Pivotal Moments: Crisis, Crisis, and More Crisis

A few days ago, a goalie whipped a ball out towards the middle of the park where it was picked up by a midfielder, pushed on to a teammate, who teed up a striker who fired a nifty, powerful shot into the far corner. A couple of hours later, a different goalie whipped a ball towards the middle of the park where it was picked up by a forward who moved forward before backheeling the ball for another forward who took a curling shot that was just barely parried away by the opposing keeper.

In the first, Leicester grabbed what would be a crucial goal through Jamie Vardy in their draw with West Ham United. They’re 5 points above Tottenham with 4 matches to go. In the second, Lionel Messi was denied by a fairly fantastic save and Barcelona lost to Valencia 1-2. After a string of 39 games unbeaten, the team has lost 4 of the last 5 in all competitions and getting bounced from the Champions League.A seemingly unassailable league lead has dwindled all the way down to exactly 0 points, first place only preserved by head-to-head tie-breakers. This is a crisis. Er, right?

If a match, and indeed a season, can hinge on a solitary move coming up either as a goal or a fantastic save, can something really be termed a crisis? Chelsea’s season was in crisis when they were flirting with the relegation zone; Aston Villa’s season is what a crisis calls a crisis; even Valencia’s spell under Gary Neville can be termed something at least akin to a crisis. But Barcelona, sitting in first place in the league, having made it to the quarter finals of the Champion League, and waiting on a domestic cup final? That is a crisis? A crisis that could have been turned into a triumph with a single goal was hardly a crisis to begin with.

Yet, it’s true that if you add up a whole host of moments that go the wrong way, it can look exceedingly like a crisis, even if it isn’t. The ball doesn’t come off the foot just right and what was surely a goal clangs off the crossbar, reducing the margin for error to virtually nothing. If Barça scores 3 against Atleti at the Camp Nou, there’s surely no way back from that for the colchoneros, but instead it’s a razor-thin 2-1 margin going into the second leg and the stats were 49% to go through, 51% to go out. That’s rather tight. Or maybe Ivan Rakitic doesn’t try quite so hard or tries just a little harder and instead of Siquiera’s easy-to-deal-with cross ghosting past Bravo at the near post, Raki’s touch sends the ball out for a corner or into the hands of the keeper and that causes the team to keep their head up and they get into halftime down just 1 or 0 or maybe they’re even winning at that point. Instead of chasing the game in the second half, they’re able to relax a little and their decision become easier, their passes a little crisper instead of tight-muscled through open spaces. Maybe Iniesta connects with Messi instead of sending the ball racing through for a goal kick.

Maybe is a loaded word, of course, because maybe not. Barça had 8 shots on target (or 7 depending on the outlet you look at), after all, but they converted just 1 of them. Valencia had 2 such attempts and actually only converted 1. The own goal is a statistical anomaly, not only in terms of its likelihood, but also because it doesn’t really appear in the stats. At one point, Valencia were up 0-2 with just 1 shot on goal and it was like some sort of wormhole had opened up and transported us to an alternate universe where opposing goals are worth twice what they are in this universe. That universe’s Dani Alves is also straight laced, just so you have an idea of how zany it is.

We ultimately lost to Valencia and the knives were out all over Twitter —which may or may not be representative of anything at all. I think of Barça Twitter like I think of the old SAT format: basically useless at predicting anything other than how well you’ll do on the SAT. Barça Twitter is in perpetual crisis, even when the team wins a Triplete, there’s calls for massive overhaul and pruning the tree down to its roots. Crisis? Crisis is a word that resonates with people, but doesn’t really mean anything when it’s applied to FC Barcelona, one of the richest clubs in the world and by far the most successful team of the last decade: no other team has won the Champions League even twice since Milan in 2002/03 and 2006/07. Except, of course, Barcelona, who has won three times since 2005/06.

Of course, the crisis is over now that Barca put 8 beyond hapless Deportivo keeper Manu. Er, right? Well, the stats tell you a different story. And by that I mean, exactly the same story the told against Valencia. Shots on goal against Depor: 10. That’s just 2 more than against Valencia, yet it resulted in 7 more goals. Seven. The quality of those shots was higher yes, but look at a comparison of the xG graphs produced by Michael Caley (Depor here; Valencia here) and you’ll note that the Depor match was a lot closer than it appears while the other match was a lucky getaway for Valencia. Over the course of a full year, you’d expect that Valencia game to be worth several goals to Barcelona.

Billy Haisley made some of these points (more eloquently than I can) before the Depor match even kicked off, but it really does bear repeating: a crisis is what you get when you’re Eintracht Frankfurt, stumbling from one loss to another over the course of many months. A two-week blip is just that: a blip. It’s painful, it’s frustrating, and it’s ultimately not decisive in the overall health of the squad. After all, Lucho took a team to a Triplete just under a year ago, lost in the quarter finals to arguably the second best team in Europe (you can choose the first), is the odds-on favorite to win a consecutive league title, and is awaiting a domestic cup final. The team could end up with 0 trophies or it could end up with 2. And the CL tie with Atleti was just a solitary goal in the first leg away from keeping the words “defensive masterclass” out of everyone’s mouths (though it was a pretty brilliant job by Atleti in the second leg).

