The “best available athlete” dilemma, aka “Hammering nails with a banana”

Immense thanks to Allas for the Sanchez video.

Alexis Sanchez is ready.
Alexis Sanchez is a problem.
Neymar will be something if he ever learns how to play the Barça way.
Alex Song was a waste of money, and isn’t anything approximating Barça quality.

A quartet of interesting statements that raises a complex matter with its roots in a notion that some American sports sides (particularly NFL teams) subscribe to, which is to pick the best available athlete. The thinking is that you can train a player to play a position, but you can’t train ability and talent. So you draft a speedy cornerback, and figure you can train him to run pass routes and play wide receiver.

In the footballing world, are we seeing its contemporary in the “difficulties” that three players, Sanchez, Neymar and Song, are having in the blaugrana?

Song bossed Germany in a weekend friendly. Sanchez stomped on the terra like a midget mastodon against Egypt in a friendly. Brazil coaches say Neymar has “never been better” and is the great hope of Brazil, one of the favored teams in the World Cup. Yet none of the players are that well thought of by many, many culers.

So what’s the deal?

In each case of our misfits, they play very different roles for their national teams, and are pretty much the man for those entities.

— Song is a box-to-box CM
— Sanchez is the playmaker/ball handler
— Neymar is the playmaker/ball handler/scoring threat

When you watch each of these players in action for their national teams, it’s easy to watch them and determine which task, when they are playing for Barça, would be performed by someone else. “Busquets would do that. Iniesta would do that. Messi would be in position to do that. All Xavi, all the time.”

And you wonder about the “best available player” concept, and how brilliant players can look decidedly less so when in the blaugrana. But it’s easy, when you think about it.

Let’s take Sanchez, who is as ready as he will ever be. Someone whose opinion I value said to me on Twitter that Sanchez’s play for the team will never be better, nor will his value ever be higher. Sell. Others believe, only now, that Sanchez’s sale would be an error, but not as many as you might think for a player who banged in 21 goals for us this season past.

But Sanchez is ready. And we know he’s ready not only because his whereabouts are one of the hot Barça gossip items of the summer, but also because it is evident from his play.

When Sanchez was signed for Barça three years ago, nobody quite knew what the club was getting except a player with pace and an abundant work rate. But as with all expensive attacker signings, the expectation was of goals galore.

As Barça snapped up two of the most desirable South American attackers of the past few years, to team with the ultimate South American attacker, it’s worth wondering again about “best available athlete,” and whether that is a viable notion. Yet both wear the shackles of a system that is designed for something very different from what they are best at doing, like hitching a racehorse to a plow and tending the fields.

Barça teaches its players to be calm, conscious and confident with the ball. Make the right choice, think two passes ahead, pass and move, control. Yet with Sanchez and Neymar, we have acquired two players whose operative word is “Wheeee!” This isn’t to say that they are undisciplined, rather that they are unschooled in the Way. “He will be great once he assimilates,” is what we most often hear, in the Barça as Jedi Knight training mode of thought. “He just has to learn what to do with the ball.”

It fascinates me that there is never much consideration of the Way coming to meet a “Wheeee!” player. Sanchez and Neymar both get the ball and start running toward the opponent goal. When they start, it isn’t entirely clear what’s going to happen, but by the time they get there, they will have figured something out … probably … maybe. And if not, “Hey, let’s try this. Wheeeee!”

Culers cringe, as they are accustomed to wondrous woodland creatures capering about with a glowing sphere tied to their feet. Busquets to Xavi to Iniesta to Messi to Xavi to Busquets to Valdes to Busquets to Xavi to Iniesta to Messi to Alves to Messi to Xavi to …

We are accustomed to this. This makes sense. It controls the match, keeps the ball and applies logic to a thing of wonder. And for years, it has worked. So we clap our hands to our heads when Sanchez takes the ball on the right, dribbles, spins, loses it, gets it back, dribbles, spins, then passes it back to Xavi or Messi. Or when Neymar gets the ball, stops, dances the mambo, tries to beat a defender, runs into two others or gets fouled. “Dammit, what’s wrong with him?”

Nothing, is the answer. Against Egypt, Sanchez was running with the ball, making plays along with a cadre of runners. Playing for Barça, he is told, essentially, to go stand in a corner and wait for something to happen. He gets the ball in a stationary role, is surrounded by defenders and looks something of a mess at times.

“Sigh … we overpaid.”

“Song, you go in for Busquets.”

Busquets is a brilliant DM, perfect for the system that Barça play. He is also a unique player, both in approach to the game and skill set. So in the culer template that makes the incumbent also the standard, any player who doesn’t play the position like the incumbent is poor, not Barça quality. Yet using Song at DM isn’t his best position, no more than using Iniesta at DM would be. So in his more natural position, with his national team, he looks the business. Out of position, learning a “best available player” new set of skills, he’s kinda lumpy.

“Sell him. Worst Barça CB ever.”

Neymar is a player who is a complexity. He is the gift horse of Sandro Rosell, a player whose fee was 57m or whose total cost was 97m. Depends on what number you’d like to use, and what your worldview is. Either way for that kind of money, I expect a bajillion goals. The strength of Neymar, more than his goalscoring, is his associative play. Like Ronaldinho, he will get an attacker the ball. In watching the video above, I got to thinking about the strange universe in which a Barça player could have a highlights reel like that one and have people questioning what he brought to the club instead of salivating over next season.

But again, Neymar isn’t playing in an ideal position, nor with ideal partners for his skill set. As usual with an imported player, it is up to them to adapt to the template, right? One of the greatest abilities of Thierry Henry was his ability to adapt to the team, to subsume his skill sets and work within the strictures of a system.

But Henry, Neymar and Sanchez were at different career trajectories. Neymar will eventually leave Barça, for the team that will unshackle him, make him the man and let him run the show, as he does with Brazil. Perhaps even sooner, Sanchez will leave Barça, for a team that will allow him to be the man, playing in a way unfettered by the limitations of a Way. And Song will leave Barça, for a team that wonders why anyone ever tried to play him at CB or DM, and probably raise hell.

And culers will say, “If they had played like that, they would still be at Barça,” ignoring the fundamental difficulty of that statement: being at Barça makes it impossible for them to play like “that.”

Neymar isn’t for sale. It is rumored that the club turned down three “important” offers for Sanchez. Song will go to the first person willing to pony up something between 10 and 15m.

The eventual fate of Sanchez will say a lot about what Luis Enrique is thinking about his football club, whether it is to continue to be built around Messi, or shift to a more egalitarian attack that brings back the days of the best Barça of recent vintage, when Henry, Eto’o and Messi were all a constant danger, each capable of having a hat trick by halftime.

One thing, however, is for sure. Each player is ready for that next level. Compare scrawny Neymar to the bulkier player of today. Compare the Sanchez who thought himself to death to the confident hellraiser we’re seeing today. Compare uncertain CB Song to Cameroon Song, and ask yourself a few questions, which will be fun to debate:

— Should the Barça system be more accommodating?
— Should the team not bother signing players who aren’t going to fit into the existing system, rather than using a player out of position in the hopes that he will adapt?

The floor is open.

By Kxevin

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


  1. Thanks Kxevin for a great article that highlights the cules’ greatest vice: undervaluing our own transfers. When a team is built around the collective talents of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, and Busquests for the last 5 seasons then it is no wonder that all transfers have had trouble adapting.

    In time, and I think that time is close, we are going to have to make a choice between trying to keep buying players to fit the current system or tweak the system to work best for some of our most productive and promising players.

  2. First article here I’ve read in forever, and it’s a great one IMO. Nice work.

    I agree with all the points, besides some regarding Song. Before you call me a typical Song hater who “just doesn’t understand,” know that I don’t blame him for anything. I simply don’t think he’s anywhere near good enough.

    Yes, he is definitely better as a center midfielder or as a box-to-box, but even in those roles, he’s not top class. He’s decent, but a step below the level needed. He’s being misused, but he’s not Yaya Toure. His performances for Arsenal were overrated.

    Also, we need a sub for Busquets. That’s why we bought Song. Our stupid mistake, but now that we know he’s not a good DM, there’s no point in keeping him.

  3. Great article.
    Song is the natural successor to Xavi at CM – and they’re going to sell him. Go figure. Nuts.
    Imagine how excited ManU or Liverpool will be if they can snare Alexis and give him a free role to destroy defences. Surely, he’s worth 50 mill, at least.

    1. The sarcasm is both appropriate and unfair. After a year on another team Song and Alexis could be worth 25 and 50 mil respectively. Unfortunately, they are not worth that for Barca in the style that we currently play. There are no easy answers and that is why everyone is frustrated.

      Now it is up to our Barca legends Enrique, Zubi, and I guess now Puyol to figure it out. Optimism and pessimism are equally warranted. The only thing I ask is that if we let Song, Fab, Alexis, Pedro, or Tello go, we at least get close to what they are worth to another team, which I think is actually a lot.

    2. Gunners weren’t exactly crying that Song left, just saying, he was solid at a club who was never chasing a title seriously, I’m not exactly on board with lumping Song in with them because of a friendly…
      It says a lot to me that Ney and Alexis get the longer blurbs here, which I agree with. I hope Alexis stays and I hope Lucho gets the best out of Neymar.
      Good read though Kevin, something more present to talk about. It’s been somewhat exhausting and redudant reading debates about last season ( let it go) and countless hypothesis on how we’ll at next ( we have no idea the squad isn’t even put together). I realize people need to keep up The chatting though. At least the cup starts in 10 days ^_^

    3. Song has never really been given a chance at CM, so it’s not as if he’s failed in what would be his best position. He needed 5 to 10 games at the start of the season to get into the rhythm of that position and never got the chance because Xavi had to play. Now it looks like they’re going to bring in Koke who has no experience playing with the rest of the team. He’d better be damn good.

    4. Koke> Song. You think we’re going to deploy song as CM? Ummm ok. He’s a decent player, I have no idea where this sudden surge of him being world class is coming from.

    5. not every single player NEEDS to be world class. Van Bommel and Keita were still a very valuable addition to the team, providing some steel to an otherwise lightweight midfield.

    6. After all these years you still believe that Song>Xavi. Can you tell me what Song can do better than then Xavi? I can only list one, defending.

    7. Well, actually, defending is half the game…
      To which I add;
      Stronger on the ball;
      Better header;
      More range in passing;
      Much greater athleticism;

  4. Well stated Kxevin..this article reminds of a few months ago.. neymar was “in a funk”.. or more precisely, wasnt scoring a bajillion i decided to have a look on ol trusty get a glimpse of the neymar of yesteryear.. and sure enough, i was shocked.. of course not by the other-worldly highlights i was seeing.. one after another after another..but by the fact that anyone in there right mind would think that he would flourish in the barca system..

