Barça 2, Alaves 1, aka “Mutants mess everything up”

Mutants mess everything up.

The great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote a “Foundation” trilogy, a history of mankind as devised by mathematical formulas that predicted the future by applying logic to people and their behavior as a mass. There would be periodic readings from a time capsule by the late creator of this formula, Hari Seldon, who would discuss what had happened, and what would happen next. He was always right.

In the third book of the trilogy a mutant, The Mule, was created, a force of evil that threw off all the math as the one variable that couldn’t be accounted for by science and logic. Pity Abelardo and his Alaves, who had the right game plan, the right piece of luck and the right moment. Everything worked right for them, right down to John Guidetti’s shanking his shot instead of hitting it cleanly, to fool a ready Ter Stegen.

They even had a second shot at the perfect breakaway, after the first two-on-one was foiled by the brilliance of Ter Stegen, and Semedo making a smart play by playing one attacker off the other, forcing the pass to be wider than the Alaves attackers would have liked. But they got it right the second time and it was 0-1 and they looked comfortable.

Everything was perfect, running according to plan. Barça was playing pretty football, all curlicues and deft passing that ran right into the Alaves wall, two banks of four and a couple of attackers playing for the break, always with men deep. No matter the pass or play, there was a defender or three in the way, time after time.

And then came the mutant. Iniesta shifted, shambled, shook, paused, ran, shook and just when it seemed that Alaves was going to successfully force him past the end line, another “almost” play, he hooked a pass that Suarez hit on the volley. It was, suddenly, 1-1. Almost 80 minutes of excellence from Alaves, almost a whole match of playing their hearts out to defend their quite well-taken goal and in a few seconds — that was that.

Their defenders lay face down on the Camp Nou pitch as bedlam erupted, their attackers’ shoulders slumped as something approaching reality began to set in. You can do everything right, and then a mutant comes along.

Not once, but twice.

Late in the match, not long after Iniesta’s mutant moment, the referee had his pick of fouls. Many are focused on Alcacer, who came back from an offside position to be scythed down by Wakaso, but another Barça player was also hammered to the turf. Free kick in a very, very, dangerous position.

On BeIN Sports, Ray Hudson, not long after the Suarez goal, talked about the match having more drama to come, about Messi having the stage set for his heroics. He stepped up to the free kick, and laced a shot at the Alaves net. It wasn’t one of his best efforts, though it was hit with pace and curl. The Alaves keeper will watch the video time and again, and wish for a pair of stronger hands as Messi’s shot hit his hand and went right through it as if the appendage in question was ephemeral.

It was 2-1, and another mutant had struck. Everything else, Abelardo accounted for. Even when Valverde made his match-altering subs of Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Alcacer, the Alaves match plan worked. Alba made one of his trademark runs up the wing and slid the ball to Messi, who was bracketed by a trio of defenders. They blocked passing lanes, fouled, did everything right. But the tyranny of football is such that great players, even when they aren’t having the best of matches — and neither Iniesta nor Messi were — can get it together and make magic. Mutants do what they do, and you can’t account for it. And it was three points, when if football was truly a fair game, Alaves would have at least shared the spoils.

There will be much talk of a pair of calls, the Alcacer offside and, later in the match, the Umtiti hand ball. But first, a bit of history. In 2013, after years of handball penalty calls that verged on capricious as Liga referees reacted — ball, hand, penalty — deeming any contact a transgression, common sense kicked in. The handball rule has two components: the defender must have his hand in an unnatural position, and must deliberately make an effort to contact the ball.

The rule was always thus, but the interpretation of the rule is what matters here. When the Alaves attacker whipped his volley at goal, Umtiti was scrambling, sprinting to get into position. Because everyone alive sprints with their arms, because balance is also important, there his arms were as the defender blasted the ball at net from about two feet away from Umtiti. The referee correctly judged that neither of the conditions present for a handball penalty were present. Ball to hand. Umtiti’s arm position was natural, and he was just there as the attacker whacked the ball into him.

Curiously, after the match, a former head of Liga officials agreed with the call as did — of all entities — Marca, the traditionally Real Madrid centric publication. Both were correct, which didn’t stop the self-flagellation of people, culers, saying that Alaves got robbed, that the Alcacer foul shouldn’t have been called because he was offside — even though the ref picked one of two fouls that occurred in close order, and that Umtiti’s handball should have been a penalty.

