We Need More Dakka : RM 3-4 Barça; A (Tactical) Battle of Firepower

So Kevin already summed up the majestic affair from yesterday quite nicely so you can read it here (if you haven’t already). This here will be a sort-of breakdown of the general tactics and other such things.

It went something like this:

1. Barcelona came to the Santiago Bernabeu in a decisive game.

2. Barcelona won at the Santiago Bernabeu.

3. HAHAHAHAHAHA.

Okay, okay. It was a tad more complex than that, I’ll give you that. Maybe it was a more like:

1. Ancelotti comes with a game plan that plays to his team’s strengths and the other’s weaknesses.

2. Martino comes with a game plan that plays to his team’s strength and the other’s weaknesses.

3. Neither really adjust to each other.

4. Quality of players proves to be the difference.

The last point is often debatable. The old football adage is when teams win it’s down to players; when teams lose it’s down to the coach. On the whole, that’s sadly true. But in the case of this specific game it was really down to the individual brilliance of the players and their ability to overcome system deficiencies through sheer force of will.

They came against a faster, stronger, taller team that was tailor made for their downfall and essentially said, nope. We’re winning this one no matter what. It’s a team of champions and the ability to compete at the highest level and come out on top is nothing short of extraordinary.

But enough of that. Let’s get down to game. :D

Overloading the right flank: Di Maria runs rampant

Ancelotti’s game plan was this: use Di Maria’s pace to flood Barca’s right flank – that’s traditionally been the most offensive-minded and thus the most vulnerable – and take advantage Mascherano’s short stature. Xavi lacks the speed to keep up with him, and mostly likely doesn’t want to get dragged too wide, and with Alves defending Cristiano Ronaldo (supported by Mascherano) he was left to run amok mostly through his dribbling and crosses. The idea to play an extra midfielder on the left (who was initially supposed to help track Di Maria in the first place) ended up playing into RM’s hands.

Tata largely didn’t have a response. Once it was clear Di Maria would be supplying crosses, it would have made more sense to switch Pique and Mascherano,  the former’s height an obvious asset in defending crosses. But perhaps Tata didn’t want Pique against CR – whose pace is often a problem for a slower Pique and  was often marked by Puyol (when fit)as a result, which was why Mascherano was suited up against him in the first place – and felt he was better suited to match up against Benzema. Perhaps he just had faith his players would take advantage in other areas and left it alone. Either way, it was a risky decision and almost cost Barça the game.

Let’s take see an example here:

RM 2-1 Barcelona; Lilliput Under Siege

It starts with Di Maria receiving the ball in space.

Di Maria crosses the ball

Di Maria crosses the ball. CR and Benzema make their runs.

Who’s marking him? Good question. In theory it should be Xavi, but with Di Maria that wide that goes to Alves. Meanwhile CR temporarily switches to the left and makes a run so Pique tracks him. That leaves Mascherano with Benzema, who is behind him, to defend the incoming cross. We know the result.

(courtesy of Twitter)

You could argue Pique just stopped, and many have, but it’s not actually Pique’s job to defend that. He’s marking CR and he can’t simply leave him to deal with it. It’s on Mascherano’s side (i.e. the ball side defender) and it’s on him to defend it. That said, RM know Masche is not the tallest so they purposefully go for crosses on the right side. It would be ridiculous to bash Masche for being short. If he could grow a couple of inches, he would. But it is a weakness, the exploitation of which became the basis of RM’s game plan.

Ancelotti leaves spaces between the lines uncontested: Arrivederci Xabi, from Messi with Love

But football is a chess match and while Barça did concede the right flank to Madrid, Barca were given acres of space on the left flank as well as between the lines;  areas where Barca process the two best players in which to take advantage: Messi and Iniesta.

Bale tracks Fabregas, leaving Iniesta open.

Bale tracks Fabregas, leaving Iniesta open.

Way open.

Waaaay open.

Coming in to match, RM expected to blitz Barcelona and it showed it the way they set up their team: none of the double pivots we were used to seeing nor any CBs moving to the midfield to deal with Messi.

And that’s the thing. This was the first game we’ve seen in a while where Madrid didn’t really do anything to stifle Messi (outside the usual). Ramos, Pepe, and Alonso were the usual culprits in trying to defend him but there was none of the narrow play that was commonplace in other Clasicos. I could almost hear Ancelotti thinking, “Leaving spaces for Messi to play in? Eh. We’ll just score 6 billion goals. Ain’t no thang.”

Underestimate Lionel Messi, will you? We’ll see how that goes for you.

In fact, let’s see that in action:

RM 0-1 Barcelona; Undone by Positional Play and Genius Passing

This goal came off a lovely 20+ pass move. (Just as an aside: when people wonder why Barca ‘pass the ball around’ so much it’s for reasons like below. They move things around so players are out of position, markers don’t know who to mark, and spaces open up.) I’ll start towards the end of the sequence with Pique stepping up from defense to play a pass into Xavi.

Pique passes to Xavi.

Pique passes to Xavi.

There are 4 things I want you to focus on and remember when Xavi receives the ball:

Xavi's got the ball.

Xavi’s got the ball.

Which I’ll highlight in next four screenshots.

(1) Ramos moves up to track Neymar.

Tis Ramos y Neymar. Check out that nifty arrow. Aww yeah.

Tis Ramos y Neymar. Check out that nifty arrow. Aww yeah.

(2) Messi makes a run across. Pepe tracks him.

Pepe stalks Messi.

Pepe stalks Messi.

(3) Marcelo keep an eye on Fabregas (underlined in red) supported by CR (underlined in yellow) who is also mindful of Alves (underlined in blue).

How do you like them primary colours? Eh? Eh?

How do you like them primary colours? Eh? Eh?

(4) Bale marks Iniesta.

Iniesta 'marked' by Bale

Alright. Now that that’s set up, in this next screenshot:

Just watch this magnificent trainwreck unfold.

Just watch this magnificent trainwreck unfold.

You’ll see Cristiano has committed to Fabregas so Alves prepares to make a run. Xavi sees the space between Carvajal and Pepe open up and starts a run as well. Carvajal, seeing this, moves to close down the space. Meanwhile Bale points to the space he’s supposed to defend.

