Barça 5, Real Madrid 1, aka “Big game, big players, big coach”

There was a moment when many believe that the Classic was in the balance. Real Madrid came out of the half like lions, charging back into the match. They scored a goal, then hit the post with what would have been an equalizer. Barça was reeling, culers were freaking out.

The calmest man in the stadium might have been Ernesto Valverde. The same man who was bollocked for saying after one match that he didn’t know the exact changes to make, made it clear exactly what he meant. Today, he knew what changes to make. But the biggest change to make was to do nothing, to let his players work their way out, and it’s time for another Chicago Bulls analogy.

Six-title-winning Bulls coach Phil Jackson, when his team got in trouble, would always let them play out of it. He wouldn’t make subs, wouldn’t call timeouts. He let the players solve their problems. Valverde let his players solve their problems, play their way out of that funk and back into the match. Then he acted. This, like his subs, was exactly right.

This Classic was one that was a matchup only on paper. Real Madrid was in 7th place, Barça playing for the lead if they won. Judging by position, the Catalans were supposed to win, and in the first half, with Valverde rolling out the same XI that took Inter apart, they played like 1st against 7th. The ball pinged around, with Arthur at the eye of the maelstrom. The first goal was logical and inveitable as an incisive pass opened up Madrid, and their defenders naively chased the ball as Casemiro trotted after Coutinho, who was wide open for the pass from Alba. Goal.

We talk a lot about individual brilliance, and some scoff at the idea. They will probably point to this match with smugness, and say “This is what we mean about playing football.” But every goal had a moment of excellence. Brilliance is necessary to execute. The difference between Barça and say, Huesca isn’t 90% of the buildup to the goal. It’s performance in the key area, that key ball.

The match went pretty much as expected, though I think that most thought that the Real Madrid that showed up for the beginning of the second half would show up for the whole match. In the first half, Barça played Madrid off the park, and the match should have been over by halftime. Suarez made a couple of dicey plays, Rafinha missed an appalling pass that would have had Alba in alone on Courtois. There are those who will say that this match was closer than the scoreline indicated. It wasn’t. The better team won, the scoreline was reflective of the match. Big players play big games. So do their coaches.

Valverde will go to his grave wondering what in the hell happened to him and his team in Rome. But he seems to have learned from that experience. Real Madrid wasn’t Roma. They weren’t playing as well or as aggressively, but Valverde still analyzed the match and acted. And he knew that his players had what it took to straighten things out, to get everything to the point where the subs would tell.

Pique is majestic again. Rakitic played Kroos and Modric off the park. Lenglet mostly put their attackers in his pocket. Sergi Roberto did everything that he needed to do. Suarez missed chances, but was brilliant. His header is one of the most stunning goals he has scored in the colors. Alba was absurd. Every player — save Rafinha — showed up with their A game. Arthur didn’t look like this was his first Classic, Busquets was his own standard. And even Rafinha, though not on his attacking game, did all of that little stuff, running, tracking back, working. Barça was mentally prepared, hungry and that first half looked like it.

Then came the start of the second half, the period that people dreaded. Lopetegui went to three at the back, and his players suddenly had fire. But the larger question is did Barça go off the boil, or did Real Madrid pick up their game. Or did both happen? Either way there was a period where the match seemed in the balance, and culers were panicking. Valverde wasn’t. Once his players played their way out, with Suarez pranging a shot off the post. Then Valverde acted.

The first sub was Semedo for Rafinha, who was the weak link. My MOTM Sergi Roberto went to midfield and created the last two goals Suarez scored. Sememdo added pace and defending quality. The next move was Dembele for Coutinho, who created nothing much after his first goal, and was starting to run out of energy in addition to not creating much. In came Dembele, who immmediately paid off, pushing Madrid back with an incisive run. Suarez took advantage of a defense that was on its heels. Dembele also made a killer dribble and run into the box to set up the fifth goal, scored by the third sub, Arturo Vidal, who subbed on for a dog-tired Arthur, and brought fight into the midfield.

