Barça 0, Celta Vigo 1, aka “Hunting season is open”

celmess

“This will be an interesting week. Hunting season is open,” said Luis Enrique, referring no doubt to the massive upheaval that is expected after two losses in a row, both in pretty much the same manner when you really think about it.

— Opponents won challenges, got to loose balls, outfought Barça
— Chances not taken that can console those who crave consolation
— No evidence of a real system, a real way of attack
— Key players not on form

It feels like I have been typing this much more than usual these past few months dating back to the end of last season, but full credit to Celta and the damnable keeper of theirs. The better team won today, successfully taking one of the few chances it had and converting it beautifully. It was a deserved win, a victory forged from effort, talent and more than a little bit of luck, an alchemy that describes almost every victory by a team.

Many will seek consolation in the same libation, Retrospect, that they quaffed in the aftermath of the RM defeat. Then, it was “If Neymar doesn’t rush his chance and Messi converts, it’s 3-0 and a different match.” Today, it’s “If we just don’t hit the crossbar and their keeper doesn’t come up huge, it’s 4 or 5-1 and we cruise.”

But none of those things happened, so a loss is the result, a discomfiting beast of a loss that forces us to stare a great many things in the face as people come down from a pre-season filled with giddy anticipation.

— We got Enrique. Yay!
— Intensity is back. He’s working them so hard they are wearing out the practice pitch.
— We signed the best 9 on the planet. It’s Go Time.
— Messi is back, fit and raring to go.

Expectations and reality

Assuredly, nobody should in their right minds expect things to click right into place. Not with a new coach, new players and a new system. But it would not be out of line to have an expectation of some vision, some notion of a system that is something more than “Okay, I’m gonna go over here and do something cool, then you do something cool, and we should be able to score. Got it?”

Today, in an attack that has been all too typical of late, a fullback or CB hoofed the ball forward for Suarez, Messi or Neymar to run onto. But because Celta was working its collective asses off, the runners were covered. The net result is turned possession or an ineffective shot. On one such pass Messi took the ball, but because the defender was right there along with an alert keeper, the result was a weak header over the net. Another hoof-in-mouth moment was a long ball to Alves, who lost possession.

The BeIN Sports technical commentator, Ian Joy, observed that “At Barcelona, there doesn’t seem to be a real game plan for where Luis Suarez is supposed to be on the field.”

This is exactly right, and a symptom of the very thing predicted by Jonathan Wilson in this excellent dissection of one potential Barça future. Individual brilliance has bailed this team out of many a dilemma, from the Iniestazo to submarine headers and Pedro bundling in goals.

celney

That was then, and this is now. In the short term play is on the wings, leaving Barça a formation with a hole in the middle. Alba and Alves had accomplices in Rakitic and Rafinha as midfielders functioned more like wingers than true midfielders.

So should anyone be shocked that midfield possession and control were largely absent? Time after time a single attacker was forward with others coming up, the delay helping the defense to get set. The attack would be Messi, Neymar and Suarez running at the defense. No possession, no buildup, just a track meet. If a defender stuck a foot out at the wrong time, the attack collapsed and individual brilliance is once again outdone by collective effort.

And when Celta got the ball on attack they went over the top to get directly at the back line, and found reward in their goal. A long ball over the top found Mascherano losing the aerial duel. The ball comes off his head directly into the path of Nolito, who is being marked by Alves who has an excellent chance at the clearance but shanks it. Becuase Busquets is lollygagging back, when the ball comes away from that fluffed Alves clearance effort Busquets then has to react quickly, which has never been a strength of his.

Meanwhile, he and Mathieu are rushing to the ball, reacting to play with their backs to the rest of the attackers. So of course, neither has cover on the Celta attacker, who is running free. The loose runner slides between Mathieu and Alves, and slams it past Bravo.

The worst part is that it was a 4v2 in our favor. But Alba is out of the play, Mathieu marks Nolito and nobody marks the trailer. Goal.

Aftermath and reactions

The net effect of that setback was that our play continued as it was, only with more desperation. So players chased the ball, rather than pressing as a tactic. Individual efforts came and went, Quixotic quests that make the life of a committed, organized defense as easy as can be. Or sometimes, just for a change of pace, a lofted cross flew to a head, but the Celta back line was able to successfully keep the Barça attackers from getting close enough to do any real damage.

You can pause your recording at almost any point and you will find a single Barça attacker with the ball, about to hoof it forward to a loosely spaced gaggle of attackers, all of whom are covered by Celta defenders.

They get a man loose in the box and it’s a goal. We get Messi loose for a shot and a Celta defender saves their keeper with a goalmouth clearance, or a 1v1 situation results in the Barça attacker losing possession.

Celta also very effectively isolated Barça attackers. Again. It felt like a rerun of the Classic, as Neymar on the wing has three defenders in front of him. Suarez faces up two defenders and is dispossessed. Messi runs at 3 defenders, and is dispossessed.

