The Busquets file, aka “Moving forward without losing the Reference”

depbsq

The reference.

Yesterday’s Depor post didn’t deal with Sergio Busquets because he warrants a much deeper look than could be afforded by a paragraph.

When many think of Busquets, it is this way: the reference. The player who embodies the way that Barça should play, and would like to play.

Some of that is because of his streak of extraordinary accomplishment as the invisible man in Guardiola’s Barça. He isn’t a physical specimen. If you walked past him on the street you wouldn’t immediately identify him as even an athlete, much less an international football superstar. This fits. But in this odd nether world of influence, of spaces closed and moves anticipated, Busquets is king.

I was trying to explain what Busquets does and how he does it to someone, and it was a struggle. Because he doesn’t do anything per se, even as he does everything. He isn’t a DM in that destructive sense, even as this is the nominal position he plays. He isn’t really a CM, because the tasks of delivering balls to forwards is the job of another. He plays too deeply to be an AM. And yet he embodies elements of all three in his role of … essential midfielder. When Guardiola’s Barça was inspiring sonnets of praise, Busquets was at the apex of every midfield triangle.

It’s easy to draw Guardiola analogs, but he isn’t that, either. He doesn’t dictate play the way that No. 4 used to in a role that can best be called an embodiment of Xavi and Busquets. And it’s easy to say that Busquets just is. To say he’s an extraordinary player would be selling him short, because the best possible Barça in recent years has only been possible when Busquets was at his best.

When he was introduced in 2008, promoted by Guardiola, many wondered what in the hell his job was. When he began taking playing time from Toure Yaya, the howls were long and loud because it’s easy to look at this praying mantis capering about the midfield and wonder how it was going to stop a napkin blowing past, much less an attacker. Then Yaya was sold, and all hell broke loose. The move was stupid, until it wasn’t. “Now we don’t have a DM. Hmph!”

But that DM construct is limiting, because there is a breed of player who influences a match without having a direct effect on it. Xavi can dominate a match without a single assist or goal. Iniesta can control a match by doing that thing he used to do where he just keeps the ball, and decides to give it to an attacker only when that person is in a perfect position to do harm.

Indirectly direct

Busquets is another one. In many ways he’s like a great rendition of Brahms Symphony No. 4 and that exquisite, waltz-like opening movement. A great conductor lets the space between the notes linger. It’s still on the beat, and that non-music is an irreplaceable part of the music. That space, that absence of notes, is Busquets. The great facilitator, the man who lives at the base. If you want to understand Busquets, this video is excellent:

He’s usually open because he lives in that realm between an opponent’s midfield and their attackers, one in front of him, the other behind him being tended to by the defense. For a long time, he wasn’t appreciated. He’s also done some things to harm himself: the “peek-a-boo” incident, the allegation of a racist taunt directed at Marcelo and the accusations that he went down entirely too easily, with a default setting of clutching his face, even if kicked in the ankle.

What is probably more difficult to understand for his supporters is that what’s happening to Busquets now is in part a consequence of a team’s tactical evolution, with an outcome still to be determined. Busquets isn’t as effective as he used to be. He’s only 26, so it ain’t like time is passing him by via the inevitable diminution of skills that befalls every footballer. Not at his age. So what is happening?

Everything changes

Simply put, Busquets is living in a world in which his playground is being taken away. We first began to see signs of it when opponents finally figured out that a big part of what Barça does lives in Busquets. So they began to attack him directly via a physical midfielder with pace, to mark his incessant little movements in search of the open spaces that always found him at the base of the attack. In doing that, it cut off the head in many ways as Busquets could pick passes, spring wingers, act as a safety valve, alter the direction of the attack … pretty much everything, all the time. Remove Busquets and you could also isolate Xavi, while making Iniesta chase the ball. The overall effect would be to move the Barça attack away from an opponent attacking zone as everyone moved back in search of the ball. That’s how important Busquets is.

But other things happened. He was hampered by a couple of nagging injuries that contributed to a lack of effectiveness, but they were nothing like what the damage done to him by verticalidad. It’s no coincidence that some of his decline in form and return to form came in the schism that was Tata Martino’s season, the “Get ‘em!” phase, and the return to The Way. But because of the unruly qualities of Cesc Fabregas to name just one, Busquets was too often deprived of a destination for his passes so he had to hold the ball, sometimes too long.

