“Welcome back,” aka “Been longer than we know since we have seen That Messi”

getmessi

So. Lionel Messi has returned, after 59 days away from the lineup of FC Barcelona. He scored two goals, capered about like a colt unbound, and many people had similar reactions to the spectacle, to the tune of:

“I had forgotten how good he was in the time he was gone.”

For me, however, it was easy to forget because it’s been a long time since he HAS been that good.

Messi’s best is staggering. But Messi’s good to really good is still pretty astonishing. Athletes talk about a success capability, the range of possibilities available to a competitor. A cyclist does sprints at 250 rpm so that if he needs it, the capability is there. Messi is good. So good that he can not be at his absolute best and still be the best, scoring goals, delivering passes and assists and being a wonder of a footballer. It’s more than enough to get by, but his level best really has only rarely been required. Yes, he’s that good.

Having Getafe as the next-round Copa opponent was rather fitting, since it was against them that Messi scored That goal, the one that many point to as his greatest. He essentially either faked out or outran the entire Getafe defense before slotting home and essentially continuing his run.

Messi was 19 years old when he scored that goal, and what people forget is that Messi used to run like Pedro. As time passed and he became not only the best player on the team but the best player alive/cash cow/most in-demand athlete, all that stuff slowed him down. But that wasn’t all.

The last proper pre-season that Messi, or the rest of the team for that matter, had was the year that Guardiola took over the club. There was no silver, which meant no extra matches, no Club World Championships, SuperCopas, SuperCups, promotional appearances or friendlies. Who the hell wanted to pay to see a club that had won feck all, right?

That Treble year, the season essentially didn’t end. For season after season, on it went as through it all, Messi wanted to play. He would get injured, rush back early, the dude just wanted to play. Guardiola came, adopted a preventive training regimen that kept Messi from getting hurt and it was great, because that means that he could play even more.

Lionel Messi became a fixture in the starting lineup unless he was injured, or on rare occasions. He played Copa matches, Champions League matches, Liga matches, friendlies for club and country, qualifiers for World Cup, charity matches … you name it, Messi played it.

His regimen was adapted so that he didn’t have to run like Pedro, so that he could play as much as he wanted, as much as the world and his coaches wanted. The adaptation so that basically, our little wonder wouldn’t break under the strain.

And, during all that time, complexities began to arise as the demands and the burden grew. He trained, he fought off little knocks, probably lied about other ones, and kept playing because more than anything else in the world at the time, Lionel Messi wanted to play football. That’s all. Give him the ball and he’s happy. And what coach isn’t going to include the best player alive in his lineup? Guardiola did it, Vilanova did it, Roura did it under the guidance of Vilanova.

Then, last season, Messi broke. It was inevitable, really, but break he did. He rushed back, helped the club, then broke again. He rushed back, helped the club, then broke again. He got better, just in time for World Cup qualifiers, friendlies and a crapfest of a pre-season that along with club and personal demands, left a tired, messy Messi.

And then this season, his first under Tata Martino, he broke again. At the time, people nattered about things that were being done or not done. Others said it was simple fatigue. Whatever it was, he broke.

More interestingly is that for a long time, Messi had been self-managing so that he could keep playing. But because matches are really the best form of training, as he walked around, stood and watched his teammates press, run and play, the inevitable fitness loss happened. Look at this picture from the 2013 season, and note the little “Villa paunch,” as I like to call it.

messi2013

Compare that to the dude in the top image.

So when we say “Man, I’d forgotten how good Messi was,” it’s because he hasn’t been that good for a long time. I can’t think, even as we watched Messi score goal after goal to break the record, when the last time was that he was bouncy, running in that effortless way that used to see him able to leave any defender in his wake. We watched him instead get chased down by defenders who shouldn’t have been able to get near him. We watched him focus on a seemingly impossible record, lock his focus on a goal and go, grim-faced, about his mission.

The numbers, the performances were amazing. But for me, watching Messi in that match last night brought about a facepalm to end all facepalms as suddenly it was obvious: No, it didn’t take 8 weeks to heal a hamstring. Duh. But it did take 8 weeks to give Messi, for the first season in too many, a proper pre-season where all he did was train, eat right and take care of his body. And we are seeing the results, as we see Messi as he should be, should have been but couldn’t be because of the life of a global superstar footballer.

Look at the run that led to the cross for Sanchez, and the way that Messi accelerated away from people to find a clear piece of space. Look at the first goal he scored and how locked-down his control was of a difficult ball, the kind of control that showed a fully engaged player. And the second goal … all I could think about were the Pepe Le Pew cartoons, where the cat was running full speed to try to escape the amorous skunk, who just loped down the road, always just ahead of her. Those Getafe defenders were running. Messi just seemed to be loping in a pocket of space, in the middle of a green-shirted phalanx until suddenly, he stopped and detonated.

That Messi. For the first time in a long time, our superstar is mentally and physically fresh, and it shows. The challenge now for Tata Martino, will be maintaining and honing that edge. The best part about it is that the World Cup qualifications are over, and there are no friendlies, save one just before spring in Qatar. There is just FC Barcelona football, and training. Yes, there have been periods where that has been the case, but instead of trying to dig out from a mess, he is fit, honed and fully rested.

People don’t remember how good this Messi was because it’s a different Messi. So I, like everyone else will say “Welcome back,” but for me it’s been a much longer wait when I really think about it. All that it took to remind me was a couple of accelerations, a couple of runs and a couple of goals. Men against boys for the best player alive, which is how it should be.

Welcome back, indeed.

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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.

