Eibar 0, Barça 2, aka “An acceptance of active stasis”

sr

Football is funny, because it likes nothing more than to confound us, to giggle at vehement prognostications and assertions that issue forth from bile-flecked keyboards.

This season has been something of an object lesson in that, no matter its eventual outcome. From notions that Messi is past it, to Pique being a worthless playboy and Enrique being a prat who needs to be fired, to his team not having a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Atleti to the latest, that Sergi Roberto is just a pile of hair and a smile.

Vidal Sassoon started today, in a spot that many speculated he might, in the hole that is usually occupied by Sergio Busquets. That he had an excellent match, including the most passes on the team (91) and a stellar completion rate on those passes (82 of them) was a surprise to many. But it’s just par for the course, when you think about it.

Yes, it was Eibar. As Sergi Roberto himself said, he always seems to play against Eibar and he wishes that Barça played them more often. But the thing about playing in the position that he occupied today is that it is opponent proof in many ways, because that position often operates independently and irrespectively of what an opponent does.

That position dictates tempo, picks out that first ball that starts an attack after taking the pass from a CB and serves as a relief valve. Though that player can be subject to direct pressure as he moves up the pitch, a tactic employed by some opponents against Busquets, as he sits there in the hole, the job is the thing and Sergi Roberto performed it quite well today. There were even some who liked his performance better than Mascherano’s in that same position, though there are certainly a different set of skills that Mascherano brings to the table, along with gobs of destructive force.

When we usually see SR, he’s in one of the more advanced midfield positions, the danger zones in which his skill set: physicality, picking out a nice forward pass come under all kinds of pressure from opponents and expectation. Anybody who fills that role should be named He Isn’t Xavi Dammit. Because when they aren’t, for who is, they are almost immediately deemed a failure. That even includes Rakitic, who continued his streak of excellent play today.

rak

Enrique won’t get credit for the squad management that allowed a tactical and player shift, but putting SR in the hole means that suddenly he has time and a broader view of the pitch, two of the things that can benefit a ‘tweener like him. It took an injury to a key player and a particular set of difficulties — Mascherano being one yellow away from suspension — to create the set of circumstances that resulted in his opportunity, a moment that should give culers pause and reflection.

A player is rarely as terrible as legend makes him out to be, mostly because the people whose job it is to make those kinds of decisions aren’t stupid, but also because the bar is absurdly high, almost jaw-droppingly so. Someone can sub for Xavi, a reference at his position, or Busquets, hailed by many as the best DM in the world. Or maybe Iniesta, Mr. Big Goal. So as SR stepped into the spotlight for his command performance, it was a role that was easy to enjoy as long as you had nothing invested in its outcome, i.e. “He sucks and that’s that.”

This was also true of the team’s performance today, a delicious bit of pragmatism that impressed, again if you let the expectations relax just a bit. This was never, ever going to be glittering football, nor should it have been. Teams have standards, and those standards exist despite the pragmatism of coaches and players. The blessing and the curse of Pep Guardiola is, frankly, those standards. The team played exactly the same beautiful way, and rarely relented, rarely played just good enough to win. Guardiola drove them, harried them and always, always demanded of their best. It’s the stuff that makes for legend coaches and storied team. But it’s also a psychological deep fryer that will eventually produce toast.

Enrique seems to have given the team carte blanche to be good enough, to understand that with the players that it has (large roster that is actually limited at the top, against top teams as is true of most squads) care must be taken if his charges are going to survive the pressure cooker that is this season, one on the perpetual brink.

In a rather surprising development, prompted by a Tweet from someone that really put it into perspective, I have come to accept Walking Messi as a reality of a complex situation. He wants to play all the time, and no coach wants to be the one to risk the wrath of Angry Messi. But much more than my objections to that is a reality that this year’s Barça and its pragmatism have shaped for me, broadening my view to encompass being good enough. This year’s team seems to have one standard: winning. All the rest is theory, semantics and gilded legend.

