Malleable standards and the Summer of 22

It happened all low-key like, easing in on cleated little cat feet.

It began with the grabbing of one of the hottest young CBs on the market in Samuel Umtiti, rolled on with the return of Denis Suarez, continued with the addition of Lucas Digne, seemingly out of nowhere then continued with Andre Gomes and, potentially, Pablo Alcacer.

All of these players are 22 years old. But more remarkable than that chronological confluence, is that Barça has had a monster summer on the market. The staff has built, from my chair, the best team in Europe.

At season end, one that felt unfinished in the wake of the Champions League exit to Atleti, there was always this ideas that oh, for the lack of depth, the kingdom was lost, in that crazy world where a treble is the standard.

Nobody knew what would happen in the wake, but it’s safe to say that few of us expected this. By Pep Guardiola’s third season the club was forsaking him in the market as he went to war with a team as deep as a dog’s piddle. This year, even after a bumper crop of signings in Luis Enrique’s first year, the board mimiced Gang of Four, shouted “To hell with poverty,” and continued the squad overhaul.

Quality costs. Quality of the kind sufficient to buttress that murderers’ row of an XI costs even more. Only the most optimistic of culers, a guy sitting in a cave somewhere in the Catalan hills, suspected that the club would react in the way that it has.

Digne subbed for a pranged Mathieu in the Sevilla leg of the SuoerCopa, and gave his best outing of a pre-season during which he had already sparkled. It seemed so long ago that fragile, aging Adriano was the only LB option, if Mathieu was occupied at CB. If Mathieu was injured at the same time as Alba, it was Sergi Roberto, or panic.

Times change.

It wasn’t that long ago that Lionel Messi spoke out against a board that promised him a competitive team, then reneged on that deal, claimimg austerity. Irrespective of whether this current board is viewed as new or a continuation, there is a laudable commitment to sporting excellence, at least on the football side of things — which is, let’s face it, the jewel in the crown that is Barça.

The team has also eliminated players who weren’t up to standard in Montoya, Tello, Adriano and Bartra. This last raised eyebrows by showimg off for Dortmund, and many social media glitterati showed themselves incapable of grasping the idea that a player could not be good enough for the best team in the world, yet plenty good enough for a Bundesliga bridesmaid.

What is left, should the Alcacer transfer happen, is a fist. One with legitimate depth at every position except the one occupied by the best player in the game.

So many said that Sevilla looked toothless in attack in that first leg, which is true. Whether those folks want to lay it at the feet of Sevilla or a Barça that took care of business, depends on perspective. What can’t be argued however is that Barça looked about as good as its summer market performance in calmly dispatching Sevilla 0-2.

The latest trick is the still-rumored, but buttressed by some sound sources, Claudio Bravo transfer to Manchester City. It is fitting for this market summer that the club pulls off a deal in which everybody wins. Bravo gets to start for a Champions League and Prem contender. Barça ends the keeper debate and locks down its No. 1 for the nexf decade. The club more than doubled its money on Bravo. City gets a keeper more in line with the desired style of its new coach.

And this is all atop the excellent performances by Jordi Masip in pre-season. Even Marlon, the CB acquired for the B team, shone in pre-season, pointing to a bright future.

It’s the kind of summer that other clubs used to have, and we would watch from afar as another never-gonna-be was promoted from Barça B. Now that Barça is having that kind of summer, people in the entorno are having to search long and hard to find stuff to say.

The club is crap at selling, some rant, that Adriano was somehow worth real money, given the salary that put off many a suitor. Vermaelen went on loan to Roma, and the belief was that the market was willimg to pay good money fkr a high-salaried, often broken backup CB. The club sold when it could, and jettisoned for salary purposes what it coukdn’t sell. People snarled about Alves leavimg on a free, not considering the salary demands of the player.

There is talk that the club sold Bravo cheaply, by people who think that any club was going to lay out 40m for a 33-yo keeper who had become an impediment to the future. “It’s 40m or nothing,” huffed some, as unaware of market reality as the kid who wants a pony as a birthday present.

Others snarl that Barça had to go to the market, that it’s a shame that Masia talents weren’t available. Names such as Deulofeu and Grimaldo are cited, and solace found.

We used to want to be the club that took care of business. Now that we are, many crave some other club, shifting the target to ensure that it is never reached. Okay.

Meanwhile the club has assured not only depth and quality depth, but a talented future, thanks to the Summer of 22. And because those players are all young, they can be sold on shoukd an academy prospect enter the frame.

It’s all kinda weird. Yes, we can all wonder about the stadium project and its fiscal effects. We can wonder about this or that. We have to worry. It’s the culer nature. But on paper, the weirdest feeling of all — confession time — is that the club really hasn’t put a foot wrong this season, and it’s a struggle to deal with that.

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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.

39 Comments

  1. Chiu
    August 16, 2016

    Great summary Kx.

