Truth is elsewhere – Denis the menace

This is a guest post from Davour, who you can follow on Twitter as @Davour10 and who has previously appeared in this space. If you are interested in guest posting, just write something up, and reach out to team@barcelonafootballblog.com.

Not long ago I decided to finally join Twitter. I found myself visiting anyway, and thought I might as well establish a timeline of my own, with selected (primarily) Barça accounts. Limiting the amount and trying to carefully select who to follow enabled me to enjoy a relatively balanced and interesting feed of thoughts and opinions.

Even so, thoughts from the more chaotic parts of the culerverse slip through, via comments and likes and whatnot, and it is fascinating to follow the minds of people so ingrained with hostility and bile, and inability to discuss an issue in a civil manner. The humor is sometimes spot on funny, Twitter’s perhaps greatest appeal. But more it is often crude – bantering derailed into simplistic attacks, bouncing off each other without anyone listening or trying to understand.

My way, or f**k you.

But the perhaps most prominent feature of all I have encountered so far is the iknowbetter. These voices always seem to see the truth that escapes the coach: “if only…so.. Why doesn’t he understand”. It would certainly be interesting to watch a team being coached by the average sum of Barca Twitter’s opinions!

The Czech author Milan Kundera has written a novel called Life is Elsewhere, about a posturing poet with political ambitions. The title came to mind in this context. The Answer is Elsewhere would, I think, be an apt way of naming the predominant attitude of Twitters posturing pundit-wannabes with coaching ambitions. And the answer at the moment, for many, is Denis Suarez; the self-appointed heir to Iniesta himself. But who isn’t playing.

It seems a few promising cameos from earlier in the season have elevated Denis to suddenly become some kind of answer to our woes: to our lack of control and creativity; to Messi’s lack of playmates (well, Paulinho…); of a continuation of “The Barça Way” (he has Xavi’s shirt number, for crissake!), La Masia credentials that he has, if rather thin.

To my mind, Denis is a good player who has potential yet to be fully developed. He has
purpose and alacrity, sprinting around making himself available, even scoring one or two goals from a LW position. Then suddenly, he is gone. He has made way for Gomes, or should play instead of Rakitic, or Luis Suarez, or… Just get him on the pitch, goddamn it!

So, why isn’t he playing? Personally, I don’t think he will ever be consistent enough to command a place in Barça’s first eleven, but then again – I am no coach. Valverde, however, is – and with a few years under his belt at that. And he seems to agree. Denis
seems to be lacking in… substance? There is something flimsy to his game, some lack of proper command and solid end product. But he looks right, and seems to do the right things that a Barça mid should – in contrast to Gomes and Rakitic, say. And there is a
rumoured connecting with Messi (that’s stems from last pre-season, I think).

All in all, opinions might differ, and he should get his chances, but there is little to suggest Denis would make any big waves. Reports have it that Carles Alena outshone him in the copa.

So, why has he suddenly received this status, then? You guessed it. He is not playing, so he is the elsewhere upon which one can project one’s iknowbetter-ideals. He is proof Valverde does not go for youth or La Masia or short, technical players, the Barca way, etc. etc. We win, sure, but something ain’t right!

In a sense, I think he functions as a surrogate for the Coutinho so many hoped for. Or Thiago. Or…

At least until he plays.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

19 Comments

  1. Jim
    October 31, 2017

    Good to see this guest post, Davour. Agreed on Suarez minor. However, we have more pressing matters at the moment so I’ll return to it.

    It’s not been great has it ? We’re the better side and Deulofeu should add a little to our creativity but midfield a wasteland, defence at sixes. We haven’t really created much – Suarez should also have done better and Messi fluffed his shot but there’s a bigger question about this formation which I reckon was formed with Ini in mind when he’s not here tonight. I’d love to say to stick Deulofeu on the left and give Suarez his preferred side but then we lose a lot of Deulofeu.

    Still have to reckon we’ll find a way though.

