Barça 3, Alaves 0, aka “Geniuses and football whack-a-mole”

If you haven’t played “Whack-A-Mole,” you should. It’s a hilarious carnival game in which you stand over a board with an array of holes in it. You have a mallet. The objective is to hit the mole as it pops up out of one of the holes before you die laughing. You always lose.

Assessing this Barça team has become like a footballing variant as standards move. Rakitic isn’t creative, why is he playing? Well, he played well, and could work, but not without Arthur. Semedo isn’t good. Well he was good, but Sergi Roberto is smarter. Dembele needs time to develop. Valverde is too boring.

The hot takes flow from the world of social media, Madame Defarge knitting the names of potential victims into her creation as the tumbrels roll past, filled with players looking to escape the guillotine of public and press scorn.

And another Barça coach ages before our eyes.

Alaves came into the Camp Nou looking for what it came with: a point. Over the course of a season, a point stolen from a potentially slumbering colossus still drunk from World Cup excesses can be a boon as a weaker team seeks a comfortable spot mid-table. Barça looked to be ripe for the plucking as everybody came rolling in from World Cup and extended vacations, while other teams were working, training, plotting, getting ready.

Abelardo, an excellent coach, set his team up to defend, in banks of five. The “none shall pass” intent was clear. To oppose it, Valverde came out with Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Messi, Dembele and Suarez, to battle the low blocks that have been the traditional bane of the Barça existence.

In the first half, the match should have been over, but for poor finishing and wayward passes. Messi delivered beauty, Dembele frolicked in the half spaces between defenders, making room with pace, dribbling and guile. Suarez rumbled around like a creative wrecking ball as Sergi Roberto and Semedo took turns overlapping on the right. Even drawn up to defend, it took everything Alaves had plus some errors to keep Barça off the scoreboard.

Messi off the crossbar on a free kick. Dembele misplayed a couple of passes, one that would have sent Messi in alone on the keeper, the other for Suarez in the box. Dembele shot right at the keeper once, tried to bend a shot into the far corner the other time, both in the box. Suarez had an incredible miss from almost the doorstep. Gone were the days where Malaga could set up like this and be confident of a 0-0 scoreline as they watched Barça pass the ball around. This team is dynamic, plays more quickly without Iniesta and moves better as a unit, almost as if linked by rods instead of the motions of a leather sphere.

The challenge as we assess this team is to understand what we are seeing and why, rather than what we want to see and aren’t seeing. The difference is important. Football is. There are objective and subjetive things. After the match, BeIN analyst Phil Schoen said that when Arthur subbed on, the team looked almost Barça like. There is an expectation from the team forged in a way of play that was magical, but that also required compliant opponents.

In the here and now, there doesn’t seem to be a single way of playing, a “Barça way.” Valverde, with his summer acquisitions, seems to have decided to build a team that can play any different number of ways. The first half was movement, seeking to exploit spaces and playing quickly. The second half, when Coutinho came on, was ball at feet and creating to move defenders, then capitalizing on those spaces. Messi moved around — wing, forward, midfielder — and wreaked havoc from wherever he was on the pitch, not caring whether he kills with a pass or a goal.

What we saw was a team and a coach that shifted gears at halftime, because it had the capabilities to do so. Last season in the fist match, the subs were Digne, Aleix Vidal and Denis. This year, the subs were Coutinho, Arturo Vidal and Arthur. Yikes. Last season, the bench was crickets, failures and Denis. This year it included Vidal, Rafinha, Malcom, Coutinho, all players capable of changing a match on their own. Today, they were tasked with capitalizing upon a slight lead, and helping to put Alaves to the sword.

Messi, with his “Champioons Leauge or bust” speech at the Gamper, has piled a ton of pressure onto his teammates. Messi, with his play, said, “I’m ready. What about you all?” His first goal of the season, after his first woodwork of the season, was sublime, a free kick that he earned, that he rolled under the wall. An Alaves player was seen shrugging, as if to say, “What are we supposed to do with that, coach?”

Everybody in the stadium expected him to go over the wall. The distance was perfect, and he had already dialed in that corner with a first-half effort that spanked off the underside and just bounced out. This would be the one. He strode up, and hit a daisycutter of a shot that slid though the space that was just created by a leaping Alaves defender. It fooled everyone as the keeper dove ineffectually and again, Messi combined genius and technique to score the 6,000th goal for FC Barcelona in the club’s storied history.

Because of the unique way that he strikes the ball, with almost zero backlift off a normal stride, he can do anything on the ball and it all looks the same. Chip, lob, blast, curler. It was a genius goal that relieved a ton of pressure for a team that knew the first goal it scored would be the only one that it needed. Alaves ended the match with zero shots on goal, and no saves from Ter Stegen. The closest he came was when an Alaves counter required him to dash off his line, capture the breakaway pass with a deft touch, control with the softest of lobs, then move the ball to a midfielder.

