Athletic Club 2, Barça 5, aka “Teamwork”

team

There was much irony in the two goals scored by Athletic Bilbao, moments that will make history believe that they were actually, at some point, in this match.

Both goals had as their genesis moments of lost midfield possession by members of a team whose detractors allege doesn’t cherish the midfield OR possession as it should. And the defensive shambles created by those flaws was no more acute than it has been at any time in this team’s storied history, despite what the burnished patina of memory might suggest.

And if you listened carefully, just off in the distance you could make out the groaning springs and creaking suspension of people hopping back on a bandwagon as semantic malleability rears its head from many a person who but a short time ago was banging a #luchoout social media hashtag, or suggesting that this team’s coach, Luis Enrique, was in over his head.

It’s funny what time does to things. Eat a hunk of raw pizza dough and it tastes pretty crappy. Give the chef time to season it, bake it, add the right ingredients and serve it properly, and things are a different proposition. So it is with this Barça, a team that is even defeating my predictions that it wouldn’t come together with quite this level of effectiveness this season, that there were too many questions still lingering.

But it’s worth asking whether that rather routine loss at the already-jinxed ground of La Anoeta was cause or circumstance, as the team has won every match since then. There are, after all, many ways to learn not to put your hand on a fire. Your parent can tell you 20 times, or you can do it once. Both provide the same lesson, albeit at a different price. This Barça didn’t seem to believe that it was as delicate as it was. You could almost imagine them looking at the roster and saying “Sheeeee, we got this,” and not doing everything possible, not fully believing a coach who said not only are you NOT as good as you think, but if you do things my way, I can help you get there.

It took that listless morass of a belly-up to drive lessons home. There were so many thoughts about the match, so many people who screamed for Enrique’s head for not starting Messi, Neymar and Suarez, people who forgot that they were out there in the second half, when they couldn’t do it against a team that already had a scrambled, crazy half of football in its legs. For me, that loss was a symptom of something easier and more difficult to track. It is often said that Enrique was clueless as he coached this team, but you wonder if the team wasn’t also clueless, didn’t quite have a handle on what it took to accomplish tasks with great players who were still great, but had acquired flaws due to nothing more than the passage of time and what it does to athletes.

mess

The weekend began with an object lesson as Atleti destroyed its capitol city rival in the derby, doing so by applying absurd pressure that destroyed the RM midfield and made building anything close to impossible. That display made it fairly easy to go back and watch the Barça vs Atleti matches and the de-emphasized midfield as the team played with a directness that removed the opponent’s principal weapon. And as people snarled “We have no midfield,” you could be forgiven for wondering if it was a flaw or a tactic? You might further be forgiven for wondering about the lack of patience that is endemic in the game and how it is covered these days.

Today’s headlines blare that “Barça Liga favorites,” and “RM in crisis.” But it wasn’t that long ago that RM was being compared to l’annus Guardiolus and Barça was in crisis. Seems some modulation of that rheostat of punditry is in order, just as there should be of necessity some consideration as a supporter. You don’t have to blindly, unquestioningly support your team. But it isn’t unreasonable to expect time for things to fall into shape before declarations are made. As Xavi said, Barça isn’t as good as many say, or as bad as many say. It’s a football team that is coming into shape and form, that we should deal with using that template.

The best part is that you’re then able to have fun with a match such as yesterday’s, instead of having to wrestle with the back flips necessary to not seem like the curmudgeon sitting in the corner. Barça has dropped zero points since La Anoeta, and the Athletic match was a perfect illustration as to why. This team has become a stylistic amoeba. As Enrique said, you’d be nuts not to take advantage of the space being offered by a pressing team who was also packing the midfield. Atleti did it, and it was the same result. This is worth noting because pretty much since Anoeta, Barça has been becoming the team that many hoped it would become when Neymar was signed, a turbocharged version of Barça football, with liberal doses of “Wheeee!”

Tata Martino started that sort of transformation, then backed off. He seemed to care what people thought. Enrique has no such constraints, and the result is a crazy, hazy version of total football adapted to a front three possessed of astonishing levels of skill on and off the ball. Good luck trying to figure out who was playing where. Busquets was in the Alves role as he spanked that assist to Pedro. Alba had the most passes on the team. Xavi was diving at a submarine header off a Messi pass, Neymar was tackling the ball to make an interception outside the Barça box. Everybody was everywhere in a living, breathing adaptation of the Ray Hudson chestnut that involves trying to nail Jello to the ceiling.

