Barça 2, Paris St.-Germain 0 (5-1 agg.), aka “Of COURSE it was”

iniesta

FC Barcelona is one of the best football clubs in the world.

FC Barcelona started the season as one of the best football clubs in the world.

That it handled teams such as Manchester City and now PSG with ease, really should have come as no surprise to supporters of one of the best football clubs in the world.

The display was dazzling today, for a number of reasons as Barça reached its seventh Champions League final four in eight seasons, a stat that is kind of absurd when you really think about it. Is Barça one of the four best teams in the world? Right now and on form, Barça might be the best team in the world. There are a number of reasons why talent is combining with psychology to fuel that assessment. Here are a few:

The team has something to prove

This has been a nasty season, as the entorno has been particularly savage. As a very fine journalist, Lee Roden, wrote today, “Journalists often speak of managers losing the dressing room – this manager has lost the press.” In many ways this sums up a significant amount of the coverage that we have been seeing, the mostly manufactured hysteria that has come to define this season.

One fun example for me is the alleged Messi/Enrique row, and its extent. It was a training match disagreement that became something more, a deeper evil. Many believed that Mathieu admitted Armageddon was brewing when he said, in effect, “Yeah, something happened.” There was a meeting with the captains, Messi and Enrique, sources said. About what? Hmmm … Messi playing on the right and accepting it for the betterment of the team? Maybe. Naaaaah. To clear the air so that he didn’t demand to be sold from under the oppressive yoke of Lucho the Knife? Certainly a more interesting interpretation.

When Guardiola had difficulties with Ibrahimovic, then as now, the Swedish striker is just a big baby who didn’t know or want to learn how to fit in at Barça. It’s on him. Things are different now and it’s Messi, so it’s all on Enrique as a coach becomes a supplicant.

My view is every bit as much an interpretation of events as any other, so what is truth? Has Enrique had difficulties getting his charges to understand what and how he does things? Yes. Every new manager does. It is part of the deal when a new face comes in with a new group of assistants and a new way of doing things. But to my view, because Enrique lost the media, he lost control of the narrative, so many things that were just part of a team coming together became an indictment of his stewardship. Maybe. Maybe not. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, after all. Okay. But sometimes, where there’s smoke, there’s incense.

Fight after fight, story after story, indictment after indictment. First clues came as players said, “We really aren’t playing any differently.” Later clues came as the team fought when it didn’t have to, fought in ways that showed a nasty, fit, cohesive unit. Thank you, entorno, for being more crap than usual. The net effect on the team has been to, some can only speculate, close ranks not against, but WITH its coach. It isn’t working with a truce forged with Enrique. The commitment is too complete, too strong, the assimilation of systems and ways of playing too complete and ongoing to suggest such a thing. I am not a particularly trained observer, and that’s easy to see.

messi

This team has faced doubt all season. Nothing makes an athlete want to prove something like doubt. Each and every hurdle that this team has faced has been cleared. They won’t beat Atleti. They did. Three times. City will be hard. No, it wasn’t. PSG beat us 3-2. I’m worried. The second half of that match should have put all worries to bed. The “crisis” at Anoeta.

It’s taking on the character of its coach. It’s a nasty, hard-edged bunch that in effect says, “Screw you.” And that’s good. Keep on doubting, keep on questioning. It seems that in this case, the entorno is working.

PSG came into this return leg and got its butts handed to it. Dani Alves defended, the YouTube sensation got a brace, even Iniesta dusted off the stardust boots and sparkled. There was even (shudder!) an actual midfield. After the match, Enrique said that it wasn’t perfect, and he was right. He was also right in saying that a perfect match doesn’t exist. In baseball, a perfect game is no baserunners of any kind. No walks, no hits, no nothing. No possibility of scoring. In football, a perfect game would probably emcompass something around 80 percent possession and no shots on goal for an opponent who wasn’t even allowed to cross its own halfway line.

Barça wasn’t perfect. But it was extraordinary today, a team with something to prove. Let’s hope that chip stays on the shoulder.

PSG didn’t show up …

… and what’s more, why should they? That team came into Camp Nou down three away goals, and having to win the match 3-0 to advance, or some permutation of away goals sufficient to give it hope. Professionals say one thing in pressers, but they know. So the “There’s hope” stuff from PSG players was because nobody wants to hear the players they support sit in front of a microphone and say “Sheeeeit, did you SEE what they did to us in our house? What makes you think we can beat these guys and have them not score any goals? Come ON, man!”

What’s the fun in that?

Even as you risk the “Aha!” exulting of culers, it’s worth noting that PSG didn’t give its fullest effort. They walked when they should have showed urgency, trotted when they should have run. There was the occasional petulant foul but really, this tie was over from the opening whistle, and was really over after the unstoppable Iniesta moment that was finished with style by Neymar, who added a second just because somebody wearing a PSG shirt must have kicked his puppy at some point in life.