When Messi went down, a lot of pepple predicted doom. Twitter pundits say that Barça is a mid-table club without Messi. That kind of thinking is absurd. Look at the starting lineup: Ter Stegen is the best keeper in football. Pique is one of the best CBs. Lenglet is a briliant, under-the-radar CB. Also is one of the best LBs in football. Busquets is the best DM in football, Rakitic one of the best mids. Coutinho starts for Brazil, and he should. And Luis Suarez is, for all of his stumbling and bumbling, the best 9 in the game. Barça has the horses to get it done, and they have. Sevilla, Inter, now Real Madrid. What’s next?

This team is still improving, which is one of the key things to note. If the Dembele that showed up in the second half sticks around, this team is going to be savage. Supporters aren’t supposed to have blind faith in their team. But they are supposed to try to understand what a team is working toward. The progress with Barça has been steady and unmistakable. You don’t have blind faith, but you do have confidence in great players. Barça has great players, as we saw today, from the intense press to the ball and player movement. And today was the result. Sevilla was the result. Inter was the result.

A lack of faith makes supporters panic. Madrid scored a goal and people began to panic, begin looking for ways for the team to fail, began to expect their dire predictions to come to pass. The team (unlike in Rome) didn’t panic. Its manager (again unlike in Rome) didn’t panic. Everyone did what they were supposed to do, which is a favorite theme of mine. Barça has enough talent where if people do their jobs, they should never lose a match. Today, they destroyed the seventh-place team in the table, as they were supposed to. We celebrate it more because it was Real Madrid, because it was the Classic. But the best team won. Its players worked harder, made most of the right decisions, and their coach got it right. Barça football is logical. So was today’s result.

By Kxevin

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


    1. Funny how I rarely see “Valverde/Barcelona got an unlucky result” when things don’t go well… but when Barcelona wins is because: players’ attitude/opposition’s crappiness/luck/Messi… everything bad should be pinned on Valverde and everything good is despite of him…

      I know that the board has a lot of issues, but thankfully at least they aren’t as idiotic to sack a coach after a stint of 3 or 4 adverse results…

    2. Beat Sevilla, walked Inter. Were those coaches also worse than him? Lucky for Valverde. He must keep a rabbit’s foot in his jacket pucket to keep getting coaches worse than him in match after match.

    3. If you can’t appreciate what valverde has done with this team , it’s unfair. For once this season ,he did what I loved about him last season. Subs. Pls appreciate and be happy.

  1. On a more serious note, there is some truth in that sarcasm of mine.
    RM at the moment and in the last month or so is simply awful, can’t remember the last time they had such a bad period, and to my expectations, anything less than a win would have been a let down. But no, of course i did not expect that result.
    We did great, and same as with Inter, control wise we start to look really good and i think it has to do something with Artur in the line up. The only let down for me was Rafinha, he is simply a MF and not a forward and cannot function there. Same with Roberto, the minute he switched to midfield and Semedo was in, he started to show what he is capable of.
    We need to build on this momentum. We have all the necessary ingredients, let’s just hope the coach will know how to manage it until the end.
    And, Vidal for those minutes he gets, in each game he played, was more than good.

    1. Rafinha was WAY off from his Inter performance. Wonder if he has the fitness for two matches in a week. This run of Sevilla, Inter and now Real Madrid have been excellent. And all three have shared a similar tactical template, now that Arthur has made himself essential.

    2. Rafinha historically plays bellow avarage at RW. Against Inter he scored a goal striker would score. Apart from that he was at best avarage. Didn’t do anything else the whole game. I said it before the game.
      Why surprised he didn’t fair well? He was playing this with Enrique to the same result. He would score a goal and go invisible.
      I don’t know if u are aware but the majority of the cule base were not worried about RM.
      Ive said before, a thousand times, we trash every team who plays open football.