  2. Messiah10
    November 1, 2017

    Thank you for the guest post. I’ve been debating about jumping on Twitter myself. The only reason would be to follow the BFB crew & some of the people they follow.
    I’m not sure we need to look anywhere. Kxevin posted our numbers this year. Dominating. Defense has been solid for most part. Before the season began most of us were hoping we could hang in this season & stay close to EE after the Super Cup drubbing. We now sit 8 pts clear of them. Granted, it’s early, but we have won games we would have lost last season. We aren’t clicking on all cylinders yet & have only conceded 3 goals. The Bilbao win was huge. We did what was needed. Another clean sheet. Then yesterday we did what was needed. Another clean sheet. I would start Deulofeu & Semedo and use Roberto as a super sub who could come on with 20-30 mins & provide a spark in midfield. When Pau Pau plays we seem to break buses down much easier. The quick 1-2’s are there.

    • Davour
      November 1, 2017

      That’s basically what I do on Twitter. Apart from that bubble, it is not a nice place. One comment this this post was that “I understand… shit post”. Subtle. But a fun way to spice up the games, if you avoid the verbal violence.

      I have to admit I am hesitant about Deulofeu as a starter; he needs to nuance his game or else defenders’ tired legs would be his best asset. Showed some indications on the left side, so we’ll see.

  3. Jim
    November 1, 2017

    There is certainly a growing question regarding the two transfer windows starting with Vidal and Turan. For me, it was a shambles in that we brought in about half a dozen journeymen, well short of Barca quality for their positions. The worst thing is that it was obvious about a month into the first season but sticking to our rule about getting a free season it’s only now it’s fair to ask who would you keep out of Vidal, Turan ( I admit I thought he’d be better) , Rafinha, Suarez and Gomes . That’s an awful lot of duds and only right that some sporting project heads have rolled.

    You add that to Rakitic, Paulinho and SR ( yes, I know he’ll always mean something to us because of events but he’s no RB and I’m not sure he is a starter in midfield for any decent Barca midfield and we end up with the last couple of games.

    We can talk about Suarez up front ( interestingly Messi has probably missed At last as good chances as him over the last two or three games but his contribution, rightly, can’t be questioned) but nobody else is scoring so where are the goals coming from if not Suarez? Suarez is low on confidence but for me nothing to worry about, maybe apart from the pass to Messi where he should have shot himself. That isn’t a good sign. Forwards can have spells where they miss everything but need to keep on having the confidence to get into position, which he is doing, and pulling the trigger. Interestingly, Deulofeu, although pretty poor was actually not too bad on the left which I didn’t expect so maybe that’s an option to allow Suarez to stay more central.

    Anyway, sitting watching RM hoping for Ramos to emulate his Girona feat of managing to get beaten twice in the same move for Girona’s first goal ! He’s genuinely not a world class defender for me. Any inclusion is based on goal scoring prowess and Madrid cache. A win for Spurs tonight could throw RM into a second place spot. Yesss!!! Just as I write this Spurs score, at least partly thanks to Ramos at the near post shepherding the cross ball to his non existent goalie rather than cutting it out as any of our CBs would have done. Life is good . . .

    • Davour
      November 1, 2017

      Don’t think January will bring much of incoming, but hopefully outgoing. I agree our midfield (CMs) is mediocre without Iniesta. Busquets had to step up and do the attacking as well (some wonderful passes for Messi). Gomes’ eradicated any good work he has done lately – almost comical (in a tragic sense) how he failed to make anything happen, losing balls, looking confused. And Denis did little to change my mind (considering this post) – he’s alright, but Villareal was a better fit. Paulinho brings something when the context is right, as does SR (if not as an ideal starter) – but the rest? I would not object to selling them all (in the summer, Arda and perhaps Vidal in Jan)

      I think Suarez has looked a little better, and one ro two goals might do wonders. But I think you’re a little harsh on Messi in trying to defend Luis. Messi has missed a few but only one real sitter (which he also orchestrated). And he scores as well… But we have little choice but to hope Suarez does find his scoring ways again. .

  4. Jim
    November 1, 2017

    Fair point about Messi’s sitter although it’s also fair to point out it was Suarez who played a perfect return ball to set it up.

    Anyway, I’m loving this Spur Real match. Since my last post Ramos has failed completely to shut down Dele Ali and actually turned his back and deflected it into the net then completely sold himself when far too far up the pitch to allow a break for Spurs’ third. It’s carnage !

