Tottenham Hotspur 2, Barça 4, aka “A cure for what ails”

It is a safe bet that none of the people bandying about words such as “crisis” will realize how boring and excessive — not to mention misused — that word is.

Every season brings a “crisis” of some sort. This latest came when Barça dropped points in consecutive matches, which makes you wonder how many of these supporters would go through life as supporters of an ordinary team, where losses and dropped points are almost routine, as a mid-table position or vaunted European slot are the stuff of dreams.

Just last season, the tantalizing possibility of an undefeated season was disgusting because of how it was achieved. Paulinho. Ugh. But it didn’t take long for that to become the standard. Barça lost? In October? Dooooom.

Cue Champions League, the salve for any crisis, in this case a blissfully naive Tottenham Hotspur who, buoyed by home fans and playing on a Wembley that must have recently hosted either a tractor pull or marathon tennis tournament such was the state of the pitch, played precisely the kind of match sure to end any crisis.

The Champions League is such that people lose their minds when they enter that tournament. First PSV, then Spurs played a match of champions, a team that doesn’t cower on the rocks in a low block, playing off the counter but rather ventures forth like brave, foolish soldiers, coming home on rather than with their shields yet again. Two group stage matches, four goals scored by Barça in matches that could have ended in identical scorelines if not for a couple of defensive errors against Tottenham.

Huzzahs cascaded from the skies at the end of the crisis, and the return of joyful football. All it took was a naive opponent with a coach that thought they could play with the best team in world football. On the down side, Liga returns over the weekend, where teams aren’t proud, don’t mind reducing 90 minutes to a joyless slog through a defender-crammed final third. Attacks peek their heads out like paranoid meerkats, popping up when advantageous but otherwise, staying in their holes.

The British footballing world, a mostly myopic lot that must spend a lot of time running into walls and stuff, hailed Messi’s performance as genius, one for the ages, blablabla. It’s like they don’t watch him on a weekly basis as if they did, they would be more secure in their assessment, would understand that what helped to dismantle Spurs was a good Messi performance. Any culer has seen Messi better, even if we haven’t seen Messi work that hard in some time. And yes, that hard work muted some of his brilliance, a tradeoff that his coach probably gladly accepted as the Barça captain hurled down yet another gauntlet. He was everywhere, running, passing, sprinting, pressing, scoring. Like the roller coasters with the signs that read “You must be THIS big to enter this ride,” Messi said, “Here’s how good you have to be, here is how much I want this. Catch up.”

Valverde was called an ass for resting Messi against Athletic Bilbao, or at least trying to. But the Messi that we saw yesterday is the result. We won’t see that Messi all the time, probably not again until the next big match, when he and his coach work to decide what is best for him. If that is a rest against a Liga or Copa opponent, maybe this time, with his outing against Spurs in mind, panic and recrimination won’t be the … haha, never mind.

Against Tottenham, Messi’s teammates were as sharp and focused as he was, playing the kind of football that we all knew they could play, even without a willing opponent. Before the match, there was lots of talk about formations as potential cures, lots of talk about dropping this or that player. Valverde decided to drop Ousmane Dembele, a sound decisions given the intensity and physicality of the Tottenham press, and gave Arthur his second start.

After the match, there was lots of talk about formations doing the trick, and whether a crisis that doesn’t really exist was over. But when Messi works that hard, when Suarez runs that hard and Coutinho is that disciplined as part of a midfield that decided “Hey, maybe possession is useful,” when Alba and Semedo contribute to that overall worldview, the result is a delight. Ball and players move, there is always a place to put the ball, always a recipient for the next pass. It was aggressive and intelligent and people who aren’t football nerds and haven’t seen Arthur before were crowing about his midfield controller role. People who knew his game nodded in the knowledge that he could do to a Premiership side what he did to sides in Brazil, what he did to Girona in La Liga before.

Arthur worked so well because everyone else also did. If Alba is off somewhere making like a winger and Arthur has the ball, he’s stranded. If Busquets is needing to cover massive swaths of the midfield, again stranding Arthur with his suddenly useless bauble. Possession football works when ball and players have something to do. Arthur was a delight to watch in every way, spinning, dishing, controlling, working in tandem with Busquets. It brought back memories of days gone by, when the foolishness of mortal man conspired to make capering sprites the order of the day.

