Barça 1, Real Madrid 1, aka “Rolled the dice … snakeeyes”

For neutrals, what a match. For me, it required a change of clothing and some heart rate settling.

In one of the tactical Classics in recent memory, a bit of an irony given that it was contested by two teams whose coaches are widely considered to not really be coaches, two teams fought like lions and emerged with an equal hunk of the carcass.

On Barça Twitter, recriminations and cries for various scalps are ongoing. But here’s what happened from this chair in a world as subjective as evaluating anything artistic:

Luis Enrique knew that his talismanic midfielder, Andres Iniesta, had about 30 minutes in his still-recovering legs. So he played the entire match based on that notion. The midfield was Busquets, Gomes and Rakitic, in effect three of the same kinds of players, almost 3 DMs if you really think about it.

Rakitic was dispatched to assist Sergi Roberto in dealing with Marcelo and Ronaldo. Gomes was in to make wall passes, and not screw up in possession, gifting RM with counter opportunities.

Busquets was dispatched to be magnificent. And he was. In every facet of the game.

The program worked, almost. The first half ended scoreless, and it’s safe to say that both coaches would have been happy with that, for different reasons. Zidane played his lineup like a coach happy with getting a tie. Luis Enrique played his like a coach waiting to play his whip hand. The second would have it all to play for, and it couldn’t have worked out more flawlessly for Luis Enrique and Barça.

A foul at the outer edge of the area brought a brilliant cross that was nodded home by, of all players, Luis Suarez. After spending the entire match fighting, and glowering and officiating in absentia, his bullet header past Keylor Navas sent the Camp Nou into a frenzy of relief. It was 1-0 Barça, and it was shortly after that when Iniesta started warming up as the home supporters screamed his name.

At about the 60-minute mark, he came on, and Barça was transformed as the Luis Enrique plans all made sense. Barça had the lead, and football of the type that many have been craving was back, orchestrated by a man in his twilight, but still nonpareil. Until that moment, Luka Modric had been exemplary for Real Madrid. Iniesta came on, and everything was forgotten as he darted, ghosted, flicked and turned.

Barça acted like a team liberated, as everyone could return to their familiar roles, from Busquets to Messi to Neymar to Suarez, and it was all going so well, until an unfortunate foul by Arda Turan, that set up a set piece.

There is more crazy irony in two teams who sparkle in open play, finding stalemate from a pair of set pieces. Real Madrid’s was as beautifully worked as Barça’s, as they flooded the right side with a trio of players before Sergio Ramos (who else?) headed home for the late, late equalizer. But even then, it took some crazy ping-pong right on their doorstep to keep Barça from a late, late winner, and it wasn’t until that ball was cleared to midfield that everyone, on both sides as well as neutrals, could breathe again.

Barça got so much right, and a number of key things wrong. When Rakitic came off Marcelo went into the ascendancy, causing all manner of difficulties for Sergi Roberto. It was a Marcelo run and cross that led to the sequence of play that ultimately resulted in the goal, even as Arda Turan made a stupid, stupid foul at that part of the pitch, that late in the match. Turan also had the temerity to then get into it with an RM player, making the throat cutting gesture as he glowered. But Barça got its throat cut instead.

Looking at the key set piece, thanks to a screen grab from AllasFCB on Twitter, the three best aerial players are all marking Vasquez, leaving Mascherano to deal with a trio that included Ramos. The outcome was inevitable.

After the match came a very interesting Luis Enrique quote:

“It is very easy to give orders for set pieces, from where the coach is sat, but those who need to defend them are the players”

Now, we know what he meant, which is that coaches can only diagram stuff, but the players have to play the matches. But many will interpret it as having thrown his players under the bus, a la when Mourinho said after a match, “my players let me down.” The Luis Enrique quote left the wrong taste at the end of a day that will be viewed as a failure by many, even when it shouldn’t be.

Meanwhile, another glitch came as Rakitic was subbed, which meant that Sergi Roberto was suddenly the babe in the woods that many feared he would be, and it cost the team.

But even after all of that, football comes down to doing what you need to do to win, which was part of Luis Enrique’s point. A coach can do everything except do it for his players. Earlier in the day, Manchester City lost when Kevin De Bruyne missed a gaping net, pranging the ball off the crosbar and over. It was an astonishing miss. Instead of putting City up 2-0, Chelsea came right back to equalize and finally win.

Against Real Madrid, Neymar made a remarkable run, left his defenders for dead and, with the goal essentially at his mercy, went for the top far corner while leaning back, and put the ball over the goal. Yes, it was a difficult shot, blablabla, but the best players in the game score those goals. If he is shooting with proper form, if any one of a hundred things happen, it’s 2-0 and the match is over and done.

Then, later, Iniesta found Messi with a pass that on its own deserves a spot in whatever hall of fame is reserved for otherworldly moments from spectacular players. It even seemed to surprise Messi a bit, who fumbled a bit with his first touch, and just as culers everywhere leapt to their feet to celebrate, for Messi is as reliable as death and taxes when on the doorstep, an already committed keeper sprawled at his feet, Messi screwed the strike wide of the far post.

