March Madness: FC Barcelona vs VFC Stuttgart Return Leg (1-1 agg.)

Ladies and gentlemen of BFB welcome to one of those oh so rare Isaiah-less previews. Our dear valiant leader has left us for his annual sabbatical. A trek to a certain altar of insanity called March Madness where he err…watches a lot of basketball. Sixty four teams enter the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, only one leaves happy. In totally arbitrary and false statistical terms that would make Isaiah cry, this means that he has a 1 in 64 chance to come out exuberant and a 63 in 64 chance of ending up in a fetal position wailing in despair, a fate with which, being a University of Michigan alum, I am all too familiar with; having been subjected to it by Isaiah’s Buckeyes for the last six years no less. So, let’s hope our guy comes out happy. Thinking of you, the people, Isaiah wrote one of his literary master pieces i.e. previews with the intention of submitting it today. However, due to a horrible mishap, it got left behind and lost forever [not really] which means you fools now have to suffer the even worse fate of a preview written by me. So, enough basketball, let’s talk about our version of March Madness. The UEFA Champions League is back!

What can I say about Stuttgart? Isaiah already covered the historical background while entertaining us with his erudition and masterful prose and Kevin then laid down the law on what was possibly one of the worse Barcelona performances in the Guardiola era. So, what else is there to say? How about a rather pessimistic and over-analytical breakdown of what went wrong in the first leg with video followed by a rather less pessimistic but still overly analytical and long winded explanation of what we may see in the second leg (albeit sans video) and finalized with team news, line-ups, and a prediction? I’m sorry guys, but this is what you get when you get a former banker turned pseudo-engineer writing a preview instead of a world class journalist or writer. Mea culpa, in advance.

What can we take away from the away leg of this tie? First of all, we were lucky as hell. The first leg was a perfect storm of Barcelona ineptitude and Stuttgart effectiveness at times. We could have easily conceded two or three more goals had it not been for a brilliant Valdes. Even 20 minutes playing like we did in the first half of that leg will result in annihilation at the hands of a team with more resources than Stuttgart. It cannot happen again.  Exactly what cannot happen again?  After re-watching the first leg a few times, I have to ask: how about a lot?

I am not going to try to re-do Kevin’s review  of the away leg. It’s a hell of a fair, balanced, and accurate account. However, I do want to point out certain additional tactical and strategic point of relevance using the youtubes. I agree with him on our lack of width and our seeming inability to keep the ball, without which, as we all know, we are shit. However, I want to try to convince you to appreciate a couple of different problems that we had other than those Kevin covered and look at how it will be different this time around. For the video examples, let’s us the following youtube clip of the first half of the away leg.

Hustle, Concentration, and Intensity

There is a cliché in American football that says “in the end, it’s not so much about the X’s and the O’s but rather it’s about the Jimmies and the Joes”. It gets annoying after a while but that does not take away from it being very true and also applying to soccer. We could have Michels himself as the coach and it would not mean a damn thing if the players don’t run hard, work hard, pass well, position themselves well, and execute the strategy. However, our Jimmies and Joes for the most part underperformed while Stuttgart executed their plan, at least in the first half, admirably. They did not do any super special tactical change up nor do they have more extraordinary individuals than teams we face week in and week out. Instead, they just simply outplayed us. They were more disciplined, structured, composed, and, most worryingly, worked harder.

We like to pound our chests and say that when we are on, nobody plays like we do and nobody can beat us. That’s true. However, we sometimes forget that this supposition is based on all of our world class talent giving their all both before and during each game. If a single cog starts slacking, then our machine slows down and another team with less talent but at maximum effort can beat us. Why am I ranting about effort, Jimmies, and Joes? Before going into more technical analysis of the first game, it’s important to understand that the game is played on the field. If Xavi doesn’t hit his passes, Iniesta puts himself constantly out of position, Yaya jogs all over the pitch without regard for positional sense, and Marquez is lazy enough to get pushed off a ball by Hleb then no gameplan can save us and no gameplan is necessary to eliminate us. The way we play the game is unique because it is hard as hell to execute and we are privileged to have great players capable of executing it. They are so great that sometimes they make the very hard appear easy and we forget how truly hard it is until they don’t play great.

Make no mistake, a lot of what happened in the first leg is not rocket science; some of our guys just did not play well and sleepwalked for stretches. All the skill and talent in the world does us no good if the guy’s don’t leave it all on the pitch. This sounds cliché-ish, right? Maybe it is but let’s look at a few sequences:  

  • 1:34-1:40(pause)- Messi slips and misses and open cut back to a crashing Xavi. Stuttgart recovers with their whole back 7 inside the box. Xavi and Busi are in or around the box so that means we have four defenders and Yaya against three Stuttgart players. It should be no problem. However, let’s look at effort. You see that white blur in the middle of the screen at 1:40. That’s Sammi Khedira. A few second ago, he was inside his own box but now is on a long bursting run going the other way. Shouldn’t somebody pick him up? Granted, maybe Yaya and Marquez thought that Puyol had fouled Cacau and that the play was stopped. However, you have to play to the whistle and Khedira was on that run even before the supposed foul. That is no excuse.
  •  1:40-1:50– Molinaro thinks quick and lobs a pass to the wide open Khedira and suddenly we are in a world of trouble. Pique is marking Povregnyak (their #9) while Maxwell is marking Gebhart (#13, their left winger), both of them doing their jobs when suddenly Khedira busts free. Where are Marquez and Yaya? Jogging back. Damnit! The first rule if a counterattack runs by you is to burst your lungs out and get help to your defenders before the attackers’ help arrives. Yaya and Marquez are effing jogging! Maxwell has to leave Gebhart (#13) to pick up Khedira, praying that he can hinder him enough until help arrives (not knowing the help is jogging back) thus leaving a wide open Gebhart on the right.  Maxwell hinders Khedira enough that Povregnyak, who has the right idea and is making a diagonal wrong to drag Pique out of position, does not have time to do this and Pique reacts in time to block Gebhart’s shot. This might be considered a slightly fluke play due to the “play on” but Khedira’s hard run and our midfield’s inability to equal his effort is what I want to highlight. Even if the foul had been called, one of our guys should have matched Khedira’s run. This is an example of what I mean when I say that they out worked us.

