Athletic Bilbao 1, Barca 3, aka “Magisterial!”

It’s appropriate that this review and attached video highlight should begin with the Bilbao red card, because that moment changed the match.

Interestingly, the non-thinking footy fan snarls and says that the ref handed us the match with that red card to Amorebieta for Iniestabuse.

The thinking fan, however, realizes that the ref in fact gave Bilbao a lifeline and a road to a point in their house. They didn’t get it because of a team putting its foot down and playing like the best club team in the world.

When Bilbao strode onto the pitch of their Fortress San Mames, it was with the intention of playing football, and taking points from the defending Liga champions. And we took advantage of that bravado, creating chance after chance, near miss after near miss from our lineup of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Adriano, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro! and Villa. Keita put one at the keeper that was beautifully dealt with, and somehow, amazingly, Villa hit the post after being put in with an exquisite, millimeter-perfect ball from Iniesta.

Then came the card, and up rolled the bus. You could see how it went from Bilbao rolling forward into our end with 4 or 5 players, to no players except for a hopeful forward, looking for a counter opportunity or bad pass. Handing us the match? Hardly. No team plays well against a bus.

Nonetheless, this was a pretty easy match folks, and one that was relatively drama-free. Experiencing it during the LiveBlog can often skew perspective. Time of possession was 77-23, corners were 8-1, shots were 25-11, score was 3-1. It was that kind of match, one in which everyone wondered what would happen. We were without the best player on the planet, Lionel Messi, who was still recovering from the foul-induced injury that made Antonio Lahoz so quick to show red after the challenge on Iniesta. It was a big match in a tough stadium, on a weekend during which giants were falling like rotted redwoods. Bayern to Mainz, Arsenal to West Brom, Chelsea to Citeh, EE held by Levante, Inter to Roma.

We stuck out our chests, played exactly the match that was laid out by Guardiola, and easily took the three points. As Guardiola said, we neutralized their height, in the attacking presence of Llorente. Really, they were only going to score against us via busted play (they did) counter attack or set piece. This meant that the premium was on disciplined, positional football that took away space and angles, rather than going after the ball with challenges that yielded free kicks and potential corners. So we attacked them with position defense and pressure, never allowing any of their attackers any comfort on the ball. Usually, one of us would arrive at the same time as the ball. More often than not, two would arrive, taking station in a way that funnelled their attacks into the maw of our possession game. The defense would take the wayward pass, feed to Busquets or Keita, and off we went into their end of the pitch.

The intelligence of this team was on full display, in a match that might be the purest reflection of its coach. It was all passing, movement and pressure to create space for more passing, movement and pressure. Our defenders were invariably where the ball was going to be because of the inexorable logic of the attack. So a player gets the ball, our defenders note where the nearest available opposition teammate is, and just cut off that route as another defender rolls in to harass the player with the ball. It sounds so simple, but it requires a work rate that is off the charts. Hats off to Guardiola for making a team that has won everything play like one with everything to prove, almost from top to bottom. It was, in many ways, illustrative that the worst players on the pitch were the newcomers, Villa and Adriano, who don’t yet understand. They haven’t been assimilated into the system yet, but they will be.

And I’m not that big a fan of tactics, because as with battle plans, once the first bullet is fired, they usually go to hell. But Guardiola, anticipating that they would try to cut off the head (Xavi) so that the beast could die, decided to make Keita the shadow. As he and Xavi moved around as if on a tether, usually the way that Xavi does with Iniesta, this did a number of things:

–It gave Keita the ball in dangerous positions, we saw as he should have, could have had 2 assists this afternoon.
–It gave Keita the cut-and-attack option, which we saw in his goal as he took the pass and finished.
–It gave Iniesta freedom, and he proceeded to raise hell.
–It allowed Xavi to play a bit farther back to survey more of the field, and use Keita as a safety valve as he moved forward into the attack, leaving Keita as the distibutor.

What you saw was a team that effectively didn’t know who to chase or foul, so they just chased the ball, like dogs in a park. But because the ball moves faster than players, that approach was doomed to failure. So when Bilbao rushed at Xavi, he slotted the pass to an on-the-move Keita, who was only a curled shot away from making it 1-0 very early. Villa slid neatly into the box and Iniesta curled a ball around two defenders right into Villa’s feet. That he amazingly hit the post was almost as remarkable as the pass, a pass that came about through rapid movement of players and ball.

So Bilbao saw red, and began to play defense. Things were looking pretty stultifying in the muddy, rain-soaked morass of the San Mames until suddenly, Iniesta to Villa to Keita found the back of the net, in a play that would have shredded a defense with 12 men. It wasn’t just the movement, but the pace of the passing. The pass to Iniesta was hard, the pass to Villa harder and the one-touched ball to Keita absolutely flawless, so that all Keita had to do was roll it into the empty net, empty because Keita and the ball arrived so quickly that the only option was to try to snag the ball before the shot, an impossible task.

Eduard Omedes/El Mundo Deportivo

The second goal was simple brilliance, as Xavi just decided there was an opening for a shot, and smacked a ball that took an ever-so-slight deflection off a Bilbao player and past the keeper. At 2-0, the match should have been done and dusted. From then on, it was a simple matter of playing man-up possession football. Then David Villa had to go and take umbrage with a bit of on-the-ball roughhousing, throw a punch and get a straight red, only his second direct red of his professional career. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now this was potentially a match-changing red card, because Bilbao went from a side with no hope, to one who could scramble and, in the 8 or 9 minutes left, maybe even salvage a draw.

And they attacked. Valdes stopped a header on a play borne of our defensive uncertainty and Bilbao’s aggression, buoyed by 40,000 screaming mouths in their stadium. But the ball caroms to a Bilbao attacker, who puts in the square ball for a 1-2 match. Heads that were drooping were lifted, eyes that bore the sullen opaqueness of the defeated sparked into life, as they charged.

Then we killed ’em once and for all as we stopped an attack, and an alert Keita one-timed a brilliant, cross-pitch pass to a streaking Pedro!, who did exactly what he was supposed to do and found an onside Busquets, who finished into the roof of the net, and finished Bilbao once and for all. It was, like the first goal, a piece of quality with its roots in movement. Pedro! saw what Keita was thinking and began his run even before Huh? What? got the ball. He was running into acres and acres of space, and a lesser player would have run at the defense and the keeper, thinking “I can do this, dammit!” P! opted for simple perfection, and the sure thing. And that was that.

