Barça 2, Real Sociedad 0, aka “A view of Barça Rashomon”

"Somewhere, out there, is the truth ... can you see it?" (Photo by Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona)
“Somewhere, out there, is the truth … can you see it?” (Photo by Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona)

In wrestling with the vastly different reactions to an effective home leg victory against a quality opponent, unbidden, my mind turns to the great Kurosawa classic film “Rashomon.” For those unfamiliar, Wikipedia is your friend. The long and short of the movie is that an incident occurs, and four different people have four different views of the same event.

What is truth? What is reality? Is reality as simple as a subjective reaction to what we see that takes into account our own biases and narratives? Like a flash mob of ire, can social media play a role in reality, as thousands of voices begin to amplify each other, thus creating a combo platter of “Rashomon” and the Biblical Tower of Babel story.

Hell of a way to roll into a musing about a football match, isn’t it?

Real Sociedad came into the Camp Nou for the first leg of the Copa del Reig semifinals. Fresh off a weekend loss to Valencia, Tata Martino used the “get back on that horse” theory in selecting the same XI (except for the Cup keeper, Pinto) that lost to Valencia.

In following the match via Twitter and then in the aftermath of the thing, you would be forgiven for thinking that Barça had lost 0-2, instead of winning by that same scoreline, with possession stats in the low 80s, more than 20 shots on goal and a midfielder (Xavi) who completed as many passes as the whole La Real team.

Terrible, terrible defending, overrun, so much danger on set pieces, Pinto bailed us out from disaster, we got lucky, team needs an overhaul, this club will get killed against a quality opponent, etc, etc, ad infinitum.

And with Barça Rashomon, it isn’t fair to castigate anyone for their view, to call culers spoiled. All you can do is rely on your perspective. For me, there are many reasons that I subscribe to a theory best found in the title of a Gang of Four recording, “History’s Bunk!” History is the past. For a footballing club, a successful history can morph, like a tale told and retold, from something glorious to a millstone that hangs around the neck of successive generations.

History is a glorious season in which the club won everything, under a swashbuckling coach who jammed Coldplay and wept like a schoolboy with joy. “Remember! It was magic!”

But like “Rashomon,” history is also riddled with memories, of the doubt that plagued that swashbuckling coach throughout that season that wasn’t all that glorious at the time, but became so in retrospect. Conservative lineups, he isn’t playing Toure Yaya enough in favor of that spindly diver Busquets. Eric Abidal, now firmly enshrined in Barça iconography as The Answer for Everything was a player who didn’t attack enough, like the rest of those marauding sprites. “What’s wrong with him? Why doesn’t he get forward?” He was tested by culers, and found wanting during his stints at CB.

That Treble team had Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry pressing like demons, as Henry had as many fouls from battles for possession as defenders. Ah! Memory! But then, Henry was an overpriced import who didn’t give his all for the shirt, and Eto’o missed too many open chances.

This is why I don’t subscribe to notions of history. Because memory is malleable, and people often remember what they want, preferring to hang onto the good times, because that is what people do. And this current team, an adaptation and modification of personnel, is perpetually compared to that bright, shining past, and found wanting.

History can blind in the glare from its burnished glow.

What of La Real and the match?

Ah. That. What I saw on Wednesday was a team in control of a match of football, facing off against an opponent who decided that goodness started by not letting Barça score. So they played 10 behind the ball. Whether you call it a “deep block” or a parked bus, La Real had a solid line of 5 players at the back, with the other 5 stacked sometimes 1-4, other times 2-3, with the idea being to harass our midfielders, work the ball loose and get busy on the break.

This worked exactly twice, both off giveaways, which will always be the bane of a team who presses as much as ours does, with a stratospherically high back line. It’s why as people natter about aimless possession should realize that as long as we have the ball, they don’t. Even when goals aren’t the result for us, that is also true for our opponent.

Of those turnovers, one resulted in an easy save for Pinto as the La Real attacker shot directly at him, doing for us what we do for other keepers; then a bad Messi giveaway led to a springboard attack which brought another “Rashomon” moment, as people debated whether Mascherano deserved a penalty or not.

La Real’s coach said of course, absolutely it was a penalty. Shameful it was, that blind man calling the match.

Others say that Vela and Mascherano were locked up anyhow, contact instigated by Vela, and their arms were entangled, again something instigated as much by Vela as by Mascherano. So the result was a good no-call by the official.

And we saw again how history affects view, how Mascherano was an inept bottler for cocking up a simple bit of defending, etc, while Messi, who would have warranted a key pass had the La Real goal actually occurred, was blameless, even on a team where The Great Guardiola said “without the ball, we’re crap.” It is as true then as it is now, even more so.

The referee and his assistants decided, in their own “Rashomon,” that a penalty wasn’t warranted, resulting in a snit which subsequently led to a red card for Iñigo “Out Ya Go” Martinez, for suggesting an act that would require a lifetime of yoga training and a spectacular endowment. That rather humorless chief official put La Real down to 10, which made them even MORE determined to not let Barça score. Taking advantage of a red mist, the very intricate passing effort of the sort we had been seeing the entire match worked, found Busquets fundamentally unmarked (there were bigger fish to fry, you know), and he slotted home for a 1-0. Given how La Real had decided to play, that goal was pretty much game over.

The second goal came at the end of a sequence in which Sanchez ran onto a lovely pass, and smacked his shot off the post. In attempting to clear the ball, a La Real defender deflected it into his own net. Voila. 2-0, and another “Rashomon” moment.

— Shambolic defending resulted in a hilarious own goal.
— Relentless pressure caused a defender to panic, as he was worried about a shark-like Sanchez, skulking the area, and screwed up. Pressure caused that own goal.

Meanwhile, an example was made of RM in exactly how to dispatch an opponent at home in the Copa, an RM who received not one, but TWO lucky deflections that beat Atleti’s Courtois. Ah, but their luck was forged on the fire of attacking flair and brilliance. Ours was just stupid luck that we didn’t deserve, goes the Barça Rashomon narrative.