After the match, people who aren’t really invested in the team not being as good as it in fact is, sat in the BeIN studios and shook their heads at how good the team was today, and it wasn’t even in form, or firing on anything like all cylinders. If you looked at what was there, it was something remarkable — a team of superstars and captains, playing as a single unit, capable of playing differently dependent upon who was on the pitch at the time. Coutinho scored a goal that was inevitable, yet defenders could do nothing about it as he cut right, then curled into the far corner. Messi scored a late goal with the final kick of the game, a goal that was a lot like his goal against Nigeria in the World Cup: it was so fast and made to look to easy that you didn’t understand how difficult it was until you saw it in slow motion, and got our mind around it.

Messi had a match today that would have been a career day for a lot of players, from the passes, to the free kick, to the dribbles and creativity. He scored a brace, electrified every time he touched the ball, and looked ready to lay waste to everything in his path this season. For Messi, it was just another day at the office. He is so good that it doesn’t register just HOW good he is. Ray Hudson said, during the match, it seems that every time Messi has the ball at his feet, he is experimenting with football. It is impossible to assess him because there aren’t parameters. Goals were this objective thing, numbers that allowed people to say that this or that player was as good, and have debates about it. Completed dribbles was another stat trotted out, so that the likes of Adama Traore or Eden Hazard can be on the same graph as Messi. But the man is in a class of his own.

What is exciting about this season is that if the team comes together properly, the entire project will be in a class of its own. During the match, Dembele had a run begging. He got the ball, started sprinting while surveying the pitch. But unlike last season, this season he saw nothing was on, so he stopped the ball to wait. It was a joyous sign of growth for a player with an up side bigger than his massive fee, and a player who would be treated a lot differently had he come from La Masia, or cost what, say, Malcom cost. Instead, he’s a potential 140m flop instead of a remarkable young talent who will need time to give of his best.

Semedo is markedly improved this season. Valverde substituted him not becasue of anything the player did, but because he wanted to make a tactical variation, and that required Sergi Roberto taking his massive footballing brain to the right of the pitch, so that Coutinho could do his thing on the left. People saw what they wanted to see with a player who, like Dembele, isn’t fully accepted and might never be. So shortcomings were found in Semedo’s game, and the substitution was proof of those shortcomings. More Whack-A-Mole.

It is worth saying again that Barça faced a team set up in low blocks, two banks of five, a team that ran, scraped, sacrificed and played its hearts out, a team that last season would have gotten a result, and won 3-0. Perfect? No. Far from it. Effective? Ah, that dirty word for a team that has to be more than effective, that has to spark sonnets and football orgasms every time it plays, or … meh.

If you looked, this was orgasmic at times, the way Alaves was toyed with. On a different day, this would have been a 6 or 7-0 laugher, instead of a squeaky bum 3-0 win. As you read in this space early last season about something special being brewed by Valverde of a team that went on to do a domestic double, come within a goal of making Liga history and a goal of almost certainly going on to win Champions League, know that this team is better. A LOT better, with a much higher ceiling. Will it get there? No idea. But it is going to be lots of fun to watch, if we allow.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

49 Comments

  1. majatt
    August 18, 2018

    Good write up, will be interesting to see if/how rotation works with the squad based on today’s line up. I’m not sure what the best 11 is anymore and that’s scary and exciting.

    Side note, I was pretty confused about having one defensive sub, Having no LB outside of Alba seems… Risky.

    • Davour
      August 19, 2018

      I think EV counts on Lenglet and Umtiti to be able if necessary, or possibly Roberto (he has done it before). Worse, to me, is the lack of a striker on the bench.

  2. mvarfi
    August 18, 2018

    Right on the money Kxevin! What an inspiring start of the season!

    I consider it a big miss that I never got to enjoy Pep’s Barca. Watching the odd game here and there years later doesn’t really count. However, I’m also not left with the baggage of that high, particular-looking standard. The one that a lot of cules either can’t or won’t let go of. I can enjoy Valverde’s Barca for what it is, without any preconceived ideas of what it “should” be.

    Right now, I have last season’s performance as a reference point. I know it’s only one game (pre-season doesn’t count) vs. an entire season, but I can see already that the team is a lot more dimensional than last year’s. That means a much higher degree of adaptability to whatever we may face on the pitch. And that makes me very happy, in a patient sort of way.

    I loved the team today, but I loved Messi more. His resoluteness is something to behold. If I can feel it through the TV screen, I can only imagine what it must feel like on the pitch. Ray Hudson calls him “the medicine man”. He is. He must be, a footballing Shaman, because how else can you explain what he does.

  3. Dracko
    August 19, 2018

    If Messi’s performance is what I think it was–a “here is my captain Messi version; how do you handle my captaining style?”–then I’m sorry for opposition teams this campaign.

  4. luisthebeast
    August 19, 2018

    Team needs badly a young 9 and a RB,i know people love Roberto and they want to wait until Semedo becomes something great but these two positions keep the team back.
    Valverde not calling Paco and Munir for the game is a clear message to board that he needs a new player.

  5. August 19, 2018

    Kevin, thanks for this review. As I commented in the last post, about the disastrous facebook streeam experience, I was so sad about missing the first half. Your review has been very helpful.
    Yes, from the second half show, I also had this feeling that this team is going to improve and it might give us moments of Pep’s Barca.. The beauty is going to be back..

    Is there anyone here who can make a call to la liga office in SPain and let them know they have completely screwed up ligas popularity and growth in India, please I beg you. If there is anyway they can get it to some tv channels.. please..

