Panathinaikos 0, Barca 3, aka “The ball moves faster than a player can”

Photo by Claudio Chaves, El Mundo Deportivo

It was simultaneously dazzling, workmanlike and as casual as a stroll in the park. Here’s how you know that we’re a team on form: Beating European opposition like a gong looks easy. On the up side, the Panathinaikos players got dry, probably still smelling of fabric softener match shirts. On the down side, they took a hiding in front of their home fans. Was it really that bad where even after going a goal down, they were still playing not to lose?

The final score was a fair result for a club that absolutely dominated this match from start to finish, with a rousing team performance, even as individual players didn’t have very good matches. This, for me, shows off the quality of the side and the form that we are enjoying right now. When some of the best players in the world are simultaneously hitting high notes all at the same time, it’s a pretty amazing thing.

At some point, people are going to stop detracting from our victories. Sevilla didn’t try, Valencia did this, Villarreal didn’t do that, Almeria were this, Panathinaikos was that. Whatever. We’ll keep taking the wins, however people try to explain them away.

Guardiola rolled out a number of interesting things this evening, in a starting lineup of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Adriano, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro! and Villa. What struck me the most was the two roaming Brazilian fullbacks, and the effect that they had on our offense. With Adriano and Alves pushing forward, it in effect gave us, even with a parked bus, almost as many attackers as defenders, particularly with the defense playing such a high line that at times our centerbacks seemed like midfielders.

Three things made such daring possible: the pace of Alves and Adriano, the ball control of our midfield and Javier Mascherano, who just destroyed pretty much everything that came near him. It’s also impossible to describe the pleasure of seeing Adriano’s long-range blasts from the left-hand side of the pitch. Yes, the keeper made the saves on 4 humming shots, but it’s the sheer possibility that helped to unbalance the Panathinaikos defense.

And none of it would have been possible without a voracious defense, and a passing attack that reduced the British announcers to a 90-minute rave about our quality, movement, speed of thought and passing. And you know what? They’re right. Here’s a news flash of sorts, that just occurred to me: If we play our game, the quality of our opponent doesn’t matter. We keep the ball, and the few times that we do give it up don’t yield, percentage-wise, enough chances to really put us in danger. Even if we give up a goal or two, something highly unlikely in the form that we’re in right now, we’ll probably be able to get them back.

Form is fleeting, class is permanent; an adage worth noting because right now we are on form. But we also have the class to weather individual players having very off matches, or a collective malaise. Here’s something else: Our playing style is almost lack of form proof, because it’s short, direct passes to players who are constantly making themselves available. Who can’t complete a 10-15 yard pass along the ground, right? Most players can. The complexity is in what to do next, and what will that player do next. When Xavi passes to Alves passes to Iniesta passes to Messi, it’s like an escalating scale of difficulty for the defense. Throw in a scampering Pedro! and the thread of Villa, and it’s a fraught situation at best.

And to boot, our one-touch game was on amazing display tonight, particularly for that wonder of a second goal. In less than 10 seconds, 6 passes were made and a goal was scored, an absolute wonder of a team goal that encapsulates the way we play as eloquently as any verbiage anyone could come up with. So advance this video to 2:09, and enjoy.

Best of all with this match is that the home match against Rubin Kazan is meaningless for us, as we secured first place in the group with our victory, since FC Copenhagen lost today. A great day all ’round. Panathinaikos played hard and (mostly) fair, but it really was a class gap that couldn’t be bridged with effort, and a stroll in the park for us.

Team: 8. Excellent collective performance, a couple of defensive lapses excepted. But even then, somebody always picked up the slack.

Guardiola: 9. The perfect match to roll out the Roving Brazilian experiment, to great effect. Right substitutions, as well. Pique needed to come off.

Valdes: 8. Dude’s gotta learn to yell more. That blunder between he and Pique in the first half shouldn’t have happened. He was awesome after that, including that killer stop on Cisse. That play was huge.

Alves: 8. I know that business logic dictates that the club sell him, but matches like the one he played today shows why something should be figured out. He went forward and got back, stole balls, played tika-taka and battled for possession, after getting off to something of a funky start. Sweet, sweet assists for the opening goal.

