What kind of Barça do you want?

Atleti, man. To date this season, only two teams have scored against them — one goal each — Alaves and Barça, who was defeated by that same Alaves.

Atletico de Madrid sit atop the league table with 15 points, 1 point above second, 2 points about places 3-4.

Barça has conceded 11 goals so far this season, and sit fourth place with 13 points, looking up at the stingy Atleti. When Barça shipped four goals against Celta de Vigo on the weekend, culers screamed in the pain, as though each goal was a knife to the heart, but here’s an interesting question:

Would you rather be Barça, or Atleti? Defense wins championships, goeth the adage, right?

Barca has scored 31 goals already this season, Atleti 16. If the adage is that defense wins championships, Atleti is well set for Liga glory, right? Not so fast. Last season, during which Barça retained its Liga championship. Atleti let in only 16 goals for the entire Liga season, scored 63 and finished third.

Barça let in 29 goals but scored 112, and won. Second place was Real Madrid, who scored and conceded more than Atleti, but not as many in both categories than Barça.

In looking at the four goals scored by Celta on the weekend, it’s safe to say how many of them would have been conceded by Atleti: zero. The first goal would have drawn a tactical foul at some point, the second would never have happened because Oblak hoofs it instead of passing to Busquets, the third would never have happened because no way in hell the man gets into the box and even if he does, nobody is stretching for a desperate clearance. Think about how rare own goals for Atleti. Their defenders are never that stretched.

That fourth goal? Oblak would just lay on the ball until the defenders went away, then boot it as far as he could. So that final would have been … well, no idea how many goals Atleti would score, but it’s a safe bet the opponent would be left with zero. An enviable defense, until you look at the price in the Barça context.

Atleti play off the front foot, but with control. It’s effective football that could in no way be considered attractive, even as it is at times, particularly with Griezmann and Gameiro working magic with Carrasco. They don’t mind ceding possession to an opponent (imagine!). But Atleti starts with not conceding, even this season when they are more offensive-minded. The layers of defense are redundant, they rush to get back on the rare opponent break and aren’t shy about taking the tactical foul. Their four men in the box can easily become six or eight as the mids sag back, leaving any attacking side with a tough, tough nut to crack. They never fully commit to the attack, because of that cognizance of the danger of conceding a goal.

That cognizance of danger isn’t only because they’re defensive-minded, but because they just don’t score that much. If Atleti goes down 3-0 to someone in the first half, that match is over. Barça got to 4-3, with equalizers in three excellent chances late in the second half.

Barça is all in. There are 3 or 4 players in the back line unless the FBs are also pressed up into the attack. It’s a dynamic, aggressive, shape-shifting beast that relies upon possession for defensive solidity. It’s why Luis Enrique’s comments after the match were rooted in losing the ball. The way that Barça attacks means that there will always be exploitable space for a counterattacking opponent. This explains more than why the team always seems to see low blocks, of course. Playing for the counter isn’t just the best way to defend against Barça. It’s also the best way to score against Barça. Press, but not so much that you leave yourself vulnerable at the back, and take advantage of the few slivers you will be allowed.

The Celta Vigo match was an anomaly, but an opponent can always count on getting one or two good cracks at the Barça defense. Increasingly, opponents are finding that pressing Busquets is the way to work the ball loose in an advantageous position. Borussia did it, so did Celta, and both got goals from it.

Reality is that Barça is going to leak goals as a consequence of its attacking style. The question will always be whether the team can score enough to win matches. It did last season, and the season before as well. Clean sheets are rarer for Barça than Atleti, of course, but not unheard of. That clean sheet, however, will be very different than Atleti, who shut out Bayern Munich despite the opponent having more than 60 percent possession. For Barça, its clean sheet likelihood is directly related to possession. More than 60 percent and a clean sheet is more likely than not for the team.

Many culers want a vault-like defense like Atleti, somehow thinking that the attack can play like Barça and defend like Atleti. No. Sorry. Breakdowns will always bring the threat of goals. The larger problem for Barça comes via struggling players. A fully firing Luis Suarez will be running at an opponent’s defense, pressing the keeper and that first line trying to play the ball out. The Suarez we have right now is sulking around in the opponent box, attempting dribbles, losing the ball and gesticulating at the nearest official rather than working to close down or help stop an attack. Attacking and defending with eleven is real unlike most teams, which will attack with four or five as mids and forwards press up, numbers that will increase as fullbacks get involved but will always be shuttered at the back, just to be sure.

Barça attacks are all in, its best CB running around in the opponent box, and not just on set pieces. What’s different about the way the current team attacks and the subsequent vulnerability is the spaces. The Barça that so many love and still pine for used compressed spaces, a series of tight rondos that made working possession loose extremely difficult. You could usually throw a net over Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. The way Luis Enrique seems to be striving to play is to continue having the ball do the work, but with wider spaces to facilitate moving around the pitch more quickly. From box to box in two or three passes, rather than 10. Those spaces increase danger because if someone is slack in possession or control, there isn’t anyone close enough by to shut it down with an almost instant press. An opponent gets the ball, and we all know what happens next.