  6. Hristo
    August 19, 2018

    I thought we played alright given that Alaves came to defend and counter, which was never gonna work with Semedo and Umtiti in the starting line up.

    I felt our midfield was lacking in penetration and speed ans could not match the propensity of our forwards. I think if you are gonna start Coutinho in midfield you outta introduce Arthur as well.
    Valverde has not learned that Semedo does not play well with Roberto, and without wide natural winger against low sitting teams.
    Same line didn’t work well last season and we are at it again.

  7. Grindelwald
    August 19, 2018

    Very nice article, I’m guessing Kxevin is also in that early season enthusiastic mood – to have published 2 articles in a day is as much of an enjoyment and something worth looking forward to as watching Barca’s first la Liga game.
    I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday’s match, not coz of it champagne or high octane football, but because we were able to create myriads of chances (Messi alone created about 6 chances) against a well drilled and organized defence; something that’s been barca archilles heel since LE 2nd season. Also, our Frontline was very OK and well suited to play against parks defenses more than ever.
    I’d like to hear Jim’s opinion on Dembele development & adaptability to barca’s style, imo Dembele has learned more in 1 year what Neymar was unable to learn in four, he held on to ball less, his decision making was very good and he didn’t attempt much meaningless dribbles & slowing the team’s game in the process, though his through passes and finishing product were poor, he still has time to improve on those, and from what I’ve seen of him so far he’s gonna surprise us all this season!
    Suarez was also good, apart from some odd touches and a lil bit wasteful, he was able to link up well with the mids, wasn’t getting isolated and most importantly, was capable of staying onside. Messi was just otherworldly as usual, confounds me how someone compares him to an underwear prima Donna.
    Overall, the team looked very solid and the bench gave me hope after such a long time of having mediocres, the RB spot still needs sorting out & a longtime injury to alba might derail our season.

  8. Obalaz
    August 19, 2018

    The match against Alaves was a nice one, in fact one of the most dominating I have watched in the last few years. The team created quite many chances.

    Dembele showed his potentials in chances creation and ability to find space in the ‘Alaves packed’ first half. The team relied a bit on him to create chances. Just a little work on his passing and shooting accuracy and we should be seeing wonders in coming weeks.

    I am also extremely excited with the quality of our bench. Coutinho and Arthur both had a good game and I’m happy they got a goal and an assist respectively.

    As for the defence I’m still going to rate based on last season. Alaves had little interest in troubling them.

    Suarez was rusty today, I hope he gets his game or we get a replacement.

    And as for Messi ……… I’m out of words.

  9. Raj
    August 19, 2018

    My facebook was quite good and worked well throughout.
    As i said in the last post, the only thing I couldn’t stand were those two bastards posing as pundits at halftime and before / after the game. They are simply infuriating to bear with.

    Now, the elephant in the room.
    Literally.
    We HAVE to get rid of suarez man! He is an absolute liability and without his massive butt in the team, we can make way for more mobility and efficiency in the front of our attack. penaldo has gone foe 100m at the age of 33. Isn’t it blatantly obvious even to the uneducated eye that now is the time to cash in on suarez and usher in a new era of a mobile forward to help barca for years to come. His touch is so poor that I look like Iniesta on the ball.

    I also love the idea of a three of coutinho-messi-dembele (Run-DMC, anyone?) playing behind malcom or another forward.

    But that would mean only two in holding midfield – would those two be rakitic and arthur? could work. But you need balls of steel leaving Busquets out. not to mention guys like rafinha, arturo vidal and sergi roberto all vying for minutes.

    Denis ‘frail AF’ suarez, Luis ‘Fat AF’ suarez have to go, no question.
    I’d even keep Paco as reserve striker. He has always shown mobility and efficiency if only afforded some minutes. Munir and paco to serve as permanent copa starters.

    • August 20, 2018

      Am glad fb worked for you Raj. You are amongst the few lucky ones in my knowledge.. But are you really happy to watch football on a smart phone. I know a guy here (you might know Kochi is the gateway for the optical fibres into India) who has a 100mbps connection at his work but still couldnt watch it. My work also has a fast o.fibre connection but I already knew it was pointless for me to travel to work at 01.45 am as it has not been fool proof for me in the past. Anyways..
      Other than mad at liga and fb for making this stupid decision, what make me feel worse is that they feel football is enjoyable on a smart phone. While the game was on and people started making negative comments, la liga made a comment – please update your facebook app to watch — what the feck, Is this how a football organisation want to reach more people? by denying football on tv and pc’s but on phones????

  10. Raj
    August 19, 2018

    Cillessen
    sRob/semedo – Lenglet – Verma – sRob/miranda
    Rafinha – Alena – Arturo
    Dembele – Munir – Malcom

    NO EXCEPTIONS, barring exceptional injuries, should be made to the above Copa team and for easy liga / CL games.

