Iniesta and Neymar, echoes and adaptations

Iniesta and Neymar. The two players who most contributed to the destruction of Real Madrid yesterday are both fascinating cases to consider in the match’s aftermath.

Iniesta, MOTM in everyone’s books, even those of the RM supporters who applauded him off the pitch, has come such a long way from the lonely, weeping lad from Fuentealbilla. He came up through the ranks of Barça’s La Masia academy, a place that back then was just another academy rather than the place of dreams that it has become, thanks to a legendary graduating class.

He rose, calmly, through the ranks, his quality apparent for all to see, embodied in the now almost apocryphal Guardiola statement to Xavi, “there goes the man who will retire us both.” It’s a phrase also worth correcting as “will succeed and evolve us both.”

It’s easy to call Iniesta “modified Xavi,” but it hasn’t really been until this season that the truth of that description has been so apparent, particularly after a match that displayed this new Iniesta at his peak. To be fair, it was a display enhanced by a team who decided to functionally play without a DM against the best midfield in the game, but that should take nothing away from the exquisite quality of Iniesta’s match.

Xavi controlled with a metronomic precision. Alves said that Xavi plays into the future, speaking to his remarkable ability to be able to see things even before they develop, and influence the game. Iniesta, then, plays to a future that he creates. It’s difficult to think of la pausa and not think of Iniesta as time after time during the Classic, he escaped from complex situations by hesitating for a beat, to allow players who depend on mere physicality and pace to set up on the wrong foot, so that he could then glide past them. At one point he lost possession, then regained it, allowing play to proceed with a neat slide tackle/pass.

The game wants to run, it wants to move. Balls roll, players dash after it. Yet so many greats could make everything stop, just for long enough to allow control of a moment to be regained.

When Enrique assumed the reins of Barça, Iniesta was thought to be in trouble. People assume that the coach demands power and physicality from his charges, even as that same coach makes comments that revere Busquets, a player who is the antithesis of power and physicality. Many declared Iniesta past it as he struggled to adapt to the new demands of a new system, and blamed its creator for not utilizing Iniesta in a way best suited to his skills. Meanwhile, Iniesta adapted. He was magic, but a yin to Xavi’s yang, the capriciousness that didn’t control, but danced past everybody, then missed the open shot.

Yet in addition to the defensive stats that display his evolution, and how different the attack feels when he is guiding it, that goal struck by the man whose foot often lets him down in front of goal, was punctuation to the changing of a player. He ran into space created by Neymar, and struck home with power and precision.

Football is so beautiful at times, but never more so than when an artisan decides to control a game with elegance, raising his game to its peak and daring his teammates to keep up. When they do, beatdowns happen. Iniesta was quiet but demanding in the Classic, not as demonstrative as Puyol, but no less a Capita. He was also a rather immense contrast to Neymar, his partner in crime.

Where Iniesta went off to an ovation from the RM crowd, echoing Ronaldinho, another Barça legend who dismantled them in their house, Neymar got frustration-filled kicks from first one then another RM player, finally resulting in a straight red for Isco, a man billed, ironically in this moment, as the next Iniesta.

In many ways Neymar is an Iniesta for the modern age, again a player who has to use something more than pace and physicality to influence things. He isn’t the fastest or the strongest, but he has been gifted with swivels for ankles, and an ability to stop and start with alacrity. Like Iniesta, he understands how the game can be influenced with movement, and from that influence can come control.

Even their versions of la pausa are different, Iniesta’s more elegance based in movement, his own and the defender’s. Neymar’s version stops everything, understanding that because only he knows where his next step will be, the advantage lies with him. Both use feints and trickery to break a defense, but in very different ways. Even the goal that Neymar scored was based in influence, in a run made, a shot held long enough for the keeper to stride so that he could slot between his legs.