The other problem is the potential for isolation by a pressing opponent if the ball doesn’t move quickly enough, as we saw against Celta. Neymar dribbled into trouble, Suarez dribbled into trouble, time and again. Every lost ball, because of how the team attacks, is danger because those spaces make it more difficult to defend. All or nothing, in many ways.

In this aspect Barça mirrors its current No. 1 keeper, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. Yes, he could play safer, yes he could hoof it at times, yes, he could choose less-risky options. But if he did that, how Barça would it be?

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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. October 4, 2016

    I haven’t posted in a while, but this is just brilliant Kxevin so just wanted to say kudos.

    No risk, no reward. Barca play a brand of very high risk football and it is a wonder that they pull it off as much as they do. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way. Same goes with TS, yes he made a few mistakes, but that goes hand in hand with his style of play – which is the Barca style of play. Maybe some people do not remember the amount of mistakes that Valdes made when he first started. People need to take a step back and remember TS is extremely young for a keeper and will make these sorts of mistakes. We need to give him time and patience. Fans are way too fickle these days. Valdes, Puyol, Iniesta and even Xavi, all had their doubters early on in their careers. Imagine they had not been given a bit of time and patience.

  2. Arlind
    October 4, 2016

    Hi Kxevin,

    It is my first time commenting on this site, even though I have been reading almost all your articles on the past several months. I am a fan of your critique and your passion and admiration for this club, as well as your choice of diction when writing these articles. However, I have to disagree with you on this matter and the way Barcelona loses games. You can always blame players for their mistakes because frankly, that is how we usually lose games, but the only culprit for these losses or similar ones is Luis Enrique.

    He is simply not a smart enough coach to take the reigns of the best team in the world. Forget his ridiculous rotations, but the ones that win the games have always been down to MSN. It isn’t a fluke that his stint at Roma was unfortunate and unacceptable. If you are going to lose to Celta with a 4-1 score when MSN was playing last season, what made him think he won’t lose again when you have a brand new squad that hasn’t settled into their positions and the best player not on the same pitch? You would think he learned from his mistakes, but alas we are left to fume because of individual mistakes. The only good thing he has done is choose an XI that works all the time, if they are on form. Individual mistakes will always happen, but the way they play is a reflection of their training and you can see that he isn’t doing anything to improve the high pressing from other teams. I guarantee you if the team keeps this up and struggle under high pressing, they will not win any silverware.

    I also wanted to say that while we play a very high pressure and fast attacking football while maintaining possession as a means of defense, there are other ways to win. Look at the new Bayern right now. The first game against Dortmund for the supercup, Bayern was pretty demolished all over the field, yet they won 2-0. Sure you could point that a little luck was on their side and Dortmund’s finishing wasn’t on point, but regardless, you could almost smell that defensive rigidity that Bayern possesses. Then you have the Atletico way, which does and CAN win you titles, albeit not as attractive as Barca’s or Dortmund’s attacking displays. However, as much as I would love to see Barca dominate with beautiful attacking display, I also want to see a secure defense and be more defensive at away games such as Celta. Every time a counter occurs, it feels like a goal is imminent and that is not the way to go about and win silverware because we will always face the better opposition when the time comes (if it does) and they will pounce on us with merciless slaying and quite another possible 7-0 aggregate scoreline. This Bayern can do that to us because they have the players to destroy us when opportunity arises, and so can Manchester City (I am NOT looking forward to THAT match!) and anyone else with better attacking quality than Celta.

    Barca needs to learn to play a little more defensively at times and LE is not doing a good job at it so far. He is tactically inept and I truly believe we should get rid of him before we are in a crisis. I might be exaggerating a bit, but it feels like the worst is still to come because not only do we have quite possibly the slowest defense without Umtiti, but dealing with counters becomes just that much harder to deal and I doubt LE is the guy to help us out in that department. If Martino had MSN, he would have won silverware. Yes we won the treble and the double, but when you look at the condition the teams we played were in during our treble period, we were VERY fortunate to play them so and while our squad was healthy and MSN was firing on all cylinders. I just believe this is a disguise to the real problems this team has in defending. If they don’t fix their defending, we will not only lose all the silverware, but we will lose confidence and they will be in a slump and crisis that not even the return of Pep would probably be able to revive. We will not always be able to outscore opponents if goals are shipped every game. Here’s to hoping I swallow my words and my fear is never realized!

    • ciaran
      October 5, 2016

      The sky isn’t falling.
      Firstly, Lucho has proved his quality bringing this barca numerous trophies in his short stint in charge. He has a better win percentage, goals scored and goals conceded than any other manager in our history. We have learned more ways to beat teams than we’ve had previously and even though we are in poor form and rotating heavily we are two points off top spot in, at least one of, the top leagues in Europe as well as top of our CL group.
      HIDE YO KIDS, HIDE YO WIFE

      We committed more individual errors in that match than we do normally in 10 and we lost by one goal despite having a few good chances to equalize.
      How do you calculate that we have the slowest defense without Umtiti when Mathieu is apparently the fastest player in our squad? Alba, Roberto? Oh yeah, they are snails.

