The Return of the King

The total number of major trophies is staggering: 7 in 4 years. There are the other, lesser trophies: 7 of them too. There is the sense that what was a team on the brink of greatness is now firmly entrenched in the history books as one of the greatest club sides of all time. There are new words in the global lexicon to describe the team’s rise and recycled terms re-introduced to the contemporary generation: tiki-taka, false 9, true 10, libero. There are heirs to thrones and entirely new dynastic roots. There are images that are seared in our minds and statements we like to repeat. This is the legacy of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona.

But make no mistake, this is also the enemy.

It is not about hating Pep Guardiola—that seems impossible—but it is about looking at today through unblinkered eyes. It is about remembering that whatever he gave to the team before—and it is an unpayable debt—today is today and yesterday is yesterday. Luis Enrique’s accomplishments 2 years into his tenure mirror those of his legendary predecessor (8 trophies apiece). They were teammates and friends, they won a gold medal together at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (Pep in the #9, Lucho in the #8), and they worked together as first team manager and reserve team manager, but now they face off in a group stage match on the biggest club stage: the Champions League. It’s not hard to imagine a hero’s welcome before kickoff and then a towering inferno after the whistle sounds.

It is not about hating Pep Guardiola. It is not about hating Manchester City, the nouveau riche, or the new corporate overlords of global football. It is not about hating anyone or anything, but it is also not about adulation or pining for old times. Guardiola may very well return to the club one day—perhaps at the behest of President Pique—to work alongside Manager Xavi or Mascherano, but for now he works on the other side of the divide. He is not a bad person for having chosen to leave us, for having chosen Bayern Munich and then Manchester City, or for getting paid extremely handsomely for his decisions.

But make no mistake, Lucho will attack Pep’s weaknesses and attempt to burn him with fire.

It is not about hating Pep Guardiola. It is about loving this team and cheering for it. It is about enjoying the brand of football that will be on display and the scintillating moves from Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, and Pique. It is about kind of clutching yourself a bit when Ter Stegen gets the ball, only to see a pass drop sweetly into the path of a charging chipmunk or wavy haired Croatian. It is about the spectacle of 98,000 fans wearing the appropriate shade of blue and roaring their hearts out. It isn’t about clipping the wings of an up-and-coming European powerhouse, but it is about asserting our own sense of self within that sphere. We are no longer the underdogs, but this should not change our feelings for our team. It does not also put our management or players beyond reproach or take away from the legitimacy of any criticisms leveled at them, but keeping perspective is extremely important.

Guardiola goes to operas and speaks in the hushed tones of an academic while Lucho barrels down the side of a mountain on a bike; Guardiola is quoted at length in literary works while Lucho is, well, not. One is stylish while the other insists on sneakers with his suits. Both have won everything and both don’t take crap at press conferences.

But make no mistake, this is Barcelona vs. Manchester City, not us against Pep.

So what of Manchester City? They sit joint top of the Premier League table with 19 points from 8 matches (19GF, 8GA) while Barcelona sit joint 4th in La Liga with 16 points from 8 played (26GF, 10GA). It’s hard to directly compare the two, of course, but Manchester City has stuttered of late with a loss and a draw in succession to put an end to their previously unbeaten league record. Previously they played the teams currently ranked 20, 19, 18, 15, 11, and 7, with a combined 1 clean sheet. They lost to the 3rd placed team and drew with the 6th. Barcelona, who have stuttered in their own right against mediocre opposition, have lost to the 12th and 9th ranked teams, but have won against teams ranked 18, 16, 15, 11, and 6 while also drawing against top-of-the-table Atletico. There were 3 clean sheets in there, though allowing 4 at Celta Vigo wasn’t a brilliant move. Neither team, therefore, is firing on all cylinders, but it could still be incredibly entertaining because these are fantastic attacking sides that occasionally give up silly goals.