218 Comments

  1. PrinceYuvi
    January 9, 2014

    Wow, Kx. I honestly didnt know you liked him so much. Ha. Sorry. Nice article, many thanks.
    Forgive me for crashing the party, but I was too thrilled when I found the following article,
    Lionel Messi: Are Barcelona a better team without him? http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/25654224
    Is barca a better team without the best player in world ?
    There cant be a higher praise than this.
    After these 59 days, people had to stop and take notice. Not a one man team anymore. Fabulous work from Tata & co.

  2. egcg119
    January 9, 2014

    Martino is a genius. Actually, he might just be a very practical, level-headed man, but in the crazy environment of football, that’s a certain type of genius.

    But the man deserves WAY more props than he’s been getting. Consider what he’s done.
    1) As said above, he responds to a Messi injury by making our forwards more productive than they’ve been in years.
    2) Brings back Messi fitter than he’s been in years.
    3) Has Xavi saying “I’ve never liked missing even one game and that has taken its toll on me. I now realise that I have to save myself a bit…But sincerely, I have never felt better in my career than I do now. I feel more mature, more fit, and I am learning more than ever.”
    4) Eased Neymar into the team perfectly and gave him a bit of rest on either end of the winter break (partly due to other factors, but I’m being generous).

    He’s doing what a coach should do – taking care of his players as individuals. And it’s paying huge dividends. The veterans are happy and relaxed, the youngsters (bar Tello) are confident and improving, and the team is winning, well, pretty much everything.

    And that’s not even getting into the tactical changes. Amazing what simply being able to pay attention to the little details does for a team. Tito was a good coach, but it’s impossible to take care of a team when you’re taking care of yourself, fighting for your life. Guardiola’s stress and balding may have limited his ability to take care of the team in 11-12, but that’s perhaps a disservice to him. But the point is, Tata is showing the difference a full-time coach makes, and man, it’s wonderful to see.

    As Kev puts it, we have a Mister again.

    • PrinceYuvi
      January 9, 2014

      Since Tata took over, ‘Rotation’ is my favourite word.

      Was ‘Messi’ my favourite word before ?
      I wont tell.

  3. Dar_vincy
    January 10, 2014

    Spot on, Yuvi.
    Was about to highlight that Rotation has been a conspicuous and prominent element of Tat’s regime.
    And he has a strange albeit plausible pattern of making his subs- that’s by taking off the player making the most contribution and retaining the one with the minimal productivity. Alexis and Pedro are classic examples.

    • PrinceYuvi
      January 10, 2014

      Er Thanks )

      In 6 months Tata managed to convert a few stooges into Proper Sporting Stars who steal the Headlines from the God of football himself.
      No mean feat.

      Even Thong boy couldn’t achieve that in 4 years.

  4. January 10, 2014

    Now that Messi has himself said, that he had issues even before the PSG match, it is understandable that the ‘joy of playing’ was not there with Messi even before. Instead of a Joyful Messi, it was a worrying Messi on the field. Hopefully we have got back the joyful Messi.
    His run for that cross to Pedro was the real highlight for me, even above the second goal.

    • barca96
      January 10, 2014

      He said that? But by the looks of it from my eyes, his joy of playing disappeared way before the PSG match.

      I too find that his run and crossed to Pedro was the highlight.

      If you have the match recorded, watch how Pedro leaped. Looks so funny. He tried with all his might to jump as high as possible.

    • January 11, 2014

      Yes, I saw the video, it must be the barcaTV video, because someone was translating.

    • January 10, 2014

      Just read that article. How awesome is it that Zonalmarking used a BFB video in order to illustrate their tactical analysis?

    • January 10, 2014

      Possibly the most worrisome line in that article is:

      desde la Junta Directiva del Barça ya se anunció hace unos días que el club tomaría medidas contra Cases si como resultado de la presentación de la documentación ante el juez Ruz se hacían públicos los detalles del traspaso de Neymar.

      Loose translation:

      Barcelona’s board of directors announce a couple of days ago that the club would take action against Cases (the socio who brought the Neymar contract case to the court) if as a result of the presentation of the documents before judge Ruz details of Neymar’s transfer are made public.

      Yikes. Transparency, right, Sandro?

    • Jim
      January 10, 2014

      Is there anything unusual about a club wanting to keep details of contract negotiations secret, though ? I don’t want everyone knowing exactly what we paid or any other clauses that might be in the contract and I’m not exactly happy with any socio dragging us to court , possibly forcing us to reveal that. If the court case then goes against them I’m sorry but I’m all for them getting the boot.

      If anyone wants to get rid of the board they will get their chance at the elections. Judging by what I hear here nobody will vote for Rosell anyway ….. Or are we only getting one side here? I don’t confess to know anything about the politics and like others I don’t warm to Rosell but something doesn’t add up and this is not a time for one of our own to drag us through the courts.

    • January 10, 2014

      Idk, Jim. I think there is something inherently wrong with a board (that campaigned on transparency) to not only pay 40M to an undisclosed third party in a transfer deal, but also threaten a soci who wants the information to become transparent.

    • Peter
      January 10, 2014

      It’s not a threat. It’s more like a promise. 😉
      I think you think there’s something inherently wrong with THIS board. And especially its president. 🙂

    • January 11, 2014

      I don’t think democracy is a dictatorship for limited terms by any definition. Just because you get elected, you don’t get the right to do whatever you want. If someone believes something dodgy is going on, there is a constitutionally allowed provision of approaching the courts. So the socio is perfectly correct in approaching the court. If there wasn’t any merit in the case the court could have just thrown it away. The very fact that it was admitted shows there is a reasonable suspicion regarding the deal. So the club will only emerge stronger from this ordeal. When I say the Club it means the club as a whole and not the management. And that is the great thing about democracy. And that’s why everyone should be proud of this club, because it allows each and every member to correct something which has gone wrong with the club. And the very strength of this club is that “The Members have the Power to take corrective actions” not that “Management can hide everything on the basis of clause”.