      No one is beating this barca by 7 goals. It doesn’t need an explanation

    • Arlind
      October 5, 2016

      Did you just include Mathieu in our defense? He may be fast, but what good is his speed if he is a clueless defender that frankly makes me crap my pants every time the opposition rushes towards our defense??? Just like Tito mentioned below: the game to Celta isn’t an anomaly anymore, it’s the rule. Frankly, I don’t remember the last time we won an away game convincingly, even if we beat Leganes 1-5 away. I never let the scoreline fool me because prior to those goals, the team was constantly in trouble. And guess who assigned the formation? LE. And once again, the superiority of our front 3 is what gets him out of how water. I just don’t see how he is tactically good. Like I said, if he doesn’t improve our defense, this team will lose it all.

    • Jim
      October 5, 2016

      Wow! And I thought I was being hard on the team? First of all, I don’t think I’ve seen your name here before so, welcome ( and apologies if you have posted already).

      Ok, let’s discuss how you would improve the defence ? You’re spotting things I’m not. How often did someone beat Mathieu in the last game or how often was he in the wrong position, how often did he lose an aerial duel ? Don’t just throw something out, tell us why. It’s much more interesting and we can have a discussion about it. I’ve got the whole game on tape and if you’ve spotted something I’ll happily go back and have a look but give us something to go on. Lots of things we could have done better but, for me, the CBs barely put a foot wrong and Mathieu saved us two or three times.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m happy with everything LE does ( certainly wasn’t with the formation put out this time) and the team doesn’t easily get a pass from me but we need to keep things in perspective. Which squad in La Liga would you rather have than ours ?

      All teams will have a rough patch this season. The fact that we are still a couple of points off the top tells me the others aren’t exactly flying either. I’m more worried about the midfield than the defence but we are at the moment minus the best player in history so I’m not expecting the creativity we would have with him. Busi worries me as I’ve never seen him struggle like he has this season. Player for player the nearest we have to him is Samper and he’s been sent off to a relegation fodder team of loanees. Now that could get me steamed up !

      If we’re still struggling come Christmas we have a problem and I’ll happily man the barricades with you.

    • October 6, 2016

      Still not sure about Samper. He didn’t convince me while at Barça, but it’s a bummer that he’s gone to that shitshow down at Granada. Perhaps a new coach will fix it, but doubtful.

      Note that of the players that Luis Enrique has tried in the hole since then, Gomes, Sergi Roberto and Rakitic, only Sergi Roberto has killed it, which might explain some of the RB urgency. Busquets is getting ground down to a nubbin.

      As for the talk of Luis Enrique being somehow not up to the job, I can’t take any of it seriously, much less seriously enough to address it. Treble, double, team working on a new system and still only two points off the top of the table.

    • kneowell
      October 11, 2016

      No one argues with results Arlind, 7 trophies in 2 seasons is hard for even a blind or a deaf person to argue, and we didn’t win those trophies playing defensively, we won them playing crisp attacking football which is such an eye candy to behold most times even with all the attendant risks involved. I don’t ever remember barca being a defensive side, and since I became a fan, we have won most trophies than any other club out there, it is not a co incident we have more trophies in our cabinet than any other club. LE might not be a pep or a cruyff but his results are just as astonishing, give credence to MSN all you want but don’t forget he’s responsible for the ‘S’ in between, he brought in a certain rakitic who was the soul of the team in the last 2 seasons. I prefer a free attacking free scoring barca that rakes up over 150 goals per season to a defensive setting, if a defensive set up were anything to go by, it would be simeone’s atletico counting 7 or more trophies and not enrique’s barca

  3. TITO
    October 5, 2016

    I would just suggest that Celta away game is not anymore an anomaly. it’s something that start to look like a rule.
    Same goes with Sociedad away.
    It seems that something is blocking our players to show what they can do in these two arenas.

  4. Graimz
    October 5, 2016

    Fantastic article. You said it all Kev

  5. dl
    October 5, 2016

    I missed the chance to comment on the previous post, but at one point in the match against Celta the camera caught Lucho (I think it was just after Barca’s first goal) and he was completely devoid of emotion. My thought was that he was disgusted (rightly) with the team — they had completely ‘screwed the pooch’ in the game, and it was up to them to dig themselves out of the hole. At least that was my take on him, his apparent reaction, and how I saw the game. While there is some blame that can be perhaps laid at his feet, in fact the players simply screwed up, several times. They started to dig deep in the second half, but they could have sewn up the game in the first half, without Celta scoring at all, in my view. The principal fault lies in the players and their performances, and I think (again, my sense here) they know it.

    • dl
      October 5, 2016

      To explain a bit further my comment that ‘it was up to them to dig themselves out of the hole’ — it seemed to me the team that was fielded had the plan and abilities to win the game. Both Lucho and the team knew it. Lucho had done his part, but the team hadn’t, and now it was their turn to step up.