This fascinates as you watch a match such as Eibar, or Rayo last week, and see the social media hue and cry about things not being pretty and “this half sucks,” etc. But the match was exactly as it needed to be: a few moments of elevation to bring about a desired result, then enough effort to bring the result home.

The first goal, even if you allow that it wasn’t a penalty except in the technical letter of the law, came after one of those sequences of elevated play, a remarkable exchange of passes that found a heretofore staunch Eibar defense suddenly flummoxed and out of position. And Messi took the resultant penalty like a player who now understands that penalties matter. It was a rocket of a shot and an unstoppable PK from a player who until that point had missed 5 of his last 11 penalties.

We can even allow ourselves to giggle at the reality that Messi became pichichi on a penalty, a way of scoring that seems to be disdained by culers who nickname his rival for best in the game Penaldo. That Messi’s second goal came off a submarine header is just him trolling the football universe. Lost in the ruckus over that goal will be the flawless corner from Rakitic, a rainbow that wound up exactly where it had to be as Messi trailed the box ruckus to head home.

And then Barça resumed playing like a team that has not one, but two “season-defining” matches in the space of a week. Eibar hit the crossbar on a shot that really should have resulted in a goal, and Barça kept a clean sheet. Would Enrique have been vexed at the 1-2 scoreline? Probably not as much as culers who have unassailable standards that often butt heads with a shifting reality. Walking Messi is okay but Pragmatic Barça isn’t. Yet both are necessary realities for an ambitious team as once again, good enough to win is fine and dandy.

messi

HolycrapXavi!

When Xavi subbed in for Rakitic, who was pulled with the mid-week clash against City in mind, that was his 750th appearance for Barça. You sit, you think, you try to do math and you struggle with that kind of bonkers reality that a player has played 750 matches for the club that he loves. It’s remarkable.

Even more admirable is that even after those 750 matches, Xavi comes in, straps on the captain’s armband and does What Xavi Does. It’s even hard to explain what that is. Simply enough it’s passing and tempo control. But because Xavi had made it so much more and performs it at a level that will never be matched by any other player, it’s something that you don’t need to explain. It just happens.

It’s like That Run Messi made today. That run, like the way Xavi plays, is an inexplicable reaction to a set of circumstances, rooted in an extraordinary skill set that makes the exceptional just another day’s work.

That’s Xavi, and that’s awesome. Happy 750th, Maestro.

"I don't need that diagram. I AM that diagram."
“I don’t need that diagram. I AM that diagram.”
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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.

50 Comments

  1. andrecito
    March 14, 2015

    awesome tag on that photo…i would have loved to be on one of those balconys overlooking the pitch yesterday..

  2. G6O
    March 15, 2015

    There really was nothing to complain about in this game. They never looked like scoring while the game was still in doubt and we found an opening and scored reasonably soon. Three points in the bag, effort saved, mission accomplished.

  3. BA
    March 15, 2015

    good piece. i think a big positive from yesterday’s game were the performances of Marc Bartra and Adriano. Barta seems to be steadily improving every game and it’s clear he wants to fight for his spot, while Adriano looked sharp, really fit (for a change) and was reading the game well; i think he’s our first-choice RB when Alves departs in the summer.

    Leo’s runs, especially that first one in the first half…. glorious. it’s hard sometimes when you’re focused on how the team is doing to step back and just enjoy, but Messi makes those moments so much easier. when the day comes when he finally hangs up his boots, i’m absolutely certain i’m going to cry.

    • revv
      March 15, 2015

      It makes me sad now thinking that one day he will retire. Hopefully when that time comes, we’ll have another gr8 team to marvel at for another 10-15 years. And repeat!

    • Nav
      March 16, 2015

      Leo retiring will be an unimaginable loss to the sport.

  4. luisthebeast
    March 15, 2015

    People are talking about Pep Mourinio Ancelotti…For me the best coach is Marcelo Bielsa.I watched Marseille-Lyon and it was a great game.Bielsa can create great teams without the endless money that the other coaches have.And tonight a clear goal for Marseille cancelled with no reason.I hope the refs will stop to make mistakes against Olympic.I want him at Barca and i hope he will come in future!I still remember what a great team was his Bilbao!