  5. I leave everyone with another gem from total Barça forums: “. Finally, we need a creative midfielder, not a bully like Koke, who is no more than the flavour of the month. His price tag will also be extremely inflated for the same reason. He only looks good, because he plays for Atletico, so that is where he should stay.”

  6. Perfect article Kxevin, just as we discussed it seems glaringly obvious that we have 3 world class attackers each of whom is capable of running a team on his own and that there is a way of playing that suits them all. Yet the “Barca way” blinds us to that possibility. That way of playing also suits Alba, Busi, Pique and Bartra. Even Song, I had forgotten about him..
    It’s up to Lucho now to pick a system suited to the players or another year of us trying to fit a circle into a square

  7. The Song, alexis and neymar anology are well induced with logical reasoning, most of these players get crap for trying to do things their own way when they get played in a system that doesnt accomodate their very own personal innovation:..

    Some of the matches inwhich song had been tagged with xavi, you see xavi going close to song to recieve the ball from his feet and thereby checkmating his creativity, where as he checks into passable space with busquets.

    I am no talent spotter but i know Song is incredibly creative, even more so than our darling xavi, play him in the xavi role, xavi is no more than a mere possession retainer like mikel of chelsea.

    1. I’m reminded of Matt Lawton’s now infamous Balon D’or article entitled “The three best players in the World …… and Xavi” :). He still occasionally gets pelters for it on Sunday Supplement for football writers.

    2. Song is more creative than Xavi, in fact ” incredibly creative”? Opinions.

  8. Remember how Neymar was a capable substitute for Messi early in the season, when Messi was injured? Not sure if there is another player in the world who can do that. If he doesn’t get injured and so gets to play all of next season you’re going to see some amazing things, don’t know from what angle you could reasonably criticize the brazilian.

  9. Where do we get the notion that Song is an attacking midfielder?

    That Song is a good midfielder is undeniable. He struggled mightily at first whether it was in defense or defensive midfield. The club bought him with a view to play him in defense because he HAD ACTUALLY BEEN A DEFENDER in his early days at Bastia and Charlton Athletic. So it was not unreasonable to occassionally expect him to feature in defense.

    It was only at Arsenal that Wenger changed him into a defensive midfielder but at Arsenal he also had the freedom to go forward and contribute to attacking play. Ditto Arsenal were so vulnerable to counter attacks against quality opposition. When he was bought that was my first worry about him: POSITIONAL PLAY.

    He has since improved IMMENSELY in this respect but the question is now of choice. Who do you keep between him and Mascherano? For me it will be Masche because he can also fill ably in defense.

    Is Song an organiser in midfield? Can he play in the Iniesta position? He would play well if we did not face buses every now and then.

    How would Barca accomodate such talents as Neymar and Alexis? For now and the mid term what are likely to be our greatest weapons personnel wise. Where is our edge going to be? If it lies in the direction of pace and lightning speed then we need reconfiguration to that model.

    Another thing is that its the opponent who designs a tactic to combat Barca. We may want to play more direct but as long as the rival is still fearful it may not work out.

    1. Masche all day. I haven’t the faintest idea where people are getting that Song should play where Xavi is, that not doing so has deprived us of some gem of a midfielder. I guess he was really good in that friendly.

  10. . Oliver Kahn .

    . Dani Alves . Carles Puyol . Paolo Maldini . Roberto Carlos .

    . Zinedine Zidane . Danielle De Rossi . Andrea Pirlo .

    . Lionel Messi . Ronaldinho .

    . Zlatan Ibrahimovic .

  11. Song is going to go back to the premiership and be the really solid midfielder that he can be. He is very physical and he is creative. People who don’t like him say that he isn’t good enough but he is/was a really good footballer. He never excelled in the defensive side of his game but he was the top assister in his last season with Arsenal and produced some out-of-this-world assists to RVP. But he was never suited to the role we signed him for. He done well at times but never looked likely to displace Busquets.
    It’s still slightly amusing that what Xavi does best now is dictate tempo and make accurate passes but Song 100% passing match was forgotten about so quickly.

    Alexis is a phenomenal player and for me was probably our player of the season (due to Messi’s otherworldly expectations). He would be a better player for another team but it would be very hard to find a better player for our team than him. Some people suggest that Pedro is worth keeping to sell Alexis but I think that it borders on criminal to suggest it. Alexis scored some absolutely incredible goals, improved his first touch no end, created a lot of goals and showed great understanding with Neymar & Cesc.

    Neymar will be a Balon d’Or winner. It is a matter of time. Whether he gets that time in Barca or not is a question that only time will answer but it would be a crying shame if he doesn’t.

    For me, the biggest shame is that the only unpredictable players we have are blasted as not good enough and those who simply pass it back to Xavi are deemed as our future.

    The scenario this summer looks like we’ll sell Cesc & Alexis and replace them in our starting line up with Koke & Pedro and that is cowardly. Get more possession, work hard and Messi will score his 90 goals again. Everything will be fine. I would much prefer to replace the players who are predictable and let the individual talents of our best attacking players shine will instilling a great work ethic.

  12. Poor Zubi: “Damned If you do Damned if You Don’t”: A Cacophony of Voices

    One man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure:

    Comments from Red Cafe Man U Forum:

    On Cesc:

    “Anyway, would be the best thing that could ever happen to us. The man has given assists in the last World Cup final and in the last Euro final. And he’s only to become 27 years old. Game relies zero on pace, so has a lot of years in him if he stays fit. When he’s on form he is the best midfielder in the world for me (with the likes of Modric, Pirlo etc.). Can play advanced and as a deep-lying playmaker. Would be brilliant”

    “I don’t think we could possibly make a better midfield signing. Vidal maybe, but Fabregas has been there and done it in the PL to boot. 15+ goals from midfield…”

    “He’s been the natural heir to Scholes ever since he was tearing apart the Premier League as a teenager for Arsenal. Probably only a small chance of it happening, but I wouldn’t mind another Summer of Cesc.”

    One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Gold:

    “Get the feeling we will need to get back in the Champions League to attract the really elite players like Fabregas, Reus, or Sanchez.”

    “Konoplyanka is a winger, plays in Ukraine and has a release clause of €12-15m. He’s not Sanchez or Reus, but he’s better than what United already have.”

    “During his last season at Arsenal Song was very good, he got into double figures for assists and brought a strength and purpose to the Gooners’ midfield. He has not had the best of it at Barcelona but, in fairness to him, he’s been used a lot as a centre-half which isn’t his position. Its not a crime to be less good than Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets etc. most midfielders are. Song is better than the options we have in midfield at the moment and has proven he can compete with the best the Premier League has to offer.”

    The Grass is Always Greener:

    From LFC Reds Liverpool Forum:

    On Masch:

    He’s been playing on a CB position since Pep put him there. So nobody knows how he would play back on his natural position. But never the less would love to see him back with us.

    In the End, Football is a Results Oriented Business:

    From Inside Spanish Football:

    “Zubizarreta: I feel Responsible for this year’s results.”

    “For the past three seasons, Barcelona have failed to address their defensive frailties, opting against signing a much-needed centre back in the last two years, claiming that Alex Song was able to play in that position, while the team that was expertly built by Pep Guardiola, and considered the best of all time, was neglected and allowed to deteriorate.”

    1. Alexis has earned his place, he should stay. Song doesn’t fit and neither does Cesc. It doesn’t make them bad players (though I don’t rate Song nearly as high as people here seem to) but they still have underperformed and should be called out as such.

  13. for me Fab is not a Barca player. Maybe its the lack of a defined role in this present Barca. But the doubt is always there his stats do not tell the whole story. If football was a mathematical case where we are only privy to numbers then Fab had be king. Alas there is this nagging feeling or thought which gnaws at the phyche watching him play.

    Its as if he had the misfortune of being reared in La Masia by virtue of birth but having a soul in the EPL. He does not off us that vital thing we need: CONTROL. Make no mistake about it our midgets are doomed the moment a match becomes a slug fest. We operate better when we control the pace of games. Cesc does not give us that. IMHO Song has adapted better than Fab to the demands of playing for us.

    In the EPL or @ EE he would undoubtedly prosper because of the abundance of space. If Lucho want us to be more passing and less vertical then adios to Fab. I dont really know too much about the mooted replacements but Pogba would offer drive and bite to the midfield. Also offers good passing.

    Barca also need to do better in negotiating transfer fees. If Chelsea could offload Mata for that Ridiculous amount we need to wisen up. You cant survive selling low and buying very high. There is need to acknowledge player X has not worked out for us but he is still a good player and commands such X millions of dollars. 30 million for Fab would be too low for my liking.

  14. Ivan Rakitic’s dad said that his son has offers from Atletico, Real & us but said something along the lines of at Sevilla he is a god, and that a decision would be made after the world cup. For €25m he would be a good signing. I’d prefer to buy Rakitic than Koke but that’s just me.
    Just watch this 11 second clip

    Still, I’d prefer to sign a couple of defenders before moving on to other positions. According to Sport, Mathieu will be our first outfield signing and that his and Bravo’s moves will be done this week. I’d be happy enough with it.

    In other news Tello has loads of offers and could end up in Porto. That would be a very good move for him in my opinion as they always play with 2 wingers.

    1. Most rumors I read are that he is off to Atm. Madrid, I too wold prefer him to Koke because he is much closer to a finished product. The man has such an engine, can pass, and has real heart and fight in him.

      Some people need to get used to the idea of letting Cesc go, he’s never really fit. Im disappointed that Benatia is unattainable because Matheiu isn’t exactly a world beater but he’s solid enough to provide competition for the future (Bartra and Marquinhos hopefully). I just wish we had a better, younger, higher caliber CB coming in immediately able to win a starting spot (a Benatia). Still better than another midfielder turned CB.

    2. I am one of those some people. I’d much prefer to keep Cesc and as we move forward without Xavi eventually at least we’d have a world class midfielder capable of unlocking defenses.
      I’d also prefer if people, not you specifically, would just suggest Cesc’s sale because they don’t like him. Suggesting that he doesn’t play well on big occasions or doesn’t fit in is simply trying to justify his sale when he has scored and assisted on plenty of big occasions including Clasicos and CL matches and an assist in the world cup final. He has a better on field connection with Messi, Neymar & Alexis than anyone we could get to replace him and probably anyone currently in our midfield. He doesn’t have the skill set to be played out of position but when he has three forwards ahead of him and the ball at his feet he is easily our most dangerous midfielder more often than not.
      Look, on plenty of occasions people, not just me, have put plenty of points forward as to reasons he should be kept and the only responses are that goals & assists don’t tell the whole story or he doesn’t impress them.