  6. Inamess
    October 5, 2016

    Interesting remarks about Altleti. A team with such a great defense will always be a strong team in the Champions League since you literally can’t lose unless the other team scores. What is different for the league, however, is the danger of the draw which neither team wants unless it is against a direct rival. If and when opponents think that a Atleti’s defense is so good that a draw is a good result, like they do with RM and Barca, then Atleti is in trouble. Just think from only two goals conceded they lost 4 points. They may in the end face a similar situation that Barca did with the buses of previous years in that teams are perfectly satisfied with a point and everything else is gravy..

  7. Jim
    October 5, 2016

    That’s a fair point, Inamess. It has always amazed me that other teams don’t see that RM is no good at breaking buses either and just sit in. They must feel they have a chance against them which I suppose is some kind of compliment to us.

    • Dar_vincy
      October 6, 2016

      Quite interestingly, I have often thought the exact opposite of Madrid. Due to their direct style of play and their hyper-quick attacking incursions, they often end up breaking whatever bus any team puts in front of them. In addition, their remarkable shooting prowess (especially outside the 18 yard box) gives them a real option as opposed to trying (in vain) to walk your way into the opponent’s 18 yard box. Another strength of theirs against defensive teams is their ability to sow chaos with their aerial prowess.

    • October 6, 2016

      The other thing about the way that Real Madrid attacks is that they often suck an opponent into running around with them. They will be the Liga side whose matches most resemble a Premier League clash. Open, lots of running, lots of shooting, kinda chaotic.

      The biggest problem for Atleti was, and will always be scoring goals because of their defense-first orientation. Gameiro won’t change that. The thing for me about Barça is that as much as culers worry about defense, the biggest problems usually come when the team can’t score. Recall that the last silverless season, the team was held scoreless seven times. A goal in any of those games and that final-day showdown vs Atleti is academic.

      A single goal against Atleti in Champions League, and they’re through to the final. I like the team’s offense-first orientation, the “Let’s score, then let them deal with us,” thinking.

  8. Dar_vincy
    October 6, 2016

    Immaculately fleshed out points, Kxevin. For a very long while
    , I have patiently waited for a discussion that would place our defensive system in comparison with the best defense in the world – Atletico’s. I have often held the belief that the coaching crew and club by extension hasn’t accorded our defensive game the necessary attention it deserves, thanks to our incurable obsession with attacking play. Which is why I agree in part with Arvind’s point about the need for intense focus on our defensive game. Post-Guardiola, our errabund collective defending has often piqued and baffled me greatly. Without us wielding our greatest defensive weapon (possession) effectively since then, the team has found itself looking vulnerable and shellshocked against teams who know how to apply the right kind of pressure and execute the right kind of damage. In point of fact, it is not so much about the personnel but the system and how the coach can forge it into a sturdy, virtually impregnable unit. Give Simeone this current team and watch it transmogrify into a virtually unbeatable unit. And that’s simply because defensive solidity is guaranteed and attacking play may not necessarily need much coaching with the 3 best forwards in the history of the game at your disposal. And this is not necessarily to imply that Enrique be jettisoned. Can Barca achieve Atletico’s vault-like defensive excellence while also producing breathtaking attacking play? I strongly believe it’s possible and achievable. Which is why the challenge to forge this team into an irrepressible force is one that would no doubt render Enrique a tactical legend. Further, i’m inclined to believe majority of our defensive flaws are easily correctable. Our pressing game must return or be more consistent. This is why we aren’t able to match the press of teams like Celta. Also, our marking at times seems childish and soft in comparison with Atletico’s. You would observe keenly that this doesn’t have anything to do with the number of men committed forward or backward. It’ s just basic defensive actions that can executed if the players exhibit the will and hunger to implement it. Take for instance Pique under Simeone. What you have is a huge defender that is tough, mean and aggressive as opposed to the softer version you have now (sorry, Jim) . To further my argument that the team can also be like Atletico defensively, I believe the team can be set up in a way where it doesn’t commit too many men forward by being compact defensively against teams like Celta and Sociedad. Will attacking plays be compromised by that? Yes. And I believe we have enough attacking firepower to overcome them. Against weaker opponents, there is little risk involved in committing men forward as they often lack the requisite quality to hurt us. By and large, i maintain the belief that we can have the best of both worlds by applying the basic and complex principles of defending while also tailoring our approach in accordance with the opponent’s style.

    • October 6, 2016

      Good points. But the question is always a team’s philosophy. It’s hard to make players do both. In many ways, Guardiola devised the perfect solution for that time with the compressed rondo theory of attacking and defending. But as that system was found out, things had to change.

      If this team can get its minds around playing the way that we have seen glimpses of, stand back. The connected passes over distance means that a press is not only less effective, but more vulnerable to the right ball. But it all starts and ends with the same thing now as then: possession. Recall the second Celta goal, which began with Suarez losing possession in their box, catapulting them into attack.