    This season transfer is one of the best business in the last decade made by our club. I think it equals with our summer transfer around 10 years ago when we brought Ronaldinho (winter transfer), Edmilson, Etoo and Deco. The titles came immediately afterward,

    Lots of reason to be optmistic this season we would maintain our winning cycle with such a quality depth. And next summer there are no WC or major Continental/regional fifa tournament that could distact our players focus and “avoiding injury” attitude.

    Visca Barca

  2. August 16, 2016

    This season is going to be very exciting.

    Now that it is sure Bravo is leaving, I want to ask something – How injury prone is TS. Even without much games, haven’t he already had more than couple of injuries now.
    Also, will he be ready to start our first liga match?

  3. raj
    August 16, 2016

    Thanks for this place – not just Kxevin but all the other authors and commentators – the comments in this place beat the headline articles in majority of internet.

    Me? I am in a bit of an existential mode when it comes to Barca (to start with). I am talking about the medium-long term. What will happen as Iniesta nears his ‘old age’? Similarly with Messi, I am sure now that his best years are past him, even as he will still be the best in the world for another couple of seasons.

    We haven’t found a replacement for Xavi let alone Ini and Messi. And there won’t be a replacement at all it seems (Masia is hopeless now), We deliberately moved away from patient passing of 2011 and transitioned to a hybrid of ‘counter to score and then pass to control’. I am not criticizing here – just stating the fact and understand it as a necessary evolution. I am just sad that we can’t afford to play that beautiful anymore (Yes, I think the passing-to-death game is the most beautiful there is)

    The question is, can we stay in this hybrid system for long? If there is no Iniesta to control that midfield, whom do we have? If Messi isn’t there to receive in midfield and create, would we resort to long balls to Saurez? Will be become a proper counter attacking team who depend on Neymar etc. to create, and the midfield exists to defend?

    I don’t know how a Barca team looked before 2011 and I am scared to think about a Barca team of 2018. Existential indeed.

  4. Jim
    August 16, 2016

    Great comment, Raj., and one I agree with wholeheartedly. You might be interested in Graham Hunter’s latest article here.

    http://www.espnfc.com/club/dbarcelona/83/blog/post/2931042/how-barcelona-handle-munir-el-haddadi-could-explain-current-club-philosophy

    Ok. Spoiler. What follows is a bit of a rant, including a little exaggeration at times, but Hunter has clarified a few things which have been going round in my mind the last couple of years.

    The next couple of years for me are probably gonna see some pretty fundamental decisions about the way we want to go. Hunter centres his article round Munir but for me Samper is the more true test.

    I’m in no doubt that it’s better to have control of the ball than not. At the moment with Pique, Busi, Iniesta and Messi it’s actually pretty hard not to have control of the ball but when Iniesta goes and Busi slows down ( even more ) we lose critical mass in terms of possession. No, I’m not saying that Denis, Rakitic, Rafinha or whoever can’t pass very well but receiving in tight situations, turning the right way and absolutely hating to lose the ball aren’t ingrained as much as in the rest. Even Messi further back loses possession too easily for me ( not that he doesn’t get a pass anyway from me for all that he is to this team).

    It’s simple. If you have the ball they’re running. That’s tiring. If you have the ball, they can’t score. If you have 65% possession instead of 50 that’s 15% of time they’re running and not at you. That’s not to say you will win if you have massively more possession but it is more likely. For me, we have too many in midfield who take the easier way out and play the ball back or to someone who is already marked and I’m not sure where that goes when Iniesta does. To be clear, I want to watch a team that the opposition can’t get the ball off.

    Let’s take the case of Samper. He’s captained the Bs and broke his ankle at the end of the season. I think everyone can see that his passing game and ability to hold possession under pressure are better than most of the firsts. However, it is mentioned that the physical side of his game needs work. And that for that to happen he needs to go out on loan , possibly to Valencia so we can bring in a couple of subs. This is because he has had his chance in preseason and didn’t shine, presumably. Ok, I didn’t think he was spectacular but few were and how many minutes did he get over the preseason ? Did he start any games ( much easier to get the flow) or was it second half and a few minutes here and there ? When he played, was it with the firsts or with the fringe players which makes anyone’s job harder ? How much time would have been reasonable given that he had finished last season injured and anyone with a fractured ankle finds it hard to get back into match fitness ? Were those minutes in his best position or played further forward ? Is that a fair run or a sham from LE to placate the growing unrest over lack of use of our academy ? Over the season we’ve listened to those who told us there was a plan for Samper and to be patient but Samper himself made it clear that nobody had said anything to him. Bottom line for me is that LE seems to be looking for a more physical team because that’s the sort of person he is himself.

