La Real 1, Barça 1, aka “Um … never mind”

Another Anoeta visit, another crisis. And here we were, thinking it couldn’t get worse than the display against Malaga …

Barça escaped the cursed Anoeta with a lucky, lucky draw thanks to a blown offside call, and some extra-thick paint on the goalposts. A win would have been no more than Real Sociedad deserved, as they played Barça off the pitch in every facet of the game. This was a team with no spark, no fire, no inspiration, no nothing except a few seconds of brilliant, mercurial football during which Suarez Minor, Neymar and Messi combined for a goal of the highest quality.

And then the miasma returned.

La Real played like Barça used to, something typed with a certain irony as supporters of Barça B were happy to see the back of Eusebio Sancristian because Barça B played nothing like Barça used to. Laugh if you want to keep from crying into your libation of choice, but at present, FC Barcelona is a team in trouble, for reasons unbeknownst to us.

There is a “fire the coach” crowd, vehement and vociferous, with diagrams and statistics and missing midfields, etc. And while you look long and hard for something building, something happening with the team, it isn’t in sight. Luis Enrique said in a presser, in jest, that he puts the ball out there and prays for magic. But increasingly, that’s the sole seeming tactical option. When it works, results come. When it doesn’t work, results don’t come.

And that’s the problem. A coach is judged by results. If Barça was, like Real Madrid, playing poorly but eking out results, the cries wouldn’t be anywhere near as loud for Luis Enrique’s head. But the team is, in a word, abysmal. In every phase of the game. As a collective they are playing so far below their expected standard that a few are wondering if the team is playing to get the coach fired, which is something else to consider, even as it is fundamentally disgusting to consider. But as the saying goes, it’s easier to fire one than 22.

This much is certain: There is no way in hell, cursed ground or no, that a team with the talent of Barça should be getting bossed around by La Real like that. Does the “Lucho out!” crowd have a point? Yes. But there is another side of this equation, even from the perspective that people are rarely fans of coaches, unless his name is Guardiola.

Every player was below standard today, and far below. Only Denis Suarez, a sub for Rakitic, sparkled, providing fire and stability as that defense-to-midfield or midfield to front three link. If player scores were still a thing in this space, only he would get a grade higher than a 2. Even Ter Stegen was spraying balls hither and yon as Barça presented a mess that was ripe for the picking.

We can say “Lucho out,” but did the coach tell the players to stand around, spray passes everywhere, overhit passes, not make runs, not press and defend poorly? I’d love to have sat in on those pre-match instructions. “Okay, you guys be sure to go out and suck now. Ready?”

Excuses are easy, explanations are more difficult. At one possession sequence, Busquets got the ball and Gomes and Rakitic rushed up the pitch. You can look at that sequence two ways: the coach is expecting Busquets to get the ball up the pitch to start the attack quickly, or positional football isn’t being respected and Barça isn’t playing as it used to. It depends on whether your glass is half-full, half-empty, or if there is even a glass. Is the coach not giving clear instructions, or are players reverting to reflex action? Either way, stranding Busquets is one example of the glaring tactical malaise that is affecting this team.

Even if you want to get it to Messi, Suarez and Neymar quickly, straight from the back line is not the way to do it, when the opponent is standing there, waiting to pounce on any long passes. So what the hell is going on?

There have been times when Barça has played sparkling football this season, and the team has looked brilliant. But for too much of the time, things have been a mess, with no light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t have a diesel engine attached. Lucho out? Not quite. Not for me.

From this chair there is plenty of blame for everyone, even as culers latch onto their favorite scapegoats. Neymar, Mascherano, etc, etc. But the entire XI played below standard, and has been for quite some time after starting the season with a bang. The team is off to its worst Liga start since Frank Rijkaard’s last season, and we all know what happened to him. But as with Rijkaard, the team is trapped in a desultory play cycle, where whatever can go wrong, will.

La Real’s goal was a comedy of errors as a long pass was lofted up the pitch, falling to a head before landing at the feet of the La Real attackers. Mascherano got a foot to the ball, which fell to a La Real attacker, whose shot was parried by Ter Stegen. Pique, in perfect position at the near post and looking at the header from Willian Jose, decided to kick at it rather than just putting his body in the way and blocking it. He booted it right into his own net.

