This picture of Messi sums it up far more eloquently than I ever could. So no point in writing the review, right? Or perhaps, in the interest of rocking like our beloved club, I should write 98% of the review, then stop.
Because that’s our football these days. We do everything to build up to a goal and then something happens, somethiing that’s usually our fault. Then the other side has success because they do what we don’t, which is just shoot. Sometimes, you just have to say “What the hell,” and let fly. Everybody wants to be in the highlight reel for passing. Why doesn’t anyone want to be in the reel for scoring a goal?
Mallorca are giggling all the way home, as they grabbed their first away goal and point, with a bold, resolute display that had them playing their hearts out and us squandering chance after chance after glorious chance to destroy them.
On the up side, we’re 98% of a team that can win the Liga. Should we take heart in that?
Guardiola rolls out with a lineup that I liked a lot, with a notable exceptions: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Milito, Abidal, Mascherano, Keita, Iniesta, Messi, Krkic, Pedro!. Valdes was the captain, and we started out excellently, running Mallorca all over the pitch, ripping gaping holes in their defense with our passing and movement, and creating chances galore. There were three glorious chances in the first 5 minutes of the match from Pique and Pedro!, that should have been finished.
And everybody was feeding Krkic, trying to get him going because they understand the value of a properly functioning 9. And he was playing great for a while, as was the side, which has clearly been working on set pieces in practice. Two setups produced two excellent chances, the last a roller to Pedro! that he blasted over the net. Abidal was throwing in cross after cross, usually on the ground most effectively as opposed to Alves, who still seems to be expecting Messi to suddenly be 6-foot-5.
That it took as long to score as it did was a wonder, some might even say a harbinger. But score we did, and it was a beauty.
The goal started waaay in back, when Mascherano defended two men, helped Iniesta win the ball then kick-started the break that found the ball pinging between Messi and Alves and then to Pedro!, who slid it back for Messi, who curled a shot around the outside and just inside the post. It was a spectacular goal that also spawned a particularly misguided Ray Ray-ism: “You can follow [Messi] into a revolving door, and he will come out first.” Well, yes. He will. Because you’re following him.
That we needed such a gem of a goal to score against Mallorca should have been a warning sign. But nobody heeded. And the beauty continued, useless beauty that led to no more goals.
And then it happened. A long Mallorca pass, flipped to an attacker, caught Pique flat-footed as the man burst out behind him. The ensuing fire drill led to a shot that Valdes expertly parried away. It seems easy to say in retrospect that the way we were playing makes you lazy as a defender, but it does. You could see Pique standing there, with this “What the hell is that” look on his face. It was a smart attack from them, that caught us with our knickers down. Then on the ensuing corner kick, somehow, as usual, nobody marked the man coming in from the back, who pounded a header past Valdes for the 1-1 draw at the half. Suddenly, Mallorca had something to play for, and play they did, diving, kicking, clawing, fouling, time wasting, doing everything that they could to salvage their precious point. And we lost the edge, because you just can’t play the way that we played for an entire 90 minutes.
Then their rope-a-dope came into full effect, and they suddenly started having more possession and more chances, playing with the ball in our end and testing our defense, which came up with the goods time and again.
That was that.
I could rave and rave about the passing and aggression that had Mallorca on the ropes, or I could rail about the wasteful finishing that let them off the canvas, the one touch too many from everyone, including Messi, as we seduced ourselves with beautifully ineffective football. Good and bad. We are an amazing football side to watch, switching the field, with dizzying passes coming in from all angles, passes that find our attackers in excellent positions to score goals. And yet, we don’t.
Nor does it take the other side long to figure out that Pedro! and Krkic are not going to score against them, so just stop the little dude and off we go with a point. Pedro! is playing better overall, but he isn’t as sharp a finisher as he was last season, not by damn sight. It should be noted once again, my warning that in World Cup years, the more internationals a club has, the clunkier it’s going to be. Essentially the Spain WC side was Barca and a few other dudes. So Valdes, Pedro!, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi (for Argentina), Alves (for Brazil), Puyol, Pique, Busquets and Villa all had long summers, which led to long vacations, which led to late arrivals, which robbed the club of the sharpness necessary to kick out the jams. It will come. We are so brilliant, and 98% of the way there, people. It’s easy to get down on your club when it snatches a draw from what should have been a rout. Don’t.
