Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha (pant, pant!) bwahahahahahahahaha!
Whew! Now that I am composed, Barça put the hammer down on Cordoba 5-0, to roll into the holiday break with a bang. This was a match was either wasn’t very interesting or fascinating as can be, depending on what you were looking for.
Prima facie Barça did what it was supposed to do in stomping a relegation side in Cordoba. 5-0. So what. Couldn’t they score any more? They put eight past Huesca. Do these guys suck, or what?
What was interesting for me was that Cordoba had 8, sometimes 9 in the box, determined to prevent Barça from scoring. Once Pedro stamped that first notion with a giant FAIL, their plan B was to stay close and maybe nick one on the counter. Luis Suarez’s soft shoe nutmeg put paid to that, and the rest was history.
Signs, signs, everywhere signs
Barça continues to evince signs of a team getting it together, and it seems that more they do that, the more media and social media detractors insist that such signs aren’t there. But if you were to play “Guess the Score,” and told a culer that a team was playing with 8-9 in the box, there was slow ball movement for much of the match and to top it off Messi and Suarez didn’t play very well, that guess would be …
Probably NOT 5-0. Barça scored two goals off set pieces, something that made even the Cordoba coach say in his post-match presser, essentially “Whoa … WTF?!”
You probably also wouldn’t guess that it was Pedro who turned in an MOTM performance, playing not like the Pedro of old but rather the player he has always been when in his comfort zone. The Pedro Formula is if he requires more than 3 touches or 2 feints with the ball, forget it. Pass it back and reset. But if Pedro has space to take and shoot or take and pass, making the kinds of instant decisions with the ball that he is so good at making, he sparkles.
It’s a simple equation that also makes a lie of the results-based immediacy that buttresses supporter contentions. “I TOLD you he didn’t suck,” after a good performance by a once-maligned player, or a poor performance that would seem to justify negative perceptions. Yet things are hardly ever as simple as that. Players work in comfort zones, from the greatest to the least. Keep play in front of Pique and let him have the chance to move to the ball or see an attack coming, and he’s brilliant. Make him move laterally, or have to chase a defender and, uh oh …
Players and teams strive to keep themselves in a comfort zone so that they can give of their best. When Barça had a scoreless draw against Getafe, many things conspired to take the entire team outside of its comfort zone, from a resolute opponent to a cabbage patch of a pitch to post big-match fatigue to torrents of rain. Combine them all, and you get a 0-0 scoreline. And to find portents of doom you have to ignore the chances that were created, or Messi hitting the crossbar.
But if you look, really look, one thing you might see is a team that is finding tactical solutions to the most complex problem that a team faces, which is the parked bus. 10 behind the ball and 8 in the box is difficult to make space against, and a good team is never going to get that kind of space. Barça got an early break with a brilliant Pedro goal, but that only made Cordoba even more resolute in its determination to not let anything else happen, even at the expense of its own offensive efforts.
It is also a situation that in the past Barça struggled against, more often than not coming up empty, or nicking a goal somehow. But today’s goals were team goals, forged from sequences of passing play that found that lever to prise open a bus door, from Iniesta (who sparkled today, outside of the conditions that have been causing him complexities of late) slotting in a ball, to Xavi putting a pass right on Pique’s forehead for him to ram home. Montoya started and played mostly pretty well, a performance that allowed supporters and detractors to take from it what they wished. Supporters will ignore the backpasses and uncertainty, the ease with which he lost a marker and that man was off to the races. Detractors will ignore the solid overall qualities of his game, and the death/resurrection cycle continues.
But this match was huge fun as Barça looked for ways to thwart a resolute, defending and moving Cordoba side. When that success came, there were no moments of individual brilliance, no crazy, mazy runs or death-defying feats. Suarez broke his Liga duck. Messi scored two goals with his right foot, “Hey, looka this!” kinds of goals that found him in the right spot at the right time with the right tool, namely his suddenly fluent right foot. And something interesting occurred to me during today’s match, which is that Barça’s biggest struggle isn’t with opponents, but rather with itself and history, coupled with expectations. So in an attempt to put some things in perspective, let’s have a quick look at what happened, and what might be happening.
That current coach Luis Enrique has the hide of a buffalo and doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks will serve him well. Perhaps the slogan of this season would be, “Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening” as he seems to have taken a little something from each of his recent predecessors.