And we passed, and passed, and passed some more, and people talked about systematic problems, how the deep block once again proved the undoing of this football club, inept buffoons who only won 2-0, instead of the 54-0 that history and shining memory demand.

Barça isn’t the first team to come up against 10 behind the ball, and have complexities putting the ball in the net. You can expand that list to oh, every team in professional football. When 10 behind the ball stops being effective, teams who don’t want to concede will stop doing it. Meanwhile, Barça found ways to score, against La Real as against Levante. Luck? Sure. A team needs luck to succeed. Never discount the value of good fortune.

Nonetheless, it was stormageddon, post-match. The Mouthpiece of the Mandateless Ones, Toni Freixa, tweeted that in his view of events, the club didn’t play all that well. What is influencing his view, is the question of the moment. Maybe a healthy fear that if the club doesn’t stomp the terra with every poor team that ventures into our house, people might start looking askance at he and his fellow junta mates, and call for elections sooner rather than later? Maybe.

And Freixa was castigated for calling the team’s quality into question by many of the same culers who were calling the team’s quality into question. That’s Barça Life. Freixa deleted the Tweet, but it lived on in screen grabs, as evidence of some sort or another.

Henk Ten Cate, best known as Frank Rijkaard’s enforcer, said it was the worst match of the past 6 years, or 8 years, or something or other. Does he have a historical view? Hmmm … nope. He only wants what is best for the club, and is wholly unconcerned with burnishing his own legacy, with grabbing a chunk by mere verbal association of that glorious Treble side.

"Too bad nobody's here to see my devil face." (Photo by German Parga, FCB)
“Too bad nobody’s here to see my devil face.” (Photo by German Parga, FCB)

And I started to doubt what I was seeing, which was a quality performance by a team facing an opponent with 10 behind the ball. And if I squinted just so, applied the right amount of ire at the board over past transgressions then yes, I could see it. This team sucks because of the neglect of those evil men. La Real could well have been up 0-1. The horrors! Our keeper isn’t supposed to have to make saves! Ever! Our defense is so terrible that it can’t even keep a keeper from having to do his job. Gaaaaah!

Then I started thinking about what Barça really need this season, and I decided it was a darned sight easier than pie-in-the-sky winter window transfers, team overhauls and other stuff. Our sprites just need to start putting the ball in the back of the net. How different would Barça Rashomon had been had any of the following happened differently?

— Fabregas scuffed a shot on the doorstep
— Sanchez shot just wide of a gaping net
— Messi had not one, but TWO chances to score a goal, on the doorstep
— Messi smacked a free kick off the crossbar

Would a 4-0 scoreline have sated, leaving culers crowing about our bus-breaking sprites, and bring on RM for the final rather than about trends, and how much the team really isn’t that good, and City is going to kill us, etc, etc.

It’s all that “Rashomon” stuff. When the nattering nabobs were reaching their peak, one of my favorite Twitter level heads said “Is it just me, or was that a pretty good match?” It was like the kid who said “Hey, the emperor is nekkid!”

The difference between good and bad is based on centimeters. A lot of players couldn’t even hit the post if they tried. We did it twice in the same match. So let’s be harsh, and say that the other two chances were discards. So that means 4-0 instead of the 6-0 that the chances created actually warranted. And we’re back at that “Rashomon” moment.

Only a blind fool would not suggest that our team needs new blood, a CB or two, an Alves replacement, etc. Only a blind fool wouldn’t look at the current board and its history of club management and find them woeful, wanting and deserving of electoral reconsideration. That is all very true, even as that board’s supporters would suggest that more Barça Rashomon is going on.

But we have what we have. And what we have is gobs of talent in the bodies of world-class players. Are those players perfect for a world of Goliaths who have sussed out how to battle David? Nope. But we will have to make do, and wish them our best. Sure, analysis and pointing out errors, etc, can and should happen, as a way of understanding what we have just seen and subsequent coaching moves.

And yet, perspective is important, that view of what actually happened. Because sometimes, that’s all there is.

PS: I couldn’t find a picture of Iniesta holding a puppy to make everyone say “Awwwwww!” but I did find this picture of Neymar, cuddling his son as they visited the Museu.

Photo via FC
Photo via FC

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. I think the twitter world split into two yesterday, at least what I saw. Two extremes. One group said that it was a good performance, a lot of chances, lots of possession…nothing to be ashamed of. And the other group was completely different, like it was the end of the world, worst performance ever and everybody except Pinto were horrible.

    I think the truth lies in between somewhere. You can make an argument that Barca could’ve won that game 4-0 but also that they could’ve lost the game and Mascherano.
    For me there seems to be a clash between Xavi and Martino. When Marino came to Barca, he didn’t want to change the style, but he adds something different, quick transition in offense, more dynamic, more quicker. Although Barca didn’t control the games like they used to, it seemed to work for them. Like the games with Ajax, Rayo, Valencia away….they didn’t control the games, but were so deadly in the attack, most of the goals came with 3-4 passes, quick transition. Xavi & Iniesta particularly didn’t like that because it has never been their game and they seemed a bit lost in that style. There were talks that Xavi had 1v1 with Martino after Christmas and said, hey, this is Barca and we have a unique style here, I respect what you do, but this is Barca and we have our own philosophy. After that Barca have controlled most of the games possession wise more than before Christmas, but haven’t been that convincing. Like yesterday. When you have a team playing so deep against you, you need to have Xavi ‘Mr halftouch’ Hernandez, not Xavi Mr take 5 touches and then pass it sideways’ Hernandez. Barca played the whole 2nd half 11v10 but it never seemed to me that Barca could break the 10man La Real easily. The only chances came when they played quickly from back to front, verticalidad as they say. First was when Alexis made a lovely run behind the back 4 and Fabregas played him on. The other was when Iniesta came in and played between the lines (key for the City game)

    When you have players Cesc, Neymar, Alexis, Messi, Pedro, who are basically counter attacking players, why waste them? I’m not saying that Barca should play counter attacking foootball, but that they should mix up their play with possession based. football and quick transition football. You can’t play 90% of the game with 10 men behind the ball when you can’t break them that easily.

