Barça 2, Celta 2, aka “Finish. That is on you”

We have all heard it from a parent, after we made an excuse for getting caught doing something silly, with the wrong people at the wrong time.

“You shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place. That’s on you.”

Noted Liga scribe Dermot Corrigan said after the match that against Valencia and Celta, Barça played its best football of the season, and drew both matches. There is a correlation to be noted for the observant.

Barça is at its best when playing high-risk football, with everybody pushed up into the attack, pressing the opponent, moving the ball, making wave after wave of pressure. The danger with that is, of course, even as it is pretty and dynamic and chance-rich, it is also risky. And man, was it ever chance rich.

Suarez missed one, Messi missed one, Pique missed one, Paulinho missed one, Alcacer missed one. The list goes on. And these weren’t half chances, pinged from outside the box. These were close in, just hosed it off chances, opportunities that a sharp team converts and keeps rolling. There were also chances against Valencia, moments spurned to create a difficulty that became a grim reality when Valencia went ahead, then again when Celta equalized.

The other part of not putting yourself in a situation that can create danger is doing what you need to do when you need to do it. If you are going to play high-risk, pressure football, possession is crucial. Not only what you do with the ball, but when you don’t have the ball. The first Celta would have been avoided had the back line been paying attention to each other, in a neat little row like you see from teams who prioritize defending. Instead, Pique was playing the Celta man onside, the one who received the pass that led to the bust out. Yes, Pique hustled back to help block the initial shot, but contain was lost on the second man, who slammed home.

Too late, Pique saw the situation and tried to move up to catch the man offside, to no avail. And Sergi Roberto set a template for later behavior by losing track of the free man in the box, who did the damage.

The worst part about that goal it watching Umtiti running, and wondering if someone should have said something, done something. The stiff-legged, hip-rolling semi limp with which he vainly chased play was alarming in hindsight.

Slack possession again led to another Celta break, the one that also broke the Barça back line as Umtiti pulled up injured with a high hamstring pull. As Celta charged forward, Jordi Alba steamed onto the scene, then was done in by some Aspas trickery, pausing when a natural defender would have forced Aspas to do something by attacking the runner. The Aspas pass was his only option, but it still seemed to surprise the Barça back line. Pique ran to cover the line, as is his wont, while Sergi Roberto looked like a man looking for the contact lens that he dropped. When he and Pique performed the same action, rather than Sergi Roberto turning to see if there was a runner, that was that.

The Celta equalizer not only cost three points it the standings. It cost Umtiti for an eight-week stretch, a situation that is also a repeat of last season, when the French defender was in excellent form, then suffered an injury that kept him out of the lineup for a while. The difference between then and now is that on form, Umtiti is the best CB in Europe, and Pique is something of a mess.

Expect to see Barça play more tightly, so expect more of the mutterings about “ugly football” as the team and its coach understand that things need to be tighter because of the fact that the back line is and out-of-form Pique and Vermaelen, who is still working his way into mental match fitness. With a ten-point lead over the team most likely to in Real Madrid, that period is a little easier to manage. With a six-point lead and a late-December Classic on the horizon, things look a bit more complex.

This season, just when culers were getting used to dour football much like its coach, the team opened up, and it was beautiful. With reward comes risk. We saw the analog in many ways, but with a much more negative result, when on the same day, Arsenal faced Manchester United. They outpossessed, outpassed and outshot United, both in total and on target. They “won” everywhere except on the scoreboard, where it was 1-3 United. Arsenal had chance after chance, so many in that first half that all neutrals could do is shake the head, and marvel at the quality of David De Gea.

Barça wasn’t stymied by similar brilliance from a keeper, but rather by its own “There will be another chance” approach to finishing. What Barça does is dare you come out and play football enough to get a goal off them. But because of the way the team plays, and the space behind the back line, if the team isn’t sharp, it doesn’t take much to get behind the defense, as we saw today. Twice.

The focus will be on the goal that was incorrctly ruled out due to an offside call, and that would be a mistake. Barça should have won, just as they should have against Valencia and Atheti. But to do that, you have to score more points, and the tendency for slack finishing will need to be addressed by Valverde. The good thing is that Barça is its own impediment.

The bad news is that teams are willing to take advantage of that tendency. The easest solution? “You shouldn’t even have been in that situation.”

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Written by:

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.

32 Comments

  1. squeen
    December 2, 2017

    It’s was said even in Cryuff’s Ajax days: defense football is boring—but it often wins games. Umtiti’s injury a serious blow. Real Madrid has got to be laughing merrily.

