Real Madrid 3, Barça 1, aka “Ownership”

Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona
Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona

A big part of being a grownup is ownership, taking control of the moments in life when you so desperately wish you had done better, raising your hand and saying, “That’s on me.”

Players raise their hand to acknowledge a loose pass, or a shot that shouldn’t have been taken, but who will raise their hand in the aftermath of a very thorough hiding at the Bernabeu? Xavi mouths platitudes, such as “We had ’em in the first half, blablabla,” and Iniesta says “You hate to lose matches like this.”

But who will take ownership?

This paean to failure should begin with respect, and a “Well done” to RM, who ruled the day. Xavi’s after the fact bleating is like Jake LaMotta after Sugar Ray Robinson turned his face into hamburger, dripping blood and saying, “You never got me down, Ray. You never got me down.” Which might well have been, but it was an ass whipping nonetheless.

People have been saying it time and again that you can make errors against Elche, but the PSGs and RMs will punish those errors. PSG came down to 3 instances of Keystone Kops defending. It was easy for many, myself included, to say “Work on that stuff in training, and do better next time.” Today can’t be excused, Yes, their goals all came from errors, but they were forced errors:

— A full-speed overlap resulting in a cross and subsequent handball.
— Some “After you, my dear Alphonse” marking on a set piece, leading to a free header.
— Iniesta undressed on the sideline leading to a full-speed (that phrase again) counter

Within those errors was a simple reality: Barça was outplayed. RM got to every loose ball, had their opponent on the back foot for most of the match, causing reactive defending of the type that will beget fouls. People were keeping track of our yellows vs their yellows, suggesting that something nefarious was afoot. Not from what I saw, which was an outplayed team lunging and coming in late, a step behind a fast-moving opponent.

Divide and conquer

What RM did was simple, really. Ancelotti’s match plan reduced every key battle to RM’s favor. So when Neymar got the ball, rather than defending him, defenders just blocked his passing angles. Messi was fronted, his passing angles blocked. Xavi and Iniesta were reduced to prancing irrelevance, and Suarez was mostly isolated. the molasses-like Barça movement giving their defenders plenty of time to switch targets. Mathieu would take an overlap, and Carvajal would simply stay inside to cut off the crossing angle and block the pass.

On attack, the isolation plan continued, Marcelo 1v1 against Alves, Ronaldo 1v1 against Pique and other defenders. Part of the isolation was bred in overall team quality of the type that Barça used to boast, threats everywhere meaning that a defense had to mark everyone. In trying to mark everyone, you often marked no one.

The use of space against Barça was also exemplary, as they always had a free man to take a pass and keep an attack going, something that culers should be very familiar with. They got technicians to enhance their pace and physicality, to make them able to match technical teams with flair and fluidity of their own.

Helping the enemy

In last year’s first Classic, Martino got the lineup right, forcing RM’s formation into a blunder. This year, Enrique rolled out a puzzler:

Alves Pique Mascherano Mathieu
Busquets Xavi Iniesta
Messi Suarez Neymar

Mathieu at LB made sense for the same reason that Adriano did last year. You need a physical player whose default setting is defense. But in the midfield was the living, breathing manifestation of a dire prophesy. Many said that if it is Xavi AND Iniesta, the collective would be too slow, leaving Alves stranded and Busquets scrambling. And with the three forwards essentially doing desultory tracking back or not tracking back at all, a constant numerical superiority was created for RM in attack, once they left behind Xavi and Iniesta.

That means that for a team that attacks and defends with 11, half of the team is out of the play, cast adrift by pace. When RM raised the tempo of the match after about the 20th minute, it began to get really ugly as Barça couldn’t match their pace. They ran faster, passed faster and just seemed to always be a step ahead.

rm suarez

As the pass is struck to Ronaldo on the play that resulted in the Pique handball, not only is the passer unmolested, but he has three open targets to play the ball to. He chooses Ronaldo, and Marcelo takes off on the overlap. There isn’t a Barça player within yards of Ronaldo or any of the other RM attackers. So not only can the play occur in space, but now the defenders have to scramble to cover, which means they are off balance and increasingly error prone.

Mascherano had the Marcelo cross covered, but Pique didn’t know that because he was scrambling.

On the set piece goal, 3 RM attackers pushed up, and Pepe just slid into the space they vacated for his open header. At the time he strikes the ball, Xavi and Iniesta are standing on the edge of the box as though they are looking for a lost puppy. Were they tracking late runners into the box? Good question.

The third goal was just ridiculous, as Iniesta lost possession and Isco broke, taking advantage of a (again) scrambling Barça defense. Space. Running space, passing space, attacking space, space taken away in attack, and compressed on their end of the pitch.

So what happened?

rm enrique

In retrospect, it was the wrong XI. No Rakitic means that Alves was stranded. No Pedro meant that none of the forwards tracked back effectively. Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta are too slow, relics of a bygone era. The game is faster, opponents are faster and play faster. Keep possession and everything is groovy. Lose possession and you have pace and physicality problems, which is what happened.

Atop all that, key players — Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Pique, Busquets were poor. Alves had good plays, but Marcelo could take his corner and set up shop whenever he wanted. Neymar played soft, Messi distracted, like last year’s Messi and Suarez wound up being the team’s best attacker. Go figure.

Enrique erred on the macro level in his approach to the match, thinking that Xavi and Iniesta would be able to play possession football. He didn’t take into account how easily isolate either player can be with a physical opponent that presses intelligently. So Xavi has the ball, but where can he pass it to? Hold it long enough and it gets taken, sending RM off to the races.

On the micro sense, he chose to start Suarez, no doubt wanting to take full advantage of the trident, a thing that too often wound up being separated tines of a fork. Messi and Neymar were too far apart and Suarez was isolated. Yes, people will use fancy illustrations and diagrams to explain what happened, but the simple reality is that RM reduced the match to individual physical battles, and won almost every time.

Not great men

Messi and Ronaldo, despite all the hype, weren’t really all that good today. But the lesser players stepped up. Isco, Benzema, Pepe, Marcelo. Isco’s play today probably has RM supporters who believe in that kind of stuff, jamming pins into a Gareth Bale voodoo doll.

Ancelotti will never be anyone’s Special One, but he doesn’t need that to coach. This was a Classic with no violence and few controversies, just a thorough beating. Such was the savagery of it all that a curious psychological malaise seemed to suffuse the players, almost like they suddenly believed they were outmatched, and began to play in that loose, distracted manner of a lesser team.

