Barça 5, Las Palmas 0, aka “Hehehehe … “

it’s easy to forget in a world filled with information, that we don’t really know all that much. This is particularly true when it comes to the closed circle of team sports.

For the outside world, it has been a complex week for FC Barcelona, from wondering about the status of Ivan Rakitic, to wondering about the eventual transfer destination of Aleix Vidal and why Andre Gomes is a waste of money. Board members were saying silly things about Messi, and the #luchoout hashtag was trending on Twitter.

It would have been easy for a coach to assuage concerns about Rakitic by including him in the XI, to make press statements. But it’s no surprise that Luis Enrique isn’t interested in any of that stuff. But perhaps Luis Suarez summed it up after the hiding of a very good Las Palmas team, when he said:

“The movie is done by you in the media. Messi knows what he wants. And the club does, too. The president said it.”

A even lovelier summation of just how much we know was the absolute glee that greeted a late goal scored by Aleix Vidal, off a top-class assist from Paco Alcacer. The bench and teammates were as elated with that goal as Alcacer was, which speaks eloquently about team spirit, and just how little we know. After the match, Luis Enrique said, “He proved his coach wrong,” before waxing rhapsodic about how well Vidal played today — and for the third outing in a row, it must be said.

BeIN commentators were going on about Rakitic being in the doghouse, while Luis Enrique subbed on the Croatian midfielder around the 70th minute, and he played with the verve and energy of a player who appreciated the rest he has been given by a coach who now has the luxury of being able to provide such things.

The team knows what it knows, the coaches know what they know, and all we know is what we can speculate or what certain media outlets, who are mostly also outsiders, toss our way. It’s easy to forget this, even as matches such as today’s remind us of that. Here was the XI today:

Ter Stegen, Vidal, Mascherano, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Gomes, Rafinha, Turan, Messi, Suarez

It was a wonderful rotation XI that, theoretically, would allow ball control, pressing and attacking danger. And this was a tricky match. Las Palmas was sitting eighth in the table, and coming off a run of fantastic football based in possession and incisive passing. Barça got in their face and stayed in their face, as that XI did exactly what it was supposed to do. That the first half didn’t end 5 or 6-0 was only because of the Barça Bottling Company as chance after chance was spurned.

A month ago, a more fragile Barça would probably have found a way to screw something up and let Las Palmas get an equalizer. Today, they just kept attacking, kept playing off the front foot, kept closing Las Palmas down. Over the “poor” period for Barça, many have said, this space included, that the team isn’t doing a lot of things differently, but they were playing like a team waiting for something bad to happen rather than making bad things happen to its opponents.

The close-run Copa match against Athletic was, as some thought, just what the team needed. The group was fast, aggressive and on the front rather than the back foot. It played Barça football as it had been all along, but played it in the aggressive way that makes that kind of football impossible to resist as every player was full of industry. And in many ways this was the match of the failures. Turan was excellent, and would have been MOTM for me had it not been for Busquets, who was stupendous today. Vidal had his third fine outing, and Alcacer was full of movement and potential danger. Gomes was, in a midfield with Busquets, full of style and effort, and really could have had a brace by halftime.

All four players had been written off by parts of a fanbase that still doesn’t fully comprehend how difficult it is to fit in at the best team in the world, a team that thinks, plays and moves so fast because its spine has been doing it forever, since youth player days. Imagine being a new Harlem Globetrotter and wondering what the hell you are supposed to do with all of this?

The other problem with new transfers is, frankly, hero worship. Messi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique, internationals, World Cup winners and players who are as accustomed to victory parades as most players are to waking up. It’s intimidating, and takes time. So even as it’s easy to label someone who doesn’t assimilate immediately a failure, an argument is to be made for a season in the colors. It helped Turan, and Vidal is coming around quickly. Gomes is coming around faster than expected and the result is a Barça team with the potential that its coach spoke of when he said at the start of the season that this was the best team he has ever had.

messi

Look at Messi’s face in this picture, how happy he is. Barça destroyed Las Palmas with the likes of Pique, Rakitic, Iniesta and Neymar sitting on the bench. Sergi Roberto and Pique weren’t even in the squad. Neither was Suarez Minor, which set tongues wagging. But Barça was a team. The players didn’t matter, the system did. The group attacked with a nasty, pressing 4-4-2 that didn’t allow Las Palmas to build anything. Legs were fresh and so were minds. The rotation that has been going on all season, even to the grumbling of a fanbase, is ready to pay dividends. Luis Enrique has a full, complete squad as his disposal.

