistent level of high-quality players, rather than astounding world-beaters. So when Robben or Ribery goes out, there isn’t that much of a quality loss.

      Compare than to when Messi, Xavi or Iniesta go out. Same with Busquets, Alves, etc. The quality of our starters is so high that to get anything approaching that level is very expensive, and potentially a problem as you have to get very good players. And those players aren’t going to be happy sitting on the bench as much as they would have to. Thiago’s situation, multiplied by a bunch.

      The reason the current complexities are so much more difficult to solve now is because the team has lost two years relying on individual quality, without supplementing it in the market. Now there are Masia players close enough to being ready that if the team buys a young talent (Reus, for example) the clear message to players like Denis Suarez and Sergi Samper is that you don’t have a reliable future in the first team. Can’t do that.

      Can’t buy attackers, because the future of Deulofeu is uncertain as to whether he is coming home or not. So the team is effectively in a holding pattern.

      • barca96
        December 2, 2013

        That is why the managers (Pep, Tito and Tata) should give the fringe players and youngsters more game time. They keep on playing the same players irregardless of their form.

        If I was the manager, even if they’re in a good or above average form, I would rotate them as they need to rest and to give the back up players game time and see whether they can do even a better job.

  32. barca96
    December 2, 2013

    Would Thiago have made a difference? I think that he should be able to do better than what Xavi is doing right now. Thiago is young and fresh so he will definitely run and press more. On top of that we have an energetic Sergi Roberto to rotate with Iniesta and Cesc.

    Our midfield looks pretty rusty and it’s not new. I’ve said this last season as well. Xavi and Iniesta are getting over run. Busi is exposed too much. He can’t do it all himself.

    • December 2, 2013

      No, despite what some might suggest. He would have long-term, in that his minutes would have helped Xavi and Iniesta log fewer, but not in that match.

      I’m glad that people are seeing the midfield as the problem. It was the root of the Athletic goal yesterday, as well. It’s a series of systemic breakdowns, like dominoes. Xavi can’t press because he isn’t getting the help from the forwards like he used to. The nasty secret is that Xavi never could press. But what he could do is nip in from the back as pressing forwards held up opponent attacks. Same with Iniesta.

      • G6O
        December 2, 2013

        However, it’s not as simple as forwards not pressing either. Because all three of Neymar, Cesc and Alexis did a lot of running after Bilbao defenders. The problem is that it was just that – running after people with the ball and rarely getting anywhere near it, and it is because they were always very far apart both from each other and from the midfield. So it was more of the old “One player pressing is one player out of position” rather than the suffocating press we used to see. When the press was working under Guardiola, there was an amazing level of coordination between players in closing down space, and that’s why it worked. I don’t think it’s the case that the players have forgotten how to do that, it’s more because we have been forced to push our lines back so that we do not allow so many counter attack goals (which, BTW, we have actually done quite well this season – look at the number of goals allowed and how many of them were the result of the defense being exposed by counter attacks starting from the opponent’s half). The problem is that if you’re going to do that, you need super fit midfielders and an increased intensity from the forwards if you are going to keep pressing because you need to cover more space. But our midfield has declined physically so it’s no surprise we have not been pressing and have looked incapable of when we have had to, except for the games where we could compress the game into the opponent’s half (which we would have won anyway as those were against weaker teams).

        It is a systemic problem and it goes back to the lack of fast defenders who can cover a lot of space quickly, which is what exposed us so badly to counter attacks in the first place. We were able to compress the game and press effectively because Abidal and a younger Puyol were there to clean up whatever mess cam his way, and stability and confidence spread forward.

  33. barca96
    December 2, 2013

    Mendieta and Ballague made a great point last night. What is the point of long diagonal balls when the target point has a defender with him? Most of the long balls were designated to a player that already has a glued to him. It is not like NFL where they can use their hands to catch the ball. It is only useful when the winger has space to run on to and no defender stuck on him.

    It could be a little bit useful if any of the forwards could actually win the aerial duel and knock the ball down but that is not the case.

  34. barca96
    December 2, 2013

    The players need a strong manager like Jupp Heynckes or Bielsa, even van Gaal and I would even recommend Mourinho for the job.

    They just need someone who can give them the fighting spirit back. A good example to see why this team needs these type of manager is the because the midfield is constantly getting over run, losing 50-50 balls, opposition running more, etc.

