Barça aesthetics: The judges have decided to give it a 2

enrique

After the cheering stops … no sooner have the echoes of the exultant roars of the very last goal dissipated than the ripping at the carcass begins.

Cruijff likes the result, but didn’t like the football. Various post-match recaps describe Barça as more RM-like than RM. Another says that this Classic put the knife well and fully into tika taka, and assuredly killing off that phrase wouldn’t be at all bad. On Revista the topic is the RM resurgence, how they look like a good team again with Luka Modric back.

Which side of the 2-1 scoreline was Barça on, and has it really come down to theoretical football? In the wake of everyone and their mamas talking tactics and formations, it seems that Barça didn’t really play football before 2008. In those Dark Ages the team stomped around the pitch like mastodons, working off cave drawings instead of actual formations.

In the wake of a Classic that Barça won to go 4 points ahead of RM, hunks are being flayed from the team’s hide from all quarters. It doesn’t even matter that the beast isn’t wounded, or damaged in any way. It COULD have been and WILL be.

The Great Barça debate can really be distilled to a question of taste, and does different equal less good. Chocolate is different from vanilla, which doesn’t mean that chocolate is bad. The Luis Enrique era is here, and it’s safe to say that it has riled a great many culers, pundits and observers of the game. The very valid ask is, of course, why?

Football has a rather debilitating habit of defining goodness by an incumbent. Mascherano isn’t good because he isn’t Busquets. Mascherano isn’t good because he isn’t Pique. Rakitic isn’t good because he isn’t Xavi. Rafinha isn’t good because he isn’t Iniesta. Enrique Barça isn’t good, because … why?

It’s the equivalent of footballing Goldilocks. Last season it was, “Our defense sucks. We give up all those set piece goals and we don’t score any.”

This year, the coaching staff has shored up the defense, and the team is scoring set piece goals left and right. “Ugh. A set piece goal. Are we Stoke?”

It is almost as though it doesn’t matter what any coach does who isn’t the “right” coach … no good. Enrique has wrought changes that have, potentially, made Barça more competitive in Europe and for trophies. But the operative word here is change and the idea that change is bad, particularly from an aesthetic worldview.

Tika taka has officially become a cult, and in ostensibly honoring Pep Guardiola, a footballing pragmatist, people are building a shrine to a notion he disliked. So we often see, these days, “lack of control,” or “possession without control.” The implication is, of course, that the old way — Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets making triangles and confounding opponents — was better. It was controlling and reassuring. A preference for this old way also means ignoring the diminished results that it brought, for both Spain and Barça, both of whom hitched their wagons to the micro-possession game. Because Enrique has unhitched that wagon doesn’t make him wrong. It might not be to your taste, which is a fair assessment.

“My kingdom for a 9. Messi needs a 9 in front of him.” “No! Oh, wait … we meant our kingdom for a midfield, and btw you’re using that 9 wrong. Play tika taka and let that 9 run around. That is “right.” You misheard us.” “We were kidding when we said we wanted to score from set pieces. That’s impure. We just want to not concede from them.”

As Enrique said post-Classic, that second goal is exactly why the team bought Suarez. It is a striker’s goal. Ancelotti said that the Barça counters were devastating, and that sound you heard was the Earth, shifting on its axis. When an RM coach is saying that the Barça counters were too much for his team, that’s just crazytown.

Are there legit flaws in Enrique’s system? You bet. Identify them rather than snuffling at it because it isn’t to someone’s liking. Barça still needs, from time to time, a doddering legend with dodgy Achilles tendons. That means somebody screwed up. And don’t dare bring up Thiago, who chose to leave the club. No, there should have been a succession plan beyond that. Busquets is the only player who can do what he does. So if everyone else is inadequate, what happens when Busquets is tired, or injured?

xavi

Yes, a chickenshit board who feared the villagers with their torches and pitchforks impeded any viable succession strategy. As a consequence Enrique has to piece stuff together, with a little bit of new school and a little bit of old. It happens.

Dani Alves is still the team’s best RB, and nobody on the roster is even close to being able to do what he does. These things exist, and there isn’t anything that can be done about them until July, and even then only 114k or so voting socis can do anything about it.

FC Barcelona plays attractive, possession football. It still does, at times, even if these days the show is closer to Rijkaard than Guardiola. It has been said before and is worth saying again that a tactic shouldn’t be confused with a system. Possession football is the system, that thing that came to be called tika taka was a tactic. The acolytes, weaned on the results gleaned from that tactic at its apogee, find everything else wanting and results unconvincing. Winning, but not in the right way is even more problematic than losing, unless the wrong coach loses, then he didn’t win. He sucks.

