Ideas, ideals, nuance and Barça

Nothing sucks the fun out of a football discussion like a closely held idea. It would all be more fun if, like the school debate team, it was all just pure intellectual discourse. Here’s why.

In competitive debate each team is given a subject to research, then argue. Because that team is detached from its idea in a direct way, all it has is the process. It’s a lot like being a journalist. Once, before going on an assignment, an intern asked me, “What story do you want?” Answer? “The story that’s there, which you won’t know until you go and report it.”

Every football match is an open-ended question. Even at its end the scoreline is the only real absolute. The grey area is what fuels football discussion, even as being wedded to ideas sucks the fun out of it.

Social media is a fascinating study in debate, beliefs and notions. If you look at any Twitter discussion thread, people will like the Tweets that hew to their views, so use of the like button becomes illuminating, a sort of “Hear! Hear!” from the sidelines. (Maybe Twitter isn’t crazy for removing the like feature to help stimulate debate.)

What usually happens in a Twitter debate is each person stakes out a side. Then we become our ideas so the back and forth is endless as neither person wants to relinquish control of themselves. Ideas help us learn stuff. What makes us better is learning what we don’t know, rather than clinging to what we know.

The best writers are usually the most curious people. A journalist must become an instant expert on that day’s topic, which they often come to in ignorance. If you go into a story knowing what the story is, how does that affect your reporting? An editor’s job becomes to find holes in the story, just as a debate coach assesses an incomplete argument. During my music critic days, the challenge was to evaluate how good the band was at being the band. Like or dislike of the music is immaterial to the point of the exercise.

Football discussions are a hotbed of knowing what the story is. Look at the Rayo match and Dembele. Some know Valverde is the problem. Others know the player is the problem. As always, something like a truth is somewhere between. Maybe.

Maybe Dembele would be better if Messi wasn’t at Barça. He would be the man. Maybe a different coach, more willing to give him the keys to the car as Luis Enrique did for Neymar, would make him reach his potential more quickly. So many things are possible, even as we have what we have. Valverde plays Dembele in situations or at times that are chosen for maximum effect and minimum danger. Dembele wants to play more, wants to start. His supporters want to see that as well, and slate Valverde for somehow stifling talent.

But another part of that question is what is a player’s role in maximizing his talent, in creating the conditions in which he can thrive? Look at how Neymar changed his game to fit the demands of his team and his coach. He knew what he had to do. He and Dembele are different humans but that constant remains for Dembele, for club and country: Here is what you have to do.

We often debate what didn’t happen. “So and so almost cost the team a goal.” But he didn’t. Dembele loses balls that lead to dangerous counters, but the opponent doesn’t score. And Dembele scores, or helps create a goal. So what’s the conclusion to be drawn? Two examples:

— On the Rayo shot attempt that was pushed just wide, Sergi Roberto was surprised by a man running in from his side. The player missed. Sergi Roberto also got flummoxed on a goal they did score. Sergi Roberto also delivered the assist that won the match. Is Sergi Roberto good or bad? If Semedo is in there, does he not get beaten and the 1-0 scoreline holds? Dunno. It’s just an idea. Doesn’t mean someone likes Semedo or hates Sergi Roberto. It’s just an idea.

— Late in the second half Suarez got loose on a run, and plopped a weak shot at the keeper. Why? Dembele stopped running, so Suarez didn’t have an option for the square ball which would have been a tap-in had he kept running. So what is that an example of? Depends on who you ask. But asking the question isn’t “hating on Dembele.”

It would be fun to have the “Valverde out” crowd, in a debate, argue for keeping him and the reverse — to see if it was indeed possible to detach from an idea, to proof the belief that we are not our ideas, which are just things we throw out into the world.

During the post-match debate someone popped into my Twitter timeline to ask, “How can we trust the opinion of someone who wanted to sell Messi,” referring to my 2014 question about that topic, which was being debated back in the day. But if you look at an idea, a question as just this thing, what does it matter? Discuss it with the freedom that comes from the idea and its debate being meaningless.

