Credit is a weird thing, because even when it would seem clear to someone where it’s due, worldview can affect a lot. In this vein, a comment in the Atleti post was fascinating and inspiring, so here it is to get things started:
Kxevin, its quite unfortunate that you are hell bent on crediting every barca victory on paper to Enrique, our turn of form and consistency has been as a result of that feud.
You might not see it but Enrique does not have a system, its funny you even think Enrique’s barca could beat athleti without him trying to tweak a thing or two. We have certainly reverted back to the old ways and system, no more tweaking to fit the opponent.
Players might be rested or subbed or not included in the matchday squads by Him but this transformation and how we play now doesn’t relate to Enrique’s genius.
Let’s play around with that a bit, shall we, and try to deal with today’s match without even considering anything that Enrique might have done.
Now in that world, somebody had to make up the lineup card. Unzue, maybe? Or Dictator Xavi, which explains why he started. We know he didn’t start because of rotation coming into a big match midweek, because that would imply that someone is making decisions that might be beneficial to the team. But that isn’t He Who Shall Not Be Named, so let’s attribute this all to … elves.
Elves, for example, stepped up and got the February friendly in Qatar postponed. Elves have also devised a way to give the team width with Messi and Neymar having starting points on the right and left, respectively, while also giving them the freedom to roam within … well, it can’t be a system, can it, because that would require a coach with a clue, and all that Barça have are elves. Elves strengthened the defense, and elves, because they’re crafty that way, devised a way to have the team defend set pieces much more effectively.
Meanwhile somebody, somewhere, rolled out an XI today of Bravo, Montoya, Pique, Bartra, Alba, Mascherano, Xavi, Rafinha, Pedro, Neymar and Messi. Elf power. And someone structured them in something approximating some formation or another, because elves are capricious in addition to being crafty. And individual brilliance, as vile as that is, accounted for a couple of dead sexy goals while the man who ostensibly has the reins of the team was having a food tour of Elche. He probably had some arroz con costra, as that is one of the featured gustatory delicacies of a city that prides itself on quality eats.
Credit where it’s due
All kidding aside, Pep Guardiola got credit for everything from how often Messi took a crap to Dani Alves’ getting his ears bobbed. More aerodynamic, don’t ‘cha know? In this day and age, Luis Enrique, the man tasked with running this football team, gets credit from many supporters for precious little. But if he isn’t doing it, then who is? It’s much like all Creation theories.
In high school I took advanced physics because I used to be one of the smart kids. And in physics class at a prep school run by brothers of the Franciscan order, we came to creation science and were discussing various theories. We asked our teacher, Father Nicholas, how he reconciled his faith and its belief in a Biblical view of Origin with the science that he was teaching us. He answered, simply enough, that it was rooted in faith and the notion that every theory of creation runs into a complexity: where did that first bit of matter come from.
And he smiled.
Elche didn’t get its ass whipped by magic today (even as sparkly stuff happened) in a match that was exactly what it needed to be: a less-intense effort in which the team could rotate, play at 2/3rds speed and come away with a win against an opponent who might not be in the Liga next season. That match also included some absolutely sublime goals, passes and runs of play that, again, had to come from somewhere.
— First goal came from Pique, at the terminus of a bit of set piece skullduggery that worked really well, even as it needed a bit of a fortunate deflection to get past the keeper, who probably had Pique’s shot sorted. And that wasn’t the first time the team worked out some training pitch set piece trickery. Alba sent a shot just over the bar off an earlier effort.
— Second goal came from Messi after Neymar, at the end of a lovely stretch of football, is bowled over in the box.
— The third came from a heavenly pass from Messi for Neymar.
— The fourth came from a heavenly pass from Messi from Neymar.
— The fifth came via a killer ball from Bartra to Messi, who slotted home.
— The sixth came from Neymar, who made a mazy, crazy run, stopped dead then took off like a shot before feeding a streaking Pedro for the tap in.
There were six absolutely wonderful goals scored today, goals that would do ANY Barça team proud.
Players play the matches, and players decide the matches. Players score the goals, players make the passes. This is true, no matter who the coach is. But that trainer and his staff prepares the team, in the same way that a conductor prepares his orchestra in rehearsal. The great Carlos Kleiber would at times stop waving his baton during a concert and turn to the audience. He believed that if a conductor prepared his ensemble properly, it didn’t need him waving this white stick around. It was just for show, really.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t adjustments within a match. As we saw in an excellent video recently, Unzue is constantly coaching and adjusting the defense on set pieces. Enrique calls over Mascherano to tell him things and make adjustments to the way that the team is playing. Because this stuff doesn’t happen by magic. If people don’t like a baker, visit a bakery and happen to have some tasty cake, denying that the baker had anything at all to do with it, or that the cake somehow resulted from him just throwing stuff in a pan since he doesn’t have a clue about recipes, isn’t supported by objective logic. Nobody needs to defend Enrique, but logic could use some help.
Let it be
There were lineup changes today. BeIN Sport commentator Ray Hudson spent some time going on about how Mascherano isn’t Busquets, and a preference for Busquets. Meanwhile, Mascherano was busy doing things that Busquets doesn’t, because they are different players. The seeming reluctance to just let things be as they are and deal with them fascinates.
