Spain vs Holland: 1 + 5 conclusions

Holland’s victory over Spain was described in both countries as a historical result, and not without reason. Never before had a defending World Champion gotten their butts handed to them in such an all-encompassing manner. Sure, France didn’t manage a single goal in the group stage of 2002, and the memory of Cameroon’s upset over Argentina is still vivid more than twenty years later. However, losing by five to one? Daaayumn.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Please beyotch, it’s Robin Van Persie!

Flattering to deceive?

Did Spain really deserve this score line? They were on top for most of the first half, and although their penalty was given due to the fifth arbitral blunder of a two-day old tournament*, most viewers would agree that they deserved to be up one nil towards the end of the first half. Their midfield was in control, Costa looked dangerous throughout and David Silva squandered a great chance to bury the game by attempting to lob the Dutch keeper after Don Andrés carved open the defense like a Brazilian all you can eat meat buffet. Had he not gotten cute, it’s extremely doubtful the Oranje would have recovered from two goals down. Only a minute later, Holland equalized literally out of nowhere, with Van Persie deciding to finally break with his tradition of not showing up in big matches and executing one of the most beautifully headed goals seen in the history of the game. At the start of the second half, every Dutchman alive would have been happy if the game ended in a one-goal draw. Every Dutchman except eleven, that is. Was the fitness of the players the determining factor? The momentum after the second goal, which gave Holland wings on their backs and Spain lead in their feet? Van Gaal’s game plan of putting five Eredevisie players, two players from average EPL teams and a psycho maniac who makes Charlie Manson look like a teddy bear in service of two stars and a has been who plays at Galatasaray? Whatever the case, if you combine Spain’s defensive mistakes with the quality of Holland’s goals, five-one was an accurate reflection of a game that could have gone very differently.

When sainthood is not all it’s made out to be…


What a difference a season makes

With football’s governing bodies conspiring to squeeze maximum profits out of the game by filling calendars so much it’s rare to turn on the TV and not see a live match, it is no surprise that at a lot of international tournaments the star players underwhelm more often than they shine. Bring forth La Furia Roja, whose players have a combined gazillion minutes in their legs versus the Dutch, a team with five starters that had not even played European football last season. Couple that with Brazil’s heat and humidity and you can start to understand why Spain got overrun in the second half. To cite Louis Van Gaal, after modestly claiming he did not expect his team to win by that much, said that the key to Holland’s first game was to arrive fit and well-prepared for the climatic conditions.

Spain’s (and Barça’s) defense

One of the more interesting conclusions one could draw from this game is that it might not have mattered one iota if Barça had bought a much coveted central defender during the last three years. After all, Sergio Ramos pretty much fits the bill of what we need, right? Speedy**, physical and strong in the air. Yet their defense leaked like a zinc roof under a tropical rainstorm. There are of course some mitigating factors. Two goals were completely down to Casillas (of which one the argument can very well be made that he was fouled by Van Persie) and the other three were moments of such individual brilliance that I still can’t believe they all happened during the same game. And let’s not forget that in two years worth of competitive matches  before this one, Spain conceded a grand total of, you guessed it, five goals. Nevertheless, vast improvements under Gerardo Martino notwithstanding, the parallel with Barça’s defense stands. It will be interesting to see how Luis Enrique is going to address the balance of our team.

Possibly Xabi Alonso’s last World Cup game.


Arjen Robben

I can’t stand the guy. He’s arrogant, petulant and generally insufferable, or at least he comes off that way. I don’t know, maybe his mother likes him. Or not. But boy, is Holland lucky to have him. From his defense-splitting pass that put Sneijder eye to eye with Casillas to his sound barrier-breaking volley that La Roja’s captain miraculously kept out, the Dutch winger put up a performance for the ages. Both of his goals were a delight, and although the first one could have been prevented with a bit more solid defending, his second was unstoppable, leaving Piqué and Ramos with their eyes full of dust and turning Iker into a laughing stock. The big reason I considered Ribery’s ballon d’or candidacy of last year misguided was that he wasn’t even the best player on his team. Previously egocentric enough to make Cristiano Ronaldo look like Xavi Hernandez, if Robben had seen the light earlier in his career and combined his speed and technical abilities with the solid team play he has displayed over the last two years, he could have been in the running for player of the year awards throughout a big part of his career.

What’s Spanish for “he got posterized”?


