VFB Stuttgart 1, Barca 1, aka “Heading for home sitting in the driver’s seat”

I can carry more of you, if you want.

So. Four times I watched this match. Once on a craptastic Web feed at work. Never again, I say. Again bleary-eyed at home last night, whereupon I cost myself a shiteload of sleep, banging out a screed whose vituperation would have been unmatched by any document offered up by modern man.

After the morning viewing, I calmed down a lot. After this evening’s viewing, I was even more calm, because things really weren’t that bad.

Without question, we were dire for some of the first half. Not all, but some. Yes, we were slipping all over the place. Yes, we were spraying balls to Stuttgart players as if we were the Harlem Globetrotters and they were the Washington Generals. And yes indeed, we conceded a silly, silly goal that only served to wake us up.

But from some of the post-match commentary in Web-Land, you’d have thought that we’d lost 10-0. Some were wondering if we’d lost the European glimmer, others still were predicting dire things. Yet the simple reality is that this match was almost a carbon copy of the first leg of last year’s round of 16, in which Lyon played out of their minds in the first half, that saw us decidedly funky and clunky. They were very physical, and contested every inch of the pitch in the midfield. They charged forward on break after break, and had us on the back foot. Then we grabbed an equalizer that gave us the advantage, thanks to the away goals rule, because it meant that they would have to come to our house and play to win.

And then, we had them.

Does anyone really think that Stuttgart are going to play a better half of football this season, never mind in three weeks time? Really? And further, that Guardiola is going to be stupid enough to roll out, as he did this time, with Valdes, Puyol, Marquez, Pique, Maxwell, The Yaya, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Ibrahimovic?

No. Because I think that even though, like most geniuses, he thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us, even he has to now realize that Iniesta is all but worthless on the left wing. And yet, out he came with that lineup, that tried to play football on a pitch that (I watched in high-definition) resembled a gopher playground more than a football pitch. And we gained possession, and knocked the ball around, and gave it away time and time and time and time again. Iniesta was one of the biggest culprits, as were The Yaya and Busquets, and each one sent Stuttgart off to the races.

Yes, they played well, but we were complicit in our own struggles. Stuttgart kept 10 behind the ball as they got their sea legs, a bout of uncertain early play that should have played right into our hands, was instead rewarded with incessant gifts of the ball. As Guardiola has said, we’re shit without the ball, and boy was it evident in that half. Puyol was on constant walkabout, which allowed a red carpet for Stuttgart to pass balls to our right side and charge in on the attack. And when we got the ball back, we had no width, because Iniesta was constantly pinching in toward the center, and Messi was playing in the center. Neither Puyol nor Maxwell were coming up on the attack, so we were easy as pie to defend for a side flooding the midfield with physical pressure.

Compounding matters was an amateurish defensive strategy from us that saw us chasing the ball, rather than playing men. Pausing the picture at any time during a Stuttgart attack saw 3-5 men around the ball, which means what? Favorable matchups all over the pitch that Stuttgart took advantage of, mostly because we were punks about clearing our own end.

Then it all went pear-shaped on a simple throw-in that, under the harsh light of replay, looked like a schoolboy defense how-not-to guide.

1. Busquets goes for the ball fake on the throw-in, capping off a shitty half of his. Iniesta is stationary, instead of helping pressure at the throw.
2. Pique contests the pass into space, and for the subsequent control by Stuttgart, Pique, Xavi, Busquets, The Yaya and Iniesta are all around the ball.
3. Puyol and Marquez chase the ball, watching it instead of playing spaces and men, and there are still 5 around the ball, since Iniesta has barely moved from his spot at the initial throw-in.
4. Maxwell moves to the ball, opening up a passing lane for the crosser, who lays in a beautiful ball for Cacau.
5. Puyol, done for pace and probably a little tuckered from running around like a chicken with his head cut off, gets outjumped and has a prime view of the ball going into the net.

Absurd, and our nadir for that half, a stretch of play in which we had chance after chance after chance to control, contest and clear. We almost seemed to believe our press clippings, which might explain why we never bothered to really contest for possession in the midfield, which allowed Stuttgart to send free and clear attackers into our end of the pitch, running full-tilt past our slow-ass defenders as if they were practice pylons.

But still, we woke up and began to dominate possession, push the match into their end and create opportunities. It was almost as if we said “That was their best, boys. Now let’s get ’em.” The end of the half came just in time for them, really, one in which Messi, aside from spurts of creativity and a shot that almost caught Lehmann out, sleepwalked around. Ibrahimovic was starved of service as we made it easy to play us, all because we didn’t have any width. Once Puyol and Maxwell began to move up the pitch, things turned around dramatically. Their fullbacks had to stay home more, which meant that their breaks were less effective, reducing them to popping the ball up the pitch for us to intercept and come right back at them.