    • Inamess
      March 15, 2015

      Good choice! El Loco is one of the best.

  5. Inamess
    March 16, 2015

    Wow, it on! Pre Classico Media war with the BBC vs. Marca in a no-holds-barred Rumble in the Jungle, Thrilla in Manila.

    Highlights:

    BBC accuses Marca of a smear campaign against Uncle Flo and the Welch Pele.

    Marca throws a counter-punch blasting the BBC for incompetent vexillology and pedophilia.

    Round 1: I have to give Marca the edge here and am scoring this one 10-9 Marca.

    http://www.marca.com/en/2015/03/15/en/football/real_madrid/1426453320.html

  6. georgjorge
    March 16, 2015

    Not to beat a dead horse, but the right back situation will indeed be dire next season. I prefer Adriano over Montoya here, but both are decent defensively and not so good on offense (Adriano’s shots from outside the box notwithstanding). In theory, having one of the full-backs stay back is great, but not when he’s playing right behind Messi, meaning a great deal of attacking potential is wasted as those give-and-gos are not possible anymore.

    I appreciate what Sergi Roberto brought to this match, but I really can’t see him going anywhere while staying at Barca. At his age, he desperately needs regular playing time to improve, and he won’t get much more than five or six games a season when he’s only third choice for this position. A loan would have been good for him. Maybe he’ll get his chance when Mascherano retires, but I’d rather put my money on Samper.

  7. Rami
    March 17, 2015

    Playing these type of matches is like playing Russian roulette, You don’t really have much control about what happens next, And your chances are more fixed than you’d like to think, Eventually it all comes down to “Are you feeling a bit lucky today?.”

    It’s because the same unfavorable conditions keep showing up over and over like, Ultra defensive tactics, Small pitch, Horrible grass condition, And just how little we can do anything about them, It all leads to an inevitable, Predictable way of how the match will play out, And us watching and hoping that we don’t hear A BANG today.

    Repeat the same match, And 1 out of 3 times we would’ve had a draw, 1 out of 5 or 4 times we would’ve lost, We can keep shuffling line-ups and formations all day, And it would not have a difference as most would hope and like to think.

    What’s funny for me, Because luck has a bigger role in these matches, Is why our team suffers the most at them, God we’re so good!.

    • Inamess
      March 17, 2015

      I agree facing buses week after week is a bit like playing Russian Roulette. The best way to face such a situation is to eliminate the role of luck and take matter in your own hands.
      Here is a cinematic demonstration of the strategy we could use:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKCgPlblVz0

      Note: the tactics employed at the end of this clip are purely symbolic and represent the trident of Suarez Neymar and Messi (Show No Mercy).

  8. agar2515
    March 17, 2015

    SR needs to gtfo already, it’s not gonna happen for him, unless “happen”= Pick up minutes against Liga Fodder every few months. Really tired of being told he’s ” about to come good” by people not able to stomach that just maybe Masia products aren’t always destined to be world class

    • ooga aga
      March 17, 2015

      geeze man, nice way to talk about our players….why such an attitude? what does it gain?

    • agar2515
      March 17, 2015

      I don’t think I said anything unfair. Players need to earn the right to stay. There’s no attitude, there is reality.
      Would he have been allowed to stick around so long if he wasn’t Masia?

      What IS annoying are knee jerk reactions to his 3x a year starting cameos where he performs serviceably and people start with the” See!”, and people accusing others of having ” attitudes” when they don’t rate a FCB player. He had all the time in the world against Eibar because he was hardly pressed/harassed , they didn’t fear a pass from
      Him at all.

      Why people treat him with kid gloves still I don’t understand ( Masia love I’m guessing). He’s 23 now, making him older than Isco, Gotze, Verratti, Coutinho… You see where going? What has he shown? He’ll be a starter on some mid table Liga team but ( baring some incredible evolution) that’s all.

