Barça 4, Depor 0, aka “Brave and stupid works, too”

Oh, thank the heavens for Depor, who came into the Camp Nou and decided to be brave, to put their heads on the chopping block as an object example for all teams.

For all of the rage and doubt that culers expend upon their team, Depor came to play, and play they did. They attacked valiantly, and died valiantly. Because if you come at Barça as an equal, you will be in trouble. Valencia knew that, Sevilla knew that, Atleti knew that, Celta knew that. What has kept Barça from having an even gaudier lead atop the standings is, just as it was the reason that the 4-0 wasn’t something like 10-0, finishing.

Barça, particularly Messi, finished for crap against Depor. Suarez hit the post. Twice. Messi had a hat trick of posts, four excellent chances that he usually buries, and a missed penalty. Paulinho, not to be left out, hit the crossbar.

And Depor, bless their dimwitted souls, kept on charging, kept on acting like they were playing a fellow cellar dweller instead of Barça. Perhaps, like Paco Jemez at Rayo, their coach, Cristobal Parallo, felt whether you lose 1-0 or 7-0 matters not in the standings. It was an approach that probably has a lot of sporting directors today Googling “Sidnei highlights,” as their CB was exceptional, including making Messi his lollipop on a few occasions.

But Barça was always going to win this match, even if the last time they played Depor, still drunk from the 6-1 sot, they lost. Depor knew this. Because football comes down to talent. One team has it, the other team doesn’t, or doesn’t have as much as the other team. That makes the game simple, right? There are those rare days when everything goes right for the underdog, and everything goes wrong for the superior team. Those times are much more rare than history and hope would have us believe. Depor probably got off the bus thinking, “How much will we lose by,” because athletes are optimists and professionals, but they also aren’t fools. So why not have some fun, and have a go at the big boys?

Despite that, there are things that we can take from this match, in handy bullet points:

Right side vulnerability

The right side is always where an opponent can go to find the welcome mat rolled out. This is especially true when the turtle twins, Sergi Roberto and Pique, are in the house as they were against Depor. Every team knows this. Marcelo will roll onto the pitch loaded for bear, a reason that makes us fairly certain Valverde will opt for Semedo and his pace. The substitution that Valverde made (one that surprised a lot of folks for some reason) in Aleix Vidal for Paco Alcacer was an easy one. He had to get some help and pace over there. Vidal’s presence liberated both Pique and Sergi Roberto and the latter sparkled, including delivering a lustrous assist for Suarez to tap home.

Thankfully, the long-term solution(s) are working their way back into fitness in the person of Dembele and Rafinha, the former for his pace and ability to shift the pitch with his pace, and the latter for his defensive effort and work rate, which is why Rakitic will be sideeyeing hell out of the talented Brazilian.

Hola, Luis Suarez?

Not so fast, even as there are signs. The Uruguayan is moving better, running better, and demonstrating once again, the ability to be where he needs to be to take advantage of opportunities. His first touch is still erratic, and he still seems sluggish and emotional when he should be calm, including one instance where he lost the ball and had an on-the-spot tantrum instead of swinging into action to win it back. Often, the player who loses a ball, because of proximity, has the best opportunity to regain possession, or at least slow the counter enough to give teammates time to get back. It isn’t the time for exasperated gestures.

Suarez is reading play better. The associative run that he made, expecting the ball from Sergi Roberto, is one that he wasn’t making a few weeks ago. Whether his knee is feeling better or his confidence back since the Villarreal tally, who knows? We will know for sure his prognosis in six days.

Either Valverde is a genius, or Barça is better without Neymar

Better points tally, better goals against, more security in both attack and defense. It seems weird to think that a team could be improved by removing the second-best player in the game from its roster, but that is what has happened at Barça. The whys are easy enough to suss. Neymar was always, and will always be a risky player. He will make runs, try stuff, lose balls and not always be diligent in tracking back. When he tried something while Jordi Alba was thinking that something was going to work, it left both of them high and dry. This year, in giving the left side wholly to Alba, the Catalan left back is able to use the brain many presumed that he didn’t have, knowing when to attack and when to defend. His role is also clear, which has made him an all-pitch presence in defense, and a willing partner for Messi in attack.