What will be different: On the bright side, this is very fixable. Sometimes “be smarter”, “work harder”, and “play better” is all a coach has to batter into players’ heads to improve a team. A disturbing trend in this season’s team is coming out asleep for the first half, get into somewhat of a hole, and then turn it back on for the second half. We cannot afford to keep tempting fate like this. During last season’s CL run, we turned grey performances away only to jump on teams with astonishing ferocity from the opening whistle when we got to the Camp Nou. Hopefully we come out wide awake and fully motivated tomorrow. I know it sounds stupid considering my penchant for fancy diagrams and tactical phrases but sometimes it’s that simple.

Diagonal Cover and Positioning

However, it was not only in the hustle department that we were lacking. Our high pressure scheme implies and overload towards the ball. An inherent weakness is that we open ourselves up for effective cross field passes. However, we compensate for this by pressuring the player on the ball close enough to prevent him from either seeing the pass or getting it off. Additionally, we always have a player assigned to provide diagonal cover and delay or turn opposing vertical runs towards the touchline until help can arrive. The most dangerous problem we had in the first leg, impotent possession and lack of width not withstanding was our positioning. Stuttgart got quite a few good looks in counterattacks and that was a huge problem which we were lucky not to lament. Sometimes by focusing on how we score we forget that breaking up counterattacks is an equally important part of our game. With Abidal, Keita and Alves (our three most athletic midfield and defensive players) out, we had to be more diligent than ever in our positioning but we were not. Clips:  

  • 2:07-2:12- What’s one of the best ways to break our overload high pressure? Crossfield passes. What happens when we let the opposing player turn and our forwards don’t pressure hard enough? The ball gets played to their right fullback who instantly has a highway of open space ahead of him. Part of this is the nature of our high pressure scheme but part of it is faulty positioning and effort. If a player gets off an accurate crossfield pass when we are applying high pressure, the receiving player will have space to turn and run.       


  • 2:12-2:22- Molinaro is somehow afforded a free run right into the edge of the box where he puts in a dangerous pass to Cacau. How did this happen? As far as I could tell: lax pressure which allowed the crossfield pass, great movement upfront by Stuttgart, Puyol sticking to Hleb instead of passing him off, and Yaya being out of position thus being unable to provide lateral cover, and once again jogging back.


What will be different:For starters, judging on present form, Busquets will likely start at Defensive Mid over the Yaya. We will need our man mountain this year but lately he has simply been off form and a UCL game is not the time to get it back. Secondly, Alves is back which will give us extra pace to track back counterattacks and relieve the pressure on Maxwell to bomb forward to provide width thus allowing him to be more careful. Furthermore, it takes away the need for Xavi to hug the right wing as much thus giving him more freedom to set a solid base along Busquets and provide cover when needed. Thirdly, although Milito is no roadrunner, he has much more pace than Marquez so as to keep up with Cacau when the situation calls for it.  This is a perfect game for Keita but alas, although he is on the squad list, he has not been given the medical clearance as of yet.

Fullbacks: Their guys were good, ours were not

Coming into the away leg, we were in something approaching an injury crisis. On defense, we had Puyol and Maxwell at fullback and Marquez and Pique at centerback. In the midfield, we had just lost Keita to injury and were coming out with Busi, Yaya, and a just returned from injury before anticipated Xavi.  Up front, with a slumping Henry, we had Iniesta, Ibra, and Messi. Hmm… Where are our obvious personnel weaknesses in this line-up? Fullbacks. What did Gross (Stuttgart’s coach) do? He came out with a defensive structure that is most exploitable by attacking fullbacks, daring our FB’s to bomb up and our other players to use them.  In the following sequence we can see this in action as well as a common theme that Kevin rightly points out is frequently affecting us this season: bad decisions.

  • 1:22(pause)- Stuttgart here copies a page from Chelsea. It’s a 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree in the phase when we are starting our possession. Something we had trouble solving last season but by no means a grand innovation. However, it’s a wise choice because it exploited one of our personnel weaknesses for this match: our fullbacks. This look flat out outnumbers our central midfield thus making it harder to supply our forwards and make it to the edge of their box. Look at how bracketed Xavi, Yaya, and Busi are. The way to bypass this pressure is through the wings. As their front three pivot to pressure the ball, one of the fullbacks will always be wide open. Look at Puyol (also note the huge space behind him).  Wide open. This was a theme during the game. The weakness of their scheme could be exploited by our fullbacks both of which were second choice players somewhat lacking in pace and recovery speed.
  • 1:22-1:34- Maxwell does not like what he sees, gives the ball back to Pique, who then reads the situation and changes the point of attack. This was well done. However, Puyol was the open one, not Messi. Right read, wrong decision…which turned out well because Molinaro, the Stuttgart left FB, muffed the clearance which led to Messi getting loose behind their defense. This was a bit of a lucky bounce since Messi will usually not come down with an aerial long ball against a much bigger opponent but ideally, Alves would have gotten the ball and advanced it into the danger area, Messi would go to meet him and if Molinaro followed, it would have opened up a space for Ibra or Xavi to run into and all sorts of fun chaos would have ensued.  Also note around 1:23 how hard their midfield three ran to the other side with when we switched the POA

That sequence is just an example. A disturbing trend in Alves’ absence was the effectiveness of opposing attacking fullbacks. Against Atletico Madrid, the same story unfolded. The lack of Alves’ forward forays and Messi being played as a 10 meant that the opposing right FB felt comfortable enough to bomb forward, often to great effect. On the other side, Henry’s slump has resulted in Iniesta or Bojan playing too far back and, again, letting the FB feel comfortable enough to make forward forays. 0

Throughout the game, Puyol got dominated by Molinaro and Hleb. Part of it was due to his teammates ignoring him and part of it was a lack of chemistry with Xavi and Messi. However, he also got run by like he was a traffic cone quite a few times. Often times, the battles on the wings between winger/fullback tandems are simply about imposing their will. Poor Puyol got caught out in no man’s land often, ignored in possession and attack but also caught up field at the same time. It was not a good time. Maxwell, although generally more sound than his counterpart (as he should be given his age and natural position) was also guilty of the occasional screw up.