And at the end of the first half you had to say that yes, we played pretty crappily, but we weren’t all that horrible, and it was only 1-0. If the ref calls that penalty on Marquez for that elbow to the attacker’s chest, we probably have some real problems.

We looked more alive in the second half as we resumed the task of playing into the match. Then when Guardiola corrected his initial error by bringing in Henry (for The Yaya), we really took control. Why? Width. On one play, we slid the ball to Henry and he drew 3 defenders. This allowed plenty of space for the pass back, and our defense through possession game continued.

Our goal was simple enough, another of those scrappers that makes me so happy we are scoring these days. Yes, I love the pretty goals as much as anyone else, but you win championships by being able to scrap goals out of nothing. And so it was that Busquets laced in a lovely ball toward Ibrahimovic, that wasn’t properly dealt with by the Stuttgart defender. It popped up into the air and Pique kept it alive. It fell to the foot of Ibrahimovic, who volleyed it directly at Lehmann. The stop was made, but the ball bounded right back to Ibrahimovic, who made no mistake the second time.

Just like that, the match turned on its head. Not only did Ibrahimovic break his knockout round scoring duck, but we were in control of the tie. On the front foot, we started pressuring them like crazy, but always in a controlled fashion. Messi came to life, and Iniesta was less horrific. We challenged in the midfield, and all was right in the world. We could have had a second goal any number of times, most notably when Messi made a run and played a perfect ball to the feet of Iniesta. But typically of the match that Ghostface was having, he whiffed on the shot.

And that was that.

In three weeks, barring anything unforeseen, Alves and Keita are back in the side, and maybe even Abidal, if the trend of players coming back early from injury continues. And does anyone really, really think that Stuttgart are going to roll into our house, on a proper pitch with almost a full and healthy side to contend with, and do anything other than go down like dogs?

Didn’t think so. Which brings us to ratings.

Team: 5. As I said, things weren’t all that bad. There were about 10-12 godawful minutes in that first half, then the ship gradually righted.

Guardiola: 4. Shame on you for not having them ready to play, and for waiting so long to realize that we needed width on the pitch. Pulling Marquez was smart, because it kept us from maybe going a man down, and brought a better defender out in Milito.

Valdes: 7. Couldn’t have done a damned thing about that goal, which was a rocket of a header from right on the doorstep. But every other time he was called upon, including right on the doorstep, he came through like a champ.

Puyol: 4. He came to life, but was still beaten like a gong every time a Stuttgart player ran at him. He’s never looked slower. Why he kept pinching toward the center is beyond me. He has to know that out-of-position players lead to pitch imbalances, which lead to scoring chances.

Marquez: 3. Dire. And getting knocked off the ball by Hleb? Really? He doesn’t have the pace to make up for the positional errors, and he was very lucky to not concede a penalty with his elbow in the box.

Pique: 7. Our best defender, who also understood the value of charging forward to create opportunities. Nice work keeping the ball alive on the Ibrahimovic goal, as well.

Maxwell: 5. Solid, but again, positional errors created problems that we just don’t have the back line pace to make up for. And attack, dude! Every time he went forward, something good happened.

The Yaya: 2. He was just terrible, spraying balls all over the place, evincing a concrete first touch and fouling. Yikes!

Busquets: 4. Unlike The Yaya, he had a chance to play himself into the match and did so with style, as he really calmed down from the casually playing nit of the first half. And Sergi, never head a ball again. Whenever you do, something bad happens for us.

Xavi: 5. Strong, once he got some help. Iniesta returning to his side made him and our midfield so much better, as suddenly everyone had more time to play passes. The dwelling on the ball that got us in such trouble in the first half, stopped.

Iniesta: 3. Horrifying first half marked by giveaway after giveaway, and sleepwalking play that really hampered our battling for possession. Yes, he played better at Xavi’s side, but not better enough to overcome being dragged by his terrible general play.

Messi: 4. Came alive, but should have been doing so much more. The value of a well-times pass is devastating, particularly when the defense is playing you to keep running for the goal. So surprise us, and dish. Every time he did, we had a great chance.

Ibrahimovic: 5. If a striker is starved of service, he can’t strike. Once we started playing him the ball, his game improved. Hell of a goal, and I absolutely love that he came in and stood up for Messi after a shameful (but necessary) foul.

Substitutes

Henry (for The Yaya): 4. Again, he was starved of service, making the beginnings of a run time and again, only to stop when the ball wasn’t coming his way. But even his presence on the pitch really opened things up for us. Very beneficial substitution.

Milito (for Marquez): 7. Excellent match, with strong tackles, smart passes and the kind of physical play that makes people think about charging into our end. Another tip-top personnel decision from Guardiola.

