Watching the Barça match today, a deserved loss, brought to mind lyrics from “Exactly What You Wanted” by Helmet:
I get a “d” for disappointment
Now there’s nothing to regret
Everybody’s good for something
At least you know what you won’t get
I let you down again
What’s another harmless lie between friends?
Now you can be disappointed
I thought I gave you just exactly what you wanted
The last match before the international break was against a team, Sevilla, that pressed, played physical and Barça couldn’t do anything. The first match after the international break was against Getafe, a nasty fist of a team that pressed, played physical and this time, Barça could do something: lose. The loss was deserved, and showed quite a lot, even more than the Sevilla match.
The team was slow, nothing was linked. It couldn’t play out of the back, didn’t advance the ball properly. Attacks, such as they were, consisted of various people running at banks of defenderd, only to be dispossessed. Getafe created chances, in a match that could have had an even worse scoreline than we saw. Barça had two opportunities, a moment of Messi genius that hit the post, and Griezmann, open in front of goal, who chose to resurrect the French space program.
Barça has been for years, and still is, a series of islands, easily isolated and defeated. The ref was crap? Yeah. It’s Liga. The team was worse. Talk after the match was about Dembele, and Griezmann, particularly Dembele. He’s never going to be any good, blablabla. But here’s the news: Almost everybody was bad, and only Dembele had the excuse of having been away from competitive football for almost a year. The rest?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to accept that this team doesn’t have the capability to play like everyone wants it to play. It doesn’t seem to have much capability to do anything at all, absent a compliant opponent to make life easy. The press that, even in its half-assed state, was present in the early matches went absent as soon as an opponent chose to get in the Barça team’s grille. Then it was the same stuff we complained about under Valverde, then complained about more under Setien, and are ramping up to complain about under Koeman. It isn’t that the team doesn’t look like a Barça team. It’s that it doesn’t look like anything, except a group whose core is ancient, and is surrounded by poor, expensive decisions who are inked into the XI because of price tags rather than effectiveness.
Dembele started, and looked rough. Tentative, rusty, nervous, like a player who feels nervous about his place trying to do everything he can to impress the person who will decide his fate. He had a few nice moments, some good decisions. But overall, he looked like a player back from a series of serious injuries, who needs to find his way back into the pace of competitive football. He wasn’t letting the match come to him, but hell, neither was anyone else. He was the first sub off, and should have been. It’s a safe bet that Koeman will understand the necessity of his getting back up to playing speed, even if the entorno won’t.
Griezmann and his national team coach, Didier Deschamps, groused about where the player should be playing. Koeman said, essentially, “I make the decisions.” Then today, he started Griezmann in his preferred position, where he proceeded to be just as poor as the has been in every other spot of the pitch he’s been placed. And it wasn’t just those two. De Jong was off (again), along with Busquets, whose panicked clearance effort in the box led to the calamitous sequence that led to a penalty committed by De Jong. And everybody was lazy, choosing to play head tennis at the back, rather than working to control the ball and initiate play properly.
But who’s to say what that even is, absent any structure. Barça can’t play like anyone wants because it can’t. Not with these people. Bartomeu was never going to be the president who sold Messi, who allowed the greatest player in the history of the game to leave. And everyone cheered, and breathed a sigh of relief. The player himself said part of why he wanted to leave was that he felt it was time for younger legs, a new project. Today, the two best players in the XI were Pedri, age 17, and Dest, age 19. Anyone looking for a bright spot need only look at their match highlights, particularly Pedri. He’s so smart for one so young. He reads the match, understands it and never, EVER makes a decision that is out of character to the moment. It’s pretty delightful to watch. And Dest wrapped up Nyom, matching both his pace and physicality.
But none of it mattered, because they were surrounded by geezers and ne’er-do-wells, all too easily exposed by a physical, pressing opponent. Marc Cucurella, sold on by the club, had one of those “I’ll show you matches.” The mop-topped winger was everywhere, and like everyone else on Getafe, playing with pace, energy and desire. They dragged Barça down to their level, and the match was a disjointed sea of fouls and complaints to officials. Whenever anything came close to happening, they just fouled. And anyone who came on was made to disappear because of the flawed team structure. Coutinho, Trincao, Puig, Fati all came on, only to be Gatefed. And Barça made it easy, creating precious little from open play, and not only because they were busy getting up off the pitch or complainting to the ref. The truest sign of the decline of this team is that rather than imposing its will on opponents, the reverse is true.
And Koeman was unhappy with Nyom after the match, Koeman should have thanked the Getafe elbow specialist for exposing his team and making his job easier. And you don’t have to be respectful when you’re kicking someone’s ass.
Barça right now is a series of vertical corridors. Look at how frequently players got stranded with the ball against Sevilla and Getafe, or had to take a pass in a pressure-packed situation, surrounded by multiple opponents. It’s like a house stuffed with expensive furniture, but none of it matches and it’s all being used for the wrong stuff. Side tables as ottomans, living room tables at seating, sofas as dinner tables. Luckily for Barça, there are more Celtas and Villarreals in Liga than there are Getafes and Sevillas. So the season won’t be a disaster. But for a team that looks quite good on paper, Koeman’s bunch isn’t very good in reality.
Can it be?
Possibly, but some sacred cows are going to have to be put out to pasture. That the best player on the pitch in the first half was a 17-year-old kid who cost 5m should be a lot more startling that it was. One shot on target. The entire match. A favorite Twitter follow, Diana Kristinne, said that Koeman should just say screw it, and play the kids for the rest of the season. Build for the future, have fun. Because the present is still in the hands of geezers, and that doesn’t look at to change anytime soon.