Enrique has played twentysomething different lineups in twentysomething matches, a shuffling of personnel that is something that has been rare in recent Barça seasons: rotation. That this rotation becomes in the eyes of many a sign of coach who doesn’t know what he wants, makes you ask about the reaction to a stimulus. Is it based on what we see, or what we want to see? The team playing different lineups as suits the attack necessary to defeat a team becomes a lack of tactical solidity that could also be perceived as a necessary tactical flexibility. Is everyone right, or is it simply perspective?
If I could change one thing in the Barçaverse, it would be the idea that anything that Enrique does is flawed. And not because of any need to paint rosy results, but because it stifles creative thinking by the very people who often have the most to contribute to a conversation about the team and how it’s playing. It isn’t just results, but results have to be part of the equation, part of the set of standards we consider as we evaluate what might be going on with the team.
Barça has won its Champions League group, is through to the next round in the Copa and is a single point (RM has a match in hand) behind a table-topping RM that is playing at an unprecedented level of success. Are results a signal or a trap, a measuring stick or a thing that deludes us into accepting something that we shouldn’t, because results aren’t everything.
Perhaps football matches have judges instead of scores, with scorecards that assess aesthetic and mission purity as teams wage war on a football pitch. It would appear so, as results don’t seem to come the right way, or good things are a consequence of other things instead of the converse, which for me is that the coach has responsibility for his team. When good things happen, he gets credit. When bad things happen, he gets blame. And his players share in that credit and blame.
At present, we occupy a complex world that ignores the seeming reality of a team appearing to find its way. Why the qualifiers? Because again, perspective. It would be just as easy to say, “Hmph. Another different lineup. Enrique still doesn’t know what he wants. A better opponent would have taken advantage of his tactical stupidity.”
And yet, parked buses have long been a Barça nemesis. “We need a Plan B, a different way of playing” has been the rallying cry of culers. But when he get a coach that brings different approaches for different opponents, it is taken as a lack of tactical nous. “We want to see how this team is going to play, moving forward,” but why would it play in a single way? Opponents don’t attack it in the same way every time.
Further, why would a coach not vary his lineups based on the personnel that he has at his disposal, with an eye toward not only the opponent and how he would like his team to play, but the reality of a long season in which his team is active in three competitions, in addition to the international breaks. Is that coach a fool or a pragmatist? Question everything.
It’s easy to understand the urgency of now in a fan base made impatient by a lack of victory parades. The question is whether than urgency should make us myopic, make us less capable of seeing what is happening or in extreme cases, even willing to admit that something IS happening. It’s a fascinating question that manifests itself in the performance against Cordoba as so many things happened that pointed to good things.
In the first half, the ball didn’t move quickly enough. This was execution, not tactics. In the second half the ball DID move quickly enough. Seems simple, right? Same personnel and tactics but better execution, to the tune of an additional four goals. Was it as simple as Enrique saying “Play faster, you assholes?” So how much credit should he get for the result?
Those who criticize often snuffle, stomp their feet and say “Aren’t we allowed to criticize? Just because a team has played well doesn’t mean that there aren’t flaws.” The answer, of course is that everyone sees the same things, but the difference exists in how people react to those things. What we need to do is avoid labels, such as “overly positive,” or “naysayers.” People who want to say “Yay, we won!” aren’t simpletons any more than people who say “We won, but there are still lots and lots of problems, such as … ” are worry warts. It’s two people reacting to a stimulus. What’s important is that both sides learn from rather than judging the other.
One person says that Messi on the right means that the coach is stupid. Another says that the right side for Messi is a starting point rather than a prison, and let’s wait to see what happens. Messi scores a goal from around the center of the pitch, and he is overcoming his stupid coach. Another view is that Messi was able to move into the space that he found as a consequence of starting from the right.
Different views of an event. Results aren’t everything, nor are they nothing. Events good and bad aren’t proof of anything in a sporting world in which nothing is ever as it seems, except for the final score. And yet football is entertainment, as I am fond of saying, millionaires in short pants scampering about for our amusement. There is a danger in spending so much time and effort analyzing something that the fun factor is lost.
If any of you have gone to dinner with foodies or chef types, it’s a lot of the same thing. You order 47 dishes, nibble at them all as ingredients are analyzed, preparation methods speculated about, brows furrow and opinions fly. And finally, some knucklehead says “This is some good ass food, is all I know.”