In his excellent post-match breakdown for the Guardian, Sid Lowe addressed the attacking style of the entorno:

The debate continues, even in victory, and at times it is nasty, self-destructive and self-interested.

This isn’t just Barça supporters who wallow in this perpetual state of disgruntled joylessness. We see it in every league, this malady endemic to successful teams. If Cruijff doesn’t like the football that was on display, he can go stand in that long-assed line with the rest of us. Because football isn’t always about beauty, about elegant curlicues and triangles working their way inexorably up the pitch. Sometimes, it’s about getting shit done. It’s a set piece and a long ball, two goals worthy of that proverbial winter’s night in Stoke.

Barça got shit done against RM. Further, at the end of a week that many characterized as season-defining, a week in which all of the doom scenarios were spelled out in so many ways by so many, Barça emerged unscathed. City had the potential to mount a remuntada, and RM … well, they have all of their horses back, don’t they, and their midfield is better than ours. Worry, worry, worry.

So Barça beat City, then topped things off by not playing well and still beating RM for the simple reason that they were tougher and stronger than their opponent. It was an exceptional win as the team displayed grit and resilience. It even displayed the kind of football that people despaired of seeing, but it’s essential that you ignore the last 20 minutes of the match to make the point still relevant, when the Chicago Penya was shouting “Ole!” as another passing sequence kept the ball away from the RM players who were left clutching at shadows.

messi

There wasn’t beautiful football only if you stopped watching about 70 some-odd minutes in, Maybe some people did. Hope they get caught up with the rest of the match but even more importantly, I hope that the stuff surrounding this team will stop eating itself.

— Enrique is the right choice.
— Enrique is arrogant.
— Enrique isn’t managing the squad right, rotating too much.
— Enrique out!
— Okay, Enrique might be doing something.
— Etc, etc, etc

And whether the reactions are rooted in survivor’s guilt, or just the need for attention by calling out varied and sundry indicators of doom, it begins.

“We still don’t have a midfield.”
“Stupid Neymar needs to stop worrying about his hair and Instagram.”
“Another team with a powerful midfield almost beat us.”
“I don’t like how the team is playing.”

It’s an odd sort of sadness that pervades at Our Lady of the Perpetual Unhappiness. It’s like a bride sitting at her wedding, weeping into a satin handkerchief as she observes, “He’s just going to get fat, and will cheat on me at some point, and look at that mole by his ear … now I will have to deal with hospital visits, and don’t even get me started on his job.”

The challenge now is that the team is in the Champions League quarterfinals, and four points up in the Liga, with 10 matches to go. What can you do when a team is playing well and winning, not playing so well and still winning, threatening to make fools out of eejits like me who predicted no silver for the squad this season?

Go to church, the church of the midfield triangle, and declare the team and its coach heretics. You say that Messi fixed things himself by moving to midfield in the second half, an assertion that necessitates ignoring all those times that he was frolicking in the middle of the pitch in the first half. Obstinacy will have its way, after all.

We should ignore the fact that Neymar and Messi contributed to defending in the second half, and let’s ignore the shortened lines as well as Barça began to successfully press RM into its own end of the pitch. If you are going to reach a conclusion, ignoring data that doesn’t support a desired solution is essential.

The entorno wins again, and as with Rayo Vallecano and the horrible 4-0, a win becomes tantamount to a loss. Wrong way. It’s worth going back in time for a sort of retroactive history as we clean up the record.

— That Messi header in the Champions League final against United? No. A long pass for a header? What are we, Stoke?
— Those Ronaldinho runs through the defense and shots from distance? No.
— The famous Messi run through the Getafe defense for a goal? Jesus, why not stop and let Xavi set up a play?
— Both Henry goals in the 2-6 Classic? Nope. You’re kidding, right?

Who doesn’t want to see 47 logical passes completed perfectly, resulting in an eminently logical goal? I love that stuff, but you know what? Those aren’t the only goals that are “good.” Play such as that isn’t the only play that is “good.” What I wish culers had the gumption to say is “I want my team to win. I would like beauty, but my desires start with a win.” Admit that. Or even more honestly, “I don’t care if the team wins as long as it plays football the right way.” Paco Jemez wants to buy you a drink. He has free time, since his Rayo squad isn’t playing midweek football in any competitions.