      I do understand that many complains and call the guy who try to expose the deal as a traitor. That has been the usual go to tactic for those who align with powerful guys who want to protect and hide their dealings at all the cost. I don’t think the Club will emerge bad even if the judgement goes against the Management. The club is bigger than the management and if their are rotten apples in the club they have to be thrown out. I don’ agree by exposing the truth anyone can harm the club. It only could help make the Club emerge more stronger and help introduce necessary checks and balances to make it is not repeated.

      “Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
      ― Mahatma Gandhi

    • Peter
      January 10, 2014

      I’m with Jim on this one. The club has promised one of the parties confidentiality. If that promise is broken, the club is open to be taken into court over a breach of agreement. And the club has all the right in the world to go pitchfork-and-torches after the one who caused it.

      BTW Levon, I get it you’re pissed with Rosell, but how many player transfers are made public? Not “here’s the rough estimate”, but all the tiny details down to the clauses that for example prohibit the player to bang more than one different girl on a weekly basis. How many. Dammit, Real Madrid still insist that Bale’s transfer cost was 91 million, not 101 as everybody else is going.

      Have you thought about the fact that if Sandro was less transparent, he could’ve said “We paid 17.1 m for the winner of the Confeds Cup.” and won the Kenobi Persuasion Award?

    • January 10, 2014

      I doubt that Barça can get taken to court over a breach of agreement if it is a court of law makes the information public. I also assume that if a judge orders the information to be made public, it is because he has a legal right and/or duty to do so. I think it weird for a club to threaten a soci depending on the outcome of decisions made in a court of law.

    • January 10, 2014

      A few things:

      — We don’t know if there is any sort of penalty for revealing the details. We DO know that there is potential damage to the club’s reputation in a case such as this. Many deals are confidential, etc. Could potentially make the club less trustworthy in a deal with another club. Speculation.

      — Mr. Cases, some would speculate, is being punished not as much for his seeking of this information and bringing the case as much as for being part of the Go Barça group and its failed recall referendum. Dunno.

      Peter and I discussed this situation a bit previously, so I won’t go on at length here. Yes, there are ulterior motives to the quest for information, in that the person seeking said data wouldn’t be at all unhappy if Rosell and the board were damaged as a consequence.

      Personally, a player transfer is not enough to bring down a president, even if there are irregularities, which is now a “He said, he said” situation.

      — Does it matter, really, if the deal made Neymar the highest-paid player at the club? Nope. But if that has happened, and the club wrapped it in layers of grey and legal-but-not-transparent stuff, or finagled some stuff to avoid tax complexities, it strikes me as information that deserves to be public, if such a ruling is found. I always like to flip the script and imagine what I would be saying if RM did a deal for a coveted player, and there was a question about 40m of club money.

      We have essentially said that Neymar cost 57m. Santos has said that they were paid 17m. Both are correct. The question of where the other 40m is, lingers.

      I don’t know of an effective-but-unmuddy way to find the answer.

      We should also remember that just because a case is potentially to be ajudicated doesn’t mean that all of the details will be public. The club’s lawyers could, as a request, seal the proceedings. Then only the decision would come out.

    • January 10, 2014

      “Does it matter, really, if the deal made Neymar the highest-paid player at the club? Nope. ”

      Hmmm, I can think of two problems here.

      First, it might upset the dressing room balance. If publicly the board announces that Neymar is on the third scale whereas in fact he received a 40M signing bonus, other players might feel that they have seriously underappreciated in comparison.

      Second, future targets might ask for similar signing bonuses as well.

      All in all, 40M is a way too high figure to be shrouded in a cloud of mystery.

    • Peter
      January 10, 2014

      As usual, Kxevin, you put it much more elegantly and eloquently than I could.

      I just don’t like the idea of giving La Central Lechera and the yellow sport journalism more ammunition. I don’t want to see Barcelona’s name be dragged in the mud just because the media can’t find something else to abuse for their smear campaign. And you can bet your internet access that this will be milked for all it’s worth, and then some.

      Ever since Tito Floren came from Brazil with empty hands and declared the grapes to be unripe and too pricey, the Meseta media have been trying to find the real culprit. As we know, one of the mainstays of EE ideology is that EE buys the best there are – and bugger the price. If EE didn’t buy the best, if the price was too high for EE, then there’s an ideological failure. Consequently, either Neymar wasn’t the best(which is what was the initial way of portraying things), or there was a more sinister reason – Catalan dishonesty and illegal dealings. Neymar being overrated has been proven to be as ridiculous as the latest Roncero article, so the reason must be the shady dealings of FC Barcelona(Humiltat i Valors!!! Putos catalanes!) and their president.

      I just think we shouldn’t be helping them.

    • January 11, 2014

      Absolutely Not!

      Any law you sign is under the Law of the Land. It doesn’t matter whether you have got an agreement with anyone. If any court declares it illegal and void, then the agreement ceases to exist. So no one can ever sue.

      The club will not be in any position to take any action against the guy who went to court. He has a right to approach the court to deal with his grieviences. You may not like it but that’s his right. If the club expels him for that, it would probably end with another bigger lawsuit which could end with a millions of dollar in damages and also an order to reinstate him. So that argument is plain stupid. Remember he is exposing the deal via a court.

      Actually I would love to see a judgement which forces all member held Club to clearly make any deal which it’s make transparent to the members. I think it will only help transparency and accountability.

