Mallorca 0 – 1 Barça: Bitter Victory

I have to start this off with props to Mallorca for determined and good performance. They’re pretty good at home, aren’t they? You kind of saw it coming, though, didn’t you? They had such a good record at home and we’re guilty of starting most matches fairly poorly that it looked like we were going to be down a couple of goals before the first ten minutes were over, but instead Victor Valdes’ best friend, Señor Poste, saved us from going down at all and we were able to convert that into a very valuable win.

Obviously the victory is tempered by the biggest news: Iniesta will miss at least the next two matches and probably the return leg against Arsenal as well with a tear in his hamstring. The diagnosis is that he’ll be ready for the clásico, which is obviously fantastic news, though missing him against the Gunners is going to be a blow to our strategy. After all, we’ll be without one of our best passers, which is what will help us get around any pressure that Arsenal puts on us as well as keep the ball out of their hands, which could end up being more important, especially in the second leg if we’re defending a lead.

That news is itself tempered by the return of Xavi. After 10 days that felt like 700, we get our maestro back, which, if we’re going to be without Iniesta, is fairly vital. I have faith in Busi, Yaya, and Keita to get the job done against a team like Athletic Bilbao, even though los leones aren’t a team to scoff at in the least, but against a world class side like Arsenal, it’s all about Xavi controlling the tempo. Now, he wasn’t spectacular against Mallorca, but you could tell when he came on because suddenly there was a sense of calm, a sense of space that simply hadn’t been there before. It was such an obvious shift that Guardiola felt perfectly comfortable, with the narrowest of leads, putting Jonathan Dos Santos on with 15 minutes remaining.

The starting lineup was an intriguing one, with Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Milito, Maxwell (added–thanks Ade), Yaya, Keita, Iniesta, Pedro, Ibrahimovic, Jeffren put out by Guardiola. I was a bit concerned before it started on where our attacking creativity would come from not because I don’t trust that midfield, but because I thought Mallorca would come out gangbusters and Jeffren and Pedro might have a hard time filling their primary wing roles. I’m also a recent convert to the whole 4-2-4/Messi swinging around through the middle/total football thing, so while I was looking forward to the whole classic 4-3-3 thing, I wondered if we wouldn’t see a bit of clunkiness when it came to the final third. I was hoping Jeffren’s pace would mask an positional deficiencies in his game and I hoped that Pedro could continue his solid run of form.

In the end, we looked like a bunch of scrubs during the first twenty or so minutes (not that we didn’t have some chances, but they weren’t clear chances and were called back for offsides anyway). If not for the aforementioned goalpost and some good work by Valdes, we would have been down two goals early and it would have been a very hard comeback indeed. Of course, that’s how things work sometimes and had there not been some untimely and incorrect offside calls against us, maybe we would have broken the deadlock far earlier than we did (63rd minute). And by the way, Pedro was offside when he actually did get the ball in the back of the net, so that’s the one I can’t really complain about.

What’s strange is that those two times that the ball came off the post were the only two shots on goal that Mallorca had. Another strange stat: Mallorca had 10 total shots while Barça only had 7, but 5 of them were on target. That Barça had almost 70% possession is probably what prompted Guardiola to trust in JDS, but it is somewhat worrying that such massive possession resulted in so few shots. We had slightly more shots-per-minute than Mallorca (roughly one every 13 minutes for us and one every 15 minutes for them), but weren’t particularly incisive, especially considering that our shots were often from set pieces. Still, we held them to only two shots on goal in 90 minutes and a big fat 0 over the final 70, which is something to celebrate.

Milito nearly scored with a brilliant header that Aouate was equal to, Ibra had a half chance that he turned into a real chance which Aouate again did well to keep out, Jeffren dipped a shot over the bar after stumbling over Keita’s well-weighted through ball, then Ibra and Messi combined to do this, which would have brought my house down had it gone in (the group watching here would have torn the place to shreds in delight). In the end, it wasn’t quite as impressive as this, but only because the end result wasn’t a goal. Sandwiched in there, of course, was Xavi’s entrance to the game and a few minutes later a corner kick that Puyol got a foot on, sending it into Aouate’s body. Dudu could only palm it straight to Ibra, who made no doubt about it with a vicious blast into the top of the net. He was well onside thanks to the man at the back post and it was a well-taken goal. Glad he could put that one away.

So we went up 1-0 and we never really looked like letting one slip past us in the final few minutes (Aduriz was clearly off in the one he put by Valdes), but it would have been nice to go up 2-0 and really put it all to bed–which Messi should have done, really, instead of blasting over the bar from the box. Who here, if it had been paused before he let fly, would have bet against him? But Mallorca played hard and well and, again, they should be given credit for holding us to 1-0 and for creating the chances that could have beaten us. On a different night, it very well could have been a win for them.

