Barça 2, Betis 0, aka “Back to the basics”

In times of crisis, everything is a crisis. It’s only logical. The team and its manager talked of dispensing with the mental detritus of the glorified Community Shield in the SuperCopa and the destruction by Real Madrid, to get the season started right and begin the process of building a team.

That process began Sunday, with a visit from Betis, a team that on paper, Barça shouldn’t have had too much trouble with.

The complexity, of course is that in times of crisis everyone wants to extract what they can from the situation. So there were people saying that Betis was a banana peel, with a smart coach, some smart transfers in and a good system. There were also people saying that Barça was a crapshow of mediocrity, a damaged team that would begin its decline against this Andalucian upstart.

Hardly anyone knew how to manage what transpired, which was a workmanlike dispatching of a lesser team, a task that last season was fraught with complexity. Barça didn’t lose La Liga by dropping points to big teams. It lost via the Alaveses and Betises, mental lapses that turned what should be another day at the office to a clunkfest. This all made what happened at the Camp Nou significant because there was nothing to see here. Barça wasn’t at its best, but it isn’t supposed to be. It was, however supposed to do exactly what it did, which was to beat a team solidly destined for the lower half of the table.

This is all good. What is also good are the signs that Valverde understands what is needed, which is to simplify. Keep the ball, play compact triangles, pass it around and put things in the hands of the folks who understand how to play Barça football. This means men with Masia pedigree in Sergi Roberto and Messi, the drivers of the train. The former was omnipresent, answering the “What is everyone’s problem with Andre Gomes?” question by being everything that the Portuguese midfielder isn’t: quick in every way — brain, feet, decisions, actions. He was physical, omnipresent and even scored a goal.

sr

Messi, reprising his vaunted false 9 role, had a hat trick of posts, and was exemplary as Barça returned to attacking and defending with eleven. The result was that when possession was turned, Betis was always advancing into equal or superior numbers. The one time that they didn’t, Mascherano did what Mascherano does in taking the Betis attacker’s soul. In the ensuing melee Barça notched its second goal, then went into preservation mode.

Deulofeu, once he got the early craps out of his system, was another highlight. He was (almost) smart on the ball and unselfish. He was also tracking back on defense, playing like a man who understands that this is his last shot at a big club. And Nelson Semedo. Wow. The bargain of the transfer window at 30m? Given the state of things, he would be 60 right now. There was a nasty rumor being floated on via Twitter that some “Barça heavy hitters” said that he was worse than Douglas. The Tweet was subsequently deleted, as it should have been. Semedo has pace, intelligence and is already fitting into the pass-and-move Barça system because he doesn’t dwell on the ball.

In the second half, Valverde experimented with Vidal and Semedo on the right, an interesting notion that also brought something Barça hasn’t had of late — pace. On the pitch at the same time were Jordi Alba, Semedo, Vidal, Umtiti and Deulofeu. We saw on more more than one occasion a potential Betis attack thwarted by someone running it down enough to slow things down and let the press do its work.

The match wasn’t fantastic. But it didn’t need to be. It needed to be effective. That it was is worthy of note. There are those who will downplay what happened because of their needs. There are those who will overblow it because of their needs. The reality is that the team was exactly what it needed to be — no more, no less. At this time of distractions and complexities, that in itself is laudable.

Windows sliding shut

Iniesta said, sign some people. Busquets said, sign some people. Valverde said, as clearly and directly as any of them, SIGN SOME PEOPLE!

Hours …

The new joke is, of course, that X or Y player becoming official is only a matter of hours. Or days. Pick your chronological measuring stick. There are eleven days left in the transfer window and Barça, being the equivalent of the sailor whose pockets are stuffed with money while on shore leave, has a problem. Everybody knows you have money, so there are no bargains to be had. Semedo would cost 60m for the club now. Efforts are being made for players such as Coutinho (still, despite arbitrary deadlines that have come and gone), Dembele (a matter of hours. Hours.) and Jean Seri, who seems the most likely actual addition at this point.