Even if you believe that, it is also worth considering the swings and roundabouts of human error, two goals this season that should have been that weren’t (this was the same ref who didn’t see the Valencia goal), penalties that might have been called, such as when Suarez was fouled in the box by an Alaves defender. In the clamor for VAR and goal line technology, technical intervention used to help humans be less human, errors often balance out over the course of time. Alaves defender Wakaso committed at least three yellow card fouls, but was still on the pitch is another example.

The ref let the players decide the match, intervening at moments that were blatant or excessive. Alaves tactical fouled away, pushing, shoving and impeding as they planned, taking a physical approach to destabilize the footballing circus. And it worked, until the one thing that couldn’t be predicted, happened. Twice. Game. Set. Match.

Valverde started the new big-money signing in Coutinho, who again looked to the manner born. His interplay with Messi is already that of a peer, and he evinces exceptional vision and ability to get the ball to places that ordinary players don’t consider.

After the match, there was much discussion of whether he should have been played on the right. Many pointed to the final score as proof that his role on the right was in error, that Valverde screwed up. But neither goal had anything to do with anything that might or might not have happened on the right. Coutinho on the right brought a remarkable thing to that side of the pitch: creativity and chaos. Valverde knew what he was doing, and if his team hadn’t been as interested in walking the ball into the net, more might have come of the Coutinho chaos.

Coutinho is real. Many can and will argue about his price, but his quality is even better than we saw with Liverpool because of the system and associated players. Playing one-twos with Messi instead of Mane tends to elevate a player. There was also talk of Coutinho needing to “adapt.” We should hope that the team comes some of the way toward him, as it did with Neymar. The idea isn’t to take a round peg and hammer it into a square hole, but rather to work to find a round hole for that peg.

Coutinho brings something extraordinary to the right side of the pitch, a capriciousness and creativity not seen since Dani Alves was running around, frolicing with Messi. The hope is that we see more of it, not less.

Even more interesting is that as people credit the Valverde changes on the wing for the Barça comeback, Alcacer had more to do with the result than either fullback. His hard run and drawing defenders in the 9 role created striking space for Suarez, and his movement forced reaction from the Alaves defenders, leading to the Messi free kick.

Meanwhile, on a day when the only Barça players who, if you were doing match ratings, would have gotten more than a five were Coutinho, Ter Stegen and Rakitic, the team won. It had a collective off day such as groups who are in sync will have, and still found a way to win. In Madrid, a pair of teams were licking their chops after having already seen off opponents, watching as Alaves’ brave, hard-working plans were coming to fruition.

It was looking like lost points, and if not “hay Liga,” a little collar snugness where previously there was calm.

Then came those damn mutants.

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. Thanks for the article, Kxevin! I already wrote what I thought about the match under the last article, so let me add that while I enjoyed quite some Asimov books as a teenager, later I just couldn’t – I find scenarios and visions like those in the Foundation books very intriguing, but the writing itself seems lifeless to me, the characters mere shadows of people.

    I wouldn’t suggest that Barca is favored by referees (more than any other big club in Spain, that is), as some have. We only need to look at last week’s Copa match, where Espanyol players got yellow cards for red-card offenses, and no cards at all for yellow-card offenses. I didn’t see any other player getting fouled near Alcacer for the freekick that led to goal, and the handball from Umtiti was a bit sketchy for me. But it all evens out.

  2. I am sorry, but this time i disagree with almost everything written here, well, except perhaps the very good ratings for Raki and TS.

    Coutinho was a slow paced disaster and Messi had one of his worst performances under Barca shirt. Check where the ball is lost when it comes to every single dangerous occasion of Alaves: it’s one of these two, venturing into danger without anybody covering for them, as most of the time the situation would not require that type of dangerous choice. Of course, Messi is a monument and it would take 100 performances like this one to raise the slightest form of concern when it comes to his approach, but still, this one time it really was a disaster!

    Also, as the discussion is in that direction, i will perhaps annoy and bother every single peep around here but i am not considering Dembele to be even close to Barca material, as Barca is by definition a team of tight ball controllers, while poor Ousmane needs a few meters to control the ball, while for Coutinho i can’t pronounce myself but i am seeing a player who keeps the ball much more than his colleagues and when he dispatches it, he isn’t choosing the best solution. The best solution thingie can be corrected in time, but the “keeps the ball too much” can go either too well, like with Neymar, or too bad, like with Neymar. Brilliant players like Arda Turan or Sanchez didn’t make it becvause of exactly these flaws.

