PSG 1, Barça 3, aka “This team, people!”

messney

This team.

There is speculation, nattering, punditry and all that other stuff but at the end it all comes down to this team, the players and how its supporters manage to deal with it. And for too much of this season, a lot of how supporters have dealt with this team has been like villagers with pitchforks and torches, running around looking for the monster.

This space has been ahead of the curve on things such as the team taking shape, noticing its pragmatism and that it is taking on the character of its coach, as many teams do. That isn’t a point of pride or any sort of forward thinking as much as just seeing what is there. If you find a dollar on the street, that’s all it is.

“Hmph. Some rich jerk just tosses money around. What about the poor, who could use that dollar. Hmph.”

It’s just a dollar on the street that you can choose to pick up or not.

When watching Barça, and this has been written about before here, it’s easy to get into believing what you want to see because a football team offers that possibility. A team choosing to go over the top because an opponent has flooded the midfield is said to “Not have a midfield.” Nostalgia makes things not as good as they are, and a coach is to blame. Not time, not players who are not what they once were, not the passage of time. It’s one all-powerful man.

But when the team begins to play better and better, to become what many wondered if it had the quality to become, it’s the players, doing this in spite of the coach and meanwhile, this or that player that someone doesn’t like still has deficiencies, still shouldn’t be on the pitch.

It’s all nonsense that like so many leaves on a windy fall day, are blown away because it’s always been about this team. It was, today, a group that dismantled a top European side in Paris St.-Germain, dealing them their first home defeat in European competition since 2006. That’s 33 matches, and the last 22 in all competitions. Some will say “Well, how much have they been in Europe,” “Barça was supposed to win,” “Should have been 3-0,” etc. But again, none of that is the point.

The point is this team. Xavi to Messi to Neymar to Suarez. That’s a fantasy, not a team, something so exceedingly rare as to beggar description. The best, to the best, for the best, finished by the best. That just doesn’t happen.

There have been crises, most of them imagined, this season. When some said of the Anoeta result that Barça dropping points at that place after an international break is like the sun rising, that was immaterial. Crisis. When Neymar threw a strop on the weekend over being subbed off at Sevilla, crisis as some press outlets penned hooey about the rift between Neymar and Enrique destroying the dressing room harmony. The headlines get clicks and move papers, but it’s nonsense from people who are often just about as knowledgeable about what really goes on as the average, well-informed fan.

suarez

And still, none of it matters because of this team, an extraordinary group of athletes who continue to do what they do, which is be among the best players in the world at one of the best clubs in the world, doing what they are paid exceptional sums of money to do. In a recent interview Messi described a year during which he scored more than 40 goals as a bad one, with a lot of personal stuff to overcome.

We have a team that includes a player who thinks that 40 goals is a bad season. We have a player who starts for, and is the captain of his national team, Brazil, but is still considered a flash in the pan and a YouTube sensation by too many culers. We have a midfield peopled by a pair of linchpins who, though still brilliant if an opponent lets them have their way, are not the players they used to be. And there is a coach who has to deal with all of that, and bring it together in a way that helps the players achieve their goals.

But still, it’s the team, a team that often can’t win for losing. Today’s goal tally included a sublime bit of build-up play that culminated in a seemingly effortless goal that was in fact difficult. It also included two bits of transcendent skill, that “individual brilliance” that disappoints so many when it rears its unpopular (in some quarters) head. It’s a team where a Messi run is genius but a Neymar golazo is “individual brilliance” that isn’t the proper way to score. People talk about “right” and “wrong” ways, then someone like Thierry Henry says that “Barça is playing how it always has, and Eto’o and I used to run out behind the defense.” And it’s interesting because Henry was there, so he knows. He received and processed instruction from a Barça legend, and he knows.

But he also knows what he sees, rather that what he might want to see. And even after all that there is this wonderful team, a group that retains that status even when it is disappointing us, because it is a group that is made up of spectacular talent. And every now and again that talent coalesces in a way that makes us shake our heads in wonder, but those matches for me aren’t as magical because they are the one-offs … like finding a dollar on the street. You can’t expect that every day any more than you can expect a transcendent performance every match.

Matches such as today’s PSG takedown are more fascinating to me, more lustrous because the team wasn’t at its best, didn’t play anything like at the level of which it is capable. The beauty is in the fact that it didn’t need to, that it could roll along in second or third gear and it was enough to not completely end the tie but confront PSG with the reality that it will have to score three times at the Camp Nou and not concede once to advance. It has to do that because a team of brilliant players didn’t need to be brilliant. It won a football match by being a team and doing what a team does, which is its job.

The Sevilla match breakdown discussed those three moments that turned that match, and one of them was a Suarez miss. Compare those simple finishes to the bits of athletic extravagance that he presented today and wonder about the meltdowns that occurred after Barça dropped a couple of points on the weekend. In some ways the analogy is like a guy who can split an atom but can’t boil water for tea, but that’s part of being an athlete who is part of a team, but not just any team.

People throw up their hands when Mascherano starts a match in defense or midfield, this man who was an immense part of the reason Argentina made the World Cup final. Any world in which he isn’t good enough is one that is off kilter, one that can be assessed as this oddity that isn’t linked to reality. Maradona, when he was coaching Argentina, said that his XI is Mascherano and 10 others. Enrique made it a priority to lock him down, and play him. Vilanova played him, Guardiola played him, Martino played him even as for many culers he isn’t good enough, has shortcomings that make them consider him a liability.

Whatever. So much of thinking, writing and nattering about football is theory, an ideal universe in which everything is perfect. Athletes nurse injuries, have good and bad days just like the rest of us, have all sorts of things go on that affect their confidence. Supporters come to blogs such as this one and say that such moments of humanity are unacceptable, as the players on the team we support somehow become superhuman based on the simple act of donning a shirt.

