Almeria 2, Barca 2, aka “Sant Jordi comes early this year.”

La Diada de Sant Jordi, in Catalan culture, usually comes on April 23. Women are given a gift of roses, and respected men are given books.

In an early variant, we gave Almeria a draw. Rather nice (and charitable) of us, don’t you think? People can chatter all they want about officiating, and dives, and unfair red cards all they like, but the fact of the matter is that we played like crap for most of that match, and still came away with a draw.

Which means what? Lord only knows, from our team that doesn’t seem to be able to find a consistent groove.

Coming off of our last Liga match, in which we evinced beautiful, flowing football that made the superlatives flow from pens all over again, we were expecting more of the same. One-touch passing, movement and aggression that resulted in not a ton of goals, but chances galore. (It should also be noted that Ibrahimovic started that match, just something to note for the “We move and play better without Ibrahimovic” crowd.)

But this week was once again, something different. And it wasn’t just a priggish ref who delayed the start of the match because he didn’t like the extent to which Almeria were togged up in support of the Chilean earthquake victims. Guardiola rolled out with Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Milito, Maxwell, The Yaya, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro! and Ibrahimovic, a lineup that should have been more than sufficient to put the wood to Almeria, even in their house. Yet, whether it was the Internationals, or us sitting around reading our press clippings from last season, we started out pancake flat, content to stroke the ball around. Almeria decided that it would do the “United defense,” which is let us play with the ball, but not let anything happen in a position of real danger.

More importantly they, like other sides that we face, have adopted the defensive posture of playing us to be stupid and selfish with the ball. And we oblige them, time and again.

–Messi makes a run, with two excellent options: a pass to a streaking Iniesta or sliding it over to Alves. He keeps the ball, and loses it.
–We get a free kick in the box, and Alves decides to shoot rather than playing it to Xavi, or crossing it to Ibrahimovic. There were 6 men plus the keeper between he and the goal. The shot wasn’t going in.
–Pedro gets the ball, and rather than going for the lob pass to a wide-open Ibrahimovic or sliding it to Iniesta, takes a shot from an absurd angle that didn’t have a chance.
–Pedro again gets the ball just outside of our box and our break is off to the races, but rather than making the immediate pass to Messi or Ibrahimovic, he dribbles and dribbles, until he is intentionally fouled by an Almeria player.

Stupid and selfish.

So what teams are doing now, is crowding the ball. So each and every time that we do the right thing, as Messi began to do when he would make a run just enough to draw the defense, then dish, the player receiving the pass was wide open. But usually, they then proceeded to do the wrong thing with the ball. When people examine the differences between this season and last, there are many, but for me it all comes down to doing the right thing with the ball, and moving.

Note one play in which Xavi receives a pass, and is bracketed by three Almeria defenders. Last year, there would have been people buzzing around him like flies, waiting to receive the ball. This time, Messi was walking around almost in place, Alves was standing on the sideline, doing nothing to relieve the pressure on Xavi. Everybody else was off doing something or other, but not creating space or options. So Xavi was forced to play yet another negative ball.

We really missed Pique yesterday, because of his ability to start attacks from the back. Otherwise, you get short passes from the back line to Xavi or somebody, who has to then bring the ball through that gauntlet, that is bypassed when a defender starts the attack with a good long pass, Piquenbauer style. Why not Txigrinski or Marquez with Milito? Good question.

Another significant difference is our sense of urgency. Last season, whenever an opponent got the ball in midfield, at least two of our attackers were on him like flies, challenging for the ball and making it clear that it was our ball. This season, there isn’t that same energy. Opponents get the ball in the midfield and are allowed to play with it, and pick passes. The problem with that is that our back line then becomes vulnerable, as players running directly at it at full pace are getting free for chances on goal.

Piss and moan all anyone likes about Ibrahimovic, or what we should have done in the winter transfer market, or whatever. The simple fact of the matter is that we are collectively playing (usually) just well enough to (usually) win. It’s mostly kinda crappy, but our crappy is another club’s pretty damned good. And so it goes. Until we get back to the passing and movement that were our hallmarks last season as a team, it won’t matter who is on the pitch. Nor will it matter who this or that week’s scapegoat is or isn’t. Right now, Ibrahimovic is a very fashionable goat. Why not? We spent a lot of money for him, and sent away a beloved player who banged in a pile of goals for us. So it’s all his fault. Riiiight. He told Iniesta to stand around. He also told Xavi to not have any offensive spark to his game, and mentioned to Puyol that for a change, he should try playing out of position so that he will be done for pace.

Team effort, folks, from top to bottom. Ibrahimovic isn’t scoring because he isn’t getting good service. And he isn’t getting good service because people aren’t moving as they should be. They just aren’t. And it doesn’t take a footballing genius to see it. He has a 3-player escort at all times, which should create an attacking imbalance that we just don’t take advantage of. And so it goes.

Oh, yeah. They scored first, and it was simple enough how it happened. Alves played a slack, awful pass out of the back that was instantly converted into an attack. The Almeria man, running full tilt at Puyol, just smoked him and Puyol gave up a needless corner. On the ensuing set piece, The Yaya was bulled off of his position by the attacker, who then outjumped Puyol to head the ball past Valdes.

Say what you want about how a foul should have been called on the attacker, etc, etc. But man-mountains aren’t supposed to get shoved aside so easily. Hell of a cross too, that fell right to the player. Should Valdes have contested the cross? Should Puyol have been in front of, rather than beside the player? All valid questions, and all pointless now, because they scored.

We resumed our stationary movement-based attack. We had lots of possession, hardly any of it meaningful, and Almeria were content to defend with 10 and wait for counterattacking opportunities.

Yes, there were some chances created by our attack. But one Xavi free kick had the right idea, but not enough pace, so it was easily batted away by their keeper. Messi was bulled off the ball in the box, and the ensuing hooraw saw Guardiola sent to the upper deck, where he kept the coaching staff on phone contact for the duration. But usually, Almeria were content to make liberal and effective use of the professional foul to stop attacks. And when that didn’t work, they delayed the match by feigning some injury in the hopes that they could make a meal out of bullshit. Often, it worked.

And we dribble, dribble, dribbled to no avail, finally evening things up courtesy of a sublime free kick from Messi, who actually passed the ball into the net. Their keeper, Bruno Alves, had his wall set perfectly. But Messi’s deft, exquisite ball got past it, and doomed Alves. It was 1-1 at the half, one in which we played like practice pylons. Couldn’t get any worse, right?


