Cordoba 0, Barça 8, aka “Footballing extravagance”

messney

FC Barcelona has, in its last two matches, put up 14 goals.

Those 14 goals have been scored in a variety of ways, from pretty triangles suitable to sate the most devoted purist to over-the-top bombs that make the Premiership devotees say, “Now THAT is football!”

Barça was supposed to put Getafe and Cordoba to the sword, so the wins sit rather squarely in that “Duh!” category reserved for things that are obvious.

What is more worthy of note in the two hammerings is the football. Against Getafe, Barça scored 6 goals that were unstoppable, six of the prettiest goals that a lucky supporter would ever have the pleasure of seeing in a single match. Those goals also continued a trend of Barça playing automatic football, a style that doesn’t care who the opponent is. “If A, then B.”

Some observers call it “automations,” which is similar to automatic. You know your teammates, what they are going to do, can do and are expected to do. Demands are made: Can you handle this pass? Can you finish? Opponents are reduced to frustrated entities relegated to the sidelines as groups of grown men celebrate yet again.

The Getafe goals weren’t just unstoppable. They were high degree of difficulty goals, one-touch volleys off a perfect pass, top-corner-far-side blasts, as if Barça’s attackers were playing a game of Horse. Some noted that this same Getafe team reduced Barça to a 2-2 draw and goalless futility the last two outings, but this is a very, very different FC Barcelona team that teams are seeing now and a very different team than the one that started the season. A collection of talented individuals has been forged into a unified force.

In many ways, the Cordoba match made that even more clear. For the bulk of the first half Cordoba was resolute, a relegation-bound side that was determined to give its home supporters something to cheer about. And there was the sense that it was going to be one of those days as Neymar missed a gimme, Messi cored the Cordoba defense then plopped a poor finish right at the keeper. Then Neymar hit the post.

In the past, this match would have dissolved into a miasma, a weak-minded collective embracing of “Jeez, what will happen next?” This Barça, however, is completely uninterested in such things. More importantly, part of that team forging included building in the ability to score in many different ways. Here is a crazy statistic: Barça lead Europe in headed goals in the Top 5 leagues in 2015. That’s worth thinking about for a second as you plop, stunned, into your chair.

In the past the at-times-stultifying perfection of the single path to goal, a way due as much to the failure of the Ibrahimovic experiment as anything else, meant that the only answer Barça had against a team like Cordoba was to keep chipping at the lock, keep playing exquisite triangles and elegant passes until the defense tired and a crack appeared. If that didn’t happen, it was a 0-0 draw and a celebrating opponent.

Today, right about the time that you could see the Cordoba players huffing and puffing in the stifling heat, hitching up their shorts to get a breeze somewhere, anywhere on their hard-working legs, something wonderful happened: Luis Suarez took a pass and held the ball, surveying his options, biding time. A little run into the box sparked Cordoba defenders into action, whereupon Suarez fed the ball to Messi, standing in space just outside the Cordoba box. Rakitic, one of the “other guys” who can thrive when playing with three danger men, made the run and Messi’s pass was in the exact right spot for him to tee it up and almost rip the back of the Cordoba net out.

"What you just did? Do that again."
“What you just did? Do that again.”

It was a goal created by the team’s two best goal scorers, both of whom were more than happy to pass if that was what it took to put the ball into the back of the net.

But aside from the goal, something more wonderful happened as Barça changed tack, going from a passing team that probed for openings to a direct side looking to take advantage of slivers of space. This change came just as many of us noted that Barça, by playing in that deliberate, logical manner that found the ball at the center of the Cordoba defense, was making it easy for the defense. And because team football isn’t just 47 passes and a perfect goal, the collective started playing a different kind of football, on the fly.

A team is a unit that disdains individual glory for the sake of the whole. It’s a military worldview that hews to the tribe mentality of sports, but it’s also fitting. If everyone doesn’t do his job, the team isn’t as good as it can be. Suarez passes because that is the option. Messi passes because that is the option. And when Rakitic roofed that goal, that was it for Cordoba.

The second goal came at the worst time possible for a home team hanging on against a superior opponent: just before the half. This, too, was the kind of goal that we haven’t seen lately. Route one football? Okay, maybe. But more importantly there was an improvisational adaptability on display, helped by a player who changes not only game plans, but the available skill sets of Barça players. The Iniesta pass to Suarez was remarkable, even more so than the delicate touch that Suarez took to prod it past the keeper, a one-touch goal of which we have been seeing so many of this season.

Barça celebrate goals as a team. Neymar is the only player who will (occasionally) celebrate by himself a bit, before joining in with the team. Usually the player who provided the pass is the one first acknowledged in the scrum of delight, as it should be. Barça also play as a team. A thing remarked upon by many during and after the Getafe match was how the goal scorer seemed to provide the assist for the next goal scorer, a “first me, then you” mentality that points to true unselfishness.