Enjoy the highlights:

So there you have it.

Tomorrow begins my earth-shaking Arsenal Week Part 1, so stay tuned for random updates to that. It should be a busy next couple of weeks for us, regardless of what happens. We’ve got @Arsenal now, Athletic at home on Saturday, Arsenal at home on Tuesday, @Real Madrid on April 10, then Depor, @Espanyol, Xerez, @Villarreal, Tenerife, @Sevilla, and finally home to Valladolid to end the season. That’s a fairly monstrous away schedule and if you mix in a Champions League semi final with that (please oh please let’s do), there will be a trip to either Moscow or Inter as well. Wild stuff.

It’s the business end, as they say, so let’s do it. For the children. Or whatever.

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

49 Comments

  1. ElShowDeJason
    March 28, 2010

    don’t count CSKA out. They have beaten Inter in the CL before, if I am not mistaken…

    • Helge
      March 29, 2010

      I wouldn’t count them out either. There are two reasons: First of all, I’d like to play against CSKA in the semis because Inter is a lot tougher to break (well that’s more like a wish^^). But for me, Inter hasn’t played a single good CL match aside from the Chelsea matches over the last ~18 months. They’ve been a hell of a team against Chelsea, probably only because Mourinho was motivated as hell and he was able to transmit the motivation and desire to beat Chelsea to his players. Against CSKA, they will never be as focused as they were against Chelsea. They might even underestimate them, after their impressive performance in the round of 16. But CSKA nearly beat ManUtd @ Old Trafford.
      So let’s wish CSKA some luck, although Eto’o won’t like to hear this 🙂

      • ElShowDeJason
        March 29, 2010

        Their poor form isn’t limited the the Champion’s League.

        In their last 5 matches they are 1-2-2 (W-D-L), taking 5 points out of 15
        In the last 10 they have gone 3-5-2, taking 14 points of a possible 30.

        Those kind of results at Barca or the EE would get you fired with the quickeness…

  2. ballbeav
    March 28, 2010

    thanks for the review. i really really hope spf45 is back for the 2nd leg. but we have played without him before and won…

    • March 29, 2010

      I was staring at spf45 for a minute trying to figure it out, then i loled.

  3. barca96
    March 28, 2010

    that’s a late review isaiah.lol

    although we had 70% possession but we couldn’t really control the match in the 3rd part of the field. the ball was mostly in the middle area.
    we had too many turn overs *ibra*
    he needs to stop doing fancy stuffs which only works 1/10 times.
    but that “back” pass was out of this world!!

    • Jnice
      March 28, 2010

      Not sure you should really be looking at Ibra as the main cause of the turnovers. Sure he had a couple, but you really can’t attribute that to him.

      • barca96
        March 29, 2010

        what i don’t like is unnecessary turn overs.
        like doing back heel passes that only works 1 out of 10.
        why not a simple pass and have a rythmm.

  4. Reagan
    March 29, 2010

    Gotta love Ibra’s work ethic against Mallorca! He ran his heart out as did Jeffren and Pedro. What they lack in experience they clearly make up for with their youthful exuberance!

  5. Bebop
    March 29, 2010

    Hey guys. here’s a great article on Victor Valdes:
    **http://www.totalbarca.com/2010/interviews/victor-valdes-a-keeper-in-search-of-perfection/

  6. ade
    March 29, 2010

    I think you forgot to mention Maxwell in the lineup. Only 10 players listed 🙂

  7. Helge
    March 29, 2010

    Abidal is back! He trained normally with the other players today. BUT Piqué only trained for himself on the sideline…

    Nice preview, Isaiah. And I can’t wait for your Arsenal updates, this will be fun! This is not only Arsenal Week for you, it’s for all of us. Be careful of mentioning Arsenal in the headlines 😉

    • Helge
      March 29, 2010

      Edit: According to the medical, Piqué, Xavi and Yaya are available for Arsenal, Abidal is still lacking training experience and will not make the travel to London.

  8. Cesc Blanc
    March 29, 2010

    important notice

    go to facebook and look up

    a que las botas de Messi consiguen más fans que CR9

    and become a fan

    once you’re a fan, invite people to join. CR9 is at 3 Million something. Together, we will achieve victory.

    VICTORRRRYYYY!!!!