      Besides Valverde got his tactics wrong again. Starting awfully Conservative.
      Only with the introduction of Semedo and Dembele did we do well. Finally he managed to muster some balls and make those subs. I’ll credit him on that.
      I think the problems of Valverde comes down to his astonishing lack of imagination and vision of the game. Cruyff valued this above all. Maybe that is why he benched him for two years.

    3. Well, even accounting for Real Madrid’s bad moment, just a very few expected Barcelona to score 5 goals… and that’s because their main problem has been scoring goals, not their defense… so far in this season the most goals they have conceded in a game is 3… and that was against Sevilla and just once, the rest of the games they concede either 1, 2 goals or none…

      A win was expected and totally within “football logic”… but this match is a Clasico and you know that in games like this you can’t take anything for granted… hell, Madrid has been able to pull of victories/draws against Barcelona despite them being at bad moments…

    4. Roberto seem to do well against teams that attacks us and leaves a lot of space behind. He is a good runner with the ball. that I believe he a reason he always turns on against Madrid. But since most teams still park the bus against us , he is better at right back until maybe we score a goal and they are forced to respond.

  2. In the second half, sensations of Rome came back,that anxiety, I was literally shouting at the tv at MATS and busquets to calm the game down. Pity to Madrid, they came out pouring there hearts out for their manager only to get drubbed, pity to JL because madrid weren’t made to be a possession based team,they don’t have the cogs to play that way, that’s where he and perez failed. Maybe the rope around EV’s neck would be loosened a bit after this(or maybe just for today) but hey MANITA!!!. Maybe I could borrow your crystal ball one day kxevin.

    1. P.S: What I loved most about the match was Vidal finally getting his revenge against EE. It’s been a long time coming

  3. Some thoughts:

    Maybe Barcelona was a bit fortunate to face an Inter whose gameplan posed no big danger (even though I think we should give some credit to the coach for rolling up a XI&strategy to neutralize their game) and a bit lucky to encounter Real Madrid in a bad shape… but let’s not forget that the team played without Messi and many were expecting bad results in those two games because of this… instead, the team played with attitude, with desire and, most importantly, with a gameplan…

    Does that mean that everything is gonna be sweet victory after sweet victory? Of course not, there are gonna be rough games ahead, there are going to be some days were things don’t go as well… but is good to see that the team is keeping its composure and that the string of September’s adverse results and resulting pressure didn’t bring them down… it’s up to them to keep the winning mentality and attitude for the rest of the season.

    And finally, whether this was lucky or not… you rarely see Barcelona score 5 against Real Madrid… so, let’s enjoy that moment… last time Barça scored a “manita” against them was about 8 years ago under Guardiola’s tenure with Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Messi and Pedro at the front…

  4. No other team can destroy madrid like that without their best player.
    To say it better no other team can destroy them even with their best.
    This is Valverde s team last season was more a team with a lot of Lucho players and bad luck with Dembele and Coutinho transfer timing.
    Still he did an excellent job and this year it seems he can do the same and better.
    Thanks team for this great game,thanks Ernesto.

  5. Excellent review.
    i did expect a win, but not a manita.
    Rafinha was again that player who is excellent for a mid table team. Am also not convinced about Coutinho. This was the game he could have taken the centre stage, but other than the goal, which any decent minded defender other than Ramos might have cleared off the line as his shot was too weak,, he was very average in our team where everybody else raised their game for the big enemy. And inspite of not doing much he also looked very tired in the beginning of second half.
    Wonderful result.
    RM in the first 45 minutes played like a team from the second division. I have never seen them play like that. Imagine if Messi was there in that first half.
    Am glad Dembele picked up and super glad for Vidal. I was not happy we bought Vidal, but after seeing him play for us, I really want him to have more minutes.
    Rest all these players for copa, please.

    1. I really expect Vidal to get more minutes too, but am afraid that will be difficult since it’s like control is our new “anthem” and Vidal doesn’t give that . He gives the kind of chaos we see in the epl and that is also beautiful. He is difficult to track. but hopefully he gets more minutes.