We were doing more of the same on offense, then on defense, Maxwell tried a stupid little lob for Ibrahimovic, just the thing for a ball-hawking defense to disrupt, and they were off to the races. Note how their players were always looking up, always in search of the runner, the pass that would break the lock. Sounds like a team we all know and love, right? The subsequent attack again found Puyol toasted like day-old bread, and he tried to deal with the ensuing cross that Valdes had fully covered, by sticking out a leg.

Now, we’ve seen what just sticking out a leg does: Busquets used to do it, and it was usually bad. Pique did it, and it resulted in an own goal, and a draw. Puyol did it, and it resulted in an own goal, and a 2-1 deficit. And I got to wondering, are we talking out there? Did Valdes call Puyol off the ball? In the instances, time and again, where we lost the ball to a play from behind by an Almeria defender, are we saying “Heads up, incoming?” Puyol didn’t need to make a play, and he sure as hell didn’t need to make that play. Because as any experienced defender will tell you, when you stick the leg out, you can’t control what your foot is going to make the ball do.

We started playing with a little more urgency, but still made the wrong decisions. Xavi opted for a shot, instead of rolling it to Messi for the finish. Iniesta hesitiated in chasing a free ball that would have had him dead to rights against the keeper. Man.

And then came a rather odd play, as Ibrahimovic made elbow to shoulder contact with an Almeria defender, who grabbed his face and went down like he was shot, rolling on the pitch in agony. The Deportes announcers thought that it was pretty silly, but they thought that the straight red to Ibrahimovic was even sillier. The Almeria player, by the by, then got up limping, presumably because you can’t really act out a feigned face strike. So “My leg! My leg!” becomes a viable option. And Ibrahimovic was sent off, but he couldn’t join Guardiola in the upper reaches of the Almeria stadium. Bummer, that.

UPDATE. The referee’s match report cites a kick as the reason that Ibrahimovic got the straight red. Not sure when it happened, however, because it wasn’t before the silly elbow. He further notes that Guardiola was screaming in the face of an assistant referee. Guardiola says that he was innocently wondering why in the hell Messi’s getting knocked over wasn’t a penalty.

There was joy in Mudville, as people said “Hark, our movement is so much better without that big, Swedish pylon in the way, messing things up and telling our guys to stand around.”

Hi. I'm Zlatan. The goat.

But what happened instead was that Messi became a one-man army, making runs at the defense, creating chances and yes, still being selfish. He rolled a weak shot at Alves that made this viewer wonder about the Iniesta option. He was open, and running into the box. There was a stretch of the match where Almeria were reeling, and all we needed was one good play to put them under, but we just couldn’t muster the wherewithal to create it. We came close time and again, but a last-ditch play from them or bit of silliness from us kept us at bay. Then when Messi blasted a shot that Alves had to save, their keeper knew what he had to do, and he lay on the pitch as if dying, for about 3 minutes or so. Then he, too, despite the fact that he went down clutching his abdomen, got up limping. “My leg! My leg!”

It killed the momentum, and our chances of winning the match. So a draw it was, one that, after EE beat Sevilla on precisely the kind of late goal that we were searching for, found them top of table based on goal differential, because the head-to-head isn’t final yet. Imagine that! But we are level on points with them, with plenty of matches left. So let’s see. Meanwhile, we have some points to give out.

Team: 2. Just awful. No communication, no movement, no support for each other. Triangles? What triangles?

Guardiola: 4. You don’t get ejected when your club needs you. And why stick with an ineffective Pedro! for so long?

Valdes: 7. Kept this from being a loss, frankly. But he has to call Puyol off that ball. Maybe he did, and Captain Caveman didn’t listen. Dunno.

Alves: 3. Kinda worthless today, and gave away two silly balls, one of which ended up as a goal off a set piece, and the other forced an excellent save from Valdes or it would have been a goal. And too often, his space was a passing lane for Almeria, as he was nowhere to be found. Don’t blame him for trying the dive in their box. That ref had made other stupid calls from a bad position. Why not one more?

Puyol: 3. You can show a tendency to be out of position if you have the pace to deal with it. And check where the keeper is before you scramble and stick a leg out. A panicked defender isn’t a very good defender.

Milito: 7. Tell me again why he isn’t a starter? Oh. Yeah. Never mind. He is so assured, and knows the right plays to make. He also game Ibrahimovic potentially the best service of his time on the pitch, with a lob that just missed our Big Swede.

Maxwell: 6. Still improving with reps. So solid on defense, and isn’t giving away the silly corners any longer. Played to a higher rating, but that bit of silliness that became a goal for them drags the rating down.

The Yaya: 6. Didn’t evince the same kind of command and control that he usually does. And he simply has to hold position on set pieces. Getting shoved aside on your doorstep is inexcusable.

Xavi: 5. A few nice plays, but mostly dull in attack and too heavy on too many passes. Bad decisions are rare for him, but make them he did.

Iniesta: 4. No invention, no flash, no pace and too much individuality. Did Internationals suck some life out of him? Maybe.

Messi: 7. Excellent play in flashes. And selfishness in flashes. But he was our only real threat today, and was looking on for the hat trick.

Pedro!: 4. Wasteful, wasteful, wasteful. If Henry has that kind of a match, people are calling for his Gallic noggin. Pedro will still start over Henry, but he should have been subbed.

Ibrahimovic: 4. Part of good service is making yourself available for it. Ineffective anonymity doesn’t become something so large.


Busquets: 8. A number of excellent defensive and attack-starting plays. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be the attacking force that he would have been had he come on, and we had our full complement of players.

So, we’re even on points with That Other Spanish Team, and already people are conceding the Liga. Nonsense. I warned everyone that this was going to be a dogfight. But remember that they needed late heroics to beat a Sevilla side that we spanked in the Liga. And we beat them at home. Even with a draw at their house, we’re up in the head-to-head. All we have to do is take care of business, and stop playing like gits.

And the fact that I note our deficiencies in no way denotes an iota of diminished confidence in this club. We are still, on our game, the best club in the world. Finding that game appears to be a bit difficult right now, but I have confidence that we will. Did Internationals take something out of us? Perhaps. And Almeria deserve credit, for fighting like lions in their home den. Yes, we gifted them the draw. But they had to convert the gift cards, and did so very effectively.

