Get used to seeing this picture, folks, of a player hugging Thiago after yet another bit of well-timed ball movement or brilliance. Just sayin’.
This Copa del Rey opener (for us) against Ceuta, demonstrates the value of having an excellent Segunda side that can be tapped for players, as well as an excellent core of influential veterans. It means that you can rest seven of your choice starters for a big weekend match, and still comfortably dispatch a club whose game plan seemed to be “Get out there, run around and make something happen.” But despite the potential for upsets in this tournament, this just wasn’t going to be one. We simply have too much talent.
Look at it this way. Thiago would be an automatic starter right now, for many a Liga side. For us, he’s the future, an immensely talented kid who we are trying to find playing time for. Bartra and Fontas would also be getting serious playing time. For us, they are a bright, shining future and more importantly, a way to get through the early rounds of what is essentially a meaningless tournament for the biggest clubs, so that you can bring the real players out for the “important” matches, later in the draw.
Guardiola came out with Pinto, Adriano, Bartra, Fontas, Maxwell, Mascherano, Keita, Thiago, Jeffren, Pedro! and Krkic, a lineup known as Killer Bs with some Stiffening. So Keita and sMasch are out there in case the kids screw up, and need a grownup to put the smack down. They were also out there to, along with talented veterans such as Maxwell and Adriano, lend a calm, disciplined air to the proceedings, not that our Killer Bs needed it. We were better than Ceuta at every position, and clearly should have had more than two goals to show for it, but that’s life in the big city.
But we did score two, which is two more than That Other Spanish Club scored against their Segunda B opposition, and what a pair of goals.
The first goal was just Maxwell getting funky with it. It was all Maxwell all the time, as he ripped a shot from a crazy angle into the far side. A Liga keeper probably stops that one, which is why he hasn’t been able to pull it off before now. But a third division keeper just isn’t used to seeing players with that level of skill, so he’s thinking “Okay, I have the near post cov …. what the hell was that? Wait. What just happened? Dang!” Maxwell also opened his account with the club, and what a honey of a goal to have as your first for the club.
Maxwell also fired in the precipitating pass for the second goal, which Thiago touched over to Pedro!, who also opened his account with a no-nonsense finish that was vintage P!.
And that was that. Guardiola lamented us not getting a third goal, and it must be said that that goal should have come. But that’s what the game does. Losing 0-2 at home means that barring anything crazy …. I mean, aliens kidnapped the President, two-headed babies crazy, they are out of this tie, and we can begin thinking about the next round, which will be against a Liga side. Personally, I would roll out with the same lineup. They’ve earned it.
Team: 8. Where did all that directness come from? The A Team dithers and tika-takas, while the B+ side says “Get it up the pitch and into the box. Quit screwing around.” I loved the offensive aggression and directness of play. A very strong, more than competent overall performance from the side.
Guardiola: 7. Right lineup, a little funky on the subs, too slow on the hook for Krkic. Guardiola understood exactly what was needed for this match, and he did it. And the result speaks for itself. He waited too long on the Dos Santos sub, howver. Dos Santos’ play is calmer than Thiago’s, and would have been of value.
Pinto: 6. Nice, solid match. Didn’t have a ton to do, really, but pulled off a nice job of sweeper keeping.
Adriano: 7. You can see why we signed him. Pace galore to get up and down the wing, midfield control and strong passing skills. I’d love to see him with an extended run with the first team to really see what he has.
Bartra: 7. We have Piquenbauer, so what do we call Bartra, who was doing the exact same thing, with the same wonderful effects? Bartrinator? Bartrabauer? Whatever. He was magical. Certainly would have played to a higher rating had he actually been tested.
Fontas: 6. Again, he didn’t have a lot to do, but you can see, just maybe, why the sale of Txigrinski happened. We have these two, plus Muniesa, plus a buy-back option for Botia. Wow. Fontas was just big, strong and competent. You could clearly see DM skills in his play as well. I’ll say it again: The future is bright.
Maxwell: 8. I loved his play today, from the passing and movement to the opportunistic shot that he got off so quickly, and with so much pace. This dude might be the best buy in the club’s history. You could see that he was first team. He was a level above anybody on the opposition.
Mascherano: 8. He, along with Keita, was the spine today. Thiago was a little funky in between bouts of brilliance, but sMasch was the midfield glue. Or more corrrectly, he was the activating agent that mixed with Keita. Excellent passing, and ultimate control of his zone.
Keita: 8. And speaking of Keiteeee, this was yet another excellent, professional performance. You often see first-team players for clubs trying stuff they wouldn’t try against a real side, but not Keita. “I want that ball,” he would say as he rolled up to a Ceuta player, who would usually replay “Okay. Sorry ’bout that. Here you go.” His passing and movement, as always, were exemplary.
Thiago: 6. A weird match for The Future, who still seems to need someone to play off. As the lone playmaker out there, he was roaming too much. You could, however, see flashes of what makes him so amazing in the inch-perfect passes that he laid off for players, time and again. He’s still playing into his talent, however.
Jeffren: 4. Bummer about the injury. He plays too fast, and is too selfish. I love the speed, but he’s still like a driverless Ferrari. Vroom! Screech! Smash! If he passes that ball, he doesn’t get injured. Now he has 4 weeks to think about things. Meanwhile, I’m not sure I see a first-team future for him. He’s already of age, and this should have been a match where he owned. Didn’t happen.
Pedro!: 8. On the other hand, P! was, as Ray Ray says, class in a glass. He, like the other full-on first teamers, played like one. He was full of pace and movement, and was everywhere, tracking back on defense, contesting for possession in midfield and putting in a goal. A true stat-stuffer performance. Hopefully he gained some confidence that will get him untracked in the bigs.
Krkic: 2. He had the captain’s armband and a match that should have played right into his hands. Instead, he was losing balls in the same way, and how he missed that absolute sitter, hitting the crossbar high off a wide-open net from a perfect pass from P!, I am at a loss to explain. I don’t pretend to know what Guardiola has to do to get his confidence back. You can see the talent, but he’s just damaged right now, and might need a change of scenery to undo it.
Nolito (for Jeffren): 3. Might I suggest meditation as the cure for your inability to sit still, sir? Like Jeffren, he plays too fast and too selfishly, as if someone has told him, “You have 12 seconds to make a difference. Ready …. go!” Again, you can see the skills, and he showed better in his last outing, in a Liga match. So we know the talent is there.
Dos Santos (for Thiago): incomplete. How did this happen, Dos Santos coming on as a late sub for Thiago in a Copa match?
We effectively won this tie today with an outstanding team performance. Next up is a stern test against Sevilla, a side that when we last saw them, got spanked in the Super Copa final. They should be spoiling for a fight. Meanwhile, I won’t start my “Dump the Copa” cries just yet, but the deeper we go into this tournament, the more pressure Guardiola will feel to win it. Again, just sayin’.