      If he wasn’t that good or didn’t have that connection he wouldn’t have played 28, 32 & 36 league games under 3 different managers as well as having 87 international caps at 27yrs old in the most successful international team of all times in a squad that plays a very similar style to what we do. If his goals and assists don’t impress people then the simple fact that every manager he has had has continued to play him and when Pep signed him, changed formation to fit him into the team.

      If he is sold I really wish him all the luck in the world and I firmly believe that we will regret the move. He may not be the most popular player but he works as hard as anyone and rather than looking to replace him maybe we would be better suited looking to get the most out of him, Neymar, Alexis & Messi.

    3. Oh you don’t have to tell me how good he is, I have an old Arsenal
      Jersey of his I’m such a fan of how good he can be. It just has happened for him here, we can go back and forth all day as to why we agree or disagree but we wouldn’t even be having this discussion if he had been playing as well as he can. He is a supremely world class mid but just not in our team.
      Me and Kevin had this discussion on twitter a while
      Back wherein he said , “If we keep him, we should commit to using him properly. Tika taka mid or false 9 ain’t it…Track Meet Barça would suit Fabregas very well. A more open game, more traditional defenders at the back.”
      That’s pretty much the crux of the matter^ . I don’t think we’ll ever see the Cesc that you and many (me included) are able to speak about in purely glowing terms.

  15. All our possible outgoing players are going to do very well out there.
    Cesc, Lex, Song, Pedro, Masch.
    Imagine If we ship these 5 off to Man utd ;
    they’ll win next Premier league title quite comfortably.
    Man city won it by buying Barca- EE rejects.

  16. Nice article. Agreed with what you said about Alexis and Neymar; big upside. I look at what they did especially when Messi went out and they we given the opportunity to really play more of their game, results speak for themselves. They link up well those two, and seem to have good relations.
    Song has been dealt with unfairly. I think he’s a good footballer and was never a CB option to beginning with. I’m not totally sure but would be willing to give him a try at CM… not along side Busi but that so-called Keita type role. It would make sense to instead of spending those huge amount on a physical Progba, Vidal types if Cesc leaves.

    1. So based on the transfer rumours, and what I might be okay with .
      C.Bravo/ T.Stegen/ J.Masip

      Cuadrado/ Montoya –Pique/ Bartra– Marquinhos/Mathieu — Alba/ Adriano

    2. Busquets/ Mascherano

      Xavi/Song (box to box)
      Iniesta/ Rakitic

      Rafinha(false nine/ A Mid)
      Alexis /Deulofeu Neymar
      Messi/ Higuain(lol)

      Adama and Halilovic to assist in the wide areas….
      23 man squad + 2 B teamers

    3. For the record i’m not sold on Deulofeu… and would keep Pedro in his place.

      Valdes (sad to see him go… been his biggest fan eversince Paris); Pinto; Oier; Alves (can another right back be what he was); Puyol (man… I want to be just like you when I grow up … lol. We are losing our soul here); Cesc (hmmm… you adapt to us not the other way around in the Pep era); S.Roberto; Dos Santos (actually the only one who I ever thought played anyway like Xavi did… i had high hopes kid); Afellay; Tello; Pedro (willing to swap with Deulofeu); Cuenca; Bojan

  17. On a lighter note than some of my recent posts I’d like to just compare the form of two of our least favourite players with theirs in their previous teams.
    People complain that Alexis isn’t the goalscorer that we wanted but he averaged a goal every 4.75 games at Udinese and a goal every 2.25 games with us.
    Similarly, Cesc averaged a goal every 6 games at Arsenal and a goal every 3.4 games for us.

    Maybe we should lower our expectations as Cules?
    Even the great Zlatan with his 11 goals and 4 assists in his first 15 games couldn’t live up to our expectations.

    1. It’s a shame if Alexis is sold and who would be is replacement ? Cuadrado HA, makes no sense at all. Cesc seems close to either CFC or MCFC BUT who do we sign to replace him:
      Gundogan: injured/renewed.
      Koke: staying.
      Rakitic: Close to ATM.
      Vidal: most likely staying.
      Pogba: wants to stay; 60mi.
      Pjanic: renewed.
      Kroos: said he isn’t leaving
      A real dilemma brewing imo

    2. That is my point. I am not hugely excited about having Cesc in midfield next year either. What I do know, however, is that played in his right position he is good for 14 goals and 18 assists. You could try Iniesta in the Xavi position, but he probably won’t be able to keep possession like Xavi either. So the way we play has to change no matter what.

      If we had Real’s money then we could sell Fab for 35 Mil and then buy Koke for 50 or Pogba for 70 Mil, but that just leads to a different uncertainty and period of adjustment.

  18. Now that i rhink about it, this post should be tagged ”the best available outlets” coz most cules already have a constant fixture of players they can’t have fall from their god heights and be compared with mere mortals.

    1. Exactly right. To suggest that part of the problem this year is that we still have a team centered around the collective abilities of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi, all of whom had sub par seasons would be blasphemous and get you banned for life from the Camp Nou. Just don’t say anything out of order because you could be reported to the secret police or the Cule G. P.

      Could it be that Cesc was not intended to be Xavi’s direct replacement but rather one of our future midfielders along with another who now plays for Pep at Bayern? I won’t say his name, but it is the same as the youngest member of the Messi family.

  19. Cuadrado seems like a valuable player.
    Week in and out, Barça must chew on buses,
    need players who can consistently get past defenders.
    His dribbling meter is quite high.
    Question mark about defensive capability.

    1. Cuadrado at right back gives us the ability to beat players out wide in a way that only Messi and Neymar in our squad can.
      Plus there’s an end product from him more often than not. He also has a great engine to get up and down the whole wing.

      I’m not saying that he is the a great defender but he has tremendous pace to get back into position and Montoya is good defensively when the situation calls for it

    2. Would be a great signing.
      & Montoya(Bartra)-Alba alternate pairing won’t be so bad : )

  20. So to offer up my answer to the questions asked above (as if it wasn’t obvious), for me the system needs to adapt, but realism also needs to be applied to transfers by both management as well as supporters — who admittedly only count as regards noise and general crankiness.

    Note that in the first year of the Guardiola transfers, there weren’t any Swiss Army Knives. Alves was played in his position, as was Keita, etc. Even Henry wasn’t that far off.

    It has only been in recent transfers, perhaps forced by the necessity to shave pennies for the nice new home, that players have started coming and being asked to alter what they do. “Song CAN play CB” is markedly different than “Song IS a CB.”

    For me, if you buy an Alexis Sanchez or a Neymar, you can’t make them stand around while veteran midfielders decide what to do with the ball. It’s a situational incompatibility. And that is not a knock on Xavi, but rather as noted above, the way that he plays and likes to play isn’t the same as the way that the likes of Neymar and Sanchez like to play.

    So do you not buy those players who are incompatible? That’s crazy, for me. A player of the quality of Neymar made the Messi injury layoff easier to deal with. Same with Sanchez and Fabregas, another misfit. Adaptation has to occur in both directions.

    — “World class” is a phrase that needs to be re-examined. Culers say that X or Y player isn’t “world class,” as defined how? Are we thinking that we have to acquire absolute like quality for our XI? Proponents of that notion are aware, of course, that we are talking about legendary players, schooled and trained in a system, right? Who is the Iniesta or Messi analog, if that is the “world class” definition?

    It strikes me that the board is (finally) striving to acquire useful depth. On paper, the squad had 23 players. In reality, it had substantially less. Dos Santos, Afellay, Cuenca, Sergi Roberto were on the roster this season, but either weren’t used or were recovering from injury, etc.

    We aren’t going to get like replacements for our gala XI. That is a rare thing. An excellent transfer window would be Ter Stegen, Mathieu, Bravo, Marquinhos and Cuadrado. The team would get deeper at every position including DM, while gaining tactical and positional versatility and setting up the kind of competition for places that makes incumbents better. And that’s good, from where I sit.

    Obviously, if some players leave (persistent Fabregas rumors abound), they will have to be replaced, but that’s a bridge we cross when it comes up. But I would bet that Enrique would be thinking if another midfielder comes, he will damn well be able to score goals, as getting goals from midfield is important.

    So now we sit … and wait …

  21. Going through the plethora of comments here, with everyone at pains to point out how great this player and that player is outside Barcelona, really the only sensible option that comes to my mind is that we change the system to suit the obviously talented but yet not quite fitting in players we have.

    The system was based around Xavi and his possession, right? So once he starts getting phased out this coming season (and is possibly gone by next), the floor is open for us to actually accommodate the talent we possess, rather than purchasing more square pegs to replace the existing square pegs that weren’t fitting in our round holes.

  22. There are rumors about cesc’s departure in every summer, We never had a problem dissing them for what they truly were, Which is ‘paper selling nonsense’, But this time it feels different, Too much smoke for a fire not to be present, Cesc is a phenomenal player, One of the best AM in the world hands down, I’ll hate to see him leave because almost all the possible replacement are a down-grade from him.

    The only player in my opinion that i’m willing to replace cesc with is marco reus, All other options are simply not good enough or worth it.

    1. Graham Hunter said on Twitter that if the guy reporting for Mundo Deportivo says Chelsea is talking to us about purchasing Fabregas and a deal is close, that’s the truth. not quite sure where he fits in THEIR system, but that’s not our problem. i have to assume that if Cesc is sold, we will turn around and use that money to bid big for one of the midfield players on our list currently under contract: Koke, Gundogan, Vidal, etc..

      on another note, Cuadrado looks like a good wing player in Fiorentina’s system (which is much different than ours), but can he actually defend? and if he can’t, are we going to expect Jordi Alba to slide more centrally do that? the weaknesses inherent in playing *2* attacking full-backs simultaneously we’ve seen already; are we anticipating a right-sided CB to come in and be able to cover Cuadrado’s space, while we also neuter a very good attacking full-back in Alba? it may not necessarily be a BAD idea, i happen to think that Jordi Alba is a very useful defensive player (given his pace), but he’s also quite a useful ATTACKING player who’s capable of overlapping and tri-angling with Iniesta and Neymar down the left. is the loss of that combination something we’re prepared to accept to accommodate Cuadrado?

    2. i think the best option is marcos (assuming we manage to land that signing ofc) as a defensive RB. We would then have jordi alba play the role he dreams of , one that alves claimed for years.