PSG is fighting with Lyon for a Ligue 1 title, against opponents who aren’t as inclined to roll over as they once were, and are figuring out ways to challenge them. So the option becomes a Quixotic quest, or saving the powder for winnable encounters. PSG chose correctly, even as their choice was part of why Barça looked so unruffled. With matches such as this one, once Neymar scored you wonder why the teams didn’t just gather at the center line, agree on a place to have dinner to catch up, and leave.

neyalves

Barça is ahead of schedule

Many folks who are now (in some cases, happily) eating their words picked Barça to finish silverless this season, a prognosis that is looking less and less likely. The reasons were logical and clear: new coach, new staff, new system, an 81m transfer that will miss the first half of the season, a resurgent Liga and main rivals in the now Big Three.

Further, Champions League usually catches a team out, quality and integration-wise, and the smart money was looking for RM and Atleti to be in the Copa to win it.

So what happened?

For starters, Suarez became part of the team a lot more quickly than I suspect even his most devoted fans believed. Barça is a difficult team for an attacker to get accustomed to. What the big brains weren’t counting on was Enrique adapting the system to make Suarez work within it, in many ways simplifying things even as the core was retained. Watching Barça matches this season again brings passages of counterattacking, slash-and-burn football and passing intricacy resulting in team goals.

What Suarez brought at the beginning was assists. As his scoring picked up it became more difficult to find a Barça attacker to shut down and suddenly, the attacking trio of he, Messi and Neymar look dead certain to eclipse the gaudy, 100-goal record of Messi/Henry/Eto’o, which is remarkable. Everyone knew that Suarez had work rate and finishing abilities. But something of a surprise was his speed of adaptability. It was also unexpected for many.

Messi immediately grew comfortable with playing on the right. Perhaps in the past, coaches didn’t explain clearly enough what was intended for him over there, that it was a launching pad rather than a prison. Enrique did, and Messi is adding a unique sort of attacking width. A lot of focus is paid to the times that he decides to move to the middle and become a playmaker. But on the right, working with Alves, contributing to the press and having only two players to beat instead of a whole back line has resulted in a resurgent Messi, along with superhuman goal totals.

Neymar has exploded this season, not only scoring goals but being decisive in matches. In the past, his tricks and flicks have been showy but rarely enough to make a team change to deal with him. At about the midpoint of last season, he started getting fouled not because he was being “disrespectful,” but from a tactical sense. Stop Neymar and you can slow Barça down because of the way he accelerates play. Associative play and playmaking were always expected from Neymar. But as the goals pile up, it’s clear that he is benefiting from the presence of an active Messi and a hyperactive Suarez.

For all the talk about possession without control, Barça is indeed controlling matches. Heat maps show the team clustered from midfield in, which means that except for isolated forays, opponents are bottled up. Rare occurrences such as Sevilla for a crucial stretch and Valencia in the first half put the lie to a general sense of calm that is part of the approach of this team. It isn’t the same short passing game, which isn’t to say that control isn’t attendant to those possession percentages in the mid-60s.

Defense, particularly on set pieces, has been the most significant reason for the team’s resurgence. Enrique was running a meritocracy that found Pique out, and made him resolve to win his place back. To do that he had to become one of the best CBs in the world again. That the player accepted and accomplished that challenge points to a maturity that many presumed he didn’t have. The benefit to the defense is not only in open play. Pique is essential in defending set pieces, a weakness turned into a strength by the coaching staff. In the past, an opponent would get a set piece and a collective “Uh, oh …” would issue from the culerverse. Not so this season.

Defense wins championships. It’s a cliche that is also accurate, because it starts with the opponent not scoring. Given the attack on offer, it’s pretty difficult to imagine Barça not scoring in too many matches, even as there will be aberrations.

Embracing this Barça has been a challenge for everyone, because it is different in many ways. Gone is the romance, replaced by at times a dull sort of pragmatism. It is effective, but when Barça wins a match and the goals are set pieces, it’s a strange thing. Some culers have simply decided to accept, rather than embrace this Barça, and that is okay, too, because what is by now rather easy to accept is that FC Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world, and is looking built to stay that way.

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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.

75 Comments

  1. shzamiza
    April 22, 2015

    A lot of credit also has to be given to Xavi this season. It was clear that a midfield without him as the heart, still needed a season of his guidance. Lucho has handled the Xavi situation supremely well. The wisdom and guidance that Xavi will impart on players like rakitic and rafinha, along with those he’s already played with in the center over the years has helped to stabilize the midfield. All of that during game time, training and in the dressing room.

    At the beginning of the season when Xavi was brought on, was the only time there was any control in midfield. Slowly the midfield has started to regain some control (albeit it is a midfield in a different mould than one created by Xavi because the style of the team is a lot more versatile now) and that is mainly because of Xavi and Lucho working together to steady that ship. A new midfielder, if Barcelona do acquire one when we are allowed to will need to be trained, but we know that the midfielders there have learned something this season themselves. The biggest compliment we can give Xavi is that instead of being stubborn in his role or style/philosophy he has adapted his game to Lucho’s more versatile approach and trained the players in that mould, but through his own experience and understanding.