  11. Dracko
    August 19, 2018

    I partially agree with Raj on Alcacer showing more mobility than Suarez, whose performances for us have always been a paradox in a system that thrives on ball-hurding, sublime touches and precision. No doubt the REAL Suarez will be capable of bringing a lot to the table. However, Barca will (and have always needed) need a consistent, mobile, ball-holding and clinical number 9 because in this era of intense bus parking, there are times when only few legit chances can be created by the team. Suarez may not be as hard-hit in decline as the cry-fouls suggest, but he sure looks like he can do with reduced starts; his time needs to be managed. Anyhow we look at it, inconsistency in two season’s starts (plus goal droughts in the CL) is enough reason to start blooding younger replacements. I say keep him as a game changer for now, but entrust Munir and Paco with more meaningful starts and let them fight it out. We easily forget the latter’s quality and how much of an assassin he used to be agains us.

  12. Davour
    August 19, 2018

    “…he is experimenting with football” – that is such a spot-on remark. At times – and some might not like it – Messi is like a scientist, rather than an artist (like Ronaldinho). You can see him, scanning, calculating possibilities, weighting options carefully, which is way even a simple side-pass looks intelligent – you know he has considered every other option already and deemed this the best at this point. That is why he so seldom fails, too – he knows already. At times he takes a risk – but it seems even that is calculated – it is necessary for one reason or another, to make a difficult dribble that might not work. Some consider this approach cold, lifeless – I personally find it mesmerizing, like a brilliant chess player. It must be his genius combined with the discipline and training of a La Masia graduate. And like any great scientist, he challenges the limits of what seems possible, the paradigm, and we are left with old, inadequate language to explain a new phenomenon.

    It is true it’s like Sergi said: “Sometimes you have to wait for Leo to do his thing”. But that said, this was a promising game, and this season will bring joy, and possibly a few trophies, if the calculations are correct often enough.

    • August 20, 2018

      Many years before, I dont remember if it was Drogba or Lampard – when they were both in Chelsea – who said – we all play football Messi creates it.. that video might be still out there may be. RHs comment is kind of same..

  13. luisthebeast
    August 19, 2018

    This Barca team would be favourites for a treble with a player like Ronaldo,Juventus made an amazing move with this signing, the guy could easily had a hat trick yesterday if not for some amazing saves,now that he is nt at madrid i can enjoy this freak.

  14. NJ_08
    August 20, 2018

    Well, here i go after years ( 2-3 years almost) reading this blog this is my first comment, I see this blog is most sensible of all the blogs i have ever read. Started following Barca religiously from LE first season, I heard about Barca from my friend and couldnt f0llow much of la liga due to poor coverage in India before LE first season.
    I must say great to be part of this community and follow my dream team.
    thanks !!

  15. luisthebeast
    August 20, 2018

    Is Barca messidependent or Messi Barcadepented?
    Maybe we see things from wrong POV.
    Maybe last years the club try more to have a team that adapt to Leo than building a team who can work and in other ways.

    • Jim
      August 20, 2018

      No doubt for me that we depend utterly on him, Luis, but I take your point that at this stage we need to encourage others to take more responsibility and not just look to him. Didn’t like the statements from various players about waiting for him to do his thing. No, do your thing and make it count.

  16. Jim
    August 20, 2018

    First of all, my call to Sky went well. Turns out the call centre is hacked off at losing Spanish football as well. Who knew ? Got a good deal on the Sports which way outstrips my losses for a yearly pass to Eleven. So a good morning.

    Welcome, NJ_08 ! Always good to hear new voices and look forward to hearing your thoughts as the season goes on. You’ll know already it’s a good space where you can state your opinion without bile coming the other way. Lord knows, I test that theory often enough. 🙂 There seem to be a lot of folks visiting here, getting something out of it but not posting. That’s great but it would also be good to hear your thoughts as well.

    Anyway, the match. Big downer with Eleven Sports is that there is no live pause, my staple diet during a match so I can look over goals we score or have scored against us. Their on demand is pitiful – a whole 6 minutes of highlights. So, I need a way of recording ( easy) what’s on my TV screen. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    I enjoyed the match. It had an early season feel to it, especially with our chances, but a reasonable performance for all that. They were no mugs, defended in depth and well with a keeper who had great reflexes. It’s not really worth talking about our defence as they weren’t really tested but the CBs both looked in total control and they are learning about each other all the time. Alba started where he left off. I agree we will need a backup for him but he’s so good they’re only gonna play if he’s injured so it’s ideal for a Masia graduate.

    Right back is more interesting. I’m gonna say again, without any rancour, that SR won’t be a regular in our midfield but as Kxevin rightly says he does add something that Semedo doesn’t currently have in the RB position. Call it football intelligence if you like but I’d add a little confidence and boundless energy. Semedo looks like he’s still grateful to be in the side. He needs to believe in himself more as, for me, his ceiling is higher than SR. He is very quick, he’s good defensively, he reads the game well and he has the energy to get up and down that wing. Unfortunately, at the moment when he gets there he gets a nose bleed. He has good technique so that’s coachable but I’d like to see him get half a dozen games. The best Semedo will use his speed a lot more going forward ( partly down to the mids and playing the ball into his path rather than to feet ) and will take on defenders.