So today as Barça misplayed passes, got a little loose in defense and dealt with all of the crises that a team has to deal with as it tries to dispatch an opponent, the beauty of today’s match was the ease it evinced. PSG at times chased shadows. And Enrique had the luxury of calling a living legend in Xavi off the bench. And it’s easy to wonder how a team that can use the best midfielder in footballing history as a sub can be in any way deficient. Human? Sure. Not meeting fullest expectation every match? Absolutely. Needing to improve and take steps toward being better? You bet. But deficient? No.

xavi

It’s difficult to think of any of the brickbats that have been hurled at this group of extraordinary athletes this season as holding any sort of water, long term. Form comes and goes, but class is permanent. Barça has class, a quality that is evident not in the hammerings of an opponent, but in the “another day at the office” matches where the reality of just how good this team is gets driven home. Neymar scored a goal today that looked so easy. “He should have scored that goal,” so many said. But notice the touch that opens up the angle, recall all the players we see, week after week, who have a heavy touch that gets smothered by the keeper, who skim the outside of the post. But in a case of the delightful seeming workmanlike, a goal was scored.

It isn’t always wonderful, isn’t always perfect but it is always exceptional in one of the meanings for the word, because there are exceptional people doing things that sometimes veer into the exceptional.

This isn’t an admonition, or a way that calls out supporters in any way. But it is an acknowledgement that something extraordinary happened today, because of this team … this wonderful team. It isn’t wonderful because of what it does, but rather because of what it is. A sunrise only seems routine, but is a truly staggering thing to contemplate.

I had the great pleasure of working with a photojournalist, John White, who photographed the sunrise every day. For decades. And for all I know he still does. When asked why, he said because every sunrise is special. So are these athletes that we watch every week. No matter how much we might see, we should never lose sight of that.

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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.

77 Comments

  1. MSN
    April 15, 2015

    Nice analysis. I was waiting 😀

    Our fanbase is a bit spoiled, I think. But I understand the reactions after the sevilla match. It’s hard to accept a 0-2 being equalized.

    I also think people expects a goal fest every match, with utter domination. Not all matches will be like the 3-1 over atletico, but this 3-1 today was such a joy to watch. The team played smartly.

    I have heard we won because psg was depleted of many starters, Luiz injured… People forget to realize Enrique has done a great job preventing injury on our squad. And the job Unsue is doing with set-pieces defending is marvellous. That offside trap!

    Looking forward to the game against Valencia!

    (sorry if my english isn’t the best, it isn’t my native language)

    • hansh
      April 16, 2015

      That offside trap indeed! It looks so simple when they pull it off like that, but it’s really very impressive. I’m a defender but I’ve never played on a team with enough discipline to pull that off.

      (You’re english is great, much better than my second language (spanish). I’m impressed by all the people on here who participate in their non-native language.)

  2. Roberto Senyera
    April 15, 2015

    I’m a very happy chappie after this performance and result 🙂

    Força Barça!!

  3. ooga aga
    April 15, 2015

    great show by the lads

    great piece by kxevin

    hasta la proxima mis amigos, go Barca!

  4. ams
    April 16, 2015

    Great Article. First thing I read after the match was over 🙂

    Luiz saurez said in the post match interview that we were smart. We play smartly. That’s what I felt when I saw the match. I like the way we played. I think we controlled the game well. Played smartly given that it was away game against an opponent who has not lost in European competition since 2006. People say that the Barca played with slow tempo, they were moving the ball slowly and I say why switch to fifth gear when you can cruise in 3rd gear. There was no need to play fast tempo football. It was away game…we had to control the game…create chances…score few goals to give us nice away goal cushion and head home to prepare for a game against Valencia with a feeling that we have done enough to go through CL Semifinal. I think its perfect result, in ideal world we want to go in the game against Valencia with a mind set that this game is more important and that we need worry about what will happen in the next leg vs PSG. Thats what we manage to achieve.

    Not every team is perfect…building a team is a process. Every match there will be moments which will impact that match. Look at the match against Sevilla, look at the Bayern game against Porto…some times those moments fall in the hands of opposition like against Sevilla and some time those moments fall in our hands. Important thing is to grab those moments when we get and hope that we grabbed enough moments to finish on top at the end of the season.

    People forget and judge team on those moments. If Barca plays Sevilla 10 times, I am sure Barca would win 8/10 or 9/10. Same applies to Bayern against Porto. If Bayern plays porto 10 times. I am sure Bayern will win 8 or 9 times.

    • ams
      April 16, 2015

      Correction -> *that we need NOT worry about what will happen in the next leg vs PSG*

    • Inamess
      April 16, 2015

      Great points ams! I don’t want to jinx anything but this team is built to be a powereful Champions League side:

      1) Strong defensive foundation

      2) Good at defending and taking set pieces

      3) A potent offense that is difficult to keep from scoring.

  5. Inamess
    April 16, 2015

    A great win and a wonderful continuation of our excellent form since our crisis at Anoeta, which was the crucible out of which this great Phoenix of a Barca team was forged and reborn.

    In terms of our future, much of our fate could be decided this week and this game is a huge step forward. The team needs to take care of business against Valencia and at Espanyol and the fact that the PSG tie is almost a done deal makes that task easier. The rest of the season will be about rooting our team on as its comes down the homestretch and hoping our enemies slip up as well. I would love to see Bayern and Real crash out of the Champions league next week and some other La Liga teams bravely step up to take some points away from the Merengues.

    The rest of this season is going to be fantastic to watch and though nothing has been won yet, it could indeed be a historic season that will earn its place in the annals of Football Immortality and see us rightfully restored to our just place as the the undisputed top club in world football.