Finally ….

I have to find that boarding pass. I don't want a cavity search!
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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.

79 Comments

  1. jose011
    February 24, 2010

    bring the thumb downs people (:

  2. Pyro
    February 24, 2010

    My favorite moment from this match was definitely when Ibra stood up for Messi and almost ate the Stuttgart player.

    • vicsoc8
      February 24, 2010

      Agreed. I didn’t think Ibra played well, but I love a player who is willing to stand up for his teammates.

    • iBlau
      February 24, 2010

      Do you have a youtube link for it? I would love to see it 🙂

    • stephen
      February 24, 2010

      haha yes! the stiff-arm was great.

  3. February 24, 2010

    we will get stuttgart back in camp nou for sure!
    but what happened to our players? did they get food poison or something?
    all of them were not even half of their potential..really sloppy.

    kxevin, why you gave iniesta and yaya such a low rating?
    i have to disagree with yaya rating and busquets. without yaya busi would’ve gotten a worse rating imo. and yaya didn’t play that bad. i think without him, it could’ve been worse as we were outnumbered a few times, and he provided 2 bodies. but anyways, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

    btw, marquez tumbled twice actually. once by hleb and one more in our OWN penalty area. dude needs to eat more nachos!

    • ElShowDeJason
      February 25, 2010

      How are nacho consumption and the ability to stay on your feet in any way realated.

      Unless of course it is because he is Mexican… You should probably know that nachos are not at all Mexican…

      :rolls eyes:

      • eklavya
        February 25, 2010

        I think he confused them with Tacos or something.

  4. stowe
    February 24, 2010

    love the picture at the top. gotta hate sloppy pitches

  5. vicsoc8
    February 24, 2010

    I’m very concerned about the tactics we saw in this game, which we have been seeing glimpses of throughout the season. The fact is that when Iniesta plays on the wing we don’t seem to play the 4-3-3 we did last year, it’s more of a modified 4-4-2. Iniesta inevitably pinches into the middle and that causes a lack of width. As I believe Hector alluded to when Keita plays Keita slides out and gives us that width. Busquets didn’t do that. That is also why Messi was slotted more into the middle – to accommodate this modified 4-4-2.

    I’m not a fan of this formation, and I’m worried that it’s not just a passing phase. With the arrival of Ibra our attack has mutated – It’s no longer the balls to the wall attack it was last year, and I can’t convince myself that Pep using this formation isn’t linked to that.

    As for Ibra, I would’ve given him a 3. I’m ecstatic he scored a goal. However, I can’t count the number of times I yelled at my TV screen because Ibra had given away possession, or wasn’t making a run. The rest of the time he was nowhere to be seen.

  6. Jnice
    February 24, 2010

    What I wrote in the match thread in response to Hector’s post:

    I particularly agree about Yaya, in all honesty, that was the worst game I’ve seen him play in the Blaugrana. During the first half, I was shocked at his positioning and the number of times he took bad angles to the ball. He looked like a rookie. Add to that the fact that most of his passing were negative short passes and one can understand why he was subbed. Hopefully he gets a chance to improve on that performance against Malaga Saturday. (I doubt he will play, though.)

    And boy did we miss Alves yesterday. Thankfully the 2nd leg is 3 weeks away, giving us a chance to sort out some things.

    Oh, and Milito should have started over Rafa.

  7. stephen
    February 24, 2010

    We tend not to play Yaya and Busi at the same time, I think this is just temporary and at Camp Nou once we have the rest of the team back, we’ll do fine. Mostly Alves, I think we are def. missing that right side, width is always created on both wings, and we are desperately missing the right, Maxwell has done really well on the left, much to be desired by Puyol on the right.
    I think for it being a crappy-squad-important-game situation, we took enough from it. no worries.

  8. yaulee
    February 25, 2010

    Stuttgart’s game was a joy to watch, full of inventiveness and at times they really make some of the Barca players look pedestrian. Though I agree Barca would go through in the end but I really doubt how far they would go.

  9. Eduard
    February 25, 2010

    I’m going to defend Pep(and the rating you gave him) and while I agree all the negatives you pointed out, some of the positives should be mentioned.

    1. I know Pique isn’t acting on his own when he crashes the opponents box and causes either Pedro or Ibra to score. That’s like THE bail out move(Santader,Estudiantes,Stuttgart). I’m sure Pep tells him to linger around the box longer when we need it. And Pep, keep telling Pique to do that.

    2. I’m pretty sure Pep has read “Art of War” by some chinesse guy. And what Pep does when he puts on an experimental formation is confuse everyone. That means the coaches staff in the capital too. This is an advantage because preparation is nearly impossible. Specially if you have players that are versatile and can do just about anything you tell them.

