Everything to play for

To say that today’s match against Atleti is huge would be an understatement. Is it even bigger than the last time Barça faced them at the Camp Nou, with the Liga title at stake?

Quite possibly, because there is more at risk than a championship here as you get the feeling that the club is tottering on the brink of an abyss. A loss to Atleti is the absolute last thing the team needs right now, as well as the last thing that the club needs right now.

Diego Simeone is relishing the challenge.

As he and his fist of a team come into the Camp Nou, what will it face? A depleted, psychologically weak group riven by internal struggle but united in its universal disdain of its coach? Or a unified, angry bunch who will for the first time this season face the team that kept them from so much last season.

In many ways, Enrique has achieved his ultimate goal of secrecy, because we have no idea which team will show up, or if any of the stuff is true that we have been reading about the team. So let’s take the match as it is, and see what’s what.

The myth is that Barça has a mess of a system, and nobody can see anything like anything approximating a way of playing. I disagree with this. I think that like the “positioning” narrative that dogs unfavored defensive or midfield players, it has become a thing that people throw around. But in many ways all of the tactical talk about football that we see on the web and follow links to on social media, has greatly enhanced the knowledge base of the average fan.

The down side is that it has also buttressed the expectations, as people watch a match wondering about formations, what X or Y player is doing, low blocks, Gegenpressing, etc, etc. Reality is that (and pardon the repetition) once the match starts, it’s like marbles in a bowl. No team, not even the great Guardiola sides, can completely impose its way of playing on an opponent. Were that the case, there wouldn’t just have been the single year of the six trophies.

When the match starts, a team reacts to its opponent. Under Enrique, it has been considered a sign of weakness somehow, to react to an opponent or make a game plan that attempts to adapt to the way an opponent plays. The belief is that Barça should play the way that it does irrespective of opponent, that this is what great teams do.

Well, it’s certainly what stupid teams do.

In the steadfast refusal on the part of many to acknowledge that the game and way it is approached not only when playing Barça but in general has changed dramatically is tantamount to a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. There is more midfield pressure and more players packing the midfield as a direct result of the passing excellence of those Guardiola teams. Press the mids, clog the lane, attack Busquets directly in an attempt to reduce a triangle to three isolated points.

The magic that Iniesta used to be able to work is now being attacked directly and physically. When he gets near the box, defenses just wall him off, letting him keep running to the end line, which then becomes an additional defender.

Things have changed. What hasn’t changed, however, is the core of the Barça team even as age, nagging injury and diminished effectiveness have diluted the overall cut and thrust of that core. It is a group that can’t just roll out and impose its will. Conditions have changed. Tito Vilanova recognized that, and began a revolution. Tata Martino recognized that, and began a revolution that was, for whatever reason, ended around mid-season. Luis Enrique is trying something rather different, but again it’s something that needs parts that it doesn’t have, forcing adaptations that don’t always work.

I didn’t begin the season thinking that Andres Iniesta would be as important as he and his form suddenly are, for the simple reason that he is the key to the lock of the adapted Enrique system. Messi and the other attackers are running around because a stagnant midfield doesn’t have the available angles to get them the ball. What’s missing is that link, that shuttle player that not only takes the ball from midfield to the attackers, but forces the defense to move with his play. On form, that player is Iniesta.

Without that link, further complicated by a need to, whenever Rakitic plays, forcing him to babysit Alves, Barça is three phases: front, middle and back.

it is no coincidence that Barça has been so effective with Passing Messi rather than Scoring Messi. Working in the midfield as something approximating a 10, Messi becomes that link. Alba makes runs, Messi finds him. Neymar makes runs, Messi finds him. Suarez makes a move, Messi finds him. Three groups of players become a system when that circuit is closed. Bravo to Busquets to Xavi to Messi to Neymar/Suarez. Without it, things look something of a mess as the three attackers run around trying to find space in and around 10 behind the ball. Xavi can pick out a pass through the eye of a needle in a hurricane, but even he can’t find spaces that don’t exist.