Another thing that Busquets is doing, often to his detriment, is playing for the foul. He has always had a propensity, thanks to his extraordinary facility with the ball, to draw fouls and cards on opponent midfielders. This helps Barça because that player then has to be more tentative. But this, for Busquets, has become something of a thing. It used to come as a consequence of his dishing and receiving. Now it’s almost as if he seeks the foul. He gets in trouble, will feel the contact and go down. But increasingly officials are having none of it, and the result is turned possession in a dangerous part of the pitch.

Good Busi, bad Busi

It’s easy to excuse Busquets as systems change, but if you watch Busquets when he’s playing well, he always takes the ball facing the attack, head up and waiting to distribute. When Busquets isn’t playing well or is being pressed, he takes the ball with his back to the attack, or perpendicular to it. So he has to take, settle and then do what he does. Everything becomes less metronomic because the timekeeper is a beat late.

As Barça press for a more direct approach, as fullbacks create width in the attacking third, Busquets finds himself in a world of yawning chasms where his half-spaces used to be. Never all that physical, fast or direct, he struggles to cover those spaces. A lot of what we’re seeing from Busquets that has people questionting his form is tactical. The game is changing around him, and he’s struggling to keep up with it. Iniesta is having many of the same difficulties.

Eric Abidal’s departure didn’t just hurt the defense. He was Busquets’ best friend in a tactical sense because Abidal wasn’t all that interested in attacking although he would from time to time. He was interested in hanging out the “Closed” sign on the left side, exhibiting a pace and range that let Busquets focus on doing what he does best. Compare that to now, where the back four is deep, Alba and Alves are up the pitch and Busquets essentially is a DM with way too much acreage to account for.

The difficult questions abound, but at their root is what needs to change to get the best Busquets back, or have tactics and the evolution of a system bypassed a player who at another time, was crucial to the team’s attack. Rakitic is off toward the box, Iniesta is making curlicues with Neymar. Does the current Barça argue for a more traditional DM with passing skills like Mascherano, rather than the more cerebral influence of Busquets?

Don”t hate the playa …

It’s hard to get the mind around next steps for Busquets. Yet the biggest caution should be to not blame Enrique because his system is in part making a reference point struggle, because as the Enrique system approaches something close to its tactical ideal, Busquets is also returning to a familiar role as the midfield tightens. His role will never be the same because the game isn’t the same; not as played by Barça and emphatically not by opponents trying to defeat Barça. He will have to adapt.

Busquets has moved up the pitch as Mascherano fills that hybrid DM/CB role, dependent upon what an opponent is doing in attack. Just as Puyol did, essentially. Against Atleti Busquets was often his old, metronomic self. He needs time to read play because his physical skills won’t allow him to deal with an attack with pace and physicality. But if he can read play and anticipate where things are going, he can be there to stick a foot in. The difference between a successful tackle and a foul or card for Busquets is often the pace of an attack and how much time he has to read it. Destructive improvisation isn’t his forte as it is Mascherano’s.

At one time many assumed Busquets to be the heir apparent to Xavi. Both have the same magical knack for evading pressure and picking out a pass. But Busquets hasn’t evolved into that more offensive role. It is unfair to have expected him to? Valid question even as we acknowledge that the need for a Xavi analog is pressing. Not Iniesta’s modified Xavi, but the full Xavi.

But we also have to ask whether than role has validity in an Enrique system that scrambles the forwards and in many ways reduces the midfield to messengers rather than direct influencers as they shuttle the ball between the lines and help with the press. If you watch the Atleti match, there are extended periods where Busquets doesn’t touch the ball as the attack has moved forward, outside of his sphere of influence. And every time someone passed to Busquets, Mandzukic would charge him hard. So the ball would move from Mascherano to Iniesta or Messi, from Pique to Rakitic.

Has the game passed Busquets by? Far from it. Sunday’s match should still be fresh enough for us to remember that exquisite ball that sprung Messi loose for the second goal. Busquets. As Barça played out of its own end to start the rush for that third goal, Busquets was the can opener.

The game is cruel in that there is often a rush to declare something past. Many want to see more Mascherano in midfield. That is certainly a tactical wrinkle, but one of the biggest tasks that Enrique will have is how to retain a successful and Barça and evolve the style, while not losing the best parts of a player who has been for so long, its reference.

