Rayo Vallecano 0, Barça 2, aka “Achieving a state of grace”


Winning is kinda weird when you think about it, because it isn’t supposed to happen.

Even if you consider what has to happen for a goal to be scored, never mind enough goals to win a match, the mind boggles at the amazing complexity of it all, the chain reaction of attackers doing the exact right thing, a sphere being struck by a running foot also doing the exact right thing on a playing surface that contains dips, bumps and other imperfections, finding another running set of feet in the exact same way, as the people trying to stop the ball from going into the net have to do the exact wrong things.

This absurd high-wire act has to happen again and again and again. A cycling coach once told me that to win a race, you have to do 100 things absolutely right. Do 99 of them right, and you finish second. 98 spot on, and you finish third.

Winning can best be described as a state of grace, because it is something of a seeming impossibility even as usually, someone wins and someone loses a match.

During an interview in the days before today’s match, Rayo player and passing gem Roberto Trahsorras said, “If you can’t choose how you win, you can at least choose how you lose.” The idea here is that there is a way that an athlete approaches a task, and Rayo is like Barça in that they play their way, and will live or die playing that way. Many culers say they would rather lose playing beautiful football than win playing ugly. Mr. Trashorras knows exactly how they feel.

Live by the pass …

So when Rayo began the match trying to out-Barça Barça, some described it as “suicidal,” or playing right into the better team’s hands. Many of these same people scoff and snarl at yet another hyper-defensive, bus parking side who believes that against Barça, 0-0 is the same as a victory, and they will gladly take it. Rayo wasn’t interested in that.

They passed, moved, ran, pressed high and pushed up the pitch in front of their vocal home support, who cheered lustily just as Barça home fans do at lovely passing sequences and effort expended in playing to win, rather than not to lose.

And truth be told, Rayo was doing rather well at their task, even forcing Claudio Bravo to do something that really, no other Liga opponent had to this point: make actual saves.

There was a lesson to be learned from a match that happened earlier in the day’s cycle, as Valencia, in their house, decided that a midweek match would be just the thing, just the time for them to go for the jugular against their defending Liga champion opponents. And Atleti was down 3-0 before anyone really knew it. And dollars to donuts Enrique said to his squad, “See? You’re in their house. Small pitch, crowd right on top of you. Learn.”

But lessons, intentions and execution are all very different things, because Rayo had some instruction of their own to impart, helped by a PSG side who beat Barça and wore them down. There were moments, but nothing to really suggest that anything was going to happen, nothing to dissuade watchers from the notion that maybe, just maybe, there might be something odd in the air.

One-minute glory


And then, just like that, it happened:

— Pique dropped a remarkable ball over distance for Messi to run onto. Messi controlled while outrunning and fighting off defenders, and dropped it in over the onrushing keeper. That made it 0-1 at 35 minutes.

— Barely into the 36th minute, Munir took a long pass and, with exquisite holdup play, released Neymar who was rushing into space. At 36:12 Barça’s second goal nestled into the back of the Rayo net.

It was then that the looks on the faces of the Rayo players changed, from “We’re in this,” to “What the hell just happened?” In barely a minute the match changed completely, thanks to a series of exceptional plays that exceptional players make. We’re used to seeing Messi perform the extraordinary, but for me, I vastly prefer the kinds of goals that demonstrate his strength and willingness to do anything to help his club win. The swashbuckling goals are lovely, and make the highlight reels. But today’s goal was like a rugby or American football player, shrugging off would-be obstacles to score the points.

And just as we’re used to seeing Messi perform extraordinary tasks, we’re fast becoming accustomed to seeing Neymar make very difficult goals look easy. Together, they effectively killed the match, thanks to an unusual thing for Barça these days, squad versatility.


Change, and good change

The back line was one that many had been suggesting for this match: Alves/Pique/Bartra/Mathieu. Pique and Bartra performed very well, as they seem to have a bond that makes them mesh. The delight was Mathieu at LB, who provided — it has only been one match in that role, however — that Abidalesque quality at LB, from forward runs to positioning and quality defending.

For me, the roots of Hlebruary stem to when Abidal used to get his annual injury around that time of the season and suddenly, everyone wondered why the defense seemed less capable. Abidal still wasn’t all that well-liked back then, so the folks who said “It’s the missing Abidal,” were kinda scoffed at. It’s only now, years after his departure that the essential nature of a player in that role, of that type, became apparent, just as it was abundantly clear that Alba wasn’t that player.

But as with almost any Barça win these days, quibbles abounded, assertions that the team has all sorts of problems, flaws and deficiencies that are just waiting for a top European side to lay bare. It’s a shifting bar, however. In Liga, it was Villarreal, then Athletic Club. In Champions League, a trio of schoolboy defensive errors prompted the chorus of “A-HA!” instead of “Man, those were silly. Hope they worked that crap out on the practice pitch.”

Because what I saw vs Malaga and PSG was a team that didn’t play particularly well, and still almost got a result. The PSG goals weren’t like the Bayern goals, where the defense was stripped bare. They were boneheaded plays, rooted in something that could be called marking only in the vaguest sense. Errors like that can be corrected but even at that, preserving the draw (or even, crazily enough a win) took desperate defending from PSG.

Today, the team wasn’t at its best, offensively. Messi couldn’t finish his lunch, but he scored when he had to, one goal when a sharper Messi would have had at least a hat trick. It happens. What is extraordinary about today’s match was amid all of the impediments and a team that again wasn’t at its best, that state of grace was achieved. We take it for granted, but it isn’t easy.

Flawed excellence

Another Liga match, another clean sheet. Transfers who were scoffed at in the summer are proving to be in fact what coaches and the technical staff thought they would be. Pique was selected by WhoScored.com as Man of the Match and very few people argued, even as some heads probably exploded. And the echoes of the ref’s whistle had barely dissipated before the dissections began.

But only a blind fool wouldn’t acknowledge that this team is far from perfect. There are complexities to address, and issues to rectify. But man, I just wish that after a win and 7th clean sheet, a chorus of “Way to go,” or “Nice work” would sound, a little stay of execution before leaping right into the “It was just Rayo! We will lose to a real team,” or litany of problems that will prevent the team from doing anything this season.

This season as last, it’s “The results don’t matter, it’s how the team is playing that has us worried,” as culers fret about an unattainable standard, a perpetual state of grace. No team has ever been as good as so many expect Barça to be every week. Even the Treble side, if you watch the matches, can’t live up to its own standard. “They were 50 feet tall and scored 100 goals a match. They had 99% possession too. I remember it so well.” Yet in football time, it really wasn’t all THAT long ago that a Rivaldo bicycle sent the Camp Nou into spasms of ecstasy as the team grabbed a European spot. It wasn’t that long ago that winning was really, really cool and worth celebrating.

Now winning is an expectation that is becoming increasingly grim. And not only a win, but the team has to win a certain way or it’s a win that feels like a loss. “Only 0-2 against Rayo. We have so many problems.”

