Barça 4, Sevilla 2, aka “Great result, awful day”

There are moments when time stops.

You always hear about such moments. People who experience them always talk about the odd feeling of time just stopping, and rarely for a good reason. When Lionel Messi was laying on the pitch in agony, moments after being knocked down by a Sevilla defender in an action that wasn’t malicious but nonetheless was unnecessary and damaging, time stopped.

Following the match on Twitter is an anomaly because of the various feeds that people have, chronological inconsistencies that can result in goals being talked about as if they had just happened, for minutes. So when the first, “Oh, no. Messi.” Hit timelines, it gave everyone the chance, at least a minute, to hope this was just another foul.

On the BeIN Sports feed while watching the replay, veteran announcer Phil Schoen uttered an exclamation that let you know, even before your own replay hit, that this wasn’t one of those, “He’s getting right up” moments. And you held your breath. Time stopped. And you realize that the reason cliches are thus are because of their foundation in reality.

Messi laid there for a long time, too long for it to be something that would see him continue the match. On the sidelines they wrapped his elbow — the part that made everyone breathe a sigh of relief that those priceless legs weren’t damaged. But it was clear from the pain he was in that he wasn’t going to be able to continue.

The match against Sevilla was the first after the international break, hence one that people pointed to with trepidation because of the fact that breaks spell doom and Sevilla was top of Liga, even if plucky Alaves was just keeping the spot warm. Barça would play poorly, would follow in the footsteps of the other parts of the big three, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, who lost and drew, respectively, to Levante and Villarreal.

But Barça wasn’t interested in superstition. They cane out flying, pinging the ball around, running, passing, darting with Arthur the calm in the eye of the hurricane. And it wasn’t long before a quicksilver sequence of passes resulted in Coutinho blasting the first goal into the roof of the Sevilla nets. Was it going to be one of those days?

And suddenly it was two as midfield pressure forced the ball loose and an exquisite pass from Luis Suarez found Messi in space. The Argentine exploded into life and from the first strides he took, there wasn’t much doubt that a goal would result, and so it did. 2-0, and that was that.

Then came the moment when time stopped, and what began life as a home romp, as Barça set out to show exactly how good the team was, became two matches, pre and post injury. In many ways this match was similar to the Roma away match in which Rafinha was injured, leaving shaken teammates in the wake of the incident. They played differently as a consequence, leading to a second half that felt and looked weird, like everyone was just going through the motions. It even took Sevilla a while to figure out what to do without the Assassin on the pitch.

Valverde subbed in Dembele, who was rank, to be clear. This was a moment when he could have roared onto the pitch, seized control of a moment and made a name for himself. Instead he drew whistles as he lost ball after ball, including one that led directly to a Sevilla goal. He didn’t play with fire or desire, greeting proceedings with a Gallic shrug rather than with the mood of a fighter. He would make a pass, then not make a supporting run for the outlet when the ball came back. He tracked back with disinterest, leading to many moments when with his pace, his intervention could have helped his club. Instead he buzzed around the periphery of proceedings when Sevilla had the ball. He had one good run, a couple of nice passes and the rest was a perfect argument for why Didier Deschamps and Valverde are both leaving him out of starting XIs.

In the post-match press conference, Valverde said, “Sometimes, players offer good performances and sometimes not. Today, Dembele has not participated well from the beginning of the game, but we still rely on him. … We expect much from him, because he has ability to improve a lot.”

All the talent in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have the head, if you don’t want it. Talent — Dembele has tons of it — only gets you so far. The rest is the kind of hunger that you saw in Luis Suarez, who ran, worked, hustled on both ends of the pitch and had an excellent match, including earning then converting a penalty. When Messi went out he played like a classic 9 rather than a foil, and grew into significance even as Dembele shrank.

There are moments that define a season, and a player’s trajectory at a club. Dembele didn’t do a lot to help his. As Arturo Vidal sat at the back of the bench, shrouded in shadows and pouting over not getting match time, he didn’t either. Don’t be shocked if he is moved on in January. Coutinho did a disappearing act almost from the moment Messi went out, and despite a golazo, Rakitic was poor. But man, was there good news.