But that goal was almost like the Football Gods laughing at Barça, deciding to gift the opponents with a goal as crap as their play was, with their defensive stalwart at the end of the ridiculous process, to bang it home. That’s the kind of season this has been so far, and it’s been painful to watch.

And yet, this is part of the cycle, as has been said many times before. Performance is always a sine wave, and the team is down right now. Way down. And way down at the wrong time, with the Classic looming next week and Real Madrid playing aggressive, at times elegant football. If Barça couldn’t deal with La Real, what is the team going to do with the table-topping side?

Valid ask, as is the more pertinent question: Should Luis Enrique go? For me, no. Why? Because if the players are playing to get him fired, they deserve to stew in their own misery. If they are NOT playing to get him fired, then a coach who has won a treble and a double damn well deserves a season to try digging out of this mess that is deeper than form, deeper than injuries, deeper than any individual player. Everybody is panicking, because “This is Barça, and they should be better.” Yes, they should. There are a great many things in life that should be, and aren’t.

Did it take a contract renewal for Suarez to stop knowing how to play football? Neymar is making too many of the same moves. His Brazil form used to be a shadow of his Barça form. Now the reverse is true. Messi has scored goals and turned in magical moments, but he isn’t himself either. Gomes is a lumbering mess in midfield, Rakitic nothing at all like the dynamic, effective midfielder of last season. You can go on and on down the roster, and everyone is suspect, everyone is culpable today, except for the dudes on crutches (figuratively).

Blame is easy, answers are hard. What we see right now is a mess. Win as a team, lose as a team, be a mess as a team, both players and coaches. I hate to see the team that I love playing like this, but I also understand that the day was going to come. Anyone who watched the Bayern demolition knows what it’s like to start a match with hope, and be left with nothing except knowing how supporters of other teams felt as we danced around their graves.

Except Barça isn’t buried yet. Here is what I don’t believe:

— I don’t believe this team has given up on its coach.
— I don’t believe the season is lost.
— I don’t believe that this ensemble doesn’t have the talent to get it together.
— I don’t believe that anything is as bad as it seems.

If Barça can manage to pull out one of “those” matches and beat Real Madrid next week, they would be within three points of the top, and back in business. The season is too long and too crazy for anyone to be giving up hope. The trophies and victory parades were magic. So was the feeling of success. Consider this phase part of sporting adulthood, and learn how to deal with adversity. You don’t deal with adversity by turning on the team, its coach or fellow supporters, even if they don’t feel the same way that you do.

Being culer is not just something to trot out when things are going well. You should embrace this team to your chest even harder when things are NOT going well. Call me a cheerleader if you want, but know that watching the team that you love play like utter crap is no fun. No shit. But at what point do we stop being in this together? Yes, it sucks to have ambition dashed. Yes, the giddiness that greeted this summer’s transfers, when Luis Enrique said that he had the best team ever, has dissolved into watching yet another team boss Barça around.

It’s horrible as a supporter to have to witness it. But is name calling other culers, scapegoating or calling for heads to roll the answer? The team was crap today. It might not be crap next week. That’s part of sport, just like winning, losing and drawing. Hell, given the past results at Anoeta, a draw is pretty good, for those who want to whistle past the graveyard.

None of us who blather here, there and on social media have any idea what is really wrong with this team. All we know is what we see, and that’s all that we can react to. Right now, things are looking grim. Very grim. And yet this same team has a winnable Copa match coming up, and has just won its Champions League group, one that was supposed to be more difficult than it was.

So either we’re being trolled, or the team really is in trouble. Either way, it’s going to legit suck if we can’t get through this crap together. Want to be a culer? This is part of it. Now on to the Classic.

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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.

28 Comments

  1. Rami
    November 27, 2016

    Christ kevin, I almost didn’t recognize you with this post, A very different vibe coming from you, A dark one, But a breeze of fresh air in a way.

    Yeah it’s hard to put your finger at anything, When exactly the responsibilities of a player leaves and the coach arrives??, Why should enrique be held responsible when a player keeps misplacing passes and making wrong decisions, But again, Why we should held any player responsible when every one around him is under performing, Isn’t the coach responsible for the ‘collective’ performance?