In his post-match presser, Enrique alluded to things to correct and strengthen, including player attitudes and things that didn’t really have anything to do with tactics. In many ways he was right. Most athletic contests come down to … well … athletics. Celta lose the ball and everybody runs. Barça lose the ball and Messi walks, Alves jogs and Alba trots. Busquets looks like he’s waiting for a taxi. Luckily Mascherano steps up to make the steal and passes it to a winger, who hoofs it forward.

But tactics give structure to an athletic endeavor. It isn’t “Just go out there and win!” There is a plan. If that plan was being deviated from, as players starved of possession began to freelance to ensure they got the ball and some touches, that’s another matter. But this seeming chaos looks to be something of a trend, which is a concern.

Get me the old guy! Stat!

In an effort to change the match, Enrique brought on two subs, Xavi and Pedro, and went to 3 at the back as Mascherano slid forward into midfield. But Pedro was stationed on the right wing, which didn’t take advantage of his ability to run into space and finish, something that usually happens for him on the left, not the right. And Xavi. Well, Xavi. There are a lot of things that you can say about Enrique going to Xavi in an effort to exert some control on the match, but let’s start with this one:

Jesus, the team still hasn’t moved on from Xavi??!!

That is no knock on Xavi who, on selected occasions, still has it. But if you have to rely on a 35-year-old midfielder, it means that your template is in serious need of adjustment or alteration as it straddles past and present. That, for me, is a significant problem.

The loss doesn’t bother me. Even two losses in a row don’t bother me. It’s a long season, and a few points here or there aren’t really going to matter a whole lot in the overall scheme of things. RM went 7 points down and came back in the table, so there’s not a reason that we can’t either.

The way that the loss came, however, as noted above, is worrisome. Enrique didn’t seem to know what to do to affect the result, nor would I argue that he had the tools. Maybe, just maybe, you don’t throw all the toys out the pram at the same time, because you might need something to play with later, particularly with an important Champions League match coming up midweek. But there are even problems with that.

— Can’t sit Messi, right?
— We paid 82m for that dude. Sure as hell can’t sit him.
— Neymar has been our best attacker on form, can’t sit him.

So the full box of tricks starts right away, and once demonstrated to not be able to effect the desired result, the options are scarce.

In the past when Barça lost, it was as a group that played its way, did its best and that was that. But not since the end days of Rijkaard have I watched a mess of a team that didn’t seem to have any real direction.

If you’re going to have Messi around the center circle getting the ball, have some players around him so that you bring it up as a unified attack, rather than him running at the defense or smacking a long pass. If only one attacker is in the box, a defender doesn’t really have to be a geometry genius to figure out the passing angle.

Positives or negatives?

These aren’t end days. It isn’t a question of “Sell him! No! Sell him! Lucho out!” That’s all overreaction to a team that still has gobs and gobs of talent, and the potential to bring that talent together in a devastating fashion.

But don’t think that this loss today was down to luck. Luck is a malleable sop. Teams have good luck and bad. Balls bounce in funny ways, etc, etc. But to chalk the overall path of an occurrence up the presence or absence of luck isn’t supportable by logic, for me. Neymar hit the crossbar. Bad luck. Okay. Or is his concentration not at the level it is for other matches, so that last little bit of quality isn’t in the shot. The keeper dives, and is able to stop a Messi shot. A defender comes charging in at the last gasp, to stop a Messi shot from reaching goal. Luck? Or maybe the ball need have been hit a little sharper?

Luck is easy. Luck looks at a 3-1 Classic defeat and says “If only.” Luck looks at a home loss in which an attack worth hundreds of millions of Euros couldn’t scrape together a single goal and says “Coulda been, if only.”

I hate luck. Celta wasn’t lucky. Celta made its luck. Sometimes, the difference between a goal or a stop is a lucky bounce, but look at the way Nolito kept fighting for that ball to set up that goal effort. Luck? Finding money on the street is luck. An athletic result is usually down to something different, and it’s that “something different” that isn’t working right now.

Barça have lost two Liga matches in a row, after a gaudy start. Okay. Losses happen. But time is wasting. There isn’t time for recrimination, or shaking a fist at the board that did this or that. Those moments are gone. We have the players we have, and the coach that we have. We also have a colossal amount of talent that needs to come together in a way that is reflective of its quality. That can happen. Celta played close to a perfect match today, the kind of match they had to play to win, given the talent disparity between them and us.

But maybe some of the attitude Enrique references is the reality that our talent used to have a much larger margin for error, when legs were younger and fresher, when opponents were more tentative. Maybe. And maybe right now that cognizance isn’t there, maybe that all-out that is required, that something extra is being held in abeyance.

Lots of maybes. But the sum total of all those maybes are potentialities that worry me far, far more than a couple of losses.

celsua

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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.

44 Comments

  1. Jim
    November 1, 2014

    I’m gonna start by saying that criticism of a coach at this stage is a bit premature but with two defeats in a row time isn’t exactly a commodity we have an abundance of.