    First time I’ve really seen him play and I like Arthur. No, I really like him. He’s still a bit exciteable on the ball but he has lots of energy, excellent technique, turns well and links the play well. My only query atm is his forward passing and ability to run at the box. That’s the real test for us. As Kxevin also correctly says a stiffer test will come when your opponents don’t stand off you and retreat but press hard. I think he’ll cope well with the press but we’ll see. However, a good spot by the club. He’ll be a regular before long, methinks. I’d agree with Hristo above in that the midfield felt a little safe and I’m not sure where the creativity will come from. Coutinho doesn’t look like a mid to me. Although he has all the skills I’m not sure he has the desire to pound up and down the park , Rakitic won’t create or score much. Busi could if he wasn’t tied to the holding position but he’s too good there.

    Up front we look pretty good for this year. I’m liking this Dembele and he’s closer to getting the balance right between passing and dribbling than he was last year. I’d like to see him encouraged to use his pace more ( is he still concerned about the injury ? ) to take us up the park quickly a la Neymar but then know when to pass. He’s not scared to shoot, has a decent shot but maybe needs to develop a trademark shooting situation like Coutinho’s ducking inside. I get the feeling he’s just learning that side of things and that he doesn’t do them consciously. If he can continue this improvement throughout the year we are cooking. And we have Malcolm waiting for his chance. . . .

    Suarez ! I’m not gonna change hearts and minds about him. If the folk bleating about him being useless can’t see what he offers this team then I can’t help that. If they can argue after his superb season last year ( both in goals and assists ) that that wasn’t top notch then we’re into a truth not being the truth situation ! I would love to hear their explanation for that amount if he wasn’t playing brilliantly. However, it would be good if they at least acknowledged his good play occasionally.

    FWIW, I think he is still a couple matches at least away from top fitness ( not surprising since he’s only a fortnight back from his holidays. ). You only know the difference and value of a good preseason’s training if you have gone through it. That was a much better game than his first two. He was linking up well, his first touch was good, movement was excellent and he had an assist and it could have been three. Might also have scored when through in the second half – his left foot is never great tbh – but I didn’t think the first half one where he lobbed the keeper was as good a chance. Sometimes it’s all about the ball not bouncing in the right spot to do what you want.

    For those advocating Paco or Munir over him I’d say just watch Suarez in the next match for ten minutes. Neither of the other two can play well back to goal, neither have enough strength, neither have the intelligent movement and neither are gonna give you more than half the goals he scores. Nor are they capable of the assists. Look at the last goal, remembering this is the 92nd minute, Suarez shows a great touch and pace to leave the player, turns quickly and knows what he’s looking for. He then delivers a perfect ball, Iniesta like, to the inrushing Messi who knows it will come. . No disagreement from me with buying and grooming a replacement for the future but you’re not getting anyone better at the moment. If we can keep Dembele up front and Messi on top form we’ll score a lot more than last season with him isolated. Don’t take my word for it. Watch these highlights just concentrating on Suarez’s touches. He was at the heart of most of our best chances.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XwYTFTNyh14#fauxfullscreen

    Messi. What to say, and the answer is it’s not worth it if folk have watched the match. I don’t know how he does it but he’s started the season in top form. I also liked the fact that Valverde seems to have asked him to stay a bit further forward. He was often the furthest forward player which is great to see – if he doesn’t also have to come back to create all the time.

    So , a great start for me. Watched Madrid and it was pretty meh but I still expect to see them make at least one big signing which could change things.

    Great to have football back, though.

    • August 20, 2018

      Jim yes Suarez racks up the goals and assist numbers. But the amount of balls he wastes before an assist or goal is a bit too much am afraid.. Yes, I loved his assist for Messi goal, but he is not showing any consistency in that. Above all,many attacks are dead when it reaches him.. Its not just about him being alone in the box..It must be all these together that gives so much hate towards him. I dont hate him but he does waste lot of balls and moments, considering the quality he has around him.
      I hope you saw the link I added in the previous post. Regarding the hard work, Messi has a tiny bit of advantage over him on applying pressure. I was surprised to see that too. Frankly I dont know how they measured it though 🙂

  17. Jim
    August 20, 2018

    Yes,thanks, Fotobirajesh. I did have a look at it and I found the general difference in where we press between Pep and Valverde very interesting but I have no idea what a ” pressing” is.

    Is that where you run towards the man or if you get there in time to be effective? Does it count the distance you have to run to get there ( remember up front on his own Suarez frequently has to run half the width of the pitch or a long way into the keeper for his press whereas others further back have short distances, ) which is why I presume Pique and Umtiti are bottom because they tend to be there already .

    Presumably in Pep’s time it would have been easier for Suarez to press as the whole team is up there with him. So I’m afraid that doesn’t impress me. Anecdotally, I remember four or five occasions last season where Suarez got really frustrated with the lack of press around him, waving them forward as everyone sat back. ( we saw a great example of that backing off when Rakitic backed off against Roma rather than press the guy on the ball at the first goal. )

    Leaving aside his phenomenal assist rate, especially for a 9, If I said to you I wanted to replace him with a striker who had scored 25 ( part season) , 59, 37, and 31 goals in his last four seasons would you say to me yes but how many bad touches did he have in those seasons ? How many more would he have to score to make bad touches outside the box back to goal not matter ? No that I saw many bad touches at the weekend but you can see his good ones on the link.