Let’s look at the goals:

— The first was just a crazy free kick that took a deflection or two, and just eluded the clutching hands of the keeper. Messi’s wry grin as he celebrated was pretty much all you needed to know.
— The second was a Pique long pass out of the back to Neymar, who headed it perfectly to Suarez who held up play a bit so that Messi could arrive. He slid the ball to Messi and then hung back, knowing the defense would be unsettled. Messi took note of that, fed a trailing Suarez, who smoked it home.
— The third was born of a midfield interception. A Rakitic pass to Suarez saw the Uruguayan get the ball in the box and draw three defenders, while Messi and Neymar capered in. Suarez crossed, and that was that. It was credited as an own goal.
— The fourth was a Rakitic run, pass to Messi who alertly saw Neymar streaking in and fed him. Neymar made a difficult finish look easy.
— The last was the most beautiful, a blinding passing sequence that even included Busquets getting fouled and Messi holding up play until Busquets could get up and make the run into the box. He crossed to Pedro, who slotted home on the doorstep.

Except for the Messi free kick, these weren’t goals born of the kind of individual brilliance that people like to scoff at. They were team goals, which is the principal reason I won’t march in lock step with the “Messi was wonderful” stories and testimonials that came after the match. He was, but this was as complete a team performance as I have seen in some time, worth celebrating precisely because of that beauty. Yes, Messi was a catalyst and a force. So was Neymar, Suarez, Alba, Pique, Busquets, you name it. But Messi had his team game on display for a few reasons, most importantly because he understands that he is playing with people he can trust.

When was the last time Messi was in the box and didn’t shoot at goal? When he laid that ball off for a streaking Suarez to unleash a piledriver from outside the box, he was saying, with silent eloquence, “Welcome to Barça, teammate.” Does Messi lay that ball off for Pedro or Munir? Not likely. Much is being made of Messi’s assists this season, but he is assisting because it hasn’t been since he played alongside Eto’o and Henry that he had people he could play with in full confidence. No, that isn’t a knock on Pedro and Villa, but it would be inflating their abilities to claim that they were anything other than what they were. In Neymar and Suarez, Messi has two players who are in their own ways every bit as dangerous as he is. Neymar is scoring goals at an absurd rate, because he is, strangely enough, the third of three evils after Messi and Suarez. It’s worth thinking about how open most of his shots are as he capitalizes on the chaos created by the other two tines of the trident.

neym

Luis Enrique has predicated his attack on a very simple thing: You can’t stop all three of them. Say that “Barça don’t have a plan” all you like, but that IS a plan, to structure the attack in a way that capitalizes on the quality of three of the best attackers in the game. As the trio works together and grow in confidence with each other, it’s only natural that Messi will become more and more of a team player. He believes in his cohorts, and he should. There’s no need for him to run at 5 defenders, and no point. So he feints, stops and slides the ball to someone else to do damage. It’s wonderful, and wonderful to witness.

Messi is always worth celebrating, but for me he is never better than when he is doing his genius thing within the team’s framework, mostly because it makes him functionally unplayable. Play him for the run, and he passes. Play him for the pass, and he runs. In the past, because it was easy to wall off Pedro, a defense could control Messi. Even when it was Neymar and Pedro, a defense could take its chance that Pedro isn’t going to be the one to kill you, and wall off Messi and Neymar. Adding Suarez makes that task a fool’s errand.

Complicating matters for opponents is that the midfield is on board with the program. Xavi was here, Xavi was there, Xavi was in the box heading a ball home, Xavi was there, controlling a pass. To be sure, there is less control from this edition of Barça, but significantly more danger. Athletic scored, and Barça scored. Then scored again, for good measure. A significant part of that midfield adaptability was Busquets, who played one of the best matches I have seen from him in some time. In a recent piece in this space, I mused about the possibility of moving forward without the reference in Busquets, who it seems has little interest in being left behind. He was a metronome, and on defense, some shaky moments aside, more of a negative influence than a destructive force, and he was brilliant as the team built its attacks at times in that traditional Barça way that so many still expect.

busq

Finally, a shout-out for Gerard Pique, who has been enjoying some exceptional form of late. All you need to know about Pique is that he took a blast of a shot in a way that, for a moment left him with an additional and wholly unwanted ball. He lay there long enough to thank the stars for his second child having already arrived, leapt to his feet and intervened in another defensive effort. Exemplary, and yet another example of this game’s willingness to bury someone who isn’t even all that sick.