We see it in this comments space. Someone will come to a post with a worldview, and so their reaction to that post is shaped by that worldview. So, “Why do you always defend him,” is something we see here with regularity. Or “You just love x or y player.” Nope. None of us knows how to get football discussion to detach from its ideas, but that is the key to making this stuff fun. Posts here come from questions, ideas and ideals. The debate happens during the typing process, and then the comments serve as the proof for that notion. It’s so much fun.

Comments (and social media threads) get personal when we don’t let our ideas exist in the world as balloons without strings. Fill it up, and let it float. “Hey, what is that?” The answer isn’t, “That’s my balloon.” The fun lies in the answer, “Some thing. What do you think about it?” Nobody knows how to get people to release their ideas, to just let that balloon float. But when it happens it makes a discussion pure and wonderful, and everybody learns stuff.

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. Discussion is good, seeing other viewpoints is very good as well. I can find myself agreeing with many of the twitter folk that want to sack the coach when they say that in this game Barcelona didn’t deserve victory and that struggling to defeat a relegation side is just bad…

    The last two games were won with last-minutes goals, that’s a sign that we have things to improve. Real Madrid’s 2016-2017 season was one where they got several points thanks to late goals… hell, we totally criticized them for that… depending on a late Ramos’ header or things like that…

    However, it’s also true that Barcelona has played big games with almost total authority, do Barcelona players get over confident when facing lesser rivals? I can’t see how this team can defeat Sevilla 4-2, Inter 2-0, RM 5-1 and then lose a lead against Rayo Vallecano… maybe playing at away grounds make that happen? Other than the Tottenham&Valencia games, I think that Barcelona has been mediocre on away grounds…

  2. For the people that say that Valverde should rotate more… ok, but how so?

    Rotate 1 player every game
    Rotate 2 players every game
    Rotate 3 players every match
    Rotate 5 players for every game

    If he rotates just 1 player at a time: let’s say Munir for Suarez, or Dembele for Arthur, would it be fine?
    If he rotates 2 players at a time (which he did back in September): let’s say Rafinha&Vidal for Messi&Rakitic or Sergi Roberto&Malcom for Arthur&Coutinho, how would you react?
    What if he rolls up a line up of: Ter Stegen, Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Semedo, Busquets, Vidal, Sergi Roberto, Dembele, Munir and Messi… against a mid-table club?

    I see many people asking for rotations and that’s fine… but then again, if you want to see rotations and playing time for non-gala XI players then be prepared to see sloppiness in play, some adverse results and not freak out against the coach for that…

    1. Which ever one floats your boat… To specify on two things: firstly,why would you want a mid-field of busquets-vidal-roberto, that’s just setting yourself up for doom, even EV is not that crood and secondly, You mean more sloppiness than the one we still ocassionly see from the gala XI… I’m shaking in my boots

    2. It’s just an idea, didn’t fully think about balance in that line-up… the point is, to what extent you want rotation to happen and… even more importantly, are you willing to accept some adverse results in the name of rotation?

      Yes, the ideal would be to do gradual rotations, play good football and get the results… the reality, however, is not so easy… it’s not like the opponents are going to lower their game because Barcelona didn’t roll up the entire gala XI…

  3. SR is not a fullback and never will be. So, Semedo must play game in game out until he fully integrates and becomes necessity as Dani A.
    I want to see a midfield of Busi, Arthur and maybe Vidal.
    Coutinho can rest a game or two and think about why is he playing like shit the last couple of games. Also if i was the coach i would talk to my fitness team and see why Coutinho cannot give 90 minutes of focus in each game. Same with Dembele.
    Just because they think they are worth above 100 millions and think of themselves as stars it doesnt necessary mean that a place in the gala XI will be a sure thing.
    I want to see hunger from them, fight for a place and give a damn about success. That success doesnt come just because we are Barca and they play for Barca. Teams wont roll over when they face us, especially in away matches.
    What im saying is that playing comes with merits.
    One to two changes each game wont harm us and will give some players more minutes to understand our style of play and stay sharp.