  6. rg23
    April 16, 2015

    Excellent article as usual Kevin. It seems your writing is just as brilliant as the brilliance of our team, to the point that we cules sometimes lose sight of the work and effort that goes behind it and take the brilliance for granted! As soon as the match was done, I started checking this space for your article. I want my BFB article, and i want it right now! lol.

    Suarez seems to enjoy playing in the champions league more than la liga. It looks like all of his best goals and big match moments are happening in the CL. That clasico goal was one exception, but his CL goals have truly been jaw dropping ones. I guess he really shows up and makes an impact for the glamor matches.

    And note how none of these goals are easy tap ins, unlike the goals that…ahem… some other guy from another club likes to score just so that he can claim some comical award. The goals Suarez scores in the CL are actually very difficult to even imagine, let alone finish.
    Even his first goal for the club came in the CL from a back heel nutmeg. He is quite nutmeg specialist. Brace against Man City, brace against PSG. I believe he has scored 7 CL goals this season, which is pretty good considering he missed so many matches earlier.

    Maybe it’s just me, but his habit of showing up and scoring the big goals in the biggest games is certainly something that is welcome. Takes the scoring burden off of Messi a bit. Long may it continue.

  7. rg23
    April 16, 2015

    I was watching the Bayern vs Porto highlights and then again the Barca vs PSG highlights, and it got me thinking. We are so quick to idealize what Pep did for the club and think of the past to be rosier than it actually was. While he certainly was a great coach, do you guys remember our perennial away form issues/frustrations?

    Pep’s standard away results in a CL knockout game would be 1-1 or at best 2-2 in most games. Away wins were so RARE. And then of course, the team would put up a major display of footballing art at the Camp Nou by winning 4-0 or 4-1, thus making the away draw irrelevant.

    However, the one thing that I think we have started doing better since Tata Martino came and especially this season under Luis Enrique is winning our away legs. Beating Man City and owning them away from home (both this season under Lucho and last season under Tata). Beating Man City away again this season (and it could have been much worse). Again, winning against PSG away from home very comfortably.
    It does a world of good as it takes a lot of the pressure away from our home leg.

    How often under Guardiola did we ever go back to the Camp Nou after playing a major team in Europe knowing that the only way we could get knocked out is by losing by 3 goals? By my count only once… when we played Real Madrid in the CL semis and won 0-2 at the Bernabeu.

    I think that Lucho’s more pragmatic strategy and the speedy counterattacks do help us out more in away legs compared to the all possession and control football we played under Pep. In an away leg, the hosting team’s fans expect their players to be more positive and try to grab a win. Makes for a more open game. A counter attacking strategy to that works perfect.
    Just look at the first goal we scored. Van der Wiel and the defense pushed up while they were attacking us. Busquets tackles and gets possession in a dangerous area, lays it off to Iniesta to Messi to Neymar who is in acres of space thanks to the defense that pushed. the rest is history.
    I think in such cases, our lack of possession but ability to catch them off guard and quickly turn things around and score actually makes us even more deadly than we have ever been under Pep in the CL away matches. one could argue, away performances in the CL are more important than home matches.

    Just my own 2 cents, but looking at Pep’s troubles against Porto today, I see he is still struggling in away games in the CL (albeit today it was all about his defenders letting him down).

  8. Roberto Senyera
    April 16, 2015

    Bayern München’s Bermuda Triangle of Calamitous Defending:
    1) Xabi Alonso. He’s become, if he wasn’t already, an absolute liability to his team without the ball at the highest level. Stick a fork in him — he’s done … like dinner.
    2) Dante.
    3) Boateng.

    Even if Bayern overcome their first leg deficit, their performance today should not strike fear into any top team, let alone our front three. I say, bring them on! We’ll rectify a wrong from our past.

    Força Barça!!

  9. Kd
    April 16, 2015

    A couple of things:
    1. “That offside trap” woof!!
    2. Quoting inamess “.. See us rightfully restored as to our just place as the undisputed top club in world football” so poetic!! Thank you sir.
    3. Montoya looked out of sorts. It was as if we played in only 75% of the pitch breath wise
    4. I’m in love with the team. They ooze class and look so sure of themselves..

    • georgjorge
      April 16, 2015

      Regarding your third point, I assume that Montoya was told explicitely not to try much offensively and go for the safe pass – “playing to his strenghts” and so on. And he did, nearly everytime he got the ball.

      He was decent defensively but didn’t do anything for the offense and his teammates pretty soon stopped trying to create anything on the right – especially in the first twenty or so minutes, there was a time when nearly everyone including Rakitic was bunched up on the left while Montoya was just standing in acres of space. Which lead to Messi being stranded in his position as well and not able to create much himself unless he positioned himself in the center (like he did for the first goal).

      I think Adriano could have fared a bit better on the right offensively, at least he can provide wicked long-range shots and crosses from the edge of the box (as he nearly made an assist to Messi with one of them).

  10. Biophestyne
    April 16, 2015

    How long will Andres be out…?

  11. Biophestyne
    April 16, 2015

    We played very well….personally feels sorry for David too……he is a good defender…..anyway how long will Andres be gone?

  12. April 16, 2015

    Sorry I must say I felt sorry for PSG with all their injuries and suspensions. They must be glad at least about their one goal.

    Brilliant goals by Suarez.. And incredible tackle my Masche too. I feel sorry for Mathieu. In some photos he looks to be lonely or like a fish out of water, and then this.

  13. ams
    April 16, 2015

    Read an article on Marca…which states that Don Andres would be able to play against Valencia. Hufff…quite a sigh a relief.

  14. Ooz
    April 16, 2015

    Brilliant result and a wonderful post match article from Kxevin. What else could anyone else want.