In many ways, the biggest hindrance of the multifaceted lineups of Enrique has been that it exacerbates the incomplete quality of his squad. Rafinha can’t stay healthy, so his adaptation into that link has been set back. And Barça look a mess, like a team that doesn’t have a defined system because it can’t have that system as it doesn’t have the players for that system.

What it does have is a midfield that is most capable at one system, with forwards who are most capable of another. And nobody is at their best. The two worlds sometimes look like they mesh because talented players can do that kind of situational adaptation. So yes, in many ways Enrique is sometimes forced to let his talented players do what they do. I’m okay with that. Messi making a run and banging out a brilliant goal isn’t a sin. That Suarez goal against Elche, made of magic, hustle and a top player doing what he does, isn’t a sin and we need to stop treating those things as though they are.

Barça is an incomplete team with a great many questions to answer, and a fan base that is too often unwilling to ask them. Should Messi convert fully to a 10? Is the time for Xavi and Iniesta past? Is Mascherano more effective in an aggressive, dynamic midfield than Busquets? What of Alves? Have we reached a time when his liabilities outstrip his benefits? Now that Neymar and Alba are linking better, is it time to consider the right wing as a defensive element, sitting Alves for someone stable and … dare I say it … dull, like Montoya?

These are all important questions that become even more crucial as the club faces a two-window transfer ban. Is Denis Suarez that midfielder? Can Deulofeu approximate that Cuadrado presence? Again, many questions will have to be asked this summer, questions that go a lot deeper than whether Enrique is the right coach for the team. Would someone different make the players happier? Maybe. Depends on who. But as thrilled as I am some days to ride my bicycle, there’s no escaping the fact that glee or not, I ain’t the man I was.

I also think that culers have to ask themselves some difficult questions, including what standard are we holding a football team to? What are we overlooking as we apply that standard, and does this team have the right players to implement what this coach, for as long as he remains the coach, wants to do? Is it time to put sacred cows out to pasture, physically as well as psychologically. I don’t give two craps who coaches Barça, and you shouldn’t either as long as that person is capable of getting the most and best from the group of players that we have.

These are difficult times for the club and team. I don’t envy anyone in the club their position right now. Salad days are easy. It’s when you have to figure stuff out and make do with less as the hounds bay at the gates, that is difficult.

Self-made rancor

Three days, three different headlines in Sport:

“Bartomeu gives his support to Messi and begins to look for a new manager”
“Sources close to Messi deny he’s asked for Luis Enrique to be replaced by Frank Rijkaard”
“Bartomeu denies reports he told Messi he is looking for a Luis Enrique replacement”

So in three days, a lot hasn’t happened. Are media outlets flailing like supporters in their search for information? Are things a mess, or is the club and team just not bothering to deny all but the most stupid of the rumors? Why did Bartomeu agree to elections this summer? Let’s deal with all of this, starting with “sources.”

I quite honestly don’t believe that anyone knows anything. Enrique is closed-mouthed, Messi is closed-mouthed. The board might dole out leaks as it sees fit but make little mistake about it, there isn’t a lot that is concrete to go on. The result of that is that it’s easy to believe the worst. I understand that.

Exacerbating matters is that Enrique is a 24-karat sonofabitch. If I was a reporter trying to cover him, it would be all I could do not to throw shoes at him. But it would also be my duty to remain objective and not run around, reacting to rumor and gossip. European media outlets are held to a different standard than U.S. outlets. I get that. But has anyone stopped to think that perhaps part of the reason Enrique is getting the kind of coverage he’s getting is precisely because he IS a 24-karat sonofabitch? Probably not.