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Written by:

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.

66 Comments

  1. IamXavi6
    January 20, 2015

    Good article. I”ll just mirror what I said before. The issue is, to me, Busquets has had a comfortable ride for too long in his position. He has (for whatever reason) been an automatic starter in DM position, regardless of his form and or his current state of play or matchups.

    This season, Masch has clearly been above his level. It makes absolutely no sense to NOT put Masch in the DM role, and let a Bartra and a Mathieu get regular minutes partnering Pique in the true CB role.

    The only thing I think perhaps saving Busi is, injuries to the defenders currently, AND I believe his sway with other players in the squad, him being removed for a temporarily period of time from the starting 11 may cause some internal political issues with the players. Hope not, but we all know that squads always have internal parties within the playing squad.

    I am by no means suggesting Busi doesn’t add value. He’s a world class player in a world class team. Of course he does. At the very least, he should be rotated more and or rested for a few games, just so he can also get put on notice that nothing is taken for granted. Mash also deserves his place there. The team would be better for it.

  2. January 20, 2015

    The most important question may just be this:
    Is Busquets still a reference?

    In my opinion yes, but with the opinion around other Barcelona blogs, it feels like very few value Busquets, a player who makes others look good.

    Guardiola and Busquets are not the same player wise but definitely the same personality wise – they both were humble, dedicated and tactically astute players.

    “I genuinely enjoy watching the full-back run up the pitch and going across to fill in. I spend the game calculating: how many on the left? How many on the right?” – Busi himself.

    But Kxevin is right. It’s too much space left for him to cover.

    Guardiola was “finished” as a player by 33:

    “His midfield skills have become obsolete…the modern game has closed the door on players like Guardiola…despite being in the best shape of his career, there is no place for him…that the thoughtful, intricate passing patterns of players like Guardiola are lost to younger fans is somewhat depressing.” (2004, The Times)

    Guardiola himself:

    “I haven’t changed…my skills haven’t declined. It’s just that football now is different. It’s played at a higher pace and it’s a lot more physical. The tactics are different now; you have to be a ball-winner, a tackler, like Patrick Vieira or Edgar Davids. If you can pass too, well, that’s a bonus. But the emphasis, as far as central midfielders are concerned, is all on defensive work…players like me have become extinct.”

    This sounds a lot like the situation right now – the real question is if Busquets can adapt the way Pep couldn’t.

  3. lovell
    January 20, 2015

    @IamXavi6 . I have watched all of barca’s games this season and there is just one problem with busi , He takes too many Risks. Maybe its overconfidence or hesitation (which means a lack of confidense thereof). We miss the busi who chose the simplest passes . he is no iniesta . holding the ball for too long invites trouble. More so now that our play is less tightly packed ,providing him with little or no cover.

    • IamXavi6
      January 20, 2015

      @Lovell

      What I think you’ll find is with an out of sorts Iniesta and a declining and often not in the team Xavi, Busi can’t really on their movement to create space they once did for him. He hasn’t adapted well to that.

      Busi has never been a superb dribbler and or in tight space kinda guy. You’re quite right in what you are saying. He needs to go back to his fundamentals of screening the defenders and playing the simple outlet ball. Not easy with Xavi and Iniesta out recently.

      I’m calling for Masch as I believe he has more strings to his bow and on form, will do a better job.

  4. lovell
    January 20, 2015

    Busquets cost us the match in our 3-2 away defeat to psg. Watch the again if u dont agree

  5. lala10
    January 20, 2015

    The decline of Busi is truly an issue that i don’t really get. Some say he is been out for two years and though a shift is perceptible his decline is a notion i dont subscribe wholly to.

    I think the debate had be enriched if we could get data about the currency of defensive midfielders and how he fares now as compared to the past

    His main folly is not being visceral in a position where machismo is a gud sign

  6. Jim
    January 20, 2015

    It’d be easy to dismiss this article for me as Busi is one of the most intelligent football players I’ve ever seen. Although never mentioned in the same breath as Xavi, Iniesta or Messi his first touch and vision are incredible. I also don’t buy the huge change in verticality being touted as if moving the ball quickly wasn’t always part of the great Barca side. . It is, however, an option which makes us more unpredictable and that in itself makes opponents think twice about how many players they commit to a high press.