In post-match remarks, Mascherano said that “Football isn’t only possession.”
After the match, Enrique said, “You have to have (different) resources; that’s very important. … but your opponent plays too and we have to interpret what we need in a game.”

Every coach knows what needs to happen for his team to win. Dependent upon the quality of his players, he might even be confident that those very things will happen. But if the way that you mapped out isn’t as effective as you would like, a smart coach will also make adjustments. Coaches aren’t judged for beauty and execution, like a gymnast. A coach is judged by winning and losing, by trophies or failure.

A coach looks at his available personnel and decides how he is going to play, based on those personnel. The Barça midfield is deemed nonexistent or improperly used. When Xavi and Iniesta, diminished, are still on the roster and nobody even considered a succession plan, what is a coach to do? Keep playing in the exact same way that garnered his predecessors increasingly less silver, with core players who are that much older? Sure. We came so far for beauty, what’s another silverless season? More importantly, how many passes did the team complete, and were the triangles perfect?

Players from Pique to Busquets to Mascherano have had to defend the way that the team is playing, something that I can only imagine inspired bewildered head shaking and questions like, “Wait, we won today, right?”

Pragmatism wins championships sometimes. Execution wins matches. Players have to execute a tactical strategy that is excellent in a vacuum. “This should work.” The opponent decides that it isn’t going to be allowed to work. What next? “Keep passing, keep making those triangles. They will crack.”

If they don’t, is the team consoled by the fact that it played a certain way? Theory is lovely. It’s also the province of people without that much skin in the game. Supporters can afford to be pure. Nothing is really on the line for us except sadness if the team fails. We aren’t going to be sold or fired. Our strategy can be pure, unburdened by the reality of consequences.

But Frank Rijkaard wasn’t fired because his football wasn’t pretty. He was fired because of a pair of trophy-less seasons. If Tata Martino had found those 5 goals that the team needed to be in with a shot at the Liga, Copa and advancing in Champions League, would Enrique still be coaching at Celta? Negative results put the presidency of Joan Laporta to the test of a referendum. Nobody gave a toss about footballing beauty. The team was sucking. Whose fault is it?

Results are the end, pragmatism is sometimes the means. This season is an opportunity for the entorno to grow up. I love beauty. But I would be hard pressed to find any passing sequence, any collection of dribbles and elegant flicks and backheels that is as pretty as seeing Barça 2, RM 1. Not sure what that makes those of us who find joy and satisfaction in such a base pursuit as results, but count me in.

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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. deerwithwings
    March 24, 2015

    Two great posts in a row.

    I’m glad you got on the soapbox on this issue. I’ll never understand the dissatisfaction with a win. This is why I’ve supported LE this year: he is a pragmatist who does not give a damn about how everyone else feels about it. Glad the team and himself worked out their differences.

    • March 24, 2015

      Thank you. For me, the point isn’t as much that results are everything, but the necessity to understand that there are different routes to the same path. I think that’s important.

  2. lovell
    March 24, 2015

    Great work from Kxevin AGAIN.
    I am a college student and therefore read your work for its literary value and I ALWAYS learn something new. Although some phrases in there are not really ‘academic’. Lol.
    You are almost as consistent as Messi.
    I am your number 1 Fan.
    I believe you would make a Great comedy writer/producer.

  3. lala10
    March 24, 2015

    At this point in time it seems irrational to question LE especially with Barca coming from a taxing midweek fixture and playing against a fresh, backs to the wall EE with a point to prove. This was a potential banana skin avoided. I feel there is some opportunism in critising after this match and not after the City match where we played very well.

    That being said i think its still valid to question the style the team is embracing. There has, there are players from the outside and inside who can still make Barca a good passing team that can win playing the Barca way. The irony indeed is the evolution in different directions of our midfield and EE’s. What this points out is that its not impossible to win that way. If that is the case then it becomes logical that the fans sometimes complain of a loss of the Way.

    • March 24, 2015

      True. My question is what IS the Way, and does that path allow for adaptation to the demands of different sets of stimuli?

      It strikes me that the team isn’t embracing any single style, which is part of the complexity. Tune in at minute 80, and you would be left wondering about all the folks who claim tika taka is dead. So it all depends on where someone is coming from.

      My ultimate dream would be for people to assess the effectiveness of the team as a self-contained entity, unburdened by the past. This team is what it is. It is more or less effective within its own context, as we have seen this season.