  2. luisthebeast
    December 2, 2017

    Both goals were avoidable like the one vs Valencia.
    Our CBs are prone to mistakes,1st goal Pique keep Aspas onside,2nd Umtiti was unlucky and again Pique were nowhere to mark Lopez.
    Today we lost points that tbh we maybe deserved to lost in Leganes.
    General the team is in a good way of evolution,i am more optimist after the 2 draws than i was after some wins.

  3. georgjorge
    December 3, 2017

    Since the articles fly by so fast now, I wanted to first thank Kxevin a lot for his pieces on individual players (Deulofeu, Mascherano, Suarez) of late. They are great!

    I totally agree that the team played its best football of the season against Valencia and Celta, two teams who are playing rather well themselves right now. Wasteful finishing cost them the full rewards from those games.

    Umtiti out for 8 weeks (per Twitter) is, as you say, a big problem. When is Mascherano going to be fit? Because decent games or not, I don’t fancy a back line with Vermaelen in it against RM at all.

    Speaking of RM…they also drew yesterday, putting them into a solid fourth place (tied with Sevilla). CR becomes more and more of a tragic figure by the match, once again having a number of shots from all positions and no goal. He now has less than half of the goals that Suarez, who most Barcelona fans agree has very serious problems with scoring this season, has scored. Oh, and the obligatory Sergio Ramos red card (23rd? 24th in his career?).

  4. Hristo
    December 3, 2017

    Would the goals be spared had Semedo being played? Roberto had terrible game. Like atrocious. Individual mistakes are to be made.
    Where was our RB? Nowhere to be seen. Our coach is simply small time minded. Instead of playing the most deserving player in Midfield(Roberto) he plays again Rakitic. And Semedo is rested. Why? Celta is a difficult team to play again traditionally. Why not play your best team. The chances of dropping points against Celta are about 50%. Again traditionally. You want the best defensive set up. Roberto had totally exposed our back line over and over. Watch the first goal. Look where Roberto is, you will see that Pique went to cover the Right. Semedo would Already be there covering, he is fast enough, then Pique would naturally go to cover Aspas. That would be natural development of the events had our RB had enough speed.
    Pique made and error but with Semedo there the chances are that the goal isn’t happening. But our coach is a slow. Absolutely defensive minded. Football suffocating Messi, by putting emphasis massively on defense while neglecting midfield. Two more draw that will happen and we are behind. That’s on the coach.
    How hard is to play:

    Semedo-Pititi-Alba
    Iniesta-Busi-Robeto
    Paco-Messi-Denis

    We have a cowardly coach. Because I’d the coach truly cared about the team he would reward DESERVE.
    I’m not moaning about winning or losing. I am about the fact that our coach unintentionally punishes good performance for his own. To keep his job by playing safe. But winning or not he is going to lose his job. Just like Capello lost his. And the team will suffer because of it. They will again have to adjust to a new coach.
    This is Already happening.

    It’s been a while since the last time Messi played with passion. But passion is energy, and energy is for problem solving. The system used by our coach does not utilise the kind of energy our team best players have to offer.

    Sergi Roberto

    Sergi Roberto has few abilities very welcome to our natural in its nature.
    Roberto is as good as Iniesta in utilising space on the goal, while facing goal, he accelerates the game. This gives speed. It adds creativity. Paulinho will thrive in this as well as Messi.
    Roberto is such good in changing the speed ot the attack and the direction of the attack. He can also prevent counter attacks by cutting off passing lanes. This gives time to Paulinho to come back….

    What a slow, slow coach…

    • Dar_vincy
      December 3, 2017

      Agree with your points on SR playing more in the midfield and Semedo getting a prolonged run at RB to enable him achieve a rhythm that seem to have somewhat deserted him when he started.

      Agree with Kxevin’s point that a CB pairing of Pique and Verm doesn’t inspire much confidence. No doubt we look more with Umtiti or Masch’s presence. However, on the basis of his performance against Valencia, I’m willing to believe he

    • Dar_vincy
      December 3, 2017

      Agree with your points on SR playing more in the midfield and Semedo getting a prolonged run at RB to enable him achieve a rhythm that seem to have somewhat deserted him when he started.

      Agree with Kxevin’s point that a CB pairing of Pique and Verm doesn’t inspire much confidence. No doubt we look more secure with Umtiti or Masch’s presence. However, on the basis of his performance against Valencia, I’m willing to believe Verm will put in a good shift in the matches he would feature in.