  4. I’m probably not one to comment on the nuts and bolts of this article as I used to accompany the school debating team as the head of English ( unless I could find a compliant young keen, member of staff) but it used to be as often as not a total bore fest, precisely because the kids had no investment in the argument they were making. It may also have had something to do with debate night coinciding with the night of the week I played football, but hey . . .

    Anecdotally, and arguing against myself for the moment, the only one I ever enjoyed was exactly as Kxevin described when we received an offer from the local private ( we call them public for some reason) school asking if we would send a team out to debate them in preparation for a national semi final. The topic was whether private schools should be banned and the guy in charge suggested we swap sides. It was carnage ! Our mob demanding that parents had the right to fund any education they wanted and theirs raging against privilege. But that, I’m afraid was the exception.

    Anyway, like Fotobirajesh, I’m on a dodgy stream these days from Eleven. Keeps stuttering but at least it never breaks down. I’m gonna go against the grain here ( maybe not the first time ) and say that although we lost our rhythm badly for a large part of the game we were also pretty unlucky. Both their goals, for me, only happened because of lucky bounces off the woodwork. In the first, yes, our mids should have been out attacking the ball but look at the flight of it. It lands only precisely at the post, the hardest height for a keeper, hits the inside and goes in. TS has a shot like that nine out of ten. Great shot but you couldn’t walk up and place that bounce better.

    The second bordered on the ridiculous. Yes, we could have closed things down better, Lenglet should have followed in to cut off precisely what happened which was a dipping cross but it was one of those you have to shake your head at. You can argue Pique should have covered it better but he was right beside the guy and couldn’t get at him as he moved his head away towards the ball. There wasn’t room or time to be goalside.

    Their guy dives to head it outside the front post. He glances it and TS is right there diving to stop it if it is going in. However, it glances the post and away from him. It doesn’t end there. There is only one possible bounce which leads to a goal and that is one which takes it almost straight across the goal line to the guy at the back. You can’t blame SR for that ! He’s covering the rest of the goal for the more obvious bounce. It literally drops at the foot of a player who had no right to receive it other than in a world where everything we do in defence is jinxed.

    Now, they played great in spells and were lively throughout and all I’m saying is that they got the breaks. Maybe they deserved them but when we were playing well we didn’t get a break with Suarez’s great effort off the post. Virtually no backlift and first time. Deserved to go in but no luck.

    I’m not absolving us here. I think we do have a problem with SR at the back and Lenglet I didn’t think was great although he has been playing well. Alba was outstanding and Pique was everywhere saving our bacon, up front as well. What a great header to manage to steer that Dembele’s way.

    No, for me, a large part of our defensive woes are FBs unable to get back to cover which draws our CBs wide but there’s not nearly enough help coming from the mids. In this game I would include Busi, although he’s usually faultless in his positioning. The mids have a tendency not to be quick enough to close down stuff at the edge of the box or else they run all the way back into defence and just stand there. Nope, don’t know how to cure it with current personnel. I remember Rakitic’s ball to Alba but apart from that I can’t think of anything they did offensively or defensively.

    Not gonna add to Dembele’s woes ( his feet are just quicker than his brain which isn’t coachable Im afraid) and Coutinho as I said months ago needs to work on his fitness. Folk are saying the wing isn’t his position but he can’t play in midfield with that lack of engine. Even Rakitic gets about much better than him.

    So, a bit of slack needed for EV for me. Nobody could have suspected that in a second season we’d still be having these problems with our biggest signings. If you’d asked me which match of the last four Id accept playing badly it is this one. He has a growing problem to solve of the minutes being racked up by our best players, Pique, Alba, Busi, Suarez. Rakitic, although I’m not his biggest fan, is also in need of a rest. Not sure what keeping him on ( again ) added rather than moving SR or keeping Arthur on but hey, we won.

    So, on to Inter.

    1. No, for me, a large part of our defensive woes are FBs unable to get back to cover which draws our CBs wide but there’s not nearly enough help coming from the mids.

      Very true, Jim. Been saying for a while that Barça hasn’t kept up with the footballing trend of moving the game to the flanks. There is lots of talk about the midfield, but the excellence of Arthur aside, the game doesn’t really live there any longer. Look at how Manchester City took off once Guardiola solved their FB issues.