    However, Busi has been getting caught more these days whether it’s because with the unavailability of Xavi or Iniesta to him others aren’t showing at the right time for a pass or because as Kxevin says opponents are targeting him as the oiler of the Barca gears. Maybe it is even physical because a fit Busi is virtually impossible to get off the ball. I’m not sure.

    I’ve long advocated removing Masche from the back four and putting him where his he has a particular skill set and he is certainly worth a go there as he plays well in that position for Argentina. However, Barca ain’t no Argentina structurally and I’m under no illusions that opponents won’t likewise target Masche as an area they can get at because they just don’t get the ball from Xavi or Iniesta. There is still a big question for me if Masvhe can retain the ball under pressure he hasn’t experienced before. I’d also worry about a midfield of Masche and the two Rs as ball retention could become an issue. It is, however, worth a go.

    I’m not buying the notion of him costing us the away game against PSG. On that occasion he was fouled, even though he could have put the ball out to avoid the trouble. PSG’s goals that night all came from individual errors including a worse one one from the person being touted as his replacement.

    Likewise, I don’t buy Guardiola’s assessment of the change in the game at the end of his career. He himself proved those words spectacularly wrong with the best club side we have seen in our lifetime, stuffed with small or non- physical players. The better quote from him I reckon was that nobody runs as fast as the ball.

    • January 20, 2015

      I’m starting to wonder if, in the same way that Xavi used to drift into the DM slot to find space, that Busquets may have to start drifting into CB/sweeper territory again with Masch (or even Pique) drifting forward to compensate. Not so much a full Masch DM role but the two of them balancing their movements the way the wingbacks do.

  7. Zubs
    January 20, 2015

    Im glad other people are seeing this.
    Against ATM, he was pretty good but against Depor, he gave the ball away in dangerous positions far too often. And its not the first time this happens.
    Kev has already gone into detail but for me, by replacing Xavi with Rakitic, Barca have automatically become more vertical in midfield. Therefore, its perfect for Masche to be playing in DM (and thus, it allows Bartra to play in CB).
    Busi, OTOH, thrives on tika-taka but the new system leaves him exposed and not in his comfort zone. He’s still trying to play the ‘old way’ by trying to pass out of danger or looking for the foul, a risk he could take because the old system meant other players were always going to be close to him. The same goes for Iniesta, but i’ve noticed he’s starting to go more into the ‘Xavi-role’ i.e he’s sitting deeper which is proving to be better for him if his early season form is anything to go by.

    Of course, Busi does have that groin problem and it could be a simple case of injury hindering him. But he’s had this problem for a while so hopefully, he’ll get that sorted out ASAP.

  8. dl
    January 20, 2015

    I think there is some truth in ‘the game has changed’ both for Guardiola and for the present barca. There is a constant ebb and flow to tactics, philosophy, physicality, etc. Very generally there’s been a steady improvement in fitness and lower tolerance for thuggishness in the game, and aside from that each decade or so seems to produce a team that gels in a very particular way — the coach, team, subs, tactics all come together in a way that is unexpected and very difficult for other teams to deal with. Barca has recently been one of those, and during pep’s time it was as well. To speak of the decline of the most recent barca is in my opinion a shorthand way of saying BOTH coach/players/tactics/subs at barca and the competition have changed. One wave subsides as another rises. It is completely natural; in fact if it didn’t happen we ought all to be concerned.

  9. luisthebeast
    January 20, 2015

    Barcastuff said that according to club sources we can sign players the summer and they can train until january 2016 wit.g the team or stay on loan at current club.Thats great news if it is true:-)

  10. CuleToon
    January 20, 2015

    «Busquets, the best kept secret of Barça» (S. Segurola).

    • January 21, 2015

      Hey, long time no news..

      Hope all is well with you friend. Was wishing to hear something from you, local news, during the recent issues.

      🙂

  11. SemperFi...
    January 20, 2015

    Barcelona is a bit of a mystery for teams at the moment. Consistently more ball circulation.

    No lingering, just getting on with it, charging into space – albeit if the player doesnt receive the pass – he’s pulling opponents into tracking him whilst the ball goes to some1 else – creating mystery/confusion. A bit like a few yrs ago, aided by a relentless press that everybody joins in. A bit like a few yrs ago.