    • December 2, 2013

      The players have a strong manager already, albeit one who was parachuted in when they found out that their previous coach suffered an illness relapse. He didn’t have a full pre-season, doesn’t fully know his team yet and is trying to implement a system of play when he doesn’t have the parts to properly implement ANY system of play fully.

      No matter the manager at our club, he would have the same problem, because Guardiola had the same problem in his last season, just as Vilanova did in his: teams have figured out what we do, and the team hasn’t evolved in the face of a new threat.

      So pundits sit and snark about “losing Barça values,” “not playing the Barça way, blablabla,” without realizing that it is fundamentally impossible to play “the Barça way,” because that has been figured out. The larger problem is that we have the players to play a style that has been sussed out, so we have to do something different. But we don’t really have the personnel to do something different.

      The players know how to play the way that they know how to play. The problem is that opponents are not cooperating with that way of playing, first Ajax and now Athletic. Passing lanes work fine until a completely devoted defender physically dives to prevent a pass. Then it’s like “Hey, these boys seem to want this game pretty bad.” And another tika taka pass is tried, with the same result.

      Martino is the right manager for the job, with in many cases, the wrong players for the job. Without going on another Rosell rant, I would suggest that by not making the necessary changes, our board allowed this situation to come to pass. Evolve or die.

    • G6O
      December 2, 2013

      It’s not losing the 50-50 balls that was the problem – we are expected to lose those against a physically superior team. It’s how many of them there were. We have never done well when the game degenerates into a series of 50-50 balls, because we lose control of the game then, and this is what happened in the second half yesterday

  35. barca96
    December 2, 2013

    How come the players look like they forgot triangles or even basic pass and move all of a sudden? The manager can change but the players’ skill sets can’t be changed in just a couple of months.

    Don’t tell me that Tata is only employing long ball drills in training 😆

    • December 2, 2013

      Of course not, but you make a good point. My personal opinion is that the players are confused & second-guessing themselves. They instinctually “know” what their training tells them to do with the ball, but “Tata wants us to be more direct”, so they overthink it. “Should I pass it back, should I send it long, maybe I should try a vertical run?”

      Just IMO.

      • Jim
        December 2, 2013

        I’m pretty much in agreement with what Blitzen says here . The reliance on long ball is foreign to the players; they know that by the time a long ball arrives there’ll be a defender there who is bigger than our forward. It is getting a bit embarrassing to me tbh. It also has the effect of making your mids run further to support any attack.

        I’m also not of the opinion that the midfield is necessarily the major problem. To begin with, Bilbao played a great high energy game. I kept waiting for them to tire but there was no reason why they should as we hadn’t done enough for them to do so.

        For those calling for Xavi and Iniesta to be replaced, who do you put in who could hold the ball better? Do you think they won’t be controlling a Spanish midfield in the summer with by far the best array of talent available to any team. Iniesta kept hold of the ball on two or three occasions last night where I genuinely believe nobody else in the world would have with four or five around him. So the question for me is what’s going wrong that every time Xavi and Iniesta get the ball they have swarms around them? Are we not moving the ball quickly enough? Certainly last night when we strung two or three quick passes to get space they dropped off us.

        I’m also not buying (entirely) the “cant press” argument. If Tata has done anything he has improved the defence simply by (trying to ) make sure that we have the numbers back. We don’t lose many goals when we have a full defence. Last night’s goal was caused by lack of personnel at the back as have been a fair few of the recent ones. Sometimes, like Ajax, I’d point a finger at Xavi or a mid but not often.

        As far as the defence is concerned you couldn’t say it is composed of quality World class players – Montoya isn’t and neither Adriano nor Masche are natural defenders so there is work needed there.

        Up front, the bottom line for me is that only Neymar gives me the feeling that he could create a goal himself and that’s a problem. The rest rely on being played in and that’s not a good situation. So we’re not going to get far firing in long diagonal balls from the back as a matter of course. What we need to do imo, is get Xavi and Iniesta further up the park in control of the ball and let them hit he telling passes.

        Despite all that this team is much better than their last two results. It may take a few weeks to sort and we may be on a dip in form but we’ll get over that, Messi will be back to add his magic and we will be in contention at the end of the season.

        • barca96
          December 3, 2013

          Yeah there were moments where my jaws dropped after watching Iniesta get away. Question is, where were his team mates? If they were in a good position, Iniesta could’ve released the ball to them before he himself got into the sticky situation.

          Of course Sergi Roberto doesn’t have the same holding possession quality as Xavi but at least he has the legs to pass and “move” and press.

          Montoya, Adriano and Mascherano aren’t world class but why don’t we have better players in their position.