      Time after time, as you note, opponents attack up the flank, which pulls the entire defense out of shape and everybody is scrambling. Attacks thrive in chaos. But Sergi Roberto brings so much football IQ that any coach would find a way to get him into the XI. And there you go.

    2. And when sergi makes his runs forward with the ball, chaos is generated, no way am going to be nch a player like that. Barca fans worry too much , sometimes we should recognise when the opponent had done a good job. I was impressed by Rayo, their runnigs behind our fullbacks caused chaos.This highly competitive laliga will benefit us in the champions league. Am loving it .

  5. Jim, I see your stream is not that bad 🙂 you still give your excellent analysis. You also rightly point out that this is the second season of EV and we are still discussing the same points.
    Am really wanting Rakitic to be rested more. At least bring him out by 60 mins or so for Vidal. We need him in a good form come Jan/Feb.

    Victor – we need gradual rotations. In mf, Busi, Arthur stays and Vidal or Roberto starts, or Busi, Rakitic stays and Roberto starts or Rakitic, Arthur stays and Vidal/Roberto in like that.
    I also want Alba to get some rest. No idea how this will be done though? Umtiti/TV may be.. Even Sid said he is the best player in Liga at the moment.
    Till 2013 season we always heard about this plan about how the rotation and training was done as if to help the players to be in peak fitness by March/April. We no longer hear such plans.
    Tito – good comment.

  6. I admire your regular attempts to elevate the discussion in this space. Alas, we remain creatures of habit and greedy for whatever makes us feel good, including our point of view on all things Barca. Perhaps, detaching oneself entirely is impossible, but it is possible to be our own devil’s advocate. It’s easy to succumb to some degree of indignation when the team we love performs poorly. We may feel betrayed by the coach, a specific player or the whole group. We take it personally that our affection and attention has not been rewarded by a solid performance. I don’t always succeed, but I try to resist that feeling of righteous dismay. There is a certain myopic stinginess in not allowing struggle and disappointment be part of Barca’s journey. Accepting adversity as a natural and not wholly negative occurrence, as in “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, might just make our comments less self-absorbed.

    1. Agree. Struggle and disappointment is a part of every journey. I know the game isn’t more than results, but it strikes me as odd that two coaches saw their teams eliminated in the Champions League quarterfinals, won the league by double digits and won a domestic cup. Yet one is a deity, the other a pariah.

      And of course by saying “strikes me odd,” I am being a bit naive in that assessment. I understand exactly why. But I think that as we think about the game, and how we think about and discuss the game, the place of results, individual performances and malleability of opinion regarding such things is certainly part of the discussion.

      Rafinha was getting savaged on Twitter, and I was watching him work like a dog off the ball. I shook my head at him defending three men on the same sequence. But in the reduction of people to parameters, it frames an argument. Semedo isn’t great going forward, so people don’t like his game, even though he is a strong defensive FB. Valverde is a bad coach because his team plays in the way that it needs to, rather than the way people would like.

      The reception to this piece is nice. I hope that as we think more about things, we become more malleable in our ways of thinking. When everything is possible as none of it matters, things can become a lot more fun.

      The reaction to my 2014 “sell Messi” query Tweet knocked me on my naive ass. I was expecting people to throw out hypothetical XIs with the six players I speculated about buying with the money. And we would laugh when it was all done, and thank the stars our technical staff wasn’t that crazy.

      Instead …

      I just want to have fun talking and writing about football, and learning as much as I can about a game that I adore. That means coming to it with humility, openness, willingness to admit being wrong about stuff or that my mind changed, and just reveling in the crazy possibilities of a meaningless world (our discussion) in which everything is possible.

  7. It will be a sad day for us all who value this outlet if you (Kxevin) grow tired of talking about football.

    Jim, as always, you take my brain in a different direction and it’s much appreciated.

    You are not the only one. Thanks all.

  8. The new trend on twitter barca fans world is that Valverde maybe is a racist because he dont play Dembele and Semedo in every game.
    It s official that Barca have the worst fanbase on internet by far.
    Stupidity us reaching new levels.
    I hope Ernesto wins treble and in summer says a big fuck you to Barca fans and leave.
    He dont deserve this.
    Btw Busquets us SHIT 1 year and more but keep hating Rakitic people.

