It’s Lesson Time at Baby Kxevin’s Ecole de Barca.
In the aftermath of a most excellent, 1-4 pasting of Villarreal at their house, a match that was supposed to be a banana skin and could have been, were it not for some crapalicious finishing on their part, there are lessons to be had here.
Now, I know what many are already saying: “See? We are better without Ibrahimovic. Look at what happened.”
They’re wrong. But more about that, later. On to the more immediate lessons:
—Say what you will about his defensive tactics, but Mourinho was right.
No club in the world can play straight-up, attacking football with us. For all of Ray Ray’s praise of Villarreal’s style, it was like rolling up to a knife fight with a stiletto, and your opponent has a machete. You already know how that’s going to end. The fundamental reason that teams don’t play us as Villarreal did, is because they get killed. Did you see how much space Xavi had to play with? It’s no coincidence, therefore, that he was a fundamental part of every goal that we scored.
—We have the players for our system.
We looked really good out there when Valdes wasn’t trying to gift Villarreal a goal or two. Why? Because they attacked, and played typical Liga defense. If every team played us like that, we’d never lose a match. Which proves that if a side gives us space and lets us play our system, we already have the players to win. Now how many sides are going to do that when it really, really matters to them? Inter didn’t. Twice. Espanyol didn’t. Twice. Arsenal did. Look what happened to them. So Krkic started and fit into that system like a glove, because he’s been playing it his whole life. The question to ask yourself, is what happens when people aren’t stupid enough to play into our hands? What then? Now, this won’t stop anyone from thinking they’re smarter than Guardiola, and dancing on the grave of a certain Big Swede, but it should. Yes.
—Busquets needs some quiet time.
He played a hell of a match, but what is with the shenanigans as he was coming off? Really? Just get off the pitch, dude. I would love to be a fly on the wall for this conversation. Or should I say lecture, since that’s what it looks like Guardiola is giving him.
—The Yaya is back.
When Villarreal subbed in Marcos Senna (damn them!), did you see what happened to the midfield? Suddenly, they were in charge and looking constantly threatening. And the deficiencies of Busquets suddenly made themselves very evident, not to mention that it was man against boy. The Yaya came in and order was restored in the world. Things calmed down, and we regained possession. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him in the off season, but if we sell him, I hope it’s to a side that we will never, ever have to see in any competition.
This was supposed to be the match. We’ve lost 5 of the last 7 times we have visited El Madrigal, Villarreal’s tight little fortress. And have we ever gone there with our collective tails between our legs, having just gone out of Champions League in midweek, tired-looking and psychologically hammered? EE was looking at this one, cheering for Villarrreal. Some here were predicting dire things, as well. So Guardiola decided to roll the dice, and try some Mighty Mite power. Why? Because he watches matches, and knows that Villarreal needs points, and given their recent history against us, were probably thinking they could get some. This means attacking football, which means that Puppy Power might work.
Hence his starting lineup of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Pedro!, Messi and Krkic. People reading anything about Ibrahimovic into the inclusion of Krkic are misguided in the extreme. We have a match on Tuesday as well, which Ibrahimovic will start.
We came right out and laid on the pressure, taking advantage of Villarreal’s tactical naivete, and right at the outset, it was clear that this was a match we were going to win. Even when Valdes made a mess of his clearance, gifting the ball right to a Villarreal attacker, whose pass to their striker really should have resulted in a goal, I didn’t doubt that this was going to be a win. Simply because if you play with us, we’re going to kill you. So the only question was how. And then something remarkable happened, at 13:48. Busquets was fouled. For real. He didn’t do a one-man portrayal of the Agonies. He took it, and kept playing football. You could see that he wanted to. You really could. He’s learning, which is commendable.
And then it happened. The first goal was one of those (continuing the Ray Charles theme) “genius+chance=excellence” moment, as Xavi spanked a pass to Messi, a pass that needed to have some spice on it to get through. Messi took the ball in the air, controlling it on the volley, and pirouetted past his defender in the same motion. That his hard shot took a deflection and went in was only the Footy Gods, apologizing for midweek. Ray Ray didn’t quite know how the hell it went in, I didn’t know how the hell it went in, until the replay. So it was a remarkable goal that had a little bit of luck involved, but all of the work was done right before the shot. We should thank our stars that we have probably the only player on the planet who could have controlled Xavi’s pass and did what Messi did.