Amid all of the scoffing and snarling about how everything sucks, it seems important to reiterate that the club is run by the president and his board, and the team is part of the club. You can love the club, detest the board, want the president gone and support the hell out of the team. Life offers us shades of grey that we so often strive to make into black and while. Loving the club doesn’t make anyone a board supporter. It makes them a culer. Supporting the team and wanting nothing to do with the politics doesn’t make anyone less of a devotee. It just means they have less crap in their life.

There was a time when loving the club was precisely that: embracing the totality of the entity that is FC Barcleona. But recent events and behavior forces the more devoted culers to parse, to take some of this, leave some of that, spit on the other.

It’s also important to not let any animus color a worldview. Just because you think the board sucks doesn’t mean they aren’t working to make additions to the team. They are, after all, trying to save their asses not only with signings, but in making the moves that will help bring about the sporting success that might stave off a soci mutiny. Agusti Benedito is working on assembling signatures in support of forcing early elections via censure motion. He needs 15 percent of socis to support him with signature, which is a massive nut to crack. But the membership has never been more disgruntled from the sound of things, even as there are members who believe that as long as the balance sheet is strong, the board is doing well. Just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. Both can be true.

The reason any of this matters, and the reason the Betis victory was just business, even as it was nice to see it be just business, is that the team isn’t the same as it is going to be two weeks from now. Players will be coming, and players will be going. Valverde understands this, and is coaching the team like a mobile phone user who has to reboot a device in safe mode. It’s the basic functions, stripped of all excess and adornment. And the phone works, just like the team worked. For now. But it’s a temporary state. You use safe mode to solve problems, just as Valverde used basic mode to make his team function and solve problems presented by an absence of ultimate talent and creativity in key positions. This is where tech support comes in. Let’s see what happens.

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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.

120 Comments

  1. georgjorge
    August 27, 2017

    Aaaand…media reporting that, barring some arguments from the Uefa (as if), PSG have an agreement to sign Mbappe for another, oh, 150 million this transfer window.

    Honestly, I don’t know why they even bother buying individual players. For that money, they could just buy some clubs wholesale and sack every player they don’t need. Plus they would have some nice stadiums.

    • PPos
      August 27, 2017

      Yeah I heard about that. Apparently is a loan with a mandatory purchase after a year. It’s the only way PSG can circumvent the Financial Fair Play rules. Honestly PSG needs to be stopped. You can’t have an entire country backing a team. You blow up the market and will bankrupt teams that actually rely on being a club to survive not the pockets of sheiks. Man I hope they get dumped out of the CL for 5 years in a row

  2. Lionel Richie
    August 28, 2017

    Looks like Seri & Couto may join

    • Davour
      August 28, 2017

      Robert said that Seri is a discarded option – and question is if he ever were a real option, considering we now loan Marlon to them (=possible leverage for a transfer of Seri). Incredibly weird. He refused to comment on Di Maria or Coutinho, though indicated negotiations with players and said 1 or even two will come (he hopes).

      So, we are left with Masch and Verm as CB back-ups, And Piqué looks a bit tired and half-injured already. Mina coming in January, but he is young and unproven in Europe. Perhaps one of the two above is a CB…

  3. CentreBackJockey
    August 28, 2017

    That’s a good point, it is very odd for tech staff to re analyse and change their minds so last minute. But going by Seri’s comments the deal was real. Hopefully it wasn’t the last chance he gets to go to Barca. Maybe next season.

    With our track record it will be just one expensive signing lol.

    I’m also confused at our set of central defenders. Didn’t Valverde rule out Verm as he mentioned him as one of the players who will possibly leave? Or was that a tactical comment?
    So if we choose to believe our coach’s comments then he plans to go into this new season with only 3 CBs! Talk about risky.