    1. What is the difference between you who say that “Busi is shit” and other people who say that “Racitic is … (another expletive)”?

      If you haven’t yet, I recommend reading Kxevin’s “Ideas, ideals, nuance and Barca”. It makes one think and hopefully puts things into perspective with emphasis in nuance. You know, the very thing you seem to lament that many Barca fans lack when judging Valverde or Racitic.

  9. Keyboard coaches is one of the worst things in internet.
    Go tell to a man who s job is to coach and he is doing that 20 years how to do his job.

  10. I really hope Messi wont force himself to the pitch against Nainggolan. He might straight away aim for Messi’s right arm. With the club changing squads so frequently,, am afraid it could be Messi who is eager to play. Really leo, please stay out of this game.

  11. I’ve always liked your articles and the commentary at this space even if I don’t agree. I remember some good debates about whether or not suarez was a racist for example.

    I think the problem is less debate and more about Twitter. If I could go back in time and make Twitter never happen I would, right after i talk Napoleons into not trying to retake haiti and instead fostering the first black republic 😉

  12. Barcelona not starting Messi against Inter. Not even on the bench. That’s a sound decision. Playing him, even as a sub, is a risk not worth taking. Of course we want a victory, but a draw is a good result as well.

    A loss, obviously, can be a huge blow, but not something catastrophic.

  13. First of all, y’all across the pond stop reading now. You’ve got something much more important to be doing today before settling down to watch Barca and no excuse about equivalence now ! You know the score.

    I’m surprised. I didn’t expect EV to start Dembele and I’m not sure what the reasoning is away from home , in Italy, where they’ll press the life out of us with a hostile crowd. He maybe sees something in him that I’m not sure he has yet and credit to EV for the bravery as well as one in the eye for those who think he’s cowardly. Don’t think I’d be starting him, though, unless we’re going for an early goal. If ever there was a game Rafinha would’ve wanted to start. Right decision on Messi, though. Not even close.

    I’m gonna be really interested to see what Inter do. They must surely come at us early to unsettle us and use the crowd. If that is the case we’ll find out at what stage Arthur is in his skills of keeping the ball. The worry for me is that we also need Rakitic to step up, hold the ball better and break the lines occasionally. It might be the makings of us or a night to forget. As has been said, still not a disaster if we lose without Messi.

    Just watching Liverpool find out how different teams can be at home after a gubbing away from home. Doesn’t make for comfortable watching, actually . . .

    1. :)) Way ahead of you. Voted this morning. And ordered Jonathan Wilson’s new book “The Barcelona Inheritance: The Evolution of Winning Soccer Tactics from Cruyff to Guardiola.” As I’ve mentioned before, never got to enjoy those Barca teams live, so I read about them.

  14. I like the team’s performance so far, nice game to watch. The Busquets – Arthur combo will never get old for me either!

    Suarez is having an off day, missing shots by some margins. But Démbéle is really what worries me right now. Had some bright moments at the start, but at half-time he’s arrived at a place where he’s choosing the wrong option every single time. Breaks off a crucial run, tries to dribble and loses the ball, tries to pass when nobody makes the run – sad to watch. A young player with no confidence, or no interest in learning the system – we can’t know for sure, but the result may very well be the most expensive player on any club’s bench.

  15. I’m really enjoying this. We are pinging the ball bout very well at times. They will be tired but we’ve also put a lot into pressing so we’ll not be much better.

    We’re making chances and that’s the important thing. Unfortunate some have dropped to Suarez’s left foot. He should have done better with the one he pulled across goal but he’s having a great game for me turning up everywhere and hustling. Couldn’t believe the dink he tried. That is one awesome defender they have back there.

    I’m not sure about Dembele. Yes, he’s losing it a little too much but we’re coping with it so far because our press is good. We’re going to need some pace to create chances ( both our goals in the first leg were players moving onto the ball at speed) . Arthur looking good again under pressure. Better game from Coutinho but he looks knackered.