      Against Barça, where everyone is thinking attack, even losing possession there creates potentially crucial imbalances everywhere on the pitch, because everybody is forward in attack. That’s part of the deal. It is impossible to play Barça football and be compact. It becomes an exploitable hybrid.

      The reason the Luis Enrique Treble team (think about having to specifiy which Treble … yikes. So awesome.) was good defensively for the very reasons that people snarled about it. L.E. reckoned that because the kind of midfield play that people clamored for — without fully understanding that it had been found out — was impossible, he just got the ball to Messi/Suarez/Neymar as fast as he could, and let the rest sort itself.

      One sign that things are changing is in the array of different goalscorers this year. The system is creating that necessary scoring diversity. We saw last year the evidence of why such a thing is necessary.

      Barça can … no, Barça does have a good defense, You don’t win championships without one. Look at this year’s American basketball championship as an example of that, as well as the success of Barça. Few things have been more mischaracterized than that team’s defense. It doesn’t suck, it isn’t weak. It is vulnerable as a direct consequence of how the team plays. I hope that never changes because if it does, that will mean that Barça has stopped playing Barça football. And something fundamental will have been lost.

    • Dar_vincy
      October 9, 2016

      I agree with you. Tantalizing as the idea could be, application may just prove to be herculean.

  9. georgjorge
    October 6, 2016

    Very nice contribution, Kxevin! Atleti is in some ways the perfect counterpart to how Barca plays. And even after watching many of their games, it still eludes me how they score against strong opponents. I always think “well, they can pack their box, but they are never going to get the ball into their opponents half”. And then there comes a single error, a slight opening in their opponents’ defense, a rush of too many players to the ball. And suddenly one or more of their players – Griezmann, Carrasco, Saul etc. – become Messi-like for a few crucial moments, dribbling past players and picking out the perfect pass, and it’s 0-1. Then they go back to being tough defenders again, and you can just see the opposing players losing a bit of hope right there.

    It’s not exactly attractive, but I love it.

  10. dl
    October 6, 2016

    On the topic of AM, their change over the past 2 years from thuggishness to tough daggers has been delightful. They are a really great team. Hate to suggest it, but I’d be intrigued to see Simeone as the next barca coach.

  11. Jim
    October 6, 2016

    Good discussion guys.

    Some small points first . First of all just watching Wales. I know I’m a sentimental old guy but. When the anthems are belted out it gets me. Full marks to Bale, singing. His anthem in Welsh and proud of it Welsh travelling support, you’ve just got to love the way they go for the high note at the end rather than the pussy out one. !!

    Secondly, Pique. Dear Vincy, no offence taken but I’m not clear in what way Pique is soft. Are we looking for a Mascherano like intent to win every in winnable ball rather than stay on our feet or has he been pushing out of challenges or what ? He is having e season of his life, i mo, and I think he’s great every season. I was just about to suggest he’s now probably the best choice for captain from now on but hey each to their own. Can’t remember the last real mistake he made though.

    Kxevin, you’re still on about losing the ball in the opposition’s third. Seriously, you’ll never score a goal if you’re not prepared to lose the ball there . Every pass Messi or Iniesta make goes through or past a heap of opposition players any one of which could. take a chance, lunge at it and we’ve lost possession. Any dribble Messi does can end up unsuccessful so what are we meant to do to score ? Sorry, but any time you have eight or nine players goalside and you lose the ball eighty yards from your own goal there should be precisely zero problem.

    Barcelona does have a good defence, or could have a good defence if we don’t lose the ball in our third of the pitch or if our defenders just do their job properly positionally. In recent times our offside line has gone to pot, our FK line is far too high and there are certain CBs who don’t see it as a priority to regain their central position as quickly as their little legs will carry them . Add to that a Busi who regains his karma and we have a great defence. ( I’ve left any talk of goalkeeping as we need to move on and see how that develops).

    However, as has been said the major problem lies with our midfield. They can’t control the game like we used to because the incumbents don’t have the skills necessary. Rakitic can play short passes with the best of them but can’t move with the ball and doesn’t show enough for the bal. likewise Suarez , Gomes, Rafinha . Turan can but isn’t doing it at the moment and hasn’t really since he joined. If Busi is being given a hard time the other modes should be prepared to drop a little deeper and look for the ball just to make our play out less predictable. Just look at the way Iniesta knew instinctively when he came on whether to. Play the simple ball, turn and run at their defence or play the defence splitting ball. Decision making. The rest aren’t great at it. So, Messi has to drop deep and do that work , which means he has to sprint to get on the end of chances which means this won’t be his last injury this season. The business of bigger spaces between the passers is fine. It’s always a good idea to change the angle of attack but at some point someone needs to take the responsibility to create something and be able to beat a man. That’s why I praised Suarez’s run to the byeline. It was a bit of aggression where he could have lost the ball but by doing so took it to them and created something.

    What kind of Barca do I want to see ?

    One where the whole team presses as if their lives depended on it.. Where has that gone ?