          Adriano looks more stable defensively than Alba so I’m 50-50 on that one.

          Montoya is better defensively than Alves so again I’m 50-50 on that one. Of course Alves is better offensively but we’re talking about defense here. Likewise with Alba.

          Mascherano shouldn’t play in CB anymore, period. We have a future world class CB in Bartra, why not make use of him?

          Yup, Neymar is indeed the only one who can create a goal for himself but he looks low on confidence now. Look at the shot he took the other day after the Alexis layoff (didn’t look like a lay off to me though because he attempted to strike the ball but Neymar got there first). Neymar took it straight to the goalkeeper just like in previous matches. That is exactly like what Villa did last season.

    • SoccerMom
      December 2, 2013

      Liked it but it’s a little snarky even given that it’s from Uría.

      “Vuestro Barça que no sabíais cuidar” … that’s a fairly strong indictment of the board, but then don’t position the piece as intended for the fans. “Vuestra Barça que no sabíais apreciar” or “vuestro Barça, el que no sabíais que no podía durar” or something, o.k. A little patronizing, especially coming from a merengue (still 3 points to play, compa) but o.k. If it’s “vuestro Barça que no sabíais gestionar”, then have the collons to call out Rosell by name.

      That said, if it’s “nuestro Barça”, then it’s mi Barça. Mi Barça with Tata, and Neymar, and Alexis, and Messi hurt, and Iniesta off-song and Song as much as Busquets. Ese es mi Barça. After all, what is, as Kxevin reminds us, is all there is. What IS is all there is. What is IS all there is. What is is ALL there is. What is is all there IS. Meditate upon the mantra, stressing a different syllable each time. Eventually rememberance — no, resistance — of things past will free culés into the present.

      Which is still a pretty kick-ass present, by the way.

      • December 2, 2013

        Indeed. It was as much our club when it was at the business end of a 7-0 hiding as it was when everybody was weeping and hoisting trophies.

        What I liked about the piece is the notion that this somehow isn’t Barça because of any things that it does or ways that it plays. Sure it is, just as it was when Xavi was launching long balls for Henry to latch on to.

        What I find most vexing is the malleability of the narrative surrounding this club. Few discouraging words were heard in the aftermath of the Classic triumph. Now, suddenly after two losses, everything is a mess. That starting XI was the strongest team we could field, never mind it being exactly the right team. Ask anyone in August whether, absent Alves, Messi and Valdes what team we would field and it would be that one.

        As I started the season saying, this club can win everything, but could also win nothing. Whatever happens, it’s still our club.

  36. KEVINO17
    December 2, 2013

    Disagree. Neymar has to cut in front of his man to shield the ball. Otherwise his opponent has an easy sliding tackle. He could of course, also shield the ball by shifting more left. But then he’s badly reducing his angle. Slipping in front of his man opens up the whole goal. Instinctively, Neymar made the right decision. Query whether the Ref did (debateable)

    • SoccerMom
      December 3, 2013

      daft punk + pistachio spangles + yayo = happy holiday season for me!!!

  37. KEVINO17
    December 3, 2013

    What are the chances Barca will go out and buy a big name striker (Lewandowski?) in January window? I would have thought the biggest problem is that any big name striker won’t be able to play in the Champions League (so wouldn’t want to come that early).

    • barca96
      December 3, 2013

      Does he even want to come here is the question? His head seems to be in Munchen.

  38. December 3, 2013

    The biggest worry for me is how the style of play and basis of the system has evolved to come to rely on individual brilliance rather than real team play (attack and defend as a team), which was in full effect between ’08 & ’12. I don’t want to get into the debate of what Tata is doing to the style even if its abundantly clear that he doesn’t seem to have the right players for it. Never did I ever imagine that I would see a match like the last one with Xaviniestusquets running the midfield. Anyways, hope the guys pick themselves up.
    They are better than this surely.
    Cesc should never be considered to play the CF role. What does it take for the staff to see this? Both Alexis and Neymar are a better threat there with their pace, reflexes and trickery, especially in games like this one. I’d urge our Mister to exercise his common sense and pragmatism by playing Cesc in bloody midfield.
    Why didn’t Bartra play? We sure look like idiots right now with Abidal playing all his games and our Tarzan swinging. Very poor reaction from the guys after the Ajax game. It isn’t about the results. Even Tata constantly talks of the players and him knowing what to do to win games, etc etc. Not once is playing well, showing a good account of oneself, ever mentioned. As long as you win, you get by, but when you don’t you look very ordinary indeed. It is why we stayed above hiring coaches like Mourinho. And it is why Culers’ heart were full of pride, even when eliminated at CL SFs in ’10 and ’12.