Pique: 5. Looked shaky and out of sorts getting the match cobwebs out of his system in preparation for Monday. Usually he can compensate of lack of quickness with positioning. Not today.

Puyol: 6. Strong match, but why less Cisse loose? Instead of stopping and throwing up your arm, track back with the player, until you hear the whistle. Very solid beyond that and a few other moments.

Adriano: 6. Didn’t show much in the way of defense, but his offense was excellent, from the midfield passing game to his accurate shots from distance. By far his best outing in the colors.

Mascherano: 9. A Man of the Match performance from our midget destroyer, who was everywhere on the pitch today, and had to be. He also passed, controlled, tika-takaed and even got off a shot on goal. I don’t envy Guardiola with his DM complexity. When sMasch was pure destroyer, it made the Busquets decision a snap. Now that he’s showing fine passing and passing range, the decision isn’t so no-brainer any longer.

Xavi: 7. Our metronome was in full effect today, even as he was the target of all of the Panathinaikos midfield pressure. Thing is, you can play to not let him kill you, and our Tiny Vampire will rip out your jugular.

Iniesta: 9. Wow, what a match. His touch, control and fleetness of thought are amazing. He really is a beautiful player to watch, and works magically with Xavi to make the best midfield combo on the planet.

Messi: 6. He was on cruise control, showing up when he had to, with some remarkable runs and passes. He also showed leadership when he got on his mates for not getting into the box when it was clear that he was going to cross the ball.

Pedro!: 7. His brace consisted of two very well-taken goals. His match consisted of excellent movement and an all-pitch performance, from defensive harassment to tika-taka.

Villa: 2. When he wasn’t offside, he was losing the ball with ill-considered passes. His slowness of thought and foot continue to be a liability, as well.


Keita (for Xavi): 5. Solid. Might have played to a better rating with more time, but his contributions to midfield defense and possession for us are never, ever to be underestimated.

Abidal (for Pique): 5. A shockingly bad back pass that he cleaned up himself. Looked like a player coming off an injury, and not wanting to go all out to me.

Maxwell (for Adriano): incomplete. Got some time, but not enough to really be evaluated.

Next up is a big-ass date on Monday, with a simple task: Win and we assume first place in the Liga. Can’t wait.

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. Great review!

    What struck me about the performance was Alves. He no longer roves just up and down the right flank. He was all over today although he got into a weird funk for a bit when he kept letting the ball roll out of touch and couldn’t make a pass to save his life. But we have to keep this guy. We just have to.

  2. mascherano was a powerhouse! and i deeply respect him for his attitude towards the team – quote from after the match: “sergio busquets is the starter and my task is to make sure to replace him well if he doesn’t play”. just amazing.

    adriano played an excellent game; i’m really glad pep gave him this match.

    lastly, i think we got the same comms — the whole game, they were like dishing out a testimonial to the greatness of barca’s style. i don’t blame them for being in awe πŸ™‚

    1. Agreed about sMasch, but adriano wasn’t very convincing defensively.

      IMO, this is where we stand on left backs:
      Abidal: Great defensively, Average attacking wise (ALWAYS looks for the low cross into the box)

      Maxwell: Average defensively, slightly above average attacking wise (still not an imminent threat)

      Adriano: VERY average defensively (will suffer against teams targeting his flank, caught up the pitch way too often), Great attacking wise (Can actually beat his man unlike the other two, and dare I say better at it then alves)

  3. not sure if you guys noticed but im so impressed with pedro’s versatility in regards to scoring with both feet , simply amazing find , wonder how afellay will fit in considering pedro is the only one he can really replace…discussion any one?

    1. Pedro is genuinely ambidextrous. Great to have a player like that in attack.

      Afellay will get his opportunities on the wing and in midfield, but he isn’t coming in to replace anyone per se.

  4. that assist by Alves was out of this world. someone mentioned it in the match comments post, but he looks to make a cross then slides a beauty to pedro, such skill.

    1. I liked his no-look to Iniesta for the 3rd goal. Reminded me of his pass to Messi for his goal against Basel a few years ago.