Make no mistake, this was a really fun win to watch, even as the issues that bedevil the team and the coach trying to solve them still exist. It’s still too easy to get at the Barça back line, the team is still an elite defensive fullback away from being unbeatable, there still isn’t a gala XI and hopefully will never be. Rather, there should be a best XI for a particular opponent. Dembele sat because given the ease of attacking the Barça back line, which teams are doing via a long pass over the midfield, imagine Dembele making like Caga Tio with the ball and unleashing Son and Kane. Pique and Lenglet were fabulous yesterday, but the fewer the opportunities, the better a CB can look. And Lenglet made one of his few errors on the second Tottenham goal when he didn’t close down on the man taking the shot.

Joys were abundant in this win that should have been a romp, but a favorite moment was on the second Messi goal. After having struck the same post not once but twice, he stroked a shot at that same low corner of the same goal yet again. But during that shot, he stared at the shot and seemingly at the post as he would a rowdy defender, daring it to do what it just did for a third time. That didn’t happen. So much fun.

Another fun, fun moment was the Rakitic goal, which only those without a sense of the glorious would call a shot. It was more like a smite. Rakitic hit that ball with every fiber of his being, clouting that thing so hard it cleaned the Wembley “grass” from his cleats. And after the hilarious gift of the first goal, in which Lloris seemed to decide to go on walkabout, the second Barça goal was a declaration, one coming at the terminus of delightful team play, a great chance spurned and Coutinho scrambling to keep the ball alive so that his teammate could try to knock the air out of it. Lloris offered a rueful shake of his head, similar to the one his coach offered after the French keeper’s mirthful gaffe on the first Barça goal. It seemed to say, “These men, this team, the way they play is too much.”

Where their keeper scrambled about, Ter Stegen casually reached back to deal with a deflected shot attempt, something that he made look far less difficult than it was. And when he calmly, smoothly, almost in a single motion chested a ball down and stroked a half-volley to Alba, you could almost condense the match as an exhibit to those keeper moments — Lloris running, scrambling, picking the ball out of the back of his net and looking bummed. Ter Stegen plucked the ball from the back of his net like it was a once-annual hangnail. Ew. Glad that’s over with.

It was all too much, this footballing display from a team. Crisis? Nope. It was fun to see (again) so many Prem-centric pundits discover Messi again. Tottenham coach Pochettino credited Messi for his team’s destruction because that was easy. Yes, Messi had a pair of goals and was omnipresent. But what made this performance so wonderful is that it was a team performance. Pique was sharp, Lenglet showed why the club grabbed him, as did Arthur. Busquets was amazing, like Messi showing the value of rest. Semedo played one of his better matches, more confident, less nervous and jumpy. Coutinho and Alba were disciplined, each playing with a sense of the whole rather than scrambling. Barça was a team attacking and defending with eleven. When people talked about the return of a joyous team, the return of the kind of football that made us giddy with the possibilities every time possession was retained, most notable was this: Barça was a team. It played like one, and won like one.

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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.

38 Comments

  1. Rokke
    October 4, 2018

    For me, the only error we made yesterday was delaying subs until most players were so rundown they couldn’t continue the gameplay that worked so well for most of the game. They got all the momentum when we started dropping deep. On another day it could have cost the 3 points, but we got it done in the end. Think the lineup we chose is the best available with the exception of some injured players, and I hope we move forward with it. We finally had some semblance of balance and it should only become more solid as Arthur establishes a stronger connection to his colleagues. And then there’s the eventual addition of Umtiti and Roberto which should also improve the lineup, although Lenglet did have a very strong outing.

  2. squeen
    October 4, 2018

    Only one thing would have made it better—if Iniesta was still there (as the 12th man?)

    Not only Messi, but the whole team turned back the clock. Whee!

    Your article was the cherry on top. Thanks Kxevin.

    • squeen
      October 5, 2018

      “…It brought back memories of days gone by, when the foolishness of mortal man conspired to make capering sprites the order of the day.”

      Pure poetry!

  3. Víctor
    October 4, 2018

    Busquets didn’t miss a pass, Messi had a great performance… so, Valverde’s decision to rest them against Bilbao paid off. It would be amazing to have these two players fit for playing almost the entire season as starters, but they reality is that they have aged, they aren’t that young anymore…

    So, yes, while I know that rotations are gonna keep giving us some bad performances, do it either way… the team needs to start preparing for the next generation of players and have the legends giving amazing games at the big games…

  4. mvarfi
    October 4, 2018

    Not much I can add to Kxevin’s points, except Barca warmed my soul.
    I don’t know how many articles on the match I read, suffice to say that I feel saturated right now. Naturally, I’ve moved on to Sunday’s match mentally. Wondering whether EV will rest both Suarez and Racitic before they run themselves to the ground for their national teams. I reckon Messi can handle one more game, at a lower intensity, before getting a breather during the international break.
    Looking forward to see how the team will fare at Mestalla after that tremendous physical and mental output.