In consecutive weekends we have taken full points at two places in which we have most recently seen frustration: the Calderon and San Mames, in both instances from full-strength sides determined to rub salt in our wounds. And the club isn’t playing at anything like its potential yet. So stay tuned.

Team: 10. This is a match that almost forces you to reevaluate a scoring system, maybe going for an 11 or something. Team victory, team dominance, attack and defense in layers. Spectacular.

Guardiola: 10. From tactics to timing of the substitutions, he was hard to fault today. As soon as the match was without a doubt, off came Xaviniesta. How was he to know that Villa would screw it up?

Valdes: 7. He didn’t have a lot to do, and mostly did it well. I’d accuse him of resting on his laurels as he palmed away that header, rather than getting ready for the next shot. He almost made it, though his cleats didn’t have a chance in that mud at the goal mouth, churned up by our first-half assault at that end.

Alves: 8. His defensive skills are continually underrated, much to the club’s benefit as he made some stellar defensive plays today. And why teams keep giving him so much room in which to operate is beyond me.

Pique: 9. He wasn’t perfect today. There were some wayward passes, and I’m not convinced that he did all that he could to keep that ball out of the net. I might have marked that loose man more tightly. But still, what a whopper of a match from a guy who Ferguson must watch highlights of, and throw stuff. He defends, brings the ball up, crashes their box, helps with possession in midfield and goes out for snacks. He’s Gerard Pique.

Puyol: 7. Very strong match from our captain, though he was much outshone by his central defense partner. His positioning and charging up the pitch to start attacks helped to unsettle Bilbao, who were waiting for the defenders to simply dump the ball to Xavi, lord knows why.

Adriano: 3. A few solid plays, but he lost almost every ball that came near him today, showed signs of not being fit and was a general mess.

Busquets: 10. An astounding match from a player who was everywhere, from box to box, passing, tackling, heading balls away and battling for possession like a demon. He always seems to be two steps ahead of play.

Keita: 10. That first, crucial goal, countless runs that were rarely rewarded with the pass and a series of great passes that deserved better finishing were the hallmarks of his Man of the Match effort today.

Xavi: 8. A very good match for the brains of the operation, with his usual precision passing and elegant movement. The goal from distance was a benefit. Another contender for MOTM.

Iniesta: 9. The only thing keeping him from perfection is the echo from my shrieked “Shoot, Ghostface! Shoot!” still bouncing around the house. He’s unselfish to a fault, but his passing, movement and control were superhuman. He gutted Bilbao with pass after pass, as Xavi moved back a bit in the first half.

Pedro!: 7. Damn, what a stat-stuffing match. It’s hard, sometimes, on the little Web stream to understand when a player who doesn’t score a goal nonetheless kicks out the jams. But on the big TV, P! was easy to find: Just look for the guy moving faster than anyone else on the pitch. He played defense, made passes and jerked their defense around like marionettes, creating space for Villa to exploit.

Villa: 1. He was an inch-perfect assist away from a zero. Chance after chance blown, a goal that I still don’t know how he didn’t score, walking when he should have been running, runs not made all topped off by a stupid, stupid straight red that will probably deprive us of his services for two matches. Nice work.


Maxwell (for Adriano): 7. He came in and put his world on lockdown, understanding that his usual marauding runs on the left side needed to be done away with, in favor of exceptional position defense and midfield help.

Thiago (for Iniesta): 5. He looked much better when we were possessing the match away, than when Bilbao got its feathers up and started attacking. That was where we missed the iron-clad control of a player such as Xavi. But man, is this dude’s future bright.

Krkic (for Xavi): 3. Ran around, looked cute, didn’t really do very much.

So. Next up is Mallorca, a match that is (thankfully) at home, since we will be Villa-less for it. We will also be Messi-less for it, and coming off of a midweek Champions League away leg to Rubin Kazan. Who said that greatness was easy?

A hard day at the office! Eduard Omedes/El Mundo Deportivo

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. was an easy win as i had predicted..but when i see 1 for a player who was not bad at all i remember last seasons ratings of ibra in games who was shit and never i saw a 1.good reviw,bad ratings..oh and villa was never in our summer pre season.but i guess the guy has no opinion again.keita was good for a 7 and pique also 7.

  2. and i like to be was.not a red card and that help us..the real big teams admits such let.s focus on C.L and i hope pep rest some players

  3. Kxevin – Villa had an amazing assist to Keita for the 1st goal, right? Doesn’t that deserve a better score?

    1. I think red card nukes any positives you can find in his play. We’re already hurting from the lack of Messi. Losing Villa doesn’t help at all.

  4. Why does Ibra bias always come up?

    Great write-up Kxevin. This was a huge win for us mentally and hopefully this game and Atletico serve as inspiration down the stretch when things get rough. As long as our MF keeps on playing like this, we should be able to survive the uncertainty surrounding Messi’s return and Villa’s (stupid red card David. You’re no rookie. You should know better than responding to that) growing period into this offense.

    The best part about Busquet’s goal was that there were multiple players sprinting downfield to run the counter. There were a couple of times in the game where I felt a player was left to hang dry as he found himself in the box without anyone to pass to (ex: Bojan’s run where he was 1 vs. 4). But, eh, that’s just a minor quibble.

  5. Good review, Kxev. Some memories from the match:

    -Alves catches up to Javi Martinez’s run, and completely mugs him off the ball. “Meu irmao, don’t you know my speed works in the other direction as well? GIMME THAT!”

    -Pedro’s perfect first touch on the third goal. For 99% of players in the world, the turnaround from just saving it from going out the sideline to attack in the penalty box takes 5 times as long, by which time their defense is up. Pedro claimed that space in 3 seconds.

    -Villa’s perfect assist to Keita which also *almost* makes me forget that he was plain stupid today. And note, I am still on the “give him time and have patience” side with him.

    Now I just wonder what our front three will be for Malaga. Who will replace Villa? Or if Pep is really feeling adventurous, who will replace Pique in the backline?