    One where the defence has two genuine CBs and a bit of pace, who stay at home or have adequate cover and who move as one for offside.
    A midfield where each member can receive a hospital ball, turn it into good possession and can all. either play simply , hit a telling through ball where it’s on or turn on a sixpence, show a turn of speed and break the lines.

    A forward line that knows each other’s’ movements and can play short passes, back to goal, and go for returns, has speed to carry the ball to them if the chance to hit on the counter arises and the form to convert a fair proportion of them.

    Are we far away from this. ? Probably not. Is this where we are headed ? Time will tell.

    • Jim
      October 6, 2016

      Not sure what the causal link is but as I get older my iPad gets poorer at punctuation and spelling . What’s that all about ?

    • October 6, 2016

      It isn’t losing possession, but how the team reacts to it. It isn’t as simple as taking a risk, etc. It’s why L.E. was so vexed at that second goal. Attackers will obviously lose the ball. But they also have to understand that the way their team plays, the risk involved in that. It seems like sometimes, a newer player such as Suarez doesn’t understand that.

      Every time Barça loses possession, there is a risk that loss of the ball will result in a goal. That’s the reality of how the team works.

      As for your wish about Barça having stay-at-home CBs? Extremely doubtful.

  12. Jim
    October 6, 2016

    Sorry, Kxevin. I misunderstood what you meant by not being able to afford to lose possession in their box. About 90% of the time you move into the box with the ball you will lose it. That’s the nature of attacking. If you mean that while the ball is wending its way to their box others in the team should be organising cov,er against a quick break I completely agree but time after time that doesn’t seem to happen for some reason. Busi was a great example of someone who wasn’t really offering cover for Mathieu. You can’t mark someone five yards in front of them.

    You”ll see above re CBs staying at home I was actually making that same point. It’s not Pique working his way up the field that causes us trouble as we have time to organise. It’s someone dashing out without warning , and probably in Pique’s eyes for no good reason, that doesn’t allow time for cover. You’ll also recall I keep banging on about no need for both FBs to be up the park at the same time. It’s not really difficult but we don’t seem to prioritise that mindset. Very few teams score goals against our defence when they’re in position.

    • Jim
      October 6, 2016

      Btw, nice to see my least favourite CB ( yes, I know) add another chapter to his less than overwhelming career for me in the Italy game. If you’re daft enough to make a challenge in the box you do actually have to get the ball. Pity for Spain, though. Just watched the first half plus highlights but Iniesta looked super. Alba injured, though. Still, it’ll give Digne a chance to show what he can do.

    • October 7, 2016

      I was thinking about the team’s defensive solidity in 14/15, and the cause of it. Thankfully I have piles of DVDs of old matches. It wasn’t just the (relative) isolation of the front three that built security, but also the willingness of everyone to pitch in everywhere. When Alves was off attacking, Rakitic had his zone. When Pique was up attacking (something he didn’t do as much that year), others had his back.

      The lack of balance inherent in learning a new system is (I think/hope) a lot of what we’re seeing right now, in addition to Umtiti solidifying his spot in the XI. The defense is different with him on the pitch. So the team is attacking as a unit, but hasn’t quite sorted who needs to do what in what zones when the ball is lost. There is also a pace complexity present. If you look at the gala XI, really only Alba and Neymar have real pace. When caught out of position, this means the team is pretty much screwed. So somebody has to kick somebody.

      The reason I am coming to prefer Digne to Alba is that he isn’t afraid to be physical, and take the occasional tactical foul. It isn’t the petulant physicality of Alba, but rather the, “For the team” kind of fouls. Fair play awards are nice, but sometimes you have to bowl someone over to stop a break.

      Not sure if y’all saw the pass Mascherano made yesterday in the Argentina match. Ugh. Led to the penalty that equalized for Peru. It was daft. Usually, even when he’s a bit funky for Barça, his form for Argentina is sound. Not so yesterday.

  13. raj
    October 6, 2016

    The Barcelonafootballblog comment space is the most awesome one in the internet of football

  14. TITO
    October 7, 2016

    I was having a look at celta’s second goal.
    Exactly 8 of our players are involved in the attack when Suarez loses the ball.
    Of those 2 who stayed behind in our own half, Busi is one and he’s no the fastest guy around.
    This will always hunt us, always, especially against teams who are technically gifted and have fast forwards. We have seen that in the past, even before Guardiola and LE.
    What i don’t like is when a CB goes forward and it’s not some sort of a free kick. We can’t defend only with 2-3 players when we are caught out of play. If one of our FB is going forward, the other one has to stay back, always.
    It’s up to LE to solve this. We have let too many goals this season, and the season just started.
    I’ve said it before, i’m glad that we are having this bad spell in the beginning of the season, which means that by spring we should be flying on all cylinders.

    • Jim
      October 9, 2016

      Their second goal was an awful one to lose but really it’s hard to lay it at the team door. We had two at the back covering one. That’s fine. The only problem there was Busi wasn’t expecting the hoof up the park so was only notionally marking the attacker, five yards in front. Pique has to stay with the possibility of Busi flicking the header backwards to our goal so when it goes inside he’s facing the wrong way. Busi at fault all the way.

