World Cup Rules! Part I: The Wingman

imagesAn American soccer fan lives a lonely life. It’s not as if Americans didn’t love them some organized sports. I live in a town, for instance, where middle-aged people ask perfect strangers to “teach them how to Bucky.” Prosperous landowners paint their barns kelly green and yellow. And it’s not as if my neighbors were provincial yahoos. Why, they travel all the way to Milwaukee to see the Brewers, and enjoy bier, wurst, and fromage, preferrably al fresco in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.

So there’s no reason for us to sit alone in our cubicles or squished on the subway or  upright in bed while the person next to us snores through Iran vs. Nigeria. No! We have plenty of potential bar buds, tailgaters, and the-wavers right here in the old US of A! So what if ABC insists on broadcasting Antarctica versus Bora Bora on prime time? We don’t need them anyway!

Average American.
Average American.

BFBers, if we want someone to tip over that police car with us on July 14th, we’re going to have to talk them into it ourselves. Now, it will take some planning. It will take lots of effort. But I have a plan, so all you need to provide is lots of effort. Follow the following, and footy will have a red-blooded, blue-starred following in no time!

I know. Still, no.
I know. Still, no.

Your first step is to find an Average American to introduce to soccer. The AA ought to be an open-minded, good-natured guy. No girls. Sorry, ladies. No offense, me. Girls will spend the entire match checking out the AA, checking out you, checking out the players, or texting their friends. Maybe option “B” does not sound so bad, but we are not trying to help you score, are we? No, we are here to help you help other people care when your favorite player scores. In a match. You can always watch the hotties on the jumbo-tron.

Not him.
Not him.

If you’d like support, you can invite a fellow soccer fan as well. Emphasis on “fellow” (cf. options A-D, above). The purpose of the Fellow Fan, like all wingmen, is to make you –and, by extension, Leo Messi – look good. The FF should be someone you would be friends with in real life, not the lonely nerd in the office break room or the pretentious jerk from your junior-year study-abroad program.

You might find that many FFs are foreign-born and most AAs are xenophobes. So be sure that your wingman has a nice, pronounceable name so as to get everyone off on the right foot. Pablo, Hans, and Aziz are good names. Chip, Chet, and Chadsworth are immediately off-putting.

Otherwise, you'll be stuck with this guy.
Not this guy either.

Beware, however, of assuming that a foreign-born fellow fan is a soccer fan. Too many AAs have interpreted inflected English as an invitation to hold forth on the 4-3-3 versus the 4-5-1, only to blurt out moments later, “Oh, yeah? Isn’t that kinda like baseball, but with … sticks?” or “No kidding! Isn’t that like football, but without helmets … or something?”

By now your Average American is hunting for a triple-jalapeño chicken wing to stick in his eye and thus distract himself from the pain of being stuck with a pretentious jerk and his weirdo co-worker somewhere with no girls during the Red Sox game … and it will be another four years before you get another chance to convince him that he is actually having the time of his life.

Just give him a day or two.


So find a guy who is attractive to women without hitting on them; willing to buy a round without suggesting the brew; a buddy to all but best friend to none; and has a nice, friendly, pronounceable name, like … Andy. Yeah. You need to find yourself an Andy.

Stay tuned for Part II: The Venue. Coming soon to BFB.

Categorized as Barcelona

By SoccerMom

SoccerMom obsesses over FCB and this blog instead of grading papers, burning dinner and/or raising her small children. She blames a Spanish husband and easy access to Hispanic-targeted cable sports channels for her football addiction and consequent failure as a professor, housekeeper and mother.


  1. Non-Barca related but great news for La Liga… Carlos Vela is reportedly signing a new contract with Real Soceidad. He was easily the best forward in Spain outside of the big three and had his second great season in a row for Real. Very underrated player in my opinion; scores creates and works hard.
    By all accounts Arsenal tried to exercise their buy back clause but the player refused. Apparently Griezmann is hoping to do the same which also will be good news for the league.