  6. I agree, Keita was a PERFECT 10. I’m sure everytime Keita puts his goal scoring boots on he puts the biggest smile on Guardiola’s face. And I love LOVE how 3 different midfielders scored the goals. JUST BEAUTIFUL!!!

    p.s. I said early in live blog that Keita was going to score. He just had that look today.

    I was also amazed my those shots that Pique took. They bounced perfectly making it difficult for the goalie to control. if the Basque were playing deeper back our forwards would have had a chance at the rebound(corners ain’t bad though). Really fitting into his Pinquenbaur label.

  7. Nik makes an excellent point. Further, It’s bait that I’m not taking. People will think as they wish, and have the opinions that they wish. But my role here isn’t affirmation.

    Villa had chance after chance to put the ball in the net. Should he get credit for making the run and being there? Not from me. Do your job. And to potentially change not only this match but (maybe) the next two is unconscionable, as explained above. Beyond that, I’m done dealing with the ghosts of players past.

  8. Still have not seen the match sitting in my DVR, but I cannot wait !!
    Thank you Eduard…
    “I love LOVE how 3 different midfielders scored the goals. JUST BEAUTIFUL!!!”
    As I sat watching the espnsoccernet gamecast and read twitter, i fell more in love with my club, 3 scorers who weren’t “expected” pulled through to say “Messidependencia-my-ass” 🙂
    Thanks for the write up Kevin.

  9. Once again I’m not surprised by the boss of bosses'(Kxevin) low rating of Villa. Saw it coming before the season even started. Last season you kept giving Ibra the “didn’t have a pre-season with us”. Well, Villa also didn’t have a full pre-season with us. So why not cut him some slack?
    At least Villa made runs, got into a goal scoring chance time after time. Last season your homeboy Ibra didn’t chase after the ball, didn’t have any shots on target, yet you always give him an above rating. I don’t know boss, you just seem to be really harsh on Villa.
    Oh and the red card was really stupid. But if you noticed he was tackled from behind, tugged from behind and got a whack on his head that led him to losing his cool. And just a few minutes before that, he got a similar incident in the penalty box. Not sure if it was from the same Bilbao player though.

    Did you guys notice how rough those guys were? Bojan almost cried a river after being tackled from behind in the dying minutes.
    Pedro was a foul magnet the whole night. It was ridiculous!! If a red card wasn’t given in the 1st half, I am sure things would’ve gotten worse.
    And imagine SMasch was playing…

    I don’t think that Keita deserves a 10 though. A 9 would be more suitable. He lost possession quite a number of times but besides that he was perfect. Busquets deserved to be the MoM.
    And why such a low rating for Thiago. He didn’t do anything wrong.

    For the guys who watched West Brom playing? Did a guy called Gianni Zuiverloon play? I didn’t catch the match. He’s a RB. That was my team mate from back in the days.

    1. ya i’d be mad too if some guy messed up my hair 🙂 kidding aside though, it’s just been five league matches. i think the newbies are improving, but villa is under the most pressure. the sports press in barcelona is just brutal at pressuring new players, especially strikers. his face has been in the papers everyday, and they’ve been digging up all kinds of stats on how great he is at scoring, and how they’re waiting to see that. i just hope the press doesn’t incite the fans into a villa-hating frenzy because of that red. the guy has tried hard, in my opinion.

      agree, those guys were rough! the real genius of this match was PEP – for deciding not to play our “attacker” masch 🙂

  10. Awesome review! I found this site through Twitter about a week ago. Keep coming back for the awesome articles. Have this site bookmarked!

  11. I don’t particularly agree with the rating for Villa – He ran his heart out, tried to win every 50-50 and don’t think he could be ever questioned for lack of work ethic. Sure, he missed chance after chance but he put his head down and kept trying until he lost his mind a little at the end and isn’t that what we want (and a few goals too sure)?

    On a separate note, I really like Athletic Bilbao – they stick to their strengths and although they may be few, it’s highly highly commendable that battled with us. I don’t think they parked the bus and this park the bus comments are a little unwarranted IMHO. When a team like Barca is playing you and you’re a man down, you will try and defend with the little you have. The difference here is, there’s is no way you can compare their play with the way Chelsea and Inter parked the bus against us in recent times and Sporting Gijon a few days ago.

  12. Awful by Villa. That was such a stupid foul. The pressure on him to score is tremendous, and it’s forcing him to commit a lot of errors. Kind of like Bojan, both are out to prove something and because of it they’ve been forcing the issue.

    It’s a good thing we apparently don’t need a striker to score. The best midfield in the world showed we can dominate without Messi. Although I’d really rather have him back. Is he likely going to play against Mallorca next week?

  13. I think that Busquetes deserves more than 10,his position also was interesting,today he played the modern sweeper role allowing Pique and Puyol to go forward,the first time for Puyol to do it,maybe bec Adriano was playing so he has to cover him,many times at the first half he was nearly playing as a left back to cover Adriano(who had a very poor game)with Busquetes dropping centrally,I have no doubts now,Busquetes is world’s best defensive midfielder,if someone said so 1 year ago,I am sure that I could have dubbed him crazy,Keita was superb,I liked the Alves-Pedro combinations,Pedro deserves a bit higher rating for me,Villa?I dont know,he is my favourite player,I think that You are a bit harsh on him but things are not going well,dont know why,I cant see him improving with that pressure,especially when Messi returns where he will score less and less goals,anyway he will have something ZLatan didnt have to perform which is teammates and Pep’s support

  14. Sky Sports Broadcast

    First Half:


    or * Half – La Liga – A Bilbao v. Barcelona – 25-09-10.avi

    Second Half:


    or * Half – La Liga – A Bilbao v. Barcelona – 25-09-10.avi

    Courtesy of Pakman at

  15. So if we compare Villa’s start to Ibra’s first days at Barcelona, who would win?
    For me it is tbh Ibra. Villa is used to the Spanish league and to quite a few of our players due to the national team, but damn it! I’ve never seen such a poorly finishing David Villa in my life (speaking about his general performances for Barca so far).
    It’s also a warning that Pedro didn’t score a goal yet. He played a great match, but with the lack of attacking width this season, we NEED him to score as constantly as he did last year.
    Apart from that, a perfect performance at the toughest ground(?) in la Liga.