Spain’s chances for the rest of the tournament

Disastrous. I had not predicted them to go far to begin with, for the simple reason that they already defied the impossible by winning three tournaments in a row prior to this one, but to lose the opening game by such a huge score does not spell any good. They can keep their hopes alive by beating Chile on Wednesday and do Holland a huge favor in the process. If they draw, however, they’ll be left to hope that Holland lose their next two matches which, although not entirely impossible, must be considered unlikely. Either way, most of the scenarios in which they qualify for the next round will see them pitted against Brazil, a team which last summer’s Federation Cup final proved they do not match up well with at all. Such is life in the group of death, which must be won in order to avoid the host.

Living legends.

And Holland’s…

It’s safe to say that the manner in which they beat the title holders has at least helped to get some of the stink off a team that was widely despised for having the audacity to for once actually try to win a World Cup at all costs in 2010. Never mind the fact that Manchester United fans the world over are creaming their pants at the prospect of Louis Van Gaal in charge of their club next season***. As for their chances, anything is possible. Winning the World Cup is a tall order for a country that for the first time in more than twenty-five years simply lacks the talent to manage anything near such lofty expectations, but if they can avoid Brazil in the second round they might go on a good run. Very few expected them to even come out of their group, but after an openener like this, anything less than  quarter final would have been a disappointed. Then again, it is not altogether inconceivable that they lose their next game to Australia… by five to one!

Go ahead son, make your country proud…


*We are three days later and honestly I’ve lost count. The biggest sport in the world in which games are generally won with the smallest margin will also be the last sport in the world to accept video technology. It’s a disgrace.

**  Yes, speedy. While Ramos was criticized for getting outrun for Holland’s last goal, he still clocked 31 km/hour. Problem is that Robben ran 37 km/hour, which is being touted as a record for a soccer player.

* * I still think he would have made for a great appointment at Barça

Categorized as Barcelona

By Levon

Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...


  1. Most are talking about the decline of Xavi and Iniesta. I would rather concentrate on Busquets’. He has lost pace; he was painfully slow anyway, but all this past season I have seen a clear decline. The only position he can play we any real merit is 4-3-3–he isn’t too bad with another deep lying playmaker beside him either, sure, but any place else and you can see his shortcomings. He doesn’t have stamina to press, nor Xavi’s vision of old; you can forget his even trying Iniesta’s water dancing. We played him in Xavi’s role this season just past and he was disastrous. Defence? Nope. Attacking midfielder? Can’t shoot, and usually misses easy chances like the one vs Chelsea. Never seem him on the wing, but he doesn’t have the physique for it, it seems to me.

    We have made him essentially chief ball distributor, so if he is pressured and loses the ball, we’re in trouble. His only two tools of protecting himself are the backpass to the keeper and pretending to have been shot every time an opposing player makes a challenge. His position will be obsolete, I believe, wishing the next couple of years.

    If we were to put him on the market, would fans be upset?

    1. Thanks for pointing this out. I have always said Busquets drop is the actual problem. Against Dutch of all the players I thought Xavi played better. They should have removed Busquets and brought in Martinez in there and may be Koke for Alonso. Instead they took Xavi off and there was no control in middle after that.

      If you look at the Barca matches we struggled. We notice a common pattern, Xavi playing too deep. This is because Busquets is not offering him any outlet. Xavi will never pass to a guy if he can’t see a second pass from there. Which forces Xavi deep. Another problem in those matches was Busquets when pressured a bit always releases the ball to Xavi, even if Xavi is in a tricky position. That’s why see Xavi losing possession more these days.

      I am happy that Spain yesterday lost. At least those who say it’s time to replace Xavi with Koke understood that is no solution. They should have brought in Martinez in middle instead of Busquets, May be Koke for Alonso and Xavi playing his usual role. But then this eleven was picked by Madrid media.

      Iniesta was extremely poor throughout the two matches. Funny part was that still he created two gilt edged chances in both the matches. Even Xavi in the match against Dutch created two (if I am not wrong) clear cut scoring opportunity, but Costa squandered them both. For normal midfielders those are high performing noghts!

      I don’t think radical changes are required. What is required is to identify what’s not working.

      “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton

    2. A good point indeed. Unfortunately Barça decided to put all their eggs in the Busi basket, a basket with many drawbacks. Physically weak, slow, bad header. He may fit Barça like a glove but come on, there’s no way in hell he’s better than Tourè and it’s arguable he’s even better than Masche as a DMF. Busi’s strengths are technical, and those would be best exploited as a CMF, but I’m not sure he can develop into a player that participates to the offense.