After the Messi doorstep chance was missed, some of the fight seemed to go out of Barça, and RM elevated its game.

So what’s next

Celta Vigo is what’s next, and trying to stay top of a table that it surprises me we’re leading. The team will continue to come together, as it has been playing a system that only now has its final piece in Luis Suarez. There are very real deficiencies that are not soluble any time soon, given the looming transfer ban. Suffice it to say, I don’t think that anyone considers it ideal to take Iniesta off and bring Sergi Roberto on. But that is the situation this team finds itself in.

Real ownership

For four years, this sporting project has been being neglected while the board set up its ultimate bauble in the nou Nou. Four years. Guardiola wanted change and transfers. Vilanova wanted change and transfers. Martino wanted change and transfers. Nobody got anything, and now we’re seeing the results of a management policy that short-changes the most important thing: that group the punters pony up to watch.

The minutes piled up, nagging injuries became chronic ones as other, potentially better players come and go. Benatia moves, Mangala moves, Marquinhos moves. Rumors come and they go, stories come out after the fact that make sense of the board’s policy of being stagnant. Now the team has many real problems.

— Who do you sub for Xavi or Iniesta?
— When Alves leaves, and he is declining fast, who goes there?
— If Pique is still the best we got, we got some problems.
— How can any of these problems be fixed with a looming transfer ban?

And of course, making matters worse is that the transfer ban is due to “errors” by the board in how it dealt with its youth players. Somebody squealed, and that was that. The net result is a process that by all rights should have only started with this summer’s spending spree, will be interrupted. The players out on loan can help a few of the problems, but if we are seeing the core of the team suddenly aging, you need a damn sight more than to bring back Deulofeu and Denis Suarez.

Today’s loss is on the players. But it’s also on the board that let the team get to this state. As much promise as Thomas Vermaelen holds, it is almost November and the summer transfer still hasn’t played except in a friendly against a bunch of teenagers. You really can’t argue with the rest of the transfers, as Bravo and Mathieu are proving their worth, and the jury will be out on Suarez for some time.

For now, we have the after effects of a match that really is just 3 points in the standings, even as the beating leaves the team exposed and damaged. The lead over RM is but a single point, but it is still a lead. This team has some work to do, but so does everybody in the club.

rm pique

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. A slightly harsh post. A loss away to the euro champs needs some reflection. We did more than match RM in plenty of areas. Lucho just got a few positions wrong; namely Masch needs to be in that DM role and Pique and Math should be the cb. Alba needed to start.

    The reality is this game doesnt decide shit. Especially so early on. Hell, it should be a motivator to keep driving and tuning away. I have more confidence that RM will drop unexpected points than we will against other mid tier teams. It wasnt even a complete bad day at the office, we just made fundamental happens at times. The beauty of a 38 game season means you can cop it now and then and move on.

    Luchos first classico as a manager too- some slack is needed. The only other slight is xavi wasnt the man to start over Rak.

    I enjoyed the game- thought we showed more than enough and was pleased with what Suarez did. Leo as a concern hasnt rocked up against now the last AM or RM game. Annoying.

    Onwards and upwards..plenty to go and come from this team!

  2. Forgot to also say, football just like life is about taking your chances. The reality is we shouldve been up 2-0 after 6mins. Game over. Lucho im sure will point that out.


  3. I find it truly amazing that Barca have just the right sort of physical DM/CM to play in a game like this (his name is Alex Song) and he is presently bossing the midfield for West Ham. How did that happen? It happened because Song never got a chance at Barca because the legacy players all got first dibs on game time. They won something in 2011 (or thereabouts) and after that became untouchable.
    Latest rumour though is that Pedro wants to go to Arsenal in January. That’s comical, because Barca probably lost Alexis because they wanted to keep Pedro, and now Pedro (it seems) wants to go.
    And, of course, Alexis (who I’m sure wants to show the world he’s a better No 10 than Messi – he’s certainly harder working) is carrying Arsenal on his back. Alexis scored two goals and made SIX tackles against Sunderland. Wenger is starting to build his team “around” Alexis.
    As I said on the previous post. Barca has heavy firepower up front. It must put three defensive specialists in midfield to create a barrier in front of which that fire-power can operate. Barca does not need Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta shuffling the ball around, and then getting caned when they lose it.

    1. I somewhat agree with your last point. We really need a tight dependable defensive base so that our forwards will be less afraid to lose possession up top. Also the set piece vulnerability is getting tiring now. More than 3 years now. Criminal if you ask me.

  4. I am wincing as I write this, this was really a true hiding we got. I’d rank this right next to the Bayern game(s) that we lost. Overrun, out-pressed and out-thought. One difference from last year is that no-one is calling for Lucho’s head…yet.

    Basic difference between their play and ours was space. Except for the first 5-8 mins, whenever we tried to attack, there were 2 lines of 4 defenders in front of us and as Kxevin noted, they cut off the passing channels. And they pressed, harder and faster than we did throughout the game. As soon as they got the ball, they had the entire half in front of them. I cant even remember how often we had 2 defenders against 3 of their attackers.

    I don’t think with the team we have right now, we are suited to play the kind of game we want to play against such quality opposition. I think Lucho dropped the ball on this one. Three options that I think would help us and bear in mind, I’m no expert at this –

    – Give the ball to the opposition more, stay back and add more fast counters to our game. I thought we dwelled on the ball far too long sometimes today
    – Try out some of the youngsters that we’ve been hearing about – Samper/Adama etc
    – Do what Tata did last year and play 4 mids to give us that control (He wasn’t crazy after all)

    I’d advocate patience with the team and the manager and quite honestly I don’t think we’re in contention for CL this year. Even if Suarez somehow clicks. Liga – maybe. I’m sure Lucho will learn immensely from this game.

    1. If the defense has cut the passing lanes, you open new ones by moving off the ball. We did none of that today, and that’s one of the most inexplicable things.

      And it’s not like they played great defense all the time – there were so many situations, the same kind of situations they had, in which they had 5 men in front of the ball and we could have killed them on the break, but the ball was moved forward by walking with it, not by running, and the three men in front of it were just standing. I don’t understand this.