    Messi will probably play against Mallorca, I’ve read he might even travel to Kazan. Or did I miss any news about it?

    1. But the overall team performance with Villa is obviously better, I forgot how a win in the Calderon tasted like.
      Last night for example, Villa offered us more options than what we had with Ibra although we bought Ibra specifically for the height option in such physical games.
      I don’t think we are capable of playing the way we played last night with one player getting 1 and the other 3 out of 10. and without Messi too.
      We used to give Ibra credit for assists or for creating space upfront for the midfielders by dropping out of the area, and in my humble opinion, Villa did that last night a little bit better. the way he created the first goal proves that.
      What really made me happier than the win last night, is the fact that I, for the first time in my life, is starting to believe in the possibility of an even better midfield than the current one.
      the rate at which Busquets is developing with is staggering, and the way Thiago is already playing is mesmerizing.

  16. I don’t know guys but I think it is way to early to start talking about Villa, he has only played a handful of games for Barcelona.

    Lucky for him, Villa is very close to most of the players in the team and I am sure he retains heaps of support from players like Iniesta and Xavi.

    Ok, he got a red card and Kxevin gave him a low rating. So what, you think Villa cares about ratings? no. Would he care about getting the red? yes he would definetly feel gutted. But that is football, its not a rare thing for what Villa did, a lot of player get over frustrated it happens, its in the past now.

    that same player that provoked Villa, did the exact same thing to Xavi a few minutes before, Xavi managed to wave it off, but again, Villa was only frustrated from a very bad day.

    The rating is kind of skewed, the 1 rating is due to his actions and not his efforts. Kxevin already know Villa is a worldclass player, thus why he rates him on only his actions. Fully Agree Kxevin.

  17. What I also love about this team is how we play pass and move. We did it brilliantly today. Its funny how no matter how much Bilbao defended or tried to cut off passages to pass, we always managed to make space and move around and always have a player free.

    What is also amazing is that in our midfield, most of the time the opponent need two players to close down one of our players, but all we have to do is keep that constant movement and we always have a man free. Was lovely to watch.

  18. Id rate pedro lower. He was shit for the majority of the match , and that run in the ending minutes would not patch up things for me.
    His passing was off ,as was his passing, he was easily shook over by defenders , his dribbles usually failed and got him away from their box if he managed to pass to one of our players.

    1. I don’t blame him for being just average today mei.
      Dude was getting hackled all night long. There was this time where after getting another nasty tackle from behind, he looked back and gave the guy a WTF look.
      The ref did a poor job IMO in protecting players last night.

  19. There is more optimism about villas slump than there was about Ibras simply because his movement greatly enhance his chances per game and he will only miss sitters for so long.

    Ibra wud get lyk 2 or 3 chances per game and score 1 (very efficient btw), but in between those chances is where most fans couldnt stand him, he just looked so lost.
    Fans wanna see an all round committed effort even when its not always productive aka villa last night

    This for me is the main reason why the margin for error will always be wider for villa than it was for Ibra.

    1. Yikes, Villa did the same thing against a player in the World Cup, but was lucky to not have been caught. It’d be nice to have Spain’s (nearly) number one goal scorer play for Barca, but we definitely don’t need the antics too!

  20. Ibra just had that uncertainty about him, well thats what was created around him. Atleast with Villa we know what to expect and he himself knows what Barca is like. In the end Ibra wasn’t a Barca player

    1. That makes you fee better, isnt it? 😀

      In the end, Ibra IS not a Barca player, so we can focus on what we have now (with its good and bad), till we add a new weapon later. Because we need to add another forward sooner rather later.

  21. I think one of the reasons Xavi looked a bit anonymous (getting an 8 on KRS)was that he did his share in what was usually Keita’s anonymous work. I said it before and I say it now, there are times when Keita will help more playing in front of Xavi-Iniesta than behind them. In this game we partially saw that with Xavi covering the wholes in the midfield beside Busquets (one of my digs on the performance against Atletico) and releasing Keita to move forward. That made Xavi less involved in the ball rotation sometimes(relatively compared to his normal self), but served perfectly in stabilizing the midfield and enriching offense with better options.

    I am not someone who master ratings, but I think his contribution in this game was as good as that’s of Busquets and Keita.

  22. A low rating for Villa is understandable. Even if he played the match of his life (which he didn’t) I’d still have given him a 1 because of the sheer stupidity of that red card. It was completely unnecessary and it now means that our front line may be without its two best forwards for the next match.

    I agree with the Man of the Match rating for Keita, but it could have also gone to Iniesta or Busquets. They all played well today. In particular, Iniesta in the first half was as dominant as I’ve ever seen him.

    Good job Kevin

  23. A stupid housewarming party meant I missed the game live and had to share TV time with the Disney Channel and the kids in the house 🙁

    However, having watched it this morning i have to say I agree with the assessment that this is as good as we’ve played. The movement and effort from the whole team were awesome. We’re also looking much better in the bus breaking stakes with the runs from midfield. Best game I’ve seen Keita play in a long time – well done to him.

    We’ll have to disagree on Villa. Stupid red, yes, especially at that stage of the game and especially as he knows Messi is injured. This may mean Messi playing when he wouldn’t have had to . He seemed to be pretty worked up that he hadn’t scored although the team was winning easily. It wasn’t a punch. He’d turned away and TB got away with exactly the same thing against Levante but that’s not any kind of excuse for his behaviour. The one thing we can’t afford this season with a small squad are stupid cards of any sort.

    However, I would have liked to see an acknowledgement that his movement is getting much better as the games go on. The assist was pure Barcelona and he got to exactly the right place at the right time on at least six or seven occasions. He showed real tenacity in hanging onto the ball in difficult situations with opponents around him and just watch his work rate in chasing after the ball to retrieve possession a few minutes before he was sent off. BIG improvement for me and the goals will come.

    Finally, how anyone can have a go at Bojan based on the 10 minutes he got on a waterlogged pitch is beyond me. That has nothing to do with this match and everything to do with a mindset, imo. He came on just as we let them back into the match and was reasonably lively – no more no less.