What happens next:

¡Corred, cabrones, corred!

¡Corred, cabrones, corred!

Xavi continues to make his run. Newcomer Modric tracks him. Fabregas passes the ball to Messi with Alonso, Pepe, Ramos all in and around him. Meanwhile on the left Marcelo has to keep his position with Alves free in space. Iniesta makes his run. Bale stands ineffectual.

The madness (which clearly has a method only Barca understands) continues. The result is the RM defense collapse around Messi. We’ve seen this one before. Messi does what he does best and plays in Iniesta with a perfectly timed pass.

A familiar image....

A familiar image….

Iniestazo occurs.

...with a familiar result. You better be afraid, Ramos.

…with a familiar result.

(via Twitter)

RM 2-2 Barcelona: And Messi shall pass Ramos. Again.

So much to say but I’ll just leave it in video form (courtesy of HeilRj):

(Gets body checked by Ramos, still scores.)

Making Sense of Cesc

I spent some time keeping an eye on our #4 trying to understand what exactly he was doing most of the game. The consensus seems to be he was playing a free role, like he tends to do in these games, which I agree with. He was there for basically two reasons; to wit: for his skill in the counterattack and to be (essentially) an extra player in the zone he happened to be in and the zone largely depended on where the ball was.

(1) Cesc in offense: plays a beautiful ball from deep for Messi.

That's Neymar on the ground btw. Got poleaxed by Pepe lol

That’s Neymar on the ground btw. Got poleaxed by Pepe who runs from the scene of the crime lol

(2) Cesc intercepts a pass from Modric and plays a great ball for Neymar in a quick counter attack.

Cesc to Neymar

Cesc in defense: right place at the right time to receive Di Maria’s pass. (hehe)

Cesc Di Maria

no more screenshots after this

Cesc wasn’t actually marking a specific player. At times he was supporting Neymar and Messi (the only two forwards) up front, at others supporting Xavi and Iniesta (who often dropped back to add an outlet on the left side of midfield) as well as helping Busi help the defense. (A wise choice.) That has its pros and cons: if Cesc doesn’t really know who exactly he’s marking, the opposition has no idea either. But it also meant he wasn’t particularly dangerous offensively since he was just there as an extra man and he wasn’t decisive defensively since, again, he was just an extra body.

That’s not to say he wasn’t helpful (he dragged defenders away from our forwards quite well, as shown in the first goal) but it means that his impact was pretty minimal. Playing Alexis you would’ve had the same effort but with the bonus of having an offensive threat on the LW where there was so much space, particularly after the red card. (Then again with Andres scoring goals now….)

A free role work great for Liga sides where Cesc’s intelligent runs offsets his tendency to give away the ball, so it won’t be a glaring issue. But against top sides it’ll be more noticeable.

Neymar Negligible?

One of the talking points of the game was whether Neymar have enough of an impact to warrant his starting position in the game. I thought that while he didn’t have much power or accuracy in any of his shots, he was quite adept at getting behind the defense and Ramos was certainly concerned about him for most of the game, probably remembering how Neymar scored the opening goal and assisted the winning goal last time around, so it makes sense he solves that problem by getting sent off, eh….

So the verdict for me: not bad but not match fit, so his substitute should have came in earlier.

Don Andres Iniesta

I’ll be completely honest with you. I sat for a good ten minutes trying to write a short paragraph/eulogy in honour of him. I just couldn’t get anything down.  It didn’t seem like enough. I’m truly speechless.

Just a saying: an Iniesta that scores goals….

Xavi and Busquets

They didn’t get much notice in the post game but I thought they were fantastic when called upon. What semblance of control Barca had were largely down to these two. Xavi had more passes than most of the Madrid midfield combined and while some will dismiss that as common “sideways” passes, let me remind you what the lifeblood of the sport is. That is how you control a game.

Xavi had more passes (105) than Xabi Alonso, Modric and Di Maria put together (101). Maestro. [via Opta]

Piquenbauer and San Valdes

An excellent game from Pique who had to deal with RM taking advantage of our short squad. We expect our defenders to be able to handle Cristiano Ronaldo one-on-one (contrast that with Messi who we expect to be able to defeat 3-4 RM defenders). Just because CR or Di Maria get the better of them doesn’t mean they suddenly suck. It just means that the fact they had often had them under control  in the past should be praised.

On the same note, it was Valdes’ last game at the Bernabeu in Barça colours. I’m glad we could send him off if not with a clean sheet then with a thrilling victory.

A Bad Day for Arrogance

Madrid players were talking the other day to El Pais that they feared Iniesta or Eto’o more than Messi and that they would essentially destroy Barça.

(via @Emenderk)

The cycle continues. :D

(Although it could really use some help, stupid board)

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136 Responses to “We Need More Dakka : RM 3-4 Barça; A (Tactical) Battle of Firepower”

  1. Kari says:

    Oh and I’m also on twitter (@officialkari) so you’re welcome to send me some abuse corrections, point out typos, idiocy or other such things there as well as here.

  2. Great review! Only missing Jordi Alba. The Squirrel had another fantastic match. It’s really crazy to me that he can boss Bale around.

    Your comment on our defenders: that they are forced to go one on one and win whereas Messi or Iniesta are supposed to take on three to four players is spot on.

    • Kari says:

      Thanks!

      Yeah, Alba just slipped my mind, whoops! He’s so much better in a more conservative role. Bale’s biggest asset is his pace and Jordi could match him so that was a good match up!

  3. IamXavi6 says:

    Thakyou for a nice writeup after the previous thread.

    Let’s just take a momen to enjoy te result and the team…who all contributed to the magical match

    • Kari says:

      Thanks for reading!

      It was a match where it boiled down to which team had the better players. I don’t know how Barca fans can be anything other than super proud.

  4. Ultraculé says:

    Nicely, Kari.
    You know, like I mentioned in previous posts, One cannot stress enough on how lucky Barca has been the past few years to have Xavi, Iniesta and Messi all in one team. This holy trinity has bossed world football for more than half a decade now. The true value of a sportsman lies not in his ceiling, but his average. When you consider this quote, and reflect on the consistency of performances of this trinity of players, it is hard not to be left flabbergasted. And now, An Iniesta who can belt goals?! I got nothing.