    Will they lose again? Yeah. Guardiola’s Barcelona lost too. Whilst they’re not at that Barça’s level yet, they’r visibly as hungry as that Barça. Which is all this Barcelona team ever needed. Tactics r easier to employ when the hunger is there, but not to take for granted the fact that the team does hav direction, or a certain shape/identity now. Early days, but this group hasn’t looked like a team for a while, until 3 matches ago.

    When opponents start getting penalties for no reason against Barça, its a sign that there’s a bit of fear building for the alzugrana again.

    Hope that the board leaves this team to grow & doesnt interfere, or let power struggles in & around it blow back & disturb watever this team is shaping into. But it is shaping into something. Looks gritty, & more assured of its passes — because of the press allowing for ball recovery rate to b higher – making players less nervous about their passes.

  12. FCB16
    January 20, 2015

    I’m glad we can finally talk about Sergio’s lack of form without people saying you’re “ignorant” because “you don’t know how important he is.” He’s human folks, not infallible.

  13. SemperFi...
    January 20, 2015

    As for Biscuits. He was intelligent enough to fit into watever Guardiola required. He’l figure this 1 out too. Barcelona looks like they can start bullying teams again… if they’re allowed to keep growing. If not, its been fun seeing them in this type of mood after so long.

    Worth mentioning is despite the losing streak they went on b4 this reinvigoration we’r seeing now – their press was still better than last season, & the season b4.

    • Jim
      January 20, 2015

      And the defence has been massively better all season and the forwards just needed time to gel which we always knew they would. We also missed a heap of chances at the start of the season, hence the Messi has lost a step/ is past it brigade.

      Still early days though. How will we cope against the best teams playing twice a week? If our press falters what do we fall back on?

      Most importantly does Kxevin now think we’ll win a trophy ? 🙂

  14. January 20, 2015

    Qatar friendly canceled. Coach’s decision, apparently.

    • January 20, 2015

      That’s great news!

    • IamXavi6
      January 20, 2015

      Very smarty done.

    • ooga aga
      January 20, 2015

      They felt the pressure, i think, after hearing the grumblings from this very blog. 🙂

    • Ryan
      January 20, 2015

      The whole team’s hamstrings rejoice! Great decision to call that off.

  15. luisthebeast
    January 20, 2015

    Great move from bartomeu.We all agree that they made mistakes but they are doing good job when they want;-)

  16. luisthebeast
    January 20, 2015

    I just watch now for another time leo goal against getafe and still i dont believe it is true or a video game.He was just 20y old and he scored the best goal ever.I almost cry every time i watch his crazy run.Can we make the time go back for him and make him again 18y old so we can enjoy him for another 9 years??After him football will be so bored..

  17. Tata2
    January 21, 2015

    Yup I always marvel whenever I watch that video, I mean that kid was just 20 years old where did he get the balls to conjure up and execute such an absurd thing against adults? His name has already been written down among history’s greats and he’s already right up there with the other greats even if he hasn’t or doesn’t win a world cup. Ronaldo knows the only way to stand a chance against Messi is by becoming obsessed with scoring and that’s just about what gave him his two recent bdo’s. Deep down in Ronaldo’s heart, he wouldn’t mind losing out on the champions league trophy if he’s going to be the top scorer. The other day he picked up a fight with bale for not passing him the ball to tap into the net but going for goal himself. Messi has matured over the years and you can’t just define him by how many goals he has scored and he isn’t obsessed about scoring either, he’s happy to assist others so his team can win. Any time the ball is at his feet, we just expect the impossible and sometimes even the best of barca games could seem boring if Messi isn’t playing.

    • barca96
      January 21, 2015

      But but Ronaldo has more assists this season 😆

    • luisthebeast
      January 21, 2015

      Well if leo was a madrid player the last 5 seasons he would end every season with 50goals and 30assists.We can only dream the open space that their opponents allow to them.Ronaldo in our team would be a huge fail.

  18. SemperFi...
    January 21, 2015

    They were able to sustain this type of press for 3 & a half yrs under Guardiola. 4 or so months left of the season shouldn’t b a problem IMO. That hard working mentality is back after 2 plus yrs of lethargy. They’v had a nice hiatus to cure from the brain-fry that came with all the success under Pep.