    • Víctor
      October 4, 2018

      Suarez won’t be playing for Uruguay this international break…

      • mvarfi
        October 4, 2018

        Excellent news!
        Thanks Victor.

  5. georgjorge
    October 5, 2018

    “Attacks peek their heads out like paranoid meerkats” – great stuff! Thanks, Kxevin. You are probably right – just as the team having two draws during last week doesn’t mean they are crap, the team beating Tottenham convincingly doesn’t mean they will win the Champions League.

  6. Osas
    October 5, 2018

    Nice.

  7. October 5, 2018

    Great Match Played By Barca!
    But The Defense Is Still Worrisome. Can’t Win Any League Title With A Shaky Defence. The Coaches & Players Need To Really Work On The Defence.

  8. khaddafi
    October 5, 2018

    4 matches 1 good performance against a team ravaged by injury. That’s a 25% score. By any known standard it’s still a very poor return.

    You’re here saying it’s too early to criticize. I think it should be the other way round. I think it’s too early to start celebrating a return to form.

    Pique is still poor(not his fault though) and has no one to bench him for. Suárez was terrible with the ball at his feet and actually did more without the ball than with the ball at his feet.

    With a 25% score I know too well to be cautious with my celebration less I get disappointed.

    Same thing you came here to write after the remuntada, having lost 1st leg 4-nil and deportivo(eventually relegated) in the league prior to the remuntada. Only for us to loose 3-nil again to juve in the next round.

    It is easier to play with determination and win but without structure(similarities between this team and that remuntada team) you can’t continue. Bullshit can’t take you to the top but will never keep you there.

    • khaddafi
      October 5, 2018

      Let’s see what happens in the next 3games before we can start celebrating a return to form.

      We should be careful not to run faster than our shadows.

    • khaddafi
      October 5, 2018

      I’m happy we won and I’d enjoy the moment but I’m not giving the coach any credit yet cos we have the quality players to play with determination and win.

      Whether they can continue for the next 3 games will show if its the coaches work or the share determination of players.

    • Víctor
      October 5, 2018

      If you wanna talk about the overall score, then let’s see Barcelona’s results so far in this season:

      Sevilla 1 – 2 Barcelona, win, Spanish SuperCup
      Barcelona 3 – 0 Alaves, win, La Liga R1
      Valladolid 0 – 1 Barcelona, win, La Liga R2
      Barcelona 8 – 2 Huesca, win, La Liga R3
      Real Sociedad 1 – 2 Barcelona, win, La Liga R4
      Barcelona 4 – 0 PSV, win, UCL Group Stage R1
      Barcelona 2 – 2 Girona, draw, La Liga R5
      Leganes 2 – 1 Barcelona, lose, La Liga R6
      Barcelona 1 – 1 Athletic Bilbao, draw, la Liga R7
      Tottenham 2 – 4 Barcelona, win, UCL Group Stage R2

      Total: 10 games, 7 victories, 2 draws, 1 loss…

      Not that bad if you ask me.

      • ooga aga
        October 5, 2018

        Thank you Victor. Thank you.

      • Víctor
        October 5, 2018

        You’re welcome, man. For the record, I do understand that Barcelona is not at the best and there are, indeed, issues to be solved. Especially the fragility of defense and that is important to prepare the team to be able to play focused&motivated without Messi on the pitch, mainly because I do see that he (as well as others) are going to be rotated oftenly…

        However, there’s a big difference between a crisis and a not-so-great moment.

      • khaddafi
        October 6, 2018

        Lol. I’m pressed to ask when you people start watching football.

        Is it not the same thing last year when you were winning up until u met a better organized team. The result? Out of CL. Then it only remained the unbeaten for consolation and then, boom! You lost that again and guess wat you were winning all your games right before those games.

        The team that wins the league is the most consistent over the year while the one that wins the CL is the one that pull the cat from the hat at the right time.

        Last season we had the league winning consistency but not the CL winning performance. This year we’ve started with CL winning mentality but the league winning consistency is getting eroded.

        A team that means business don’t loose to a last team on the table, team in the middle table and one close to the top all consecutively.

        Again I will change my mind when the performance is consistent and the results follow but what I won’t do is start jubilations over this roller-coaster performances.

      • squeen
        October 6, 2018

        You people?

    • Jim
      October 6, 2018

      Mvarfi, that is brilliant ! Absolutely brilliant.

      Captures him exactly. I still remember just about every time someone dummied me from my youth. Boy, does it hurt !