  5. The more I reflect on this game, the more I am really scared about the future.

    A lot has been written about how in the mid-00s the game was all about strong physical players in midfield. And then we came and were able to dominate it with midfielders who were short and not very fast, but very good on the ball. That rested on being technically superior and being much better organized than everyone else, but was always a very fragile and difficult to maintain system. But if everything remained the same, it could have still worked.

    The problem is that the top teams we play know have both raised their technical level, and have speed we did not have to face 5 years ago. I am not at all sure we would have been able to contain this RM team even if we could roll back the clock to 2010.

    And this is the really scary thing – if you look at the midfielders we have in the youth system, they are all of the same mold as Xavi and Iniesta. So let’s say some of them develop into players of the same ability as them (and not more Sergi Robertos), is that going to be sufficient to dominate against the teams of the future that come at us with that much speed and physicality, but are also almost as excellent technically as we are? And why aren’t we working on this? I don’t remember Isco flying down the wing with the same speed when he was a Malaga player. Apparently RM’s physical preparation is working better than ours.

  6. Very fair assessment. I am glad the post-game reactions I’ve been reading have been fully admitting where the players, Lucho, and our transfer policy has let us down.

    My entire TL in unision when Pedro was subbed in ” Well we’re admitting defeat now.” I am not happy that Sandro, with Suarez finally be available, has immediately been shipped back to Barca B. He’s come on very strong, and I dont know a soul that wouldnt rather give him minutes over Pedro, whose time has most definitely passed.

    Off the bench ( when we start the ideals of Rak and Iniesta ) we have aging Xavi and Sergi Roberto. Take a bow Barca board.

    Also, it’s time to call it like it is: Busi and Iniesta have been off for some time and I havent any clue why. Masch needs to start playing in the mid in these types of matches, though Busi isn’t being helped by Lucho having the CM’s stick close to the wings to cover for the FB’s

    Why was Mathieu going forward? Anyone?

  7. One thing.

    People natter about why Messi wasn’t pressing, but to my surprise forgot that he was unreasonably yellow-carded very early in the game. It tapered down his press, as he was on the brink of getting a red, for the first time in his club career.
    To me, that would be more embarrassing than him “cautiously” going on a walkabout.

    Same goes to Neymar, too.

    1. What about the at least two occasions I can immediately recall when he would have been through on goal had he bothered to come back onside on time?

      That has nothing to do with pressing cautiously.

  8. But i think the ref was also bias against Barca.Barca should have got a penalty before they(madrid)got one instead he ignored but he managed to see Pique touching the ball.

  9. I’m actually not disappointed with the result. A loss of this type against Real Madrid was always possible. They’re the best in the world now; we haven’t been since 2011. It’s better to get used to the idea that while we are certainly better than most teams in Europe, we’re no way near the big boys.

    No, the real disappointment was Enrique. Why the sudden reversal to the old and slow midfield trio? You want to keep the ball against the the best team in the wolrd without the ball? What happens when they lose possession? It made no sense.

  10. Another thing. Villanova in ’13 and Martino last season were indeed given scraps and told to get on with it. It may have been better then to finish the league in a position that proved we were on a decline and in need of reassessment and rethinking. As it was Villanova won the league and Martino finished second, fooling some of us and more importantly fooling the board into thinking we were ok with what we had.

    Things were not so dire. But they were. Very much so.

    And still the board took measures to redress the situation only, I fear, because they knew a ban was coming. Would have they done anything if there had been no ban?
    The two defenders the signed were a permanently injured player, and one who at 30 was coming to his first big club. We probably overpaid for both.

    1. But that mentality assumes that we are entitled to win the CL and LA Liga every year or we are on the way down. Other teams come up as well you know.

  11. Ok, sitting having a leisurely breakfast coming to terms with the fact that we’ve lost the first Clasico – but are still top and they have to come to us so no great disaster. The point a lot of commentators seem to be making is that we are doomed, we never turned up and that our team is too old. Actually I kinda agree with the last point. An average age of over 29 is taking a chance against such a physical side but more of that later. What has intrigued me is people pouncing on Xavi’s comment about us dominating the first half so I decided to watch the match in segments, the first being up to the award of the penalty.

    First things first. If Xavi had said we owned the first 30 minutes he is absolutely correct. The gameplan worked perfectly. They were in disarray and were arguing amongst each other, culminating in their defence urging Casillas not to release the ball early as they were all out of position defending. I’m gonna separate Xavi and Iniesta here because Ini worries me a lot more than Xavi. Xavi was quite simply immense in this period, at the heart of everything we did. Those who quibble about the short passing game have a look at the 29th minute. That is what we are about. A full RM defence back yet with patience we open them up completely and only a great tackle from Carvajal ( how good was he? ) stopped us. Xavi intercepted the ball in the first place and was involved four times in the passing move. What I would say is that on that occasion we had numbers up supporting him and he had choices of pass. Hardly a “prancing irrelevance”. On no occasion in the first half hour were we outnumbered or really stretched in defence and Bravo had nothing really of note to do,

    Their goal ! Our first disaster but as a rare occurence I’m going to absolve Alves. Not his fault. Yes, if he had done more than shuffle across slowly he might have saved himself some grief but that wasn’t the problem. We found ourselves outnumbered on that side and though it pains me to do it I’m gonna point the finger at Ini. He was out there with Alves. Alves had his man and it was obvious to everyone that the overlap was on to Marcello. However, Ini stood and watched. Even when the pass was played it was poor Alves who had to hare after him. That was a real mistake. Tiredness towards the end of a busy half? Who knows but not Alves’ fault for me. We then come to Pique. Remember, all this has happened at speed and it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Pique’s one job is to try to intercept the low cross ball in front of the keeper at the front post. He is usually brilliant at staying on his feet if he doesn’t have to commit himself but on this occasion he felt he had to throw himself to stop the low ball. Did he? Don’t know but one thing’s for sure. If it got past him Masche wasn’t getting it. Ronaldo was in front of him. Probability for me is that Bravo would have got to it. Anyway, Once Pique decided to throw himself to block it the trailing arm was a physical inevitability and it was a pen.
    To sum up at this stage, for me both on first and second viewings we were on top in the first half hour. Our midfield had control and the only slight niggles I would have had were that once we scored we slowed everything down too much ( I’m gonna point a slight finger at Messi here just because I noticed it more with him) , we’d had the warning of not enough cover on the right and Mathieu was giving the ball away too easily on the left. Nothing major. So what happened after that to turn it into a stroll in the park for them as I felt when I watched it live? Time for a coffee first. Don’t you just love quiet Sunday’s when you’re retired ? 🙂

  12. If I had a dollar for every time we got the ball and held onto it until EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEIR PLAYERS got back and SET UP into two banks of impenetrable defense I’d have quickly had enough money to pay our bar tab.