    3. If Mourinho ends up selling Mata for way more than we get for Cesc, I will be disappointed.

      If a Chelsea team led by Cesc then beats us in a Champions League knockout and the coach runs on our field again to rejoice, I can honestly say that I will be with him in spirit in celebrating our stupidity.

  23. The Battle for Hearts and Minds: Why Strikers are like Ice Cream and CBs are like Vegetables

    Bartomeu: “You are going to enjoy watching Barça next season!”

    “I know it can’t have been easy reading all the criticism and people saying this is the end of a cycle at the Club or an end to the way we play, but that is just not true. Don’t take any notice of them. I want to tell you loud and clear that they are wrong. This Barça is alive and kicking – more alive than ever!”

    I am trying to understand our club’s transfer policy and in many ways I think it can be understood in that the club wants to make some big signings, but because of our limited means and bad recent experiences we have been very hesitant to do this.

    Barca, however, are in a critical situation in that it has picked up millions of fans in the last 5 years of unprecedented success who the club now worry may not continue to follow the team if they don’t have tangible reasons for optimism this summer. On the other hand, Real have been fortunate in that they have had the money to do this almost every season in recent history with marquee signings.

    For the above reasons, I look at a transfer signing in part as a marketing scheme–an a enticing sweet for those fans who were disappointed and looking for optimism going into next year. It is almost like a little leaguer who strikes out in the bottom of the ninth whose mom or dad then takes for ice cream to make him feel better and less discouraged.

    So here is my theory: The Neymar signing for last year may, in part, have been our ice cream for the 7-0 embarrassment to Bayern last year. The club could have spent 40 million on a CB, but, like a plate of spinach, this would not have made fans nearly as excited so we brought in a future superstar a year earlier than we may have planned. Plus, there was always the possibility that Puyol would be able to heroically work through his fitness problems anyway.

    To examine another club that did things differently, look at the case of Atletico Madrid. Last season Atletico sold Falcao and yet despite this won the league and then were within a hair’s breath from winning the Champions league due in large part to their solidity in defense and effectiveness in taking and defending set pieces.

    Which leads to this summer’s transfer window. Even if we get a promising young defender like Marquinhos and a reliable veteran like Mathieu, it will not be enough to satisfy the appetites of disappointed fans who want a team with a refurbished new look ready to compete for major silverware next season.

    So who is that big signing, who is our ice cream for going through such a difficult season and then not getting any silverware? For the last week, Blaugrana has been suggesting that this signing might come in a Cesc for Aguero swap. However, with an Aguero signing now seeming more and more unlikely, the team may not get that big signing after all but will rather have to opt for a slightly less dramatic statement of change.

    What better way to do this than to get rid of a player who has been perceived to have been a disappointment and then bring in a promising new face. We then become more exciting by the subtraction of a letdown and the addition of an interesting novelty. Fans may then be equally likely to stay with the blaugrana and tune in as well.

    1. Well you don’t sign a CB for 3 years and people tend to want more than A 30yo who’s never won a title in his life and been capped only 2x by his national team, and a kid who COULD be good some day. So many defenders I’d take over him ESPECIALLY if this is true: “@barcastuffBarcelona hoped to sign Mathieu for 15M, but Valencia will only accept 20M buyout fee and will force them to pay 15M extra taxes. [sport sd]”

      You want to spend money on an older Liga vet? Fine, then buy Miranda.

    2. I don’t follow enough other teams to know who would be best to sign at CB, but like you I know we haven’t signed one for the last few years, and I believe that our fortunes at least in La Liga this year would have been better if we did.

      With no silverware, however, the equation changes in that the club will now probably make some of the changes many fans want like getting rid of Fab or Sanchez and bringing in new players that will probably not make us any better. What this does more than anything is make the club look like it is busy making upgrades and putting together a new team.

      If only Godin didn’t score on a set piece things may have been largely different this summer, and I wouldn’t feel like the club is on a marketing blitz like it is selling the new 2015 Lexus with its fancy new upgrades.

  24. If the english media is to be believed, well cesc is definitely leaving barca this summer. Question is for how much ( i dont care one bit which club he goes to).
    Cesc is a wonderful player but for some reason he always seemed lost in the big games. He never managed to shine against ATM, RM or any of the big games last season. I remember Michael cox saying something along the lines that cesc cannot operate in tight spaces compared to the godly abilities of xavi and iniesta to take decisions in milliseconds and that’s where it all went wrong for him.
    Being touted as the xavi successor even tho he was brought in as an attackingmidfielder. Then being compared to xavi and iniesta did not making things any better.
    I -like everyone- here dont know what the hell is going to happen but i have this bad feeling that the management will actually manage to screw up by acquiring a plethora of over-ambitious targets and by the end of the summer, we will manage none of those targets but instead pay for a player that we didnt really want just for the sake of buying players and shutting the fans up

    Also, Koke for 60 M i mean come on that’s too much and i am pretty sure we wont pay that much and ATM wont negotiate..
    What will end up happening is buying the 10th best thing which is rakitic which i also believe plays Attacking midfielder.. How wonderful …

  25. And so everyone believes things that suit them, making a rumor only as good as the confirmation bias that it supports. Meanwhile, the actual transfer window is still A MONTH from being open.

    We have absolutely zero idea what is going on behind the scenes. Just rumors, notions and journalists with as many different agendas as supporters have.

    It seems that a suggestion that we calm down and wait to see what actually transpires might fall on deaf ears, but it was part of the point of this post, to posit some actual questions to be discussed outside of which transfer rumor everyone wants to believe today. And then we sit ’round and crap on players who aren’t even in the colors yet? My word, how will it be when they are actually IN the colors.

    I reckon Claudio Bravo will know he is signed when his Twitter TL fills up with Barça supporters telling him that he isn’t good enough to play for the club.

  26. Spot on. I completely agree that the interesting discussion is primarily how to utilize the players we already have – only then can we actually recognize where there might be a need for a transfer. The notion of “Barca quality” seems simply to describe how closely other players can get to emulating or facilitating Xaviniessi. This must stop. Would Ronaldinho have been good enough in this respect? Looking at old clips one is struck by the acres of space he sometimes has to make his runs. What would Neymar do with that space? Alexis? Pedro?

    One image I have from this season is that I was not worried much defensively during the first half of the season. This might be a rosy picture, but to my mind every player was more successful before Christmas – except for Xavi, and perhaps Iniesta. After Christmas? Everyone played worse – except Xavi, and perhaps Iniesta. Though a simplification, this seems like a clear indication to me.

    We all know the first half of the season was far from impeccable; but it was promising, despite all suspicions vehemently thrown at Martino for – perhaps – changing the Way. Instead praise should’ve been given for this very thing: attempt to change, to alter. To play on the strengths of our future stars, not the ones in decline. Busquets certainly did very well; Alexis shone; Pedro seemed on the up; Messi played on the wing without sulking (against EE); Cesc did very well (at least when not used as a false 9); Valdes was superb; hell, “even” Song threw in a few good games (remember he did not lose in our colors for a long time), and so on and so forth…

    Point is: this team is not crap; it was, however, not allowed to enter transition. And then limbo will occur, and thus decline in energy and inspiration. Whoever we buy will not fix this without overall tactical changes. In fact, whoever we buy will fix very little. We have the best player in the world, combined with some of the best players in the world. Consider if we did not have Neymar and Alexis, and then seeing them play for the respective country. Wouldn’t we say: “My gosh, image an attacking line with those two and Messi! A dream team, no less!”.

    Perhaps, then, if we want to look back – perhaps it’s the Ronaldinho-paradigm that should be the ideal, not Xavi’s ideal? To let go of some control, to gain a lot of creativity?

    1. As you quite correctly point out R10 wasn’t facing the same defensive setup we face week after week. Winning things begins with tightening up at the back. We can’t afford to chase games against teams by regularly allowing them an easy opening goal before we start playing. It’s not an option to go back to a time when R10 got space as that’s not up to us. We need to now show teams that what they think works against us doesn’t any more so they will have to think again. Can a team be good enough to do that against heavy defences week after week? We have to hope so and that’s where having Neymar and Messi in top form, in the same side gives us a chance. A lot will depend on us taking chances better than we did this season when it matters.

    2. I agree. Changing our style is one thing, but like many have noted before, I do not think the buses will stop until we get better in the air and at taking and defending set pieces.

      All things considered, we did have a very good team this year but even had we not had injuries to some of our top players, I don’t think we would have won the CL because of our limitations in the air.

      When Real face buses when they are down they are a much greater threat to score than us. Most fans watching the CL final knew that it was about a 50-50 proposition that Real would score in the last 10 minutes because of their threats on crosses and set pieces.

      Just remember how much Bayern took us apart in the away leg last year because we couldn’t defend their aerial balls and corners. With Real’s height and quality in the air it was a non factor this year against largely the same squad.

      And I agree with what many posters have said about Mascherano previously because of his weaknesses in the air, though I recognize that this player has many great attributes as well.

    3. Yes, I’m not saying to go back, literally, only to remember that there have been several successful Barcas, not only the Guardiola-team, to be inspired by. My point was rather that we take note of the indications form the fall – where there seemed to be a notion of trying to create space through a more solid defense and counters. Given our players up front, our tactics should focus more on the creation of space, rather than always forcing through where there is none by ultra short passes that work less and less often.

      Of course, many teams will say “play as you wish, we’re waiting for you a few meters in front of our own goal”, because they’ll settle for a draw. But the solution, perhaps, should start by assessing our attackers and consider how they would best tackle a conservative defense, not MAKE them tackle this defense similarly to how it was done in 2011. R10 was an artist; let Neymar, Alexis – and Messi for that matter – be that, too.

  27. According to the French secret service, Barcelona have made enquiries about joining the French league if Catalonia becomes independent. [iv]

    I don’t think that is a good idea. La Liga is a stronger league. Seria A and Ligue uhhhh are inferior to La Liga.

    What I’ve always wanted since the 90’s is a Super League.

    1. The Spanish Government might like to consider a notion of chucking us out but if all they gain is giving us a bloody nose it won’t happen. They’ll also have an eye on the Basques. Spain can’t afford to lose any of its big teams – and what would happen to the national side? It took enough effort to get the Catalans to play for the national team to throw it away.

  28. Nice Article, Kxevin. It reminded me a bit of an old post from Jonathan Wilson asking “Should a manager use tactics unsuitable for his players?”