    Above all, I am really happy for Tata Martino in light of all the crap he has received the past few weeks. To overcome a resurgent Madrid twice in his first year, with absolutely zero European experience and time to acclimatize to his players, is no small feat. Barca have long wished for that long term manager. They thought Pep could be that. But we now know that the Pep way, while extremely effective and spectacular, wasn’t the most sustainable approach. Could Martino be that man? Even if he has all the qualities and tools to be, will he be allowed to be? That, is the question, I don’t even want the answer to.

    Anyways, that aside, I am glad that the team looks relatively fresh in the crucial part of the season. Bayern may be the new sexy team, and EE the most feared. But even long after Pep has left, when this Barca team, with the players it has, is really ON, no team can really do anything about it. And that is a fact. Hoping Tata can keep us on till the end. Just a few more laps guys! Soldier on! Visca Martino.

    • Kari says:

      I don’t know, Ultracule. It’s looking like Tata might be the fall guy when/if Barca don’t win any titles this year (which is simply ludicrous). Really doesn’t look like he’ll stay past this season. I hope it ain’t so because although he’s on the learning curve (like Neymar) he has shown lots of potential.

      Win or lose I’m happy with this team – I just think they could use a little help.

  5. Ultraculé says:

    And these Mofos, Ramos and Penaldo need to be given hefty fines and bans for their conspiracy rants. They simply cannot be allowed to talk crap over and over again. If anything, EE enjoy the most from favorable ref calls who are so shit scared of setting them back on the title race. They get threatened, suspended from their jobs, and not allowed to officiate. Everyone knows the kind of pressure Mou put which basically won them their sole league win during the 11-12 campaign.
    the problem is that, These kind of conspiracy rants and constant whining seems to help them. First it was Penaldo, crying out loud that FIFA favors Messi, which allowed the vote deadline to be pushed so that he can take the golden ball with a marginal 3% difference. Now, its as if RFEF does not want EE to win the Liga. Come on! and Shut up!

    • IamXavi6 says:

      Its clear Madrid boss and run la liga. Same way that Fergie use to basically be able to run roughshot over the FA and Man U always got favourable decisions and penalties etc.

      Make no mistake about it..when the top dog and royal team of this league start losing their mantle…natural to cry foul..we have seen it consistantly for years as Barca rise and madrid fall..ying and yang. Lets hope the RFEF finally take a stance and start fining these fools and other sanctions.

      On the other hand..when EE cry you know we did something right..

  6. IamXavi6 says:

    Btw..Iker…as a Cule and Spanish fan..sorry to see his decline and not participate in these games anymore. Surely he wont stay there…one of the very few madrid players I respect.

  7. IamXavi6 says:

    Lol Sid Lowe. Barca would score an own goal against Athelti to prevent Madrid winning the league.

    http://101greatgoals.com/blog/sid-lowe-fellow-journos-talk-el-clasico-and-discuss-final-day-of-barcelona-v-atletico-video/

  8. fotobirajesh says:

    A post in time Kari.
    Going through the last post, if a new comer thinks Barca lost the classico, he/she should not be blamed. We all want our team to be perfect, but that is impossible, and finally we have defeated – the most dangerous team, for many! – Real, and we are fighting (sorry – arguing) about Masche.
    I have watched it a couple of time now. The first Messi goal – the ball seems to be coming off Carvajal’s boots. Does anybody think so?

    On another note – Mr. Undiano Mallenco – this is the same guy who made sure Pepe and Alonso played the full minutes in 2011 Copa final. Therein, he seemed to be there for most Classicos. He seemed to be a Madrid favourite ref for some time. I still cant believe he gave us two penalties and all the more the Ramos card.

    • ooga aga says:

      Yes as much As I enjoyed rayhuds enthusiasm, he was wrong. Neymar did not pass to messi. It came off carvajals boot. Messi’s ability to accelerate past Ramos to get the ball back was insane!

      • Kari says:

        ^ This

        To be honest I’ve just been ignoring all the ‘controversy’ nonsense. It’s pathetic and it only distracts from them not being able to beat us at home.

  9. Ultraculé says:

    That Valladolid loss now feels like such a silly mistake.
    If we had done our job, that game, we could have been 2 points ahead of everyone else and even afforded to draw that last game against Atleti.
    Hell, even a draw in that game would have put us on top of the league. Such a shame!

    • Helge says:

      My personal verdict on this match:
      It was one of the most exciting, entertaining and fun to watch Clasico since a long time :)
      But imho, we were very lucky to win this. I hope that the team and Tata realize that as well, because I doubt this line-up will work a 2nd time (in the CdR final).

      Neymar was some inches offside when Messi sliced a brilliant pass through the defense (and even if he was not, it was so close that it can easily be given by the linesman). The contact from Ramos on Neymar is in my eyes still doubtful, even after lots of slow-mos, gifs and so on. On another day, this is offside or the ‘foul’ is not whistled at all.
      When Messi scored the 2-2, it was a combination of Neymar’s and Carvajal’s foot who ‘passed’ the ball back to Messi. You can say it was deliberate, but I don’t believe it. Maybe the goal was forced, but rather by Messi than by Neymar.

      What really baffles me is how poor our right side was – defensively. I have never been too fond of Dani Alves as a full back because he is constantly catched out of position and does not possess enough defensive awareness / responsibility. It’s an endless discussion if his offesnive output prevails his defensive weakness. My verdict is no.
      But if you play against a team with so much pace, you need to support Dani Alves. We know his weakness, just like Mascherano’s weakness is his height deficit (difference between them: Mascherano cannot work on improving his weak point, that’s why I focus my critics on Dani Alves and the defending of the right wing).
      So starting with Neymar on the right was a very risky, actually the wrong decision (his positive contribution to the outcome of the match was more luck than skill, see above). He did not give any support to Dani Alves (with the exception of holding him back from the turmoil after the 2-2^^). When watching the match again, I am grateful to Benz that he only scored two goals. He should have had 4 goals in the first half only, ALL of them would have been assisted by Di Maria from the right side. I am quite sure Pedro or Alexis would have clung to Di Maria’s heels in at least 2 of these situations. Neymar was found standing somewhere in the midfield, thus Di Maria had way too much space and time.
      After 20 min, I would have liked to see Tata changing the line-up, it was sooo obvious how much we suffered on that right flank. Even if you tell Neymar to track back and defend, he cannot do it as well as Pedro and Alexis, because their physique is better suited and they do have experience in it. Maybe just interchanging Xavi and Cesc so that Cesc can support Dani Alves was an option, too. But I prefer Pedro / Alexis instead of Neymar against such a counter-attacking and paceful team.