Last year Martino’s team won 0-4 against Rayo, but lost the possession battle by a single percentage point. You’d have thought he killed a puppy. This year, Enrique had two fewer goals, but won possession by a healthy 18% margin so I reckon the grousing will not be as strident. It’s also worth noting that tactically, Enrique, like Martino last year, went over the top and long to take advantage of a pressing Rayo team, to get directly at their vulnerable back line. Imagine that.

Winning is an extraordinary thing that I fear we have come to take for granted, and even expect. But it really is worth thinking about the amount of stuff that has to go right for a team to have a successful result. For us to have the pleasure of being able to watch a team that does it time and time again, in so many different ways … it’s kinda nuts, when you think about it. And this is true even when the team succeeds at the individual battles but fails at the season goal of winning a championship.

We see this when people say that the PSG loss isn’t that big of a deal, because the objective of the Champions League group stage is to advance. “No. It’s to win the group, you idiot,” noted a helpful soul on social media. “If you win the group, you get the second-placed team from …blablabla.” Again, that expectation. Just advancing is for those mere mortal teams, who don’t scrabble at the lock of Mount Olympus so its immortals can nutmeg the Gods.

We take pains to diminish this team. “Well, Rayo was stupid to play like that,” as memories already have them being overrun, rather than doing a more than quality job at taking the match to Barça. So a win becomes “easy” because the opponent was complicit, somehow, by putting their foolhardy neck on the chopping block as they tried to play football with Barça.

Conversely it’s the gratification at the struggles against parked buses, the need for the team to have an Achilles heel to pick at. “We need a Plan B,” as result becomes history and people forget incorrectly disallowed goals, or chances created against Chelsea because the legend needs that, as well. It’s no fun to say “If only we’d finished better.” It’s easier to say that a team can’t break a bus, beginning a legend that persists to this day.

Opponents deserve credit, just as Barça deserves credit. Yes, we should examine the wins as well as the losses, as they fuel the endless cycle of tactics talk, speculation about this player or that player’s quality, etc, etc.

Yet even as I type the above I wonder if, when it’s all over and the Messis, Xavis and Iniestas are gone, when a few clunky transfers and a dried-up Masia pipeline maybe reduce Barça from “We didn’t win everything, we suck,” to “Lucky to finish second,” if we won’t look back on these wonder years with a tinge of sadness, at not having enjoyed them to the fullest.


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. Excellent post Kxevin. I don’t know about anyone else but I enjoy every second that I get to watch this group of exceptional players kick around a ball. Win or lose, play poorly of exceptionally, this is a very unique team that will not last forever. I plan on enjoying it.

    Iniesta certainly is in a funk isn’t he? I don’t know if it is because he is in a transition trying to become the new Xavi or what but there is definitely something going on there. So annoying that Rafinnha is injured because I think he would be adding a lot right now with Ini in a funk and Xavi only really able to play every other game.

    Man Munir belies his years doesn’t he? That hold up play on Neymars goal was just exceptional. He is a KID. He was being marked by players who should be eating him for breakfast and he still managed to hold the ball and make the inch perfect pass. Wow. Pedro NEVER makes that play. He probably loses the ball before Neymar even gets in a position to receive a pass. I cannot wait to see Suarez in this team. It really feels like we are playing with a piece missing right now, as much as Munir is able to act as a Suarez lite in a way, having the real thing is going to be a thing of beauty I think 🙂

  2. Dat last paragraph! During one of the last games I decided to join the chat over at totalBarça. Judging by the comments about our players, you would think we were loosing 0:12. Such a terrible atmosphere… nothing the team did seemed to please the audience. The “fans” were even attacking each other.

    I prefer to enjoy the positive things. Even if this team does not yet play perfectly, there is plenty of beauty to see in every game.

  3. it’s true, big team supporters are the worst… the soccer equivalent of the spoiled brat XD

    1. That’s an insult to spoiled brats. I migrated here from totalbarca.com, the climate is just not healthy.

  4. what a game is juve-rome! happy to see keita play so well 🙂 wonder how come we couldnt keep him more with us

  5. With exceptional players expectations have to be raised. I remember THAT Rivaldo goal, I remember the van Gaal era second time round, I remember the first 6 months of Rijkaard’s reign and I remember the AC Milan final in which they took us apart from start to finish.
    There were times during each of those events where we had good footballers, even great ones, but never the strength in depth that we have now or over the past few seasons.

    Such exceptional players have to create an increase in expectations, that is the nature of aspiring to greatness. Make no mistake though, the success that this bunch of exceptional players have achieved is also exceptional.

    It is human nature to balance the highs and lows. When things are going well you keep yourself grounded by finding flaws and when things are going poorly you highlight the areas that are promising to not get too down.
    I assume that if every fan got carried away with the record breaking start of last season then there would be a lot more negativity around the end of it.

    For me, I tend to look at areas of improvement in most matches without being negative. The first comment I made following yesterday’s match was that it was a poor performance which I think is a very fair reflection. I appreciate the 3 points, the clean sheet and the individual performances of a handful of players but that’s it.

    The artist formerly known as Pedro is still a waste of minutes at present. Iniesta is a shadow of himself also. Sergio is a little inconsistent, Dani the same.

    There’s lots to be happy about but that doesn’t mean that you can’t recognise the issues that are in front of you.

    1. If we play like that at the business end of the season, Ciaran, I agree we’d struggle but likewise you don’t want to hit the ground running at this stage as you’ll certainly not keep it going all the way through. For me, we are working through some issues regarding structure and personnel but still winning and we have to cut them some slack for it. The team are running hard and trying and the coach is ( hopefully) learning. I thought it was a decent performance in the light of an unusual approach by our opponents which it took us time to get used to. Midfield was difficult for a while in the first half as they had compressed the whole pitch so much. By the second half we looked more comfortable.

      We’ll know more about a few things when we see his selection for the Clasico, see Suarez and see how we do against RM. I’m pretty optimistic so far.

  6. Btw, Kxevin, as a journalist and justifiably proud of your writing you might want to take the extra “i” out of the title then delete my post. Can’t believe that was the only error in a quality piece done at breakneck speed 🙂

  7. if goals are going to be the criteria then the ballond’or should be given to Thong boy already

  8. 5-0 to Real Madrid, and another hatrick for Ronaldo.
    He just got his third Balon d’Or.

    Of course he will, because the top scorer these days, is basically the best player.

    I wouldn’t bother a bit though, if we won the major trophies this term. And Messi doesn’t really care about that. I think, too.

    Satisfiable performance and clean sheet from our sprites yesterday, anyway.

    1. Ronaldo is truly a phenomenon. It still amazes how he’s able to bang in goal after goal so efficiently even after the departures of Ozil and now Di Maria. With that being said, football is not only about goals.

      For me, dragging your team to 2nd place in a quadrennial competition and 2nd in the respective League is more of an accomplishment than winning Champions League alone. We’ll see how the voters will partition their respective votes but I still think it’s difficult to find a winner for Ballon D’or at this stage.

