Categorized | Barcelona

Real Sociedad 1 – Barça 1: The Anoeta Affair

It was a breezy February night in San Sebastian when the team stepped onto the pitch with one leg in the final. They had won the home game by two goals to none, but that didn’t mean much to the men who mattered. Or at least it shouldn’t have. The Anoeta was a tough ground that did not suffer blaugranas gladly. It was only last season that they lost there, and that was after not losing for more than twenty games in a row. You never quite know what you’re getting into until you’re in it. That’s what they told themselves, anyway. Besides, the win at home was far from convincing, according to some. If fans had a bone to pick, the players didn’t want to throw them any. Tata was not a cautious coach by nature.

I prefer to think of myself as pragmatic, he said, but not out loud, and certainly not in Catalonia.

So it was that he brought out his gala XI, or at least something that came close.

….

Pride entered Hernandez’s heart when he looked down at the red and yellow band around his arm. It was a bit tight. With his right hand he adjusted it. He felt weird when he thought of himself as capita. It didn’t matter, because nobody called him that. One thing was for sure. He was closer to the end of his career than the beginning. As a player, anyway. He could feel it in his bones.

What the hell, he thought.

I have been playing with pain for years now.

Rare were the days that his tendons did not hurt. For some reason his mind wandered off to mushrooms, but not for long. Not that he cared what other people thought. He had a game to play. So he started passing the ball. And passing it some more. He passed it to Busquets a lot.

That guy is so smart, he thought.

He knows where I’m going to pass the ball before I do.

Xavi liked having the ball. He liked when his team had possession. Receive it, pass and move. Receive, pass, move. Receive, pass, move. It is simple, really, but it isn’t really. Still, this is his game. How he was taught to play at the academy.  A clear philosophy. He liked that. It made him proud to play for this club. His club. Receive, pass, move. To be honest he no longer liked chasing the ball all that much. He didn’t have the legs for it any more. Or the stamina. This is a young man’s game.

But they can’t control the game like me, he thought.

He passed the ball some more.

xavi

Mascherano started the match with fire in his belly. His first intervention was all ball. So was his second. On the third one Carlos Vela was not so lucky. Mascherano left the Mexican sprawling on the grass. Charlie’s face grimaced with pain. El Jefecito didn’t blink.

I’m gonna put you on your back faster than an aspiring actress on the casting couch of a telenovela producer, he thought.

He was way too classy to actually say it. Even though it’s true. Nothing good can come from saying it.

Pass the ball, Leo, said Martino.

It takes two to tango, and we’re a long way from Argentina.

Ché boludo, thought Leo.

He and Tata were from the same hometown. The same boyhood club, too. Heck, for a while there both of them played for Newell’s Old Boys at the same time, although Leo was still in a youth squad. And now Martino was the head coach of the club he had joined as a 13 year old pibe from Rosario. La Pulga, they called him. The Flea. Well, the Flea would become the only player to ever win four Golden Balls. There might be more where that came from, too. Leo Messi was only twenty-six and he broke records as if they were made out of candy glass. He was a short man, but nobody in the club was bigger. Nobody in football, for that matter. He loved to dance through defenses. Just loved it. Then he saw Pedro open on the right. He passed him the ball.

Ha, thought Andrés.

With a quick turn he lost his marker.

Gerard ran as fast as he could.

I wish I could be young like Pinto, he thought.

He got to the ball before Vela, but only just. If he didn’t make up for the rest of the squad’s lack of height, Piqué could find himself in serious trouble.  Relatively speaking, that is. He’d still be a millionaire, of course. And he’d find another club where he could dedicate his goal celebrations to his girlfriend.

Her hips don’t lie, he thought.

But he loved F.C. Barcelona and he dreamed of being its captain one day, despite his unfortunate surname. He didn’t understand why people held his relation with the Colombian superstar against him. It’s not like other footballers don’t have girlfriends to distract them at night. Ok, he understood but he didn’t agree and sometimes he’d say as much when asked by a reporter.

Capita, he dreamed.

Me Tarzan, you Shakira.

He liked the sound of that. So did she.

Busquets received the pass. He knew he would. His mind was not like that of anybody else. He did not have to think.

Griezman is four steps away behind my left shoulder, he knew.

He knew this before Griezman knew it. He could pass the ball to Piqué or to Dani Alves or back to Xavi or to Cesc. To Dani Alves would be risky. Cesc was the best option. Busquets always chose the best option. His mind was not like that of anybody else. He did not have to think.

José Angel did not see Lionel Messi standing there. Either that or his brain and his foot were in disagreement. How many times had his dad told him about playing passes across the middle. He started running but it was too late.

I got this, said the Flea.

He took the ball at the halfway line and ran with it. No defender could keep up. When he almost reached the penalty area he hit the ball with his left foot. Zubikarai got his hands to it but could not parry the shot. The ball bounced gently into the goal. Messi raised both arms and pointed at the sky. Barça was up one nil.

messi scores

Cesc loved this. Finally free to do his thing. For the past two years he had played as if under a restraining order. Tiki here. Taka there. Playing for the man whose poster he once kept on the wall was not easy. Tata made him feel important.

Pedro, he thought.

Before he finished the thought he sent a lob over the defense. Pedro controlled it and shot. Zubikarai did well to block it. No matter. Cesc felt confident he would create another chance.