    1. Aaaah, I’m with you Jim, I always hate it when we have guests at the house and i’m trying to watch a Barca game.

  24. Also , keita’s desire to make those runs into the box , is the most exciting thing for me of yesterday’s game , and we need other players other than attackers to do those.
    People forming the trident are very hesitant to make those runs without the ball into the box, and when they decide to they get picked up by diffenders. If a midfielder does these runs as well , he will either find himself alone into the box like keita several times yesterday ,or open up space for an attacker to take advantage of. This is immensely crucial to our output considering the way we play ,it makes things far more simple. If midfielders look up to keita’s runs from yesterday , there will be far less necessity for individual brilliance when it comes to breaking the deadlock.

  25. I forgot to say I also liked this new shoot on sight policy that seems to have stolen up on us. Xavi, Iniesta, Keita, Pique (????) all looking more ready to have a go.

  26. interesting of Pep to play almost 3-5-2 in the first half. one reason 3-5-2 became popular in the 80ies was for teams playing 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 gave you an advantage in all parts of the field. Athletic play at times a kind of old schoolish 4-4-2 so the 3-5-2 worked fine. Second half, it looked more like a 3-4-3 or traditional 4-3-3 with Iniesta going more to the left.

    Busi is a beast, a true OG, the milk, of a whore mother…

    And I really hope that Javi Martinez never leaves for Madrid. Incredible player.

  27. Check what thongboy did during the Levante game, how come that asshole doesn’t get a red card?

    * around 1:33

  28. Pep’s been playing a 3-5-2 for the past few games this season. He likes Biscuits in the back, and so do I. Pique is a madman anyway. That goal was the result of poor left side defense on a good ball into the box and a great header, then dumb luck having the ball fall to the open man. Valdes made the best of it that he could.

    The goals were all excellently taken and Busquets was a straight golazo taken from a slight angle and hit the left upper 90… brutally beautiful shot.

    As for giving Villa a 1, well, Kevin, it’s like we were discussing on Twitter. Now you are just furthering the stereotype that haunted Ibra, haunts Bojan, and will haunt Villa even though he will put in 25 or so in all competitions this year. Players miss goals, even Messi who misses easy ones sometimes. So far Villa has 3 in 7 games and at just less than 0.5 goals per game, he’s doing just fine. At that rate he will score well over 30 in all competitions.

    His card was stupid and he probably deserved it, you don’t swing at people on the pitch, it was a dumb thing to do. However, that does not mean he gets a 1. Come on Kevin, don’t further the stereotype, don’t do it!

    1. Furthermore, Villa has scored 3 goals in 7 games for Barca which gives a 0.42 goals/ per game ratio. Ibrahimovic last year had a 0.5 goals per/game ratio. It’s not a great difference and Villa has only played 7 games with teh team. I we were saying that Ibrahimovic needed time to gel with the time, then it’s not fair to criricize El Guaje after 7 games for having a similar goal ratio than the Swede, waht with the difference of work rate between the 2 players

    2. against Sporting it was still more 3-4-3 since both Villa and Bojan played wide(ish).

      Bilbao was straight 3-5-2 with Iniesta dropping deeper and Villa more central and not so much as an inverted winger.

  29. The reasons behind Villa’s rating are abundantly clear. And for this match, he played to the rating that he got, in my estimation. I don’t care about strikers past, or expectations, or anything of that sort. He didn’t do his job, and he damaged his side’s options for probably two matches to come.

    He made the runs. So what. The job isn’t complete. If you took your car in for a brake job, and the mechanic did shiny new rotors, new pads, then didn’t bleed the lines, causing you to hit a bus when you applied the brake only to have the pedal go to the floor, how would you rate that mechanic?

    For me, it isn’t about the burden of expectations, or those poor widdle multimillionaires. It’s about that match, and how he performed overall. Bilbao were rough all match. They play rough. They always have, and Villa knows that. He was silly enough to fall for one of the oldest ploys in the book, got sent off, and made a snoozer a bit more fraught. More importantly, he potentially damaged his club. Combine that with the rest of his play, and it’s a 1 for me. Clear as day. If it isn’t for someone else, that’s fine. It’s that person’s subjective opinion, just as the rating is mine.

    1. Word.

      As you all know, I love Villa, but he wasn’t all the great yesterday. It’s not that Kxevin hates Villa; it’s just that Villa has been lacklustre and not doing what we know he’s good at–scoring goals. He’s not going to link up play in the midfield or anything like that because that’s not what we bought him for. What bought him for what he does at Valencia.

      He’ll get better and this is a learning experience, so to speak. Yesterday, IMO, he was 3-5 before the red card anyway. After the red, well, Kxevin gives him a 1, and although I’d give him a 2–one for making the assists and another for making decent runs, that’s a rating I agree with. You don’t have to agree with it, just say why you, in your opinion , wouldn’t give Villa that rating, rather than call the reviewer’s subjective rating “weird” or “stupid” or whatever.

  30. For me the main problem is the way in which the ratings are presented, like they are the universal truth, they are passed down like an absolute judgement. well, they are far from it. Work your bottoms off, make runs, create plays, chase and defend, provide THE ASSIST for the first crucial goal, overall having a decent (NOT A GREAT) performance and getting a 1 in the ratings.

    Dont call it “the ratings”, call it “my personal, abit weird ratings” the next time, thanks

    1. All this stuff about “passed down like an absolute judgement” or “my personal, abit weird ratings” seems a bit ridiculous to me. Was there ever any doubt that these are Kevin’s ratings? I don’t know how you could interpret them any other way. Ratings are by definition subjective.

      Yes Villa provided the assist but he also missed shots he should’ve scored, got himself sent off foolishly, gave Bilbao a lifeline when they appeared dead and buried AND puts further pressure on an already depleted front line. I’m a HUGE Villa fan but if that isn’t worth a 1 I don’t know what is.

      There are many times I disagree with Kevins ratings but dang, the man watches each match twice, gives reasons for his ratings, the ratings on the blog he helped start. All these personal attacks are a bit silly to me.

    2. “Weird” is a judgment call that means you don’t believe the ratings conform to your expectations. I think that such a position would be difficult to support in any even remotely intellectual debate, yes?

      Every rating is explained. If you don’t agree, rock on. Present your own reasonings for why you don’t agree, and a rating that you think is more appropriate. But to disagree, suggest that the ratings are some absolute truth and suggest that they are “weird,” just isn’t a supportable or worthwhile argument, particularly when everyone, including the person presenting them, understands that these and ALL ratings are subjective, no matter the site. That’s how that cookie crumbles.