The other thing Valverde has done is to restore the value of possession. Luis Enrique’s “Wheeeee!” has been replaced by a more solid notion, even as Luis Enrique was clearly looking to head in that direction with his transfer of Andre Gomes. If you have possession, bad things can’t happen to you because you have the ball. This makes sense, but implementing it is hard. What makes it easier is a genius such as Iniesta, who was magnificent against Depor. Many questioned why Valverde chose to lean on the ephemeral magician, but it is clear now. Iniesta always has the ball, and he keeps the ball. When fools like me called him an adapted Xavi, reckon Valverde had the same notion.

Rakitic is better than you think

Valverde chose to rest Busquets because of Lahorse and his seeming fondness for giving yellows to Busquets. Into that breach he inserted Ivan Rakitic, who had a fantastic match. The Croatian midfielder has become the new whipping boy of Barça Twitter. Yesterday showed why so much of that bile is misplaced. He wasn’t Busquets, but he was a Barça DM, proactive rather than reactive, driving play when necessary, making insightful passes and helping in defense. He also had many an intervention at a key moment. It almost makes you wonder if he and Busquets should switch positions, something I wonder if Valverde won’t be thinking about when Dembele and Umtiti return to the roster.

Rakitic is a smart midfielder who has lost a step. Being in the hole gives him more time to read and act. It’s logical, which made it no less a delight to watch.

40m well spent

There has not been a more initially baffling transfer than Paulinho, particularly for fans of history. Went to Spurs, sucked, lost confidence, was flogged to China for big bucks. It is here where a lot of people lost track of him. Brazil coach Tite didn’t. As Paulinho regained confidence he became part of the XI for the Selecao for the same reasons that made Valverde say, “Get me him.” He is a completely selfless player, who understands that he exists solely to help the glamor boys. He does that for Brazil and Neymar, so why wouldn’t he be capable of doing it for Barça and Messi? What is seen most about him from detractors is that he isn’t “a Barça midfielder.” That is a lot of why he works. He rumbles around, reading the match, helping apply pressure and delivering smart forward passes when required. He had a number of fine ones against Deportivo. It’s also worth noticing how Busquets’ life improves with Paulinho in the XI.

The biggest difference Paulinho makes is that he makes the runs that nobody else will. A lot of Barça attackers spend time watching a play develop, seeming to think, “Man, that sure is pretty.” Or their roles in the buildup leave them out of position for rebounds and putbacks. Paulinho, when something is developing, thinks, “Get into the box in case something happens.” He scored two goals yesterday from that thinking, just being there when the ball fell to him. He has six goals, more than any Liga midfielder and more than many Liga forwards. That 40m is, in the context of today’s market, a bargain.


Messi didn’t score, but was fantastic against Depor, thriving in the kind of open match he enjoys. Passes, movement and actual running, as in that turbocharged dynamo we presumed age and time had removed from us, Messi was on form at the exact right time, promising something special in the Bernabeu in a handful of days’ time. He missed some shots that he usually puts away, but was there so early, with such complete command of his gifts, that you know the next time he is in the same situation, mark it. That situation will be at the Bernabeu. Soon. If you aren’t excited, you should be.

By Kxevin

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.


  1. A very good analysis, Kxevin! And your last paragraph has me all excited for Saturday. I hope you are right about Valverde and Semedo, and that Iniesta will arrive with all the energy and trickery he has in him.

    Fun fact: This season, Messi has hit the post more times (13) than the player with the second-most La Liga goals has scored.

  2. Thanks, Kxevin – spot on. I have been critical of Rakitic, and still am of him in the CM position. He fails to manage receiving the ball under pressure with his back to goal and making much of it. It is understandable that he suffered as RM, as he was played out of position and had to run more than he is able – so rather than criticism against HIM, it was a strategic comment. For me, he is a perfect squad player, only not a given gala inclusion. But switching his and Busi’s positions is a beautiful dream that I still don’t believe in (though I want to be wrong). Every time I have seen Busquets in a more advanced role, it seems he is less influential.