Dani Alves jumped, but not high enough. The ball flew over his head. Culers could be forgiven for thinking it was Mascherano. Especially those watching the game on a live stream. Carlos Vela received the ball, but could not equalize. Pinto blocked the shot. Dani Alves cleared the rebound. He chose the safe option and gave up a corner. The referee would soon blow the whistle. As they made their way to the dressing room, he wondered whether Tata would make any substitutions.

Mascherano sent the ball flying at his own goalkeeper. The second half had just started. High balls are definitely not his forte and he mishit it completely. Pinto kept his cool and volleyed it back into safety. That feeling that somebody is watching. When you’re in the supermarket. Or when you’re sitting in the bus. Feeling eyes staring at you. You turn around and sometimes you catch them with your own, but not always. It makes some people uncomfortable, but not Pinto. He had always liked that feeling.

Wake up, he yelled at Javier.

He liked pressure, too. When he was at Celta da Vigo, he won the Zamora. That was his best year, professionally. But he loved playing for Barça. He would have preferred more people to show up for Copa games at the Camp Nou, but that’s okay. After all, he was the back-up goalkeeper. At other clubs the back-up only plays in the pre-season. Pinto was the oldest player in the squad, but he didn’t feel like it and he sure as hell never acted like it. Besides, he had the reflections of a younger man.

Shoot, shot through his mind.

You’re only as old as you feel.

He hoped they would renew his contract. For the life of him he didn’t understand why Victor wanted to leave. This club gave them everything, and the guys in the dressing room were awesome. He loved them. Pinto thought Victor was different, that’s all.

Maybe he doesn’t like all those people watching him, he thought.

They should watch me instead.

Ha, thought Andrés.

He slipped between two defenders.

ini

Up and down, up and down, up and down and up and down.

I own this flank, said Dani Alves.

I used to own this flank would have been a more accurate statement. For years now culers had argued about whether or not he was done. He wasn’t. Not yet.  But neither was he the same as those first three seasons at the club. At least not consistently so. Many fans blamed it on account of him being Brazilian. Not because they are racist. Probably more because it was an easy thing to say.

Brazilians never remain motivated throughout their whole career, they said.

They love to party too much.

That might be so, but don’t tell Marcos Evangelista de Moraes that. Better known as Cafu to some. Dani Alves plays harder than people give him credit for. As a boy he would run to school, where he would run through its corridors and then he would run home. Under the blistering sun. He never stopped running. But one day he will be tired. Today was not that day.

Zubikarai is not a bad goalkeeper. That might sound funny, but only if Messi has a sense of humor. Cesc missed the rebound, but he is okay with not burying every chance he gets. At least one would think so. He was enjoying his football this season and he was playing well today. So were his teammates. Barça was very dominant. They hadn’t been this dominant since, well since the last time they were that dominant. There was something about the old Barça about them, the way they were playing. Not the real old Barça, but the Barça that would be considered old by new fans. The Barça of three, four years ago.

Ha, thought Andrés.

The keeper saved his shot, but it felt good anyway. He didn’t know why he scored so little. Everything else seemed to come easy to him. It’s not like he couldn’t shoot the ball. Or finish chances. He had some real beauties to his name. Some real important ones, too. Maybe he simply wasn’t raised to score a lot of goals. His father had always taught him that modesty was a virtue. The Anoeta booed him whenever he got the ball but it didn’t bother him all that much. He was just happy to be there. He considered himself very lucky to be cheered throughout the most of Spain. Not that he would ever let it get to his head. He was way too modest for that.

Tata stood and watched his team. His feet firmly planted behind the sideline, he bent his upper torso forward, leaned backward and straightened up again. He didn’t care that he looked funny in the eyes of some. Not in the slightest.

Worrying about stuff like that ain’t gonna get me nowhere, he thought.

Every day he woke up grateful for managing the club. For working with these players. In his eyes they were the best of the world. If someone thought that that would make his job any easier, they’d be mistaken. It didn’t. Nor would he have wanted it to, to be honest. This was the biggest club of his career. Probably the biggest he would ever work at. Sure, culés would always complain about one thing or the other. The team was too predictable. Too defensive. Too Messidependent. Too this. Too that. They might treat him differently if he were Catalan.

Or Dutch, he thought.

But most of all culés complained because he wasn’t Pep. Ain’t a damn thing he could do about that. Still, if they thought this would affect him they had another thing coming. As if the Primera A was a walk in the park. In Argentina people were usually busy doing one of two things. That is complaining about their president, or complaining about their football coach.

Alexis, you’re up, he said.

2014-02-12_R._SOCIEDAD-BARCELONA_02-Optimized.v1392242973

People always asked Alexis why it was he never sweated when all he did was run the whole darn time.

Shiiii-iiiit, he would say.

Where I’m from there’s too much damn dust to sweat. Besides, my family was poor. I just couldn’t afford to lose any water.

Life sure is rough in the Third World sometimes. And so he runs but does not sweat. You can take the boy out of the dusty shantytowns of Tocopilla but you can’t take the dusty shantytowns of Tocopilla out of the boy. Especially not now they named a street after him. Hard work is what got him this far, and he’d be damned if he didn’t go any further.

Playing football without busting your ass is like playing Monopoly without dice, he thought.

Not that he ever had played Monopoly in his youth. He just thought it sounded like a cool thing to say, and maybe he would one of these days. He might even tweet it. For now it was just a thought. If football were a game of fetch Alexis Sánchez would be the top dog. That’s something he never did think of, but one suspects he would have liked to.