  2. So many things were missing in Spain’s performance today, but the most notable absence, for me, was their lack of visible emotion after the loss. No one collapsed to the ground in despair, or pulled his shirt over his face in a fit of tears. There was no dramatic hugging and consoling, no displays of anger or frustration. They seemed almost blank after (and during) the game, slowly walking off the pitch as shells of their former selves. I can only imagine that they were absolutely mentally and physically exhausted to the point of being numb–too tired to be sad, too worn out to care. These players have had an insanely unrelenting run of football on the highest level for such a long stretch of years (many of them for club and country both), and now they need–and deserve–some rest.

    I wish it could have been a more dignified ending, especially for the likes of Xavi, Inesta and Casillas (not to mention Puyol)—lord knows they deserve to bow out gracefully instead of disgracefully. But life, and football, are imperfect. Maybe there’s some comfort in the fact that the shock 5-1 drubbing by the Dutch won’t be the last taste in their mouths—at least there is something romantic about going down to a hungry, passionate, deserving underdog Chile….

  3. Spain deservedly out. Chile ran themselves ragged, and their pressing was glorious to watch. Alexis Sanchez is a bloody brilliant footballer and to all those cules who shouted for his removal: you are wrong. you’re entitled to hold your opinion, but it’s wrong. we’re lucky he’s playing in our side, outside of the kind of position he plays for Chile (and played for Udinese) where he’s been totally brilliant.

    we’re bonkers to not throw big money at Arturo Vidal this summer. surely he has to be a priority signing, if we’re revamping our midfield. yes, we don’t have an central “organizing” midfielder on our radar, but the sheer energy and quality of Vidal, coupled with that of Rakitic and the moving up of Mascherano, would leave us with a midfield utterly different from what we’ve possessed for 10 years but also incredibly dangerous. i for one would love to see a dangerous Barça.

    people are declaring the “end of tiki-taka” have a fundamental misunderstanding of what that concept as it was popularized by Guardiola’s Barça actually is. yes, short and quick passes and an emphasis on possession but *just as importantly* intense zonal pressing when out of possession, particularly by the forward 6. it’s that kind of pressing that have made teams like Chile and Dortmund so ferocious and difficult to play against*, and it was a key component of Barcelona’s success for Pep’s first 3 seasons; only after the team tired and lost focus did we start to slide into more laborious, unpenetrative possession.

    (and, indeed, the kind of pressing that del Bosque doesn’t seem to understand how to implement at the national level despite literally the best players on the planet at his disposal) Spain, with their players, playing like Chile does would not have been knocked out of this World Cup. more’s the pity.

  4. It was here or probably on another forum where somebody said that Xavi shouldn’t play vs a high pressing Chile.

    Xavi is exactly what is needed, to keep the ball. Poor Xavi gets blamed for everything.

    Pique was bad, a bit worse than Ramos but he should’ve still started at CB.

    Alonso is the one that should’ve gone out no matter what. Torres is another one that shouldn’t be anywhere near the squad. Unbelievable.

    This is how del Bosque should’ve started with


    And put Koke in for Martinez if he needed more attacking threat and Cesc for Costa. Villa could play a role too.

    Now the worse part is that del Bosque will play Xavi in the next match since it will be Xavi’s last match but it will unfortunately be a meaningless match whereby the team’s performance will be below par and once again, Xavi will get the blame. The man who started it all. Sigh

    To make matters worse, he might leave Barca because of all the blame he gets. The man is a living legend.

    1. I think he needs to push for a free transfer this summer. For all his service the club at least should do that. Then see what are his options. I am pretty sure there will be a host of clubs looking to sign him. If available on a free transfer, I have a feeling Manchester City might actually sign him.

      Those who believe that his era is over is completely mistaken. But may be it’s an end at Barca. Barca fans have been blaming him for all their problem for past few season. It’s time to leave and make them realize what they had. It won’t happen at Barca. Here if someone gets pregnant, the immediate tendency is to blame Xavi!

    2. The way Xavi is treated by fans and media is truly astonishing. Here is a player who has dedicated a life to FC Barcelona and Spain and yet, he is made the scapegoat. He wasn’t even the reason Spain lost 1-5 to Netherlands! I suppose, he isn’t the media’s or fans’ darling as Iniesta or Messi or Casillas. I say, good on Xavi to leave the club now and I’m sure he had a good laugh while on the bench today.