    It is absurd that the team has hit woodwork 24 times and still has not lost a game, added to the Messi statistics above. EV must be doing something right.

  3. I totally agree with you on Rakitic. He was great that day. There was this one play where he threaded the perfect through ball from the DM position. It was excellent to watch. I personally love Rakitic, He has a knack for scoring important goals like in CL final against Juventus or against RM last season. He has had some bad games but remember boys form is temporary but class is eternal.

    Messi had an excellent match albeit the finishing, but it’s ok. He’s human after all. What’s important is that he’s getting into the right positions. Any other day, he would have had a poker, but such is life and football and we also should mention that the Deportivo keeper had a brilliant game. The Suarez rabona goal should have counted but the way he was position tricked freaking Mateu Lahoz, the referee. I dont really like him. He’s kind of a dick.

    Suarez looks healthy again. His autopasses yesterday were incredible, everything was working for him. Nutmegs, autopasses, everything. It was good to see. I gotta say that we are a lot better without Neymar as a team. We play more as a squad, as a unit. not as 9+3 upfront.

    I disagree with Valverde starting Semedo in the Bernabeu though. He seems to trust Sergi Roberto more. Semedo has kind of fell off in the last couple of weeks. He had some erratic performances that he hasn’t recovered from same with Deulofeu. It looks like Valverde has lost faith in Deulofeu. I guess he’s not Barca material after all. I know he’s injured but I dont know if he would have played sunday if he was healthy.

    Did anyone notice that Andre Gomes was actually good when he came on? He looked more agile and fast, and like he was more in sync with the team. It was good to see. The team didn’t slow down or start sucking as soon as he came in unlike last season. I’m pretty pumped for El Clasico I’m going to be watching it with my grandfather after almost 10 years of not being back home for Christmas. Visca el Barca!!

  4. Well, that game was enjoyable ! Lots of slick ball movement, lots of balls being played to runners rather than statues, bodies in the box and slick interplay inside it. I’d go as far as to say I don’t think anyone had a poor game and that’s great for confidence. I’ve also seen flashes in the last three or four games of the Barcelona that I personally love to watch and that’s heartening when we’re still a great player down.

    Having said that, Depor weren’t really brave, they were just awful. They didn’t mount any kind of press, their attackers were invisible, their defenders didn’t look like they knew if they were playing offside or not and they didn’t go with runners. Not the recipe for success at the Camp Nou, really.

    To be clear at the start I don’t regard any hitting of a post as a bad shot. At most you’re a couple of inches from scoring, that’s a good shot. Agreed, they’re not all the same but Messi’s in particular were all pretty good ( loved him throwing away his boots at the end – look out RM !) in the same vein I wasn’t concerned about Suarez and the keeper. I always found the hardest one on one with the keeper was the straight on one. If you’re coming in at an angle the slightest swerve gains you room to shoot, if it’s head on you have to make a much greater alteration to go round him. Keeper also did well there, as he did from his PoV on the penalty. He was about two yards out from his line when he saved it. Not sure what happened to the old rule or the ref’s eyesight. Oh, wait . . .

    So, defence sound. I do object to the turtle reference to Pique. He’s a lot quicker than most think. However, he is admittedly slow as get out at turning quickly. That’s why he’s a top defender. You almost never see him caught that way. We’ve seen him a few times this year when he’s sprinted and it’s not bad at all. I’d bet he’s also much quicker than Rakitic for one. It is so good, just on a personal level, to see TV get back into action and cope so well with it. He’s a genuine CB who knows his stuff and a great tackler if he has to. Not sure what pace he has left after injuries but I’ve no worries going into the Clasico with him.

    SR had a good game with some great carries of the ball. You’ll note they aren’t dribbles, he’s breaking into space but that can make such a difference. As Kxevin says though he’s not quick and he has a tendency to sell himself to the first dummy given to him by the attacker. Not a good defensive combination. Do I want him up against Bale, Ronaldo or Marcello ? Probably not if I have a choice.