    2. He is amazing really. No player in the world works as hard as he does to make himself the ultimate footballer. He has no where near the tactical or technical skills of Messi but is physically the perfect footballer.

      I don’t understand how or why fans of Barca or Madrid hate the other teams player. In my opinion, they are the two best players in history. That’s isn’t to say that they are my favourite players or downplaying the achievements of others but the goal scoring feats of both players are simply ridiculous.

      Ronaldo now has 13 goals in 6 league matches. If you don’t appreciate that fact you should just let it sink in for a minute. Before these two incredible players a world class striker would be more than happy with 6 goals in 13 matches not the other way around.
      The 20 goal mark for a season was always the target of a good striker. The greats of the game would push that figure to 30 on occasion and the original Ronaldo for 34 in his season with us. That Ronaldo was a truly great striker but his scoring record looks amateur in comparison.

      I feel blessed that I get to watch both of these one of a kind players on a weekly basis, even if I’ll admit to not watching Ronaldo as often as I should due to my profound dislike of the team he plays for.

      I’ll always prefer Messi due to the fact that he doesn’t rely on being the biggest, fastest and strongest athlete instead being the most technical gifted and talented player with the best vision and composure to match. Ronaldo hasn’t won enough for his abilities to be considered better than Messi in my opinion.

    3. The greats of the game would push that figure to 30 on occasion and the original Ronaldo for 34 in his season with us. That Ronaldo was a truly great striker but his scoring record looks amateur in comparison.

      Cristiano is nowhere near the player the original Ronaldo was.

      The goal scoring stats say differently, however, a lot of things have changed since then. The goal scoring average of the top scorers of the top teams has actually been going up. Which is because: first, the level of organization of the top teams has improved so much and they are much more efficient at setting up their main goal scorer with chances, second, the balance between offense and defense was more in favor of defenses back then than it is now, and third, a vast gulf has opened between not just the bottom feeders and the top teams, but also between everyone below 5th place and them, which did not exist back in the days. Madrid have scored 25 goals in 7 games. That’s 3.6 goals per game. If your team scores so much and everything get channeled through you, of course, you’re going to score a lot of goals. Especially if you play against teams against which your team goes up by 2 or 3 goals very quickly and then their desire to defend hard diminishes significantly as the game has been lost. Our game was a good illustration of the same phenomenon – we could easily have scored in double digits with Messi scoring 5 or 6 goals if only he was as clinical as he usually is.

      The original Ronaldo played in games which were much more rarely that lopsided, and a lot of those ended up without his team scoring even once. And he did not get the ball nearly as often as Cristiano does now because the team was not as efficient at channeling play through him – I used to watch him at every opportunity and while he used to produce magic almost every time he had the ball he actually did not do that very often and there were whole games where he barely touched it and that was usually around the halfway line with a number of defenders on his back (even if he was more than capable of scoring from such situations, they will always be extremely unlikely to results in a goal).

      Put the player from 1996-1997 in the current Barca or Real teams and I would not be surprised if he scored nearly 2 goals a game.

    4. I have to disagree. You say ‘Cristiano is nowhere near the player the original Ronaldo was’ but he is superior in many many aspects. I remember the real Ronaldo’s single season with Barca very clearly and he was on his way to become one of the best ever but longevity is a lot more difficult than having one or two great seasons or great matches here and there.

      The Barca of 96/97 was the most attacking Barca of recent memory. You say ‘The original Ronaldo played in games which were much more rarely that lopsided, and a lot of those ended up without his team scoring even once.’ That is just incorrect. We scored 102 league goals that season, which was more than in practically any season in history.
      We failed to score in just 5 matches that season and had scorelines like 8-0, 6-0, 6-1 and loads of 5 and 4 goal hauls.
      That team was also set up to play for Ronaldo. We had Figo and Lucho on the wings with the Little Buddha in behind Ronaldo all supplying him with chance after chance.

      As I have said though, the scoring feats of Messi and Cristiano have twisted people’s logic in regards to goal scoring expectations. What Ronaldo did was incredible at the time but what Messi and CR7 have done since then makes it look less impressive.

      ‘Put the player from 1996-1997 in the current Barca or Real teams and I would not be surprised if he scored nearly 2 goals a game.’ I disagree again, unless you put him alongside Messi. Replacing Messi in our team with Ronaldo would result in goals but not to the same level as Messi has and certainly not with the same success.

    5. I know very well that there were lopsided wins. But the league had 22 teams in 1996-1997, i.e. teams played 42 games. So the average was less than 2.5 goals per game. That’s still a goal less than what RM are averaging now. And I also remember very well who he was playing with, and how it actually was not working that well – we lost the league that year. And a lot of his goals were of the completely self-created kind where he dribbled through the whole defense, rather than the tap-ins that Cristiano is scoring now.

      So I stick to what I said.

      Nobody has ever sliced through defenses like hot knife through butter as the original Ronaldo did before the injury. He was actually faster than Cristiano is, was more skillful (and he had that rare natural genius as opposed to Cristiano who copied all his tricks from him and Ronaldinho), and was in fact a better finisher. Cristiano is still a phenomenal player, but you have to put his statistics in the context of the distribution of power in the game today, which is extremely uneven and contributes significantly. There have actually been a number of other cases of players averaging nearly a goal a game for quite long stretches over the last few seasons, and this is because of the factors I outlined above.

    6. Messi led Argentina to the final match, becoming the best player of the tournament in the process not for the five goals he scored, not for being the darling boy of Adidas, but for sacrificing himself for the team and being involved in practically every goal that Argentina scored(and some that it should’ve scored). So far in the season he’s been directly involved in fourteen of the nineteen goals that Barcelona have scored, and he is the main assister and chance creator in La Liga.

      People see Ronaldo in acres of space and loosely marked. Then they see Messi closely marked by at least two opposition players, sometimes up to five. They see Messi deep in the game, pressing, creating chances, tackling(on average he has 0.86 successful tackles per 90 minutes), getting fouled and continuing. They see Ronaldo, a 1.85m mass of muscle, punching defenders and kicking players, and then falling down at the slightest touch provided it’s in the box.

      I´m trying to be objective, but for me it’s not even close.

    7. He seems in great shape, that´s true. And if he continues to get that much space and loose marking, he will continue to score. But it isn’t just scoring.

      Looking at the table, Real have played against two of the top half of the current table, and against five of the bottom half, currently 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th.

      Barcelona might have more things to worry about, because of the seven teams played, only one has been from the current top half(Villareal). Barcelona have played the current 11th, 12th, 13th, 16th, 17th and 18th.