Name after name came up to replace Pique, who was deemed washed up, an no-longer-effective playboy married to a glamorous pop star. Enrique sat him down, with the option of getting his mind (and thus his game) right. He did. It’s no coincidence that Enrique’s building from the back, with a defensive foundation, has found its fullest flower now that Pique has returned to form.

This weekend begs for comparisons to be made — Messi and Ronaldo, Barça and RM, yin and yang — but you should resist in favor of something vastly more interesting: a football team that now has its destiny in its own hands. The task is simple: win matches, win a championship. Whether that is possible remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure — the challenge will be fun to watch.

pique

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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.

33 Comments

  1. February 9, 2015

    It could have ended 8-2 or 7-3 or something like that too. Neymar alone could have scored 4 or 5, and Messi could have got a double hatrick of assists. Incredible match. All our last matches has improved to become our best performance so far.

    It is such a pity that in one or two decades, Messi will be judged by his stats alone. If only there was a system to rate the quality and the quantity of the (insane number of) passes and plays he make..
    that one to Xavi.. was unbelievable. I have seen so much football in my 40 plus years. No player has influenced the game so much as to his playmaking, dribbling, finishing and all that so consistently.

  2. lala10
    February 9, 2015

    The team is playing well now. So well that missing its games now is a pain.

    On Messi i think the best we can do is just watch. He is the fulcrum of the team now. I no longer care about his nominal position. Involve him and involve him more and half our problems are solved.

    The pass to Busquets was insane. He plays for our team and i think there is no shame in our admitting that he is our Mr Fix It. With a maturing Suarez getting to grips with the system we should be alright for some time. In this kind of form and intensity we can blow all away

  3. Jason
    February 9, 2015

    Terrific match and thanks to the BFB for their continued dedication to bringing us quality write-ups.

    The passing yesterday was immense. It was truly a delight to watch. Despite some glaring defensive positional errors, I will still suggest our defense is playing out of their minds. Pique is playing terrific and we are getting enormous contribution and energy from the rest of that back line. That Claudio Bravo sure can pass a football, huh?

    Speaking of pass masters, xavi almost had ‘pass of the game’. In the 1st half he received a ball top of the 18 and spanked a one time ball into a streaking-behind-the-defense-but-still-onside-Dani. Only a last ditch sliding interception stopped a goal ala cesc-schurrle Chelsea goal from beginning of the season. Our midfield has 6 solid players for three positions. Looks to be in good stead.

    Whereas, the midfield, defense and GK is showing depth and diversity; what to think of this attacking trident up front? Amazing, absolutely unstoppable. That Suarez goal was too drawer and I think it’s the type of goal he has been obsessing over scoring. He has a ruthless, unstoppable approach to playing football but despite those hardened characteristics of his game, the man is capable of scoring absolute beauties. This one will go a long way for hello to build confidence. Another stunner from el ney and Messi’s all round brilliance and team spirit capped it all off.

    What surprises me though is Enrique’s policy regarding substitutions. It’s becoming evident that Messi and Neymar will play every minute if every game at this point of the season. Dani was pulled since he is suspended for the weekend. Xavi and Suarez followed suit. Why are we not resting our most key attackers? And in a position where there is absolutely no rotatio. of personnel. I would be under the impression that in decided games LE would pull these guys. I know it’s been the story for years but I can’t fully applaud Enrique because his substitutions still leave questions unanswered.

    Sorry for typos. iPhone4.

    • ciaran
      February 9, 2015

      From what I’ve seen Lucho has been more than ready to rest Neymar and Suarez and again less likely to take off Messi. It’s hard to argue with it though as Messi runs less than the other two generally and always wants to be on the pitch.
      II’d prefer if we took off one of the three in rotation for the final third of every match if it’s won but there is a serious drop in quality when any of them is substituted for Pedro.