      Still, doesn’t necessarily cost a goal as we still have two on one. Both our defenders are easily goalside of the attacker. The problem comes when Gomes is completely outrun and doesn’t even attempt to go with his man from midfield. ( Side note, if that’s his top speed we’re in bother and he’ll struggle to hold down a place, despite pretty decent ball skills. He just needs to thank his lucky stars he’s not Samper or he’d have “defensive frailties” !)

      That means Busi can’t double team the attacker with Pique as the extra man becomes available. Actually, the more I look at it TS is probably too near to his near post. He takes a half step to his right and can’t get back. Maybe a little harsh as Busi was at the heart of the loss.

      As you say, Tito, it’s the best time to be having this spell but we have also lost far too many goals to individual errors in defence. I’d like to think we are sitting down and going over goal losses but it keeps happening. We could have lost another one or two , easily, especially when we resorted to three at the back later.

  15. Hamid
    October 8, 2016

    Kevin – I understand your reaction to those among us who saw in last defeat the sign of something wrong with the team. Most, if not all, of us in this platform understand that any true devotion is a condition to be suffered. I don’t think that any true culer wants to see Barça become RM or, God forbid, AM. I watched Barça players in the Spain/Italy game. Busquets is still slow, goofy and lost. I was however impressed with Iniesta’s defensive work, which took nothing from his usual attacking prowess. The idea that conceding (stupid) goals is an inevitable consequence of our attacking style is debatable. In the last 5 games of the previous La Liga season, the team scored 24 goals and conceded 0. Only a fool would suggest that clean sheets should be our pursuit à la AM. But more discipline at the back is something we have proved we can have.
    DM – The idea of Simeone coaching Barça is not only unlikely, but obscene. This is a coach who believes that you can bully your way to glory. He embodies everything that Barça isn’t and shouldn’t be. He has by no means turned AM into a “great team”. His robotic and dry style could be efficient, but is by no means graceful or entertaining.

    • dl
      October 9, 2016

      Hamid: The AM I’ve seen this year (and much of last year) has been quite a bit better and I dare say thrilling than the brutish hacks of a few years ago. I have no idea what Simeone would do if he had the tools available that Barca would give him, but his abilities as a coach are indisputable. He has been able to take a team with limited resources and repeatedly (very important, in my view) make the contenders for all the trophies. The question, in my mind, is does someone like him have only one way of forming a team, or is he rather very good at using what is available to him. I think any team needs the former kind of coach, and they appear to be rare.

  16. Jim
    October 9, 2016

    Aah, just sitting down to watch Ramos let Spain down again against Albania ( surely not ? ) big minus so far – the Spanish national anthem, as usual. I’m reminded of the group of Spaniards we met in the queue out to Hampden at Central Station in Glasgow from. Seville who said they were keen to learn Flower of Scoland so they could sing along with something which had words !

    Plus point – my good lady has decided that Iniesta has the nicest eyes she has ever seen so is prepared to watch the match rather than Strictly Come Dancing which clashes. Yessss ! Hope Ini has a good match or I’ll be watching Ed Balls’ ‘ tango by half past : 🙁

  17. ciaran
    October 9, 2016

    I dislike the international breaks. Being Irish it’s hard to get pumped up for our games with the brand of football we play but six points in a few days is great.
    A few days ago they published Cruyff’s all time XI which got me thinking about Barca’s greatest XI.
    I thought about giving a few rules so here goes…
    An XI and 7 subs to make a matchday squad.
    Based on their performances with Barca not just having played for us.
    A 4-3-3 in a balanced formation, so no playing a load of forwards out of position to keep some reality in it.
    The 7 subs to offer solutions to both defensive and offensive problems.

    GK- Victor Valdes -didn’t get the praise he deserved but the sheer volume of trophies makes it a no brainer. The perfect keeper for Barca
    RB- Daniel Alves – the greatest rightback in our history and the perfect balance between attack and defense at his best. No competition for it.
    CB- Ronald Koeman – not just for his CL winning goal of his dead balls in general but a Barca centreback should be great on the ball and there aren’t many better.
    CB- Carles Puyol – captain caveman is the perfect foil for the more adventurous Dutchman, organising the backline and keeping everyone in check.
    LB- Eric Abidal – this was awkward, I was going to go for Sergi Barjuan as he was the man when I started supporting Barca but I think the defensive solidity of Abidal would be more of a benefit considering the firepower that the team would have.
    DM- Sergi Busquets – a strong argument could be made that Pep was a better player but I disagree. On his game he does the job of two defensive midfielders and his individual performance in the 7-0 Valencia match last season was amongst the best I’ve ever seen.
    CM- Xavi – in my opinion the best central midfielder ever he would keep the tempo and dictate play in the way that only be could. No question.
    CM- Johann Cruyff – be played as everything from midfielder to striker and is the essence of the total footballer. Transformed our team and then club on numerous occasions and was a simply phenomenal footballer.
    RF- Leo Messi – probably the best footballer ever and unstoppable at his incredibly consistent best, they only question was where to start him.
    ST- Ronaldo – his solitary season was enough to put him here instead of other incredible talents. What could have been if he had stayed for a few seasons.
    LF- Rivaldo – it’s like deciding between children deciding whether to go with Ronaldinho or Rivaldo. Ronaldinho burned brighter but Rivaldo burned longer. Rivaldo scored some incredible goals and was a more natural finisher as well as being one of the best freekick takers of all time. Not quite as much fun though.