Luis Suarez seems to have shaken off his slump by playing naturally again, moving and shooting more and thinking less. His first goal was exceptional, another first-time strike golazo in consecutive matches. No extra touches, just him doing what he used to do when he was the most fearsome striker in the game instead of a grumbling, tumbling shadow of himself.

But it wasn’t the goals. It was the overall play, the movement off the ball, the way passes always had somewhere to go, a teammate always making himself available, the way help always came to close down the Las Palmas attack before it had a chance to perform. The mind strains to think of a single moment of real danger posed by the opponent, but the moments of danger posed by Barça were countless, many of them coming from the feet of a player who was as the center — however unwittingly — of a great deal of this week’s nonsense. He fought, clattered, scampered and refused to dive. He scored an ugly goal and created moments of sheer beauty.

Even in the echoes of a board member saying that Messi’s success was teammate dependent, here was Messi saying “I’m still me, even with a bunch of different guys.’ Because that bunch of different guys is still part of the best team in the world.

It would have been easy for Luis Enrique to sit at his presser, smile and say, “What did I tell y’all?” Instead he praised a player who was presumed lost, saying that player proved him wrong. He never said that player also rewarded the faith that his mamager had in him, the manager who made clear that as soon as the player started coming correct, he would play. As soon as that started happening, Vidal was back in the squad. He is moving differently, playing differently, like a player who is trying to prove something rather than how he was previously, like a player who was bought to be the right back, who was wondering what this tousle-haired kid was doing with his job.

When was the last time you heard a coach say “I was wrong?”

Barça hasn’t played a better match this season, even as we can hope they will moving forward. But even if they maintain the level they displayed today, there isn’t a team in football that will be able to beat them. Sometimes, it takes things to remind a team, near misses that result in dropped points to remind of the value of that little extra, that bounce in the step, that swagger. Instead of saying “Oh, crap,” that you should be making opponents say “Oh, crap.”

Confidence? Swagger? Yes, and yes. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we should, instead of looking a gift horse of a football team in the mouth, just enjoy the hell out of it while we have it, while the best player in the history of the game is still performing the impossible, while superstars are sitting on the bench, having a laugh while their teammates destroy one of the better teams in La Liga.

A week full of stupid crap might have been just what the doctor ordered for a football team that has, for the entire season, been flirting with being a quality unit.

vidal

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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. dl
    January 14, 2017

    Saw the first 55 minutes, and then the recording crapped out, so I didn’t see any of the post-sub play. I was really gratified to see the team play so well — there were so many changes from the standard eleven that I thought 1) this could go really lousy, or 2) this might be the game when it all comes together. I am so happy to see it start to gel. Very impressed with nearly everyone; I think there were a few clunkers from Umtiti and Masche the first half, and perhaps a few other, but really everybody had something to feel proud of. Hope to see it continue on this trajectory, because we are ripe for a strong run and RM is overdue for a rough patch.

  2. t4f4dzw4
    January 15, 2017

    I for one will admit writing off Gomes and Vidal. Turns out Lucho knows something I don’t, which shouldn’t be surprising.
    Now hope he will put questions about his future to bed.

  3. georgjorge
    January 15, 2017

    An amazing game, and a very good article! I can’t really pick a Man of the Match here, as pretty much everyone was at least very solid and at best brilliant. So much pressure, so much fluidity and understanding between the players…

    It’s only one game, so there’s still no telling which ones of our midfielders will prove themselves and stay at Barca, and which ones won’t. But none of them is completely out. I also had Vidal surely gone in January (just as I had Sergi Robert surely out of Barca by this year previously), and I hope this match will be a turning point for him. The only thing that hurt a bit was Alcacer once again squandering a goal he really had to make, especially since he badly needs those goals for himself. But as with Gomes and Suarez, first season is training season.