      On the other hand, Barcelona still misses a key piece, who right now might be gnawing at the bit(I just had to do that 😀 ) and the team is still developing the instinctive understanding and cohesion it needs to function properly. While Real has brought two players and one keeper, Barcelona has brought eight(Ter Stegen, Bravo, Rakitic, Rafinha, Vermaelen, Douglas, Mathieu and Suarez), brought up Masip, Sandro and Munir from the B team and has also signed a new coach. Lots of things to settle, lots of rough edges to be rubbed smooth.

      Two weeks of qualifiers and friendlies, gents, then we’re back with Eibar, Ajax and then it’s the Clasico. Barcelona won’t be leaving home until the 24th. or even the 25th of October. Real will be travelling to Valencia for the away Levante game and then to Liverpool for the away Liverpool game.

    8. that official is Uruguayan, ergo with a vested interest. To me it sounded more like wishful musing than a “we’re looking into it and it looks possible”.

    9. Thanks, Peter. I wondered about that, because it was uttered within a month to go on his ban and with the international break, that means it’s effectively pointless. He can play the friendlies for Uruguay anyhow.

    10. From our PoV yes, but remember, under the current conditions Suarez can play with Uruguay only if Uruguay reache the final of Copa America(and if they get eliminated in the group stages he will miss the first two qualifiers for the next World Cup).

  9. For the official record, I hate individual awards in team sport. There are no real criteria, politicking is endless and they too often end up with popularity also having a role to play. Ick.

    There are no actual criteria for the Ballon d’Or, so it usually winds up as a goals contest, because as we all know, the best player is the one who scores the most goals, right? Xavi has never won BdO, which should make anyone giggle as they struggle to define “best.”

    This Sid Lowe piece from 2010 is excellent, as it discusses the whole “complete” player business, and the malleability of standards as they relate to athletes:


    Messi and Ronaldo are both exceptional, extraordinary players. But they are celebrated for their goalscoring exploits, which means that anyone who might be in contention but doesn’t have a gazillion goals, can just forget. And so supporters of each player start with the catewauls, how 3 hat tricks is the bestest EVER, and oh really, I will take 7 goals/7assists over hat tricks, blablabla.

    Bundle them all up and toss them into a nearby lake, I say. Want an individual award? How about your chunk of the winners’ share of a major championship, or a performance bonus for helping your team win something significant. Now, we’re talking.

  10. The frustration partly stems from the general unfairness in the media coverage of the two clubs.

    M*drid’s team and players are often over-hyped. When they defended well, they had the “best CBs in the world”. We’ve had an invincible league opening, and not a word about our defense. M*drid’s front three, with the mediocre Benzema and unproven Bale, were refered to by an acronym early on last season, but who hyped Alexis before the WC? And now Cristiano has had good form for 6 weeks, and he’s not just player of the month, he’s the best in the world. What happened to his poor performances since Christmas? Worst player on the pitch in the CL final? WC performance? Robben-esque diving (of which the resulting penalty goals are apparently worth more than Messi’s assists) and violent behavior? Point is, if Messi had played for the other team, he’d be awarded his 7th straight BdO later this year.

    1. What do you expect? I mean what do you really expect?

      Real has Spanish defenders, French, British, Portuguese and Mexican strikers, Croatian, German and Columbian midfielders. That’s millions and millions and millions of readers, who pay to read good news about the team in which the stars of their countries play. That sells, and sells a lot. And it sells especially well if the players are good looking and tall. It’s all marketing, and off the pitch Madrid is always winning due to that.

      Besides, Barcelona has always been seen as the renegades from the renegade greedy bourgeois province of Cataluña. They get bad press by default, because that’s been the party/social line for years. Who wants to read about Catalans being the richest, contributing the most to the GDP, the most innovative and also winning the most? Few people in Spain, I can tell you that.

    2. If our own supporters don’t rate our defense, why should anyone else? Everything in football is over-hyped. It’s a world bereft of balance. When Messi scores a hat trick, he’s the greatest being, a colossus who doth bestride the Earth. When he doesn’t, what’s wrong with Messi.

      The defense gives up 3 to PSG and it’s “despite all those transfers, still can’t defend set pieces, etc.”

      Hype and narrative are the biggest parts of how the game is being perceived these days. And that includes Barça and Messi, as well as Ronaldo and RM. Don’t forget about the sonnets of praise, odes to wondrous little beings that were being penned about our club.

      It happens everywhere.

  11. Had a couple of most excellent pieces on the team show up today, one that will require your Google Translate skills, but there ya go. It’s a multilingual world.

    This one, which is exceptionally balanced, on the difficulties still to be mended despite a bright, fast start:


    This one is from Rondo Blaugrana (in Spanish) on the left side and how Mathieu just might be the answer:


    1. Nice pieces.
      The fullback positions are a cause for debate really. Mathieu’s performance at the weekend was probably the best a fullback has played so far this season for us. It also allowed us to play two natural centrebacks together giving us a lot of solidity across the whole back line.
      A fit and in form Pique has to start for us and Bartra needs experience because he undoubtedly has the talent. Mathieu at left back also allows us to play Masch in midfield without losing the height of Busquets at St pieces.

      As inconsistent as Dani is, he rarely underperforms in a big match but he is never defensive minded enough to cover for other defenders so he and Alba aren’t compatible in big matches. I’d love to have a right sided Mathieu type to allow the focus of our offensive fullbacks to switch to Alba but there’s none on the market.

      Vermaelen, if and when he regains fitness and form, is never really an option at fullback because he doesn’t have the pace for it but could easily slot in alongside another centreback and allow Mathieu to play left back too.

      Beyond this season, you imagine without Dani that Montoya and Douglas will be the future of our right back positions so it’s difficult to see our left backs being as attacking as Alba but only time will tell I suppose.

    2. Don’t forget Grimaldo, who is coming ready as our future fast, undersized LB option. I also wouldn’t mind having a look at Bartra at RB.

    3. I think Adriano deserves some more chances at RB. Busquets’ heading is dismal so I wouldn’t count on him much for set pieces 😀

    4. After watching Mathieu performance at LB, I started having real doubts about the quality of alba at going forward, He has always been seen as a burden because of his very short stature for a team that was already suffering with height, The major thing that was going for him was his alleged attacking quality, His passing accuracy and the ability to hold on to the ball.

      Yet Mathieus was more intelligent, Had better link up and was more dangerous, Is it just due to more experience?, Well alba is not a toddler, He’s 25.

      Grimaldo is “samper/munir” level talented and very Versailles, I can’t imagine someone else occupying that LB spot in he not so distant future other than him.

    5. Whoa. Why the sudden downer on Alba ? Didn’t have the best of games last time but has played well this year and Mathieu was impressive but it’s just one game and at the moment all we’re doing is looking at options. Mathieu has looked less than stellar in a couple of his games recently. Let’s just file this away and gradually start to build up a notion of what our best formation is.

    6. I agree, Alba is a very good player, both on offense and in defense (not so much for set pieces but to shut down counterattacks with his speed). He’s had a lot of good games for us both this and last season, so I wouldn’t count him out prematurely.