  5. December 3, 2017

    Kxevin, I dreamt tonight that I was reading a tweet and an article of yours that Athletic had drawn vs Real 1-1. I wake up and browse my TL and wo and behold 😀

  6. Jim
    December 3, 2017

    First of all, I really enjoyed that as a game. Full credit to Celta. They played really well and they played great football. Credit also to Unzue. Not sure he won’t be back at Barca sometime. You can see the way he likes to play. Not many teams come to the Camp Nou and play three up front ! Mind you, there was a time we’d have said that was the quickest way to die at our place so there’s pause for thought there.

    Onto the game. I thought we played pretty well, although I’m not sure it was a season’s best performance. I really liked Rakitic getting a bit more involved, Alba was just immense ( again) and Suarez had a great game ( sorry, but I’ve watched the whole game again and can’t see where he missed from close range at all). . Scored two, heavily involved in our first and set up great chances for Messi and Suarez minor. If you really want to see why I keep banging on about him being more than goals just have a look at his movement in the twenty seconds before he scores our second ( which btw, I do think is the best single piece of football we’ve played in ages. ) Watch him as he works his way across their line getting picked up then discarded by each defender in turn as he deliberately moves towards the next, almost disinterestedly. Then when he sees its on he springs into action. Classic CF work.

    I just hope nobody remembers to tell him he’s finished . . . ( cheap shot, I know, waste of time 🙂 )

    Anyway, we could have finished better but not all of them were great chances, imo. Best for me was Alcacer’s. He’ll be disappointed he didn’t at least hit the target. Messi’s header was hard because he was out near the penalty spot with no pace on the cross so it needed a lot of pace put on it. Thought he did well. Amazing neck muscles. Paulinho’s swivel and hit over the bar was very difficult technically as it was well behind him so I think he gets a pass. The two dribbles round the goalie look easy unless you’ve had to try to do that. In Paulinho’s case the defender forced an extra touch wide then the keeper added to it. It was still possible but difficult on his weak foot.

    A CF would have been proud of Pique’s work for his. What a run to get free and beautiful control to go round the keeper but again an extreme angle. When all your weight is heading away from goal to turn it back so much isn’t only hard but dangerous. I’ve torn ligaments doing that before. Not gonna slag either of them for those. They were both spur of the moment, very acute angles.

    With regard to their goals it depends on how you see it but there is no doubt that the person who was most involved in the chances being created was Umtiti. On the first he just leaves the defence in a terrible position. I can see that he wants to mark somebody in their half but the space he opens up by doing that is crazy. He stays beside Pique the goal doesn’t happen. (Ask any CB they’ll tell you the key is to not allow gaps between themselves.) if he stays put, the two of them stall, the ball is played to the man Umtiti dashed out to and we have time for SR to come across. No problem. And it’s not the first time. Remember Juventus? He left Mathieu in exactly the same predicament as Pique with Dybala using the space behind him.

    Now having said that, Pique was, to say the least extremely hopeful in making a last minute dash to create offside ( btw, SR was also playing the man who got the pass on). At best Pique would have been attempting to play offside just a yard inside his own half. Madness. I know we try to do that but still madness. Can’t condone that. However, he was screwed either way because had he stayed with his man Aspas had a free run, had he tried to get across he’d have been dust in his wake.

    For the second, it was down to Umtiti all the way. He got his position wrong with Aspas, no depth and Aspas was past him when he made a last minute attempt to push him out of the park. That’s when he either tore or aggravated an exiting hamstring injury. To try to blame that on Pique is way off for me. Pique did well to cover his man on the run back, kept the correct angle at all times and needed to cover the low ball across. To say that the cutback was the only ball would be wrong. He couldn’t see that the guy cut back at the last minute. If Pique had somehow seen that and stayed out the scorer had an easy run onto that low ball. No point in blaming Pique when he’s screwed and has an impossible choice. Agreed that I’m not sure SR couldn’t have done a little more.

    Not sure where the Pique “a mess” comes from. To me he’s the rock in our defence and has been for years. However, I’m not gonna have Pique blamed for things that aren’t of his doing so I’m forced again into a position I don’t like which is pointing out Umtiti’s errors. I’ve said often enough that I think he’s the answer and will be a great CB but no he’s not at the moment one of the world’ top defenders, he’s certainly not as good as Pique and it doesn’t help when folk try to build him up to be that. Pique didn’t cause either of these goals – if you’re determined to blame him you could only argue that he failed to make up for Umtiti’s initial error.