  2. If Suarez comes, what do we do, shift Messi to RW again? He’s going to go on strike if that happens. And if we play him behind Suarez as a true 10 then our formation becomes

    Neymar – Suarez – ?pedro
    Iniesta – Messi

    I dunno. That looks a bit weird. Can someone ‘splain this to me?

    1. That’s because you think in 4-3-3 terms alone.





      Or even a seriously hostile line-up, with Mascherano, Busquets and Rakitic in midfield and three CB+Alba or Adriano in the back and Suarez, Neymar and Messi up front. Then on the hour mark you put Iniesta for Mascherano and Alexis for Neymar and just carry on pressing and pushing until a crack appears.

    2. Perhaps Messi doesn’t like playing on the RW which I won’t find surprising. And remember when Ibra was here? Messi was moved back to RW and you know what happened. Phone-Pep= sulky Ibra

  3. Not Barcelona related or World Cup related, but just to show an example of absolute insanity that can involve football:

    The local team, Las Palmas, was playing the finals for promotion to Primera Division with Cordoba. After a goalless draw in Cordoba, Las Palmas led 1-0 in front of 32 200 screaming “canaries”(the warcry is “Pio Pio!”), with almost two minutes of the three allocated gone, Las Palmas controlling and actually pushing Cordoba for a second…

    …when about 200 fans decided to jump from the stands and stay on the pitch so that they would be closer when the celebrations started. The ref stopped the game and for the next ten minutes ref, policemen, Valerón, who´s the Xavi of Las Palmas and the club president tried to put the pitch invaders back, while the rest of the 32 000 shouted at the minority to get the f*ck out of the pitch. After ten minutes the ref allowed the game to resume…

    At which point Cordoba scored and went to Primera on away goal.

    Tomorrow we’ll find out how many have been arrested in the following three-sided pitch battle between police, angry ultras from the minority and the overwhelming majority trying to get through to the dumb@sses who invaded the pitch.

    1. That kind of reminds me of a famous college football game of Stanford against UC Berkeley. Stanford was up on the last play and the game seemed to be over. The Stanford Marching Band then charged onto the field to celebrate. Little did they know that the Berkeley Bears were still not done and ended up beating Stanford by charging right past its marching band defense.

  4. Great singing of the anthem by the American fans. Keep it up and you’ll be running the Tartan army close at the next finals 🙂

  5. Awesome game by the USA, but exhaustion was too much apparently. But really, This USA team impressed me. Making amateurish mistakes, but lots of heart, lots of guts. Fantastic performance.

  6. I thought I saw 4 minutes of added time on the board not 5 but maybe my eyes are acting up.

    1. For fans maybe. But if the US had gone ‘ultradefensive’ and were not to concede, they would have secured automatic qualification.

      Now the group is uncertain for everyone involved except Portugal.

    2. I disagree, U.S.A. fans can now take a victory lap of honor for not playing ultra-defensively at the end of the match. They have now gained the respect of Portugal and the rest of the world.

      What USA fan is going to remember whether they won tonight or not anyway? I just hope the neutral fans in Iran enjoyed an exciting game of football tonight.

      Message Received.

  7. So here is an interesting scenario. Let’s say Germany and the U.S.A. both play ultra-defensively in their last match of the group. Would this be an example of “match fixing”? Both teams are playing for the result they want and a draw sends both through with Germany on top. Germany gets nothing for a win, so a draw is good for them. Would it be “scandalous” for both teams to do what is in their interests to do, neutral fans be damned?

    1. I heard about that game, but wasn’t sure about the details. It’s great story. It would also be a great movie mixed with underdogs, politics and sport if someone wanted to make it. Maybe something along the lines of “Invictus”.

  8. The problem with the Suarez purchase is in the timing of it.
    Barca always suck when it comes to timing with regards to Transfers.
    The only case where they seem to have done fairly well with timing is with the acquisition of Neymar Jr.