  6. After this game, I noticed Dembele seems to play better when he has enough space… and rarely do you see teams give barca enough space..
    And somebody tell me why Sergi Roberto turns on against Madrid like “a Man seeking revenge in a Chinese movie”

    1. ‘And somebody tell me why Sergi Roberto turns on against Madrid like “a Man seeking revenge in a Chinese movie”’

      Because he’s a Catalan, with the Madrid establishment invested in Real Madrid, that’s why! 🙂

    2. oh…. If I were to have a wish, i would wish every team we faced were teams from Madrid!!!

  7. Some observations:

    1) Ernesto Valverde is a complete rockstar. Yes, that awful night in Rome happened, but what has he done otherwise that doesn’t deserve rapturous applause and serious faith and confidence?

    2) We keep complaining that Barca doesn’t scout well like Monchi or Benfica. But we need to give credit. Marc Andre Ter Stegen is an amazing find. Samuel Umtiti is an amazing find. Arthur Melo is an amazing find. Nobody had heard of these guys. What did we pay for them in relation to modern market conditions? Yet these guys are world beaters.

    3) Coutinho needs to justify his price tag and contribute at least for 60-70 mins not just 15 mins in a game.

    4) Yes Dembele’s body language is deeply worrying and his casual and careless behavior with the ball is unacceptable for a Barcelona player. But hey, if Messi doesn’t have a problem and reckons he needs to be unleashed free, who the eff are we to comment?

    5) Arthur. Oh Arthur. How good is this guy.
    I have always had certain intuitions about certain players that ALWAYS prove to be right. Had that with MAtS, have that now with Arthur. This guy has fit in like a glove in spite of arriving from a different country and being really young. Those yearning Thiago Alcantara can kiss arthur’s arse.

    6) And before i forget, Real Madrid Cabrons, take that! You’ve lucked out that past 3 years and won european trophies without even facing Barca once. We have been the better team for 11-12 years now. No question. And boy, does it feel good.

    7) A word of appreciation for Clement Lenglet. What a lovely purchase. This boy is going to serve us well.

    8) Alba oh Alba! Thanks for being Dani. A better Dani too I might add.

    9) Ter stegen for captain. Please god, make this happen, even if the catalan hierarchies will make that impossible. I don’t like busi or messi as captain, how much ever they might merit the armband. Some guys should just be players. Some guys should be capita. (Mascherano, Ter stegen ec)

    10) I have always supported the much maligned people in our team. Right from Alexis sanchez to Mascherano to Valverde. I cannot for the life of me understand how the eff anyone can criticize Ivan ‘baller’ Rakitic. This guy is integral and a world beater. People talk of Modric etc for the best player in the world. Are you frickin kidding me? he is not even the best in the croatia team. Rakitic has everything.

    11) Visca Barca i Visca Catalunya!

  8. Well, it’s a freezing morning here in Scotland, but to be frank who cares ? I’ve even offered to take my wife shopping which shows the kind of mood I’m in. That was awesome !

    For me, the first thing to say is that I still haven’t a clue what their game plan was – and that alone should be enough to get their manager the sack. In the past we’ve seen Mourinho’s double decker bus, the counter attacking side, the attempt to learn how to pass the ball and even a spell where their only thought was to pump cross balls into the box. What was it last night ? Best guess for me is that they wanted to let us come onto them and break at speed but without Ronaldo they don’t actually have that much speed and if you are inviting another team on to you you need to be able to withstand it. Confusing.

    For them, I suspect this match has seen not just the manager’s departure but als sealed the fate of Bale, possibly Benzema and maybe even the start of Ramos’ fall from grace. Can anyone watch Madrid’s last three games and honestly tell me Ramos ( insert Varanne if you like) is a more than decent CB ? Suarez murdered him ( both of them) on his own. Leave aside his hat trick. Have a look below.

    First goal – watch him draw Ramos to the near post meaning that Coutinho is left on his own but more importantly can’t get back in time to stop Coutinho’s weak shot.

