In thinking about the general mood in the culerverse right now, something came to mind:
Cranky and insatiable is no way to go through life.
The two qualities are incompatible in every way, as they leave us unsatisfied and mad about being unsatisfied by something from which satisfaction is impossible. It’s like being at McDonald’s with a friend, who asked the clerk to remake his hot fudge sundae because it didn’t look like the gorgeous creation on the poster behind the counter. Nor did the next one. He ate it because he wanted a sundae, but there was no joy in it. It wasn’t really what he wanted.
At the Camp Nou, before a crowd whose volume made this veteran culer smile, Barça dispatched a Valencia team with ease, despite the anxiousness created by the scoreline, anxiousness that wasn’t shared by the excellent BeIN Sports commentator on the U.S. broadcast, who said, in effect, “Barça is just screwing around with Valencia. This match is under control, and they will score when they have to and that will be that.”
Which is exactly what happened. The team stroked the ball around, had midfield control, played positional football with a modern flair and create chance after chance after chance, opportunities that if even half of them were converted would have resulted in a gaudy scoreline that made people wonder what in the holy hell is going on in La Liga, anyhow? Isn’t Valencia a big club and stuff?
Instead it was a 4-2 win that wasn’t as close as the scoreline would lead anyone to believe, and a lot of anxiety.
— Messi created 17 chances in this match.
— Ter Stegen was 100% for his passing completion
— Barça is 17-0 with Samuel Umtiti in the starting XI
— Neymar registered an assist from a throw-in
Luis Enrique continued to play his 3-4-3 and Valencia got a pair of goals, one that should never have happened because Munir was offside. But the first goal came from a mismatch that was nonethless poorly played. During the Atleti/Sevilla match, Felipe Luis had to mark Stephen N’Zonzi on a set piece, giving up about four inches in height and some athleticism. He got into N’Zonzi’s body and denied him space, not even trying to jump with him as much as preventing him from taking fullest advantage of his abilities.
On the first Valencia set piece, Rakitic was tasked with marking Mangala, who is only two inches taller than him. Might as well have been two feet. Rakitic did nothing to deny Mangala space, and the essentially open header was bashed past a helpless Ter Stegen.
The genesis of that goal was a long clearance for Munir that found the Valencia attacker in stride — even if he was offside — and the resultant Ter Stegen action resulted in a corner kick.
Valencia’s second goal came from open play, as Mascherano went for a pass and failed. The receiver launched a full-throttle run that caught Rakitic and Pique off guard, and Umtiti didn’t have enough time to close down a sprinting Munir, who converted the goal.
The second goal was more indicative of potential complexities than the first, but both are and were solved by being more alert and paying closer attention, as was demonstrated the next time Munir broke loose, and Pique dealt with him 1v1. Both goals can be summed up in that tactical adage, “Shit happens.”
The team today would have wrecked Deportivo. That’s the difference a week makes, the difference that human beings feel in still not having come down from one of the most wonderful nights of their athletic lifetimes, staggering about a field of grass in a besotted state, waiting to get plucked. Same team.
A 3-4-3 works best with a functioning press. Absent that, an opponent will always be able to find space behind the defense with a couple of well-placed passes. The press keeps those passes from happening. It’s a safe bet that after international break, and probably in the locker room after the match, Unzue will be making clear what should have happened.
In a world in which an opponent shot on goal prophesies doom, two goals conceded, one when the opponent was down to ten, is simply unacceptable in a world where perfection is the norm. Barça will never satisfy because it can’t, because it’s played by human beings rather than robots. Humans will tire, and make errors, and not be where they are supposed to be when compensating for the frailties of another human. And we will scream, and excoriate the offenders, real or made-up ones, because perfection is the only goal.
And some will say, “Aren’t we allowed to analyze, what is wrong with holding the team to a standard?” Nothing, as long as we understand that perpetual dissatisfaction awaits, and we’re okay with that. Every chance has to be converted, with no opponent shots on goal. Even then, we would mutter vile imprecations about that one time an attacker got past midfield. “Whose fault was that?”
It’s the ideal of beautiful football, a topic that is taken on in a fascinating read over at Between the Lines. It makes the point that coaches choose tactics and systems that work best at getting the results that they need. Clogged midfield? Long passes over the top will fix that. Long passes don’t work? Attack the wings. The same Monaco coach who is making fleet-footed beauty with flitting youth, was with another set of players a tight-faced, defensive shell. Ugly. You do what you need to do with the group of athletes you have available to you.
Ah, but what of true beauty, juego de posicion? Isn’t that supposed to conquer all? That’s the complexity even as the short answer, is, “Nope.”
Barça the club, Barça the team and Barça the supporter base are chasing different things, so that a comfortable win that continues the team’s quest for the Liga championship as well as keeping the group in the hunt for three trophies this season, becomes reams of analysis about what was wrong with a comfortable 4-2 win that in another universe could have been 7 or 8-2.
Football needs that. Without imperfection, without that perpetual dissatisfaction, what would we have to talk about?
Supporters want perfection. The board wants to win so that the marketing deals will keep flowing. Money. The team wants to win, first and foremost. Ugly win? They’ll take it. Controversial win? They’ll take that as well, and leave supporters to rate the beauty of a win, like a figure skating judge. “If results are all that matter to you, okay, but for me … ”
The team won comfortably despite a number of things being off, from a tentative, indecisive Rafinha to an Iniesta who was lovely on the ball but below standard off it. Rakitic and Busquets had to make up for that, which made the times that the team did decide to press less effective because everyone couldn’t press effectively. You could see that Iniesta knew where he needed to be, but just couldn’t get there.
During the match, on Twitter, I noted that many supporters are more comfortable with Iniesta being a sub than Luis Enrique. Iniesta does things with the ball that no other player in world football can. Those things come with tradeoffs. Busquets will have more space to cover, and so will Raktic.
Further, the 3-4-3 will force players into positions and decisions that they aren’t accustomed to, and they will err, becuase it takes time to learn a new system with the facility necessary to achieve consistently high levels of execution.
In other words, imperfection. What we, as supporters, have to ask ourselves is a pretty simple thing: Are we willing to accept what is there — to understand that this season, Gomes isn’t going to be what everyone wants him to be, that Alcacer isn’t going to be the Suarez platoon player, that Suarez Minor is Miniesta in nickname alone. Further, that the team’s superstar is aging, finding a different way to influence the game as the action shifts, of necessity, to the wings, where a player, a wispy jester of sorts, holds sway.
The fourth goal that Barça scored was savage, because Neymar got the ball and danced up the sideline, daring the two beaten down, bedgraggled Valencia defenders marking him to try something. Tackle me. Go ahead. I’m right here. One did, and Neymar accelerated, capering past the pair into a sea of open space, with all the time in the world to cross to either Gomes or Messi. Gomes slotted home for the easy goal, and the victory was complete.
The goal was, by the standards of many, imperfect. It was an individual foray, and only two players touched the ball during the business end of its execution, Neymar and Gomes. It wasn’t about positioning, or elegant, eloquent passing. There was no way to diagram it. It was about putting an opponent to the sword, without a hint of mercy.
Like it or not, and many don’t, Luis Enrique has adapted the Barça way of playing into a modern beast capable of stomping the terra in a game that has adapted to stop the Barça way of playing. We have to decide what we want to accept, what we are capapble of dealing with, how much imperfection we are willing to accept, how much joy and satisfaction we can extract from a team that — and that’s a big might — manage to win yet another flawed treble.