Barça 4, Manchester City 0, aka “Immoveable force meets beloved object”

If you want to understand how good Barça is, understand that they took the top-of-table side in the Premiership, coached by a certified genius, and reduced them to an irritable Rayo Vallecano.

Just like Rayo City pressed, stroked the ball around, accumulated possession and made culers say “What’s wrong with us? They’re making us look at sixes and sevens.”

Then the goals came and the world returned to normal. The biggest difference is that City was determined to sweep the leg, with a series of fouls that mostly irritated except for Gerard Pique, who fell prey to a repugnant bit of butchery from David Silva.

Before the match there was some worry, because it’s Guardiola. And even though people call nonsense on the Premiership “best league” stuff, they still worry. It’s hard to get that out of your system, right? And it’s Guardiola. But the match went pretty much as expected. Is it as simple as one team beat Celtic 7-0 while the other team drew Celtic 3-3? Nope. Drawing inferences from scorelines would mean that Villarreal is better than Barça, since they hammered the Celta team that beat Barça.

But in watching both outings against Celtic, the difference is clear. Barça is evil, and inexorable. Like the Terminator, it won’t stop until you are dead. The passes keep coming, the runs continue to be made, time after time after time until you break. And you almost always break, barring a peculiar set of circumstances which aren’t repeatable all that often. Because Barça isn’t just the best team in world football. It’s also the most confident team in world football. City doesn’t have that yet, that quality that breaks your heart and will. It will take work to instill that. Talent isn’t enough. A tennis player drills, hitting thousands of topspin backhands up the line to make that shot a reflex, to make the exceptional automatic.

It’s when great players make the exceptional automatic that you wind up with a team such as Barça, who also have an absurd collection of talent even if too much of its fanbase doesn’t understand or appreciate just how extraordinary that team is.

Before the Manchester City match, Barça great Ronald Koeman said, prophetically, that you can play a perfect match, then Messi decides to do something. And it’s here that things get a little — well, a lot weird, because on the surface, this is what happened. Messi is decisive. Three words that state the obvious but carry so much meaning.

Messi scored a hat trick, one of the easiest he will ever notch, and Barça strolled to victory against the Premiership leaders, who are also favored to advance from their Champions League group. Messi decided this match on a strange day during which a … THE favored son returned to the Camp Nou once again, once again at the head of a brace of enemy combatants. And Pep Guardiola, certified genius and legitimate Barça legend, got his ass handed to him again. Some would say it came from the monster that he created, even if fully shaped is more accurate.

But it was more than Messi. Early on, Neymar undressed a City defender and danced into their box. The pass went awry, lacking the necessary precision and optimistic teammate to generate something more, but the intent was clear. This is going to happen again. And again. Barça is coming for you.

After the match, like the belief in Santa Claus, people had to find consolation in the lopsided scoreline with things such as “City won the tactical battle,” “Barça played for crap and got lucky,” “Things were close until … ”

Guardiola sounded like yet another vanquished coach in saying that things were fine until a player got sent off, the result of Claudio Bravo making an error of the forced variety. But no.

Quite frankly, City was a mess and Barça was indomitable. The game was chaotic because City charged and attacked Barça, leaving exploitable open spaces. There were times when the City press got the better of Barça, times when the vaunted building from the back was thwarted again and again by sorbet-colored hooligans. But Barça would hit the reset button and begin again, confident that this would be the time that it would work and eventually, it was.

The feeling was that the first goal came out of nowhere, but that wasn’t the case when Messi took the ball — he actually took it, emerging from a meeting of players and coming out with the ball thanks to strength and determination. And if he didn’t Boateng the fools who would dare try to stop him, he humiliated them nonetheless, dribbling Bravo and leaving his former teammate flat on his face, just another victim doomed to hear the roars of adulation as Messi did it yet again. The exceptional becomes automatic.