Given the form that Luis Suarez was in, who would have thought that of the trident, he would be the only one to bury his chance today? The misses of Neymar and Messi weren’t only bad, but crucial because they gave Real Madrid life, just as City’s miss enlivened Chelsea.

Scapegoating is always the most natural reaction after a “negative” result, and the entorno isn’t disappointing. Turan is a culprit, so is Luis Enrique. But only a few are having the temerity to suggest that if the two best attackers in the world had done their jobs, it wouldn’t have mattered what Arda Turan did late in the match. A sub is only a failure after a number of other people fail, setting the potential for that incorrect sub being an issue. Garbage in, garbage out.

Neymar scores, and Turan doesn’t matter. Messi scores, and Turan doesn’t matter. Defend the set piece properly, and Turan doesn’t matter. Scapegoating rarely works, even as it always satisfies, even in its illogical nature.

Luis Enrique almost got it right today. History will record that he didn’t, that almost only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades. The “results don’t matter” crowd will be unconsoled to find that for them, results DO indeed matter, for Barça played exquisite football once Iniesta came on, precisely the kind of football that so many have been clamoring for. But still, Lucho Out, the club is a disaster, everybody is stupid except the ones who prophesied doom.

Some even say that Messi had a poor match, without understanding his role today, which changed once Iniesta entered, which was why he was suddenly so attack-minded late. Messi had a very good, influential match today. Look at his touches and interventions as he ran and defended like crazy, shifted pressure and created when he could. Messi’s match quality isn’t defined by how many goals he scores, but rather what he does to help his team win.

He had a much better match than Neymar, who spent the first half slipping and sliding around before finding more stability and quality in the second half, becoming the play accelerant that is his usual role. And Suarez, his goal aside, was poor. The vaunted Trident, that is supposed to be laying waste to opposition defenses, was mostly stagnant thanks to the ineffectiveness of a key piece.

But even at the end of all that, there are many positives to be taken from this match. The shame is that the Classic had to come right after Anoeta, because Barça would have beaten any other team today. It played much better as a collective even before Iniesta entered the match, and had the looks of a team that is looking to turn a corner.

The perception of Barça won’t allow positives to come from this match, but they are there if you look for them, particularly as regards overall play, which improved immeasurably from the desultory outings against Malaga, and at Anoeta. The team drew when so many predicted that it would lose today, and in reality it should have won, but that’s football.

At the end of the match, things were exactly as they were at the beginning, with Barça looking at a six-point gap to the top of the table. But anyone who really watched that match through anything except a curtain of gloom, can come away a little more light-hearted at the signs that maybe, just maybe, the corner might have been turned and that, win or lose, the team can get back to playing the way that we all know it can.

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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.

49 Comments

  1. Davour
    December 3, 2016

    Thanks for the review. I agree with the notion you have expressed earlier – that Suarez’s lack of form is the greatest issue for the team. He took some baby steps today and scored, but was still pretty out of it overall. Still, by scoring he did his job. Messi and Neymar did not – BUT Messi, as you point out, did a hell of a job keeping the team running, and Ney had a better second half causing problems – his game is less and less focused on scoring (problem is, so is Messi’s, so when Luis does not… well). Arda, for me, gets flak because he did NOT do his job, either, and should not be exonerated because others – like the defenders – could have done much better. Of course the game should have been over by then (and two penalties should have been called…), but we were still in the lead, however fragile, when Arda committed that silly foul. And LE is partly responsible for this for thinking Arda is a kill-the-game CM. Also, I have a hard time seeing why he subbed Rakitic, which as you point out, unbalanced that wing.

    He had a reasonable plan, and had they scored he would have been celebrated. But he acted as he did during the game, and has part of the blame, as well as part of the credit for the improvement.

    For me, this was a giant improvement – but I am yet to be convinced it is more than Iniesta returning and the players getting into clasico mode. We’ll see up ahead!

    • Davour
      December 3, 2016

      But aside from all the noise: the interplay between Busi, Messi and Iniesta was like children coming together on the school yard after a long summer apart. Beauty.

  2. georgjorge
    December 3, 2016

    I am not content with the game, because I can’t be after a stupid foul in overtime lead to a goal due to bad marking. But I am content with how the team approached this match and how they dealt with RM. Great passing at times, solid defense, disciplined, some very nice combination play. I enjoyed it, and if Barca can continue this form they might very well win the league after all.

    In hindsight, two things puzzled me about this game. The first is RM’s defensive approach. Sure, it’s an away game and they are great at counterattacking, but this season Barca has had some serious problems with playing out the back under pressure, and that was hardly ever exploited by RM today. Strange. Second, Luis Enrique’s approach seemed solid, except for Gomes starting. I’m not saying Gomes can’t play well at Barca, because it’s far too early, but he isn’t doing it at the moment. He should have games other than Clásicos to get into the team. And he didn’t do too well today, either defensively or offensively. Denis Suarez, Rafinha or Arda Turan would have made much more sense from the beginning, because even if you only want to turn on the full offense mode at the 60th minute it is good to also have some firepower before then.