    • barca96
      March 29, 2010

      let cristina win the fan girls award.lol

  9. Kxevin
    March 29, 2010

    It staggers me that people are STILL pissing on Ibrahimovic. What’s that now, the winner in our last two matches, to keep us on pace in the Liga? What else does he have to do, give people sex then make them a sandwich? The standard that he has to deal with is, frankly, impossible to meet.

    That “back pass” was a stunning bit of improvisation, and the only play he had before the defense closed down. So he made it. If Ronaldinho makes that same pass, there are 985 comments on what a genius he is. That pass was necessary because in the milliseconds that separate a clear chance from an intercepted pass, a player has to make instantaneous decisions.

    Are you KIDDING me? We have a striker who, in the box, could see the pass coming, spot Messi, and angle his body in a way that got a pass to Messi. Whoa. The press, even AS, was going nuts, for good reason. I’m just thrilled that he’s playing for us.

    Finally, what diffrentiates a parlor trick from an amazing play is time, space, situation and execution. Ronaldinho does a lot of parlor tricks. Ibrahimovic, though sometimes audacious, has an array of skills that broaden his possibilities. So yes, he can backheel a pass while surrounded by defenders, if that is his only option.

    Needless turnovers? If that’s the standard, he’s in the boat with Messi, Iniesta and others. Great players take risks. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But Ibrahimovic has 15 goals,many of them match winners, in his first season with us, in which hr didn’t have the benefit of a pre-season in which to fit in. Yet when Krkic takes a piss without soiling his hands, the cries go up for “More, more! That kid is underused!”

    Sorry, but I just don’t understand it. And I guess I never will.

    • Tyler
      March 29, 2010

      I’m with you Kxevin. I love Ibra, I love what he does, and I think most importantly he is a difference maker. This same game last season. We end up with a 0-0 tie, or lose the game. Ibra is the bus-breaker, he’s the clutch killer. Haha in some ways he reminds me of that Dark Knight quote. Allow me to paraphrase:

      “Because he’s the “striker” Barcelona deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him because he can take it. Because he’s not our “leading goal scorer”. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark ninja swede.”

    • inNYC
      March 29, 2010

      Agreed…the only thing that worries me about Ibra’s play is when he seems to be getting so pissed at himself that he can’t keep his head in the game…but I think that will fix itself over time.

      Thanks to his fondness for post-match clothing removal, though, I wouldn’t pass up the sex and a sandwich deal. And judging from my last couple trips to Woodwork I’d guess FCBotanical would agree with me.

      • andrew M
        March 29, 2010

        lol lol haha lol

        honestly in my opinion, i dont see people attacking ibra so much except when he had his drought.

        if people do attack him they prob dont truly understand what his role is for the team

    • Nick
      March 29, 2010

      I appreciate the desire to defend him but can’t agree with you on the turnovers argument. Yes, Ibra is class. He did score match winners. His positioning and work rate keep on improving. However, none of this should justify unnecessary backheels/flicks in situations when a sure play is available. And there were plenty of those in the last match.

      • ballbeav
        March 29, 2010

        he hit it with his back, woooooowwww. and it was an ok pass, not great. ive done that in a competitive match too. why? i couldnt turn around in time. worked pretty good. no big deal.

        i think he had a good game, but cmon. dont cite his back pass.

        • ballbeav
          March 29, 2010

          and, i agree with Nick. he tries too much cheeky shit. but again he had a pretty good match. pep will rein him in a bit with the cheekiness.

      • Jim
        March 29, 2010

        I thought Ibra had a better match and its nice to see him getting back among the goals. There was a one two played with Dani Alves in the first half that had me thinking he’s starting to get with the programme. We need him playing well as it doesn’t look like Pep’s going to take the Henry route and I, for one, don’t want Ibra to fail. I also agree that the back pass was good to watch and a sign that he still has some confidence.

        However, welcome as his latest goals have been, a penalty when the opposition are already destroyed by Messi and two tap ins an inibriated Glaswegian would have trouble missing hardly constitute wonderful play. Have a look at the first two minutes(ish) of the second half and you’ll see what people mean when they talk about his touch being poor. He loses the ball more often in two minutes than Xavi or Iniesta do in a whole match.

    • Jnice
      March 29, 2010

      I agree with almost everything you said, except for the parlor trick bit about Dinho. I’ve never seen a player do more tricks in order to accomplish something. Parlor tricks can best describe what Cristiano Ronaldo does. Dinho had those every once and a while, but for the most part he used his tricks to create space, bamboozle defenders, score goals, and create goals for his teammates. He didn’t just stand there and shake his legs 100 times over the ball to look cool.