      It’s also why I suggested guest reviewers. I think that everyone who comments here, if so inclined, should understand watching and reviewing a match. It ain’t easy. I watch twice, using slo-mo and stuff because there are things that you miss, as play moves so quickly. It’s fun, but it’s hard work, and I emphasize work. I’ve been reviewing for a while now, and there has yet to be a match that doesn’t find someone accusing me of some sort of bias, favoritism or whatever. I suppose I wouldn’t be doing it right if everybody agreed with me all the time.

      And I will repeat: anybody who is interested in taking a turn in the hot seat, just e-mail us via

    1. I’m never sure what the rules are on home vs away kits. I don’t think there are any, and teams just pretty much decide. I imagine that we’d be minty in the case of being away to Levante, because of the home shirt similarities.

    2. I think the rule is that the home team gets to choose what their kit will be first, then the away team will choose their own kit, but the colors have to be distinctly different from the home teams’ jersey so there are no confusions, from the players, the ref, the fans or the viewers. Sometimes away teams may ask the home team to wear their alternate kits, if the away team doesn’t have kits that are contrasting enough.

      On neutral grounds like the champions league, they have a selection method to decide which team gets to choose first.

  31. I suppose that now we should prepare for Liverpool supporter invasions. Nobody is attributing a source to these comments that are purportedly from Pique:

    “There is no way this can go on for Nando. It’s just impossible.

    “I spoke with him before he committed to Liverpool and he told me he wanted to win things with Liverpool – but if the club didn’t invest and show real intent, he would be forced to leave.

    “It’s really embarrassing for Nando to play in a team of that quality.

    “You would not see [Lionel] Messi or [Wayne] Rooney playing in the Europa League – so there is no reason why Nando should be playing there.

    “Along with David Villa, he is the best striker in the world.

    “He needs to be winning things domestically like he does with Spain.”

  32. Hmm, the League table on the Barca official website is wrong and has Barca with 10 points and in 3rd behind Real Madrid.


    Not that that matters it just seems a strange mistake for them to make.

  33. So, do things just keep falling the right way for Krkic, or what? We sell Ibrahimovic, removing one impediment to his playing time, then Villa gets sent off, which means that he’ll be starting for one, maybe two more Liga matches. Dude’s got a lucky star shining over his head. More importantly, he has a great opportunity to show what he can do.

  34. A great review, as always, but how the hell can a team get a 10 rating while the focal point of that team, the striker, gets a 1???? By getting his dumb ass sent off, that’s how!

    What I am interested in Kxev, what would you have given Villa had he not love-tapped the Bilbao player in the face*? I think he was harshly punished with the red, but that does not excuse his stupidness. Another injury or two and we will have to play 4-5-1.

    I’ll join the chorus that you have been very negative about Villa so far and I understand the sentiments expressed by many that you gave Ibra a free pass in comparison. But I guess you felt that Ibra’s positives outweighed his negatives and you simply do not feel that way about Villa, based on his first month in a blaugrana shirt.

    For once can’t really argue with you when it comes to the rating cause of the red card, but imagine Bojan had played instead of Villa last night – would we still have dominated like we did? I guess we are about to find out soon….

    Keita was excellent yesterday, actually our whole midfield and defense played very, very well (except for Adriano). I would like to see Pique develop a long range shot, that could really add to our attack, especially against parked buses.

    *full credit to him for not rolling over the pitch as if he was hit by a sniper. The first one not to do so in many, many, years. Though maybe he looked at the mud under his feet and said, naaah I’m not going down lol

    1. Hard to say Lev, but probably a 3. He still didn’t do his job.

      And I will be negative about any player who doesn’t do his job, just as I will be positive about that same player when he does do his job, simple as that. I am not evaluating Villa based on Ibrahimovic. I am evaluating Villa based on Villa. Anybody who suggests otherwise is misguided in the extreme.

      Nice to see that my “hate” list is growing, though. That warms my heart. I’ll have to find someone else to hate, just so it isn’t poor Villa all the time.

      On a more serious note, everyone knows that my ratings incorporate overall things that help the team. Pedro! was a bit funky on offense, but he killed himself all over the pitch, and defended like a demon, in addition to creating space, assisting and doing everything except driving the team bus.

      When Ibrahimovic played for us, he did certain things, things that only a fool would compare to the things that Villa does for us. They are different strikers. So I don’t, because not only is it stupid, but it isn’t fair. Just as Ibrahimovic didn’t stand up to Eto’o comparisons, and Eto’o didn’t stand up to Right Ronaldo comparisons. Every player is an evaluative island, so to speak.

      Look at it another way: If I were in fact reviewing Villa based on Ibrahimovic, I’d be noting things like his nonexistent defense on set pieces, that he rarely comes back to the midfield to provide link-up play, that he doesn’t take a pass with his back to the defense, hold up play for the rest of the attackers, then continue moving into the box.

      But none of that would be fair, because that isn’t what Villa does. He didn’t at Valencia, and he isn’t going to for us. Now, that isn’t going to stop people like you from accusing me of having given Ibrahimovic a “free pass.” Because we come at expectations from the roots of our own expectations and need for affirmation of those expectations.

      Yet a bit of perspective is never a bad thing.

  35. Bad news about the Villa red card. It puts even more pressure on Bojan to perform, particularly if Messi isn’t ready to play 90 minutes by next weekend.

    Can anyone remember if we have ever played with a front line of Pedro, Messi and Iniesta?

    1. Messi shouldn’t be rushed back. I wouldn’t even think of playing him before the Liga match after Mallorca. If we can’t beat Mallorca in our house, almost whatever lineup we roll out, we don’t deserve the match.

      It also puts the Villa red into perspective. Krkic is our only forward, unless we’re going to bring up Soriano or someone, which would further damage Krkic’s psyche. So what if Krkic picks up a knock in training, or in the Champions League match? Then what? Yes, we’d have to ask those same questions had Villa gotten injured, instead of showing a bit of spectacular stupidity. But that ain’t what happened.