    How about his physicality ? Ok, who are we comparing him with ? He’s certainly not slower than Busi, although his reading of the game isn’t as good as the best in the world at that position ( although the best in the world had a pretty poor preseason imo). He’s not slower than Rakitic that’s for sure. Is he a poorer passer than Denis ? Don’t know as apart from a couple of good balls over distance I haven’t seen him either contribute to defence or our passing game. I see Samper falling down at the moment only in the speed of his reaction to trouble, it’s not major and that only comes with game time alongside or watching the best not slugging it out with a poorish Valencia who may be at the wrong end of the league and a shambles.

    In a nutshell Samper is one of the few players I’ve seen over the last season who has a chance of maturing into someone who can run our passing game as we know it. Have we really bought anyone for midfield we’d be happy running our midfield when Iniesta goes ? Samper won’t happen away from our style and with inferior players. I’m old enough to remember the reaction here ( or rather the old Offside) when Busi was introduced to take Yaya’s place. He was roundly slagged at the start, mainly because he wasn’t Yaya but also because he genuinely was a liability at times. He lost the ball regularly and I still remember his speciality which was the backward header from midfield which used to initiate chaos in our defence. Pep rightly stuck with him because his passing ability and reading of the game were key and much better than Yaya’s.

    That is our choice again imo. If a player of his quality can’t get a reasonable run at holding down a spot why should anyone sign up at La Masia and why are we still trying to get all our youth teams to play the same way ?

    Anyway, it comes down to the type of football you want to watch and I’m aware I’m hard to please so back to watching the Brit cyclists wipe the floor with the rest of the world. 🙂

  5. Messiah10
    August 16, 2016

    “…as the kid who wants a pony as a birthday present.” – one of Kxevin’s best lines. Eva. Lmao! That was classic. Love the article. One of the reasons I love being a Culer so much is that we are such a diverse group of supporters. There are so many factions within the supporter base. I’ve been screaming for a larger squad for years! I love this summer more than any I can remember. We have built for the future. Let’s be honest, our squad wasn’t getting any younger. We needed depth, new blood, and youth. Clearly, La Masia hasn’t produced the world class talent it did in our Golden Generation. That’s why it’s called “Golden” though. Those classes don’t come around every few years. Why do you think ManU refer to the “class of 92” so often? If the B teamers aren’t taking their chances as Messi, Busi, & Iniesta did, then our club has an obligation to go out and find top talent to sustain sporting excellence. That’s what we want right? I know I do. Excited for the season and how it shapes up. What substitutions LE chooses and who rotates to different positions based on our needs.

  6. Chiu
    August 16, 2016

    Post 2018. Interesting topic for light discussion. In my opinion:

    – Pique and TS would be the anchor of our defese probably for next 5 seasons, mentoring the young players like SR, Umtiti and Digne.

    – In midfield. for sure Iniesta would be gradually phased out from starters. Playing less as he aged and become a mentor for younger mids. I think Iniesta would still stay for another two or three seasons. Then he move to MLS or lower league or completely retired aftrer WC 2018.

    – As he gradually phased out, we could still groom the young midfielders (Denis / Andre Gomes). We will see this season if. both of them capable to become Barca starters. And don’t forget the idea of Messi become our attacking midfielder definitively to mantain the quality possesion. Much of the Messi losing the ball was because he tried to dribble or penetrate. If Messi just use his ball possesion and passing skills to run the midfield, am sure taking the ball from Messi would be equally difficult as stealing the ball from Iniesta.

    – Busi in 2018 would still be a gem as he would be just 30 yrs old. After he pass 32, we could start to worry his physical decline. He could groom Samper as we hope Samper would get more playing time, more experience and we could activate the buy back clause.

    – Neymar would certainly lead our attack unless he ruin his career with some unprofessional lifestlye. We just need to find another world class striker to replace Luis Suarez (I personally like Griezman) and one attacker/winger that have positioning discipline ala Pedro or Giuly to complete the tridente. As long as Neymar attitude stay positives, he would lead the forward line and probably win some Ballon d Or.

    I personally optimistic we could still maintain our winning cycle, as always expected for a big club like Barca. Just the footaballing style could evolve and adapt slightly to the type of players that we have. But the philosophy of possesion football would still intact.

    Visca Barca

  7. raj
    August 17, 2016

    Thanks for the link, Jim. Awesome post by Graham Hunter – asking just the right question (though Samper would have been the right example as you say)

    I have my reservations about Munir being touted as potentially world-class, but who knows.
    We already made a mistake by not keeping that little fellow Thiago. We had the feels even then that he would make it (he was surely a better prospect then than Samper is now). I say we should’ve given him whatever he asked for – playing time or money. Because he is the kind of player you build a team around – especially a Barca team. Of course, I don’t know shit about his personality, so I may be totally wrong.

    But if we make that mistake with Samper, it is the just the nail in the coffin – I’d safely assume that there is no going back for this club, we will go the LE way for better or worse – at least for a generation. Because you can’t make a 2011 Barca by buying-back Xavis and Iniestas – they need to be groomed. Look how Fab turned out.