However, just like Messi and Xavi share the blame for letting Puyol be abused, Iniesta and Busquets also get their share of the blame for some defensive blunders. Why them? Because in defensive phase, the fullback usually picks up a striker or a winger, a marauding fullback is the defending winger or midfielder’s job. Maxwell and Puyol were guilty of getting caught up field and not imposing their will. However, the likes of Busi and Iniesta often fell asleep when dealing with opposing fullbacks on overlaps. Example:

  •   2:34-2:54-This is the Stuttgart goal. Notice Celozzi (#27) the right FB and Gebhart (#13) the right winger. They are the throw in team. At the throw in, we have Busi on Celozzi and Maxwell on Gebhart. Once the ball goes inside, Busi shifts in as he should (being a midfielder during this game, after all). Notice Iniesta. He gets caught ball watching and jogs after the ball, leaving Celozzi all alone and two on one with Gebhart against Maxwell. On the wing, in overlap situations it’s the same concept: the winger helps his fullback. Maxwell does the “right thing” and marks the deeper man (Gebhart) thus leaving Celozzi a free cross which Iniesta somewhat half-heartedly contests and Cacau converts into a goal. The cross was perfect and I can’t fault Puyol in the sense that he was in the right position but simply got outjumped and beaten by a perfect ball. The point of this sequence is to illustrate how we repeatedly forgot about their fullbacks and also how we seemed a bit “asleep” intensity-wise. Fluke? I think they deserved it.

As if that’s not enough, this sequence highlights the full range of our ineffectiveness in the first half of the away leg:

  • 4:16-4:40- Try not to cry. Where do we begin?
  • Pause at 4:17-Iniesta makes the wrong pass (to a covered Messi instead of an open Busi). However, look at Maxwell. WTF?!?! What is he doing there!? Busi is in good position to cover but Maxwell is so far back that Iniesta has to back Busi up in case of a break. Messi then promptly gets dispossessed and the counter is on. In fairness to Busi, he is in proper position to provide cover but is embarrassingly dribbled. However, he does his job, recovers, and finally stops the ball carrying midfielder against the touchline. However, Celozzi (#27) the right FB takes off and overlaps Busi’s man. At this point Maxwell is only now catching up but can only hope to pickk up Khedira who receives Busi’s man’s pass and promptly passes to the wide open Celozzi.
  • Pause at 4:29- This is good positioning by Yaya and Pique. However, Pique slips and Povregnyak is wide open past Cacau because the entire backline had to shift to their left to pick out the threat. Meanwhile, Stuttgart has an extra man because a fullback is occupying half of our defense. Meanwhile, the guy who was supposed to track back with him (Iniesta) is jogging back.
  • 4:29-4:40-Pique slips and Celozzi goes by him but Busi pops the ball away but it falls to Khedira who pops it to Cacau who promptly proceeds to pathetically overpower Marquez. Argh…

The point of this sequence is that Maxwell got caught out WAY out of position while Iniesta did not have the energy or inclination to track back and cover for him. It’s not meant to single them two out but to illustrate how important it is for wingers to be on the same page as their fullbacks and understand their roles.

 What will be different: Again, that man’s name comes up: Alves. We often take him for granted or get fed up by his acting or tendency to freelance. However, he is among the best in the world at what he does. The reason he plays like a thug, play acts, and talks trash is the same one for which he runs his guts out, and goes all out: imposing his will on the right wing. His presence alone with his feel for the position, chemistry with Xavi and Messi, and pace will be a big difference from an exhausted Puyol. Furthermore, expect Henry to keep Celozzi honest with not only his sIashing runs but also his work rate on defense. Finally, expect Xavi and Iniesta to do a better job of covering Dani or Maxwell on their forward forays. Assuming that Gross repeats a similar tactic, the game will be won or lost on the wings. Our winger/fullback/midfielder tandems better be ready. If there is a chance to exploit Stuttgart, I have a feeling it will be there. If Molinaro and/or Celozzi feel the need to get cheeky again, we need to exploit the vacant spaces that they leave open behind them. Henry and Messi have to take better advantage of that space. Either way, in my opinion, Henry and Alves will make the difference.



Recap and Prediction

So, in summary, we screwed up and were lucky to turn it around in the second half and come out with our hides still intact. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a different story, personnel wise.  Xavi is back to full health, Ibra is rested, Milito has progressed immensely in his recovery, and Alves is back. This will go a long way to correcting some of our failings in the away leg. Alves will be especially useful.

After re-watching the first leg, I was very impressed by the movement of Stuttgart’s forward line. Povregnyak is much faster than he appears despite his size and Cacau is the real deal, a smart dangerous forward who uses movement to maximum effect.  Our centerbacks have to be alert, communicate well on hand offs, and must have diagonal cover against Cacau and Kehdani’s bursts from midfield. We need to see a disciplined midfield and keep a solid base. Once we adjusted late in the second half of the away leg, we began to look like we could comfortably take care of business. Thus, I don’t think we need any serious tactical shifts. Our biggest tactical problem besides width was the wings and that can be solved with Henry pushing one of their fullbacks deep and Alves providing an extra man in midfield. We need to be alert, be smart, and keep the damn ball. We will have to see if Gross comes out with a similar strategy but, with their players and our giving an equal amount of effort and being equally alert, we should win and comfortably too.  If that’s not enough, the Camp Nou is also wider, with properly maintained grass, and it does not have a crane inside.

Finally, and most importantly, we should expect for the team to be fully motivated and awake from the start of the first half. We cannot keep sleep walking into first half’s. My Jimmies and Joes rant still applies. We have to play well and leave it all out on the field. We do that and get a little bit of luck and we should be through. I do not expect a walk in the park. Then again, I didn’t against Bayern and Lyon during last season either 😀 .

Squad (*note: two of these guys will be left out):Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Márquez, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Ibrahimovic, Messi, Bojan, Henry, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Milito, Jeffren, Maxwell, Touré, Keita and Fontàs.

Projected Line-Up:Valdés, Maxwell, Milito, Pique Alves, Iniesta, Busquets, Xavi, Yaya,  Henry, Ibrahimovic, and Messi

 [UPDATE!!!] I wake up todayonly to read that Xavi injured himself in the very last training session yesterday. He’s out for 10-15 days. After writing this whole damn thing, this changes everything. Keita has practiced but he has not received an official medical release. Somehow, I don’t think a UCL start is the best way to debut after a long lay-off (unless you are Xavi of course) so Yaya should get the start. In the meantime, the Yaya-Busi combo was not so good last time around and Iniesta has been below his standards lately. However, the Busi-Yaya tandem has a lot of potential if both guys play up to their level. The absence of Xavi will put a huge burden on Iniesta’s shoulders to manage the game and control the tempo on his own. The last time that happend, we won but he failed, in my opinion. It will be more important than ever to not concede because our possession will not be the same. All we can do is believe in Iniesta and hope that Yaya is motivated and puts in his best performance in quite some time. Like I said, positioning and diagonal cover is absolutely vital, we need our man mountain to dominate NOW. So yeah, I sure as hell am revising my predicted line-up and game prediction.   

