Categorized | Analysis, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts

Goldilocks and the Camp Nou, aka “The case for Neymar”

clasney

Neymar has a problem.
Neymar IS a problem.

Whichever (or both) of those sentences you think true, there is one thing we can agree on: Neymar is a galvanizing figure on the world football stage. When he came to Barça at the beginning of this season for a pile of cash, nobody knew what to expect.

Cruijff said that Neymar and Messi were incompatible. Others cried luxury purchase, that the club needed a CB more than a Brazilian with malleable hair and an Instagram fetish.

Still others said that he was one of the best players in the world even at the tender age of 21, with associative play of the type that could fit in very effectively at Barça.

He came, and then came the contract, an ongoing legal wrangle that makes both of this piece’s opening sentences true.

Let’s get that out of the way. It is a rancid boondoggle of a deal whose full cost we will never know. It helped force a president to scuttle down the ratlines, and contributed to the idea that Neymar is the highest-paid player on the club.

In order to adequately assess Neymar on the pitch we have to discard the contract rancor. Then you’re left with a player who has 15 goals and 11 assists, who has been decisive in big matches from the SuperCopa to both Classics, in Liga and recently notching a delight of a goal against Atleti in Champions League.

Prima facie, Neymar dropped into a club with some major problems and had a fine first season. Looking at other high-profile first year attackers at Barça is interesting:

Alexis Sanchez had 15 goals and 5 assists. Thierry Henry got 17 goals and 11 assists. David Villa tallied 23 goals and 6 assists

If we were to use hockey’s points system that aggregates goals and assists, at 26 points, Neymar is right in the ballpark with other first-year Barça attackers.

Time to move on

Two writers who I respect very much and read religiously, Jonathan Wilson and Graham Hunter, each wrote about Neymar this week. Wilson suggests that Barça’s delicate ecosystem makes accommodating Neymar complex.

Hunter is even more direct, making the argument that Barça should admit that Neymar was a mistake, sell him and move forward.

Both make essentially the same point, that Neymar is the wrong player for the system and the wrong player for Messi in that his presence on the pitch doesn’t allow the team to get the best out of Messi.

clascrest

My quibbles are given the mess this season has been, evaluating anything is darn near impossible. Yes, I’m greedy, and want to have two of the best players in the world at Barça. Wilson makes a fine tactical argument about the complexity of the arrangement and its pitfalls, as does Hunter.

Bur for me, rather than Neymar being a problem for the ecosystem, it is the system that has to adapt to the player just as the player has to adapt to the system. Tactical flexibility is a key part of a winning football team. You don’t spend tens of millions on a player, run your game and deem the project a failure. Ibrahimovic 2.0.

Ideally, Neymar creates space for Messi, then uses his passing and associative play to get the ball to him, or do the damage himself.

In reality the ball goes over to Neymar on the left. He stops, dances, tries something, loses the ball. Or he does something that works and our other attackers are standing around saying, “Whooo, baby! How in the hell did THAT happen?” Then the opposition keeper scoops up the pass to start a counterattack, leaving Barça with two players not tracking back instead of one (though Neymar is improving in that regard). As Iniesta noted in his presser, if everyone doesn’t defend, it creates problems.

Luxury or necessity?

Neymar was an important purchase for a club that didn’t want to run its superstar into the ground. Taken to its logical, fully empowered coach extreme, the arrival of such a player meant that Messi would play less often rather than being the first name on the team sheet, when not plagued by anything short of a gunshot wound.

“We bought a bauble when we should have bought a CB.” Sorry, but the best young attacker on the planet is hardly a bauble. More importantly we should have bought Neymar AND a CB. It isn’t the player’s fault that the board and sporting staff only did half of their job.

The other part of that equation is politics, and expectation. Martino is going to play Messi because you can’t NOT play Messi. “How is he going to score eleventybillion goals if he’s sitting on the bench?” For me if Messi has 20 goals but they are against RM and in the Champions League knockouts and finals, I’m good with that, acknowledging my weirdness in not caring about individual stats or glory for any of our players. I would much rather their glory come by association, the reflected glint of the light hitting a big-ass pile of silver.

So yes, when Messi scored 91 goals, it was nice for him, but he shouldn’t have needed to be in a position where such a thing was possible or even, in some matches, necessary. Neymar was supposed to help solve that problem but as some have pointed out, he at times exacerbates it. What happened?

Stagnation and immobility

Last weekend during the Granada match Neymar pulled some move, found space and slid a ball into the middle. There was a time when a voracious Messi would have seen what was happening, got on that side of the defender and tapped home. Instead Messi stood there looking at the ball like, “Hmmm … looka there.” More than a few people on Twitter said, “He didn’t even try to move for that ball.”