    Lucho has been phenomenal to be honest. Disclaimer: this could be a perfect storm and Lucho may show he is not the man for the job next season because it is very hard to judge after a single season. But makes this season from Lucho great is that he has taken that philosophy close to every culer’s heart (call it tiki-taka or possession football or whatever) and he has managed to turn it into a tactic, not an overarching strategy. This keeps everyone happy. Barcelona is able to build up play from the back through the solid passing and tiki taka foundations, but then in the opponents half he has made the passing more vertical and direct, including long balls into this arsenal, along with traditional winger attacks. Also the building from the back employs tiki taka for a quick three passes and then BAM, one of the forwards is off on the counter attack or just a simple break.Having Suarez as a genuine 9 has helped this. The second goal at PSG from Suarez is a perfect illustration of it. Barca look like they are casually passing the ball around in midfield and one quick one two from midfield and BAM suarez is off. I can bet that PSG was thinking of they’re just knocking it about and we can just kind of chase the ball casually.

    He’s managed to use tiki-taka as a combination with other types of attack. The best use of tiki taka from barcelona this season has been to kill games off and regain control after opening a game up and scoring. Barcelona have always used possession of the football as the best way to close a game off, as opposed to parking the bus and trying to absorb pressure. I feel like the team turns the possession on and off like a tap at very important moments in the game. It is an interesting way to dictate the pace of the match. Simeone does something similar except with how he applies pressure going forward and ‘getting in’ to tackles and infuriating the opponent.

    Defensive organization. Have read a few articles recently about Lucho’s assistant Unzue, and how the set piece improvement is mostly due to him. Both in attack and defence.Credit must go to him for plugging what was a massive gap in not only defence but also in going forward. We are used to it as culers as just writing off corners/set pieces, but this season has shown how valuable they can be in giving you a chance when nothing else is working. Credit to Unzue for organizing set pieces in a manner where every player knows exactly what sort of positions they should be in.

    All in all I think Lucho has done a masterful job of using tiki taka as a foundation to open up every sort of attack possible. In a team with the talent that barcelona possess both at the front and in the middle, it’s a crime not to diversify your style. Lets hope he continues in that same vein.

    On a separate note: that Iniesta run last night. WOOF.

    • georgjorge
      April 22, 2015

      Welcome to commenting on here!

      Your comment is very insightful to me. To add to it, that kind of play also requires a huge amount of football intelligence from every player on the pitch. It appears to be far easier to practice and execute one style of play than to switch between keeping possession and vertical attacking all the time. It takes the communication needed on-pitch to a new level, and I think not many teams have the players needed for that. It doesn’t always work – often enough, Alves or Neymar make runs while Xavi or Iniesta ignore them and keep passing the ball around. But when the team gets another season of playing such a system, it could be spectacular (and sometimes already is).

    • shzamiza
      April 24, 2015

      Yes, you’re right about that. A lot of intelligence and xavi-esque awareness/vision needed. Also one thing I’ve noticed this season is that when Messi switches into the center of the pitch a lot of times he is wide open making a run from about 20 yards outside the opponent’s box but is often ignored to go wide to Alba, or go backwards. I’ve seen countless Messi runs where he’s in space in the center and the players closer to the wing (iniesta/neymar/alba) often just totally miss out on the run. I think that’s an example of it not often working as you mentioned.

  2. shzamiza
    April 22, 2015

    P.S. – My first post here but I have been reading the blog for a long while. Keep up the great write ups, this is easily one of the finest Barca blogs, if not the finest that I’ve found.

  3. Raj
    April 22, 2015

    The way blog started I was doubting that it was from you Kxevin, too much straight forward positivity in the start.

  4. oddsbodiSkins
    April 22, 2015

    Woderful article as always. What are everybody’s thoughts on Bayern?

    Although they look scary, and their 3rd goal was a peach, i think it will be a even match-up for us. If even me, (just a fan), wants to have the revenge for the u7-0, i assume the players will give their heart out against bayern and get a good result for us.

    On another note, I don’t know much impact will pep have as he used to coach barcelona, but the style of play has changed quite a bit

    • April 22, 2015

      Let’s wait and see what happens tonight first. Should M*drid beat Atletico, I prefer to see them in the semis. I don’t think I could handle it if ever we lost to them in a CL final.

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      To me it’s a really complicated situation. Not sure if our chances of a treble increase or decrease if RM beat Atleti. Whatever the percentages you always have to back to the fundamental rule of Barca fandom: always root for RM to lose.