Prediction:  3-0 FC Barcelona (4-1 aggregate) I think we finally learn our lesson and come out with a point to prove. The Camp Nou is a different beast on European nights, Pep will have the boys fired up, and the return of Alves will be one of the key tipping points.   2-1 FC Barcelona (3-2 aggregate) Xavi’s absence, given the late form of Iniesta and Yaya, changes everything. I now expect a tight cagey game. Hopefully Iniesta and Yaya surprise the hell out of me and come out like gangbusters but my pessimistic cynical self is somewhat more worried now. This affects two very important parts of our game: possession and diagonal cover. Hold on to your hats, folks. It may be a tight one. If Yaya and Iniesta regain their form then we should take care of business but that’s a big if at this point.

 The press conferences have so far been nothing outside of the usual bland chatter. Pep, understandably, has called for “maximum concentration” and “maximum tension” while Gross remarked how “we must stay together and not be afraid”; nothing juicy or controversial.

Regarding our team news, Keita has been called up to the squad even though he has not been given official medical clearance to play. On the other hand, Puyol is now a serious doubt for this game with continuing back pain. However, given Milito’s recent form, this loss should be manageable but we should all hope that the Captain’s back pain is not one of those lingering niggling injuries that haunt a player throughout the season. We need Captain Caveman for the rest of the season.  

 Time: 3:45pm EST (New York) Check your local time here.


Oh, and just for the heck of it. Congrats, Samu!

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A diehard culé since the Rivaldo/Figo Judas days, I am also a rabid Argentina and Boca Juniors fan despite definitely not being Argentine. Read more articles by me by clicking on the name-link.


  1. Kxevin
    March 16, 2010

    Whoa! I got Hectored by Hector himself!

    Anyhow, to repeat. Patrick made a comment that Inter must be happy about the Eto’o/Ibrahimovic swap, and I would say no less happy than we are, as Ibrahimovic is the sole reason that we have the whip hand at home.

    Further, yes it was a well-taken goal. But he also missed chances, and flopped around on the pitch like a gaffed sea bass, which isn’t the leonine Eto’o that I remember playing for us.

    • vicsoc8
      March 16, 2010

      I’m surprised you didn’t get transported to an alternate universe where you would meet Guardiola “the architect” in a room where the walls are covered with TVs endlessly playing scouting videos.

      • March 16, 2010

        LOL. Awesome. 😀

        Before Ramzi corrects you though, Michels would be the architect. Guardiola would be more along the lines of Morpheus.

    • March 17, 2010

      Oh no I’m much much happier with Ibrah…. I was just pretty bummed with seeing Samuel struggle a bit and the things I was hearing out of inter fans about him. I just like watching players I like succeed, as long as they aren’t succeeding against us 🙂

      Inter fans get their “Big Game” striker (*snicker*) and we get the best man/ninja in the world to run point in our 4-3-3. Win-Win.

      • March 17, 2010

        Ohh and I’m calling an Henry goal today. Just feeling it. The man is due.

  2. vicsoc8
    March 16, 2010

    I believe I’ll be running the liveblog. It’s my first time, so take it easy on me!

  3. Pyro
    March 16, 2010

    Hector you’re a U of M alum? I live in Ann Arbor.

    • vicsoc8
      March 16, 2010

      I’m more interested in the fact that he’s a “former banker turned pseudo-engineer.” What a combination

      • March 16, 2010

        Its kinda overstated. “Pseudo” as in not real. Long story short:

        I got a BBA, was in I-Banking for a while but didn’t like it so much as I thought. Now I spend my time designing, fixing, and consulting on security and fire systems. Hence the “pseudo-engineer” part. I’m not one but what I do is similar to what one would do.

        • Phil
          March 17, 2010

          That’s interesting. I spent some time in high school working for Simplex/Grinnell fire and security (a division of Tyco). Did some field work doing some fitting and some design for fire sprinklers. I don’t think I’ve ever randomly met someone else in that field.

    • March 16, 2010

      Hell yeah. Go blue!

      Alas, I have moved back home to warmer climates but I still visit every now and then in the fall. I used to religously ditch classes at the Business School and watch the UCL at Good Time Charlie’s with the soccer team and a bunch of internationals.

      Good times.:D

  4. Colin
    March 16, 2010

    The thing about Eto’o is he’s just not physical enough to score against English competition.


  5. fcb-gow
    March 16, 2010

    yo guys chelsea got knocked out and if we progress well have a very good chance of progressing to the final…only inter and man u left now and inter is shit

  6. jordi™
    March 16, 2010

    Those lowlights were painful to watch 🙁

  7. cliveee
    March 16, 2010

    jesus, hector! what a nice preview! love this style of video analysis like crazy. isaiah’s sure are masterpieces too, but since he left his in the bottom of the sea, we can all get hectored and have fun.

    yup, 3-0. we go forward.

    (barca training, with keita included + pep’s press conference, with an english reply at the end)

  8. March 16, 2010

    Now you all see why I don’t do previews. Nice one, Hector. Great analysis, or view to a swill, if you like. 😀

  9. vicsoc8
    March 16, 2010

    Just a quick note on time of the game. As I understand it because of daylight savings time the match will actually be starting at 3:45 PM EST time. That’s what time the CL matches began today, so I believe it will be the same tomorrow.

  10. jnelson
    March 17, 2010

    I’ve been reading different reviews of the Chelsea-Inter game and I’m really starting to think I was watching a completely different game. Inter, playing their best match of the season!!!!? Are you serious? They were getting pounded ALL THROUGHOUT the first half. What about the level of cheapness? I dislike Chelsea and was hoping they would get knocked out, but now I REALLY dislike Inter. Thiago Motta is a pitiful cheater. And Lucio? T-Rex is a foul machine. And what about the billion incidences of time wasting? Classic. Aside from some good free kicks, I was not impressed with Sneijder, or his crying every time a pass of his did not result in a goal. Still, EE has got to be kicking themselves about he and Robben progressing to the next round.