    Just an observation from myself and please do beg to differ. The team seems to be in jog mode in the game just before a big one. Hence what happened at Sevilla when we kinda let our foot off the gas. Other recent results that spring to mind are the 2-0 win against Eibar just before the City tie and the Classico where Messi was in walk mode, the 1-0 loss to Malaga before the first leg with City, the 1-0 loss to Sociedad before the win against Atletico, and the 1-0 loss to Celta just before the Ajax game.

    I do understand that in some of these games, we were not playing our Gala XI which might be partly to blame for these lapses but I still think it’s down to the team/coach feeling the need to conserve energy which is the major contributing factor leading to these results.

    • April 16, 2015

      I dont know very well, but its mixed for me. The first goal gave us more peace of mind, and then we must have decided to try to finish the game without wasting too much energy, they all know about our schedule ahead.
      I would differ Messi was on walk mode. May be because of his inability in attack/ his lack of playing time to gel, team is aware about the issues of Montoya and clearly tried to play everything through the left. I cant agree, how we can term him on walk mode, when he tried 77 passes and had 7 dribbles, with one assist and even earned a yellow card. May be we expect the other worldly Messi in every match! 🙂

    • ciaran
      April 16, 2015

      The issue with Montoya was very evident in the first half, if memory serves me around the 15th minute mark, Montoya was completely free on the edge of the box when Iniesta was in possession and decided to try an impossible ball to Messi rather than sliding it to Monty. The team don’t trust his ability on the ball. He’s very solid defensively but that’s not enough in a team like ours. Still, he’s a good squad member to have

    • April 16, 2015

      I don’t even think he is all that great defensively. Not that he’s weak, mind you, but I don’t feel he stands out. I’d say if we had a defensive starting right back who adds as little to the offense as Montoya, defensively he should be frigging awesome.

      He had a decent game yesterday, though.

    • April 16, 2015

      For the moment, thats what matters Levon. Montoya had a decent game. For one who plays so little, he was ok.

  15. agar2515
    April 16, 2015

    I yelled at the top of my lungs 3x yesterday, missed that feeling. And my Aren’t we glad we pulled the trigger on the right Luis?
    Would still like to see Mark at right back sometime, but for some reason that ship is in sailing. If nothing else his football IQ is much better than Martin’s
    Mathieus Needs to work on proper clearances, sure the own goal or whatever it was may have been down to luck, but throughout the season the one real area he needs to improve on has been simply punting the ball away and gifting the opposition possession again

    • georgjorge
      April 16, 2015

      Agree on Mathieu…clearances were his worst skill all season long. He tackles well, heads the ball well and isn’t bypassed easily but clearances were aweful, though maybe at his age he’s better off not trying to learn playing out of the back anew but just concentrate on actually hitting the ball upfield to Suarez or Messi.

      Bartra on right back could work out defensively, but I really think we need a right back who can also contribute on offense (and Bartra probably won’t be able to). Otherwise Messi would be stranded on his right side…unless we play something like two-and-a-half at the back and Messi moves to the center, overloading center and left side while neglecting offense on the right.

  16. April 16, 2015

    More than a few people are having a go at Montoya in various press outlets. No idea why. Montoya isn’t Alves. He is never going to be. Dani Alves is a once in a lifetime player.

    Sometimes, the orders of a sub are, “Don’t screw up. Don’t let anybody get behind you, and let the offense do what it does. Just be you.”

    The acceptance of that reality, that players aren’t going to do exactly what the player that he subs for does because they are different players with different skill sets, is long overdue. Sport should know better. They are supposed to be skilled observers of the game. Even I could figure out what Montoya’s job was on the day. He was solid. Not great, not really good. Just solid. And sometimes, solid is enough.

    If the rest of the team does its job as it should, solid can be more than enough. Was anyone nostalgic for how easy it usually is for an attacker on Alves’ side to take passes and begin a run? Probably not, right? That is part of what you get with Alves, and the way that he plays both ends of the pitch. You get something different with Montoya.

    Will Montoya improve with more time? Sure. But he will never be Dani Alves, and that’s okay. Jordi Alba will never be Eric Abidal, another once-in-a-lifetime player. And that’s okay too, because the team is a unit, rather than the sum of its individual parts.

    • georgjorge
      April 16, 2015

      I don’t quite understand. I don’t rate Montoya much as a player, not because he isn’t Dani Alves but because he doesn’t contribute much at all on offense. It was glaringly obvious in yesterday’s first half that he couldn’t capitalize on all the space PSG gave him at all. I do think that it is possible to have a right back who can use that space to good effect without letting opposition players run right past him at every occasion.

      It seems a bit too relativistic (is that even a word in English?) to put it all down to different skill sets. There are not only differences in playing style but also differences in quality (however they would be measured), and Montoya for me doesn’t have enough of the second to regularly start as right back – which is exactly the situation we could find ourselves in next season. That may be the reason people are judging Montoya not as an occasional sub but for his qualities as a starter.

    • Davour
      April 16, 2015

      True, he doesn’t. But perhaps much criticism comes from comparison, expecting him do do what we should not expect. We know what he can do; he did that according to his skill-set relatively well yesterday – he did not screw up. Having a go at him for not being ‘better’ really makes no sense, we he isn’t.

      Criticising his inclusion in the squad or eleven, on the other hand, that is a different point. To my mind, he is a decent back-up who will never be good enough for a starting spot.

      The comparison between Abidal and Alba is slightly different, to me, since Alba brings aspects of the game that Abidal could not, to the same degree. There is less of a quality difference there, but more what kind of quality offered (rather, then, compare Alba with Alves…).