  4. Messiah10
    August 28, 2017

    I’m not sure why we neee to spend 130 mil on Couthino when Alexis could be got for 70 million. Maybe less. I was sad to see him leave & would love for him to come back. Whether he would is open for debate. You don’t know the answer unless you ask the question. He would help so much winning possession back as quickly as possible. I’ve never seen him take a game off. Proven goal scorer & playmaker who provides plenty of assists. He would be even better the 2nd time around bc he’s matured & gotten even better

    • PPos
      August 29, 2017

      Mainly because Coutinho is 25 years old, Alexis is 28, and he didn’t have the best relationship with Messi that’s why he was sold.

    • Davour
      August 29, 2017

      As I understand it, Barca view Coutinho as a potential CM/CAM á la Iniesta, with the potential to play the wing (in, say, 4231, 3313, etc.), while Alexis is a purely attacking player who, I think, would again find too little room in the team. I don’t know if he had a fall out with Messi, but he was definitely restricted in terms of freedom and confidence. Still, that said, he is surely a better attacker, if that is what we are looking for…

      Don’t think he’d be interested, though.

  5. Half and Half
    August 29, 2017

    Disgusting, but predictable, transfer re. Dembele.

    Still not seen a minute we have played so far, it’s testing me but I cant support till change happens.

  6. Davour
    August 29, 2017

    Seems Valverde might use 4231 at times, at least, this season. This formation has received a lot of flack for being defensive (a few years back, every NT used it) and not allowing triangles etc. But… If I recall, did not Spain use it while winning all those titles? For me, on paper, it looks reasonable, considering our players as well Messi’s position (false RW will always unbalance the team, while 3 at the back seems shaky). Use in it against Betis and for me we looked better.

    Thoughts?

  7. PPos
    August 29, 2017

    The 4-2-3-1 formation is a favorite of Jose Mourinho. He employed it to perfection against us with Inter Milan in the semifinal that exposed the true nature of Bojan. I think Valverde is using it because we suck at defending. The 4-3-3 is a very open and attacking formation that naturally creates width and triangular passing lanes but if the team that employs it isn’t wary of transitions when losing the ball. It can leave you very exposed hence the rapid pressing employed by Guardiola to counteract this defect of the formation. Spain did use 4-2-3-1 to win the World Cup with a double defensive pivot of Xabi alonso and Busquets (damn, what class).
    The thing about 4-2-3-1 is that it can easily become a 4-5-1 when a team loses the ball. I think it’s good that we are using a new system because teams have learned to play our 4-3-3 specially now since our midfield is turtle slow with Andre Gomes and Turan, and Rakitic. Xavi, and Iniesta weren’t the paciest players in their prime but they weren’t slouches by any means. Xavi could burn Turan, Rakitic and Gomes easily. I remember the days of the Guardiola system.
    The latest transfer rumor is that robert Fernandez is trying to bring both Coutinho and Di Maria but PSG is playing hard ball because they hate us because we exposed them last season. It’s a huge grudge. But cristiano Ronaldo’s agent Jorge “George” Mendes is helping us transfer Gomes to another team because he is his agent. If Di Maria comes, we will have regained a ton of pace in midfield because he can play LW and CAM or LCM depending on the system. Coutihno same story. If both players arrive, I think we are gonna have Zidane pounding the ground like Benzema had him do against Valencia . I really like the work Valderde has done so far. It finally feels like our team is regaining balance. LE’s team was all attack, minimal mid and shaky defense. Valderde seems to be regaining stability across all lines and most importantly consistency. Attack wins you games. I doubt but defense can be the difference between a quarterfinal exit in the CL and a final berth. Cheers to all and VISCA EL BARÇA

    • Davour
      August 29, 2017

      Good points, thanks. Though it was always going to be a brief moment of home-grown bliss, it is still a little sad to become a club of galacticos, though neither Dembele nor Coutinho are galacticos, but very good players who can be great. In the current post-Neymar market, they are hardly more expensive than Suarez was (though he was a real galactico).

      Apparently, Coutinho for 160m if LFC can find a replacement (read: Lemar?), rumour has it.