    • mazimi
      February 9, 2015

      That was actually Messi who made that one-time pass to Alvez. It was unbelievable!

    • Jason
      February 11, 2015

      Mazimi, I just rewatched it! Messi’s extremely inventive way of passing is astonishing. Clearly, his brain is the Mac equivalent for the PC world.

  4. Davour
    February 9, 2015

    Thanks for another fine read! The influence of Rakitic and Busquets was very encouraging; the latter was really pushing up the field in the later stages and looked hungry. R is apparently coming into his own, fitting perfectly into the more flowing scheme of things, doing a world of good. Messi as a catalyst – I agree that is preferable overall. Really, I thought he had quite a shaky game by his standards, with some sloppy passing and losses of possession (causing a goal). But his highs eradicate his lows, no doubt.

    Mathieu did not impress; I think Masch is the obvious no 1 choice at the moment, flaws and all.

    This game was an absolute joy to watch, as most games of late. Good times.

    • Jason
      February 11, 2015

      I actually thought that despite some brain farts here and there, Jeremy demonstrated an ability to pass the ball well, chew up space and sit at home when Pique went blockbuster.

      I think Masch is still my main guy beside Pique for now.

  5. Inamess
    February 9, 2015

    Fantastic write up after a great weekend!

    A few observations:

    1) To me the praise of Enrique and the club now is deserved just as the criticism before was equally so. There is no doubt that we are playing more inspired football and I would imagine that our crisis after Sociedad had a lot to do with it in unifying the team and bringing out the best in everyone.

    2) Xabier Etxeita quest to become the new Butcher of Bilbao was truly horrifying. Several of his challenges were clear attempts at injuring our players and I can only view his red card as deliberate attempt to put Suarez out of action for the rest of the season. I don’t know how the disciplinary committee will respond but is there any chance he can get a 5+ match ban? I am not asking for special protection for our stars as much as the simple enforcement of the laws against assault and battery.

    3) I certainly am enjoying RMs meltdown but am still a bit perplexed by what seems like an overemphasis on the scoreline in football. What really is the difference between losing 2-0 or 4-0? Once a team goes down 2 goals then the only way to give themselves a chance is to risk a lopsided defeat. Anyway it looks like the Madrid press is out to quench the thirst for blood and our team gets a respite for a week!

    • Kiel
      February 9, 2015

      In response to your 3rd point…

      For the bigger clubs, losing 0-4 is not something that happens often. For reference, the last time Real Madrid lost a game by a 4+ margin was the 5-0 that Barca handed them back in 2010.

      Yes after going down 2-0, the team is forced to come out more and risk a lopsided defeat. But the fact is that Real Madrid never really made a solid attempt to get back into the game. They were completely outplayed, and could not stop what happened (many teams would have gone into damage control mode after 3-0).

      The 4-0 here is more significant than 2-0 because it shows the complete domination of Atelti over their neighbours and rivals, something that is quite rare especially when comparing team budgets.

    • February 9, 2015

      1) I’m not sure the defeat in Anoeta was the catalyst of anything, really, at least not in the sense that the press wants us to believe.

      2) Fully agree.

      3) If anything the 4-0 scoreline was flattering… For M*drid! I thought the game was more lopsided than the 5-0 Pep’s Barça handed to them a couple of years ago. Incredible.

    • agar2515
      February 9, 2015

      Agreed on #1, idk what happened but there was WAY too much smoke for their not to have been something behind the scenes. Following sports for a long time and it’s rare that in situations with so much swirling about (like post-sociedad) that nothing occurred. Heck, even Mathieu confirmed a little spat between Messi and Enrique, maybe that caused something to turn. Who knows? All I care about is how great the team is going at the moment.

      p.s. Remember when some people wanted to sell Messi? Hahahahahaha

    • ooga aga
      February 10, 2015

      in this case the madrid-based media and its hangers on MAKE the smoke. and then we say “too much smoke for there not to be something behind the scenes”?

  6. agar2515
    February 9, 2015

    Suarez is still doing his thing, and to think people didn’t want him…

    Lovely week:
    EE gets thrashed by a team we handled 2x

    Messi is still proving the best in the world, while increasing on the youtube generations think CR is better because he’s spoonfed goals and PK’s,can jump high,etc. He can’t do half of what Messi does.