  4. Davour
    January 15, 2017

    Lovely review! Just caught the game, and what a game! Busi, without a doubt in my mind, motm. So many beautiful details coming from him, defending and attacking. Love it. Wonderful to see Vidal; suddenly full of confidence, even before the goal. Sometimes still wobbly in some defensive positioning etc. but also showed the benefit of speed on some occasions. Gomes with the nice assists and a shame he could not keep the shot down after perfectly controlling Busi’s wonderful pass. Ter Stegen’s passing was also looking good. The entire team looked great, really – and it is important, as the review noted, that those easy misses do not bring them down. we know by now that Messi does not “like” one on ones or penalties. The less reflection the better; seems his – and Suarez’s – mind functions best at full speed, all instinct.

    And LE leaving out precisely the player’s mentioned by Gratacos to make Messi great…

    Let’s enjoy this!

  5. georgjorge
    January 15, 2017

    Meanwhile, Guardiola’s Manchester City suffers a 0-4 defeat against a mid-table team.

    No direct comparison or schadenfreude here, it just goes to show how hard it is to stay on top even for a brilliant coach with big financial backing. It makes what we are currently seeing at Barca all the more absurd.

  6. dl
    January 15, 2017

    As far as motm, that’s a hard one, but I agree that busi was imperious. Also huge props to the las palmas goalie — two 1-1s (Messi& Suarez!) the Messi free kick, Gomez’s strike etc. He had a great game, even if the scoreline says otherwise.

    • georgjorge
      January 15, 2017

      I agree, Javi Varas was immense in goal. Had one error (which lead to the second goal) but otherwise kept the ball out of the net incredibly well when he could, especially in the first half.

      Ter Stegen, on the other hand, didn’t have to make a tough save all evening as far as I can remember (he even would have easily caught Boateng’s ridiculous handball).

  7. Jim
    January 15, 2017

    Golf course closed due to snow for the last two days so I seem to have been watching either football or golf forever this weekend. Apparently I now have grandchildren to see so I’m not even getting to see the end of Man U / Liverpool !

    So I’ll keep this quick. ( new readers may actually believe that but I know the rest are nodding sagely ) A really enjoyable watch last night, largely because we played very well and , I would suggest, partly because they didn’t.

    What I liked :

    THE PRESS is back ! Don’t know where it’s been but we haven’t done this for such a long time and what a difference it makes. Messi chasing around leading the way. Great stuff ! Winning the ball back further up the park and stopping them playing any football.

    We’re getting bodies into the box again ! Suarez is no longer an only child forced to make his way against a whole defence. When Messi drops back out of the front line and Neymar stays wide it’s been a thankless task for him. He’s taken a lot of stick for something basically beyond his control. I’ve found that hard to believe given his goal scoring record for us is better than Messi’s at the same stage ! See the difference now Turan , Rafinha, Gomes et al aren’t afraid to go past him. He looked like a man liberated yesterday.

    Movement ! Much better movement to help each other than we’ve seen recently. Not sure if that led to Busi’s great display but it can’t have hurt. He didn’t suddenly become a poor player. The movement also helps the passing by speeding it up as players are receiving it while on the move so opponents don’t get time to set up.

    LE ! Much better. I’m fed up in recent weeks seeing him sit looking at his iPad rather than trying to instill some fire into the side. He was on his feet and be.ting out instructions. Much better.

    So, it all ended up as quite a comfortable and enjoyable watch I thought..

    Now it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t find something to balance that.

    The opposition. I’ll begin with full disclosure in that it’s doubtful if anything in the known world could make me watch Las Palmas so I haven’t seen them this season. In the run up I was reading about their great passing game, their press and pace in various positions. Well, I didn’t see any of that. It’s always hard to tell how much they werent allowed to do anything by our play but I have to say they looked poor right from the start. Poor defence, little ability to keep the ball and silly decisions all over the pitch and rotten in front of goal for me. However, I’ll leave that one lying as that’s subjective.