      As for Bayern, I want nothing to do with them. Too much baggage and I think Lucho would overcoach against them. On the other hand, a Bayern-RM rematch would be great purely for the entertainment value of seeing our biggest competitors try to knock each other out. Also can you imagine this schedule for a Modricless RM: Sevilla, Bayern, Valencia, Bayern.

    • April 22, 2015

      The best scenario for us would be Juventus while Atletico and Bayern duke it out in the semis.

  5. shzamiza
    April 22, 2015

    Another thing that was really commendable last night was Barcelona’s pressing. In a second leg of a tie that was 85% decided in the first leg we pressed with such intensity that literally until the 90th minute we didn’t stop pressing as high as their box. That was something else. Many teams wouldn’t have pressed like that from the beginning of the tie but the hard work put in by the team for literally the entire 90mins of this tie was simply, staggering.

  6. Inamess
    April 22, 2015

    Excellent review which raises some important issues:

    1) Football will always be based on narratives as we try to explain the success or failure of a season. The narrative that the team’s fortunes largely changed after our loss at Anoeta is widely accepted not only because it is probably largely true but but also because it fits in with the way most fans, the press, and some players have been quoted on or off the record. The question that I find interesting is why is this particular interpretation of events so unappealing to some.

    2) For me the Bayern win against Porto may have been one of the most important of Guardiola’s career. Why? Because had he lost, his tenure at Bayern fair or not would have been considered a failure and I believe that the narrative surrounding Pep’s reign at Barca would have been somewhat revisited as well. In a way his legacy may be compared to Phil Jackson in that he has taken charge of two of the most powerful teams in recent years, and for him to be successful he has to win it all. If Phil Jackson went to the Lakers and didn’t win anything after his championships with the Bulls, then he would just be remembered as a coach of an amazing team rather than as an amazing coach.

    3) So where does that put this team and the legacy of our season and coach? Lucho’s and our team’s legacy this season will in large part be decided over the next few days. There are both advantages and disadvantages for us if Real beat Atleti or vice versa. Unfortunately, it is not clear which outcome will best serve us for the rest of the season. The draw on Friday will also be immense because it will determine just how difficult the road will be to a potential Champions League victory.

    The definite narrative for this season will be determined in the upcoming weeks but it’s path will become much more clear in the next few days. Any of Real Madrid, Bayern, or Atleti may end up becoming our primary obstacles and competitors in our fight for a historic season or just footnotes along the way. The only thing our team can do is continue to win the games in front of us and watch as many things beyond our control unfold as well.

  7. Davour
    April 22, 2015

    Impressive display, again, despite PSG not really showing up (that early goal which could have given them that sliver… never even close). Dani the magnificent – despite often being frustrated with him, his talent and wonderful control of the ball cannot be denied. Where could we ever find a FB with that kind of ability? For now, really hope he’ll stay.

    Team dominant without much contribution from Messi (though his mere presence seems to unsettle opponents and open spaces). Noticed lately that he loses his focus as soon as a game is settled; he becomes more selfish, going for goals, dribbles when he should’ve passed. I hope the lack of goals in the knock-out stage doesn’t disturb him. He has in effect become a synthesis of himself and Iniesta of old (who showed up yesterday!) – still scoring a goal a game, but also making runs towards the defense from further back to undo it and open spaces up for N and S, and Alba at times. As a friend of mine jokingly commented yesterday: “I personally don’t care if Messi scores, I know he his the greatest; I just want him to score so the obsessively goal-counting ignoramuses will understand, too…”

  8. sirax23
    April 22, 2015

    Hello guys,
    Been reading this blog quite a while now but fisrt time I actually post,so let’s get down to it to a few thoughts I have.
    1) In theory our 3 forwards ,arguably the best trio in the world by far can and should produce chances for goals and convert some of them even in their worst days BUT almost all of the bad resluts we’ve had in the league have come exactly to this inability to score (loses to Malaga,Celta,Sociedad by a single goal). I think the most important factor between now and the end of the season which determines how many trophies we lift will come down to this; to actually NOT block offensively and score the goal(s) against teams that we surely own them. From what I’ve seen defensively from our team this season IF Pique stays fully fit we have nothing to be worried about. He and and whoever is beside him (Masch,Matthieu,Bartra) are doing an excellent job ( set pieces defending included).
    2) About Alves’s contract situation I have to say that I’ll be happy to se e him leave at the end of the season as he’s become a liability in more occasions that I’d care to count. Granted he has offered us a lot in the past years and I’ll always be grateful for that but he’s just a shadow of his old self and it’s time to cut ties with him ,even taken into account the transfer ban.I’d like to see Montoya at his place or even somthing new
    ; Barta at right back (I think he has the skill set to at least being tried at this position) for next season and at least till January when we’ll have the chance to reinforce our squad.
    3) As far as Xavi and Pedro is concerned ( the 2 players linked most to depart in the summer) I strongly feel we should keep both of them not only
    due to the transfer ban but also because they both still have to offer to this team. It’s true that Pedro isn’t the old one we were used to 20+ goals a season and his confidence in front of goal its not what it used to be but he’s the only reliable sub of MSN and his work rate is not to be underestimated ,both in defence and offence. As far as Xavi is concerned this season has proved to all of us that the old guy still has it. Use him rationally and when actually needed and he can do what only Xavi can.Absolute control of the game ,calmness when all seems hectic and everything else that brinngs to the table.
    4) People always say why Messi isn’t ever subbed when both Neymar and Suarez usually are. Doesn’t he need the rest ? Well apart from the fact that he could get injured in a game that’s all wrapped up and be still on the pitch, he has now come to a point where he knows exactly when to… unleash himself and when to hit the break. He understands that he can’t play full gear,90 minutes in every single and not be worn down physically in the business end of the season. So, for all my fellow culers worrying why Messi is never subbed I say just..relax,sit comfortably in your sofa -or if you’re lucky enough in a seat inside the Nou Camp (oh..unfulffiled dream as of yet..) and let us all enjoy the greatest player to have ever set foot on a football pitch.