  12. What’s it with this ‘Ronaldo is from another planet’ superlative? did anyone watch the match? i mean did he score a goal while walking upside down on his hands?

  13. how about you are use to playing parked buses week in week out, won’t you get ‘confused’ when you meet an opponent actually comes out to play? same applies for messi, he’s use to been made to work had for his goals it isn’t surprising that he was missing sitters?

    1. Sorry, but the latter part of that logic doesn’t really follow. A player isn’t going to miss sitters because he’s used to scoring more complex goals, if that is your inference. Messi missed some howlers against Rayo, for whatever reason. Probably concentration.

    1. Now that’ll be interesting. I’ve got Ramos down as villain in chief in the last few Spanish NT games, starting with the Ned. debacle.

    2. He still has lots of rough edges. His forward passing needs to be better and somehow he comes across on the field as a little too nice but he is apparently listening to Pique and they get on well. I also like the fact he isn’t scared to venture upfield and reiterate what I thought in the close season when we thought Dani was def leaving – he’s well worth a shot at RB.

      I’m pleased for him while still unsure if he’ll make it to the very top but I’d be delighted if he did.

    3. But that through ball for Munir was perfect! It’s like he watched what Pique did and went, is that it? I can do it too! I hope to see alot more of these in the future.

  14. Zlatan: “I was probably with the best team in history. Their football was beautiful. When I prepared for a game, I knew I had won even before we started. I looked at the players around me and saw [Lionel] Messi and [Andrés] Iniesta and Xavi and [Carles] Puyol and [Gerard] Piqué and Dani Alves and [Sergio] Busquets. Unbelievable! It was football from another planet and I loved it. It was technically perfect.”

    And he rephrased the ‘school boy’ comment and is all about repect nowadays too. Makes me somewhat sad. If only… !

  15. Someone put ronaldo as one of the two GOAT’s along With Messi? Lol that’s hilarious. I scrolled quickly so idk who it was so im not trying to be personal fyi

    1. actually I agree with that, before them scoring 50 goals in a season would have been considered hilarious 😀

    2. I agree with Kev and dislike how it’s all about Numbers. CR without space given to him ( how does he still get all the space in the world) is nada, there is no debate. Leo> CR and CR isn’t the other GOAT, just stop it.

    3. Ronaldo gets that much space because he moves a lot, and because he moves fast. I’ll have to watch again the his games, but I believe this is the real reason – he doesn’t hover around, which makes defenders slack off and focus on another target or building up the attack.

      Real looked quite welcoming the other night on the left. Athletic’s RB and wide mid were allowed to come forward and try to pass and move. Then the ball would be recovered, often by a combination of Marcelo and Ramos, and the ball sent to the midfield, from where it could look for Ronaldo, roaming in the Champs-Elysees on the Athletic right.

    4. Not to defend a footballer that I don’t even like but the debate boils down to belief and objectiveness.
      I believe that Messi is the best player ever. World Cup or no World Cup he is the best player I’ve ever seen.
      Now, for the 18 months or so Cristiano Ronaldo has been clearly better than Messi, due to form or injury or whatever else and that is my opinion being as objective as possible.

      I find it ridiculous how people dismiss Ronaldo’s goals as tap ins, deflections, penalties or whatever but you have to be in the right position to score and you have to have the ability to shoot from 30+yards to score from that distance.
      He only scores because he is given so much space, well maybe someone should tell a couple of football managers everywhere in Europe or at the very least some central defenders. It clearly isn’t as easy as putting someone man marking him because no one has figured out how to stop him for 5 or 6 years now.

      And for anyone who dismisses that it’s all about numbers… it’s a game only won by goals and he does score a hell of a lot of them.

      The fact that he has played for the two clubs that I hate more than any other doesn’t cloud my judgement. What hasn’t he done to be considered up there with, at the very least, the likes of Zidane or di Stefano? Two CL’s, 4 league titles, a few Balon d’Or’s. There isn’t a world of difference to what Messi has done considering the fact that Messi is playing with the likes of Xavi & Iniesta.

      Like I said, I genuinely believe that Messi is the greatest ever and by that logic I have to admit that Ronaldo is up there with the very best. If Messi wasn’t playing in the same era, I have no doubt that Ronaldo could be winning his 5th or 6th Balon d’Or.

  16. when you say for the last 18 months(including the world cup) Ronaldo has been better than Messi, what criteria are you using? cos if memory serves me well, di maria was Madrid’s best player last season. I can’t believe you also think messi does what he does because he has Xavi and iniesta. For the past recent years now, Messi has been the reason why barca clicked or is clicking now. If barca draws or loses a match its because messi wasnt messi . Iniesta and xavi have been on the decline for sometime now. How many assist did Iniesta have last season and how many does he have now? Xavi is the one who always passes sideways and is slow defensively. Now compare that to the fresh attacking talents that EE adds to its team annually from di maria to ozil, to Rodriguez. Ronaldo is essentially their number 9 (forget their formation on paper). Am not trying to down play ronaldo’s abilities; he shoots with both feet effectively ( messi chips with both feet effectively too), he is a good header of the ball and is dangerous with his swerving free kicks. But when he is not scoring, he is not contributing to the team. Compare that to Messi, he’s not only double marked to prevent him from scoring but also to prevent him from creating a scoring chance. Its more difficult to mark a player whose only business is to get into good scoring positions than a player who will need to have the ball to make things happen… For me, the narrative of Messi has Xavi and iniesta and Ronaldo doesn’t is not valid.

    1. What criteria am I using? I dunno, maybe titles won, Balon d’Or, goals scored, big matches won. If everyone in the world except for Barca fans believe that Ronaldo is currently better than Messi then surely you need to open your mind a little.

      I don’t get why people believe that no one marks Ronaldo. Teams must love losing to Madrid so they let him have acres of space and just let him run free.

      There’s no point in arguing that Messi does what he does only because of Xavi and Iniesta because I didn’t say it or believe it but without them this Barca wouldn’t have been as successful and Messi wouldn’t be the same player either.

      Messi is the better player by that doesn’t mean that I can’t see how good of a player Ronaldo is. Sure sure, penalties, tap ins and deflections… Such easy goals I wonder why no one else scores them.

    2. Messi is a better footballer, Ronaldo is a better athlete. Best player is up for grabs. Messi is younger and imo will end up with a better career in the end. I also think he will suffer less from athletic decline due to age, since he has superior technique, vision and tactical awareness.

  17. If it was not for the international break, I would say that any Messi vs Ronaldo debate is pointless, because this is a Barca blog, so Messi has to come out as the winner, anyway.