Whether the result of confusion, lack of leadership or some other factor, attackers aren’t moving. Xavi stands there holding the ball, because nobody is moving. Song gets the ball, has no passing options. Iniesta gets a ball, has no passing options, makes a run. The pinball-like frenzy that used to define our front line in the glory days, saw a contemporary adaptation when Martino was trying to instill verticalidad early in the season. Because slow-moving attackers are easy to defend, which leads to 1-0 losses against teams that on paper, Barça is supposed to beat.

Is immobility Neymar’s fault, or another example of a broken team/club?

What is tika-taka?

Tika taka is a response to a stimulus. How do we win matches with our collection of small, skilled players? Keep the ball. The run dictates the pass. Do enough of them and goals should result. That’s tika taka as a tactic, as differentiated from possession football, which is indeed the Barça Way. Keep the ball, but do something with it, then work to get it back so that you can try again.

Tika taka has for me, become the goal rather than the means to an end, which creates a problem for a player like Neymar. Alexis Sanchez is another one hindered by it, which is why people always ask, “Why doesn’t he play for Barça as he does for Chile?” In the days of Martino’s attempted evolution, he was, and was a player reborn. But for Neymar, tika taka means slower play, which limits his options or forces him to face up against 2-3 defenders. Then he has to make something happen or pass the ball back to midfield, and the tactical reset button. As with Sanchez, you take a player who thrives in space and movement (typical is the second goal of the Camp Nou Classic), and slow them down to fit a system. And then we wonder why those players aren’t the same players they were when they were bought.

Toss tika taka? Is that the rumble of thunder and a looming lightning bolt in the background? Well … yes. Tika taka has been found out, and the solution is pressure and physicality, compressing space and eliminating passing options. Verticalidad worked because defenses set up to press and deny space were thinking “Hey, they don’t care about keeping the ball! They’re running past us!” And it worked. Tika taka has been found out, so let’s try something new that allows the team to get the best out of ALL of its players, not just Messi.

Incompatible with Messi

For me, Neymar’s alleged incompatibility with Messi is a coaching and tactical problem rather than a fundamental one. A moving Neymar and a moving Messi in a democratic attack that only cares how many goals the team scores is an ideal, and potentially devastating. Add a running Pedro or Sanchez to that, and you will get goals. You might not win the possession stats, but you get your two best attackers running at a defense and creating options with movement, rather than trying to beat a wall of 2-3 defenders from a standstill. That leads only to lost balls and opponent counters, neither of which the rest of the team is equipped to deal with.

For me, the best Messi was when he was on a front line of equals, in Eto’o and Henry. He didn’t score as many goals, but the danger was so diverse. Then that space compressed to the point where Barça attackers are playing in human telephone booths. The solution for a while was the counter, as Barça had as many counterattacking goals as any team in Europe.

“Playing like RM,” culers scoffed. “That isn’t our way,” others said, claiming that Martino was abandoning the Barça principles, whatever those were. Ain’t no stone tablets in the Museu.

But if every potential addition begins with “Who will work best for Messi,” the answer will continue to be “nobody new.” Because the limitations can’t be allowed to define the solution to a dilemma.

At present, Neymar and Messi aren’t working well together. But that is true of the entire team. Fixing a car that won’t start by washing it isn’t how I would go about it. Messi isn’t playing well by his standard. He isn’t moving as he usually does, isn’t scoring as he usually does, leading people to ask what’s wrong with Messi?

Logically, you can’t ask what’s wrong with your best player, then say the new signing isn’t compatible with that player. Maybe if Messi were playing as he customarily does, there would be less of a problem. No, that doesn’t mean it’s Messi’s fault. It does acknowledge that a great player isn’t on form right now, on a team that is no position to sit him as it would other players struggling with form.

The best Neymar

Barça has been broken for some time now, so we haven’t seen the consistent situations in which Neymar can thrive. Barça isn’t always going to get the space for the team to become Track Meet Barça, but it is important when that space is present for the team not to deny it. Smack the ball up the wing for Neymar to run onto, enabling him to use his creativity on the move without facing a wall of defenders. Make a defense move to him so that it creates passing options. You can create space in how you attack a defense, if you move the ball, then your ass.

Neymar is in many ways like Henry, a much-lauded player who comes to Barça on the heels of a big price tag and even bigger expectations. After Henry’s first season, which wasn’t a bad one except by the standard of one of the best forwards in history, people wanted him gone. Had that happened, his remarkable second season wouldn’t have happened. Neymar needs time, but as importantly he needs for the team to come some of the way to meet his skill set, as he has adapted to fit the existing Barça template.

The last time we were having such discussions was with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Then again it was “He doesn’t fit Barça, he doesn’t work with Messi.” After the psych meltdown and late-night Camp Nou roustabout, the Ibrahimovic deal became a full-on fiscal disaster. A player who added a useful and effective dimension to the attack was unloaded for peanuts.

Neymar isn’t going to have a psychological meltdown to make it easy for people to dislike him for those reasons. What’s more, you need the best to play with the best, rather than dropping the a talented player into a stagnant system already found out by opponents and say, “See? Doesn’t work.”