    • ooga aga
      March 17, 2015

      just dont think any of our players should be told to “get the fuck out”. he did his job when he was asked to. im not saying you should put him on a pedestal. i just think he didnt do anything to earn your hatred, indicated by the phrase “GTFO”.

    • agar2515
      March 17, 2015

      I don’t ” hate” anyone, stop nitpicking my comments to suit your opinion

    • ooga aga
      March 17, 2015

      this, for me, has nothing to do with sergi roberto being a la masia product. who in real life you do you tell to “get the fuck out”, in *any* context…? people that you dislike, that are bothering you, that are worthless, that make you unhappy, that you think are pieces of s**t. i personally dont talk that way. the people that i hear say things like that seem to me to be quite aggro. maybe you are just a person i cant understand.

      im a barcelona fan and i support sergi roberto as he is our player. if i were in the stadium and he came on the pitch, i would cheer and support him. thats how i know to be a fan. i wouldnt tell him to “GTFO.” different strokes i guess.

    • Inamess
      March 17, 2015

      Agree on Sergi. He is not without talent but doesn’t have a future with the first team. There seems to be a lot of interest in the EPL, so I would recommend he join Bojan & Co at Stoke.

    • agar2515
      March 17, 2015

      Agreed. I don’t know why people shy away from context when it comes to looking at player performances. Eibar are on a eight game losing streak in which they have only scored two goals, Roberto jumps in and all of a sudden it’s oh my he can play DM!
      Just stop.
      I’ve gone through the same with Tello, Bojan, JDS, Affelay, Cuenca ( poor guy), Song.. Just because a player wears blaugrana doesn’t = automatic, sugar coated support, it must be earned. Saying a player isn’t good enough for FCB isnt always hating or having an attitude.
      Either make an irrefutable mark of class on the few chances youre given or go out on loan and SHOW that you’re good enough ( Denis Suarez). Roberto has done neither.

    • March 17, 2015

      Because that context isn’t consistent. Messi scored 5 goals against Leverkusen and people had orgasms. Nobody said “Well, Leverkusen is shit, aren’t they?”

      You play the opponent that is facing you. Sergi Roberto has only worked in the hole in training, never in a match. In this match, against this opponent, he did a laudable job.

      But again, we start with the “Can’t we criticize,” stuff that roused contention the last time is raised its nasty head. As noted in a previous post, we are talking about replacing iconic players. The percentage of players in world football who would ALSO have to “gtfo” is significant. There are many who don’t rate Mascherano at DM or CB. Perhaps it is only restraint that keeps them from suggesting that he “gtfo.”

      Sergi Roberto is a player with quality. We know this because he is on the roster. That roster is packed with quality of the sort that keeps a quality player on the bench. Will he survive the summer? With a transfer ban, mostly likely, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he is loaned out when Denis Suarez comes back, as the club will be giving Samper a good, hard look.

      ooga aga raised an excellent point about the tone of the “gtfo” comment. It was also fair. It didn’t need to turn into a screed about people being the ones upholding the notion of “Barça quality.”

      agar, you suggest that Sergi Roberto make a mark when he is given the rare chance. He did against Eibar. But it also doesn’t count because it was against Eibar. Which one is it?

      Passion is wonderful. But passion becomes vehemence becomes aggression becomes an imagined slight.

      We can be better than this.

    • agar2515
      March 17, 2015

      But messi exhibits consistency, Roberto doesn’t, if He did he would get more starts. It’s not like he even sets the field alight when he plays, he’s merely serviceable.
      He wouldn’t still be on the squad if he wasn’t in the Masia, I firmly believe that.
      Take the ” gtfo” comment out then, everything I said still stands.
      Replacing legends is difficult, but it’s one thing for people to be idiotic and bash
      Masche and Ivan ( who have PROVEN their quality) and anther for me to take issue with Roberto ( he’s proven what exactly?).

    • agar2515
      March 17, 2015

      And yes I believe SR performing ” laudably” against a team on such a lowly streak as Eibar is more a cause for ” And? It was Eibar” than ” Roberto quality!”