    Neymar is shutting up all doubters that wanted to label him a flop.

    Eusebio is sacked, thank the lord.

    City is in shambles and we could put an easy 5+ past them at the moment.

    Idk what happened but this team is firing on all cylinders at the moment, it’s lovely.

    On the other hand: Masche is still our best CB pairing for Pique, since Mathieu decided to leave all form in that 1-2 month spell in 2014 ( it was WAY to early for people to pull the ” Where are you haters?! ” on him)
    Who has Bartra pissed off to not get games?

    • georgjorge
      February 10, 2015

      Cristiano is an exceptional – maybe the best – CONVENTIONAL (for lack of a better word) player. Speed, height, shooting, technical ability, composure in front of goal – he got it all in abundance. The thing he is sorely lacking and which sets him aside the most from Messi is vision/creativity. If you watch the two, Cristiano seems to “go through the motions” almost machine-like – he makes the passes, shots and runs that have been tried and proven before, and often succeeds with it because he does it so well. Messi, on the other hand, can assess any situation within one or two seconds and then do not what is the tried-and-proven thing to do but what is the best thing to do, the only disadvantage being that other players on his team sometimes don’t expect it either. Which (among other reasons) is why Neymar and Suarez are so important to this team – finally, two attackers who can expect his movements because they have vision and creativity themselves.

      Cristiano is very good, but he is far from “unplayable” (as Atlético has proven time and again this season). Messi is – if he’s interested, that is.

    • kneowell
      February 10, 2015

      Matthieu is a no nonsense kinda defender, he doesn’t let the ball get past him no matter how shambolic it appears. Yes you can safely pull the where are the haters plug because he has done a few things to be bashed for

  7. bhed
    February 9, 2015

    Great article, great game, great team!

    An observation I had when watching the game – when Messi smiles wryly after a close miss rather than frowning, as an opponent, you know you’re in trouble, and as a supporter, you know you’re in for a treat. It seems like he is really enjoying his football lately, and I daresay, not just because of the scorelines.

    Kxevin is right that it’s not all about la pulga, but it makes one pretty giddy to see him reach ever higher into the stratosphere.

  8. IamXavi6
    February 9, 2015

    Kxevin, this line truly sums up the squad. Well said sir.

    “To be sure, there is less control from this edition of Barça, but significantly more danger.”

  9. IamXavi6
    February 10, 2015

    What never ceases to amaze me, in Spain, RM and FCB are Ying and Yang, Day and night. 1 is up, 1 is down. Never are both up or both down. So it has always been, and always will be it seems!

    • February 10, 2015

      We can’t both be up at the same time, but even when both are down we compare ourselves to RM rather than to who is really up.

    • IamXavi6
      February 10, 2015

      I’m more talking about the general idealism of how the two clubs ‘tick, tock’ cycle against each other. In Spain it’s widely considered ‘one is down, one is up’ – league positions aside, the view of the two clubs being ‘day and night’ has long been held as a fascinating observation.

  10. IamXavi6
    February 10, 2015

    Lucho via BarcaStuff:

    Luis Enrique: “Renewal Dani Alves? Don’t talk about contract issues in public. That’s the best for both parties. Player is calm, club too.”

    Luis Enrique: “Madrid losing and players partying? I don’t talk about other teams, except when we play against them.”

    Luis Enrique: “Would I sign for another 3-2 against Villarreal, like in Liga? A win would be good, but I’d never sign anything beforehand.”

    Luis Enrique: “Suarez adds a lot, creates many scoring chances, takes part in all attacks. It’s his first year, we’re happy with him.”

    Luis Enrique: “A coach is almost never happy. Only at the end of the season, if he has reached the objectives.

    • Jason
      February 11, 2015

      The Dani Alves contract situation can not be simple. Too bad he isn’t a San Antonio Spur and take less money in pursuit of trophies.

    • barca96
      February 11, 2015

      Speaking of Spurs, I just wanted to share something I read just a few hours ago. Garnett said to Tim Duncan while he was taking a FT “Happy Mother’s Day mother xxxxxx” knowing that the latter lost his Mom in his teens to cancer. What a horrible thing to say.