    3. New formations also make the team more complex. Doing new things developes players, this prepares them for a wider range of situations. Who can argue that challenging the players will make them better in the long run?

    4. An away 1-1 is nothing to be ashamed of, yes WE ARE BARCELONA but then again the Spartans didn’t defeat the Persians in one day either.(he’s changing the theme from Gladiator to the 300 for the final, you watch)

    This stuff should bump him up to atleast a 7, right?

  10. February 25, 2010

    Spot on with Yaya’s rating! He was just woeful for a DM who should normally command so much respect and fear from his opposition. He makes Xavi a better attacking midfielder when he’s good. Any DM for that matter makes Xavi look better (even though he’s already awesome) because then Xavi can focus on making the killer passes to the people in front of him. But if he knows that his DM is having a bad game, it pushes him back further towards our goal to compensate for that. Keita is the main man IMO.

    Additionally, I think Valdez should have got an 9, because he was immense. That reaction save is the best I’ve seen and on par with the drogba double save last season!!!! Go Valdez!

  11. Barcamaniac
    February 25, 2010

    Totally agree that the nudge by Marquez should indeed have been a penalty. What the hell was Rafa thinking, especially being booked? Correct. He wasn’t thinking at all.

    • stephen
      February 25, 2010

      So was that handball they had in stopping Ibrah’s goal. So… its even there 🙂

      • Barcamaniac
        February 25, 2010

        Unfortunately, it’s not. There was a handball on Pique too (and no, it doesn’t have to be intentional in the box). That’s where their handball evens out.

        • Phil
          February 25, 2010

          I can’t seriously consider anyone calling that in a CL knockout. His arm is in a natural position and he has absolutely no time to move it out of the way. The ref knew it, and once the players saw the ref wasn’t going to call it they stopped protesting because they knew it was a reasonable call. It’s not like it was some great injustice.

  12. Bill
    February 25, 2010

    3’s and 4’s for the likes of Iniesta, Messi, Puyol and Guardiola? Kxevin, you are the definition of speaking softly but carrying a big stick 🙂

  13. eklavya
    February 25, 2010

    On a side note, Keirrison played the second half (?) against Milan.
    Did anyone by chance watch the match?

    • Kxevin
      February 25, 2010

      Saw some highlights. He looked good, and was stopped on a great save, or he would have tallied for sure. He’s definitely that classic poacher type, but he seemed to move well, and have a nose for the ball.

      • eklavya
        February 25, 2010

        Yeah, I like his constant movement. He knows what he has to do. I like I like.

  14. Jack
    February 25, 2010

    Nice review Kevin.
    It would be impossible to overstate how much The Yaya and Busquets were the primary contributors to the horrendous first half. Yaya looked lost lost and Busquets couldn’t complete a pass of more than a few feet. Speaking of Busquets, if we’re going to make fun of Crynaldo, isn’t it time we think of about relabeling the guy Cryquets? His apoplectic spasms are downright embarrassing.

    When Alves, Abidal, and Kieta return and Iniesta is back to the position he was born to play in, Guardiola will be a genius again.

    • Barcamaniac
      February 25, 2010

      True that but then we’ll also have some Danispasms. 😉

  15. jose011
    February 25, 2010

    eklavya-

    watched the game and he didn’t do much. understandably, fio was trying to protect a 1-0 lead, so he was playing up front by himself. he had one half chance in the box late in the 2nd half, but it was a clusterfcuk of milan players trying to clear the ball so nothing came of it. the game is on replay on espn360, so you can take a look for yourself if you want.

  16. Kxevin
    February 25, 2010

    Hey, guess what? Hleb is unhappy in Stuttgart. We’re trying to find a home for him, a task that will involve finding someone stupid enough to pay our 10m asking price. Yes, it’s another example of “buy high, sell low.” 😀

    • Eduard
      February 25, 2010

      What is his deal?!?! I thought he loved Stuttgart.

    • vicsoc8
      February 25, 2010

      I should really read everyone’s comments before posting.

  17. vicsoc8
    February 25, 2010

    To be completely honest Kxevin, I was hoping for a review of Hleb.

    In my humble opinion I thought he played with a lot of desire and seemed intent on proving himself. Despite his effort, I don’t think he showed enough class to make it worthwhile for us to give him a second chance. He gives the ball away too often and isn’t incisive with his movement. Honestly, I wouldn’t like the minutes he would take away from Pedro.

    If we’re offered somewhere around 10 million for him, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

    On a related note, why does our transfer policy suck so much lately? How many players are we going to buy just to eventually sell at a loss (Hleb, Caceres). It’s a good thing our cantera is so good.

    • Kxevin
      February 25, 2010

      I actually thought about doing that, vicsoc. It always crosses my mind when we play against our loanees. But it then introduces a layer of complexity that my little brain can’t deal with.