We have read enough about how Neymar has stepped up in the absence of Messi, but only the hasty would suggest that yesterday’s dismantling was emblematic of that maturation, even as it was (that word again) influential. Iniesta was the hand that drove the wrecking machine, with Neymar as his co-pilot. People went nuts when Messi came onto the pitch yesterday, and history may well forget that it was already 0-3 at that point, thanks in part to tallies from Neymar and Iniesta, both calm, emphatic finishes. Two influential artisans who decided a match in their way.

But where Iniesta came to Barça as a snot-nosed kid, Neymar came to Barça as (allegedly) a snot-nosed punk, all hair and attitude. As you watched him toy with Varane yesterday, or in his own, Iniesta-like way somehow wriggle from amid a thicket of defenders, was it that hard to wonder what might have happened had Neymar decided to choose RM instead of Barça.

Would he have developed into the same player? Would the glitz, glamour and pressure of life in the spotlight have made those Robinho II quips come to pass? Who knows. But RM bought Bale, a player who had them effectively playing with 10 yesterday, while Barça bought Neymar, a player who along with Iniesta, seemed to have their team playing with 14.

Iniesta and Neymar both led from the front yesterday, raising their games from an already-high level, and their teammates came along. Suarez had his big match brain on today, never getting caught offside, dispossessing Modric and kick starting the second Barça goal. Busquets was otherworldly, coming into the match in a way that few might have predicted when he was a mere DM. It was a team destruction, and it needed to be. But the two artisans of Barça laid the groundwork for a period that became playtime when Messi entered, a celebration of sorts. And as Iniesta walked off, handing the Capita armband to Messi, he enjoyed an ovation but he also looked dog-tired, like a player who had given absolutely everything that he had, in a dose precisely metered to his last second on the pitch.

That face, and that moment, said so much about the 0-4 victory. And it was fitting that a player who, at the mid-pitch captains photo op was the smallest of all, dwarfed even by the officials, would be the biggest and most influential with the ball.

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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.


  1. IamXavi6
    November 22, 2015

    Strange to me that you dont mention Iniesta’s attitute and reaction to Dani Jaraue sad death. This along with his euro goal transcended Iniestas status.

    Apart from thst point – Dons ball control and ability to squeeze out of any situation is an absolute joy. Few people thought age has gotten him; but I can see him dropping further down the pitch and doing the ‘Xavi role’ for quite some time still. MOTM no doubt. Highly influencial and a calming presence when needed. You cant teach that kind of big game experience he has.

  2. IamXavi6
    November 22, 2015

    Dani Jarque. Silly android keyboard!

  3. November 22, 2015

    Iniesta /Bravo for the MOTM.

    Both these players received lot of criticism from the fans in general and some even wanted to sell Iniesta last year because he somehow didn’t fit in ‘”Lucho’s style’ but he has been our main player since March/April. Who can forget the MOTM performance from him in the 14-15 CL final. Yesterday, Iniesta single-handedly embarrassed Kroos, Modric and Hamez at the Bernabeu. One hell of a performance .

    And also many fans wanted Ter Stegen to play in all 3 competitions ahead of Bravo. Now I think they have realized the importance of Claudio Bravo.. Bravo can easily be our first choice goal keeper for the next 2 years.

    And coming to Neymar;’s topic..
    Neymar would have been at the end of 4-0 thrashing if he had chosen Real Madrid. He also received a spanking at the hands of Barcelona while playing for Santos in the club world cup final 3 years ago. If I remember correctly, he was quite average that day. And also Neymar would go down easily while playing for Santos. Messi’s influence has helped him a lot in that aspect. Many neutral fans would hate Neymar for his antics, but now they love him, thanks to Barca, thanks to Messi.
    If anyone is winning Ballon D’or in near future ahead of Messi, it’s Neymar for sure. I love how he plays for team now instead of personal glory.