    As Graham says, the next couple of transfer seasons (if not the current one) would tell us clearly if the philosophy of La Masia still stands. And for me, with philosophy goes the glory. CHIU above had great points, but the conclusion ‘the philosophy of possesion football would still intact’ doesn’t seem to follow.

    Apart from that, I am sorry to say that I am not too optimistic about the current season either (though I hope with all my heart that I am wrong). I mean, we have a few talented youngsters apart from the same starting XI as last year (less the legendary Dani Alves!). I think the reason we didn’t go thorugh Atletico last season in UCL was because we lacked a Xavi – not a Nolito. We need more steel in Midfield, not attack – the ability to beat a couple of midfielders and hold onto the ball when under pressure. I don’t know how much of a difference a winger, like the ones we bought, would make against a stubborn defense when all the Messis and Neymars couldnt make it happen. The possession we had last couple of seasons was passive possession mostly, we need players who can turn that possession into openings for the attack. Did we really buy that stuff?

    I am sure we will win the league, because it seems too easy for this team. However, we will need luck in UCL this time round (more than what RM needed I dare say)

    • ibbe
      August 17, 2016

      You make great points. But…we need more luck than RM to win the CL? strongly disagree. Firstly, I don’t think it’s possible to be luckier than that. And secondly, if we had the same run of opponents in the knockout stages, I don’t see anything less than us lifting the trophy.

      • raj
        August 18, 2016

        I may have exaggerated there reg. RM, my bad 😉

  8. August 17, 2016

    Lots of excellent comments here. The Hunter puece is one that I like because of its quality, but mostly disagree with.

    A golden generation shouldn’t define expectation. There have been far more Jonathan dos Santoses and Idaac Cuencas than Thiago Alcantaras and Iniestas. And that hasn’t been because of any lack of nurturing, etc. The club has NEVER been all that brilliant at bringing players along. It’s a brutal system in which players with the talent have still had to scrabble to get purchase. Iniesta aas worried, Xavi almst left, Pique did keave, Puyol was almst gone, Alba left and returned. All of the Masia stuff is being viewed through rose-tinted spectacles, for me.

    Samper and Munir need playing time. That isn’t going to happen at Barça. I knew Samper was going on loan when I saw him play, then get moved up the pitch while Rakitic played in the hole. His game needs developing. Simple as that. Munir is quality, and frankly quite a bit closer to being first team ready than Samper. But he has to play. A lot. That can only happen away from Barça.

    Both players are not being sent away permanently, unless they prove to not be good enough. Unlike Hunter, I don’t think Samper and Munir going away to develop means anything more than it did when Denis Suarez was sent off. There is a lot of overreaction, I think.

    — Beautiful play is, for many, defined as the passing game. Nostalgia. The most effective Guardiola team was the Treble side, one that, like the current side, could beat you with some of the possession, or all of it. A truly effective juggernaut should be adaptable. This Barça is. It is a team capable of great beauty. It is also a team capable of kicking you in the fafe as it cuts your throat. I like that.

    Oponents adapted, the team had to, and did.

    • August 17, 2016

      Well said Kxevin, couldn’t agree with you more. That generation of players that Hunter is using as a benchmark is a once in a lifetime generation of players, and even then, like you said a lot of them were very close to leaving, or left and came back.

      I think Samper is a quality player, but he needs time on the pitch, serious time, against serious opponents and there is just no way he gets that at Barca. His situation cannot be compared to SB, who was given far more playing time in order to usurp Toure because at the time Pep believed SB would be a better fit for our system, even as a young, slightly immature player (and how right he was). That is a very different situation to the current one where there is simply nobody better in world football for Barca than SB at that position. Samper needs to grow and I think this is the best thing for him. I actually think keeping him would be bad for his development. Same goes for Munir, who looked good in preseason, but really is still very far from being able to fill in for one of the MSN. Now, not sure if Alcacer is that player, but I trust the decision makers at the club enough that if they want him that badly then he is the right player.

      I am frankly quite surprised more people are not completely ecstatic about our transfer window and the upcoming season. The board have almost done absolutely everything right in terms of signing players, dropping salaries and generally just cleaning up house. It’s a team that can play many ways vs many different opponents, that has quality depth in pretty much every position and with a fantastic mix of experience and youth, You cannot really ask for more as a fan.

    • Messiah10
      August 18, 2016

      Completely agree with everything in this post. “Golden Generation” means exactly what it implies. It doesn’t come around very often. As I mentioned above, look at Man U’s class of ’92. Only, instead of loaning Munir I’d rather keep him and not spend $20 mil on Alcacer. Just my opinion. When the passing game was brought up I thought of Treble win in ’08-09. That team played some killer balls over the top, down the flanks, & wasn’t trying to kill opponents by “death by a thousand passes”. I love the ground game, but I also love flexibility and the ability to adapt to how we are being played. Towards the end we had no answers to the parked bus. It’s no coincidence we won the Treble twice with same style of adaptability and killer balls.