      And then the other question is what of Messi. The Villa exclusion forces Guardiola to perhaps consider rushing Messi back. You know Messi is going to be clamoring to play. He always does. He did when he came back too fast and injured his hamstring in Champions League that one year.

      It’s a mess.

    2. Unless we went with a forward line up of Iniesta, Pedro, Jeffren? Yeah, that probably wouldn’t work too well.

      We do have further reserve strikers in Nolito and Soriano if Bojan gets injured. If Messi doesn’t play against Mallorca I bet one of them will at least make the bench. I’m not sure that they would be better than Bojan though. They look great with Barca B in La Segunda but playing with the first team is a big jump.

    3. I think it means more Keita, as Xavi moves forward into the attack and Keita reprises his role of the Bilbao match. So we see:

      Alves Pique Puyol Maxwell (Abidal rests for Valencia)
      Busquets Xavi Keita
      Pedro! Krkic Iniesta (who roams around, raising hell again)

    4. Don’t forget, Jeffren is back as well. He wouldn’t be my first option, but he is there if we need him.

  36. Courtesy of Sid Lowe Twitter ‘Two collectables in Sport today: Barca knife AND super soft Barca slippers. Why? So you can slip silently away from a stabbing?’


  37. A couple of things:

    –I initially thought the red card for Amorebieta was a bit harsh, but after rewatching it a few times, I think the ref got it right. I don’t believe there was malicious intent, but with the pitch in that condition it was a completely irresponsible tackle to make and could have had bad consequences.

    –I would love to see a behind-the-goal perspective of Xavi’s goal. I need to know just how big of a hole Xavi shot through, because from the vids I have seen, it looks pretty small. He is thinking, “Everyone expects me to pass, so I’m just going to…SHOOT!”

    1. Frankly, I’m still not sure on the justification of the Amorebieta red. I do think that something was said by the league in the aftermath of the Messi incident. Sid Lowe was wondering on Twitter whether the Messi business was going to change the way matches were being called for a short or long period. I wonder that, as well, and what it means for SMasch, who will almost have to relearn how to get balls from players.

      The Depotes feed showed the Xavi shot from different angles, and it was a sliver. It’s hard to say how big because it all happened so fast, but the shot looks more amazing the more that you see it. I do think that it would have been covered had it not been deflected. Look at how wrong their keeper, who had been spot on all match, looked on that shot.

  38. And Here Adriano did indeed pick up a knock, and is out for the Rubin Kazan match. But Abidal is back, so I couldn’t foresee him playing anyhow. He still isn’t fully indoctrinated into the “run, you bastards, run!” world of Guardiola.

    I think that’s probably the biggest surprise for players coming here. I think that Ibrahimovic probably left the club fitter. Henry noted that he hadn’t run as much ever in his career as he did under Guardiola. You can see why Guardiola likes P! so much. The dude never stops.

    1. It’s not just Barcelona, it is the Spanish style of football. Xabi Alonso said after he moved to Real Madrid, that he was so much more tired after matches than he had been at Liverpool, and it was because he was running so much more. Not necessarily faster, but just always moving on the pitch.

  39. I was amazed last night during the liveblog , that very few people understood that the red card shown to the bilbao player was perfectly justifiable. What a bunch of nonsense.
    It may have killed their plan , and slowed down the play but who cares?

    The challenge was a dangerous one , and the ref was in the perfect position to make the call. As i recall it pique last year had a similar call , and another one escaped but both should be red cards.
    Players need to be protected by challenges like these. It doesnt matter if you happen to hit the ball as well , or if you intended to just get the ball as far as I and the regulations are concerned. Dangerous tackles are to be awarded with red cards FULLSTOP.

    1. I don’t think that’s right, unless I’ve read an outdated version of Law 12. Careless kicks, trips etc. to a player that the challenger could see get a warning, reckless ones are cautioned and excessive force (intent to injure) earns a red. All are supposed to result in a direct free kick for the wronged team unless the perpetrator missed or otherwise failed to disadvantage the other player, but the punishment to the fouling player depends on which of these things apply.

      Using that standard, a yellow seems right for the Iniesta incident. It’s not a clear case of excessive force, it could easily have just been a very reckless move.

    2. I think you have.
      The tackle on iniesta can be categorized as serious foul play (A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as
      serious foul play), and is punished with the red card.
      laws of the game 2010-2011 , page 120 .

    3. Thanks for the link. I’m not able to view PDF files unfortunately but I found this Powerpoint one from FIFA: www dot dot pdf

      It says one of the ways to get a yellow card is a reckless tackle, defined as ‘commits one of the first six offences penalised by a direct free kick or penalty kick in a reckless manner.
      ‘”Reckless” means that the player has made the move with complete disregard for danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.’

      Surely that implies that the safety of the opponent is somewhat endangered in these cases. Whereas in the definition of serious foul play, he uses ‘excessive force or brutality against an opponent while challenging for the ball while it is in play.
      “Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.’

      So while in both cases the player makes a deliberate move despite it being dangerous for their opponent, for it to constitute serious foul play they must also far exceed the necessary use of force or use ‘brutality’. To far exceed the necessary use of force suggests some intent to harm, to me, but either way I don’t think the Bilbao player can be shown clearly to have used it. He doesn’t kick far farther than he needed to or make unnecessary swinging actions or any movements aimed purposefully for his limbs: it looks like he was using just as much force as he needed to go for the ball, however disregarded the fact that Iniesta’s body was very likely to be in the way when he got there, in other words was reckless. That’s the way I see it anyway.

      On the other hand if your definition in parentheses is a direct and complete quote from the latest Laws of The Game, which I can’t find in a form my laptop won’t choke on, then I’ll defer to you there. 🙂

  40. I like this Guardiola quote. Something tells me I know what they’re going to be working on in practice this week.

    “We must have more desire, more ambition to say ‘I’m in front of goal and I have to score’. When we create chances around the six-yard box we must score them.”

    “In the second half we attacked well and, to be honest, I’m very happy because matches at San Mames are tough. But we must finish games off (earlier) and we didn’t do it.”

    1. I’m guessing Thiago is not part of the match since he played some minutes with the big boys less than 24hours ago. This is the only downside of seeing Thiago getting some minutes with us. He can’t get a 90min football week in week out with us unless he is with the B-team.
      You guys prefer Thiago getting some odd minutes with us or full matches with the B-team? Which would be better for his development?