    1. Oh and I forgot to mention a little fact from yesterday’s game. Barca had 50 crosses, La Real had 2. Did Martino say to Alves/Alba that put as many crosses in to show the board that we are missing a #9 or what was the point of that exactly?

    2. I cringe every time the ball is crossed. Crosses are inherently low-percentage plays, for every team (except when it’s against us) but this is especially the case with us – most of the time there isn’t anyone remotely in a position to score from them. So why do we do it? I don’t understand it.

      We used to be able to break the bus with quick passes around the box. Where did that go?

      Also, recently Messi hasn’t even been playing the false 9 position – he is either deep in midfield, or more often, deep between the central defenders, but rarely between the lines from where he could run at the defense and either shoot or pass. He has zero chance of getting the ball there, so we end up playing effectively with a man down when he does that. What is the rationale behind that?

    3. i cannot understand why we’re crossing the ball so much, with a team of dwarves. no matter how many times we cross the ball, every single team we play will be bigger than us and if they’re also defending deep, our crossing is simply a waste of possession.

    4. You can use cross balls but I agree the long slow high ball is always a waste. It should be a low driven cross every time, occasionally pulled back. I have to say that Alves is still awful at this which is a shame as he is so often the one left with that task.

    5. So basically xavi wants us to be playing slow football, slow transitions to give the opponent defense time to get men behind the ball. 50 crosses all wasted. There is no player in the box, why not get a target man jackson martinez who can also occupy the cbs with physicality??? If we are going to cross it in atleast we should have a target or else we become a laughing stock.
      We are exactly in the same situation as last season. We started well just like last season only differenece is that nthis season we had pedro and sanchez on form. Then now we have a subpar messi, subpar alexis, subpar pedro, subpar mascherano, subpar midfield, slow and predictable just like last season. I was up for a squad overhaul last summer, and some people say it was not necessary. With the way the team is going i am afraid i may be proven right

    6. Well, in the summer we added Neymar and that was it. Now he’s out so it’s exactly the same team as last season, only a year older and a little slower. Can’t expect much different results.

      BTW, the sample size is very small so no definitive conclusions can be drawn but the anecdotal observations is that we did not have Messi for 2 months yet still won most of our games, then we got him back. Messi played some fantastic football in his return but since then has gone back to playing slow and without aggression, and since we lost Neymar, we have dropped 7 points in 4 games and did so playing the static and predictable football that has plagued us for a while and that looked gone for good in the first half of the season. Someone might see a trend here.

    7. I was having similar thoughts…does bringing in Messi somehow change the way we play ? He is the best player in the world, but is his greatness an impediment to his own game ?

    8. IMO Messi is not focal point of our attack anymore.
      Last night, with ball in his feet, more often than not, Messi searched for Pedro, Lex, even Cesc.
      Idk whether thats good thing or bad.

    9. If you were to offer the top teams in Europe the chance to sign Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Neymar or Busquets you really think there are any who would turn it down? You can’t have the best player in the world at every position in any team. We have more than our fair share. Of world class players. What we need to do is figure out the best way to use their talents not cast them aside.

    10. They are the kind of players any manager wouldnt want to put in one team. They are too similar, weak physically, and have the same attributes. If i were a manager o would sign one of them and buy other good players with different attributes to complement them

    11. Very true, it is something in between. I was feeling bad during and after the game. The game finished at 0430 in the morning for me, but couldnt sleep at least it was 5.45 or so, as I was finding it very difficult to come out of the game.

      Reading Kxevin’s peice I was wondering, ok may be all is not bad and all. But, still…Kevin has this amazing ability to write…

      When you have a team playing so deep against you, you need to have Xavi ‘Mr halftouch’ Hernandez, not Xavi Mr take 5 touches and then pass it sideways’ Hernandez – very true Allas. You can change this sentence in some ways to fit in Alexis too.

      With the present form, I would go hysterically happy, if we reach CL finals.

      Wenger once commented that he never wanted to park the bus, but Barca didnt let them do otherways with our possession and press. The way we keep the ball it is inevitable that we face a bus. No team can let their 5/6 players to defend against us with Messi/Alexis/Iniesta/Cesc wandering about just out of their p box.

      I dont know if this can be a tactic – but instead of holding the ball in the opposition half, may be we should pass it around our own half or near the circle, so that at least there is some space for our forwards to make runs. Right now, there isnt any space at all.

    12. Allas, do you have the source wrt the Xavi and Tata talks about the playing style? Quite hard to belief that Xavi can make Tata change his tactics.

    13. It’s pretty ironic that Xavi is considered as the greatest team player of all time. But when it comes to changing the tactics a little bit or his playing time he becomes more and more egoistic. He has that lovely and almost even idyllic idea that football should be only and only played like they have done it 2008-2013, like everything else is bad and not worth it. Obviously Xavi is the symbol o this club and have created two of the most wonderful teams with clear philosophy. But football goes in cycles, like Bielsa have said that you can have 3 good seasons, not more. Barca & Xavi need to realize that they can’t play like they used to and a slight changes would be good for the team. Xavi, as an ultimate team player should put himself behind the team now and really play for the team. I think the analogy with Tim Duncan is very fitting. Rest Xavi for only big games and when the team really needs him, like being on in the 2nd half to control the tempo etc. At the same time, let the other guys bring their style as well, like Cesc & Neymar & Pedro who can play more quicker game. Because, as Michael Cox mentioned in his latest piece that was posted here, this is where football is heading.
      At the moment, I really don’t know who controlled the game yesterday, Barca or La Real ???

    14. your last statement is highly thought provoking 🙂 Although I am a bit shocked by the suggestion that Xavi not play big games, I do understand your rationale behind it…btw that through ball Fab4 played to Alexis (whose shot ultimately hit the post) was beyond believable…I dont think we appreciate him enough…

    15. That through ball is also something Xavi used to do all the time in the past and has simply stopped in the last two seasons. And I don’t understand why – he is still the most accurate passer there is but he never tries the incisive defense-splitting pass anymore – he passes it sideways to Alexis, who is quickly surrounded by two defenders and forced to recycle it back to midfield or to Alves who sends a hopeless cross to nobody.