  3. socrates
    December 3, 2016

    Remarkable to come here and all is relatively calm and composed, having just read through the cacophony of Enrique Out! comments on Sport. I know serious people don’t take Sport and its comment section very seriously, but it is a Catalan daily devoted to Barca, and seems to have a sizeable readership. Page after page of anti-Enrique comments. Of course fans are gutted after a game that should have been in the bag lost, but it does seem like dissent is overflowing. Reading Sport, it feels like a post-Enrique moment.

  4. Tata2
    December 3, 2016

    Suarez minor for Gomes, Umtiti for Ney and we all going home holding hands and singing Kumbaya!

    • kneowell
      December 5, 2016

      Yet you can only say that in retrospect, you don’t know that for sure, just as you didn’t know arda will commit a late foul, neither did you know that our defence will perform poorly at the one final task that was left to singing kumbaya

    • kneowell
      December 5, 2016

      Maybe try, Neymar or Messi scored, or turan didn’t commit the foul and we be singing Kumbaya

  5. Víctor
    December 3, 2016

    No way you can fire a coach after a Treble and a Double. That´s just silly. There are some things that need addressing like: Suarez being off-form and, making the team look like they are playing with 10, Neymar being more clinical… defensive mistakes that are being done quite oftenly and injuries… you can’t really blame Enrique for the last one… and the first three aren’t exactly his fault either… although he should work on that.

    So: there it is. The team needs some adjustments and better finishing and things will get way better.

  6. TITO
    December 3, 2016

    We should have nailed. It was RM in our house and we should have show them no mercy, and perhaps it would have been the turning point of the season.
    Now it remains to be seen when will that game come.
    Next is Osasuna away if im correct. Now thats another tough away game to be played.
    We simply have to be more clinical. There was a statistic data somewhere i read about shots per game and goals scored. It was about 10 shots per game to score a single goal, thats how much we need. And that is way too much for the quality that we have.
    At least we are doing fine in the champions league, and if i have to choose a trophy than i prefer that one this season.

  7. Jim
    December 3, 2016

    Well, thank God that’s over. ! Just finished watching the full match delayed on sky so I’ve had to stay away from the Internet all afternoon. Surprisingly difficult.

    Anyway, first things first. Poor first half but even that was better than in recent weeks. I didn’t really feel we were under the pressure I expected and consequently we all looked a little better. Add that to the fact that Busi showed his doubters just how good he is , Messi again proved he can do any job on the pitch and we got to half time relatively comfortably. ( Yes, I know I’m ignoring the stonewall penalty from Masche’s daft tackle but IIm just tired of repeating myself. ) Anyway, Masche had a good game generally from there until he lost Ramos so I’m feeling generous.

    However, Messi apart we weren’t looking at all dangerous. That has to be a concern. Except that I’m with Kxevin 100% when he says LE’s plan was to wait till it was Iniesta time. So it was a case of entertain yourselves, try not to fall asleep because it will be better when he arrives.

    And so it was. I hope everyone else saw what I saw. For just over half an hour he was Iniesta and Xavi and that I suppose, is the tragedy of our current midfield. Unbelievable. I’ve just played that pass back about ten times and still can’t believe it. Btw, as a side note I can’t agree that Messi’s chance was anything like as easy as Neymar’s . Also, I’m not really comfortable with the. So and so missed a couple of chances so that could have been a victory approach. Missing for forwards is the default and even Messi does. Btw, he was outstanding in so many different ways today. But I almost wept when in the 49th minute he had to come back into his own half beside Pique to pick up the ball. That just can’t go on or he will be on his way. You heard it here first.

    Second half it was much better and just different with Ini. If you didn’t before you now know what we mean when we say we need midfielders who have the whole skill set. Yup, the only one I can think of as well is Thiago although interestingly Granada beat Sevilla today and our loanee played the whole game again, was the top passer and had the most ball recoveries at 10 !

    Nice to see Suarez coming up again with a vital goal. Yes, he pushed the guy in front but that happens all the time and he sank it when it was vital he did. First half once more he was isolated and as a CF. it’s pretty hard to operate when you’re the only one the opposition need to concentrate on. I’m tempted to say he could stay onside a little more but I’ve been told on several occasions years ago from some pretty decent goal scorers I’ve played with that I know nothing about that situation so to button up about it !

    Their goal ? It almost hurts to think about it, doesn’t it. . That was the only way they were going to score. With Madche staying at home and Pique and Alba playing out of their skins ( again!) we looked good. First of all we were surely all screaming at Turan not to foul him so it’s hard not to heap a whack of blame on him when the guy had his back to himbut in the cauldron of the match it is easy to get carried away. Still, stupid. And I’m not sure that his shenanigans after that didn’t disturb our concentration.

    The marking for the FK is another matter. Firstly, I’ll say it again . We try to hold far too thigh a line for these making it easy for them to judge a ball that our keeper can’t come out for. Look at TS’ position ( correct in my opinion). We come back three or four yards and that hole isn’t there. Too big a space between defence and keeper for me. After that you have to ask yourself who is likely to score for them in that situation. For me, it’s Ramos, then Ronaldo then behind that Varane. So why is Masche marking Ramos? If it’s a zonal why isn’t Pique in the middle of the three with Masche at the front and Suarez at the back ( less important there because the amount of time it takes for the ball to get to the back post its TS’ anyway.

