I love this picture. You have three players, all with “Damn!” looks on their faces. Whether it’s from something that they’ve just seen, something they’ve just done or an illusory moment that doesn’t exist in reality but that your humble author has ginned up to make a point, is immaterial. They’re in practice, and it’s hard.
I got to thinking about such things after reading a comment in the SuperCopa clincher match review thread by cliveee, which will follow the jump. But I think that the headline sums up for me why this club is so amazing. I said those very words to two employees, once. Both chose the latter option, though both had the talent to choose the former. That’s life in the big city.
But our club says that very same thing every day, with almost every match.
The 10 from Keiteee was, at first, a shock to me. But after rewatching this match in a much higher quality download, sponsored by Jnice, who found on the rojadirecta page (see above comments), I realized how great a game he played.
Keita will be extremely important in this coming season, especially if we won’t be able to sign anyone to strengthen our defense. What he did yesterday was mainly invisible jobs like he is always into. I deliberately paid more attention to what Keita did to earn that 10 from Kxevin and found that he is a good game reader. He does not commit himself easily to positions. The way some of us described him as a headless chicken could not apply on what he displayed yesterday. He reads the game, think for some time, and then react. Sometimes he is fast, but he displayed some perfect positional sense in many ways, because in the kind of total football we played yesterday, which we have the ball most of the time, players like him who know when to do what to help is very important, because if you don’t do anything, we are very predictable and playable.
Keita went back to defense when he see Pique/Busquets moved up, dart forward to pressure the goalkeeper or defenders if some thru pass reached no one. dropped back and win headers in the midfield, or sometimes, just be in certain locations to fill the space so that some passes from the oppositions won’t go thru. These are all invisible functions he carried out, which can only be found if he DO NOT DO them. You’d find us losing the ball all the time, giving too much space to the other side to attack us, or start anything from the midfield to press us. But with him playing smart positioning from box to box, things became easier, but you don’t notice them.
I watched that match twice via the TVE rebroadcast, which I still have on my DVR, then again today. I’m glad that a few other folks saw what made Keita so amazing yesterday. What I like even more is that a team such as ours throws down a gauntlet to players. It’s like when the amusement park rides say “You must be THIS big to ride on this ride.”
Our club says “You must be THIS good to play in the side.” You can see players working their tails off, improving in an effort to live up to that standard. Keita and Maxwell seem to be two of those players. Both played matches yesterday that were staggering to me as regards the effort and quality. cliveee summed up Keita a lot better than I did, or could have.
I don’t know if Keiteee has ever gotten a 10 from me, but he sure as hell deserved one yesterday. Guardiola craves a system in which every player has someone nipping at their heels, saying “The instant you slack off, your job is mine.” The reinforcement isn’t negative, or it shouldn’t be in a system such as ours, in which every player is world-class. It should serve as a goad. Keita has had the headless chicken syndrome in the past, just running around trying to put out fires. But chasing a match is never a good thing. The maturity, the ability to read a match only comes with time, and time in a system with such extraordinary players.
It’s another reason I described Xavi as such a demanding taskmaster. He’s brilliant, and will get you the ball in a spot in which you can do some damage. Now. Can you? If you can’t, I’m going to give it to somebody who can. Earn it.
Maxwell is another player who has responded to a challenge. His movement is vastly improved, as is his ability to read a match. That’s what backing up a player such as Eric Abidal will do for you. If you want to play, you have to be THIS good. Ramzi has, in comments, said before that Maxwell will eventually challenge Abidal for his position. Some of us giggled, as if anyone could challenge our French Greyhound. Then, yesterday, I had the thought that maybe Maxwell has made Abidal not so automatic a starter at left back any more. If he’s going to keep playing like that, we have to find a way to get him into the side.
And then there’s Pedro!. He has a maturity to his game this year. Whether it’s from being capped, or just because it’s his time, the way he was anticipating and playing the match instead of chasing it was very new for me. I have in the past grumbled about his football IQ, that magical thing that makes a player be where the ball is, instead of chasing after it. He’s showing so much more of it this season. We’re seeing it most often in how he tracks back on defense. For most players, tracking back means that you are reading a player, his dribbles and where the ball is going, then heading to a spot on the pitch. Successful tracking back demonstrates good football IQ. Pedro! had to get better. He’s on a club where everyone’s football IQ verges on genius level.
And that’s the gauntlet that gets thrown down. In many ways, it’s why Busquets is so much better this season. It isn’t just maturing, it’s the need to outplay a force of nature such as The Yaya, to an extent that he became the first-choice DM for us. And now The Yaya is with Citeh. So who will make Busquets even better still? Oriol Romeu has that potential, atop gobs of talent.
But we also have players who, with every match, throw down that gauntlet even though they are so brilliant that they have no real challengers for their position. Xavi and Messi are two. Puyol is another one. If you told Puyol that to win a match, he would have to ram his head into a brick wall, I don’t know that he would even think about it before doing it. It’s desire, an almost palpable rage that sometimes courses through the veins of our players. Announcers often like to describe our warriors as playing for the joy of the game. I don’t think they are. I think they are like a great boxer, who wants to use his art to crush an opponent.
And, as they refine that black art that makes the collective so amazing, they challenge each other. I’ve had the pleasure of watching a number of Barca practices, including the practice matches that often end sessions. The level of play is astounding, the challenge is constant, and the players usually see competition vastly better than anything they are ever going to see in a match.
We often comment on how this is a rare team, possibly a once-in-a-lifetime bunch. We don’t often note that a big part of why this is so is that the team challenges each other. Some strikers point in exasperation to a spot, as if to whine about the location of the pass after a missed chance. Messi, with the same gesture, seems to say “I KNOW that you can put it right here. If you do that, we will succeed, because I will put the ball in the back of the net.” And someone does, and almost without fail, Messi does his part.
It’s those constant challenges, the demands, the effort that just knock me out about this club. Even if the SuperCopa becomes the only silver that we win this season, nothing will, for me, change that about this group.