Here’s what I do know: If even HALF the stuff that Enrique is alleged to have done were true, it would be irresponsible for the board to not have fired him weeks ago results or no results, because the damage that sort of behavior would be doing to a team and sporting project would be irreparable. He hasn’t been fired yet, so now what? No idea. Nobody does except the involved parties, the players. And except for “unnamed sources with many international caps,” nobody is saying anything to anyone, except that they are behind their coach, and the locker room is fine. You want to see a team in REAL crisis? Look at Barça B.

Enrique said on Saturday that the day he feels his team isn’t 100% behind him, he will resign. And he should, no matter what any supporter or media outlet might feel about him.

The biggest challenge that anyone has is objectivity. I sometimes wonder if I am ill-equipped to be a proper sports fan, as people snarl things at me such as, “You always try to see both sides,” and the like. Yes, I do. Every story needs both sides. If you don’t consider both sides, you don’t have a piece of journalism. You have a rant. It would be like screaming about the board but ignoring the fiscal health that has occurred under their watch, while also ignoring the screams of “Why are you defending them?” To confuse objectivity with defending is a mistake, even as it’s one that I see all too often in these charged times.

Enrique could well be fired on Monday if he loses against Atleti, none of which would make any of the above sentences less true. Because events don’t make reality less real.

Leadership

The header of this section is the single biggest difficulty at FC Barcelona right now. The absence of a grownup is creating a vacuum into which chaos is flowing. We have a president and a board, but we don’t have a leader. Puyol was a leader. He would celebrate goals, get on teammates for not living up to his standard, stop players from doing a dance in celebration of a goal. He wasn’t very much fun, even as he was essential.

The people running the club are in many ways excellent at doing what businessmen do, even as they are guilty of (again, what businessmen do) thinking there is a way around their errors. But true leadership is absent, the kind of leadership that made Pep Guardiola feel absolutely supported in any and all of his decisions, right down to selling one of the most popular players in the club’s history. “Okay. How can I help?”

With leadership comes humanity. Messi needs a goddamn hug, not a new contract. He needs to feel that the club he sweats for has his back, fully and completely. That’s humanity embodied in leadership. As I have noted before, we think it’s silly that Florentino Perez huffs and puffs and rushes to his players’ defense. But RM, as a club, got Ballon d’Or balloting extended via a campaign. Like it or not, that’s supporting the troops. Doesn’t matter if you look stupid, because you don’t look stupid to the people who matter.

You always have to tear something down before you can build something else. This four-year demolition project that began in 2010 has a pretty crappy contractor. The project is well funded, but it’s built on a shoddy foundation. That foundation is leadership. And until this club gets true, humane and human leadership it will continue to founder and the kind of stuff that is going on right now, all the lies, rumors, counterrumors, leaks and crap, will become a way of life.

This board, which has never done anything that wasn’t to its eventual benefit, has called elections. What makes anyone think that anyone in that group is suddenly not at all interested in retaining power? Why call elections for this summer, and what of the leaks about Messi wanting to leave? Could they be so that Bartomeu becomes the president who kept Messi from leaving Barça? And what of the older, more conservative socis?

Sandro Rosell’s massive mandate was still fewer than a quarter of the available voting socis, even as about 95% of them live in Catalunya. To my view, if this board is calling for elections this summer, it is because that is probably, they believe, the best chance for them to win. Why? Because with yet another season of no transfers, the sporting project will be a right mess, potentially, which will doom them sure as I am sitting here.

I have no idea who will win the election, or even who I would like to win, even as I know who I desperately do NOT want to win. But it’s nothing personal. I just think that this club, in these difficult times, need true leadership in a real president — a Puyol in the boardroom. And I want that because I want the absolute best for this football club and team, as I always have and always will.

Visca.

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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.

40 Comments

  1. IR
    January 11, 2015

    B team is a real mess. After all these shitty results, Eusebio still in charge! Don’t know how many bad performances are needed to remove him form B team. Can’t even thing how this talented squad becomes a real mess.