    I’m gonna say that I think ( hope) Kxevin is right in that he was carrying an injury the whole game. His chase after Aspas was pitiful and that might explain why he couldn’t get any depth for the second. In which case I’m still hacked off at him, especially after Dembele, that he didn’t mention it after the first goal. If that was so, and he had a decent run just before the injury so I’m not sure, he has cost us a second goal and eight vital weeks without him. Either way it’s down to him. In the last few weeks I’ve seen him play brilliantly showing confidence in everything he does, pass well and make some great interceptions but I’ve also seen him leave his post for no good reason, get completely skinned more than once , take up a blatantly wrong position at the front post, lose his man at a corner and be easily outrun I’ve every confidence that he will learn quickly but in order to do so he needs not to feel comfortable and be keen to learn.

    Anyway, enough. I was gonna have a go at Valverde for taking Ini off but I now realise it was an injury and Ini’s black look was for that reason. Too many calf injuries. I wonder if he’s one of those who don’t like shin guards that protect the calves ? He gets clattered a lot from behind as he protects the ball.

    • Jim
      December 3, 2017

      Forgot to say. Ter Stegen really blossoming now !!!!

      • December 4, 2017

        Jim,
        Thank you for saying that all those chances were not so simple ones. me too am fed up of explaining people they dont look as simple as watching it on the tv.
        Am also a bit disappointed that Semedo was not playing RB and SR in midfield. They both need consistency in those positiions if not we will suffer more.
        Also agree completely with Umtiti not asking to be subbed out after the first goal. he rally did cost us. I was even thinking, why he didnt foul the Celta player, the moment he realised he wont be able to do his job.
        Anyways, win or draw, am so so happy with our performance in the final third. Some beautiful passing moments.and I really enjoyed it all.
        And congrats to Celta too.

    • December 3, 2017

      I get that you support Suarez. We all do. The team isn’t going anywhere without him. And assuming the “cheap shot” was aimed at me, let’s be clear about something: nobody said Suarez was finished. If you think that from reading the piece, that is an incorrect assessment.

      Shots aren’t required, cheap or otherwise, and emojis don’t ameliorate the lack of necessity as regards cheap shots. There is enough of that nonsense on Twitter. This space should be a refuge from that.

      • Jim
        December 3, 2017

        You’re absolutely right, Kxevin, although it isn’t aimed particularly at you but more at the general writing off of Suarez. I have to say that I didn’t find the article on Suarez particularly supportive, I did form the opinion you thought he was past it and I merely note that on the day he was involved in scoring one ( well, two really) heavily involved in the other, laid on two great chances the only supportive mention of him is that he “missed one” . A close in chance, apparently which I can’t find.

        With regard to the emoji I would argue that it does exactly that. It should show that I’m not interested in getting back at anyone in that he has proved rumours of his demise premature but rather gentle teasing in a light hearted way. I wouldn’t have called it a cheap shot myself had it been a serious comment. If you thought so that would be an incorrect assessment.

        I do know you don’t approve of emojis but they have their uses when you’re not talking directly to someone to indicate tone.

        Anyway, hopefully we can both have enough in his play to be positive about Suarez from now on. As you and I have both said before our season will rely on he and Messi scoring enough goals.

        Did I mention Jordi Alba …… ?

    • Hristo
      December 4, 2017

      Hey Jim. Let me drop this on you. I’m going to assume will agree with me that Unzue knows most of our players, and their weakness. Why would you then as a coach intentionally play Roberto at RB? Unzue must have had a laugh when he saw the starting line up. He knows Roberto exposes us hugely during counters, he can’t comeback on time.

      • Jim
        December 4, 2017

        I’m not sure, Hristo but for me only really two possibilities. Either EV rates SR higher than Semedo which is unlikely or Semedo isn’t winning any friends at the Camp Nou for some reason. There’s something a bit odd about his lack of cementing the RB spot. He is definitely way better than SR.

        Btw, equally perplexing for me is that if you put Semedo in you can then try SR out in place of Rakitic. Much quicker, carries the ball a lot better and no worse defensively. Strange.

  7. Bruce Wayne
    December 3, 2017

    Well, Valencia lost. So it’s been a good matchweek. Up next, Sporting CP. Let’s see what the young ones can do

  8. PPos
    December 3, 2017

    Well Valencia lost so we didn’t get our lead cut to two but expand to five. I wasn’t able to watch the second half so I didn’t see all the missed chances. I do agree with the notion that Semedo needs to solidify the RB position, Sergi isn’t a natural RB, he’s a a CM or AM, the sins of Luis Enrique continue to haunt us, I really don’t want that label to stick on him, that he’s a RB, because he’s not, and it’s gonna cost us. I’m a worried about Vermaleen having to start on defense, because he’s just not reliable,

    • squeen
      December 4, 2017

      I am starting to suspect that coaches playing Sergi Roberto at RB is a bit of a “cheat” to get an extra midfielder on the pitch and achieve something like a 3.5-4.5-3 formation. Dani Alves was often criticized for neglecting defensive duties, while being lauded for his interactions with Messi and his attacking mentality—and I think in his absence last season we saw how much he had been contributing to game control.