Looking at their Champions League records, City cruised by Borussia Mochengladbach 4-0 then surprisingly drew 3-3 away to Celtic; Barca beat Gladbach in Germany after coming from a goal down to win 1-2, but started the campaign by absolutely thrashing Celtic at the Camp Nou to the tune of 7-0. Barcelona therefore sit top of the group with 6 points and City are in 2nd with 4 points. This match could easily determine the final order, though the “second leg” in Manchester on November 1 should be the real decider, especially if Gladbach and Celtic split points along the way. What’s clear is that fireworks are possible tomorrow night and that is exactly what I would like to see.

Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, David Silva.

Neymar, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi.

These are just some of the attackers on display for each team and that’s the epitome of mouth-watering.Claudio Bravo, Nolito, and, of course, Pep Guardiola return to the Camp Nou (Yaya isn’t in the CL squad) so there will be plenty to applaud before and after kickoff. There will be darting runs and slick passing as well as a back-and-forth on who can hold the ball the most effectively. The first 15 or so minutes should be frenetic, possibly frantic, and hopefully fantastic before things settle down and Barcelona’s quality shines through.

But make no mistake, this is not a friendly. This is about 3 points and about effectively ensuring continuity in the Champions League through at least the first round of the knockout stage. This is about showing that while Guardiola’s 2008-2012 Barça were magnificent, loveable, and all-together fantastic to watch, this is now the 2016-17 Barça and it too is all of those things. Before you point out that maybe Luis Suarez’s antics make them not so lovable, my counterpoint is Andres Iniesta. Checkmate.

The king, then, comes back, but there is a new king named Luis Enrique. He is now The Man at Barça. Along with Andres Iniesta, of course. And that little dictator, Messi. And Reymar. And Luis Suarez’s maté provider. And Ter Stegen’s ego.

Prediction: 3-1, Barça.

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

20 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    October 18, 2016

    I want to say something about a man that he really seems to know his job.I read that we have the option to buy a young Colombian CB,Yerry Mina for 8m.We also have a cheap option for Marlon.In summer the team wanted to pay the clause for Theo Hernandez.Many Masia maniacs said “What?10m for a young CB?We have Tarin”Now Theo for many is the best young player in La Liga.Maybe the club didnt have the money after so much spending and Robert couldnt do it.But this man know his job and i hope he stays here for a long time.And i hope the club in future start to pay 10m for young players that can be big,because the transfer fees are out of control.And still he did what?Umtiti for 25?Gomes for 35?Amazing job.

  2. Davour
    October 19, 2016

    Thanks for a nice write-up! I for one am hoping for a celebration of football from two teams who attempt the kind of football I consider the finest (it IS more than just winning) and most difficult. It is great that both Messi and De Bruyne are back – it increases the chances of this being an entertaining match.

    But who knows, maybe they will both be entrenched?

  3. Jim
    October 19, 2016

    Team for tonight

    Ter Stegen, Umtiti, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Iniesta, Busquets, Rakitic, Messi, Suarez, Neymar.

    No, I haven’t a clue what our formation will be . Can Masche play RB. In a four ? Is he quick enough against Sterling ? Are we going to see three at the back ? Hope not but I’m actually curious to see how it can work for us after hearing it was decent at the weekend. Is LE just trying to find Masche a place in the eleven ? If three at the back its putting a lot of responsibility on Umtiti because there ain’t a lot of scope for covering. Not sure it suits Pique either.

    Having said that I don’t rate their defence . Stones said some nice things about Messi . He’s about to find he was right. I reckon it’s one of these important way points in the season. We’ll know after tonight where we stand. Can’t wait.

    • Jim
      October 19, 2016

      Hmm, no Aguero. Not enough work rate ? What does that mean ? False nine ? Looking to break our offside line ? Good point on BT about high of the two keepers will be under most pressure ? Good comment from Rio about our front line being illegal !

    • georgjorge
      October 19, 2016

      I’m confused as well. I really don’t need to see Mascherano as right back when we also have this Roberto guy in the team, but then…Umtiti as left back in a three man defense, a double pivot and Alba as a winger? Doesn’t make much more sense. I think some poor guy at Barca just put the wrong names on the game sheet (just kidding).

