As with any first-person experience of Barça, we’re willing to publish your experiences. Reader Cesc Blanc had the good fortune to attend the Stuttgart match and was kind enough to do a write up. A quick disclaimer: the views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect official BFB policy or position. Enjoy and thank you, CB!
The good people of Google maps said that the trip from Vienna to Stuttgart was exactly 666kms, quite a strange number. In the end, it turned out to be less for whatever reason, but that number should have been warning enough for me: we’re dancing with the devil. The trip to Benztown turned out to be 6 hours and 36 minutes exactly. As you can see, there’s a pattern with the 6, which we will come back to later.
Stuttgart is famous for its cars. Obviously, Mercedes Benz is from Stuttgart, but the Porsche factory is also in Stuttgart. It’s kind of like Detroit in that regard. They even have—or better said used to have—a strong German Hip Hop and music scene in general. Cars and music. Just that, while Detroit has an incredible line of musicians from the times of Barry Gordy and Motown, to the late great J Dilla and Black Milk, Stuttgart’s rap and music scene, consisting of local heroes Max Herre, Afrob and Massive Töne was never that great. But Stuttgart makes great cars, while Detroit still has GM and Chrysler. It would be a swell idea to make one city out of the two, but we’re getting off topic.
The trip to Stuttgart was really great as we enjoyed the Arts of German engineering. My friend with whom I was driving on the trip has an 80s Mercedes Coupe, so it was kind of like driving the car back to its home. Also, if you ever make it to Germany, you just have to hit the Autobahn, which is just as great as they say it is. In fact, I would go as far to say that the best thing about Germany and the best thing to see in Germany is the Autobahn, as it’s just thousands of kilometers of endless driving fun without any speed limits and is well built. Also, if you ever make it to Stuttgart, make sure you visit the Mercedes Museum, which is great fun for 4 Euros entry, but if you have to pay 8 Euros, you might feel a little bit ripped off. However, you get an awesome lanyard from Mercedes and you see a lot of cool cars. That is of course, if you’re into cars. If you’re not into cars, make sure to stay the hell out of Stuttgart, as you will probably die a miserable death out of boredom, as the city has otherwise not that much to offer.
The day continued to be a bit bizarre. Half of the away section was filled with Barça fans from Poland. Now, the bizarre part about this is that Catalans are called “Poles/Polakos” in rest of Spain and there are also two satire shows on Catalan TV called Polonia and Crackovia (as in Krakow). The experience got even more bizarre, however, once they started to sing Barça songs in Polish. As a Barça fan of Iranian origin living in Vienna, I obviously have no problem with international Barça fans. What’s more, just as German cars are a sign of quality, so to are “Polish football fans”, so if we should make it to Madrid, I really hope for a strong support from our friends in Poland. But still, that was a funny sight. However, nothing was more bizarre than seeing around forty-thousand German fans from Swabia sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before the game as their anthem, to be honest, is quite pathetic. [Watch VfB’s YNWA here; their anthem is called “Stuttgart für immer” or “Stuttgart Forever”. –ed] Even more pathetic was the announcement of the teams line-up, which was backed by a very loud Euro dance song—Get ready for this—that was frankly unbearable.
Isaiah has already touched on the stadium, which was still a construction site. But the field looked actually even more artificial and small in real life than on TV, which gave Stuttgart a real home field advantage. Further, for whatever reason, Team Pep decided to warm up on the field quite late, around 15 minutes after Stuttgart started and they concentrated rather more on stretching and dance moves, than to practice with the ball. I don’t really know how much they practiced on the field the day before but it would have been good to know the dimensions of it better, which takes me back to Stuttgart and their home field advantage.
Given the size of the field and given the fact that Stuttgart now have, in Christian Gross, a manager who actually knows a thing or two about football and certainly knows how to press, it was going to be a tough game for us, no matter the injuries and form. Teams that are daring and smart enough to attack us earlier and leave little space between lines, will always make us suffer, at least much more than teams who just don’t give a crap and do nothing for the game. Our team consisted of Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Marquez, Maxwell, Xavi, Touré, Yaya, Busquets, Messi, Ibra, Iniesta. Given the size of the field and the fact that Henry needs some space to run into, which he wouldn’t have in Stuttgart from the start, the line-up kind of made sense. However, we turned out to play without Ibra and with only 10 men because the players decided to do so in the first half, and that’s where we paid the price.