You were also warned that there would be matches like this, and seasons (potentially) like this. Every year isn’t a treble and six trophies. Not hardly. This game is amazing in that it can make you so happy that you want to cry one moment, then rip your heart out the next. We aren’t scoring goals because we aren’t finishing. That is an easy thing to fix, in theory. It’s a matter of concentration and body control, and treating each goal chance as though it is your last. Teams like Mallorca do. We don’t, because right now we aren’t hungry.
People bicker and squabble about Eto’o vs Ibrahimovic, who or whose mama is stupid or not, transfers good and bad, etc, etc. Fact of the matter is that in the year that we swept all before it, we’d done squat before. So we had a full offseason and training camp with which to hone our skills, gain fitness and get ready to crush everyone. Then we did. And it was parades, parties, long vacations, bonuses, which dulled the edge. And even still, one wide header. This season was the aforementioned World Cup and all of its attendant complexity.
And then there’s the hunger. We’re playing like a club with nothing to prove. Problem is that everyone who plays us has something to prove, and we often let them do it. Did Mallorca deserve that goal? No. But the Footy Gods don’t roll like that. And that’s life.
What is most important is that we support our beloved club. Sometimes, lack of success makes a bandwagon a little lighter. And that’s okay. People who came to this club during the salad days are probably wonder what the heck is going on. Where are the 5-0 thrashings?
I say if you look at what we have done and where we are, they’re but a little bit of sharpness away. And even as my evaluative keyboard is sharp and unscathing, my heart beats Blaugrana, and will support this club, no matter what.
Now we have some ratings to bicker about:
Team: 6. For a while, a long while, it was a 10. Then Mallorca was let into the match by sloppy play. And as they started to get tired, the sharpness deserted them, as did the control and effort that turned the first half into a shooting gallery. And the set piece defending was inexcusable. The good was the passing and movement, and one-touch football that constantly gutted a team playing with 10 behind the ball. The bad was the sloppy finishing and bypassed shots.
Guardiola: 6. It was the right starting lineup, but he has to do something to put the fire back into his side. Throw a chair, get ejected, get in somebody’s face, something. You just can’t stand there, watching the train wreck. Nolito was a good (though only available) substitution. That Krkic was still on the pitch, however, wasn’t something that this evaluator can not support.
Valdes: 7. Could do nothing about the goal, but made many key plays and interventions, including saving the shot that was going in, and later roaring off his line to beat Webo to the ball on a break.
Alves: 6. Shoot, Dani, shoot! And stop crossing for the sake of crossing. Yes, they are accurate, but no, they don’t fit our offensive scheme. Krkic isn’t going to head the ball in. Neither is Messi, if there’s a normal-sized defender around. I loved his offense, though. Cutting ball after cutting ball, run after run, he was like an extra midfielder. His defense wasn’t called on much, but when it was, he was usually adequate, which is usually enough.
Pique: 3. Was off to a spectacular match, then he started to cost us, by being caught flat on the attack that led to the corner that led to the Mallorca goal, then off an atrocious giveaway that could have cost us the match. Thankfully, Valdes was on the case to parry away the long shot attempt from Webo. As the tallest man on the defense, to stand there looking lost on set pieces is unforgivable. And man, does his finishing need work. He’s a defender. I know. But if you’re going to be in the box as an attacker, finish.
Milito: 8. The only problem really is that he wasn’t Puyol. If Puyol is in there, we probably don’t concede on that set piece. But Milito made a match-saving intervention very late, and a number of other key defensive plays. He isn’t the fastest defender out there, but his positional sense is extraordinary. Very strong match.