  13. Ok. Last fifteen of first half and first fifteen of second half.

    No doubt goal had perked up RM. They started pressing the midfield a lot more but tbh to little effect. It did produce a few more turnovers – Matthieu in particular in the fifteen leading to half time has to do better with the ball – but nothing vital. Our worst moment came when Pique tried to clear James’ cross ball but didn’t get to it. Not sure why and it looks like an error but he is off the ground so could it have been mistimed? Don’t know. Anyway, CR7 has left Mathieu standing and gets a head. Could have been a problem but really an isolated effort on the way to half time. It looked to me that both teams were starting to feel the pace a bit. Special mentions for good cover/ tackles by Dani and Masche.

    For me, Xavi was right in that we were the better team. We can discuss whether our possession is good or bad but we had it and more importantly we were never run past. Not once in 45 minutes did they catch us short of numbers at the back. Look at 40 mins. Tidal Ronaldo fast break. Ends with him swinging over a hopeful cross to no one. Why? We have five back to their two up in attack. They are knackered at this stage. Where is that narrative coming from? Maybe it’ll all change in the second half but so far? Nope. Our defence looks better than theirs.

    I’m reminded of Kxevin’s point about Bale’s pace and no doubt he would have been up in support bit then they would have lost Isco’s contribution and it was massive, especially work wise. Where did that come from?

    Onto first fifteen in second half. Begins with misclearance from Masche but nothing comes of it. Unbelievably no card for Modric after hauling down Suarez from behind. When I watched the game first time round I missed Messi and Neymar’s cards due to Sky’s coverage but if Ini deserved one no way Kroos for the tackle on Messi and Modric for this didn’t also deserve one. Hmm, ref going down in my estimation but only because of consistency. Most of the calls are right. First break from Messi’s FK confirms first half thoughts. Quick unexpected break but we have five back to their four. Great tackle from Mathieu. Great block from Pique. How could this all have gone wrong is my thinking at this stage. Good break from them, great block from Pique on Ronaldo. Wait a minute. Is this the Pique who should never see another minute on the pitch. Rewinding to see why the break happened, we did slow the ball down too much which allowed them to gather and then press us in numbers. Moral – keep that ball moving, we can do that. After that Mathieu decided to whack the runner (Isco or James? Not sure )but missed him. First time we have been low on numbers but even so not outnumbered and defence did its job. Then, disaster 50 minutes in. I defy anyone to say to me that at this stage we weren’t at least as good as them. I would argue better. What the hell happened ( again!) on a setpiece ? On a first freeze of the picture we are still playing our zonal on the edge of the six yard box – against one attacker. That leaves all the rest of RM to have a run and jump – not a good idea. So I’m absolving goalie, Neymar, Suarez and Pique. Can’t make out who is marking who but the most obvious thought is that, given Bravo’s starting position we need to look at putting a man on the back post. Why is this looked down on in every country other than Britain? We know we’re not good at set pieces already. Man on post, even tiny man, this goal doesn’t happen – end of ! After that there is a stramash ( as a great Scottish commentator used to say ( very onomatopoeic ) and you can’t see clearly but Pepe has engineered a free header. Masche is there but on this occasion I think blameless as he is marking Benzema as well as Pepe at the end. Best guess is that Dani was marking him and falls, or is pushed over at the start of the move leaving Pepe free. This can’t keep happening. We’re not using our big men well and our little ones even less. Btw, in answer to what Xavi and Iniesta were doing both were marking front ish on the edge of the area. Xavi was nowhere near it so how he can be involved I don’t know and Iniesta actually does well. He is frontish but sees James on the edge well behind him and moves back to cover him. Bottom line they should at least have someone making their life difficult. This has cost us too often. If LE doesn’t know what he’s doing bring in Puyol to train them on attacking a ball for a few days. They might go home with sore heads but they’ll be better. Immediate change after that in the atmosphere. They’ve got something to hold onto and now even James is tackling like a demon. Was this the turning point? Immediate break from them but we still have five back. Yes, I confess Ronaldo left Xavi standing from ten yards inside their half with a thirty yard sprint. List on a postcard to me of the footballers he wouldn’t have done that to ? However, still no problem as we have numbers back. I hate to say it as he had a good game generally but Masche causes the chance by leaving Ronaldo to go out to Benzema who is already being hassled by Busi. Result is decent ball and chance.

    Now at this stage you could take the view that we are being over run or that being CL champions and a darn good side RM are having their point in the game to be on top. Certainly since the second goal they have the wind in their sails but this is 52 minutes in. We are starting to go individual. Both Messi and Neymar lose the ball trying runs. Suarez looking good but loses footing at vital moment. He’s gonna be great. Lovely timing of runs that hurt them. Ok, now I’m starting to see a problem emerge. We are still in our heads playing a pressing game but our forwards are shot and can’t close anything down. At this point away from home I’d suggest you retreat and keep your shape. Give them the ball in their half as all we’re doing is giving the mids more area to cover. Still in this game however as Messi plays great ball to Neymar who cuts it back to Messi. Yard further cut back and that’s an open goal followed up by great shot from Mathieu and world class save from Casillas. Reality check two, has Casillas made two wonder saves and Bravo ? Next quick break we have five back and no problem still. Where is this running through us? Still chances for us. Suarez pulled back when clean through. Now, I know he went down far too easily and I’m not complaining the ref’s correct decision but give him four or five matches and Pepe doesn’t catch him. Just saying, but the move was started by Xavi doing the running to close down and winning back possession. Last five minutes we’re back on top. One right in the face for Ronaldo. I’m devastated.