Barça was the better team, and not by a little. Was the seeming chaos that, or a team being adaptable and shaping to the avenues left it by an opponent until able to impose its will. People said, post-match, that the Bravo sending off changed the match. But from the Messi goal onward, when both teams were still 11v11, the tables were already turned. The City press was less effective, Barça was able to pass around their defenders. Neymar was running riot as too often City was forced to play him with a single defender because of the other dangers flitting about. Bravo’s sending off was because the match had already turned.

The worst part for opponents about Barça is that the team forces you to make choices. You can stop Suarez OR Neymar, Neymar OR Messi, Iniest … naaaah. Shut down Iniesta and Ter Stegen drops a rainbow of a pass from the back to the feet of an attacker. Press Ter Stegen and Umtiti smites a diamond ball to Iniesta. It never stops. The truest cruelty of playing FC Barcelona is that it only takes a moment. The beautiful part of the match was that Guardiola could see the evolution of the team that began in his hands. When he was coach, there was a particular set of skills that forced a particular type of play, and it was beautiful, aesthetically pure and successful.

The Barça that wrecked his team is beautiful, aesthetically malleable and successful.

At his pre-match press conference, Luis Enrique spoke of wanting possession, to play the Barça way but also having the luxury of being able to adapt his tactics to the skills of his individual players. The quality that he has to call upon provides exceptional luxury. Messi, Suarez and Neymar are impossible to play against. City did a great job of dealing with Suarez in attack, even as he influenced the match in other significant ways, of kinda sorta mostly keeping Neymar at bay, which left Messi. It’s inhuman.

It’s easy to say that it was Messi, it was individual brilliance, but City didn’t score either and Messi wasn’t playing CB or keeper. Ter Stegen was brilliant with Samuel Umtiti right behind him, buttressing other players forced to take the spotlight after the physical, verging on reckless approach of City cost Barça its back line anchor, Pique, who went out with an ankle knock after being battered by Silva.

This was after Jordi Alba aggravated his hamstring injury and had to come off early in the first half, replaed by Lucas Digne. Mathieu subbed on for Pique and suddenly the Barça back line was Mascherano, Mathieu, Umtiti and Digne.

And City still didn’t score. Ter Stegen made a brilliant save, and saves sow panic in the people whose Barça good performance is 100% possession and the keeper sitting in a chaise lounge, cheering as his teammates knock in five or so goals.

The consolation to be found by asethetes in being able to attribute the City loss to simple individual errors ignores the view that against Celta Vigo, many of those same aesthetes screamed that Luis Enriuqe screwed up and cost his team a real shot at victory. That’s the perception game, hard at work. Guardiola’s players let him down, Luis Enrique lets his players down.

It is doubtful the moment will ever come when the majority of culers admit that Luis Enrique is a brilliant coach. He isn’t sprinkled with fairy dust, doesn’t have an encylopedic knoledge of all sorts of games and miutiae. But he wouldn’t be Luis Enrique if he did. He just wants to kill, and go home. What should worry opponents is that Luis Enrique has instilled that same quality in his team, another evolution from the Guardiola magicians, whose eviscerations were more good-natured, almost theoretical. Even opponents would think, “My, that was lovely.”

This Barça’s savagings are all business. It isn’t personal nor are they at all interested in how you feel. It can be a velvet fist or a wrecking ball. Your choice, not theirs as this Barça doesn’t bend opponents to its will, but rather lets them choose the means of their own destruction. Want to sit deep? Unzue has a set piece. Want to play football? Okay. Pack the midfield and press? Watch those wings.

Many were saying that Barça didn’t play well. In that perfect universe of the diamond match. But these days, Barça never plays well. Every match is flawed in some way. But if you look at what actually happened, the injuries, the fouls, the disruptions and mayhem — and still a win at a canter. Put another way, if someone had told you before the match that Alba and Pique would be injured, Suarez would have no goals and Mathieu would be sent off against City, what would be your bet on the scoreline? That it was 4-0 isn’t beautiful, but it is magnificent.

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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.