  41. “He made the runs. So what. The job isn’t complete.”

    I’m sorry Kxevin. I don’t want to carry on with this argument but I strongly disagree. The way you say it, it’s as if a striker’s job is solely to score goals. He has to “run” to get to get into good positions in the first place right?

    Last season especially in the 2nd half of the season, Ibra went on a dry spell for months, yet he was never criticized for not getting the job done. I just don’t understand why you can’t give Villa credit for the good things he has done so far instead of only looking at the negative things. You were definitely not like this on the other newcomers especially Ibra. You always had a way to defend Ibra and other Barca players.

    With Ibra, it was always the case of not having a full pre-season, but the same applies for Villa. He with the rest of the Spain NT joined the team late in pre-season. But you gave those reasons to defend Ibra in the 2nd half of the month, but with Villa, you attacked him from the 1st match already. Why a different treatment?
    Villa needs time too just like any other player.

    Villa is a Barca player now so why not give him the same amount of love as you do with the rest like you usually do(minus Bojan :lol:)?

    1. I have to second what you’re saying
      I also think the main reason pep and evryone thought that ibra sucked was that he couldn’t play tiki taka possession football and lost the ball far too much. Some might disagree. Nevetheless talking about how many goals and assists doesn’t give the broader picture. Villa offers more in general play which is why everyone seems lenient with him. I personally thought ibra dropping deep never worked as a tactic because lost to ball far too often

  42. From Sid Lowe’s twitter with regards to the fake Pique quotes:

    ‘People often say: “well, no one reads that paper anyway, so what’s the problem?” Things like this are the problem:

    I can’t believe Sky would re-publish that garbage.

  43. The only thing more consistent here, besides some few folks trying to dredge up the ghosts of Christmas past, are Kevin’s ratings. While we may not agree with them always they are consistent. Let’s also stop I wasn’t saying anything but that individual and then said individual is the MAIN subject of the post. Go ahead say it, own it, but also I suggest for the rest of us who are focused on this season and what is happening on the pitch this season that enough explanation, enough context has been provided. My 2 cents and I am cheap so that’s the only time I’ll offer it up.

    All I can say KEITEEEEE

  44. Another awesome review Kxevin. It goes without saying, but really, the detail and effort you put into every one of your reviews is just amazing. Thanks so much for your hard work. It’ll be a sad, sad, sad day when you stop reviewing 🙁

    My 0.2 on Villa and his adaption:

    I’d rather have a player that’s a slow starter that get progressively better as the season goes on than have a player kill the first half of the season and then taper off badly in the second. Unfortunately, because of the short squad and injury to the player that would take up the slack, our offense will suffer (and possibly lose points).

    I know I’m prepared for that, not sure other fans will be.

  45. C’mon Kxevin! I don’t think you have any haters here. On the contrary, yours is one of the best Barca-centric reviews anyone can read after every match…It’s just that, every once in a while, like Luke did in the last review, you take an incendiary position on a certain issue that ends up detracting from the rest of the wonderful piece.

    For example; Here’s your Ibrahimovic rating on march 7 vs Almeria, when he got the red card:
    ” Ibrahimovic: 4. Part of good service is making yourself available for it. Ineffective anonymity doesn’t become something so large”

    He managed to get the same rating as someone like Iniesta & Pedro, and more than Puyol & Alvez, despite the red card. On the comment section, you went further to explain,

    ” Ibrahimovic gets the same rating as Pedro! and Iniesta because all of them had about the same effect on the match. And Ibrahimovic had more real chances on goal than both of them. Yes, P! threw in the cross that Messi eventually converted into a goal, but it took a terrible clearance from the Almeria defender, and a deflection”

    While defending him by saying,

    “But the fact of the matter is that when he got sent off, it was right about the time that we also said “Holy shit, we could lose this match,” and began playing like the better side. It would have happened with or without him on the pitch.”

    But on the other side of the coin, to be fair to Kxevin, here was your rating of Ibrahimovic against Villareal on January 2nd,

    ” Ibrahimovic: 1. Awful. Just awful. Petulant, ineffective and just plain bad. Had a great chance on the doorstep, and tried some silly flick thing? What the hell was that? I repeat. Man the hell up. Yes, they were fouling you, jumping into you then falling down only to have you get the whistle. Talented players are supposed to rise above all of that stuff. Letting it get to you just drags you down to the level of the mortals”

    And in the article, Kxevin further villified Ibrahimovic by saying,

    ” –Ibrahimovic has to man the hell up: It’s easy to play well when things are going well. It’s when they aren’t that you have to show us why you’re worth 60+m Euros. Today, you behaved like a petulant child, one who will now miss the next league match. Lucky for you, it’s away to Tenerife. You also made bad decisions, such as moving away from that excellent pass from Pedro!, thus giving the Villarreal defender a chance to make the play. If you move to the ball, you remove that option for him, make the play and probably score the go-ahead goal. Of course they’re going to foul you. You’re the stud. Suck it up.”

    So take what you may from it, but I think the Villareal rating was consistent with Villa’s rating yesterday, as opposed to the Ibra vs Almeria one.

    1. Oh great, Bill. You had to go and mess it up for people who think I have never, ever had a discouraging word for Ibrahimovic. Now what am I gonna do? I’ll have to find new ways to justify my Villa hatred. 😀

      But seriously, as I’ve said before, I don’t mind at all if someone doesn’t agree with my rating. No family agrees on everything. I’d hope that they would say “You’re wrong and here’s why,” rather than throwing out words such as “hate,” “bias,” “weird” or “stupid.” That’s no way to have a reasonable discussion.

      I also think (hope) that I’ve become a better reviewer over the time that I’ve been doing it, because if I haven’t, I might as well stop now. I’ve learned tactical things to watch out for from the likes of Hector, Euler and Ramzi, and I learned very early on that watching a match once and then doing a review is doomed to failure.

      I write the reviews, am a big boy and can take the heat. I just lobby for discussion, rather than accusation as the basis for a contention.

    2. Haha, well, I was about to score on you like messi on De gea, but I had to question my viewpoint first before kicking the ball. When I looked at my options, I found you had ‘parked the bus’ worse than Inter. But I’ll be back! 🙂

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