It was 0-1, and Villarreal, who prior to that blew two excellent scoring chances, were probably wondering what next? The other problem was that now, they had to come out to play. One of their excellent scoring chances, by the by, came because the defense was again scrambling, chasing the ball instead of playing men. So Puyol, Keita, Busquets and Pique were all clustered around the attacker, who just slid the ball to Nilmar, who only had Valdes to beat. Sure he wet the bed, but Sneijder didn’t, which is why we’ll be watching the CL final on the telly instead of from the bench. Our defense has to work on that, on discipline and playing space. Luckily, we have recent match DVDs to peruse. 😀
It became 2-0 on a wonder of a Xavi free kick, one in which the keeper did almost everything right. The wall was right, and he was figuring that Xavi was going to try to beat him to the shallow side of the wall. But to get that ball up and over their wall in the way that Xavi did, was just absurd. The keeper was fairly beaten, one of the best keepers in the Liga, by the by, and from that moment really, the match was well and truly over.
Krkic was playing a lot of the early part of the match on left wing, and he quickly became another Barca tradition: a left winger who has to move toward the middle to become part of the play. And when he did so, something magical happened as Xavi slid a ball to him that asked a lot of questions of our Boy Wonder. He answered them, and how. Recall that Guardiola has said of Krkic, that he is one of a very few players who has that golden touch on the ball. Now watch the first touch of Pedro!. Then watch how Krkic, in one elegant motion, controlled and spun. Phil Schoen thought it was Messi, so brilliant was the movement.
And when Krkic made that play, smoking one defender on the turn then leaving another for dead in his wake, remember that Villarreal’s captain was playing on a yellow, so he couldn’t take the professional foul in that instant when he had the chance. And Krkic rolled toward the goal, using that striker’s trick of dribbling across the goal mouth to open up space, then slingshotted the ball past the helpless keeper. It was 3-0 before the half, and I was thinking that there should be more rumors about Krkic being used as a makeweight in a Villa deal. The Kid was on fire today.
The second half was complex for a while, because of the aforementioned insertion of Senna, who is immense. But with a 0-3 lead to play with, the comfort levels were immense. Yes, they scored, on one hell of a play, really. A pass just eluded the outstretched leg of Puyol on a play that had a man from both sides on the pitch after a foul, and a ref that let play continue. Llorente took and one-timed it past Valdes, who didn’t have a chance.
But the messy phase ended when Busquets, who again was fouled and just. got. up, was subbed for The Yaya. But there were still a few bits of fun to be had, including watching Krkic wet the bed (again) when he was sent in on goal all alone against the keeper, and somehow conspired to miss. Neat trick, that one. Then Messi said “Here’s how it’s done, son,” for his brace and our fourth goal.
A lovely game of keep-away between Waste of Space and Alves had a number of lovely effects. It kept possession, but it also made the defense move, because Waste of Space is still the player that no defense wants to allow to do anything. It’s only natural, him being a big-money, high profile transfer and all. But the defense was creeping out …. way out as a consequence, so far out that suddenly there was space for Xavi to slide a ball to Alves, who made a run up that suddenly open side of the pitch. Messi sensed that, and also took advantage of the space to scamper into the box. Now, his initial touch on the pass from Alves was a little funky, so he just accelerated a bit, chipped and hurdled the keeper at the same moment, capping off about the quietest brace you’re ever going to see.
This match was a tonic, coming at the exact right time. I’m not sure we could have taken care of a defense-minded side in the same way, but we were itching to play football, to prove that we could still do it. Villarreal allowed us to do that very thing, and we walked ’em.
Team: 7. Strong overall match, but some collective midfield and defensive slop needs to be fixed. And when we have a left winger, play the ball to him more, even if it is a Cuddly Toy.
Guardiola: 9. You had them ready to play a match that could have been a screw job. And the substitutions were exactly right, as well, both on the Command & Control front. You still have some defensive positioning drills to work on, however, so get to it.
Valdes: 3. Holy crap, dude! I guess you were due for a stinker, but man! Even when you came out to slap a ball away, you did it wrong, and nice stop on the subsequent shot but then you spilled it, only to have Maxwell save your bacon. Hope you’ve gotten it out of your system.
Alves: 7. Nice playing a team that doesn’t put defensive pressure on you, isn’t it, one that gives you space to play your game? Nice passes and attacking flair. The signs that you’re playing out of that funk you’ve been in are good. Keep it up.
Pique: 7. Hey, if you and Txigrinski have a footrace, who would win? Just asking, because that Villarrreal attacker ran past you like you were parked. It put your keeper in some serious danger, but thankfully he was a shite finisher. Excellent match after than, with the Piquenbauer skills on full display. People marvel at how far forward you come, but when Puyol was playing as he was, you could have gone for xips and soda.