  4. Barcathegreatestever
    November 22, 2015

    I Thought Eto Henry Messi Iniesta Xavi Yaya Pique Puyi Valdes Maxwell and Abidal was the greatest team ever. Pretty sure I was wrong
    Messi Suarez Neymar Iniesta Roberto Busquets Pique Mascherano Alves Alba and Bravo are pretty close to perfection. What a ride

  5. Jim
    November 22, 2015

    Hmm, on rewatching the game noticed Iniesta with a strapping ( ice?) round his right leg. If you recorded it its just as Isco gets sent off you catch a glimpse of the bottom half of Iniesta with the transparent wrap round his lower leg. Hope it’s not another calf muscle.

  6. luisthebeast
    November 22, 2015

    I will not talk about any player.One word for the game.Luis Enrique.The Boss.Many talk from yesterday for Iniesta Neymar Suarez and many for Benitez tactics.Yeah.Pellegrini Guardiola Blank Allegri Simeone all made the wrong tactics against us.I want Chelsea in the knock out stages so Lucho woule have his scalp too.Thank u boss.Maybe other teams fans respect u more than yours.

  7. georgjorge
    November 23, 2015

    After re-watching the game, I feel the urge to talk about those fabulous goals a bit more lest I forget them soon.

    First goal: Sergi Roberto’s confidence. He probably had the technical skills to pull off that assist for the last few years, but only now does he have the confidence for such a bold move forward – sweeping by Modric – instead of a safe sideways pass. The shot from Suarez was, of course, brilliant, and it says enough that it’s not worth mentioning anymore because it’s what we’ve come to expect of him anyways.

    Second goal: The pausa. When Iniesta got the ball passed to him and immediately slowed down, I thought “damn, that would have been a nice counterattack”. But suddenly, not only him but Neymar and Suarez pick up speed again (talk about team spirit!) and do their thing.

    Third goal: Neymar’s selflessness. When you’re as gifted a player as Neymar and find yourself in the middle of the box with the ball on your feet, it’s only natural to go for goal. So everyone on the pitch thought. And within a split second, Neymar realised that there were two defenders in front of him but none behind him, and did what very few forwards of his caliber would have done with a brilliant lay-off. I have no idea how Iniesta expected that.

    Fourth goal: Total football, or What the hell did Jordi Alba do playing centre forward? After watching it several times, I still have no idea. He probably felt he just NEEDED to be there. And then everyone on the pitch knew Neymar was wide open, and Suarez would pass to him for the tap-in. Keylor Navas knew it as well, prepared to pounce onto that pass, and became more and more confused about it not happening until he fell down. Brilliance from Suarez again.

  8. November 23, 2015

    I would put this win only behind the 5-0, on an equal footing with the 6-2. RM looked the worst Madrid of all these matches, as a team. And above all it was shocking to see 2 of their best players getting subbed out, James and Marcelo.

    It was an excellent team performance and I want to say thank you to all players, except Munir. He is a forward in the team and it is a luxury for a substitute forward to get good chances like that, in a big game. I didnt like Bojan much, but think he would have at least tested the goalie, at least in one chance. Even Jeffren managed a goal against a RM when there was a defender on him, Munir was free, oh dear. I would have had an orgasm if we had the fifth. I can understand Pique. He is a catalan and cule above all.

    I was not happy to see our starting line up, even if I was glad Messi didnt start. Masche looked tired during his Argentina matches and he played twice in a few days with lots of bloody travel and also got some good knocks in that match. LE could have started Mathieu first hand. Anyways, all that ends in good is good. Just hope Masche is not injured. He needs good rest.

    Bravo was the MOM for me. If not for some of his saves, the match could have been 4-3 or 4-4 or even 3-7 (since am using IF). Especially his save against Ronaldo, with his face, I hope we will remember it always like the Puyol save.

    I should say this about Messi too. Clearly he is not 100%, he still outruns Varane, make some incredible passes and creates the 4th goal out of nothing. That pass to Alba through 3 RM players had surgical precision.

  9. luisthebeast
    November 23, 2015

    If we use the ‘if’,if Suarez made the 0-3 when Marcelo stoped the ball with the head,then the scoreline would be in the end something like 0-7.Btw i thought that Navas is the best GK in the world and Bravo just an ordinary one… a big game can show to Barca fans that their players are so good….it s funny that we underestimate our players and always praise overated like Danilo Kroos Ramos Rodriguez e.t.c.If there are out there two players that i would want for us are Alaba and Thiago.For the future.Right now we have the bests.

