The day after the Disasta at the Anoeta, Luis Enrique had individual and group talks about what went on. Oh, to be a fly on that wall, but the interesting thing would be how many of the talks boiled down to, “Do your damn job.”
A Twitter voice worth following, Alex Truica (also part of the Grup14 team), noted something which has been a constant thing in my posts here. You can see it quite clearly in this video:
— Alex Truica (@AlexTruica) November 28, 2016
As Truica notes, four players (Gomes, Busquets, Mascherano, Pique) made errors on the La Real goal. If any of them, particularly Busquets and Gomes, do what they’re supposed to, that goal doesn’t happen. The eventual goalscorer sashayed past Busquets, and Gomes just looked at him. Didn’t say a word, didn’t really do anything to assist the situation, making a last-ditch semi sprint when it was clearly too late.
Messi made three tackles during the match, more than he’d made in the rest of the season put together. Suarez just stood around and glowered. In the wake of the match, Carlos Vela said that part of their match plan was designed to take advantage of the defensive “laziness” of the Barça forwards.
Do. Your. Jobs.
In the search for answers in the wake of a legit shitshow of the match, at some point it comes down to that. Busquets was isolated time and again. Was him having nobody to pass to because the tactics sucked, or were teammates not moving? Both? At the risk of rousing the, “You always say it’s player errors” crowd, it’s because it too often is. There has been lots of talk about tactical foolishness, of which there was plenty, but not as much about individual and collective culpability on the part of the players, in the rush to find a new coach. Luis Enrique screwed up. From the XI to the tactics. Everybody else did, too. Nobody did their jobs. As the coach said, coming away from there with a point was a “miracle.” How bad was it? During one run Gomes had the ball, lumbering through midfield as if in slo-mo. With every step of what was never, ever going to be a productive run, La Real defenders drew closer to him, our screams of “Release the ball!” flung into the night sky like hopeful echoes. He didn’t, and got dispossessed.
Is this in part a question of adaptation? Yes. Playing for Barça requires a speed of thought that takes time for a player to acquire. Look at the difference in Arda Turan from last year to this one. But my heavens, football is also common sense. There are open men. Find one. What are you going to do, lumber all the way to goal? It was a run made without a shard of planning, and the expected result happened. We can talk tactics until we’re blue in the face, but player execution is a part of tactics. Our players look like they don’t know what to do for far too often for the coach to escape blame here, and the same applies to him. Do. Your. Job.
For yet another season, Barça have a blizzard of transfers to integrate into a team, five players who all have to figure out a difficult system and team. None of them have scored, the statistics tell us. But except for Denis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti, I would settle for them looking like they have a clue. That’s coaching. Players obviously revert to reflex when stressed, which is why Turan looked so different this season. It takes time to build the reps that result in rote action. Alcacer stands around like a statue, playing off the shoulder of the same defender because when at Valencia, teams didn’t pack everyone into the box. Playing the same way isn’t going to work, and it’s why Luis Suarez runs hither and yon, darting here and there in an effort to disrupt a defense. The way that teams play Barça compresses space, and movement alleviates some of that compression.
Gomes doesn’t play fast enough, with his feet or his head. Again, this will take time. But the biggest transfer problem was created by a failure, Aleix Vidal.
Sergi Roberto, in the times he played in midfield, was a tiger. He closed down space, pressed, made the right passes more often than not and made the life of Busquets a lot easier. He was more than capable of subbing for Busquets, or playing alongside him in a creative role. When Vidal tanked, Sergi Roberto became the right back. He’s a revelation at RB for sure, but he’s a midfielder who is desperately needed at the moment for some of the very things that we saw in the Denis Suarez sub. But Sergi Roberto knows and understands the system better than Suarez Minor, and is a much better defender.
Should the XI have included Rakitic and Gomes, similar players? Good question. To the credit of Luis Enrique, he subbed Suarez Minor on for Rakitic, which brought about a significant change, something that brings me to why we should be more confident for the Classic than the Anoeta showing would let on. But first, you should take some time for this interesting read from Muhammad Butt, about why the result wasn’t really as bad as many are letting on.
Suarez Minor entered the frame, and two things happened: a player who could dribble disrupted the La Real pressing efforts, and the disconnected back line and front line suddenly had a link. This is what Iniesta does, with a style and alacrity that makes so much possible. This stretch without the midfield magician as he recovers from a knee injury makes any sane culer not look forward to life without him. What Barça’s attack is missing is a player to close links. If culers sitting at home could see that, why couldn’t the coach, even beFORE the match started? Good question, and something that again, makes the point — Do. Your. Job.
La Real wasn’t going to be physical because they don’t do that, nor do they really have the personnel to. So the size and strength advantage provided by Gomes, which would work against a team that sat deep or came out to foul, becomes a liability against a team pressing in midfield with skilled players.
The other problem with missing links was playing out from the back. Ter Stegen was passing long, because there was no intermediate option. Pique wasn’t making his usual passing runs because he was hobbled by an ankle knock. Mascherano wasn’t making runs because Pique was hobbled, and he was staying close to home. So the consequence was banging balls from deep, that were intercepted by La Real pressers. Do your job, and solve the problem. Luis Enrique did that, but didn’t go far enough. My wife kept wondering who is Rafinha, and why is my husband screaming his name. The Brazilian for Gomes would have been another astute sub to unsettle the La Real press, another player who can dribble, and is aggressive with the ball. Once Neymar decided to show up to play, he needed a playmate. Gomes wasn’t that entity, for the abovementioned reasons.
Iniesta and Umtiti trained with the squad today. Both of them entering the XI for the Classic should make culer hearts a little lighter. Iniesta has been covered. But what Umtiti brings is another link. Press the midfield, and he will make a run to bring the ball out, usually going deeper, more securely, than Mascherano. He’s also a sharp passer. This closes more links. If the Luis Enrique objective is always to get the ball to MSN as quickly as possible, it always helps to have personnel capable of doing that. Watching Rakitic spray passes everywhere while Gomes oozed around the pitch made you wonder about selection errors in the XI. Close links, and the entire Barça approach improves.
At the core of it all, however, is that very simple, do your job. Put the right people on the pitch, run instead of trotting, be aware when you have the ball, don’t screw up. If the only team that can beat Barça is Barça, the hope is that the coaches and players tire of trying to prove that, week after week.
Bring on Real Madrid.