Finale

It’s difficult to remember the last classic that filled me with nervousness and trepidation — probably the eventual 2-6 victory. There was so much riding on that one, and even though Barça was the better team and everyone anticipated a win, the whole dominance thing was still new, that sense of expectation among a fanbase not yet present.

Uncertainty is a weird thing.

This Classic is the first one in a long time where there is everything and nothing at stake. There’s pride, there’s bragging rights, sure, as well as the opportunity to, at least for one day, lord it over an eternal rival.

But Real Madrid is a better team structurally, they are leading the Liga and a favorite for Champions League. Their supporters will be content with gifting us the tercera piece of silver, just as we poked fun at them for celebrating the Copa win with bus tours, and the involuntary transmogrification of cup into plate courtesy of butterfingers Ramos.

The reality is that Barça could drop a manita on RM today, and as long as they win the rest of their very winnable matches — the few that are left in this Liga season, they would run out as champions.

A sense of finality also suffuses this Classic. The coach is leaving, its glittering, ghost-like midfielder has been making rumbles that he might be contemplating a departure. Many players will be gone from this team, a group that feels unsettled in the face of what will be many changes over the summer once the man who will run the show is known.

Most years in recent history the Classic leaves me calm, worried more about the trip to Malaga or Anoeta. There isn’t a culer in their right mind who doesn’t adore beating Real Madrid, nor is there a culer in their right mind who, during this period of extraordinary dominance by a single group of footballers, hasn’t greeted the Classic with a sense of calm that comes from being on the front foot. This Classic, however, feels maudlin, in that way final things so often do.

It’s a time of change at FC Barcelona, as club and team work to regain that sense of calm, that idea that it doesn’t matter what anyone else does, as long as we do what we do. Not helping was the almost childish desperation of initial notions that Barça was going to play with fire and name the suspended Neymar to the team, thanks to a rather blinkered reading of a semantic technicality. Cooler heads prevailed. That’s a start.

Injuries and a general sense of consternation among the entorno has also made this season seem unsettled, as a group unprepared for the reality of the ebbs and flows of cycles have come out, fangs bared, at the slightest sign of weakness. Everyone is lashing out at everything, instead of understanding the nature of cycles for a team, even one blessed with the greatest player ever.

This Classic feels like a finale because so much will be different next season. There are people who are putting knives in the team, saying it’s done. Those people are fools. The structure is too sound, the key players too good for anything like that. Yet, in the sense of change, this is a finale, and a grand one.

Many culers are just counting down the matches to when their bete noire, Luis Enrique, leaves the club, their dislike for a man who has coached the team to a treble and a double rooted in notions of how things are Supposed To Be. For that group, this Classic is just another chance to vent about having been right, about how the team is led by the worst coach in the history of football, or whatever hyperbolic rant is in vogue at the moment.

The tempest of this season has contributed to this feeling like one of the most singularly joyless Classics anyone can remember, or imagine. And that’s sad. This should be a celebratory, giddy day, when Esteladas are unfurled and a united fanbase is ready to spit bile at the team that, even if we can’t agree on anything, should be able to agree on our collective hatred of.

Others understand the reality of the overall situation, and just want the team they love to put on a good show and send out this season in style. They want a lustrous match from Andres Iniesta, the wee, talismanic midfielder who is also the living, breathing manifestation of those glory days, when the ball zipped around the midfield and the world was helpless in its thrall.

Still others have hope, and believe that if the team wins, and an opponent can make RM stumble in the frenzy of Champions League semis, frisky Valencias, erratic Sevillas, capering Celtas and resolute Malagas, that something amazing can happen, the last remuntada for this group.

I just want to watch my team, the team that I love, play. This is a Final in many ways, but even aside from the other factors, the weird things, uncertainties and other complexities, how hard is it just to love watching the men in the Blaugrana strip come out to do their thing. No matter what anyone has invested in this or that narrative, this or that hated player, our lads are playing, and that’s beautiful.

What’s going to happen? No idea. For a change, that isn’t as important as this opportunity to watch my team play. Maudlin? Nostalgic? Sappy? Yep. But sentiment is what it is. What XI do I want to see?

Ter Stegen, Mascherano, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Turan, Messi, Suarez

This is the time to go with the pros, the folks who have Been There. Plus the veterans deserve to strap on the armor for what might be the last time for a few of them. It’s a sentimental XI for that reason. Is it the one that gives Barça the best chance of winning? Valid question. But in the face of injuries and suspensions, it’s difficult to conceive of an XI that does give Barça that best chance of winning. So give the vets some love, and let’s do this.

