Barça 7, Celtic 0, aka “Cheerful assassins”

Alacrity. If seeking one word to describe the way Barça played in a 7-0 destruction of Celtic, that’s the one.

Webster succinctly defines the word as “brisk and cheerful” readiness, a condition that began in the tunnel before the match as the players were laughing and joking, while Messi was messing about with the kids who accompany the player to the pre-match presentation.

It wasn’t that Barça wasn’t feeling the pressure as the team opened its Champions League effort in a home fixture against Celtic. The players had to be. But the mood, as much as could be discerned from TV images, seemed to be a belief, a simple readiness to take care of business.

Before the match, asked who the best player in the Champions League was, Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola praised Lionel Messi. After the match, Messi’s coach and teammates added to the pile of effusion. But it was during the match that the truth was told. Messi served as a goad, a constant challenge, a gantlet hurled down with the force of thunder. He sprinted across the pitch to pick up a loose ball just before a Celtic player could get there, dropped honey-dipped passes at the feet of his teammates, scored a hat trick and hurtled around the pitch, a human absolute.

“You can’t be as good as me, but let’s have some fun together. Ready?”

Look at that picture above, Messi standing there almost like professor with his apprentice as Neymar laced a free kick into the Celtic net to layer insult upon injury. Messi wants more than anyone could possibly have. What’s most dangerous about him is that he wants to take his teammates with him, wants to lift them up to something approaching his level, using his gifts to make the game a little bit easier for everyone he plays with. Selfless. Neymar has a music single coming out, but it will be impossible for him to sing a song any more lustrous than he did on the night.

Few who are familiar with the team and its players would be surprised by the Celtic result. To take it a step further, it’s difficult to imagine a team in Europe who would have been able to withstand the display put on by Barça tonight. The final scoreline might not have been as gaudy, but this was a team that wanted to send a message, wanted to wipe the egg off its faces after laying one on the weekend against Alaves, a display that brought to mind another word, somnambulent.

The first goal came three minutes into the match, as Messi, almost on a dare, laced a high, hard shot across goal into the far corner. Announcers will say “Well, Celtic gave him too much space,” but look at the movement of the players and ball, how Messi explodes into action, making the air almost ripple with the violence of his movement. On this night, the ball and the players were moving with alacrity, a pace that made it difficult not only to keep up with them, but to do anything except pretty much watch as they destroyed.

There were tactical differences of course, as Luis Enrique opted for an XI of Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Andre Comes, Rakitic, Suarez, Neymar, Messi. The odd inclusion was Gomes, until it was clear what the intent was.

Alaves was allowed to come out of its end with the ball, Barça choosing to defend in a reactive rather than preventive sense, almost as if daring Alaves to do something with the ball. Against Celtic, the entire team moved up the pitch, not just positionally but aggressively.

Having Ter Stegen in the nets meant that the team, rather than on the weekend when Cillessen played a safe pass to a defender, who played to a midfielder, who brought it up to begin the attack, the action was beginning aroung midfield. The players were being creative, using lines and angles to attack, as once again the run dictated the pass. Suarez sprinted where Alcacer walked. Sergi Roberto was wholly uninterested in losing any physical duels, shouldering, winning headers and putting his right side on lockdown. This allowed Rakitic and Busquets the freedom to not only be creative but create. Busquets found an analog in Gomes, who at times occupied the pivot and he and Busquets traded roles.

An excellent post-match analysis over at EUMD, described the team as being like water flowing around rocks. Whether due to training cycles or some other malaise such as complacency, Barça was dead from top to bottom against Alaves. Compare that with the pressing, marauding group that rarely let Celtic out of its own end, never mind getting any significant efforts at the Barça goal. Celtic had two real attacks, a rush that resulted in a penalty that was saved by Ter Stegen, and an offside goal. Other than that, they spent almost the entire match watching a team that wanted to send a message.

There was a lot of talk after the Alaves match about rotation, lessons and what the team did wrong. The message that the players seemed to want to send is that the only they did wrong was not having the energy to play Barça football, a game where ball and players move too quickly to be managed. The second goal was the pinnacle of this approach as Messi and Neymar passed and moved, a two-man game executed by the two best players in the world, daring each other to keep it going until Messi walked the ball into the Celtic net. It was a perfect, and perfectly devastating goal that made the scoreline 2-0. It might as well have been 20-0 the way Barça was playing on the night.