    Also, i am seeing a coach playing with the intention of winning, but not with the intention of imposing his football. We don’t scare anyone. To this moment i have no actual idea what is our tactical approach beyond the Alba-Messi combo. Alaves had no less than 3 immense occasions to score while we were still searching for the first one, all of them in the exact same fashion: 1 get the ball from Messi (which was very doable yesterday), 2 pass to the close forward who was set-up knowing exactly where the ball would be lost and 3 then open wide to our sides, where our fullbacks would be up, far behind. Actually i even saw Leo shouting at Semedo to help in attack when Semedo had just sprinted 100 meters to cover yet another mistake by the same Messi. ?

    This is not healthy, it looks so much like Real Madrid, trasfering big names and covering their mistakes under the rug, getting a coach who plays to win instead of trying football…. Is winning so important as to be a reason to give up our footballistic, controlling approach?

    To me, it was a horrible match, where VV was obviously the less prepared coach, with a demotivated team (which has waaaaay to many players btw) and with a bunch of expensive stars trying to show who can make more circus and worse decisions.

    Lucky for us, piano carriers like Suarez or Raki were there while TS and Andres were fantastic, as reliable as they got us used to in the past months.

    Please excuse my rough english and take my comments not with the “typical concerned barca fan” eyes, but rather as “tactically we are not even close to a CL winning team and many-a-times we don’t even look like one”. We don’t actually look dominating. Maybe this will come, but let’s not cover miserable performances like this one under a rug of “we got giants, so we’re safe”. Let us not forget Suarez was almost crucified and sold for his human performances before getting back to God status. This might happen again and when it happens i would very much like to see an inspired coach and a convinced team. We were not it yesterday.

    p.s. also, one more thing: it was a penalty when Umtiti handballed, not because there was intention or not, but because the handball influenced the game by changing direction. Let us not change the rules of the game just because it fits us best 🙂

    Have a great season everyone and let’s win everything, here’s to hoping i didn’t get all of you guys mad 😀

    1. Don’t worry, I’m sure we can handle disagreement! Personally, I feel you infer too much from one game, and while Alaves had a good game, it would be strange to claim we did not dominate it – especially before their goal. I would categorise this game as one of those off-games that occur throughout the season, perhaps element of underestimation plays in, a slight mental shut-down to save energy – combined with no Busquets or ordinary FBs. Further, to my mind we have been playing increasingly well as the season has progressed, but I suppose it depends of what “well” means to you.

      Regarding the penalty & deliberate: “”Referees look at two specifics – did the hand or arm go towards the ball or in a manner which would block the ball, or is the hand in a position where it would not normally be? . . . The challenging decisions are if the defending player spreads their arms to make themselves bigger.” (from BBC)

      Don’t think that is a penalty.

    2. Valverde’s tactic relies on high press and positional play. As well as ball control and patience until a space opens. You can see this through normal Barça’s play. Back in July 2017 (I think) Valverde said in an interview that he wanted to manage a style that has a little bit of Guardiola’s, Vilanova’s, Enrique’s and Cruyff’s tactics. Surely so, he also said that he also wanted to add something of his own. And judging on how things are going, he was totally honest about it.

      I don’t know how can you say that Valverde hasn’t imposed anything of his own football when this Barcelona team not only attacks well, but also has a better defensive tactics (surely yesterday wasn’t an example of that, though) and overall has a more balanced approach to the game.

      And, of course, like everyone knows, having an attacking style (that also includes making the CBs go up in the pitch) has the downside of being vulnerable to counter-attacks, which Alaves managed very well. Valverde could have just had Pique, Umtiti and maybe Rakitic to remain in their positions to halt or slow down Alaves’ attacks, but people wouldn’t like that… because that “wouldn’t be Barça”…

      Finally, you answered your own question. You asked that has winning become so important that the team would have to give up the style and then you finish your post saying that you hope Barcelona wins everything. In this day and age, and with the current fanbase of Barcelona the answer is: yes, winning is so important nowadays. Happen to have a loss and suddenly everyone starts bashing the team and its players… that, in reality, is not the healthy thing. Even big clubs with formidable seasons have crappy games every now and then…