    • January 11, 2015

      B team finished top5 last season, Samper, Adama,Munir, Sandro have played many games for the first team this season, that’s why they struggle this season. Why everyone suddenly so judgemental about them? Yes Eusebio needs to go sooner or later but it’s not like he does EVERYTHING wrong. It seems like one person starts to criticize someone, everyone jumps on board.

    • IR
      January 11, 2015

      I watched most of their matches. It felt terrible to watch them. Many of them are in first team, some are injured but that doesn’t mean they have to play badly in every single match. Forget about results, they hardly play convincingly in months. If you watch the way they are conceding goals, it hurts. Indeed, Eusebio has some good deeds, but when things go badly, he never shows any sign to improve. For example, every match, Adama tries the same movements & gets dispossessed.

  2. Rami
    January 11, 2015

    This might be the first time, That i’ve been this much unexcited for a match, That i normally should.

    It’s hard not to be soaked by hopelessness, I mean what’s the point, Even if we win today, How can i have any sort of hope and expectations for this season, Knowing, That in any day, I could wake up to see the coach fired or resigned, Couple that with n unsettling locker room, I mean how can we compete with anyone, Inside Spain and outside, With this current state.

    This is shaping up to be, Just another season, That’ll be flushed down the toilet.

  3. Tata2
    January 11, 2015

    If am correct, LE was the one who requested for Rakitic and. Rafinha to be signed so if our midfield is crap because we have mid-fielders who can’t execute what he wants then who takes the blame? who is over his head? did he make the wrong signings? mind you we played Athletico last season with a depleted squad, 3 of those matches were without valdez

    • Jim
      January 11, 2015

      And those AM matches were close. Off the top of my head we lost to a speculative thunderbolt in the CL and gifted Godin’s goal due to someone who shouldn’t have had to mark him ( nicest way I can put it) completely losing him at a corner. It’s also fair to say Tata left out Xavi for that game but our forwards didn’t really find a way through their defence all season. Better from three this season so I am hopeful.

      However, am I right that despite getting the green light Mathieu isn’t even in the squad ??? Ok, you could argue give Bartra a shot. Wouldn’t have been my choice but the guy has done quite well when selected. Is he tough enough? Don’t know yet. But what are we going to do if either Apique or Abartra pick up an injury. Where is our cover on the bench. Against a team who score more than half their goals from set pieces. Or is he going to leave Bartra on the bench and play Masche at CB ?

      With regard to the article. I’d agree that Barca isnt far away and the return to form of Iniesta could be one of the keys. He can de-stabilise the best defence when form. He is the perfect candidate for an arm round him imo. He has no ego, he thinks o f the team always and I’m sure thinks that there are a lot of players better than he i n the side. He needs LE to tell him he is important and encourage him to take the ball to their defence at every opportunity.

      What I wouldn’t agree with is the implied criticism of Xavi (yet) again. The change we face with regard to our opposition is that they are sitting in way more than they ever did and committing fewer players forward. Therefore we are reduced to pinging the ball about quickly in front of their box, changing the angle of attack and looking for one twos or an elusive bit of magic from one of the front three – as we’ve been getting recently. You say yourself if Xavi can’t find the pass it’s probably not there. His job can’t be to sprint about in front of their defence. It’s to keep that ball moving and wait for the opening. Messi has that ability and uses it. Rakitic or Rafinha have yet to show me either attribute. As Tata 2 says above Xavi’s replacements haven’t exactly set the heather on fire, not because they aren’t decent players but because their task is so difficult. When you talk of ” positioning” as if it’s a dirty word thrown about by those who don’t know any better, a narrative as you call it, why is your repeated tale of an over run midfield any different? Have we lost more goals this season as this midfield ages? Can you point to some ( any?) goals lost this way? Only one I can think of is Iniesta not picking up his man in the Clasico and even then there was a much worse positional error committed by Masche for the third which isn’t even mentioned. Positioning is probably the single biggest element in defending, imo and has cost us this season more than any imagined weakness in the midfield. In defence, it usually means you don’t have to be as fast – or as good and saves a lot of trouble erupting in the first place.