To be sure, Alaves played an excellent match, but they didn’t get this Barça. They got players who walked and trotted, who didn’t press or close down space, whose stationary movement dictated nothing at all except the ability to make life easy for the defense. Runs were solo forays at a ready coterie of defenders rather than, as Celtic coach Brendan Rodgers said, Barça beating you up with the ball.

That same pam-pam-pam-pam of a boxer in rhythm, beating a tattoo onto the body of his hapless opponent, also describes the sound a football makes as it moves between the feet of players. On the weekend, there were pauses in the beat, but not against Celtic. it will be easy to say that the personnel made the difference, and an argument can certainly be made that great players executing the game at their highest level will be significantly more difficult to deal with than a rotation XI.

However Messi, Neymar, Suarez and Iniesta were all on the pitch for about a half-hour against Alaves, and could do nothing much more than stumble around like their teammates. Yet against Celtic, as Iniesta scored with a fortissimo smash into the roof of the net, the payoff of yet another sequence of high-speed football, it almost seemed a rebuke to the players who oozed about the pitch on the weekend, an apology to supporters, a statement that this, THIS is how we play Barça football.

It has been discussed before, the idea that when Barça is executing at its highest level, the opponent is irrelevant. It was the same level that hung a 0-4 on Real Madrid, and kicked Sevilla in the teeth during the Spanish SuperCopa. It is the same level that makes the world a bit concerned that if this team finds the form that its personnel are striving for, nobody will be able to play with it.

After that second goal, during which Celtic had to watch two players conspire to bring about the ultimate indignity of walking a ball into their net. shoulders slumped. The players didn’t really accept their fate, because proud athletes never do, but it was clear that their opponent was at a different level.

People always talk about triangles when discussing the heyday of positional football, and you wondered if thsoe people notices the interlinked sequence of three of them, Sergi Roberto to Busquets to Rakitic to Messi to Gomes to Messi to Alba to Neymar to Suarez, the ball moving as players slid about to meet it, one-touching their way up and down the pitch.

Here is a difficult thing to consider: That the players who comprise the core of the XI are so good at their black art tnat real depth is impossible, that rotation will yield a stew that is edible, palatable, but not the succulent explosion of flavors created by the main chef. What if, just as we all hailed the depth acquired this summer, an influx of players sufficient to make their coach say that this was the best team he has ever had — what if the XI is too good even for their teammates, too good for enemy and ally alike.

The football that Barça displayed against Celtic was as much the product of genius as any system. There is no shame in that. Luis Enrique will have the difficult task of making the subs approach the level of the starters, of creating an orchestra of footballers. But you wonder if, even as teammates were thinking about being part of that rush, that adrenaline akin to tightrope walking in a tornado, that one part of them wondered if they can truly be part of that. Bands working at a fever pitch have musicians who know each other, know favorite keys, know intros, know the quaver of a note that dictates the end of a solo. During open jams, excellent players sit in the audience, hiding instruments under chairs not because they aren’t good, but because they aren’t that good.

The display against Celtic defined the glittering possibilities of this team. If the group can reach the point where the second fiddle can still make beautiful music, greatness beckons.

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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.

27 Comments

  1. surf4life117
    September 14, 2016

    The match was finally over, colorful ads flashed across the screen, talking heads offered up opinions. The man just sat there immersed in deep reverie. Finally, he got up with a heavy sigh and rubbed his temple.
    “Really. I this what I supposed to aspire to emulate? Where is Irina”s bloody number. I need a long, warm hug.”

  2. surf4life117
    September 14, 2016

    Thank you for the inspirational read, Mr. K!
    🙂

  3. Elias
    September 14, 2016

    Wow (deep sigh)! Always expecting this barca to turn up once the gala XI is back, but not expecting this kind of near flawless performance so soon. MSN, Iniesta, and sergi were immense once again : that scorcher from Iniesta and the impressive lofted pass from neymar plus the equally outstanding swivel and shoot from Suarez being highlights of the night.

  4. georgjorge
    September 14, 2016

    What a game. A real pleasure to watch.