    After the match the roars and cries against enriques is at all time high, But to me, Enrique shouldn’t be touched, Yes in my view he has the biggest slice of the pie when it comes to the shaky and underwhelming efforts of this season, But to see him gone is a no go for me and i’ll frankly be gutted if that happened, Firstly it’s a rarity for a coach to deserve a sacking in mid-season, Never mind a fantastic one, With a legendary first season, And a fabulous second one, Secondly, , There is no coach working today apart from guardiola that fits us our club like luis enrique does, Almost all others will be a downgrade and a gamble, Yet that doesn’t mean that we should learn to accept less from our coaching staff and team, Changes need to happen quickly, Or this season will have a bad ending.

    Enrique, The coaching staff and the players deserve a second chance after all they gave us in the past two seasons, As you said we’re riding a sine wave now, And we’re at the bottom, But let’s hope and believe in the team, Let’s take a moment to remember the grim atmosphere after the 4th of January of 2015, And how in the matter of a week morphed a team that squashed everything in it’s path and ultimately won the treble.

    • November 27, 2016

      Just call it like I see it, despite the “Positive Polly” perception that persists. The match today was horrid. In every was except the goal and Suarez Minor.

    • georgjorge
      November 28, 2016

      Amen to both you and Kxevin. Even if we don’t win any trophies this season, I’ll be happy to stay with Enrique on board as long as we see clear signs of things getting back on track by the end of the season.

      One small note, I want to repeat that I don’t think RM play badly right now. They may have bad matches (like against Legia) but among other arguments, it is just not possible to play badly and still score three against Atleti in their own house (ask Bayern). If Barca wins the Clásico this week despite their currently absymal form and RM’s currently great form, it will be an accomplishment worth writing songs about.

    • Rami
      November 28, 2016

      Coming trophy-less out of this season and with this particular squad will be a blow beyond repair, No barca coach can ever survive such a disastrous scenario, Even if he got the team standing on it’s foot-again, The backlash will be imaginable, Weather we like it or not LE will get the axe if that ever happened.
      For some reason, I sense enrique won’t renew his contract even if we got back on track and won trophies, He’ll probably rather go out with his head held high than risk exposing his neck again the next season, All of these are depressing scenarios, But that’s just the football world we live in.

  2. luisthebeast
    November 27, 2016

    Winter of 2003 Barca visits Malaga.Result a heavy defeat 5-1.Team is a mess.Rijkaard not safe after just some months.Then the winter came Davids,the team started to play great and almost won LL after been 12th in January.My point:Things change fast in football.The 2007-08 season brought Pep.The 2013-14 Lucho.Now i cant predict anything.Maybe in March we will be great and win CL.But i want Liga too and clasico is a must win.Lets see the reaction.

  3. bhed
    November 27, 2016

    Hey! This is my first time back to BFB since April 2015 (terrible, unexpected divorce, long story). Despite the awfulness on display today, I’m so glad you’re still keeping this going, and I agree with your post – sigh… Who TF knows what’s up, but anything can happen next week, and I’m guardedly optimistic for some reason. I’m waking up at 5:30 on a Saturday to go watch with the SF Penya, so I’ll be doubly pissed if they totally screw the pooch.

    On a different note, back in 2015 people were leaving BFB for for Twitter for their Barca debates/discussions. I would imagine, considering…well…Twitter, that that devolved quickly as a forum for civilized football discussion. Did it, or am I missing the really insightful commentary by remaining Twitterless?

    Oh, and to Kxevin, and Rami, and whoever else is still reading and commenting, I hope you’re generally doing well, despite this season’s tribulations. The fact that I could still read one of Kxevin’s well-written analyses after a kick-in-the-stomach game like that and after a 20 absence is quite comforting.

    F**k Madrid!

    • bhed
      November 27, 2016

      … 20 month absence, that is.

    • georgjorge
      November 28, 2016

      Sorry about your personal misfortune, that sounds quite horrible. The team really needs to do better, enjoyment is needed!