      I agree absolutely that this side and the club needs a leader. Barto isn’t that, even as Id defend his conduct since he took over at a bad time. Not sure about any of the candidates do I’ll stay out of that one.

  4. Jim
    January 11, 2015

    Forget to say I reckon we’ll take them today ! How can you not be positive when we’re at home and hurting ? Key is not losing an early goal and giving ourselves time yo work on their defence because while they haven’t scored they’re going to be a little more brave in terms of numbers going forward.

  5. Davour
    January 11, 2015

    Thanks for the article. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of Messi needing a hug rather than a new contract. It’s been obvious for a long time that he is rather taken for granted – his love of the club who took care of him will guarantee is loyalty… Perhaps.

    Can’t agree with Jim regarding he midfield, though. To my mind it has definitely lacked urgency and authority in many games. The reasons are probably many, age, game plan (Alves, Rakitic, etc.), but it does have a problem. Therefore I can’t see why LE didn’t stick with his early idea of utilizing Messi as an AM, a link as Kevin points out.

    On a different note: read that Guardiola warmly supports the bloodstained WC in Qatar. Appalling. As if it’s not bad enough that Barca wears the name on their jerseys…

    Eagerly looking forward to the game tonight, even as I wish it would not carry all these implications.

    • Jim
      January 11, 2015

      That’s okay, Davour. No interest if we all agree on everything. I’d be interested to know how you would see the midfield tackle two banks of four as I can’t see much alternative. In the games Xavi plays we certainly have control of the midfield but maybe there’s another way to do it. Messi is, I would argue, in effect playing as an AM a lot of the time already. Only difference is if he lined up there they would mark him to death so he just drifts there when he sees fit. He has a better eye for spaces and an impossible pass than anyone else but he needs those first few steps of space to get him going.

      Btw, team in. Masche in the back against set piece specialists (!) but at least Iniesta gets a chance to show improved form. Rakitic may have to do more in the air than he has previously.

      Still, no time for quibbles. Hope the whole team plays as they can. If they do we will win. This could do a lot to settle nerves. If we go down a goal …… Well, let’s not go there unless we have to. Getting psyched up for this one now. Much better talking about a match than politics.

    • Davour
      January 11, 2015

      I have no key to tackle the bus, of course. Today the manage rather well. Rakitic has played much better, Iniesta does ok. Messi sticks largely to the wing, using the weakness of their defense there. Adaptability… I think we’re in agreement there is no one solution nor answer to what the problem is. Xavi has done well, and I guess, as you indicate, the difficulty of the others to do what he has done is too great. We’ll see what happens if Rakitic can continue to improve and combine with Iniesta.

  6. January 11, 2015

    On the shield of Atletico there is a bear and a strawberry tree. These have been a symbol of the Villa and city of Madrid since the 13th century, because there were so many of both in the area. It is a fitting image, a hairy shaggy beast rising up to grab the sweets.

    If there is one word to characterize the current Atletico team, I choose “tenacity”. Cholo Simeone came to Atletico and created a squad in his own image, of his own likeness. Nasty, tenacious, physical, not backing down, with a touch of cheating if that’s what it takes, fighting to the last drop of sweat, to the last second and last play. It’s not that he has that type of players, but rather the players absorbing and becoming an avatar of the fire of their leader.
    Atletico won last La Liga after selling their star Falcao and reached the finals of the Champions League. With a quarter of the financial power of Barcelona and Madrid. When the season ended, Diego Costa, Felipe Luis, Courtois, Adrian, Diego Ribas(scored the nightmarish goal at Camp Nou) were all sold. But for the first time, Atletico bought and spent, to the amount of 115 million Euro. The players that came adopted the mentality of the team in a surprising fashion. I’d love to have a listening device planted on the wall when Simeone talks to his men, because at this point he has them so motivated, so sacrificially devoted to him and the team, that if he arms them with plastic cutlery and tells them to deal with a rival gang, you’d almost expect them to just ask “Do we take prisoners?”.