    • Peter
      January 11, 2014

      Remember that the socio is part of the management of the club. In legal terms he would be a representative of FC Barcelona. So it could be argued that FC Barcelona negotiated in bad faith. It doesn’t have to be annulled by court. If the details of the contract are made public – by any means available – then it’s a breach of trust.

      And just like in your logic that the guy can go to court to deal with his grievances, the club has the right to take him to court to deal with grievances. Plus, as a soci, co-member and representative of FC Barcelona, he has the obligation to further the cause of the club. And the club is a private entity – even if it’s owned by its socis. The club has the right to not accept an application for membership, and has the right to renege the membership of a socio whose actions have proven to be contrary to the well-being of the club.

      I’m not saying it will be done, but it can be done. IF it’s proven that the socio acted against the club. As Kxevin pointed out, the board is a caretaker of the club. It is not the club.

  5. January 10, 2014

    At Martino’s presser today, he sort of hinted that Messi wouldn’t start tomorrow, which I think is the correct decision.

    Physically, Messi himself said that he is returning to top form “bit by bit.” Atleti will be kicking the crap out of anything that moves. Juanfran: “Oh. Sorry, Mom. Then don’t come too close to our box.”

    But the more compelling reason is psychological. This team has, for the end of last season effectively and two months of this one, kicked ass without Messi. The wrong signal would be, when he returns, to say “Huzzah!” and shove him into the lineup in the biggest match of the season so far.

    Dance with the players that brung ya, as they say in ‘Merican football.

    Buzz is that the front line will be Fabregas/Neymar/Sanchez, which will hopefully line up exactly like that. And freakin’ Pedro and Messi coming off the bench? Remember when we weren’t deep, and nobody was scoring goals? Yup. Buzz is also that Alves “might” start.

    My lineup, assuming Alves starts:

    Valdes
    Alves Bartra Pique Adriano
    Busquets Xavi Iniesta
    Sanchez Neymar Fabregas

    • emiljorgensen
      January 10, 2014

      If you switch Fabregas with Pedro, I think we have the ultimate line-up. Hopefully Martino will start with Neymar in the center of attack. Fabregas has performed quite well as a false 9 recently, but personally I just don’t think he is “front-3 material”. He is at his best when he plays in midfield, making darting runs into the box from deep and getting into goalscoring positions that way. ‘Cause there is no doubt that he is a decent finishier

    • PrinceYuvi
      January 10, 2014

      Via Barcastuff, Lineup on training today :
      Alves, Pique, Masch, Alba,
      Xavi, Busi, Ini,
      Lex, Cesc, Pedro.

      What up with that defense ? Little omnious.

    • justdoit94
      January 10, 2014

      I am one of the people who gets nauseous whenever i see masch in the line up bearing in mind that the only two tall players in the entire team are Busquets and pique. Set pieces will not be fun to watch tommorow.

      Masch is not what u call a natural defender. He dives into tackles and that’s qualities for a midfielder.
      With that being said, in a game like tommorow, our centrebacks get the most time and space on the ball. Therefore, the centreback duo needs to be intelligent and creative so that theycan switch play from one side to the other and masch has that.
      **In the copa clash, David villa was deployed to man mark busquets while leaving the centrebacks free **

    • Serena Andre
      January 10, 2014

      Well considering that Masche was bloody brilliant the last time we played Atleti, I don’t particularly mind if he starts tomorrow. With that said, my favourite pairing would be Pique-Bartra. They work really well together.

    • Serena Andre
      January 10, 2014

      This lineup makes sense when you think about it.
      Although benching both Messi and Neymar seems risky (and kinda insane) at first glance, it’s understandable. Messi just coming back, Neymar has only played 10 minutes since mid December. Alexis, Pedro and Cesc are in great shape.

      Nothing to explain in midfield.

      As for defence, my preferred pairing would be Pique-Bartra, but Peter brought up a good point. Costa would probably target and ‘bully’ Bartra on purpose. I just don’t see that happening with Masche. Plus, he was a wrecking ball when we played them last time (I just watched the matches again). Although this could be a great test to see if Bartra is the real deal. I’m just glad I’m not the coach, so many decisions to be made.

      I wouldn’t normally like Alba and Alves playing at the same time since they’re both very attack-minded, but both Alexis and Pedro offer a lot of help in defence, so I can see why it could work.

      Basically, this team seems set up for an insane amount of pressing and probing in the first half, then when Atleti’s legs get tired, bring on Neymar and Messi to create complete chaos. Doesn’t seem like a bad plan, in theory.

    • PrinceYuvi
      January 10, 2014

      Nice points,
      Intense pressing and incisive passing is what we do Best & simeone will be expecting that.

      But what do we do in Free kick situations ? (Oh, atleti must have planned to cash the dead ball situations, if not – they’re idiots)

      Bartra can head. Adriano is strong(..er) & takes shots from outside of the box.

      Alba is fast and can cross. Where is he going to run if there is no Breathing space ?
      what’s the point of crosses if the atleti players manning the box are all 7 feet tall ? (Albeit, Ney scored a header in super copa)

      Good news is, Tata knows what we know. In Classico, he flummoxed Carlo. I wonder what he has in store for Diego.

      They’re calling Barca vs Atleti the Biggest match of Liga.
      Hoping for an extremely close contest & Barca as winners.

    • Peter
      January 10, 2014

      Why Busquets on the right?

      I just think Bartra may not be ready for this match. In my view Diego Costa could “bully” Bartra. The way I imagine Masche, he would respond to bullying attempts by rubbing his hands and grinning. After all, isn’t he the guy most willing to tackle in the entire team?