      It’s okay to dislike the Enrique style. But is it fair to discard the Enrique style because it doesn’t hew to notions of footballing propriety, is a more interesting question. As I note above, who doesn’t love the beautiful triangles, micro-passing and in-match rondos? But if you take each era as its own microcosm, something that sport in general is rather poor at, I wonder if there are different conclusions that would be reached?

      So as usual I am not advocating as much as asking questions, which might be the right or wrong ones, but I hope they spark discussion.

    • March 24, 2015

      Team couldnt play well in the first half, and then scored a goal which is very ‘un Barca’ style, but incredibly, the last 20 minutes or so, we saw out the match playing exactly the Barca way. Especially since Xavi came in, we were nearly doing Rondo out there. This phase was crucial part of the match too.

      It just shows that this team have different levels and plans in its kitty. According to the opposition and situation we will climb up or down a level.

      Especially looking at our last two seasons, am happy that we can win in different ways.

  4. lovell
    March 24, 2015

    A wild imagination.
    Luis Enrique with his babaric New WAY win ;
    3 consecutive champions leagues
    3 consecutive league titles
    3 consecutive copa del reys
    and all the other ‘additives’ (supa cups and club world cups).
    All cules will remember with SCORN the days of useless passing and stupid triangles aka ‘tiki-taka’.
    History is written by Victors.
    In war there is no reward for second place. Ask Messi, he knows that all too Well (brazil world cup final).

  5. lala10
    March 24, 2015

    Unfortunately life is a continuous journey shaped in many ways by the past where past failures necessitate creation of mechanisms to avoid a repeat of the unpleasant and success breeds nostalgia that is bound to tint and temper future reactions. The present always comes up short. In that regard LE fights a losing battle that only may cure.

    I dont think rational supporter’s begrudge the team to use various ways to reach an end. The panic/ nostalgia button is pressed when a tactic becomes recurring and morphs into a style/ strategy. I know some are uncomfortable with the mention of Guardiola but the man has Xabi Alonso in his team and seriously considered adding Pirlo to the Barca roster a few years ago. So the way is malleable and indeed incorporates various forms but it has a disticnt feel and a way of execution.

    What then is the Barca way? From my understanding it is a way of that emphasise that technique should be valued over any other attribute. Its a way that emphasises ball skills and the basic concept that a team is connected by dots that represent passes. The Barca way is also a holistic way which views the club as system with the first team as the apex. The various units of the system in synch and marching to the same beat. Maybe (am speculating here) the unease the likes of Cryuff feel is a misalignment of these units. Fine the first team may do well but for how long he may muse. But to put that blame on LE for that will be patently unfair as that is the purview of the Board.

    Also the direction LE will not be revealed until LE bolsters his midfield. Lastly LE may as well end up winning the treble and time will tell us whether his teams will be revered or only be respected.

  6. G6O
    March 24, 2015

    My guess is that we will not win the CL this year, but will probably win the cup and La Liga.

    That alone should be enough to silence the critics, but let’s imagine (and I do hope it happens) we win the treble. I am very curious to see what those people will have to say then.

  7. March 24, 2015

    Great post again, as usual, Kxevin!

    If you want to twist the knife, check the fourth goal of La Manita.

    For the fourth Xavi robs Lass of the ball and passes to Pedro with the same touch, two more short passes Pedro-Busquets-Messi, Messi runs with the ball for 20 meters, swerves left, a long through ball for the flying Villa who nutmeg-scores past Casillas.

    If you ask me, Barcelona has returned to The Way. Except that The Way was never about long spells of possession.

    For me The Way were the Positional play, but even more importantly, the fitness levels and dedication to detail, the insane fitness that allowed a suffocating press of the opponent and the attention to detail of the plays and the dedication of finding and exploiting of the vulnerabilities of the opponent. Without those fitness levels and attention to detail Juego de Posición would have never become what it was under Guardiola.

    All of this has returned and we should rejoice. Luis Enrique has rotated, to the point that after 44 games played(about 4000 minutes when you consider added time) only one player has over 3000 minutes – Messi, with 3621 minutes played. And with this rotated squad he has managed to lead La Liga by four points, reach the final of Copa del Rey and is in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

    The fitness levels are such, that after playing a high-tempo match on Wednesday, the team started robbing balls off Madrid left and right in the last 30 minutes. Madrid, which had last played more than a week before, against relegation-zone Levante. Madrid, whose midfielders during the game were 25-year old Kroos, 29-year old Modric and 22-year old Isco, confronted by 30-year olds Iniesta and Mascherano and 27-year old Rakitic.