  8. ciaran
    August 29, 2017

    My God the last few days have been full of bullshit.
    Coutinho is signed, no wait he’s nearly signed. Di Maria is only hours away, as is Seri. And everyone has been sold, well loaned. Or maybe will just rot in the stands.
    I really don’t know what to believe until some official sources say it. Well, that only matters if they are saying what I want to hear, otherwise it’s just posturing. Yeah, that must be it.

    I don’t know what Valverde’s plans are yet but I’m not sure whether they all make sense. I really agree that having two central midfielders staying very close to each other HAS to be a good idea as he has done so far. Busquets and Rakitic seem to be playing as a midfield duo with support from a third midfielder who is given more freedom.
    I also think that while Roberto and Paulinho are very capable of playing Rakitic’s role, the only one who I can see playing Busquets’ role is Andre Gomes. Gomes has looked poor when he has been ahead of the play but looked excellent at DM v Atletico and in general looks good when he is backing up the play. We have had no succession plan for Xavi, Puyol, Iniesta nor Messi so I feel giving another season to the most viable Busquets successor can’t be a bad idea. (Yes, I do know Samper exists but I feel that he is never going to be able for a single DM role).

    I also believe that a lop sided formation with Suarez slightly left and Dembele on the right wing could free up Messi to a permanent central role with Coutinho as the freer third midfielder should he join.

    • Davour
      August 30, 2017

      Good points, and I agree it seems to be a good idea to create a midfield that stays closer together. In pairing two more defensive mids (against Betis), I felt Busquet’s attacking qualities were highlighted, as well as Rakitic’s defensive work (which is his main role in Barca, after all). It is more clear why we are so eager to go after Coutinho, as he would – on paper – be very good for that third position (Roberto did well against Betis, too). An advantage is also that he WANTS to come… Of course, that is Iniesta’s position, but it is very unlikely that we can rely on him for longer stretches, and possibly he could play in the deeper pairing, too, with Busi.

      Just might work. And thank god the window closes tomorrow night!

  9. TITO
    August 30, 2017

    However it ends i dont like this kind of dragging until the last day of transfer window.
    Its ok if we are talking about minor adjustements to the team but not when is essential to our already started season.
    If you think you should buy big and spend a lot then do it as early as possible and give the coach some time to prepare. This way he’ll need all the luck in the world to fit in Dembele and whoever is coming.
    I dont know why we are so Coutinho attached when there are cheaper solutions and could have been done much earlier like Hazard, Ericssen.

    • August 30, 2017

      While I agree with this in principle, in reality it is not so easy. It is not just up to us if and when a player is bought, there is the selling club too. I also do not agree that either Hazard or Eriksen would have been any cheaper or easier. Chelsea are not a selling club so they are not going to let their best player go, especially not in a season where they are losing their main striker in Costa and they are defending the title. Equally Tottenham are not going to sell one of their most important players when they are finally challenging for the league and are in the CL again, not to mention their owner is one of the toughest negotiators there are!

      I am not sure why we are so Coutinho attached either to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, he is a very good player, I have always liked him a lot, but they seem to be obsessed with landing him. I can only think that the technical team and/or Valverde feel that his attributes and flexibility as either a CAM, LW or LCM make worth all the effort. He is certainly not a controller, but as a link between MF and attack I think there are not many players in the world as good as him. It may have also now become an issue of saving face/pride for the Bartomeu & co ahead of the no confidence vote coming up in September. I have a feeling we will get him in the end, like we got Dembele. When a player really wants out, and Coutinho really does, it is very hard for a club to keep him. He will end up costing 160m+ so an insane amount of money, but it is what it is. We overpaid for Dembele and we will overpay for Coutinho or anyone else we try and sign.