Oh, and Messi is pichichi, knocking in Barca’s 5,100th goal. That’s a lotta goals.

Now Dani. Try that one more time and your card will match your shirt.
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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Nick
    March 7, 2010

    For them pessimists out there, consider that we now have 2 more points than at the same time last season. That is, glorious flowing football versus pedestrian football. Whereas EE are at their best. And we’re tied on points. What do ya say? Correct. We can’t get any worse than that.

  2. Helge
    March 7, 2010

    We can complain about Messi being selfish, but he came very close to scoring a hat-trick (I’m glad you rated him with a 7, I expected a worse rating while reading the review, Kxevin. But a 7 is totally okay). Maybe he noticed that almost every other player was not in form, or he simply is selfish. I don’t really mind because he saved us in this match, he saved us against Malaga last week. If every player had shown the same spirit and willingness as Messi, we would have won. My impression was that only Messi fought against a bad result.

    I can’t wait for Sunday, Valencia will be the real test of the season so far.

  3. adal
    March 7, 2010

    Nice review. Totally agreed.
    Haven’t seen so many bad cross balls in the first half of the match. And wtf with corners, did they go back to Rijkaard days, just pass out the ball?
    Really bad bad team effort in whole.

    • stephen
      March 8, 2010

      I noticed that too with the exact same disappointment, cross them use that gigantic swede and yaya.

  4. Lev
    March 7, 2010

    didnt watch the game yesterday but your review pretty much sums up the season so far…

  5. messi_fan
    March 7, 2010

    No way Busi gets a better rating than Messi. No way. I agree with all the others but come on, selfish or not the guy almost singlehandedly got us three points.

    • Kari
      March 7, 2010

      Agreed. Busi played to more like a 7 or 7.5. Messi does deserve a higher rating. You can say it’s ‘selfishness’, but really, if he passed it, would they really do something productive with it even if (when) he DID pass? I recall on play where he brought out the entire defense, passed to Alves, only for Alves to take too long to shoot.

      His ‘selfishness’ drags the defense to him, creating space. I realize he has to use that space, but with the form the team is in right now…I recall on play where he brought out the entire defense, passed to Alves, only for Alves to take too long to shoot.

      The fact is Messi is saving us right now. And he was a real leader yesterday. I get that he’s the best player in the world, but what we needed was goals–and he delivered.

      • Kari
        March 7, 2010

        Ooops, I didn’t mean to use the Alves example twice….

  6. Kari
    March 7, 2010

    Dunno. Messi’s an 8 for me. Say what you want about selfishness, but he show real urgency yesterday that I really loved, especially on the back of 2 days with Maradumber. Maybe it’s the Pichichi race but he even tried diving headers! That free kick was just class. If the team is collectively playing cruddy, then individual brilliance is the next best thing.

    I agree about the selfishness, but again, I think it’s just a phase. Earlier this year, we had passed the ball too much. No-one wanted to take the initiative and just try and spark something. Right now, people are trying to do too much on their own. Eventually we’ll strike that balance, which we had established ridiculously early last season.

    Still, I see where you’re coming from and why the ratings are what they are. I agree on all bar Messi 🙂 .

    And honestly, I’m kinda happy that this is happening now. Having EE breathing down our necks will whip us into gear. Remember how they cut us down to 2 points? Well, we killed them at their home, so contrary to the belief here, the pressure is good for us. When the going gets tough, we own all.

    A draw is the usually result after the International break. The fact that we didn’t lose when we have almost our entire team off on International duty is something we’ll come to appreciate later on in the season. I got really frustrated with all the pessimism on the last post, but whatever.

    It’ll be that much more sweet when we beat them at their place 😀

  7. Lev
    March 7, 2010

    @nick well that means that real madrid also have two more points than we had at the same time last season. i have a bad feeling bout this. coming back from 2 goals down to win the game is often the sign of a champion. feeling lousy today, hope lyon crashes ee out of the cl in order to 1. crush their mojo somewhat and 2. well, crash them out of the cl…
    btw, whats up with xavi this season?

    • messi_fan
      March 7, 2010

      They’ve been coming back from goals down all the time. That’s their M.O.

  8. Alexinho
    March 7, 2010

    Question: Are we a great team ONLY at home this season?

    • March 8, 2010

      C’mon, seriously.

      2-1 Getafe, in a great performance with ten men.
      Then Atletico 2-1, with two soft goals, some great play, but also some pretty bad play.
      Then 4-0 Racing, in a hammering that came way too easy for the quality of the play.
      Then Stuttgart 1-1, where we looked terrible in the first half and only sturdy in the second.
      Then 2-1 Malaga in a great display that deserved 10 goals for us, but was damn near a draw.
      Then Almeria 2-2 in a quite mediocre performance?

      I think it’s legitimate to say that recently we’ve been good or even great at home, but mediocre away.

  9. Miguel
    March 7, 2010

    somebody’s gotta rock this hairdo next week; maybe keita.


    not that it did ron artest any good, though.

  10. Hilal
    March 7, 2010

    Great review Kxevin. Its so nice to read something sensible and balanced after the last 24 hours of negativity, pessimism and scapegoating. Somebody on another forum actually thought that this result was because Pep subbed Yaya for Busi?!?!? Utter nonsense.

  11. Mark
    March 7, 2010

    I have been watching Barcelona games regularly for some time now, and I still don’t understand why people consider Iniesta to be one of the best in the world. Iniesta is a decent player with some fanciful moves and tricks, but he don’t score goals or deliver the final ball enough. 1 goal and 3 assists this season is just really really poor
    And yes scoring goals is one of the most important things for an attacking midfielder, which is what makes Gerard and Lampard such great players.

    People on this forum talk about Iniesta’s involvement in the build up. Players like Carrick and that Real Madrid player who looks like Bruno (can’t recall his name at the moment) also contribute to the build up, but people don’t speak of them as being among the world’s best.
    To be among the world’s best you have to be able to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and win the game off your own boot like Ronaldo, Fabregas, Lampard and Gerrard.

    Can someone please explain to me what makes Iniesta among the world’s best, and what makes him more effective than other midfielders like Lampard, Gerrard and Fabregas??