    David Villa was bought a year or two too late. Zlatan was sold away too early. Buying of Defenders have been ignored for almost half a decade now. And now, Suarez. Suarez is indeed a very good player, but I suspect that he has peaked already, at the age of 27. The perfect time to buy him would have been, when he was literally whoring himself out to Barca while at Ajax in 2010 – 2011.

    Now, We have Alexis Sanchez, who has spent a vital 3 years of acclimatization at Barca and is really coming in to his own. He is yet to peak. Would you discard all that away for the sake of a marquee signing? That is bad timing and bad business. Can’t deny the drool worthiness if all of them play for our colors – the best of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile all attacking for one club. But that’s again way too many captains for a ship and is a certain recipe for disaster.

    Really hoping Chile go far in this world cup. Wouldn’t mind seeing them knock out Brazil too.

    1. Within a particular match I could see it happening but more of a change in tactics than a starting line up although it isn’t that dissimilar to the Pep line up very Villarreal a couple of seasons ago

    2. Too narrow and actually too short for my taste. Pique is slowish and there’s entirely too much space on the opponent’s left wing. A combo of Ronaldo and Di Maria would run riot, and Mascherano would be at a disadvantage if he has to face a tall striker.

      Personally I would prefer to see Mascherano in midfield, where he can put out fires before they spread. If you play him in defence that means constant lobbed balls that overfly the midfield.

      If you have a point hitter like Suarez one very good suggestion would be to play ball-playing strikers like Neymar, Messi and Alexis a little withdrawn. In theory the opposing CBs would have to honor the threat, which would stretch the defence and actually give more space to Messi. Of course, in practice what it may turn out to be would be the other side’s pivotes drop further back in order to stay in front of Messi, but still it may give him, or Neymar or Alexis the vital extra bit of space. Furthermore, with a point striker you constantly have an option to cross the ball, then press back into possession and cross again. With a point striker crosses and corners become more dangerous

      In any case, if you want to play Alexis, Suarez, Messi and Neymar in the same starting eleven, something’s got to give – and it shouldn’t be the defence. Instead I would surrender a bit of passing precision and play a 4-2-3-1 with say Rakitic next to Busquets, or you can play 4-3-3, but put Alexis in the Xavi spot.

      That, of course, envisions a Barcelona in which Messi runs and presses, Neymar runs and presses and tracks back, and only one rushing wingback at a time. Can it work? Well, Busquets wouldn’t have to stay back, he could stay in his zone. Alexis would have more of a playmaking role, but would be available for runs and hits from the second line.

      It is my firm belief that Barcelona alreadu have enough quality to maintain possession if needed. At the same time, the increased directness and stamina in midfield would shorten the transition time. Messi, Neymar and Suarez, and even Alexis would profit from that because they are players who have lots of speed and acceleration.

    3. I completely agree with Peter on the 3-3-3-1-formation. I have little faith in the Suarez rumors, and would much rather spend money on a proper CB – but it is a fun thought experiment, of course. With him (or someone of that quality) on the team, and assuming Alexis remains, I would also think 4-2-3-1 would be the preferred option. I don’t really see Alexis in the Xavi-position, as his (ideal) game is too based on taking risks.
      What would have to give in this formation is, to my mind, Iniesta’s given spot in the starting 11. He would rotate with Rakitic as a holding midfielder against weaker teams/buses, and with Neymar when we want more possession and, possibly, Messi when he needs a rest (yeah right…). If Messi would humbly agree to play RW at times, Iniesta could also rotate with Alexis (which otherwise Deulofeu and Rafinha would do).
      But, as Peter also points out: it would require some tracking back on the part of Messi or Neymar. Exciting thought-experiment, though.

    4. Before his injuries Neymar did track back and did press. The question of course, is that in order to need to track back and press the opponent must be trying to play from the back and attack, and the majority of teams that play Barcelona do not do that.

      In any case, I am not suggesting that Alexis plays as a controlling midfield, but rather that he plays on the right of Busquets.

