Remuntada, eh?

Remuntada. Comeback. Barça is involved in one of only two Copa ties that aren’t dead rubbers. And thanks to yet another moment of Messi genius, that number isn’t down to one.

A 2-0 loss at San Mames wouldn’t have sealed Barça’s Copa fate, but the circumstances are quite a bit more positive at 2-1 with a precious away goal.

There is so much more riding on this match than whether Barça advances in a tertiary competition, because while the team isn’t in crisis, it is teetering on the brink of a precipice. Free fall awaits. And we as supporters don’t have the luxury of sitting back and saying, “Told you so,” or giving a push. Yell, scream, throw things. The same passion that so many claim is absent from the team is also dissipating from a fanbase, like a married couple that has forgotten why they married. To hell with reserve.

Barça has to advance in the Copa. Simple as that. It isn’t because of the potential trophy, but rather because this is referendum on the team as it stands. No, not the coach — the whole magilla.

Lost Liga before springtime, out of the Copa with a difficult Champions League tie against PSG looming, a home and away that is a gimme if Barça is on form. But no. Not even close.

Will the team be dismantled if it goes out against Athletic. Nope. There is an intact spine. But Copa elimination would put paid to the notion that Luis Enrique would be staying another season, even for those of us strongly believing he is gone in the summer.

Because if Barça can’t overturn a 2-1 deficit with an away goal at home, then the coach has lost the team. Worse, the team will have lost itself.

Barça football is at its best a lustrous, automatic thing that works like a key in a lock, like watch gears. Even if tika-taka was and still is a silly phrase, imagine the sound a timepiece makes as it reliably beats out time. That is Barça football when it is flowing.

That requires confidence. Supreme confidence, that thing that is so fragile these days. Sports is fond of its cliches, of its talks of slumps and confidence and momentum, things that run both ways. Is it as simple as focus? A person on Twitter did a video analysis of just a few moves from Barça during the Athletic match. Every decision was wrong, as if the body snatchers of science fiction fame have taken over the players we have become so familiar with over the years. A simple pass was passed up in favor of a more dangerous one. Two extra touches taken, which gives the defender a chance to recover. Shots instead of passes, passes instead of shots. It was a grim picture of a team that is a mess. Passing backward instead of forward absolves of the reponsibility of having been the one that made the error. It also dooms a team that lives and breathes attack.

It wasn’t that long ago that giving up a goal would piss Barça off. They would shrug, and resume the task of putting the world right. These days, it’s the Fear, the “Oh, no, not again.”

Much has been made of the team’s captains deciding to skip the FIFA gala. Many speculated that it was because no Barça players were going to win. But perhaps, just perhaps, the captains felt the same thing many of us are feeling, that this match is mes que un match. This team has to get right, and it can’t do that on the practice pitch or in any sort of a team meeting. It doesn’t even need to kick the crap out of someone. In many ways of more value would be a close-run win, where a key break goes the team’s way, provides that sense of being out of the shadows.

This team is fighting for itself, its future. Its legacy is firm, or is it? Will it be a group that, a decade from now, will be viewed as one that didn’t do enough with the talent that it had? Possibly. Players also want to keep winning. If supporters think that they are bothered by a loss or elated by a win, imagine being a player. Imagine that being your job. Imagine knowing, feeling that everything is on the brink.

Athletic has a feeling of its own, coming into the Camp Nou. They have a lead in the tie albeit a tenuous one, based on that whole maths business. A 1-0 victory and Barça advances. It’s that kind of tenuous. They won at San Mames, but they didn’t beat Barça. They escaped, like the mouse who lays still long enough for the cat to get bored, then scurries away. Destruction is always looming.

Expect them to press hard and heavy early because an away goal for them would be massive, potentially tie-ending. Chasing that will even be worth the risk of conceding because of the damage that giving up a goal does to a team without confidence. Anyone expecting Athletic to cower on the rocks and defend their slim lead is crazy. And if Barça isn’t prepared for that, everyone on the team is naive as can be, which we all know isn’t the case.

This match is huge. It’s bigger than the competition, bigger than the players. I expect a 3-1 victory, and advancement to the next round. The talk about the team won’t stop because it wins, but that will make the win no less important.

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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.

16 Comments

  1. RT
    January 11, 2017

    I really hope we are ready for their crazy press, and we don’t concede. Your preview made me a bit nervous Kevin!

  2. RT
    January 11, 2017

    Also, the little “uproar” over the players not attending the FIFA gala is SO ridiculous.

  3. georgjorge
    January 11, 2017

    The team has insane synergy when it works, and the players are brilliant. All they have to do is to put the pieces of the puzzle together – in real-time, while the Bilbao players charge at them trying to take the ball away from them and score. Can’t wait.

  4. Jim
    January 11, 2017

    Replied to a previous article forgetting that this was up . . .

    Again, looking forward to the real us showing up tonight. Surprised at the choice of keeper even as I realise if he doesn’t play this sort of game he won’t play at all brave decision by LE as he’s gonna have to be good with his feet.

    Should I read anything into the continued absence of Rakitic ? Not even I need this much rest . . .

  5. georgjorge
    January 11, 2017

    Remuntada indeed!

    Couldn’t watch most of the game due to bad connection. But I was impressed from what I saw, especially from Neymar, Iniesta and Messi. That freekick goal was absurd…again.

  6. RT
    January 11, 2017

    I think they read this article Kevin!