    What happened then depends on your allegiance although even I would concede they had worked it out well. RM clearly designated someone (couldn’t tell who) to stay between Pique and Ramos. When Pique spotted this Ramos had quietly walked forward, offside, so Pique couldn’t go back with him and he would have to be be marked by Masche. Pique’s marker clearly then as the ball is put in grabs Pique round the waist causing him to stumble as he tries to break free. Now none of this exonerates Masche who has previous at being a wuss when it comes to marking FKs ( think Godin and a lost championship ) one bit. He knows he can’t out jump Ramos so what must he do ? Exactly the same as they did. Get goalside of him and hold, block, push , trip or anything else but for heavens sake do something Masche! He was way out of position and Ramos simply handed him off on his way to the easiest header he’ll have for a long time. Would he have won that header against Mathieu or Umtiti ? Very doubtful. Why wasn’t Umtiti on for at least their last push when their only hope was a high ball into the area ? Don’t know, you’ll need to ask LE that one.

    So they leave with their confidence heightened and their tails up in the Liga. We seem to be happy that they didn’t beat us., hardly an acceptable stance. They didn’t actually try all that hard to do that. I expect us to play much better now that Ini is back but we need to get Messifurther forward, some support to Suarez in the box and Neymar to up his game from delightful maverick with occasional brilliance to something akin to one of the top five players in the world. I still reckon he’s the next best player in the world when Messi departs but he’s giving me pause for thought. I’d genuinely be interested in knowing if the sensible folk here think he has improved since he arrived or not ( once you reply I’ll let you know if I think you’re sensible or not. 🙂 )

    To end on a happy note how good was that interplay between Ini, Messi and Busquets. . Call me lost in the days when possession actually frustrated the opposition or the days before football apparently moved to the flanks ( what ? ) but I quite enjoyed that moment.

    The biggest question for me coming out of this is what will now happen behind the scenes regarding rejigging the midfield for next season ? No I don’t think LE should be sacked ( what purpose would that serve at the moment ? )but I would love to know how Masche got the nod over Umtiti, why Gomes was put into a game that would rush by him and what LE meant in his comment about players not doing their marking at set pieces .

    • georgjorge
      December 4, 2016

      Messi had to come back to the defense to collect the ball a few times in the first half as well, and I too worry about that because Real weren’t even pressing well most of the time! If a centreback has the ball, there are five or six players in our defense and midfield who he should be able to pass the ball to. If one of our forwards has to come back to provide an additional passing outlet, some of these five or six players aren’t making themselves available like they should.

      Otherwise, the team looked pretty good to me yesterday, but is now not only suffering from Messidependencia but also Iniestadependencia.

      • kneowell
        December 5, 2016

        In busquet was missing we would see that it’s busquetdependencia, just as xavi saw us having a xavidependencia effect for years now, we can also see traces of piquedependencia when he isn’t playing and we can’t get the ball out of defence, invariably, the team doesn’t depend on no one person, as we can see vividly the obvious contribution of every core member of the team..

  8. Chiu
    December 3, 2016

    – I would repeat again and again my admiration to our maestro Andres Iniesta. The beautiful Barca was back immediately when he came in. The triangles worked, more confident possesion from the whole team, the passing run smoother and the calmness he instill to his teammates. We started creating serius goalscoring chances after Iniesta subs in. Messi, Neymar and Busi are suddenly having a “booster” and the whole team played better.

    – Not having Iniesta for the last 2 months really affects the team. Messi alone couldn’t carry the team to the optimum potential, he need a great midfield control and service lead by the genius Iniesta. Our other midfielders still have to learn and adapt on how to run a Barca midfield. We have some young potential midfielders to be groomed as the replacement of our maestro.

    – The liga race is still long. its too early to put Barca out from equation. And imo, real madrid was not as spectacular as people hyped them recently. They would get their “banana skin” matches for sure. As for us, we must improve the way we handle and close the game, more motivation and fighting spirit. Having Iniesta back is certainly a really good turning point.

    Keep the faith and Visca Barca

  9. Tata2
    December 4, 2016

    LE is a great coach but he did mess up big time with his subs (save Ini), and I say big time. You know EE are going to resort to crossing (this was even obvious once they sent Ramos upfront) but what does LE do? He makes a very daft substitution by bringing on Dennis instead of Umtiti in fact, he had already messed up by bringing on Turan(I knew we were screwed once I saw him about to come in) instead of Dennis before further messing up. This is were I doubt his tactical acumen. Yes Ney should have taken his chance and Messi too (though his wasn’t as clear cut as Ney’s) but a top side like Barca should be able to see out a 1-0 victory.
    Also, I read at Marca that he said he instructed his players not to foul, especially when the opposition had their back to goal. So it appears Turan wasn’t listening at all and you don’t play players that don’t listen to instructions. Also Turan at CM has been tried,tested and failed. LE let that sink in

  10. PPos
    December 4, 2016

    Yeah Turan is a failed experiment. That’s two clasicos in a row that he costs us. I rather have Verratti, Cazorla, Thiago, Mahrez, anyone but him!