    Ok, we’re now at sixty minutes and I’m gonna stop the second section there. I have to say at this stage we’re a goal down through our own stupidity and not through them cutting through anything. We ‘re as likely to score as them and holding our own in midfield. LE now decides to make the change. He brings off Xavi. Right or wrong. Ok, I know Xavi will be tired and I’m not mindlessly criticising him taking Xavi off – they all are tired but you need to think what is the game going to look like without him. Can we hold the ball in midfield ? If Xavi comes off, who’s the glue that will keep us possession when we’re tired until a chance presents itself or are we bringing on Rakitic to make a difference to attack? Anyway, time for food ( and apologies for the length of these posts – Kxevin, I now understand partly why you do this. It’s cathartic 🙂 especially after such a defeat. 🙂

    1. Excellent indepth analysis. So it seems like that unfortunate Iniesta blunder that led to the third RM goal took the spring out of our steps 😀

    2. At the risk of falling out with a compliment – never a good idea, I’m not sure I’d blame Iniesta for that one. However, I’ve only seen it once so far and it’d be unfair to comment till I’ve had a good look, especially as my initial thought was that Masche had made a complete pigs breakfast of it and given my history with him and all …….

      Unfortunately, my grand plan to put the world to rights this afternoon has been scuppered by my good lady’s worldview that I’ve been sitting on my backside most of the day typing endlessly into my iPad about something nobody cares about and I’m now coming shopping :(. So it’ll need to wait till later but I’m really curious as to whether the sky did fall on our heads in that last thirty and why or whether we’re all locked into a “doomed” mentality and that skewed our opinion.

    3. I watched it a couple times and it seemed to me that Iniesta basically dribbled away from Masche which took him by surprise. He knocked the ball too far and the RM player was quick to take advantage of that.

    4. Spot on, Jim. Stepping back and looking at what happened and how it happened, then writing about it is like purging. You get rid of it even as you come to grips with it. Very useful.

    5. I am looking forward to what you have to say about the last 30 minutes.

      But I distinctly remember multiple situations when it was numeric advantage for them on the counter, and there were several moments when I was asking myself whether I should turn it off and avoid seeing the 4th and 5th goals go in or keep watching.

  14. Jim when you review again have a look at Pique again. It was a collective failure but Pique’s shakiness of recent times resurfaced again. He was lucky not to concede three penalties. Funny thing is you could sense it was coming. The defeat is on not on him though. Hindsight is 20 20 but Mathieu in the centre and Alba at left back would have been better. Mathieu is not comfortable playing ball though he showed some good moves.

    1. Yup, can’t argue that it could have been two. Not sure where the third was. Mind you it probably wasn’t as obvious as Marcello’s. If the ball isn’t near you tend to get away with them but that doesn’t answer why he did it when Benz was just running offside, which btw he does quite often to upset the defence and lose marker, a bit like RVN used to do.

  15. Jim! Excellent stuff, man. I still say that while losses suck, nothing brings out the quality in how people watch a match like a beatdown.

    — This club needs a Guardiola exorcism. Some are saying that Barça has gotten away from what Guardiola brought us, whatever in the hell that means. Guardiola hates the idea of tika taka as much as anyone else. Unlike Rijkaard, who was purged from the collective memory after he didn’t grab major silver for two seasons, the memory of Guardiola lives on, like a millstone. Huge respect for the wonders that he worked, but he’s gone, coaching a team that would squash us like a bug if they could. New team, new coach, new ideas, and it is in this last that for me, Enrique was found wanting.

    Cohesion, a plan, a system … none were really in evidence yesterday. Barça became Celta, a plucky underdog who scored first, showed well then succumbed to a superior opponent. People love to crap on Martino, but you know what? His teams had a plan. His teams, in the Classic, also WORKED.

    Play yesterday was too slow in every phase. Busquets used to catch and release. Now he holds the ball and messes around with it, getting caught in possession more often than not. If you get a foul, so what? You still killed the attack. That midfield 3 was playing in slow motion, allowing plenty of time for the RM defenders to set up.

    — Time to jettison sacred cows. Iniesta is out for minimum two weeks with a thigh injury. Okay. No worries. He’s been poor for some time now. Let him heal, and figure out what his deal is. The shame is that Busquets has stagnated tactically, or you would have loved to have seen a midfield of Busquets/Rakitic/Mascherano.

    I would have taken Messi off before Suarez and moved Neymar to the center, bringing in Munir. I know taking off Messi in a Classic is blasphemy, but he deserved to come off.

    — I trust that Pedro’s role in defending and donkey work is appreciated more, now that we have seen the future without it. Maybe, maybe not. But the evidence is there.

    — I find it funny that people are taking after Mathieu with such vigor, even today. Mathieu was the least of our problems. I understand that some shouldn’t be criticized, so let’s get the new guy. But anyone who has a brickbat for Mathieu, but doesn’t have one for Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique, Alves or Neymar as well, should watch the match again.

    It’s the omnipresent danger of applying the incumbent template to the new person. Mathieu isn’t Alba. Alba does the Barça passing thing well. Alba is also positionally suspect, and about as physical as my Grams. But unless you look at what Mathieu did outside of a preexisting positional template, you will always be doomed to dissatisfaction. He attacked better than Abidal, for example, while bringing greater defensive stability to that side of the pitch than Alba would have. It’s why Ancelotti chose Alves side as his route one. Without Pedro or Rakitic, Alves is exposed by a fast, attacking FB, even as he can no longer make that counterpart pay on the offensive end.

    Mathieu? He was fine. There are plenty of other things to take after.

    — Claudio Bravo was really, really good yesterday, and his distribution from the back is fast improving. Funny how the wrong guy has really come to be to the manor born, so to speak. His performance is lost in the anguish, I reckon.

    1. Indeed not is doom and gloom about this loss. It’s not like brand new problems became apparent, it’s just the old ones we already knew about resurfacing. Plus a couple of our best players are having a period of poor form. Hopefully our manager will learn from this.

    2. I trust that Pedro’s role in defending and donkey work is appreciated more, now that we have seen the future without it. Maybe, maybe not. But the evidence is there.

      As I said in the previous thread, I really want to believe that LE will use this game as proving point to his star forwards to convince them that they have to play defense or otherwise there will be a lot more of this in the future.

      You just can’t compete against the RMs of the world today with multiple players not pressing hard, and that’s especially true for us. When Suarez got taken off, it showed that he ran 8.1km in 65 minutes, which is above average, and I think he will do his part, even if it was not very effective pressing today. But there was no point at which Messi and Neymar looked likely to dispossess someone. That has to change. 2008-09 worked because Henry and Eto’O ran their asses off pressing lime mad dogs, and Messi was doing it too. The midfield has aged and slowed down, and that’s a big problem, but it was never fast to begin with, it was just never exposed to such an extent.