    • Davour
      November 1, 2017

      It was indeed! And on the Spurs-RM, Ramos got a taste of his own medicine; him famously chopping down Messi comes to mind…

  5. ooga aga
    November 1, 2017

    Bad news folks. Sergi Roberto is out for about 5 weeks. Andre Gomes is out for 4 weeks. Looks like Denis Suarez should get some playing time. With Iniesta out (and Rafinha, and Turan…) we only have Busquets-Rakitic-Paulinho-D Suarez for our three midfield spots. Oof. Lucky we have a 2 week break coming up.

    • georgjorge
      November 2, 2017

      That’s bad news indeed. A midfield that seems solid, but lacking sorely in creativity going forward, especially against tightly packed defenses.

      Thanks for the article, Davour! I see what you say about Denis, the word “flimsy” does indeed come to mind. However, I’m still wondering whether he (like Sergi Roberto) couldn’t become a true first XI player if he got a prolonged period of starting matches, and whether confidence in his own abilities doesn’t play a big part here. He does many things very well (though his defensive side still needs improving).

      It’s the old problem – a player who is not yet good enough to become a full starter, but who could be if he only was allowed to start more often. Given the pressure Barca is under to win every match, I also doubt that he will ever become more than a squad player at Barcelona.

      • Davour
        November 2, 2017

        Thanks. Well, seems he will have his opportunity now. I hope he proves me wrong, but generally I believe he has had enough chances to show more than he has. Even if the famous difficulty of adapting to Barca is true, generally you can sense the potential (like ter Stegen who has become an absolute elite keeper this season, or – for me – Semedo).

        I also hope Alena will get some minutes – he is my “elsewhere”, I guess! But has already shown more potential than Denis, even if he is far from the finished product.

  6. Messiah10
    November 3, 2017

    I like the thought of Alena and giving some minutes to youth. Let’s see if EV promotes or gives a debut. That would be refreshing.

  7. georgjorge
    November 4, 2017

    Hmm, Paco and Luis Suarez in the same line-up, so one of them on the left? Not too thrilled, whatever happened to Deulofeu?

  8. Davour
    November 4, 2017

    First: important win! First half was absolutely brilliant, except for the finishing, as this game should have been closed after about 15 minutes or so. Frustrating but fun. Messi, Iniesta and Busquets making the difference. Watching Iniesta, it becomes so obvious was most other CMs lack – the calm, composure, vision and touch. Just sublime. How often do you see Iniesta passing it back? Only when absolutely necessary. Speaking of passing back, Rakitic did have a pretty good game, I thought, while Paulinho made nobody happy with his game. Note how he failed to track back after losing the ball towards the end of the game. Messi ran back, the Brazilian could hardly be bothered. Worrying, if you ask me.

    It will be intriguing to watch how EV handles a Suarez who got lost in the swamp, while Alcacer scored twice. Paco did by no means have a great game, but he did his job. Luis is simply lost – despite having a decent start of the game – and is costing the team, failing to pull off anything. Even the assist was luck, to be honest.

    We can only hope rest will do him well.

    But for now – leaders!

    • georgjorge
      November 5, 2017

      Very good game from the team. Sevilla – despite not being as good as last year – are still one of La Liga’s best teams, and they didn’t have much of the ball in the attacking area yesterday while Barca created many chances. Especially in the first half the speed of the passing was breathtaking. Iniesta with another masterclass in long-range passes into the area.

      Suarez – you said it all. He needs a goal, and soon.

  9. Jim
    November 5, 2017

    Another good win although hard fought in the end. Hopefully EV saw enough with the two forwards playing upfront to go with that again. It makes a huge difference having them both in the box and will mean more space for Messi as well.

    I thought Ini was again outstanding. If this is his last year he’s leaving us with some great memories. There was the usual moment where he’s surrounded by three well in our half and if you blinked you’d miss them all paying for read mission. Even the rather poor Sky commentator captured it well by saying it looked like he was in a different time zone ! I also thought Rakitic had a much better game. Graeme Souness summed it up for me today putting words to what I’ve been thinking. The great midfield players always have an eye to playing the ball forward. They may not always do it but that’s their default. Rakitic for me too often looks scared to take the responsibility but was much better in this game so well done to him. He moved with the ball and seemed more interested in going forward. Special mention to Paco, of course. Took both goals well and that can only do him good which in turn has to be good for us. Mention too for EV who I think is realising we can’t play with just one up front and who has tried almost everyone there. I’ve think I’ve seen more tweaks in his short time than most of LE’s. Anyway, Paco worth another go there.

