There just isn’t a whole lot to say about this one, so I won’t. But I should begin with this observation: There are 6 matches to go in the Liga season, and at least 2 Champions League matches. So we feel compelled to warn teams who have white as a home or away strip: change it. We don’t like it. Seeing white makes us want to kick the crap out of whatever or whomever is wearing it.
It’s just our nature. So when Pedro! spanks a one-timed 40-yarder into the far corner of the goal, it isn’t personal. It’s just those damnable white shirts.
This was as complete a destruction of a quality Liga side as we have seen since …. the destruction of Bilbao, and EE, and ….
Depor is in the top ten in the Liga, and we made them look like one of those teams who we visit for a kick around. The match really came down to two things:
–The team with the most talent also had the most hustle.
–The ball moves faster than people. Every time.
This was another brilliant team match, and Deportivo didn’t stand a chance. Even when Pedro! somehow missed that shot right on the doorstep, smaking it off the crossbar, you knew that it wasn’t going to be long before we scored, and scored again.
Guardiola came out with Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Pique, Maxwell, The Yaya, Xavi, Jeffren, Pedro!, Krkic and Messi. And Depor got a little sniff of the ball early, before the show began. Because in addition to talent, skill and wit, we now have audacity. This means that our passing game can go on right under the noses of the Depor players, but the one-touch moves so quickly and with such precision, that they can’t get the ball.
–Messi and Alves do a little series of one-twos along the sideline.
–Alves heads a ball to himself, then tries an overhead kick that just missed.
–Messi tries a first-touch chip that almost beat the keeper, forcing a great save from him.
It’s just like that for the team these days, and it’s a thing of beauty to watch. It would be very easy for them to say “We can beat Deportivo for sure,” and half-speed it through the match. But we came out and got our feet on their throats right away, so that all they could do was chase a ball that was moving faster than they were. So they chase and chase and chase and get a little tired, and suddenly defensive lines that were nice and snug suddenly have a little gap, and then Xavi corkscrews a pass in to Krkic, who sidefoots it past a brave, amazing Arranzubia, and suddenly it’s 1-0.
When people muse about whether it is good to have such an imbalance of power in the Liga, this is what they mean. The 9th-placed side in La Liga didn’t have a chance. Even at 1-0, normally a fraught scoreline, they had about as much chance of scoring as I have of being named king of Monaco.
Because they didn’t have the ball. When they got it, we shut down the midfield and got it right back, which reduced them to long passes that played right into the hands of our ball-hawking defense, who would dish it to Xavi, and the curlicues would begin again. This was, simply put, a demolition. I’m sure the guys worked harder in the match that they play as part of practice, because the quality of opposition is a lot higher.
The first half ended 1-0, and usually there is a bit of worry, but not this time, so complete was our domination of that first half. So the second goal was simply a matter of time. Now, I will say that the circumstances were a surprise. As Depor was readying a substitute, they tried yet another long ball that was scooped up by us. Valdes spotted the indefatigable Alves making a lung-busting run all the way up the pitch to spearhead the attack, and he spanked a loooong pass right into his path. Arranzubia, sensing the danger, rushed out to spank the ball away.
Unfortunately for them, that pass fell directly to Pedro!, who smacked a one-time pass/shot into the upper far corner of Depor’s goal, a strike they were helpless to avert. It was 2-0 and from the looks on the faces of the Depor players, it might as well have been 9-0, a scoreline not outside the realm of possibility, had we been sharper with our finishing.
Then came the third goal, off a set piece that Keita kept in play, and the ball fell to the chest (yes, chest, AS. Not hand) of The Yaya, who hit the shot so hard that yes, Arranzubia was there, but the ball went past him as if it was saying “Sorry, but I have too much force behind me for a mere mortal to stop.”
It was 3-0, and that was that. Even at half-speed, with the weekend and Champions League in mind, Depor didn’t really trouble us, because we kept the ball.
In many ways, I feel bad for teams. If you were going to get us, the time was earlier in the season, when we weren’t firing on all cylinders. The way the entire club is playing now, I just don’t see anyone, short of something crazy or an unforeseen injury, beating us, up to and including Inter. You have to have the ball to beat us, and there are really only two ways to get the ball from us: foul us, but then we get it right back, or a bad pass, which happens about as often as the beer vendors on La Rambla say “It’s late, this one’s on me.”
Team: 8. Another amazing display. The help, effort and movement that we are displaying right now is absolutely glorious. Midfield defense is tenacious, and we are defending in layers. Offense is just scintillating, and almost every player is on form. These are amazing times.
