1-0: How bad was it?
Let me put it this way. It was not “bad meaning bad but bad meaning good.” We got our peppers picked which means bad meaning horrific. It was a ninety-minute nightmare during which we got fingered by Freddie, slashed by Jason and ripped by Jack. If my old school references are lost on you, this would be akin to I Know What You Did Last Preseason.
At least the last time Barça let a team get four on ’em they had the decency to score five themselves. No such thing here, although Pedro came close and blasted a shot on the crossbar that would have turned the game around. Never mind that the scoreline flattered the victors, who scored from all four attempts. Had Ter Stegen not given up the opener, or had Pedro or Messi conveyed their early second half chances for an equalizer, there is no way this game would have ended up four zero, but a slaughter it was.
Still, if we could choose a (non-friendly) game to get butchered in, who wouldn’t choose the first leg of a pre-season trophy that nobody gives two hoots about. If anything they should call it the minicup, not the supercup. A sextuple is music from the gods, but in case we don’t hand out a manita to our Basque visitors in the return leg, a quintuple doesn’t sound too shabby, either.
2-0: How bad were they?
They weren’t good. A lineup of defenders who had never played together behind three midfielders who had never started together was, let’s say, experimental. To Luis Enrique’s credit, he took responsibility for the loss and he said if he were to do it over he’d send out the exact same players.
Another summer tournament for three of the starters, an American tour during which the players flew at night because of commercial obligations during the day, a grueling 5-4 victory against Sevilla over 120 minutes in Tblisi, Georgia three days earlier and a midnight flight back… The technical staff prioritized our players’ fitness over bragging rights and I salute them for it. It would have been nice to have seen Messi rested as well, but we all know how that goes.
After a game in which nobody shined and multiple goals were conceded, the blame game is a popular but ultimately useless one. Enough to go around here, as mistakes were made by many, from Ter Stegen to Masche to Dani Alves. Bartra, who had spent the last two years bewildering culés because he didn’t get more minutes now bewilders culés because he is not an elite defender. I will always instantly forgive Sergi Roberto because it’s been obvious to all but a few for quite some time now that his talent is limited, yet I could and will mention that Messi sleepwalked for most of the game and shouldn’t have started. Even Suarez, who I had never thought would look sluggish on a football pitch ever, seemingly played with lead in his boots. Mascherano was accused by many of not being Busquets, but sometimes Busquets is not Busquets even with Iniesta and Rakitic in front of him. Regardless, the last two came on as subs and weren’t able to turn the tide, either.
In short, everybody is to blame and nobody is to blame. I will address one player specifically, with the caveat that he was not responsible for this dreadful score line. I’m going to go off on a tangent, so bear with me.
3-0: How good is he?
I know Marc-André Ter Stegen has duffel bags of potential, but forgive me for mentioning that they are anything but waterproof. His first error, a pass which would have put its target, Adriano Correa, in trouble even if it hadn’t been intercepted, prompted me to remark that I wished our goalkeeper didn’t live under the permanent illusion that he was a midfielder. Minutes later, as if to prove my point, he headed the ball out to where three Basques were waiting, one of whom took grateful advantage of the open goal behind the keeper.
The point is not to blame Ter Stegen for the loss. Far from it. I am, however, starting to have serious reservations about the young man who guards the goal of one of the world’s biggest clubs in the world’s biggest competition. I’m not saying he won’t become a good goalkeeper. It’s just that it is far from certain that he’ll one day be an elite one. People tell me that he is 22 years old and that he will learn from his mistakes. The good thing is that he makes a lot of mistakes to learn from. The bad thing is that he keeps making the same mistakes.
And so I quipped on social media that we should offer Manchester United a trade of De Gea and Pedro plus some cash. The smart ones realized that 1) the likelihood that De Gea would agree to not playing until January is minimal and 2) Lol. Nevertheless, and sure enough, out came the lynch mob with tar, feathers and pitchforks.
You’re just bashing Ter Stegen. De Gea is awful for Manchester. He sucks butt. You can’t sell everybody that makes errors. Some so-called “culés” want to get rid of everyone after a loss. Ter Stegen is the perfect keeper for us.
I know I am crapping on everybody’s favorite golden boy, but it’s that last counter argument I find most interesting. I think we can all agree that Ter Stegen’s best attribute is his passing range, which, in the grand scheme of keeping the ball out of the net, is a rather overrated skill to have for a goalkeeper, even one at Barcelona. Besides, it’s precisely his passes that have gotten him in trouble against Athletic Bilbao (twice), Sevilla (three days earlier) and Athletic Bilbao in the Copa Del Rey final. Not a very solid indicator that this is someone who learns from his mistakes. His bungled corner in the Champions League final brings the count to five (or six*) errors in his last four competitive club matches, all of which were finals to boot.
So, back to his passing range. Of far more importance for a goalkeeper than being good with his feet is to avoid errors and to make saves. At an elite level the errors become fewer and the saves become more difficult. Looking at his saves in these last four, error-ridden finals, none were noteworthy, and going further back, even when reviewing his highlights for Borussia Mönchengladbach, he hardly makes any saves you wouldn’t expect a goalkeeper to make – and yes, that includes the semifinal in Munich in which he made good saves on shots he was supposed to save.
Either way, in the not yet third keeper of his national selection we trust, and let’s hope that one day he lives up to, well, no, at this point let’s hope he exceeds his potential. He is young and might yet grow up to be a great goalkeeper. Besides, he sure makes pretty passes sometimes, right?
4-0: How bad is it?
Losing 4-0 is never a good thing. The same team that set a European record for consecutive victories suffered an identical defeat at the hands, or feet, of Atletico last season and there are those who say that that humiliation spelled the end for them. Over and out, go and get drunk with your Colombian rapper. But a gritty Juventus needed a minor miracle to survive the Bernabeú and Barça needed an incredible ten-game run to deny their rivals the league title. Although their season ended up in shambles, the rivals that turned out to be everybody’s favorite joke came a lot closer than anybody on both sides care to remember and were it not for some key moments in later matches, that 4-0 defeat in the Calderón would have been just that. A defeat.
In order for it to be just a defeat, the team must pick itself up, and fast. The return is on Monday and la Liga has us away against Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Celta de Vigo and Sevilla in the first seven rounds, which also includes a home game against the only team we did not managed to beat last season, Málaga. Weary legs and minds be damned, drop too many points in those first two months and we might end up with a never-ending game of catch-up. November and December will see visits to the Mestalla and the Bernabeú before the team travels to Tokyo for the Club World Cup. It was soon after their champions of the world crown that the wheels came off for M*drid last year and it will be no surprise to anyone if Barça is plagued by a similar injury crisis this season.
Luis Enrique, however, requested and received two reinforcements in the form of Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan that should in theory be ready to contribute by then. Like Luis Suarez before them, they’ll need some competitive games to fully acclimatize. We will see. Either way, the season is long and whether this four zero loss will turn out to be a wake-up call or a harbinger of more bad games to come will be told by time only. If this sounds negative, I am not. On the contrary, I’m quite looking forward to this season. We have, after all, the best team in the world and I personally can’t wait. Let’s start with a remontada on Monday.