    ” … tactics do not exist in isolation; they must always be fitted to players, opposition and circumstances. There is no “best” system or formation; although there are styles of play that, thanks to other developments, become outmoded. It would be wrong to say that it makes no sense for a coach to have a preferred system, but there must always be a compromise between theory and resources. “

    1. Thank you, norden. It’s high praise anytime anything I do reminds anyone of anything Jonathan Wilson did. He’s a long-time favorite, and thanks for that piece. I missed it first time ’round.

    2. You’re welcome. Hope you liked it.

      I think the conclusion applies even for Barca to some extent. Although Luis Enrique may know what he wants to play and has the advantage to influence what players will come and go, he won’t probably get everyone he would like. At the end, he’ll have to work with what he’ll have, and update the system (a bit) accordingly.

  29. Barça and Rosell will be going to trial in June, the allegation is tax fraud in the Neymar contract. The 40m paid to Neymar Sr. is said to count as player wages, and the payment structure was a boondoggle to avoid paying taxes on his wages.

    In another absurd notion, the ex-president of Santos said that the club paid for an orgy for Neymar Sr., in celebration of the contract. I don’t place a shard of credence in that allegation, but think that it’s just the ranting of a man still angry that they didn’t get their full pound of flesh for their crown jewel.

    But even the fact that, just for a moment, your brain entertained the possibility that such a thing might have maybe possibly transpired, says a lot about our view of this board, doesn’t it?

    1. Prostitution is the exchange of money for the services of a person. If Barca was involved in this then it would be discouraging.

      However, what would make me even more discouraged was if I was a Dortmund or Atleti fan and saw that my team resorted to pimping out our best players because of the money and influence of the most powerful teams in Europe. What if Barca was tempted to sell some of our best players after we won or got to the CL Finals?

      The Champions League is exciting but is one of the most corrupting influences in all of sports. Teams like PSG and Bayern that win their leagues by 20 points then acquire more of the top players from much poorer teams because they feel aggrieved that they didn’t win the CL.

      Man City, Chelsea, Real, and yes even Barca are not too much different but at least they can say that they are competing against other top teams in their own leagues. But no matter how you look at it, whether we paid prostitutes or just gave Neymar’s dad 40 million dollars for his son’s services, we have corrupted ourselves as well in our quest to reverse a 7-0 embarrassment in the CL last year.

      Our big hope for next year is that with the right transfer moves and an Atleti fire sale, La Liga may return to the two horse race that it was before.

    2. Another related story is that Real Madrid, who recently bought two superstars from Tottenham Hotspurs, will now have to pay an additional 10 million to the Spurs since it was a stipulated bonus in Bale’s contract if Real won the CL.

    3. Kxevin, the way I understood the article, the implication was that “Daddy” is so corrupt, greedy and miserly, he puts hookers and blow under the “travel expenses” column. Second implication: Just imagine what Barcelona must have offered that perverted PoS so that daddy’s boy would sign for them, because on his own young babe of the woods would’ve never left saintly Santos.

      I’m calling BS, because this goes along the lines “People start talking that your sister’s a hoe, go prove you’re an only child.”

  30. There was no need to shovel bucketload of crap on Barça crest by Rosell & co.

    Had they any sliver of conscience, would’ve kept their dirty paws off.

    What’s done is done. Hoping for a Clean season and some exciting football.

    P.S. Alex is being shipped out of PSG. Bad news. Marqos will push for a transfer I hope.

  31. With decisions made already about the man to replace Victor Valdes, the next biggest questions are who is to replace Puyol and then who is going to replace Xavi even though we don’t exactly know when he’ll hand up his boots.
    I just want to do some comparisons on the two favourite options available from outside of our current squad.

    Xavi, even assuming that he plays out his contract, the great man will turn 35 during next season and even this season was noticeably less productive than previously. For a small man he has incredibly big boots to fill.
    The man claimed to be the chose one to do this job for club and country is Jorge Resurreccion aka Koke. After his breakout season last year expectations were high for him at the start of the year and on the way to a league title and a CL final Koke was a fairly consistent performer, leading Atletico’s assist list with 13 in the league and a further 2 in the CL. He covered more ground per 90 minutes than anyone in their squad and still managed to feature in 57 games across La Liga, the CL & Copa del Rey.
    So he’s fit and productive but what is he good at?
    Well, he puts in a mean dead ball, setting up 6 goals this season from corners/freekicks. He only assisted 7 goals from open play but Atletico don’t score much from open play anyway.
    His pass success rate for the season was a very reasonable 80% but that’s both 10% lower than Xavi, Cesc & Iniesta average and also 1200 passes less than Xavi over the course of the season. Koke averages only 44 passes per game, comparing to Xavi’s 86 or even Iniesta & Cesc’s 63 & 61. To put it into perspective those figures would put him behind Alex Song’s 45 passes per game without taking into account 7 of Song’s 19 league games were as a substitute.
    So there’s a huge difference in the way he plays to what we do and let’s face it, we’re not the most accommodating team when it comes to styles.
    Defensively then, how does he compare?
    Well, he averages 2.9 tackles per game, the same number as Mascherano and only better by Martin Montoya & Dani Alves and slightly ahead of Busquets. It is also double the amount of tackles of Iniesta & Cesc and three times that of Xavi. In terms of interceptions, he is ahead of Iniesta, Cesc & Xavi again but half of the amount of Busquets and a third of the amount of Masch. Interestingly, he gets dribbled past more than any player on our roster so it’s kind of a mixed bag.
    Not for close to €60m for me. A promising player no doubt but not the calibre to replace one of the greatest midfielders of all time.

    The other player I wanted to touch on was Ivan Rakitic. I love this guy, from his man of the match performances v Real Madrid to the Europa League player of the tournament he has went from the most solid midfielder of last year to one of the deadliest midfielders in Europe this year; so how does he compare?
    Rakitic finished the league season with 12 goals and 10 assists; quite a performance from a midfielder. He also puts in a very good deal ball, perhaps even better than Koke does. He is also much more dangerous from open play. He boasts goals against all of the big three this season as well as an incredible assist for Bacca v Real Madrid that’s worth finding on youtube if you didn’t see it.
    His pass success rate is also 80%, so while still away from our midfielders, it is the same as Koke’s but averages more passes per game and in less starts approx 60 per start. It should also be noted that his lower pass success rate than our midfielders is also due to the fact that he is responsible for creating almost all of Sevilla’s attacks and made 78 key passes to Xavi, Iniesta & Cesc’s 47, 53 & 58.
    So he passes the same amount as Cesc & Iniesta but with a little more purpose.
    Defensively it’s closer. He averages 1.6 tackles to Koke’s 2.9 but makes twice the amount of interceptions. So he is in the right place at the right time more than any of our offensive midfielders. He is dribbled past much less than Koke is. He is also better in the air than Koke or any one of our attacking midfielders.
    One last advantage for Rakitic is his ability to shoot from distance. He shoots more often than any of our midfielders but scores a good number of goals.
    For the rumoured €25m I think he is a great choice. As good as Xavi? No, but then again no one is. But do you have to be as good as Xavi to win titles? No again. Does it mean that I’d make him a top priority? No, until our defense is sorted but at risk of losing him to Atletico or Real Madrid I’d certainly be making a bid.

    1. Well, Koke isn’t going anywhere until someone ponies up 60m. Rakitic, on the other hand, is in the last year of his Sevilla contract. He was supposed to renew but then got stars in his eyes. Is being pursued by 3 big teams, but Pere Rakitic likes Barça.

      Sevilla’s president has said “We don’t have to sell, so we will set the fee.” I like the bravado, but dude … he’s in the last year of his contract. On the other hand, we paid 57m for a player in the last year of his contract, so perhaps that’s why he prefers Barça (hehehehe).

      The more I hear, the more it sounds like there might be some weight to those Fabregas out rumors. Further buzz is that he has reached personal terms with “an English club” or Chelsea, dependent upon which rumors you see.

    2. And how often does Koke face a packed defence? We need to realise that playing for us is different from playing for almost anyone else in European football. That’s what makes it difficult to think of who will succeed Xavi. We need to find someone but my instinct still says Iniesta.

    3. Ain’t that the truth, Jim? It’s easy to watch players capering about in acres of space do something wonderful and say “See, he is so much better than (insert Barça player here) …”

      Put him in a phone booth and let’s see what happens.

      Iniesta is best for me, no question. Each and every time he has played the Xavi role he has looked to the manner born.

    4. Not only that, but his defensive stats are given a big boost by playing for a team that has excellent team defense.

      I still don’t see why we need to replace Cesc if he leaves. So many people in this board seemed to agree not so long ago that Messi should play as a ’10’, but now nobody wants to make room for him.

      Xavi’s natural heir is not too shabby either and the great thing he’s been with us forever (here’s looking at you, Iniesta). Busi’s no slouch either, btw.

    5. The problem with Messi playing as 10 seems to be nobody’s sure whether Messi wants to play as 10, and furthermore what great 9 would genuinely go to Barcelona in order to “play scarecrow so that the true marvel isn’t crowded that much”?

      I don’t see a reason to replace Cesc. I even more don’t see a reason to sell Cesc Fabregas. Why on earth get rid of the most creative midfielder of the team? Like, “WTF, over?”

  32. Good goals from Neymar and Alves for Brazil. Still not convinced by them though.

    1. I know. Brazil can play up or down to their competition. I’m pulling for Les Bleus, of course. Many disagree, but Ribery being out ain’t a bad thing for me.

  33. With a Fabregas exit seemingly on the horizon and this space seemingly silent for now let me summarize some of my thoughts:

    1) As expected Fab’s exit from Barca now that it is closer to becoming a reality does not really make most cule’s happy at all, just more anxious and disappointed. What will we do when we don’t have Fab to kick around any more?

    2) Zubi’s contract at the end of the year should not be renewed because his transfers have by and large not worked out, and since football is a results oriented business that should be as it is.
    If someone wants to defend him and say the coaches signed off on all his transfers or the board did not give him enough autonomy then Barca could give me his job and I will also be a puppet for 1/2 his salary.

    3) There may be reason for optimism for Fab’s possible replacement whether Koke or another young player as long as we don’t overpay too much. If we are going for Koke then at least we get another young player for Enrique to shape into a formidable squad that may be around for quite a while as these players come into their own on a team still lead by a core of world class veterans.

    I know nothing is definitive yet, but that is the kindest and most optimistic I can be for today.

    1. On another note, the club website now boasts about Messi making the cover of Sport’s Illustrated, which may be either good or bad depending on how superstitious you are.

    2. Zubi’s contract at the end of the year should not be renewed because his transfers have by and large not worked out,


      It could certainly be argued that some of those transfers haven’t met inflated culer standards, but it’s a far cry to say they haven’t worked out, by and large, semi-quasi or whatever other qualifier is applied.