    A pretty accurate account of never mind arriving where’s the direction of travel, Kxevin. I’ve been worried for some time now that LE had an idea, tried it, didn’t work and now he’s a rabbit in the headlights. I still can’t begin to imagine what he sees as our normal pattern of play. I’m assuming, like many others, it was pretty hard for him to know what it’s like to be Barca with problems it brings. He obviously saw Pique as a prima donna, Mathieu as a ready made Barca player, Masche’s determination as all we needed at the back and no place for Xavi. Now he’s turning every which way. Well, not that he’ll listen to us but there are some things that do stick out to me. Warning : possible rant ahead.

    Bravo has been a great buy – exudes confidence and deserves better.
    You have actually got a defence which could do well and it reads Alves ( well, ok), Pique, Mathieu and Alba. You let one of the FBs go forward at any given time.
    Midfield – you can’t do much of what you hope to achieve without either Xavi (34 I think but who’s counting ..) or Iniesta on the field. Doesn’t matter about age. If you can’t control games ( and today was like watching a Scottish league game) you’re gonna be looking for a job round about Easter as the punters won’t like it, you don’t like criticism so something will give and it’ll be you. So, you put Busi or Masche at DM, Rakitic (about whom the words what exactly does he do are starting to form on my lips but I suspect he’s the victim of systemic chaos- whatever he can’t run this midfield) and either Xavi or Iniesta in the playmaker role. For really physical games you drop Rak back to double DM or drop him and play Busi / Masche and again tell them that if both go too far forward at the same time their tails will be in the vice.
    In conjunction with this you tell your CB partnership, whom you’re going to tell they are your number one pairing that they’ll get time to gel but number one on the list is moving up as high as is practical to avoid the huge gaps which showed today. I get the feeling Masche is aware of the gap and tries to fill it but it needs to be the whole line.
    You tell Xavi that he is the glue sine qua non and that he gets about the park in furtherance of that and does what tracking he can but his starting point needs to be ten yards further up the park and that’s not why he’s on it. When he’s tired you use Iniesta for that role – same rules. I stood and watched him play that very role against Scotland so I don’t know why he’s been rubbish at it when he’s had the chance.
    Finally, you have a good word with your forwards. You start by telling them that you want to see them swap positions a bit more (whatever happened to that? ) but that Suarez is essentially a penalty box player and you want him in there giving the CBs a hard time. You tell Messi he can come back as far as linking with Xavi but no further. What is he doing having to pick balls up in his own half? You tell Neymar that he can lose possession if he’s having a go at someone in the final third but if he loses it you expect to see him bust a gut to close that guy down before he has gone ten yards. While you’re there, tell Messi that too. Suarez I’m going to go easy on till he’s match fit but by all accounts he’ll be fine in that area but the host is they lose the ball they try to get back hillside to help the team which again makes us more compact.
    And then you tell the forwards if we’re not up by the sixtieth minute one of them is coming off and it’ll be done on merit.

    Then Bartomeu has a quiet word with LE and tells him that if the current shambles isn’t on the way to being sorted by Christmas he’ll be spending a bit more time with his family – oh and btw, here’s an early present and a piece of advice – Puyol is your new defensive coach and you expect to see the players working on their Saturday role all week not hearing about it an hour before kick off.

    Ok, I know I’m over reacting but if we lose the CL midweek that’d be three in a row. Can you imagine the pressers ? We’ve now played one good half out of four and I’m finding the watching hard.

  2. BA
    November 1, 2014

    yes, i don’t do this often but i’m going to repost what i wrote in the previous thread:

    Celta could have scored 3 or 4 more.

    this was not “just one of those days”; that whitewashes some pretty serious structural issues in our play which were quite clear this game:

    :: we can’t NOT control the midfield (which was at times completely bypassed) AND keep the current set of our defenders who can’t defend

    :: put another way, we can’t “stretch” our play until we have a more orthodox defensive system to build from

    :: Messi, Neymar, and Suarez can’t all be risk-takers with the ball and expect a weakened midfield and non-defending-defenders to bail them out. that’s why a player such as Pedro has been seen as, and in fact is, necessary; he doesn’t take risks with the ball in dangerous zones, and he works to track back. Neymar, by contrast, lost the ball a half-dozen times, and doesn’t do any tracking back. now, Neymar is a brilliant player and arguably should be allowed to take those risks because they sometimes pay off; but you can’t have 3 players doing that because it’ll leave your midfield exposed out of position

    :: Rakitic has been papering over cracks, but he’s not capable of running and controlling our midfield himself; Busquets is clearly struggling in Lucho’s new, less-controlled midfield system. that’s a big piece of our jigsaw to lose, and to persist with him over Mascherano who’s much more accustomed to such a system in midfield while continuing to be beaten in the air/out of position as a center-back seems self-defeating. Rafinha is a luxury player who has a great profile that i think we should keep, but not on the same page as the rest of the team.

    I highly suggest you follow both Euler and Santapelota on Twitter, as we’re in agreement on almost all of these issues. Euler has a few choice things to say about the state of the squad that the administration left Lucho with at the beginning of the season, as well.