In the end Real Sociedad equalized. It was a real belter, too. Fair enough. You can’t win them all, even those in which you dominate. The fans went home happy. The fans of both clubs. The Basques had not given up and had saved their honor. The Catalans had another Clasic to look forward to. Some are fed up with Clasics already. There sure have been a lot of them over the last couple of years. But that’s neither here nor there. The truth is, this was a mighty fine football match. The fans went home happy.

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117 Responses to “Real Sociedad 1 – Barça 1: The Anoeta Affair”

  1. Jafri says:

    This review was so atmospheric. Loved it.

  2. mom4 says:

    That was too much fun, Lev!

  3. G6O says:

    I was equally in awe and in deep frustration this game – there were numerous moments of breathtaking tiki-taka, yet the intent to score was not there a lot of the time, and when it was, we missed chances we should have converted (and which, had it been a league game, would have hurt us very badly). Still a good game overall.

  4. BA says:

    we looked like we lacked concentration, particularly after the first goal went in. as well our players should; the tie was over even before we got there, and as winning professionals they knew that. this was a game to play as much rotation as possible, and instead Martino opted for our best-possible 11. i don’t understand that, our squad is not big enough to support so many players playing so many minutes. the idea of playing Xavi for 65 of those minutes was stupid and counterproductive, as tired as he has looked lately. Pique likewise, he’s just too valuable at this point in the season.

    so why take the risk? Sociedad aren’t a very good side (they are 20 points behind us in the league) and while we rode our luck at times in the first leg they were never going to win this tie, and they looked like they knew it. meanwhile, yet again Tello gets no minutes. i continue to not be convinced by the amount of praise heaped on Martino for his “rotation” policy this season, and we’re really getting down to crunch time now.

  5. bhed says:

    Ugh, just saw that the copa final is 4/19. That means the game I have tickets for (Bilbao) will be moved. Since my holiday can’t be moved – probably no Barca trip for me this year. The club website still shows the Bilbao game on 4/20. Does anybody know when they’ll actually play?

  6. bhed says:

    Sorry, great review Lev. I’ll have to watch the game again. Couldn’t concentrate when I realized all my planning and anticipation just went up in smoke.

  7. Kd says:

    Wow!! This was damn well written. Almost Poetic!!

  8. psalmuel says:

    Poetic! Valiente! And what was that formation we were playing with Ini and Cesc always looking to interchange btw LCM and LW?

  9. fotobirajesh says:

    I salute you Levon. How can you come up with something as beautiful as this in such a short time. You should write movie scripts…

    I was not very happy after the first leg, which we won. But we drew this leg, and still I am so happy and proud about this team. Didnt we see some of the most beautiful and breath taking passing in the football pitch. Remember those 60 – 80 minutes in the 5-0 game. We had many brilliant moments like that yesterday. Wonderful.

    If only Iniesta could finish, we would have had one player who could be compared to Messi on an equal footing.. He and Messi were miles behind their best, still…

    And friends, please watch the touch Messi make, just before he shoots for the goal. He is something, not that we didnt know already, but am ready to die after making that kind of a play. super natural control!!!

  10. georgjorge says:

    What a beautiful piece…

  11. Ultraculé says:

    I think we played a good game and all those who were craving for the Tiki Taka fix must have gotten satisfied. To an extent. Like all junkies. But jokes aside, We are so much better, and exude so much more confidence when we are economical with our touches. I suspect that this game, was in more ways than one, a sort of rehearsal for the City game.

    Man, Tata Martino is such a boss. I didn’t know he had benched Busquets and Alves for the Sevilla game deliberately as a slap on the wrist. From resting Messi to so many other moves like the one above, he is starting to show real ownership. Good to see.

    Now, based on yesterday, what kind of a team would I put out in the Etihad against City. Its a real toughie. That back 5 is a no brainer.
    Valdes, Alves (cos its a big game and monty may not be ready yet), Pique, Mascherano (do people still suspect his bossness after yesterday, his passes are so good too. I cant wait for him to take a damn shot in our colors.) and Adriano.

    The midfield and the front three is what will present headaches to Martino. Does he go with the tried and tested trinity of Xavi, iniesta and busi, with the aim of exerting control or will he slot Cesc instead of xavi in favour of a more anarchic approach. Does Song get a look in due to his consistently good performances when called upon? Or will he pair him up with Busi for more security and steel in midfield.

    Pedro deserves a starting berth just because he is..well.. P! The amount of tracking back and running he does is just so invaluable. Alexis has muscle, and can hold up play in a way P! can’t. Are those some of the things Barca need in its toolkit in this crucial away game? Does Neymar start? Is he fit enough?

    My lineup:
    Valdes
    Alves – Pique – Masch – Adriano
    Iniesta – Busquets – Cesc
    Alexis – Messi – Pedro

    xavi for cesc.
    song for busquets.
    neymar for pedro.

  12. Kxevin says:

    Okay. You have a match on Wednesday. You also have a match on Saturday, at home. Then you have a Really Important match on Tuesday, against some English Goliaths.

    So in choosing a lineup, do you:

    — Use rotation in a done-and-dusted tie, and play your gala XI on Saturday, but a few days before the Really Important match.

    — Play the gala XI to let them get some time in their legs, pass and move, pass and move, and get plenty of rest over the weekend, when you take a risk that home cooking will be enough to get you past a relegation-dwelling Rayo.