    That was pure heart attack. Can’t wait to read the review of this one. 😀

  7. luisthebeast
    January 11, 2017

    I watched the game calm as i dont have Cup as a priority this season.It was a good and the team played well.I liked the running of Suarez and Ney to press.We need that.But we have a BIG problem with the RB and with all the right side.I dont believe that Roberto and Rafhinia can be starters against good teams.I watched a fantastic Alba,i critisize him a lot but when play like today is in top 3 LB in the world.If u watch Athletic goal he stop the first cross but the ball goes to Athletic again,no player there to cover and Alba again trying to block.And then the cross to Roberto side who watch the opponent score.Thats not Barca level.Thats a joke.Also i did nt saw Rafhinia be good that many say.Umtiti must stay here the next 10 years.Best CB transfer after Pique.

  8. ooga aga
    January 12, 2017

    5-1 Sevilla. You heard it here first.

  9. PPos
    January 12, 2017

    I had to watch this match under wraps at work. I had to scream the goals with no audible sound. It was extremely thrilling. Neymar proved again that he will take anyone on all the time at blistering pace, the boy can cross the ball with both feet. He was brilliant. Suarez was having a very poor match at the beginning. Every pass that he got he would f!@# up the play with either a terrible touch or an overhit pass, but that goal turns out is his 100th goal in 120 appearances for the club. That’s astonishing. Better than R9, who was looking rather badly at the CR7 Bernabeu Ballon D’ Or presentation earlier this week. Messi well what can you say. MESSI, MESSI, MESSI, The Camp Nou said it to him today. I had a feeling he was going to score on that free kick, but my stream got banned before he hit it. It was tragic.

    Okay MSN very good but not so good; BUSQUETS – extremely erratic today, uncharacteristic, He had this one brilliant drag play but he would follow it up with an overhit long pass and just poor decision making.
    SERGI ROBERTO – Honestly I rather had Vidal start at this point. He is not a defender, and has zero pace for that position. Vidal has tons of pace, but sucks at defending more than Roberto but at least he can catch the runner. That’s why I start Vidal in Division 1 FIFA 17. The board needs to fix this problem. You don’t replace Dani Alves with Sergi Roberto. You have to do it with someone that has played their entire professional career in RB like Cancelo, Aurier, Florenzi, Lahm, you know? Sergi Roberto is a wonderful midfielder better than Rafinha, Denis Suarez, and Gomes, Iniesta + Sergi Roberto and Busquets is a dope midfield as they showed Real Madrid at the Bernabeu 4- 0.

    It was really refreshing to see Rakitic play again today. He gave us some stability later on, but lately Rakitic has been very poor. It’s like he has forgotten he can play the ball forward, and only passes back or sideways. Lack of form will do that to you, but you can only play your way out of that.

    Messi is just well Leo Messi. No one can match him. He has now beaten three goalkeepers in a row to their strong post. Genius.

    • georgjorge
      January 12, 2017

      Neymar is getting better and better. When he’s in the right mood his dribbling is almost as unstoppable that of Messi this season. If his passing ability improves as well, there’s no limit to what he can do.

  10. ooga aga
    January 12, 2017

    Amazing Messi. Bilbaos keeper is not a slouch, he has frustrated us in the past. Last week he covers the right post, but then takes a step to the left and Messi catches him the wrong way, he can only watch. This week, same thing but on left post. Just sheer genius. You cant make this stuff up.

    • georgjorge
      January 12, 2017

      Yes, it was amazing. As if it was just a casual game of five-a-side and Messi was showing off to his goalkeeper friend. Honorary mention to Pique who managed to get his long frame down to earth fast enough to allow the ball through on goal yesterday.

  11. ikool
    January 12, 2017

    “Anyone expecting Athletic to cower on the rocks and defend their slim lead is crazy”
    Haha, kxevin actually got it wrong for once(no harm intended). I’ve got to admit that I too was surprised that their game plan was to defend and waste time, both at 0-0 and 2-1

    • RT
      January 12, 2017

      Yes, I was rather nervous anticipating their crazy press but they were relatively tame in attack compared to the first leg. Perhaps had to do with personnel, Aduriz starting on the bench for example. Two more factors: they were playing in Camp Nou, not their own home. And I think some of our players were still jetlagged on the first leg. 🙂

  12. Jim
    January 12, 2017

    Yeah , to be fair that surprised – and pleased me as well. Not sure why. But it certainly didn’t help them although in fairness we were just another amazing Messi FK away. from a tie. ( Thought the team played better, though. ) When you look at what he had to aim at in both FKs and the keepers in perfect position you have to just laugh at his ability. When you add the context of their importance to our momentum for the season they become even more pressured.

    Btw, very interesting article from Graham Hunter on reasons for our struggles. I haven’t always agreed with him in the last couple of years but this for me is spot on and the line I’ve been trying to peddle for the last couple of years. Towards the end of Revista I thought he was saying things to be dramatic but I do agree with most of this assessment ( I’ve got a quibble about his assessment of Rakitic in the early days but thats minor). I would add that what he says is exactly what Ballague was saying was happening at the time MSN was flying. I know he gets a lot of flack for his style and pronouncements but in the interests of fairness he was predicting our current struggles from way back. Anyway, have a look. Well worth a read.

    http://www.espnfc.com/spanish-primera-division/15/blog/post/3036095/barcelona-struggles-signal-that-luis-enrique-must-get-back-to-basics

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