    Celta weren’t lucky, we weren’t unlucky. Celta had a better gameplan, they executed it better, were the better side and deservedly won.

  3. BA
    November 1, 2014

    and, to your point: i don’t care how much we paid for Suarez, if he doesn’t fit into our attack, bench him. the idea that we paid 82m for him instead of on the players the manager actually wanted still rankles me. even if he scores a hell of a lot of goals, is that worth the lack of investment in key other areas of the pitch? i don’t think it will ever be.

    i’d argue the same about benching Messi, but now that Sanchez is gone we don’t have anyone who can play in Messi’s position (Alexis, incidentally, is looking brilliant in that more central position for Arsenal). Neymar is, as you say, our most in-form attacking player but resolutely refuses to track back and so creates a vacuum for a still-disjointed, confused midfield to try to cover.

    there’s lots of bitching about Pedro in this space, but Pedro for all his lack of goals DOES do some valuable things for the team that none of our other attacking players are currently willing to do. we looked much more stable on his side when he came on, despite him coming on for a midfielder and being asked to play in a more advanced role.

    • agar2515
      November 1, 2014

      God be with us if Pedro is the answer we have to turn to. He’ll underwhelm against top opposition and score his hattrick against the Elches of the world. The rest of your post is spot on though.
      Why don’t we still have Sandro and Samper to turn to is beyond me, who cares what Eusebio wants.

    • agar2515
      November 1, 2014

      And yes Busi has been off this year but Lucho is doing him NO FAVORS, by having our CM’s so close to the wing and leaving Sergio (bereft of pace) to cover so much ground

    • BA
      November 1, 2014

      my point wasn’t that Pedro is the solution to our problems, only that despite his limitations and relatively poor form of late, if our other attackers had half of Pedro’s work ethic and positional discipline, we’d be a better team.

    • agar2515
      November 2, 2014

      Ah, well it’s our mid that has the biggest problems right now imo, totally absent in attack. Game plans A-z are “give it to one of the front 3 and pray they create”. Im done talking about Pedro, it shows how much we are shockingly lacking that people are even evoking his name.

  4. Momo
    November 1, 2014

    I can’t believe im saying this but the midfield is looking to be out weakest position.

    The following midfield should do well to shore up our leaky light weight midfield:

    —–Masch—–
    -Busi—-Rakatic/iniesta——

    I really do think the team would benefit from playing busi in an advanced position. His understanding with messi and positonal intellegence would do really well there. His lack of pace also wont be as bad with masch behind him.

  5. luisthebeast
    November 1, 2014

    Suarez is a winner a fighter a fresh air of hunger in the team and people want to bench him??:-O well if we have a clueless coach a fail sporting director and the worst board in otur history it s not players fault please mr bartomeu go away and take with u lucho and zubi.i was antilaporta but god this is a joke a bad dream

  6. luisthebeast
    November 1, 2014

    I really hope we will have the opportunity to make transfers in the winter but then i remember who will make them and i cry.I hope the next president will bring monchi

    • Jim
      November 2, 2014

      Who ? At the moment we have a front three of whom it is safe to say any one would walk into any team in the world. I, for one, am happy with that and sure that when we sort out what’s happening behind them this will be one of the great forward lines.

  7. November 1, 2014

    Most important is to take a deep breath, and not get too stirred up. It’s a long season. Celta was playing the kind of intense, committed defense that the attack used to struggle against, and it created chance after chance.

    Now we understand why Martino went to 4 mids last year for many matches. Given how our fullbacks play, it’s difficult to get the command and control with 3.

    Pedro is much maligned, but the danger increased with him on. Again, some good chances were created.

    This season was never going to be easy, so I’m not sure what people expected. As I note above, losses were always going to come, and Celta is the Liga’s best road defense. Methods concern me.

    P.S. Somewhere, Tata Martino is giggling.

    • KEVINO17
      November 2, 2014

      Good point. Tata is laughing his face off.

    • Peter
      November 2, 2014

      I always felt it was a real shame he didn’t win La Liga. That disallowed goal by Messi… Tata would’ve become the coach that won the League and still chose to go instead of dealing with the snakes in Catalunya.

      It would’ve sent a powerful message to the entorno. And I don’t want to turn this into a Rosell defense, but the bastard really found the right guy. For the wrong reasons, but he seemed to have found the right guy. Imagine Tata having this team, getting a complete pre-season, without a tour, without all the emotional luggage.

      I was watching the 3-4 Clasico today, then remembered what I saw in this Clasico and dammit if Madrid weren’t using Tata’s strategy: four midfielders allowed running and reasonable control, and one of them always went up the left side. They changed so that they wouldn’t tire, but they ran their asses off. And Busquets was on form.

  8. luisthebeast
    November 1, 2014

    Kxevin i am not mad just for this game.Imagine this squad with martino as coach and with benatia thiago isco and cuadrado denis suarez and without douglas vermaelen and roberto..it was not so difficult..