  11. Rami
    December 4, 2016

    So the template, The project enrique was supposed to be building over the last two years, Needed a 32 year old midfielder for it to come into fruition??…………..No, Just no,

    How can anyone glare and boast about how iniesta changed the match and act happy is beyond me, It’s not a a thing to be pleased with, We’re supposed to be less dependent on iniesta than two or one year ago, That’s what enrique was supposed to do, Build a system, A template that allows us to be less dependent on an aging midfielder, And allows the young ones to slowly take responsibility.
    Have we really reached a point where our entire season hangs on the health condition of andres iniesta?, That’s unacceptable, And a failure on the managing side, This is their 3rd season.

    And the first half without iniesta, Was an ugly display of long balls from our players, I had my mouth open on how RM seemed to be transitioning into attack more smoothly with reliance on short passes and accurate passes than we did, While we stuck with long balls to a running player, I understand the need to be quick in the attack transition and deliver the ball quickly to the trident, But not only was it too abundant, It was ineffective, And ugly to watch.

    There is a feeling that i can’t really describe, But in the past years, Even when we hit very rough patches, Weather it was with tito, Tata, And enrique, I had a great faith that we’ll bounce back, I always could’ve see the silver lining, But this time i feel more hopeless than i ever did, La liga seems like a far fetched dream, And this view of mine wouldn’t be any different if the gap was zero, This season, the team lacks the edgeness, The furiosity, And most importantly, The clear direction, It had the seasons before, Funnily, This pessimistic feeling comes when we have the best squad since many years.
    The team will improve, That is for sure, Lots of talent for it to be otherwise, But it won’t be enough this time around.

    • georgjorge
      December 4, 2016

      You are right that being so dependent on Iniesta is not a good thing, and it’s rather late in Enrique’s term to introduce new midfielders into the team. And it might have to do with Enrique not being the best coach for integrating young talents into the team.

      Let’s look at the midfield transfers (both from other clubs and the B team) during his term. The very first was Rakitic, who did very well in the first two seasons but – even if he could have the skills – was never used as a creative midfielder. Then there was Arda Turan, who also could have the skills but never became a regular starter (also due to Iniesta being so important) and doesn’t seem to have improved much during his time at the team so far. Rafinha is the player I had the most hopes for to fit the “traditional” Barca midfielder role but just when he seemed to get into the team a brutal injury kept him out for many months. Then this season Gomes and Suarez, both of which could or could not do well in the team.

      Bottom line: I’m also not thrilled with Enrique’s success at integrating new midfielders into the team, though it’s important that he was not integrating new players into a given system but also a new system at the same time. I’m not sure what went wrong with Turan, but this season will show if he manages to allow at least one of the other midfielders to take some weight off Iniesta. At least two of them seem to have the skills necessary, but they need confidence and playing time.

      Finally: One does not become Iniesta over the course of one or two seasons ; )

      • Davour
        December 4, 2016

        Really, one does not become Iniesta. Period. ; ) Like Leo, and Xavi, he is unique. His outing yesterday was impressive on the level to when Messi entered a CL game against PSG, injured, and by his very presence turned the game around, despite barely being able to run.

        The question about midfielders of course also concerns the matter of personell – who of the young ones, beside possibly Samper, has even been close to having the quality? Carles Alena is the first in some time to show real potential and it’s still very early to say anything.

        Arda, for me, is lost. I would get rid of him as soon as possible. He will not integrate properly (really, he didn’t even learn Spanish for years – has he even now?). Rafinha looked to be going places, but has not been consistent enough, and obviously failed to convince. It seems Gomes is LE’s choice. Kxevin compared him to Raki and Busi, but I always thought he was an AM – wasn’t he in Valencia? Maybe I am mistaken. Either way, him and Raki cannot run the mid. It is still early for Gomes, of course (as it is for Denis), and it is obvious Rakitic is a player with a very particular part – backing up Iniesta and covering for Messi – he does not have the level to run Barca’s midfield.

        So, the question is: is it LE’s ability that is lacking, or the players’? Another thing Iniesta’s return made clear is that it is impossible to replace him. Maybe the system must give in a bit. Also, who, in the world of football, could we have realistically bought to play that role? Even with a free pick, it is hard to find anyone good enough to run our midfield – especially considering MSN not tracking back too much. The only names I can think of are Modric, Kroos, Veratti (maybe) and Kevin de Bruyne. None of them are realistic targets.

        LE is trying to create something new, I’m sure, using the players he has, without abandoning The Way. I think the only way is to find the perfect role for Messi, to make him last a few seasons more (at this pace, he will burn, looking more and more like the Argentina NT version of himself). If Samper does work out, he would have to be key here. I still see the 4231 as a possibility, though man says it’s a defensive line-up. But with Busi and Samper as the DMs (or Iniesta, Raki as back-up), Messi as the 10 (might alternate with Ini, depending on shape), Neymar and Mr X (Denis, Gomes, Rafinha, Alena) on the wings, and Luis as 9. With Roberto, it easily turns into 3331, with Samper/Busi flexibility, it becomes 4141, and if X drops, it is 433. For me, this might be more solid. You bring Messi and Neymar closer together, use the best ball controllers in the centre (Busi, Samper, Ini, Messi), and still have the wings. Who knows?