    • hansh
      April 16, 2015

      I like your point about the kind of quality that different players offers. I think it doesn’t really make sense to compare Abidal and Alba, for example, because they don’t really fill similar roles for the team even though they play(ed) on the same side of the pitch. But maybe we can compare Alba and Alves (more attacking fullbacks) and Abidal and Montoya (more defensive fullbacks).

      Then again, Montoya’s problem could simply be that his name doesn’t start with an A, which seems to be some sort of requirement for elite fullbacks (Alves, Abidal, Alba, Alaba…) 😀

    • Davour
      April 16, 2015

      Yeah, I guess we should get Alaba, too, then…

    • April 16, 2015

      Interesting. I read SPORT (print version) this morning and Montoya was widely praised.

    • April 16, 2015

      Saw a piece online about “6 TakeAways from PSG,” or some such. Montoya was the last take away.

      Montoya is a player who either needs more time to be Barça quality, or a player who will never be good enough. But what if he exists in that Adriano-like middle ground, somebody who can come on and get a stripped-down version of the job done, and not screw up.

      The complexity of a team such as Barça is the quality of the XI. We don’t have subs who can just step right in because the starters are all the best or close to the best at their given position. So then what?

      “Go in there, and don’t screw up.” “Got it, coach!”

      Sergi Roberto is never going to be Xavi or Iniesta. Or Busquets. But he will always be serviceable against many teams. I hope the buildup doesn’t kill Sergi Samper in that same way. He’s brilliant, but he isn’t Busquets. Because nobody is. That’s why he’s Busquets.

      As supporters, it is unrealistic to have a player of Alves’ quality leave the lineup and expect a drop-in replacement. Bartra would be like Montoya, only taller and more handsome.

      To Davour’s point, Alba creates problems because he is Alba. Abidal was able to attack, AND lock down the entire left side of the pitch defensively. People have forgotten how astounding he was, but I never will. When Abidal went away, so much changed for the defense that it is only now just recovering from.

      Alba is very good, but in a relative sense he isn’t Abidal.

    • April 16, 2015

      I should expand on what I wrote. He was praised in several different pieces, but there is wide recognition that he is not Barça quality.

      I agree that it is unrealistic to have an equal replacement for each position, but the drop in quality from DA to MM is huge. As I wrote above, for a right back with such a limited offensive game that his teammates avoid passing him the ball half the time, he should have kick ass and take names type defensive qualities.

    • April 16, 2015

      Define “kick ass and take names.” I just want my defenders to not put the defense in trouble and not be responsible for goals. Montoya performed that task quite well, and made me a lot less nervous than Alves, frankly. That’s one of Dani’s tradeoffs.

    • Davour
      April 16, 2015

      Montoya did alright yesterday, but I think we must be able to ask more of a Barca RB than not to screw up. This is what I ask of Montoya as player, but not of that position as such. His control of the ball, to my mind, is simply not good enough, and in a passing team this will not do.

      To the other point: Abidal became a legend, but was not always as dominant (my memory might be a fault). I remember games where I felt he did not really manage to control his man (like 6-2 against EE), or not adding much in offense. But nobody, of course, is perfect all of the time! And, as I pointed out, I think the relevant comparison is Alves-Alba, and that the RB needs more of an Abidal-type of player.

  17. lala10
    April 16, 2015

    I thought Montoya was not too bad on the night. Considering the number of games he played he should have struggled mightily. Going forward is not his forte. In the quarters of the CL, against PSG and he was not a liability. I will take that all day long and his confidence should improve on the basis of this performance.

    • Barcathegreatestever
      April 16, 2015

      wasn’t PSG’s Maxwell our right back before Alves. If so I guess it would be a toss up for me as I think Montoya is quicker and grittier

    • ooga aga
      April 16, 2015

      No maxwell was left back and would play there when animal was sick or playing CB.

    • ooga aga
      April 16, 2015

      Abidal, not animal. Damn autocorrect.

    • Jim
      April 16, 2015

      And Maxwell was another FB vastly underrated by many yet he’s still playing regularly at the top level. A great player, panned for constantly passing square and back but never let us down, who had the skills to go forward but never did for us. For me, as good as Abidal, possibly apart from when Abidal played CB which was a revelation as I thought his speed was finally put to good use. Alba to me is a much more rounded FB than either, as good in defence, although still weak in the air, but much better going forward. Worth the raise he’s looking for.

    • Ryan
      April 16, 2015

      Alves hardly ever rested in those days, but Puyol also sometimes played on the right on the rare times Dani couldn’t.

  18. Davour
    April 16, 2015

    Nod to Jim… “Xavi made 55 passes during the 38 minutes he played yesterday, more than any PSG player in the whole game”… I felt really privileged to have Xavi to bring on when Iniesta was injured. He had a great run, too.

    • April 16, 2015

      A fresh Sevilla vs a tired PSG chasing a two-goal deficit and having to leave lots of spaces for Xavi to operate in is also a difference worth noting.

      Not to take anything away from what Xavi did. Huge props. But I also think the situational difference, the Pique error notwithstanding, is worth commenting on.

    • Davour
      April 16, 2015

      Yes – absolutely. Still happy to have a sub of his quality, though, even if he could not properly impose his game on Sevilla. I guess that is one difference form Xavi of old: before, he always found or created the space; now, he is more dependent on space being ‘offered’. But of course many other factors are in play here, too.

    • Jim
      April 16, 2015

      For me, he did the same both games. Came on, took the game by the scruff and, barring Pique’s error would have secured the result in both. Difference against Sevilla is that the last fifteen is far too late to change momentum completely although even LE did realise he had done it apart from the error. Also, no team is tired at home in the CL by the 52 minute. Especially when we had done precious little to tire anyone out by then. Not buying that. They also freshened it up and it had no effect. It wasn’t me who said you can only beat what’s in front of you.