  9. Davour
    August 17, 2016

    I love the way debates are picked up and developed here. Bravo or TS, anew striker, Munir, Samper, style of play, etc. Almost always reflective and based on arguments. But in the end, I guess it is about values and preference. Groom Samper or send him away to camp? I have no idea, though I lean towards letting him go to the right club. I think his Barca DNA is strong enough to survive this,while adding a few more aspects to his game. Valencia seems a dangerous place, and I much prefer the other rumours of Granada (for Munir, too). They should not be thrown in as some part of an Alcacer deal for monetary reasons, but must be handled carefully.

    It’s been a fabulous summer; I won’t cry if Munir becomes the 4th, but he is probably not good enough (yet?) to be a starter (even occasionally). Only sending him and Samper off to the wrong destination could somewhat taint how I feel about it.

    Here’s especially hoping that Sergi keeps growing. He shows to the value of Masia – players are often more patient (bar Thiago who was too good to wait) and loyal.

    We have discussed before how the golden standard of this generation skews our view of Masia. Really, we should be pleased if a player every now and then makes it through as a squad player. But the team needs to evolve to not stagnate, and we should look ahead, not to the past – replacements are really not the correct term to use in relation to players like Iniesta, Xavi and Messi, you need a whole new plan, since they WERE (are) the plan. Currently, Neymar is the closest thing we have to indicate the future – what kind of team would he thrive in, without Messi & co? This summer, to me, has the potential of providing a few pieces of that pussel – Umtiti especially, if he works out (and Marlon, of course!).

  10. Manita2010
    August 17, 2016

    just watched the spanish super cup. The Kids are alright. The future is bright. I love how they always hug each other, there is just this warm fuzzy feeling i get. visca barca

  11. G6O
    August 17, 2016

    Munir has been playing with such confidence, and now his quality is showing.

    Why exactly are we looking for another forward?

  12. raj
    August 18, 2016

    Well, after reading the latest comments, I have a change in perspective once more, thanks for that. Xavi Ini Busquets WERE the plan. So, yeah, a bit biased I am! I just cant let go.

    On the contrary, I wonder what would the team yesterday have looked like if we had a coach as strong in his opinions about how to play as, say, Pep Guardiola.

    I always thought that the foundation for success of the 2009-2012 team was because Pep was radical (Chicken and egg question: Did that generation of players achieve success because they played in that system, or or vice-versa?)

    Question for me is, is the board screwing the long term by trusting the ‘win whichever way you can’ LE (notwithstanding the summer of 22s)

    • Davour
      August 18, 2016

      Honestly, I think the board’s plans were deleterious when they became over-reliant on the old guard, especially Messi, to solve everything without signings, etc. The lack of renewal, to me, was their problem. I’m not sure the you-must-win demands come from LE, but rather from the club and fans, and that he does have a philosophy but one more focussed on flexibility, adapting in order to best overcome opponents. With the Pep’s team, they players were to amazingly good at executing the passing game that there was less need for a plan B, AND the there was renewal in the way Pep approached it, too (moving away from over-reliance on a Ronaldinho with declining focus and Deco with declining ability, perhaps).

      On the game yesterday, I was only able to see the first half – but I liked what I saw. Umtiti looks absolutely fabulous, Arda much improved, Busi getting closer to his old self, Munir promising… Denis look a bit shaky, Gomez a bit better. And Messi might be passed his absolute peak (14/15), but still plays his own game – he just did his thing, controlling everything (if losing focus from time to time). Impressive overall!

    • August 18, 2016

      Raj, we DO have a coach who is strong in his opinions about how to play as Pep Guardiola. We also have a coach who knows the kinds of players that he wants and is acquiring those precise players.

      Luis Enrique’s transfer success record has been exemplary, significantly above average, even in the Guardiola era. That ppints to a coach with a clear vision. But because Luis Enrique doesn’t have a single style of play shouldn’t be mistaken as a lack of vision.

      We can love Guardiola for what he did, consider him a Barça legend and keep his era in perspective without letting it blind us to the extraordinary thing that Luis Enrique has accomplished. I was at the match Wednesday, and no matter how good the team looked on TV, it looked better in person.

      Sevilla won Europa League. And before anyone says, “Well, they lost x or y player,” the team that RM needed a 94th-minute goal to defeat, Barça complately dismantled.

      It is possibke for both Guardiola AND Luis Enrique to have a clear vision of how they want to play, and for both coaches to be effective at conveying that vision. For me, Luis Enrique has been brilliant. The team played such beautiful footbaal against Sevilla, of the type many assert it doesn’t play. But it could also be vibrant, direct and immediately dangerous.

      I adored what Guardiola did, but have moved on. I love what Luis Enrique has done just as much.

      To your question about whether the board is screwing the future, every player signed this summer has addressed the need of an aging squad with a young talent. If Alcacer comes, he will be another young talent. Not sure how that is screwimg the future in any way. I hate the board as much as anyone, probably even more, but I have to doff my cap to them.