If the big homie wouldn’t have scored, he might have been blamed for everything and people would have asked Eto’o back on the spot. But the point is that poor Ibra in the first half got only 5 passes and none of them inside the box. While usually Alves and Abidal cross early and stretch the opponents defense by playing wide, Puyol as an example didn’t have a single cross on Ibra’s head in the first half and barely came close to the sideline. Even worse was the sight of Xavi trying to play through passes to him. Overall, Xavi was rather erratic on that night, which I can’t blame him that much for as he was coming back from an injury and obviously, with all the 6s involved, it had to be him. But his lack of movement, specially his usual movement without the ball into the box, the llegada, hurt our offensive game and also hurt Messi’s game. Messi usually has 2 players on the right side to play with who can also take off 1 or 2 extra defenders and leave him 1 against 1 where he is almost unstoppable or in case of 2 against 1, one of them is free to do something. However, with Xavi’s lack of movement and Puyol’s lack of offense, Messi was always trapped with 1 extra defender at least and had it difficult to be himself, as he lacked the support. I later saw comments that he lacked involvement. The truth is however that for 90 minutes, he was probably the one player most involved and active and really tried hard but he didn’t have his usual support on the right side.
Another player who looked bad on TV was Busquets. I received at least 4 SMS about him being useless and that he has to get subbed out. Far from truth, it was Big Yaya who had the stinker. Don’t get me wrong as I’m a Yaya fan since his days at Olympiacos, but in the first half alone he had 3 big turnovers in midfield, while the team was moving forward, because he kept the ball for too long. While The Yaya is great in Camp Nou, great against Madrid and one hell of a monster player, on a small field against a team playing pressing against him, he looks a bit out of the game as a pivot as his ball distribution is still slowish. The difference was clear as day once Busquets played in that position, as his sense for the right position and his quicker passing helped our game a lot. To prove the point on Busquets, try to catch a glimpse of him after the 70th minute, where the Stuttgart fans booed every touch of him because he play acted before. All cheers against him were for exactly 2 seconds, 1 second before he got the ball and the other second for when he had it and passed it on. It was mad funny seeing the fans boo him for exactly 2 second and be in a permanent start-stop mode, as if Busquets was intentionally playing with them.
However, I can assure everyone that Marquez was just as bad in the stadium was he was on TV, which is tough for me to say as a big fan of El Kaiser.
Overall, the 2nd half of the game was good football by Barça and although Henry obviously didn’t score, his introduction later in the game worked well, as he stretched the defense, worked well in transition and exploited the lack of speed of Stuttgart’s defense, just that his teammates made too little use of it. Further, this pushed Iniesta back into midfield, where he just plays a lot better.
I don’t really like to give grades [trying to take Kevin’s job, eh? –ed], so I will rather write a couple lines on each player:
For Puyol, Marquez,Yaya, Xavi: see comments above. For the rest:
Valdes: Great game and almost flawless. Don’t know if he could have saved the header but had at least 2 or 3 game-defining saves. Overall, he has turned into a goalkeeper who can win or draw games for us.
Piqué: A beast and the most impressive player to watch. Not the fastest but almost unbeatable due to excellent positioning. Cleared more or less everything that got through to him.
Maxwell: Looked better in the stadium too. Good sense of positioning. Crosses a bit sloppy and he is not Alves or Abidal, but is good.
Busquets: In the second half probably our most important player.
Iniesta: Bad game on the wing but excellent in central midfield.
Messi: Given the circumstances as mentioned above, a good game.
Ibra: The second half told us why we bought him. He is a presence and it’s incredible to see what he can do with the ball. One of those players who are more impressive in real life than on TV. Also, gets extra credit for shoving Cacau and Lehmann.
Henry: Good second half for his running, although it didn’t have the desired effect but he lacked the passes too. There were at least 2-3 scenarios where he was running himself to or from the second post off his marker and a simple diagonal pass by Alves would have led to a goal, but he didn’t play.
Milito: The sight that got me happiest probably. He was El Mariscal and didn’t allow a single player to get past him. He is definitely getting back in shape and will be of great importance.
The second half was promising and we should keep in mind that we had a similar rubbish game against Lyon last season, who were by no means stronger than Stuttgart is this season. If Stuttgart come with a similar game plan against Barça, then we obviously have a better chance for winning as we will have much more space behind the defense and between lines to exploit in Camp Nou. However, as Pep said, the series will be decided in the 2nd leg and the bear is not caught yet to sell the skin. [aka don’t count your chickens before they hatch