      So yeah, thanks to Lady Luck, this time it worked out. I will be disappointed to see the same line-up on April 16. Usually, you won’t be so lucky twice…

      • Helge says:

        This was not supposed to be a reply, but a single comment… :)

      • ibbe says:

        Maybe we were so attack-minded because it was all or nothing? Tata took a gamble and it paid off IMO.

        I doubt Tata played Neymar for political reasons. He’s too pragmatic for that. Neymar giving space for Messi to operate makes more sense.

        Though for the CdR final I would like to see pedro in the starting XI. After we absorb the pressure and calm the game down we bring Neymar and Alexis in the second half to run riot at their tired defence.

      • mom4 says:

        Ohmygosh Helge is back! Yay!

      • Kari says:

        Helge! You’re aliveeeee!

        Ahem.

        With Ramos and Neymar, Neymar embellished the contact but he was clipped. That’s a foul and thus a penalty. Seemed pretty clear to me. (you can also see the picture here, courtesy of Canal+: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BjghbHYCEAAPv-P.jpg )

        Regarding Alves, it was certainly a problem. Neymar, as one of the two only forwards, was needed up the pitch and couldn’t track back properly. But he kept Marcelo (who certainly knows what he can do) honest as well, so there was that.

        To be honest, I think it was after the sending off where Tata should have added another forward (instead of swapping them) to take advantage of the changes Ancelotti made (taking off Benzema, moving Di Maria to left). But anyway.

        Really doubtful we’ll see such a loose game again, but man was it fun. Well, maybe I can say that because we won. :mrgreen:

        • Helge says:

          Interesting that almost nobody speaks about the offside position of Neymar when Messi passed the ball ;)

          And about the penalty claim, I just wanted to point out that it was a very close call and maybe it’s 50-50 that such a penalty is given. So we were a bit lucky. I just try to keep things in perspective.

          All in all I am incredibly proud of the team for the immense effort and comeback spirit they have shown, as well as the magic moves that re-appeared on the big stage.
          Yesterday was the first time that I felt pure joy and happiness in my heart again, for too long time ago.
          Aside from some other special Barca moments, only true love to a girl evoked that kind of feeling in me…

          • Nav says:

            That offisde would be incredibly difficult to spot during the game. The offside rule dictates that if it’s unclear, the rule favours the attacking side.

      • Jim says:

        Maybe on another day Ramos would have left Neymar and he’d have scored. Maybe on another day Messi wouldn’t have missed his chance or Ronaldo would have correctly been judged outside the box. Maybe Di Maria had a day in a million performance.

        Not sure where the evidence for one sided luck is. If anything that win should have cemented our belief in our team. This was in their house with them in top form. We can’t keep on saying of our team that they’re winning but …. Or else you have a lifetime of passing up celebrations in favour of occasional bouts of losing with only “I told you so ” for comfort.

    • Helge says:

      I’m still more disappointed with the home loss against Valencia, a Valencia which is having its worst season since 07/08 !

  10. lala10 says:

    sorry to go so off topic but saw a you tube called messi dog something.

    how do i share a link?

  11. IamXavi6 says:

    This is a very nice piece by Nick Rigg (espn madrid blogger)

    http://m.espn.go.com/general/blogs/blogpost?blogname=realmadrid&id=2895

  12. PrinceYuvi says:

    THIS IS FREAKING AWESOME !
    (Er, my caps-lock went nuts there.)

  13. Tata really does have the best pressers.

    Also, 120 mil all for transfers?! Not going to deal with the debt?!

    • Kari says:

      They’re a parody.

    • Peter says:

      If we are asked we could dedicate up to 120 million and postpone the final payment of the syndicated loan.”

      For me that could mean two things:

      1. “We are firmly behind Tata and will do our utmost to help him and bring back Barcelona to winning.”
      2. “If this is what it takes to stay in power, austerity will have to come back the year after that”

      Now seriously, it can be either, both or at least one more.

      The club will need to sign at least one strong and reliable CB who can play in the Barcelona system. Bartra is staying, so is Pique, and with just one reliable CB who is taller and stronger than Mascherano the team will have two world-class DMs, one of whom will have four years of CB experience(and has rocked it). If Rafinha comes back, that means Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and Dos Santos(the last two if they stay) fighting for two-and-a-half spots on the team and much better options on the bench.

      Can the board afford to spend that money? Well, from political PoV they cannot afford not to spend money and satisfy the wishes of the manager.

      From economic PoV, it depends:

      1. Mere days before being hit with the tax fraud charge the club announced it had found new local partners with deals worth 12 million Euro in South America.
      2. According to the projections, the accounting expectations in the UCL were the QF, so that’s mission accomplished.
      3. If a new better contract is signed with Nike(whose other major vehicle is United, who at that point would have to defeat Bayern, whoever they get at the semis and the final), that would be money that can be used for signings. Nike has already announced that Barcelona are their biggest seller.
      4. The club would get a temporary salary relief with Valdes and Puyol(and the taxes associated with their salaries) leaving the club – and the new signings, if foreign(Ter-Stegen and someone else) could take advantage of the Beckham Law and pay less taxes on their already lower salaries. The savings will be huge, because right now, assuming Valdes has the same salary as Puyol, the combined costs for the club are more than 20m per year.
      5. It’s little by little, but potential sales of players who want to find more minutes and action could serve as a compensation for the money spent. Fontas already got Barcelona 1m Euro from his playing in Celta.
      6. The board expects to have lowered the net debt to 200m Euro by the end of the 2015-2016 season, and in the last two years the debt-lowering is expected to slow down to 30-35m per year(this year it’s supposed to be double that figure).
      7. Merchandising and media income from the added acquisition of Neymar is yet to hit its full stride. Expect those to rise.
      8. New planned TV contract, collective, which is expected to either keep the same level of income, or increase it.
      9. A new, much-improved shirt sponsor deal could be reached in 2016.