      His crew has also done some excellent business in Ter Stegen, Suarez and Halilovic.

    3. “Transfers have not worked out”. Not bad players. That is a straw man argument. Many of the above players are some of my favorites, but yes most have not worked out.

      If we buy Fabregas, Song, Sanchez, and Mascherano only to play them out of position or sell them in a few years then that is my definition of not working out. That they did not work out is not the result of fans undervaluing these players abilities, for that is what fans do and to expect more fan nobility is just not realistic.

      Rather, I think the the fault lies with the club that in the end should not have bought these players just to sell them a few years later. I know Cesc and Thiago were supposed to be the future midfield at Barca and the fact that now they are not is hardly the fault of fickle fans.

      You may agree that Sanchez could be a future Ballon D’or nominee and Fab could help Chelsea win a CL but that counts for nothing if and when they are sold this summer.

      The club has been praised through the roof for the last 5 years. I don’t see what’s wrong with a bit of criticism.

    4. “I don’t see what’s wrong with a bit of criticism,” or ” We should be allowed to criticize” is a standard response. Only it isn’t entirely fair criticism. Culers pile on Song, Mascherano, Fabregas, are unconvinced by Sanchez, say players didn’t work.

      Meanwhile Xavi is a midfield turnstile for opponent counters, Messi essentially sulked his way through the rest of the season after his midseason vacay, and opponents have figured Iniesta out. Just let him run to nowhere, as he isn’t going to hurt you by scoring. Busquets ran himself into the ground, and wasn’t anywhere near as good second half as the first. Like Fabregas.

      Criticize away, but spare nobody.

      If those transfers that I listed haven’t worked out and should be sold, then we might as well sell the entire XI, because exactly none of them have worked out, to that lofty standard.

    5. Then we somewhat agree! I thought I have been trying to make an argument for the last few weeks as to why Fab and Sanchez should not be sold, but I fear that the club may do it anyway.

      But if and when they do it is the club’s decision and not the fault of fickle fans. Would you blame the fall of Rome on the plebeians watching the gladiators at the Coliseum or those in charge of running the Empire with its administrative and military decisions?

    6. More rules on what’s acceptable criticism? Sounds pretty subjective. Plus counter-arguments like “why don’t we just sell everybody then?” I believe are not helping.

    7. bhed, first off, my “sell everyone” is obvious hyperbole. And there are no “rules,” other than respect for other folks opinions. And my opinion is, criticize one, criticize all, favorites and unfavored. Others have their own views, and that’s as it should be.

      Everything is subjective when it comes to player evaluations, and that’s a big part of the problem. Even objective data, such as Fabregas’ strong stats, ignore the second-half tailspin that has been his stock in trade for three seasons now.

      So we sit in here and, essentially, argue about whether that cloud formation in the sky is an elephant or an anvil.

    8. Obviously it’s an anvil – just look at those big ears, oh wait…

      On the plus side, by pushing commenters to go beyond “sell him/keep him”, I think we’ve gotten into some very tricky, yet important questions about tactics vs players, team vs. individuals, etc.

      Frankly, I’m a bit intimidated when it comes to making pronouncements on these more “global” questions.

    9. Don’t be intimidated, bhed. Everyone’s opinion is valid and welcome. That’s one of the reasons this space kicks ass.

    10. im sorry, but i have to jump in here and say i can see where kxevin is coming from. if you guys have been reading the various well-written, well-thought-out posts he has produced over the last few weeks, you would understand exactly where he is coming from too. and he shouldnt be required to reconstruct the same arguments every time around.

    11. This is my first time commenting here even though i’ve been a long time reader of this blog. Kxevin i believe we are not doing the best to get the most out of players such as sanchez and neymar, when these 2 players play for national team i’m always mind blown and in the end i would think to myself are these not the same barca players who are so mediocre when they put on the blaugrana colours. i remember the days when we had henry,eto’o,messi spear heading barca’s attack it got to a point when i stopped watching league matches bcoz by 1st half they would be done and dusted with ridiculous scorelines and the goals were spread between the trio.
      I absolutely loved the way pep made those 3 such threats not now when if messi doesn’t score culers wud be on the edge of their seats biting their nails, with their fingers crossed praying for messi to come up with the goods. sanche and neymar are fantastic players i was doubtful when i heard barca had signed neymar but after watching the confeds cup i was so glad that we had another player close to messi in terms of his ability. it would be great if the trio of messi, neymar and sanchez are allowed to express themselves like pep did with henry,eto messi because it would benefit the team in a whole instead of always relying on our number 10. At the business end of the season against atletico madrid in the UCL and La-liga then against real in the CDR final messi couldn’t deliver and it made us trophyless at the end of the season

    12. Welcome, Engr Arus, and you’re preaching to the choir. Adapt or die. Or more correctly, adapt or waste the best of what players can do.

    13. The question is who does the adapting. Lots of people think that everybody that came after Wembley must adapt to The Way of The Pep.

      The problem with that kind of thinking is that it was Guardiola that signed both Fabregas and Alexis, and it was Tito that signed bombing Alba and gave his okay to sign Neymar(supposedly).

      At this moment Barcelona have two or two and a half players who are all about The Way. Alexis, Neymar, Tello, Messi, hell Pedro, Fabregas, Rafinha, Song, Alba, Dani Alves, all of these possess speed of body and mind that can be best used in a more direct play.

      So who needs to learn new tricks?

    14. Even though Cruyff has his own agenda, I believe it’s not totally untrue when he says Messi and Neymar can’t play together, although I would add ‘in the actual attacking setup’. Leo is too much of a focal point. That is why I would love for Messi to drop back and leave Neymar and Alexis upfront to work their magic.

      Also, I don’t know why but Messi stopped shooting outside the area since about 2 seasons. His curving shots were absolutely deadly. Him taking a step back would maybe give him more space to do so, which would be more than useful against packed defences. Adriano saved us quite a few times like that.

    15. Jim, I recall a certain goal at Stamford Bridge against a double decker. Sometimes things happen when you try. Every attempt at goal is harder against a packed defence. Does it mean you stop trying? Anyway, just my opinion.

    16. Ironically, Messi, Suarez and someone else are the highest goalscorers from outside the area last season in the top 5 leagues. They scored 7 goals if I recall correctly.

      But I agree, freekicks aside, he hasn’t been shooting as much as he’s used to.

    17. What do you mean double-decker?

      At the moment when Dani Alves’s cross arrives in the box(so once upon a time those were good, huh? 😛 ) Pique and Eto’o are unmarked, facing an open goal no more than 6 meters from the goal line, an unmarked Messi behind them on the edge of the box and Iniesta is incoming from the midfield – that was Barcelona one man down.

    18. Oh thanks ibbe, I didn’t know he had that many goals from outside the area. Yes, he used to make those curl shots a lot more especially when there was someone in front of him to make those one-twos, if I remember correctly.

      True, Peter. At that moment we had them exposed. Just as Iniesta makes the shot though, there are about 6 Chelsea players in the box marking 3 of us. But I get what you mean. Maybe a better example is Adriano’s equalizer against Atletico the season before.

    19. If we could put in more of these, we’d be ‘Hammering nails with a banana… shot’ 😉

  34. What I dislike so much about Zubi and his transfer policy is his selling low and buying high.
    Not to mention no CB in 3 at least years.

    I bet if we sell Cesc he will sell for just under what we paid for him while the likes of Hazard sell for ridiculess fees.

    We have 100% of the leverage so I don’t understand it. We don’t NEED to sell him, he is under contract and has a huge buyout clause. So why sell him for such miserable fees?

    We need to sell him for no less than 50m. Or else he is one hell of a super sub.

    1. News Item:

      “Jose Mourinho is not convinced Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas, with whom he has had several run-ins in the past, is the right player for Chelsea, with the Stamford Bridge board apparently far more enthusiastic about the purchase than the manager.

      Mourinho’s willingness to sell Juan Mata to Manchester United last January underlined how he does not always value players in the small, playmaking role and sources in Portugal have indicated he will need to be persuaded that an outlay of £30m on Barcelona’s Fabregas is the best use of that money.”

      One conclusion: The Chelsea board is pursuing Fabregas despite the fact that Mourinho is completely against it because obviously Mou has no power at the club. Maybe if we reduce our offer to 20 Mil, we can persuade Mou to take him off our hands.

      Possible other conclusion: Some know how to play the transfer game and some don’t.

      For those who think that goals and assists are misleading statistics, look at this video: (redacted)

    2. I agree. Cesc does not have to be a Ballon D’or winner to be useful to the club. We already have gotten 3 good years out of him despite his being our third midfield option to Xavi and Iniesta.

      For those who think that goals and assists are misleading statistics, look at this video:

  35. News Item: Being Played like a Violin

    “Jose Mourinho is not convinced Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas, with whom he has had several run-ins in the past, is the right player for Chelsea, with the Stamford Bridge board apparently far more enthusiastic about the purchase than the manager.

    Mourinho’s willingness to sell Juan Mata to Manchester United last January underlined how he does not always value players in the small, playmaking role and sources in Portugal have indicated he will need to be persuaded that an outlay of £30m on Barcelona’s Fabregas is the best use of that money.”

    One Conclusion: The Chelsea board is pursuing Fabregas despite the fact that Mourinho is completely against it because obviously Mou has no power at the club. Maybe if we reduce our offer to 20 Mil, we can persuade Mou to take him off our hands.

    Possible other Conclusion: Some know how to play the transfer game and some don’t.

    1. Possible third conclusion: The board does not accept anything less than 50m so Mourinho is employing sour grapes tactics in an attempt to lower the price

      Possible fourth conclusion: Mourinho has been told there’s no way in hell Barcelona will sell, so he’s employing sour grapes tactics to save face and hopefully to lure other clubs into trying to sign Fabregas “now that he’s free” in order to make them lose time.

      Possible fifth conclusion: English press has made it up in order to cash on the “Fabregator will be back!!!” headlines during the “snail days” before the World Cup and is trying to keep it up to sell moar copies. Mourinho won’t contradict because it shows him as a tough and difficult negotiator(he won’t budge, so you might as well give up and sell Costa/Miranda/Mangala for the initial offer) and because every rumour that weakens an opponent and give fame to us is a good rumour.

    2. As usually you have been able to detected levels of fiendishness and deceit that even the most cynical of us are still too naïve to detect.

      Thank God Mou did not go into politics and there is only so much evil that even this football manager can do.

      If Mou was in Game of Thrones, I would choose to live among the wildings beyond The Wall.