    Btw, Messi is better than Ronaldo 🙂

  18. When we talk of big matches won, Ronaldo has been key in exactly 0 major victories this year.

    Derbi Madrileño Liga – one goal over the two games, result one loss and one draw(his goal was key for the draw)
    Liga Clasicos – one goal and one assist over the two games, the goal from an out-of-the-box penalty, the assist in injury time to make it 2-1 for Barcelona.
    Copa Clasico – goals by Di Maria(assist by Benzema) and Bale(auto-assist)
    Champions League semi-final: scored two goals in the second leg, when the result was already 0-2 due to Ramos, and Bayern needed to score four goals
    Champions League final: scored the penalty from a dive in invented injury time of the added time to make it 4-1 for Real, in order to get the record for most goals scored in the Champions League.
    FIFA World Cup:…….
    UEFA Supercup:Scored two goals against a much weaker Sevilla side
    Spanish Supercopa:……
    Derbi Madrileño: Scored one goal to make it 1-1, lost the game 2-1.

    Things can go right out of the window by the time the voting process ends, however. Real face Almeria away, then Liverpool away and Barcelona at home. Barcelona face Eibar at home, Ajax at home and Real away. Apparently sports “journalists” can’t remember anything past the last game, so the last one before the voting may be key.

    1. Well said Peter.

      For me Ronaldo is an excellent goal scorer (the most fit athlete in footy too), I would even say, his knack for goals is even better than Messi or Costa or anyone. But once you take way his goal stats, what else is available. This is where Messi gains a huge upper hand and also Messi routinely scores (or used to) great goals. And even without goals, he influences the match. For eg, he was the MOM in the manita game.

      However, the important point, as we all know is that teams defend us differently with or without Messi. There is no player who creates so much fear on (any)opposition coach. Even Mou or a Van Gaal does that. Remember, when Messi scored that beauty against Bilbao, after our Bayern 4-0, Heyneckes insisted on extra training for BM, saying Messi is back.

      Now, how often do we see a team set up defensively against a team having Ronaldo. Even Galatasaray try to attack them, even Sweden played as if they didnt care at all about the presence of CR7. That Euro qualification match was the major reason why Ronaldo got the last Bdor. Please watch it again and see how free Ronaldo is in that match.

      After 2010 Inter semis, or even more so after 2011 CL final, how often have we seen Messi afforded space in the final third.

      @ Ciaran, its true without Xavi and Iniesta Messi would not have been so successful. Xavi or INiesta also would not have looked so good without Messi. Look at how much Spain scored in their peak. Messi already has equal or even better number of assists than Xavi.
      Now, when you say this, why dont you also consider the fact that Ronaldo also played with the best players. MUnited at their peak, and thereafter with Real,the most expensive team in the history. Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Xabi, Ozil, De Maria and all – are they so bad players compared to Xavi and Iniesta.
      Why is it that no one brings up the names of the midfielders who play with Ronaldo, but do this only for Messi?
      Can you even imagine Ronaldo playing, how Messi does for Argentina – ie being the major goal creator and scorer as well?

    2. Oh, forgot this – those who say Ronaldo is as good as Messi, just by looking at the stats, Messi has reached 400 goals playing nearly 200 less matches than Ronaldo.
      Even in CL, Messi has played much less matches than Ronaldo.
      If goal numbers are all what matters, doesnt this number also count?

    1. Well, the basic ones are enabled by default, you just type : and ( or ) or D or P . 😉 also works,

      but as for the rest :O 😡 ;P ;D I’m not sure.

  19. For me, it’s really down to how Messi is playing. If he is playing well there is no comparison. However, at times over the last two years Messi has either not played to his capabilities or has been injured (maybe more than we know). When he doesn’t play as he can then it is a legitimate question ( leaving aside the difficulty I have in regarding him on a personal level as anything other than a spoiled brat). Btw, the Balon D’Or is no great guide. Xavi should have won it certainly once, maybe twice, imo ( despite always passing sideways 🙂 )

  20. For the record, at no stage have I ever said that Ronaldo is as good as Messi but over the past season or so he has played better.
    I don’t play down the abilities of the playmakers that have lined up alongside Ronaldo but Xavi is the best passing midfielder ever possibly and Iniesta creates an awful lot of magic in big games. Fabregas was also amongst the best midfielders in Europe at assists.
    As proof of their abilities they won everything at international level without Messi.

    That is to take away nothing from Messi and I suggest that no one reads it that way. As I’ve insisted on numerous occasions I believe that Messi is the best player I’ve ever seen and the comparison that I made had nothing to do with suggesting that Ronaldo is as good or better but only the fact that if they are so close in the eyes of practically everyone in football then he should be considered amongst the greatest ever.

    Take away his goals? Seriously, what else is as important in football?

  21. Man another Ronaldo Messi comparison, well since I haven’t commented in a while I’m gonna go off topic. Great article Kxevin, as always the world of Culer needs some reminding that part of getting the most out of this magical group of players is to enjoy them every time possible that they step out on a pitch for us to watch. Sure the flip side to this is that for us to enjoy them as much as possible, we want them to be playing to their full potential all the time, but this is not possible, and I won’t complain too much about 3 points. To be clear, if I was Enrique I would not tell the boys they were good ‘buff in this game…(apart from the back line).

    A few thoughts on PSG, what was wrong with the press? It didn’t exactly seem like it was purely a problem of intensity/commitment, but that our positioning was not quite right. I’m no tactician, and I haven’t gone back to look at the game in depth but this seemed a problem to me. Lots of people (all over) saying alba has shown that his defensive game is shot he comes up against a player as fast/faster than himself, does nobody remember the great welsh disappearing act of last seasons clasicos?? The only time bale hurt us last year was in the cops when he was up against a gimpy bail on the right, alba kept him totally in his pocket otherwise. I really like the idea of a bigger, defensive minded fb to partner a winger who occasionally tracks back on the other, and I thought Matthieu did this well the other day, but alba is our best wingback right now, and as Kevin pointed out, we have a potential future great wingback in the pipeline who also plays on the left… I’m pretty sure bartra has played rb before, does anyone know to what extent? I do wonder if he’s quite quick enough… I’m also just a smudge concerned that Alba’s problems in Paris were the result of being stuck between two roles in Enrique’s system, with the responsibility to supply all the attacking width on our most dangerous side, but with the responsibility also to have to consistently snuff out a very potent counter attacking threat, maybe this was less true in the last classicist vs bale, dunno.

    Finally, anyone see Sevilla vs deportivo the other day? Hat trick of assists for our arrogant phenom, including a nice lob over the entire deports I defense, and a great solo run where he had his head up enough to see the space his run created and slide a nice pass into it to be slotted home. I really, really hope he can get his attitude fixed to the point emery can select him every week, read rumors of recalling him and sending him back to Everton id he doesn’t get more playing time, thin is, he never got much time there either. As far as taking your chances and doing your talking on the pitch though, not mucho the you can ask, in the games deu has started this year, who scored gives him an average of 8.76, to put that in context so far messi has got an 8.79 so …. Wow.

    1. The problem with the press vs PSG was twofold:

      1. chasing the ball instead of pressing
      2. slightly dead legs messing up players getting into proper position to press, so see No. 1

      Atop that, PSG made an effort to play quickly and very direct. But note that every time Barça assembled anything approaching a press, they took the ball back.