    Starting anew, renewed vigor, renewed HUNGER. For me, their reinstalled press along with their committment to support each other is evidence that the hunger is back. Carrying on like this, i think they’l b hard to undo. If it is, then, here we go again… Barça carousel & all those other superlatives that went with that.

    Bring it again Atleti, u animals.

  19. SemperFi...
    January 21, 2015

    Cholo is slightly puzzled in terms of wat to do if the Barça he met recently pops up again.

    He must hav been replaying footage over & over. Coaches of the past did the same when Barcelona were surfing the skies, but couldn’t bring them down to earth.

    Lets see wat this guy comes up with…

    • January 21, 2015

      Thanks Yuvi.

      Yes, please someone translate it.

      I cant fathom how they managed those footage.
      When a player, who was playing very well, is being taken out, it would be nice for the coach to greet him on the bench. Both coach and assistant dont care at all. Neymar seemed very annoyed, rightfully, and even Suarez didnt like it.

    • Jim
      January 21, 2015

      Yeah, it’s not hard, is it? Little pat on the back and a quick comment, especially after he had played well. That’s what makes me fear for the next few months. Not sure he has learned much about managing superstars.

  20. IamXavi6
    January 21, 2015

    GAME ON!

  21. IamXavi6
    January 21, 2015

    Messi nice little moves so far.

    Athleti extremely pressing right now as we would expect. Whats amazing is when Barca break they look like an U16 side against U10s.

    You really get an appreciation for how Athleti live and die by their intensity…hence why an early goal is necessary to break their will a bit.

  22. IamXavi6
    January 21, 2015

    Ter Stegen always looks so comfy on the ball – we’re pretty lucky to have the quality keepers we do right now. Good distributor by foot

  23. IamXavi6
    January 21, 2015

    OHH Suarez how did you miss!

    🙁 🙁 🙁

  24. IamXavi6
    January 21, 2015

    A more or less well controlled first half, but typical Athleti. It’s going to be a long night unless we score early 2nd half.

    • stefan2k
      January 21, 2015

      We are doing great, they feel the pressure. Their forwards are chasing ghosts, Pique was a beast on all corners and even on those counter attacks.

  25. Jim
    January 21, 2015

    Right, there’s space somewhere because Messi has three on him. Our mids are going to have to get into the box more. Most important thing though is not to lose an away goal.

    Mandjukic on? I’m reckoning a few more cross balls trying to keep it away from Pique.

  26. SemperFi...
    January 21, 2015

    C’mon Barça, wear them out

  27. SemperFi...
    January 21, 2015

    Cant see the game. No coverage

    • Jim
      January 21, 2015

      We won . . .

  28. TITO
    January 21, 2015

    This is more like us. Never give up.
    And i liked the fact that they were not so anxious to cross the ball into our box from corners. I wonder why.

    • January 21, 2015

      Probably because they figured pique would just head it away. Glad that we have pique back.

  29. Jim
    January 21, 2015

    A deserved win for me. We had chances, they defended really well and Ter Stegen didn’t have a save to make. They’ll now have to commit a lot more to attack at some point in the return because unlike previous seasons our defence is well organised. Also, they’re only managing to thwart us by sheer numbers at the back. Leave more gaps and they could suffer. We score, and we should, they need three against the tightest defence in the league. Btw, I’ve been hard on Masche but for the last two games he has kept his discipline and his position and the defence is the better for it. However, we’d better wrap Pique in cotton wool for the big games this season. He’s playing superbly at the moment.

    A couple of other points. Suarez may take a hit comment wise for missing his chance but it seems to me he’s following the expected route of expecting more space, not getting it then going to the other extreme and assuming there’s none at all and snatching. It’ll come. The other one is Messi’s penalty. You’ll not hear any criticism from me. I used to take the penalties for my team and would almost rather not have had one awarded. A thankless task. Unless you go for a really low percentage hoof into the postage stamp or try to send the keeper the wrong way you’re at the keeper’s mercy. If he guesses right you’re screwed.

    Much better and more typical display from AM. Doesn’t mean we’re not Improving just as it didn’t mean we’d found the Holy Grail last time. We’re still gonna have to break buses. Only difference is a big one. We’re not making matters worse for ourselves by losing goals to individual errors or lack of numbers. I’m quietly confident about the business end.