Semedo continues working to make the RB slot his, starting in that role even though Sergi Roberto had been passed fit right before the match. Pique is back and was omnipresent, reading the match brilliantly, using positioning and his height to control the space in and around his area of influence. His back line mate, Clement Lenglet, made it very clear why the club paid his clause to nab him from Sevilla. Pacey and secure in possession, Lenglet is fitting into the club quite nicely, even as you can see that he still has some improving to do before staking his claim to a legit spot contenting for Valverde’s XI.

Alba was magisterial, growing in influence after Messi went out, reining in his atatcking side to keep things held down at the back and last but not least, Ter Stegen, my MOTM, was stupendous. Yes he let in two goals. One was a deflection off his CB, the other came from slack marking that left him dead in the water. But he had a pair of double saves today that saved the match for his team.

The first involved a clawing, stretching dive then immediately leaping back to his feet to parry the second shot. The other was a sidelong dive, after which he again immedidately was back up to bat away the next shot. Both sequences mattered. After keeping it from going to 2-1, Barça made it 3-0. Then after keeping it from going to 3-2, Barça made it 4-1. His contributions to the result cannot be overstated.

But it really felt like none of the stuff that happened after Messi went out mattered. Everybody waited and watched, Twitter and favorite news sources, for word. Messi went to the club training center, then the hospital. Sprain, dislocations, hyperextensions, all kinds of stuff was out there before official word came down of a fracture, and three weeks out.

Three weeks. Six matches, the two most dangerous coming back-to-back with Inter and a clash for top of table supremacy in the Champions League group, and the the Classic. Both will be without the club’s talisman and captain, and it will be weird. The last time Messi was out, Neymar and Suarez grew in stature to carry the team until its leader could return. This time out, it’s hard to see right now what will happen, but Dembele will have an opportunity. He can make the most of it, or throw it away. If he does the latter, it will be difficult to see him finishing the summer transfer window at Barça. But hey. No pressure.

Meanwhile, after time has resumed its motion, life must go on. Playing, working and training without a player is different than having him yanked away during a match, so there is that consolation. The sleepwalking stunned bodies that moved around, going through the motions in the second half will be mentally prepared, more resolved, and ready. The result of all that remains to be seen.

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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.

21 Comments

  1. Víctor
    October 20, 2018

    I think that a good line up against Inter would be…

    —————–MATS—————
    –Semedo–Lenglet–Pique–Alba–
    ——-Busquets——Vidal———-
    –Dembele—-Arthur—-Coutinho–
    —————Suarez—————-

  2. mvarfi
    October 20, 2018

    Ter Stegen gave me goosebumps. Messi made me cry. A little.

    I can’t explain Dembele. Why he was an unreliable passenger in the second half, when his first twenty minutes or so before half time were not so bad. Well, put it this way, he wasn’t sticking out like a sore thumb like he was after the break. What the hell.

    I agree that the abruptness of Messi’s injury coupled with not knowing how severe it was, sucked some life out of the team. Racitic’s goal ‘celebration’ was pitch perfect. However, we will see a more alert and focused Barca come Wednesday. Messi is still The captain. What is the likelihood that his team will let him down?

  3. squeen
    October 20, 2018

    Dembele: what a horrorshow. I’ve got patience for a young player, but he acted liked he didn’t even know how Barca plays. WTF?.

    Rakitic was almost invisible except for the goal. That dude needs a break.

    Gonna be crazy the next few weeks.

  4. PPos
    October 21, 2018

    We really bought the wrong young frenchman in Dembele. If we had bought Mbappe, the loss of Neymar wouldn’t even be noticeable, because right now Mbappe is Neymar but without the douchy attitude and scoring more goals.

    Dembele is just a lazy, entitled little brat. He gets his opportunities and it seems like he doesn’t want to be on the pitch. I’d sell him to PSG and hand them 100 million for Neymar in a minute. At least, Neymar scores goals and tries. Dembele was terrible today. I’d take Paco over him right now.

    We just gotta focus on getting through Inter and then Madrid. I think Coutinho and Suarez are going to step up, like how Ney and Suarez did the last time Leo was injured. Today was a good day for teams I like, Michigan beat MSU after 10 years of nothing. Ohio State lost. Barca won, but at the end of the day I’m really sad because football is not the same without Leo Messi.