      Alba’s biggest problem right now is a crap Iniesta. He has other flaws, including excessive reliance on his pace to rectify positioning errors.

      Deulofeu still isn’t doing the thing that he needs to do to get back in Enrique’s good graces, which is defend like a grownup. He should watch Barça B matches and the way that Adama tracks back to understand what is necessary.

    2. It’s a strange one with Deulofeu. Some say that without the defensive work he’ll never fit at Barca and someone else argued (I don’t remember who) that he should put himself first to become the best player that he can become.

      What is without doubt is that when he is on form he is very very difficult to deal with already, not to mention what he could become with experience.

      Still, no one including our own Lucho is better equipped than Unai Emery to get the best out of Deulofeu. He is a really great manager and I foresee Deulofeu being really vital to Sevilla’s success this season.

    3. Ciarin and Kxevin, have you guys watched any full matches where Deulofeu has started for Sevilla? I haven’t quite had the time myself, but I’m wondering how his defending is looking and whether theres been any noticeable improvement since the season began. I for one think his attacking ability should outweigh a lack of defensive finesse, as long as he’s really putting the effort in off the ball. I do think Emery is probably the best man for the job (after Enrique), and hopefully the lad can play a big part in a successful season for Sevilla.

      Also Kxevin, I’m sure you’re right that tired legs played a role in Paris, I think the “chasing the ball instead of pressing” bit is what I was referring to though, sometimes seemed like the team was not tight and organized enough to supply sufficient pressure. At times it did work, and I think we probably forced more turnovers with our pressure than they did with theirs, but didn’t look quite right to me. I wonder if this has to do with how our cm are drifting out wide to cover for the advanced wing backs, leaves some holes in the center if the opposition can play through the first line of pressure. This relates to the third goal PSG scored as well, they kept the ball for far too long and it was a very frustrating goal to watch being conceded.

      One more thing, as far as individual errors on those set piece goals go, does anyone else think Alba was at biggest fault on the first? If he continues his run tracking Luiz, then the guy has defenders goal side and ball side and probably does not receive that ball and score. If Alba doesn’t misjudge that header, then problem well enough dealt with, but by going up for the ball and missing, he just completely takes himself out of the play.

      Anyway, don’t want to come across like I’m only focused on the negative, I love a lot of what I’m seeing this season and feeling optimistic, bring on M*drid!

    4. Careful now Tom, lest you rouse Jim, who will patiently explain to you why both goals were Mascherano’s fault.

      The reality, gentle teasing of a family member aside, is that there are many ways to look at goals scored and conceded. My belief is that rare is the goal that comes down to individual culpability. Usually, especially on set piece goals, it’s a systems breakdown.

    5. Bait accepted 🙂

      On the first Alba isn’t meant to be marking anybody. He is certainly in no way tracking Luiz. He is at the front of the line facing towards the ball so can’t see anything behind him. Presumably he is there mainly because he is too short to mark anyone and to cut out a low ball towards the front of the six yard box which is indeed the direction in which he runs. The ball flies well above his head so no chance of cutting it out. He is already moving before the ball has been kicked so it really has nothing to do with him at all. Because he has jumped to try to header the ball it takes him a second to land by which time he is five yards away. If anyone could have intervened it would have had to be Busi who was closest but he didn’t really have a chance. We did, however, have one man goal side of the scorer,within touching distance and facing towards the scorer ………

      In answer to Kxevin’s gentle prod I haven’t blamed Masch for the second goal – just said his marking was woeful – again. And here was me thinking I was being charitable not pointing out what he should have done better at the third 🙂

    6. Well, I had argued Deulofeu (and any player) should put himself first and become the best player he can be even if it means he may not fit in at Barcelona. Since you don’t remember who it’s probably me =). Just saw on twitter that Deulofew had options and he chose Sevilla himself. And I thought it was the club’s decision. Interesting. But then I don’t know what other options were available for him…

    1. A very nice piece indeed. But I’ll skip the 12 bullet points of what I like about it and get to the one thing I don’t like: the claim by the author that Messi doesn’t care. I think a similar sentiment had been expressed on this board in the past, which kind of bothered me. Just because he’s of few words and seemingly placid nature does not mean he does not *feel* as much as anyone. Just because he doesn’t react as strongly does not mean he’s not *affected* as deeply. Of course I don’t know him personally either so it is pure speculation. But we all saw how very attched he was to those ‘adult’ players around him like they were his family when he was still a teenager, how can anyone speculate otherwise?

    2. What I and others mean by “Messi doesn’t care” is not that he doesn’t care. Far from it. It’s that he isn’t fettered by the concerns of other footballers. All he is really worried about is the ball, and what he can do with it. Everything else is incidental.

    3. Yeah I get what you mean and I’m saying he is ‘fettered’. He does have worldly concerns like most normal human being who is pleased to get recognitions, hurt by criticism, and get insecure or dejected at times. Maybe not as much as some extremely egotistic footballers, but that doesn’t make him ‘not care’.

    4. You still aren’t getting the way the phrase is used. Messi is focused on football in an extraordinary way. That is what it means.

      Here’s the thing: A phrase that isn’t “Messi shits rainbows” isn’t bashing him, or saying anything bad about him. It’s why even were I NOT at all interested in being a fan of a player, positions such as that one would make me reconsider.

      There is a reaction to anything that anyone says about a player someone likes. Messi might have driven that mode of thinking to new levels.

      The way the phrase is used, “Messi doesn’t care” is a compliment. It lauds his single-minded focus on football. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about other stuff, etc, etc. It’s meant to be a compliment, when I AND other writers use it. That entire piece is a tribute to Messi, from the start of his career to now. How anyone can draw anything even remotely negative from it makes my mind boggle.

    5. My objection on ‘Messi doesn’t care’ is NOT because it’s a negative comment or bashing, but because it’s not true. I GET you think it’s a compliment and meant it as one. But you are mistaken nevertheless. This will be my last word on the subject. Feel free to think whoever disagrees with you must be too dumb to understand your subtle and delicate way of expression.

    6. I don’t think that anyone is too dumb for anything. I and others have cautioned about putting words into someone’s mouth. But it is a remarkable world when even a compliment is perceived somehow as negative.

  22. Wow! Messi to get honoured at the burn the eeu(bernabeu) if he breaks zarra’s record! I will pay to watch this, imagine CR’s face priceless tbh,

  23. I just can’t imagine the majority of Madrid fans giving Messi a standing ovation ala Ronaldinho if he does happen to break the record. Mourinho severed the ties between EE and Blaugrane supporters to an all-time low in which we’re still recovering from.

    1. I don’t know why. We renewed Montoya, signed Douglas and now are renewing Dani. It screams confusion to be honest.
      I’m not commenting on any of the three’s abilities as I’m not 100% convinced by any of them consistently but why have three players for one position when they all fit similar physical and tactical profiles even if there are variants amongst them.