      I know we need width but this is not the dangerous kind of width, this is just killing the attack. Compared to that tactic, we always look more dangerous when we try to go through the middle, because that also opens up some space on the left and right edges of the box and if the ball is quickly moved we can create a chance from there. Perhaps we don’t that more often because we’re also a lot more vulnerable to counterattacks when we try to go through the middle, but we’re just toothless otherwise without Neymar on the left to dribble past a defender and even with him at times.

    16. I think the simple answer as to why Xavi plays so much is that we’ve seen what happens. Yo our game when he doesn’t and. Often we’ve ended up bringing him on to get some control back. Wish it wasn’t so but that’s the way it looks to me.

  2. This is quite possibly my favorite review this season. Kudos. So much to agree with, here, and the movie fan in me loves the Rashamon analogy. You even convinced me of something that I have long denied, the fact that people just can’t get over Pep’s Barça.

    As far as Real Sociedad’s second chance goes, I wouldn’t blame Messi for losing possession there. I don’t even think it was a bad giveaway but rather a good defensive tackle from the player who dispossessed him, and anyway, I don’t see how he can be held responsible for a chance on our end when the position where he lost the ball was the opponent’s penalty area.

    However it does serve to underline our need for a CB. Nobody would argue over the non-penalty call if Masche had gotten to the ball in time. This is not Masche’s fault per sé (just don’t get me started on the high ball he misjudged that led to Griezman’s shot at the beginning of the game). The problem is that with our high backline and lack of height we need a different type of profile CB.

    1. We just need a (tall) genuine defender. I’m sorry but I’m still not giving up on Puyol for the business end of the season. We miss him in so many ways. Pique says he no longer has any pain in his knee. He has to be worth a couple of games with Pique to see if he has one last second half of season in him.

    2. Definitely agree that we miss him, but I am very doubtful he hast that last second half of season left. I’m afraid Puyol has never been the same after the summer of 2011.

  3. I wont go so far as to say it was the worst performance Ive seen, but it was far from the best as well. Like allas pointed out we could’ve just as easily lost Mascherano and the match. I am a fan of Mascherano and his instinctive tackles, but his performance in the first half hour yesterday left much to be desired (maybe its a temporary loss in form). I think he’s suspended for the next league game, maybe we’ll find out if someone else can play better than him. Also, in one of the plays, Pique and Alba both were caught near Real’s penalty box and we lost the ball with Mascherano and Busquets the only two left to face the counter attack. Not sure that was Pique’s most intelligent move.

    I think what I am frustrated with is the fact that everyone knows putting 10 players in the box is how to stop us. Even we know that they know ! But we see the same tactic match after can we expect to get different results if we continue to use the same strategy in each game ? Sending in crosses surely doesnt work, our players dont even get to the crosses. Out of the 40 odd crosses sent in yesterday, how many resulted in goals ?

    I want to see some variation, some change in the strategy if we are to continue winning. I have been posting for some time now that we need spaces for our forwards, we need to draw the opposition players out – atleast see if that helps ! And if Martino is feeling pressured to not do his work properly then we need to be ashamed of ourselves. I am sure when our previous coaches came up with the ‘pass the ball into the goal’ strategy it was so that we could win….not just because it looks beautiful, but to help us win. I dont know about the Xavi incident with Tata, but if that really happened I dont completely agree with Xavi. Yes, pass and move is brilliant but at the end of the day we want goals and facing 10 players in the box is not the best position to be in. Day after day, match after match.

    Another thing I noticed, wonder if others have noticed something similar – we seem to be more “active” if I can use the word, in the 2nd half compared to the 1st half. I wonder if this is Tata’s strategy to tire out the opposition in the 1st half and then hit them in the 2nd.

    1. Yes, pass and move is brilliant

      A big part of the problem is that we are not even playing pass and move. We are playing pass and move until 15-20 meters from the opponent’s box. After that it’s mostly “pass” and very little “move”. We used to be able to break a bus (granted, the buses were not that tightly parked back then, but still) with movement, and the movement is largely gone. This is the most worrisome aspect of the whole thing

    2. I dont have the stats to support this, but maybe there are fewer through balls being attempted ? And that could partly be due to that fact that both our full backs are more often than not nearer the opposition box…earlier we had 3 reliable defenders at the back puyol, pique and abidal…maybe with Alba bombing forward so much the players are just afraid to lose the ball again..

      And also it seems that Xavi is probably the most hesitant to play those through balls..

  4. Lovely piece, Kvexin.
    Like every other addiction, getting over Pep’s era would take some time because of the ridiculous standard set then.
    Perhaps adjusting our expectations on this team would do us an immeasurable good albeit we shouldn’t that as an alibi to settle for mediocrity.

  5. We should remember that almighty chelsea, slayers of almighty City, were held to a zero by west ham. Chelsea held Bayern at bay for more than 30 minutes, while a man down – and would’ve won had it not been for a lucky shot in the last seconds. It’s very difficult to break the bus, gentlemen, so could we please stop the bashing? Yes, a 2-meter tall tank of a player would’ve had it easier to score from all the crosses in the box, but then again maybe not.

    If you want more examples, Barcelona lost against Hercules 2-0 at Camp Nou in the year of the quintuple, drew against the Chelsea bus at Camp Nou, etc etc.

    What I’m trying to say is that while the performance could’ve been better, it wasn’t this unmitigated disaster some would like it to be. Remember the words that Pep uttered to local fans during a match with a not so great a team? “If it weren’t for him(pointing to Messi) I’d be coaching in 2nd Division.” What about the semis against Inter, Barcelona had a magnificent CF called Ibrahimovic, what was the result? And when you’re talking about Real Sociedad, this is the team that shut out United’s attack in the Champions. And one more thing while we’re at it: Barcelona’s leaky sucky vulnerable defence that apparently can’t stop a lame tortoise has shut down the three top scorers in La Liga, have you thought about that?