      In essence, the board is almost certain that the additional money used to sign players would be more than compensated in the very near future.

      One Guardian comment from the Clasico reminds us that things aren’t that bad:
      “Barcelona are one top CB signing away from becoming unbeatable. Imagine if Thiago Silva was there instead of Mascherano.”

      • PrinceYuvi says:

        ^Great comment

      • Kxevin says:

        Absolutely right. Note all the Bartomeu noise right now. We are renewing Messi, we have 120m to spend, Martino is staying, etc, etc. As I have said before, whatever the board has to do to save its hide can only benefit the club.

        If you look at outgoing players sales this summer as well, we should do pretty well. I can’t see less than 30-40m for Song, Tello, Dos Santos, Afellay and Cuenca, not to mention a surprise transfer or two.

        Things are only “that bad” in the eyes of pessimistic culers. What other team could be in the running for a Treble and be a disaster except for Barça?

        • Peter says:

          I would add sensationalist “journos” with vested interests to the “that bad” crowd. There was an article today in Goal.com(yes, yes, I know) “asking” which manager is going to be sacked first, choices being:

          1. Moyes in United
          2. Seedorf in Milan
          3. Tata Martino in Barcelona

          And no, it wasn’t hipster-ironic. It was serious. :D

          • Kxevin says:

            So many people are ripping at this club right now, with Cruijff being the latest, with his “Neymar is the problem, you can’t pay some 21-year-old kid that much, blablabla.”

            People are believing that stuff that he is the highest-paid player on the team, which boggles my mind.

            But again, Cruijff has his own agenda.

  14. “There were many skilful moments, many mistakes, lots of football to talk about. I like to hear people who understand the game, talk about it, but that did not really happen. This is my first year in Spain, but I am seeing how things are here.” – Tata

  15. ibbe says:

    Awesome piece Kari!

  16. Kari says:

    I didn’t really mention Messi in this post because it would’ve just descending into mindless fangirling. He was the key, along with Iniesta, so I wanted to try and talk about other things.

    • kosby says:

      Thanks for breaking down the tactics…for someone like me who is still learning about tactics this is a big help :) Especially about Fab, I was wondering what exactly he was supposed to be doing on the picth…Im gonna watch the match again…

      • Kari says:

        I’m still learning myself so don’t worry about! One day you’ll also find yourself writing pages and pages about it on a Sunday night. :)

        • Kxevin says:

          Indeed. I find myself not really watching matches in the same way. You see things differently once you start thinking about tactical stuff. This Zonal Marking breakdown, btw, is a masterclass.

          http://www.zonalmarking.net/2014/03/24/real-madrid-3-4-barcelona-intelligent-players-find-space-in-a-crazily-open-match/

          FWIW, I agreed with the Martino start of Neymar, because of the possibility that he presented. I also think another player of that caliber prevented the team from reverting, and playing for, rather than with Messi. Messi moving back on the pitch also helped that situation.

          The ZM breakdown notes that Di Maria’s rampage helped and hurt RM in that it destabilized us but because he was crap about tracking back, it also destabilized RM.

          I know Kari from back in the day, and it astounds me how far she’s come in thinking about that kind of stuff. Zoomed right past me, which is how it is supposed to work.

          • Kari says:

            Yup. Saw that. Wonderful write up! And it’s always comforting to know someone else agrees with me haha. (Case in point, kosby. You always worry if you’ve got something horribly wrong).

          • Kxevin says:

            Know what’s weird, Kari? I don’t worry about that kind of thing at all. Though it probably stems from my real-life job, and decades of writing and making critical evaluations for various newspapers.

          • bhed says:

            I think Kari just hates Messi!

            Joking! (of course)

            Great analysis Kari – you have certainly come a long way from earlier entertainment posts (which I still loved reading). Are you trying to put Euler out of business now?

            Same for Kxevin from yesterday, in the heat of the Masch debate, I didn’t give due credit for an overall wonderful match break down. Apologies.

          • Kxevin says:

            Thanks, bhed. We’re trying. The team grows, shrinks, expands a bit, becomes me for a while, then grows again. The challenge is that there is a LOT of high-quality Barça writing out there now. When Barça the Offside started, we were pretty much the only game in town for English-language team previews, reviews, etc.

            Isaiah and I kept the place going, moved over here, then real life called for him. We’ve gone through a series of moderators, and I am hoping that some of the current crew will be able to contribute more, as once racing season starts for me, I will be scarce in these parts, but I don’t want things to die down/off.

            Bottom line is we’re trying our best to produce the kind of content that deserves everyone’s attention. It’s great, SO great, to have Kari back in the fold. I’m a huge fan.

          • bhed says:

            Me too! (Happy to have Kari back that is)

            When comments here slow down, I’ve been reading the Guardian’s match comments more lately, but just as a lurker. You get some crazy stuff – sometimes maddeningly idiotic (whining divers, wet night in Stoke, etc.) but you also get some funny smart people. I like how they don’t suffer fools gladly, but the fools still get equal time (Mourissaint is a troll of the highest order, but I almost admire the fury he generates). Goal.com is unreadable (“Messi’s a f*g! You’re a f*g!”), and ESPNFC is often not much better.

            You know you’re way around the Barca interwebs. Who else has good comments/commentary in English? I don’t really want to register for Twitter and sign up for feeds, still only do Barcastuff.

          • Kari says:

            Aww thanks guys! Blushing here. I enjoy reading all your thoughts even if I don’t manage to comment on them! :mrgreen:

            @Kevin: Yeah, it’s something I tend to think about before posting but hey, that’s where I can learn from people if/when they comment to correct me. I think being a real life editor helps since you gotta grow thick skin to stay int the business, right?

            @bhed: I like to lurk on the Guardian too. Fun place with some interesting people. The whole Barca are divers thing after big games can be tedious (though some do argue against it regularly so there’s that).