    3. Another strawman – “I understand that some shouldn’t be criticized”. What does that have to do with Matthieu playing slow, and clumsy, and lost? It’s just a cheap way to discredit the observation. I think he’s been pretty good this season, but he was shite on Saturday. I don’t think he was remotely responsible for the loss, but he looked the slowest, the clumsiest, and the most lost on the day, even if he is usually fast, skillful, and decisive. Jeez, talk about preconceived judgments…

  16. Another thing worth noting is that if Messi finishes like Messi, and Neymar doesn’t rush things at the goal mouth, it’s 0-3 and a very interesting match. People are crediting the Casillas save, but no. He touched it, but Messi should have hit that ball hard enough to take it and Casillas into the net.

    Neymar’s chance was excellent, but he rushed it rather than using some of those parlor tricks of his to let the first defender (there’s always a first defender) slide by. Reminded me of how we finished against Chelsea in that CL match, snatching at chances rather than just putting them away.

  17. It will be foolish to blame anyone for this loss. This is a loss which bears the testimony that football is a team game. There was no shining light. None except Suarez given the circumstances. The team appeared lethargic and there was no shifting of the gears.

    The slow tempo in the first persisted throughout. Why was there lethargy? Did they train too hard leading up to the game? Where was that little verve? Did we fear too much of their counter such that we dared not play the ball at speed? Why does it seem that we are no longer a first touch team?

    If we are to press then the lines need to be a bit compact. I hope we learn from this defeat.

  18. On reflection I think a lot of people are being a tad harsh on the team. This is a game of inches and honestly we could have been 3-0 up and the game done and dusted before Madrid could do anything about it. Didn’t work out that way but it could have, those are the margins that this game hinges on at this level. Ppl talk about that Guardiola team but these same ppl forget that many of those games hinged on inches that went our way instead of against us. Against Chelsea Iniesta’s goal could have easily been an inch too wide and against Utd in the CL final Ronaldo missed chances that he really should have buried. Yes we lost yesterday, but I think the last half hour made it seem a lot worse than it actually was. I do think LE made some crucial mistakes, but he is a very young coach and he will learn. Pep also made plenty of mistakes.

    Have faith guys. This is an exceptional team with some extraordinary players. Given a bit of time they will flourish, i really do believe that. LE needs to be brave though, and like Kxevin says, start witting some of the old guard. Tbh I was really shocked when I saw the MF trio of Busi/Xavi/Ini starting. It seemed to go against everything he had done so far this season. Maybe he felt he should give them one last chance to show they can still do it? I can understand starting Xavi given his recent form, but Busi and Ini both should have been on the bench. A MF of Masch, Rak and Xavi would have done a much better job of it I feel vs Madrid’s MF

    Anyways, onwards and upward. We are still top of the table and they still have to come play us on our ground, hopefully by then the coach will have this team playing the way he really wants. Then we can see what’s what.

  19. As much as i understand football for all these years, at least i know that a player on the field is the player who is more prepared, physically and mentally.
    For the moment – Busi, Iniesta, Pedro, Pique, Alves, Xavi – they all should do some workout, some on their mental strength, some on their physical and Iniesta on every single department of preparedness for a game.
    Playing based solely on former glory will not work out, at least not against big boys.
    As for Lucho, he got scared, simple as that. He went for the safest decision, play the old guard, maybe they still got it. Wrong. They don’t. Everybody on the planet already knows that.
    But, as some other already pointed out, it’s only 3 points, and we are still ahead in the league, and hopefully we’ll just get better from here.

  20. Ok, home again. Quick one as Chelsea is recording. Last thirty.

    Begins with another absolute disaster as we know. Rakitic just on takes the poorest corner you’ll see in a long time. Against possibly the best counter attacking side in the world – suicide. Still no problem as we have sufficient cover – just. Isco takes it out to the wing where Iniesta, despite the harsh words I’ve had for him, does great. He has about a yard start on Isco and maintains it so I’ll not hear any talk of lack of effort or speed. He gets there comfortably before him and flicks it back to Masche who is waiting to see if he needs to intervene – except he’s not. He comes across, sees Iniesta comfortably in front of Isco and he can either put it out or flick it back. The only way we lose is if Masche insists on intervening. Why? What is he trying to do? Iniesta will either put it out or pass back to him. Even if Isco somehow gets the better of Iniesta all he can do is poke it well ahead of him down the line and Masche can easily cut it out given that Isco has already sprinted at least thirty yards in the
    Ats third of the game and will be knackered. No, mistake all day for me. Took himself clean out of his covering role. Not all down to Masche, however. Rakitic’s ball as I said was suicide.
    At this point I found myself feeling sorry for Bravo. He’s done nothing wrong.

    Anyway, two down but we go down the other end and another example of Dani’s poor distribution. Suarez comes short, looking for a one two with him and Dani loops a hopeless ball into the centre to Messi and Neymar who are marked by four pretty tall guys. Commit, Dani, and take them on. They would in the same situation. Wouldn’t get onto you for losing it there but I groaned as soon as I saw you shaping up for the cross. To be fair to the team we’re still pressing high up. What’s obvious now is our fatigue. Iniesta has the ball holds it looks up and sees three forwards all standing still beside their markers. Not getting at them but that makes it hard to do anything other than pass it sideways. Rakitic loses possession and for the first time we’re two on two at the back. Great tackle from Masche. See, that’s where he’s excellent. When there is no choice but to make a last ditch tackle my money is on him every time. Iniesta great through ball to Suarez who lost his marker but just too strong. Again, earlier in the match or in three weeks time thats a goal. Ronaldo runs past Alves but he doesn’t give up and gets back to him to make a tackle. I’m actually quite heartened watching this again. This team which I thought was a bit dispirited actually isn’t and we’re mopping up their attacks reasonably easily. Question ? Has Bravo had a difficult save to make yet ? Decent Suarez cross to Neymar which is his last act. Couldn’t have asked more of Suarez as he comes off but without doubt with twenty minutes to go Id have loved to see a fresh Suarez come on to replace Pedro. Would Pedro have tracked back on the first overlap? Can’t say but he works hard on defence. Busi loses in a dangerous position but we’re still at worst three on three and its a wild shot over. At this point Busi loses the ball again and another charge. They are getting at us more. This is in the 70 th minute, Busi is on his backside having tried to foul Modric, Rakitic is standing beside him having just come on. Who do you think is the one who chases Benzema back to our area and who gives up the chase? Clue, it’s not Rakitic. However, again we have four at the back and deal easily with it.