    3. I agree with your analysis of EV’s work.
      The Alaves game is probably the first game where EV seemed to have underestimated his opponent. Not to take nothing away from the fact that Alaves played very well..
      But there’s been something about the team this season, they’re relentless and they always seem to have an answer and it only seems a matter of time before they put the ball in the back of the net.
      It must be stated though that EV and his charges must guard against fatigue. Alba and Roberto can’t play every game, Semedo and perhaps Cucurella should be getting more regular minutes so the step down from our starting fullbacks is less noticeable. You can tell that all Semedo is lacking is decent amount of playing time to properly acclimatize.
      Iniesta was magnificent I hope we can keep him fresh for our decisive moments this season, if we do, then we could well be on our way to winning big!
      On a side note, what are your thoughts on Deulofeu?

  3. Thanks, Kxevin. It’s funny, though, how you experience a game. I was left with the impression that Coutinho showed promise, but without a lot coming of it – like you could see what will be, but isn’t really yet. I saw a player looking for his role, failing a few take-ons and missed a few passes (both due to lack of rhythm rather than ability). I also see the point with him being better suited for a left side position, considering his shooting ability (and familiarity). Long term that will no doubt be the case, too, as Dembele hopefully will claim the RW. I also noted the immense quality of Iniesta and Messi even on a day off (which was more clear after their goal), and want to stress how we must not expect TOO much from Phil as an Iniesta replacement. He brings something else. But to rate him higher than our two mutants in this game – I don’t see it. Still, exciting times ahead!

  4. About Umtiti’s handball: should have been a penalty? There’s always room for controversy there. However, my way to settle it (with myself, of course) is just to reverse the situation. What if instead of Umtiti was an Alaves defender that handballed a Barcelona shot from that distance? Would you say that Barcelona should get a penalty kick?

  5. Suarez back to “god status”? Hell, I think he hasn’t ever been in that status at Barcelona. Not even after he scored two consecutive pokers in 2016. So, no, Suarez isn’t “back in god status” and he is not at “god status” at all… at most people say he is back at being important to team and our attack.

    And, sure thing, I can’t blame fans at all for harping over him back in September-October, he was just plain awful back then. Good thing is that he started performing better after that international break… and let’s hope that he is able to do better on the upcoming games, especially on the UCL.

  6. Well first things first. Another literary opening, Kxevin. Excellent ! Georgejorge, I know what you mean. I used to kid the Maths/ Science dept teachers in my school that the writing was lifeless because the writers were more interested in Science than words to their detriment but when you consider “Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?” Is still one of my favourite novels I was on thin ice. Mind you, I find Hemingway quite lifeless so . . .

    Btw, may not mean much to many but a sad week for me with the passing of Ursula LE Guin who single handedly got me into the fantasy genre with her Earthsea trilogy when I was a young secondary school pupil who had struggled and given up on Tolkien in primary school. Have a read of ” a Wizard of Earthsea” the first book, and see if it reminds you of anything ( * cough- Potter- ) but MUCH better.

    Anyway, onto the football. Didn’t enjoy the match much as right from the start something was off, not much as we still controlled it but just enough to be noticeable. I’m tempted to say it was the oil that is Busquets but more of that later. No, I wasn’t sure we were even gonna get an equaliser till Iniesta realised the same and settled it. I’ve often said before he is such a humble player he’d be quite content to let others dominate but if he feels we need him he steps up. So it was on Sunday night. No, Messi didn’t have a great game but what a free kick. Easy to blame the keeper but his position was good and he saw it late. Plus it had a wicked curl.

    Hmm, defence ! Won’t make me popular again but their goal was actually worse than Sunday League football. I’ve been banging on for years about both FBs not going up at the same time and the two CBs staying home wherever possible and close enough to tie a string between them. That way you can cover for each other. The best angle is the one from our end of the pitch. Just freeze that picture before Messi gets it. Umtiti has been up helping the attack . We had seven up, including him. Nothing wrong with that but a cursory glance back will tell him we’re very light at the back (ie. Pique ! ) My beef isn’t that he went up ( on this occasion) but that he was ball watching the whole time. He jogs back towards his position, Rakitic who should be covering him, I think, is also ball watching and doesn’t even see the runner behind him. A word on Pique here because that well known Sky footballing expert Gerry Armstrong reckoned Pique shouldn’t have tried to close him down but rather he was far too far up the park anyway and should have stayed where he was. He then followed this up by asserting that he knew Piquevwouldnt have hot there in time but all the same . . . Jeez! This is what I have to put up with for a Barca game.
    1. If our CBs don’t move up you create a huge space between you and the mids for them to run about in.
    2. If he wasn’t getting there first he aint catching that guy any time soon so only chance was to close town and stall.