  5. October 21, 2018

    Yes. Yes time stopped.
    I froze seeing the replay. There was top shot of him lying down and it hurt.
    He looked much more in pain than the Ujafalasi foul and it was clear he wont continue.

    Dembele.. didnt our scounts notice his horrible inconsistency.
    I want to ask the same for Coutinho too.
    The second half was laid out for Vidal but I dont think EV will remove Rakitic as long as he can kick a ball.
    The best thing that happened to us – it was 2-0 when Messi left and TS.

    I will place my trust in Ter Cool Wall Stegen , Busi, Pique, Suarez, Arthur, Alba and also on Semedo and Lenglet.

    Get well soon Maestro.

  6. October 21, 2018

    Another great piece Kevin, although am a little surprised you didn’t reserve a paragraph for Arthur. If it wasn’t for Ter Stegens heroics then Arthur would have been motm for me. His calmness and composure for a player so young and still so new to the club are such a pleasure to watch. There were so many times i was worried he was going to lose the ball, but his speed of thought and ability to swivel and pass on a dime got him out of almost every single tough situation he was put in.

    I try not to get too excited about new signings after only a few games but he is making it very hard to do that with these performances. He is getting better and better each time he plays and I can understand why Valverde wanted to protect him for the upcoming games. His ability to calm a game down, maintain possession and control are going to be crucial, especially without Messi on the pitch. It says a lot that the team seemed to lose more control of the game when Arthur came off vs when Messi had to come off.

    • October 21, 2018

      Just an oversight. Arthur is brilliant, and a lot of the reason that unless Dembele improves quickly, he might find himself wearing different colors in the summer.

      Coutinho and Dembele are a pair of players that are almost anathema to the way people expect Barça to go about its business. Both are free agents, who think with the ball at their feet and view possession as something lost and regained, rather than the point of the exercise. Alexis Sanchez didn’t really work at the club because he had that same quality. Neymar worked so well because he reined in those tendencies, and got a coach who wanted to open up the pitch and hit the throttle. Valverde isn’t that kind of a coach.

      Essentially, the development of Arthur forced Valverde to make a choice between Coutinho and Dembele, essentially degrees of indiscipline. Coutinho won, and should have. Because Arthur has already become a linchpin, that calm, controlled presence that will be impossible to get out of the XI. He is also young, which makes me wonder why people are clamoring for the signing of De Jong from Ajax, with Riqui Puig and Oriol Busquets ready to promote, as well as Alena, who will be coming into his own as well.

      • squeen
        October 21, 2018

        I am just not seeing the same negatives in Coutinho that others like yourself do.

        He’s very attack minded, almost mono-manically sometimes—takes the chances and shoots. That’s great but not super subtle, I’d like it if he’d learn to read the rhythm of the game a bit more and how to change it up. Recirculating the ball is not an admission of failure (just a sign of intelligence). Also, he’s small and gets beat up a bit in the box—for that reason I’m not sure if he’s a winger or a midfielder (Iniesta had the same issue, but was SO elusive).

        Otherwise, he’s a super-skilled, possession-capable, hard working player—with great chemistry with his teammates (especially Suarez). He also needs to work on stamina a bit too—that’s why I think his tracking back for defense and “being there” for crosses is sometimes lacking. (Short legged dudes are just not your sideline gazelles—unless you’re a freak like Alba. Sub him at 60min?)

        I think we’ll look back at him some day as an all-time Barca great and tear-up when he leaves/retires.

  7. realdox
    October 21, 2018

    anytime I’m not chanced to watch the match,this is where I come to have a grasp of what really went good or wrong. in my opinion messi injury present an opportunity for both Malcolm ,dembele and EV to build an all round team where anyone can score . I think we will see Malcolm soon, whether to deputised dembele or to wrestle shirt from him time will tell. we will see a more organized team soon and that our right hand side that tends to be unbalanced will balance now because there’s no messi that will drift inward for the time been..in the meantime Arthur feel me with joy anytime I see him play or read something about him.