    3. Or maybe the coach should have thought like Pep by taking advantage of player versatility, challenging their minds by experiments thus capturing their focus, and surprising the opponents:

      G-Casillas (no choice, Reina was not really able to play in games leading to this)

      RB-Ramos (I like him better than Azpilicueta, has experience, better defense, more attacking intent)

      RCB-Pique (can play from defense, combines well with Pique)

      LCB-Martinez (can be the anchor that covers for Alba’s runs)

      LB-Alba (no choice)

      DMF-Busquets (for this position he’s more creative than Martinez)

      MF-Xavi (sets the attacking tempo for the game, links up better with Busquets and Iniesta than Silva, to be subbed by Koke after 60 minutes)

      AMF-Iniesta (best link-up play with Xavi, makes better darting passes and runs from here)

      RF-Pedro (but I miss Navas more)

      CF-Costa (better link up play with Villa, can make attacking thrusts when Koke comes in when opponents are tired)

      LF-Villa (to be subbed at the 50th minute for Torres: I’m picking this for del Bosque just because he likes him)






      With an extra substitution for contingencies.

      But I’m really curious as to what Pep would really do.

    4. They looked like attacking dogs because they were allowed to. Had the midfield control was taken, I can guarantee you that they wouldn’t have looked this brilliant.

    5. I would have gone with this simple line up

      —————–Casillas —————-

      Jaunffran——Pique —–Ramos———Alba





      That packs the midfield and controls the game.

    6. I was thinking also of packing the midfield. But I was thinking that Spain’s attacking intent should be communicated. A lot of times Pep urged his team to be courageous. With this, I feel that Chile would second guess their attacking nature knowing that Chile would really be susceptible at the back. I feel that Martinez is not creative enough and Azpilicueta / Juanfran / Silva not cold-blooded enough to intimidate the opponent. On the other hand, Koke fits.

    7. I think a formation with Iniesta as an extreme attacking midfielder would have been better. Martinez alone may not be creative but I feel a double pivot of Xavi and Martinez could be brilliant especially with a fierce Koke in front of them.

  5. For the life of me I just don’t get how now football players, who make millions of dollars each year, are now the most persecuted lot on the planet. Xavi will be making 8.5 million to play for 6 months in Quatar for the next three years. After years of non-stop wear and tear its a good deal, and I hardly think he is leaving because Barcelona fans don’t appreciate him.

    Similarly, when Keita left on a “free transfer”, it was because of a clause in his contract that he had to start half his games. He made 14 million per year playing in a Chinese League.

  6. Greatest midfielder ever. XAVI HERNANDEZ. If you don’t appreciate him,you don’t know anything about the game of football

    1. Two words. Andrea Pirlo.

      He’s older than Xavi and has suffered no decline. Perhaps that’s because he’s less dogmatic than Xavi, who’s obsessed with the side pass. Pirlo also doesn’t equate meaningless possession with winning and he certainly doesn’t blame the tallness of the grass for his defeats.

      He’s the better player overall.

    2. See this is what I still don’t understand for years now. Why does Pirlo always get a pass for not doing any defensive work and Xavi always gets stick?

      Pirlo plays longer balls and riskier balls but Xavi doesn’t concede turnovers. Pirlo has 6 assists in Seria A while Xavi has 2 so I really don’t see that much of a difference.

      However, Pirlo is being hailed like a God in many forums while Xavi is the scapegoat for everything that’s wrong.

    3. Pirlo plays as a very static deep lying playmaker with 3 CBs and two energetic midfielders. Xavi plays higher up and moves constantly, of course his game is going to suffer more from athletic decline.

    4. Who’s scapegoating Xavi? I? You?
      Del Bosque benched him because a change was needed. I think he didn’t take it far enough, if anything. I would have benched, besides Xavi, also Iniesta, Alonso, Silva, and Busquets. Most especially Busquets. I called for for the holy midfield trio’s removal from Barcelona (through benching and putting for sale) before this past season began.

      As it was del Bosque benched Xavi, and his fans can now say “see, shouldn’t have benched him” with impunity. I say that’s nonsense. What would Xavi had done? Pass the ball sideways and backwards to bring forth a 0-0 or a 1-0? Probably, but times have changed, in case you hadn’t noticed. The era of the small passing midfielder died in ’12 (maybe even in ’11).