    • jordi™
      March 7, 2010


    • Hilal
      March 7, 2010

      Haha…yeah ask Chelsea fans what they think of Iniesta. Or maybe the Utd players who got played off the park by him and Xavi in the CL final. In fact I think Rooney came out after the game and proclaimed Iniesta the “best in the world”. I think you should watch a few more Barca games…

    • Keano
      March 7, 2010

      Mark fair point except -‘To be among the world’s best you have to be able to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and win the game off your own boot’ you mean like what iniesta did against chelsea last year?

      • Ryan
        March 7, 2010

        Ronaldo sure did try to make a mark on last year’s CL final, but wasn’t it indeed Iniesta who provided the pass that led to our first goal?

  12. Jim
    March 7, 2010

    Dunno about anyone else but for me talk of comparisons with EE last year don’t matter. They are a completely different proposition now. They have quality in a lot of positions and a whole juggernaut of momentum at the moment. That takes a bit of stopping. We are still the better team – I honestly believe that – but we need to up it seriously. There’s an inevitability about their wins this year that we all recognised in our side last year.

    Decent review, Kxevin, and I agree that we need to move the ball more quickly and take a few more chances going forward rather than accept it going across and back all the time. We need players receiving the ball while in motion to break through defences not getting it at feet with everything dead. For too many of our side their first thought on receiving the ball is to stop or play it straight back. That’s okay in midfield but up front that ruins the momentum of the attack.

    I’d take issue on two points. First of all, I may be a citizen of the aforementioned Mudville but even I could see the difference between the way we played with 11 and then 10 players. It wasn’t even close. All of a sudden there was movement, passion and intent – and this was after a busy international week in the last third of the match and with 10 men. Secondly we can’t keep covering for Ibra. I’ve said continually that I don’t think he is being lazy but I’m running out of excuses. As a CF he should be prepared to make fruitless run after fruitless run just for the one that does come his way. To me he isn’t available when they need him. I’m not saying we should drop him but I will be interested to see how we do if Pep decides to give Henry one final go up front next week.

    Yes the rest weren’t great but for me Xavi and Iniesta were struggling, first probably with their energy levels but also as Pedro and Ibra weren’t continually making runs and there was almost nothing to aim at. Alves wasn’t at his best and Maxwell needs to be encouraged to do more offensively, as he has the technical ability on the ball.

    Sorry, I said two things but I’d also put in a word for Puyol. We can’t condemn him for sticking a leg out at that cross. As a defender your first thought is not to let it get across you and he didn’t know Valdes would make it. Week after week he makes them and we’re grateful. On a few occasions he was played into trouble by Alves’ failure to get back.

  13. BF
    March 7, 2010



    • Jim
      March 7, 2010

      Sorry, BF, I’m a little slow on the uptake at this time of night and after a couple of glasses of red. I followed the leads but what was I looking for and what point were you making?

  14. Bill
    March 7, 2010

    Defending Ibra is nice, but you gotta also be a little bit more objective and be able to say when he is not producing. Just like you defended Henry to the point of accusing other players of ignoring him or not giving him the service, then the dude himself comes out and says…yeah, ive kinda been stinking up the joint. And Pep also says…maybe others have more motivation than him. Hell, even Xavi, the defender of all things barca, gives a weak-ass ‘he’ll be back’ backhanded support (meaning he sucks now but he will be back).

    Ibra getting a red card, the second one this season, is hard to swallow. His reaction after the card, signalling 4 with his fingers (I’m assuming he was trying to say the defender had roughed him up 4 times?) was even more exasperating because Pep had talked to him about avoiding silly confrontations and keeping his eye on the ball, and then he does something silly again.

    And silly it was. Watch it again. When Pedro has the ball, Ibra runs into the one place thats occupied by a defender. He jostles with him and knocks him out (inadvertently), but after he eliminates that guy, he ran to where the other defender was, to start the process all over again! Seriously? It’s as if this guys was fighting for his right to be offside because there was acres of space behind him. INEXCUSABLE. Was it a red? I don’t know, but he violently elbowed the guy, and unfortunately for him, the back swing of his hand connected with the guys face. Did the guy sell it? Yes he did, but if thong boy got a red for his, Ibra put himself at the ref’s mercy. UNACCEPTABLE.

    • Jnice
      March 7, 2010

      There was not a violent elbow. Typical exaggeration by a player in La Liga, mixed with commotion from the players, plus the fans whistling=red card. Happens all the time in this league of play actors.

      And like Pep said, when we have 10 men, the other team usually tries to go for the win, so maybe that had something to do with how much better we looked with 10 men. Other team attacking=less parking the bus and more space for us to exploit.

      • Kxevin
        March 7, 2010

        What’s Henry’s aggregate rating this season, Bill? 4? 5? “Defending” is very different from saying that he wasn’t getting service. Would said service have made him better? Who knows. But we’ll never find out now, will we?

        Revisit my match reviews, and check my Henry comments. Then grind the axe somewhere else. The implication that I am blinded to a player’s performance through some misguided sense of loyalty is …. well …. misguided.

        Like everybody else, when Henry plays well, he gets praise. When he doesn’t, he gets stick. He’s had a few good matches this season, but mostly he’s been off. His overall rating pretty accurately reflects that.

  15. Keano
    March 7, 2010

    Whats frustrating is the lack of unpredictability in our play. No shots from distance, trying to score the perfect goal. Ibra is deadly from range. I think he was wrong 4 getting caught but i would like us to rough up teams a bit more- give it back to them. Can’t wait 4 keita, hes gives us a directness and another option in the box.We have to stick with yaya and let him get back to his bruising best-we’ll need him next week against marchena albelda etc

  16. Xavi
    March 7, 2010

    Agree with Jim that it’s harsh to blame Puyol for the second goal, he was sold by Alves being out of position and really had no choice but to try and cut out the cross – no defender can just watch such a dangerous cross go past him. Also I can’t understand how Ibrahimovic gets the same rating as Iniesta and Pedro or more than Puyol and Alves who might have been poor but Ibra’s stupidness (how could you not see his kick?) cost us dearly.

  17. jordi™
    March 7, 2010

    Im not superstitious or anything but i hope very much next year we get a different away kit.We’ve had some epic comebacks in it like against Osasuna and Chelsea, but most of our bad games have been coincidentally in it for 2 seasons.Please Nike help us out !

    People say we played better without Ibra but i think that was more the sting of injustice than anything else.We’ll see how do without a focal point against Valencia, but even then that doesnt tell us much, as our best game this season was against inter without both ibra and messi and if its supposed to be true about Zlatan then the same must be said of Leo and that isnt the case.