As Isaiah said, get hyped! Your team is playing. For one match, at least, this time, put aside the crap that roils this supporter base, that splits us into factions. Barça is playing a Classic. No matter what the stakes, that should be enough. Visca.

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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.

24 Comments

  1. georgjorge
    April 23, 2017

    Great again, Kxevin. But for some reason I will now be buggered forever by the question of what Don Andrés is carrying in his little bag.

    • Davour
      April 23, 2017

      Perhaps the new offer? He will need to ponder it. I’m wondering what his thoughts are on this – is it really that he doubts himself? He doesn’t have the assuredness of Xavi, but still… Perhaps he wants to make sure the team does not fully rely on him to be fit and firing (as it really did this year), but that he can play a more senior part á la Xavi 2015? Hard to tell. Latest rumour is Christian Eriksen from Spurs. Would be a pretty good option, and probably better fit that Coutinho. Less unrealistic than Verratti and Thiago. Can’t think of many others who could fill the roll of attacking CM at Barca.

      Anyway – first: hoping for a masterclass of the type the don delivered as he came on during the last classic, when he showed what it means to be a sublime footballer and made Isco, Kroos and Modric look like amateurs!

  2. ChaoticReaper
    April 23, 2017

    Masche? The guy that conceded every set piece we needed him on this season? Give me a break, he’s going out with the trash this summer

    • georgjorge
      April 23, 2017

      There’s no trash at our club.

      There are some players who are not good enough to play in the first team, I’ll grant you that (though I’m not sure Mascherano is one of them). But I wouldn’t ever describe another human as trash, let alone players of a football club I support.

      • ChaoticReaper
        April 23, 2017

        Lineup is in and Masche is nowhere to be found like I predicted

        • Jim
          April 23, 2017

          Lord knows I’m not a great admirer of Masche’s defensive play but only because he’s not a defender by nature and leaves his post or takes himself out of the game with impulsive tackles. If we start talking about attitude or effort he’s right up there with the best.

          I’m not sure if I’d have had him in tonight or not. We are going to have to fight all the way and he’d be good in that respect. However, he wouldn’t make it as CB for me with Pique and Umtiti and I worry about lack of pace at RB against their forwards. Mind you, I wouldn’t have liked to be Bale in the “Bartra ” Copa had he been at RB there He’d have been lucky to touch down much before Row H.

          When all’s said and done he is our player.

        • ooga aga
          April 23, 2017

          Chaoticreaper, you didnt predict anything. Rather, you just trash talked one of your team’s players…and leaders. Are you a troll?

          Visca Barca! 1-2 we win.

        • Davour
          April 23, 2017

          Jesus, what’s with the hate? This is a player who has done a lot for this club. He might not have had the best of seasons, but he was instrumental in the turn-around against PSG. This is a player who made the starting eleven in one of the most dominating games this team has had – the CL-final 2011. It might be time for him to go (though I would not mind him as a back-up, if he would accept to be a squad player), but no need to show such disrespect.

  3. Jim
    April 23, 2017

    And btw if Ronaldo is gonna score tonight let it not be because we don’t go with him and he gets a tap in. Not so worried about Pique as he knows him ( although it only takes a second) but Umtiti is new and occasionally doesn’t readjust position quickly enough.

    Leo’s tally in recent Clasicos isn’t great apparently so we need the rest to step up and offer a threat to take the weight off him. Methinks big night for Suarez.

    Soon be over but I’m looking for some serious game faces and a few tough tackles at the start to show we’re not gonna be soft.

  4. Davour
    April 23, 2017

    Ok, Casemiro has another getaway-class, but I don’t care. Messi’s goal brought tears to my eyes. Three touches, to pass two players and score. How many moments of joy has he not brought me? This game, to me, is a perfect example of the difference between CR and Leo. One player is really good, the other is divine. The team is doing well – Iniesta and Busi look fine, Suarez ok, etc.

    Even game, but we can take it.

    • georgjorge
      April 23, 2017

      Spot on. And only ten minutes after he got an elbow in his mouth as well.

      Today, he cares – a lot. Let’s hope the others can keep up with him.