    5. Xavi shit on pirlo 100/100 times #fact. Remember Euro 2012 final? Pirlo was made to look like a fool by Xavi

  7. ~ That Chile National Anthem at the Maracana – Spine Tingling!

    ~ Claudio Bravo – Exciting!

    ~ Chile’s prospects – Promising!

    ~ Alexis Sanchez – Electrifying!

    ~ People who are considering selling him – Stupefying!

    ~ Eduardo Vargas’ first touch – Mind Blowing!

    ~ Arturo Vidal – Tempting!

    ~ Spain getting kicked out – Calming!

    ~ Xavi’s rumored departure – Heartbreaking!

  8. I’m a bit astounded at all the comments here regarding the Spain-Chile match. Who has not been appreciating Xavi? He is a legend. Does this make him immune against criticism in the present? No. While I can agree that I would have preferred Xabi being left out instead of Xavi, I hardly think it would have mattered much. And while VDB was hard pressed to make some changes to instill new energy into the squad after the degrading loos against NL, it is hardly down to single players’ fault. The team is not working out; its time has passed. And yes, it is unfortunate that it must end like this, but there are rarely any perfect endings. As G60 mentioned above, the Barca/Spanish game relies on an extremely high level of execution, and when this is not reached, the system crumbles. And Xavi is the heart of this system, so if you want to try to make changes, well… perhaps this is a necessary measure?

    If VDB would not have made any changes, and Spain had lost – then what would everyone say? Let us just simply mourn the end of an era, and look forward to the exciting new times which will surely come. I for one really hope that Xavi will stick around for another season – IF he can accept a more modest part to play. If he cannot, well – I would celebrate him and wish him all the best and make sure he knows he is always welcome back to the club in a different capacity.

    Whatever happens, we still know that he controlled a midfield like no one before him, and – together with Iniesta – masterminded the best NT ever, and probably best the club team, too. Thanks, Maestro!

    1. No one is questioning the need for changes. But making changes for the sake of it would be extremely unstable. VDB never identified what was not working in his formation. So without identifying the problem he never could have solved it. He simply went with what media said and they were screaming for Pique’s and Xavi head the moment the match against Dutch ended. By the way using a quality defensive midfielder in a central defender role showed VDB had no idea what he was trying to achieve. The thinking looked like “I will throw one more midfielder so that increases chance of control”.

    2. Xavi wasn’t the problem to begin with. And you don’t replace Pique with a DM in J. Martinez. I don’t know what del Bosque was thinking.

      He’s so persistent with Silva, Alonso and Casillas. Ok, Casillas might not be replaceable but the other 2 haven’t done anything of note. Alonso is the worst.


      It does matter. There is a big difference between Xavi and Xabi. Xavi = more control. Xabi – tries to control and tries to pass but fails in both aspects.

    3. Yes, as I said: I agree that Xabi was the one who should have been replaced by Martinez. And personally I have never been a big fan of Silva. Of course it has different implications for the game plan whether you choose Xavi or Xabi. My point was that the team’s problem is deeper than minor adjustments – including, most likely, VDB himself.

      Perhaps it would have been more honest to hang in there with the old system, let it play out (it worked rather well during first half against NL). Maybe he listened to the media, who knows. But no one can deny that Piqué had a far below par game against NL, and IF you want to try a different, more direct approach, perhaps Xavi must be replaced – though this is a big IF. Personally, I would prefer a switch of Costa for Cesc or Villa; a return to the basics. Whatever the outcome, one can perhaps understand the pressure following 1-5, and that finally, even this team will make a wrong turn.

      My bottom line is: the team was not up to the task this time around, regardless of who would have been starting. But then again, I might be a pessimist.

  9. Interesting listening to australian coach say they targeted Dutch back three and holding midfielders because not great with the ball. Wait till the Chilean press hits them

    1. I know the Dutch are ranked quite up there but I’m still not convinced. They were average vs Australia and average vs Spain in the 1st half too.

      I hope I’m wrong but I’m really not going to put my hopes up. Just look at the strong 2008 side. They were banging in goals and playing sexy football and then catapulted against Russia.

      And the players back then were much better.