    Only because folks will know I hate us losing bad goals a word about this one. It’s easy to look at it as just Pique should have headed it clear and indeed there’s an argument that he should have been out to meet it like a train. However, for me there was a lot more to it than just that. It began with Umtiti selling himself way up the pitch. He knows there’s only Pique behind him. Alba should have gone with the man who received the flick on and both of them should have been quicker chasing back. I’m tempted to think our guys were a little fatigued second half on what must have been a terribly heavy pitch. Great saving tackle by Semedo. However, the goal itself was avoidable and for me is down to Semedo and Umtiti who both lost their man at the corner giving him a free run at the ball. He comes from behind Pique who can’t see him coming. Yes, I’d have liked him to clear it but his job is a zonal one and if anything his priority is the number 20 who is inside the six yard box and about a foot taller than Alba ! So, not a good goal, although the guy took it really well.

    Suarez ( because I can hear the lets play Paco up front on his own murmur ) had for me a pretty decent game. I’d like him to score,obviously, but his movement and awareness are top class. His assist for the first maybe should have been cut out but he asked the question with a beautiful ball which left the defender running back towards his own goal having to control it first time on a slippy pitch.

    For our second goal stop the video at 64.15 when Messi gets the ball. They have three at the back against Paco and Suarez. The number four in the middle of the line of three defenders has Suarez in his sights and knows that the number two behind has Paco. Watch what Suarez does then. Instead of making the obvious beeline for goal in the hope of the low cross ( which eventually arrives to Paco) but which would have been easy for him to block, Suarez ducks behind him and switches with Paco. The number two has no option but to track Suarez’s run leaving Paco able to steal in on the blind side of the number four unobserved. It’s the sort of stuff he does all the time up front.

    With regard to his goals, they will come. I sat and watched the Man Utd vs Chelsea game today ( it was rather good I thought – Cesc was great as was Hazard ). Anyway, when Morata scored the commentator announces that both he and Lukaku had been on a six match run without scoring. Switch over to RM tonight and it seems Benzema has only scored one this season ? It happens to goal scorers ….

    The thing Suarez does need is a rest. He was way overplayed last year and his workload this has been increased by the formation. Add to that if Uruguay have agreed with Barca not to call him up there is some lingering concern about the state of his knee. Having rewatched the whole game, and aware that I could be reading too much into it, I can’t see it affecting his straight line speed at all but he doesn’t seem to be changing direction as quickly. It may be that rest can solve that but if not this would have been a good time for what is apparently minor surgery with a quick turnaround.

    Anyway, in other good news, Ronaldo, goalless, was left pleading with the ref in the last ten minutes of the Las Palmas game for a penalty every time the ball came into the box, but without success ! A bit sad, really. Samper is back from lengthy injury but after playing last week was back on the bench as LP adopted a weird see how quickly we can lose the ball formation. Sadly, Sergi could be creating a new record for being relegated twice in a row before his 23rd birthday. Manager, in the job for about a month (?) is apparently losing his job.

    Finally, I’m not sure whether it’s down to the situation in Barcelona but the good lady and I decided to investigate a shorter stay than we’d intended in Barcelona sometime in March ( about a fortnight). Ryanair are offering me £34 return !!! However, word of the “disturbance” seems not to have reached the owners of apartments there. In conjunction with the plummeting pound it seems it’ll cost an arm and a leg to stay there now. Things reached an all time low when my good lady suggested I could go back and do a little supply teaching to fund a visit to see the team.
    🙁

    Finally, and on the topic of nothing in particular, last night In the pub I was having an argument with a few fellow supporters of my hometown team about a bad tackle and the discussion came round to what was the worst match violence wise we had seen. This was and still is my choice. Celtic playing Athletico Madrid at home in the semis of the European cup. Worth eight minutes of your time ( if only for a glimpse of the great Celtic manager, Jock Stein, and the magnificent Jimmy Johnstone !

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CpxoTiKkvw8

    • November 5, 2017

      Umtiti and Semedo got picked by a well-run play. They didn’t lose their man. They got rubbed off on the play. You also have players standing around ball watching. Alcacer is one, Pique is another. We have seen,, in this space, CBs such as Mascherano get eviscerated for goals such as that one, even when the entire goal is broken down as garbage in, garbage out. Why is Pique different?