    Second goal – it’s not Varanne’s fault. Suarez has nipped behind him and Ramos having been caught following him at the first decides yo stand his ground rather than provide cover for Varanne and the penalty ensues.

    The last goal – look at 18:17 on the clip. You can clearly see Suarez turn and look at Vidal running behind him so he nips to the front post drawing the left sided CB ( yes, you guessed it) with him towards the front leaving all the space for Vidal ( what a header btw). You can almost see Ramos’ brain working. ” wait a minute. I went for the first, stayed for the second and got screwed on both. What do I do here?”


    Anyway, need to stop there as the promised shopping trip is now apparently overdue. Tbc . . .

  9. What a lovely gift!

    With regards to the first-half. RM wasn’t pressing from the starting whistle. That one falls on the manager. Clearly they were given instructions to stay compact and break on the counter. The problem is that RM are not Atletico Madrid, they don’t LIKE staying compact. In their minds, they are the fierce tigers that others should huddle around their goal in fear as they attack. The RM players clearly were unhappy that they weren’t allowed to play “their game” and it translated into lack-luster defending that leaked 2 goal.

    After that, the original game plan was out the window. Second half, RM played like RM and it took Barca back a bit. Sometimes its said that 2-0 is the worst score to have at half-time, because it makes you think you’ve got the game in the bag when you don’t.

    That said, re-watching the start of the first half, it sure looked a bit like some of it was RM’s renewed ferocity (simply put, they pressed, whereas before half-time, they had not), but also something subtler was at work. I swear that RM was getting A LOT of lucky bounces. Even Marcelo’s goal was a bit fortunate. After a bit, that luck (or their energy—perhaps the same thing–dunno) started to run out and that was when the Barca Machine took back over.

    Valaverde’s “new look” team for this year doesn’t sit back—it presses to work the ball free and then it controls. Nice. Hat’s off to Arthur on both those counts. After the spell of luck/expended-energy from RM waned, we started winning the 50/50’s again and it wasn’t too long and Suarez had hit the post.

    RM’s 3-in-the-back and go-for-broke tactics went to completely to hell when Dembele came in. Honestly, that’s the lock his key fits. Just like if RM had gone for thugs tactics (like last Classico)—Vidal’s your man for a street fight.

    And, that gents, is what you call squad depth. This year, we’s got some.

    Also, with regards to the midfield battle: Roberto at right-back, Alba at left-back, Rafinha at right-wing, and Coutinho at left-wing. Add that to Busi+Arthur+Rakitic and that makes 7 midfielders on the fields. Now that’s control.

    Coutinho’s was a team-goal, Vidal’s was a team goal. And Suarez was just the platonic ideal of a striker.

    THAT header from beyond the penalty mark. Wow.

  10. One last thought on Coutinho.

    Some folks criticize that he isn’t always as effective as he should be, but consider this—he is a threat and defenses respect him.

    Just like in some games past, when Messi comes on the field late (even injured!) and forces the opponent to re-align itself, Coutinho has a subtle effect. I believe Kxevin pointed it out in 2016(?), some of our player — I think he used Rakitic as the example at the time, but it might have even been Rafinha — just aren’t scary enough to destabilize a defense. I believe Coutinho is. He, like Saurez, may not always be scoring goals, but he keeps the defenders occupied so goals CAN be scored.

    Or maybe I’m just missing something other’s have seen.

    1. Or maybe the fact that he only shows up for 45-60 minutes and becomes a passenger in the remaining. That inconsistency is what the lot of us see but no denying he’s certainly a world beater.

    2. Maybe there is an issue with his fitness.
      It is something the coach needs to have a chat with him and if it’s managable which i think it is, than they should solve it.
      He cant show up for 50-60 minutes in each game and then just become lethargic.