      I liked his play in that match. Very aggressive physically, but you can see how Stuttgart wouldn’t be all that into what he does, which is why Hleb isn’t happy with his playing time. Were he playing with us, however, his role would be to come in, help us hold the ball, and not screw up.

      I don’t think he would really take any minutes from Pedro!, because I view Hleb more as a midfielder than a winger.

    • JMo
      February 25, 2010

      you’ve got to remember viscoc, players come to Barca in their prime, and leave either older, with less worth, and exposed.

      We don’t buy a invest in a player and sell them before they’re at their best, outside of Cesc’s case.

      Players usually reach their maximum and then come try it out on the big stage. If they succeed, we keep them until they can’t serve the squad any longer (ie Edmilson, Sylvinho, Thuram, or Ronaldinho), or they leave early after their true worth or quality has been exposed, ie (Gudjohnsen, Giovanni, Hleb).

      • vicsoc8
        February 25, 2010

        This is true to an extent. Cases 1-3: The purchase of Caceres (who failed) and Henrique and Kierreson who have yet to play in a match. All of these players are young and were purchased for no small price.

        • eklavya
          February 25, 2010

          I don’t think Caceres is a failure. Although his style suits those who don’t dwell too much on the ball. I liked him as long as he didn’t grab someone’s foot.

  18. JMo
    February 25, 2010

    WIDTH WIDTH WIDTH.

    I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Not having Alves on the pitch is like leading an orchestra without your first chair cellist. There were at least half a dozen times where I saw Alves’ lane of preference wide open. No one.

    I don’t blame Puyol for not running around like lance armstrong jacked up to an asthma inhaler. He’s older, and it would be damaging to the squad to run out of gas in the 70th minutes. Let’s be serious, I don’t know any player that could run at such a high rate for such a long time as Dani boy. But with Puyol’s inability to demand a presence on the right wing, tic-tac doesn’t work.

    Bogging down the middle of the pitch is, essentially, the only thing teams can do when confronted by Iniesta, Xavi, and our beloved triangles. When we spread their back line with width in our attack, they can only do two things…

    1 – Compact the middle with the CB’s DM, and an additional MD to handle the triangles, allowing Alves and Abidal to streak appropriately

    OR

    2 – Force the RB and LB to cover the ascending wingers, isolating their CB’s to deal with the Bermuda Triangle of Ibra Xavi Iniesta/Messi Xavi Iniesta/Messi Ibra Iniesta, where defenders ultimately go to die.

    As you can see, both approaches are worthless when our squad is fool, yet sadly, the truth, that is not.

    When we apply width, it frees up just the smallest of areas, allowing our maestros to go to work. It’s frustrating to watch our boys trying to cross the Red Sea before it’s been parted. We can’t get across until the sea opens up, and that come’s with width!

    Puyol can’t really cross the ball unless he’s taken his Flintstone vitamins and play like he’s 25, like he did against EE. But I really see this “funk” we’re experiencing in creating chances, largely affected by our lack of width.

    And yet another reason why Henry, while not the prowler in front of goal that he once was, provides an essential key to our success. Pedro is more clinical at the moment, but that aggression to score sacrifices our width as his blood-thirsty drive for the back of the next subconsciously drags him to the middle of the pitch, where his impact diminished significantly.

    rant over.

    • Kxevin
      February 25, 2010

      All true, JMo. It’s also my fundamental issue when I bring up the tactical naivete of Pedro!. Sometimes to help the side, you have to do what you have to do, which Henry understands. Even if you’re just standing around on the left wing, taking the occasional pass, you are creating width. As noted above, the difference in our attack that his arrival brought was remarkable.

      At some point, P! will have the juice that will make defenses freak out when he gets the ball, but he doesn’t at present, which is why my preference is still to have Henry in the side.

      • Tyler
        February 25, 2010

        Hmmmm rumors of Navas interested in Barca and E.E. Could he be a possible answer to our left wing woes?

          • Tyler
            February 25, 2010

            according to wikipedia:

            A right winger who can play on the left flank on occasion

        • gv
          February 25, 2010

          but to be honest, i’d rather have a player like navas than a big name signing like ribery or cesc. it’s just a scary thought that we’ll have to deal with del Nido again.

          • Tyler
            February 25, 2010

            Navas is very similar to Alves in my opinion. Very fast, bombs down the field, and probably has more accurate crosses, although Alves can be a neurosurgeon with his crosses most of the time too. I feel that once we have a left winger that is a threat positionally and offensively we will see a lot more movement up front. Don’t get me wrong Pedro is great and has a natural gift for scoring goals, but like Kxevin often says, he doesn’t always know where to position himself and also a lot of times doesn’t spread the field as much as he could. Navas would definitely do that.