    Celtic had one opportunity to briefly get back into the game – the penalty – and that was it. Nothing else to do for them but watch. Messi of course was otherworldly, but Neymar with one goal and I think four assists wasn’t too far behind.

    The second goal got me thinking about Barca vs Celtic two or three years back. Then, Iniesta + Xavi combined with one-twos to also score an incredible goal against them. The difference was that back then it was the only goal we scored, and we didn’t win that game. Yesterday, the goals kept coming in all variations – freekicks, distance shots etc. There’s a way of playing against Barca that could stop them in previous years if the opponent executed it well, but it doesn’t work any longer. Celtic hasn’t become worse but Barca has become a lot more versatile.

  5. Davour
    September 14, 2016

    Thanks – an enjoyable game, an enjoyable read! When things flow, it seems to easy to this team. It just appears to happen, to the point where you are actually surprised when a delicate operation does not materializing properly… Normally, one might say that it’s hard to conclude anything from such a one-sided display. But are Celtic worse than Alaves? I don’t think so. And then this becomes a powerful statement, hopefully, though, not one leading to complacency (“Alaves was just a freakish mishap!”).

    A few things:
    -I am pleased to see Messi sharing the FKs, for at least two reasons – Ney and Luis are good at it, too, and it provides further options; and it adds a level of unpredictability. The commentator noted that keeper perhaps should have saved it, that he reacted too late. Yes, but was this partly down to not knowing who would strike?
    -Man, Umtiti looks like a bastard La Masia baby who has finally been returned to his home. His aerial ability, assured composition and positioning, speed and passing accuracy really looks already more than promising. And LE mentioned he was even surprised by Samuel’s adaptation.
    -Sergi gave a masterclass; hopefully Vidal does not despair.
    -Gomez looked pretty good.
    -Ter Stegen makes a big difference (and I’m not talking about the penalty)
    -Suarez didn’t have the best of nights=2 goals
    -Messi and Ney? Words are not enough.

  6. September 14, 2016

    So many moments in those match, I laughed out loud. no disrespect to Celtic, but that was a symphony, that second goal was orgasmic. The commentator said a moment in advance, they want to walk the ball into net, and there it is.. brilliant…

  7. Jim
    September 14, 2016

    A couple of points. First of all, I’m afraid Celtic aren’t the team they were a few years ago. Then, according to Strachan, they were men and had no fear whereas now it is a collection of boys. I’d have to go along with that assessment. Scottish football in general is in a terrible state and the gap between Celtic, our champions, and Europe’s elite has become crazily wide. Add that to the fact that their defence is particularly poor and you end up with a bad score line. However, I would go along with Kxevin in his assertion that our ball movement and pressing was so good, consistently, that I’m not sure if anyone could have lived with us on the night.

    On the playing front, from my point of view, it was good to see Umtiti having a good display and in particular the fact that he stayed at home was pleasing to see. I’m not sure that Digne is anywhere close to Alba at the moment, either in defence or attack but I do think he’ll be a decent acquisition. Better from Busi as well. Finally, I thought Suarez had a great game. Celtic played five at the back yet Suarez managed to move the CBs about all night creating confusion and space for Messi. If you can, rewatch Iniesta’s goal. Suarez’ run takes both the CBs towards the front post leaving the clear space for Ini’s rocket. That, plus he had a great goal and beautiful assist . Not that bad a night’s work.

    It’ll be interesting to see just how many changes LE makes on Saturday. On the face of it it’s an opportunity to rest quite a few but I’ve a feeling it may not be to quite the extent it was last week . . .

    • Davour
      September 14, 2016

      My comment above about Suarez not having the best of nights referred to him not really making it happen with the ball (apart from the goals”). The wonder with him is, as you point out, that we still get the ground work which others benefit from!

  8. Jim
    September 14, 2016

    Sorry, of course two goals for Suarez. Losing count but not,in the greater scheme of things, a problem I’d mind having again soon.

  9. dl
    September 14, 2016

    Jim: Thanks for pointing out those items regarding Suarez. It’s hard for me to notice in the rush of the game how players’ movement off the ball contributes so to goals. I’ll hope youtube allows someone to post the game, eventually, because I’d like to rewatch it.