  39. barca96
    December 3, 2013

    I don’t really understand this. Messi won the player of the Season 2012-13 and Ronaldo won the MVP. Isn’t the MVP also the best player?

    I know in the NBA they have the MVP and then the Finals MVP but this award(s) by LFP is confusing the hell out of me.

    • ciaran
      December 3, 2013

      It was there way of giving both of them an award.
      Courtois Best GK
      S. Ramos Best DF
      Illarra Best MF
      Messi Best FW
      Ronaldo MVP
      Casillas Fair Play

      Ronaldo was almost a one man show for Madrid last year in attack so I understand it to a degree, he was their most valuable player.

      It’s kinda funny too that Courtois was voted the best keeper in La Liga last season but both Valdes and Casillas were nominated before him for the FIFPro World Eleven

      • selfie barça
        December 3, 2013

        Last year we won the league with cries of Messidependencia, while Lexus, Pedro and Villa stunk for big parts of the season. He also had that unprecedented stretch of 19 (or more?) league goals… If ever there was a most valuable player of a football team, Messi would have been it throughout our last league campaign.

    • December 3, 2013

      Except the MVP, all other awards were voted by coaches and liga players. To Madrids/LFP surprise they voted Messi again as both best forward and best player.
      They just fixed a new award with MVP, please CR7, without any votes.
      It all looks very funny

      • selfie barça
        December 3, 2013

        Funny? It’s hilarious. CR7 is probably the one who cares most about these awards, anyway.

  40. ooga aga
    December 3, 2013

    Hopefully, this outbreak of “let’s give ronaldo an award so he doesnt feel bad and pout” will end soon.

    In good news, Alba is training with the team again.

    In not good news, Xavi (right calf) and Iniesta (left hamstring) didnt train today.

  41. Momo
    December 3, 2013

    Came across this video of the Bayern City game showing Bayern’s domination… I havent seen Bayern play much this year but I must say, Pep has made them TERRIFYING. This is City at the Etihad they are doing this to!


    They are probably the most complete side I’ve seen since our 08-09 side in their balance between technical and physical football. Not to mention their depth is ridiculous.
    I seriously see them repeating the treble at this rate. Can’t help but feel that sense of invincibility in their play that we used to have. I really hope we avoid them until the final (if we make it). I can see us going all out like in the famous milan comeback and upsetting them.

    • barca96
      December 4, 2013

      Whoa.. Where have you been? It’s been a couple of months.

      I watched 3-4 of their matches, they look scary indeed. But people said that we’re definitely going to repeat the CL too in 2010 but we didn’t.
      But yeah, this Bayern does look stronger than any of our previous teams (08-11). We are more beautiful to watch, what more with a magician like Messi but Bayern is just strong, well oiled machine like team. No magicians but they have a lot of elite players and world class back ups, something we never had. We never had a strong bench like that.

    • December 4, 2013

      That’s a great video. Speeding it up really highlights how long they keep the ball. Wish someone made a similar video on Pep’s Barca.

      • December 4, 2013

        I just can’t get excited about another club, even if it is being coached by a deity. I like the idea of excellent players in depth, rather than world-beating stars in the XI, because obviously, the quality will drop off when those stars are absent, of necessity.

        A team looks “scary” to me when they are wearing body armor, and driving a mechanized weapon that is belching flame. Men in football kits can be beaten on any given day. City was a mess in that match. The same thing wouldn’t have happened to the City that destroyed Spurs 6-0. Day to day.

        Videos such as that, for me, simply allow culers to mutter about what has happened to our football club. I would prefer to watch moments of breathtaking beauty, such as were abundant in that first half-hour against Athletic, and believe that with a full, fit lineup we can do that to any club in the world.

        So bring ’em on, I say.

  42. barca96
    December 4, 2013

    Ronaldo is indeed opening a museum, of himself!! Or not….

    I’m not really sure if this is a typical Brooks Peck Dirty Tackle style piece (satire) or it’s a proper news piece.

    That part on Bendtner is definitely fiction lol.


    • ciaran
      December 4, 2013

      I really like that analysis.
      Everyone has forgotten the half-season that changed our fortunes forever when Ronaldinho joined us. No, not the first half, the second half where Edgar Davids and Xavi played a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1.

