Kevin is away doing whatever awesomeness Kevin does when not writing reviews for this site. I imagine it’s like Bear Grylls combined with Magnum PI combined with Don Juan. Or maybe Don Juan DeMarco. Anyway, here’s your review:
It’s stunning, isn’t it? Think about what is happening right now: 3 games, 8 goals, millions of eyeballs popping from their sockets. Little Lionel Messi has taken what was arguably the best set of skills on the planet and pushed them several steps further. Sure, there are others that look more graceful, but are any more effective, more sublime, more talented? He’s got something I’ve never seen before except in old YouTube videos of the greats: guile to match his ego. Call it Messidependicia, if you’d like, but I’ll echo the cheery sentiments of SoccerMom all day: “Hey hey hey come out and play is what I say.”
Cause playing is what we did against Zaragoza and despite the gentle knocks of reality from Adrian Colunga, we kept up our attacking pace and really let the world know what it can look like if you give us space in the midfield. Sure, sure, we had some bad misses from in close that could have and should have buried the game early and easily, but I still have to admit that I loved the game. 0-3 ahead and maybe it should have been 0-4 or even 0-5, but the most important part of it was that after giving up 2 silly goals that shouldn’t have been, we didn’t get tight and we didn’t pull back. We surged forward and could have had a couple more and ended up with Ibra’s 13th goal of the season thanks to a penalty earned by, well, obviously, Messi.
Watch the highlights quickly:
I’m hardly going to talk about the match itself, I don’t think, because it was a pretty simple affair. We pressured them early and kept it up for most of the match, only falling off slightly when Pique and Milito were subbed off due to injury concerns (Milito appears fine and Pique appears doubtful for Wednesday’s match against Osasuna), thus giving the defense a kind of shock that you don’t normally get in the midst of a match. Up until that point they’d only really had one major chance and Dani Alves blew that one up with a ridiculous diving tackle to save the day. After their two goals, we were back to our best and then Messi dropped another description-defying run that resulted in a clear penalty. Ibra’s conversion of that was necessary not only so that I could relax as a fan, but so that he can relax as a striker and maybe (maybe) put away those tap-ins he’s been missing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this game wasn’t easy and it wasn’t great, but it was fun. I enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to watch, with the exception of the moments that I am about to describe:
-Watch the sequence at 3:33 of the above video (77:00 on the game clock). It starts as a counterattack, the ball falling to Messi, who picks out Iniesta in space. At that moment (3:34), it’s 3-on-3, but Diogo is making a massive mistake by coming forward to meet Iniesta, leaving a 2-on-1 in our favor behind him. Pedro! and Ibra make diagonal runs away from Iniesta to provide space between themselves and the defender, who has to go with Ibra’s run because it is in the middle and you can’t leave the guy in the middle all alone. When Iniesta flips the ball to Pedro! on the wing, it becomes a footrace that Pedro! will not lose and then he just calmly puts the ball into the middle for Ibra, who has the simplest of putaways past Roberto. And that’s when Ibra slid the ball wide of the post and caused me to kind of freak out in the bar.
Missing chances is part of the life of a striker, but one should never miss a chance like that. It’s 0-2 and you can put us up 0-3. Or maybe we’re down 1 and we need to score to survive in the Champions League. Whatever the moment, that should be a goal. I don’t know what’s going on in his mind, but that miss embodies what his season is turning into. The guy who could score this can’t score that? It was against the same keeper, too, interestingly enough.
-At 4:38 of the above clip, you’ll note that Messi wins a ball in midfield and quickly dumps it off to Ibra. The pass wasn’t a great one (it should have been further out in front), but Ibra contrives to fire the ball into low-earth orbit instead of getting it on goal.
-Their first goal against us was just Marquez being beaten for pace on a long ball that shouldn’t have troubled him. He let his man in behind him and couldn’t catch up. Perhaps the lack of match time was to blame, but whatever the reason, it was absurd. 5:17 of the video gives you a good shot of what the field looked like when the ball was just lumped forward. Marquez is caught watching, Puyol has let him go.
-Their second goal was again a ball over the top (and an illegal one because the ball never stopped rolling before the restart, but that’s somewhat meaningless since we should have stopped it anyway) that was only not offside because Iniesta held him on. You can see that clearly at 5:35 of the video. Marquez was responsible for the stupid foul that led to the freekick and Puyol let his man go offside, only to realize too late that Iniesta was covering a different man and leaving him offside, but not Colunga. Sloppy all-around communication and bad ball handling in the midfield combined with a lack of midfield pressure earned them their 2-3 and some hope.
-Ibra’s lack of cheer when he scores. That doesn’t need much explanation. It just gets to me that he’s so sullen when he scores. Come on, lighten up, love the game and you’ll get those tap-ins.