    I only got to see the first half, but I ‘knew’ going in they would destroy Celtic, after what happened with Alaves. Honestly I think Alaves ought to be expecting something similar the next time they face barca. 🙂

    And the more I see of the youngsters, the more pleased I am with the acquisitions. Umtiti looks like a winner, really impressive for a youngster. Digne et al will come around (or not) but everyone looks promising.

  10. Jim
    September 14, 2016

    DL, Can’t find whole game although one will be up soon. Tbh, it was completely one way traffic and the goals were the things worth watching. More great goals than I can ever remember in a game. Iniesta’s goal among those below.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wtTGhCRXg_Y

    Davour, I know what you mean with Suarez. I was thinking at half time he hadn’t really got not it as much as I wanted but when I went back and watched the game , in just about every move his running and hard work were a part of it. I’m not sure which was the best. His first, second or assist to Messi. Adds so much in every game. One of the few things Rodgers got right on the night was how incredible it is that a player can come to the best side in the world and still make it considerably better. ( Although I think h e was a bit more wholesome in his praise today in Sport. )

    I didn’t mean to suggest above that I don’t think Digne will be a huge asset once he adapts. I think he will and I like his style.

  11. Jim
    September 14, 2016

    A propos of our discussion in the last couple of posts , in the Man City game their opponents have the sweeper keeper extra man figured out already as I reckoned. Not challenging the keeper- just letting him have it but a man on everyone else within thirty yards. Bravo has had to hoof it four times already. Mind you, City already one up and looking pretty dangerous. More goals here.

  12. Jim
    September 14, 2016

    Now what City need to do,being one up, is to just let Bravo stand with the ball until somebody cracks and dashes him. Ah, tactics . . .

  13. Davour
    September 14, 2016

    Hearing Neymar’s teaser, I’m sure he is having us on. A joker, he is. Speaking of Ney, he should change agents; those comments on a potential transfer to PSG are so idiotic that I can hardly believe them. Do not right true. “I wanted him to go to PSG…” – is it really the agent’s business to “want” a transfer? Ruin Ney’s fun for your own profit. Disgusting. Ney might leave Barca at some point, as Kxevin has predicted, but I would be baffled if PSG was his destination. I can only see the Manchester teams, maybe Chelsea, as possibilities. Further, the agent said Ney can never be no 1 at Barca, which is wrong – but he must be patient…

  14. Hamid
    September 14, 2016

    I agree with the assessment of Suarez’ performance yesterday. He may not be the most talented or trick-prone forward out there (though his second goal was a piece of magic), but his perseverance, resourcefulness and work ethic can only be matched by Kxevin’s finely crafted style.

  15. Davour
    September 14, 2016

    This is absolutely crazy. RM’s ability to score late goals is lousy games is unbelievable. 0-1 to 2-1 in a few minutes against Sporting, in a game they should have lost, really. Sadly, the ref gifted CR an incredibly cheap FK just outside the box and the old poacher has one of his few lucky shots. And then Morata in the final second. They avoided “their” Alaves, I guess.

  16. PPos
    September 16, 2016

    Apparently Inter wants to buy Aleix Vidal from us. I think he should go. He’s very poor at defending, at Alaves, him and Mascherano were pretty responsible for those goals. I say we employ our usual tactic of rebuying our canteranos from Arsenal and buy back Hector Bellerin. The guys just ran the 40m dash in 4.42. Bolt ran it in 4.62 at the Rio Olympics.

    • Davour
      September 16, 2016

      Buy Bellerin mid-season, with a Roberto finding his wings? I’m not sure that would benefit the team (if it were even possible) for the price he would demand. Maybe during the summer, to free SR up as Busquet’s back-up, as well a rotation RB. But if SR works out as well as it seems, it might be better to just let him be the undisputed nr 1 and add a better back-up than Vidal (not a high profile buy).

    • September 16, 2016

      If we had sold Arda Turan when the long knives were out for him, what might have happened? We’d be sitting around when he came good, wondering why he couldn’t play like that when he was at Barça.

      Football is too quick to conclusions. Claudio Bravo made an error leading to a goal and everybody was on him. Then Joe Hart made one for Torino, and it was “See? Guardiola was right.” Then Buffon made the same error as Hart and Bravo, and nobody knew what to say.

      We race for answers when often we don’t quite even know the question we need to ask yet. Right now, Vidal isn’t what is necssary for the position he is being asked to play. Neither was Turan initially. Despite the screaming about “Sell him,” cooler heads prevailed and now he’s playing really good football for Barça.