      For me, I’d love a midfield trio of Vidal – Cesc – Busquets where defensively Vidal and Busquets would provide excellent cover and offensively Vidal and Cesc could get forward in turns.

      • December 4, 2013

        You know whose name came up today? Oriol Romeu. Man, talk about the natural Busquets substitute. The breaks were bad for him, and he’s doing very well at Valencia now. I’d love to see him back in the colors.

  43. December 4, 2013

    I love this, from Pique (excerpt from an AP story about his presser today):

    Wednesday’s comments came days after Cristian Tello and Marc Montoya said they could look to leave at season’s end if their minutes did not improve.

    Pique says “I understand Tello and Montoya, but this is Barca and we all fight for our starting place. The exit door is always open if you aren’t happy.”

    • December 4, 2013

      He has been doing very nice work. The other problem for me is that Sanchez and Neymar aren’t really scorers, but creators who can score. We have a team full of creators, but nobody whose actual job is to put the ball in the net.

  44. KEVINO17
    December 4, 2013

    KXEVIN – If Barca goes for a striker, does it go for a garden gnome type (Aguero) or a big unit (Gomez). I’ve always favoured the big unit myself who can provide aerial power.
    Surely, Tata is only using Cesc as a false nine to retain team harmony. It’s a political decision. Wonder how he breaks free of that, and all the legacy players he’s inherited.

    • December 4, 2013

      That is the million-dollar question. If you look at the roster, it is built to play in a way that opponents have figured out. So now what?

      This doesn’t even get into Tello, Afellay and Dos Santos, who will all need to go to their forever homes in summer. And I am presuming there will be a gold watch ceremony for Puyol. Pique needs real competition, Iniesta needs to adapt and Xavi needs a situation that allows him to be his best, which might be playing every other match.

      That’s a lot. In addition, there is the striker question. Aguero is a non-starter for me. I would love it if Lewandowski was in the picture, but he is Bayern-bound. If Lewandowski unsettles Mandzukic, that would be an interesting quandary worth considering.

      But the striker has to have size, be mobile, have good control and be able to pass. He also can’t be wasteful (even as we note that all strikers are wasteful). The Dzeko rumor had traction for a bit, but man, expensive player for what we need, since I don’t see a 9 being a full-time, gala XI starter.

      A name like Jackson Martinez impresses, but Porto … that means top dollar, a price that would make matches where he has to sit on the bench rather … um … noteworthy.

      • KEVINO17
        December 4, 2013

        Agree. Big tall back-to-goal striker with some mobility who can play wall passes with Messi. Anything to keep those pesky CBs honest.

        • simple_barcafan
          December 4, 2013

          Pity Larsson started coaching…

  45. ciaran
    December 5, 2013

    I’m not overly concerned with height for our striker. Lewandowski is probably the only big player that I could see us signing.

    Aguero would cost an absolute truck load and I’d much prefer to sign Luis Suarez for similar money. If anyone has watch him this season he is probably the best striker in the world by a country mile.
    When he was with Ajax he said that we were his favourite club and he is a genunine goal scorer.

    I think we need to add height to our team certainly, I think in midfield and full back positions we are very short, and a bigger keeper might help also for set piece situations.

    I’m disappointed at how many of our youth players are so impatient. Montoya, Tello, Sanabria etc. I’d hate to see Montoya leave for free and I think Sanabria could be worth a lot more than his €3m buyout clause. Tello I understand as he isn’t improving and he gave the club this season to see if he could break into the team which isn’t really happening. The season is long though, he might improve yet.

  46. Jim
    December 5, 2013

    Off topic but really sad, if inevitable, news about Mandela. Our school has an exchange scheme with one of the township schools there and the youngsters just arrived here today with beaming faces 🙁

    • selfie barça
      December 5, 2013

      A man dying at the age of 95 years old is not sad news to me. May his life be celebrated for a very long time. If only more world leaders were like him. I am in awe of the man.

      • Jim
        December 5, 2013

        Just colour me soft then, Lev. I remember watching the day he walked out of prison. One of few days in my life I’ve felt we as a race took a step forward. Time for celebrating tomorrow maybe.

        • selfie barça
          December 5, 2013

          Oh, I don’t think it is about being hard or soft, Jim. Just a different outlook on life and death, I guess.

          Nelson Mandela took a huge step forward for all of mankind. His life should serve as a beacon to all (which is why it is a shame that so few followed).

          Anyway, let world affairs be world affairs. Barça’s got a huge game coming up against the mighty Cartagena.