    Atletico also defeated Real Madrid on Wednesday, 2-0, with more than half of their starters either watching from the bench or from the stands. Arda, Koke, Juanfran, Manzhukic, Moya, they were all out of the starting eleven. They are fit and rested for tonight. As a whole, Atletico have rested one more day than Barcelona and will be boosted by the victory in the Wild West derby (Injuns vs Palefaces). Their spirit will be high, the knowledge that if they win at Camp Nou, they will leapfrog Barcelona in the standing, and will be breathing in the neck of Real Madrid(while probably moving their hips suggestively). This isn’t fear-mongering or panic. These are the facts.
    What is also a fact: Barcelona as a team, as a club and as an entity, was shaken to its core. Every day there are new rumours of internal strife, division, disunity, pouting, stars sulking, frigid silence, staff positions on the chopping block where Bartomeu is waiting with an axe still red from Zubizarreta. It’s probable that all this has taken from the concentration, from the mental edge, from the freshness and focus of everybody in the club, whether on the pitch, standing by the touchline, in the luxurious seats in the President’s box or the third-ring seats that are just under the cruising altitude of passenger jets. It has taken a toll on all of us.
    And yet, despite everything, Barcelona are odd-on to win this? How’s that possible, when Xavi is still out, Lucho apparently knows less about football than Eusebio at Barça B, Messi is following Chelsea and Suarez hasn´t bitten anybody in like ages?

    Well, one reason may be the fact that as of this moment, Barcelona´s leaky inept defence has conceded a total of 8 goals. For Atletico that count is 15, as in almost two times more. On Thursday Barcelona went out to meet an Elche team that had come out not to lose with six dedicated defenders, and for about 30 minutes it worked. Count them, six defenders, as in double-marking for every one of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Sure, it´s “just Elche”, but it´s still six defenders.

    Atletico’s dropped points are exactly the same as Barcelona´s, courtesy of two draws(Rayo Vallecano and Celta) and three losses. Those three losses came at the legs of Valencia, Real Sociedad and Villareal. Valencia took advantage of the midweek exertions of Atletico in the Champions League, and boosted by the throaty Mestalla crowd punched three in the red-white net in eleven minutes.
    Against Real Sociedad, Atletico scored first, but then Simeone watched as Carlos Vela decided he wasn´t going to let this one go. In a game with a lot of emotional significance for the Basques, Real Sociedad drew back, and then pushed the Liga champions back and back, fighting for every ball, every pass, every interception and foul, because there was something much more important than victory at stake. IT was the pride and honor of a relegation-zone stuck team, which wanted to be able to look its supporters in the eyes. And they did it.

    And so can Barcelona. Just forget about the rest and remember the basics.
    Seny. Pit. Collons.

    Let’s go!

  7. ciaran
    January 11, 2015

    Haven’t posted anything in ages. Was without decent internet for the past few weeks.
    I find it very strange that against possibly the most dangerous team on set pieces in the country that we field Mascherano in defense.

    This should be a good match. I’m really looking forward to it.

    • Jim
      January 11, 2015

      Nice to see you back, Ciaran.

  8. Jim
    January 11, 2015

    Yes. Front three deliver !

    • Jim
      January 11, 2015

      Now it’s a different game. We’ll get space and they’ll be chucking in high balls.

  9. Valdemar II
    January 11, 2015

    We’re picking apart the strongest cup team in the world, and they rested players for this. Didn’t see that coming.

  10. Neel
    January 11, 2015

    Wow, These midgets(even if all of them are not) are ripping apart such a strong team. Make no mistake fellow cules. This is a bloody mighty team we are literally ‘Messi’ng around with so far. Brilliant watch. MNS is coming to age ladies and gentemen !!!