  13. TITO
    August 18, 2016

    Past is the past, it is written in the history books and is should remain there.
    We will probably never see a talent like Messi in our team. A Xavi, Iniesta, Busi type of player will come and go…that’s my opinion.
    I enjoyed the game last night. Some of the plays were excellent, one two’s, diagonals, through balls, finishing, holding the midfield, not panicking in the back…a lot of great things to be satisfied, at least for me.
    But, on the other hand, WTF is wrong with Busi? Some floppy plays, lack of concentration, too much confidence in his abilities (especially when surrounded by the opposition players) when he can make a simple pass. Don’t know, but he needs to get his act ASAP. The league is starting, and we need him focused.
    We got a hell of a player in Umtiti for the next decade, same with Digne, Denis, and Andre Gomes was excellent as well.
    All in all, a great business this summer. Iniesta is injured, no problem, Masch is injured, no problem….

    • Messiah10
      August 19, 2016

      A Busi type of player will come and go? For me, Busi is the most under appreciated, under valued(by most outside our club), and overlooked world class players to have played the game. I may be off, but he is one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen imho. The way he dictates the pass to the pass that leads to our build up, counters, and attack is only done because he is the coolest cucumber under pressure. He could receive the ball knowing it was a bad pass from a teammate, while anticipating 2-3 players closing him down, their exact position, and where the hell they will pressure him from, and pull off a series of other worldly moves to escape. Then pick the pass to create momentum upfield. I’m in awe each time I watch us play. Then there’s his defensive responsibilities. It makes no sense. He’s the slowest guy on the pitch, but manages to be in the right place at the right time to destroy opposing teams counters. The countless “potential” counters or threats he has killed don’t get stats and aren’t flashy numbers, so often we don’t even remember because the counter was stopped before it became a 3 vs 2 or developed into anything dangerous. The man is a genius. To me he’s been as more important to our success then Xavi/Iniesta. I’ve been concerned of late because it does seem he’s aging quickly. You have to remember that even though he hasn’t broken the 30 year old barrier he’s still played an upsurd amount of footie in the past 8 years. Essentially playing year round 2X week. That takes its toll on anyone. With proper game management he will still be the best DM in world for another few years. I’m done with my Busi crush rant. I just took exception that there are Busi “type” players that come and go. Peace

    • Jim
      August 19, 2016

      I’m not sure Xavi’s rare ability to control a game through his passing will ever be seen again either. Certainly hasn’t been anyone up to now with that ability.

  14. mr.undercover
    August 18, 2016

    Lucho has brought somethings pep couldn’t, he wanted his team to be predictable, wanted his team to play many different types of football and here we are, he might not be charismatic as pep, but he has his own vision the way he see’s football and has the guts to implement it, culeverse wants wining, want trophies, so the right man is surely lucho, we may dislike his methods or approaches sometimes but that won’t deny him his merit as one of best coaches barca have ever had.

  15. Jim
    August 18, 2016

    Just watched the whole game on YouTube as missed it last night. I liked what I saw. What a difference a week can make in preseason. Much sharper, ball moving quicker and opposition having to do a whole lot more running.

    Pluses for me were Umtiti ( I like the way he pings his passes and opens his body up to receive a pass – that’s class.) Still has a bit to do in terms of not losing his man but very promising. Digne had a good game and it’ll be good to see him and Alba challenging for that spot.

    Gomes was reasonable but in general the midfield were still not really cooking for me, other than in just keeping possession. Denis is anonymous and I’ll say it in case anyone else doesn’t like to. Not worth a place at the moment although he is mobile and worth keeping. Better from Turan and for the first time since the first time I saw him I was impressed by Munir. Didn’t actually think I’d ever use that phrase. Not entirely but enough in flashes to say his confidence has been helped by the goals. Loved the way he was starting to try things. If he doesn’t do that he won’t stick.

    Great game from Bravo – TS will have big shoes to fill and as someone else has said here I hope he doesn’t start with a few nervous displays or. Sod’s law dictates it’ll get worse.

    However, couldn’t take my eyes off Messi. He was amazing. If only he had this energy every week. Complete answer to anyone who thought he’d lost a yard of pace or we wouldn’t see dribbling Messi again. Still really by far the most dangerous player we have.

    Not so convinced by Masche ( again) . Silly mistakes, impulsive dive ins. He’s not had a great preseason. He will improve but it’ll be a great test of LE’s meritocracy to see if he retains his place . Umtiti’s performance was much better than his. It’ll be interesting to see if LE plays him or Mathieu this weekend and more interesting to see if Masche walks back into his slot when fit. Genuine contenders for his spot.

    Am I the only one who thought Vidal was better last night as well ? Showed his pace and commitment. Still worried about his first touch which isn’t good enough.