  5. Fully agree with Mascherano being the MOTM. He along with Iniesta and Pedro were our best players on the night.

    Like K505, I have been impressed with his attitude off the pitch and mentioned his recent quote about Busquets being the starter in the previous post.

    I still think Busquets will start El Clasico, but Mascherano or as cliveee says, Monsterano, is coming along quite nicely.

    On to the big one Monday. I’ve already day-dreamt 1000 different scenarios. One of ’em starts with us going up 3-0 in the first 15 minutes, leading to Cristiano being frustrated and subsequently getting a red card for kicking Dani Alves.

    Another starts with Madrid scoring a scrappy ass goal in the first 10 minutes, only for Messi to score right from kick-off and score another 4 before the match is over.

    Yes, I have a problem.

    1. “only for Messi to score right from kick-off and score another 4 before the match is over”

      Dude this made me squeal, if this happens i wont be held responsible for my actions πŸ˜€

  6. actually jnice , any scenario with us kicking madrids ass and cronaldo being frustrated and sent off, as well as not scoring would be a dream come true …heez just the type of cocky player that needs to be shut up and sent packing right of the pitch…

    ps : i wouldnt mind a 8-0 again, since that exactly what cronaldo said wasn’t possible against real madrid a few days ago,…but i can only hope πŸ˜‰

  7. The team mostly looks good heading into the Clasico. Pedro in particular looked extremely enthusiastic out on the pitch today. It’s just a shame he didn’t pick up a hat trick. Meanwhile, sMasch delivered another robust performance consistent with what we’ve come to expect from him. I don’t recall if I’ve ever seen him have an “off” match for us, and I always feel 100% confident seeing him on the lineup.

    Our Brazilians looked a little shaky at times. Alves sent several balls out of play for no real reason – I recall an incident very early in the match, as well as the two passes he failed to receive. Adriano’s defending was a bit lackluster, though I suppose having sMasch in the backline helps alleviate some of that worry. Nonetheless, their overall contributions were pretty positive. I’d like to see a bit more of Adriano’s long-range cannon. He looked to be on-target with most of his shots today.

    Most of the players did their basic duties otherwise. I don’t think Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Keita, Abidal, Maxwell, or Messi really need special comment with regard to this match. Messi was taking it a little easy and – ho-hum – scored a goal, continuing his streak. Boring.

    And now for the two kinks in the match, as I saw them:

    PiquΓ© has looked off for a couple of matches now, and he looked off today. I don’t know what it is, but he certainly seems to lack a bit of mental presence.

    Villa, of course. Much as I want to like David Villa, I agree with a 2/10 for this match. If nothing else, it was just annoying as hell to see him become invisible once again. I hope that the last two scoreless matches for him aren’t a sign of yet another goal drought from him. Normally he at least is good for an assist, and I don’t think we even saw that today (esp. with Messi reserving himself). Most of the team seems to be firing up to peak form, Villa doesn’t. If today’s Villa plans on showing up to the Clasico, I hope Pep starts a front line of Pedro-Messi-Bojan.

  8. So we’re through to the next round and basically have Rubin’s destiny in our hands..if we want we can let out a B line-up and give ’em a sniff..I love it..How does it taste now Beads boy πŸ˜€

  9. Oh and count me in as a member of the Mascherano Appreciation Society.
    What a monster midfielder!

    Some things I noticed during the game :

    1. Villa, Villa..I think he had zero touches in the 2nd half and yet refused to drop deep to participate in the play. Wonder if Pep had asked him to stay up there all the time. Yet the play of the team totally ignored him.

    2. The team was playing strictly in 2nd gear the whole 2nd half and at times the play was pedestrian as they were not looking to exert themselves too much.

    3. Messi was dropping really deep playing akin to a central midfield playmaker and not as a False 9 as he has been recently. I don’t think he can afford to drop that deep in the Clasico. On Revista a point was raised that Real will play with a back 6 essentially with both holding mids and the entire back 4 stuck to their position and if Messi drops too deep he will not be as effective because his dribbles towards that defense will break laves waves on the beach. Maybe Iniesta will be playing that role in the Clasico?