      He was watching the ball, but should have also been looking behind him. Elite CBs shouldn’t get snookered like that. Yes, Semedo and Umtiti let themselves get picked. That’s on them. But Pique should also have done better. It’s why Phil Schoen astutely asked whether Pique should have done better.

      Further, there is a player watching the pick and run develop, Busquets, who for whatever reason moves AWAY from the action even though it should have been clear that the pick was being run for Pisarro, who was running free.

      So yes, it was a crap goal to give up. But for me, laying it solely at the feet of Semedo and Umtiti is like blaming Mascherano solely for, say the equalizing Classic goal last year, when he got fouled by Ramos.

      Umtiti was playing like a Barça CB. He and his teammates got caught out by a brilliant bit of skill, and some slack-ass “defending” from Busquets, who was also out of position there. The play was a mess from the beginning.

      What Semedo should have done was immediately sprinted over to cover the loose man on the right. But if he does that, Muriel almost certainly smokes Pique and gets a 1v1 on Ter Stegen. So Semedo made an instant calculus to rely on pace to solve a problem, and did. The defense should have been able to defend a set piece, but didn’t. It happens.

      I have written time and again in this space about the complete genesis of an allowed goal. The general view is that it comes down to one player. It never does, the way Barça defend. Players will always be caught out of position if a team pulls off a move of the quality of that Sevilla attack, which was brilliant.

      • Jim
        November 6, 2017

        I’ve no problem with a goal being the product of several mistakes or even none and just good play from the opposition. I thought I was careful to explain why I thought others could have done better as in the cases of the move with Alba and Umtiti being slow to get back. I also said I could see the argument that Pique could have raced out for that header from the get go. On the move I agree Pique might have been beaten but he did a decent job of slowing the guy down and an Alba in particular or Umtiti should have been able to recover to help.

        Anyway, for me Semedo did well there. He was offering cover to Pique and you’re always better forcing them to make an extra pass. As it proved, because his positioning was so spot on it forced the guy to lob it over him and the pass was so slow it gave him time to get back.

        For the corner I can’t in the world see how either Alcacer or Busi could have any blame apportioned. Alcacer has been given his position on the edge of the area for any second phase and is never near it. Busi does exactly what he should have done which is to get, and stay, goalside of his man, the number 15. He does what Semedo and Umtiti should have done.

        Having looked at it again, I suppose there is a bit of an excuse for Semedo has nowhere to go in that Umtiti is blocking him but if Umtiti has indeed been elevated to one of the top CBs in the world ( not in my estimation although I think one day he will be) then I’m seeing no reason why he can’t stay goalside of the scorer. ( I’m not sure what you mean by ” rubbed off” . Im assuming you mean blocked ? )

        We’ll have to disagree on the point of zonal marking for Pique. He has his main job inside the six yard box and the whole point of zonal is that you don’t have everyone chasing the ball. I agree we expect too much of Pique at set pieces and it is remarkable he gets to so many but you can see him step towards the 20 just in case he gets a flick to it. That is his job. To then suggest that he has time while moving and judging the flight of a quickly incoming ball to swivel and check behind him for other targets who should be man marked is expecting too much. You can see what he thinks of the non marking as he turns to the others and gestures “who was marking him “?

        Look, I’m a big fan of Umtiti. We have a gem there. But he is still a raw talent. He has gobs of talent, judges tackles well and can play the very difficult game we expect of a CB with his feet. He’s not as good as he needs to be in the air and he’s still learning positional play at Barca. If I’m being very picky I’m also not as convinced as some that his speed is exceptional. However, many of these small areas come only with experience. The fact that he is playing as well as he is I find amazing and exciting. I wasn’t having a go at him and he doesn’t, for me, have the track record of Masche in these things. It’s just the way I see the goal.

        • Davour
          November 7, 2017

          Won’t add anything to this, but would like to take a bow for a very fine example of how to discuss football using arguments and examples, despite disagreeing.

          Cheers.

    • Doug
      November 6, 2017

      Thanks for posting that Youtube link – that was pretty amazing to watch. Atletico were a bunch of thugs. Can’t believe Celtic didn’t win – especially with AM down 3 men.

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