    As for set-piece/corner plays, I noticed something interesting against City, which I commented to BarcaChief: Unlike in previous games, in which Barcelona looked to exploit corners and set pieces, against City Barcelona played every corner short(all but one, which went to Suarez and was shot wide). It seemed to me as if Luis Enrique had instructed the players to NOT execute any plays and reserve them for El Clasico. And it worked, didn’t it? 😀

    Ever since Mathieu was signed and the abuse about him being a chain-smoker, being old and ugly started, I’ve been waiting, praying that Mathieu scores against Real Madrid. Last season he scored a total of three goals for Valencia – two of them were headers against Real Madrid. Prayers answered. 😀

    P.S. Remember Puyol kissing the captain’s band? Remember Puyol scoring in Copa del Rey vs Real? Yep, headers from corners.

    • dl
      March 24, 2015

      Excellent observations. Enrique is quietly executing, I think. He’s doing the coaches job of sitting up front and taking sh*t, and keeping his mouth shut. The bit apart the rotation of barca versus madrid, all following our midweek match with man city speaks volumes.

  8. lovell
    March 24, 2015

    I think I know what they will say. ”F*CK THE WAY”.
    BARCA fans have become spoilt kids who do not show appreciation.
    Mind you before 2005 we had 1 champions league .
    We won too much in too little time and we got used to it. Tiki-taka was successful because it won TROPHIES. And so will ‘Enrique WAY ‘ IF it does win trophies.
    I recall quite a few cules screaming ‘Shoot Already ‘ when we were ‘doing ‘ our routine passes and more passes ( post pep era).
    I wouldn’t mind if we win 5-0 nil with 5% possession.

  9. mom4
    March 24, 2015

    At times I miss the style that drew my in to loving this team. Granted, most of the time there is still some remnant of that style present in our games. This game had very little of what made me fall in love with the team and frankly I don’t gives a rat’s patootie! One must take into account the quality of the opponent and that fact they we’re so better rested than we. We won the way we had to win and that’s good enough for me in this instance.

  10. agar2515
    March 24, 2015

    At this point a win is a win, I want that silverware because it isn’t the players fault they’ve been let down by a piss poor sporting project. They’re all on board and working hard and I hope they’re rewarded for it. I think a lot of the worry about “style” comes from uncertainty towards the future and what kind of football we will play when our old guard finally leave ( especially Dani)

  11. agar2515
    March 24, 2015

    And nice to see you’ve come around on Suarez ;-P

  12. PrinceYuvi
    March 25, 2015

    Hiya Family.
    How are you, you all Lovely Bastards ?
    I freaking missed you.
    Hey there kx, Pls don’t moderate me. Ha.
    Where’s Lev ?
    How’s Lev ?

    • March 25, 2015

      Still reading the blog, but between working hard, parenting hard, husbanding hard and going to the Camp Nou about once every month, I don’t have as much time as I would like to write. Thanks for asking about me, though.

  13. ciaran
    March 25, 2015

    If Messi plays well it’s natural ability.
    If Messi plays poorly it’s Lucho’s tactical iineptitude.
    If Barca play possession football and lose, like the first Clasico, Lucho doesn’t know what he’s doing.
    If Barca play semi counter attacking football and win, like the second Clasico, Lucho is abandoning the philosophy.
    Poor Lucho.

    • Jim
      March 25, 2015

      * NOTE FROM AUTHOR – I’ve just re- read this and it has taken me ages to do so. Far too long. Please feel free to look at the topic sentences which start the paragraphs and skip !

      Yeah. I read that and found it strange that was what he took out of the game. It was a good goal but no different from a lot that RM score, although Benzema’s back heel was great. They’re good at that – we get it. However, it happened because of poor defending from Masche who left the most dangerous player on their side free to waltz unmarked through on goal. Just saying that because the goal was completely avoidable not to have a go at Masche who I thought had a better game than some here have suggested.

      I had been thinking I’d give this post match discussion a miss in favour of savouring the moment because basically the three points are all that ever matter in a Clasico and emotions are tightly linked to the final score. I was happy to overlook the way we got there but with this article we’ve wandered down a few old avenues which I find hard to ignore so forgive just a few observations put as concisely as I can ( which isn’t saying much).