    I know I can’t convince you, and I don’t like the fact that the team touches the ball that often instead of looking for the forward pass, but on the other hand these players would be less tired cometh the weekend and the Sevilla game. I’m not saying the tie is decided, but Barcelona could congest the middle and let Real Sociedad penetrate the Blaugrana layered defense. Let’s see how they fare!

    1. Those examples are of us having serious problems breaking the bus against some of the top teams in Europe. This is expected.

      When we have problems breaking the bus every game, against teams we used to steamroll with ease, it’s a cause for concern

  6. I’m of the belief that we can forge a new era, slighlty contrasting to the epoch-making Pep’s era, and prolly not equally aesthically appealing but significant nonetheless.
    However, everything depends on our decision-making process which includes getting the needed players in the areas of deficiency (one particular area comes to mind). That can either precipate success or self-destruction.
    P.S: I think cules’ frusutration was further compounded by Madrid’s emphathic victory unlike on sunday when their draw soothed the pain we felt from the defeat.

  7. forget buses, deep blocks, or whatever else you want to call it for a minute. Sociadad have a squad 1/20th the value of ours, they are well within their rights to defend however they want. teams are going to do that to us consistently, there’s no sense harping about it; it’s the new norm unless we play in a way that discourages it.

    that said, we should not have won the game yesterday. Mascherano tugged down Vela as he was shooting on the break, and should have been sent off with a penalty awarded. it was carefully disguised cheating, but it was still cheating and we were very lucky to not pay for it. that situation came about due to our difficulties in transition (something allasFCB touched on in this thread and Euler emphasized yesterday on Twitter), and because we don’t have the requisite players to play in a way that ameliorates those difficulties.

    if Martino wants us to play more vertically, with bigger gaps between the lines and quicker transitions, then he needs a better, more orthodox defense and quick attacking players capable of running into space. the problem with that is teams don’t give us the luxury anymore to stretch them out, they play as Kxevin noted in these “deep blocks”, so we can either try to lure them out and get REALLY good on transitions, hitting them when they’re off-balance; OR we can play our intricate possession football and try to unpick the locks. we all know the vulnerabilities of the latter approach over the last few seasons, but we need to pick one or the other. right now we’re lost, not playing well and even though it’s Hlebuary, things don’t get any easier from here til the end of the season.

  8. Another match where Mascherano escaped a red card. It was somewhere in the beginning of the season in a CL match where he made a similar mistake, mis judging a long ball and it went to the opposition player and we were punished.

    1. The red card is for the Vela incident. Stone cold penalty, anywhere in the world, except in La Liga where the refs don’t have the balls to give an unfavorable call to the big teams. It happens to both us and Madrid. Last weekend the penalty that wasn’t. Imagine how the smaller teams feel. Already with a tiny fraction of budget and on top of that, they hardly get calls in their favor. La Liga seriously need to sort a lot of things out.

    2. That was against Milan in the San Siro. Also happened in the first minutes of today’s game. This weakness of his has been found out ever since the CL final against Man U. Remember the Supercopa game in the Bernabeu last season?

  9. At the risk of defending Masche twice in a week it seems to me the defence has been a little unsettled from a good first half of the season because Tata has twigged to just how useful Pique could be up front. It’s no coincidence Pique was up raiding within ten minutes of the game starting and that leaves Masche and (hopefully) Busi, neither of whom is a defender on their own at the back.

    I’m also gonna say that Bartra is not the finished article – or close to it. He has played quite well this year But on the other hand he’s not particularly quick or good in the air and I’ve a feeling ( no more) that he’s not gonna be the answer. His best quality for me is like all good defenders he knows it’s best to stay on your feet. That’s why I’ve suggested above that, unless the club know something we don’t I’d give Puyol a run. He says he’s fit, Pique says he’s playing without pain but we know he’s no right back any more. He and Pique are born defenders, they know each other’s games inside out so they cover well for each other and hold a great line, both v good in the air. What’s not to like ?

  10. The over the top reactions from cules in the past few weeks have been amusing, I bet that if we showed a stranger the comments from this post from example, and the comments from a post a few weeks back, he’ll think a few years has passed, And the teams have been in a slowly downward spiral since, No one would believe it’s only few weeks apart, The team in the eyes of the fans suddenly transformed from an ass-kicking team with astounding defense and offense, To a team that has so many large holes, You can ride a plan through them.

    Consistency is lacking when discussing the state of the team, If we plotted a curve of how many CB/CF talks show up in the comments over a period of time, We’ll see peaks that are spaced at irregular intervals every now and then, And they just happen to shows up when the teams doesn’t do very well, And magically remain quiescent when they do.

    What the team is going through right now is NOT because of CB/CF blah blah blah blah issues, It’s simply the JANUARY/FEBRUARY SYNDROME………, Now let that sink in for a moment….

    Maybe we thought because of martino’s rotation we’ll escape it’s event horizon, Well we didn’t, And i accepted the fact that we never will, Guardiola couldn’t escape it, Tito couldn’t, And neither maritno, The players always go through this low physical state around this time, All i know is that the team will resume it’s awesome form in a week or two just like every season.

    1. Mmmm… See, but with Tata’s rotation and Messi’s and others’ timely injuries I don’t think fitness has been an issue these last five weeks.

    2. The January/February dip in form has been present in our team for years, Spanning all the last 3 coaches, And if we go back and check how our team performed in the past years during those dreaded two months, It’s clear as the sky, While the amount of actual points lost can vary depending on the number of inures to key players and the opponents we have to face, The dip in performance has always been there.

      It probably has to do with the training regime that our club uses, that allows a decrease in fitness around this period, That’s my two cents anyway.

    3. do you think it could be more psychological ? Are the players not motivated enough ? They perform brilliantly in the first half season…is there complacency in the second ? since they are more often that not leading at this stage..or collecting insane amount of points…I hope this is not the case…

  11. Reports are that the ref who red-carded Ronaldo has been given a month’s suspension, a ban from working any more RM matches this season and might get kicked down to Segunda.