    • agar2515
      November 2, 2014

      Sad to think about really. They’ve dropped the ball so hard piecing together this team. Kevin talked about how people whined about Rakitic over Kroos, but for my money I wanted BOTH. We have no one to dictate the game. Poor Xavi still has to bear that burden. Please dont mention Sergi Roberto to me.
      Dani continues to be spotty and neither Duglas or Montoya seem to have the faith of the coach ( or Bartra, though his performances havent been poor at all)
      At one point we played Alves- Mathieu- Alba in a 3 at the back yesterday. Madness. It seems LE simply doesnt have the players he wants to implement what his “system” is supposed to be. I guess all will be right as rain when Vermaelen comes back right? *Rolls eyes*

  9. agar2515
    November 2, 2014

    And can we please try Pedro at RWB? We’d get all the benefits of his work ethic and none of his now sad profligacy in front of goal.

    • KEVINO17
      November 2, 2014

      AGAR – Pedro would be an excellent wing-back. Particularly when (unlike Alves) he actually tries to pick a target before he hits a cross.
      I think that, by the end of the season the big transfer mistake will not be Alexis (bad as that was) it was letting Song go. Right now (when you consider the competition) he would have to be just about the first person picked in CM. At least he knows how to really clatter someone. Nobody else (except Masch) has a clue.

  10. lala10
    November 2, 2014

    our weakest point to me seem to be the tactical side of things. We have played one, one complete match that is both intense and sharp in the way we play. At first the excuse seemed to be time needed to gel but that is no longer the case. Soon we would have played a third of the liga.

    Our main weakness appear to be the lack of a bona fide plan. People apart from holding the right side what is Raktic’s job in this team? Whats his brief?

    What of Suarez? Busquets? We have gone too fast too forward in our departure from our normal play. Control control control control is the key. Without control we are lost because we do not have the athletes to play without one. We need to play associative football, triangulating and moving the team as a block. Sadly it appears no more. Neymar gets the ball and he has two markers and one mate open. He chooses to dribble. Pass and move. Pass and move.

    Its a sad sad time. Not because we lost but if this is the fare Enrique wants to serve us then we are damned. If we are going to be a direct team then why sack Martino.

  11. lala10
    November 2, 2014

    not played. Sorry for that

  12. KEVINO17
    November 2, 2014

    First person who must be sacked is Alves but I assume he’s still playing because they can’t afford to get rid of him. There is a reason why teams let him romp into acres of space. He can’t beat his man, he can’t get down to the by-line, he can’t cut inside to shoot and he’s a sketchy passer. As a consequence, his only trick is to pump crosses into the wild blue yonder hoping one will eventually land on the right head. Is it too much to ask that Barcelona has a wing-back who can actually cross. Look what happened when Pedro came on. Pedro looked up and dropped a cross right onto Suarez’s scone. That should happen all game.

  13. Leo1978
    November 2, 2014

    Playing like this, we’re going to see amazing, thrilling matches this season. But we’re not going to win any titles. Yes, we could have won 6-2, but that wouldn’t have changed anything. Same as it wouldn’t have changed anything, if Messi would have made it 2-0 at the Bernabeu. We would have more points, but with the same flaws in our game. This team has no tactical shape, no organisation. And like I said before. Things should start to click by now. It’s November! And what worries me the most: This team is going from better to worse. The really good games can be counted on a couple of fingers and happened at the start of the season, but game by game they’re getting worse.

  14. Davour
    November 2, 2014

    Firstly, thanks to Kxevin for helping to process the psychological distress of watching Bara-games at the moment. For fans spoiled by years of controlling games, last nights wild-west-display was painful, I reckon. A systemic failure, no doubt, and Messi no longer able to bail us out (and these two are of course related, too). Valdano commented on Messi’s lost ability to disrupt a defence, and to some extent this is true. He can rarely do it on his own; his new role requires runners and links.

    I agree on the confusion as to what role Rakitic is supposed to play. He ran Sevilla’s midfield, but obviously is not ready to run Barca’s – nor is he really allowed the opportunity, as his role is cleaning up after Alves. But he is not really showing much indication of asking for the main part, either. No doubt slightly uncertain in the face of Xavi and Iniesta. But is it a coincidence that his game is less commanding as he seems to be given less confidence?

  15. November 2, 2014

    Mathieu out 3 weeks with a calf injury. I reckon the timing could be worse. He will miss Ajax and Almeria, then the next international break, most likely back for Sevilla.

  16. ciaran
    November 2, 2014

    All of this pro-Tata talk is kinda funny. People wanted him out for the exact reason that they want Lucho out, we didn’t control the game. In an end to end match you’d back our forwards to out score practically every team in the world but because last night’s freak result comes after a bad performance in the Clasico everyone is losing their minds.

    I’m sorry, if you don’t believe in luck that’s fine but believing in the law of averages or merely acknowledging the anomaly of hitting the crossbar four times in one match is unusual. By any means of looking at it we should have won that match.

    No I’m not papering over the cracks of what was a match without midfield control and defensive coordination but the front three have played two matches together and should have had probably 6 goals last night. There is reason to be optimistic.