      • mvarfi
        October 6, 2018

        Whoever takes up his role, in the sadly not so distant future, will have to bring something special of their own to the team. Not to compensate for losing Suarez, but rather to redefine that role.
        Sigh…

  9. Víctor
    October 6, 2018

    Real Madrid, 4 consecutive games without scoring. Still, I guess they’d rather be in that pickle than to still have Ronaldo and be linked to the rape scandal.

  10. georgjorge
    October 6, 2018

    Paco Alcacer again scores two for Dortmund (and rather nice ones as well) after coming on in the 60th minute. That’s 5 goals he scored in the last three games, with less than 90 minutes for him in each game. How many goals in total did he score during his years at Barcelona?

    • October 7, 2018

      I was lucky to watch the second half. He came in and may be with his first touch scored one.. Am very happy for him. Barca must be regretting the lower sale amount on the loan agreement. Dortumund almost certainly would buy him at the end of season or in Jan unless his form drops out, i hope not, and we could have got more money.. Anyways, am very happy for him.

  11. Jim
    October 7, 2018

    Looks like the new gala eleven tonight ? Gonna be a lot of tired legs so let’s not have huge expectations. A win of any sort would do me then we get to the international break.

    Btw, on the slightly worrying front Luis Suarez was talking about why he’s not going to the Uruguay squad. My translation of it was that he’s due to start a course of knee treatments on Monday but the main reason is his wife is due ? Now, my Spanish is only marginally better than Google Translate so I could be way off beam here but is that implying a knee condition which requires more than just rest ?

  12. Khing_prince
    October 7, 2018

    What a way to start. sigh!!

  13. Hristo
    October 7, 2018

    No subs. No right wing again.

  14. Hristo
    October 7, 2018

    My God. Taking Coutinho for Dembele? No tactical shift? What a….

  15. Hristo
    October 7, 2018

    Valverde protecting 1-1 score.

  16. TITO
    October 7, 2018

    What did Coutinho thought? That he is all alone and they’re going to wait for him to take a shot?
    Control wise we did great. Defensively we still issues to resolve. Anyway, a draw in Mestalla is never a bad result.
    What i always hate, regardless who ww play, is to show some balls when we go forward and take a risk, not just wait for Messi to do his thing.
    We have numerous chances to take a shot outside of the box, and we dont do it.

  17. Víctor
    October 7, 2018

    Valverde waiting until the 80 minute to make a sub? He used to make the first sub at the 60~65 minute… sometimes 70… but now he waits too long. That’s not good… I guess he didn’t want to risk that much a draw, but sorry, man… that’s not for Barça, and even less in La Liga where you can make some screw ups…

    However, the team also gave away a few chances…

  18. Rokke
    October 7, 2018

    Opening 15-20 minutes were poor, but looking past that, we were yet again only really let down by hesitation to make substitutions. They might not have made us won the game. They might even have made us lose the game, but when your players are visibly tired, your quality of play is getting worse, and your opponent is gaining momentum it’s probably time to look to the bench.

  19. Jamal103
    October 7, 2018

    Messi playing everywhere but the right side. A dogmatic manager like Lucho forces Messi to stay on the right side or accommodates Messi’s free for all role by incorporating a pacey winger on the right side to combine with Semedo. EV is not that manager.

    We are more predictable that bikinis on Spring break. All evening we tried the Alba to Messi passing lane but Valencia figured it out in about 30 secs.

    • Khing_prince
      October 8, 2018

      That’s what I’ve been saying Jamal, We’re too predictable against a low block and I question the committment of the players, no forward passes, no urgency in the passes. Valverde has faults but the most glaring one is that he’s a poor man-manager and what’s with the subs at the dying embers of the match.

  20. Khing_prince
    October 8, 2018

    Can somebody tell me what’s up with this Malcom kid. Valverde is a serial talent waster, Tired of the same old story of EV but our players seem to be more declining than progressing. P.S : Clowns of the week go to Pique and Suarez, it’s funny watching them go.

  21. Aniruddh
    October 10, 2018

    It is very difficult to address Valverde’s approach on youngsters. He’s a coach who actually comes from the solid background of Bilbao, so definitely he must be having some plans for poor kids but may be requiring patience.
    My only worry is either its older or younger, we are loosing Messi each day, his age number keeps on ticking and we are still not able to get the best out of him like good old days. Blame it on board or coach or even players but the damage is done OR shall i say keeps on happening in front of our eyes every weekend.
    I hope players like Arthur may provide an aid in service to Sergio so players like Coutinho and Dembele can flourish a bit more and definitely creating more spaces for Messi to do what he does the best. 🙂

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