    However, an important point did come out of it for me. I said a few weeks ago that Umtiti wasn’t as quick as everyone thought, in fact he was pretty slow. Well, that chase was embarrassing. So, no, awful from Umtiti and Rakitic for me but the bigger takeaway is how seamlessly Busi just slots in at the back when needed. He sees everything and you can’t buy or teach that.

    Elsewhere I’d have to disagree and say that for me, Iniesta was our best player by some margin. Yes, he started a little shakily and yes, towards the end we lost a little dominance and he also fell away but in between if there was someone who had the ability to make a difference in those tight areas it was him. I worry that saving him after 60 minutes is just weakening his match fitness overall.

    Kudos to EV for making the FB change which was overdue even at 50 odd minutes. I find it reassuring that just as I’ve realised something he has done so twenty minutes before and the subs are already warming up. He’s gonna be good for us. Semedo still doesn’t know our ways and found himself unsure at times but will be great, Digne I cut some slack to last time out but I think we all know he’ll be on his way come the summer.

    I agree with the assessment that Suarez needed someone else in the box with him but I’m not sure it mattered a lot that it was Alcacer . He doesn’t really convince me and how the takeaway from a superb run and left footed cross to the back post followed by an unbelievably technically hard volley from an almost impossible angle for an unlikely equaliser ends up as being about a run by Alcacer defeats me. He was marked by one guy, he ran to the front post followed by him ( actually he ran too far outside the post to be of any use) and none of this affected the guy who was marking Pique or the one marking Suarez in the least. How many crucial goals is Suarez going to have to score before folk will accept that, along with Messi he is saving our season ?

    I thought Coutinho was just a little too keen to make something happen. I agree in a sense that we don’t want to lose his creative streak and see him just look for Messi every time but I don’t think that’ll happen once he gets into his stride. It’s just a pleasure to watch his control, movement and passing while he does. There is gonna be a bit of a dilemma when Dembele returns. I think he, Ini and Coutinho will be sharing two spots and at the moment I’m not sure he’ll be anything other than the third but his time will come.

    Sorry, Andh’ol Roin, for me this is shaping up as a pretty strong squad for the CL. And , yes, I would be frightened were I anyone else in Europe at the thought of playing us. We don’t lose many, we can score loads, have a mean press when needed, you can’t get the ball off us and we have TS, Pique, Umtiti ( little Sidney regarding staying at home apart ), Busquets, Iniesta, Massi, Suarez, Coutinho and Dembele ! How many of those wouldn’t walk into any side in Europe ? That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about City (possibly our biggest threat in the CL) or RM who despite their woes have it in them to play a few really great games when it matters but I don’t see Bayern, Chelsea or even PSG as being good / strong enough at the moment from the little I’ve seen .

    1. You are correct in pointing out that Pique was just as guilty as Umtiti in vacating his position during Alaves’s attacking forages. I reckon that Umtiti’s proclivity to be AWOL in defence is rooted in the lack of leadership in our backline as evinced by someone (Pique) who should be leading by example. Teams punishing us on counters isn’t entirely a function of our style of play but the tactical indiscipline exhibited by the backline, one of which is the most experienced amongst them. As someone whose excess and hijinks was remarkably and frequently curtailed by the legendary Puyol, it is sad to note that he hasn’t been equally exemplary to Umtiti. Matter-of-factly, it wasn’t even up to 10 mins, if i recall accurately, before he was in the opposition’s box looking for a goal! I understand there have been situations when we surely needed a goal and his presence have proven useful, but moderation is a vital virtue he must inculcate.
      Meanwhile, I agree with your point that Semedo still hasn’t acculterated himself with our style of play. Still and all, having initally delivered promising permformances offensively, I’m afraid the coach may have stunted his adaptation with his errabund omission of the Portugese from the line up. If in the end we don’t get an Alves-esque RB in Semedo, we can be comforted with the fact that we got an Abidal-esque full back, which isn’t a bad outcome considering how badly we need more defensively minded players in out backline.