  12. georgjorge
    December 4, 2016

    As an aside, just watched Alexis Sanchez completely demolish a very decent Premier League side (1 assist 3 goals, the goals are Messi-esque). Still a pity Barcelona couldn’t make better use of his talents.

    • kneowell
      December 6, 2016

      You got it wrong, we didn’t have a problem with his talent, but Neymar was the favourite kid on the block

  13. Tata2
    December 4, 2016

    Re-watched the highlights and Ney’s miss is even more painful than the Ramos equalizer. What they hell did he do there? I have seen him play it on the ground in that scenario a countless number of times… but why this time around? why? Why Ney? Messi’s chance was complicated by his first touch but he could and should have opted to chip to the other side like he does a countless number of times… Why Messi? Why? Turan is a traitor sent to mastermind our downfall, we better get rid of him before he further inflict more damage to our team. No way we concede that set piece if he’s not on the pitch and for that, am still angry at LE. If he made the right subs, miss or no miss, we would have won

    • kneowell
      December 6, 2016

      And if it was Busi that made that tackle? Like against mancity? Players should be disciplined, a coach is hardly at fault for giving them minutes and putting faith in them, it’s still the players’ job to do the right thing irrespective of who’s coach

  14. Tata2
    December 4, 2016

    Messi isn’t staying at RW and it is also killing us badly. I hope Ini’s return means he now stays there.

  15. December 4, 2016

    How can anyone be vexed that Barça is envlivened by one of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game? That’s like getting angry because the team hasn’t devised a system to compensate for the absence of Messi. News flash: there isn’t one.

    Great players are precisely that, and teams depend on them because of that greatness. Riding Luis Enrique because he hasn’t come up with a system to reduce reliance on Iniesta is like slagging off carmakers because they’re still dependent upon engines.

    You can’t slag off Luis Enrique’s subs, and be okay with the marking on the equalizer. You can’t ride Turan for his stupid, stupid foul and be okay with the misses by Neymar and Messi. You can’t snarl about Gomes and not wonder whether Sergi Roberto could have done better.

    Hundreds upon hundreds of individual actions decide a football match. At work, I talk a lot about “presumption of professionalism,” which is, simply put, presuming that someone is going to do their job. So if a reporter, in a deadline rush to file a story, makes a typo, there is a presumption of professionalism that one of the three editors reading behind them will catch it. In any system, you have to presume that if you screw up, there will be a professional to have your back.

    Turan was a jackass. But so were the three Barça defenders marking the least dangerous man in the for RM, leaving Mascherano to try to cover three. So yeah, Mascherano lost his man. But he also had to choose, and chose wrong. But even had he chose right, he was never beating Ramos on the header.

    Did Ter Stegen guess wrong? Maybe, but hard to fault him on that effort. Ramos had, effectively, an open header. He could have put it to the other side just as easily as he put it near post.

    But we have to admit that a game is everything, not just one thing, one action by the player we like the least. Everyone had a hand, from coaches with their actions to the players with theirs. That’s why it’s a team sport, why Barça wins or loses as a team.

  16. deerwithwings
    December 4, 2016

    Phenomenal writing Kevin. That was a wonderful piece.

  17. G6O
    December 4, 2016

    For all the discussion about how “The Way” wasn’t really the only way, we saw what happened when Iniesta came in. Those 20 minutes between the 55th and the 75th were vintage Barca totally dominating the game (I don’t think Madrid got seriously near the box during that period while we had a couple glorious chances that would have made it a 3-0 massacre.

    Then we made more subs and lost control…

    So “The Way” still seems like a good approach, the problem is where do we get the players to implement it….

    As others have noted, the fact that Iniesta had to come in for the system to click is disturbing given that he is 32…

    And there is nobody in the first team or the youth ranks who looks like anything less than 3-4 years away from learning the role, and that is if he ever does…

    P.S. A lot of people blame LE about the current state of the midfield, but it wasn’t LE who let Thiago Alcantara go. And of course it’s not the case that Thiago Alcantara can fully replace Iniesta, but he is the closest we have had on the books since Iniesta himself. There are no other players on the market who could do it either.

  18. luisthebeast
    December 4, 2016

    I am tired of all that talk.I am not young anymore to deal with anyone that says “oh this is not my Barca,where is the midfield” and all that.I am 40 and i have seen enough Barca all that years.Today i had the feeling we lost 0-4
    to Granada at home with what i read on internet.We played against a team unbeaten for 32 games,we had the pressure,we are in not a good form and we could had won 3-0.But no again the same shit,only Pep Barca was good and madrid was good back then,not now.The same shit every day.I will spend rest of season watching the team and not try to talk with people on twitter and blogs,people that believe football is so easy and they know everything.People that cant enjoy a fucking game.

    • G6O
      December 4, 2016

      Note that I was actually happy with what I saw in the second half.

      We showed that at our best, we are still untouchable (and we weren’t at out best because MSN were either inefficient or in poor form in general).

      The problem is that being at our best has become this very fragile condition that can only be achieved under optimal circumstances and does not look like it is going to last very much longer.

  19. luisthebeast
    December 4, 2016

    And what i learned from the game?They had the chance to kill us because we are not yet in good form and the only they get is a lucky point.So yeah i fully believe that in May that finger that Carvajal showed it will be in his butt.