      I would also wonder about putting Fabregas on the left, even though it will leave much more room for Neymar in the center. Alba and Neymar communicate well and with Neymar being more used to facing two players he could liberate Alba. With Fabregas in the center I’d expect lots of direct play and intercepted vertical passes. On the other hand with Neymar in the center we could expect increased probabilities for free kicks.

      Not so fun fact: Koke, Juanfran, Arda Turan, Tiago and Diego Costa are all on four yellow cards coming in this match. Sevilla are probably hoping every single one of them gets a card, especially Diego Costa. 🙂

    • justdoit94
      January 10, 2014

      i love cesc but i absolutely hate the very idea of playing him as a false 9. In those sorts of matches, i would much rather see cesc slot in midfield while neymar as a false 9.

      Also, i am very curious as to how we can have access to the line-ups that the team is going to be playing with 24 hrs before the match. Are there some sort of scouts who watch the team train or does the media have someone from the inside spill’in.
      Same stuff happened before clasico in addition to another match.

    • January 10, 2014

      It’s a double-edged sword, really. He’s got the quality to do very well at that position against lesser opposition and thereby convinces his coaches to play him there against teams like Atletico where he will suck like a newborn piglet. Or maybe not. He can prove us wrong. Or, more likely, Martino will play Messi.

    • Bill
      January 10, 2014

      Suck like a newborn piglet? Hahaha

    • Peter
      January 11, 2014

      We don’t have access, we’re speculating based on previous form, matches played, opponent strengths and expectations.

      As for Cesc, when he plays as a false nine, he doesn’t play like Messi. His manner is more like an advanced passing node, an attacking midfielder that is capable of scoring goals, but his best is verticality, passing to the two wide strikers. The formation in this case becomes more like 4-3-1-2(wide).
      Cesc is put in that position not to score goals, but to draw attention to himself and communicate with the two wide strikers. Alexis managed to score a hattrick, Pedro as well. And Cesc is not too shabby himself.

    • BA
      January 10, 2014

      Fabregas would be next to useless as a False 9 against Atleti’s closed, narrow defensive shape. he’ll have basically no space to turn or play his little dinked passes; we’ll need someone through the center who’s more dynamic and makes runs all over the front line. Sanchez? more likely Neymar.

      my bet would be on Sanchez-Neymar-Pedro tomorrow.

    • barca96
      January 11, 2014

      Or maybe Cesc would drop deep into a false 10.

    • January 11, 2014

      What’s a false 10?

    • Jafri
      January 11, 2014

      Starts as a midfielder and comes forward to play as a striker. Exact opposite of a False 9.

    • January 11, 2014

      Errrr, like Dennis Bergkamp when he played as a true 10?

  6. mom4
    January 10, 2014

    The suicidal(maybe) lineup I’d like to see tomorrow:

    VV
    Bartra**, Pique, Masche
    Xavi, Busi, Ini
    Cesc
    Alexis, Neymar/Messi*, P!!
    *one subs in for the other
    ** Dani would work here too if ordered to be more conservative, but he hasn’t played in a while…

    So crazy it just might work.
    If the ball never gets past the midfield we never have to defend near our goal.

    Just a thought!

    • Valdemar II
      January 10, 2014

      It is but a fantasy, yet it is exciting, playing three at the back with our best central defenders and playing with an ‘AM’. Cool idea.

    • PrinceYuvi
      January 10, 2014

      That could work.
      Atleti play 442, No wingers ;
      with two midfield destroyers and couple wide midfielders.

      Lets outnumber the bastards in the centre and bludgeon our way towards the Goal.

      But it’s a new system and it’s a crucial match.
      Awesome comment btw.

    • BA
      January 10, 2014

      also Dani was terrible last time he did play. hopefully he just wasn’t fit. i can’t decide if i want to see him tomorrow or not; certainly we’ll need *attacking* help down the flanks but i think Adriano would be a better option from what we’ve seen.

      Adriano-Pique-Masch-Jordi Alba
      –Busquets–
      Xavi—Iniesta
      -Sanchez-Neymar-Pedro

      looks like our most likely lineup.

      though i’d love to see Barta-Pique-Masch as a back 3; as Atleti will attack primarily through a narrow Villa/Costa a back 3 handles that excellently, if they tuck in and stay home. a 3-1-3-3 with the inclusion of Fabregas through the middle or, say, Adriano outside in the 3rd band would be very interesting; quick switches of the angle of attack and looking to overpower their corners are the keys. nice to have an exciting game between 2 teams at the top of the league that is ALSO a nice tactical duel as well…

  7. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    To me,the two players I don’t trust is MONTOYA and BARTRA,the latter is almost incapable of getting a cross into the box at first flash,always seems to stop the ball first,in the process blows the chance away.Thats not what I want against atletico. As for Bartra,he’s been convincing against weak oppositions and gets way too much credits than he deserves.I dont trust him, I’d take Nemanja Nastastic any day,real deal defender,Bartra is good,no doubt,but he’s more like a Stefan Savic to me and I wouldn’t start Stefan Savic against a team like atletico.

    • petog4realz
      January 11, 2014

      Are you seriously comparing our best defender this season to savic???

  8. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    ”Our best defender this season?” come on, He’s not. He has been good against weak oppositions, but its not enough to prove he’s ready,and he seems shaky when defending one against one

    • ibbe
      January 11, 2014

      I

    • ibbe
      January 11, 2014

      I don’t know which games you watched but all the games he played this season he seemed great to me..and especially in 1on1 situations. Defense is the hardest position to play as youngster because you need a lot of experience. And bartra has shown a lot promise and potential. I wouldn’t mind him playing tonight at all.