    Plenty of teams have played a formation very similar to ours with great results including the great Milan teams but we should play to our individuals’ strengths which we are not doing.
    Dani is clearly past his best and had a very bad match to add to his inconsistent at best performances this season. Alba is not as big an issue as he has the pace to recover.
    Our midfield trio are too wide trying to compensate for our fullbacks and are playing too far apart along with too far from the defenders as they are ten yards too deep.
    We need to play at most 1 attacking midfielder meaning that Xavi and Iniesta shouldn’t be starting together, as well as Rafinha who is not tactically aware enough to be a central midfielder yet.
    Mascherano’s aggressive nature would be better deployed in our midfield and there should be a pair of defenders in behind him to cover up the inevitable one mistake per match that we are having to deal with. Yes, he should have gotten his head to the ball and stopped that goal last night.

    Another absolutely vital thing is what Jim has mentioned more than a few times. The teams with the best defensive always, always have a preferred defensive partnership. I don’t really understand why Pique and Mathieu aren’t getting a run of 6 or 7 games together with no interruptions. I would also like to see Pique and Bartra get the same for occasions when Mathieu could fill in at left back.
    Currently we, and more importantly they, don’t know who is going to be defensive duo until an hour before kick off. It’s impossible for them to develop a connection without consistency.

    • Jim
      November 2, 2014

      That’s the thing that saddens me, Ciaran. At the time our front three all have the ability to create things out of nothing ( and did without any midfield help last night ) we’re just not getting the easier bits right.

      Still, we’ll see midweek how LE reacts to all the criticism. A wrong tactical decision and a wrong result could see an early exit for us so in a crunch who he chooses will tell us what he’s really thinking and who he really rates.

      Just to (almost ) defend Masche, I would never in a month of Sunday’s expect him to win that battle for the ball. I would have expected Mathieu to be deployed in that role with Masche behind him, assuming in the first place you have to have Masche in the backline about which my views are clear. The least I would expect from Masche though is that he jumps straight into the back of the guy to prevent an easy ( and directed) onward header.

    • Davour
      November 2, 2014

      Good points. Seems LE’s main objective is to “keep them on their toes”, hungry to impress. This might be positive, but must certainly be balanced by consistency, as you point out. This scrambling around might increase competitiveness, who knows, but disrupts balance.

      And in this, I am still baffled by the limited playing time Bartra gets. I know people say that he has not gained the full confidence of any coach yet, but every time he plays he does well. He also brings a good passing game and some nice forward runs with purpose.

      Funny, just for the sake of it I watched “highlights” of Messi’s game and Ronaldo’s this round. It’s amazing how much more Messi is involved and – even though he did not have a particularly good game – how much he instigates. Christiano is a lot less consistent in his game, but ended up with a goal and one or two assists… The difference of having a team around you that functions?

      And that missed header… Messi needs to sharpen his blade, no doubt.

    • posthipsterpope
      November 2, 2014

      Without turning this into a conversation about who is the better player, I think what you saw is a fundamental difference in how the two function. Roanldo’s involvement isn’t predicated on having the ball at his feet—he’s much more like Suarez in that way—but in his ability to destabilize defenses with or without the ball. The two need teams that function in attack accordingly, i.e. Messi needs order, and Ronaldo needs chaos. Obviously, that’s a broad generalization, but one I think rings true.

    • November 2, 2014

      ciaran, I bring up Martino with a certain sense of irony, and a reminder that sometimes the adage, “Be careful what you wish for” has a ring of truth. Martino did an extraordinary job in a crap situation. That it takes Enrique “failing” to make people realize it is an unfortunate consequence of life as a culer.

      Hitting the crossbar four times in a match is unusual, to be sure. I still think it comes down to focus and concentration. Great players, and we have them, know what they have to do. It only takes a small lapse to be the difference between a golazo and hitting the crossbar. I think that “luck” is one of those things that people give too much credit to.

      It’s funny, I was watching some old highlights, and Eto’o used to smack the cover off the ball. No delicate dinks or luscious taps. Wham! In. Hit the ball.

      It’s funny how much we all agree, but only differ in semantics. The system is broken right now. We all point to the same tactical flaws, including wide mids and no cohesion.

      For me, the biggest difference is that a star player would have to fit into the system, then people would slag him for not immediately acting as though he was raised in La Masia. But there was a system.

      Now, we have star players running around, and no system. So the disjointed result is exploitable by an organized, hard-working opponent. Anyone who would look at our talent and find cause for pessimism is beyond me.

      Let’s see what Enrique does next.

  17. lala10
    November 2, 2014

    Prior to his appointment i had not really seen LE’s work. Because of his past with Barca i assumed he was from the same school. Time will tell how his team will play.

    If he wants to be direct then its unfortunate that the ban looms. It had be great to evolve and do away with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta. Even Messi is a serious possibility. I don’t see the need to continually change coaches. If a change of philosophy is needed so be it. At least the board need to be clear about its strategy then stick to it. As it seems Tata has unfairly been elbowed out. Personally direct football is not to my taste but if that’s the direction they feel we need to take so be it.