17 Comments

  1. dl
    October 20, 2016

    Saw the match — Mathieu is likely to come in for a lot of criticism (I think he’s a good player, and fits well with barca though my opinion may be in the minority), but his first yellow was a missed call by the ref. His second yellow was simply stupid, though, and if he deserves criticism it would be for a rash challenge when there was really nothing to worry about. We already had the game.
    Ter Stegen did everything a keeper is supposed to do, exactly when it was needed. He is young, will make immature decisions, but he is a ‘keeper’ for sure.
    And Umtiti !!!! Love the guy. He may be my next great favorite on the team, after the other 15 or so :). I’m so pleased that we got him young enough for him to (hopefully) grow and mature. He will be a captain in 10 years time.

  2. lala10
    October 20, 2016

    Did Barca win at a canter? That is highly debatable. Was this an easy match? No.

    In the history books it may as well come to be regarded as such but this was far far from an easy match. Its a game of goals and mistakes obviously but the performance was poor. That people have been nattering about poor performances is exactly that: the performances have so far been below par.

    In many ways the poorness is akin to the one of the treble year when we were horrible until January and never really looked like we would sweep everything off the table.

    To the victor belongs the narrative but the narrative need carefully be watched. I have watched a few teams this season who have been better intergrated than our good selves. Of course if you win everything appears rosy but the degree of cohesion shown by Atleti and Liverpoool so far has been way superior to what we have offered.

    We remain the better team if not the best on the world right now. But right now now we have been a wee bit crap.

    • October 20, 2016

      I disagree with the “crap” assessment, nor do I think any narrative is necessary. I watched the match, and it looked pretty comfortable to me. Beyond the Ter Stegen reflex save, I can’t recall any real danger posed by City scoring. Some 4-0 matches could have been 4-4. Not this one. There are matches where Barça has gotten lucky, etc, etc, but for me this wasn’t one of them. Particularly after the Messi goal.

      But even during the Luis Enrique treble season, people were never satisfied with the overall level of the team’s play, as if they were holding something back, or not meshing in a particular way.

      But I also feel like Barça is held to a different standard. I wouldn’t trade the way the team plays for the cohesion shown by Atleti. That cohesion is a byproduct of the way they play. It produces 1-0 wins, but rarely produces magic. That way would also sell the players that Barça has short.

      Liverpool looks a right mess too much of the time, though Klopp has them moving in the right direction.

  3. Davour
    October 20, 2016

    ‘Just like Rayo City pressed, stroked the ball around, accumulated possession and made culers say “What’s wrong with us? They’re making us look at sixes and sevens.”‘ Precisely – I pointed this out to a friend, too, while watching the game. Commentators tend to always sound as if the other team’s press is some brilliant tactic, surprising Barca, while this is quite commonly used, and most of the times we bide our time until they tire and the scoreline runs away. I do feel City was more of a threat that a Rayo, and while I agree with the gist of your great ‘defence speech’ I feel you are selling City somewhat short. We did have issues at times not being able to hold onto the ball for longer spells, as the midfield was hassled. We had the upper hand, and considering the changes in the back line, this was a solid performance. But not without objections. However, it is still October, and and we are not on top yet. Still, one example of the differences in potential is to imagine us losing ter Stegen (without any other losses of personell) – would the effect have been as devastating os it was for City. I think not. This was another game waiting to be won, but I still think City gave it a good shot. I also think they would have tired regardless of any sending off…

    • Davour
      October 20, 2016

      And oh, Umtiti. I struggle to contain myself, not wanting to set the bar to high… but man, he might be immense for us.

  4. kneowell
    October 20, 2016

    I wouldn’t attribute the scoreline to the red card because had bravo not handled outside the area, suarez chip would have made it 2-0 anyways. Plus, all credit to suarez who didn’t relent simply because the ball is with bravo who could have just aggressively cleared with a long ball, but he pressed on and took advantage of bravo’s mistake. Without bravo’s action it would still be 2 goals down for city with 11 man. The fourth goal came after matteu has been sent off, we still scored with 10 men apiece. Maybe city’s deficit only gave us the 3rd goal, just maybe, but 3-0 is as good as 4 for me and if bravo had allowed suarez goal, not even pep can bet against barca scoring the 3rd goal even with a complete city team.