    Alba was simply brilliant again. What a season he’s having. I confess to wincing minutes from the end as he chased a long ball at top speed. I was shouting at the TV for him to slow down and think of his hammy. I’m not sure if I’m out of touch with public opinion here but did anyone think he doesn’t have a brain ? Agreed on Neymar not being too good for him, not least when Alba was getting slagged for bad balls to him when the problem was Neymar not moving towards the ball. However, Neymar offered so much on offence you had to forgive him. I remember asking here at the time if I should be worried about him in that he was missing matches to attend his sister’s birthday etc. and I didn’t think he had improved as a player since his arrival. I still don’t think he has but that’s another club’s issue now.

    Iniesta. I think I’ll just leave it at that but he could do that at this level for another couple of years at least. On form he is still the best midfielder in the world. The only worry is the constant abuse he takes. Two bad fouls in the first two minutes ? We were still comfortable after he left but something was obviously missing. Rakitic had a good game at DM. Doesn’t mean I’d want him there against a press but fair play to him for that. Paulinho is giving defenders cause to think about another body in the box so all good there. I’m not sure he’s as effective defensively but he’s still a talented player and seems to be enjoying his football. He’s certainly helped Suarez.

    Up front Messi was the usual awesomeness and now he’s angry. Good ! Suarez was brilliant and has been playing well for over a month now. He scored “three”, (could easily have had five), should have had five assists, won a penalty and was generally everywhere. Not sure what else he could have done and why he gets the ambiguity while Messi who arguably had more loose touches gets the pass. I’ve no problem with that btw ( he’s Messi) but why not extend the same generosity to Suarez after such a performance ? No reason for him not to continue this good form next week either, as long as we get him support in the box. That’ll be what decides how much he can contribute. I worry that we don’t have a reliable forward to play beside him. In a much quicker game I’m not sure Paulinho can be the one to get up and down often enough.

    Final thought. Am I right in thinking Semedo wasn’t even in the squad ? What is going on there ? Ok, he lost the ball too much in his last performance but omission from the whole Matchday is a humiliation for someone most of us think is our long term RB. Not the way to go for me unless as we speculated before he has somehow transgressed. Worrying ?

    Anyway, build up already started with RM looking for their guard of honour and not getting it. This could be one of the uglier recent meetings. They are desperate and need a top performance to have a chance. You get the feeling this season they are much more variable than us and that’s at least partly down to EV who has done a good job. However, the play will be much quicker, the tackles more disgraceful, our defence, especially as Kxevin says down the right, will be under a heap more pressure so Alba’s freedom will also have to be used more conservatively, our mids, apart from Iniesta, will be under a whack of pressure from the start and Messi and Suarez will be denied space much more effectively. It will tell us a lot, not about La Liga, but about our CL chances. Can’t wait !

  5. Paulinho cracks me up. After he poached those two goals, he looked like a kid caught with his arm in the cookie jar. Delightful!

    I think Jim is right-on about how ugly this Classico could turn. RM is desperate to beat Barca down and re-assert their superiority and Barca has the Super Copa humiliation to pay back. Hopefully the RM bullies don’t break any bones.

    I too am curious as to what the Semedo deal is—uncoachable?

    1. Very nice. I mildly disagree with the assertion he’s not a technical player—you can just tell he’s got that Brasilian/Futsol small-touch-in-crowded-spaces skill set (even if he did botch his juggling at the Barca presentation). Those same quick-reflexes are allowing him to react to the rebounds with fast muscle-memory. Also seems like a humble guy. Thanks for the link Kxevin.

    2. What does seem to be missing from his bag of trick is confidence to make those long field-switch passes.

  6. After today’s Griezmann talk, just pop up to post my thoughts on the kind of squad we can easily have after the next two transfer windows.

    Let go…
    Arda, Masche, Rafinha, Vermalen, Vidal, Deulofeu, Denis, Munir

    Bring in…
    Stefan De Vrij, Arthur, Timo Werner, De Ligt (and loan him back to Ajax for a season and half), and Aoura of Lyon (and loan him back to Lyon). Bring Marlon back from Nice in summer. Do the business for Vrij, De Ligt, Aoura and Arthur (so that he can better learn the Barca/Europe way with out much expectations) next month. This could/should be done with ~ 100M net.