      Not sure else Xavi can do to prove he’s worth a starting place. The whole team responds to his presence. The reason for the huge number of passes every game is he supports everywhere, shows when others stand and let the play go round them and the team trust him enough to fire a hospital ball at him which he controls first touch and turns into good possession. Seriously, when is the last time you can remember anyone taking the ball off him ?

    • georgjorge
      April 16, 2015

      Yeah, it must be something like a story to tell your grandchildren. “Do you know about that one time I took the ball off Xavi…?”.

  19. Barcathegreatestever
    April 16, 2015

    Loved the move of Masch to the middle! A destroyer extraordinaire! Don’t know if Luis learned his lesson from Sevilla doesn’t matter. Rakitic already ran 9 km by the 60ish minute, I don’t think they can do more than that every 3-4 days without bonking.
    Would have loved to see Bartra rotate in too with a sub to spare and Pique yellowed. He’s one of the best young guns and could be great. Would hate to see him go.
    Wearing my Suarez phone cover proudly! A gift from my son for Christmas; I never doubted the Chellenis love bite would derail his unadulterated joy and unabandoned passion from winning over Barcaland. He has every chance of sitting next to Ronaldinho as most popular fan favorite. That was the guy that transfixed so many of us foreigners to Barca in the first place.
    10 out of 10 performance, how lucky we are!

  20. ciaran
    April 16, 2015

    Montoya is a good defender but is very sensible in possession, to a fault. He never tries anything and never really produces anything in the forward third. I would guess that 80% of his passes are backwards.
    That being said, Oleguer won a champions league and he was no better.

    I don’t believe that you need to have the best player in the world in each position to have the best team in the world. A defender who doesn’t make mistakes often who seems to have a good attitude and has been with the club since he was a child is surely worth a place in the squad.

    It kinda reminds me of Rakitic and his position in our squad. People always compare him to Xavi and Iniesta and find him coming up short but everyone forgets that Seydou Keita played more matches than Iniesta most seasons under Pep. Keita was by no means a better footballer than Iniesta but made other players’ lives easier by doing the leg work around the pitch.
    Someone above mentioned that Rakitic had covered 9km by the 60th minute or so but because he didn’t make 100+ passes he wouldn’t get the same credit as Xavi or Iniesta.

    For me ththere is room for a variety of different skillsets in our squad.

    • April 16, 2015

      ^^

      Ding!

    • Barcathegreatestever
      April 16, 2015

      wasn’t PSG’s Maxwell our right back before Alves. If so I guess it would be a toss up for me as I think Montoya is quicker and grittier. The guy lacks the confidence to try things that wow but he is seamless in the system having the skill set required. And he doesn’t have to be an Alves or a Lahm because we have such a luxury up top.

    • Inamess
      April 16, 2015

      Still quite confused as to why people continue to overrate Rakitic’s contribution to this team. He and Iniesta have been the prime cause of our struggles in midfield while most of the rest of the team has played exceptionally well this season. So far I have heard the following given in his defense:

      1) He works really hard
      2) He is like Keita
      3) He is not Cesc
      4) His hair is pretty cool.
      5) He is a nice guy.
      6) He is unfairly being compared to Xavi.

      Please tell me what he actully contributes to the team.
      Has his passing been particularly good?
      Is he able to facilitate the offense and be involved in our play?
      Which games other than against Man City has he excelled?

      Not saying he can’t improve or is a bad player he has just not lived up to expectations especially since he was supposed to be such a standout player in La Liga last year. To my mind players playing well for their former teams or their national teams is irrelevant. Either you fit in at your current team or you don’t. Di Maria may have been one of the best players in the world last year but it counts little in evaluating his contributions at Man United just as Mascherano’s monster World Cup is irrelevant for evaluating his contributions at Barca.

    • ciaran
      April 16, 2015

      If you watched a single game from Sevilla over the past couple of seasons bar matches vs Barca you’d see the quality he has and more importantly the qualities that he has. None of these qualities are that of dictating tempo a la Xavi or ghosting past midfielders like Iniesta.
      So Rakitic of Sevilla wasn’t comparable to Xavi and Iniesta but now all everyone does is compare them. There is no good reason for it.

      Rakitic is the type of player that knows that on occasion you can be more effective off the ball than on it. His movement is very important to us in and out of possession. He gets forward and occupies defenders, closes down opposition and has a consistent 90+% pass success even though he attempts more forward passes than most other midfielders.

      He and Iniesta have been the prime cause of our struggles in midfield is a bit strong considering that we are on track for a possible treble with amongst the highest average possession of any club in Europe. I don’t know if I’d call it a struggle…

    • Barcathegreatestever
      April 16, 2015

      What I like about Rakatic is that he is an end to end and side to side player. You’ll see him involved supporting every play offensively and defensively. Like, but not as world class as Iniesta, he has an understanding where to attack with the ball, attempting quicker more dangerous one time difficult passes that also have a much higher degree of failure. Oftentimes the original idea doesn’t come off at all but the ball falls to a teammate who can continue the momentum of the play. For sure it is unsettling to a defensive team who in past years would metronome back and forth in front of their goal waiting like vultures to start their counter attack. You might not like it, prefer to see the 2-3 touch tiki taka which in the end was Messi dependent requiring him to dribble 2-3 guys to unsettle the defense, much like Bayern and Robben; but I do and I think it’s the evolution of Cruyffs ideas that have stumbled against Chelses and Atleticos and Mourinhos. How many times did we beat Chelsea Atletico Madrid and Inter in the past 4 years? This year we are cracking the bus and Rakatic and Iniesta are fundamental!!!! No one is even talking about the bus this year, now that is interesting.