Leading that team charge is the best player in the game, Messi. As much bile as I heap upon this board, we should give credit where it’s due for the acquisition of Neymar and Suarez. When Messi called them out for not giving him a competitive team to be part of, hundreds of millions were spent to rectify that situation. And Messi, almost with a visible sigh of relief, is happy to share the wealth, happy to not have to carry the team on his back for it to have success. With that flourishing team dynamic almost comes uncertainty for opponents.

In the past, when Messi got that pass from Suarez, he would have ran at goal. No question. Defenses were comfortable because they could mass at the center and play for that lone possibility. Now, nobody knows. Earlier in the match, Messi eviscerated the Cordoba defense, then plopped a weak shot at the keeper. With that fresh in their minds, the “Holy crap!” hesitation was evident as Messi got the ball. But he passed to Rakitic, and that was that. He’s playing with players who, if not equals, who he trusts to be able to deliver.

When Neymar and Messi went for a loose ball in front of the open net. Messi got there just a fraction before Neymar, and the wake of the goal was characterized by both players, hugging inside the Cordoba net. Later, when Neymar earned a penalty, Messi let him take the shot. Suarez, who was on a hat trick, made the pass in an effort to set up a teammate for a goal. Individual statistics aren’t a casualty of this team play. It almost seems as if the players don’t really care about those individual accomplishments. Messi is battling Ronaldo for pichichi, something you wonder if his fans care about more than he does, as he and Neymar shared a giggle before Messi handed off the PK duty. Suarez’s passes were as delightful as his goals.

suarez

There is a similarity to the Rijkaard teams in this Barça, even as so many hold them up to the Guardiola avatar. Ronaldinho was the frontman for that squad, a buck-toothed genius who reveled in getting people the ball, taking more joy in an assist than a goal of his own. That quality was infectious as the team pinged the ball around in a possession-based attacking style led by a player who seemed to make passes on a dare. “Bet you can’t.” Bang.

Iniesta has always been capable of the sort of pass that led to his first (a stunning stat) Liga assist this season. But he hasn’t had a player to play them to. Suarez is the kind of player, playing the kind of game that makes you wonder what might have happened had Barça gotten a proper 9 before now. In all the talk of False 9 and systems, they were all tactics rooted in the failure at Barça of a grand experiment that started brightly, then dissolved into a late-night, half priced poaching by AC Milan.

As people snark and snarl about what this or that coach might have done, it’s more important to celebrate the wonder of this group of players, who are still in contention for the Treble. But it is just as important, as people worry about Barça somehow “bottling it,” to admit once again that this has already been a wonderful season. Even if nothing is won, if the team loses at Atleti and falls in the Liga, loses in the semis to Bayern then has its fate sealed on a fluke late goal by Athletic Club, the temptation would be to let those results dictate the story.

But, when the team and its coach stood accused of playing the wrong way while winning, the accusers said that results didn’t matter. What was true then is true now, as we celebrate a group of players who are arriving as a united force far ahead of schedule. Sometimes it isn’t the destination, but rather the journey. Celebrate and enjoy, no matter what.

team

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Recent Posts

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.

13 Comments

  1. Inamess
    May 2, 2015

    Great review! Some points as we come down to the next three decisive games that will determine the success of our season:

    1) We have reached a point our season where almost everything has already been written but the ending. As things stand we are in excellent shape and although we keep waiting for RM to slip up they look like they are going to be a tough out. What we have accomplished this season has been extraordinary but baring some surprises against Valencia and Juve everything points to a perhaps obvious but also daunting conclusion: we may have to win every game left in order for this to truly be considered a successful season. In other words this may be our best season ever or the most heartbreaking. The good news is that the odds are still much more in favor of the former glory than heartbreak.

    2) To me Iniesta has been tremendous since his amazing moment against PSG and I am left wondering whether there might be something to these transformational moments when a player gets his mojo back or takes his game to the next level. I have to admit I was skeptical of Kxevin’s theory that Suarez was somehow unleashed by his bicycle kick but now I am more willing to believe in these types of things.

    It is also interesting is to think about athletes whose careers might have been different had they not had that standout moment. Where would James be without his World Cup wonder-goal, for instance.

    3) I honestly still don’t know what to make of Messi’s penalty gift to Neymar but although I haven’t read anything but glorious praise something about it still rubs me the wrong way. The predominant narrative that somehow Messi now doesn’t care about individual awards seems too glib. The whole thing still baffles me and I am interested if anyone else has an alternative explanation.

    4) For those students of Enrique I wonder if there is anything to be made from his substitutions as clues to his selection for the Bayern game? What anything be behind the Mathieu substitution? A curious one indeed.

    • 42
      May 3, 2015

      I think Messi gave the penalty to Neymar for the simple reason that he took a step ahead of Neymar in scoring the tap-in goal right before the penalty and he felt a little bit guilty for that, so in return he gives this penalty to Neymar. Also the team has scored 6 goals before the penalty but none of them belongs to Neymar, and he probably felt a bit frustrated especially considering that he has missed two good chances. So Messi probably does care about individual awards to some extent, but it wasn’t as important to him as making his teammate happy and not feeling left out and frustrated. After all, the MSN functions best when all three forwards are confident and provide each other.