    I have literally in all my life NEVER heard of a striker being criticised despite scoring a barrow load of goals every season and working so hard for the team in terms of assists. I’m old enough to remember the great Gerd Muller who barely left the six yard box, Eto’o who failed to score for what seemed like months on end and folk were still supportive, Ronaldo and Messi whose stats are bumped by penalties ( well, maybe not so much Messi 🙂 ) and free kicks .

    However, each to their own and we’ll discuss it again when Suarez is gone and we have a new striker who is the pichichi, top three every season in goal scoring and still tops the assists. Do folks have any idea how unusual it is to have a number 9 who every year is round about top in both goals AND assists ?

    Much more worrying is the lack of goals and creativity coming from other parts of the team.

    • georgjorge
      August 20, 2018

      Be content to have another Suarez admirer here in me ; )

      You make some great arguments for him, and in addition judging a player’s season after a single game (with his last season having been quite good) doesn’t make sense to me.

      What is true is that Suarez is probably the player in the squad farthest away from the ideal of a player in the Guardiola system. Heavy touches, misplaced passes, strong use of his body etc. That may be the cause of some of the criticism. My way of looking at it is that Suarez is so good at what he does that even though he doesn’t really fit into the system, he still gets played every week and delivers.

      As to some of the points made by others: that Suarez doesn’t press seems not true to me. I remember a lot of games where he single-handedly tried to terrorize opposing defences, and a number of goals coming from his pressing and tireless running. As to squandering chances, he does that, but here the numbers of goals he scores show that he also takes a lot of them. Messi also misses quite some chances, but we forget about it (as we should) because he scores so many others.

      I also think that calling him “fat” (different commenter) doesn’t show much respect towards a Barcelona player who actually hasn’t done anything to warrant an insult.

      • August 20, 2018

        Agree with all of this as well as Jim’s comments. Suarez gets a lot of critisism and it’s true he can be very clunky at times with his touch and passing, however his positional play and tactical awareness is second to none. Let’s not forget the season has barely started and he is still finding his way to being fully fit. At his age that will take a few games.

        To those of you who would sell him I have to ask, who would you get to replace him? I can’t think of a single player who I would swap him for right now.

        • bhed
          August 21, 2018

          I love Luis, and he’s worth sticking with (for now), but in answer to your question – Mbappe. If that seems flaky, consider this – which one has the most potential to get even better?

      • mvarfi
        August 20, 2018

        I wouldn’t sell Suarez for any amount at this point in time. His touch and passing may occasionally elicit sighs of exasperation from me, but I consider his “very far from fat”, burly presence in the box to be fantastic, not to mention his perfect chemistry with Messi.

    • August 21, 2018

      Jim, am not a Suarez hater.. I have his good moment and his bad moments.. And I only hope that he has more good moments because he is so important for the team and also for Messi. When Pinto left, I was wondering if Messi would be all alone ha ha..

  18. Frank Stain
    August 20, 2018

    Personally I think that, with L. Suarez, you just have to focus on his entire output or productive contribution, and take the sublime with the clumsy. I’ve heard Sid Lowe on his podcast talk a lot about Suarez and the fact that he often looks clumsy. He looks like that even when at the top of his game, but when he is slightly *off* his game, he looks like the clumsiest oaf that has ever tried to kick a football. I agree w/ Sid that this is just a feature of how he plays. He has never been a conventional, ‘technical’ footballer. He still has a lot of that street-footballer unpredictability. He often tries thing that look wrong or strange, and when it doesn’t come off, he looks like a clumsy oaf. But of course, when it works, it is sublime, and he looks like a genius. Suarez can sometimes *look* very clunky and sluggish, but if you look at his contribution in terms of key passes/assists or clever movement, he is still doing things that most strikers will never do as well. Suarez will never be a lithe and graceful no.9, but he still has the tools to be deadly effective at the highest level in my opinion, and that should continue for another couple of years at least.

  19. Grindelwald
    August 20, 2018

    Can we all now agree that footballing awards have now devolved into a full fledged farce, it’s just a mess at attempting to panther to the hype trains generated by the media and fanboy alike.
    In what world will à player who’s just had the most dominant league season in recent history and a very decent champs league outing overlooked in place of a player that scored a bucketload of goals with nothing to show up for it?

  20. squeen
    August 20, 2018

    Let’s not forgot Luis Suarez and his “physical play” was the antidote for every team parking-the-bus and hitting us on counter-attack—a problem that plagued the end of (and post) Guardiola era. Barca was so fearsome, no one would play them. Suarez helped fix that. For that and his work ethic (and his connection with Messi) I will “forgive” his occasional heavy touches and flubbed chances. Don’t have a short memory—Barca NEEDS him in the box.