Ultimately, the “Neymar doesn’t work” crew might well be right but at present, for me he needs time and the opportunity to be part of a fit, functioning team rather than the mess we have right now. Until then …

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49 Responses to “Goldilocks and the Camp Nou, aka “The case for Neymar””

  1. mohit says:

    Nice article, Kxevin!
    I feel that Cesc Fabregas is the problem rather than Messi or Neymar. His inclusion in the side forces Iniesta and Neymar apart, which minimizes our chances of creating danger, especially against parked buses. That Neymar goal against Atleti is a good example since that happened only after Cesc was subbed off. Many journalists seem to overlook this detail and are quick to lay the blame on Neymar/Messi and their incompatibility with each other.

  2. blitzen says:

    Sorry, but the best young attacker on the planet is hardly a bauble.

    Sorry, but you’re not going to convince me that spending 97M on a winger, no matter how talented, instead of on 2 CBs was a good idea or the best thing for the team in 2013. Especially since he wasn’t even supposed to come until 2014. We paid an extra 10M to get him last summer when it was already obvious that Puyol would never be 100% fit again.

    Neymar has not had a bad first year, injuries aside. No blame to the kid, none of the media circus around him has been his fault. He has done his best, stepped up in some important games, and helped the team through the long patch when Messi was out injured. But decisive? Hardly. The last three games (or defeats, I should say), should show you that he has no real connection with Cesc or Messi, and he has missed as many or more golden opportunities as Messi has lately. Most recently in the CDR final.

    It has been pointed out that it takes a season for any new player to settle in to Barça’s system, especially for a forward. That’s fine, and completely understandable. Except when you have a coach who feels obligated or pressured to start that player simply due to his “status” or price tag rather than whether he is the best player for that particular game.

    I am on record as having been against the Neymar purchase. Not because I don’t think he is talented. (He is.) Because I didn’t think we needed him. (We didn’t. We had lots of wingers/forwards. We needed/still need defenders.) And because I thought he was too expensive. (And that was when I though he only cost 57M, not 97M!)

    Neymar is not the problem. But he brought a lot of problems with him that we could have done without. After a full season, I am still not convinced that he and Messi can play together effectively. Their best games have been when the other has been out injured. For me, Tata’s worst failure has been his reluctance to sit either one of them when the game demanded it, and that is the problem.

    • Kxevin says:

      As noted above, it isn’t an either/or. For me, both he and a CB were important. But until people lose the either/or focus and the contract stuff, both attributable to the board, the player will never get a fair shake. Then as Ibrahimovic, he’ll go somewhere else, play to his potential and people will say “If he played like that, he’d still be at Barça,” or some such.

      In reality, only a few people know what the real cost of the deal is. 97m is the latest number, but the 17m crowd or 57m crowd can make just as eloquent a case for their contentions, dependent upon whether you look at transfer fee, or total cost of the transaction. But if you look at total cost of the transaction for all contracts, not just Neymar’s, I rather imagine some eyebrow-raising numbers would be coming out in the wash.

      It isn’t his fault, as noted above, that the board got it half right in not buying a CB as well. As for not needing him, my view is very different there. We do have Pedro and Sanchez, but they are a level down from Neymar as regards ultimate quality. Would we have won both Classics this season had Neymar not been with the club? A question for the ages. But we had him, and he was decisive in both of those matches, as well as a few others.

      Messi can’t do everything, as much as people like to believe he can. Pedro needs a foil, Sanchez needs space. The only attacker we have other than Messi who can make space then capitalize on it, is Neymar. As with Messi, when you’re looking at the XI and potential difference makers, Neymar gets the nod over Sanchez and Pedro if I’m coaching the team.

      Nobody is happy about the contract and subsequent legal wrangling. But the fact of the matter is that he’s here, and has had an excellent first season with the club.

  3. G6O says:

    The question of the season is where the team from that Valencia game went.

    We allowed some cheap goals there and wasted some great chances so in the end it was a tight affair but otherwise it was a complete demolition with speed and movement. I had really really high hopes for the rest of the season based on that game. Yet neither the two of them nor the team as a whole really displayed that chemistry again…

    But it did show us what the potential is.

    • Kxevin says:

      Look at the Allas piece in the last thread for a dissection of when/where things went wrong. We can blame Martino for not sticking to his guns, but he backed off his evolution, which is too bad. I don’t know that the team would be in the same spot had he continued with that tack.