    Figure on a head-scratching lineup on Saturday, which should also feature some time for Neymar, almost certainly a start for Song. I see minutes for Fabregas, who won’t be starting on Tuesday, and whichever Forward Not Named Messi starts on Saturday, will NOT be starting on Tuesday. Book it. Nor should Messi start on Saturday, for that matter. We’ll see what kind of a boss Martino is.

    Lineup? I would say:

    Valdes
    Montoya Bartra Puyol Alba
    Song Fabregas Iniesta (early sub for S. Roberto)
    Sanchez Messi Tello

    But I could be wrong.

    • fotobirajesh says:

      Right.
      But Rayo is one team who like to play their style of football irrespective of the opponent. I like how they play. I see Tata being a bit careful and the sub of Xavi suggests, he might play on Sat. A rested Xavi for Tue would be nice.
      And you see Adriano playing on Tuesday?

      • barca96 says:

        I would’ve gone with the first option which is to rotate. Rest Messi and Xavi mainly. I don’t understand the need to not rest key players in a dead rubber match.

        The league match on Saturday is much more important where we do need the 3 points. If we are cruising, then he can take Messi and other key players out.

      • G6O says:

        We are fortunate we’re playing Rayo – by always playing their game, we tend to win easily against them, so we can rest players for next week. However, we absolutely cannot afford to drop any points, so that has to prominently figure in the calculation too..

    • Peter says:

      How about a crazy line-up? Not seriously, just throwing it out there: Valdes, Montoya, Puyi, Bartra, Adriano; Sergi Roberto, Song, Cesc(Iniesta at 65 min); Affelay(Neymar), Messi(Dongou 70), Tello.

      I have to confess I’m not really sure whether Dongou can play in La Liga, but if he’s available, then great. In any case there’s the possibility to play Xavi on the right and Sergi Roberto on the left. Alexis could start in center instead of Messi, but Messi could get say 20 min with Neymar.

      • Kxevin says:

        Forget about anybody from B. The Mini Classic is on Saturday. It will be all hands on deck.

        To barca96, you play them on Wednesday because you don’t want to play them on Saturday, then short rest for Tuesday. Remember that Fabregas and a couple of other players have all said that the team is prioritizing Champions League this year. So we’ll see what happens on Saturday. Given Martino’s propensity toward head scratchers, a front line of Sanchez/Fabregss/Tello wouldn’t shock me, with a midfield of Song/Iniesta/Sergi Roberto.

        I hope that Adriano plays on Tuesday, not Alba. I bet City hopes the reverse.

        • KEVINO17 says:

          Don’t see Tata dropping Alexis for MC because he’s scoring goals and can play back to goal (in a slightly defensive formation). Tata probably reckons he can play Pedro/Alexis every second day they’re so fit.

        • Peter says:

          The more I think about it, the less crazy it seems to have a squad that relies on counters, pressing and interceptions. Rayo are the third-most passing team in La Liga(only Barcelona and Real Madrid have completed more passes) and they generally play a high line.

          Sergi Roberto and Song would be very good for such type of a game. At the same time it’s possible that an attacking trio of jackrabbits, i.e. Sanchez, Tello and say Affelay? would use the space in the back of Rayo. The truth is I don’t want to see Cesc starting the match, but he would probably be the best power sub for the tie against City.

          My personal line-up:
          Valdes, Montoya, Puyol, Bartra, Alba;
          Sergi Roberto, Song, Cesc;
          Tello, Alexis, Affelay.

          Tello to be subbed by Neymar after 65 minutes, Alexis to be subbed by Messi.

          It may be a very difficult match for the youngsters, but I believe they have the stamina, skill and will to win it.

          Of course, a lot depends on the training today, on one hand, and the line-up of City vs Chelsea on the other. The FA Cup match starts at 5:15, with the line-up to be available one hour earlier. That gives Martino almost two hours to revise the line-up. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but these two hours could be crucial.

  13. barca96 says:

    Wow just wow Mr. Schuller.

  14. PrinceYuvi says:

    Gorgeous article. Perfect timing.

  15. kosby says:

    wonderful wonderful article…Levon, man you have some creativity :) Especially liked Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets’ parts…

    Watched the match after knowing we had drawn 1-1. Some brilliant passing and possession w/o too much emphasis on scoring – pragmatic Tata, I’m definitely not complaining.

    sMache and Pique were good, almost as good as they were in the initial stages of the Liga – wonderful to watch. Personally I dont think this is how we will play against City.

    I dont understand Sociedad’s mindset though…one would think atleast in this match they would attack like crazy and not just for the last 10 minutes. They didnt have anything to lose…looked like they’d already given up. Should the copa be played as a knockout over a single match instead of 2 legs ? Maybe that will make other teams believe they can beat us…

  16. PrinceYuvi says:

    Can’t stop Rereading. Ha.
    Okay, I’ll shut up now.

  17. Kxevin says:

    It’s been a while, when you think about it, since we’ve seen Neymar. JNice Tweeted a link to this video that kinda reminded me of what we have:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3in9BW7k9fg

    I would have lost my mind, railed from the heavens and screamed bloody murder had Rosell and the board said “We’re going to pay a total cost of 87m for this dude.” I would have. But crikey.

    • Jim says:

      There are transfer and then there are transfers. Never been in any doubt of the guy’s phenomenal skills. Didn’t really expect the humility and team ethos that came with him.

      Interesting to note how much of that video involved him careering through the middle rather than down the wing. Hmmm …….