  11. Karo
    March 17, 2010

    Nice preview, dude. Love the deep analysis

  12. March 17, 2010

    Oh, no, you predicted a 3-0 win. You know what happened to Madrid after Ramos made a similar prediction, right?

    Seriously, I’m kind of spooked right now. This is shaping up to be a strange year in European football. Let’s hope it doesn’t get stranger. If we carry over the form from the second half of Valencia, we’ll be golden. But we must stay humble.

    And yeah, I think the game will be at 3:45 EDT.

  13. March 17, 2010

    Wicked review Hector!

    Last season we blowing opposition away in the first 20-25 minutes. I can only think of the champions league final when Man U had us on the ropes in the first 15 minutes. What’s changed about approach this season? I don’t think it’s mental fatigue because the players we have are immense and the hunger for more glory is very evident. One might contend that teams have figured us out to an extent but we haven’t raced to a 2 or 3 goal lead in the first 20 minutes at all this season. Barring Ibrahimovic, we have the same attacking 6, so something is definitely amiss.

  14. barca96
    March 17, 2010

    wow what an in depth analysis. how much time did you spend on it?
    this is probably the best post i’ve ever read, if not together with ramzi’s( can’t remember which one)..superb!

    imo, henry should start the match and tire out the defenders like how he did a few times this season. and then 2nd half lil pedro comes in to delver the knock out blow.
    pep should just play messi at RW. keep him there.
    and play yaya. if all this happens, im sure it will be like the Lyon match(ours last season, not EE).

  15. March 17, 2010

    Good review Hector.
    I wouldn’t worry about the width when we have Alves and Maxwell as fullbacks. Really. The thing is, if we want the fullbacks to do their job well we need to cover behind them. That was a huge problem in the first leg (With Puyol insisting to be an Alves on the right rather an Abidal, Marquez getting Hlebbed and with daydreaming midfield). Against Almeria, Alves suffered from the same problem of not being covered, he started to slow down his runs the further he moves on the field which backfired on his contribution defense wise and offense wise.

    That’s the sexy selection that you predicted (our only choice if Keita is not available and Yaya is not ready).The one that includes no security cards, and you no better about security stuf. The same old Russian roulette situation, either it delivers a trashing or it collapse. But the feeling is good.

    My check list for any champions’ league every season:

    – Chelsea getting knocked out (I dont want that team to win this competition, and it has nothing to do with last season mess). Checked.

    – Real Madrid elimination (though in a more advanced stage). Well, I can’t complain.

    – Barcelona winning it. My check list is doing well so far.

    Congratulations Eto’o. Hope to meet you in the following round.

    Oh yea and:

    “Michels would be the architect” true that, Hector! That’s a copyrighted privilege for the Einstein of football.

    • March 17, 2010

      Hey Ramzi,

      – 100% agree on cover.I would love for Keita to be there in the starting line-up but I don’t think a debut from a long layoff in the UCL is in his best or our best interests. If he was healthy, 100% he would be there.

      – Iniesta worried me this game because he did not cover the opposing fullbacks when Maxwell bombed forward. Busi didn’t do that bad in providing cover against Genhart but once Celozzi overlapped, he was home free often. It was a weird ass game in terms of intensity and motivation but that worried me (although not as much as Yaya jogging all over the place when at times he should have been flat out sprinting).

  16. Cesc Blanc
    March 17, 2010

    Anyone having a Barca blog group on Yahoo for March Madness? Frankly, to me March Madness is the greatest tournament on earth(yes, better than CL, yes better than freaking World Cup, yes, I live in Europe and say it).
    Hector, I really digged your Fab Five back in the days, but what your University did with their history, trying to eradicate it and everything, is very very low. No one on earth(which means outside of Michigan and some parts of the US) would even know WTF Michigan is, if it wasn’t for Chris, Jalen, Juwan, Ray and Jimmy.

    Back to topic: I think the 2 factors speaking for us will be Alves, and possibly Henry giving us new width. Plus the home field factor, where we can just stretch the defense and get space more easily between lines. Still, we need to be focused as hell as it will be a tough ride and 3-0 is a bit optimistic IMHO.
    Besides, I just had a look at the results of the last great European team(Sacchi’s Milan) and let’s just say that they in their second win until the semifinal 5-0 against Madrid were rather poor and lucky too, so it’s always difficult to be there in the 2nd year.

    • March 17, 2010

      I’d be in. Make it on CBS, I’m already in a few different pools on there. Or I’ll make it.

    • Hector
      March 17, 2010

      Alright, old school Fab Five! It’s a bit more complicated than that, CB. Its college athletics so all the players are supposed to be students and thus are subject to rules about benefits or cash received. A booster by the name of Ed Martin gave a bunch of Michigan players money under the table (as “loans”) and the coach (Fisher) did a horrible job of regulating the program. It’s a long story: *

      Part of it was voluntary but other parts of it was mandated by the NCAA. Either way, the basketball program is still struggling to climb out of the hole those sanctions put it in. Jimmy is now doing the commentary at the games and Jalen is still much loved and is spending more time in the program now that he is retired. The only one of the Fab 5 who is not universally loved by the community is Webber because a lot of what happened could have been avoided if he had not been selfish and lied to a Grand Jury. Jalen took a much smaller amount of money but was up front about it while Webber cost the program big time. Anyways, long story 😀 .

      I’d sign up for a group. I haven’t been able to follow college BB lately due to work and UM sucking out my sould with their inconsistent performancess so I don’t have any brackets done yet.