    And the board can buy whatever star player, Coutinho, Grizmannn or Ozil (I would go with Ozil, if we have to, in case of reasonable contracts duration), they want ones these players arrived. If that marquee player is Griezmann, and Werner is willing to come, let Paco go.

    And our squad for 2018/2019 season would be…

    GKs: Ter Stegen, Cillessen.
    DFs: Pique, Umtiti, Stefan De Vrij, Marlon, Alba, Digne, Semedo.
    Vrij’s contract with lazio is to expire this summer and he is in negotiation trying to insert 30M release clause. Inter Milan is trying to sign him, can be brought cheap ~15M.

    MDs: Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic, Roberto, Gomes, Paulinho, Arthur.
    FDs: Messi, Suarez, Dembele, Paco, Werner.

    Give Alena, Oriol, Arnaiz and Abel Ruiz more minutes…,keep an eye on Franki De Johg of Ajax.

  7. Another enjoyable and insightful post Kevin, thank you. Looking forward to the game on Saturday (mixed with dread and doubt and fear), although I don’t know if it’ll be a classic clasico. At least no matter what the result the lead at the top will remain significant (from Real anyway). I’m not sure what to expect from Barca this Saturday, but hopefully they’ll continue to be solid and difficult to score against. I know some folks have said that Barca have already had some stern tests so far this season (Juventus, Valencia, Atletico), but really, for me, this is the true test of how much they have improved. If they can come out of this with credit (that would include a draw) I would be delighted. Viva Barca!

  8. You have to love him. Mourinho after losing to lower division Bristol City and a goal deep into injury time “We in this club know how to win and how to lose.”

    He also used the word “ lucky” five times !

  9. Just a heads up for anyone who has access to Sky Football. On Sunday night at 9pm there’s an interesting looking programme called La Liga: The dark side of Football” which is an investigation into the devastating injuries plaguing modern players in Spain and what can be done to prevent them.

    Might be worth a look if the tele survives the Clasico.

  10. Sergio Ramos still mad at Carvajal for taking the red card he usually has reserved for himself in Clásicos ; )

    A grand game! First half, admirable defensive work in the face of all-out-attacking RM, the first shot on goal was in the 30th minute and from Barcelona, that’s a great accomplishment against that attack!

    Second half, Busquets runs circles around their attack to open up a lot of space, and it was clear that if the ferocious pressing from them could be overcome there would be counterattacking chances. Rakitic did what I wouldn’t have thought possible from him half a year ago, charged forward and delivered the perfect pass, Sergi Roberto followed with his perfect pass, and Suarez, happily in-form again, scored. RM crumbled, and the second goal and red card shut them out for good, Barca allowed to play out the game at a walking pace for the most part.

    Oh, and did you notice the TWO absolutely crucial interventions from Vermaelen in the box (one in the first, one in the second half), where he was positioned perfectly to prevent sure goals? I doubted him a lot against their attack, but he did so very well. Sergi Roberto over Semedo, on the other hand, worked well in offense but gave me a lot of nerves in defense in the first half.

    Merry Christmas, everyone! Even the Madridistas ; )

  11. Good to see that Suarez got back his scoring boots. He was so close to scoring a second goal. Paulinho deserved a goal as well. He is gonna be a great player. And Rakitic, man, does he like to arise in these important matches?

    It’s amazing that Barcelona, as a team, keeps improving and looks better… yes, perhaps even better than Pep’s Barcelona 9 years ago. Bringing in Ernesto Valverde was the right decision.

  12. Amazing. What a Christmas gift! I was genuinely worried in the first half, as Busi and Iniesta looked a bit rusty, and RM looked on the go. But Messi had a few moments of brilliance, and then the entire team slowly grew into the game, guided by EV – who now MUST receive all the credit he deserves. Shout-out to Piqué, who really stepped up when it mattered. We were pragmatic but also played some wonder-ball (first goal was a gem, and a few play-outs from the back were simply wonderful etc etc.)