  10. dl
    November 23, 2015

    Some unconnected thoughts — I get the impression that the bfb culerverse is a little bit at a loss for words after this game. No long, thoughtful contributions from any of the usuals — can everybody be that surprised?
    I know I am. I was hoping for a win, but I had no idea it would be this thorough. I think as brilliant as we were, and as much as everybody on our side showed up with their big game boots, Madrid had a collective massive failure. They showed up as individuals, not as a team. Before we all start to feel like masters of the universe, recall the very recent game against Celta Vigo where the roles were reversed and we found ourselves on the receiving end of a massive whipping. So, great to enjoy the very beautiful victory, but it is now history.
    On another note, mourasaint, if you”re around, it would be interesting to have your contributions (as long as they are well reasoned and not trolling). You would be far removed from the average contributor, but it might be very interesting. I kinda miss you and tommoman on the guardian. Cheers

    • IamXavi6
      November 23, 2015

      DL – I have been on hiatus for about 8 months but I was a regular here. Got married etc so couldn’t contribute as much with other things going on.

      I actually wasn’t surprised. That’s not foolish confidence – but rather I believe the gulf between Real and Barca is significant now. Quite frankly they are no where near our level. They are clearly disjointed, have huge issues with Benitez and Perez – fans getting quite angry and they havn’t been the same Real since the early 00’s. I’m not a Madrid fan of course, but I’ve watched decades of La Liga and can tell you that Madrid need a huge overhaul; starting with Perez going. I felt sorry for Rafa, as I truely believe he is in a unwinnable position as a manager.

      Having said all of that, lets be clear that it’s only a 6pt lead with many, many games to go.

      Let’s enjoy our team, the play and the fact we turn up in big games. Titles are not won in Dec\Jan, and we still have Hlebuary to get through, but the foundation and the hunger of the team is clearly at the level it needs to be right now. Managing injuries will be the next big thing.

      Messi – what do you do – lets see how he is handled the next few weeks – the fixtures are quite good for Barca so I’d slowly get him match minutes. Feel sorry for Sergi Roberto who will potentially make way for him.

    • georgjorge
      November 24, 2015

      Do you mean you feel sorry for Sergi Roberto or Munir? Because I don’t think the former will have to make way for Messi. With Sergi Roberto’s latest exploits and our lack of depth in midfield after Xavi leaving and Rafinha injured, he’ll surely get a good amount of playing time.

      On another note, the thought of Neymar having chosen M*drid is an interesting one. While he could do better than some others on their current team, I still think he wouldn’t be able to change much about their current situation. If one thing is clear by now, it’s that M*drid’s problem is definitely not the individual quality of its players. I somehow get the feeling that even if Messi would – for whatever reason – start to play for them tomorrow, within a few months he would look rather average and demotivated on the pitch. I think that right now, Neymar is saying a prayer of thanks every day for having made the right choice back then.

  11. Jim
    November 24, 2015

    Damn. Game is on the BT red button again which means no recording ! I hate this mob. I hate Sky as well but the final nail is turning on tonight and seeing lineker hosting.

    Good to see Samper on the bench for us. Interesting midfield. Wouldn’t be my choice but it is at home. I’d probably have left Neymar on the bench. He’s been great but taken a lot of punishment and could do with a rest before he gets injured.

    Although I’m keen to get another look at TV I feel heart sorry for Matthieu. He’s been great yet Masche comes back and he’s benched . Now he’s sitting for TV. Next week it’ll prob be Bartra . Way to build a defensive partnership ! However, may not matter tonight.

    Still loving that last display. My favourite was the diagram I saw somewhere of Madrid’s formation with their defence and midfield just outside their own box and th forwards just outside ours with forty yards between the two! That formation had to be Rafa sticking it to the too defensive mob – but at what cost ?