      5:30 in the morning for the Clásico? That’s harsh. I guess you’re not happy about La Liga’s decisions to favor the Asian market.

    • Rami
      November 28, 2016

      The best decision i made regarding barca in the past year, Was to stop reading any ‘generic’, And ‘mass’ social discussions, That includes the like of twitter, Forums,,etc, How ever badly i felt after a match, Reading them just made it worse, And since i abandoned them, I seemed to enjoy our team even more, The outside environment is just pure toxic, So no you haven’t missed any meaningful insight.

      My barca interactions now are limited to proper news, And this blog, And i’m more satisfied than ever, This is one of the few sites where you can enjoy and gain yo-useful insight.

  4. lala10
    November 28, 2016

    How the hell does a team with a coach in his third season play like a pub team. Watching that shtick last night my recurring question was ” Does this team win inspite of Luis Enrique”
    Zero plan zero. That Raktic or Gomes made it to half time is a mystery. Either of them deserved to be yanked off as soon as it was apparent they were not helping with ball circulation. Cant pass cant dribble and hide from the ball. Wrong pass after wrong pass. Jeez this was a crap fest. I mean if La Real can play like Barca why cant Barca play like themselves?

  5. PPos
    November 28, 2016

    Something is rotten here. Gomes seems like Cristiano’a spy who has been sabotaging us all season long. Why don’t we have a midfield? Is Busquets’ age showing or something? Has he lost the 5 yards of pace he had to 2? Will Messi leave after the 2018 World Cup? Next weekend makes or breaks this season.

  6. TITO
    November 28, 2016

    Form is temporary. We will get through this.
    And even if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world. We can have a season without a trophy. That’s how much we are spoiled.
    Maybe we do have the best team out there, but that doesn’t guaranties you the best performances, the results and the trophy at the end.
    There are only 13 (?) rounds in the season. A lot, a lot of points to play for. And when you look at it, it can be worse than this, and it’s better to have this poor form now than in April or May. Even RM are not blossoming.
    Some players need time, some need some refreshment, some need to be shown that there’s still plenty to play for, although they have won everything that’s possible to win.
    Class is permanent. And we have that. A lot.
    Results will come.

  7. Tata2
    November 28, 2016

    Would the team be playing this poorly if they had better personnel in midfield?

  8. TITO
    November 28, 2016

    Which better personnel?
    The same personnel, more or less, brought us dozen of titles the past two seasons.

    • raj
      November 28, 2016

      You must be kidding. A team with Iniesta is a completely different from one without Iniesta, even when the rest 10 players are the same.
      To be fair, I realized this ‘fact’ only the recent months.

  9. ChaoticReaper
    November 28, 2016

    Now I understand why people are outraged when we win by losing possession or by bypassing the midfield. Smart cules know that play style is unsustainable and relies on luck. There is only one play style that guarantees results: tiki taka. Keep the tempo and the results will follow.

  10. Nick
    November 28, 2016

    Last night, just 77% passing accuracy. Is that really us?

    Puzzled by Rakitic this season. What has happened to him? Had high hopes for Gomez… Busquets is regressing. As a result, no midfield.

    A week ago I said that injuries didn’t help but the issues are far worse than injuries alone. And it seems that no one (including LE) knows what to do about them.

    F*ck Madrid.

  11. Jim
    November 28, 2016

    Well, hopefully this will be a slightly different post from the one I was tempted to write last night. After watching what was surely the worst Barca display since . . .. Well ok maybe Malaga The situation is. Dire enough that maybe we should focus on what we can do to get out of it rather than what went wrong. And yet we can’t unless we can agree on what did go wrong.

    I’m watching it again just now ( I was about to say it’s one of the perks of retirement – what am I saying ? ! ) and I’m writing this just after half time because I’ve had it.

    What I think I’m seeing.

    TS. Generally doing well. He has got over the ridiculous playing everything on the ground phase and is now judging better.

    The defence. Amazing displays from Alba and especially Pique. Umtiti looks a keeper and Mathieu is still there as wel.l. Less impressed by SR as a long term choice in defence and my views on Masche are well known.