  7. Sorry, that should be ” side eye” at Umtiti for staying at home.

    Btw, great if not unsurprising news about Pique’s extension. Much underrated by many Barcelona fans and a great club servant. After the dramas in their own ways of Neymar, Messi and Iniesta his comment hit the nail for me.

    “I can only see myself in a Barça shirt. If I had not extended my contract then I would have stopped playing because I only play football because I play for Barça.”

    My hero !

    1. Jim I enjoyed your take on the game. It was not so long ago that we had no solution for a team parking the bus. Suarez was (and still is) the key that unlocks that door. He’ll go down in a pile of arms and legs and take 2-3 defenders with him just to make space for a teammate. When he first came to the club I was filled with trepidation because of his history—didn’t seem like a Barca man. Boy was I wrong! That guy is all heart and dedication. And who in the world expected Messi and he to become such close friends?

  8. What a joy to have not only Kxevin, but also Jim writing for us. I am with Jim on this one – Ursula Le Guin over Isaac Asimov. The Dispossessed, an inspiration. I am also with Jim on the Suarez goal analysis.

    I meant to post here to thank Kxevin and Jim and GeorgJorge and Davour and other contributors at year’s end for all their words and making this a brilliant site, but I never got around to it. So better late than never – thanks y’all. I miss regular comments from Ciaran and Peter, but other people step and make this an indispensable place for Barca fans in the English language.

    I am loving the Valverde era — of course, who couldn’t? — and Coutinho looks like a brilliant fit to me. Not better or worse than Neymar but just something else, and –crucially — in for the long-term. This year feels like a kind of symphony for high Barca – peak Iniesta and Messi and Busquets and Pique and Jordi together – and Suarez out in his own phenomenal field up front – their collective majesty augmented by his unique front-line skills. (Not that Suarez isn’t a collective player, but he seems other, or distinct. One of these kids is doing their own thing, but is still part of the song).

    The Masche farewell was a bit OTT – why do Barca have to be so gormless Hollywood for these occasions? – but he kept his composure and and stayed classy. Would like to have seen some kind of an adios for Arda but I guess he has overstayed his welcome.

    Anyhow, it is about the football not the spectacle, and back to Kxevin and the commentators here – thanks lads for the comments, the insight and the education.

    1. Thanks a lot! I would actually pay good money to have both Kxevin and Jim be commentators for Barcelona games instead of the usual Sky commentators, though I fear that at the end of the game they would still be having a go at each other discussing a specific sequence of play from the start of the game.

      Just kidding, I love Kxevin’s articles and Jim’s comments!

    2. Thanks, Socrates. There are many who make this space quality, still – lacking the time myself, I always appreciate comments after re-watching to get the details right (like Kxevin and Jim). Haven’t read much of Asimov, strangely, but like Jim I love Le Guin’s trilogy; best fantasy I ever read.

  9. My thoughts.
    I still prefer Semedo on RB, because comparing him with Sergi i know who fills me with confidence when we need to defend. The opposite is when we need to start an attack, so it’s up to Valverde how he will solve this situation. I guess he will analyze the opponent and make the decision, More defensive or more attacking approach. On other note, i quite like the combination of two, i think it was against Sociedad (?) when they combined perfectly on the right.
    Ok, we know how we play, but, i will never understand the need for our CB to dribble their way to opponent’s penalty box. Like Umtiti did, or more often Pique. That kind of adventure gave us the punishment from Alaves. We had this problem in the past, and we suffered because of that, especially when we faced a fast counterattack team. I thought this issue was solved with Valverde, but some things remain imprinted in our CB’s brains. If it’s possible, attack, or help the attack.
    Yes, the cules can be impatient, We were ready, and still are, to give players a half a season or a whole one for a player to settle down, and become part of our system, yet we started judging Coutinho based on one single game. What did people expected from him??? He’ll score a couple of goals, give some assists, control the midfield like no-one before him??? He has all the talent in the world, the needed experience and footballing brain to succeed at Barca. And he will. Im confident that he will be a huge success.
    On penalty issues, the handball; could have gone either way, it’s up to the referee. it wouldn’t be mistake, regardless the call. This time, we benefited from that call.
    As for the Messi goal, it was a clear offside by Alcacer. So there’s no uncleanness here. No foul, no goal. But as we have suffered a lot in the past, and probably again from ref mistakes, i don’t mind their help from time to time.
    Also, i don’t get the notion that other teams don’t fear us. Oh they do. Just ask their coaches will they like to face us. As long as you have Messi in your team, everybody will fear you.
    And, Rakitic was great in Busi’s role, and not for the first time.