      Tikka taka – I don’t know what this is. End of. If we’re talking midfield control that is never bad. If we’re talking pointless possession that is to mistake what happened in the last couple of seasons. No player, especially not Xavi, Busi or Iniesta ever keep the ball for the sake of it. It is verging on the ridiculous to suggest that. We had a problem in those seasons where we kept getting caught short of numbers at the back and losing goals. We also had a problem in that we were playing up front with Messi and two passengers who couldn’t create danger and needed anything laid on a plate. The result was that the midfield were understandably cautious that they didn’t lose the ball anywhere other than the final third of the field. In that final rid one of the main principals of attack in football ( and always has been) is to constantly alter the angle of your attack so you keep the defence on the move in the hope that they’ll get their angles wrong at some point and you have a through ball you can play. The difference this year is that we have three up front who carry threat. That should be obvious so there is more chance to play quicker and sometimes longer balls. Why is there this assumption that the aforementioned trio can’t do this at least as well if not better than others ? I’m not sure where the sneering in phrases like ” the church of the midfield triangle” comes from.

      I’m also gonna go back and challenge those who have returned to their narrative about us being outplayed in midfield in the last Clasico to do what they do at the time and point out all the chances RM had in the first half. Good luck finding any because I went through the first half twice ( missed the first ten due to Sky) and what I saw was a midfield in complete control of the game. We lost that game due to individual errors from Iniesta at the first and Madche at the third. It was also no coincidence that our control went when Xavi did. Surprise surprise it comes back this Clasico when Xavi and Busi come on.

      Next LE. I pride myself that much of what I’ve suggested in the last few seasons has come to pass but one thing I have misjudged is LE’s rotation. There is no doubt that we are coming to this point of the season in decent shape but more importantly we are arriving with many fewer injuries. Down to the rotation? You have to feel it played a part. I’m not sure they were any more tired than us in the last twenty though. They were tired because they couldn’t get the ball when they were behind. Dispiriting for any side. So, I think probably more rotation than I would have liked has turned out to be a good thing.

      I do think we put ourselves through unnecessary problems and situations due to his macho attitude though. At the start of the season I suggested that what we needed was Messi on the right, Suarez through the middle, Masche out of the back line and Pique / Mathieu as a settled CB partnership. LE picked a fight with Pique at the start of the season, I can only think wrongly seeing him as a playboy, then picked a fight with Mathieu, then insisted on keeping Masche at the back and rotating when what we really needed is what we’re getting now – settled time playing together.

      A word on Pique here. Not that I mind being a one man band but where were all you Pique admirers when I was supporting him over the last two seasons? He was accused of everything under the sun, half the goals we lost and a lazy attitude. What was really happening was that he was suffering a string of sub par partners who kept getting into trouble and he never knew where they would be, resulting in his lack of pace being exposed at times. He went from a telepathic understanding with Puyol to chaos, emphasised by our constant chasing of games leaving nobody at the back. He has been a world class CB all this time and we have wasted a good portion of the guy’s career by not giving him a good partner.

      Last paragraph on this Clasico. First half showed precisely why it’s not an either / or as far as verticalidad or possession is concerned. I said before the game they must have a plan for our two wide men and they did and it worked. I also said that to counter it we would need a strong midfield and it wasn’t. We would have lost nothing and gained a huge amount with Xavi in instead of Rakitic. You can’t afford him and Masche in your midfield at the same time and hope to exert any control. By doing that we allowed their midfield to flourish and gain confidence causing ourselves needless problems. Someone mentioned Rakitic’s run for our winning goal. It was good to see him prepared to go ahead of Messi but there was no run. He ambled into a position where Ramos should have held the line but didn’t thereby confusing himself as to whether he should go forward or back. ( Why does Ramos constantly escape derision for his poor defending? He, not Pique was responsible for Spain’s poor display in the WC yet Pique gets dropped. He constantly costs RM goals. Look at the first and second in this Clasico).

      Anyway, my bottom line is that we can have both.

      Getting the ball to the forwards quickly is best achieved by using your best passers. Controlling the game is best achieved by playing Xavi. I don’t take exception to a lot but a phrase like a ” doddering legend with dodgy Achilles’ tendons” apart from being totally disrespectful is also a complete misreading of his contributions this year. At times this year his pressing has been unbelievable, he has ended up running more than anyone else in one of the earlier CL games, he never loses the ball, controls games for us, which would at least have meant Messi getting more ball in the first half of this game and doesn’t in any sense harm a quicker game unless you mean a succession of hopeless long diagonal balls. His only crime, it seems to me, was to be chosen to play in the RS game with nobody to work with because LE left them all on the bench ! After that a “gala eleven” popped up because LE knew his job depended on it ( and it made sense) and he wasn’t in it because presumably he was tainted by the performance. Since then, comments about age and Achilles rather than performance ? More than a whiff of ageism coming in here, methinks.