    What I would caution against is the sudden wiping out of all that has happened in the last few months. I enjoyed it as much as anyone and I may yet be a bit premature about Rafinha, Gomes, Vidal etc but this is just one game. Let’s enjoy it and see if it is maintained. Can we press a better side and week after week ? If so, we are still in business this season. Or was that a one off ? Should we credit LE with the change in attitude ? Probably.

    On an individual front you couldn’t help but get emotional when we saw what the goal meant to Vidal. And he had a great game. But he wasn’t tested at all in defence. So, as I said with SR, let’s wait till he is before we read too much into this game.

    Likewise with the midfield. They were pretty much allowed to stroke the ball around without hindrance. Part of that was our good ball movement but you’re not telling me it would have been the same against a top side where the balls you get are more hurried, have to be more quickly controlled and your target is much more closely marked.

    Neymar. Judging by the blank expression in the dugout not best pleased. Hard question. It wasn’t hard to see the difference between Turan’s use of the ball and his. Did Turan moving the ball on quickly , not stopping the play to let them settle varying his position a little more make us less predictable in their box? I’ve been starting to despair about Turan but rewatching most of the game earlier today that made me think. Not good news for Neymar if correct. I’m still very much in the Neymar camp but I’ll ask the question I did a couple of months ago. Does anyone think he is a better, more effective player now than when he arrived and if so, how ? Not a question I’m happy thinking about.. . .

    Finally, TS. Is it just me or now that he has the balance between playing out and playing a little longer much more often is his concentration slipping ? I thought there were a few avoidable bad kick outs and decisions. Maybe just me. Having watched Bravo earlier he certainly has a better defence in front of him than Bravo does. Just how many of Everton’s goals came through Stones’ position ?

    Anyway, these are questions probably for another day. I couldn’t even tell you if the wine we had last night was any good because I was enjoying the match so much and that, trust me , doesn’t happen often. So well done to the team and it’ll be interesting to see if this does represent a sustained upturn in our play.

    Now, can we get back to finding reasons why Messi isn’t going to sign a new contract ? Unbelievable. There are a lot of things I worry about but Messi leaving isn’t one of them. I’m even a little less sure that he will return to Argentina at all given the statue thing and press coverage. He has spent most of his life in Barcelona now, family are settled, kids in the football school , a local hero . Would you go back ?

    • Davour
      January 15, 2017

      I believe Neymar has develop his game to become more complete, not least defensively. However, I do agree that he holds the ball up too often, slowing down play at times when it is not needed. But like with Vidal and the others: against tougher opposition, does Turan offer what Neymar can in terms of receiving the ball in tight positions and running at the defence, breaking patterns when the team is not functioning? Comparing them it is obvious Neymar is vastly superior. However, that is of course not the point, but rather what does the team at large benefit from? Having all of MSN is a fantastic resource, but team-wise not always a blessing with three individualists doing what they please. I’m not sure I picked up any negative vibes from Neymar (reports also said he was pretty bruised after last game and didn’t practice with the team), nor from Suarez being subbed. This is important; the team must function and when it does, perhaps Neymar will feel less compelled to do things on his own. Turan is working out ok, but will never become more than a squad player, is my guess. Neymar, on the other hand, is the future of the team, as far as things stand today. It seems he is getting back to playing more simple, and he is tracking back pretty well.

      Just a quick shout out to Vidal on the first goal; he came running with the ball and Messi was open for a simple pass. But instead of obediently handing the ball over to Leo, Vidal picked out Gomes’ run and 1-0. For me, small things like that are important; if Messi always gets the ball, it is much easier to defend against him. And having him creates space of others, as we know, so – use it!

    • Anders
      January 15, 2017

      All those things you mention about Las Palmas are true, just not when playing away from home. Last time they won on a trip away from their home was in August, for league play that is. How they completely collapsed and failed to complete the simplest of tasks, such as passing to the goalkeeper, is probably not the norm, but I’d like to believe the guys played a part in that. After all, they did press like maniacs all game long.