    3. When you spend millions in order to sign young men to chase a ball for the entertainment of millions, the concept of dirty tricks and low blows does not exist – as long as you can get away with it.

  36. Chelsea has apparently just bought Costa, who has taken his medical. They just paid the 38m buyout fee, which is how you get a player that you want. No messing around, no negotiating or other nonsense. “Here’s your money, now put him on a plane, please. Thank you.”

    1. In today’s inflated market, getting a striker like Costa for “just 38m” seems a great deal…never knew his buyout fee was so low..

    2. Atleti’s strategy for strikers seems to be to buy them when they are cheap and sell them when they peak:

      Sell Aguero …buy Falcao

      Sell Falcao .. buy Villa

      Sell Costa … buy Torres and Angel Correa

  37. Replacing Puyol, the greatest captain we’ve ever had. In the past 4 seasons, our club captain and undoubted leader hasn’t managed to play 30 league games and this season only took part in 12 games in all competitions. So why is it going to be so hard to replace him? Well, maybe it’s because he has won 6 leagues, 6 supercups, 2 spanish cups, 3 champions leagues, 2 european supercups and 2 club world cups as our club captain.
    He has lead by example in each and every one of his almost 600 games for us and since he has been on the decline so have we.

    One thing that is obvious is that we won’t find someone to replace him but we do have to sign someone to fill his position. So I want to do something similar to above where I compared Rakitic & Koke. The only issue is that are more options to replace Puyol than Xavi bar Bartra, no internal options, but here we go…

    A good place to start is looking at what Carles brought in a statistical sense in his last real season with us, 09/10 which brought a 99 point league championship, an unlucky semi final CL exit and a mere 24 league goals conceded.

    Puyol in that season was statistically ahead of Bartra & Masch of this season but it was fairly close and unfair due to the differences in how we defended and how many goals we conceded.

    A thought I had is to do the equivalent of adjusting for inflation, to use a multiplier based on the difference of Pique’s performance in this season vs that one as he had a similar season in both in terms of games played.

    This would give these stats (T – tackles I – interceptions C- clearances A – aerials won P – passing percentage):
    Puyol 09/10 T-2.3 I-2.1 C-4.1 A-1.4 P-91
    Puyol 13/14 T-2.7 I-2.6 C-4.9 A-5.9 P-92
    Pique 13/14 T-2.1 I-2.0 C-5.5 A-3.8 P-90
    Masch 13/14 T-2.9 I-2.9 C-3.3 A-1.2 P-89
    Bartra 13/14 T-2.8 I-2.9 C-3.6 A-2.2 P-90

    So with that taken into consideration, there is quite some difference in the performance in aerials and clearances but less so in tackles & interceptions. So we were better in pure defending if you like the term. When the ball is thrown into the box Puyol & Pique are both better suited to clearing it and winning headers. So now, I’ll take a look at these characteristics of my favourites to be signed and compare; Marquinhos, Benatia, Mathieu, Hummels & Laporte

    Marquinhos T-1.3 I-1.8 C-3.5 A-1.6 P-91
    Benatia T-2.1 I-2.7 C-6.4 A-2.5 P-89
    Mathieu T-1.9 I-2.9 C-6.5 A-1.9 P-83
    Hummels T-2.0 I-2.5 C-5.8 A-5.0 P-81
    Laporte T-2.2 I-2.3 C-5.0 A-2.5 P-82

    So Benatia, Mathieu & Hummels have the most clearances and while all have good stats in the air. Funnily, Marquinhos even though he won the least aerial balls per game his percentage won is alright; he, Hummels & Benatia have the best percentages.
    Mathieu, Hummels & Laporte all have the lower passing success but in fairness to Hummels, he is almost a playmaker from defense so if he was asked to keep it simple he wouldn’t have any issues.
    All things considered, again Benatia is my choice and his all around game is the best fit.
    Taking into consideration how Roma play, with possession and with a lot of space in behind the stats are impressive.

    1. The amazing thing about Benatia is that Roma signed him last year for less than 14 Mil. This year, in the summer of the CB, he may go for over 50 Mil.

      It seems like Roma does a nice business from selling their CBs for top dollar.

    2. No way Roma gets even close to €50m this summer. I’d go out on a limb and say €35m would be the max. They said €61m as a joke response to drive up their price but make no mistake, Roma will sell him as they have done with Lamela, Osvaldo and Marquinhos over the past few summers. They have owners who invested but not to the level expected and still sell with good bids.
      Benatia refused their contract offer and was not pleased with the offer.
      I still think that Marquinhos is the most likely due to PSG’s interest in taking Dani Alves. There’s also very little chance that we’ll sign two €30m+ players. I would think it unlikely to sign two mature defenders too so I could see a Marquinhos-Mathieu combo or Benatia & a cheaper young player like Rojo or Inigo.

  38. Here’s a stat for ya: (From BarçaStats on Twitter)

    Barcelona’s defence became this season the best ever in the history of La Liga (1,14 goals conceded per game, 3027 conceded in 2648 games)

    1. Sir Bobby Robson would be turning in his grave if he saw that stat. Boy he loved attacking football.

    2. What the defense stat to me shows is that given our injuries and other off field problems, this was by no means the season that we underperformed the most.

      I still go back to 2011-12 as our most disappointing season in the last few years considering how good the squad was. Also, Real was really good that year too, with the only thing that spoiled their season being a penalty shootout loss against Bayern.

    3. Inamess, that is an overall stat, in the history of La Liga, not this season alone.

    4. Well I guess that gives us a chance to celebrate a historic achievement of our own like Real’s Decima that relies on the 1950s for half of its championships.

  39. Just watching the French Open and Rafa Nadal just won, obviously I suppose but the relentlessness of his play reminded me of us a few seasons ago.
    He dropped the first set to Ferrer but you still knew, or at least expected, that he was going to win. Even Ferrer seemed to accept it. A couple of years ago you knew that Barca would score, and that most likely they would win.
    Even when we conceded a goal it was inevitable that we would come back. Iniesta’s goal v Chelsea was a brilliant piece of skill but it was also a testament to Barca’s unshakeable belief that our style would yield results.
    I understand everyone’s call for a Plan B. When things aren’t working it is nice to have an alternative, but back then, when we were relentless, we weren’t reliant on a Plan B. We knew that our game was enough to get us out of any situation we found ourselves in. It wasn’t always the case but the belief we had in ourselves was very similar to Nadal’s belief that what he is good at was enough to get him out of his tricky situation.

    1. That to me was also one of the big problems this year. Why didn’t we have the fortitude to come back or score at the end of games to get the victory.

      The only game in the second half of the season that we seemed to stage a great comeback was in Villarreal and that was more due to the other team’s blunders than our own magic.

      I tried to address that question below.

    2. I agree. We have obviously lacked that drive for some time now. Back then, we were most likely to concede a goal during the first 10-15mins, when we were most vulnerable. But once the machine clicked, it was usually enough to do the trick.

      But it’s not the case anymore, and I think it’s not just about a Plan B or the players’ hunger but about the need to evolve. When opponents face you two or more times per season for some years, they get the gist of what they need to do. And they adapt. Even Pep tried to instill some changes every season – from the false 9, then Ibra, to the 3-4-3. I feel the idea was to prevent opponents from adapting and also to keep our players on their toes.

    3. Great Point. Pep was confident enough to think that he could innovate enough each year to keep one step ahead of our opponents.

      Sometimes his ideas work and sometimes they don’t, but he is always thinking.

  40. Barcelona 2013-4: The Remnants of a Transfer Gone Horribly Wrong

    I have been thinking about recent comments and our team’s situation and have come to believe that the rise of the iconic 2010-11 team and the three seasons after that may in large part have been a consequence of the most significant upheaval in our club’s recent history. This was, as if you needed to be reminded, the transfer exchange of Eto’o for Ibra and the latter player’s chaotic stay and departure a year later.

    Not only did the Ibra move ultimately result in a net loss of tens of millions of dollars, but it also largely changed our style in that Pep decided to no longer use a traditional striker up front but instead center the team’s play around its four best skilled players: Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, and Messi, with the latter responsible for scoring an incredibly large percentage of our goals as a false 9.

    With this decision came two significant consequences: the rise of Messi as the undisputed star of world football and its now well recognized correlate, the concern of what commentators came to call “Messi Dependency”. In those years Messi achieved great heights netting 47, 53. 73, and 60 goals and won 3 Pichichi and the 3 Ballon D’or awards to add to his original which he won for 2009 with a Barcelona team that was much more balanced in attack.

    Partly because of Messi’s injuries this year and at the end of last, the dynamic changed when we no longer were able to count on him in the lineup. This was nowhere more obvious then when Messi picked up a hamstring injury against PSG and the team struggled against quality sides including the the PSG home leg when we relied on the largely unfit star when he came on in the middle of the second half to help us nick a goal to advance to the Semis. This was, of course, a blessing and a curse in that the team was really shown how vulnerable it was against top European teams without our superstar.

    So how did the club address the obvious problem of Messi dependency in the summer transfer window? The club launched a daring move to bring the most promising young talent in world football a year early. With Neymar, we now now giving the side another powerful player to break down defenses and get his own shot. So going into this season, we addressed two problems related to Messi dependency. The first was that we had a viable scorer who could compensate for a Messi injury as well as an another offensive talent of immense promise to partner with Messi in attack.

    In purchasing Neymar this year, the board’s decision at first seemed to have been brilliant. Messi struggled with his fitness in the first part of the year to a point that he had to be sidelined for weeks to allow adequate recovery. During the time he was away, the team scored at the same rate as before (one goal every 32 minutes) with Neymar, Sanchez and Pedro picking up on most of the needed goals.

    So when Messi returned in January, it was the perfect time to integrate the rising productivity of Neymar and Sanchez with a now fit Messi, but unfortunately Neymar was then sidelined for over a month when he was injured in a Copa match against Getafe and then again In in the Copa del Rey Finals against Real Madrid . The end result of these injuries was that Neymar missed or was not fully fit for most of the matches in the second half of our season.

    Just about the time Neymar was injuryed in January against Getafe, aa very important knockout tie against Man City was looming menacingly. It was probably at this time some of our most experienced players came to think that our best chance to taking home silverware at the most important time of the season was to go back to our old style, the one perfected under Pep which relied on Messi’s brilliance in the false nine role and Xavi and Iniesta attempting to slow the the tempo in the midfield and control possession.