      • Ultraculé says:

        Very true.
        I’ve been also most impressed with Njr when he has played down the middle. He is certainly at his most devastating best and more unpredictable when he plays there. But thats the nature of the zone, i guess, which allows a player to go either way. Wonder what this means for Messi in the long run. Because keeping Neymar on the wings is certainly curtailing his skills and talents. The same can be said of Messi. What does one do then? Perhaps Cruyff knew what he was talking about, when he said that the field isnt big enough for the both of them to play on the same team. I dont know.

    • Jafri says:

      Well actually I’d say he’s well worth the money at 87m, and an absolute steal at 57m.

      I just wish his finishing was as clinical as Messi’s though. Even in this, his highlights video, there are so many shots he should have buried that go sailing over the top.

      • Jim says:

        I’ve never seen a finisher like Messi. You’re surprised every time he has a shot and doesn’t score. His first touches for the goals against Sevilla were literally unbelievable and the little change of direction inwards a couple of nights ago created the possibility. He also hits the ball harder than it looks.

    • lea_terzi says:

      Barca has been showing, year after year, that yes, any number of technical, creative footballing geniuses can share the pitch and the glory (and the trophies), and be a victory for football. Think early days of Xavi and Iniesta. Now we have Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, Alexis and Cesc who all need some degree of creative freedom. Maybe a new formation can be unleashed where they all interchange positions and take turns wreaking havoc. Can’t see how it can be anything but good for the team, with a players’ coach like Tata in particular.

      • fotobirajesh says:

        I was thinking this too, Iniesta, Cesc, Messi, Neymar and Alexis all these can play the no.10 role and then swap with another to a wing or to some other. Only Iniesta is negated by the finishing. so.
        It would be excellent and would make the opposition go mad if we see all of them inter changing their position. That would be a riot.

  18. gaspersm says:

    http://m.youtube.com/results?q=gundogan%20vs&sm=3/watch?v=MKqsb2B5oi4
    http://m.youtube.com/results?q=gundogan%20vs&sm=3#/watch?v=RTi0NOOO1Zc
    http://m.youtube.com/results?q=gundogan%20vs&sm=3#/watch?v=0e3lytwqbgo

    I really facepalm whenever i hear people saying that this guy is not good enough for barca
    He is an excellent CM. We only have attacking midfielders and a box to box midfielder in sergi who has failed to impress

  19. Levon says:

    Thank you all for your kind comments.

    • Peter says:

      Levon, I really should’ve said it earlier, but your article made me lose my sleep :P I woke up in the middle of the night, on the way to the kitchen I checked the page and sat down to read. By the time I had stopped laughing, all vestiges of sleepiness were gone. A great piece of writing, and personally I think you should send a Spanish version to the FC Barcelona offices. That is a bloody great piece of writing!

    • stefan2k says:

      Great stuff Lev! You paint with words :-)

  20. raj says:

    Thank you Levon. This is legendary stuff.

  21. Jim says:

    Aguero, Fernandinho and Nastasic out of Barca game according to Pelligrini.

    Can’t harm our chances I suppose,

    • PrinceYuvi says:

      Demichelis in place of Nastasic I wish.
      Sadly, Nasri is back.

      • Jim says:

        Not so worried about him. Nasir for me is one of those players who should have made it up to the top level but has ended up not much more than a squad player. Don’t know why although consistency is one element of it.

        • PrinceYuvi says:

          Nasri, Silva, Navas –
          Not as scary as everybody is busy implying, hardly any physical presence there.
          Kompany, Zabaleta not the fastest duo around.
          As long as we don’t give away silly corners & free kick situations we’ll hold.
          Need Xaviesta at their best to bottleneck forwards though.
          Yaya is not most disciplined in defence but he scores bunch of goals.
          Flicking in wayward crosses won’t be a good idea, somebody gotta tell that to alves.
          3 days to go…

  22. Jim says:

    Just a reminder as we go into the business end of the season for those tempted to describe Pique as dreamy or reckon others are holding our defence together.

    From Barcastuff:

    Pique has in the last five games recovered 73 balls and lost 4 balls #fcblive 13-0, 16-1, 11-0, 20-2, 13-1 [via @Carles_Domenech]

    • Kxevin says:

      True dat. And Fabregas isn’t undergoing his second-half tailspin, either.

      — A Sport poll found that of almost 8400 respondents, 57 percent of them said they aren’t going to matches because of the quality of the football.

      Alves is right. Jackasses. Pissing away opportunities to see a once-in-lifetime footballing group over some silly brainwashing. Messi, Xavi, Puyol, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique, Fabregas, Pedri, Sanchez … every last member of the XI starts for their NT. It’s absurd and astounding. And for me, unfathomable.

      — Sport had a nasty rumor that Rafinha is worried about playing time NEXT YEAR and that Daddy is scoping out options in the Prem. I don’t trust Sport as far as I can throw it, but stuff is out there.

      This would also appear to contradict Daddy himself, who said that Rafinha is planning to to return to Barça in the summer, where he has 3 more seasons under contract.

      • Peter says:

        Kxevin, Mundo Deportivo just published a study of the attendances in the top five Leagues. Barcelona has some of the lowest season ticket prices, and still has an average attendance of 71.731. At the same time there are 83 000 paid season tickets.

        For me it’s the abuse of the system: with the “free your seat” system the season ticket holder frees up his seat, and if the seat is sold, then the owner gets half of the sum the club sold it for. Just checked, today’s Rayo match’s cheapest tickets cost 26 Euro. Season tickets in that zone(Lateral 4th stand) are from 131 Euro. That means a season ticket holder recovers 10% of his season ticket price if someone buys his ticket for the Rayo game. Oh, and this is Rayo. A home game with Atletico, Real or City, those start from 90-95 Euro. And that’s if you give the club your seat.