      • KEVINO17 says:

        Thanks Kxevin – looked at Allas. The most devastating example of how Tata lost control of this side was the recent game against Atletico away. You couldn’t think of a more obvious case for, in the first 20 minutes, adopting Tata’s strategy of ceding possession and defending deep. Instead, with Atletico pressing like stormtroopers we tried to play out from the back (and they hit the posts three times and scored once. It was naive beyond believe, as if we learnt absolutely nothing from the games against RM under Mourinho.
        My guess is that Xavi didn’t like Tata’s new style because he is not quick enough for it. Quite unbelievable how, it appears, Xavi canned this coach without any regret.
        Now Alexis looks like he wants to head off to Juventus and join Vidal. His replacement? Probably Delofeu. That’s probably a smart move because Delofeu will do what he’s told and honour the pecking order. But it won’t provide for good football.
        Wonder if Tata has offers from other teams in Europe. Wouldn’t be surprised. Would be interesting to see how he went with a team he actually controls.

        • G6O says:

          My guess is that Xavi didn’t like Tata’s new style because he is not quick enough for it. Quite unbelievable how, it appears, Xavi canned this coach without any regret.

          This is something I can’t quite wrap my head around. For years, everything has indicated that the active player who is most knowledgeable about the game is Xavi, and many of us have been expecting him to be the next Guardiola in a few years time.

          However, if he is indeed the one behind this, then you can simply scratch those notions. It is hard to believe that someone who seems to be such a student of the game would be so blind to the reality of the situation…

          • KEVINO17 says:

            Not surprising at all. Like most of us, Xavi interpreted what was good for him (and his style) as good for the team.

          • allasFCB says:

            That’s a good point you made there, because Xavi has always played in a certain style that suits for him and team has been build around him. I think he’s ‘a little bit’ delusional and goes too far with the style and philosphy. He told after the 7-0 that the controlled the game and didn’t deserve to lose by that margin. Maybe he goes too far with the philosophy and it’s more important for him to play in the Barca way than to actually win. Of course he has won everything in football by winning it in a beautiful way, noone can take this away from him. But can he be another Pep Guardiola? I can imagine Xavi as a manager playing with 7 midfielders and having possession over 80% in every game. But what makes Guardiola so special that he is actually more pragmatic that people give credit for him. Defense is just as important to him as offense.
            In 2009 He has place these guys vs Mallorca at home.

            Valdés
            Abidal Chygrynskiy Piqué Puyol
            Keita Busquets Touré
            Pedro Ibrahimovic Henry

            It’s pretty ironic that Xavi, who symbolises the team football in a way, made such an egotistical choice for himself and told Martino that what you have done so far in not Barca and we need to change it because I’m lost in it.
            I know that Xavi is like Messi, he doesn’t want to sit out a single game and wants to play every single game. But he isn’t 28 any more. Maybe he should take a note from Tim Duncan, who’s happy not to play every game in a season, but when it’s time for big games, he’s fresh, he’s hungry and ready to deliver in big games.

  4. psalmuel says:

    Some one pointed out a fact I also pointed out to an EE fan when he was of the notion that Bale was better than Neymar and that, they created better chances than us in the CDR. I told him that, barca plays parked buses and that if Neymar was in that Bale situation for the second goal, he’d had done better. Does anyone think Bale would have done better in barca colours? I don’t think so, save for the first part of the season where we were notching up the counter goals. Any striker would find it a bit difficult in this squad cos we get to play parked buses everyday of the week. Secondly, I’ve been having a feeling that Messi, Iniesta and Neymar have not been happy with playing with Cesc. I mean, when Cesc plays, Messi doesn’t have an outlet on the left to thread a delicate through pass to, Iniesta doesn’t have someone to double up with on the left, Neymar gets confused on the left and becomes a defensive liability. Messi stands sulking around, Ini and Ney try to dribble past 200 defenders

  5. psalmuel says:

    Beating a parked bus most of the time bears down to luck. I also have a feeling that Messi, Pedro, Sanchez and Neymar would prefer counter-attacking to always passing the ball around a parked bus. We could tiki-taka after having a comfortable lead. I recall an excited pedro running at is it the granada or rayo defense now I forget, from our own half to solo a solo goal.

  6. psalmuel says:

    * i meant score a solo goal

  7. ciaran says:

    Blaming Cesc for a tactical problem is not the correct answer either. Cesc is a central midfielder, best when spreading the ball in midfield and making runs into the box or making through balls.
    psalmuel, you say that you have a feeling that Messi, Iniesta & Neymar have not been happy playing with Cesc but he created a lot of goals and chances for them.
    Shifting around players to fit other players in is always a bad move in my opinion. I hate when a manager makes a substitution and it makes 3 or 4 players switch positions, it always looks out of sorts.
    When We had to play Busquets in defense and Song in midfield it made our midfield and our defense worse instead of just defense. Playing Iniesta on the left wing and moving Neymar to the right wing it made both wings weaker.
    Cesc can’t be blamed for Tata’s tactical plans and while he is having a bad run of form, he is still a world class player.

    I’ve said many times that we look at our most dangerous with Iniesta in midfield, Neymar on the left and Messi in the centre with Alexis on the right but in the biggest matches we hardly saw it. Playing your best players doesn’t guarantee to win you matches but if all the other conditions are right then that is our best forward line.