  20. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    December 5, 2016

    Typical madrid.
    zidane has been riding his luck for quite some time now. hopefully it’ll run out soon. what we need is something like that 40 game unbeaten run we had last season which culminated in a most spectacular collapse in the decisive part of the season.
    speaking of extended runs of good fortune, can someone please update me on what is the status of RM’s and Atleti’s ban from signing new players?
    Has CAS given a verdict? will they be upholding FIFA’s decision?

    I thought barca played a good game. Neymar should have buried that chance. Messi too, although Ney’s was more straightforward. I knew, even at 1-0, this Ramos would come up with a scrappy goal late and when that foul was given at the end, it seemed inevitable. Terrible marking on him though.

    I said at the start of the season, that i dont get this purchase of andre gomes. To me, he is the most perplexing transfer, I just dont see how he fits. I can see the logic behind Digne, Miniesta, Paco and Umtiti for sure. But gomes for almost 50M? WTF.

    Still, as always, i am hopeful. This team has too much quality. Hope they find the mentality. We probably won’t win the league. But i hope we make them really fight for it until the last game of the season.

  21. lala10
    December 5, 2016

    Excellent response by an out of form team bereft of belief. An inform Neymar passes the ball into the net after a great piece of skill.

    Andre Gomes is the player least talked about but one who i feel ought to be under a little bit more scrutiny. Whatever is afflicting him is major. Cant see a team mate right in front of him and ploughs headless into opposition players coughing the ball. Strange that.

    • G6O
      December 5, 2016

      The concern with Andre Gomes isn’t that something is affecting him but that this is not the case

      • *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
        December 5, 2016

        Exactly.
        I suspected that Lucho’s affinity for athletic / physically imposing players has gone probably a bit too far. The team is almost unrecognisable now.

        Remember the days of the midgets? It seems just like yesterday.
        But then.. Suarez, Mathieu, Ter stegen, Rakitic, Umtiti, Andre Gomes all happened.
        Common thread? not the midgety-silky-intricatey profile. But something else.

        Andre Gomes purchase now seems more evident that it was a typical case of an enterprise with a new injection of funds burning the cash on a BODY. A big body.

        And that kind of thinking (specially in the barca context) infuriates me.
        Did we overlook a veratti or a mata due to this type of thinking? (not that i am saying they’d be better fits.. just throwing names to prove my point)

        • georgjorge
          December 5, 2016

          I don’t quite agree with that line of thinking.

          If you look at your list of transfers, three of them are defenders or a goalkeeper (for which being small is a severe disadvantage), plus Ter Stegen is actually quite “silky-intricate” for a goalkeeper. Suarez is not a small player, but one of the world’s best forwards who was instrumental in past successes. That leaves us with Gomes and Rakitic, and even Rakitic has already proven at Sevilla that he is indeed capable of much finesse, it’s just that he wasn’t played in such a role at all at Barca.

          I’m as puzzled as you about Gomes, but want to repeat my mantra that every new transfer should get at least a season until he is judged. On the other hand, Enrique also requested the transfer of Turan, who is small and has great technical skills but hasn’t really adapted so far, as well as Denis Suarez who fits the profile perfectly.

          • *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
            December 5, 2016

            I guess we just simply got spoiled by the xavinisquets midfield.
            They were there.
            Every single game.
            Playing every minute.
            Completing every pass.
            We took it for granted.

            • kneowell
              December 6, 2016

              This I believe is the case, xaviniesta is that one wet dream we want to have everytime. Spoilt is the word

  22. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    December 5, 2016

    You know, it isn’t really the results. But the ‘way’. The ‘process’.
    For me, that has always been why I loved Barca.
    The quality of the pass and the consideration put in a through ball was something I didn’t quite see in any other team. This is why even when we lost against Chelsea in 2012, the camp nou applauded.

    The problem occurs when you deviate from your values and dilute your approach but still dont end up with the results. Thats why people like mourinho are despised – its cos when you dont win, you look like a pretty petty low quality team. I never want that for Barca.

    What really disappoints me isn’t the fact that our results offlate have been poor.
    Our loss against Sociedad doesn’t disappoint me. Our possession stats decreased significantly doesn’t disappoint me and certainly nicking draw at home against madrid doesnt disappoint me. Certainly not as much as the number of speculative passes we seem to be playing and the lack of consideration in our approach. That disappoints me.

  23. December 5, 2016

    Gomes has the quality to be useful and effective at Barça. He shows it from time to time. Never underestimate how difficult Barça is for a player to adapt to. Turan took a full season. Most transfers do, unless they are slotted into a role that was tailor-made for them (Alves, Rakitic), or play a familiar role (Umtiti, Alba). The rest of them always need most of a season, then the following season there is talk of “revelation,” etc, when the only thing that happened was the player adapted.

    Gomes, though a big dude, isn’t anything indicative of any Luis Enrique affinity for “big, physical players.” Gomes is closer, when on his game, to a Busquets than a, say, Keita — even as Keita wasn’t a big, physical player in that traditional notion of the sense. Say, a Fellaini.

    Transfers are always complex. We hail them without being willing to give the time necessary for them to bear fruit. We should be more patient. We can certainly critique their performances, but context is always important.