      But I can’t wait for it either.

  4. Jim
    October 19, 2016

    *which

  5. lala10
    October 19, 2016

    The defense has disaster written all over it IMO. Will see how it pans out but yay this gives me the creeps

  6. Jim
    October 19, 2016

    No, Pique going off hurt !

  7. Jim
    October 19, 2016

    Or is it Alba ? Yeah, he pulled up a little in that last sprint.

  8. Jim
    October 19, 2016

    Bugger. Has to be four at the back now. We are at sixes and sevens here.

  9. Jim
    October 19, 2016

    And notch another for the sweeper keeper madness …. Just as well for us.nthis is not only the worst but also the most disorganised we’ve been for ages. Using up about three seasons’ luck so far.

  10. raj
    October 19, 2016

    What a game that was!

    Just want to point out the inevitability of the secong Messi goal. Man City must have felt “Playing against Messi is an Exercise in Futility”

    I mean, imagine the conversation between Iniesta and Messi’s thoughts (it is an Iniesta assist)
    Ini ” Here, take the ball”
    Messi ” Why?”
    Ini “Just”
    Messi “What do you want?”
    Ini “A goal. Score a goal with it”
    Messi “Huh, ok”

    *Scores and sighs*
    “Alright?”

    • georgjorge
      October 19, 2016

      Great imagined conversation!

      This was a strange game, not sure what to make of it. We started with a shaky defense, and then went on to lose THREE of our defenders before the game was over. And they were pretty thuggish, and seemed to be as close to scoring as we were most of the time. But they slipped all the time, and did incredibly stupid things with the ball in defense.

      So in the end it was 4 for us and 0 for them. It FELT more like a scrappy 3-2 or something, but there you have it. Maybe I am too spoiled, and it was all brilliant tactics and brilliant plays that made this result. There certainly was a lot of toughness and willpower to our side this time. Maybe it is true that if you just add that toughness and willpower to a side that has already so much quality, that side becomes incredibly hard to beat.

      Anyway, 4-0 against the next hot thing in international football. It does feel good.

  11. dl
    October 19, 2016

    What a mess that was!
    Highlights for me were Umtiti (already playing like a veteran — cool and classy), the front three for various reasons, ter Stegen for his stops, and surprisingly Masche on the side.
    ‘Lowlights’ were our passing, which was dreadful. Many of ter Stegen’s remain in memory as ‘what was that intended for’?
    But all in all, I enjoyed the whole shambolic mess.
    I don’t watch the premier league, but I thought Sterling has potential.

  12. luisthebeast
    October 19, 2016

    Macherano at RB.Pique and Alba out.A defense that never played together.And despite that we could easily score 7-8 goals.After Leo goal Suarez could make it 2-0 and then the end.There were some amazing pressing but Leo is from injury,we could steal easily the ball sometimes.Not our best game but we thrashed the most expensive team in world.Umtiti was a beast,Mache amazing,Suarez make so dirty job,the guy was so intense,Leo finished very cool.Our midfield not at their best,Busi again had a meh game.And Gomes great in little minutes.A future star.City best chances came after the injury of Alba and with injured.City could had more cards and a red for Fernandinio.The ref was strange.Lets go.

  13. luisthebeast
    October 19, 2016

    Next time Pep will come with City or another team we all know the score,right?After 3 and 4 we will have a manita.Lucho<3

  14. Messiah10
    October 19, 2016

    Any update on the injuries to Alba & Pique from our locals there? Very worried about the prospect of losing Pique for an extended amount of games. When does Roberto get back to full fitness? The sooner he gets back the better. I though we weren’t controlling the game for the first 10-12 mins but after that we played wonderfully. Of course there are always moments but we took ours and were ruthless when we had them. Bravo(pun intended) to our squad and coach tonight!

  15. lala10
    October 20, 2016

    Flattering result. Struggled mightily to escape their press in the first half. Seems like if teams sit on Busquets we cant breath.