    On to Neymar… he is a phenomenon. He has created numerous opportunities for our teammates this season but at times no one has been on his wavelength. He beats defenders as well as nearly anyone in the world. His shooting has let him down on occasion but when he is fully assimilated into the system I think he will be devastating next year.
    Messi, as Kxevin said, has at times just stood there watching as Neymar beats a player and had no one in the box to reap the rewards. Alexis when playing opposite Neymar often made those runs to get on the end of chances including that double nutmeg.
    Some of Iniesta’s through balls to Neymar have been superb and with better understanding they should have an even better partnership next year.

    It all bodes well for our frontline, I think. I’d still love to add another goalscorer like Luis Suarez and play Messi in behind two of Alexis, Neymar & Suarez.

    • Kxevin says:

      Good points, ciaran. It’s funny, when I suggested a front line of Pedro Sanchez flanking a central Neymar, the general reaction was “Stupid, you have to play a fit Messi.” Yet on form, that is (was) our best attacking front line of late. You also get two demon pressers out there to help improve defending.

      The reason Sanchez and Neymar work well together is that Sanchez never stops moving. Ever. Always looking for space to get the ball, always looking for angles. Put he and Neymar together and it’s impressive.

      Things are such a mess that it’s futile to single out one player as the root cause of anything, or even one aspect of the team. Defense sucks. Well yeah, because it isn’t a traditional defense. It needs everyone’s help for it to work. Midfield sucks. Well yeah, because without the movement to create openings it is capable of being pressed by a physical opponent. We aren’t scoring goals. Well yeah, because …

      And on it goes.

  8. TITO says:

    Neymar was a must buy this summer.
    We simply couldn’t have afforded to lose him to another club, probably RM or PSG the following summer.
    As Kxevin says, we will never know what we really paid for him, nor do i care. He is a player that must play for us and that’s it.
    We discussed earlier this year about those Xavi comments on Tata, with almost everybody condemning them as unfruitful to our present game. If they are true as we suspect, Xavi should have been benched long time ago, regardless his status in the club or his form.
    The coach decides who plays and who’s not and that’s it. No bad feelings. As it is right now, Tata absolutely lost his compass, and the old guard players are making the decisions, though not in front of the other players.
    I’m more than pissed off with this situation. I will accept it when we don’t have the required players for achievements cause that’s the limit for them, but i will absolutely not accept it when we have a team such is ours and not give a damn about it.
    I really hope Tata comes out and revels any possible secrets of our downfall from Christmas onward.

  9. psalmuel says:

    Now am disliking Xavi. If he wants to be the one making the call on tactics then he should resign and become barca coach. @ ciaran, Cesc is a world class player no doubt but with him in midfield, it means iniesta on the wing and Neymar on RW. And you know how Messi plays, gets the ball right of center, make a diagonal run towards left, thread a through pass to LW, continue diagonal run into box, receive cut-back, score or the LW scores (David Villa, Pedro and Tello have all been benefactors of this). With both AM and EE playing narrow, wasn’t it the best time to punish them on that LW with Neymar? Remember that Ney first leg goal? When Ini plays at LW, he doesn’t make does runs and when Messi does his runs, there’s no one to pass to so what? He tries to turn right and messes it up and again with the teams in question playing deep, Cesc through balls wouldn’t have been effective.

    • Kxevin says:

      psalmuel, don’t turn on Xavi. The danger of liking and disliking players is that it clouds judgment, and makes us think they are capable of things that might not be true. The “Xavi as dictator” theme pops up. Why? Because people want to believe that one person might be the cause of a malaise.

      Sanchez allegedly had a tantrum. His agent denied it, but didn’t explain why his client skipped out on the medal ceremony. So maybe more information will come, maybe not.

      “Neymar has given up on the season,” because he is faking his injury and because people noticed that his social media site backdrops are different, day after the Copa final. In fact they changed at the beginning of April, in conjunction with a Nike campaign. And if Neymar is faking injury to be fresh for the World Cup, why isn’t Alba, who has an injury that will keep him out for the same duration?

      It’s a real danger, but it’s easy to believe things about players we like and dislike, right? Iniesta cuddles puppies and helps old ladies cross the street (well, he probably does). Messi is not guilty of anything that anyone ever says of him. Ever. Recall the tax case that was “something Madrid cooked up to distract and smear.” Then his camp said “Whoops,” and paid up. Unstinting belief is a luxury that not many players have.

      Song was the butt of jokes for mistakenly thinking a trophy was being handed to him. Imagine if Sanchez or Pedro had made that same error. Would the reaction have been different?

      I’m admittedly a weirdo for not having feelings for players, but I can’t help it. I reckon it robs me of some joy when a player does really well (Messi with his goal record season, for example), but I like to hope/think that it keeps my head clear when something comes up.