    On another note I see Platini is staring at lifetime ban from football. Just maybe we’re starting to get somewhere.

  12. Jim
    November 24, 2015

    Ok, this is boring. Are they really this bad or is it their suicidal high back line with no pressure on the ball ?

  13. Jim
    November 24, 2015


    Pique off for Bartra, Busi off for Samper and Keep one sub for injuries.

    • georgjorge
      November 24, 2015

      Sounds very sensible.

      Also, nothing at all against Munir or Sandro, but it’s SO good to see MSN have fun on the pitch together again. Seems like Neymar is working on adding long crosses to his repertoire of tricks, if he manages it as well as Messi does it might be very interesting.

      Roma’s tactics – if we can call them that – have really gone bad this time. So much space to run into…

  14. ciaran
    November 24, 2015

    You have to feel for Roma, again their tactics are questionable, leaving that much space in behind, but if they had 13 players they’d still lose.

  15. G6O
    November 24, 2015

    That first goal makes us officially unplayable when we’re on — in the past it was only Messi from the right who played those passes, which made it at least in principle possible to crowd him. Nw they’re coming from both sides 🙂

  16. ciaran
    November 24, 2015

    Samper is coming on… In looking forward to this

  17. Jim
    November 24, 2015

    You got a love this team. LE obviously wanted to take Pique off at half time but Pique persuaded him to give him ten minutes to get a goal if he could stay up front ….. And he got it !! Look at the sheer joy from everyone.

  18. georgjorge
    November 24, 2015

    How did we manage to draw the previous game with Roma?

    Contrary to what I thought before, I’m fine with January still taking a long time to arrive.

    • georgjorge
      November 24, 2015

      I also like what I see from Samper in this game. It’s obviously a lot easier against an opponent who knows they’ve lost the game but he’s done the right thing a number of times now.

    • Jim
      November 24, 2015

      I thought Roma were much better in terms of closing us down for at least the first half hour of the second half but, yeah, Samper hardly put a foot wrong, showed blindingly good control and his passing was great. I was going to say he still needs to bulk up a little but Busi is pretty much the same shape. I’d still like to see how he tackles. Busi is amazingly good at judging when to stay on his feet and when to go to ground.

      Has he also grown a little this season ?

    • IamXavi6
      November 24, 2015

      I don’t think ‘grown up’ is the right term Jim.

      I’d say he’s just captured his form that he lost for a period there. I think he understands his role again more and continually winning breeds confidence. I think he’s just a better player now under LE than he was with Pep; and that he’s finally worked it all out. A joy to watch in that mood.

  19. ooga aga
    November 24, 2015

    I thought Samper did well too, but didnt he give the ball away in midfield which led to Messi earning a yellow card after hustling back to stop Roma’s attack? Gumbau woulda been gumbo if he did that. Happy to see Samper out there for sure, just saying.

    • G6O
      November 24, 2015

      The thing with Samper is the potential. Which he has and Gumbau based on what we’ve seen does not.

      Remember how many errors Busquets made in his first couple of seasons. We should judge Samper by the same standards (not that there weren’t people complaining about Busquets at the time)

    • ooga aga
      November 24, 2015

      Potential is subjective. I’m simply objectively remarking on how Samper made mistakes and so did Gumbau. There is a double standard which really isnt super fair. For me, wearing the colors means they deserve our support.

      If people treated Samper the way they did Gumbau i would defend Samper.

    • Jim
      November 25, 2015

      I remember that Ooga. It was just after he came on , quite a tight situation he was played into and he tried a drag back turn to get out of it- maybe a little ambitious. However, when you say “mistakes” I genuinely can’t remember another one. Did I miss something ? To me, he looked like he’d been playing in the first team for years. He looked completely involved in the play which others coming in maybe haven’t. He knows when to keep it tight and when to spread it, he can also move well with the ball. I thought he was great.

      In reply to IamXavi6 above I was meaning that I thought Samper had physically grown in the last while.