      Now that Real also lost, I really hope this weekend has provided a massive boost to morale and confidence in the team. It actually looks possible that we could end up in a position where we can decide the league in the upcoming Clasico, but that is also very dependent on whether the team can elevate themselves and go on their own winning streak. The developments of this weekend should provide a great foundation for that to happen.

      As for Vidal, I have read that we played somewhat of a 3-back formation against Las Palmas which allowed him freedom going forward. I haven’t rewatched the game so I can’t say if that is true, but I think it’s definitely something that should be discovered. I’m not sure if Vidal is defensively ready to face quality opposition, yet, but I also believe his particular skillset is so refined that it cannot be overlooked. Additionally, he will never learn to play the position properly without gametime, and I don’t really see many right backs in the game right now that I believe can cut it here, so it might not be a bad idea to try and develop Vidal a bit. It’s not like Roberto is amazing defensively either anyways.

    • Mishti
      January 15, 2017

      Jim, the question about Neymar and his role in the team is a welcome one, glad that you brought it up, although my reasons are probably a bit different than yours. And I think in your allusion to the ‘central position’ issue is at the heart of an answer.

      Since I watch him play for both Brazil and Barca on a regular basis, my answer to your question as regards to the improvements in his game between 2013 and now would be too long, so I’d keep to one particular aspect in relation to Barca that has been pretty clear this season at least: he now shoulders more of the playmaking duties than any of the other two forwards (yes, that includes Messi). As to whether he executes it well or not, brings me to the other point that I want to make. Neymar is not Thierry Henry part 2. To think of his role as a glorified winger/striker is to really limit what Neymar 2017 is all about. He is a classic Brazilian no 10, and if you want the best version of him, you’ll have to use him like a classic Brazilian no 10. You can watch Tite’s Brazil (eg, the recent game against Argentina), to see what I mean. He moves, and the team moves and adjusts itself to optimize what it might get out of his moves. His nominal position could be on the left, but he literally roams. Hence you’d rarely see him stopping the ball like he does when he is pinned on the flank for Barca, with usually three defenders in front of him, and the central midfield already crowded (Messi might be already there) making cutting in an inattractive option. So yeah, he can keep playing triangles, but that’s not quite his natural game, for better or worse.

      So, given that Messi pretty much now plays centrally, finding optimal use out of Neymar 2017 version is going to be an uneasy challenge for not only LE, but anyone who might replace him in the near future. If one feels that Barca is better off with a Henry part 2, then Neymar is bit of an overkill for that role. So when people talk about Neymar being the future heart of the team, I wonder, what happens between now and that future? How do we go to that future? This is my reason for saying the question you bring up is important. The pessimistic answer to this is that he leaves in the summer. The optimistic answer … I don’t know yet.

  8. Jim
    January 15, 2017

    I’m not convinced by Turan longer term yet either, Davour, although I do think he’s more talented than he’s been showing us since he arrived. I’m certainly not downplaying or having a go at Neymar either. He has by far the higher ceiling of the two, is a joy to watch and the future heart of the team , hopefully, although I’ve a feeling that’d be from a more central position.

    Just trying to make the observation that I thought the front line looked more fluid yesterday than of late and a part of that is the stationary thing that Neymar sometimes does. As an attacking team the last thing you want is the ball standing still at any point. I’d like to see him do like Messi and lay the ball off more often without letting it stop. Then when he does his dribble he’s already on the move and he’s also put the thought in the opponent’s mind that the pass is the likely option so the dribble has more effect. I do appreciate that against better opponents we will probably need Neymar’s superior skills.

  9. TITO
    January 15, 2017

    I really thought they will escape with another scrappy win like most of the season, but thank you Sevilla.

    • Dar_vincy
      January 15, 2017

      Yeah, me too,Tito. Somehow, don’t know if it’s down to happenstance or doggedness, they always find a way to knick in a goal to earn a point, or score an extremely late goal to win a match. To be at the receiving end of their own habitual fortune, certainly is a joy to watch.

  10. Dar_vincy
    January 15, 2017

    Couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my weekend, with Madrid’s epic loss. For some reason, it felt really good seeing them lose. Really.