      So when you hear something about a player, try not to filter it through anything except a veracity filter. Could it be true? What’s the evidence? Have details come out that make it more or less likely? Then go from there. That goes for board members as well, as much as I dislike/distrust them.

  10. Reaper says:

    I don’t post here although I do follow the excellent work of the writers here. Super stuff!

    Did anyone else notice how Xavi “happened” to turn to the left and skip acknowledging Bartomeu during the CDR medal distribution? It looked pre meditated…

    • Kxevin says:

      There has been speculation about that. As with Valdes during the Qatar Airways photo opp and allegedly snubbing Rosell, it’s hard to know without knowing, so to speak.

      And thank you for the kind words.

      • Gekko64 says:

        It’s pretty obvious that the players are sick and tired of this board. remember Messi saying worldclass players deserved a worldclass board, quite significant :D

        • Reaper says:

          Agree. Would be very interesting to see what players like Xavi and Piqué have to say about this board in the unlikely event that it is overthrown in the summer.

        • ciaran says:

          To say that it’s obvious that the players are sick and tired of this board is mere speculation. There is no proof whatsoever.
          They may be sick of the board, but they equally may not be. Some may be and others may think that the board are fantastic.

        • Jim says:

          What’s pretty obvious to me is that people here are making circumstances fit pretty much anything they want. Why the Xavi hate ? If he had any sway with regards to the team selection you can bet your bottom dollar that Iniesta would have been playing alongside him in the middle on every occasion he was fit. If Iniesta had any sway would he have been sitting on the bench? If Messi had any sway would he have wanted Ini sitting watching ? None of this makes any sense. What I do know is the relief that sweeps through us when Xavi comes off the bench to steady the ship or gets the passing game going to take pressure off the defence. However, he does need Iniesta beside him for that and increasingly being asked to take on the Xavi role.

          A good article, Kxevin, and a timely one. Neymar to my world view was bought because we can’t afford only one of our forwards with the ability to create chances by beating defenders given that we face hordes of them and that’s the skill that our current crop of attackers lack. . He will justify his purchase I am sure.

          To me, Martino came in and realised straight away that Barca is a strange beast as it faces parked buses every week, improved our defence by making defenders more aware of their responsibilities (looking at Masche and Dani in particular here) tried verticalidad , saw that it heaped problems on our defence ( yes partly because our midfield aren’t the quickest – any of them, we must have the slowest mids in Europe!) and realised why possession of the ball and not losing it at unexpected times was important. That brought Iniesta back into the reckoning but also the Cesc problem. There has been a staleness about our attacking at times in the second half of the season, for me due to lack of movement and partly mids not getting ahead of the ball enough. However, teams after a while of trying to press us further up the pitch seem to be settling back to the bus and they have been able to do that as we keep losing the first goal.

          Necessities for me for next season:

          A GK ( done)
          Martino or a replacement who values possession and isn’t defensively minded, sorry Jose. You know, as with players coaches often improve if they are given time to reflect and grow into the job.
          Sensible purchase of (potential) world class CB. How the hell you tell who can have all the skills required I don’t know but not impressed with too many of the names being chucked about.
          Great thought given to letting Dani Alves go in the summer. He has become a liability for me and I’m not sure if Montoya is his replacement. Not impressed that Song seemed to carry blame with some for the Granada goal when Monty was way off his man.
          A leader on the pitch to be captain (no way are /were Ini, Valdes or Pique suitable material – although there is a bit of me wishing Pique would just get angry and say let me do it as he has the knowledge, experience and sheer physicality. He has also grown up with Messi. I also can’t recall Xavi getting upset and shouting the team on much.
          An understanding of the importance of the first goal in games.

          Not much to ask. Btw, fwiw, I quite like the look and sound of Bartomeu but have no strong feelings about the board either way.

          • Kxevin says:

            Excellent points, Jim. It’s funny, the manager that I want most is the manager that we HAVE, but with the full backing of the board and carte blanche to do what he feels is necessary.

            I also want that manager to be supported by the technical staff, so that people can stop parroting the “our squad is fine.” At its core, ’tis true. The problem is as soon as one player gets a hangnail, depth is wanting.

            Barring any FIFA bans, this club needs to sell the bench-riding dead weight and acquire some real depth, so that when Pique gets an injury and Bartra is battling fitness, our options aren’t the DM or a player who has already admitted that he doesn’t have it at our level any longer.

            It’s funny, for a lot of people the board has become personal. If they do what in the hell they are supposed to do about sustaining and helping the sporting project, okay. As it is now, things are a mess.

            It’s also worth noting that if the Sanchez row rumors are true, as well as his spurning the urgings of Puyol, it speaks very eloquently to what Jim references with an on-pitch leader. I still think that Mascherano is the most suitable, even as he is the least likely.

            As for my off-season needs, they’re simple:

            – We already HAVE a coach. He just needs to be empowered. No matter who you hire, if he isn’t empowered, the same messes are going to result.