    Happy holidays everyone!

  13. We beat Madrid, Espanyol beats Athletico Madrid & Valencia loses to Villarreal.
    What a way to end the year.
    And Messi assisting without a boot. Keeps doing something each time I think he’s done it all.

  14. Yessss! I’ve earned my drunkenness. Admittedly I did not expect that result, certainly not from the first half showing. What a wonderful result. That first goal was delicious. Hooray!!!!

  15. Was out at the golf so had to avoid score line and have just watched the recording. I was also nervous watching first half but can appreciate the intelligent defending and the willingness of the forwards to pitch in. Not often you see Iniesta having to pull the captain role and insist they calm down in possession. First 10/15 of second half on the contrary were just glorious !

    For me, Pique was head and shoulders MOTM. If there’s a better defender in the world I haven’t seen him. Closed down when required, fired into the tackle when he had to, won every high ball and the run for our goal was not just brilliant but so clever dragging Suarez’s defender away from him. Others who caught the eye were Iniesta. (If you have someone in your side the opposition can’t lay a glove on or get the ball off, it does your confidence no end of good – not sure I’d have taken him off ) and SR. No, I’m still not convinced by his defending but he is in danger of using his more limited skills so well he becomes a regular. Very impressed by his ball carrying at vital moments and that’s not the first time he’s found Suarez at a vital moment. Also, less impressed by Semedo when he came on. Something going on there.

    First time this season I’ve been out of my seat when Suarez’s goal went in, although his effort later to curl it round the defender into the far corner which hit the post was a better strike – but not as important. Second time was a few moments later as I leapt to my feet yelling for a red for Ramos !

    Good day all round and, yes, credit to EV for realising this team can defend and tweaking things to make it happen.

    1. Iniesta – yes, marvellous display, but he ran and defended a lot and I don’t think he had strength left when he was subbed off.
      Piqué – immense, especially in snubbing out fires when Sergi Roberto was caught out of position by Ronaldo in the first half (multiple times).

      Jim, what would you say about Vermaelen? I seem to recall you talking favourably about him, and he also stepped up in a very unexpected way (for me) today.

      Ter Stegen is starting to become scary to me. He seems to have found the exact balance between lightning reflexes and calmness, seems he can’t put a foot wrong now, even getting that ridiculous save against Bale from point blank range.

      Paulinho is like the player we thought we were getting with André Gomes. Putting his body in the way of opponents, looking for the forward pass and going for goal himself, technically gifted but not as gifted as most in his team – but contrary to Gomes, Paulinho actually has an understanding with the other players on the pitch, which makes a world of difference. He had some clumsy touches and losses of possession today, but also covered the whole pitch in closing down opponents and making himself available for passes.

    2. I’ve always had a high regard for TV, Georgejorge. In his earlier years he had a bit more pace but always a good CB’s head on him. He doesn’t go awol, knows how to hold a line, he tackles well and he covers for his fellow CB. Having said that I have to confess that I thought injuries had reduced him to a point where he wouldn’t get the consistent match time required to get his game back to enable him to play for a top team. The stars seem to have aligned now with Masche looking likely to leave and Umtiti injured for a while. I didn’t think he started particularly well today but as the game went on you could see the confidence growing.

      We’re maybe clutching at straws here as he hasn’t shown he can stay free from injuries yet but make no mistake if he gets half a dozen games next to Pique he might just take a bit of shifting even when Umtiti, good as he is, comes back. Umtiti is better on the ball but TV will be the man in possession. EV strikes me as the sort of manager who is ruthless if you don’t take your chance but will stick by you if you’re delivering.

  16. Also of note: Zidane put out Kovacic as a marker for Messi, which went fine because Messi wasn’t allowed to do much for the first half. But for the first goal, note that Kovacic could easily have stepped into the path of Rakitic and stopped him, but chose to remain alongside Messi, allowing him to charge forward unhindered. Just an example of what Messi can do without even touching the ball once ; )

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