    Midfield. Suarez minor came on ( should’ve been from the start ) and made a decent difference but not game changing huge. Jury out on him. But at least he can look lively. And for now I’ll settle for that. Final judgement needs to be kept till next season on the mid buys but as I’ve said from the start I don’t get it with any of them. Gomes perplexes me. We paid how much ? His problem isn’t that he must be the slowest player on the team , it’s that on the basis of the last two displays he’s also one of the slowest thinkers and that is more damaging. That Rafinha can’t even get a game in this midfield tells you all you need to know. I’ve been berated for this statement before but it bears repitition. To play in our midfield you need a set of skills these guys don’t have. ( I’ll just put in here that if any of you were daft enough like me to record the Granada game have a look at the kick off at the start. The guy taking centre pings it back to Samper at a rate of knots and he kills it stone dead while head up and turning to play it back). I’m fed up of balls not sticking with our mids. Don’t have that skill ? On your way.

    Ok, need to calm down. It’s turning into the one I would have written last night.

    I think what I mean to say with all the mids, Rakitic included, is that it’s not fair to get on their backs. They don’t have the skills needed. So we need to look at who bought / plays them.

    The forwards get a pass from me, not because they were good but because they were utterly starved of service. Messi gets his usual mention if like me your first thought on Neymar’s cutback was to look in despair to see who was racing onto it before sitting back in full knowledge it would hit the only bit of net it could and at pace. He is completely incredible. Look at that first touch. That’s what I mean. You can be a great player and not have that but to play here you need it because we don’t get time. Eg. Pedro et al. While we have them ( yes I’d be happier if Suarez was scoring but he’s running and yesterday got my sympathy in the second half as he tried to encourage our mids to help out with a press. Even there we’ve lost co- ordination. It’s not lack of willing. Messi hounded someone back to his own box yesterday so why don’t they know when to do it any more ?

    The goal at the other end was somewhat less of a reason for rejoicing. FWIW, my take on it was that even Sunday league teams don’t lose goals from a long punt upfield from the keeper. However, in probably chronological order, SR made a woeful attempt at heading it – for that read he looked scared to go for it- and didn’t even get off the ground. Add that to his skinning by Forrest during the week and other previous and you can se why I doubt he’ll be our permanent RB . Good going forward as you’d expect from a mid. So could he sub Busi ? Not for me but I’d be prepared to have a look.

    Anyway, as that’s happening Pique gives himself the depth he should , Busi loiters and is lucky his man plays no part ( nothing he can do to help after that) and I’m already literally shouting through my tele at Masche ” why are you not goalside of your man? Pique has dropped a few yards. He’s gonna be onside. ” Look at 52:29. He has no imagination of what is to come. What else does he have to do ? There’s no one within twenty yards. He covers goalside, nothing happens.

    And so it comes to pass. He makes no kind of tackle, TS does well and Pique goes back to cover the goal line. Well, actually the centre of the goal line as there is no keeper. I’m not sure where you get the playing it with his body bit , Kxevin. I know you record the games so if you stop it at 53:39 you see Pique’s position, a yard in from of the line and at least two from the post. That is the exact moment the header is made. You can clearly see he is at full stretch to reach the ball at all . You could argue that having reached it at all he should have been able to clear it but that’s another matter and. For a man who has just had the strapping round his ankle increased to go round the bottom of the boot ( always a last resort to immobilise the whole joint) I’m not inclined to hold that against him. A comedy of errors and far from the first this or any other season. Yes, they should have scored three or four. No they shouldn’t have got this one.

    I confess that for once I’m at a loss as to what to suggest as the way forward. I can’t see how LE can improve his mids apart from getting Ini back which changes the landscape hugely and may be enough to still see us through to a treble if Messi can stay fit and doesn’t get despondent. With him back service to the front red improves and anything is possible.

    I do know that if I were Barto. I’d have been on the phone as soon as I arrived back in Barcelona to both Germany where rumours of a change in management are gathering pace at Bayern, and to Granada for the return of two players who could keep our passing game intact. We’ll still have Ini for another couple of years unless the age mafia get to work on him as they did with Xavi so these two would have a couple of seasons to bed in and would still have Busi, who had another ridiculous amount to cover yesterday. He was out on his feet at the end.