      Dinho did these tricks way more effectively than Ibra and the two aren’t even comparable in that sense, in my opinion. How many times did one of his backheels open up space for Van Bronkhorst or Sylvinho down the wing? He still does it better than anybody in the game.

      I love what Ibra brings though, and I, like you, don’t understand the needless turnover bit, which is why I commented on it first.

      • Blow-Grenade
        March 29, 2010

        You totally echoed my sentiments. Dinho has been the world player of the year a couple of times. I hope Ibra gets there, but from what I have seen the prognosis seems very bleak.

      • Helge
        March 29, 2010

        Yeah, absolutely agree with you. Crynaldo is the archetype of parlor tricks, Ronaldinho was the most versatile and also one of the most effective players when it comes to tricks. Messi, and also the real Ronaldo, cannot match him at all. The false Ronaldo, I don’t even want to talk about this douchebag (what I actually did now *damn*).

    • vicsoc8
      March 29, 2010

      Ibra has been playing better, finally looks to be coming out of his slump.

      I just don’t understand why you feel the need to build up one player by bringing another down. The Krkic comment really has nothing to do with Ibra, especially since I haven’t seen anyone commenting that he should play instead of Ibra.

  10. yogi
    March 29, 2010

    Interesting match and one in which Mallorca pushed us to the limit. They played well though we did emerge with win.

    About Ibra, happy that he is back scoring again. We do need him playing at his best if we have to win something.

    Really sad about Iniesta. He is very important to us and without him, we will be at dis-advantage. Maybe we will see Henry at Arsenal.

    Nothing against Henry but he is proclaiming his love for Arsenal at every moment. Can totally understand it but makes me little nervous nonetheless. I have faith in him as professional that he will do the job and having him in line up will make their full back apprehensive but i don’t need to read it 10 times about how Henry wished for other opponent.

    • Jnice
      March 29, 2010

      Henry is being a little overemotional for me. Yes, say “it will be strange to come back” or “I will always have Arsenal in my heart” yadda yadda, but don’t keep saying “I don’t want to play” and all that other rubbish. He’s trying to hard to remain in the hearts of Arsenal fans. He should be trying harder to remain on the field and convince Pep and cules of what he still has to offer.

      • Blow-Grenade
        March 29, 2010

        Regarding Henry’s comments, I think any self respecting sporting director will replace him with what he said, especially considering the importance and stakes involved in the game.

        I think we are looking at the last couple of months with barca for Monsieur Henry. I will leave Txiki Begiristan to do the rest.

        • Kxevin
          March 29, 2010

          Let’s hope that Henry plays better than Eto’o at Mallorca, who made similar comments and probably would have missed an empty net during that match. As I said below, Henry will be just fine. He’ll probably even be inspired.

          Ronaldinho would make the same kinds of comments if Milan were facing us. It’s only natural for a player to feel love for the side that made him famous. It doesn’t mean they roll over aginst that side. Often, it’s the reverse.

          • Jim
            March 29, 2010

            I agree. He’s too much of a professional to do anything else. Also, fate has a habit of handing you the chance to land a fatal blow just when you’d rather it were someone else. I remember Dennis Law scoring with Man City to put Utd down then looking sick about it.

            *http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXpF2v0Kgvk

  11. El Tel
    March 29, 2010

    Did anyone else see the Madrid derby yesterday? Atletico got a penalty called for a blatant hand ball by Xabi Alonso in the 66th minute, but no red card from ref Mallenco, not even a yellow. Xabi got his yellow in the 85th minute though–he was sitting on 4 yellows, like Alves, so he’s good to go for the Classico. I smell a refereeing conspiracy here.

    • Blow-Grenade
      March 29, 2010

      I am liking all these conspiracies… any more???

  12. Reaper -> the artist formerly known as Reagan
    March 29, 2010

    will poor crygrynskiy ever get a game????

    • Blow-Grenade
      March 29, 2010

      Chygrynsky already dug a grave too deep for himself to get out of. Expect him to get loaned at the end of the season to another spanish side.

      • ballbeav
        March 29, 2010

        pep said “as long as i am coach he will be in the team.” my hunch is they are working on strength and conditioning for the lad.

  13. Kxevin
    March 29, 2010

    Henry will be fine. He’s in the squad, is a professional, and understands the importance of this match for his side.

    –Regarding Ibrahimovic and “parlor tricks,” I think that a lot of the view of what is and isn’t a parlor trick depends on one’s view of the player. Ronaldinho was a parlor tricker. It was part of his thing, and the fans wanted to see it. Players are still entertainers, right?