Everything else (and sure, that seems like quite a list), was good and fun. Messi now leads the league with 25 (!) goals in 24 appearances. He’s 5 up on Higuain, and 8 on David Villa. And that brings me to the idea that Ibrahimovic isn’t performing well enough to be a Barça player.
- Player A has scored 7 goals in 24 league appearances, 2 goals in 5 Champions League appearances, and 3 goals in 4 Copa del Rey appearances.
- Player B has scored 13 goals in 22 league appearances, 2 goals in 7 Champions League appearances, and 1 goal in 2 Copa del Rey appearances.
If your math isn’t so solid, here are the totals: Player A has 12 goals in 33 appearances and Player B has 16 goals in 31 appearances. Which one is the more productive striker? What if you say that Player B has twice as many assists as Player A? What if you say that Player A scores once every 135 minutes on the field and Player B once every 174 minutes?
- Player C has scored 13 goals in 31 league appearances, 1 in 9 European appearances, and 3 in 4 Copa del Rey appearances.
Again, the math there is 17 goals in 44 matches. Player C scores once 233 minutes.
Player B is obviously Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But Player A? Pedro. Player C? Diego Forlan. That’s right. Diego Forlan. In my estimation, not only is Ibra outperforming Pedro by a fair margin, he’s also out performing the man people think should replace him. Naturally enough, you can call bollocks or whatever on my stats if you think about them differently (for instance if you think Forlan’s teammates are what’s kept him from having more opportunities), but if Forlan is having a decent year (and 13 goals is nothing to sneeze at) then Ibra is having a decent one too. And it’s his first year in Spain. And Forlan is 30 while Ibra is 28 (and did you know that Ibra is exactly 2 months older than David Villa?).
Ibra accounts for 16% of Barça’s goals so far this season (100) while Messi accounts for 34% of them. Pedro has 17%. Keita and Xavi both have 6%. And yet Ibra’s head is on the chopping block? What about Henry, with his 3 goals? Bojan with his 5, only 1 of which is in the Liga? Hell, Dani Alves is outscoring Iniesta 3-to-1! Fuera!
See what I mean? If this is the low point in his Spanish career, which it probably is, Ibra is going to be a monster for several years. And that’s alongside a goal-machine Messi. And an improving Pedro. And probably a different LW or maybe Bojan. Ibra out? Seriously? Get outta here with that nonsense. I groan like the rest of you when he misses those chances, but come on, should we fire Guardiola if he doesn’t win us a trophy this year? Of course not. Should we axe Ibra if he doesn’t win pichichi in his first season (or ever)? No, obviously not. Keep all these crazy thoughts bottled up until next year at this time and if he’s only got 13 goals and we’re floundering, then we’ll talk about who to replace him with.
Before someone levels the charge that I’m just protecting my own interests: I didn’t want him in the past and I didn’t want to stump up the cost (€40m in transfer fees and €12m a year in salary), but I can now see that it was a good bit of business, especially if Guardiola didn’t want Eto’o and did want Ibra.* I still love Eto’o and wanted him to remain at the club even if it cost us a bit of money, but okay, fine, Ibra it is and I dutifully fell in love with the YouTube moments where he strolled through 80 players and scored wondergoals with his heels. And now I’m obliged to take the same measures I used to buoy my love for Eto’o and use them to decide whether or not Ibra is doing well.
Plus, I’ve seen him improving throughout the year, getting better at making moves through the box, and starting to make the runs Eto’o made as well as all the runs and moves Eto’o couldn’t make. They’re different players, of course and I hate to compare them in that way, but really, Ibra is on pace to score 18 goals in 31 appearances, which, if you think that’s horrible, you’re a jerk and should go back to your Xbox. After all, Ibra scored 92 goals in 207 games in Italy (for Juve and Inter), which is a goal every 2.25 appearances. He’s currently scoring a goal every 1.94 games (16 in 31). Eto’o? 1 every 3 games (11 in 33). So yeah.
*And for the last time, will all of you quit quoting €60m as Ibra’s price tag? Here is what exchanged hands: ~€40m and Eto’o for Ibra. The valuation of Eto’o at €20m does not mean that Ibra cost €40m plus the valuation of Eto’o. If you’re going to do that math, then what you have to include is the difference in salary. Because Eto’o was out of time on his lower Spanish tax bracket (I think it’s 5 years at 23% and then it jumps to 46% or so), his salary of €10m a year meant that Barça had to pay ~€15m for his salary. Ibra’s salary? Nearly €2m per year less than that. Therefore, if Eto’o’s valuation is included in the cost, you must include the money saved on the contract (~€10m), which would put the total cost at €50m if you wanted to do it that way. If you think Eto’o wanted more than €10m (and I think he would have) from Barça, you end up getting into a tradeoff of about €20m for the salary over 5 years, meaning, ahem, it’s potentially less than €40m for Ibra.
Kevin’s mantra: always leave them smiling.