    Samper came on and another great passing ( and ball retention ) performance, mainly as a team of ten, as well as some steel in winning the ball back. In particular he worked hard to himself available every time when the defence were looking for a ball out. That’s important and something that hasn’tt always been happening in preseason. Pep’s mantra of keeping position and the ball will come to you was okay in the days of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets because we had it virtually all the time but these days we need to work harder to stay available given the presses that teams use against us.

    Some better football last night though which was good to see. Some nice triangles and ball moving quickly. Looking forward to the first really serious one this weekend.

    • August 19, 2016

      The two players the folks in the stands were gushing over were Umtiti and Turan, for good reason. Both were brilliant, particularly the passes and runs of the former, who also had the highest percentage of completed passes in the match. Also lots of “Jefecito” chants. They’re really behind Mascherano, who had a lot of important interventions. Was an excellent match to witness live.

      Samper has talent, but needs a loan. Chasing the play too often, which was quite evident from the stands. He had some nice passing moments, but mostly looked a potential first teamer who needs more reps.

      The locals were rooting hard for Munir, as well. He continued the excellent form he has been displaying all pre-season. His energy and pressing were constant.

      • SoccerMom
        August 19, 2016

        The Arda gushing … that was me. He waved to the fans during warm up and I didn’t stop shrieking until they fired the confetti canons. And if you saw on Being Sports a lady of a certain age in a blue dress waving and screeching like a tweeter with Bieber fever during the first goal celebration 4 rows up from the pitch behind the corner flag, that was me too. I am yelling “BARCELONA FOOTBALL BLOG ” in case I got on camera. That aside, I thought Arda was amazing. Umtiti can certainly can play the ball … re: the above discussion about Samper … but he gave up a silly penalty and got a little lost from time to time. Needs to ripen a little but quite promising … Arda is so THERE already. Also will be bummed to lose Bravo. He’s one of the coolest-blooded keepers I’ve seen. When I wasn’t going hoarse over Arda I was fan-girl-ing Carlos, much to the humiliation of Mr have and sons.

      • August 19, 2016

        YOU WERE THERE! I am stunned we didn’t try to cross paths in BCN.

      • SoccerMom
        August 20, 2016

        I WAS THERE!! I’very been stalking you for weeks … check the comments section to your previous post & your Facebook msgs. I even upchucked a post last week. The Camp Nou WiFi is irregular … kept trying to send y’all Saluda but the conex kept going out. That’s why if you watch the game on replay look for Arda’s first goal, the first celebration and right before Masch’s injury. I’m 4 rows up yelling “BARCELONA FOOTBALL BLOG! !”

      • Jim
        August 19, 2016

        I suppose your chasing the game is my making himself available, Kxevin.

        However having just rewatched his meagre minutes I’m not sure what live could have added. He was in camera shot the whole time the ball was in our half. Virtually no close ups apart from replays and almost exclusively wide angle so you can see how the defence moves.

        Leaving aside Samper, if there’s one thing which has been obvious from preseason for me it’s that the midfielders need to be available more quickly. Look at Mathieu’s slack pass in an early game ( forget which one) . He was set to pass to Turan who just turned his back and ran behind an opposing player, Mathieu rather stupidly tried the pass anyway and ball lost. We no longer have the Xavi ( and temporarily not Ini either) who can twist, turn, carry the ball till someone is available. The waiting for the game to come to you of Pep’s time falls down when you don’t have massive possession or are in a heavy press, especially as they target Busi now.

  16. Jason
    August 18, 2016

    Let me preface this by saying I love Lionel Messi. In my estimation he is the greatest footballer to ever play the game. Best yet he is still in his prime (ages 27-31)). I think when given the license to roam the field he is as dangerous any other player in world football. And I hate it!

    When Messi drops deep he can shake markers without moving the ball. Those shoulder drops break ankles. But he can lose the ball. And sometimes when he does he can be energetic in its recovery. Other times not so much. I’ll watch the general transition from a Barcelona/Messi in possession to a Barcelona/Messi out of possession and everyone reacts in someway. He sometimes does not.

    I think yesterday Andre Gomes played well. He seemed to me to be everywhere. And I caught glimpses of his technique in that first goal. A gentle roll of the ball with the bottom of his right boat to line up the entry pass with his left was deft and pretty close to the opposition box. Kinda like where Iniesta drops key passes.

    Denis had seven assists last season in the Europa League. Impressive! I think with a more spaced out formation, which includes the 14/15 version of right wing Messi, our mids can enjoy a bit more space and more advanced passing lanes. Deep dropping Messi is eliminating one target further up field.

    I think we need Sergi Roberto to start at right back. I like Vidal’s pace but from what I have seen since he has signed for the club has not convinced me he is a better option. It has actually created relief in me when Roberto is pencilled into that position instead of Aleix. Maybe he’ll find his footing but I think anything less than clearly dethroning Roberto should lead us in the summer market of 2017 with our eyes on an RB.