    • justdoit94
      January 11, 2014

      You cannot outnumber atletico in the middle simply because their strikers occupy a position very close to their midfield that they dont act like strikers anymore. it will look like a 4-5-1-0 or 4-4-2-0. if they play like copa, then the striker will man-mark the crap out of busquets and a flat 5 who will be told to close down xavi and iniesta on either side.

      That’s the idea of parking the bus… 11 players behind the ball in a compact shape and turn this game into a physical ugly game against technically better squad.
      Also 3 at the back deprives from a much needed width.
      I am really concerned with set pieces as am pretty sure they did the sh** out of them on the training ground and our players are midgets ..

  9. Dar_vincy
    January 11, 2014

    Couldn’t agree more with your submission, Percval.
    If we all are to conclude that Bartra is our best defender so far, then, we find ourselves in an inglorious conundrum. Which is nothing to pride ourselves in considering the kind of status we command. Masch has been slighlty atrocious no doubt but he steps up in big games, which makes it pathetic that we are so quick to discard him. And, if we are to traverse this path, then Pique should have been long gone by now.

    • January 11, 2014

      Unfortunately it is precisely in big games that Masche steps up to show us why we so many people doubt him. Like when his horrid passes repeatedly gave M*drid the opportunity to counterstrike during the last clásico. Or when he completely missed the ball at the San Siro this season to let Milan open the score.

      Bartra shows promise, but I would really like him to gain some more physique over the next two years. He is still too vulnerable in the air.

  10. January 11, 2014

    In interesting things you are most likely not to see

    3 – 5 – 2

    valdes

    adriano – pique – mascherano

    Messi – Fabregas – Busquets – Iniesta – Alba

    Alexis – Pedro

    sub : xavi for cesc, neymar for pedro

  11. Dar_vincy
    January 11, 2014

    Nice point made, Levon.
    However, if we could tolerate and condone Pique when he consistently was producing abysmally unsavoury performances, i see no why Masch can’t be accorded same. Masch’s mistakes, bad patch and happy-go-lucky passes (that you highlighted) do not have the frequency to condemn him to the bench considering other players have made mistakes this season and weren’t overly slagged off as Masch has been. I’m particularly a big fan of Bartra. He has the composition and requiste to be a world-beater. Like you rightly pointed out, he needs to muscle up, toughen up (varane comes to mind), be more dominant aerially, show more aggresion, awareness etc, etc. There’s no question he has alot work to do to convince us not to purchase a quality cb.

    • January 11, 2014

      I understand what you are saying about Piqué. Thing where he beats out Masche is that Piqué can actually defend corners and set pieces. Javier would arguably make a top CB if he could.

    • Jim
      January 11, 2014

      I don’t really at all I’m afraid. It’s about time we realised Pique is at the moment the only real defender we have . Bartra may become one but isn’t at the moment. The rest do not think as defenders and that’s an issue. Btw, the biggest difference between Masche and Pique for me is that Pique understands throwing yourself to the ground is only a last throw of the dice and that in a defence positioning is everything.

      Personally I’d have played Puyol last Saturday and rested him midweek to see if he was able to play tonight. Can’t beat two defenders who know what each other is going to do and where they will be. Given where we are I’d play Bartra. If he can’t hack it we’re as well to know now. Alba would also get my vote as Adriano is no defender and we’ll not have trouble going forward.

  12. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    Guys,am not saying Bartra is garbage,am just saying that he is not that fantastic to be reckoned on,i mean,Imagine when Varane came to light,his good performance was unignorable even amongst rival fans.Bartra is good but he isn’t that brilliant like Varane or nastastic when they emerged,and also considering Bartra was older than them.Thats my point

    • January 11, 2014

      Varane is awesome.

  13. barca96
    January 11, 2014

    sMasch is the safest bet to Tata as Pique-sMasch partnership has experience. Bartra lacks experience and sMasch is more error prone and it seems that Tata prefers to go with experience.

    Bartra is not great either but when you compare with sMasch or even Pique at times, that’s why people talk a lot about Bartra on the net. It makes him look better than he actually is, he’s good but not brilliant, yet.

  14. barca96
    January 11, 2014

    Basically, this team seems set up for an insane amount of pressing and probing in the first half, then when Atleti’s legs get tired, bring on Neymar and Messi to create complete chaos. Doesn’t seem like a bad plan, in theory.

    The Atletic players didn’t tire out the last 2-3 times we played them. They kept going and going. This tire out tactic might work against smaller teams but definitely not against the big guns and especially not a hard working tireless team such as Atletico.

    They out ran and out hustled us for the past few encounters. Bringing Messi or Neymar on later in the match would definitely be great, against any team. I wish we could do afford to rest them and bring two of them later on in the match to kill of the match.

    I have a feeling that Alexis and Pedro can do enough damage with Cesc providing the through balls. Both Neymar and Messi are not even 80% fit. Imagine the signals we’ll be sending out to the world. We can manage Atletico without Messi and Neymar.

    • Jim
      January 11, 2014

      They certainly won’t run out of steam on their own patch.

  15. January 11, 2014

    The board had opted for snuffling, spluttering indignation in the wake of the judge wanting to explore the Neymar contract more deeply.

    More developments await.

  16. January 11, 2014

    Kxevin called it. Pulga and Ney are starting on the bench. Gutsy from Martino.

    • stefan2k
      January 11, 2014

      What a lineup, Tata really got guts!

  17. Dar_vincy
    January 11, 2014

    Levon, are you coming up with the Live MBM? Cos i won’t be privileged to watch the game.

    • January 11, 2014

      Nope. I would love to oblige you, but I’m not at home, sorry. Unless I call in sick, the only games I can MBM are (some) Sunday games.