Puyol: 9. Clip that pass that led to their goal, and you get a 10. Just when people are thinking that this is your last season as an automatic starter, you go and have a match like this one, reading passing lanes perfectly, playing unbeatable one-on-one defense and being all over the pitch. Just be sure to replace that divot you made when you pounded the pitch in rage, after they scored. Thanks.
Maxwell: 6. You were giving the ball away like crazy at the beginning. Glad that you settled down, and thanks for saving Valdes. Oh, and tell Phil Schoen that despite all his talk of you earning a slot, if our French Greyhound weren’t hampered, you’d be riding the bench.
Busquets: 6. Very good match. I still think that you drift a little too deep to be truly effective in tandem with Xavi, and you still take possession of the ball with your back to the defense too often. To understand how not to do that, watch The Yaya. The dramatics were toned down a great deal, which worked in your favor, as well. Oh, and when you’re subbed, just get the hell off the pitch. You haven’t shaken the ref’s hand in the past. Why then? Stop it. Just stop it. You cost your club once in midweek. I worry that you will again.
Keita: 7. Invisible Man is back. Strong match in an environment that played to your strengths. I still don’t quite know what position you actually play, as you so tidily move from defense to possession assistance to offense, but I’m glad you’re in the side. You still don’t look 100 percent to me, though. So be careful.
Xavi: 9. You were a few funky touches away from perfection. What a golazo off that free kick, and way to revel in the space that Villarreal gifted you today. Again, your play showed why marking the hell out of you is going to be the wave of the future. So start feeding Iniesta steroids or something, because your pale shadow is going to be crucial next season.
Pedro!: 6. I liked your movement and effort today, but you still don’t quite seem to know what to do on the pitch. You’re in the wrong place a lot, which works when you’re scoring your wonder goals, because even the defense looks around like “What the hell is No. 17 doing,” but it also puts your teammates at a bit of a disadvantage, as they pass a ball to you when you’re already starting to dart about to somewhere else. And work on your first touch.
Messi: 7. You were in energy conservation mode, putting out major effort early, including end-to-end effort on defense and offense, then you put the motor on idle, thinking of midweek. Nice goals, and I’m happy that you broke your scoring drought. I do wonder why you’ve been looking a little sad lately, though. You’re the best player in the world. Buck up.
Krkic: 9. Pace, movement and attacking flair were your hallmarks today. First touches were almost universally excellent, and your facilitating passes were just what we needed. Astonishing goal as well, but you should have tallied that second one, as well. Just saying. Guardiola said you have a long career with us ahead of you, which must have been music to your ears, in light of recent rumors. Are you growing up before our very eyes?
The Yaya (for Busquets): 8. More time probably would have resulted in a higher rating. It’s been a while since the inclusion of a player has had such an effect for us. You calmed down everything, giving us more time in the midfield, making them less dangerous and the match a lot less messy. Senna probably said “I’m a man, but that’s a mountain!” Please stay. We need what you do for us.
Ibrahimovic (for Krkic): 7. Don’t listen to your critics. Just keep integrating into a side that needs what you do. I love how you are now celebrating goals with the club, and that huge smile that you were sharing with Krkic as he came off, was priceless and says a lot about our club and how you’re fitting in. Your presence was all about command, control and calming them down by inserting the howitzer. Nice work.
Jeffren (for Messi): incomplete. You just didn’t have enough time to do much of anything.
So, the Liga is all that we have to play for now, and it comes down to three matches, two home, one away to Sevilla, the next event that people are going to be saying “Look out!” at, for a very sound reason.
Scoffers are saying that we celebrated on the Bernabeu turf as though we had won the Liga. But no. To me, we were celebrating a season sweep of our most hated rival. Guardiola has this club too grounded for them to start thinking that the work is done, until the work is actually done. I also like playing first. It puts pressure on the EE to match us. Next up for us is Tenerife at home on Tuesday. They aren’t going to roll over for us, but we should be able to get three points from them a lot easier than EE will be able to get three points from Mallorca in their house.
And then comes Sevilla. No slip-ups, and the Liga is ours. It also means that we’ll have a chance at another piece of silver, when we play the SuperCopa next season. Not bad, if it happens. No, it isn’t the double that we would have liked, Champions League and Liga, but that’s life. I like where we are, now and for the future.
Phil Schoen is stupid, example 4,312,998: Your comment about how Mrs. Busquets should be kept out of the TV truck was dumb, because the host broadcasters were trying to track the Busquets situation, and did he or didn’t he have two yellows. You should have reacted to that and done your job, instead of being a dumbass.
Now to end on a positive note: