What a day, what a match. Hello, Anoeta

Today’s match, vs La Real at their house of horrors for Barça, should be sufficiently exciting to make a culer almost giddy.

Yes, there are portents of doom. Barça is winless at the fortress Anoeta in 10 visits, and the teams are riding very different waves of form. La Real is indomitable at home, while Barça is … suspect even if the team wasn’t visiting a bogey ground. Pique, it was suspected, had a bit of a knock but trained as normal. Umtiti and Iniesta are still not back, nor is Mathieu. Neymar crashed his Ferrari while en route to joining the team for the trip, capping off a week that included more transfer saga litigation.

As if all that wasn’t a sufficient distraction for the essential Brazilian, he will have to play on tenterhooks today as he is a yellow away from missing the Classic. One rash challenge, one moment of vexation, the smallest something from a player who even as normal, faces an unusual degree of scrutiny. And La Real sits fifth in the Liga table, no longer the charming mid-table side with aspirations but a legitimate force.

These portents are like a coterie of ravens, perched on a branch, singing “Nevermore!” at the top of their lungs.

What a time to be alive!

It’s easy to support a team when it’s all going well, when it’s laying manitas on folks, dancing and prancing. But there are culers who have never known legit adversity, never understood what it’s like to — more than drop occasional points — be on the wrong side of things with regularity. This match today at Anoeta couldn’t have come at a worse time for Luis Enrique and his charges. Drop points and they will be looking at a 7-point gap to Real Madrid, with the next match being the Classic. Lose there and it would be an insurmountable 10-point gap to the top.

Without a shard of hyperbolic excess, the Barça-centric media outlets are calling today’s match a “final,” which it kinda is when you consider what’s at stake which is, in effect, La Liga.

Yes, the team could lose today and win the Classic. Put nothing past this inconsistent group of part-time marauders. But imagine the full-scale meltdown should the team drop points today, which makes this match quite indeed a final, which is magnificent.

Every group of supporters wants its team to be tested. It is only after a test that you find out what is going on, what that group has. This season has, to date, been fraught. The form of every player has been inconsistent, and there have been injuries galore, too often to key players. And when one returns, another one goes out. Even the flu is stalking the Camp Nou, grabbing Arda Turan after having just released Lionel Messi from its grasp.

What makes this match so exciting is that great teams — and this Barça is a great team — will find a way to be at their absolute best at crucial times. It’s the notion of being clutch. Luis Enrique won’t need any rousing pre-match speeches, won’t need to get his players psyched up in any way. They know what the deal is. This should make culers confident, because the team that you support is a row of assassins, led by the best player in the game. The team is winless in its last 10 visits to Anoeta, but it has never before visited with the season on the line.

Will Eusebio sit deep a la Malaga, ceding possession for the chance to hit out on the counter? It would be a coward’s approach to a home match, but the kind of swashbuckling derring-do that dictates attack, put on a show before the home crowd also hands coaches beatdowns.

Midfield pressure has been proven to be the way to unsettle Barça, particularly without the magician Iniesta absent to manage any stresses from impudent defenders. All of the potential substitutes are, in their own ways, flawed. Rafinha is more attacker than stable midfield force. Andre Gomes still has deer in the headlights-itis. Suarez Minor is inconsistent, even as his Mininiesta qualities are well suited to a potential La Real midfield press.

Or does Luis Enrique make Messi a full-fledged 10, stick him in midfield with Rakitic and Busquets, going at La Real with Neymar, Alcacer and Suarez? Do desperate times call for daring measures?

There are some who have already, in their heads, ceded defeat today, too daunted by the spectre of Anoeta bogeymen. But streaks are made to be broken, and any culer should have full confidence in the team today of all days. Why? Because today is everything, and it’s glorious.

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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.

19 Comments

  1. Jim
    November 27, 2016

    Yup. Certainly giddy in this household ! Just watched the last GP. What a race ! So excitement levels high already. However there is no earthly reason why we can’t win this one. And I agree with LE that there is no point in saving people for the Clasico. To win for me, we need

    Masche to stay at home – Pique is injured and won’t be able to cover as much ground. If you see Pique going to ground,chances are we’re gonna be without him next weekend.