  21. Andh'ol Roin
    August 20, 2018

    clearly agreeing to Jim here, no way Josay there is a better striker on earth which is better than Pistolero and even if there was, is Suarez really a bad tooth now after his amazing performances for us in the Barca shirt? I, for one am also a guy who saw the vets at play and i am talking waaay beyond folks like Ronnie or i dunno, Ronaldo, when i first saw a barca match i think we still rocked the boat with Stoichkov and Romario. Still, out of Ronaldo, Romario or Suarez.. i would choose the last right now. Because Romario is 50 yo and Ronaldo is fat lol, jk. Still,never forget about Dre man. Arguments which oppose his age, even though he isn’t exactly fit by technical definitions of football today? Let me actually try some metaphors, because there is a doctor to the medicine man 😉
    – He’s a mad dentist. Still one of our best and most stubborn active players of the ball. And he is bad. The one you are afraid of. Ramos checks under the bed when he goes to sleep because he is afraid of Luisito.
    – He’s a psychologist. Still best friend with a little guy who happens to be the best footballer ever. And i mean, friends on the field. Did you ever know a guy who was always your best team mate cause he knew just what you were going to do? That’s our couple of happily weds out front.
    – He’s a surgeon. Still one of the most clinical finishers on the planet. Unless you know of footballers from other planets, you may have forgotten that ( no-goals-yet?) Suarez’ holiday was actually longer than Dembele’s with a day or two, maybe sufficient for two plane trips to south america, but adding to the tiredness feel instead of reducing it.
    – He’s a nurse. Did anybody mention the assists? yes they did. Cause they are HUGE, in a team which only scored through Messi. Not only did he provide assists, he did so to the one and only most marked and watched player in the history. How could such a goofy, raw player do that? Is he slow? Might be. But that’s a Kung Fu Panda slow, cause on a scale from 1 to meteor, last season he was Suarez. This season, well, he is still Suarez minus a bit, this guy has his own scale to be measured with and the ones who are behind have a long way to go or a long way for Pistolero to fall, to reach even ground. You need Suarez minus a lot for that.
    There are many more things which Suarez does and nobody can do for us. Not without a few years, not without being so brilliantly gifted that it shows, like in his case, who was this close to winning the premier league by himself, in a time when the league was really scary and his team was by far the most rigid and uncreative bunch, not even counted for the top. Actually, i can’t think of one who is still playing in that Liverpool side out of his colleagues back then, and very few have left for the better. If there is a god in football (and you all know there is), then there is also his archangel to carry the sword and punish the evil (and randomly kick someone’s butt from time to time and annoy the refs)

    P.S. To Jim: The low number of comments could be because the wordpress platform requires logging in, a lot of single optins, etc. It is a huss. Ever looked into disqus, for example? It’s a fantastic plugin, maybe give it an eye?

  22. mvarfi
    August 20, 2018

    Grindelwald, even if Salah hadn’t made the top three, Messi still would not have been nominated as a finalist. It would have been Griezmann instead. I wouldn’t be too upset about it. I have a feeling Messi would have thrown up in his mouth if he had been a finalist, considering how Argentina performed at the World Cup. You can be sure that Messi feels partly responsible for it, even though it’s all sorts of screwed up that he should be made feel responsible at all.

    • Grindelwald
      August 21, 2018

      The Uefa best award is supposed to include only performances from league season, champs league & the euros (if available), I might be wrong though, but this is a clear propaganda towards Messi even if the world cup is used as a yardstick.
      Salah in the top 3 ahead of Messi still remain one of the wonders of modern football!

      • mvarfi
        August 21, 2018

        Even if, technically speaking, the World Cup is not supposed to count, it’s just too big an event and will always color people’s opinions. Unlike Griezmann, I happen to find Salah a sympathetic character, so at least it’s him and not the other way around. Messi has long outgrown this award anyway.

  23. luisthebeast
    August 21, 2018

    People say ” lets sell Rakitits,he is 30y old” and same time board offers a payrise to Busquets who is same age and best years are gone,for me he is the one club should sell if it s true that PSG want him but i guess they want the better player and they want Raki.

  24. luisthebeast
    August 21, 2018

    Rakitic leaving will be a Huge mistake,i said it again board keep happy old guard like Pique Busquets and that is a big problem, they must be ruthless not emotions.

  25. Dracko
    August 21, 2018

    I think it’s true that Suarez brings a lot of quality to the team (especially when fit and in form), creates alternative dimensions to our game and I honestly think it doesn’t make sense at this stage to dabble into if he is a good fit for the team or not, as the timing for such a debate is long gone, given his remarkable goalscoring/assists performances over the years.

    But it’s also true that Barca needs a different type of striker–a different profile that may not come with Pistolero’s shortcoming. Munir and Paco are not the finished products yet, but what other suitable chance to groom them do we have other than this moment? Selling Suarez now will be a big mistake, but cmsciously incorporating the reserves would be a wise investment. Dembele maybe, but can he steadilly plug gaps in Suarez’s space once in a while now that he is still learning the system as a winger? Maybe yes; time will tell.

  26. Frank Stain
    August 21, 2018

    So it definitely looks like a big offer for Rakitic is coming in the next day or so . If the club want to keep him, the ball is in their court. He’s said he wants to stay. If the club offer an improved contract, that should do it. But so far they’ve been quick to get Busi tied up, but no improved offer for Rakitic. So that looks to me that the board are contemplating this happening. There is talk of an offer in the region of 100M. That money, of course, could be immediately plonked down on an initial payment for Pogba, whose agent continues to stir the pot on his behalf. Is this what the club is thinking? It’s hard to shake the sense that the board is just totally doing stuff on the fly without any real long term footballing strategy.