    • Davour
      December 5, 2016

      You have referred to Arda’s adaptation on several occasions as a contrast to the new signings. I’m just curious: do you see him as integrated at this point? I can’t help but to feel he does not seem to work out properly in this team, but that might be due to other things all together.

      • December 5, 2016

        I see him as improving. I watched him in person during the SuperCopa. He was brilliant. Once Neymar returned, his playing possibilities at his most effective slot went away and it seems that he is regressing. This is a shame.

        But he’s also more effective in midfield. The mistake people make is to compare him to Barça mids, born and raised in the system. No player will be successful in that comparison.

        Last year he was slow, of foot and thought. This year both aspects have accelerated, to the benefit of him and the team. He is being pilloried for that foul. It was stupid. But people are acting like that was the only action that affected the match. This is wrong.

        He isn’t fully integrated. I wish he could get more playing time to enhance that process. He has the quality, but Neymar plays all the time, and I don’t that’s right.

  24. Nick
    December 5, 2016

    I too liked the way we played even before Don Andres came on. For the first time in two months, I did not find the need to scream at my telly. That is always a good thing.

    Muppets at El Chiringuito de Jugones were pointing at 4 (3 of which were hands) penalties that were not called against us and 2 (both hands) in our favour. Guess it was sensible for Clos to officiate exactly that way, even though many hated the refereeing. The same muppets would call our goal off-side. As one blogger later pointed out, Suarez’s foot was off by 16 cm. Try spotting that.

  25. Hamid
    December 5, 2016

    Thank you Kxevin for another wonderful piece of writing.
    What if LE was up to something bigger and far more important than the 2016-2017 season? After winning a triple and a double in his first 2 years, it is just probable that he (with the board’s blessing) is laying the ground for the after-old-guard era (Messi, Iniesta, Busquets, Luis Suarez, Piqué, Mascherano, Rakitic, Alba) era. It is not really hard to notice that the past summer recruiting effort was designed to this end. In a couple of years, Barça would likely revolve around Stegen, Digne, Umtiti, Denis Suarez, Neymar, Rafinha, Alcacer, Roberto, Gomez, among others. All talented players with time to embrace the Barça Way (whatever that means).
    And as in all transitions, something has got to give: less trophies, mixed results and grumpy culers. And even though the season is far from over and lost, we should be mentally prepared for happy days and sad days while the future takes shape.

    • December 5, 2016

      Stop messing up my next post, Hamid!

      I have been thinking a lot along those lines. Who knows about right or wrong, but I have some thoughts there.

  26. Hamid
    December 5, 2016

    Oops.. Looking forward to reading yet another excellent review.

  27. ciaran
    December 5, 2016

    So many good comments and a great piece Kxevin.
    I find it funny how much Masch is escaping admonishment for yet another avoidable mistake. Time and time again this season he has been culpable for goals conceded and searching back in memory he seems to be the root of lost points all over this poor run of form. Is he being asked to do too much? Absolutely but that still doesn’t excuse his consistent schoolboy errors.
    For me he isn’t expected to beat Ramos in the air, he is, however, expected to deny Ramos a completely free header in the most important minutes of a Clasico.

    Turan once again showed his lack of footballing IQ. He is a very talented footballer, creative, combative and skillful but as Davour queried I also don’t see him as integrated and I certainly disagree with the assertion that he deserves any playing time ahead of Neymar because even though Neymar isn’t at 100% he’s still lightyears ahead of Arda.

    Gomes got a lot of flack through numerous outlets which I find incredible. He was signed as an attacking midfielder and has played both DM and interior for us without making too many errors. He hasn’t taken enough risks for me but he’s performing pretty much to my expectations considering his short time with us. I have read some rather incredible opinions expressed including the most ridiculous giving out about how tall he is. He should really apologise for being too tall, it’s not like we have another midfielder who is.

    It was great to see Iniesta back, he killed it when he came on. Being reliant on great players is only natural but I really am beginning to think that if we replaced Rakitic and Arda next year with Thiago we’d be back to controlling midfield and dominating teams.

  28. barca_tx
    December 5, 2016

    Another good analysis Kevin.
    I agree with some of the people here , my main issue is the style of play which is more upsetting than the the poor results.
    The game was very cagy, it seems like Zidane setup madrid to draw while I agree with you on LE setup with Iniesta “ace ” in the second half..
    We may still win the league and CL but I am still disappointed in the style of play, regardless of who is playing/adopting and the lack of adjustments which i blame LE.
    I am not saying he is a bad coach but we need better. Unfortunately I am not sure who would be better than him that is available next season.

  29. raj
    December 6, 2016

    Arda really is a question mark over LE’s management,
    He was already Barca material when we signed him. I used to look at him at Athletico and imagine him taking a spot in Barca midfield, and do wonders. When it happened, everyone expected it to be an easy transition because there wasn’t anything to teach him except the tactical approach – the skillsets are all there and ready. But somehow, we are still using him as a sub instead of replacement for Iniesta/ Rakitic, which doesn’t look good on LE’s part. That is exactly what managers are paid for – to match talent to a teams situation.

    Or maybe Arda is really mentally not ready and needs to go by next month. The time has run out long back.

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