    3. Fun facts:
      Coutinho’s debut for Barcelona was on January 25th. He was made to alternate between starting and subbing for the first 10 matches. That he had just come off a thigh injury, if I’m not mistaken, and was at the beginning of learning the Barca way, may have been one reason for that. He then started the remaining 12 matches. During that block of games he scored 9 goals, including a hattrick. In other words, he scored in every other game.

      This season, including both the Supercopa and the Joan Gamper trophy games, he, again, was made to alternate (almost 100%) between starting and subbing for the first 9 matches. This time, his WC adventure may have had something to do with that. Still, he scored twice in that period. He has since been a starter and has scored thrice. Yes, that means one goal every other game. As you may have deduced, it seems Coutinho has followed a pattern in his two seasons with Barcelona. That’s consistency. At least by one set of measurements.

      That said, I generally don’t pay much attention to stats. There is much more to a player’s game than scoring goals and completing passes. As Ray Hudson puts it: “You don’t measure THAT by statistics, it’s immeasurable.” In Coutinho’s case, THAT is not shown enough by mercenary standards (he cost a lot of money!), hence the criticism. However, and acknowledge it or not, there’s been a gradual improvement in how he moves both on and off the ball. I am more encouraged by his steady progress than discouraged by his perceived lack of stamina at the end of October.

  11. Still upbeat after three hours in a shopping mall ! We must have played well. Squeen’s, I have a quiet party in my head every time I see Ramos lying in a net beside the ball having done nothing to prevent it arriving there I’m genuinely amazed at the myopia of those who think he’s great. If Pique made half the big mistakes he does L’d need to go into hiding ( as indeed would Pique ). Btw, I did like Pique’s gesture at the crowd who were abusing Ramos. Channelling Puyol, methinks.

    A couple of thoughts about the article. I’m not sure where people have been scoffing at the idea of individual brilliance. I certainly don’t and I’m not sure how anyone who supports a team with Messi in it ever would. Baffled by that one but I am one of those who has been wittering on about the value of our passing game and, yes, since Arthur has come into the side and we have more mids in the side as a whole the ball is moving much better as it did yesterday for long periods.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Arthur, on his own, has improved the play of Rakitic and allowed Busi to be himself by offering himself exactly when needed and able to take a hospital ball and turn it into good possession. I thought all three mids had a pretty good game. For me, it was Arthur who played Kroos and Modric off the park if anyone, although I think it was a real team effort. Busi now knows he can give Arthur such a ball with impunity which liberates him to play his game. (Who was it who had to pay to get back in after one of his turns ? ). I Liked Arthur’s shot but I’ve a feeling he is still feeling his way with regard to the offensive side.

    Call me anxious but, yes, for fifteen, twenty minutes I thought the game was in the balance. If Madrid had scored once or twice as the could have it might well have ended differently. But it didn’t so that’s that. Of those 20 minutes, I thought the enforced change with Varanne going off and three at the back undoubtedly suited them better for going forward and keeping the ball but was hard to keep going without opening the back door.

    I did, though, think we were needing to do something about our right side and I’m not buying the needing to wait to let it play out school of thought. FWIW, for me, the change with Semedo coming on should have been made five or maybe ten minutes earlier. SR and Rakitic were having a pretty torrid time with Marcello and were caught out time and again by pace. In that period in general I thought the defence needed a bit more help from the mids. The Dembele one probably had to wait till we rested back a little possession.

    Before I finish, a quiet word about Lenglet. I wasn’t sure about him after his first two performances but he is starting to grow on me. He’s not flashy, is continually swivelling his head to see what’s happening around him and goes with his man.

    Which is probably just as well as its not looking to me like Umtiti is on the verge of a return. I saw a video somewhere a couple of weeks ago of him running on sand. Didn’t like it. It was designed to show he was improving but if it’s a cartilage tear he did nothing that would have tested it such as a quick turn or pushing off that knee. Hope I’m wrong but . .

    Now, the Copa. We must all be looking forward to seeing our own great young hopefuls. It will also be some low key relief for EV. – as well as me. I just need to find someone showing it.

    1. “hospital ball” — what a wonderful turn of phrase. You Scots!