  8. mvarfi
    October 21, 2018

    Puig the chickadee is too little, but I’m wondering whether either Alena or Oriol Busquets might be potentially awesome backups for Pique. I agree with folks who think that getting both De Jong and De Ligt is unrealistic and possibly unnecessary.

  9. Grindelwald
    October 22, 2018

    It pains me to say this, but Dembele is shaping up to be a monumental transfer failure; one I can’t wait to see leave the club for the benefit of both parties. He luxuriate on the pitch and doesn’t exude the aura of one who’s willing to learn, commit, and fight for his team and teammates – and that’s worse than his frequent possession losses.
    Arthur rapid progress and integration into the first 11 shows another side of EV’s unpredictability: 90% of most coaches wouldn’t have in the first team and big games as early as 12 matches in, I hope we get to see more pleasant surprises from EV fore season ends.

    We should be able to navigate the next few matches sans Messi, infact, the team needs it on the long run – we need to cope without Messi at one point or the other.

    • Hristo
      October 22, 2018

      You are giving Valverde too much credit. Messi wanted Arthur to play, he when with a clear idea of what to say and send a message.
      Many coaches have said Messi understand the game better than they do. Messi does not say much but when he does it very concise and clear.

      Likely hood of Valverde doing what he does to please the only player he can’t lose is crucial.
      Valverde does not like players like Arthur. He never have bought with similar qualities, its never his style.
      Rakitic went out to criticise our(the coach) decision making after the game. 10 without a sub.
      When u see Messi on the ground for so long u know things are going wrong. U send Dembele to warm up. No. Valverde again was late with substitutions. So many times this season.

      I do understand Dembele to a good extend. I do not think he would have played at all if not for the injury. I remember watching the game and wondering why is there no player warming up. No Vidal warming up at any point. Even thoug Rakitic was again invisible apart from the goal.

      P. S Everything i said about Arthur is coming true. I’m glad u boys see it too.
      Now if u put Vidal instead of Rakitic we gonna see much better football.
      Semedo is playing better and better, as i have said 1000 times before too

      • October 23, 2018

        Read the Rakitic comment today and those are strong words pointed in one direction. What is surprising is it comes from Rakitic, who is like EV’s irreplacable. However, we do not know what Messi was thinking. May be he still wanted to see if he could carry on, if not would they have tried to dress his arms up. But still considering the game was not even 20min and Sevilla was in full energy, it was too long time to play with 10 men. We were lucky that Sevilla players and coach couldnt make out how to play without Messi.

  10. TITO
    October 22, 2018

    That’s what really frustrates me with Dembele.
    So much talent, and such a low football intelligence, can’t believe.
    Similar, but yet different case as with Delofeu. At least Delofeu didn’t cost us over 100 million.
    If he doesn’t learn and continue to act like that, ship him ASAP, destination PSG.

    • Hristo
      October 22, 2018

      What frustrates me is a grown man who can nurture young anf sensitive players who went through hell to get here. Who are at a stage of their life when they are most vulnerable. Valverde isn’t a youth nurturer. We all have seen this.

      I’m surprise that u would take it upon yourself to criticise 21 players who was severely punished for number of games. Had it not been for the injury of Messi Dembele would be on the bench again. 4 games are just about ideal to take out a young sharp lad and settle him into doubts.

      • TalentNHeart
        October 23, 2018

        I’m sorry Hristo, as much as I dislike some decisions that Valverde has made, I do not see how Dembele could have gotten into the line up with Arthur being absolutely necessary in midfield, Cooter playing generally well and a better option on the left wing, Messi being Messi, and Suarez regaining his form. Tho, It would have been best for the young man to consistently come in for Coots at 65-70 mins, when Coots is gassed, so he can gain some confidence and rhythm. A frustration for sure.

      • TITO
        October 23, 2018

        What hell?
        We are talking about Dembele and his laziness to give a shit on the pitch when he is playing. He has chances, he will get them in the coming games and that’s due to his purchasing price.
        It has nothing to do with nurturing a young kid.
        Actually, 21 is not a kid. Look at Mbappe.