  10. The problem for spain and Barca is that at the height of their success they should have turned over their teams and didn’t. That was the genius of Ferguson. Instead the teams accumulated legacy players

  11. sometimes i think the conversations i have with my girlfriend (shes japanese and knows nothing about futbol) are the best conversations i ever have..

    i was explaining to her the whole diego costa ordeal..his history, breakout year, switching over to the spanish national team, and terrible world cup…i was telling her that i thought that in my opinion, bringing him on to the team may have caused bad karma..a team that has won three cups in a row doesnt need to be dipping into the matter what the rules are..

    i got to the part where i was telling her that after the great last year he had..the league title, tons of goals, euro success…he had a horrible world cup..and she asked me really seriously “on purpose?”….asif he was a mole, sent in to the spain camp to purposefully bring down the team and give brasil the advantage at their home turf world cup..

    i know its a ridiculous idea..but it was a funny conversation..

  12. Watching Spain and Barca makes me want a midfielder who is willing to shoot from distance. I know Paul Pogba is that type of player but has a big price tag. Vidal too in a slightly different way in that he doesn’t shoot from distance as often but does get beyond the forward line.
    Gokhan Inler is another one who shoots very well from outside the box and is a very physical midfielder.
    I’m not sure of anyone else is out there but getting someone that the opposition have to close down rather than stand off will be an advantage. Inler is a good choice but I can’t see it happening.

  13. Del Bosque was disappointing, he left the media to choose the formation instead of choosing the most in-form players, which is very important in a short tournament. he should also have taken account of the extreme weather and avoid fielding fatigued players.

    selection wise carvajal for azpi is debateable, navas was injuried I think and I would have picked llorente and negredo above torres and villa since they’re past their prime. it’s too bad that valdes got injuried because they REALLY needed him, casillas is just out of form recently and they have excellent backup keepers. I’d play something like:


  14. I wish I didn´t have to write this in the aftermath of a loss, when accusations, counter-accusations and scapegoat-searching are hurled around like a Dani Alves cross towards the head of an unfortunate defender, but it wasn’t for me to choose.

    As a non-Spanish culer I’m glad, very much so as a matter of fact, by the way the World Cup is developing so far. Xavi needs a Rest. Iniesta, Pique, Alba, Pedro and Busquets, they all need a long holiday away from football, recovering from football both physically and mentally. When they come back from that holiday, they will have to start working up, and hard decisions will have to be faced and made.

    For me Xavi must not be allowed to play two times per week. Take his gel and limit his mushroom intake if that’s what it takes, but do it. The club must look for and find solutions which do not involve him. Why am I hating on the legend, you’d ask. I don’t think I am, but in any case nothing lasts forever. I want Xavi to run, press and pass, even though it may be just once a week or every ten days. I’d rather have a fit Xavi playing for a total of 1800 minutes than Xavi staying on the pitch for 2700. And while he’s resting and recovering his Achilles tendons he can become a tutor for Rakitic, for Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and the rest. Puyol played a handful of games this season, but even last autumn Bartra was already playing much better than before and he credited Puyol’s lessons for his improvement.

    Busquets is another player whose condition needs revising. Actually that’s putting it wrong. Barcelona must stop heaping more and more on his plate in an attempt to see how much more can he take before breaking. He is already being asked to cover the whole width of the center of the pitch, he’s the main ball carrier from the defence to the midfield and increasingly to Messi, he’s required to tackle, challenge, intercept and foul(if needed) everything that moves in midfield, and he’s also the passing node from Iniesta to Xavi, and he also has to slot between the two CBs whenever Alba and Alves dash forward. That’s a workload for two world-class pivotes, and Busquets can be at only one place at any given moment. So he either needs to have his workload reduced or a partner added. Or both. Actually I’d dare the people saying Busquets sucks to find what single pivote can manage that workload. The addition of Rakitic and Rafinha would help somewhat, but for me the curtailing of simultaneous wingback runs is one key element, together with increased effort, both offensive and defensive, of the rest of the midfield and strikers. Busquets is slow. His awesome vision and prediction compensate, but the bigger the zone he’s asked to cover, the more he will have to rely on his feet, instead of his eyes and mind to get there.

    Then we get to the strikers. It doesn’t matter the scheme, Barcelona’s defensive effort starts from the final third. The strikers must start pressing again, together with the whole of the midfield. This is how a vital first goal is scored – and when the first goal is scored Barcelona’s strikers won’t have to bring down a stone wall by kicking it, but would instead encounter space due to the opponent looking for an equalizer. In essence, superior players use superior judgment and teamwork to avoid situations that require the demonstration of their superior skills. This already includes Alexis and Pedro, but if Deulofeu, Neymar and Messi also resume their defensive work, the results can be exceptional.

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