      Caught Pique shouting on camera at one point—but the announcers got it totally wrong if that was the time you mention when he was defending(?) Ramos from crowd abuse. They said he was pissed at Rafinha for losing possession. If you are correct, good for him. Pique’s a class act in my book. I always liked it when I heard he used to stand up for Messi in school too.

  12. The reactions after the game are funny,people acts like it was nornal to destroy madrid like that without best player.
    For me that was a tactical masterclass from a great coach not only in tactical preparation of the game but also in reading and reacting genius in madrid s tacticak changes in 2nd half.
    Ernesto Valverde proved that Barca can be a great team even without Messi.
    This win this perfomance is his work.Haters will keep hate but i am happy he is our coach.

  13. Not to mention that Barca played midweek vs a v good team again without Leo and again they were a solid team winning easy.
    That s not luck or poor opponents that s result of a man in the bebch who is working and have quality.

  14. @MVARFI – Like many others here, me too dont judge a player by goal and assist numbers. So this is not the base for my comments on Cutinho. not at all. He was fading out of the game after the first goal. And even before that, look at the cross he makes around 2 – 3 minutes. Thats nor what Barca expects from one of the world’s best players.
    As you rightly said, he is not playing every 90 minutes and even in October, if he looks tired by the beginning of second half, then he should worry about his fitness. He is not the only player in our team who played WC. Our schedule is only going to get tougher from Jan and we need him to be more consistent, not just for 20 – 45 mins. Suarez, Rakitic Busi are all more elder and still working at their best, then its natural we expect more from a younger player. I will be more than happy if he plays better. 🙂
    Squeen – there is that gif around in which Pique raiseing his finger and signalling No to the supporters.
    I think his anger at Rafinha was when he tried to dribble out the ball from just out of box.

    1. This is where you and I differ. I think Coutinho has improved important aspects of his game. The fact that he hasn’t gained ideal fitness at this point in time doesn’t bother me as much it does other folks. That other Barcelona players were at the WC has nothing to do with how Coutinho’s conditioning progresses. I think I’ve used this argument with you before, which is that no two athletes are built the same. Naturally, you can’t compare their trajectories fitness-wise. It wouldn’t be fair. Also, it wasn’t long ago that people, including you, were lamenting the fact that Racitic was not getting any rest despite not looking at his best at times.

  15. As weird as this might sound, I think Messi getting injured for a few weeks has been a blessing in disguise.

    It has allowed the team and the coach to prove that they don’t always need Messi to bail them out and that they are perfectly capable of winning on their own. This was a run of games that would have been tough WITH Messi, let alone without him and we won them all! That will give the team a huge amount of confidence, and it will also give the coach a lot of confidence that he can now rest Messi more often. That is crucial if we want to go for everything this season.

    I also think it will be a relief for Messi that he doesn’t always have to be the saviour and should allow him to play with less pressure and more joy.

    For Valverde it is a great step in shutting up all the haters (most of whom have been very quiet here the last few games!) because not only has he had the team prepared mentally and tactically but he has made the right decisions at the mostly the right times in all the games. Kudos to him, he was under a huge amount of pressure.

    The next really big test is going to be Athletico Madrid, right after the international break, at which point Messi should be back, fully fit and chomping at the bit!

    Can’t wait!

    1. The next big test will be Inter away. The team has done very good in these home matches, let’s see if they can carry that mentality in away matches… this is gonna be a very critical aspect for the UCL aspirations… I have faith that they’ll deliver, but if that doesn’t happen in these last group matches, then let’s hope that they’ll take that as an experience to straighten that up… they are almost qualified for the KO phase…

      Atletico Madrid is gonna be a big test as well, because it’s an away game and after an international break… Messi won’t be playing for Argentina, so odds are that he’s gonna be very well rested and ready for that game…

    2. We did win an away CL game against Tottenham and did it quite easy.
      We should be first in this group anyway, but yes, a win in Milan should be great.

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