    We support FCB and will always do.

  18. luisthebeast
    November 2, 2014

    Jim after winter i want a 3-5-2:bravo bartra vermaelen mathieu cuadrado and alba as fullbacks rakitic and macherano behind messi and suarez neymar upfront

    • Jim
      November 2, 2014

      Good luck 🙂

      We’ll know in the next few weeks if Vermaelen will actually play for us I reckon. It’s now beginning to look to me as if there is something, if not major, then certainly chronic, wrong with him. Anyway, no way he replaces Pique for me, although I’d be the first to admit 3 at the back wouldn’t suit Pique. We’d also probably be lucky to pick someone vital to their club up in the winter break.

      I’m not a fan of 3-5-2 personally but certainly not for us with already vulnerable wings. It’s like a license for the wing backs to not track back and blame someone else. I still remember shuddering during our old liveblogs here as Guardiola tried it. It would help the press further up I suppose.
      Problem for me with Messi in midfield, even in an attacking role, is it becomes much more critical if he doesn’t put in a whole shift of running and marking. If it’s not him neither Masche nor, it looks to me, Rakitic can run a midfield where control is important. Of course, if we want to play more vertically it really doesn’t matter who you put in midfield as long as they can run up and down the pitch.

      We really are at the stage where someone needs to make a decision about how we are going to play, based on the personnel we have now, if we are going to have a settled team come the business end of the season.

      My own tuppence worth is that with the current front three getting to know each other all they are going to need is a stable platform in midfield plus a recognition from them that they need to chase back. I’m not sure we have the players at the moment to enforce a long lasting press. For me, that means the nearest players stall while we get back in from of the ball and go up and down as a unit and rely on them for the movement and craft in the box to get goals. Anyway, my posts are getting longer as my understanding of what is going on diminishes so enough already.

    • agar2515
      November 2, 2014

      All that being true, don’t you want to at least see what Messi behind neymar and a Suarez looks like? At the very least let’s not Continue to stick the best 9 in the world on the wing ,ugh

    • Jim
      November 2, 2014

      I’m not looking to stick any of them anywhere. What I’d love to see is the constant interchanging we used to get. For me, Neymar looks pretty good going through the centre, Suarez can sling in a mean cross and Messi can play any position. When we’re at our best we’re not hidebound by positions. That’s when we’ll see the excitement of this front line. At the moment it’s almost as if ” position” means I stand here till the ball arrives at my feet. When Xavi came on last night I expected him to just take up his usual role of being all over linking the play but he seemed to have been given some instructions along the line of sticking to one side and trying to get ahead of the ball into the box if possible.

      It’s all part of the same thing about not making us predictable and easy to tie down. Give them the decision to make regularly ( and very quickly) about who goes with each of the front three as they change positions. Then we might see more gaps.

  19. shupomrayhan
    November 2, 2014

    Just wondering why Montoya isn’t playing at RB. At least Montoya defends and doesn’t cross towards the sky like Dani.

    • fedway
      November 2, 2014

      Because since Dani joined, he’s been part of our attack, providing the outlet for Messi and whoever is playing right wing. That’s really been our main attacking triangle: right winger forward, Messi closer to the center of the goal, and Dani trailing, and hopefully ready to track back. We’ve had an asymmetrical bias. It’s an offence built on Messi’s left foot. When Puyol was playing he did an excellent job covering the spaces left behind by Alves, and I’m hoping Bartra can do the same, but Marc hardly plays. Pique isn’t the man for that role. Alves is not really a crosser because Barca rarely plays the ball in the air, and he never was. It’s a ground based attack predicated on neat little passing triangles with the end result directed towards Messi’s left foot.

    • shupomrayhan
      November 2, 2014

      Yes, and that’s the problem now. I don’t know if I’ve seen things wrong, but I think Dani wastes too many offensive chances with his crossing. I don’t even understand why he crosses. We don’t have a target man, and even if we did, seeing how poor his crosses are makes me wonder why LE isn’t instructing him to stop crossing. What Dani continuously does now is hand over possession to our opposition on a plate while leaving acres of space behind to allow the opposition to counter. I actually dislike the idea of our fullbacks bombing forward and two midfielders covering behind them, essentially defending, all while leaving poor Busi stranded in the middle of the pitch. Wouldn’t it have been more helpful if we used more defensive FBs (Montoya/ Douglas – Adriano) and allowed our midfielders to attack? And we honestly don’t need Dani in our attack now. We’ve got more than enough talented attackers in our team. Just need to balance all the areas of the pitch and organize the players into a system, and I think we’d have a fantastic team capable of greatness. And yes, Bartra really needs to play more.

    • Leo1978
      November 2, 2014

      After so many years teams know how to defend Alves. They simply close down the passing lanes to Messi. All he can do is cross the ball or play it back to whoever plays in midfield on his side.