    Should LE fall on his sword ? Not for me at the moment because as has been said we could quickly turn into RM. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope Messi Ini and Busi didn’t sit down with him soon and openly let him know what they see as the problem. Because if I can see it, they must be seething inside, no matter what they say in public.

    • November 28, 2016

      Your analysis of their goal is spot on. There’s a new post up where I get a little deeper into that. Gomes also has some culpability in the four-man goofus exhibition. And if Pique doesn’t mishit the clearance, the team is giggling at having stole a win at a cursed ground. But that’s football.

    • georgjorge
      November 28, 2016

      I think from now on I’m going to stick to reading Kxevin’s and Jim’s write-ups of the game in the comments instead of actually watching the game. It seems a lot more entertaining.

    • November 28, 2016

      And given that Jim writes post-length comments anyhow, why he won’t consent to be a contributor is beyond me.

    • Jim
      November 28, 2016

      Those who can , do, those who can’t teach, is that not it, Kxevin ? 🙂

  12. Jim
    November 28, 2016

    Sorry, excuse the typos. It really is unacceptable from an ex English teacher but you only have so many proof readings in you and well . . .

    Btw, meant to say, after bashing Masche with customary fervour I’m gonna defend him after the goal at around 55:35. He plays it out beautifully to SR who chooses a ridiculous pass back to him instead of making ground and then takes a shellacking from LE for not hoofing it first time. He’s going batshit crazy on the sidelines ! Not cool, Lucho, and not us.

  13. luisthebeast
    November 28, 2016

    I see,Andre is now the player all cules hate?Really?I watch the guy with Portugal NT,best NT in Europe and he is ace.Rafhinia or Suarez are anywhere near his level.The problem is that Lucho did nt worked with the midfield.Not the players.If i talk about players,Macherano as a CB will killing us every time.Same mistake every time.Roberto is a not top class RB and Alba sometimes is a disaster.So the team when have problem in midfield and they need the defenders to be aggresive,fast in reaction,they have a soft defense that can do the mistake easy.And please i dont see Ter Stegen so good as many say.The goal we concede is a joke,a goal that a Segunda team can avoid and all the blame going to defense.Lets realize that our back line have serious problems.And stop blame every time mids and fw.

  14. luisthebeast
    November 28, 2016

    Do u remember Drogba goal at 2012 away in CL SF?Messi tried a dribble,lost the ball,Lambard pass to Ramires,Alves was in his world,Xavi didnt catch Ramires and then Pique goes to Ramires and Mache did the same.Result.Easy goal for Chelsea with fucking 2 players.And some said then lets blame Leo why he tried to dribble?Thats fucking normal.If ur fucking defense reacts fast and aggresive and smart u can avoid it.If any bad pass or failed dribble in a football game resulted to a goal then the scores would be 25-25.Thats why teams have defenders.

  15. luisthebeast
    November 28, 2016

    So despite that people talk about our mids or attackers not perfoming well i disagree.I believe we need two world class fullbacks.And Umtiti always to start.And Pique is great but must stop that silly going back when the attacker going to him.I am jealous of Marcelo and Lahm.We must find the best because fullbacks are crucial for our game.

  16. Tata2
    November 29, 2016

    Glad we are all coming to the realisation that we signed midfielders who don’t have the skillsets to play in a barca midfield. Dennis Suarez is usually the only one trying (but most times in vain) to make something happen in an attacking sense and if there’s anyone to be given time then its him. The other day I was watching the EE vs Atleti game and I was only wishing we had signed Isco back then. Our current woes lie in midfield, if your midfield isn’t working, your defense and attack suffers. The fact that Neymar has more assists than the entire midfield. combined should tell you something. We have had to rely on Messi and Neymar to dig us out of shitholes alot of times this season cos the frigging mids are just there to complete the match day squad. There’s nothing LE can do other than pray Ini returns and hits the ground running.

  17. *~ Aisalangadi Dumangoli Oudyaar ~*
    November 29, 2016

    What an absolutely uninspired and disappointing performance by the champions. Pique is right. Can’t see Barca retaining La Liga this time.
    Sad.

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