        If you sell it to an agency or just plain on the street, you get a much bigger percentage of your money.

  23. Peter says:

    City are going out against Chelsea with the following line-up:

    Zabaleta—Kompany—Lescott—Clichy;
    ——-Javi Garcia—–Toure———
    -Milner——–Silva——–Jovetic–
    ————–Dzeko——————

    Hart, Negredo, Nasri, Navas and Kolarov are on the bench. We might as well write them down for starting spots vs Barcelona.

    For me the question remains whether Pellegrini will start with two main strikers(Negredo and Dzeko) and use Kolarov and Zabaleta to overwhelm the midfield, or start with one striker(probably Negredo) and use Zabaleta and Kolarov interchangeably to congest the middle. I don’t want to make predictions, but it seems to me at this moment that Barcelona will have to endure waves of attack and a real mother of a battle in midfield.

    • justdoit94 says:

      i think man city are showcasing the tactic they will use against us on tuesday.
      4-4-2 that becomes 4-4-2-0 without the ball… strikers drop deep close to midfield and do not press centrebacks unless certain triggers.
      This is almost the same gameplan used by bayern against us last year.
      that’s my take on it so far

  24. ooga aga says:

    our lineup vs Rayo

    valdes
    alves pique puyi adriano
    busquets fabs iniesta
    messi alexis pedro

    • ooga aga says:

      xavi was not called for this game. neymar has the medical OK and is likely on the bench.

    • georgjorge says:

      Wow…yet ANOTHER start for Pique (and another non-start for Bartra, who’s not even on the bench). How many games has Pique played so far this season? It seems like too much, and if he gets injured due to fatigue the team is really screwed.

  25. Ryan says:

    I love Adriano’s long range shots. :) Goal in 2 minutes!

  26. ibbe says:

    Incredible counter attacking by the team..if only we could convert half the clear cut chances we create though..

  27. Jim says:

    Now this is good …..

  28. Kess says:

    For the first time in a long time i like the look of our bench

  29. kosby says:

    What a start ! Beautiful football all the way…so many chances that could have resulted in goals..Everybody looks so hungry, also with no Xavi its so many vertical balls being played..

    Pedro and Alexis should stop looking for Messi..who scored a sublime goal btw…

    Oh and this, ladies and gentlemen is why teams prefer to park the bus against us..

  30. georgjorge says:

    Incredible performance from the team so far, right in time before a big game. I’m especially delighted by Iniesta…also, watch how Fabregas runs the whole midfield up and down right before he once again intercepts to serve Messi for the second. Whatever the result will be on Tuesday, this team is a gift.

  31. barca96 says:

    Messi is on fire tonight. He does not back off challenges. I hope he will be taken off around the 60th minute though. Pique and Iniesta too.

  32. PrinceYuvi says:

    How good are we ? That’s a rhetorical question btw.

    • G6O says:

      I know all the arguments against the “It’s only team X” argument, but in this case it really is proper to use it. Rayo is the most convenient for us team in the league. That said, we still played great and it was a joy to watch.

      • PrinceYuvi says:

        We bashed rayo 6-0, because we ‘Can’.
        We got 6-1 result against Celtic minus Messi.
        So, I don’t believe in ‘It’s just Rayo’ stuff.

        • G6O says:

          Rayo does not (at least in part because they simply cannot) park the bus. So we got the quite rare these days chance to see why most teams park the bus against us. Because if you give us space and cough up the ball when you have 4-5 players in front of it, this is what happens to you.

          • PrinceYuvi says:

            Earn respect & sympathies by playing positive football against a superior opponent.
            Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing ?
            Remember Tahiti from Confederations cup ?
            They were easily way more popular in Brazil than Spanish NT.

          • Ryan says:

            Tahiti does have the benefit of not fielding Arbeloa- that gives them an instant boost in being more likable than Spain. :)

  33. barca96 says:

    Finally Messi off! Great subs from Tata.

  34. Ryan says:

    Oh my, that was a beauty from Neymar. Good to see him mark his return with a great goal!

  35. bhed says:

    Well that was fun.

  36. Peter says:

    I actually felt pity for Rayo. They don’t deserve such a result. In a way it felt like using Barcelona B as a punching bag.

    I have lots of respect for that team, they such beautiful attacking football. I wish it were others were in the relegation zone.

  37. psalmuel says:

    Thats it! No more talks of a total team overhaul and dream signings (especially that tall,big striker who can play with his back to goal). No more talks about that tall CB signing with speed,Smasch is not crap anymore etc. We fans can be hilarious! I was in total awe of the pedro and neymar goals. And one more thing (although this was haunting during the match), I don’t wanna hear any talks of ‘IT WAS ONLY RAYO, WAIT UNTIL WE PLAY CITY!’

  38. flyzowee says:

    Great game. I really wish there was a way to play both Neymar and Messi down the middle. The brazillian clearly goes up a level when running at the heart of defences. If only some form of interchange could happen between them during games. Also puyol looked really good out there. Encouraging performance.