  20. luisthebeast
    November 24, 2015

    What a Team we have!Nobody can imagine after January with Turan and Vidal and more rotation the limits of this squad!It s so great for a fan his team to face top teams from every country of Europe and made them looks so average!!But i want so much Chelsea in the next round!I want the team to destroy them!!!!

  21. dl
    November 24, 2015

    Great to see everyone having a great time. MSN look like they can figure a way around/over/through just about anything. We stand as good a chance as anyone to win lots this season, and I’d love to see a Barca-Bayern final. That would be a cracking match, as Pep would be certain to play a cagey, fiercely attacking game. Let’s hope!

  22. ooga aga
    November 24, 2015

    Fantastic victory. We can rotate heavily in the last group match. Great job team, great job coach

  23. Chiu
    November 24, 2015

    ahh and all of our superstars are super unselfish providing each other for the team glory.

  24. November 25, 2015

    Oh, what a team this is. There is a real friendship between all these boys is no little thing considering how they are millionaires and stars and all. The joy everyone had when Pique scored, that was incredible. I couldnt stop laughing too. And especially the re is a lovely relationship between the front 3.
    Watched the match once again and I find it difficult to believe that Samper is playing in third division. There is a lot of difference between him and Gumbau.
    The team is leading 5-0, and its talisman runs back to his own box to make a tackle, what more can we ask of them. Incredible.
    I only hope, we improve from here and we are nowhere near peak now.

  25. IamXavi6
    November 25, 2015

    I think we also need to be understanding of how important it is that we rotate and stay fresh. LE had huge criticism early on but with rotations and depth this puts us in an amazing spot to have a chance at another treble. Often the healthiest team wins the finals..not always but it goes a long way.

    Does anyone have concern over a potential Bartra departure? I think he was close last season and he is still being starved of chances. With Mascherano out he should be in.


  26. Jim
    November 25, 2015

    Samper’s touches in the second half .

    With regard to Bartra I’d be disappointed if he left because I think he’s still improving. I suppose it depends on whether we buy another CB. Assuming Pique is the fixture ( we can all agree with that can’t we?) I’ve got them as Matthieu in comfortable second place and Bartra / TV about equal. Actually felt that TV didn’t have a great game, especially in the air, considering how little the defence had to do but he just hasn’t had the game time to judge. He’ll come on leaps and bounds if he can stay fit. It’ll be interesting to see if his knock on the knee is just that and he’s available for the next game. I’ve no problem with he and Barta sharing some minutes but for me Matthieu needs some time before the big games to work on partnering Pique.

    However, none of this matters as I’m sure LE will drop Masche back into there as soon as he’s fit. 🙂

    • Dar_vincy
      November 25, 2015

      Damn right LE will, Jim; cos when Masche is in his tip top form, he easily is our best defender, aerial inadequacy aside. And for my money, he inspires absolute confidence and security when on form, again. Like every other player, no one can claim to possess any monopoly of perfection whatsoever; and the frequency of the little mistakes Masche makes every now and then is basically proportional to the ones made by players of his revered calibre.

    • IamXavi6
      November 25, 2015

      My Biggest is with that Jim is, Bartra has had his minutes reduce compared to last season. He’s a superb talent, but I think his paitence will start running thin.

      Lets all agree Pique is a lock. Masch is great, absolutely, but he is getting older. TV is not at Bartra’s level. Matthieu is a bit more interesting as I believe he can genuinely play LB.

      I’m guess what I’m trying to say is, in my mind Bartra is 3rd behind Masch and Pique. With Mash out – Bartra needs to get more of a look in. I think he will very much be listening to Man Utd offers next transfer window. 🙁

  27. lala10
    November 25, 2015

    Enter Your Comment…Samper was good. The game was dead when he came on but boy did he have some nice touches. Too early to know how he will eventually turn out but he seems the real deal. Playing time and training with the elite should help him on that path because he has the attributes we require of a midfielder. Fingers crossed.

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