    • April 16, 2015

      Rakitic is a midfielder that we haven’t had in a while, a combo platter. He can help in defense, shoot from distance, help in the possession game, etc.

      As ciaran notes, evaluating Rakitic means shutting off the Barça midfield template.

      Further, WHAT midfield struggles? The one thing I would fix if I could is the notion that “different” means “problem.” Iniesta isn’t what he was, and is adjusting to his new role. If he was what he was, Banega probably doesn’t even get that shot off. But that stuff happens.

      Rakitic is part of Enrique’s XI because of the complete package that he brings, laid out by ciaran. Not sure what more he has to do, even as he will continue to improve within the system.

    • Jim
      April 17, 2015

      Well, he has to do a lot more for me if he wants to stay with us.

      I’ll start by saying he’s entitled to another season to settle in which we should give to any player coming to Barca. If Henry shakes his head and says man there is do much to learn then you know it’s not easy. If Cesc who is a great player can’t do enough to stay then you know it’s hard.

      ( Next bit is written straight after son’s wedding where I loaned him my car with retractable roof for honeymoon and he managed to get 50 yards from hotel before knackering said roof – not cheap so I’ll admit I’m in cranky mood and probably exaggerating a little but I stand by the core points ! )

      However, I’ve been trying to give him some slack based on the hope that next season he will contribute a lot more. If we’re now being told there is no more and what we’re seeing is it, then I’ll make the one more year prediction right now. What I’m seeing is someone who is caught in the headlights, can’t get into games, doesn’t offer himself properly for passes, never seen him going past anyone, let’s attacks go without chasing back quickly enough, plays more safe uninspired passes than Maxwell ever did and is actually pretty slow. There, I feel better now.

      The vital off the ball bit has a germ of truth in that you can be of use in terms of taking opponents’ attention and making space for others but if that’s all there is you’re struggling. If all you want is someone to make runs for ninety minutes chasing the game and not stamping his authority on the game in whatever manner then I’ll volunteer right now because you don’t pay millions for that and you certainly don’t base the future of one of the top teams in the world on it.

      We are doing well because we have a great defence and we have the best front three in the world by some margin. I said it as soon as we bought Suarez that they would be unstoppable because they all carried threat. ( I’m puzzled by the carping about individual brilliance, btw. Who has ever complained about the goals they are scoring? Is that another Twitter thing ? ) But the front three is the difference between being very close to trophies and winning them. That in the end was what did for Sanchez and the arguments now for Rakitic are eerily similar to those put forward for him . . . until he left. He was in and out of the team and Rakitic is taken off pretty much most games he starts because we need something more.

      In a funny way, I understand what Rafinha brings more than Rakitic, even as he has been a disappointment to me so far. I can see a quick strong carrier of the ball with good technique and the ability to go past people.

      Anyway, to finish on a positive that was a great result against PSG. Slightly surprised they didn’t give us a harder time but that’ll be good for our weekend game. Standout performers for me were Pique, Masche ( yes, I thought he had a great game), Busi and Suarez. As I watched it again the only slight concerns I saw werethe break stopped by Masche’s tackle. That was the old us. How can we get caught 20 odd minutes into an away CL tie with only two back after a corner and already one up? The other was our deliberate slowing of the ball in the first half. It was a strange half which I didn’t really enjoy. We were slow on the ball and they weren’t really pressing. Did they give us too much respect? Don’t know.

      On the plus side, what about that offside line from the free kick? An exact replica of the last game in Paris and a shining example of what we should be doing, as opposed to last time! Somebody has finally got a hold of the defence and said here’s what you do. Great.

      Anyway, it should be over now. If we aren’t daft no way they will score two against U.S. and no way we won’t score at home. This team as Kxevin says is gradually getting itself into position in three trophies without often hitting top form and that’s impressive. Don’t rule out Pep’s mob yet, either. When Robben and Ribery come back they will be a different outfit.

    • Jim
      April 17, 2015

      A couple more things. I didn’t think Monty was bad. He did pretty much what we hoped he’d do which was not screw things up and pass safely. One more on Rakitic. Whatever happened to the great long shots I was promised ? One more on Messi. Is it me or is he getting fed up of his right wing berth ! If so, is it because he’s not seeing enough of the ball there or what ?

  21. agar2515
    April 16, 2015

    I think a lot of the “hate” re: Montoya
    stems from frustrations of still not knowing what his ceiling is.
    Also, yesterday there was great bit of annoyance that the heir apparent to Dani for at least 6 months ( let’s be real Douglas isn’t that) had to be thrown into the deep end cold like he was when we’ve known for weeks that Dani would miss this leg. At least give him some minutes in the league no?

    I am a lot more forgiving with Montoya than I am with Roberto. I have seen enough of Roberto to judge that he should be loaned out. Montoya? He isn’t BAD… His problem is that ” he’s not Dani”.

    We’ve been so accustomed to a Tasmanian devil attacking down the right that we forget how rare a player of that class is.it’s rather jarring seen Montoyas slower paced, safe style of play on the right instead of Dani bombarding forward.

    Sure he doesn’t contribute a lot and attack, but so long as he doesn’t put a foot wrong on his side I can forgive him for being more of a ” lockdown”, “take a breath ” kind of RB.

    Although if that’s the kind of right back we want to play I still have no idea why Marc doesn’t get a chance at RB but clearly there’s something I’m missing that previous coaches all saw since he never plays there.

    • georgjorge
      April 16, 2015

      I can live with a right back not doing much offensively, but then please don’t put Messi in front of him leaving him stranded. Overload the centre with Messi + Suarez or something, just not Messi on the right waiting for the give-and-gos that never come.