            As for another sites to read…hmm. You can check out Total Barca or Barca Blaugranes? The only other two I can think of at the moment.

        • kosby says:

          haha, I did watch the game again and there were moments when Fab really didnt know what to do…eg when madrid had the ball, he wasnt sure if he was supposed to press or fall back to cover their midfield…

          Thanks once again !

  17. Roger Evans says:

    Keri, thanks so much for this. This is not only narrative gold, but you have a real “voice.”

    If you talk even a fraction as well as you write, I wish you were talking about this stuff on my teevee set!

  18. Jafri says:

    Great analysis Kari – your articles were why I started regularly coming on this site in the first place.

    Great win for us in the Clasico, and it doesn’t matter if we could have played better, or if they nearly had two more goals – a win is a win. I agree with what ZM said, (paraphrasing) that both the teams were evenly matched, but Messi’s individual brilliance won it for us.

    As for Benzema’s goals, most of the points have been covered and we know it wasn’t all Mascherano’s fault because Di Maria was allowed ample time and space on the ball. I just wish he’d shown more intent when trying to defend the crosses. Especially the first one. You can’t imagine Puyol jumping so tamely.

    Not happy with having to hope for EE to drop points in order for us to have a chance of winning but it is what it is, and I hope they do so fast. I would very much like them to run into nine parked buses.

    In other news, Manchester United and the Moyes show continues steadily onwards and downwards with a pasting in the derby, yet he gets full support from his club. I really hope our board is behind Tata like they say they are.

    And Bayern have won the Bundesliga in record time. Title sewn up in March. Looking good to be the first team to retain the CL. April and May are going to be super interesting this year…

    • Kari says:

      Wow, really? I’m honored! Always like reading your comments, Jafri.

      Re Man Utd: The worst part for me, and doubtlessly for other Man Utd fans, was when Moyes said United should “aspire to Man City’s level.” Absolutely brutal.

      Re Bayern: definitely helps it’s an 18 team league, but with BVB’s injuries and them getting better… I can only congratulate them. Happy for our ex-players/coach at least. But now they can focus on the CL….sigh.

      I actually don’t expect much from Barca in terms of titles this year (expectation is different from hope, though). It feels like a transitional one (new coach, new major signing, political upheaval) but I honestly hope we call elections in June so we can get this uncertainty out of the way. We’ve still got the best players, they just need some help. This summer’ll be a crucial one.

  19. Levon says:

    I wonder how much a new defender will cost us now that Bartomeu announced a 120M transfer purse… Smart!

    • ciaran says:

      It wasn’t quite as blunt as that.
      He said that we have €120m and normally we spend half and use half to pay our debts but in some seasons we could use all of it.
      The way I see it is that if the right players are available then we’d be willing to buy them.

      It’s a good thing to say in that it sends the right message to supporters and shows that we are backing Tata. It is bad in that the sellers know we have money but in reality, everyone knows we have money anyway.

      It is still a huge question as to who are the right signings though

      • Kari says:

        That’s true.

        But Bartomeu has lied on occasion – like when he said this: http://www.insidespanishfootball.com/34759/bartomeu-abidal-will-sign-a-new-deal-as-soon-as-he-plays/ – so I take what he says with a huge grain of salt. Who knows if/when his tune will change, if it hasn’t already.

        I will say that he’s way more media friendly than Rosell but they’re two sides of the same coin.

        Anyway, enough of that. New signings for Barca. Wonder who’s available that would suit our needs. El Pais says the board have an obsession with Agger (I’m paraphrasing) and David Luiz is up there (and board also loved Thiago Silva and Marquinhos). El Pais also says we’re planning on letting Cuenca, JDS, Afellay go and are willing to listen to offers for Alves, Alexis, Cesc and Song. Mascherano can leave if he wants. The board is also certain Rafinha will be coming back and Deulofeu will if Cuenca/Tello leave.

        http://deportes.elpais.com/deportes/2014/03/24/actualidad/1395690902_850233.html

      • Kxevin says:

        We have always had money. Now that the bank debt is paid down, we have even more money. I am more interested in whether we can start making color copies again.

        The board has neglected the team for too long. Neymar was an important purchase. Now for the rest, starting with 2 CBs. People talk about buying a mid, but I don’t see it. Next season Xavi will be grooming Rafinha, we will also have Iniesta and Fabregas. Buy a couple of CBs and we also gain a world-class DM to spell Busquets.

        Suarez is on loan next year, and Sergi Samper gets a season closer to being ready. Xavi goes, and it becomes Iniesta, Fabregas, Rafinha, Suarez with Samper getting frequent spells with the first team, with a 2016 promotion. Any mid of the quality to play for us right away will be very expensive, and will need to play minutes attendant to his cost.

        But we will see in the summer.

        Lots of people are citing that El Pais piece that Kari references as gospel. I think that like most thinking culers, it’s understood that this is just speculation/rumor. The people who know, aren’t saying. I don’t see the club starting next season with Cuenca, Dos Santos, Afellay, Tello, Sergi Roberto or Song. Alves is another possibility, depending upon what happens in the transfer market.

        As for the Sanchez, Fabregas and Mascherano rumors, you always have to look at what the cost of replacement quality would be, and what you would gain by selling those players. I just don’t see a sale of any of them as logical, particularly Sanchez and Fabregas.

    • Kxevin says:

      I referenced this odious rant above. I would say that Barcelona’s problem is that everyone has an agenda and is willing to pursue it no matter the cost.

      Neymar, even IF you add the 40m bonus payment to his 6.5m salary, can’t be the highest-paid player on the team. Messi is at 16m per.

      At the beginning of the season, Cruijff said that Neymar and Messi couldn’t play on the same team together, and that one would wind up unhappy, blablabla. Well they sure look unhappy, don’t they? And they’re playing like it.

      Much respect for Cruijff for everything immense that he has done for the club, but he’s also a bit of a crabass.

      I wish that people would just shut up and let this team play out the season, without having to read papers or go online and wade through crap.