    • Jnice
      March 7, 2010

      Last time we didn’t have Ibra against Valencia and we tied. And they were without Villa, I believe. Hope we don’t tie again. Can’t wait for the thousands of goals people think we will score w/o Ibra(not you, jordi).

  18. Cesc Blanc
    March 7, 2010

    I thought Yaya was awful because he was slow with the ball and just not that great and Messi for effort alone and for being the one in the end with the biggest balls deserves at least a 9. Also, I didn’t see Pedro that bad. But anyway, like I said, never was a big fan of grades.
    We really lack movement without ball and without Keite we seem to miss this big time. I just watched a Zlatan highlight video and it’s kind of funny to see that in most goals either Keite or Abidal are involved one way or other, kind of proving my theory. I just feel really bad for the big homie, as he does so much for the team, yet more and more he becomes the scape goat for others playing like shit. I mean, as if it’s his problem and fault that he is so damn talented and skillful, that everything he does looks effortless.

  19. Kxevin
    March 7, 2010

    A few things:

    –First off, I hardly call a 4 and a label of ineffective anonymity “defending” Ibrahimovic. Just sayin’.

    But the fact of the matter is that when he got sent off, it was right about the time that we also said “Holy shit, we could lose this match,” and began playing like the better side. It would have happened with or without him on the pitch.

    And early in the season, when he was banging in goals and popping off assists that covered Messi in glory, people were singing the praises of Ibrahimovic. Now he’s shit? I just don’t buy that one.

    –Ibrahimovic gets the same rating as Pedro! and Iniesta because all of them had about the same effect on the match. And Ibrahimovic had more real chances on goal than both of them. Yes, P! threw in the cross that Messi eventually converted into a goal, but it took a terrible clearance from the Almeria defender, and a deflection.

    Yes, I will go back and watch the red card again, because I honestly did miss the kick. I just saw the elbow.

    –Now to Mark’s point about Iniesta. On paper, I’m actually with you when you view it in the context of taking the game by the scruff and shaking it home. But Iniesta isn’t that kind of a player.

    I think (more last season than this one) his runs, dribbles and passing routinely verged on spectacular. It was like having two Xavis, but one could completely destabilize your defense by ghosting with the ball into the box. This season, he isn’t rolling like that, except on occasion. But when Iniesta is good, we are so much more dangerous. “Best in the world” is a reach, because Xavi is. But you can see how some might feel that Iniesta is.

    –I don’t think that it’s harsh to hold Puyol culpable for that own goal. Experienced defenders should know better. I have rarely seen Puyol panicked, but he was on more than one occasion yesterday. And if you stick your leg out, bad things happen …. weird deflections, etc. Was it fatigue that kept him from having the pace and extra step to play the ball properly? Perhaps. Which doesn’t absolve him of culpability.

    –I’d love to know what the story is with Henry. He had a couple of good showings, I thought, and looked to be playing his way back into form, only to be sat down again. What our attack really lacks when he isn’t out there is a defense-stretcher, who can take a pass and make a run up the sideline. That lack makes us much easier to play. As a coach, I think that Guardiola has a responsibility to put the personnel out there that will give the side the best chance to win. I reckon he thinks that Pedro! is that guy, but not to at least give Henry a shot or two, I have a hard time understanding.

    –Finally, I think the side had a collective case of International fatigue. We’d see the same effect from mid-week matches. I also think it’s mental fatigue. Don’t forget that last season, Henry was playing well, and we also had Hleb and Gudjohnsen as squad players. This season, Krkic is out of the rotation as is Henry, while Hleb and Gudjohnsen are gone.

    We also had matches in the bag, so we could rest certain players and roll out with an intelligent professional such as Monument or Whiner. This year, the guys just look tired. And when you’re tired, you stop running. Ultimately, I think we’re seeing the cumulative effect of all the football.

  20. Kxevin
    March 7, 2010

    Oh yeah, Busquets. He kicked ass. In context of the fullness of his time out there, he was immense, with steals, stopping breaks, harassing in the midfield and generally being Good Busquets. Messi’s overall rating was dragged down by some bad plays. Simple as that.

    • March 8, 2010

      I’ve been thinking about Busi lately, the tackles he’s been making–whoa! Where did that kind of defense come from? It’s too early to say, but he reminds me of Marcos Senna–seeing him briefly on the same pitch as the veteran just gave me that notion. Certainly, I think he is more Senna than Xabi Alonso or Pep Guardiola, because Busi isn’t there with the passes yet. But his tackles, standing or sliding? His positioning? Improving unbelievably rapidly. I wrote a piece about it if you want to check it out-

  21. Kxevin
    March 7, 2010

    And I don’t think that we will see Henry against Valencia, even with Ibrahimovic out. I think it will look like:

    Alves Pique Puyol Maxwell
    Busquets Xavi Iniesta
    Pedro! Messi Krkic

    And The Kid should do well with home cooking in his belly.

    • stephen
      March 8, 2010

      wont we have abidal back by the valencia game?

    • Jim
      March 8, 2010

      To me that forward line looks pretty toothless, Kxevin.. Hope it doesn’t come to pass. Do you not think it’s taylor made for Henry to return with a point to prove?

  22. Kxevin
    March 7, 2010

    Just watched again and sorry, I don’t see a kick. I see a player battling for position and his leg going out to re-set his position, but I just don’t see a kick and I sure as hell don’t see a red-cardable offense.

    Also, on the ESPN Deportes feed, I didn’t see the battling with defenders that others cite on the lead-up to the ejection.

    And if Ibrahimovic’s leg flail is a red card, then all of the kicks and hard fouls that Almeria were doling out should have left us playing 10 on about 6.

    *I’ll shut up now. 😀

  23. poipoi
    March 7, 2010

    some sorta response to all the “let’s not be so pessimistic” “and now you come with silva & ribery” stuff:

    there’s plenty of season but things are not looking very good… we’re only out for la copa but many teams have given us trouble already. You see, pep didn’t have to change the system at all last year, maybe a 3-4-3 don’t remember, but never a doble-pivote+doble-punta. I think that the thing he did vs malaga is a clear symptom of him trying to fix something, which means something is not going well. We are certainly not playing like last year and it is not because other teams know us more. It looks as if we don’t move that much when the balls in our partner’s feet we are starting to look slow or tired I don’t know… maybe it’s mental fatigue… of always making the same exact passes and that’s why pep shook things a bit. I feel like he could introduce some more new stimuli introding JDS and Thiago, the kids look really good. I can’t wait to see how the team does without ibra.