  22. Inamess
    April 16, 2015

    A few points:

    1) Very interesting points from rg23 above about Pep’s difficulties in the CL. Bayern are certainly not out yet but if they do lose to Porto I think it would imagine their would be a huge backlash and maybe even some revisionism about his legacy at Barca. If you play relentlessly attacking football you will win some games 5-1 but also lose some games that may have been won with a more balanced/conservative approach.

    2) Enrique can be accused of many things, but he certainly has a plan for each game at least now that there is consistency in his tactics and lineups. Clearly he is more inclined to try to preserve a lead than going all in attacking mode. We may not win games convincingly or in a style we may like but we are also less likely to suffer defeats from teams that just want to sit back and hit us on the counter.

    3) Montoya had a decent enough game but there is no way he could be a regular starting RB for this team. Not every player in your team has to be world class but neither can we afford a quite mediocre player as a regular starter. Like it or not, the club will have to reach an agreement with Alves on more or less his terms.

    • Jim
      April 17, 2015

      Wow ! Never good to fall out with your manager – unless you’re Messi ! – but I’m not sure I would take Deulofeu’s tweet as all that bad whereas Emery’s response for me is out of order. Not excusing any poor attitude the player might have shown previously.

      Need to read the speculation about abayern’s mefics, ‘though. Sounds interesting and could be a banana skin for Pep.

  23. Gekko64
    April 16, 2015

    The entire medical staff of Bayern Munchen resigned after Guardiola tried to blame them for the Porto debacle.

    • Inamess
      April 16, 2015

      Far be it from me to speculate about this complex medical-political issue but which I know nothing about but why should that stop me. I am blaming Herr Pep. Though an admirable coach, the man is a prima-dona-narcissist-control freak who can’t handle other strong personalities and can’t accept responsibility for his own failures.

      Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt is one of the leaders in sports medicine in the world and a Bayern institution but Pep in his determination to control every aspect of his team must know how to handle his teams fitness issues better.

    • April 16, 2015

      Football loves these kind of stories. Can we all agree that two best coaches in the world are sore losers? These injuries happen because of the way the manager wants the team to play. Biesla, Guardiola and Klopp all suck energy out of the team because of their demanding style of play(Press, press for the ball) .It makes our 2008-2011 run still more admirable, isn’t it. We handled everything so well. (Note: There were lot of injuries during Guardiola’s last year)

      As much as we admire Biesla, we all knew that Marseille’s excellent first half run wouldn’t last long. So, team’s performance in the final stage of the season has lot to do with the style of play. Honestly, I was sad to see Guardiola mocking the medical team. Some say Pep mocked Asst. Coach. (Good luck telling that to their med team). We only see what we want to see.

      Ohh btw, Guardiola along with Mourinho are free to attend ‘How to rotate the squad by Luis Enrique’ in the summer. Thanks.

    • Inamess
      April 16, 2015

      Interesting story coming out of the Bayern camp. Pep will have the team meet at a retreat this weekend where he will inspire their comeback by making them watch another cinematic masterpiece: The English Patient

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnabNLBFYw8

      The movie is about a battered and traumatized German man (Pep’s Bayern) who in the midst of war tries to recover his past love and glory and gain redemption before it is too late.
      Spoiler Alert: It is too late.

    • Jim
      April 17, 2015

      But does his doc help him to get better or not ?

    • Inamess
      April 17, 2015

      A brilliant German doctor recommended an innovative treatment of goats’ milk, lamb’s blood, and actovegin injections but was overruled by the arrogant lieutenant who thought he knew better. Unfortunately, the patient was sent to Spain for surgery instead and things went south from there.

  24. luisthebeast
    April 16, 2015

    I really dont care about Pep.I hope Lucho will stay for a long long time here.i was against him in the summer but he proves me wrong.With a few smart transfers we will be a attacking force for years to come.And i want so bad finally to say this:Yes Barca can be a Big team AND WITHOUT THE BALL.Thank u lucho.

    • georgjorge
      April 16, 2015

      Well a bit of the ball certainly would help in ensuring some wins ; )

  25. luisthebeast
    April 17, 2015

    But we have 40wins in 48 games with a crap system and no midfield!!136 goals scored and 31 conceded!!Well i believe we can win the treble!!But as Lucho say,game by game:-)

  26. luisthebeast
    April 17, 2015

    I cant understand why we play Valencia at afternoon and Madrid play the night,since we played an away game on Wednesday and Madrid played Tuesday…the only good thing is we have no trips the next 10 days.

  27. Inamess
    April 17, 2015

    Great Highlights PSG v Barca

    youtu.be/4PjBJauC8sQ

  28. Cyclops
    April 18, 2015

    Oh geez, whats all this backlash on montoya…Is it just me, or have montoya actually been a rarity in the barca squad? oh wait, seems like he’s the player thats has played the most game in europe ? uh-huh, some people are definately watching the back of their T.V set…
    I find its odd, thats this guy hardly gets match time, yet on a big match day, some one out there, is expecting him to dished out a sparkling performance…Really, i dont know how thats works, you hardly get game time yet you’re expected to churn out a glorious performance in a tough match….Sure there are players, that its wont really matter if they’re benched for half of the season, once you give them a chance and put them out there, they shine like a million stars- but thats a rarity…Basically its a quality on its own, even most world class players cant pull that off…But if your player’s got it, well your goodluck, if not, you just grit your teeth and go with whats considered ‘normal’….
    Montoya is a great player, so sad that lot of people seems to have forgotten that…just cut the dude some slack please…Whats he needs is game time, Game Time…You dont bench him for approximately half of the season and expect him, to dance past players, ping eye-of the-needle passes and probably gets more dribbles than messi, humph!! thats a strange reasoning…..

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