    I rather imagine that other players have made similar passes to Ibrahimovic’s. Easy to do, right? Anything is easy bereft of context. I can give someone a basketball and say “make a 3-pointer,” and they will. Now do it with less than 10 seconds on a clock with a defender in your face and a game on the line. It gets a little different.

    Messi makes needless turnovers, Iniesta makes overly ambitious passes that result in turnovers. So slag them, too. As far as concerns that Ibrahimovic won’t work out with us, the fans will drive him away long before he has a chance to mesh fully with the club, I’m afraid. Then someone else will come in that everyone will be able to tear down. So no worries, right?

    • vicsoc8
      March 29, 2010

      I’ve been upset about Ibra’s “pointless turnovers” in the past, but it wasn’t an issue for me in this game. The reason is this: when Ibra was going through a rough patch and a run of poor form, he was still trying to make difficult and unnecessarily flashy moves. When you aren’t playing well the best way to get out of it is to go out there and stick to the basics and make the simple plays. As you succeed with the simple plays you grow in confidence and then later you can add in the more flashy, dangerous things.

      I had a problem with Ibra because I think he prolonged his run of poor form by refusing to just return to basics. Finally, about three games ago he did try to return to the basics, and he is slowly gaining his confidence back and returning to form, which is a good thing.

      • ballbeav
        March 29, 2010

        yes. keita is a good example of someone who just works hard and doesnt do anything flashy, he is just solid in the fundamentals department. we dont need ibra to do flashy shit, yes if it comes off it can be trotted around on hi-lite reels, but since it probably wont, just work on possesion play, this will bring the love. most 9s worth their salt could score 15 goals in barcas system by this point, so lets not cite that. ibra is at his best when he does the smart thing, not the cheeky thing. pep brought him in because he can hold the ball. so, do it. his turn and ‘dribble’ on the left near the end line in 2nd half was a juvenile mistake. you simply dont turn and show the defender the ball while you are turning, when they are right in front of you. especially when you arent as quick as they are. you shield the b all as much as possible with your body. as it were, the ball just went out of bounds, maybe off the defender, icant remmeber, but frankly ibra had lost control of the ball with a poor dribble and bad decision making. this moment will not be on the hilite reels so im not looking for it. this is just one moment, they outnumber the hi-lite moments. this is why IBra KNOWS he has to improve. not just me or the other commenters here. we know he can do better, and we need it desperately at this tim e in the season. “no half steppin” as big daddy kane said.

        • Kxevin
          March 29, 2010

          Kinda like when Messi runs into five defenders and loses the ball. He knows better, so why did he do it?

          If people want to give Ibrahimovic stick for that stuff, rock on. But give it to everybody who does it. Iniesta can’t beat a lot of defenders one on one, but he tries it, and loses the ball. He can’t slide a pass through a thicket of legs, but he tries it, and loses the ball.

          Ibrahimovic is an easy target because he’s big, expensive and new to the side. But he isn’t alone in doing vexing things on the pitch.

          • Jim
            March 29, 2010

            I’m sure even you will agree Kxevin, that Messi’s success rate when running at five defenders is actually pretty good 🙂 Messi can do that – Ibra can’t. Personally, as long as it happens in the opponent’s third I don’t have a problem with anyone trying anything.

            Like I said earlier, rewatch the first two minutes of the second half. He loses the ball needlessly three or four times at least and he’s not even trying anything difficult. That’s the problem for me allied to the fact that I still don’t think he is mobile enough at the moment. However, he is starting to realise that his previous work rate won’t hack it at Barca and that’s a good sign.

    • ElShowDeJason
      March 29, 2010

      I still wouldn’t call Dinho’s moves parlor tricks…
      Like Jnice said, they always had the intention to open space for himself or for a player, and not to entertain (unless the 3 points were secured alreadly)
      performing 5 stepovers and playing a negative pass is a parlor trick.
      backheeling or disguising a pass into space for a teammate is not.

      • Kxevin
        March 29, 2010

        If you have the chance to make a simple pass, and you make a flashy, side-of-foot thing just because you can, it’s a parlor trick, I don’t care who’s doing it. And Ronaldinho does/did it all the time. Perhaps the player doing the 5 stepovers is hoping that one of them will work. When it doesn’t, you pass back and reset the offense. It’s why I say that parlor trick depends upon perspective.

        • Jim
          March 29, 2010

          One of his greatest attributes was the disguise he had on what he was about to do. His look to the east, pass to the west move was almost impossible to defend against. At his peak still the most technically gifted player I’ve ever seen and I’m including Cruyff, Maradonna, Messi and Pele.

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