  17. Bojan
    March 17, 2010

    Well, i am new to this blog and i thank god for leading me to find this fantastic blog with fantastic analysis, great members, and good writing i hope i can contribute a little to this wonderful blog.
    At first hello to everyone i had posted few replies earlier but my name is Bojan (same name as our Krkic) and i’m from Macedonia. I am what you will say “With my heart and soul for Barca till the grave”. Many hellos to all bloggers here.
    I would like to say something about the upcoming match with stuttgart witch i think their way to this phase of CL championship has been quite lucky. The problem with the first game i found in the broken corespondation with the players in the field. Many mistakes have been made and mentally they were all on a diffrent page. The key to winning this match by opinion will be the agressive connection of the midfield with the attack, it will be crucial for the strikers to penetrate deeply into stuttgart’s defence early in the game to destroy stuttgart mentally first because we all know that when barca needs a victory that it can sure put a massive bombardment of infinite attacks witch will result in goals. The Messi(ah) is in a really good shape after Valencia’s destruction so he will surly massacre the stuttgart’s defence, because frankly i doubt that stuttgart has a defence that can stand of a massive attack when barca may bleed. The victory is secured i know but we must consolidate the defence because i think that milito is better option than marquez but inferior to the talent of Puyol. Maxwell is holding the left flank tight, i he will surly build attacks from the left flank but the defensive midfield witch i refer to Busi must stop attacks often to stop the counter attacks that stuttgart will be hoping on.
    At the end Barca has nothing to lose even with 1-0 but that will not be our Barca that destroys everything in his path to the tittle. I predict 3-0 or maybe 4-0 depending on the moods primary of Ibrahimovic and Henry (i think) Messi, (my idol) Xavi and Don Andres are always up to the challenge so i think we wont have any problems tonight. Dani is furios on the rihgt flank i dont fear nothing on that side, and Valdes our Stonewall, as one member named him will be same too. Viva La Barca and on to victory. Many hellos bloggers from me!

  18. yogi
    March 17, 2010

    Good preview.

    I think we might see Puyol at RB rather then Maxwell. It will be a tight match.

  19. Helge
    March 17, 2010

    Wow, that was once again a lot of knowledge to absorb, Hector. Great!

    I really hope that Henry starts and Maxwell plays a more defensive fullback today. This CL round of 16 has been crazy so far, I think all possible surprises are already consumed (unless we see a CL season like 03/04)! So no more upsets, we’ll go through.

  20. Nick
    March 17, 2010

    Pep confirmed that Puyi will start. The bad news is that Xavi got injured during training and is now out for 10-15 days. Also, the refs of Spain are pissed off with Pep’s comments about the two bastards (Clos and Gallego) and have asked RFEF to sanction him.

  21. adal
    March 17, 2010

    Interesting that both Inter and CSKA Moscow who shared the same group with Barca qualified for the last 8. It kindav shows what a tough group it was. Now it’s the group leader’s turn to reach that stage, too 🙂

      • March 17, 2010

        And it’s impossible to have them both in our group then in the last eight, or else we would have been eliminated since the group stages. Only two qualify per group 😉

        But it may sound even better to put it this way: in our group we had Kazan. The league champions where CSKA Moscow plays.

  22. Keano
    March 17, 2010

    They probably knew he was injured a couple of days ago,but just to throw
    stuttgart off announced today

  23. Nordin
    March 17, 2010

    Xavi is out,so our midfield should be Yayha busquets iniesta? Or should Keita come in? i hop ehe doesn’t play Dos Santos or soem inexperienced boy. Than we are really screwed.

    • barca96
      March 17, 2010

      don’t think so pep will play thiago and jds at this stage and especially at this moment. plus, they were not included in the team. fontas was the only youngster.

  24. March 17, 2010

    Xavi’s injury changes everything. The official line-ups and prediction have both been updated above as has the time (its 3:45 pm EST, NOT 3:00pm).

    • March 17, 2010

      Obviously if Yaya or Keita are ready, they will get the chance in the midfield. But I will not hesitate a bit to go for Busquets-Iniesta-Messi in the midfield, with Pedro-Ibra-Henry in front. A bit tricky though, as one of the two fullbacks need to be more conservative while the other is doing an offense contribution.

      Saying so, I am taking in consideration that Pep is not that playful when it comes to tactical structures. Or else –If it will be up to me and you are lucky it isn’t- I will go for this one:
      Alves-Puyol-Milito-Maxwell in defense, with Pique-Busquets-Iniesta in the midfield. Messi free role and Ibra+Henry in front.

      While set offense the two fullbacks bomb forward to stretch the field and Pique serve as a third CB with Puyol and Milito.

      • Hector
        March 17, 2010

        I like it! You would make a good Brazilian, Ramzi 😉 .

        Alas, like you said, Pep is not very playful in that sort of thing.

      • cliveee
        March 17, 2010

        would really like to see a hell of a keita-yaya-busquets midfield.

  25. Eklavya
    March 17, 2010

    Brain … still … absorbing – *BANG* – sljdhfslycamhfakdsbsdb 80

    My two words of the preview: Holy Crap! (in the good sense duh).

    Also Xavi is out for 2 weeks (~15 days).

  26. Eklavya
    March 17, 2010

    Ahahaha 😀 I read the preview and type in a comment: the page refreshes and I see:

    “After writing this whole damn thing, this changes everything.”

    LOL, poor Hector 😀

    You also changed the score prediction … tututut

  27. Kxevin
    March 17, 2010

    I’m still confident, as we are a much better side than Stuttgart. Consider that they played the match of their lives while we played like burbling dogshite (as Hector so eloquently lays out above), and they could still only draw us. In their house. Does anyone really think we’re going to go down to this club at home?

    Iniesta will have to man the hell up. And with Messi now on midfield duty, it just adds another layer of terror for Stuttgart, particularly if Henry and Ibrahimovic are up for it, and I have little doubt that they will be.

    Yes, we were first-half shit against Valencia. But this is the deciding leg in a Champions League tie, and we have the memory of EE fresh in our minds. Much of the footy world would love to see us with egg on our faces, as well, which will give the lads an underdog mentality.

    I’d love to have Xavi, but I’m not really worried.

    • March 17, 2010

      Xavi absence may even increase the alert level in the dressing room. That’s good as well. I guess…

    • cliveee
      March 17, 2010

      iniesta will be the xavi that we need. not worried either. i’d opt of yaya to play with busquets if he is ready. but iniesta will do the trick.

  28. Nordin
    March 17, 2010

    This is why we need fabregas. We lack depth in our sQuad. Last year we should have played Gudjohnson. The youngsters are not going to solve these problems in important games.

    • March 17, 2010

      Fabregas won’t come here to play Xavi’s backup. Besides, Busi actually slides into that role pretty well IMHO, especially with the YAYA behind him.

      • Blow-Grenade
        March 17, 2010

        Totally in agreement. Busi fills in the Fabregas role. No 1st team position for Fabregas. Exactly the lineup I have in mind as well.

  29. fcbfan
    March 17, 2010

    First, hell of a review Hector!