    • georgjorge
      May 3, 2015

      As to your second point, I like to think of it more as a “see what I can do when I don’t have to work the left wing all day long” moment. I think Iniesta had been playing well months before that, just – a lot like Rakitic – not really in the way he has played the seasons before but in a more defensive way. More interceptions, more closing down and more combining on the wing instead of passing the ball around the centre waiting for that through ball, and if I didn’t suck at finding the relevant Liga statistics for the past years I might even prove it.

  2. ooga aga
    May 3, 2015

    1. Many successes to this season no matter the outcome. The system has *successfully* put us in reach of 3 titles with 6 games to play. The rest will come down to details.

    3. Messi does care about awards. He also cares about other things, including his friend Neymar who the won penalty. Not worth racking our brains about it.

    • ooga aga
      May 3, 2015

      I think there is a problem when you post to this site with iPhone it puts post at the very bottom even if you try to reply to a certain person. This is a test.

    • ooga aga
      May 3, 2015

      Wrong I was.

    • ooga aga
      May 3, 2015

      And, while I am responding to my own posts, thank you Kxevin.

  3. agar2515
    May 3, 2015

    -Great game, going into the FCB game in rip roaring form
    – Sure Messi cares about awards, all players do, what separates Leo from the CR’s of the world is that he is able to put team harmony above personal success. He wants to win, let CR have the boot if it means we win La Liga.
    – Remember when people didn’t want Suarez and Neymar 😉 ?
    – Didn’t get a chance to comment on the Thiago article but for me it’s a moot discussion, Ive long since let it go.
    _ Wednesday cant come fast enough

    • georgjorge
      May 3, 2015

      I think almost everyone wanted Suarez from a sporting perspective, it was his (supposed) personality that put many off (not me). Neymar, on the other hand…I still remember Cruyff predicting he wouldn’t get on with Messi on the pitch, and the phrase “Youtube sensation” being flung around by prominent commenters in the media.

    • Chiu
      May 3, 2015

      Cruffy is proven incorrect now. Love to see how Neymar and Messi get along so well, like friends without superstar ego. It seems Suarez have a good personal relationship with Messi and Ney as well. Great bonding, like a family. Hope the cohesiveness of the whole team will result the treble title. Visca Barca

  4. lovell
    May 3, 2015

    Messi let neymar take the penalty because he(Neymar) is his friend not a talented ultra expensive kid .
    He wants to be able to laugh about the match with his friends ( Suarez and Neymar) not some frustrated team mates who hoped he (The GOAT) would Shut The F*ck Up already.

  5. Cyclops
    May 3, 2015

    ….The second goal was a route -one-ish football ?? I dont quite agree with you there….At least thats not my idea of what route one football is all about…Basically, iniesta was just a couple of inches away from the cordoba box, and he played an exquisite ball over the top of cordoba’s defence, where suarez raced onto…If thats a route one football, try telling the Epl team to attempt that ..The best they can get is “passing” the ball right into the stands, thats also exquisite, right??
    meanwhile i kinda wonder what you call a situation where an Epl goalkeeper plays a pass to his CB who is right in his six-yard area, who then punts the ball to the opponent six-yard area, where a teammate probably get to the end of it and scores a goal…Now i’m thinking if the iniesta pass was a route one football, the above scenario is a perfect example of tika-taka, right ?? uh-huh

    But barca, finishing the season, losing to AM and to bayern, and yet its still to be regarded as a sucessfull season ?? No way, i’m not buying that..Merely typing that, nearly wanna get me into binding any forces that will try to make that happen..Yep, thats how far i’m terrified of such a thing ever happening ..Thankfully, from the point of my crystal bulb here, that aint gonna ever happen

  6. Cyclops
    May 3, 2015

    As for Messi leting neymar have that penalty, at the point ronaldo scored that second goal, admittedly i was a bit pissed, thinking had Messi probably taken that penalty, he would have been level on goals with ronaldo..But when our cry-baby guy scored the third goal, i felt it probably didnt matter much anymore

    If Messi had taken that penalty, right now he would still have been behind ronaldo in goals tally..Whatever the explanation for Messi’s action, Neymar wasnt particularly having a great game in terms of scoring a goal..He was probably getting all worked-up already, and i wouldnt wanna risk him getting into off-form just right when we are about to play bayern..That goal was a huge morale booster for him, i think….
    Once Messi scored that tap-in, i was just really hoping Neymar gets to score in that game, cause i was somewhat scared of what its might do to his form going into the bayern clash…So , thats a fair trade-off for Messi hat-trick in my books., plus the yummy fact that there’s all this talk about Messi having a basket-full of goodwill ( now thats just so sweet, atleast i can take heart in those) given that i’d also wanna bet Messi can overtake ronaldo as it is now…

    But then, had Neymar scored that great chance he had to put us Five-goals up in that game., there really wouldnt had been any need for Messi to give up that penalty….So maybe, knowing that, i’d be forgiven if i sulk a little

Comments are closed.