    • gv
      February 25, 2010

      ido believe in addition to width, what we lacked was speed in our attacks. i noticed we kept passing the ball back to our defenders too much, esp during the first half. it was like it was pep’s game plan to just keep the ball. even when we had chances to break, we slowed down in the midfield, with either xavie or busi holding the ball, and eventually passing back to our defenders. but credit to heldt too, by instructing his players to press us that much.

    • Hector
      February 25, 2010

      Spot one, JMo. It’s all about the spaces. Glad to see that some cules understand our obsession with width and its importance.

      That’s one of the main symtoms of our sickness lately even though I still think there are more like, for instance, simply not playing well. Some tactical tweaks are certainly needed as well.
      I’m gonna try to do a quick write up on this if work permits but opposing fullbacks’ attacks were one of the main roots of our ills against both Atletico and Stuttgart. That’s tactical IMO. If our winger/fullback tandems can’t scare them into staying back by being the aggressors then they advance and:

      1) Give the opposing team an extra man in midfield.
      2) Compromise our width.
      3) Make our wingers have to track back more than they should.
      4) Increase quality of crossing looks into our box.

      Maxwell is bombing forwrd but he is picked up by the opposing winger, their fullback needs to be pushed back by Henry/Pedro/Iniesta. That was Henry’s main contribution. He took away their manpower in midfield. Simply by improving the positioning at that position we subtracte the opposing midfield population by one. Puyol just does not have it in him physically to be an attacking fullback. Molinaro and Antonio Lopez wrecked havoc on our right wing. Messi in part has been less omnipresent because he has spent time tracking back against those two guys. Part of the reasoning behind the False 9 look being used lately despite the opposing team using three center mid’s (which makes the look not optimal) is to tie down the opposing fullbacks. Why don’t we use Messi for this? We did it in part against Racing at times but it reduces his looks on the ball. I still would like to see Ibra as the false 9 and see if we can get Messi some one on one’s.

      Its kind of a new deal for us because usually no fullback in his right mind would dare bomb up against us when facing Alves and Messi on that wing.

    • eklavya
      February 25, 2010

      Jmo you get +1 thumbs up for the Flintstones reference.

  19. Tutomate
    February 25, 2010

    Football is entertainment and I’m an artist. Those who love football also love me.
    – Thong Boy

    I guess I hate football.

    *http://sport.es/default.asp?idpublicacio_PK=44&idioma=CAS&idnoticia_PK=690592&idseccio_PK=805

    • JMo
      February 25, 2010

      i was proud of my post today. but this is sheer brilliance.

      hysterical hahahaha

  20. Helge
    February 25, 2010

    Allegedly, Bayern Munich is interested in Aliaksandr Hleb as a replacement for Franck Ribéry 🙂

    That would be great, if they pay 10 mio. for him. I don’t want Franck in return, but I think there are not many clubs interested in him, and most of them won’t be able to pay 10 mio.

  21. vicsoc8
    February 25, 2010

    The fact that flooding our midfield is quite effective this season has to do with width, but it’s not just due to a lack of width. The fact is that teams are able to compress space while defending against us this year, and without space our midfield suffers. The compression of space comes both from a not horizontally stretching the defense (width), but also from not vertically stretching the defense.

    Last year we had a massive amount of pace on our front line with Eto’o, Henry, and Messi. This gave teams a headache – if they defended with a high line our forwards could get behind them, if they defended deep it opened up space for our midfield to dominate the game. This year with Henry not at his best, and with a slow Ibra we are no longer able to stretch teams vertically because they aren’t worried about our pace. This leads to compression of the field and they are able to outnumber us in midfield. Pep has been trying to bring another player into the midfield (one of the wingers – Messi or Iniesta) to overcome this problem. The issue with this is that it’s almost counterproductive because it compresses space even more.

    Take from this what you will. My take is that we need someone with pace who can stretch a defense vertically. That’s why I’m still not too hot on Ibra, the system we play with him isn’t as effective as the system we play without him. That’s why we scored loads of goals with Bojan leading the line against Racing, even though he didn’t have a phenomenal game.

    • February 25, 2010

      i expected pedro! or bojan to play a bit part actually since nothing worked with ibra. they didn’t park a bus, so we need an etoo or (VILLA 😛 ) like player who can break the offside trap or make runs. i just thought that bojan or pedro would provide us that option.

    • Kxevin
      February 25, 2010

      But Eto’o wasn’t all that fast last season. Recall that Rio Ferdinand(!!!!) ran him down in the open field. And in the Stuttgart match, you could see Henry straining at the leash, ready to get off to the races every time we got the ball. Last year, we would spring him. This year, we are not.