    Bench – Zubi, Pique, Luis Enrique, Laudrup, Iniesta, Ronaldinho and Stoichkov.
    Zubi for obvious reasons, Pique to cover at centreback and Lucho to cover the fullbacks or anywhere else. Laudrup because he was magic and Xavi could always drop to DM in case. Iniesta for those special moments, and Ronaldinho for the joy. Stoichkov because he knew how to win and was the reason I support Barca.
    Manager – Pep because even though Sir Bobby was way more fun Pep would have our team ready to press the opposition to death.

    Honorable mentions go to those legends that I didn’t get to watch in real time and also to some of the strikers that didn’t get a lookin like Eto’o and Henry who were incredible.

    • Davour
      October 11, 2016

      A pretty good team! My only real objection (if that’s the word in such a subjective exercise!) would be Rivaldo instead of Ronnie – with Ronaldo (one season is also verging on a deal-breaker, here) and Messi there are enough goal-scoring threats – let’s bring the joy out! Or even push Cruyff further up and add Iniesta… It is always hard with comparisons over time – was Koeman really a better player than Piqué? (though being top scorer in the European cup as a defender is impressive!)

      But we are in full agreement that Figo should be nowhere near this list! Though perhaps Romario should…

      Now, bring back liga football.

  18. Davour
    October 12, 2016

    Ok, so I think the discussion that “Messi needs a WC to prove his greatness bla bla” should be over now. Argentina’s NT sans Messi are proving the point of his influence and ability over and over…

    • georgjorge
      October 12, 2016

      …and it seems Pique is going to leave Spain’s national team after the World Cup because he was insulted for cutting off his shirt sleeves. How strange, and a big blow for them, with Pique being so immense. Good chance for Bartra to shine there.

    • Davour
      October 12, 2016

      Yes, it’s infected, the Spain-Catalonia issue, and he has become a poster boy for the independents, and heckled for it. Obviously, football does not bridge this troubled water. Either way, he will be 31 and probably most of the old guard will depart – Ini for sure, Ramos, maybe Busi, Silva, etc. But Spain will be worse off without Gerard! We’ll see if Bartra is up for it…

  19. Jim
    October 13, 2016

    A few quick thoughts. Ciaran, sorry for my lack of uptake on your greatest eleven thoughts. For me, Pique would be in there, as would Iniesta rather than Cruyff ( who to me flitted in and out of games too much ) , if we’re talking midfield, and finally I’d always have Dinho in any eleven I chose. Most naturally talented footballer I’ve ever seen and the reason I started watching Barca.

    On the Pique retirement, good ! It’ll either make them value him more or give him more time at home ( if I were him I know which I’d prefer ! ) .

    On Argentina, I finally watched the highlights and for me they just don’t have the players to challenge at world level. Very predictable and very fragile. A lot of their achievements come from the confidence having Messi in the team gives them, for me. The goal against was also avoidable. Have a look and you’ll see what I mean . .

    Finally, on the Busi subject which is maybe our biggest problem at the moment I came across this article at Total Barca ( which to me isn’t as it once was ) . I agree with the general thrust, most of the individual points and especially the last sentence but even if I didn’t, the trip there was worth it for the Xavi video. Absolutely irreplaceable and with the distance of time he just gets better and better. Nobody is doing this for anyone these days.

    http://www.totalbarca.com/2016/10/busi-much-responsibility/

    • Davour
      October 14, 2016

      Firstly, yes – wasn’t that a lovely video of Xavi’s skills? Magical awareness. This is truly a quite amazing generation. Caught the Messi’s-early-years-video, too, and was struck by the level he showed as a 17-18 year old. Even when he gets into trouble from over-dribbling, he often manages to navigate his way out of it, or close enough. Imagine, that we were spoilt to be granted a trio like them and Iniesta together – three of the all time best playing together. Have we appreciated it enough?

      And Argentina, well – it strikes me as ignorant when people keep throwing out names like Aguero and Di Maria and claiming the team is great, with or without Messi. Is it not obvious by now that it is certainly not. Mediocre defence and midfield (especially with a declining Masche), and consistently under-performing attackers. 5 out of 7 international finals, this team have made it to, I read on Twitter. Amazing, really. And if that is not enough to prove Leo’s greatness, well… I guess you just don’t and never will get it. And the issue, too, is that it is hard to form a good strategy with these players to accommodate Messi – if you go Barca, they crumble, if you go AM, Messi will burn out (as in WC). It is not looking good at the moment.

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