  20. Jim
    November 2, 2014

    Yeah, that’s a point to remember. What we’re asking is not the conventional be there to support your right back in case the winger somehow eludes him and you can step in as he’s been slowed down by the RB. It’s a you’d better be aware that often he won’t be there at all and you’ll have to make the ground across to intercept a winger/ LB going at full speed. We saw a great example of what happens when the RB just isn’t there in the Man U game today for Smallings red card. No RB, forward in full flight heading for your box – it’s not just Pique that would struggle with that. Of course, in the good old days when you’re RB is unavailable the whole backline shuffled completely over one preserving an air of calm and on the premise that if they hoof the ball over to the exposed other wing the time it’s in the air is enough time for you to shuffle back. Wonder why they don’t do that anymore ?

  21. fedway
    November 2, 2014

    I think Tata did a good job building a conventional defense last year. the conventional defense his team played looked more confident than that of Pep since Pep scared the beejesus out of our boys ever losing the ball. We did not win any trophies except a minor one last year because we could not score. Messi was tired, not healthy, not happy, had his off-field problems and an eye toward the WC. Alexis or Pedro could not fill in the gap in a Messi oriented offence, and Neymar was a 21 y.o. kid who had just moved to a new country, new continent, new league, new team.

    So the board did the obvious, fixed the offence by taking out the blank checkbook for Luis. At the start of the year, Messi was happy and healthy, and Neymar looked a year older, wiser, stronger, better, and playing like the captain of Brazil. Once Suarez developed the ‘feeling’ with the other 2 we should be good to go. It might still happen.

    Xavi was ageing so Rakitic was brought on. Someone who is obviously not a direct replacement but it seems that the plan was already for Messi to drop back and play like a 10, thus taking some of Xavi and Iniesta’s old roles. (What exactly is Iniesa’s new role? That might be part of the problem with Andres.)

    The CB situation was a long festering problem with Puyol as the “new CB signing” last year. So this year, we have 4 CBs except one may be as useful as a lame race horse. Valdes left on a free, so we got one of the top goalkeepers in Liga, and one of the top young talents in the world as backup. The only personnel problem that was not addressed was RB because Barca pulled all the stops to sign Cuadrado but he did not want to come (yes, it happens).

    One can imagine the Tata would probably have done better this year than last even with the same forwards, if he now had Cesc, Rakitic and Mathieu. Or with Suarez replacing Alexis. But he wanted out of the snake pit that was Barca’s politics, and it was easy to let him go due to the trophyless season, and made a convenient fall guy.

    So a new coach was brought in. An insider as opposed to an outsider. Lucho has all the pieces. Now, he has to make them work together which in the last two games seemed to lose cohesion.

    • November 2, 2014

      I approve of this message, as they say in American political campaign ads.

  22. kosby
    November 2, 2014

    I am with Lucho on this one guys. He knows that Celta puts a lot of pressure with their pressing up top, he has been saying in press conferences before the match that he’d be wary of that. He has stressed that we need to become more unpredictable as team. And the performance
    in this match was simply indicative of that. We’ve had two coaches now who’ve tried to bring in “unpredictability”. Tata was vilified earlier last season when we played a few long balls and had less possession against Rayo and Ajax both of which games we won handsomely. I’m guessing it was his instruction to avoid dilly dallying in the midfield and get the ball to the forwards as soon as possible and with the midfield being as packed as it was, use the flanks. This is why we see Rakitic and Rafinha having less number of touches in the match. Ironically Fabregas was the perfect candidate to do this.

    I am pretty sure this was him trying to change the way we play aka adapt to the opposition. Any of the chances go in and we have a whole different perspective. Problem playing this way though is our defense. Our defense currently doesnt have the profile to support this kind of play. Pique is slow and he sat out. Our substitutions last night were pretty interesting as well. Xavi to offer a bit of control and Pedro in place of Rafinha. In my opinion we actually played well with Pedro at right wing. Much more accurate with the crosses/cut backs. I am also concerned about Messi’s role with this kind of a system. One reason for that could be that he didn’t track back as much as the others did. If our mids are going to support the left/right backs, there is a big hole in the midfield which the DM has to take care of alone. If Messi is playing as a traditional 10, he absolutely has to help out by tracking back and cover for the hole in the mid.

    I am pretty sure this game is not going to be the template against CL teams. LE tried using fast transition offence in last game. I would definitely like to see more of that, considering the offense we have. Protecting out defense with more control only blunts the attack we’ve got. Mathieu’s injury couldnt have come at a worse time for us. Also, we can still see Suarez hasnt completely integrated with Messi and Neymar as yet. It took Neymar and Messi almost a complete season to get that understanding. It’s not gonna happen too quickly for Suarez either. I’d give him some time and see what happens. I’m a little frustrated that people just want to see us pass the ball and have more possession when its clear that the game and the opposition has evolved from that.

  23. November 2, 2014

    New post is up, guys.

  24. November 2, 2014

    The comments are excellent. Hats off to one and all. Instead of the “We’re all doomed! Doomed, I say!” that we are seeing in social media, almost everyone here is calm, balanced and looking for solutions.

    I love that. So thanks to everyone.

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