    1. Well said, Tito. Semedo any day for me. Like you stated, playing the two at the same time is smart choice. I would have subbed Roberto in for Paulinho, who, by the way, was painfully anonymous. Substitutions such as that would not do Semedo’s confidence any good. Just think of what would have become of Suarez if he’d subbed him off consistently when he was in a funk.

  10. I laugh when I heard no team fear us again, ask Joaquin (real betis) how long his coach spent on preparing them to stop messi, yet messi only see ball on four occasion 2 goals one assist and that’s all a week prep to stop Leo was in vain. for coutinho I’m confident he will come good even the classy neymar take more than a season to work. this team was write off when season was about to commence and now ????? just chill and cut them some slacks.

  11. Two comments on the centerbacks.

    Jim wonders why both are so high up on the field: the forward who receives the long-ball for a counterattack is going to move as high as possible to start the attack. Put either one back, you just have less time to react.

    Tito wonders why the CB’s attack: the opponent are tightly man-marking up-field. Having a CB why ball skills moving up the pitch (and sometime attacking goal like Pique does) allows you to destabilize their marking-defense. That’s Total Football in a nutshell (a la Micheals/Cryuff)—positional interchange to break the man-marking defense (Catenaccio). So the question becomes…who didn’t drop when Umtiti came forward? Rakitic? Digne? Iniesta? I think Busquets would have known what to do.

    1. We agree what total football should be and is. That doesn’t mean that we need to blindly follow that approach.
      The thing is, you have your 1o players on the field, without the GK 30 meters from their goal.
      One of them, your CB, is dribbling. If he makes a mistake (can happen a lot), and he is dispossessed of the ball you simply don’t have time to react, you just don’t. Add to that the slowness of most of our midfield and defensive players… and you will have in a split of second an opponent player inside your box.
      We can probably write a study on how many times this has happened in the past.

    2. Just saying as CB comes up, someone drops. You don’t wait until the defense responds—unless tired or overconfident.

    3. Hmm, I couldn’t have been as clear as I thought I’d been before. Need to take more time to develop my thoughts at length 🙂

      What I was trying to say was

      1. We don’t lose many goals at all if we have our defence in the right place.

      2. Our CBs and our FBs should not both be going up at the same time. They need to keep an eye on each other.

      3. Our CBs can’t be hanging back on the halfway line if every other player is clustered round the opposition box. That loves a huge gap.

      4. Pique’s positioning and actions for their goal were not the problem. He did well. Moving forward and trying to stall or close down the pass was his only option.

      5. The problem ( for me ) lay squarely with Umtiti who went up ( fine but 8 attackers rather than 7 makes no difference and as soon as he played the ball he should have been busting a gut to get back but he didn’t even look. The other half lay with Rakitic who showed no indication that he understands that if a CB is caught up the park he slots in to cover his man. He was also ball watching and actually moved away from where he should have been.

      6. I’m not absolving Pique from the AWOL syndrome. He does join the attack often, too often for me. However, he does get back quickly as soon as his part is over. I suppose he is useful up front as he has all the skills but his first job is defence. I can’t remember anything created because of Pique’s absence this season. Where he does usually benefit is that Busquets immediately drops if he sees him moving up so no problem so that maybe cost Umtiti but he is starting to build a pattern. We have no need to take such chances.

      7. The real problem with this is that if we lose a goal through it it gives the opposition something to cling onto and ward off the fatigue that our possession causes them late on. How often have we failed to score in a game ? It’s just not necessary.

      Btw, thanks for the appreciative comments, guys. Likewise, Socrates, I always like to hear from Ciaran or Peter, sensible and knowledgeable commentators both. I fear they have been seduced by the immediacy of Witter ( suspicion I’m leaving myself open to a decisive repost here ! )

  12. Nice stuff Kxevin, been following for the past couple of years…I like how you always seem to have a well articulated view on things that is unorthodox but also undeniably Cule. Keep it up.

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