      Ibrahimovic’s pace isn’t at issue here. We’re holding the ball longer this year, almost as if we’re fonder of it or something. Last season, one-touch football meant that there were always spaces for attackers, because the ball moved around so quickly. This year compared to last, you can see the difference if you watch match highlights then vs now. Busquets, for example, will take the ball and screw around, in part because there isn’t a ready option.

      This is very different from last season, where there was constant midfield churn between Xavi, Iniesta, Alves, Messi and The Yaya, so that the ball was never, ever stationary. The triangles worked because of that. You didn’t see the same shapes against Stuttgart, just individual points in space. And if a triangle was formed, it was widely spaced, which creates danger from a ball-hawking attack such at Stuttgart’s. When we closed up in the second half, our possession game was so much more effective.

      We should have even more stretchability this season, because we can just pass the ball forward to Ibrahimovic and let him do his thing. If he doesn’t have a scoring opportunity, there should be people filling spaces so that he can pass. Often, there isn’t. Then he gets ripped for holding up the attack. Same for Henry, who will take a pass on the wing, burst into space, and there’s nobody there.

      We just don’t have the same movement this season, and it will take a bigger brain than mine to explain it.

      • vicsoc8
        February 25, 2010

        I still think we aren’t stretching vertically as well as last year. Eto’o may not have been a speed demon, but he was faster than Ibra and he made those fantastic diagonal runs behind defenders that could stretch the defense. Ibra isn’t as fast, and can’t quite make those runs yet.

      • eklavya
        February 25, 2010

        Heh, I still remember in your old reviews you talking about Eto’o not able to outrun the freakin’ Rio Ferdinand.

        Anyway, I think Eto’o’s pace “shows” unlike Ibra’s cause he had a crazy work rate and used to run at the goalie and the defenders. Ibra doesn’t do that and doesn’t make much runs either. Basically we don’t see Ibra running around and when we do it’s some half baked sprint to regain possession.

        • Kxevin
          February 25, 2010

          Well, I wouldn’t label his efforts half-baked. He was running his ass off against Stuttgart. He’s also 6’4″, 200 pounds. That’s a lot of Swede to get moving.

          I would also note that Ibrahimovic has been making more of the diagonal runs, and the passes either haven’t come, or have had the suck that draws him laterally, rather than in on goal. He and the rest of the attackers are still in a learning process.

          • vicsoc8
            February 25, 2010

            Can’t disagree with you there. I guess what I’m trying to say most of all is we need a constant presence on the LW with a quick, disciplined player (who preferably scores goals).

            Essentially, we need Henry to be effective, or we need a replacement.

          • JMo
            February 25, 2010

            Sooner or later, the passes will start coming, and we won’t have to rely on fortunate bounces like Eto’o did. He was a FANTASTIC finisher, but there were at least 6 goals last year that came from “generous” bounces rather than controlled beauty.

            ps – I hope this gravatar thing worked, I just got one.

          • eklavya
            February 25, 2010

            Neither would I but there’s no denying that he stands around doing nothing for chucks of the game. It’s getting better. Obviously it takes time to adapt. As you say, he’s doing some diagonal runs which is excellent!

      • cliveee
        February 25, 2010

        the thing about zlatan is that he got the ball way too far from the goal. so when we expect them to do his thing, he can’t really do anything but to pass it back to xavi or side way to messi/alves or the other side’s henry/abidal.

        when zlatan managed to get himself opened, and xavi or iniesta saw it, he is then offside. he is currently leading the offside chat by the way. 43 times! (*http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/laliga/stats?table=fouls&stat=offsides) so that’s another thing he has to deal with.

        comparing to eto’o, i do think eto’s explosive first run made it easier for any player to pass a thru ball to him. but that’s last year when teams do not flood the midfield and park the bus. this year is totally different.

        • Kxevin
          February 25, 2010

          Your last point is very accurate, cliveee. Teams are playing us very differently this season, and Ibrahimovic will eventually be the key to that. But we have to use space, and accurate long passing for good. Right now, it’s almost as if our hearts aren’t in it. Marquez’ pass to Ibrahimovic that resulted in the first goal against Racing is a prime example.

          Another thing to note is that offside calls aren’t solely the fault of the striker. If a guy is playing just off the shoulder of the defense and makes eye contact then begins his run, you have to strike the ball at the precise moment that he breaks. We’re still getting used to that.

          With Henry, he was running past defenders onto a pass into space, which is a different thing from the way that Ibrahimovic works.

          • Bill
            February 25, 2010

            umm, you mean Marquez pass to Henry?

            When you play soccer, you know that positioning is important. It’s your responsibility to stay onside. This is the one thing Ibra cannot be defended against. Watch how Eto’o held his line or take a step back before exploding when the pass is released, plus the hand signals telling Xavi, Messi or Iniesta exactly where he wanted the ball. I used to hate passing to a guy who constantly stayed offside. It’s a turn over, and yes, you do think twice about passing to him again when you are not sure if he is offside.