  24. Bill
    March 7, 2010

    I didnt see a kick either. If thats what they red carded Ibra for, it’s unfair. What I did see though, was Ibra running directly to where the defender was, then started to fight for that spot. Almost comical, if it wasn’t soo sad. And like I said, it may not be a red card, but you are subjecting yourself to the ref’s idiocracy.

    As for Puyol, he makes that sliding interception, we call him a hero…like he was doing against madrid. That play comes at you soo fast, and if you are a defender and see such a dangerous ball being crossed in, you try and make that interception. No time to communicate with goallie and analyze the situation. Just unfortunate. Dude needs a hug more than criticism for that.

    As for Henry’s ratings, I’m honestly on the fence here, because I know he wasn’t performing well, but felt like he should have been given more gametime minutes to to work himself back. But what was clear was that his performances were below par. You gave him low ratings, yes, but not before you admonished players like Xavi and Iniesta for ignoring him. Just like you admonish Messi and Xaviesta for Ibra not scoring.

    And I believe getting a red card is much worse than disappearing in a game, especially since you not only take away the coach’s option of subbing you out and improving the play, but the whole gameplan goes out the window. much bigger effect on the whole team performance. Btw, didn’t Kxeving say something to that effect against Pique for his red and low rating for that game?

  25. Kxevin
    March 7, 2010

    Watching the Club Worlds right now. We’ve come down quite a bit from that. It was also (the aemis) my favorite Messi, who had the balance of run/pass perfect. And he was gutting Atalante. Granted, it was Atalante, but the drdtabilizing effect of Messi as midfield hellraiser was devastatung. Wow.

    Yes, I have matches that far back on the DVR. Ibrahimovic was also pichichi at that time.

    • Liza
      March 7, 2010

      Ha! I actually watched the home leg to the Atleti match earlier today (from Sept). Yes, I have matches from that long ago. It was basically a complete reverse of this game: Everyone was really amazing, except for Busquets, who was still is his bad!Busquets phase at the time. It’s hard to believe that’s the same season right now though. Who would have thought that Ibra would become our root-of-all-evil and Busquets our savior back then?

      Well, I still have faith in Ibra. And I think the team do too, judging from how they act with him on the field.

  26. andrew M
    March 7, 2010

    1) we should buy diego forlan

    2) its so easy to critisize puyol for just putting a leg out when it results in an own goal, but we praise him for the exact same thing when it works (which is most of the time, think the game against EE). he also wasnt “just putting his foot out”. he went sliding for the ball with the clear intention of playing it back out of play over the touchline.

    3) i dont think its fair to say that messi should have made this pass or that pass because even if he did and iniesta or alves or whoever fucked it up then, would you be saying, oh, he should have taken the shot, we doint shoot enough etc etc.

    4) regarding henry: in the interview published in the daily mail or the guardian or whatever, he made it quite clear that his thoughts are now with the world cup because he knows he is not going to be in barcelona next season. he is sulking and is playing the victim, and in that sense, i agree with peps decision to bench him. pedro is way more motivated and perhaps more inexperienced, but he scores goals and runs his heart out.

    • Kxevin
      March 7, 2010

      I think that you’re reading something into the Henry interview that isn’t there. Here are some excerpts:

      World Cup:

      Henry knows he risks sending a message to disenchanted barcelonistas that the World Cup is now his priority. “The important thing is not to arrive in South Africa injured. When you don’t play regularly you lose everything, speed and form. I don’t have the right rhythm at the moment but we will have a good preparation period after the end of the season.”

      Evidently Henry, 32, is looking ahead, to beyond Barcelona where the experience has been mixed.

      The bold face, by the by, is to identify the writer inserting a point of view that might not be present and frankly, isn’t supported by the quotes.

      On his playing time with us:

      “This is a new challenge for me in my career, playing 25 minutes here, another 15 minutes there,” “It’s not easy at Barcelona to get in the team, with Andres Iniesta playing so well and [the young winger] Pedrito scoring whenever he plays. I understand that, but I have a few weeks before the World Cup to get into form.”

      So I confess that I am not at all sure where “sulking and playing the victim” can be read into the interview quotes. I think that caution is required in separating what is said from the additions of the writer of the article.

      Xavi has said that Henry’s behavior on and off the pitch has been exemplary, in recent quotes about the Frenchman’s lack of playing time, as well.

      • Jim
        March 8, 2010

        I agree that the writer has taken a certain slant, Kxevin, but I’d have been happier if he’d said something about plenty of time to work his way back into the side BEFORE the end of the season.

  27. Liza
    March 7, 2010

    I am guilty of thinking this would pretty much be an automatic win, which is why when I got back to see the score tied at 2-2, I was shocked. It felt even worse reading all of the comments. When I watched the game itself, it wasn’t as bad as the comments made it out to be, but lackluster all the same.

    I hate complaining about the ref, but I’ll be a hypocrite and say– what was up with the ref this game?!? He made terrible calls all game, both in favor of Barca and against them. He would call these pratfalls fouls and then someone would get hacked down and… no whistle. And can someone explain to me how Ibra is never ever fouled in La Liga according to the refs? What, tall people can’t be shoved off the ball or tripped? My broadcast didn’t replay Ibra’s red card 1000 times from 1000 angles like they do with every other event in the game, but I honestly have no idea how he was sent off. I kind of think that even a yellow card would have been harsh…

    For a game with four goals, a red card, and thousands of passes, this was actually a boring watch. You could say that’s because I already knew the score when I watched it, but to me, the magic of a good Barca game is that the goals are the only the culmination of amazing play going on all over the field. I can rewatch old Barca games and still get excited, just because of how amazing everyone is. Compare this to the Getafe game earlier this year, which featured one less goal, two red cards, and really great team interplay. Even if you knew the score, you’d want to watch that game because of all the great things Barca did in between the “highlight reel” moments. This game? Not so much.