    • Jim
      April 22, 2015

      Thanks, Fotobirajesh. Yeah, I agree with the sentiment and general thrust of that piece although not some of the details. Interesting read.

  9. Zubs
    April 22, 2015

    Nice read up.
    The first half was awesome, Iniesta was sprinkling magic dust again but I wouldn’t get too caught up on the “He’s back train” The last time he played well, IMO, was against Ajax and people were getting excited thinking he’s arrived just in time for the Clasico but that was not to be so caution on that scale.
    Another complaint (I know, gosh!) was Messi. Firstly, If you’re resting, rest on the bench. Yesterday, there was one glaring point in which he saw Maxwell was overlapping, Messi saw him, and did nothing. Ball got to Maxwell who put in a dangerous cross, fortunately it didn’t come to nothing. And i know people will say ‘game was already over’ but it annoys me.
    2nd problem was that 2nd half, they kept trying to give the ball to him. First half was fine, Messi wasn’t involved much and we were playing well. So come the second half, they were resorting to the old days of trying to find him any chance that they got, trying 1-2’s even though there was never any opportunity.
    I know its petty, especially after a convincing victory but i’m a Cule, y;know 🙂

    On happy note though, midfield was combative, Neymar continues to show up in big games and Suarez kept acting like the score was still in the balance the way he was battling for the balls.
    Special note to Verratti, the dude is like 2ft tall but he is so good at everything, especially tackling. Good thing he’s not good at shooting. I would love him at Barca ahead of Pogba, who’s decent but not 80mill good.

    • April 22, 2015

      The last time he played well was against Ajax? I think he’s played well for most of the season, actually. Maybe not in terms of goals and assists but his overall contribution has been solid. Defensively he has given a lot as well.

    • April 22, 2015

      The difficulty with Iniesta is that whether he is “back” or not shouldn’t depend on whether he makes a magic run. His role was different under Martino, and it is different again this season.

      As people evaluate him based on a past template and find him wanting, that point is worth making. This season, he is doing more stabilizing and defensive work in assisting Busquets. Notably, one of the times he let off resulted in the Banega goal at Sevilla.

      Iniesta has been playing quite well in his new role, as Levon notes.

    • kosby
      April 22, 2015

      Good point about Messi. He does actually rest on the pitch. You could see from his dribbles last night that he’s exhausted. You and I can see this, I am sure the manager can see this as well. Seems like LE wants to avoid disrupting the good “feeling” in the squad.

      On the one hand we say, the manager is the mister and he should make everyone bend to his rule. And on the other hand, we also say a “manager” needs to be able to “manage” different personalities. Given the status Messi has in this club, I think its the latter in this case – frankly I wish Messi sits out when he’s tired, but doesn’t look like its gonna happen soon.

      I remember Messi threw a huge tantrum when he was not played in the 2006 CL final. He apologized later, but I’m wondering if its a symptom of the same behavior. But hey, if I was to choose between a ‘tired Messi’ and a ‘Messi transferred to a different team’, I know what I’ll choose. I’m sure the greatest player in football is allowed some leeway in games we’ve already won.

    • April 22, 2015

      Messi is exhausted. He needs rest. When he prangs a hamstring because he is run down, then people will pillory Enrique for not resting him. And that will be unfair.

      As far as a Messi transfer, that is the biggest mound of hooey ever foisted on an unsuspecting culerverse. In media, social media and other places, people who should know better were prattling on about how the board wants to sell Messi, or Messi is unhappy and wants to transfer, look, he’s following Chelsea on Instagram.

      Messi will cost a team 250m. That transfer fee is prohibitive, particularly within the constraints of FFP. Messi is about as likely to be transferred as I am to be named Queen of Spain.