Football as a game pulsates with history. From great players to statistics, voluminous collections of knowledge await. But often, things just are. Mascherano spanked lovely diagonal passes, chased down attackers who were scampering away with the aftereffects of loose passes and touches from the likes of Messi and Rafinha, and the only thing I could think is thank the heavens there was a destroyer running around that midfield, breaking up attacks and sowing terror. He was very useful today, in part because of a tactical change that saw Messi return to the middle and go into energy conservation mode.
If Mascherano chases down and dispossesses a player, and you know that Busquets could never have made that same play, what is the problem with evaluating Mascherano in his own context? Evaluate him in the Busquets context, and he will always be found lacking. But the reverse is also true. If you evaluate Busquets in the Mascherano context, he’s just this willowy dude who by comparison isn’t the right kind of defender.
Players and teams exist in their own planes of existence. Messi vs Ronaldo, Messi vs Maradona, who is the GOAT is all pointless for me, because they just are. Enjoy them, strive to understand them. Enrique’s Barça is different from Martino’s, Vilanova’s or Guardiola’s Barça. Let it happen, and evaluate it in its OWN context, or embrace perpetual unhappiness because this team is never going to be what many expect it to be.
Messi was central and rather laid back today, even as he had some extraordinary sequences of play. That was necessary in light of Wednesday’s test. So yes, his heat map will show him more central today, because active creators such as Rakitic and Iniesta weren’t present. Nor was Alves, so the decision was made to play in a way that will result in a fresher Messi on Wednesday, when he will have to run, be active and be more like his best self. And that’s okay.
Evaluations, criticism, assessment and breakdowns are all lovely and fun, but at the end of it all, a team that has been funky away from home won on the road for the third time since the Crise de Getafe. 0-4, 0-4 and 0-6 are the scorelines.
Are there flaws in this team? You bet. There were flaws in every team, even the ones that people insist were flawless. The challenge, really, is preserving the context, putting those flaws in the correct perspective and getting our minds around just what exactly we’re seeing here.
Anybody hear that? If you really strain, you can just hear the faint aural decay of the Neysayers, echoes of people who insisted that Messi and Neymar couldn’t play together, that one would force the other out and there were too many chefs, that the board just wanted to buy Neymar because it had the plan of selling Messi and making Barça Neymar’s team.
Results define history, and what we see in the objective sense is two great players who have developed a rapport and are laying waste. By everything that we can see, they enjoy playing with each other for the simple reason that a top player needs and appreciates another one. Bebop didn’t happen because Dizzy Gillespie was playing with music students. It happened because he was having cutting contests with equals, who could match his effort and try to top it.
Barça’s fourth goal sounds simple on paper. Neymar to Messi to Neymar. But Neymar hits a perfect side-footed pass in a fraction of non-movement as Messi moves and barely breaking stride, drops a rainbow at Neymar’s feet that is volleyed home without the ball even touching the ground. They made magic, as they have time and again this season, a year in which Neymar has done what many second-year attackers do at Barça, which is figure out how to deal with all of it, from the team’s system to the entorno.
Messi and Neymar are kicking ass, taking names and then burning the notes because ultimately the names don’t really matter. It’s rare that a team can have two such creative players, both doing what they do. It’s funny to think back to how excessively deferential Neymar was to Messi, and to wonder if Messi himself said “Dude, you just be you. I can keep up, no problem.”
Real improvements, or a temporary spike?
The team is playing better. Significantly better. There are a number of reasons for that. The Enrique system is coming into play. Players are understanding their roles. Physical peaks are being reached. Sunspots. Some suggest that the team is just playing the way that it used to, which is true and not true. Barça teams play a certain way, because Barça is Barça. The challenge for those teams and the men who run them is to adapt how that team plays to the demands of the way the game evolves.
Last season, the Barça Way as devised by Tata Martino wasn’t able to beat Atleti. This season, the Barça Way as devised by Luis Enrique has beaten them twice. Luis Suarez has a lot to do with that, a transfer that didn’t just come out of thin air. And at Elche, another potentially tricky away test was turned into what it should have been: a beatdown of an inferior opponent.
History is defined by results, even as many culers say that results don’t matter. Martino is considered a failure because he didn’t win silver, and didn’t play the right way. Both of those are results, objective and subjective conclusions respectively that of necessity ignore a number of mitigating circumstances. But that’s essential to the conclusion.
And yet, it’s worth thinking objectively about any and all situations involving this club. If my dislike of this board was the Earth, you could drill to its core and all you would find is more dislike. But they have done a great many creditable things that have strengthened FCB as a business entity, and should get credit for that. Objectively, I understand that.
Barça wasn’t brilliant against Elche. It didn’t need to be. What it needed was to win, not wear anyone out and not get any injuries. It also needed to rest its key players. That it did exactly that is noteworthy, irrespective of who you credit with that outcome. The team is playing better, irrespective of who you credit with that outcome.
But like that Creation theory or the mystery cake, if there isn’t some credit for Enrique, then any theory runs into problems of Origin.