            – GK: Got him. Brilliant move by the tech staff in securing the services of one of the finest young keepers extant, for a comparative pittance.

            – Not one, but TWO CBs, one with height and one with that kind of pace and physicality that makes him capable of covering for others, etc.

            – A physical, agile midfielder. Got it, in Rafinha coming home.

            And that’s it. The common thought is that we need a 9, but I keep rethinking that notion. We have a trio of players who could all make excellent attack reference points in Messi, Neymar and Sanchez. Just have to do it tactically. Note that we saw some of Messi as a 9 in the Copa final.

          • I agree with everything you’re both saying save the lack of getting a striker. I know traditional strikers have not worked well in our system, but I still think the option of a tall target man needs to be there to break down tough busses. I also think that this coming season might be Xavi’s last. In this case we will be probably be using Cesc and our game will then change to the extent that a traditional striker is even more necessary.

            I’d also like to trade Alves for a top notch replacement. I really like Alves too. Montoya is still a squad player, but I have faith in his ability there.

          • ciaran says:

            What I’d love this summer to look like.
            Firstly, a new manager named immediately after the season ends, as I feel like Tata is lost and out of his depth now.
            He seems to be on his way and even though you want him most, I can’t help feeling like the Tata that we hired doesn’t exist any more and Tata now is a shell of his former self.

            Then, Messi renewed and in form for the start of the season.
            Rafinha to come back from loan and kept.
            Deulofeu to get another season on loan with Everton & Martinez.
            Bojan, Cuenca, Afellay & JDS all to get permanent moves away.
            Sergi Roberto to get a loan to a mid table team like Celta.
            Mascherano, Song, Alves & Pedro to be sold from the first team.
            €120m original budget plus 15m for Masch, 20m for Song, 15m for Alves & 25m for Pedro and 10m total for the others.
            €205m total available.

            ter Stegen already signed to replace Valdes. -15m
            Musacchio signed to replace Masch. 0m
            Hummels to replace Puyol. -30m
            Danilo to replace Dani Alves. -25m
            Vidal to replace Song. -45m
            Luis Suarez to replace Pedro. -70m

            We’d still have €20m left over and would make small savings on salaries considering the wages of Alves, Puyol & Valdes.

            ter Stegen / Oier
            Danilo / Montoya
            Pique / Bartra / Hummels / Musacchio
            Alba / Adriano
            Vidal / Busquets / Iniesta / Cesc / Xavi
            Messi / Rafinha
            Suarez / Neymar / Alexis / Tello

            Good variations available tactically, with much needed physicality and height. All the signings are better in the air than the outgoing player.
            Continued attacking ability at right full back but better defensively with Danilo.
            Hummels and Musacchio are great defenders and physically are more dominant than Masch.
            The possibility of a 3 man midfield with both Vidal and Busquets and also the opportunity to rest Busquets without a fall in performance.
            Less midfielders than this season but a higher quality so rotations will allow more game time to be spread.
            Rafinha acting as Messi’s understudy in the hole behind 2 strikers allowing him to develop without the burden of the extra defensive work and allowing Messi to be substituted when matches are won.
            Suarez’ killer instinct in and around the box and his ball playing ability would allow him to fit in well in our squad. Also remembering his time with Ajax should also help.
            Alexis and Neymar playing closer to goal and allowing the fullbacks provide width would occupy the fullbacks and the centrebacks unlike the current system where they only occupy the fullbacks and the centrebacks and defensive midfielders watch Messi.

            If Zubi and the board want to use my ideas they are welcome :-)

          • Kxevin says:

            Dayum, ciaran. That’s comprehensive. But no way are we getting 25m for Pedro and 20m for Song. Beyond that, I like the ambition.

          • KEVINO17 says:

            Lots of assumptions that players will want to come to Barca. But who would want to come to Barca when we probably won’t even have a coach and any coach won’t be in control anyway. Surely, by now, Alexis wants out and he’ll want to go and join his friend Vidal a Juve.

          • ciaran says:

            n017, players will want to come to Barca for the same reason that they always have done. We are one of the biggest clubs in the world and win a lot of trophies. It will continue.

            You have to have faith. It will come good again.

            Alexis has made no attempt to force a move so I wouldn’t assume his intentions.

            It would be a revolutionary project and with the right manager it could be awesome again

          • KEVINO17 says:

            Kxevin – How do we empower a coach who has already clearly been emasculated (figuratively) by this team? Tata has got to move on. His authority is gone. Now its a question of how quickly the next coach gets chased out the door. The meagreness of the list of coaches being touted as successors to Tata is telling. De Boer looks like the best. But why would he move from being generalissimo at Ajax to punching bag at barca?

          • Peter says:

            Once again, Kxevin, agreed entirely.

            Tata has already seen the elephant. He wasn’t given the authority and the resources to fight for everything and maintain the pace.