    Suarez minor in midfield. He’s not great but he does have the ability to break the lines and relieve a little stress that way.

    Messi just to turn up. That’ll do it . . .

    In other thoughts, I enjoyed the Celtic game immensely, not just because I don’t mind seeing them beaten. It was great to see a team come out and play us. A much better spectacle even though we were streets ahead on quality. I’m just glad we didn’t let Celtic score or things could have turned tasty. With regard to that, I thought the defence played well on the night.

    Didn’t like Neymar’s antics and he thoroughly deserved the crescendo of boos from the crowd. Pity as he had a chance to regain the “heir to Messi ” mantle with them. There’s just too much happening around him at the moment. I’m still worried about him despite the valiant attempts to reassure me last time I mentioned it.

    Which brings me to Messi. I know Ive said this before but this season, more than any, I’m seeing echoes in him of Kenny Dalglish’s final season with Celtic. From being their best player he became their only player and the stress of that got to him. Every time a player got into trouble they would get the ball to him and he was expected to sort it. He couldn’t have even one quiet game or fingers were pointed, his unbelievable plays became not worth mentioning and he ended up playing midfield as well as upfront. Sound familiar ? That is why we need to regard our midfield as a priority. Messi sees Iniesta growing older and nothing coming through. He’s having to drop deep himself at a time when his legs aren’t getting any younger and he still wants to score. I’m also not sure what his relationship is with LE. We all saw how he held a ridiculous little incident against Villa. Just saying we need to be careful with him.

    Anyway, first things first. Tonight is gonna be exciting. It’d be great to see Neymar putting things behind him and reminding us just how good he is. He should be the best in the world in about three years. Might check in to see if Samper is getting a game tonight first.

    • November 27, 2016

      About to meet a friend for breakfast, then fire up the GP race. Good thoughts all.

      On another note, not sure if you caught any of RM/Granada, but Douglas was good. Better than Vidal has ever been. Which makes you wonder about Barça, pressure and how players react to it.

      He’s still on loan, probably never to return, but Abelardo had him in a sort of supplemental RB role where in normal formation, Douglas took up space at right-center. Was an interesting twist.

      • Jim
        November 27, 2016

        Glad I didn’t spoil the result. 🙂

  2. Jim
    November 27, 2016

    I’m not sure I can watch any more of this Granada game. Samper playing from the start but there’s not much point. The keeper is hoofing it ALL the time and the CBs are chesting it down and,you guessed, hoofing it up the park. Samper hasn’t lost a ball, is passing beautifully and they’re not using him to work their way up the park. They’ve told him to sit, along with another DM right in front of thre CBs. They’ve just lost a goal where the commentators accused their defence of mounting a mannequin challenge in front of their goal ! Samper lost it a minute ago and started motioning to the defence to get up the park and eliminate the forty yards between their defence and forwards .

  3. Rami
    November 27, 2016

    Mathematically speaking, Every season we lose points in this stadium, The larger the chance we’ll break the curse the next season, But i’ve been following this logic for years with no payoff, So on this occasion i’ll stop fooling myself, And i expect we’ll lose points today.

  4. raj
    November 27, 2016

    The commentator suggested that the teams just swapped jerseys, nothing wrong, really, with this version of reality.

    Nothing to add.

  5. raj
    November 27, 2016

    Half time talk to self: I am being very patient here and I will not sleep without watching the second half. This better be good.

    PS: Somehow, Barca still has 53% possession. I think the stats guy messed up.

  6. Rami
    November 27, 2016

    Congratz, Our team reached a new low for this season.
    RS are pressing up very high and aggresively, Dangerous tactic, But they seem to be doing a great job at it, Our biggest sruggle expectedly is in attacking transition and getting the ball out of the back, Busi is supposed to be our main outlet but he’s been terrible specially with his passes forward, The rest of the team isn’t covering itself in glory, The only ones i feel for are masche, pique and marc, They’ve been taking the whole burden of this abysmal performance.

    We need a miracle or it’s a 6-7 points lead for RM before classico.

  7. raj
    November 27, 2016

    Rakitic substituted. This, I think, is a boiling point for him, in his Barca career!