      I thought that Dani said that he would be playing in the EPL next year though?

    1. That’s a shockingly bad article. Firstly he contradicts himself in saying that Mathieu has never impressed in his career then says that he is the second coming.
      Then he starts to talk about Vermaelen assuming that he’ll never play a game of football again or something close. Arsenal have a terrible injury record and every player that joins them develops this. Fabregas was perennially injured as a gunner also and then never missed a game for us. I see no reason to expect different from Vermaelen once he gets fit again.

      I would also not expect to see Vermaelen at left back at any stage this season for us. He has filled in there on occasion but always looks uncomfortable there. He doesn’t have any natural fullback inclinations nor the pace for the position certainly not within our system. He could play with a Mathieu outside him at fullback or even play in a back three of needed but never a fullback in our system.

    2. I’m with ciaran. Appalling, mostly because the season is only 7 matches old, and the club knew what it was buying. If Enrique says no worries, then I am not worried. If it comes around December and Vermaelen still hasn’t played for the club, I will be wondering about risks, rewards and oft-knocked Belgians.

      This, for me, has been a season of vendettas and ripping players when we have absolutely no knowledge of them yet. People lost their minds over Douglas, Bravo, Mathieu, etc, etc. It’s like saying a car that you haven’t bought is crap, and here’s why.

      I don’t buy it, and never have.

  24. Ciaran, the Dani Alves issue also confuses me.
    Reportedly said he was going to the BPL, the home of football. Now, this. Then you add the signing of Douglas, including a trailing Montoya, and it becomes more confusing.

    I feel the Board is short of ideas in that position, and are getting erratic, which is too expensive as it is risible.

  25. With Dani Alves, here’s the thing:

    Think about a right back who you would immediately sign for Barça. I watch a lot of football, and there isn’t one that would make me say, “Yes.”

    The deal is rumored to be one year with an option. One of a number of things has happened, but most likely Douglas, who has leapfrogged Montoya on the depth chart, and Montoya himself, haven’t impressed Enrique enough, given the plans he had for that position (Cuadrado) to warrant letting Alves go.

    As far as Alves talking about the Prem, someone (ciaran?) said that it might have been a negotiating ploy. I know this: Dani Alves is in the catbird seat, as the club has many options, none of them as good as he is.

    That a 30+yo RB who is kinda undersized and losing his pace and relentlessness is still one of the best RBs in the world should tell you all that you need to know about the position.

    Complicating matters is that the club can’t make any transfers for two windows, assuming CAS doesn’t hear and heed the plaintive cries of UEFAlona. So if you let Alves leave, the RB options become:

    — Adriano, who has played quite well in that role, but match in and match out?

    — Montoya, who has impressed, apparently, but not to a degree sufficient to warrant a slot in the depth chart ahead of …

    — Douglas, who we still don’t know a damn thing about, except that he backpasses very well.

    Really puts the rumored renewal in perspective. And Alves wants to retire from Barça, so you renew him, and at the end of the bad period you hope like hell that a quality RB is on the market, and you will have plenty of money because of all the talent conga lined up from La Masia.

    1. For me it was sharpness as much as anything. I lost count of the times Iniesta, who was at least trying but didn’t have his best game, carried the ball looking for someone to show but they all seemed to be content to stand beside their markers. Also, this Spanish side doesn’t look capable of slinging the ball about at the necessary speed to disturb numbers back in defence. Some good angled runs from Costa but he’s gonna have a hard time basically playing up front on his own against packed defences.

    2. 2-1 Slovakia. Jim’s observations are spot on. Spain looked like slow, clueless Barça. Iniesta really is mired in something awful right now. Costa is a player for a different system, from the looks of things.

    3. Awful? Sorry – I ddint see it that way. Not sure what Iniesta is supposed to do – hold the ball with no movement up front?

    4. Spot on Kxevin. He only works in one kind of a system – one which both A.Madrid and Chelsea employs. In a free moving type of system he is a a total mess.

      There were too many who were eager to kick Xavi in the world cup debacle. He never was the problem. The problem is that Spain has lost its identity. Have no idea what they are trying now.

    1. Not only that, but I would suggest that if Martino had hammered this club like a madman, even more stuff would have broken. That was a very, very fragile team last season, mentally, emotionally and physically.

    2. It is also one of the reasons why I’m not overly impressed when players say that enrique is very hard in training. Our team plays 60 games a season, was training 2 times a day the way to go? I’ll rather wait and use the power of hindsight later and point fingers. :p

    3. Well, there are many questions raised by that piece you linked to, including “How does the trainer know?” He apparently talked to Arsenal players.

      It’s funny, being an old-ass athlete who refuses to act his age, I have learned a fair bit over the years about work, rest, training hard and when your body needs to just walk while you’re having a donut.

      I rather imagine that Martino rolled in, took one look at that squad, got filled in on the emotional backstory and said “Good Lord! You guys go watch TV, and have a snack. We’ll kick the ball around a bit tomorrow and see how everyone feels.”

      Did that approach have something to do with that mess of a team coming within 5 goals of being in for the Treble? We will never know, but athlete management is a big part of being a coach.

      At present, we have three players who still aren’t fit to train with the group:

      — Adriano, no idea why.
      — Rafinha, who was knocked, and re-injured himself on the day he got the green light to return to the team.
      — Vermaelen, who came to the club knocked, and who knows what kind of damage was done to him at Arsenal.

      In preparing for a long season, you always overload early, then settle into a routine once the season starts. In many ways, the matches are the hard training, and the actual training, once the season begins, is usually skill-specific, and recovery stuff.

      We’ll see as the season progresses what the hard work that Enrique is having them put in does. He has a system, and some talented physios.

    4. What do you mean by this?
      Adriano, no idea why Need I remind you of his nickname, “Crystal Man”? 😀 The fact that last season he was mostly fit should be celebrated for the extraordinary feat it was.

  26. From your reply I couldn’t help but get stuck on the word balance. You being a cyclist could train at your own free will. But how does a manager decide a schedule which is acceptable to the bodies of 25 players. That’s where I think arsenal are tlawed and I can’t help but notice some of our own players having these niggly injuries.

  27. I can’t fathom why Tata Martino likes playing Messi as a static wide. Yea, I know, he started there, but he has outgrown that position, so to speak.

    His comments on Messi’s instructed position against Atletico last season after the UCL QFs is beginning to sound more absurd.

    I mean, you have the best player and #10 in your team. My.

  28. I am so glad to watch a match during decent a time.

    1st 30mins or so it was all Argentina and Messi was involved a lot. Messi was more in the middle and he was deep thus he saw a lot of the ball. He was hardly at RW for the whole match. It’s just that after Brazil scored and became more confident, Messi didn’t drop deep enough to collect the ball until the latter part of 2nd half.

    Needs to work on his FK and penalties.

    He looked tired after his great 1st 30mins. It doesn’t help that he played the full 90 and has played in every single match this season for Barca. Way to go Lucho!

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