If it’s a solitary moment that either puts us in crisis or takes us out of it, it was no crisis at all. Crisis? Pfft. Call me when we’re in 7th place despite having Jurgen Klopp on our sideline.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

26 Comments

  1. Davour
    April 21, 2016

    Absolutely. But of course these is no real definition of ‘crisis’ – like so many other things it is a matter of how you experience something, of context. And this freedom seems to lead to overuse of strong concepts which then lose meaning. In Sweden, my country, the idea of “societal collapse” was prevalent around Christmas due to the “refugee crisis”. Still, I doubt it any Swede noticed much (except when taking the train from Copenhagen), nor had to give up celebrating Christmas is its usual abundance. Crisis, collapse… only a way for us to channel lack of comprehension; the sentiment that it is “unfair” that we do not conquer Europe a consecutive time, because the dream was so beautiful (and somehow turned into demand).

    I admit it took some adaptation to get out of disappointment, the anomaly of Barca losing important games (“we always show up for them, stupid!”), false safety. But we need the suffering, too, to enjoy the winning, instead of expecting it. This isn’t a crisis, it’s a normal variation of variables. Simple.

  2. luisthebeast
    April 21, 2016

    Great post.Crisis maybe is to not win PL for 26 years and to sing YNWA.Btw i read that Suarez have 49 goals and 21 assists in 48 games.If we win double and Uruguay win Copa America it will be fair to win that BDor that he deserves.

  3. deerwithwings
    April 22, 2016

    Haha, what a great article! The SAT comment is particularly salient for me. Thank you!

  4. PPos
    April 22, 2016

    Who could have thought a loss to Real Madrid could have been so costly? That’s where it all began. But MSN is back, well Neymar is still recovering from his bad run of form. I have a feeling he’s gonna be hot this weekend. In other news, Aleix Vidal has been relegated by LE, I didn’t watch the games that he did play, but I think his enormous pace would help us (he certainly has helped me in Fifa 16 hahaha)

    • Davour
      April 23, 2016

      Yes, but one has to wonder wether the loss was a symptom or a cause of what came next. The decrease in form was bound to happen, I’m pretty sure.

      I’ve also wondered what’s up with Vidal; bad attitude? He has not been magnificent when playing, but not THAT bad. It has to be something else. What an anti-climax for him, after waiting all autumn to play… I read a comment on his regarding the Euro where he said “one needs to play in order to make the Euro squad”. Had some sting to it, I felt.

    • Jim
      April 23, 2016

      For me, the signs have been there for some time and I don’t put it all down to fatigue although that has become more important.

      With regard to Vidal, his problem , again for me, is that SR is capable of playing either RB or midfield which makes him more useful off the bench as Vidal. hasn’t really convinced. at either. You probably wouldn’t want a host of RBs on your bench given Bartra and Adriano could both play there. However, you are left with the feeling that he might have said something about his situation. Depending on how he said it I don’t think that is a cardinal sin but it’s not something I would imagine LE could be okay with.

      Surely an easy enough win tonight – as long as we don’t let them score first and give them something to hang onto. Will LE take the chance to spring a surprise on us and give someone a rest ?

    • kosby
      April 23, 2016

      Hey Jim, could you please elaborate on what you meant by ”
      For me, the signs have been there for some time and I don’t put it all down to fatigue..” ?

    • ooga aga
      April 23, 2016

      Vidal was injured recently. Maybe there are fitness issues. His injury didnt get a lot of attention. Jim I am noticing more typos than usual from you. I hope it’s just your browser acting up. 😉

    • PPos
      April 23, 2016

      He’s just really excited haha. Apparently The Sun is saying that we are going to sell Neymar to ensure the financial health of the club. His renovation is being stalled by the Nou Camp Nou project and the lack of shirt sponsor for next season. I really hope Ney doesn’t leave. I think he’s Messi’s natural heir. He’s brilliant, and I feel truly loves the club, but the love of money can make you change allegiances.

    • Davour
      April 23, 2016

      Well, at least wait until someone else says it before you worry. The Sun is not famous for its reliability…

      And there was a piece in Sport on Vidal – that he has not showed the right intensity on pitch. Well, who knows. But it’s probably something along those lines.

    • Jim
      April 23, 2016

      It’s dangerous getting too excited at my age, PPOS. Board isn’t gonna sell Neymar. However, I still think if he’s going to play through this he needs a different look occasionally maybe playing instead of Iniesta or Rakitic through the centre ? Just to refresh his thinking. He’s actually too good a player to be limited to a left wing when he’s double marked. He’s one of the few with enough pace and ability to cause trouble there.

    • Jim
      April 23, 2016

      Kosby, for me there have been two growing issues as the season has gone on. The first is the defence. It used to be that the main way we lost goals was that we’d get caught short of numbers. As the season has progressed,though, our defensive discipline has weakened leading to a lot of preventable goals, largely due to players being drawn too easily out of position or not covering well enough for each other. Not blaming any one player for this but a close look at any of the goals doesn’t make for good viewing. The only ones I’d exempt would be the keepers and, maybe, Pique.