  5. luisthebeast
    October 20, 2016

    Even Legia the worst team along Dynamo Zagreb in CL,had 12 attempts at Bernabeu.Basel had 3 posts away at PSG.PSV had better chances than City to draw to 2-2.And we are crap because with Pique injured and Alba out City had 2-3 chances?Really.And yes they played with 10.So what?I remember Saint Pep Barca cant make a chance against Inter with 10 men.Again Chelsea with 10 men Ramires goal.And yesterday when City was with 10 we could score every 3 minutes.This Barca is not any more the handball team of 2011-12.Is a killer machine.Lucho beat madrid away without Leo 4-0.Bayern,PSG,City every big team we can make them look average.And only Atletiko can stop us and that only when we are not at our best.

  6. luisthebeast
    October 20, 2016

    And dont look just to the stats.Two times Bravo and Caballero saved one touch before Neymar take the ball and score.Stones and Otamendi saved 4-5 times with last tacles before the ball go to open to the GK player.Some bad controls from Suarez and Ney.So in reality we created at least 20 dangerous attempts.Is that not enough?

  7. luisthebeast
    October 20, 2016

    So do u want me to say that Pep is a genius?Maybe.So what?This Barca for me is the same exciting and i enjoy the same and more.And i have a lot of non Barca people i know here in my work or elsewhere that they say to me that they like this team more.Football is change every year.We face better teams,more good teams.Nostalgia is great.But come on city did nt lost 4-0 cause of luck or individual mistakes.They pressed and we made a few mistakes.We pressed them and made them shit their pants.And Leo finished two assists that took them in front of goal and one shoot like a PK.Team work.Not Leo magic.Leo magic needed at Bernabeu at 2011 when madrid was with 10 and again if we hadnt Leo it would be a 0-0.

    • barca96
      October 20, 2016

      I haven’t come in here for a while now and I see that you’re still angry even after a 4-0 loss. You are barking up the wrong tree. You are angry at people who has a different view as yours but none of them are here so why vent your anger here? Go to YouTube or Twitter or where ever it is where you saw the comments and don’t take it out on the good folks here.

  8. luisthebeast
    October 20, 2016

    Lucho haters will continue the blah blah.Only MSN save him,he is not a tactician the same bullshits.every day.When in summer lucho leaves the team we will understand better what he did.And i tell u that.If this team had the Leo of 2009-12 we could won every game 6-0.

  9. luisthebeast
    October 20, 2016

    And one last question:If City played with a CB at RB,Stones and Colarof out with injuries.What would be the score?Yep.Like Celtik game.Thats the difference.

  10. luisthebeast
    October 20, 2016

    And i dont know if Barcalev comments anymore here but what Digne penalty?Ball to hand from very close.Ref was frustrating,he didnt show the cards he must for violent fouls of City.He protected them.

  11. lala10
    October 21, 2016

    How many chances did Barca produce in the first half? How many chances did City produce in the first half? Until the first goal it was not that good.

    The only stretch of the match we were on upper terms was when they went down to 10 men. Immediately after Matthieu was sent off parity was restored.

    This Barca does not play well every time but it wins almost all the time. If winning is all there is to it then we can’t complain too much. However we have to be honest about how they come about.

    • kneowell
      October 21, 2016

      Actually winning is most of it, imagine having 90% possession and still lose the game? Imagine always passing the ball around and get hit over and again by counters that’s results to goal? Imagine playing all the beautiful football and city still won

  12. luisthebeast
    October 21, 2016

    I read some articles here in Greece after the game and i am happy that some journalists start to understand that Luis Enrique is working a lot with the tactics of the team.In second half after the red card Digne was more a midfielder.Lucho wants to try more 3-4-3 and he make a lot of experiments this season.Also after City pressed so up the pitch he decided to sacrifice build up from back thats why Ter Stegen made so many long balls.We did nt play bad.At all.

  13. FinallyCrushingBuses
    October 22, 2016

    Agree that the match was going their way at 1-0. Any post-match claim that the sending off changed the match is a red herring. If Bravo didn’t do that it’s already 2-0.

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