        • Bill
          February 25, 2010

          When you get the ball away from goal, you should initiate threatening passing moves towards the goal, then make the run. Even if the ball doesn’t come back to you, it will open up channels for others ghosting in behind you. This is what Ibra needs to learn how to do. I loved that while Eto’o did contribute in midfield as an outlet, he was always hungry to go forwards. Thats what a striker need to do. Bojan tries it too. With more experience, he will be very effective.

          • Keano
            February 25, 2010

            Eto really honed his craft with the help of king Henrik

  22. gv
    February 25, 2010

    another thing that pisses me off is with busi’s play acting. i think pep has to talk to him about it.

  23. Reaper -> the artist formerly known as Reagan
    February 25, 2010

    wouldn’t Sneijder be a so much more viable option than a certain cesc? He’s such an awesome player!

    • eklavya
      February 25, 2010

      These are the type of comments in where you *could* get thumbs down. 🙂

      • Reaper -> the artist formerly known as Reagan
        February 25, 2010

        🙁

  24. cliveee
    February 25, 2010

    i guess this blog is making me improve, because it was the first time in my life to take notes while rewatching a match. 🙂 good thing, huh?

    and i disagree with henry’s rating. or maybe its rather like i disagree with messi’s and busquets’ rating. they should be above henry’s. because the width issue wasn’t solely addressed by the presence of henry. it was more like a team improvement. the whole team improved in the second half for a number of reasons.

    the substitution of marquez and milito were of course key. but before we saw them go off, the team already regain some more control. iniesta played a lot more in the center, puyol and maxwell went forward a lot more which help providing some width. when henry comes in, he wasn’t really staying on the left sideline all the time. he swap position with zlatan, went back to the midfield some times, and i remember seeing maxwell getting the ball on the left more than henry. because henry did not appear on that spot at the right time. when he got it, he was surrounded by defenders. so there were reasons why he couldn’t get the service.

    on the other side of the field, messi and puyol probably were told to do the same on the left. i saw messi got the ball on the right sideline more often, accompanied by puyol. no matter how wrong or how inefficient, puyol got forward, because it was much needed. one of the reason why we were defending on the flanks all the time in the first half was that we were pressured up by them instead of giving them pressure. this point has been pointed out on previous threads already, but just to point out the same thing happened on the henry/maxwell side. zlatan also helped out when he swap position with henry. he appeared very close to the edge when he did so.

    messi was a huge threat, no matter how less passes he could make. his runs and possessions made stuttgart play 2 defenders against him all the time. busquets improved in his defense. on and off with his passing. but positional wise, he did a fine job in the second half except some “wtf busquets!” mistakes of cos. so i would give them a 5. i like henry and agree with the width he provided, but he did too little to earn the same rating as messi and busi.

    • Kxevin
      February 25, 2010

      But Henry didn’t have an atrocious first half to work up from, points-wise, as Messi and Busquets did. Word.

      The Henry presence was, simply put, pressure relief. He didn’t even have to do anything other than establish the presence of a viable left winger on the pitch. Once that happened, everything else opened up. That precise defender presence leading to an ultimate lack of service is why the middle, and life for Messi, even, opened up. That, and Maxwell/Puyol moving forward.

  25. Jim
    February 25, 2010

    I don’t think Eto’o had tremendous pace but he was quick off the mark which is the main difference i see between him and Ibra. i agree with a lot of you review, Kxevin, sadly even the low marks for Yaya and Iniesta (and I’m his biggest fan).

    I have said all along we need Henry for the width and i totally agree with those who say the ball isn’t moving forward quickly enough. Puyol tried hard to give it but it failed as he couldn’t deliver a ball from the wing. Btw, Kxevin, i think you’re a being a bit harsh on Maxwell with positional deficiences. I didn’t see those – what i saw was a whole defense devoid of much pace. Abidal gives us a bit more of that but nothing in an attacking sense. I think you’re absolutely right that Maxwell’s main strength is going to be in offense where he has pretty good ball skills and should be taking on defenders.

    for me, the result isn’t bad but I can’t help but worry about the fact that Pep thought / thinks that we can afford to play Iniesta LW. We lose in so many ways if we do that. Still think we’re making excuses for Ibra but i do agree we won’t win much unless we can get him going so we need to persevere.

    • Bill
      February 25, 2010

      Iniesta hasnt really done much in the left wing, part of it is probably because he hates playing there too. But I think 1. Pep wants some threat from that side, and not just providing width and defense, 2. He wants Keita in there, without sacrificing Iniesta or Xavi.

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