      • G6O says:

        I did not post this because I agree with it, I just note it happened. I do not agree with it, and I do think there is agenda behind it, but he has been right so many times in the past one has to take it more seriously than if it came from other sources

  20. G6O says:

    LOL:

    barcastuff: Tw Romario (ex-Barcelona): “Neymar can learn from Messi, one of the best in the world. I was the Messi of my time, others learned from me.”

    Humbleness on display :)

  21. Jnice says:

    Fantastic post, Kari! Love the screencaps and how you broke down some of the movement and roles of the players.

    Pretty good comments here so I’ll just touch on something I mentioned on twitter the other day- Cesc.

    I really want to be able to fully embrace Cesc, but I still find myself unable to. I recognize on the whole he’s had a pretty good season and as always, the stats back him up, but in big games such as this one, I struggle to see exactly what he brings to the team. He had a few great passes including the ones to Messi and Neymar in the first half, plus was involved with the 1st goal, but overall? I didn’t feel like he added much to our play. And that’s how I felt in all of the bigger games this year.

    For me, he’s still too slow on the ball sometimes, too slow in terms of his pace, and he just doesn’t seem much of a threat when we go up against Madrid, Atleti, City, etc. And for me, he should’ve been brought off as soon as Madrid went down a man. I do like how he is often looking forward and makes a lot of through ball passes (seems to be the only one willing to play in Alexis), but I remain unconvinced.

    Anyway, great stuff once again. :)

    • Kari says:

      Gracies, Jnice!

      Yeah, I don’t know with Cesc. We should just call him the Giant Question Mark. But our future will be with him (and others) and with more direct play in our future, that may be the time we see him really shine. Hopefully.

    • lea_terzi says:

      Cesc’s problem is that he’s a player with a few top-drawer skills (vision, through balls, direct passing), and a few reliable skills (control, use of space, movement, runs from midfield, scoring), but not much else going for him – coming into a midfield dominated by three all-time great, all-around players. He can’t dribble like Iniesta, pull the strings like Xavi, read the game like Busi, hold position and fulfill a tactical role like all of them, while both his offensive and defensive contribution suffers from his lack of speed, especially obvious in high-intensity contests. Somebody on the team jokingly said Cesc is the slowest player they’ve ever seen. His all around game, knowing when to attack and defend, mobility and speed to switch between the two, is simply not at the level of our classic midfielders. A

      lso, modern game seems to favor mids with a combination of physical and technical gifts, the Yaya, Kroos, Vidal and Pogba types, and Cesc understandably finds life tough against such players. What this all means is that to benefit from his truly world class passes in the final third, we need to play an extra (fourth) midfielder to win that battle, thus creating problems in wide areas and unbalancing the team. He needs a tailor-made system to function in, and so far it’s unclear if it’s worth it.

      • ciaran says:

        I agree and disagree with different parts of your analysis.

        Cesc has directly been involved with 89 goals in 3 seasons in a Barca shirt as a goal or an assist.
        Iniesta has directly been involved with 53 goals in the same three seasons; Xavi 51.

        Xavi has scored 83 goals in 16 seasons with Barca, Iniesta reached 50 with his screamer vs Madrid in his 12th season. Cesc already has 42.

        In terms of sheer output, no midfielder in the world can compete with Cesc’s statistics even though there are some who score more.

        Now, I’m not saying for a second that Cesc is better than Iniesta or Xavi because he scores more but even in a more advanced position Xavi or Iniesta wouldn’t get the goals and assists than Cesc does as their skills are different.

        To touch on the points that you made…
        His vision, through balls and direct passing are absolutely world class with, in my opinion, only Messi having better vision for a through ball in world football.
        His control, use of space, movement, runs from midfield and scoring are also world class.
        Add to this he is a better header of a ball than practically any of our forwards with the exception of Alexis he definitely gives us a dimension that we don’t have in midfield.
        I would also include his off the ball runs are top drawer.

        I don’t know if anyone noticed, that when Cesc was substituted in the 76th minute, he had already covered 9.7km so statistically he was due to cover almost 12km by the end of the game, a figure that bettered practically everyone on the pitch. Not bad for a guy who can’t run…

        In the last post I stated that I’ve never been in a situation that I don’t know how we can replace a player and I am in that situation now with regards to Xavi. However, Cesc is a truly world class midfielder and when he takes over the reigns from Xavi in our midfield three then we will be playing a different type of football, for better or worse.
        Taking Xavi out of our team will mean that our attack, defense and midfield will all perform very different roles.

        I firmly believe that we are at our most dangerous going forward with Cesc in our team… and when eventually Xavi won’t be there I’m sure we will find a way to continue winning with the likes of Iniesta and Cesc in our midfield.

        • IamXavi6 says:

          I couldnt endorse this post any higher. I do NOT get the Cesc critics. He is the goal scoring midfielder we need,leads Europe in assists and his numbers as mentioned above stand out on their own. He is considered one of the finest midfielders available and will probably be a captain for us at some point.

          He is part of the best starting 11 we can put out. Period.

          • Levon says:

            I think the critique that he has so far not been as effective in BIG matches is a fair one. Personally I think this has been his best season for us yet and I am happy with his progress so far.

            Of course he also makes us appreciate just how incredibly special Xavi and Iniesta are.

          • fotobirajesh says:

            @Levon
            Is that you, who have commented as Lev in the realmadridfootballblog?

        • fotobirajesh says:

          good comment.
          Those stats are incredible.

      • lea_terzi says:

        My original comment probably came out more harsh than intended – I do believe Cesc is a fine footballer and the future of our midfield. I only tried to find objective reasons for his struggles in big games, the ones that matter.

        Whoscored, whose rating is fairly useful when comparing players over time and within the same team, says that Fab’s best matches this season were against Levante, Rayo, Betis, Granada, Getafe, Elche and Malaga (midtable teams and relegation candidates).
        His worst games were against Ajax, Milan, Real Madrid, Atletico, Athletic, Sevilla, Sociedad, Villarreal, Valencia and Espanyol – Champions league opponents and all top Liga teams.

        Out of the most important matches this season (Real, Atletico and Champions League), Cesc played in 12, mostly as a starter, has one goal and one assist. In the same situations, Iniesta has two goals and two assists, and has been sublime in games against Real, Man City, Sevilla and Ajax. Xavi has a goal and three assists, and also raised his game in important matches.