  11. luisthebeast
    January 15, 2017

    Against Sociedad i hope Lucho try this:Cilessen Roberto Mache Umtiti Digne Gomes Suarez Rakitic Ney Alcacer Rafhinia.We have 2 away games in La liga and Leo, Suarez,Busi needs a rest.

  12. January 15, 2017

    A lot to unpack in the comments, so will dig right in.

    — Would Barça have been able to deal with a higher quality opponent with the same aplomb? Well, they wouldn’t have had the likes of Iniesta, Pique, Sergi Roberto and Neymar sitting on the bench. So not sure how to answer that one. You play the opponent you’re given.

    But don’t forget that the XI has Real Madrid under control and really should have won that match. Also don’t forget that there was significant rotation in the XI, and the team still kicked butt. That’s more important for me than wondering whether they would have done as well against a higher-quality opponent. Las Palmas is the No. 8 team in La Liga. Not relegation fodder.

    — To the question of Neymar’s improvement, not sure if what is so obvious to me isn’t to others. Apparently the case. He is calmer, light years better on defense and his associative play is much sharper. He has also improved as a passer, and is the best give/go attacker on the squad. Massive, massive improvement. Unfortunately, for the reasons listed by Mishti, we won’t see the best Neymar until he’s with another club. And that will be a shame. Properly used at Barça, he could be even more devastating than he already is.

    Someone above says that Neymar needs to develop. Again, that isn’t going to fully happen at Barça. It’s why Alexis Sanchez left the club, so he could reach that next level instead of being the guy who passes it to Messi and runs back to the sideline. And as with Sanchez, people will say, “Why couldn’t he have played like that at Barça?” Same answer. Neymar won’t be happy as just an LW for much longer. Expect rumors of his transfer to intensify this summer. He will be seeking assurances from his coach (whoever it is) that he will be allowed to become more involved in the team’s attack. And he should be.

    There is too much focus on the goals that he scores for my tastes. He has been absurd for a hefty string of matches now, even as he hasn’t scored all that much. It’s been brilliant. He’s also the only attacker who tracks back. It’s okay to have a go at Neymar. Just own it. For me, he’s the second best player in football on a team that already has the best player. I can’t imagine that his sale will sit will with Messi, even as Messi is the reason he will, like Alexis Sanchez, want out of the club.

    The perception of Neymar will depend on when someone saw him on the bench. There were times he was just taking in the match, and looked calm. Same with Iniesta. There were also times when he was laughing and joking around. Like Iniesta.

    — Arda Turan has also improved by leaps and bounds, to the player I had hoped he would be when Barça signed him. Anyone who isn’t convinced by him at this point, never will be. But his match yesterday was classic. He uses the ball differently than Neymar because he is a different kind of player, who doesn’t have the pace or ball skills so he has to play differently. Some say that makes him more effective, as they argue for him supplanting Neymar in the XI. No, and hell no. The depth offered by Turan is fantastic, and Luis Enrique is using it well.

    — I have watched Las Palmas every time they have played this season except for one match. They are eighth in the league and it’s an honest position. They’re a good team that had been playing good football right up until they ran into the buzzsaw at Camp Nou. The pressure, speed and movement of Barça was exceptional. Culers tend to want to downplay it when their team plays well, something I struggle with. That was a fantastic match of football from Barça yesterday, tactically and in terms of execution.

    • Mishti
      January 16, 2017

      You have laid out in stark terms much of what I had in mind, Kevin. Just wanted to add a thought on the Arda versus Neymar discussion. I initially did not go there, because I did not want to, and will not now, get into a comparison of Arda and Neymar as players. Simply because based on ability alone, one of them is on track, if he keeps his fitness and form for the next 5-6 years, to become one of the all time great Brazilian no 10s, somewhere between Zico and Pele. Enough said.