    • Jim
      January 11, 2014

      You’re not looking great, Lev. Are you sure you feel alright? 🙂

    • Dar_vincy
      January 11, 2014

      It’s alright, Levon.
      Thanks.

  18. Dar_vincy
    January 11, 2014

    Thanks, man. Appreciate it.

  19. barca96
    January 11, 2014

    I love you Tata! Draw or even a loss, I’ll still stand by Tata’s decision on his line up. No Neymar and Messi, mad respect!

    Form over name or fame (that’s not the word that I was actually looking for but close enough hehe).

  20. barca96
    January 11, 2014

    Mascherano already with a failed wild tackle. Why does he need to slide in all the time??! Poor poor positioning.

  21. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    What the fuck is iniesta playing,too slow!

  22. Bill
    January 11, 2014

    Fabregas is way to lackadaisical with his touches

  23. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    Jordi alba for gods sake! Can’t you run anymore?

  24. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    Nice shot pique! More of that

  25. kosby
    January 11, 2014

    sMach Costa. Nuff said.

  26. Obii
    January 11, 2014

    Guys,

    This. Is. Football.

    What a match!

  27. Ryan
    January 11, 2014

    Great effort from Pedro, who stole the ball from an attacker, sprinted up most of the field and laid it off to Cesc and Alexis for an almost chance. Those 45 minutes went by quick!

  28. Jim
    January 11, 2014

    Pretty decent first half. Achieved our objective so far which for me is to stay level till we can bring Messi on. Worried about the abuse Iniesta is taking and not understanding the role Xavi has been asked to play. It’s almost as if Tata has asked him to keep an eye on Alves ‘ wanderings at times.

  29. ooga aga
    January 11, 2014

    well, i wont point out that the first 4 comments after the match began were negative/critical towards our boys, but i will say that we are playing a heckuva match. in their house, against an enormous atleti side that is one of the best in europe, we look far the better side. we are controlling the match and have only had a few short spells where they put us under pressure. pedro and iniesta, immense. yes, still 0-0, but consider they have their entire team in the last 1/4 of the pitch. and yet we have still given them several scares without our best two offensive players. hats off to the team and tata.

  30. barca96
    January 11, 2014

    Mascherano and Piqué came up big time. Alexis has to move more in order to be free and get a ball.

    Turan and Costa should’ve had a yellow card. Is this referee known to be lenient? Im not really familiar with the refs.

  31. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    Messi on!

  32. Ryan
    January 11, 2014

    Messi’s in! Let’s do this!

  33. Jim
    January 11, 2014

    Messi hurt 🙁

  34. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    Ouch that was scary on messi,easy diego costa

  35. ooga aga
    January 11, 2014

    anyone have a good stream? mine died!

  36. Jim
    January 11, 2014

    What on earth was Masche thinking about there?

  37. barca96
    January 11, 2014

    Mascherano should’ve gotten a red card there. Crazy guy. Tackling like that on the halfway line.

  38. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    And what on earth do we need s.roberto for in this match?

    • Bill
      January 11, 2014

      I can’t figure that out either. Song would’ve been a better addition

    • barca96
      January 11, 2014

      That is the only gripe I have with this match. Why Roberto? What was his job? He doesn’t really keep possession well. He doesn’t defend.

      Song would’ve definitely made more sense. And lately Tata has been playing Song and Busi together so why not?

      Oh well, a draw is ok and the players played good. More positives than negative.

      Messi looked dangerous every time he gets the ball.

    • barca96
      January 11, 2014

      One more gripe, I would’ve preferred to play Adriano or Montoya at RB. Alves just came back from injury and as we all saw, he was poor.

  39. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    fabregas is such a lazy player

    • Jim
      January 11, 2014

      He may be slow but I don’t think he’s lazy.

    • barca96
      January 11, 2014

      Lazy? He tracks back a lot.. Lazy passes yes but lazy in general, no.

    • January 11, 2014

      Lazy, not up with the pace generally. That was he meant, I think.

  40. Jim
    January 11, 2014

    What a tense game ! That goes down as a good result for me.

  41. georgjorge
    January 11, 2014

    I rarely post, but I didn’t want to leave all the comments for this match to the negative nannys…

    I was impressed by both teams today. Both of them were pretty good, and with the way it was playing out they countered each other for a good amount of time. Atletico is definitely one of the better European teams right now, and I hope they can maintain it for the whole season.

    Our centerbacks were huge today, and Busquets – after a scary opening – also did a lot to keep their attacks in check. Offensively, the team didn’t seem commited enough to really be able to get through most of the time – they didn’t NEED the win really bad, and were afraid of their counterattacks. I believe that when this changes (Champions League), we’re going to see some more dangerous (both for Barca and for their opponents) combinations and more exciting games. Oh, and Messi showed that he can still be the most threatening player to opposing teams in the last fifteen minutes of the match – if he can keep this up for longer, I really like our chances.

  42. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    Sandro rosell have finished us off with his stingy management,this is not us anymore,i miss my barcelona,we barely threatened their goal,we had few chances and that is not Barca.we need a total team reshuffle Am not saying this cos we did not win,I know we have been good against weak teams but this was a real test and we were toothless.we need a TRANSFER REVOLUTION and We are yet to win a single match with that catalan flag jersey

    • January 11, 2014

      Give some credit to the opposition, here. I don’t think we have faced this kind of intensity since the Copa del Rey final in 2011.

    • Peter
      January 11, 2014

      You realize this is the best defense in La Liga, right? The dirtiest playing as well – even Pepe says they’re dirty, playing at home, with the most lenient ref in Spain, and you think Barcelona playing without Messi and Neymar were toothless. Cool.