    You know, I can’t quite figure out what it is that makes the team in this half of the season different from last half/last year. It’s obviously not a simple equation of substituting out Eto’o for Ibra, because we certainly had a few magical games with him before. I don’t want to say something trite like, “they just don’t have the same drive,” because that is obviously not true. It’s just… they’re not really clicking as a team right now. We’ll have games where Xavi is the maestro in the middle, but Messi can’t seem to score the most basic of 1v1s. Then the next game Messi’s taking on a whole defense and nearly winning while Iniesta passes only to the other team. We just haven’t had many games where everyone is on song at the same time.

    In all honesty, this has been a really lackluster season (with a few exceptions) both in La Liga and the Premiere League. A lot of people have told me how exciting the PL is this year with the title race being close/LPool out of the 4th spot, but really it’s more that all of the teams are very mediocre. Okay, maybe that’s winter blues speaking, but I just want to get excited about football again!

  28. Viet
    March 8, 2010

    Busquets was not that good on the pitch to get an 8, at one time I remember him losing the ball too easily from behind when the whole team was up the field. Granted Toure was even worse this match but Busquets wasn’t much better. If we have an out of form Toure and Busquets next season, I seriously think we should try buying a new true pivot like Mascherano who can actually defend.

  29. A lot of people love the guy on this blog but it’s time to make good money off Yaya this summer. It’s clearly obvious why keita was starting so many games ahead of him at the start and Busquets too for that matter. I blame him completely for the lack of rhythm in midfield and our whole game fell apart because of that. His woeful passing ability is largely overshadowed when he has a good passer behind him like a marquez or Pique but gosh! his passing and movement is horrendous.

    • Jim
      March 8, 2010

      Granted he’s not in good form just now but to say he can’t pass the ball is a rather sweeping statement. At his best he is one of our most careful passers with surprisingly quick feet. DM in our team means taking very difficult balls with not much time to turn them into good possession. To my mind he is certainly a better passer than Keita who only makes easy passes and tends to receive the ball in easier situations under less pressure.

  30. fcbfan
    March 8, 2010

    Well, we’ve got injuries, red cards, Pep sent off, a defeat, a run of bad results, things got to get better from now on. Visca Barca!

  31. Mark
    March 8, 2010

    People above talk about Iniesta’s performance against Man Utd; well he only provided 1 assist against a very poor Man U that was missing Fletcher. AND THAT WAS JUST ONE SINGLE GAME. Agbonlahor scored a goal at Old Trafford and no one is saying he is the best striker in the world. The fact is even last year Iniesta only managed 5 goals; as yes goal scoring is a must for a attacking mifielder. In terms of creativity Iniesta only has provided 3 assists this season. While Fabregas has 14 goals and 13 assists this season, Lampard and Gerrard provide 20 goals and 20 assists season after season. So what makes Iniesta a more effective player??? If you replaced Fabregas with Iniesta at Arsenal, would the Gunners become and better of worse?

    • Ciaran
      March 8, 2010

      I think the other problem Iniesta has is that both our left wing and striker positions do not offer as much threat in-behind as they did last season. Henry was world class last season and made run after run in from the left. Eto’o made countless off-the-ball runs hoping for that one pass that gets through. Ibra’s movement off-the-ball has been shit for the last 3months and teams are pushing 20yards further forward on the pitch meaning that there is far less room on the pitch.
      If we had gotten Villa, for example, we would have an enormous threat behind the defense so defenses would automatically move closer to their goal afraid of being caught with through balls.
      Even if Pedro were to watch videos of Ludovic Giuly from a few seasons back and try to replicate his runs behind the last defender we would be far more effective giving Xavi & Iniesta more room to manoeuvre

      • Jim
        March 8, 2010

        Good point about how they can afford to move their defense up, Ciaran. Our recent games have been very compressed.

    • Liza
      March 8, 2010

      I actually agree with you in regards to Iniesta’s scoring or lack thereof. If he is going to take up one of the starting XI spots as left wing or AMid, then he NEEDS to score more goals.

      However, the example of the ManU game is a terrible one to make your point with. In that game, Iniesta proves how valuable he is by doing exactly what makes Barca special: retaining possession. That, not the two goals, is the reason we won that game. Because we had the ball, and ManU got frustrated and tired. That resulted in them playing a lot of negative balls, and making basic mistakes. We could have scored more than just that second goal thanks to those mistakes. And Iniesta barely gave up a single ball the entire night. His passing record was around 90% for that game. That is AMAZING. Amazing for any game, let alone a CL final. He and Xavi basically passed ManU to death that night. And you can say that it was a very poor ManU side, but I’d argue that Xavi and Iniesta made them look poor. (BTW– I understand that we LITERALLY won because of our two goals, but if we hadn’t retained possession so well, then ManU would certainly have scored an equalizer and things would be very different).

      Everyone always mentions this quote so I’ll say it again: We are terrible without the ball. What Iniesta does best is something that won’t make the highlights because it doesn’t need to be flashy– he keeps the ball. Yes, he’s been a bit crap of late, but watch some of his best games, all the way through, and look at him in particular. When he is at his best, he’ll create tons of chances, barely let the opposing team out of their half, and win back balls anyone else would have left for their defense.

    • Nick
      March 8, 2010

      Guess who does a certain Zinedine have as his favorite player?

  32. yogi
    March 8, 2010

    For me, the team was ok this weekend but had a few bad performers. To be expected in football. After watching madrid (what some call heroic) win, my opinion remains the same that while madrid are effective, we are better. the liga is still ours to win or lose.

    i rate messi at 9 in this match. he pretty much did all he was expected to do. it is easy to point our individual instances when a player should do this or that but in a match when decisions are to be made in nano seconds, things are not that straight forward. simply put, he delivered and that too in a effective manner which is good enough for me.

    i support ibra but there are couple of aspects of his game which are a kill joy for me.

    first of all, he has been got huge number of offside calls. after watching a few instances, it is clear to me that he is offside because he is slow in getting back. that is not acceptable at that level. he needs to be quick. as he does not play on the shoulder of last defender, i cannot see a reason why he cannot play yard or two infield.

    second is his movement. more then a few times while watching a match, i have been unimpressed by his non-existant movement. i can understand that player will not extend himself by running silly all the time, when we are pressing and time is short, i expect players to add that additional energy. he takes away the options for our game and that is a big stumbling block.

    and for entire team, movement with ball needs to be better. when we are on song, the ball moves real quick. recently most of players are taking multiple touches and allowing defenses to settle. this is not good. i know we are a possession team but if we allow time, other teams will organize. we need to move the ball quicker and in forward direction, period.

    i think we will go with pedro-messi-bojan in next match and it will be quite interesting to watch.