      Interestingly reports outside of Spain, are mostly saying the deal is done (including some reliable sources in Liverpool), while Sport and MD are saying it is very difficult. I have a feeling this is a tactic from Barto, who is now leading the negotiations, so that he comes out the hero who landed Coutinho at the 11th hour even though Liverpool were being so difficult. He basically did the same thing with Dembele. I sense a lot of what is going on is a show being put on to try and make the board look good. Will fail spectacularly if they do not land him though, and even if they do, not sure it will be enough to prevent them from being voted out,

    • TITO
      August 30, 2017

      I read somwhere that Hazard’s selling price is 120 mill which could have been negotiated until now. They had a month since Neymar deal with PSG. On the other hand, Ericssen is surely a much cheaper solution, and while i agree that Spurs owner is a tough negotiatior im certain that where money talks we could have strike a deal.
      Dont get me wrong, i like Coutinho and his play, i just dont like it when we are dragged till the last day of the transfer window. I hope it pays of in the end.

  10. Víctor
    August 30, 2017

    Rumours about Neymar telling Coutinho not to come to Barcelona. Not sure if it’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me given the conditions. (The Club and the player on a legal dispute)

    Do the board really treat bad the players? Seeing Neymar and Dani Alves having a grudge with the board leads me to think that… but, on the hand, it can be that the players expect some kind of special treatment from the club.

    • Davour
      August 30, 2017

      Yes, I also read that rumour was not true… I don’t think it is a matter of Coutinho wanting it or not, cause all signs are that he does, but about LFC playing hardball. It will take 150-160m, which is normally almost double the “regular” price. But these are the times – I would love Coutinho to come.

  11. Jim
    August 30, 2017

    Sky now reporting that the Ox is off to Liverpool. Another midfield place sorted so you’d think they must be planning a last minute departure for Coutinho. I’m sure Oxlaide -Chamberlain would have asked the question of them anyway before agreeing.

    God love you, Ciaran if you’re seeing Barca quality in Gomes. Tbh, I don’t remember his performance against Athletico so can’t comment but he looks way short of speed both in terms of foot and thought and that’s not a good harbinger for success at Barca. If it’s anything to do with us I doubt he’ll still be with us after Thursday but if he is, he’s still entitled to his second season with us as with all new signings.

    However, he needs to have a lot more to show than he did last year and he needs to hit the ground running. No more excuses. If we play two defensive mids he might cope against most but I’m not even confident in saying that. Certainly not any better than Samper in my book. I’d rather have the 40m in my back pocket and Samper getting more than his token hour or so in pre season. Anyway, if he stays we need a few more off and time isn’t our friend. Folk hanging about without a chance of playing makes for a bad atmosphere.

    I’m actually really curious to see how our first half dozen games work out. I like the fact Valverde seems to have his own ideas and generally, if Coutinho comes along with Dembele we recover some of the quality lost along with Neymar. Then it’s down to Valverde’s team building.

    However, by nature I don’t like two DMs ( unless it’s solely to liberate Iniesta) and I hate the empty box and easy time given to the opposition CBs caused by the false nine. I also don’t like the fact we still haven’t “found time” to renew Messi and Iniesta. They’ve been hanging about in training every day for weeks now so that should have been done.

    Btw, not that they’d sell him but I’m not as against Di Maria as a short term measure as some. He certainly wiped our asses often enough with RM and also PSG and adds pretty good ball carrying and breaking lines quality. Not gonna happen though.

    As has been said, weird transfer window. I’m not sure if there’ll be the mother of all last days or nothing happening ( except at Arsenal where you have to think, given the exodus, there’ll be an exit for our beloved Frenchman ! )

    • georgjorge
      August 30, 2017

      One strange thing is that apart from Samper no players seem to have left the Barcelona squad in this transfer window, or am I missing something or someone? Paulinho, Dembelé, Semedo and Deulofeu have been brought in, but we still have Douglas, Munir and Vermaelen hanging around, along with Arda Turan (who I liked at Atléti but whose time at Barca surely won’t do any side much good). Surely some club would be willing to make use of those players? If not, are they just going to sit in the stands indefinitely?

      Of course, better to have that problem than the opposite like at Arsenal, where if things continue like this they will be lucky to field a complete first team for their next match.

  12. ooga aga
    August 30, 2017

    Marlon Santos loaned to Nice.

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