Guardiola: 8. Nice alchemy. You didn’t get the lineup quite right, as Jeffren wasn’t all that you probably intended. But your charges are so ready to play, and playing so brilliantly that you look a genius right now. Whatever lineup you roll out, just works.
Valdes: 8. Didn’t have a lot to do, but dispatched his tasks with effortless excellence, and big points for making the pass that led to the second goal.
Alves: 9. Wow, what a match. He has so much energy right now, on defense and offense, that you wonder if his injury wasn’t the best thing in the world for us. That shot attempt where he headed the ball to himself then tried a bicycle that hit the crossbar …. are you kidding me?
Marquez: 8. Another fine match. Must be the haircut. People have been down on him, for good reason, frankly. But it’s time to give him credit for rediscovering his form. No, Depor didn’t trouble us all that much, but he also had two excellent attempts on goal. Is The Kaiser back?
Pique: 7. Who ever thought there would be a match in which Pique would get a lower rating than Marquez, right? But there it is. A few stray balls, but exceptional defense. The beauty of our defense when it’s working properly is that Pique can push up and, buttressing the mids, compress the field.
Maxwell: 7. Wait. How much did we spend for this dude? He is looking like the transfer bargain of the century, in light of Abidal’s recent fragility. Strong, stalwart defense and fine wing play. Now that he understands our system, which happened in rapid time, he is kicking out the jams. No, he isn’t Abidal. But he’s so solid that you don’t miss Abidal all that much when he isn’t there. It’s a luxury for Guardiola.
The Yaya: 8. Unleash the thundering hordes! Excellent midfield play, simple passes and few on the side hit the cross-pitch pass better than our man-mountain. Hell of a goal, too. “It’s time for a rocket,” saith The Yaya. And so it goes. He was a very important part of our midfield shutdown efforts, whether actually intercepting balls, or putting his body in a position that shuts out the attacker, thus letting someone else intercept the ball. And he’s conducting press conferences in Catalan now? Whoa.
Xavi: 10. Yes, another 10. He was astounding. There isn’t a player playing in world football who controls a match better. This is also yet another match in which he has been in our box, making defensive plays and just plain raising hell in general. “Best in the world” is so hard, because it’s a position-dependent thing. But I would say that you’d be hard pressed to find a thinking team manager, who would pick any player on the planet ahead of Xavi.
Jeffren: 6. Solid but unspectacular. His lack of playing time and minor injuries is evincing itself in not quite knowing where to be in relation to that darned pesky ball. I still wouldn’t mind loaning him out, so that he can get some regular playing time and we can see what he has.
Krkic: 7. Another fine outing by CT, who was all energy, effort and pace. His confidence is back. While I still await to see what he can do against legitimately world-class sides, he is mining a vein of form right now that makes him a legitimate scoring threat whenever he’s on the pitch. This wasn’t true earlier in the season. He seems to be relaxing and playing football right now, enjoying the game again. It’s a pleasure to see.
Pedro!: 9. I thought he was absolutely brilliant. He is constant motion, harassing defenders, making runs and crosses, making himself available for balls and just plain raising hell. His moments of tactical ineptitude are diminishing, and he is improving by leaps and bounds from match to match. I went from not being sure if P! was ready for full prime-time, to wondering if we really need to splash for a spendy winger type. (Yes we do, to replace an outta-here Henry.)
Messi: 7. Erratic match, with a couple of displays of shameful selfishness. But what passing, effort and movement. He clearly shut it down for much of the second half, as he seems to know how much his team needs him. He has the fastest first 10 steps in the game, as well as the fastest first 5 steps with the ball. He goes from receiving a pass to attack faster than any player in the game right now. And he’s only 22. He’s going to get better.
Keita (for Jeffren): 7. What a difference he makes to our midfield command and control. Some said that Sevilla was more bummed about losing Keita than Alves. His work rate, level of effort and willingness to perform thankless task after thankless task, deserves a medal. You come in, knowing that you will almost certainly not get on the score card, and you work and work and work and work. He’s amazing.
Henry (for Krkic): 6. Some nice movement and effort, as he continues to find a role that appears to be centrally-placed playmaker, rather than all-out striker.
Busquets (for Xavi): incomplete. This substitution was mostly to give Xavi the opportunity to receive a well-earned standing ovation.
What next? The derby with Espanyol on the weekend, then Inter in Champions League. Another two-match run that has the potential to define our season. Both are must-wins, but I’d take a draw at Inter. It doesn’t look as though fatigue is a problem, despite the insane match schedule that we’ve been facing the past month. But we’re playing extraordinary football right now. There are 6 matches left, 5 wins to the Liga, assuming that EE keeps on winning. I’m confident, but not overconfident, because that would be wrong.