  5. Víctor
    April 23, 2017

    And swrgi roberto does it again… his play served to score that winning goal… messi and ter stegen were the best today…

  6. georgjorge
    April 23, 2017

    I just wanted to say that wherever we lost the league, it wasn’t this game. The team was very good today, as was RM.

    Well…turns out that Sergi Roberto and Lionel Messi had other ideas about losing the league today. Insane. Many many thanks to the players.

    • Víctor
      April 23, 2017

      I’d add ter Stegen on the list… he made several important saves… he even did 1 that could have been 3-2 for real madrid…

      Overall the team looked great. Which reinforces the idea that Barça needs some adjustments and not an entire overhaul like some people suggest…

      And well, while Madrid still has a complete control of their liga winning chances, this game surely is gonna cause havoc on their mentality… not to mention, they have to face Atleti two times over the next 3 weeks… surely is gonna tire them down…

  7. even more Stradivariuser
    April 23, 2017

    What a match of football! Iniesta: class. Ter Stegen: nerves. Busquets: cool. And Messi: so much HEART. His face looks like like he’s been cage fighting….and yet, DEFIANT. So beautiful.

    • georgjorge
      April 23, 2017

      Messi scored two goals despite being fouled enough times to have two RM players sent off (only one was though). He also tracked back to the Barca penalty area at times. He wanted that win badly – and if Lionel Messi wants something football-related to happen, it often happens : )

      Apart from that, almost all the team looked great. The defense was good despite RM’s many chances, that’s what happens with a defense high up the pitch against a team like them. Suarez still looking for his scoring boots but making up for it with a lot of spirit and harassing of defenders.

      Special shout-out to Sergi Roberto. I had given up on the game, and I hadn’t even been running up and down the right flank for ninety minutes! He just put on the afterburners as if he had been subbed in a minute ago.

  8. even more Stradivariuser
    April 23, 2017

    So many great performances, I almost forgot about the Rakitic golazo.

  9. Davour
    April 23, 2017

    No words to describe Leo – congrats to no. 500! Sergi, thank you again (Marcelo, I forgive your elbow since you didn’t wreck Sergi), and I love the detail that Gomes was involved, and Alba managed his low cross.

    The red was not controversial, so hope that won’t be a talking point. Funny watching Kroos’ face as it happens – like “shiiit, that’s not gonna end well…”

    Whatever happens, we now have two great games to remember this season .

  10. Jim
    April 23, 2017

    I’m gonna give a shout out to LE as well. We had little space between our lines, he allowed Ini to come central to dictate the play without worrying too much about defence ( although he did that as well ) by getting Alcacer in beside him when we lost the ball and get them in the right frame of mind. Seems like he managed all three and if you do that you light the smug cigar and tell Leo to carry on . . .

    Loved SR’s run for the winner. It’s what I mean when I say one of the necessary skills is the ability to go past a man to break the lines but how he had the energy for it I have no idea.

    I know we’ll all have our opinions about good performances but it couldn’t have happened without the effort everyone put in. Yes, some were more vital but after fifteen minutes I thought a cuffing was on the cards. It was then though that Ini and Busi started playing the ball which gave everyone a lift and got us back into it.

    Have to give a shout out to Pique though. He was absolutely immense. Snarling, telling them to calm down and play the ball, dragging that defence up to the halfway line, too many vital blocks and won headers to count, a couple of efforts at goal and he still managed to be in an offside position at our goal after 92 minutes !!! Shakira needs to take his laptop off him tonight or he could end up getting banned for a season methinks. Not that Ramos doesn’t deserve everything that’s coming his way. How utterly stupid is the man . A liability. Btw, Balague said he’ll get a couple of games. Why won’t he get an tea one for the sarcastic clapping as he went off ?

    Kxevin, there is only one pic suitable for the review. The one with Messi proudly asking for his yellow jersey aloft. 🙂

  11. Jim
    April 23, 2017

    And for those more technically minded than me, a gif of Ronaldo’s reaction to Messi’s goal would be well received . . .

  12. TITO
    April 23, 2017

    Funny enough,i think SR is faster when he runs with the ball rather than we he tracks back a player.
    Since the game started i said to my oldest that this game reminds me of the one from 03 or 04 it was, im not sure, when we won 2-1 at Bernabeu with the goals from Kluivert and Xavi.
    They were the favourites, BUT we had a word or two to say back then as well as this evening.
    Brilliant victory, now let’s win all the remaining games and hope for another defeat from them which will eventually come.

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