            When Pep was chosen as manager, he was given every resource and absolute full authority. Busquets was promoted, Dani Alves, Keita, Pique, Caceres, Pinto, Henrique and Hleb brought in. The next year he got rid of Eto’o and brought Chigrinskiy, The Zlatan, Maxwell, Keirrison and promoted Pedro and Jeffren. I believe that if Tata gets just a fraction of what Pep had for granted, he can succeed.

            Two CBs, I’d say at least one of them left-footed, and hopefully one of them could serve in a pinch as a LB. Either that, or one CB and a certain Brazilian DM/CB in an EPL club that would have it very difficult to win the Premier.

            I wouldn’t sell Mascherano, he’s an asset with a price above rubies. He’s a world class pure disruption and intimidation midfielder, who has been able to sub for Busquets on occasion, can play alongside Busquets if needed, and can play as a CB if needed. How do you get rid of such a player? Why would the coach/club do it, unless the player himself wants to leave(no such thing has appeared)? Not to mention, having so many excellent players fighting for starting spots would allow more than enough depth and would make the team versatile.

            Of course that would mean Cuenca, Affelay and maybe Tello going away(maybe the EPL where they won’t be facing double-deckers on any given weekend.) With Rafa Alcantara coming back and Dos Santos recovering, it may be a good idea to send Sergi Roberto to say Everton on a season-long loan, unless the coach decides to have him train day and night in the off-season alongside Rafinha, Dos Santos and the rest, so that they get better.

            That said, Denis Suarez may need to be sent on a loan as well(and again Everton or say Celta Vigo seem good ideas). As much as I like having Barcelona B’s squad staying together, the stars of the B team need bigger challenges than what Segunda Division can offer and minutes against very good opponents that the first team cannot offer.

          • Peter says:

            @KEVINO17 How do you empower a coach? You give him authority and impunity. If a player doesn’t want to train and follow the doctrine, he can rest on the bench or look for other employment.

            Pep started by selling off Ronaldinho, Edmilson, Deco, Zambrotta and gave Eto’o a deadline to start working. I don’t think the coach would need to sell anyone of this team except for the guys who have been recovering from injuries(Cuenca, Affelay, mb Dos Santos and maybe Tello to get him a starting position), but Tata would have alternatives if say Xavi and Iniesta don’t want to run and play directly. He doesn’t have those right now.

  11. barca96 says:

    Excellent analysis on the Xavi issue. I never thought of it and nobody else either that Xavi would’ve wanted Iniesta to be alongside him.

    We won’t have a captain worthy player for the next couple of years that’s for sure. Puyol is the last one we’ll have in the foreseeable future. Even though we can buy players, it’ll take some time for the players to gain confidence and respect from the team mates to be promoted to be a captain.

    The best candidate for a captain has to come within the club such as Puyol, Terry, Gerrard, Lahm, Schweini, Maldini, etc.

  12. barca96 says:

    Unfortunately Klopp wasn’t included in the list of potential candidates to take over from Tata if he decides to leave. My favourite in order;

    Lucho – best candidate. I believe he’s the only one from the list who would be able to get the players back up running. Lacks experience though.

    Laudrup – players would respect him immensely as he was one of the greatest. But he didn’t spend too much time here and left for Madrid out of all the places. Not much experience and not really a hard man.

    De Boer – pretty much the same with Laudrup except that the farmer (Boer) has won titles. Not a hard man either.

    MartineZ – love what he’s done so far in his short career. Would love him to manage Barca one day but this is not the time for it. Too passive and it’s a difficult time for anyone to promote youngsters.

    Valverde – don’t know much. From what I learned last year before Tata, pretty similar to Tata I think and will receive the same treatment.

    Paco – not sure if he’s even supposed to be a candidate.

    • ciaran says:

      Klopp, after today’s Dortmund match, basically said it isn’t happening. Something along the lines of him being in love with Dortmund.

      Luis Enrique done a great job with Barca B but let’s face it, he was bad with Roma and he hasn’t exactly done great with Celta either. I know, I know, Celta have little money but he hasn’t progressed greatly. I absolutely loved him as a player though and I’m sure he would get on well with the media/fans/players.

      Roberto Martinez has done great with Swansea, Wigan and Everton and his players work hard & play well. Don’t think it will happen for him this soon but he is going in the right direction.

      Valverde has won nothing as a manager save for a stint in Greece. He played for us technically speaking but nothing great to talk about.

      For me, if Klopp is ruled out then I reckon Frank de Boer should be given the opportunity based on his winning mentality and history with both us and our system.

      • KEVINO17 says:

        Klopp isn’t coming to a club where he knows he won’t be in control. That is the creeping plague of Messi-itis (or maybe Xavi-itis). You can’t attract good players, you can’t attract good coaches, good players want to leave etc etc.

  13. mazimi says:

    Does anybody know why EE’s match was postponed? Why they are not playing this weekend?

  14. Levon says:

    A new post is up and it is comprehensive, if I might say so myself.

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