  11. HisR0yalFlyness
    January 11, 2015

    Wonderful match so far. Full of intensity on both sides. Loving the pace of the game and the front three are showing a great level of understanding. Hope for more of the same in the next half.

  12. agar2515
    January 11, 2015

    And this is why you keep the GOAT happy, that racist biter isn’t so bad either is he?

  13. deerwithwings
    January 11, 2015

    This is the best first half we have had all year!

  14. Jim
    January 11, 2015

    The movement of our front three is just amazing at the moment. Watch Neymar’s diagonal run leaving Suaraz with the goal. And who said it was a waste putting Messi on the right? Mind you Simeone helped by putting a right footed defender on the left and telling him on no account to let Messi cut inside him. Guy will be receiving oxygen as we speak. And they haven’t a clue what to do with Suarez. We’ve needed a front man like him for years.

    Now, all we need to do is make sure we’re not caught short at the back in a counter and try to cope with the set pieces.

    • Davour
      January 11, 2015

      Wonderful game; brilliant first half, brave second. In reference to our previous discussion: when the midfield functions Messi can remain on the wing, being allowed space to run. Happy to see both Raki and Ini improving!

  15. agar2515
    January 11, 2015

    And that’s why I’ll always back Leo

  16. HisR0yalFlyness
    January 11, 2015

    All I can do is smile. What a game!! Visca El Barca!!!!!

  17. G6O
    January 11, 2015

    The first half we absolutely destroyed them, the second it seems like we deliberately sat back and waited for opportunities on the counter, of which there weren’t that many, but in the end it was a great win.

    Hopefully this will turn out like 2003-04, if people remember the situation back then. The previous seasons had been really dire, with 2002-2003 particularly disastrous. Then we bought Ronaldinho and appointed Rijkard. However, that did not work out very well initially – the first half of the season was really bad, we were in the second half of the table for a while, and the coach’s head was on the chopping block. But then we turned things around after New Year and finished second. And the rest is history we know well.

    This game was a good sign

  18. Neel
    January 11, 2015

    Regal !!! I will sleep with a smile tonight…nothing calms tension as well as a lion heart display against a warrior and physical team…Great to see Luiz Garcia as the TV host on Sky as well…he was captaining the Athletico Calcutta team in Indian Super league, and the team won the championship this year… 🙂

  19. stefan2k
    January 11, 2015

    Wtf was this??? WHAT A GAME!

    Complete performance, nothing but praise for the TEAM!

    • Jim
      January 11, 2015

      Yup. What a picture. No fake emotions there.

  20. lala10
    January 11, 2015

    atletico stretch the limit of whats legal really really far

  21. Tata2
    January 11, 2015

    Nah! It was only Pathetico, wait to EE comes to town. Hahaha! gotcha! just kidding. It was a good game considering that we dealt with the set pieces and counters well. I still remain unimpressed by Rakitic’s lack of creativity, yes he defends well but he comes short when he’s expected to create something ( that Messi goal aside). Well let’s hope LE has started to learn and improve on the team’s weaknesses, else the firing squad are still very much on ground

    • Neel
      January 11, 2015

      Rakitic ran his heart out…he was in every frame possible….thats good enough for me for starters….You need hustling as much as creativity…and then he attracts defendres towards him when close to goal line because oppositions know he can actually score from long range..he deserves more than credit than he is ever given….lets enjoy the surreal victory !!!

  22. ooga aga
    January 11, 2015

    first half we had on complete lockdown, they didnt even get a sniff. second half, the first 20 or so minutes was the most boring, with all the fouls and BS. once the game settled we were clearly in control again. great game from the team, messi heavily involved in all 3. and looking like a leader.

    world class victory.

  23. luisthebeast
    January 11, 2015

    Great game,big win.We have the best forwards in the world.