  30. January 21, 2015

    Just got back from the Camp Nou. Freezing, btw. That referee really was something else. Granted, we’re possibly the only team in the world that has refs consistently whistle against us in our home stadium but, wow… Really surprised he gave us a penalty in the end after waving away so many clear fouls by AM.

    It was nice to see Suarez get support from the crowd after his monumental first half miss. Other than that, a really good performance against a highly disciplined bus (well, tanker). I don’t think we’ve seen Barça play this well for five consecutive games since maybe Pep’s last season or perhaps that first half of
    Tito’s season.

    • January 22, 2015

      Glad for you Levon.
      However, reg the ref, I think he got most of the calls right, including the penalty. Replays being the only advantage of watching footy on tv. Most of the non calls, I too thought what the hell, but on replays it seemed fine – I mean most of them. His job today, was much better by liga standards.

    • January 22, 2015

      There was this stretch of fouls and handballs which he did not call which were ridiculous (one handball near the box, but granted, I didn’t see the reply, and the foul on Suarez when he was about to break free). Then when he called a handball of Arda Turan he should have given the Turk a yellow card, instead he gave it to a Barça player for protesting. The Camp Nou rose and gave him a panuelada (out came the white handkerchiefs).

      There were also various off the ball fouls where Atletico players basically smashed into Barça players (once into Messi, once into Suarez) after the ball was played away. These might not have been shown on tv.

      I think the worst was how Atletico players openly mocked the referee with time wasting tactics and he never even pulled them aside for a verbal warning. This was basically since the beginning, but at one moment in the second half Arda Turan (I really like this guy, btw) was called for a foul and ferociously backheeled the ball at the referee in protest. Again, nothing… not even a word.

      Make no mistake. The Camp Nou is used to less than sympathetic referees, but this one was horrible and the crowd was furious. If not for the panuelada, I doubt he would have admitted the penalty.

    • January 22, 2015

      You could be right, you definitely had a better view. I have got used to refs mostly going against us, so with that in mind, I thought he did better.
      That hand ball just outside the box, and Turans no yellow hand ball were among the few decisions which puzzled me.
      I would still say, watching on TV, Atletico looked less dirty against us compared to how they treat RM ):

    • January 22, 2015

      Four players on yellow cards before the match and the return leg in the Vincente Calderón might have something to do with that. A return leg that Godín will miss, btw.

    • January 22, 2015

      Did you notice that Alba didnt look at the Pen kick and turned around and celebrated only once he was sure it was goal?

    • January 22, 2015

      No, I didn’t. I’ll try to see if he does the same next time. I’m probably going to the home game against Villareal on Feb 1. Free ticket courtesy of braving the 22h00 cold on a weekday for the Atletico game.

  31. IamXavi6
    January 21, 2015

    Makes me wonder what Simeone and other Athleti players and fans think. A club trying to become a European powerhouse, comes in and relies on trying to nick a cheap goal or a penalty, but happy to go for a dour draw in the hope of scoring a freak goal or two at home to steal a win.

    Interesting mindset. Of course, nothing but a compliment for Barca, and we are all use to it, but still never gets me thinking.

    • IamXavi6
      January 21, 2015

      *Never STOPS me thinking*

    • January 22, 2015

      “A club trying to become a European powerhouse”, missed a small fact “without the riches of other teams”. If ypou look at the top teams in Europe at the moment, Atleti would be the one with least budget and also the difference between them and others are also alarming. Having said that, why are we still not able to grab the fact that in a two legged tie, to remain in the tie going in to the second leg. They did that. They definitely could have gone for an away goal but Simoene looks pretty confident about their defense at Calderon.

    • IamXavi6
      January 22, 2015

      Sorry, but that wasn’t part of my point. It’s clear to most they don’t have the bankroll of other clubs. The point is, I’m glad the results they get lately haven’t endorsed their style of play against other teams they wish they could be. If they are trying to be part of the big boys of soccer, then I truly hope they would attempt to play like one 🙂

      I agree that Cholo seems satisfied with 1-0 away, and it’s an uneasy score to lead by, but if we score first away, I’m saying tie is over 🙂

  32. bhed
    January 21, 2015

    Whew, just finished watching (DVR) – that was a nail biter, up to and including the rebound on the penalty!