      I don’t know where people are seeing all the negativity. Anyone with half a knowledge of the game could see that we were poor in the first half, their game plan worked, the game changed with a great long ball played in a sensible situation with a fair chance of coming off and that they can’t get the ball off us when Xavi is on the park. It’s not carping for anyone to point that out although I’d rather we’d taken a bit more time to enjoy it first.

      I wasn’t going to mention it but since I’ve now worked myself into a lather because of the constant carping about sensible discussion about what went well and what could have gone better I’m going to say that although I’m giving Rakitic the season to settle in and show us what he can do, I’m starting to get nervous about the fact that I can’t see what he is meant to do in a future midfield without Xavi or Iniesta. LE has staked a lot in him, starts him where he can, and yet he is constantly taken off. He’s not quick, doesn’t control a game, doesn’t even figure prominently in the midfield for me and I’m still waiting for the long range shooting. We were being told he was held back by covering for Alves but whenever Xavi or Iniesta play on the right that’s somehow not relevant? I’m maybe being harsh here but I’m starting to hear echoes of the “I know he can’t beat a man or create danger up front but look at his work rate” argument of last season and we know how that ended.

    • Inamess
      March 25, 2015

      Great Points Jim!

    • March 25, 2015

      For me, the article was 50/50, but still I cant help wondering, Hunter might be working on a book about Real Madrid???
      Making of the Most Expensive team in History – may be???

    • March 25, 2015

      Again, I am finding it really difficult how every one – outside Barca zone – has interpreted this game (of course they have their right to).
      If we were better at finishing, that match would have been 2-0 and Ronaldo’s goal would not have happened. In the last 20 minutes we would have scored another 2 or 3 too.

    • March 25, 2015

      Equally though had Ronaldo scored that shot to the post, Real would’ve been 0-1.

      Maybe the real point is that surprisingly for many, Real Madrid’s (rested and younger) midfield was equal and at some points better than Barcelona’s (older and wearier) midfield for a majority of the game. The match itself lasted much less(70 minutes instead of the usual 90 +added time).

      I’d say this speaks not so much about the narrative but about talking about stuff without taking into account context, which in this case was fairly important.

    • March 25, 2015

      But the Zonal Marking breakdown is excellent. It’s also the second piece (the one from JenFCB being the first, not counting me) that calls out the poor defensive contribution from Messi, which is interesting, and crucial as the team moves forward.

      When he defends on that side of the pitch, suddenly life is a lot easier for Alves and Rakitic. In conservation mode that will be something that the team won’t be able to expect every match.

      Also worth noting in the Zonal Marking dissection is how the team did indeed shut down the game from the 70th minute on with the insertion of Xavi and Busquets.

      The RM-centric tilt of a number of post-match breakdowns is interesting, but not surprising in many ways. It is important that the “Barça is down/in trouble” notion presented by many be observed for as long as possible.

    • March 25, 2015

      I think either Barcalogia or Rondoblaugrana made an opposite point – that with Messi defending the team was more open to flank attacks, whereas when he wasn’t defending the team played a 4-4-2 and was more compact and better performing. For me one reason would be that when Messi dropped to defend, it meant that Marcelo could go forward, take part in the assault on the left and still be in close proximity to Messi. Not so when Messi was situated more forward.

      Second, Messi had played more than anybody else on the pitch, both during the season and in the game against City. Even Messi has stamina limits and I was more than a bit afraid that he had worn himself out against City.

    • BTTFCule
      March 25, 2015

      I don’t post often here but found this discussion interesting.

      Watching the game live I thought we failed to capitalize on the adventures of Marcelo. May be because we were being overrun in midfield. I broadly agree with the view of Peter and Jim here. We have not used Xavi properly and I think he has been made a scapegoat for our not so successful season which had a whole lot of other problems

  14. deerwithwings
    March 25, 2015

    http://www.theguardian.com/sport/willstrop-s-world/2015/mar/25/james-willstrop-squash-professional-athletes-criticism-amateurs-andy-murray

    Fairly relevant to the above article.

