Everything in sport comes down to a moment, sometimes less. Races are lost in hundredths of a second, a moment’s hesitation allows an opponent to get free. A moment is nothing, but sometimes it’s everything.
Barça’s draw to Sevilla came down to a trio of moments, all of which went Sevilla’s way: a Suarez miss, a Bravo misplay and a Pique giveaway. Another time, those plays go differently. Against a lesser opponent, the counterattacks don’t have the precision that Sevilla’s did. But on this day, these three moments were decisive.
More fascinating is that the moments and the resultant mistakes all have roots in how an exceptionally talented player is, which will directly affect the decision that he makes.
The first moment was simple enough to break down. Suarez skied a shot with the goal at his mercy. Perhaps a lesser player just slots the ball home after it falls to his feet. Suarez has such an array of shotmaking skills and such a creative mind when it comes to putting a ball in the net that like Messi against Almeria, when he should have just slotted it home but tried lobbing the keeper, Suarez tried for some sort of top-of-the-goal thing that wound up terrifying folks in the 10th row. He swore at himself for that miss as well as the others during this match, other moments, but none more clear-cut than that one.
1-3 feels very different than 1-2. It breaks a team, makes it them start to wonder as it puffs the sails of the players whose team is on top. Miss a shot like that and footfalls have louder, longer echoes. The feet are a little heavier and the mind says, “That was it.”
The second moment resulted in the first Sevilla goal, and you could certainly suggest that for the first goal, things went awry when Busquets somehow lost that battle for the ball with Bacca on the right, setting off the scramble that leads to the play sequence. But you could argue a lot of things, once you go down that path. And even then, Mathieu clears the ensuing cross, which falls to a Sevilla player who slides it over to Banega.
It’s a safe bet that Banega was stunned to find himself in acres of space. At the time he gets the ball Iniesta is in the box, having needlessly chased a ball that was already covered by the defense. So rather than being somewhere that he might have been able to apply real pressure to harry Banega or even prevent him from shooting, he has to half-ass it out toward Banega and throw up a leg as the barest insinuation of pressure. But like everyone else, Iniesta just had to watch the shot.
Bravo still should have stopped it. Note that when Banega gets the ball Bravo moves to the near side of the goal, then has to dart across the face when Banega strikes it. Maybe if he starts from center he catches that shot instead of having to dive and fist it. Maybe. A moment. That’s all.
The third and most damaging moment leads to the second Sevilla goal, again a moment born of how a player is. When Pique is playing well and full of confidence, he isn’t shy and will try things. So of his three available passing options: Alves, Busquets and Rakitic, he chose the last, which was also the most difficult. A pressing midfielder cuts the ball out, Sevilla break and Barça have no fullbacks. It’s only Mathieu and Pique, in fire drill mode because Alves and Alba are both pressed up. Rakitic might have had an influence but he hesitated before chasing, so in the time that Reyes had to slow down to dance around Busquets, Rakitic still had no chance to influence the play.
Because Alba isn’t there Mathieu has to shade two spaces, which might have worked except Pique compounds his initial error by chasing the ball instead of checking back to track any stray runners. Perhaps if he does he can mark Gamiero instead of uttering a fervent “Oh, crap!” when he sees the ball headed for the Sevilla striker. By then, it’s too late.
Retrospect is, of course, a game that is loads of fun even as it is also fundamentally nonsense. You could ask whether a different keeper would have charged the cross to Gameiro. You could ask lots of questions about a situation when you play retrospect. Maybe if Bravo is more of a proactive keeper than a reactive one, he charges the cross to Gameiro, so Pique breathes a sigh of relief instead of dreading the Monday film session. Maybe.
But as it is, three moments were decisive, making this match fairly easy to sum up: shit happens.
The culerverse is, of course, filled with notions that “Barça let one off the hook.” Objectively, this is true. A 0-2 lead became a 2-2 draw. Enrique is undergoing new scrutiny, because the two subs that Unai Emery made, Reyes and Gameiro, changed the match. The two subs that Enrique made, Xavi (for Neymar) and Pedro (for Iniesta) arguably hamstrung Barça, even though they were the correct subs as they were fundamentally defensive ones.
The reason they didn’t work was because Sevilla was flooding and pressing the midfield like crazy. Busquets suddenly had lots of ground to cover because first Iniesta, then Xavi couldn’t keep pace with the Sevilla mids. This put too much pressure on the Barça defense, a group that is one of the best in the Liga because it doesn’t make enough errors for it to cost them. Bravo makes the saves, the CBs make the right pass, the team celebrates and goes home. That didn’t happen today. Today brought moments that brought to mind failings of past Barça teams going farther back than Enrique, when CBs were left stranded by an unfortunate turnover coupled with marauding fullbacks.
People are asking about the Enrique subs but for me, asking the wrong question. I wonder about taking Neymar off mostly because Alba becomes the principal attacking threat on that left side, which pushes him farther up the pitch without any defensive help from a back-tracking Neymar. Sure, why not ask those questions, as long as you are playing culer retrospect.
But the match still came down to moments. Hats off to Sevilla for picking themselves off the canvas after a sparkling opening 35 minutes from Barça, where the team played extravagant football and forged a 0-2 lead that should have been enough to win and on a different day, would have been. It was the return of the capering sprites, ball and player movement and the kind of football that this broken team was supposed to be incapable of playing.
In many ways however, that kind of football was found out in the usual way: a pressing, physical midfield forced key errors that were capitalized on by an opponent. Past became present. Tactics will be discussed rather than simple failure to execute because we need to have broader reasons for an occurrence than, “Dude just messed up.”
And this draw feels particularly cruel because at 0-2 Barça was cruising, keeping the ball, dancing around and Sevilla looked like a beaten team, outclassed by its betters. And like past Barça sides, the cat seemed to tire of playing with the mouse, which got up and ran away. And in that moment, that fragile thing called culer confidence became, for many, doubt. “See? Told you so,” and the rush to favorite targets resumed. There is comfort in that. “Enrique got the tactics wrong.” “The midfield needs to do this or that.”
But football is a veritable morass of errors, Players misplay balls, miss shots, evince poor control. Coaches make bad subs, referees miss calls. Mistakes everywhere. Sometimes, mistakes decide a match more than examples of glowing play such as Messi’s goal and Neymar’s free kick golazo. But even those were born of errors, as Messi’s marker erred and a player fouled a Barça attacker in that most dangerous part of the pitch. But even then, you wonder if Sevilla said “But Messi takes all the free kicks, and it will be difficult for a left-footer to beat … Neymar? Uh. oh …”
We hate to accept those mistakes because our players, the game and the people who manage it should be perfect. How can refs miss calls? They are paid to be perfect. We paid 82m for that dude? How can he miss a sitter like that?
The game is also played and run by humans. Every day, we make mistakes because we are human and imperfect. So are the players. Three times today, three key times, unfortunately, Barça players were human. But that’s part of the game too.