      That news came up when I read about his other infamous trash talk session, this time with Carmelo Anthony, saying that the latter’s estranged wife tasted like a some honey cereal. I understand players trash talk to get under the opponents’ skin to gain an advantage but Garnett crossed the line for me.

      This all came from an article on the Guardian about the Knicks owner who replied an email from an angry fan in a very tasteless fashion.

  11. Jim
    February 10, 2015

    Wow, new EPL deal values each individual match at £10m !!!

    Not sure what to say to that – other than it shows the value of a blind auction for a valuable product. As usual, just about everything won by Sky – someone will have to do something about this company at some point – but why pay so much? They must have been panicked by BT’s presence. With money like that and fair play the EPL teams should be doing a lot better than they are. Mind you, maybe the product is more attractive as the lower teams don’t get that much less than the big ones so games are less predictable ?

    Just sharing, as I really don’t have any answers as to why there hasn’t been some levelling off in line with the poor showings of of Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal, Man City etc in the CL.

  12. Jim
    February 10, 2015

    Meant to say, I thoroughly enjoyed that last game. Exciting with their pressing and our attacking play but also moments of sublime football and passing from us.

    Positives for me were:

    – the result. This isn’t an easy place to go and RM still have to visit there yet it was never in doubt. Again, first goal in places like this makes our life much easier. No daft errors gifting an early goal for them to hold on to.

    – the balance of the side. No missing midfield this week. I thought Busi and Xavi, in particular were awesome in possession under the most difficult of situations. Much better balance. We moved the ball around quickly when appropriate, played it quickly to Messi and Neymar when we could and hoofed it when we had to.

    – Suarez got his goal. Thank goodness for that. I was feeling for the guy after his header. I could watch his movement all day. Say what you like about the board. They brought us this guy against a backdrop of disapproval and he’s exactly what was needed. Exactly !

    – Messi. I’ve now watched that dribble quite a few times. It’s not like Busi gets up quickly to make that run. He sits on his backside and watches Messi twisting for a few minutes, then leisurely gets up, dusts himself down and makes the run only to be provided with the perfect through ball. That, and his attempt to Dani in the first half are two of the best passes Ive seen all year. Words continue to fail me with him. Pointless as the debate is, he has to be the best ever – and by some margin.

    – LE. He’s still a bit more animated which I like. Would have liked to see Messi off once they went down to ten – but then we wouldn’t have got that dribble. You can see his dilemma but he gets credit for having listened about a more settled team and for listening to the senior players who apparently asked him to see if he could do anything about postponing the friendly. It seems in return Pique and Neymar agreed to go on a publicity visit instead which was good of them.

    Things to ponder:

    – midfield possession. It’s all very well for attackers to track back and do their bit but when they cross the halfway line going back they need to switch on a defensive mindset. Too often both Netmar and Messi lost possession unnecessarily in their own half which I suspect was what Kxevin was getting at in the article. Not only does it lose the ball it means the defence have no time to get sorted. I couldn’t care less about either losing it round about the opposition box – we should be able to handle that – but not in their own half. In Neymar’s case a couple of the times it was while trying tricks !

    – Mathieu – I’ve been championing his inclusion in the back four over Masche but I have to say he didn’t do his case any good with this performance. Slack balls out, failure to even try to block the through ball for both their goals ruined some otherwise decent play. Maybe it’s the lack of playing time but he has to do better.

    – Rakitic. I keep thinking there must be more to his game than I’m seeing and no,he doesn’t play badly, but he doesn’t do much at all for me. The first time I noticed him was genuinely the 62nd minute when he played a simple ball to Suarez for Messi’s “goal”. I remember some years ago Maxwell getting slagged for too safe play and always playing it backwards. Well, he’s a bit like this for me. I thought we were getting a midfield general who could take over from Xavi, or at least along with Iniesta run the midfield. Well, I’m not seeing it- either the guile, the ability in possession or indeed the running. On both the goals against Bilbao he let his man run away from him and stopped. On their first his man ended up scoring. On the second he was helpless had the man got involved. I’m not liking this at all. I’ve pointed out this in previous posts but it keeps happening. Not vital just now as it’s still his settling in season but he needs to sort this out by next.