  8. Tata2
    November 27, 2016

    I don’t even know what to say cos I will just be echoing my thoughts of the past weeks. WE HAVE NO FRIGGING MIDFIELD! employ the intense press against them and that’s it, they can’t manage it. As simple as that. Hoping Messi saves the day in the second half as we have become accustomed to

    • raj
      November 27, 2016

      Yeah, unless we get a fully heathy Iniesta for the full second half of the season, forget it I think.

  9. georgjorge
    November 27, 2016

    I was as happy as ever when we scored the equalizer today. But the disallowed goal from them was a blatant error from the referee, and we deserved to lose here because of that. Just goes to show, don’t bother to complain about the refereeing against us (which I did last game against Malaga where it went the other way).

    Not sure what else to say about the match. Yes, Real were good, they were confident, and they ran a lot. But there were also a lot of rather simple passes misplaced by our team, or situations where the wrong option was chosen. Second half better as almost always (this team would win all trophies this season if football was only played in second halves) but still.

    What about Rakitic? It’s impressive in a sad way, but somehow he was creative and dangerous for Sevilla, then came to one of the best teams for attacking football, and within a couple of years forgot everything there is about being creative and dangerous. Still good defensively (well not today), still working hard, but not able to create much going forward. That’s sometimes ok when Iniesta is on the field or Messi is playing in midfield, but when you are playing besides Gomes (who tries but can’t do much in offense right now) and an overworked Busquets you need to step up and play forward passes sometimes.

    Final thought: is there any reason to run Pique and Alba into the ground rather than make a simple substitution? Of course it was a tight game, but those players at 50% of their speed and power are not at all better than their substitutions.

    • Rami
      November 27, 2016

      RS looked like a team that knew exactly what to do on the pitch, Ours looked as if they just woken up from an evening nap and suddenly told they have a a match in a few minutes, Our team looked stunned and totally unprepared tactically for this match (Just look at the first half), Which makes you wonder what were the coaching staff doing since the celtic match….?

      Rakitic has a different role with us than he had at sevilla, As you said it’s geared more toward the defensive side, But this has been true ever since he came, And was instrumental with in the last 2 seasons, The whole team looks sort of ‘ill’.

    • Davour
      November 27, 2016

      Agree whole-heartedly. Use subs – Piqué was obviously hampered by an injury, and Digne can manage. And I wonder if Rafinha killed LE’s pet or something. Gomes gets a consecutive start of the last performance? I’m all for continuity, but preferably of excellence.

      On the bright side: At least Denis showed some good intentions – he moved correctly, looked for spaces and asked for the ball – didn’t shine, but had the right idea. And we didn’t lose – that was a beautiful goal by Ney and Messi, but good linking from the start (look, Gomes, what happens when passes are not misplaced! A forward bound!). If we somehow manage to win the clasico (RM were not brilliant either), that is just one win separating us. But something is amiss, that is quite obvious. Perhaps LE has run out of ideas and mojo; perhaps injuries and bad form (Suarez, I’m looking at you) coincided. Perhaps life sometimes does not work out.

      • georgjorge
        November 27, 2016

        “Perhaps life sometimes does not work out”

        While you are right, I don’t need the team to mirror my current relationship situation. I watch these games for getting away from things not working out! It can’t be!

        • Anders
          November 27, 2016

          Sorry to hear about your situation. Lucho gave his word in the presser that the team will “fight like warriors” against RM. Hopefully that will bring some joy to our current bleakness.

        • Davour
          November 28, 2016

          Sorry to hear about your difficulties. But perhaps preoccupation with the team’s hardship can be just as distracting? Or else, read crime novels… Hope things work out (for both you and the team!)

      • Rami
        November 27, 2016

        The problem with Rafinha is his defensive and off-ball contribution is non existent (Denis suffers from this also but to a slightly less degree), Gomez is the better option in this regard, Denis came fresh in the 2nd half and exploited a more tired RS, He didn’t do anything impressive that Rafinha couldn’t do, But in the end it didn’t matter, Because we still couldn’t move the ball out of the back quickly and smoothly enough even as the match progressed.
        I see gomez names gets mentioned alot, But to me it seems because he’s an easy target, Today he seemed the least poor performer out of our 3 midfielders.

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