    4. Adriano has a wicked shot on his right foot. Had the GK not been on form he could’ve had a goal.

    5. Alves did that no-look pass thing again. That is so awesome. What have we offered this guy again? I mean, he shouldn’t be allowed to hold the club to ransom etc but he is right now the best RB in the world. No one else comes close.

    1. To point 1 and 3, it seems like there is a game plan that Pep employs once we have a comfortable lead. It probably makes sense because when Messi drops deep, there is a far less chance that some one will hack him down and similar is the case with Villa upfront on his own. It was super to see a refined, more practical Messi who passes when he sees the tackle coming in opposed to the raw icanrideanychallenge Messi

    2. But that makes Villa suffer then..Not sure how well he’s taking the transition from being The Man at Valencia to here where he’s one of the boys..
      Sure he’s saying all the right things and his work with Messi is jizz worthy but the boy needs goals and what better time to score than on Monday πŸ˜€

  10. plz give alves the contract he wishes.he deserves this.plz c this game.he isnt simply a RB,he is a MF,a harrasser,a creator.simply essential in our tikitaka keep the best u have to give him the best contract.
    @kxevin,earlier in a post i said smash should start in the classico,he is just nt an brilliant destroyer,he also is a barca type passer.another reason he should start coz of the form of pique.wht has happened to him?clumsy,erratic,nt in harmony with the he spending 2 much nights with shakira?pep should harass him lyk pique did to bojan.
    Villas worst match ever.u r generous with a rating of 2.
    Messi is just messi.never hit the 2nd gear.the skill at the end of 1st half is awesome.he should play as a rf in classico,coz imo madrid will over crowded him in the middle.
    Ini is buhahaha like a ghost

  11. Good match, 1st place secured, looks like we wont be breaking our duck against ruben after all, because we will play with the reserves in our last match.
    Good review by kevin, but for me the MOTM was iniesta, damn he is good (sMasch was excellent nonetheless), when ghostface is injury free and on-form he is unstoppable, he makes run after run after run and he defends brilliantly.
    But and thats a very big but, our central defenders look shaky and slow, something is wrong with pique and pep should be thinking about this.

  12. I don’t know if people noticed this, but 2 of our goals came from corners. And you know what caused both those corners ?
    Adriano’s long range shots ! ( although one of those shots was meant to be a cross πŸ˜› )
    So basically he had a hand in all the 3 goals ! This just proves that we need to try shooting more often, even though we don’t want to give away possession by trying speculative shots. The key is to obtain a fine balance between these two. Hope we achieve this soon ! ( I think the inclusion of Afellay will help ).

    1. I remember one match were we had a billion corners but couldn’t score from them, it was really frustrating..

      I can’t remember the match tough..

  13. Thanks for writing this great review again!

    Villa should keep learning. I have a feeling that his learning curve has been going flat as the season goes. He continues to ignore the crosses that come oh so often. Messi knows what to expect and scored the goal, because really, the crosses will come. Villa just needs to be more eager to learn the way we play and not get frustrated.

    Other than Monsterano, Pedro had a hell of a game too. He ran the longest distance and had 2 goals, also, his passing and running were simply superb. Love that kid.

    sMaaasschhhh, what could we add, really… he was the MOTM and no question asked. Some already said he should start instead of Busquets to play those white divers. I don’t know about that one, because like Kxevin said, the destroyer quality plus the long ball skills are what make Monsterano so monstrous. I still prefer Busquets, because his short passes are still better. They vision and all that. But defensively, sMasch still has that threatening aura that could scare the hell out of oppositions to even try to get near him. Tough call, especially when the EE have quality attackers on, it makes it even tougher.

  14. My thoughts on the match :

    – Villa needs to think faster and act faster, He should demand the ball more like Messi instead of waiting for the final ball.

    – Mascherano is awesome. In Big Matches, I can see him and Busquets starting applying the “Non Shall Pass” plan.

    – Pedro is improving, He is finally starting to score the goals he deserves.

    – Xavi replacement is no longer a worry, We have replacements for years to come, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Thiago, and JDS. After the match last night, I think Alves can play that role too.

    – Pique is still suffering from World Cup funk, Time to pick up his game.

    – CB is still a problem, Milito is injury prone and Pique is on 2 yellow cards in CL, with 4 in Liga, which means he only needs 1 more in any of them to miss the next match.