    Glad that Ter Stergen came out of it fine. He saved our skins a couple of times. Hope he will continue growing and bit by bit get the dues he deserves.

    The team looks still undercooked. The upside to that we may hit top form later in the campaign when it really matters.

    Umtiti has been immense so far. His intergration has been faster than expected. Like the way he creates passing angles in difficult positions. Class. Hoping Pique is not too badly crocked. Mathiue aargh. You can almost bet a dollar everytime he comes on as a sub that he will have a bad moment.

  16. Kd
    October 20, 2016

    A good match but a giddy scoreline. Barca were decent and I cant fault us when 2 of our starting defenders went off before the half time. I thought Umtiti was magnificent but its true that the team looks shaky playing from the back under immense pressure from the opposition. And Busquets still doesn’t seem to be at his very best.
    I thought Messi was just phenomenal in a more human way. If u noticed, he missed a couple of his trademark right to left balls perhaps pointing to the fact that the match sharpness is still a game or two away.
    And why cant our players take a proper penalty? Do they actually have to go and watch some James Milner videos? Or even Alan Shearer? Never saw him fluffing a penalty? Whats with trying to second guess the keeper? Perfect top or bottom corner and thats that mate!!
    Over all most of our goals were scored from their mistakes. Mistakes some which we induced and some which were unforced.
    Another thing, it would be really nice to have a player like Xavi to close out games. It seems too back and forth for me when we are leading and comfortable. Any remarks on that anyone??

  17. PPos
    October 20, 2016

    Messi, Messi, Messi
    While Cristiano huffed and puffed his hardest. Messi used his head and read the game, and the goals came naturally, because he’s Iniesta’s natural replacement. Messi has gone from the shy, child prodigy to a FC Barcelona captain, cut from the same cloth as Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, and Carles Puyol; It was extremely uncomfortable to have Pep try to impose our game on us, and they were doing it. We struggled getting out of the back so much today. I loved how Lucho set up the defense. Mascherano at right back reminded me of Puyol. It’s a shame that Pique went off injured. He’s got the same lionheart that Puyi did. The Celta game bar Ter Stegen’s reality-shock-ego-death moments in that game. We lost against Celta, because Ter Stegen was being a fuckboi not respecting the rival, but today, the boy is gold. I know it. I was furious about Celta, and I’ve dropped Ter Stegen in Fifa 17 (until he returns into good form in the game, Division 1 ain’t no joke.) But I know he isn’t stupid, and he showed it damn well today. Although we lost possession a lot with Ter Stegen’s clearances today, It was okay, better out there than hitting De Bruyne in the nose and it going in the net. Thank you, Claudio Bravo. The gift that keeps giving after it’s been shipped, and delivered. Bravo sometimes you just have to CLEAR THE BALL- HARD AS FUCK- OUT OF YOUR AREA-
    Question? What happened with Mathieu? I messed up and didn’t record the game, and just paused it, but accidentally switched the channel and my connection went from the paused minute straight to LIVE, and i couldn’t rewind due to not recording it. Was it a warranted expulsion? I don’t want to pass judgement on Mathieu, because I don’t know the details, but man that guy needs some psychologic treatment to teach him to enter games ON – enchufado – correct me if I’m wrong.
    Everytime we broke forward at pace, I felt this danger that City honestly never had bar the amazing saves Ter Stegen made on Gundogan, De Bruyne, or whatever City player it was that shot. If Ter Stegen doesn’t step up like that we would have been fried.
    Neymar’s penalty was too obvious, paradihnas are cool, but they kill too much momentum sometimes, and rob the shooter of a powerful drive, but whatever, his goal was absolute class, but I really want him to surpass Ronaldinho’s goal tally. Neymar will be our 10 when Leo decides to return to Rosario.
    Umtiti has the potential to be as good or better than Abidal.
    Digne is a class act – Robert really did his homework.
    loved Suarez’ unselfishness today, A great 9 has to be selfish, at the correct times.
    Luisito sabe!

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