    • agar2515
      March 17, 2015

      Bayer at the time was 5th in the BL, and finished only one point behind Chelsea (eventual winners)in their UCL group ( finishing ahead of Valencia).
      Eibar are 14th. A little bit of a diff between Messi dropping 5 vs. SR holding the
      ball, passing sideways with few errors.

    • FCB16
      March 17, 2015

      Good points, but I still shake my head sometimes at how defensive some people can be over Masia products. What has Roberto done to warrant chance after chance ? Just because he’s still on the squad means little other than “He can keep the ball, throw him on when others need rest”. I mean, JDS stuck around for years…

    • bhed
      March 17, 2015

      I’m with Agar – I’m personally more offended by Pollyanna “what’s your problem?” responses to player criticism than I am by the odd use of the letter “f”. As far as having it both ways, he’s no more inconsistent in his interpretations than … let’s just say some others. His visceral frustration with underperforming millionaires is unacceptable, but frustration with fans’ opinions (who actually read these comments) is OK? I will ALWAYS disagree with that in the strongest possible terms.

    • Inamess
      March 17, 2015

      Don’t have a definitive opinion about SR. However, I wanted to defend the use of the internet trope “GTFO”. Here is one interpretation according to Urban Dictionary:

      “The actual meaning behind this acronym is beside the obvious (which is to get the fuck out). It is best used in a situation not unlike that of one where a girl or maybe a friend that the rents hate to leave the house immediately, because they are coming home.
      Oh crap! My mom’s at the door! She’s coming in! I’ll hold open this window, you’ve got to GTFO!!”

      In this sense agar may be giving sound career advice to young Sergio in that his prospects might be stymied at Barca and better served with another club where he can get consistent playing time and a salary commensurate with some overrated players in the EPL, whom he is easily as good as.

      If, however, he meant it in the sense that he would go to the Camp Nou, sit in the first row and scream like the character below when SR were subbed on for Iniesta in like the 86th minute after we are up 4-0 on City, then I would strongly object to the use of the phrase.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhkNLHictW8

  9. Inamess
    March 17, 2015

    A game of Existential Importance for our compatriots at Atletico. If they lose today, it would be a huge step backwards for that franchise. Let’s hope they rise to the occasion and progress with us to the QFs!

    • March 17, 2015

      No, no no no no.

      Don’t you dare. Compatriots, no. Just because they hail from La Liga doesn’t mean we should root for them. I don’t want Atletico in the QFs, I remember both the second half of the CdR QF at The Cauldron and the amount of hacking and fouling by the Injuns.

      They’ll still probably pass through.

    • georgjorge
      March 17, 2015

      I don’t like the players, but I admire the work of Simeone immensely.

      Plus, they still are the best antidote to Real M*drid I’ve seen this season ; )

    • georgjorge
      March 17, 2015

      And to clarify, by the work of Simeone I don’t mean the systematic hacking at opponents (which IS part of his tactics) but the actual football-playing part, especially the defensive parts. You don’t get to win the Liga JUST by hacking at opponents with that kind of budget inequality.

    • Ryan
      March 17, 2015

      They do help the Liga’s Champions League position, so that Spain sits atop the European coefficient rankings. Not to mention the fact that their remaining in Europe might mean they’re more tired when they face us in Spain!

    • agar2515
      March 17, 2015

      I used to root for them, but they’re just so thuggish
      every time they play us that I simply can’t anymore. We might still beat them over two legs, but we also could do the same to Bayer, without the added worry of one of our players getting assaulted/injured in the process.

  10. luisthebeast
    March 17, 2015

    For all the people who now say it s good for La liga that this dirty team will be in the next draw,lets wait.We will face them in the next round and lets god help our players to be alive after the games.

  11. Inamess
    March 17, 2015

    In an interesting turn of events, Bayer chose to dedicate their penalty effort in a homage to Sergio Ramos and our #10. For those who were rooting against our compatriots don’t feel down. Atletico got some serious kryptonite against RM and could seriously challenge Bayern. On the other hand, I think we would do fine if we got them in the draw. But first things first. Let’s take care of business tomorrow!