    At first, as Guillem Balague’s article below written around that time suggests, this seemed like the right move as we were able to handily control Man City by controlling possession and relying on a brilliant Iniesta pass to Messi to prevail as we had in Champions League knockout rounds of the past. After that, however, the decision to revert to our old style may in retrospect be viewed as more of a trap than a blessing.

    Could part of our difficulties in the second half of the season also been the result of the team trying to figure out whether to also return to the type of play characterized by Messi dependency? That is, should the team try to focus itself around our best player again or not, particularly if he was not on his best form and our opponents went even further out of their way to take him out of the game? Other players may have been largely caught between two conflicting impulses: should I try to get the ball to Leo to bail us out again or try to instead to use my own skills to try to win the game?

    For this reason, maybe one of the bigger questions for Martino and the team in the second half of our season was not just the dilemma of Fabregas or Xavi but also Messi dependency or not.

  41. I’ve been tinkering with since I got back home and to put it mildly Xavi has excelled in two things this season: passing and key passes. The first is inherent – if nothing else, Xavi passes. The second, however…

    squawka defines key passes as a “would-be assist”, as in a pass that leads to a shot on goal. The combination of assists and key passes results in the chances created. There’s a reason why Xavi’s key passes ratio is the best, and it is reflected in his two assists for the season.
    Just to put it into perspective, in absolute terms every Barcelona attacker that has featured for more than a handful of minutes, that is Messi, Neymar, Pedro, Alexis and Tello, has managed equal or greater number of assists this season. In “per 90 minutes” it’s not even funny: Xavi’s assists are bettered in addition by Dani Alves, Jordi Alba and Martin Montoya.

    Nor is Xavi the only one falling in the overall picture. Iniesta was in 2012-13 the leading assister with 16 assists, meaning his per-90 average was 0.69. This year it was 0.25 Cesc was a little worse last year but kept consistent(0.43 vs 0.47 this season). The main difference was Messi, and it seems there was a reason for Messi’s “lack of goals” – while last season he was the recipient, this season he turned provider as well, with his key passes and chances created ratios soaring:

    In 2012-13(13-14 results in bold) Messi had the following “per 90” ratios:
    Assists: 0.41 0.40
    Key Passes: 1.12 2.30
    Chances created: 1.53 2.70

    Xavi’s 2012-13 13-14 season was as follows
    Assists: 0.33 0.08
    Key Passes: 1.44 1.80
    Chances created: 1.76 1.88

    What this shows is that while the overall chance creation has been maintained for Xavi, Iniesta(1.89 in both years) and Fabregas(1.95 to 2.12), both Cesc’s level has remained consistent, whereas Xavi has had his worst Primera division year since 05-06(when he had a single assist and no goals to his name). You want to read something even more gut-punching? In 08-09 Xavi scored 10 goals in all competitions and managed 30 assists – 22 of them in La Liga.

    Critics say stats don’t show the whole picture, but with all due respect and I hate myself for saying this, its seems the part shown demonstrates that the picture is not Mona Lisa, but the picture of Dorian Gray, or at best Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. 🙁

  42. No matter how you slice it, everyone is coming up with the same conclusion: this season marks the official end of the Xavi-Iniesta-Messi triumvirate with no clear line of succession in sight.

    1. I knew it said it here yesterday. I hate how we sell our players so much.

      it is like Zubi says, “Hey desc where do you want to go” “Chelsea? OK, Ask Mou how much you are with and tell him wee will take it.”


  43. The world’s press is going to take the comment and run with it but Pique said to Del Bosque in a press conference that Cesc is going for €33m and then started laughing.
    Knowing Pique’s personality and sense of humour I assume it’s a joke seeing as he and Del Bosque are laughing afterwards.

    1. I do hope it is a sick and twisted joke. knowing this board though I am not holding my breath.

      It is going to be 28M and 5M in Variables 🙁

    2. I have to think they are having everyone on. Old pros like that know that mic is hot. Plenty of places to discuss that stuff … team bus, practice pitch, etc. Easy enough to say to Del Bosque, tell you later and off you go.

    3. As I said, knowing Pique and both of their reactions I assume it was a joke.

      Fabregas has been a player with which there has been transfer rumours every season for the past decade. I don’t think there’s anyone else on the planet who gets linked with a move more than he does… first to us and now away from us.
      When I see something on the official site or coming from his mouth I might believe it.

  44. I would encourage everyone to calm down about the Fabregas stuff. I have my doubts, as do many other people who aren’t immediately inclined to believe the worst about our board, and who wonder why those two would say that stuff while sitting at a hot mic.

    1. I’m not trying to tempt fate and anything, but Arsenal are reported to have a clause in the contract, giving them first refusal rights and an immediate buyback clause of 36m Euro.

      It just doesn’t sound logical for Fabregas to be going to say Chelsea if Arsenal can match the offer. Unless of course the club to which “Fabregas is going” is Arsenal.

    2. Buy backs or first refusals are just a transfer fee, what a player wants to do is still what determines the transfer. If they want to go to X club instead of Y club it doesn’t matter what clauses Y pays.

    3. Plus rumor is that Arsenal don’t want him back. The market becomes, assuming this bit of stuff is true, what the willingness is of the selling club to potentially have to keep a player that it doesn’t want.

      Recall that we blew out Ibrahimovic for 24m because Guardiola wanted him gone like last week’s milk. Running an open marking bidding process too risky, and Milan made out like a bandit.

      Fabregas is a top-class player, but realistically, what are the clubs that can afford a 30m+ fee? Chelsea, the two Manchesters, Arsenal, RM, PSG and us. Two of those clubs are facing FFP sanctions that limit their buying power and how much they can spend on a wage bill. RM is stacked with mids, and Fabregas wouldn’t go there, I just sense. United claim not to want him, PSG is loaded there, so they are all set.

      That leaves United and Chelsea. The latter is the most persistent rumor, and the rumored price of 33m+variables would be a pretty good, not great bit of business for a player who came for 29m+variables.

      As usual, time will tell.

  45. DiMarzio, a usually reliable source, is reporting that the club and Mascherano are working out a renewal until 2018, which will be bad news for some, good news for others.

  46. In other somewhat related news, Atletico’s president Cerezo said that Koke is their franchise player, reading between the lines I’m guessing he means if you want him we won’t negotiate. His buyout is a ridiculous €60m so I’m guessing he stays put. It’s probably in everyone’s best interests, especially the player himself who can continue his development in a team that uses his attributes best.

    1. If Diego Costa’s rumoured departure to Chelsea is true then Atletico already are about 30m richer in their overall balance. They don’t need to sell any other players, with Thiago rumoured to be leaving for Chelsea as well, as a free agent.

    2. Give me Rakitic and his engine and heart and I’ll be happy. Wish we got more for Cesc if it is indeed 33mil…

    3. In reality, no Cesc deal is going to be discussed until Lucho and Xavi have their meeting and sort out Xavi’s future. At 34 he is the same age as Lucho was when he retired so it wouldn’t surprise me even if it would disappoint me.

    4. thing about rakitic is he does not fix our problem. A xavi successor, the man who dictates the tempo and has the paitence and the disicpline to pull it off. Raktic is an attacking midfielder, i am worried he wont fit and the board is after him just for the sake of getting a midfielder instead of the one who’s on his way out nevermind the 34 year old who’s retiring soon enough

    5. It could end up with Rakitic being signed to replace Xavi and not Cesc as expected.
      A midfield consisting of Busi-Masch-Ini-Cesc-Rafinha-Rakitic has a lot of variations but none of them scream midfield control. Koke doesn’t either for that matter. No one will replace Xavi to the same style even if Iniesta is tasked with it.
      To be fair, 86 passes a game in midfield isn’t entirely necessary to exert control. If Messi drops 10 yards deeper and boosts his average from 46 to 66 then Xavi’s replacement would only have to match Cesc or Iniesta’s average to keep the same number of passes in a match technically.

    6. Let’s be honest, is there ANY player in the world at the moment (not potentially like, say Gundogan) that could replace Xavi and what he did at his peak? We really need to face a harsh reality that talents like Xavi aren’t easy to come by, even with a La Masia. Yes Rakitic is an AM but who know how Lucho wants to play? I love him because the man has a real engine and aggressive nature about him, essential to the return of the “6 second rule”.
      Also, at this point I would be shocked as hell if Cesc doesn’t leave. I can’t ever recall this much smoke around a player that didnt result in him leaving. I read a lot that Lucho doesn’t seem to view him as part of his future plans. Like K says, wait and see.

    1. Spark Notes Edition: I am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field

      1) “Just like that,” I replied. “I’ll work hard, and if you think I’m good enough, I’ll play in whatever position you want, behind or in front of or underneath Messi. Wherever. You decide.”

      2)Josep Maria Bartomeu looked surprised.

      “But how are we going to resolve this?”

      “I’ve got an idea,” I replied.

      “Have you?”

      “You can phone up Real Madrid.”

      “Why should we phone them?”

      “Because if I really have to leave Barça, I want to go to Real. You can make sure I get sold to them.”

      Josep Maria Bartomeu was horrified.

      “You’re joking,” he said. I looked deadly serious.


      Question: How much do we have to pay to get this guy to stop talking?

      Suggestion: Be very, very nice to Dani Alves

    2. Most people suggest that Pep was a deity but his obvious misuse of Ibra was criminal. Ibra has proved to be one of if not the best striker of his generation and would have been a great option for the past number of seasons if Pep was willing to use him.

      Ibra might exaggerate things but from what I’ve seen and read throughout his career he tells the truth. He was right to do what he did in the situation he was put in. If your employer doesn’t want you, regardless of your abilities of ethic then you should have the option of leaving.

    3. The amazing thing is that even if Zlatan’s version of events is partially true is that events were happening right in front of our eyes. The club seemed to have no better idea or what to do or how things would turn out than the fans.

      Interesting to think what would have happened had Laporte not left that year. No way he sells Ibra for that kind of loss after paying top dollar the year before. That it happened on Rosell’s watch was no way to start his presidency. Maybe the Neymar operation was his attempt to get back in everyone’s good graces.

      Unfortunately that one didn’t work out too well for Rosell either. I guess you have to have at least some sympathy for the guy.

    4. Even funnier is that that excerpt is being greeted by the sound of crickets. Because what is there to say when an idol is taken down like that? Libel or slander? Ibrahimovic has no history of lying, and no publisher would let an author defame someone like that if Ibrahimovic IS lying.

      So nobody says anything, because you can’t. So people stay quiet and hope that evidence of poor man managing will go away.

    5. That definitely makes me want to buy the book. I think we all could see that Pep and Ibra weren’t seeing eye to eye, but if true, the passive aggressive way Pep handled the situation is pretty embarrassing.

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