      Vidal has pace and presence on the ball. He was always going to be a work in progress. So let the work progress, and let’s see what we have at the end of it.

    • PPos
      September 18, 2016

      He’s been at Barcelona for far too long without any results. I just don’t like Vidal’s lack of defensive awareness. The second Alaves goal was because he didn’t tackle with conviction and strength in the box. It could be confidence that he’s lacking but it’s not time. Turan has shown changes why can’t Vidal? Bellerin to me is a future star a-l-a Dani Alves. Dani had pace, vision but most importantly heart. Heart that he learned alongside Puyol. Dani knew how to tackle. I say sell him to Inter and buy Bellerin. He’s Masia made.

  17. TITO
    September 17, 2016

    We won today, was worth to mention it 🙂

    • Jim
      September 17, 2016

      Certainly is Tito, and a great win at that. Heading out for dinner but briefly for me …

      Great result helped a little by the shocking defending for our first two goals. They had little to play for after that.

      Messi really has his head into this season so far. Great again today.

      LE seems to have learned his rotation lesson after last week and as I suspected the rotten first half last week means Messi and Neymar will be harder to bring off. Shame as they are the main creative input .

      Btw, the match is bound to raise the old chestnut ofbaneymar ” disrespecting” the opposition. Can only say BS to that again. Don’t like it ? Improve your game to stop him doing it or bring him down and you’ll hopefully get a card. Third option, respect the skill involved. Personally I love it. ,

      Downside ? Not much. The formation mainly. What was that all about ? Three at the back might be exciting to watch but only because disaster is only a step away. Doesn’t do our slow defenders any favours, removes the possibility of covering for each other, and in particular made Masche look worse than he was .

      Only other slight downer for me was Ter Stegen’s distribution. Not great. Hoofed it six times in the first six minutes and none of them were great.

      Finally, wall building ( and staying in place) on the agenda for next week please !

  18. Jason
    September 17, 2016

    Missed the game but Ive heard we play a 3-4-3. LE made mention that it similar to Busquets dropping into the hole. If anyone knows a good YouTube link to the game, please post!

    Aleix Vidal doesn’t instil any confidence. I say upgrade the position in the summer.

  19. TITO
    September 17, 2016

    3-4-3 was.ok, but Masch was nowhere his way of.playing . Sergio Roberto would have make much more sense.

  20. dl
    September 17, 2016

    Jim: Finally got a subscription to a site that has reliable dvr recording, so for the first time (!) was able to watch the match, rewind, replay, etc. I noticed on that goal of Leganes how their player very cleverly adjusted the position of our wall — had never seen it done before, and wondered in my naive way if it is legal. I presume so, as nobody seemed to blink an eye.

    Thought Leganes playerd bravely and skillfully — it says something for the league that a newly promoted team can acquit themselves so well agains the world’s best. Also thought the 3 at the back without busquets (perhaps even WITH busquets) simply doesn’t work. More random thoughts: Some crummy distribution by Ter Stegen, also some fine work. I really like Umtiti, errors and all. I have high hopes for the lad.

    The front three — nothing like it in the world! i don’t remember which goal it was, but Messi had a one touch pass that started Suarez off, and then he raced down to the goal to receive the cross. The pass of messi’s that started it all didn’t show up in the replays, but that heaven for dvr ’cause that was just beautiful. And also very happy to see Rafinha’s screamer!

  21. Jim
    September 18, 2016

    Got to say I’m not completely devastated at Man Utd’s latest defeat at Watford. They look clueless and vulnerable. Ibra still lazy up front and the Rooney / Pogba issue seems unresolvable at the moment. Still waiting to see why folk were raving about Pogba. Bailley a bit of a liability in this game as Rojo was in the last game – all names folk have been throwing about for us. Maybe our club hasn’t done too badly in their scouting ? Wanting to watch the Grand Prix but no way I’m turning over till Mourinho speaks . . .

  22. PPos
    September 18, 2016

    Well Rooney and Ibra aren’t the paciest dudes around. I think Pogba is playing too far back to be effective in attack. Good news Bellerin has been targeted by the board for a purchase. He’s real star quality not Vidal

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