      • TalentNHeart
        October 23, 2018

        Some people are more mature than others at similar ages. Mbappe is quite exceptional in many senses. Dembele definitely needs to pull his head out and show that he wants to be there. he should have been fired up to get a chance to prove himself yet he showed the opposite. Some of that may have to do with the Mister benching people for no reason even when they play well, but that’s just speculation on my part.

  11. Jim
    October 22, 2018

    Yeah, I’d agree with most of this, Kxevin. You’re right about the JFK moment and also about the tackle which as you say wasn’t malicious other than that most tackles on Messi are as they’re usually when he’s half gone. I think I’d be in favour of refs taking a moment longer to see the result of such challenges and raising the tariff accordingly if the player wronged has to go off.

    I didn’t like the attempt to patch Messi up at the pitch side. I was screaming at the TV ” Don’t you dare even think of putting him back on. ” That was worrying from the medical team. All of us could see it wasn’t happening straight away. As is the three week assessment. How much does a bone heal in three weeks ? What about the tendons, ligaments whatever around it ? Anyone up on this ? Only boy I knew who broke his arm at our football was out for three months before he got all clear. Nothing surer that when he comes back that arm will get all the attention from opponents.

    So, what are we left with? Well, a real lack of creativity mainly. Who do we have who can create a chance ? I’d argue Alba, maybe Rakitic occasionally ? , Coutinho, Suarez and Dembele. And then reality sets in and you realise that Alba only assists to,Messi, Raki has only one that relied heavily on Suarez’s dummy run, Coutinho has one and Dembele none. Suarez has four but then we’re relying on him being on the other end. So, a problem requiring solving. We may see a lot less chances being created. Can we afford to leave Dembele out ? Don’t know.

    I think it’ll be really interesting to see how we do in the coming games and we’ll learn a lot about the ability of certain players to operate at this level. We’ll learn a lot about EV as well. It occurred to me tonight listening to Souness ( still just about the top pundit for me) before the Arsenal game. He said what he liked about both managers was that they had come into their clubs in different situations but both ignored that and laid out clearly how they would want their team to play. I’ve maybe missed it but has anyone heard EV talk about how he sees our style ? Not getting at him, just don’t remember hearing. We still have better players than either Inter or Madrid so let’s hope they live up to their talent.

    What I did like was Barto making it clear he isn’t in a sacking mood with EV. Doesn’t mean a huge amount ( and Im not convinced by him yet) but he knows you can’t have a manager operating at his best on the constant brink of a sacking. I also liked his clear statement about Neymar not coming back because he chose to leave us. Again, doesn’t necessarily mean what it says but at least it makes it clear it would be on our terms if it did happen.

    Lovely to see Ramos taking the hammering he has deserved for the last three seasons or so over RM’s recent games. ( Great article in the Guardian on the goings on there from Sid Lowe, btw.) He’s a liability and fits perfectly into the mould of “he’s tough so he’s great ” worldview whereas it always pays dividends with a goal against Madrid to look at what Ramos was doing at the time.

    Finally, believe it or not, I’m keen for the Copa to get going. Folks here have been banging on about Alena, Puig, Oriol Busquets, Malcolm , Rafinha and others. I’d agree that we’re needing to have a hood look at them and I’d add Samper to the mix, even if he can no longer walk straight after his injury, as he just deserves his chance.. He just does after what we’ve put him through. At the moment I’m prepared to go along with EV because I can see reasons for most of what he does but if doesn’t realise that he’s gonna have to have a better look at young talent and that nobody gives a hoot for the Copa this year then he’ll need his hard hat.

    Definitely finally . . . What was all that about the club crest ? Is that the biggest issue facing us ? The new one looked great to me, much cleaner, the old one looked fine but getting worked up about it ?

    • mvarfi
      October 22, 2018

      Lots to think about and discuss…
      I’ll address your most anxiety inducing question on whether three weeks will be enough to heal Messi. I don’t know, as we don’t have specifics on the actual fructure and other related damage around it. What I do know, thank Goodness, is that Messi will have a solid five weeks to nurse his injury., not three. The official word is that he’s out for the next six games. The international break is right after. Barca’s next La Liga match is on Nov. 24th against Atletico. Two extra weeks is a big difference.

      • Jim
        October 22, 2018

        Didn’t realise that, Mvarfi. That’s a lot better.

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