      The question is what value does either of them bring to the team? That’s where I think it becomes entangled with the question: what value does the team want from either? And that’s where it is a question well beyond a comparison of ability. As you said, Arda uses the ball differently because his skill set is different. I want to take this thought further and, as an example, observe that Arda will never draw three defenders towards him simply by touching the ball. Neymar will. So he and Arda will have to devise different strategies to deal with the defenders, and the team will have to deal with two different scenarios when Neymar carries the ball versus when Arda does. You can optimize your system to take advantage of three defenders being distracted. Or you can try and cut Neymar into the Arda jacket, or some idealized LW role, so that the ‘system’ remains unchanged no matter who plays. That is the choice, really. Neymar definitely has room to further improve his game, and he will, but at this point that’s not really the key issue. We will see what choice Barca as a team make going forward.

    • georgjorge
      January 16, 2017

      Great comment, and I fully agree!

      As an aside, Neymar being able to draw three defenders towards him will also make him incredibly dangerous if he can perfect his long passes the way Messi has. We’ve seen signs of him trying it more this season, but he has some way to go here still. If he does – are they going to put three defenders on Neymar in case he goes past two, and three defenders on Messi in case Neymar crosses to him?

    • January 16, 2017

      The most encouraging things I am seeing improve in Neymar’s game is his reading of things. Look at the steal he helped Iniesta set up for the first goal against Athletic in the return leg. Like Messi when he contributes on defense, he is understanding where to be and the amount of effort of exert. His defending is becoming as significant as his attacking, which is something that I reckon few would have said about him coming into his Barça tenure.

      Interestingly, he is now the world’s most expensive footballer according to some chart released today. Probably makes sense, given youth, marketability and up side. I desperately hope that he stays, even as I don’t see how it’s possible.

      Excellent thoughts on Turan vs Neymar, Mishti. Turan plays the LW slot a lot like Iniesta did when he was there, relying on motion and ball movement to compensate for a lack of pace and outright trickery (in the Brazilian flair department, rather than Iniesta’s ability to dematerialize).

      Many question the value of Turan. But he cost what he cost. A high-quality depth sub for Neymar is invaluable. Before Turan arrived and came into his role, there wasn’t one, and Barça suffered. Neymar got a whole match off. That will be massive in April, when it’s all to play for.

    • Mishti
      January 16, 2017

      Agree on the long pass thing. A lot of times with a stopped ball he seems to be looking for a long pass option, but he is not quite there yet with either confidence or execution.

      And of course, in general, keeping defenders confused is part of the fun of having players like Leo and/or Ney on the pitch, they just have more options available to them compared to an average player, and the opposition knows it. So many of the MSN goals have been results of this very dilemma faced by the opposition. I remember watching the UCL semifinals against Bayern in the treble season, and thinking to myself, it ought to be illegal playing these three together ;P 😀

  13. dl
    January 16, 2017

    Saw this in Sid Lowe’s report on the weekend’s games in the guardian:

    Quoted from Simeone’s press conference:

    “Winning is all that matters, And if you don’t believe me, look at the Ballon d’Or.”

    Love him!

  14. Jim
    January 17, 2017

    Just back from a newly opened golf course after the snow and may have overdone it as I now have a pulled/ torn ? calf muscle as a result of trying to lash the ball 🙁 Plus no good football to watch on tele. Apologies if I come across as a little grumpy but there is nothing worse than not being able to exercise and , as Mathieu can attest , it’s not one that goes away any time soon.

    However, a decent discussion going on here ! Can I start by gently reassuring anyone that if I intend to have a go at anyone I am more happy to own it. ( I’m surprised anyone here regularly would still think I would be reluctant to put forward any view )., it’s actually one of the great unsung qualities of the place. However, that wasn’t the case with Neymar. I genuinely wasn’t trying to bring him down just raising some questions going round in my mind. I can’t remember picking him out for serious criticism after a game at all. Certainly not in the way some others have been spoken about.

    I remember raving about him after they played Scotland down at,I think, the Emirates in 2011 and he is probably my favourite player to watch ( hmmm, maybe along with Messi and Ini. ). The Scottish players came off that pitch raving about him and I couldn’t believe some of the things he did. So, anything I say about him comes from an encouraging place even if it does suggest improvements which would I think make him better.

    I would readily accept that he is doing way more defending than I expected him to do and probably more than Messi. I’m not sure about Suarez. He runs his butt off every week and no sane person wants his CF back deep in his own half regularly chasing the ball. His job is to prevent easy playing out of the back and he does this very well. However, Neymar has improved in that area and that speaks to a lack of ego which is great.