  27. TITO
    August 21, 2018

    If an offer of 100 and more comes for Rakitic, we should without hesitation sell him.
    Already 30, he is not getting younger, he served us quite good over the years, but the chance to get some money for him would be too good to let it go.
    Same would think for Suarez. And immediatelly replace him with Lewandovski, i see him as perfect replacement.
    If not this season, because it’s too late maybe, then for sure the next one.

  28. mvarfi
    August 21, 2018

    If an offer of 100 or more comes for Rakitic, we should without hesitation say “No, thank you.”
    Already 30, he is not getting younger, – then again who is – he served us quite well over the years, and the chance to get some money for him would not be close to compensating for what he brings to the team.
    Same with Suarez. Replace him with nobody, least of all Lewandovski. I see him as an inadequate replacement.

    • TITO
      August 22, 2018

      There is always the risk of keeping a player a season too long.
      For Suarez is too late know, probably.
      But for Rakitic, for such an offer…an absolute sell.
      You already bought Arthur, Vidal, you have Rafinha, you have youngsters waiting for minutes such is Alena. And he wont stay around to wait for Rakitic to play up to 40 because he is so essential.
      You need to know the moment when to buy and when to sell a player. For me, for that money…we should take those 100.

      • mvarfi
        August 22, 2018

        You also need to know the moment you sell a vital player, you are left dealing with the consequences of losing such a player. Rakitic is at the top of his game, with bags of experience and a remarkable selflessness. Arthur and Vidal will require a bedding in period. We’re gambling on said period being seamless. The youngsters will be gradually incorporated into the first team with the assumption that they will stay fit and not misfire. Rafinha has a very different profile from Rakitic, and he might be loaned out. Any player you keep presents a financial risk. All sorts of scary scenarios can occur.
        Vidal was brought in not simply for his skill set and virility, but also for his experience. We just lost Iniesta and Paulinho. Now you want to cash in on another experienced player for 100 million that you will spent on a new player, who will also be a financial gamble and will require a bedding in period. I don’t know about you, but I’ve made peace with the fact that Barca can not make money on every player it has.

  29. luisthebeast
    August 21, 2018

    Pique Busquets Alba Suarez are nt over 30?? If they sell Raki lets sell and those 4, club will not get any money in the future and they have high wages and they want be starters so new players have no chance.
    Barca is a big club, players must not have so much power to demand payrise whenever they want.

  30. bhed
    August 21, 2018

    Beautifully written Kxevin.

    Shout out from Penya Barcelonista San Francisco!

    There are reasons for optimism and excitement, but I don’t want to anger the football gods with hubris. I hope we can get a good chemistry AND a good rotation going this season. There’s some possible talent that could be great (or not) IF they get some minutes. That depth (except for left back) could be key come April and May.

    Visca

    • mvarfi
      August 22, 2018

      It is a good read, as it discusses what Suarez really means to Barca at this point in time. However, I don’t remember Hunter suggesting that selling him, without first finding a proper replacement and allowing that replacement time to gel with the team, is a good idea. I remember you though, saying that selling Suarez and immediately replacing him with the 30 year old Polish, is a great idea. I must be missing something.

      • TITO
        August 22, 2018

        I said i would like it, but now it’s probably to late for that to happen.
        And he does suggest that the management and the board should have start thinking about his long term replacement some time ago. But they did not. After all, he is Messi’s friend.
        As i said earlier, in business you need to know when to buy and when to sell. For me, some players are staying here a season too long.

    • August 22, 2018

      Thanks for the link. It’s a good article, one which I agree with but it still doesn’t offer a solution. Lewandowski certainly isn’t it, replacing a 31 year old striker with a 30 year old striker who would cost a boat load and has never played in Spain doesn’t make any sense. Griezman was at least young and has la liga experience, even then I don’t think he would have brought the same things to the team that suarez brings. The biggest problem we have is that there are no players really who can do what he does, certainly none that are proven at the top level. Which players come to mind when you think of top level strikers? Mbappe, Lukaku, Kane, Lewandowski. I would throw Salah in there too, but really he has only had one great season under his belt. Of those players I would only take Salah and ONLY if he has another great season this year. He would probably cost 180m+ but that’s another story. Mbappe on paper would be the best option but he is unattainable so not even worth discussing.

      So really right now we are stuck with suarez and may be for another year unless the club is willing to spend crazy money in the summer. So let’s all hope he can regain some form and play close to his best.

      Another option that I really hope valverde tries is to stick Messi in the middle and flank him with Dembele and Malcolm. That could be absolutely lethal.

      Malcolm may also have the profile/ability to play as a striker. He wouldnt be the same as suarez but could be worth a try too.

      It’s certainly going to be an interesting season!

  31. TITO
    August 22, 2018

    To me, Suarez in his best days is the perfect 9, what we really need and needed. Just that, he is in decline, regardless of the stats.
    As for Lew, i thought he is younger.
    And no, Griezmann cant replace Suarez, completely different players and different style of play. For the moment i cant think of any player to substantially replace him, and it’s not my job. I just pointed at the flaws of our board regarding his replacement.
    I remember when Ronaldinho, Deco, Yaya were shown the door. Without no regrets from the coaching staff. And it all turned well.
    So, for some players to blend in, others need to go. Otherwise, what’s the point of having few minutes here and there, when you cant show how good can you be for the team.

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