    Folks, this is not the giving up easy goals to breakaways team of the last two seasons. We have numbers back and are dealing with the best they can throw at us. Iniesta pulls up with calf problem. He’s not had a great game ( possibly again) but he has put a whack of chasing in. Is LE asking too much of the CMs ? Don’t know.

    They can now sit back quite comfortably and hit us on the break. However another chance to us when Rakitic plays a ball through to Messi who sets up for Neymar but poor finish poss due to losing his footing. By this stage they are winning most of the 50-50 balls which is making life hard. It’s still just as much us as them. Poor Dani cross again and they break, flicking the ball over Mathieu’s head. Pique makes an error in not hoofing it into the stands and trying to keep it in play but interestingly it’s his decision as he gets there comfortably ahead of Benzema. Good block by Masche from resultant shot. Commentator announces that Barca’s defence have been frail for majority of the game. I’m just not seeing that. Bravo has had nothing to do but pick the ball out of the net. Don’t like watching the rest as they’re playing it about and we’re tired but still they’re not creating anything dangerous. Another last ditch from Masche as they’re now well on top. Team is still trying to press though, gets the ball and decent hard cross from Rakitic. Ruins it after that though with his second corner which doesn’t get past the first man and leads to breakaway. With your two tall defenders up you can’t do that.

    And that’s about it. After that we huffed and puffed and they waited for a chance to break.

    HaVing watched it twice we can debate a lot of things but some things are clear to me.

    1. This team didn’t give up.
    2. This was an even game until the last twenty.
    3. Our defence did well in open play. Can you think of one occasion where Bravo had to save us? Masche played better than I’ve seen him at CB. Still reckon he’d have been better at DM instead of Busi who was never fit for this game. Still don’t want him at CB. Every game there’s a decision he makes that costs us. Much better one in front of the defence. Pique also has to get back to the Puyol school of defending. Two or three times recently he hasn’t given the opponent enough credit and has tried to keep balls in when Puyol would have hit row Z. Having said that, apart from these he was a rock.
    4. Mistakes. We can’t keep on doing this to ourselves. They were the difference. One genuinely created chance for the penalty but poor marking at a setpiece and a children’s howler are not on at this level.
    5. Nothing improved after Xavi’s exit. Not having a go at Rakitic but he did nothing in thirty minutes against a tired opponent and I saw him walking the vast majority of the time. He’s going to have to step it up if he’s in there to add energy and drive to the team. It’s not happening. If he’s there for his passing he’s got a hard season ahead.

    Some things that didn’t happen.

    1. They ran through us at will. No, they didn’t and when they arrived at the defence they were dealt with.
    2. We gave up. No, we didn’t. This team was still pressing high up the field at the end and just watch Iniesta busting a gut trying to stay ahead of Isco for the third.
    They controlled the first half. Not even close.

    We’d be foolish not to admit though that now they have added some football playing ability to their pace and physicality they are an awesome opponent. If we are to coete with them we need more from some of our big name players and LE in terms of set up.

    1. I agree. We’ve conceded goals that were basically us shooting ourselves in the foot, but aside from that we’re much less vulnerable to counterattacks than last year.

  21. What a difference a day makes.
    Now that we lost that match everything is doom and gloom. Real Madrid have assembled some very good athletes and have matched them up with some very good footballers but we should have had them dead and buried 30 minutes in.

    The biggest disappointments for me are Busquets and Iniesta. Both players have regressed to a great extent in the past year and have had no form this season. So many people were calling for Cesc’s head but I for one would have loved to have that option yesterday. We used to specialise in something called third man running in which was non existent last night.
    Also having Alexis instead of Pedro would be a massive difference.

    Once again my issue with our transfers is that we made our first team stronger in gaining Suarez but didn’t improve our squad and it showed yesterday.

    1. Agree with much of this, Ciaran, we’ll not meet a harder team for us this year but we handled it quite well. As one of his biggest fans I’m also worried about Iniesta. I think Busi just needs to get properly fit and Masche at DM gives him that chance. I’m not sure what the problem with Iniesta is. He’s not lost all his pace as he never had all that much yet successfully outran Isco at the third goal. I’ve always felt he is a player who needs to know that he’s needed if that makes sense. He needs someone to remind him how good he is and expect great things from him. I don’t know what his relationship with LE is but I hope he takes some time out to talk with him before he comes back. At the moment he’s not at his best, although not as bad as some have asserted.

      Your point about running onto passes is the big one for me. At the moment we are passing to stationary players. Look at the overlap. Marcello was going hundred miles an hour when the ball was played in front of him. Too often Dani is filling the spot rather than running into it late. That’s what gives you the upper hand if you’re faving a static defender. It’s the same with the forwards. Balls played short so they can come to them, lay them off to a runner then everything is fluid. We have the players to do this but at the moment it’s not happening.

    2. Old poster here but lost my previous ID and had to reregister. First of all, thanks for your excellent analysis of the game Jim, it’s not always easy to replay a game that we lost. I agree with the salient points of your post more than with kxevin’s blog article above.

      I think this game shows us how much Lucho still has to grow as a coach. Quite expected. Guardiola had his moments too in his rookie year as first team coach. LE also showed some coaching nerves in his first big CL away game in Paris. Often players can tell when their coach is not 100% solid and this may have played a role.

      Interestingly, last year it was Ancelotti that blinked first and Tata dummied him. RM got away from their system due to fear of Barca and paid for it. Of course, they got better throughout the year while we got worse.

      LE was working on a system where Rakitic was providing the defensive solidity in the midfield, and Pedro was providing the work rate upfront that our other forwards do not. He blinked in the first Clasico and went with the tried and tired Xaviniesquets trio and paid for it. Having said that, Xavi was good in this game and with the more rest that he has been getting this season has actually been better than Iniesta and Sergio. Busquets did not look fit (FIFA virus?) and Iniesta has been poor all season long.

      LE blinked twice, in starting Suarez and surprised me with that one. I agree with Kxevin that Pedro is not the hapless bum that everyone says he is. He’s misplaced his scoring boots but he’s doing everything else. Suarez was understandably not sharp and might be the season savior that he was brought in to be. The potential was obvious but he could have been brought in as a sub in this game to be a game changer.