    • G6O says:

      They have already combined for quite a few goals and chances, but pretty much all of them involved Neymar on the wing freezing the play and Messi bursting into the box to receive the pass. Which is really great when you think about it because several of those situations involved the defense forgetting about Messi when Neymar had the ball (how often does the defense forget about him). What we haven’t seen a lot of is Messi delivering the kind of passes that resulted in Tello’s Copa del Rey hat-trick, and the close exchanges with a lot of movement in front of the box that confuse the defense and help break the bus. But they simply have not played enough together for clear trends to emerge – it’s been a total of 600 minutes or something like that, today just 10. Let’s hope they’re both healthy for the rest of the seasons and we should see a lot more direct and lethal interplay between them.

  39. Jafri says:

    Ooh, the dink is back! I associate that with a healthy and confident Messi, and I’m really hoping we make a fist of it on Tuesday night.

  40. barca96 says:

    Tello didn’t even register a single successful pass if I recall correctly. It was funny to watch but it is actually not funny at all considering he’s a professional. I think Cuenca or even Affelay should be getting his minutes now.

    • fotobirajesh says:

      I didnt understand at all, when we loaned out Cuenca and kept Tello. Cuenca is not a player with just one trick in his sleeve. I remember him dribbling either ways.
      Tello is one of the most lucky players to be always on a Barca squad. He dont really deserve it.

  41. Peter says:

    And now the long wait begins. A bit more than two days of nerves, speculation, educated wild-ass guessing and the everpresent criticism and the weekly end-of-the-world crisis.

    Already people are criticizing Tata’s inexplicable lack of rotation. Tata’s lack of rotation. I am not making this up.

    • PrinceYuvi says:

      Just hope we put in a brilliant display,
      the lady luck smiles upon us,
      Tata’s homework pays off,
      We get to brag a lot after the match.
      This is now or never.
      Can’t even pray to footballing gods,
      They’re in our squad.
      Fingers crossed.

  42. ibbe says:

    Can someone provide some statistics on how many counter-attack goals we’ve scored this season and compared to the rest in top 5 leagues?

    I think if teams play us like they play any other team..it would be obvious that we actually have the best counterattacking side in the world AND the best possession based side at the same time. How cool is that?!

  43. psalmuel says:

    This is a game were we’ll be needing to pick out every run with the right through balls and thats why I’d pick Cesc over Xavi. Xavi can come-in in the 2nd half and make his gazillion horizontal passes for all I care. Plus, I’d rather Neymar comes from the bench for Pedro or Lexus as the citeh defence might be tired around that time and Puleeez Tata! No Alba at LB, Adriano should start.

  44. Ultraculé says:

    Predictions?

    I’ll go with MC(2) BAR(3)

  45. psalmuel says:

    MC 1 – 4 FCB! Yea! But thats if we score first in the first half

  46. stefan2k says:

    Ok worst case occurred… the city game is on the same day as my girlfriends birthday. :X

    Since the YouTube guys from FullBarcelonaMatches got closed down, is there any place where I could watch the game on the next morning?

  47. PrinceYuvi says:

    Okay, who’s nervous ?

    • Peter says:

      I am not. There is absolutely no churning feeling in my stomach and all my fingernails and cuticles are completely intact. I am definitely not following every Barcelona and City article or searching for more information. I am definitely not looking for the video of the complete Pellegrini pre-match presser or waiting for Tata’s press conference at 18:15 British Standard Time, or trying in vain to focus on something else. :D

  48. Jafri says:

    Interesting OT: The Champions League top scorer has gone on to win the Ballon d’Or for the past 7 years.

  49. Jafri says:

    As much as I hate having injuries give one team an advantage over the other, I’m really really glad that Aguero won’t be playing tomorrow.

  50. Kxevin says:

    In the “quelle surprise” category, a Marca “journalist” called the shimmy and Neymar and Alves did after his goal a “monkey dance.”

    • Peter says:

      I was looking for a can of surprise-colored paint, but then I remembered I used the last of it when MARCA called Pep a terrorist and urged that Messi be dealt with, either legally or illegally.

  51. Valdemar II says:

    We are favorites for this tie. MCity’s technical players, Nasri Silva etc, would not approach our starting XI. Their backline should not hold. Of course, someone like Kompany could head a brace and our dominance would be for naught. Excited.

  52. justdoit94 says:

    MD has reason to believe that iniesta will start in the left spot.
    Maybe i dont understand as much tactics as tata or perhaps he has a certain view but doesnt the employment of iniesta on the flank hurt our transition from attack to defense- especially in the flank where a converted winger (alba) is playing as a fullback?
    Doesnt this hurt our vertical play where our only two direct players would be sanchez/pedro and the occasional fabregas darting runs forward ?
    From my perspective, we will not be able to score without the deployment of two direct wingers and it will remind us of the disastrous match of san siro last year where we had sterile possession ..
    God i wish MD is wrong with this lineup or else i can foresee a disastrous night where we will hold possession for the majority and it will only take one corner for them to score.

    • PrinceYuvi says:

      I don’t think we’re going to play vertically.
      No long diagonal balls either.

    • Jafri says:

      It’s the first match of a two match tie. I think Martino would be happy with an away goal for us and not too many for them. He can play Iniesta up at LW for more control, and hopefully also tell Jordi Alba that he’ll be subbed off if he crosses the halfway line without completing three different forms of paperwork first.

      Obviously I’m hoping that we knock three or four past them without getting scored against in reply, but I’d be willing to take a 1-1 or 2-2 draw as well.