    Xavi injured? not good. but still optimistic we’ll go through. Come on Barca, the last liga team standing!

  30. Kari
    March 17, 2010

    I wake up to find 3 very unexpected things:

    1) Hector writing a preview/analysis (yay!)

    2) Xavi injured (W.T.F)

    3) Me missing the game (traveling to Toronto to visit family)

    Does anyone know where I can watch the full game after ( doesn’t replay CL games and rojadirecta has never worked for me 🙁 )? Thanks in advance!

    • Hector
      March 17, 2010

      If you get the UCL on FSC in Canada then the game is being re-run at 11:30 pm tonight. You can watch it then, maybe?

    • Nick
      March 17, 2010

      Roja works for 100s of thousands, so you must be doing something wrong. Ask if any help is needed.

      • Kari
        March 17, 2010

        Thanks for the heads up Hector! I can find an FSC stream online (veetle)

        Nick, the thing with Rojadirecta is that you have to download, right?

        I don’t know what player it supports (e.g. real player, windows media player, etc.), so when I download a match, it doesn’t work. Sometimes when the screen just goes black…

        It IS likely that I’m doing something wrong (I could be getting it from the wrong place?) .Maybe someone could explain what I do and where I should go?

        • Blow-Grenade
          March 17, 2010

          Hey Kari, sometimes the Barca games coincide with my work timings and I watch matches of Rojadirecta. For most part Divx works.

          Otherwise use VLC media player. It is an open source media player which supports most of the codec’s. I love it and watch most of my content on it.

        • andrew M
          March 17, 2010

          use VLC to play it. use VLC to play everything.

    • Blow-Grenade
      March 17, 2010

      Hey Kari, this is your fellow Canuck. You can watch the game at any of the Irish pubs downtown Toronto. here are a few on King street and Queen street. Most of them have the soccer game on since they have a European based clientele, and the match times do not coincide

      Here is one:
      Duke of Devon
      66 Wellington Street West, Toronto Dominion Centre, TD Tower, Toronto, ON, M5K1G8

      The Duke of Devon is right in the middle of the action in downtown Toronto. Easily accessible by Wellington Street or the underground PATH, the Devon is located in the financial district, five minutes away from the Air Canada Centre. It is also in close proximity to the Rogers Centre, Eaton Centre and the Hockey Hall of Fame. The pub fare menu includes: rib-eye steak and caesar, shepherd’s pie, crispy duck salad, Bombay curry chicken, and fish and chips wrapped in a daily newspaper.

      • Kari
        March 17, 2010

        Thanks for the info 🙂 , although pubs aren’t for me.

        The thing is my ride comes at 2:30pm, so I won’t be in T.O until probably around 8 or 9pm.

        Man, I’ll have to resist checking the score when I arrive. Hopefully a vintage Barca performance will be waiting for me!

  31. Kari
    March 17, 2010

    Quick! When was the last time we won without Xavi?

    Oh wait. 4-0 against Racing 😀

    Still, Stuttgart and Racing are two different teams…

    • Jim
      March 17, 2010

      …and my recollection is of Iniesta playing a very reasonable game in that role.

  32. The strength of Barcelona and Stuttgart are too wide in the gap. If Barcelona put all in this game, Stuttgart can be easily destroyed.

    Barcelona are with an away goal advanatge so Stuttgart must attack today. Hence the back-line is open for top form Messi and I expect Barce to big win here.

  33. Kxevin
    March 17, 2010

    More crazy crap to wake up to:

    –RFEF wants Guardiola sanctioned for daring to tell the truth about the ejection incident. How ’bout that? “See, we can make shit up, but don’t call us on it, and don’t you DARE present video evidence. That man must be slapped down.”

    Sport says that we are going to grab either Torres or Villa as a replacement for Ibrahimovic, who isn’t meeting the standard. This is my favorite, because we’re so ready to toss a player after a single season, one who Guardiola wanted, and one who didn’t get the opportunity to do any work with the club in pre-season, etc.

    Sure, that’s gonna happen.

    –Will Flo Flo ever learn? The latest rumor(s) is that Thong Boy would be on the block for the right offer, and he wants to grab Fabregas, Ribery and Silva, to “complete” his Project Treble, that they said was complete when they spent the GNP of a small nation last summer. Oh, yeah …. Benzema might be out.

    I love rumors, for the hilarity that they bring.

    Oh, yeah …. my desired lineup for today:

    Alves Pique Milito Puyol
    The Yaya Iniesta Busquets
    Messi Ibrahimovic Henry

    • Jim
      March 17, 2010

      Although I’m not impressed by Ibra so far, that is nonsense. He deserves a full pre season and another season before we make any long term decisions on him. Having said that, the addition of Torres wouldn’t distress me much.

  34. Helge
    March 17, 2010

    OMG! Not Xavi again…
    He will also not play @Zaragoza, against Osasuna and @Mallorca :'(

    • Kxevin
      March 17, 2010

      I’m pretty sure that he’ll be back more quickly. They always are.

      The cool part about the Zaragoza trip by the by, is that the club will be traveling by AVE, the high-speed train. I took it between Barcelona and …. you know, and it was a delight. Fast, comfortable and a lot cheaper than flying.

      • Helge
        March 17, 2010

        Woh, wait a minute… do you want to say that you visited the City of Evil?!? How can you dare 🙂

        I didn’t know about this high-speed train, I only knew TGV from France. I wonder if Barca books a complete wagon, or the complete train.

        • March 17, 2010

          I did, Helge. Briefly. Wifey wanted to visit the Prado. I wore my soci pin proudly on my sportcoat lapel. The looks I was getting from some people were priceless, particularly with it being days after El Clasic. 😀

          They’ll probably rent a car up in first class.

        • cliveee
          March 17, 2010

          u are the man, kxevin, if i were there, i wouldn’t do the same.

    • gv
      March 17, 2010

      xavi injury could be a good thing for us. it’s time for iniesta to step up. to be honest, inesta has been pretty inconsistent for us. busi also need to have one oh his better games.

      xavi also needs some rest. yeah, it was a bad timing for his injury, but he could be fresh for the el classico.

      i believe we can still beat stuttgart. having keita available too could really help us a lot.