    No word on the reasoning, etc. Assume something deeper went down.

    1. because the referees need to learn who runs the show in La Liga: Real Madrid above all. it’s blatant sporting corruption, and we know all that it’s there.

      (the cynic would say it’s also why our own impetuous Javier Mascherano escaped without a red; the power of the Big 2 against the RFEF is wholly 1-sided)

    2. There is no comparison between favoritism shown towards RM or Barça. We get calls for and against. A bit more against tbh, although the last two games we had a ridiculous penalty rewarded in our favor (Valencia) and an obvious one ignored in our favor(Malaga).

      But we don’t intimidate referees by getting them banned for making the wrong call. We don’t intimidate the Spanish Federation into allowing certain referees never to call our games. This is ridiculous and, as BA adequately calls it, sporting corruption.

    3. The word is that the ref, aside from being generally incompetent, changed the match report twice. Yikes. Liga refs are generally shit, but that seems above and beyond.

      For me, I think the favoritism shouts for the big two are fair. I wish they were less true. I don’t hold with degrees of unfairness, TBH. Unfair is unfair, and the big two get more than their share of favoritism.

    4. That the ref was incompetent is beyond doubt – a good ref would’ve shown two yellow cards to Xabi Alonso.

      But the word that he changed his report twice is untrue.
      In his initial report he stated that he showed BL’s red for scratching the cheek of an Athletic player during stopped play. People, Madrid’s media and Real Madrid assumed the red was for the initial scuffle, and since the act says something else, they called for a cancellation of the red. Then the ref was consulted and he reiterated that the red was for the second altercation, for which he also gave the Athletic player a yellow – and since that is in accordance with the report, the committee stated it had been Real’s mistake to assume the red had been for the initial confrontation.

      The result is that Real Madrid has for all intents and purposes declared war on the federation and has demanded that the entire system of ref designation be changed.

      If the news about the banning is true(COPE has been used to basically issue “warnings” and threats, to encourage the others), then it can be seen as the ref being sacrificed in order to preserve the current football federation leaders. BTW, this is the second ref that has been “sent to the fridge”. The first one was the guy from the Elche match – although he was technically sent for bad calls during the Barcelona – Sevilla tie.

    5. it’s the same phenomenon that prevents a more even TV revenue distribution; i think it’s a symptom of a larger problem in Spanish society that retains a really regressive institutional corruption (most notably in the construction and real estate sectors). Spain is a wonderful country in many respects, but that sort of corruption remains very entrenched from the bad old days and it could be a long time til it’s dealt with.

      a strong stand by the RFEF on one of these incidents would be a good start, but i sadly just can’t see that happening. and god forbid they ever do a serious match-fixing and referee influencing investigation.

    6. I am also convinced that in any given season, the big game-deciding calls (and non calls) that favor M*drid outnumber the ones that favor Barça. In a league that is won by a small margin, we are at a considerate disadvantage.

      Neither do I think that I am being too culé. Less than a week ago Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez’s admited that most referees are, in fact, M*dridista. I am afraid that favoritism is alive and kicking.

    7. To add what you said, Levon, I recall the 2010 season when we had only a handful of penalties called for us midway through. Once EE had established a healthy lead, thanks in part to dubious penalty calls, we starting receiving just as dubious penalties to make it seem more balanced. I think I’m correct in saying THAT Messi clip where he’s fouled by half the Bilbao team in the penalty area with no call was during the 2010 season.

    8. @Ryan – I think you are talking about the 2011 – 12 season.
      Once Madrid liga was a surety, we started getting penalty calls in our favour in those last meaningfull games.

      That move by Messi in the Bilbao box is one of my favourite, a kind of dribbling in phone booth, and was finally fouled down, but no penalty.

  12. I think it’s time to use Adriano again as a CB. The most important ingredient for a Barca CB (because we leave so much space behind) is blistering pace. He has it, and is also a beautifully well-balanced defender.
    I’m quite happy that Barca is hitting so many crosses. Teams are forming a hardened shell around the goal-mouth. Best thing is to whip the ball in, with pace, and at least hope someone will stick in the scraps (which is what happened with Busquet’s goal, I think).

  13. I think you guys need to watch the game one more time, and then tell me Barcelona played bad.

    Barcelona could’ve decided the game by the 12th minute. It was just bad luck. By the 25th minute that result could’ve been at least 3-0 – easy.

    This is Real Sociedad, people. They were defeated 4-0 by Atletico, but that’s because they attacked. If they had stood back and defended like they did vs Barcelona they would’ve had a point – but that’s the whole thing – teams are scared of Barcelona and at the same time hopeful of their chances in a counter or a corner. The same teams think they can win against Atletico, they open up and attack – and get their asses handed to them. It sounds crazy, but it isn’t. Barcelona seem weaker, because opposing teams don’t really try to win – instead they try not to lose.

    And I say again – this isn’t just any team. This is a Champions League participant, a team which tore apart Lyon both home and away, the team that handed Barcelona one of its only two defeats last season. Think about that fact. That’s one of the semi-finalists of CdR – the other three teams are Real, Barcelona and Atletico.

    P.S. I just had a nasty thought: Atletico are missing Diego Costa next week vs Real, and Villa is doubtful. With 3-0 deficit they might as well play for honor – but they might as well play to damage Real. Who’s to say there won’t be a bone-cracking challenge to someone in the last seconds, especially if the tie is lost? After all, these teams will meet again on the 2nd of March, and unless given more than a three-match ban(which needs to include abusing the ref or outright aggression), the player’s ban would be for the competition in which he got the red card. It’s not the first time it has happened either.

    1. Ha. That was an awesome article, lev.
      I hope we bash EE again, until then Tata must keep our Eleven safe.
      2-0 or 5-0 doesn’t matter.

  14. Man, I am still suprised at that supposed Xavi – Martino meeting. It reminds me of how organisations introduce new technology that sometimes render certain workers redundant, only for said workers to embark on demonstrations citing a lack of consideration or unfairness. Its never about whats best for the organisation. Its always about them. For me I believe that its entirely possible to play tiki taka and direct football. All it requires is some diversification of our squad skill sets ( see Bayern ) which atm is too similar and an open mind to expand our philosophy if need be.