    Haven’t commented in a while (other stuff going on), although I’ve been watching the games and reading most of the stuff here. Still, a few thoughts on our fortunes of late…

    As Masch has been steadily improving his decision making and CB instincts (as opposed to his natural DM instincts), when you also add in his heart, leadership, and the footballing skill he already possessed, he’s turning into a damn good CB. I guess Enrique, the previous managers, and even Kxevin were right all along! (I tease because I love…)

    Also, based on what I’ve seen this year and last, I think I would feel fairly confident with Bartra starting against any of the big teams as well. And as others have said, Pique is looking very good again. No complaints about Mattieu at CB either (at LB however, not so much). Ironically, we seem to have an embarrassment of riches at centerback at the moment, and we are no longer an injury (or 5 yellows) away from a defensive crisis.

    I am still quite perturbed about our full back situation though. True, Dani has played better the last few games when he’s had Messi next to him, but tonight you could pretty much count on us losing posession shortly after he got the ball in Atletico’s half, almost every time, unless Messi was within 5 meters of him. With the transfer ban and Montoya’s continued disappointing performances (sorry Montoya boosters, but the kid just doesn’t have it), I guess there’s no point in even mentioning it since there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. I’d like to see Adriano get a few starts on the right though, and see if he can’t give us more of a long shooting threat as well as bit better defensive cover. Could Bartra play right back? Hell, if he’s not gonna start at CB, it seems like a shame to waste that talent.

    As for Suarez, who the hell knows what’s going on with that. First season forward curse? Still, I’m slightly less frustrated watching him miss chances than watching Pedro miss chances, despite the huge price tag and opportunity costs his purchase entailed. I think Suarez is more likely to start scoring goals than Pedro. Hopefully he’s saving it for the business end of the season.

    Finally, I got my tickets to BCN! April 5-10. Plane tickets were MUCH more expensive this year. What’s up with that, with oil being so cheap? Did the airlines lock in higher prices or is demand just up? I hope to save a bit of money by trying AirBnB (heard nothing but great things). Also, since it’s a mid-week game that week, after a Classico, I’m going to try to buy Nou tickets there before the game, rather than in advance on the website, where it’s much more expensive and almost impossible to get 2 adjacent seats. Lev, I feel I owe you a beer (or whatever) for all the work you’ve done (Kxevin too of course, if you happen to be there then, or anytime you’re in SF!). If you’d like to take me up on it, let me know and we can figure out how to exchange emails. If not (I realize you have a life and all), no obligation, no worries.

    Visualize Suarez scoring (more than once) everyone!

    • PrinceYuvi
      January 21, 2015

      Great to see you back, bhed

    • bhed
      January 22, 2015

      Thanks guys!

  33. Tata2
    January 22, 2015

    Anyone noticed atletico resorted to short corners against barca a team known for its weakness on corners/set pieces? Atletico learnt from the first defeat as they refuse to concede space to us and that’s what really stifled us.They always triple marked Messi and neymar and succeeded in isolating Suarez. This is also one of the games where we needed to shoot from outside more. We can also do ourselves great good by nicking in an early or first half goal to make teams open up a bit, it gets more difficult and frustrating when the score is at 0-0 or we concede a goal. I hope LE comes up with something different next week and oh! Messi at false 9 is not the solution either

    • IamXavi6
      January 22, 2015

      I hear you on outside shooting.

      That’s just not the way we play, it’s been the most frustrating thing as a clue for (Decades) now for me, but, hey, that’s not our style.

      Iniesta tries more to shoot outside the box as does Neymar, but yes, it’s a sticking point regarding ‘dribbling ball into net’.

  34. Tata2
    January 23, 2015

    Yea. But everyone has a plan until they get hit. If Iniesta says, am not going to shoot this ball from here cos its not our style, we wouldn’t have been celebrating a UCL title in 2008/09 season. If Adriano says, am not going to shoot this ball from here cos its not our style, we wouldn’t have had the wins against Atletico and Malaga respectively. Am not opting for it to become the in thing but just every once in a while, we could take opponents by surprise ( just like the neymar goal against PSG).

  35. January 23, 2015

    I’ve often wondered whether the “we don’t shoot from outside the box” statement would stand up against statistical analysis as, strangely enough, there is one player whose contributions are always overlooked in this discussion. Not all of Messi’s goals are delicate chips from five yards out…

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