    1. That number came a little bit too high thanks to Coutinho. I appreciate him trying, but sometimes it was too painfully obvious that nothing good would happen of it… =P

  16. Overall great game for Barcelona. Just like Barça didn’t deserve a victory last Saturday, today did totally deserve it, but a deflection and some sloppy defending (the pitch didn’t help, gotta say) Inter equalized.

    Suarez played good, but he was off target… Coutinho had a good game as well, but was a bit too wasteful… Dembele was great, he made many sprints, of course he was going to be subbed off… Rakitic had a good game… Alba was great again, but seems like he needs rest and recover from that knock…

    Inter didn’t generate much, once again the team had a good gameplan to neutralize them, but this time that bit of bad luck worked for them…

    A draw feels dissapointing because of how the game progressed, but it isn’t a bad result… Barcelona now just needs a victory to secure the top spot…

    And if anyone blames Valverde for losing the lead then that person is clueless…

  17. Great game, great result. I can’t remember the last time we schooled a top Italian side away from home like that. Yes, we could have won but we never looked like losing and how often can you say that ? Some great keep ball to frustrate them.

    I’d have bitten your hand off for a draw and no injuries beforehand.

  18. Btw, their goal was ridiculous. Count the number of lucky bounces, ending with it going through TS’ legs ? Guy just hit it anywhere.

  19. Dang it!
    The far superior team should have won. Sigh…
    Excellent team effort. I have to let it sink in a little before I think about individual performances. One thought though, had Messi been on the pitch, this would have been 3-0, easy. That said, thrilled he didn’t play.

    1. It’s good he didn’t play, not worth risking him in a group match where Barcelona could have even afforded to lose…

      Barcelona is almost qualified for next stage… there’s a chance that they can get disqualified, I think… but requires Barcelona to lose the remaining 2 games, Inter lose against Tottenham and win against PSV and Tottenham win their two matches… in that case the three teams end up with 10 points and AFAIK goal difference between the three teams would be the tiebreaker… of course, Tottenham would have to thrash Barcelona and barely defeat Inter…

    2. Yup, forgot that the first tiebreaking criteria is points gotten between matches of the involved teams… Barcelona has already made enough points…

    3. Just made the math, Barcelona is indeed already in UCL KO stage… in case Barcelona, Inter and Tottenham end up with 10 points, the first tiebreaker would be points obtained in matches between each other, and Barcelona currently has 7, Inter has 4, Tottenham has 0… no way Tottenham&Inter can reach Barcelona’s 7 points…

  20. It was always going to be difficult against a team that sits tight, congests the center and closes down passing lanes. Good game, just wanted to see a goal(it felt like forever)…would it be wrong if I say Barca are better at pressing without Messi?…shame though that Malcom won’t get longer time in the spotlight…Damn those lucky bounces, seems like something outworldy always wants to defy us.

  21. Great game overall with few individual let downs, but compensated by the team performance.
    On some other night, this would have been an easy win.
    But strangely, two complete different performances in just couple of days which should be worrisome. Maybe it has to do with motivation. Anyway, we have to raise our game even against smaller teams and not lose points that can be decisive later in the season.

  22. We were quite good, especially the passing in the first half was so good.
    Coutinho looked much better, but for me his decision making just on the is mmm. Suarez was like possessed but forgot his shooting boots.
    Very happy for Malcolm. Hope he will get at least the last 10 minutes hereafter.
    Jim, am surprised you didnt mention a wonderful intervention by Pique :). Him, Busquets, Alba and Suarez seems to be guys who said to Messi, dont worry we will manage..
    Also, Lenglet is always connecting the ball from set peices. Soon they will start going in.

    Mvarfi – you can find a lot of the Pep matches online to download. I have full matches of at least a dozen games with me. No idea how to transfer it to you though.

    1. Thanks Fotobirajesh. I have watched a few, but as you know that’s nothing compared to following a team’s progress throughout a season and its transformation stretching multiple seasons.

  23. I really enjoy this team.Best game i have seen from a Messiless Barca.Pure fun.
    Valverde haters can shut up for a while.