      Here’s an idea:

      Alexis starts on the right midfield, behind Suarez. In attack Alexis can start forward, while Suarez drifts center and Messi holds back. If Alexis is allowed to continue unopposed, he has space and can cross to Suarez in front of goal or Neymar at the back post, or to Messi just beyond the edge of the box, or even to the other side, where Rakitic/Iniesta could try shooting from distance.

      If Alexis dashes inside, Suarez and Messi can exchange positions, allowing Alexis to have reflecting nodes both left and right. With good timing the defence would have to keep their attention on Suarez and Messi, both of whom would be moving in across their field of vision and in contradicting directions, not to mention Neymar ghosting at the far post in their peripheral vision.

      In transition the midfield has enough pace to move the ball fast, with Suarez leading the attack and drawing the CBs, while Messi can run in space, accompanied by Neymar on the left.

      Note that the key to this is the conservative and tall (By Barcelona standards) backline and the increased height and stamina of the midfield and striker teams. The backline assures that Busquets doesn’t have to cover so much ground, while the presence of Rakitic and Alexis on both sides allows him to have active pressers both left and right, which shortens the zone which he has to cover even further. The conservative and taller backline provides less incentive for opposing teams to rely on high balls to the CFs, meaning build-up from the back and bypassing the midfield, which means the ball remains closer to the strikers(who can press) and increases the possibility of robbed balls and passing them to the striker team.

      What it also means is six players either 6 ft or taller(Suarez, Rakitic, Pique, Bartra, Busquets & New CB) which is good both for defence against corners and for offence during corners and set pieces.

    5. I see your point. In a sense it could morph into a 4-2-3-1, according to the runs your arrows indicate. But it would also be a mighty attacking left flank, and I don’t think Rojo will be ‘CB enough’ to hold that space, in this scenario. Perhaps with a more conservative Iniesta/Rakitic, or a more defensively minded Alba.

    6. Alba’s runs can be used either to add more presence in midfield or to overlap with Neymar. However, this is basically a “reverse Alves”. When Alba runs, the three remaining defenders all shift left to maintain cover, which precludes the need of Busquets to slot between the two CBs or drop back to take the ball. Busquets remains in the center, where his contribution can be maximized.

      Of course, Alba can be used defensively, meaning he doesn’t put a toe beyond the center line, but at some point he should be available for a sprint down the left flank, especially if the opposition forgets about him. 😉

      Rojo is just a suggestion.

      The beauty of the 4-3-3 is that it can morph into a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-2-1, 4-2-4, 3-4-3, 4-3-1-2(asymmetric), 4-3-3(false nine) or even a 4-4-2(diamond), or in the extreme case of 3-5-2 or even 2-3-5.

    7. Yes, I understand this is a reversed Alves-situation, but this basic tactic, with Alexis in midfield, seems a bit more attacking than our former midfield trio. Though a right back who does not attack regularly (like Bartra, here) might balance that a little in comparison to the double wing back of last season, at least.

      Also – of course I realize Rojo is a suggestion; I just wanted to point out the demands this position would have in this scenario. What I really do like about your suggestion, despite my reservations, is the attempt to enhance the importance of Alexis. I believe this will be central for Enrique – to instill confidence in Alexis and allow him to fail some risky moves, despite a Messi who calls for the ball, swarmed by defenders…

  9. Another GREAT day of World Cup football. Interestingly, looks like the initial pass on the second U.S. goal had the man indeed offside. Ref missed that one, though justice in the sporting sense was done, as the U.S. was clearly the better side. Portugal missed Pepe quite a bit. Doubtful that second goal is scored with him in the back line.

    Funny that like Messi, Ronaldo pretty much did feck all the whole match, until about 10 seconds of excellence. That cross, like the Messi goal, was stupefying in its quality, particularly given the moment. As with Messi essentially putting the ball into a space not much larger than the ball itself, that Ronaldo cross was perfection. Credit where due.

    It also makes for a fascinating final match day in that group. U.S. and Germany could play for a draw to have both advance, and Germany tops the group on goal differential. Or Germany says to hell with that, plays to win, Ghana beats Portugal by 2+ goals and the U.S. goes home. There is even a scenario through which Portugal can quality, which is completely bonkers.