    • Ryan
      December 6, 2013

      Spain nearly has a Group of Death on its hands! The Germany/Portugal/Ghana/USA and England/Italy/Uruguay/Costa Rica groups should provide some good games as well.

      France sure got off easy, considering how they struggled to get to this point!

  47. ciaran
    December 6, 2013

    The draw was an absolute joke.
    Switzerland being a seed? Ridiculous.

    Brazil – Croatia – Mexico – Cameroon is tough
    Spain – Holland – Chile – Australia is tough
    Uruguay – Costa Rica – England – Italy is tough
    Germany – Portugal – Ghana – USA is tough

    Switzerland – Ecuador – France – Honduras is poor.
    Argentina – Bosnia – Iran – Nigeria is poor.
    Colombia – Greece – Ivory Coast – Japan is poor.
    Belgium – Algeria – Russia – Korea is poor.

    So 4 really good groups and 4 bad groups will mean that a lot of really good teams will be going home when the likes of Greece and Switzerland will be going through.

    • G6O
      December 6, 2013

      It was inevitable given the way the teams were seeded.

      It could have been worse though – something like Spain, Italy, Japan, Netherlands was entirely possible (as was Switzerland, Algeria, Honduras, Greece)

      Still, there will be a Round of 16 game between either Brazil and Spain or Brazil and the Netherlands. And that’s way too early for such a game…

  48. ooga aga
    December 6, 2013

    people, watch pedro’s goal celebrations vs cartagena and tell me that isnt a shout out to abidal. very cool. and great goals for the P!.

    • G6O
      December 6, 2013

      His second goal was absolutely awesome. He did that in a Spain game some time ago too.

  49. G6O
    December 6, 2013

    Also, very happy for Dongou – goal in his official debut even if it’s a tap-in. Hopefully, he will shine in the first team (as opposed to Barca B). He scored in most of his appearances with the first team in the pre-season too

    • December 6, 2013

      That was a lot more than just a tap-in. His positioning was excellent, and he put some welly on it and all. Very happy for him. And I adored how Puyol ran the length of the pitch to congratulate him.

      • Chiu
        December 6, 2013

        yes i love that too! how puyol congratulate him, would be a positive moral boost for youngster. Happy for Doungou debut goal

  50. KEVINO17
    December 6, 2013

    So what role was Song playing? A sort of box-to-box false-nine? Sometimes he was almost standing with the CBs. I think Tata has visions of using him as a back-to-goal forward. Then he can use his strength to play wall passes with the midfield.

    • barca96
      December 7, 2013

      He was in front of Busi most of the times but didn’t really penetrate. When I saw the line up, of course I hated that we played with 2 DM’s against a 3rd division team but I was hoping that Tata would ask Song to be more aggressive offensive wise.

      • December 7, 2013

        Song did get into the box a few times, and Tata said something after the game about him having to adapt into an attacking midfield position (as it doesn’t come naturally to him).

        • barca96
          December 7, 2013

          I thought that Song should’ve just played in DM instead of Busi and Cesc playing the AM role. There is a stat going around where it shows that Cesc is much more useful as a AM then as a false 9.

          Besides the stats, it is about time that Cesc gets to get a chance to take over Xavi’s role. It has to happen sooner or later. Why waste his (Cesc) talent in false 9 when he is so much more productive in midfield where he belongs and will have to carry the team for many years to come.

          There was a great chance to play;


          Tata could’ve let Dongo’u play in his natural position, #9 or try Alexis out at false 9 which he can, probably the 2nd best after Messi in this team. And play Adama at LW and Pedro at RW.

          Or Alexis and Pedro in the wings and Dongo’u in the middle where he belongs.

          Cesc at F9 experiment has to stop!!

          Of course the players are to be blamed for the lackluster (another!) performance but the manager has to carry some of the blame for the poor line up. The substitutions last night were poor too. I don’t understand why he had to wait so long to make changes when the win was already in the bag, against a 3rd division team!

          Hopefully we’ll get to see more fringe players and youngsters in the 2nd leg.

          Or play Adama at L

  51. barca96
    December 7, 2013

    I found this moment so funny and adorable! Dongo’u getting his face squeezed by Puyol. Dongo’u is nearly half Puyol’s age!

    Thankfully I recorded the match on DVR and I recorded it this clip on my phone and uploaded it onto YouTube.



    I hope there is an IT genius here who can do a GIF of this funny moment. If you need photos instead, I’ll take multiple photos as I still have the match on DVR just in case 🙂

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