  24. Jim
    January 11, 2015

    Thoroughly enjoyed that tonight. Performance of the front three had me drooling. Suarez has been the missing piece to play up front we’ve been looking for. Kudos to the board for bringing him here . . . Oh, wait. 🙂

    Special mentions for Bravo who despite the fact he didn’t have much to do, did it well and his ball distribution was great. How is Ter Stegen going to get him out ? Still, that’s a good worry to have. Back four played well. For me, Pique was just about MOTM – if Messi hadn’t been there ! He got his head to everything that came into the box. If you want to see what I meant in an earlier post by correct positioning watch him in the 76 th minute. Masche slips and Mandzukic is away. Torres is breaking down the middle and the obvious ball. If Pique just comes across to cover Masche he leaves an angle for the pass to Torres so he pretends to come over, goes back a bit all the while making the angle hard. By the time Mandzukic is ready to hit the pass Pique has moved in, cut off the straight angle to Torres and forces him to play it too near to the keeper.

    So nice to see Iniesta play better. IT has restored my faith in him being able to take over from Xavi, even if, again, none of the goals came from midfield play. I’ve been saying for weeks this doesn’t matter if the front three play as they can. I thought Busi had a great game with only a couple of lapses in concentration but he showed us why he is there. Rakitic, too was better. Good to see him taken off and getting an ovation. That’ll do his confidence the world of good. Didn’t think it was a great performance from him but playing in a side playing well is good for anyone. The front three made this though. I hadn’t realised what a good passer of a ball Suarez is, apart from scoring goals. His ball to Messi made the third. And props to Neymar for shrugging off that tackle and a damaged ankle. If anything that was the main message tonight. This team was hurting and determined. The front three chased their tails off, moved beautifully and finished.

    Finally, words fail me on Messi. Ronaldo just can’t do for his team what Messi has done in the last two games. When he plays like this, and there is a fair question about why it doesn’t happen more often ( although when you see the improved space he gets by staying on the right you get a bit of the answer) he is quite simply unstoppable.

    Was it also a good sign that he stayed pretty disciplined about staying there? Certainly by the look on his face at the goals he is having a better time than some of the games where he comes into the middle and gets crowded out. You had to feel sorry for them as Neymar streaked down the left wing ( more of this please! ). Messi is wandering down the right wing completely out of it. Quiz question. How many players is it necessary to leave there to prevent him getting a chance? Answer. One more than AM left there.

    All in all, a great display. Yes, there were things we can pick out which weren’t great. However, can we now for the next week have a sterling display of optimism and positivity from the fans?

  25. Jim
    January 11, 2015

    Meant to say, how good was it to see LE get worked up over the treatment dished out to Messi ! Yesssss !!! More of that too.

  26. IamXavi6
    January 11, 2015

    Quick, lets renew LE for another 10years, all the haters are now saying he is the best coach…EV-AH!

    Until next game…

    Please.

    This is the sort of fickle attitude that is often on display here; and is rife with the ‘fans’ in general for this club sickens me.

    As for the game, great performance, hopefully something to build on.

    • Jim
      January 11, 2015

      Source for people saying he’s the best coach ever ? Don’t know if the previous comment is meant as a reply to me or more generally. If so, that’s not my view , but it wouldn’t be fair not to praise the aspects we would like to see more of. Everything doesn’t have to be black or white. In my case I liked the show of emotion from him and hope it carries on.

  27. Neel
    January 11, 2015

    I am sorry…but who said LE is the best coach? Sorry for playing the devil’s advocate but the goals tonight came mostly because of the talent up ahead. Yes, I will give credit to LE for convincing Messi to stay on right probably….again, there were some good individual defending at the back and individual triota of good attacking…dont think LE had as much of an influence…Dont want you guys to criticise me, but for me LE is irrelevant already

    • IamXavi6
      January 11, 2015

      Neel, I’m just being facetious, nothing against what you may have said or not said. Just highlighting the typical yo-yo feelings of many Cules. Always good for a laugh.

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