    • dl
      April 22, 2015

      ‘Queen of Spain’?
      A bit of a mind bender, that 🙂

    • kosby
      April 22, 2015

      haha, Queen of Spain 🙂

  10. georgjorge
    April 22, 2015

    One other thing to note besides the joy this game brought me – for the first time (I know I’m slow) I noticed just how much space the team didn’t use in the middle of the pitch (Iniesta’s magic run notwithstanding). Ball and players were mostly bunched up either on the right or on the left when we attacked.

    I’m not smart enough to know what it means, it just shows how drastic the tactics have changed from previous coaches, as combining through the middle always was THE main course of attack for us over the last years.

    • April 22, 2015

      Use of the wings is growing as a tactic not only at Barça, but in world football in general. If you think of a top team and how it plays, chances are dominant wingers and pressing fullbacks are the new norm.

  11. April 22, 2015

    Just a hearty “Welcome” to the new voices. Thanks for deciding to become speaking members of the family. Much appreciated.

  12. lovell
    April 22, 2015

    Can I please have an expert opinion on why we are not going after philippe coutino??
    Considering the fact that he is too good to be playing for a mediocre liberpool and would cost less than HALF the price being offered for Pogba.
    And jst by the way, who would Iniesta rather have for an understudy …. The fear striking, Intimidating Pogba or cute Philippe?? jst asking.

    • kosby
      April 22, 2015

      Don;t know about expert opinion, but whatever I’ve seen of Coutinho he is a “Fabregas type” player. Great at providing the final ball, but less of a box to box player who “runs the show”. Also, to me it seems like we already have several such or maybe even better players waiting in the wing – Dennis Suarez for example.

    • April 22, 2015

      2 years before and even now, for me the best is Isco.
      If there is another player I can think of for our midfield – not definitely Iniesta under study – it would be Verratti.

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      Not getting Isco was understandable at the time. Not getting Kroos, the guy who consistently keeps Isco out of lineup to me is a different story.

    • April 22, 2015

      Verratti is awesome, but I see him more in the holding midfielder role and that position is Busi.

    • Kd
      April 23, 2015

      Agree 110% with Isco!! Oh, how we lost him. He is just like Iniesta, the same fluency, the same glide…
      And even Veratti!! Fantastic

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      Don’t really have an opinion on the player but Barca would have to grossly overpay for any good Liverpool player. They have money and don’t need to sell. Also, after losing Suarez and Mach to us, I don’t think their fan base would ever accept a deal; it would imply that they are not a big time club.

    • April 22, 2015

      I want the fear striking, intimidating Pogba. One of the most complete players in the game and a seemingly perfect fit for the football we are playing right now. The perfect age, as well.

    • deerwithwings
      April 22, 2015

      I am with you Lev. I don’t mind the price tag, and I imagine Pogba wouldn’t mind playing with MSN. That is seriously the scariest set up of 4 attackers possible.

      Salivating prospect.

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      Not saying it wouldn’t be awesome but I don’t see it happening mainly because Man United and PSG might be more enticing. Both desperately need a star to take them to the next level and the publicity value for PSG would be immense. Why would Pogba be willing to be the fourth star on our team instead of the first star at United and PSG?

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      Forgot to mention the prospect of Pogba to RM which has also been getting a lot of press. On the face of it, it doesn’t make sense given that their midfield is stacked. However, could be a great consolation prize should RM crash our of La Liga and the CL. They would then sell Isco to some EPL team for an inflated price like they did Ozil and Di Maria.

  13. April 22, 2015

    There are EIGHT players in the M***** CL derby within one card of being suspended for the semi-finals. I want a nasty affair with all 8 of them getting cards, then we draw the winner.

    Actually, I’m kidding. I want the winner of Juventus/Monaco, and would prefer a Monaco miracle. If we don’t get that team, I want Bayern.

    • April 22, 2015

      If M*drid qualifies, I prefer them in the semis than in the final.
      If Atletico qualifies, I prefer them in the final than in the semis.

      I would have preferred Bayern to lose, but I prefer them in the final over M*drid or in the semis over Atletico.

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      Don’t mind taking on Bayern if cules can agree that Pep and Thiago are our enemies. However, if we are going to get all this ” Oh, I have such conflicting emotions” stuff and give Pep and Thiago a hearty welcome at the Camp Nou then I am going to throw up. Basically it is giving Pep and Bayern two home matches and does not bode well.

      My preference Juve/RM, Atleti/ and last Bayern. No Pep homecoming,no away trip to the Allianz, No drama.

    • YaSd
      April 22, 2015

      Yea, that’s not going to happen lol. Bayern are not going to get a warm welcome after the beating we got last time, regardless of who their coach is.

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      You don’t think Pep would love to play at the Camp Nou?

    • YaSd
      April 22, 2015

      I think he would rather face RM to settle a score. I don’t know why he would want to face us.

    • Kiel
      April 22, 2015

      I believe the rules have been changed this season – all card accumulations are wiped out for the semi finals, so there is no risk of those 8 players missing out, unfortunately.