      The second issue has, again for me, been present from last season but wasn’t as obvious because of the whirlwind that was our front three. They were new and nobody knew how to stop them. I said then that we were neglecting our midfield and it would come back to haunt us when the front three got injured or lost some form. Well, teams are now wise to Messi’s beautiful diagonal balls and, Iniesta apart our midfield just aren’t creating. Here I have to, as last season, look at Rakitic’s contribution. Can’t fault his running but he’s just not carrying the ball enough or creating. His position, for me, is too advanced and he’s not linking up with Ini at all. Just my tuppenceworth.

      Ooga, you’re right. I’m going senile . . . That’s an easier confession for an ex English teacher than lack of proofreading. I’ve also got an iPad whose favourite character is the full stop and which is reluctant to match my key presses to what appears on screen.

  5. Jim
    April 23, 2016

    Maybe now the Stones to Barca cries will die down. Left Martial alone to lose the semi . . . Poor, poor defender.

    • lala10
      April 23, 2016

      Enter Your Comment… a bit harsh there Jim. Not saying there was no lapse but give the kid some break. The kid played some nice build up play in the second half. With a hoofing defender they would have mounted the second half comeback.

      A defender should know how to defend but that kid is a real player. And thats what Barca need. Between him and Hummels i had take him because he is younger and has massive potential.

    • Jim
      April 23, 2016

      Oh, I think he is a proper footballer, Lala, but he wouldn’t be near a defence I had anything to do with. He makes mistakes week after week. For me, he’s trying too hard to look composed and ends up, like today, a couple of yards off where he should be or making a pass that isn’t really on. Wasn’t too clever for me at Fellaini’s goal either.

      Meanwhile, looks like Sporting aren’t going all out by their lineup. That could be good or bad . . .

  6. TITO
    April 23, 2016

    Ok, we got ton of help tonight.

    • ooga aga
      April 23, 2016

      Yep. The first Gijon defender helped by having his arm way up in the air, playing the ball with his hand. The second helped by being more interested in pushing Neymar down than going for the ball. The ref helped by correctly interpreting the rules of the game.

      OK, Suarez was offside for the second. But not even that egregious of a call. Not even the defenders protested that much about it.

    • ooga aga
      April 23, 2016

      Goals aside, we have owned the second half. Tito would you not say we deserve the three points? There was also the non-call on the Pique “hand ball” in the first half. I am watching a spanish feed and even the pro-madrid commentators agreed it hit him in the ribs, not the hand.

  7. lala10
    April 23, 2016

    Enter Your Comment… neymar needs a long long holiday. If it was possible he would be resting in the summer.

  8. ooga aga
    April 23, 2016

    wow. two “pokers” in two games for suarez. plus 3 assists. impressive.

  9. TITO
    April 23, 2016

    We deserve the win, there’s no doubt about that. Just that i dont feel the same about our win with all this help and without it.
    An offside goal from Suarez and 2 non existing penalties.

    • G6O
      April 23, 2016

      The second penalty was the right call.

      The third penalty was non-existent.

      However, there was a shot from Alba when it was still 1-0, which was blocked by an outstretched elbow, and that was not given when it should have been.

      So in the end there should have been 3 penalties and there were 3 penalties.

      Suarez was offside indeed, but it was a close call.

  10. TITO
    April 23, 2016

    Again, that was never a penalty, the second one. If they start giving penalties for a push like that, well…

    • G6O
      April 23, 2016

      You are allowed to muscle a player off the ball with your shoulder.

      Pushing with your hand is a foul.

  11. Jim
    April 23, 2016

    A strange game. First hour really I thought we were pretty poor with misplaced passes, poor ball movement , ropey defence against the poorest attack I’ve seen ( OK, maybe apart from Depor) and missed chances . Then, after we got our second all of a sudden the press is back, we speed up the ball rotation and movement and look like the team we are. Not sure what’s going on. Messi and Iniesta were brilliant today, I thought.

    With regard to the penalties, I thought the first was a definite as the arm was well away from the body and prevented a decent cross ( OK, it was Alves so maybe not but you get my drift). The second. I reckon was also a penalty. To me, Neymar was past the defender and into a dangerous position. He made no attempt to play the ball and barged Neymar off it. Would have been a FK anywhere else. The third I’m embarrassed about ! Not sure why the ref was so upset either. I must have missed something.

    You could argue we’ve done the hard work already against the harder teams so deserve a couple of easy games but it probably finishes here . Our last three all carry danger and we won’t find such hapless opponents in them. Still, could be worse. We’re still on track.

  12. PPos
    April 23, 2016

    A tale of two halves. I love sergi Roberto but Alves made all the difference in the right flank today. Jordi Alba is finally recovering his stellar form. I really enjoyed our penalty finishing today. Miles from earlier in the season. Did anyone else notice that in attack we were no longer a 4-3-3 but a 4-3-1-2 with messi playing in a trequartista role?

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