      Semedo looks great on the two extremes: defensive-line and quasi-winger, but doesn’t do much for the team in the middle of the pitch.

      This thinking also explains why Vidal, who only looks good on the attack, is often left out.

      With Rakitic and Roberto on the pitch together, you (theoretically) get the defensive and offensive mix in the midfield you desire—just spread across two-players.

      Just a guess at what Valverde and Enrique might have been thinking.

      • Hristo
        December 6, 2017

        You also get a snail at RB and a turtle next to it. Their combine force to make one massive SNAIL 😀

        Hahahahahahahaha

  9. Hamid
    December 3, 2017

    Let’s recognize that Celta played beautiful football. They always pull their best game against us. Their ball control and circulation were admirable. We missed chances, but this is a game that could have gone either way. We looked a little tired and lacked focus in finishing. Tactically, Semedo should have been a starter (speed and strength) and Sergio Roberto could have proved a better option in the middle than Rakitic as he strives in games where he is allowed space.
    Culers have always struggled with the cake-and-eat-it dilemma. Before Valencia and Celta games, Valverde adopted a sober attitude and a balanced risk-reward trade-off. He realized that the best way to avoid goals is to deprive the other team of the ball (at times just for the sake of it), and that our attacking prowess is diminished, thus the focus on midfield.
    During Guardiola’s era, we were able to have the cake and eat it because 1) he benefited from a line-up comprised of some of the best players in the world and 2) the other teams took time to figure Barcelona out. By the time they did, he was gone… full of glory.

    • squeen
      December 4, 2017

      I think there may have been some unexpected fallout from the Cryuffian academy model. While it may have been true at one time that there was a huge gap between Barca+RM and the rest of the league, from Aspas to Unzue, the top clubs are now finding themselves playing more and more of their old comrades.

      Ironic that the academies at Barca and Real Madrid have created a situation where top clubs are now playing miniature versions of themselves and the league is growing more competitive (sorry EPL, there goes your last claim of superiority).

      Good for the fans who appreciate a close match, and bad for those you only want to win and lord over their rivals.

      Tough on the players who never get a “cake walk” match—hence the recent emphasis on “deep” benches.

      • squeen
        December 4, 2017

        In inadvertently co-opted your cake metaphor. Oops!

  10. luisthebeast
    December 3, 2017

    I remember a game in CDR vs Sociedad 5-2 at Camp Nou.
    We were so bad and Eusebio team played so good football,just the quality we had then made that scoreline.
    Months later the team without Neymar,with almost same players,it s so different.
    You can see the plan,automatisms,you can see again a team.
    Maybe we will not win trophies,maybe yes,but i enjoy again a team and not indivinduals,after long long time.

    • squeen
      December 4, 2017

      Agreed. Even though it has been rougher going, I too am enjoying the spectacle more.

  11. Jim
    December 4, 2017

    Yeah, forgot to express my delight at that. It warms my heart on a cold Scottish morning !

    • Jim
      December 4, 2017

      Suarez: “I’ve been playing through the pain barrier during this season? Yes, but now I feel better. It required some complicated treatment and now I’m improving. I don’t want to continue feeling that pain, I must prevent it from coming back again.”

  12. December 5, 2017

    Hey Diana Krstinne,
    Thank you so much for translating the Masche interview. Dont have twitter and hoping you will see it here.
    You are a star!

    • georgjorge
      December 5, 2017

      I fully support that. Great work, and great interview.

      Masche really seems a likeable guy here, especially when he is asked about being “the boss” on the field and admits that it shames him to have acted so angry on opposing players. Quite the opposite of someone trying to be a tough guy at all costs.

  13. georgjorge
    December 5, 2017

    After the first half, there’s exactly one “bench player” who has made a case for getting more playing time, and that’s Denis Suarez. Gomes, Alcacer and all the others are trying, but not producing very much.

    • georgjorge
      December 5, 2017

      Pretty much the same second half. Suarez minor with a few blunders, but also the only one of the “bench players” doing anything productive in attack. And he assisted both goals of the match. Nice match for the end of the group stage. Now onto Villareal, a team which I expect to make scoring against them really hard.

  14. luisthebeast
    December 5, 2017

    Nice game.Rakitic was great.Best player today.
    It was nice to see our B team playing like that vs a good team.
    Good from Valverde to not call from Barca B,bench players needed that game,we are going to need them ready.

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