Abidal: 9. Man, good to have the Greyhound back. From defensive plays and crosses, to making offense on one end then sprinting down to the other to be last man that kills a Mallorca break, Abidal was spectacular. His offense was superb, and as usual, his passes into the box deserved a better fate. He opens up space with that dive to the end line and always has a passing lane.
Mascherano: 9. A Man of the Match performance from a player that people said was a waste of money, wasn’t going to fit in, would be a card machine, etc, etc. He won ball after ball, stopped attack after attack, roaming from midfield to deep into our box. And what passes! He looked to the manor born this match, a spectacular effort that must have shut up a lot of doubters. There was nothing bad to say about his play today. Ramzi must be grinning like crazy. The way that he has (already) learned to win balls without destruction is impressive, and what a passer.
Keita: 7. Excellent match, a danger on offense and defense. I know what Guardiola was trying to do in bringing on Thiago for Keita, but it backfired in that it opened up the middle of the field in our end. You don’t realize how many of those counters Keita snuffs out until he isn’t there, snuffing them out.
Iniesta: 8. He made a liar out of me, as he showed the vision, patience and controlled aggression that made him an excellent Xavi today. I thought that he should have gone on more runs at the Mallorca defense. Those destabilized their bus, and made up for the runs that Pedro! and Krkic often weren’t making. I thought that he was magical today, and at the root of many an attack that should have resulted in a ball going into the back of the net.
Messi: 6. The effort, energy and quality were there until he started trying to think too much. Take and shoot is what Messi is best at. When he starts thinking, as he was when Aouate stopped him on the doorstep, it gives defenders a chance to react and keepers a chance to get set up. The goal was the perfect example of this, as he basically controlled a shot in one motion. When he started getting tired, he began to fade in and out of the match.
Pedro!: 5. The chances missed. Oh, the glorious chances missed. I love how much higher his football IQ is this season. I don’t love how he sometimes (still) just runs around like a man without a plan, like the guy on the American football team whose job it is to just hit people. Somebody. Anybody. And like a ghost, he drifts in and out of matches. Brilliant assist for the Messi goal, it must be said. And his movement on and off the ball is a thing of beauty. But he isn’t sharp right now, and it’s costing the side.
Krkic: 2. He started out like a house afire, raising hopes that this was going to be the match in which Krkic shut all his doubters the hell up. Then he began regressing. Twice, he passed up open attackers to take shots that would have been speculative even for an on-form striker. He stopped attacks by thinking too much, lost balls and began, once he didn’t score, to play like the ball of lack of confidence that he is right now. To be sure, his movement was excellent at times, as was his passing and control. There were a few jaw-dropping moments, including that snap shot from distance. But Krkic isn’t playing well enough right now, and it’s killing us.
Thiago (for Keita): 6. Damn, I like this kid. He became the Iniesta to Iniesta’s Xavi. I wouldn’t have minded seeing him start, frankly. What he brings to a match is that cutting edge, and fearlessness. I think that as the match wore on, we started playing scared. Not Thiago. He’s very quickly gone from being loose and scary at times to flat-out solid. Has he leapfrogged Dos Santos in the “next big thing” pecking order?
Nolito (for Pedro!): 5. Uh oh, Krkic. Those hoofsteps you hear on the horizon are those of a kid moving about a million miles an hour, shark-like, toward goal. Like early Pedro!, he is guilty of that almost panicked ohmygodiminnowwhataggggh kind of football, in which he is so desperate to make something, anything happen. And yet, he almost did.
Jeffren (for Milito): incomplete. A last-ditch roll of the dice that came late, very late.
–With two goals in two home matches, that equals our worst start EVAH!
–Pedro! has a torn calf muscle, out for at least two weeks.
–The pitch is crap. Everybody knows it, and are finally commenting on it.
–“They seemed tired at the end,” says Laudrup. Ya don’t say.
We’re fourth place in the Liga, looking up at Valencia, Villarreal and EE. Ouch. But there are a great many more points to play for, as the Liga sorts itself out. Keep the faith, and be patient. It will all come good. Meanwhile, here’s some Messi love to leave you smiling.