  33. Nick
    March 8, 2010

    Sorry for the offtopic but here’s a quote from MD: “El segundo gol del Real Madrid, que empataba el encuentro con el Sevilla, llegó de un córner que nunca existió, tras un disparo al larguero.”

    Exactly what I thought after watching the replay about 20 times.

    • Jnice
      March 8, 2010

      Yup, there was no corner. I was like WTF?!, how is that a corner? And once that happened, I knew that would score.

  34. majatt
    March 8, 2010

    There is a distinct lack of urgency in the play. If we played the first 15 like we played the last 15. It was 2 or 3-0 by half time and the game was over.

    This season the team plays like the game is won and when it isn’t they scramble to try to pull it out.

    Passing, movement, effort and concentration are all lacking. Pep needs to do something, he had a great first season but these players need to prove themselves all over again as a group and he needs to impress that upon them.

  35. March 8, 2010

    Mark…Mark…Mark…The EPL is the one and only great league in the world, Beckham is a football legend, and England for the world cup, right? I thought so…

    Thats why I will not argue…Who am I to know? I will just try to guess based on what we cant argue that it happened:

    – Luis Aragonés and del Bosque the two great technicians who coached Spain in this Iniesta-Cesc era had no doubts that Cesc is not even in the same class of Iniesta. In fact, I heard about a player called David Silva who is in between Iniesta and Cesc in the selection order. And with Xabi Alonso and Busquets playing more vital roles…I dont know man…

    – Last Euro Championship: The two greatest of all Gerrard and Lampard in the midfield though having “The best striker in the world” Rooney infront of them and “The best CB duets in the world” Terry and Ferdinand, with “the best left back in the world”, Ashely cole still failed to qualify to the Championship that Iniesta and Xavi lead their team to win in style. Then the two dudes lead their team (Barcelona) to win every club competition available. You mentioned that the number of goals shows the quality of the midfielder, Whats strange is that Gudjhonson -as a midfielder- probably scored more goals than both of them last season (taking in consediration the number of games played). They are that shitty! There is something strange about this…

    – Then you mention Carrick and Fletcher while talking about Iniesta and XAvi. I gave that a laugh, but couldnt figure out why…

    Then the biggest shock of them all! Gerrard in 23 games in the league this season scorred 6 goals. Keita in a more conservative position in the midfield scored the same number of goals in 18 games.

    Keita for FIFA player of the year!

      • yogi
        March 8, 2010

        Well done indeed. I usually refrain from commenting but when people trumpet EPL as something great, i don’t know if i should laugh or cry. These guys are as unbearable as pesky RM fans who keep on shouting how great their team is. I remember a proverb from my mother tongue that can be aptly used to describe these sort of folks, ” shallow waters make lot of noise”.

    • Ciaran
      March 8, 2010

      I think what is so frustrating about our ghostface is that with the talent he has he should be hitting double figures every season. He whistles past players in the centre of the pitch and when he gets close to goal he skies it. He has the technique to score far far more goals.
      They are not an integral part of his game but as they say ‘goals win games’. If he were to get an extra 5-10 goals every season then we’d probably earn another 5 points over the season making everyone’s lives easier.
      I understand that he is phenomenal at keeping the ball but his chance conversion rate is lower than any of the top players on the planet.

      If he can do this…
      then why does he consistently shoot into the stands of take a touch too many. I absolutely love Iniesta, for the record, but he really needs to up his level of finishing or else we need to improve our left winger.

      • March 8, 2010

        By no mean I am denying that Iniesta can get better. If he improve his finishing he will hand fown be the best player in the world. Yet, poor finishing -fairly-deny him the chance to be labeled as the best in the world*, but it takes nothing from him as a midfielder. He is one of the best in the world and the best under 25 midfielder in the world without any doubt. Or else, what can we say about Xavi? He is not a beast who scores hatricks at every sunrise.

        Zidane? His scoring rate was almost 6 goals per season (in the league). There were times when he scored two, and at his peak he scored nine. Midfield is much more than numbers, right?

        *If I will be coaching any big team at any league, I will pick Iniesta over any other player if I have to get only one name. Taking in consediration age, personality, potentials (beside abilities), and attributes.

        • Ciaran
          March 8, 2010

          Not denying that Ramzi, but it is incredibly frustrating when you know what he is capable of and still composure vacates his brain when he hits the 18yard box.
          I don’t think we’d have any of these worries if Ibra had been banging the goals in like he did in the first 10weeks or so.

      • Jim
        March 8, 2010

        I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think he is getting better. Once he learns to curl it more he’ll be off. He just doesn’t have the technique to put his foot through the ball at the moment.

  36. Kxevin
    March 8, 2010

    Cruijff is on the high horse, saying that some (unnamed players) need to look in the mirror and figure that they aren’t meeting Barca standards, and what the hell they are going to do about it.

    For me, that’s pretty much everyone. There is, as many of us have mentioned, no urgency. It’s like, “We’re the best club in the world, and when we decide to play, we will crush you.” But it doesn’t always work like that. Often it does, and those times only serve to make us even more complacent.

    That injury/illness has taken something from Iniesta. Henry hasn’t been the same since his injury. Depth, or lack thereof, is killing us. A big reason that clubs don’t repeat as Champions League victors is all the extra matches that come with that crown, along with playing later into the year than all but one other club. Couple that with a Cup qualifiers year and the fact that almost all of our starting XI is playing for someone, and suddenly, you have what we’re getting.

    Ciaran makes a point that I’ve been making about Ibrahimovic. And I’m watching old matches now, trying to figure out what’s different about when he was scoring/assisting freely, and now. And it ain’t all just him. There’s probably a post in that, since I have every match (or highlights thereof) from every match this season.

  37. eklavya
    March 8, 2010

    Their keeper is called Diego Alves, not Bruno. Bruno Alves is the defender who plays for Porto.

    • ElJefe
      March 12, 2010

      I thought he was great. Just goes to show you that despite all the La Liga weakness smacktalk, you come up against a team with a good goaltender (day I say equal..oh snap!!), the desire to be the kings of soccer, and one lost Swede and you’re not going to come out on top if you don’t play 100%. We were muy suerte to get this win, IMO.

      I would not be starting Iniesta until he starts to show progression this season.

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