    We are now reaping the benefits imo of a ore settled team, a huge increase in confidence and a front three who have, as expected eventually worked things out and become unstoppable. For me, part of Messi’s improvement comes from being stimulated by the great players around him. I’ve often mentioned Dalglish saying he left Celtic reluctantly because all the players felt they needed to get the ball to him. He felt weighed down by the responsibility of having to always be the one. Here Suarez and Neymar are saying here’s what we can do, how about you? Which is what a great player needs. As has been said, you can see it on his face these days. Mind you, I’m not saying there hasn’t been a chat between the captains at some point. Wouldn’t put it beyond Xavi to have said ” look, this is my last season. I don’t want it to end like this”. I’m sure if for nothing else, Leo would have responded to that.

    Last word for me goes to Xavi. I thought he was everywhere. If he had scored with the diving header there’d have been yet another wine stain on our carpet! There were three or four times when I was sure he must lose possession but no he twisted and turned and found the right pass. Kept the ball moving slickly in the centre of the field. Also, his step over for the Neymar goal was unbelievable. You can see him looking very quickly to his left as he runs in but after that not a glimpse before letting it run part him which fools the defender all hands down.

    It’ll now be interesting to see what teams come up with to prevent Neymar and Messi picking the ball up wide. Not an easy issue to deal with and if you let Messi get started . . .

    Happy days – at the moment.

    • Inamess
      February 10, 2015

      Thanks Jim, great comments! Fully agree on Mathieu and Rakitic. Both are quality players that bring some needed physicality but have been a bit disappointing so far. Will be interesting to see who plays against Man City.

    • Dar_vincy
      February 11, 2015

      You are right, Jim. There hasn’t been sufficient output to assure us that we made the right purchase. More so, his positional placement can not be solely attributed for his underwhelming performances. Still and all, patience is all we can offer him considering it is his first season, just like we did with Enrique, and we are doing with Suarez.

  13. luisthebeast
    February 10, 2015

    I cant understand some fans.They dont want a sponsor in our shirt,they dont want a sponsor in the stadium,they dont want a new stadium or a rebuilding of camp nou.But they wanted Kroos for 25m,Silva for 50m,Isco for 30m.Now they say that the new deal for EPL rights it s huge and la liga is a joke cause they cant find more money from TV.But England is a rich country and Spain a country in crisis.It s simple logic.What i want to say is we have a board and they made BIG mistakes.But they found money to make debt small and pay HUGE salaries.Let see when Laporta come where he will find the money.I cant wait.

  14. luisthebeast
    February 10, 2015

    And they are the same fans who where cried loudly when we sold Thiago.I am sure if Thiago was here always injured they would say:Oh f…. the board we have a useless player…Yes this board must go.But they made and good things and the new board will have a great squad and no BANK DEBT.Thats the best thing they have done..For me the big question is:If we want to be more than a club maybe we can try to build the team in the future only with LA MASIA;Because we cant give the Huge money the English teams,Madrid,PSG can.

    • agar2515
      February 10, 2015

      We are definitely not some poor club… I don’t ever see a ” masia only” future. It’s just not realistic. Thiago is a moot point, it’s nothing but “what if’s “. I don’t envision us paying any Neymar or Suarez level fees in the near future so I think not selling out the club’s image to Qatar is something we can do.

    • Jason
      February 11, 2015

      I’ve been yee’ing and yaw’ing (if that’s even a thing) over the naming rights of your home ground. It’s a fairly regular thing in the United States. Where I reside in DC, you have FedexField, The Verizon Center, and RFK (let’s not talk about that dump). In Miami, you have American Airlines arena. Home of former NBA champions, Miami Heat.

      Guys, we’ve lost the plot. We have successfully commodified this sport into just some other package for marketers to make a buck. Don’t let it be misunderstood; I am an avid sports fan. I love the package, I think it’s great. The NBA has more superstars than ever and every week I tune into NBCSports for their Premier League coverage. They provide a great product, better than BeIN’s HD not HD service on Comcast. But I digress. Clubs selling naming rights is nothing new.

      I’m not sure what I accomplished with that.

    • ooga aga
      February 11, 2015

      some people are disappointed because their conception of “mes que un club” included the fact that there was no big corporate sponsor splashed across the shirt. then add the unicef to that.

      id include myself in that group to some extent, though im from the USA and i understand it might mean something different for the catalunyans.

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