  53. Messiah10 says:

    I really hope Tata plays Adriano instead of Alba. He has to see how much more effective we are defensively when Adriano plays instead of Alba this season. He also gives us that deep threat that we will need tomorrow. I can’t see Citeh playing as open as they do in the league. Does anyone know if Fernandinho is fit? I don’t think he played against Chelksi in the FA cup on Sat. but I may be wrong. Free kicks & corners are my biggest worry. Suprise Surprise. Kompany, Dzeko(if he starts) Jovetic, Yaya, etc. have the capability to put on in the back of the net from a set piece. I can see Busi being really pumped for this game. He’s playing the player he replaced. The player everyone except Cules and Ray Hudson & Phil Schoen rate higher than him. The player, who if he shuts him down, will make everyone stand up and notice he’s the best DM in the world. Excited for the match!!!

    • justdoit94 says:

      i am convinced they will play the same way they played against chelsea in cup. They do not press high, compact mid block 4-4-2, strikers deep . Space and time given on the ball in our own half but as soon as the ball passes halfway line is when they press the hell out of us. Kompany steps out of defence to mark messi; Similar to the tactic by bayern last year.

      • Jim says:

        It may be similar but Messi then and Messi now are two different things. I think we’re going to see the first signs of Tata’s more practical approach. We don’t have to win this leg. I see one of the FBs staying at home most of the time and a fresh Xavi controlling the game along with Ini and Cesc. I don’t think they can stop us scoring so if we don’t lose one from a set piece we might be okay. I’d also play Puyol if he’s fit. We need some height and loads of discipline in defence. I’m hopeful about this.

  54. PrinceYuvi says:

    Barca got hidden Ace up their sleeve though : Worldclass substitutes !

    Tata might want to keep it tight during first 60 mins by starting Iniesta [2-6-2 ?].

    Once they get tired and resort to beach-walking, Throw in pedro/Ney against zableta.

    Navas vs Alba is fair enough I think. (Alba is better shooter out of the bunch, Ha.) A chance to redeem himself.

  55. Ultraculé says:

    I just cant wrap my head around why Martino would want Jordi Alba to start this game and not Adriano. I mean, I can’t think of any reason why he would be a better option for this kind of game. If anyone has some clues, please share.

    Not only is Adriano physically more imposing than the diminutive Alba, he brings the outside shooting to our weaponry. And can shoot equally well with either foot. One might argue that Alba is faster, and slightly better in terms of combination play, But even in these attributes, there isn’t much separating the two fullbacks. I, for one, would feel a lot better with the Adriano start, especially since Alves is sure to start the game and having two midgets in the back line (maybe even 3, if Masch starts) isn’t the best way to set yourself up for such a big game.

    • Peter says:

      There are a few reasons:

      Alba is one of the few left backs that can run with Jesus Navas, and at the same time has a lot of acceleration. Alba is more comfortable hugging the touchline, whereas Adriano prefers to cut inside. If Martino starts with three passing midfielders and Busquets there will be a need to stretch the field and that’s where Alba would help.

      I would prefer to have Adriano myself, but if Alba is told to hold back and pester Navas then he wouldn’t leave that much space – he is a very good defender actually.

      If Pedro starts on the left, then Alba can compensate for Pedro’s deficiencies. Like Adriano, who compensates for Neymar’s relative lack of tracking back and pressing.

      • Ultraculé says:

        Understood.
        But then if Alba is to stay back, why would Pedro be given the offensive responsibilities in the LW role? Shouldn’t it be someone like Neymar who can compensate for the lack of offensive contribution from the left full back?

        By your reasoning a pedro / lexus (good at their pressing and defensive duties) should be starting on the right to add balance and have barca own that right flank while alves bombs down to do what he does.

        • Peter says:

          Nobody is saying Alba needs to stay back. On the contrary, he will have to get forward in order to help, but not with abandon.

          Neymar is just coming back from an injury. Unless he has superhuman recuperation powers, he won’t be able to track back constantly. And if/when he doesn’t, Alba can be double-teamed and isolated by Zabaleta and Navas. At the same time Alba’s pace is needed in order to deal with Navas’ speed.

          Adriano is an excellent choice as well, make no mistake about that. Personally, I would prefer him instead of Alba because of his versatility, but Tata may decide that Alba’s speed gives a greater advantage vs Navas. Alba also has rested for 6 days, whereas Adriano played 90 minutes against Rayo on Saturday.

  56. raj says:

    I just want to see the football this match is hyped to showcase. Irrespective of who wins (though I am hopeful we take the whole tie in 90 mins)

  57. psalmuel says:

    Had a dream ( a nightmare actually) that we lost the tie to a Negredo solitary strike. But good thing is, anytime we lose a match in my dream we end up cruising in reality. I pray this one won’t be an exception

  58. justdoit94 says:

    it wouldnt be the end of the world or our hopes of progressing if we lose today. However, an away goal is very crucial which is why i am very unconvinced by the idea of playing four central midfielders with iniesta slotting in the left flank. It makes us so toothless with our possession and makes our transition from attack to defense extremely poor.

  59. Messiah10 says:

    Has the line up been released already? I haven’t had time to look elsewhere except here.

  60. Messiah10 says:

    Mourinho still bitter. Here’s a link to him saying this is “the worst Barcelona in years”

    http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/26231432

    Most people besides Chelski supporters are tired of his antics. He’s such a egomanical jerk. Saying Arsene is a “specialist in failure” was what sent many people on the fence over it. Luckily, we didn’t hire this guy when we had the chance and that is the root of all his negativity. His dream job will never be realized.

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