      Fundamental weakness right now and that needs to be corrected is pressing from the forwards. We can live with what we have facing weaker teams but when playing RM, BM and the like the trident need to press like the Guardiola forwards in their best years. That is one area where Lucho will earn his pay as a coach if he is able to get our superstar trident to press like Alexis and Pedro. Messi and Ney got yellow cards early but still too much standing around and not enough movement on the offensive side late on.

      Xavi and Iniesta used to be the magic duo but now it seems that we should never play the two at the same time ever again, except when we have a big lead and we just need to keep the ball to close out the game. Xaviniesta is a spent force. Sad to see the end of an era but time to move on. Busi needs help and may have also been overplayed the last few years. That’s what Rakitic was brought in for. Against the strong teams, we need Masch or Rakitic to pair with Busi. Also Mach needs to lay DM more when Sergio is not 100% and against weaker teams to rest the former. We are supposed to have 4 natural CBs now! Is Bartra really that bad? Was the Vermaelen purchase a big mistake?

      Rafinha may have had injury issues but he need to be played in Iniesta’s position until Ini gets his form back. I don’t think Roberto is as bad as some people make him out to be. He’s not fancy but we don’t need all 11 to be flair players. I’m wondering if Lucho is training the team too hard which may have something to do with Iniesta, Busquets and Rafinha’s woes.

      I see RB as the team’s biggest problem position right now and next year. Alves still has good games but he can not do it every game anymore and Montoya and Douglas might as well not exist. I can understand that Alves stays back in Clasicos due to Ronaldo’s threat which also opens up the channel for Marcelo. But without Rakitic and Pedro we were only one player deep in defense on our right side. If only Adriano is less fragile.

      Pique is not as bad as people make him out to be, neither is he as good as he used to be. He may never be the same without Puyol, which makes it all the more relevant to play Bartra and hopefully Vermaelen more in the future. LB is a solid position for us with Alba, Mathieu and Adriano all quality in this spot and Grimaldo from the B team a future keeper. Not sure if Alba would have been better as the LB in the Clasico since that side was definitely the more natural side for attack versus RM especially with Bale out. Perhaps Lucho got it wrong there too but it was a cascade decision forced by playing Masch in CB.

      Ancelotti has been impressive in playing without a natural DM and convincing James, Modric and Kroos to play tough defense. Something that Lucho needs to match in convincing our forward Trident to do the same.

    3. i don’t think i’m alone in thinking that Masch at DM, Mathieu at CB, and Alba at LB would not have left our defense as exposed as it was yesterday. part of the failure of our CB transfer policy is that we still don’t have a replacement for Pique, who still isn’t playing well. Vermaelen was sufficient for some people, but clearly doesn’t have the confidence of the manager even when healthy. likewise with Marc Bartra. Mathieu has been good (though i’d argue, not great) this season in that position, but that simply isn’t enough.

      many of us WANTED 3 outstanding CBs, leaving 1 to chomp at the bit to get onto the pitch while the 2 in best form start big games. that 3rd player would have been taking Gerard Pique’s position in this match. instead, we got a versatile squad player in Mathieu and a no-show in Vermaelen. insufficient, as we’re seeing.

  22. The most worrying thing about yesterday for me was not xavi and iniesta being played together. We already knew that for about 2 seasons now we can’t do that and be defensively sound.

    The most worrying thing was the fact that real played with no holding midfielders. Their midfield 2 of kroos and modric are very light weight defensively and yet we were not able to threaten much after the first 25 or so minutes.

    I really thought messi and co would have a field day in that zone right in front of the defense (between the lines) but the lack of movement and urgency off the ball when attacking is very worrying.

    I guess the main difference is in the class between the coaches. Ancelotti is world class and prepares his teams to perfection for the big games. I feel that we’ve been missing that preparation and attention to detail from a manager since Pep’s days.

    As many here said I think this game has shown that the xaviniesta combo is done. All good things must come to an end. But it’s important to note that the underlying issue (judging by the two biggest games this season) seems to be a lack of experience and tactical acumen from Luis Enrique.

    1. Excellent point. What struck me about the game was how RM (under Mourinho) used to come out like storm troopers and tried to out-muscle barca. This game, they just outplayed barca.

  23. Another thing I have been pondering is Busquets. I really feel like he is suited to playing a more advanced (xavi) midfield role.


    I think our flashy forward line would really benefit from a midfield like the above. I think busi has shown he has what it takes creatively to operate in that role not to mention that his pressing and workrate are very impressive.

    I feel like given the lack of pressing by messi which seems related to his slight phyical decline that this seems like a very good option….on paper atleast.

  24. Another issue that worries me is Messi’s lack of sharpness in front of the goal.
    This season alone he missed so many sitters which is strange for him, last night as well.
    Don’t know why, he used to finish those chances with such ease and fun. I dont like and i hope it wont cause us games in the future. Im talking about one on one situations.

  25. The last coach of Barca who had (as I understand it) had real control in the dressing room was Pep, and even he didn’t control Messi (although that didn’t matter at the time because Messi was hungry as a wolf). However, Barca now has its third coach who is basically a figure-head and is controlled by the dressing room and the reputations in that dressing room. If a coach can’t transfer or bench a player (like Messi) then he is not really in charge.
    Say what you like about Mourinho, but at RM he showed he’s got a big pair when he benched Casillas.
    If I was a management consultant (not a semi-sentimental football fan), I would sell Messi (plus Iniesta, Busquets, et al) and, in that way, break down the ossified structure at the club.
    Otherwise, Barca faces winning nothing (at least on the European Stage) until after Messi retires.
    I hope I’m wrong.

    1. I’m not sure Mourinho at RM is a great example of winning anything though. In fact, in the end, was that not what did for him ?

      I would say that I think you’re right in as much as Messi needs some rest throughout the season. I’m sure if the team can start clicking and getting decent leads we’ll start to see that. I’ve not seen anything that says LE won’t do that. When he called to Leo a couple of games ago it was reminiscent of Pep all those years ago and not a serious attempt to take him off or he would have just put the number up on the board. He doesn’t strike me as someone who would settle for being second in command. I think Messi is more on board with the whole part of a team than we maybe think at times.

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