    • barca96
      January 11, 2014

      If I recall correctly, they won once already in that kit, last month.

      Toothless? Stamford Bridge ’09??!! I kid I kid. I know what you mean.

    • Ryan
      January 11, 2014

      I like this team just fine. We still have a fully fit Messi and Neymar to look forward to. Even the great Pep teams went to tough away matches and came home with draws, you know.

  43. ian_percival
    January 11, 2014

    Am so fucking Tensed! We just did Real madrid a favour,we really needed this match,WTF and we just handed man city a tactics video

    • TITO
      January 11, 2014

      You should really calm down. Don’t understand why such a negativity in a match that we played more than well.

  44. BA
    January 11, 2014

    Pique our best player, by a distance. Simeone countered our formation hard, stifled and harried, and neither team created much (his point all along, no doubt). starting with both Neymar and Messi on the bench was a mistake, and our only midfield option off the bench was Sergi Roberto; not exactly a game-changer. Cesc offered basically nothing in that position, as we assumed he would, and Masch could have been sent off for yet again throwing himself into tackles a real center-back would never make.

    all in all, a lackluster performance perpetuated by Atleti remaining very disciplined and sticking to their gameplan. we might (will probably?) win the league, but the idea that we’re going to win in Europe with the squad the way it is remains a pipe dream.

    • Peter
      January 11, 2014

      Starting with Neymar and Messi would’ve meant one of them would’ve been subbed at half time instead of Iniesta if you know what I mean.
      I wouldn’t call a gameplan “kick and stomp on them, the ref won’t call it”. With a favorable ref Stoke City could make Atletico cry for their mothers. But that is a pipe dream.

      But since Barcelona is in front, whatever helps the capital will be used. At this point it doesn’t matter whether it’s Real or Atletico, it’s important that it’s Madrid.

  45. barca96
    January 11, 2014

    I still stand by my word that we won’t be able to beat Bayern this season either. But of course Bayern is the undisputed King at the moment. We are only a top 5 team in Europe imo.

    You have Bayern at the top and then the 2nd group it’s us, Atletico, Madrid, Man City and then the 3rd group PSG, Arsenal, Juventus.

    I love my club but the club that I love doesn’t necessarily needs to be the best in my eyes.

    • PrinceYuvi
      January 11, 2014

      Well, that’s fair enough )
      Tata needs smart signings. Patch up work wont work.

  46. raj
    January 11, 2014

    The key to understanding the loss of control in 2nd half is simple: No Iniesta. He keeps the ball so well in areas which are dangerous for the opponents, it frustrates them and tires them out. Cesc isn’t that. So when we effectively replaced Iniesta with Cesc, we lost the dominant control. Also, when Xavi is under pressure he uses Iniesta as the outlet. That was the missing piece. I reckon With a healthy Iniesta in the 2nd half along with Messi, we would have won the match. Also, Song would have made sense in place of Cesc instead of Roberto in 70 odd mins. That way we’d have got that calm back in the midfield and then channeled it through for Messi. It was a shame to see the midfield not able to deliver the ball to Messi and Neymar when they seemed waiting for it. The guys just couldn’t hold 3 passes together from 55-75 minutes. It was surprising.

    On the bright side, great defending from us. We were supposed to be poor at set pieces? Not anymore I guess, there was threat from Athletic but the threat was cancelled out by good positioning, especially when under high pressure in middle of the second half. Masche was effective except when he went rashly into meaningless challenges. Pique didn’t do any mistakes that I noticed, so he was great. I just couldn’t track Busquests however I tried. Does that mean he had a great match? Also, good job by Pedro, he looked second only to Iniesta in the first half. Only Alves looked, I don’t know, out of touch..

    Athletico showed that they are the real contenders from Madrid. What a match, a win to either side would have been unfair on the other team. Real Madrid can laugh, or can they?!

    • January 11, 2014

      Well said, Raj, except for one thing. They might have needed the referee to still be in Liga contention, but I wouldn’t be so quick to discount Real M*drid. Assuming they win tomorrow they will trail by only three points after starting the season with five new players.

    • raj
      January 12, 2014

      We cannot write off Real Madrid yet, but I think the time is right to ask a question of them. The gap is only 3 points, but tonight they have seen what they are up against, a revived Barca and a hungry Athletic . I’d go as far as saying that if they do manage to come on top this season, it will be a surprise to many. Because until now they had Barca to beat which they did once out of some 4 or 5 seasons, and now they have a new club grabbing what they thought was safe, the 2nd place. If they think they have the potential, it is up to them to prove so! So, can Real Madrid achieve the unlikely and win the league by surpassing, not one, but two world class teams?

      Regarding the physicality of Athletic Madrid, yes they got a yellow card or two less than they deserved but the same can be said of us (Masche?). Truth be told, as much as I loved how Barca faced a tough physical opponent, I was also impressed by how they cancelled our skills.

      If I were in charge of Liga, I’d give some TV money to Athletic and help them maintain the level. A La Liga with three real horses means twice the revenue than the usual. Hope the white collar men understand the economics of it!

  47. Jim
    January 11, 2014

    Good post, Raj. Agree with all of this.

    Anyone heard about Iniesta? Is he okay?

    • PrinceYuvi
      January 11, 2014

      I heard its just a contusion. Waiting for the official report.

  48. PrinceYuvi
    January 11, 2014

    Apparently Barca is one the meanest defence in Europe this season.

    I’ll happily take that.
    Now onto Man city.

    Meanwhile atleti should humiliate EE once again and they better knock out Bayern outta CL.
    Oh they can.

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