  15. I don’t think Messi has been subpar since his return from injury. Normally he always has 3-4 men on him whenever we play teams who park the bus and since he’s now playing in a deeper role, it’s only normal that with the extra attention he gets from the opposition it’ll be more difficult for him to score. It’s also important to note that he’s been creating a lot of chances for the team and averages at least an assist per game since his return. I think the goals will come once he’s done acclimatising with his new role. It’s quite a shame that we don’t have a CF to take advantage of Messi’s new role. If we had a CF, playing Messi deeper might force the 3-4 players marking him to follow him deep into midfield which then affords the CF space to take advantage of whatever chance is created & I reckon that once defenders notice how much time and space is afforded to the CF, they’ll reduce focusing on Messi alone and in trying to balance the attention it’ll give Messi more space and time on the ball. No need talking about the implications of Messi being afforded more space. Also trying to focus on Messi and the CF means less attention on the wingers and more space for them too. It’ll be disaster for any team that affords Neymar/Pedro/Sanchez/Tello space. It’s really important we introduce a CF to our play (maybe Neymar or Sanchez for now since we don’t have any atm). *PS: Don’t mind my English and writing.

  16. from Sport:via total barca
    1. He wants to introduce different tactics but the team resists change

    2. Messi isn’t 100% yet and and his position on the field creates doubts

    3. Cesc’s profile is more suitable to (Tata’s) style than is Iniesta’s

    which is pretty much in line with Allas, just that its the whole team, not just Xavi who is against the reforms.

    So there is definitely some confusion going on, which is evident in our plays too. I think this news would have been more normal at the beginning of the season, not just at the hard part of the season.. I feel sorry for Tata.

    1. It is generally best to ignore speculative opinion pieces such as that one. Martino is working with the pieces that he has, and adapting his tactics to those pieces. If he had his way, there would probably be a rather significant clearout in the summer, but it is doubtful that he will.

      It’s funny how when some were saying that Messi was something of a mess upon his return, they were called haters. But it’s clear that the team isn’t playing as well with Messi back. The question is why, and I think it relates to Messi being the first option, which creates hesitancy, and players are holding the ball a beat longer as he walks around.

      If we are lucky, when Neymar returns he will be disinclined to wait for anyone. He will come back with a significant chip on his shoulder, and I suspect that rather than being sulky, he will want to kick ass and take names.

      Any confusion is created by the defense, coupled with a team that lacks the physical adaptability necessary to rapidly deal with changes forced by the opponent. Tika taka as a tactic kicked ass at first because people weren’t ready for it. The False 9 worked because people weren’t ready for it. Both of those were tactical adaptations to personnel.

      The larger concern voiced by many is that the next tactical innovation involves a degree of change that some members of the current team are not suited for. So then what?

  17. How we can reinforce our team with height, athleticisim, creativity and hunger
    Seriously guys what is wrong with this team i proposed??? It is solid both attack wise, possessionwise, defensivewise, physically, technically and speed wise and athletic wise
    Ter stegen

    Danilo.. Bartra/benatia….. Pique/puyol…………..Alba/ adriano
    ………………………….. Luiz Gustavo
    …………………messi….”…………….ney mar
    ………………………..,..G. Pelle

    Subs: matip, montoya,mascherano,xavi, rafinha, deulofeu,pedro, suarez, afellay
    Sold: sanchez,alves,song,tello, cuenca
    Loaned: sergi roberto, and any other b team player promoted except dennis suarez
    Bought: danilo from porto. Right back, 184 cm, whoscored rating 7.53
    Benatia from roma 188 cm, CB whoscored rating 7.64
    Ter stegen from gladbach Gk 189 cm, whoscored rating. 7.24
    Luiz gustavo from wolfsburg CDM 187cm, whoscored rating 7.29
    G. Pelle from feyernoord CF 193 cm, whoscored rating 7.91, 16 goals 3 assists in 20 games..
    There you go and you have a great team with all features needed to make it against the big guns and the small guns as well

    1. Why buy Gustavo? Bayern rejected him – we can get that same skill-set from the current team or B-team, or buy the hot carvalho fellow. Why sell dani or sanchez while keeping monty or afellay? And who is pelle? If you’re going to spend money, at least buy Barca quality – and none of the ones you propose are world-class.

    2. Bayern didnt reject him. Javi martinez was an upgrade to him. Ask any bayern fan and they will tell you how highly they regard of him. He is by the way a permaneent fixture in the brazil NT that smashed your beloved world champions, spain

    3. I understand the need for some changes. But my rating of Gustavo is not world-class nor a starter for me(I know it’s very subjective and only a coach knows the kind of a player he needs).I could only see him as an upgrade on the not-so popular Song (and being upgraded on is the same as rejection -we did that to Eto’o). Mascherano could play the role you give him, if we’re going more defensive. Sanchez is good and improving well, if we have to sell him, we should be replacing him with a Reus/Falcao/Costa level of quality – that hybrid 9.

      As for RB – dani has regressed but is still miles better than monty. I don’t know Danilo or his age/quality/potential, but I would say we should get a young RB (more defensive minded) if we’re keeping Alba and selling Dani. I’d also rather sell afellay while keeping sanchez, that kid is a beast. And finally, I’m not a fan of spain, even as i appreciate their game and watch from time to time.

      Why the move for busquets to be a CM/playmaker? Won’t that take from using him more efficiently in his best position ala cesc-false-9ner vis-a-vis AM?

    4. Busquets in a playmaker spot allows for the pivot spot on the team to be taken by a pure defensive midfielder, say Masche or Song. You get a bit less creativity, which can be compensated by the playmaking of Neymar and Messi, but practically double the disruptive ability, plus some more height. You get more aerial presence in both boxes, more physicality, Busquets gets less space to cover, which means he covers it better… Busquets also gets an alternative to pass to, since he has become the main target of the enemy midfielders.