    • April 22, 2015

      That is for the Final, to prevent the Xabi Alonso situation that occurred last year. They carry over into the semis.

  14. Jafri
    April 22, 2015

    Cautiously optimistic about our chances for the rest of the season… We’ve been there or thereabouts for four years now, with two semis since. Even last year we were within 5 goals of trophies, as Kxevin puts it.

    So now, it’s the business end of the season. Luis Enrique has done well to get us to this point. I really hope he – and the players – can dig deep and get us across the line.

    On an other note, to all the people who want this player and that player to leave, I would be curious to know their gameplan for the upcoming season, considering we can’t sign anyone in this transfer window and the next one. If Pedro or Dani Alves go out, what do we do? Promote from the B team, make Montoya our primary RB with Douglas as backup?

  15. untoxgsd
    April 22, 2015

    Hi to all, first time commenter. I’ve read this blog for a while now and my opinion is that this is the best combination of entertaining, informative and balanced writing and journalism on the internet, and im not just talking about the writers but praise should be given to the commenters as well. I’ve been in love with Barca for as long as I remember. Firstly I would like to say that I’ve reviewed some Barca games from 2010-2011 and 2008-2009, our game yesterday, especially the first half had nothing to be envious of those eras. I see people in other news outlets criticising Neymar and Rakitic and Lucho,day in and day out but all I see is continuous improvement and hard work, Neymar has 32 goals this season for … sake!! Cules should stand behind this team, April is almost over and we’re all in and I for one im very excited for the outcome. Visca Barca!!

    • April 22, 2015

      And I’d like to say that we tried to come up with a better screen name for my Mom, then decided to just whack the keys and go with what came out. (Man, I wish I used emoticons!)

      In all seriousness, thanks so much for the kind, kind words, and welcome, untoxgsd. Dying to know the etymology of your screen name, when you get a sec. Welcome to the room, and glad you decided to join us. So much happens here and in the Barça world at large, that we never run out of ideas.

      Thanks again for visiting, reading and being so nice.

    • untoxgsd
      April 22, 2015

      Well my nickname comes after my dog. It might sound a bit dull but heck, im a veterinarian so dogs are my life. His name is untox and he’s a german shepherd dog (gsd), so there u have it!

  16. Inamess
    April 22, 2015

    If Simeone wins today then he has the chance to do what Barca, as far I know, has never done–knock RM out of all three competitions. If he succeeds and we go on to win the treble then Atleti’s role in our success this year will be immense and the reason will also be clear: Atleti have almost completely nullified BBC this year and so far have no answer for MSN.

    • georgjorge
      April 22, 2015

      I recently thought of that as well. The repercussions would have to be immense – Real M*drid already don’t like losing to Barca, but losing out to someone they have to see as a lesser team repeatedly WHILE STILL watching Barca win (at least the Copa, maybe the Liga and Champions League) wouldn’t bode well for those involved.

  17. Inamess
    April 22, 2015

    Come on Atleti! Your destiny is in your own hands and the Capital is yours if you prevail. A victory would be historic!

    Cules for Cholo

    • georgjorge
      April 22, 2015

      Yes it is! The magic of Iniesta in slow motion with flashbacks…what’s not to like.

  18. Inamess
    April 22, 2015

    After 45 minutes yesterday there were 7 goals. Today 0. It may go down to the wire in Madrid but if Atleti can score first, the match is over.

  19. Davour
    April 22, 2015

    Arda Turan, cheap sending off… RM saved by the bell?

    • Davour
      April 22, 2015

      Yup…

    • georgjorge
      April 22, 2015

      He was going for the ball/Ramos’ foot with studs up, a yellow card that is easily justified.

      On the whole, surprisingly few hard fouls and surprisingly little drama for an Atleti game. I thought they played very well on defense again but were rather ineffective in offense. Strong showing but not strong enough it seems.

    • Davour
      April 22, 2015

      Sure – but I don’t know if there was any contact; doubtful, to my mind, but not out of this world, of course. Perhaps it is my bias showing… Still, I agree their offense is not enough to make it all the way at the moment. Without Griz they have little.

      Either way, I definitely fancy our chances against RM; wouldn’t really mind them in the semis.

  20. Son
    April 22, 2015

    My preferred ucl semi final draw:

    Barca vs Bayern
    Juventus vs RMA

    Final
    Clasico and BangBang!!!

    Xavi to lift UCL trophy.
    What a historical moment would it be.
    It will go down generations.

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      Absolutely confused by your preferred draw Son. Why do you want that one?

    • LAcule
      April 22, 2015

      inamess, was it you who fancied bayern drawing m*drid so that they would be forced to play them in between valencia and sevilla?

      as i said in a previous thread i like this team’s chance against anyone at the moment but itd be nice to get juventus…

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      Yes, I explained some of my reasoning below. Getting Bayern is the nightmare scenario for so many reasons. Makes RM the favorites for the CL and gives them the easiest of weeks when they have to play Sevilla/Valencia.