    1. Impossible is nothing, as the Adidas ad said once upon a time, but Portugal needs for their goal difference with the USA, currently at -5, to become +1. That means USA conceding something like 3 more than Germany, and Ghana conceding 3 more than Portugal, all the while Ghana knowing that if they win by two and Germany wins by one, they will go through. It will be interesting 90 minutes all right 🙂

    2. I thought Ghana was eliminated because they lost to the States.

      I guess they could go through if they beat Portugal by 4 goals and USA defeats the panzers.

    3. Yeah, that’s the awesome thing about this group, it can still end with Germany and Portugal catching an early flight, but requires USA and Ghana to beat Germany and Portugal with a combined score of +6 in favor, because goal difference is what counts first. Now, in case of say Ghana and USA/Germany having the same goal difference it would come to head to head results.

    4. This Wold Cup has been generally pretty good so far. Lot of fun matches, interesting results, goal line technology, set-piece spray and no vuvuzelas 🙂

    1. Why Iniesta? I don’t know about the other two games (where there was more of a collective breakdown of the midfield), but today he provided control of the field while making two excellent throughballs which resulted in two goals. Not too bad I think.

    2. Ice hockey-assists… but nice through-balls to set them up. Also, whatever form he is in now does not matter to us, really. Let him rest and then come back as new, ready to be a more deeply operating midfield general for Barca!

  10. How old is Neymar again?

    1. It was fun watching Mexico try to rack up the goals and pass Brazil for top of the group – it’s too bad they had those 2 goals vs. Cameroon chalked off!

  11. Rafaeal Marquez is a great man,leader and humble,him scoring that header reminds me when barca used to score with corner kicks

    1. Very nice indeed. He was wasted playing solely defensively.
      He is a much better offensive play maker than Modric is. Modric should have been asked to play deeper and Rakitic more freedom. It may not have made a difference to the end result but it would have given them a better chance.

    2. As excited as I am about Rakitic, I’m not sure he is better than Modric. Modric had a pretty bad game, but against Brazil he was immense. That being said, if we could have one or the other I’d still take Rakitic. Modric is too much of an Iniesta copy.

  12. Suarez rumour is turning out concrete,and I think its a very good idea if we sign him,a lot of people worry about our finance as if we will have a say in the money,I believe this club is rich,and they can pay whatever they choose for any player.Getting suarez will be a milestone.Again,it will be dangerous if he joins EE,i can’t stand him week in week out,plus he will be more effective for us than EE. If we really mean this ”new era project” then getting him will be perfect,I think its time we put a different dimension to tiki-taka

    1. You do understand that signing Suarez will mean that the club sees no future for Alexis and Pedro with the team. We will have three players in three slots who have to start irrespective of form and efforts because of the price tag. The advantage with Alexis and Pedro is that they are willing to fight for a spot and do the hard work even if they don’t get it. Maybe pedro will still stay but Alexis will definitely not. And Suarez is not worth ‘Alexis and more’ whatever talents he may bring.

  13. Mathieu, Saurez, Kroos, Marquinhos – everyone we’re linked with are more than 182 cm. (except cuadrado 176 cm, not bad)

    If this transfer turns out to be a success, won’t have to worry excessively about silly set pieces and losing balls.

    With the likes of Messi, Neymar, Sanchez in squad- the aim should be to create waves and waves of scoring chances.

    ‘Do what you will, but don’t you dare lose the ball’ motto is merely making our trio impotent.

    1. For quite some time it’s my belief that the real commandment of the successful Barcelona should be not “Thou shalt not lose the ball” but rather “Thou shalt run to recover the ball”

      Crackovia’s ‘Tata presser’ included not just gems, but real diamonds like this one:
      Q: “How did you manage to motivate the players to run and press again?”
      A: “I just simply told them ‘The sooner you recover the ball, the sooner we will have it.'” 😀

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