    – Adriano is good, We can’t judge him unless we see him against a La Liga side or an Attacking side.

    – We’re very Lucky to watch this team play the kind of football they do, We should enjoy it.

    1. – Our Players should expect a cross and get more in the box when a player is about to cross.

  15. @CastrolFootball is a good Twitter resource to follow, folks. We completed 746(!!!!) passes in the match, some FIVE TIMES as many as Panathinaikos. Holy crap.

    About Villa: He is evincing the same ups and downs of any first-year player in our club. Henry had it, Ibrahimovic had it, no reason to expect that Villa wouldn’t have it, despite his extensive work with our players in the Spanish NT. You’d be hard pressed to find a more demanding system than ours, because it is rooted in:

    –speed of thought (what’s happening two passes from now)
    –speed of movement as a corollary of the above (where WILL that defender be, not where he is)
    –constant pressure all over the pitch (the ball is mine. It offends me when you have it)
    –constant availability for a pass (pass and move, pass and move)

    There are teams that press, there are teams that pass, there are teams that move. Rare is the team that does them all, constantly. As Henry said, he never ran as much as he did with us.

    For me, Villa puts new player performances into perfect perpective. Some of why he’s getting such a long rope is I think that people are now beginning to understand what a demanding world we create. When a player falls back on old habits, they suddenly don’t work in the system, as Villa did yesterday. He played as he did at Valencia, and was profoundly ineffective.

    I don’t think we expect much more than a couple of seasons from him, then he’ll move on to wherever he’s going to finish his career at. But he has to play a LOT better than he has been this season. It was almost like Messi attacked the net for the second goal to demonstrate to Villa how to be available for a pass into the box.

    In many ways, Messi is like our Michael Jordan, in that the best player on the club is also the most talented, and the hardest worker. He is also becoming one of the most demanding. I absolutely loved the way he got on the guys for not being in the box after that amazing run of his.

    1. I think the process of our forwards not crashing the box is a deep-seated problem and I think it stems from the pass-and-move philosophy that is stamped into the players’ psyche. Being in the box also means being unavailable to the short pass which is unavoidable if you play at Barca.
      That is why Keitee is such an important player. He is one of the few players we have who is brave enough to forgo that one limitation our players have and rush the box and that is why I believe he’s a must against Madrid.

      Also, I don’t buy the whole since Ibra left we don’t have anyone to cross to argument. Ibra was shit at heading the ball and I believe the only header he scored from was his first goal against Sporting and that was a tap in. Suer he’s strong and all but not a good header. I believe we haven’t have had a proper “English” type CF since Kluivert? Anyway I don’t think Barca has ever played that Cross-to-the-box-knockdown-score-goal-game. Its too rustic for a club like ours πŸ™‚

      In addition, a tidbit I heard during commentary yesterday; One commentator said how the players were 5″5′ etc and how they’d never have been given a second look in England. Basically they were giving some serious love to La Masia. Needless to say I swelled with pride.
      Barca- a Club for the ‘Little’ guy


    2. The reason I like fan forums is because intelligent people can criticize and congratulate player performance. Last week when I vocalized my disappointment in Villa’s general level of play, I was accused of not being a fan and I felt that maybe this forum is JUST about resounding atta-boys with little critique. I’m encouraged to see the above review about Villa because he is certainly our weakest link and although everyone loves him as a personality, (who wouldn’t, he seems like a great guy), his level of play falls short on so many levels. Again, no one is 100% good or 100% bad, so yes – Villa has his moments. But, overall it’s just not working out. Maybe he needs a season. I accept that. But, I just can’t say that he has been performing well on a consistent basis. Not even close.
      And I’m starting to see his team mates not passing to Villa inside the box because he is not exactly making himself available for a good pass. I get that Villa is no Messi, but he should be at least on Pedro’s level and Pedro has more movement off the ball making himself more available for passes. Plus, he runs back to help defend.
      I enjoyed Adriano. He defended rather well, I have little to criticize however what he offered when he went forward was a breath of fresh air. A few of his striking shots could have gone in, and our team lacks that hard shot, that element of surprise from the wings. If the GK can’t grab the ball, there’s a possibility that it falls inside the box and potential for goal. I’d like to see him get more time.