    His associative play as it is called has always been good for me. If we look back at when MSN were flying when they first got together that was one of the big plusses so that’s not new. I do think he could help by making himself more available by moving back towards the ball sometimes but maybe that’s an instruction from LE. To me, the real areas for improvement are firstly decision making ( including the stopping which allows defenders to get set but more than that ) although I do accept he does sometimes have a couple of defenders marking him. However, they don’t start that way. The second defender usually comes across as Neymar is getting the ball so keeping it moving would help. The second area is in passing, especially as has been said the longer ball. He cuts in from the left quite often but rarely hits, for example, the “Messi” ball effectively and I’d like to see him develop that a little.

    So my quibble isn’t with Neymar’s quality but more what he still has to do , for me, to become the best player in the world. A high bar but that’s what we’re talking about and at the moment you ( well, I) wouldn’t talk about him in the same breath as Messi. To help him with that I would like to see a bit more innovation tactically to allow him to play more centrally, either if Messi sits out a game ( and that’s still not happening ) or by taking Messi off more often once a game is won and moving him central then. Just a thought but if Neymar is capable of excellent defence ( is that too big a jump ? ) then why not give him a game in either the Rakitic ( where there is little creativity or pace) or maybe more similarly , the Iniesta position ? If we’re looking for pace, ability to carry the ball between the lines, great fast feet , ability to keep ball and carrying a real threat would that not worry you as a defender ?

    I don’t think he’s looking to leave. He knows that anyone leaving Barcelona goes down a notch in quality. ( don’t want to get into the Sanchez thing again but to me he left as he’d have been “riding the pine” regularly ). Plus it restricts trophy winning chances but we need to be aware of his image and how it looks if he is the one of MSN who is first to sit out or come off. I also don’t think he’s been brilliant this season as has been said. Until the last couple of games where he has really seemed up for it but that doesn’t mean he’s been poor. He has generally been pretty good but not player of the year good and he’s now, what, 24 ? Time to start showing the exceptional side I believe he has. I’d like to see him settling tough games like Messi has done consistently and maybe part of that involves letting him off the leash to roam a little more.

    Laughs of the day ? City being in discussions over their “serious” willingness to sign Messi for €120m and Diego Costa to Barcelona. You have to love the English press. On the other hand, I would expect the pressure on LE to decide will intensify very quickly. The club has some serious problems in squaring the circle financially with the renewals of Messi and, don’t forget, Pique. City are probably needing a world class English speaking CB to become their captain more than they are needing a creative genius. However, if he is staying they are going to have to decide on Rakitic, Turan, Vidal et al. We can’t keep them all and renew Messi and decisions will have to be made.

    • Mishti
      January 17, 2017

      Here is the inadvertently funny 140 words of the day for you, Jim. Someone twitted, “City willing to spend 100 million on Messi as Guardiola in search of a new goalkeeper”, prompt came the reply from someone else ” Now that’s taking the concept of a ball playing goalkeeper a bit far” 😀 😀

    • Mishti
      January 17, 2017

      I meant 140 characters of course 🙁

  15. Jim
    January 18, 2017

    Yeah ! Thanks for that. Well I suppose you’d have to put 8 players on the goalie to ensure he couldn’t play his way out and then he’d just drop a 40 yard ball onto someone’s toe so that wouldn’t work either. In fact do I not remember a bride I a few years ago of him playing in goal at training and making an incredible save as well ?

    • Mishti
      January 18, 2017

      Yep the unfortunate use of ‘as’ in that original tweet opened all sorts of possibilties 😀 😀 May be that’s what City actually need to destabilize opponents and lessen the burden on their miserable defence, since in City’s box, opposition players would be more worried about defending than attacking 😉

      I believe outfield players do take turns in goal every now and then in training. The recent one I saw was of Rafinha being rather hapless 😛

  16. Jim
    January 18, 2017

    Bride ??? I was trying to type video. Think my keyboard must be upside down 🙂

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