  35. Blow-Grenade
    March 17, 2010

    I believe the lineup for today will be:

    Alves Pique Milito Maxwell
    The Yaya
    Busquets Iniesta
    Messi Ibrahimovic Henry

    I know that the Busi Yaya partnership in the past has not worked. But that was because Xavi was playing directly in front of both Yaya and Busi. This time around since Xavi will not be there Busi will be playing in front of the Yaya, and I have noticed that Busi does very well there in that slightly attacking position.

    I will still go with the 3-0 prediction. Here is hoping to see a lot of Busi, Alves and Messi triangles.

    Visca el Barca.

    • Eklavya
      March 17, 2010

      Actually Busi is at his best when The Yaya is behind him.

      • March 17, 2010

        At least the first leg two halves against the very same team we will play against today makes that conclusion inaccurate 🙂

  36. Kari
    March 17, 2010

    Last lineup when Xavi was out, vs Racing:

    Puyol – Marquez – Pique – Maxwell
    Busi – Yaya – Iniesta
    Messi – Henry – Bojan

    Team rating by Kxevin: 6 “A little clunky, a little funky, but they got the job done, then coasted through the second half”.

    Notable points: A rare off game by Valdes (a 5); Puyol deputized for Alves, receiving a solid 7; Marquez an 8, and Pique a 5. Yaya was also a 7 with Busi a 9, and Kxevin suggesting that Busi ask Guardiola to play Yaya whenever he’s playing. Iniesta had a killer match scoring a 10, with the front line all rated a 5 for a variety of different reasons (Henry rusty, Messi not enthusiatic enough ( 😀 ) and Bojan wasteful).

    On Bojan, Kxevin said:

    “Krkic: 5. Excellent effort from CT, though I confess to having absolutely no idea how the hell he didn’t have a brace. Dude was on the doorstep twice, and both times couldn’t turn the trick. Amazing energy and industry, and for the first time in a long time, he looked confident on the pitch. It showed in his play. Guardiola is hitting the pipe if he thinks that CT is a “9,” but what do I know, right? But that one shot in which he froze his defender, made space and smoked that rocket at the keeper speaks to his immense potential.”


  37. cliveee
    March 17, 2010

    i would not start zlatan today. i will play him in the second half though. pedro will be on the right while henry in the center. zlatan will force them to crowd the area, but a change in the second half will make them hard to adapt, especially on our home ground.

  38. March 17, 2010

    We all talked about how Sergio is a man-child when he has security behind him, and with Yaya in the lineup, I hope that’s the case.

    When Biscuits is able to let loose, and play a maestro role, good things happen. Just watch his pass to Ibrahimovic against Atletico, it’s UNREAL.

    If that Sergio puts on the red and blue, I think today is going to be fun to watch.

    However, it seems that with Sergio, the key element is comfortability. I know I sound like a Bud Light commercial, but I’m serious. If Sergio is relaxed, he is a quality player who deserves a spot in South Africa, but when he’s perplexed or anxious, we get a header that sends Aguero 1-1 with Valdes.

    Now here’s the kicker. These two examples of Biscuits were in the same match! His unpredictability is a classic example of a high-risk high-reward sort of start. IF we come out firing like we did against Munich last year and present a confidence and swagger along with possession, I can see MAN MOUNTAIN and Biscuit holding it down on lock while Ghostface wreaks havoc outside the 18. This aggression and swagger sets the tone. Coming out knowing you’re the best squad in the world, even if not on it’s best form, is what makes Champions. It’ll allow us to try the unimaginable, which ultimately leads to brilliance and all of us with our jaws on the floor.

    OK back to Iniesta.

    Look for him to do his dribbling outside the box, or inside, and expect him to get kicked. We’re going to need our set piece boots on today too, but that’s a whole other tangent.

    Let’s do this, and kick Hleb back to whence he came.

    Visca el Barca

  39. Bojan
    March 17, 2010

    At first thanks guys i am sure we will have a nice chats here. Second and trust me i yell this “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO NOT XAVIII ” i can’t let my idol to get injured now but anyway it can happen and now that’s a problem to think about. As we know Xavi is the base of the Barcelona playing ideology. It’s like Pep never thought that Xavi or Don Andres can get injured so i think it’s crucial that Barca brings Fabregas this summer. Also knowing that we need a victory, its obvious that everything will be concentrated on the opposition half so having a two DMF’s with one CMF role (meaning of Busi) will be a great way to stop counter attacks that Stuttgart only hopes. Not to mention that we are playing at Camp Nou :). Also yaya and busi together can manage to help destroy the opposition forming an attack and also alves or maxwell can bombard the flanks. Something tells me that Iniesta will play a classic CMF and that maybe just maybe Pedro will have the role of an AMF but still that will be a risky step because Pedro is not adapted to play midfield he is more of a winger. Anyway i trust Pep and i know he is going to make a perfect formation rotation. Oh, and i must also add that this smells like a trick to think that Xavi is maybe injured but he surly will appear in the field just like the Rooney injure upcoming the Milan’s return match. Anyhow i am certain at Barca’s win today. They are just superior and once and for all to tell Hleb that he does NOT belong in this Barca team. As a matter of fact i always hated Hleb. He is not a player that can fit anywhere than Germany. Spain is just to magical football for him. Thanks. Viva La Barca the World Champions.

  40. Helge
    March 17, 2010

    Yaya will play for Xavi and Pep has a “big surprise” in attack, according to
    What surprise will that be? Jeffren, Ibra and Pedro in attack? Or more like a surprise of Henry, Ibra, Messi? 😉

  41. Museum
    March 17, 2010

    Hey y’all, been awhile since I posted. I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed with Madrid and Chelsea both getting knocked out. I was really, really hoping to get both of them this year. Chelsea over two legs and Madrid in the final. I love watching both of them lose, and having Eto’o do the honors at The Bridge was beautiful, but it’s never a complete Champions League for me if we don’t get Chelsea. And that’s why I’m writing. I absolutely cannot stand Chelsea. I think it goes back to those ties we had when Mourinho was still there. I never liked them, and after last year I dislike them more than even Real Madrid. There’s just something about them that really gets under my skin. Beating them last year was almost better than winning the final, and Iniesta’s goal is my favorite goal of all time. I lost my voice screaming at the TV.

    My question: am I nuts?

    • Kxevin
      March 17, 2010

      No, you’re perfectly sane. I just don’t hate any club more than I hate the EE.

    • Bojan
      March 18, 2010

      You are not the only one my friend i got neighbours knnocking on my door to shut the hell up 😀

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