    3. Well, you’ve clearly missed a lot, just sayin’, since I was accused of hating Villa when he first arrived. πŸ˜€

      We’ve been critical of him before, but he’s also had good matches. I think that as long as we evaluate each performance, then use a compendium of said evals to come up with a reasonably fair picture of the player’s performance, it’s all good.

      The slowness of foot is what concerns me most about Villa. The rest will come. But foot speed (Alves, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro!, Krkic all have it) might be a limitation for him. What I call foot speed I’m sure others have different names for, but it’s the interval required for the player to move from receiving the pass to going on the attack. Villa’s interval there is so long that defenders and keepers have a chance to recover. This isn’t true with the rest of our attackers.

      Hopefully, there are specific drills to work on that. He also needs to work on thinking ahead. When he gets the ball, that spherical object becomes the center of his world. When the likes of Xavi and Messi get the ball, they consider moving teammates, defenders and what they’re doing, what the keeper is doing and a few other possibilities, all in a few seconds. It’s what the commentators were referencing with their constant talk about “speed of thought.”

    4. True, I had not found this forum when Villa first arrived, so I didn’t know your thoughts about him were at the time. I, on the other hand, was on the Maravilla bandwagon, happy to see the guy that scored the most goals for the NT, join Barca and work the same kind of magic. And game after game, I hope to see that guy and sometimes I see small glimpses but mostly I see a guy that is not finding his footing.
      Agree on the slowness of foot and lack of “speed of thought”. You can sense that most of the times he doesn’t have a good sense of where the “chess game” is going. Who to pass it to, how to move so that he creates space when he has/does’t have the ball. I don’t see improvement. If I sensed an actual rise in performance and a building block of improved skills overtime, I wouldn’t be as concerned. But, it’s more of a hodgepodge kinda good game, kinda bad game. No consistency. I’m afraid he will never be a Xavi, Messi, Iniesta – what they do out there that looks easy and casual is very complicated and I expect that only from a very small handful of players. Like you said, maybe there are drills he can work on.
      Something else of note is that in the beginning he used to hit the post a lot and people (like me) said that was a good sign and sooner or later he would refine his precision and get them in. He did in fact improve, and was able to put a few away for a while and now he’s not getting them in or hitting the post. It’s as if he’s looking for ways to change up his game, his style of play to make things work like they’ve worked in the past. He doesn’t appear relaxed, “in the zone” if you know what I mean. Like, it’s actually hard work for him to get anything done. I feel for him….

    5. Unfortunately, no. Just looked for it, but someone might put it up a bit later. It’s also the first instance where I’ve started to think (and probably Guardiola too) that Messi is showing a Captain’s qualities. Usually he plays, kicks butt, takes names and doesn’t say a whole lot. Those words to his teammates tell me that he is now feeling proprietary about this club, that Puyol is still the captain, but he also has something to say about how it’s run. Very nice.

    6. Ah okay — thanks for looking. I think I’ll download the first half. Stupid datacaps, have to be selective about what I can download. Re: Messi I think his play has changed a lot. From what I’ve seen (which admittedly isn’t a whole lot), he was a lot more of a ‘hot shot’ before. Trying to outdribble entire defence lines and walk the ball into the net himself, whereas now he’s passing, tracking back, even helping with defence. He’s become more versatile as well — how many forwards play as a false striker, winger, and a midfield well? Part of what makes him so special.

  16. From barcastuff:
    Maduro (Valencia): “At a club like Madrid it’s more about who you are. At BarΓ§a it’s about what you can.”

    Attaboy Hedwiges (props on the first name btw)

    1. You can download the full game at rojadirecta. You will need WinRAR or similar program to unzip the files, or there are torrent versions available too. Just check the “Download full matches” thread.

  17. I’m thankful to be able to watch football taken to new heights…and thankful for a forum in which the many of us spread across different time zones, ages and professions can share our impressions of this truly amazing team. Last night’s game was a master class.

    1. Wouldn’t say it was a master class bud. The first half of the first leg at the game of the emirates, now THAT was masterclass.

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