    Glad we don’t have these issues on the left. Lucas Digne. Lu-Ka Deeg-nay. What strikes me best about this guy is his use of space. he doesn’t get caught out with the space behind him nor does he ever seem to far away from contributing in attack. Technically he is sharp and he has quality size for a LB. His physique is lanky and he clearly is an upgrade from set pieces.

    Looking forward to the return of Neymar and Rafinha. Hope we get some swift and successful recoveries from Andres, Masche, Jeremy and Mats. I don’t like the idea of early season muscle injuries. Definitely something that can linger if rushed back. Next couple days should see transfer activity buzzing. Thanks Bravo, you were exceptional! And if our two young whiplets, Munir and Samper leave, I will make sure to follow them wherever they go. They are going to have bright futures.

    • Jim
      August 18, 2016

      Agreed on Messi losing the ball too easily in our half, Jason. I’d said it before so thought the Wee man deserved a break this time. Problem is how deep he is coming. I’ve no issue with him losing it well into their half but if it’s in ours he needs to run to get it back.

      • Davour
        August 19, 2016

        True. But he actually did run a few times (not all, of course…), and I remember seeing him, very briefly in the CB position. Exception rather than rule, of course, but if he will play deeper more regularly, as a part of the plan, LE needs to ask him to cover more. If Messi’s game will change further away from the bursting attacker to the free-floating playmaker, he will need less energy for dribbles and can use a little more to defend, I think. With his intelligence, he can make a world of good in such a role, potentially (a free up Neymar even more, too, a bit further up the pitch). I loved seeing him drift all over the pitch, intelligently, offering outs and creating space. A few times where he lost the ball I feel it was because he received a pass in a situation where he had no space at all. Sometimes he manages, but not always. Still, it shows the absolute faith his teammates have in his ability – which other player would receive a pass in those situations? None (bar perhaps Iniesta, from time to time).

      • August 19, 2016

        Yes, he lost the ball more time, but there were times when he really tried to recover it too, once even reaching our last line.
        But overall that was a stunning show by Messi. That man can play everywhere. Now I u.stand what every one is talking about how De Stefano appeared all over the pitch.
        Masche, Jim, I think seems to forget sometimes that he is a CB and his first instincts are all like a DM, which is dangerous. Some times he ends up at places where he should not be. But overall, his sheer Argentine grit helps him overcome most obstacles. He is going to have to fight it out with Umtiti it looks like. I think this could be his last season with us, as an Argentine he would like a dignified exit.

        OT – 2 Argentine friends who are staying with me now, told me this story – How does an Argentinian commit suicide – He will climb on top of his ego and then jump down.

      • Jim
        August 19, 2016

        Listen, guys, I’m by no means having a go at the wee man. He was amazing and the difference between the sides.

        I wish he didn’t feel he had to come so deep. He’s always come off the front line as he wants but we’re now talking so deep there’s no way he can also be at the other end. To me, it’s an indictment of our midfield’s ability to carry the ball between the lines and create but it’s maybe something LE wants him to do and he is rather good at it. Not sure we can afford to lose the number of goals he scores, though. Dunno.

        Also, agreed on the passes, Davour. Some of our guys are taking our better players for granted and expecting them to be able to handle ill advised and wrongly weighted passes. It’s one thing you notice our CBs are careful not to do. Masche, Pique and Mathieu all make an attempt to create a good angle to receive a pass and won’t hit one until they’re ready. As you say, only
        Messi and Iniesta ( I’d add Xavi as was ) can handle virtually any ball. I’d put Busi just behind them and,at the risk of labouring a point , Samper also has that rare ability .

  17. mr.undercover
    August 19, 2016

    Hey Kxven!! Since the Liga is starting tonight, When are you going to post the prediction of this season winners, etc. as you did last season???? I won’t forget that you rooted for Atletico madrid to win the liga, it was fun, can’t wait for another one

  18. August 19, 2016

    Looks like now keeper signing might be Cilessen from Ajax instead of Diego Alves. Not sure what happened, but there ya go. He was held out of today’s match. Ajax confirms due to interest by other clubs.

    Also Munir’s agent says club has told them a fourth attacker will ne signed, but Munir wants to stay and fight for a spot.

  19. August 20, 2016

    I hope we get a decent keeper to replace Bravo, as I don’t know much about current quality of CiLessen . I expect to see a busy transfer deadline week based on what the club want. How long would Neymar and co rest before they can re join th group again after rio tournament

    • Chiu
      August 20, 2016

      Neymar and Rafinha will join the group immediately after the olympic. that event become ney and rafinha “pre season” . they have their holiday before that

    • August 20, 2016

      The only thing I can remember about him is the penalty shoot out against Argentina in 14WC semis. He didnt look confident at all for any of those kicks.
      But otherwise, being an Ajax man, he might be good. I dont know anything about that league.

  20. August 20, 2016

    Ok thanks CHIU

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