    @Jim You made a lot of excellent points, but as far as Rakitic is concerned, I think he’s had a fairly good season. I tend to compare him to Cesc rather than Xavi (and frankly, Xavi is in the top 5 midfielders ever so it’s pretty impossible to compare him – I think Pirlo alone is at his level in today’s game) and I think he works a lot better in our system.

  15. March 25, 2015

    The Good folk at Revista de La Liga(Sky Sports) were tending their own audience. You could hear it during the match, with the commentators blasting diving cheats Suarez and Neymar, while contemplating the misunderstood divine essence of Bale and Ronaldoooooooomygodwhatagoal!!!

    When we talk about the narrative after the game, for me perhaps the most surprising was the lack of context used by the majority of the writers and commentators. Even more so by the pundits, who in many ways had to find a way of saying “We were wrong, but it actually shows we are right.”

    For me it was actually the wilful blindness of writers, who had to ignore the context in order to deduce the conclusions they were looking for in the first place, regardless of the final result.

    Guillem Balagué had predicted an away win for Real Madrid 1-2, so he had to find some silver lining in the aftermath. See, this defeat actually shows signs of reinforcement by Madrid. Sure, if you look at it in terms of actual performance, sure: Real lost to Schalke and by the end were wasting time just to hang onto the aggregate lead. Then came the game against relegation-zone Levante and Santiago Bernabeu whistling/booing of the team, even Ronaldo after Real performing for about 30-40 minutes and then looking dazed and confused.

    In these terms El Clasico was clearly an evolution, because Real were equal to Barcelona for about an hour, basically until they realized the significance of the goal of Suarez. So yes, Balague would consider it a definite improvement, and also, imagine what will happen after the international break when the majority of Real players have played with their respective national teams (instead of resting and/or training), whereas some key players of Barcelona have continued their conditioning.

    Graham Hunter is a dyed-in-the-wool follower of Laporta, Guardiola and Cruiyff, so when Johann says Barcelona played badly, Hunter will not contradict. Besides, Lucho and his band of mercenaries were signed by the Worst Board in history(tm) and the team is not playing beautifully(whatever that means), so instead the narrative needs to divert to the way Real’s midfield has become better than Barcelona’s (and it is the fault of The Board). Even more so, even though it’s an article about the Clasico, let’s plaster some praise on Guardiola at Bayern and how he is telling his defenders to take risks, instead of safe meaningless passes in U-shape (you will get no bonus points if you correctly surmise which Catalan club that is all about the possession uses this ridiculous U-shape. You will be actually deducted points if you dare point at the long-ball assists and opening passes executed by Dani Alves, Pique, Bartra and Mascherano)

    What I find really surprising are the the wilful ignorance and blindness, which the writers had to use in order to find the conclusions they needed to find.

    Then again, who benefits from the narrative that FC Barcelona defeated the reigning Champions of The Premier League AND defeated the rested reigning Champions of Europe and the World in the space of a single week, while fighting against “World’s Best Player” and “World’s Most Expensive Transfer Fee Player” and did it without the presence of a key player, and during that game against the rested Champions of Europe the team used a 36-year old midfielder to virtually rout its fabled opponent, to the point where the Champions of Europe were grateful to have escaped with just a one-goal defeat?

    Who benefits? Nobody at Sky Sports, nobody writing for the tabloid press in Britain, waiting for the exploits of its darling expatriate; certainly nobody at the Madrid-based media, be it MARCA, AS, Radio MARCA, Cadena SER, Cadena Cope, Cuatro, La Sexta, El Mundo or El Pais.

    Nobody wants to stop and ask the question, why and whose fault is it that when Carlo Ancelotti, with one key player injured on the roster, looked at his bench to look for game-changing subs, he had to choose from Lucas Silva, Jese, Varane, Illaramendi and Arbeloa?

    Nobody wants to ask the question, what does it mean when a team, which has rested for a whole week and being on average one year younger and also is more athletic and taller, what does it mean when this team has no stamina to last a whole game(In March!!!)?

    And you know what, I could just put Pharell Williams’s “Happy” on repeat loop. Let them continue talk about this team without a set way of playing, let them talk about the coach winning by the skin of the teeth of his team’s individual brilliance. Let them talk about the porous defence, the lacking midfield, the missed chances and diving cheats that stain the name and the crest, the coach’s pride and ignorance and his war with the media and how it will be the undoing.

    The dogs keep on yapping, the caravan keeps on travelling.

    • mohit
      March 25, 2015

      Brilliant comment.

    • dl
      March 26, 2015

      Wow. That was great. Well stated formulation of everything i have been unable to clearly say.

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