        So, all due respect to Cesc, but he is not there yet.
        (All data from whoscored.com)

  22. CuleToon says:

    .
    Thank you for this gift, Kari!

  23. ciaran says:

    So Xavi is being rested for this evening’s match at home to Celta.
    Would suggest a midfield three of Cesc – Sergio – Iniesta which should be more than sufficient to get past a forward thinking Celta side who are average at best.
    The interesting questions for me are going to be who will start in defence and attack.

    For me, while I’d like to rest Pique for the Espanyol match at the weekend I’d also like to see a defensive pairing of Bartra and Pique so that they build up a but of an understanding as Masch is normally paired with either. I expect Bartra and Masch to start with maybe Adriano and Alba at either side.

    Up front I could see the advantage of starting Neymar to help him find some form but Alexis and Pedro should both start to keep up their equally great form. As potentially one of the easier matches in the run in an argument could be made for resting Messi but I can’t see it happening. It would take a very brave Tata to risk that.

    My lineup
    Valdes
    Adrano – Bartra – Masch – Alba
    Cesc – Busquets – Iniesta
    Alexis – Messi – Pedro

    Prediction, I’m going to say 4-0 hopefully with 3 first half goals and Messi to get a good rest for the second half.

  24. Laurentiu88 says:

    appeal after appeal with Ramos…

    madrid seem very scared of tonight’s game! that’s coming from a team with 3 very good CD!

  25. ooga aga says:

    valdes
    adriano masch bartra alba
    song
    iniesta cesc
    alexis messi neymar

    official

    • ciaran says:

      I would be disappointed if Neymar doesn’t have a good game today. He is due a really good performance and Celta should give him the platform to do it tonight.

    • Jim says:

      Good selection although I’d also have rested Messi and played Neymar through the middle. Gives Song a chance to play his way into a move and Alexis and Pedro a chance to carry the attack and show whether they deserve to be here next season.

  26. Laurentiu88 says:

    what the hell happen to our supporters coming to the stadium? :(

  27. Valdemar II says:

    Oy we’re looking bright, hope Neyney can grab another two.

  28. ooga aga says:

    oh no victor!

  29. ciaran says:

    That looks really really bad for Victor Valdes. Definitely looks like knee ligaments from the way he landed so he’ll probably miss the rest of the season and the world cup.

  30. ibbe says:

    It looked like knee ligaments. If it’s ACL then he’s out for a long time. If it’s collateral ligaments then there is hope.

  31. Laurentiu88 says:

    such horrible site!!!! so sad for valdes….

    all from an idiot decision from the ref….

  32. ibbe says:

    I’m gutted for Valdes. I can barely enjoy the game now..

  33. damn. that looked really bad.

  34. ciaran says:

    Sergi Roberto on for Iniesta at half time, hopefully it’s tactical

  35. Kxevin says:

    I wouldn’t trust Sport, but they are saying ACL for Valdes. Not watching live as I am at work, but saw pictures. Doesn’t sound promising at all. Let’s wait and see.

    Certainly can’t see him being back for some time, if it is. Sounds like he was just making a routine save, and it buckled?

  36. Ultraculé says:

    Oh no, poor valdes!
    that looked really bad.
    hope we haven’t seen the last of him in our colors.
    But the way he cried seems to suggest so.
    Bad luck continues to screw barca.
    This time in a position we least expected and to a player who is in his best form and who leaves us in the summer.
    Really cruel fate.
    Lets hope it is nothing too bad.

  37. ciaran says:

    We’ve lost all control of the match with Sergi Roberto on

  38. Kxevin says:

    Valdes, if as serious as is speculated, is a significant problem. The club is allowed, in that contingency of a starter being out for a substantial amount of time, to sign another player who would also be eligible for Champions League.

    Some reporting that Valdes already at hospital, and that it looks very serious. 6 months seems to be the going chronological prognosis.

    • ciaran says:

      Regardless of being allowed to sign someone it is very unlikely.
      No club is going to want to lose their first choice keeper with a few weeks to go in every league.
      I get so nervous when the ball is at Pinto’s feet. He is absolutely terrible with the ball.

      • caosanping says:

        The only options now are to get the B team goalkeeper, or sign someone from south america teams, since their league time is different from the Liga. Reina can’t be a choice now since he already player the champions league with Napoli.

  39. ibbe says:

    @barcastuff: Jordi Mones (doctor, Barcelona board member): “The injury of Valdes is not looking good.”

    This is really sad. Luck is really not our side. What’s next??

    And who would leave their club now at the buisness end of the season? Valecia has 2 good GKs so maybe diego alves or guita? Pinto can scrape us through the league but no way he’ll manage CL.

  40. ciaran says:

    By the way, Gerard Deulofeu had another man of the match performance for Everton yesterday.
    It would be great for his development if he got another full season on loan before coming into our first team

  41. Jim says:

    Crap. Iniesta injured too ? Subbed as precaution due to thigh discomfort- usually translates into 10 days ?

  42. Nav says:

    Valdes out for 6 months + World Cup. Will have to undergo surgery.

    Damnit. :( :(

  43. Graham Hunter saying 6 month injury confirmed.

    Horrible for VV not to have a proper send off.

  44. justdoit94 says:

    goaaaaaalllll sevilla 2-1
    14 mins to go

  45. Jim says:

    Yes. RM go down !

  46. ooga aga says:

    I’d give RM the 3 pts if I could have VV back. definitely a day of bittersweetness…

  47. Jafri says:

    Barca win, EE lose, and Valdes ends his Barcelona career. Completely mixed feelings about today.

  48. ciaran says:

    A couple of days ago we were written off and going to be 7 points down on Madrid. 4 days later we’re 2 points up on them and favourites for the league… Football’s a funny game.

  49. G6O says:

    It’s in our hands now, that’s good.

    I wonder what happens to VV now – presumably, whatever club he was going to sign for intended to sign him as a first-choice goalkeeper. But if he’s not going to be back until Christmas or something (these things usually take more than 6 months to fully heal) then that does not make much sense. It simply could not have happened at a worse time…

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