    • Son
      April 22, 2015

      Thanks for asking.
      Here are my reasons
      1. If we beat them, we can somehow forget the 7-0.
      2. Meeting them in Berlin might give them advantage.
      3. Possible Clasico final which, if we manage to go all the way, would be so sweet.(the reverse could be hell as well).
      4. We have to beat the best team to be a champion.
      But at this point, I would be happy to draw any one of the finalist.

    • Inamess
      April 22, 2015

      Interesting draw. We’ll see what happens on Friday. One outcome of that I have not heard mentioned yet is that RM and Barca could each have one big trophy. Could RM and Barca both have successful seasons? Doesn’t seem possible.

  21. Inamess
    April 22, 2015

    Here’s my preference:

    1) Juve = easiest draw for us; RM and Bayern destroy each other

    2) Real Madrid = so RM doesn’t get Juve during Sevilla/Valencia

    3) Bayern = Don’t want Thiago or Pep ever to step in the Camp Nou again. I mean forever. I would give my lifesavings to Bartomeu’s reelection committee if he swore an oath that this aimply will not happen.

  22. Lord Eddard Stark a.k.a. Brichimbrodvoken, the vulnerable one!
    April 22, 2015

    .

    16 Goals scored in our ties! But just 2 Goals scored in 4 games between Juve, RM, AM and monaco!

    I certainly want juventus this time. its long overdue barca deserved the easier tie for a change. I have seen in the past 7 seasons where Barca have consistently have drawn tough teams en route to the SFs while Bayern and EE perennially get shit teams.

    Its funny and iam sure this thought has crossed pep’s mind. In a matchup between the 2 FCBs, irrespective of the result, Pep loses. And oddly enough, irrespective of the result, he will win!

    It’ll be interesting to see who will do the better motivating job.
    Really hoping Barca can go all the way this time, particularly in view of everything they have suffered the past 2 years, the crap and insane sadnesses they have endured.

    I remembered thinking to myself many times, during the 09-12 era when we were witnessing dream like champagne football week in week out, basking the real warmth of overwhelming superiority, that a rise so big will have to be balanced out by a crash with an equal magnitude and significance. It was inevitable and I wanted to see what that would be like. And now.. we know.

    The club has been brought under utter disrepute, under the management of this board and I ll never forgive them for that. The image of my club tarnished beyond imagination…
    I can live with that..

    But this team, however.
    This team could really do with reaching the pinnacle of football again. Its what they work for, what they strive for.

  23. luisthebeast
    April 22, 2015

    So we will play away against Atletiko after the second leg of CL semis.If they are in a comfortable 3d place in La Liga i believe it will not be a hard game:-)A win against the other team of Barcelona in Saturday and i believe we are Champions!As for CL lets wait Friday!

    • dl
      April 22, 2015

      If only it were so easy…. Lots and lots of banana skins out there, and the luck of the draw will play a large role.

  24. luisthebeast
    April 22, 2015

    In 2009 we beat Bayern 4-0 at home already in HT and we could easily had score 7 goals if we wanted.People are so mad about 2013 semis but it was a year with many problems and our coach with cancer.Bayern were not so much better,they had some help from the refs and Leo was injured.The fact is i dont want Bayern now cause there will be a war in internet.I cant stand the fact that they will be fans who will be happy if we eliminate by them.Fans who hate the board and Lucho.And i know a lot of them will be happy.

  25. luisthebeast
    April 22, 2015

    I have a weird feeling that Lucho will win the treble and in 7 of June he will say:Well here is ur treble my beloved cules now i salute you and thank u for the support(sarcastic)

  26. ooga aga
    April 22, 2015

    taking into account the fitness of the various teams, i think we will sweep aside anyone we play. i wouldnt normally say that if Modric were fit.

    still, i hope we get juve, cos it’s that much less energy spent for the Liga, and also i dont remember the last time we played them in a european knock out match. anyone?

    • Kd
      April 23, 2015

      Yup I remember!!
      Will never forget that night when under Van Gall we had just created a new record of 10 (i think) victories on the trot in CL.
      And then 2nd leg, Barca Juve, Barca at home, extra time and Juve score the decisive goal. Was hell!! Think it was 2003 and thinl it was Van Gaals end at Barca!!

  27. ams
    April 23, 2015

    I fancy any team at this stage with the way we are playing. We also have healthiest squad left in the competition.

    However, fate has amazing way of putting things in order. Which makes me believe that RM would be drawen against Bayern. I want to see how Pep prepares his team and what would be his tactical approach against the team that defeated them fair and square last year. That would make one hell of a semifinal. Also, note that Bayern have almost won the league. So they will put all their energy in CL which is dangerous for any team facing them. Specially Barca and RM who are still fighting for the league.

    That would mean, we draw Juve. Which would be a great game as well. Easier outing for us.

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