  12. luisthebeast
    March 17, 2015

    And what about the stuff that they are the antidote of the other madrid team?We are Barca,We can beat any team.We dont need another team to do something for us.The panic and the fear of some people are so pathetic.You are fans of the Best club in the world.And i dont care about La liga and the other spanish teams.We are catalans.

    • Shaco
      March 17, 2015

      Well, we needed Atletico to do us a couple favors in the league. We lost the first classico and yet we are ahead now, thanks in large to Atletico taking 6 points away from RM. They also got rid of them in the copa for us.

      Would be hilarious if they also knocked them out of the cl.

    • georgjorge
      March 18, 2015

      Since it was me who (jokingly) called them the antidote of Real M*drid, I guess I’ll have to live with being pathetic now. The comment just meant that I enjoy watching Atletico beat Real more than watching Real beat up on Bayer. Relax.

      I’m not afraid of other good teams, but I respect their abilities, something you don’t seem to do much as in another thread you stated with certainty that we “would destroy Bayern”, which I find hard to believe. I love watching Barca play and rate their chances to win against any given opponent highly, but that doesn’t me I have to disrespect and bash on other teams.

    • georgjorge
      March 18, 2015

      *mean

  13. luisthebeast
    March 17, 2015

    Yes but so whats the point??We lost against Malaga and Celta at home.And we draw away in Malaga.8 points lost.If we had win those points who cares about the rest?My point is that i want us to knock out E.E and not another team to do some kind of favour.And i dont forget that last season a clear goal against them cancelled and we lost la liga.We are a great team and we can beat any team.I am not afraid any team,if we play the football we can.You can call me optimist or whatever u want.But i am happy that i am not one of those pessimists fans who afraid every game,every team so when we will loose a game they will come and say:i will told u so

  14. luisthebeast
    March 17, 2015

    And i am tired of all that talk the last days:Modric is back,Ramos is back,Isco is the new god blah blah blah.We have the 3 best players in the world,we have a great squad,we play them at home.We are the favourites and we will win.It s one thing to be realistic and a very different thing to not trust your team.For gods sake we are not an average team.Every season we fight for every trophy until the end.There are not a lot of teams in the world who can make their fans happy almost every year.Give the boys the credit they deserve:-)

  15. Jim
    March 18, 2015

    They never give up trying to unsettle us, do they? From Barcastuff:

    Bravo, Alves, Mascherano, Messi and Neymar could not be available for CL final as they should join national team ahead of Copa America. [as]

    🙂

    • March 18, 2015

      They might not be able to play the Copa del Rey final, either. Dunga in particular is not one to easily give in to clubs.

      In the event of us making the CL final, it would be completely ridiculous to play without our South American players. This issue needs to be resolved asap.

    • Shaco
      March 18, 2015

      When I first heard this i thought it was a joke, but if this actually happens I would think FIFA would step in. I also don’t think it would be smart for the coaches of the South American teams to not allow their players to play in such a big match, it could easily destroy their morale.

    • Shaco
      March 18, 2015

      Also wanted to add that Tata is not gonna force Messi and Mascherano to miss a champions league final.

    • March 18, 2015

      FIFA statutes dictate that international games take precedence over club football. According to FIFA, we give up the players to their national selections.

    • Jim
      March 18, 2015

      No way would they try to force players to miss CL final. They’d alienate their best players who travel thousands of miles a year to play friendliest etc.

  16. lala10
    March 18, 2015

    Off topic but it was hard watching Sanchez struggling with a low block yesternight.

  17. bcdr
    March 18, 2015

    I really don’t get some of the cules. We all already know, Pep will be in Camp Nou. Some people say, he should be given standing ovation. My question, why? Is he our coach now? Isn’t it a bit disrespectful to current coach to giving standing ovation to a former coach(and also he is a manager of direct opponent in Europe)? Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Since then he went several time in old trafford. Is he ever given standing ovation when he went there as a normal supporter? NO. I don’t get this emotional point on Guardiola when he is our direct opponent. Guardiola is professional, shouldn’t we be too?

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