  24. I need to re-watch the game, but I am actually surprised on how universally positive the reception of the performance has been on-line. I do feel that we controlled the game well and Inter rarely looked dangerous. But I had the weird feeling that both teams were playing very subdued. Maybe it was the rain and the danger of slipping and getting injured. Alba, for example, made few penetrating runs, neither did Dembele—who rarely (if ever) sprinted up the pitch to stretch us wide in the final third or cover the back post. Usually it’s his loss of possession that catches my eye, but this match it was how static he was on the field. I am starting to lose faith with his potential. I found myself anxious whenever he was passed the ball. and wonder if his teammates feel the same way about him. Again, blame it on the rain? Or was Inter just so well positioned that the players on the field saw no gaps, so never bothered to kick it in to high-gear?

    I was happy for Malcolm when he netted his first CL goal. That guys is “all in” and it shows. He scored because he moved with vigor after most the players on the field had stopped. An impact sub to be sure—usually we are on the receiving end of a sub scoring minutes after arriving. Without Messi, we lacked a single player in “overdrive” until Malcolm arrived (that’s not entirely fair—Suarez was “Mr. Hustle”, as always, just not clinical). The downside was that (unlikely Messi) Malcolm’s a bit chaotic when in that mode and looked as likely to lose the ball as anything else.

    The short period right before Inter scored, Barca looked exactly like the tired-Barca-who-are-just-about-to-conceed-a-goal. It was a total, “Oh no. Here it comes.” lead-up, which was just so wasteful considering how little time was left in the match.

    Like most folks, I do love Arthur and how he helps our side control a match, (Saw him holding his lower back early in the game. Injury? ) but he needs to develop on the attacking side. It was Busi and Rakitic looking to make the rare forward pass. Roberto too has really evolved a sense of how to launch an attack—he’s becoming a leader on the field. Also, surprisingly, Lenglet had a cracker of a penetrating ground-pass in the second half—great addition, him.

    A little disappointed with Vidal. Seems to be more a reactionary player, not very creative going forward. How about that sequence when he kept trying to give away the ball? His teammates kept giving it back, as if to says, “No. YOU think of something. I’m tired.” Is he really a “better Paulinho”? Dunno.

    Trying not to be too negative, I’d say we were well organized, but lacked bite and energy. Sadly, we may need to give up on Dembele and go for plan B—whatever that is. Honestly, I’m glad he’s Valverde’s headache and not mine.

    Yet, especially for a home game, Inter looked surprising worse. Like their heart just wasn’t in it. Weird.

    OK. Two final random thoughts:

    1) Do we know how to “rest with the ball”? Which team is getting worn-out when we have possession?

    2) While Kxevin loves Jordan analogies, an equally iconic sports star was Muhammad Ali. Later in his career, Ali had a strategy called “rope-a-dope”, in which he was learn back into the ropes—so far that commentator George Plimpton suggested he looked like a man leaning out a car window with a camera, trying to take a picture of something on the roof. His opponent would hammer away at him, and Ali would just absorb the punishment for round after round. Then, suddenly, Ali would go on the offensive against a tire foe and often knocked him out quickly. With so many teams parking-the-bus out of fear against Barca, I wonder if—during those periods that we seem to lose control of the match—we aren’t playing at “rope-a-dope”. Xabi Alanso once stated in an interview that Xavi would “show you the ball” in an attempt to lure you out of position. Hilarious! He would even fake a mis-touch. Is this Barca clever/capable enough to do that?

  25. Did people did that back in Pep days?
    When we play a top ream i read things like “they are not that good,they looked crap” and blah blah
    Now Barca face more and better teams than in Pep years.
    Now in Spain Atletiko is a top team not a average like before 2012 and most teams are good.
    And in Europe there are several good sides and not few like in Pep years.

    1. Some good points. The Pep-era Barca taught a lot of folks how to play better. Emphasis on training academies emerged too, Also, Inter is a top team and they were made to look mediocre, so give the players credit for that.

      Upon re-watch: I think the first 20 minutes actually looked like a quasi-normal match. The rain and bad footing probably slowed things down afterwards.

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