      There’s a precedent to this, you know. Away leg 2010-11 Champions league semi. Barcelona played with Keita, Busquets and Xavi. Affelay for the injured Pedro after 70 min. 0-2. True, Song isn’t Keita from 2010 – but it’s also true that 2010 Busquets isn’t today’s Busi.

    5. I can see the advantages of a double pivot, but:

      1) If this is becoming a permanent fixture, won’t we lose our “identity/philosophy” of breath-taking possession football by employing a destroyer/enforcer and an OK playmaker (busi)? FYI, I’m OK with playing any form of attacking football if it wins us games/makes us more efficient, so I’m not very tied to the philosophy that gets Tata crucified when he wins with 65% of possession.

      2) Why not get another deep-lying playmaker of Busquets mold or Xabi Alonso’s mold (i.e steal Illara) or get the Carvalho guy if we’re going for the double pivot. You end up achieving two things – more steel and more playmaking. Who do you sit on? Isn’t Gundogan from this school of play (the Pirlos)?

      3) If it’s a temporary fixture for certain games we need more steel, or when trying to conserve a lead, then I’m up for it. I was concerned for the consideration of having Gustavo as a permanent fixture in our gala 11 when barca can do much better for the same sum of money that would buy Gustavo. Note, I’m not against having him replace song. I’m against him taking over Busi’s spot.

  18. For the video game fans, even EA SPORTS also recognizes that Barça has defensive frailities. In their 2013 Fifa football game instalment(FIFA13), Alves and Alba are usually caught out high on their attacking duties, leaving large acres of space on either wings for Puyol and Pique(who are also slow in the game) to defend. I’ve lost count of how many goals I conceded on the break. The kind of CB we need now is one with height and speed. Smasch has speed but his lack of height is his bane. And oh! MESSI DOES TRACK BACK AND PRESS IN THE GAME

    1. There is absolutely no need for us to concede any goals on the break (in real life). We had this sorted (largely) before Tata started sending Pique forward more. We just need to keep both of the FBs from going up at once and make sure whoever plays with Pique understands the concept of covering for each other. This isn’t hard and it’s not really a question of pace either.

    2. Seriously! John Terry is doing well again for Chelsea and he’s quite slow too. It’s just a matter of not getting caught with acres of space between you and the keeper.

  19. We are statistically better this year than before! I honestly am a bit sick of all the talk of who to sign, unless we are talking about a new keeper as Valdes IS actually leaving. There are a few months left in the season, and apart from the recent lull, it’s been super fun to watch. If we spend so much time talking about next year, we’ll forget about this one. AND, what are we going to do in August?

    As far as Masch’s red card, from what I saw, it seemed like it was just a tangle that Vela initiated. But what about the BLATANT tackle on Messi. No one is talking about it on the internet from what I’ve seen. Is that not a clear red? That was so fucking ridiculous.

    I am annoyed at Messi’s lack of tracking. Against Sociedad he was very invisible at times. Also, I don’t like the Alves/Alexis pairing. If we are going to attack up the wing so much then maybe Messi should move back. How many times does Alves get the ball and waste a cross when he has a clear shot on goal?

    1. The term you are looking for the the itch irritating you is cule-syndrome .

      Cule-syndrome [ kyool – sin-drohm, -druhm ].


      1.Pathology, Psychiatry . a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder, disease, or the like that afflicts Barca fans when the team loses a game. Symptoms include negativity, idealizing the team, wholesale overhaul of the team and personnel. So far, no known cure has been discovered.

      2. a predictable, characteristic pattern of behavior, action, etc., that tends to occur under certain circumstances: the messi-does-not-track-back cule-syndrome; Song-is-horrible cule-syndrome, wait-for-RM-ATM-City-Bayern cule-syndrome; we-need-a-tall-9-syndrome; screw board-must-go cule-syndrome; Bartra-is- pretty erm better-than-sMasch syndrome etc.

      It’s all part of being a cule. We all react differently when frustrated by things – in this case the subjective differences in the team’s performance. For you, it’s Messi and use of Alves/Alexis axis. For others, the quokka. Others, the need for a 9. As Kxevin puts it well, it’s Barca Rashomon.

    2. totally agree with what you are saying, and moreover, I read this blog because I think that the voice here (maybe stemming from Kxevin’s positivism) seems a mature, thoughtful place, with great comments from a variety of people, yourself included.

      That being said, I really don’t think that my comment on Messi tracking steams from any apocalyptic-oh jesus we lost a game at home-mentality. I just can’t get over having a player (even if the player is the best) walk on the pitch. Believe, I really love to watch Messi. I think he is a gentleman, and I am not trying to call him lazy. I am really just trying to incite some discussion on why he is walking because I don’t understand it and it’s hard to watch.

      Personally, I do not expect Barça to win every game. Perhaps it is my American upbringing, but I think European fans are far too critical, and the press either incites this, or mimics it. How anyone could expect a team, at least a great team, (which, plays a season with sometimes two games a week, 3 subs, and a season longer than any other professional sport) to not lose a game or two is beyond me.

  20. I was watching MOTD on the EPL last weekend. The difference in the quality from full backs and others there and Dani is alarming. It’s only when you see how much danger a FB with time can cause with a wickedly curling ball away from the keeper that you realise how much we are missing.

    Sorry, to disagree but Masche quite clearly has hold of the guy’s arm and wasn’t letting go anytime soon. Clear pen and red card for me. Agreed on the tackle on Messi.

    Good comment though about us valuing the team. Even though I’ve not been a huge fan of the hash and bash approach (okay, hyperbole). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the team. I’ve a feeling we’ll kick some butt when Neymar returns.

    Any word on Ronaldo’s appeal?

    1. Real’s appeal has been denied, 3 games as of today afternoon. AS journos(term used loosely) are saying there’s a possibility to “freeze” the “sentence” until the Committee for Sports Discipline(basically football supreme court) decides what to do. The danger lies in the following: if Ronaldo plays in the meantime and the appeal fails, he would have to miss the Derbi Madrileño on the 2nd of March.

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