Barca 2, Rubin Kazan 0, aka “Finally, the Russian bear is tamed”

So, this picture looks just like all of the other pictures, except that it isn’t like all of the other pictures, though it certainly might be 5 years from now. This match was a glimpse of the future, courtesy of a first team that took care of business to a degree that rendered this final Champions League group stage match against Rubin Kazan meaningless.

But still meaningful, which was pretty cool.

This was, frankly, one of the weirdest matches I have seen in a while. Rubin Kazan rolled into our house with a recent history of a win and two stalwart draws against us. The side should have been brimming with confidence. They also had to win, and hope that Copenhagen lost its match against group whipping boys Panathinaikos.

So I’m sure that someone can explain to me why they came out and played turtle, sticking their neck out only when a crystal-clear counterattacking opportunity presented itself, which wasn’t often. It was almost as if they saw the shirts, instead of the bench-emptying lineup of Pinto, Pique, Fontas, Adriano, Maxwell, Mascherano, Busquets, Dos Santos, Thiago, Jeffren, Krkic, and played to not get killed. Or maybe they didn’t want to vex Guardiola to a degree sufficient that he would insert Messi and Iniesta. Whatever. They were defensive and about as passive as I have witnessed, for a side that had to win.

We just stroked the ball around, and looked at glimpses of the future, one that looked simultaneously bright as day and somewhat uncertain. For although players are still developing, we could see a lot, such as we’re going to be buying strikers for a while yet, folks. But with the money that we will have saved on midfielders and defenders, we should have one hell of a transfer kitty.

We also saw a bit of why Jonathan Dos Santos has been passed by Thiago on the “Young’un Most Likely To” list.

And man, did we see the next Pique!

But we had a match to play, one in which we at times looked sloppy and disjointed, exactly like what we were: first-team subs and B-teamers, cobbled together by a coach who would have liked to win the match, but not enough to really play the real guys, because they have important work coming up. Long balls were flying hither and yon, establishing the value of tika taka in a very visual way.

Then still other times, a sequence of one-touch football would happen in which the Bs and the Subs combined to look just like the first team …. almost. The difference, really, was mostly two-touch football instead of one-touch. When the ball did move quickly in true one-touch fashion, we were in, only to find that we really didn’t have a striker, even when Krkic was on the pitch. We did put men in the box, but they were sort of like nudists at a fashion show. “Um, okay. But now what?”

Helping our cause immensely was the fact that Rubin Kazan was, frankly, chicken. I know that a coach plays the match that he thinks his side needs to play, but at least try to play to win. Possession stats were absurd, in the high 70s for us. And you just can’t give a team the ball for that long, and not expect it to score.

And so it did, in a goal that wasn’t coming, really, a goal that was was lovely and ugly, an unusual goal that saw Thiago in the box to slide a ball to Fontas, who smashed a shot that even a defender’s hand couldn’t keep from nestling into the goal, so clear was his shooting lane. It was 1-0, and the Bs were celebrating as if they’d won the whole Champions League their own selves. Which was fine, their undiluted joy at having scored against a side that looked about as likely to score as I am to be borne upon a bier by 8 supermodels, and walked into a room filled with cash. So that was the match, really.

We notched a second goal off a lovely feed to Victor Vazquez, who had acres of space in which to compose and finish and did so, smoking a shot past the keeper, a shot that had me noting in the LiveBlog (much thanks for the last-minute step up, Vicsoc!) that you didn’t have to hit it right at the keeper, like our current first-team striker has done in similar situations. And it was 2-0, done and done and done.

And finally, we beat ’em, but not without some pain. Jeffren, Final Fantasy himself, wouldn’t have any luck at all were it not for bad luck. He gets injured, then returns to the side in time to cop a late, but important goal in El Clasic, the tally that enabled the full-on manita, then in his second match back he is injured again. One or two weeks for him, a player who looked devastated coming off the pitch, for good reason. Dude can’t catch a break.

Krkic, on the other hand, almost did indeed catch a break but not of the good kind, when he got a face full of Rubin Russian hip. The worst of the damage might have been a bloody nose. For that we can be thankful, since Krkic is half of our striker force.

And that’s that. We finished the group stages undefeated, in form and ready for the knockout stages when, as they say, it’s for all the marbles.

Team: 6. It was an uneven display to be sure, against a side that found its way into our end on a few occasions, and even looked semi-dangerous a couple of times. We played like strangers and the closest friends. The long ball stuff has to stop, and it will.

Guardiola: 8. Hats off for the lineup, for resting key players and substituting with farm boys, until Messi. I still don’t understand why Messi had to play this match, a meaningless encounter against an increasingly desperate team. It vexeth me so.

Pinto: 7. I liked his play, even as it was very clear why he isn’t our first-choice keeper. He commands the box well and, while not as quick or reactive to danger as Valdes, is a fine sweeper keeper in the Barca tradition.

Pique: 7. Very solid, and the Piquenbauer stints were becoming increasingly necessary, as we had nobody to really attack the opponents’ goal. OUr Captain for a Day had moments of quality that made it clear the difference between first and B team.

Fontas: 9. He was our best defender, a combination of size, silky smoothness and Piquenbauer-like abilities, but with more pace. He even looked like Pique on the shot for the goal. His care of the ball moving forward was flawless, except for a couple of times where he was caught in possession. He was also the fireman, sliding over to extinguish the rare instances of danger. He has, in my opinion (and judging from the evidence) vaulted the other defenders, including Muniesa, into the “most likely to be promoted” spot. This is the second time he’s featured this season, and he was even better than the first time, again, helped by Rubin’s passivity. But the skills were apparent. A keeper who should be first team next season.

Adriano: 8. An excellent match from Dani Alves Lite, who marauded up and down the wing, stealing balls, laying off passes and being a general thorn in the side of our opponents who never really tested his defensive skills.

Maxwell: 5. Mostly anonymous, and kind of clunky when he wasn’t, seemingly demonstrating rust from Abidal’s return to first-choice left back. The midfield role doesn’t suit him as well as it should.

Mascherano: 7. Again, very solid. A few people during the LiveBlog were commenting on his consistently missing passes, something that I just didn’t see happening. He was smart with the ball, and made life difficult for any opposing attacker that came near him. And he was everywhere on the pitch, even showing up in their box.

Busquets: 8. You have to really watch to see how good he was, but in shot after shot this No. 16 comes flitting in to do something cool, then slides out of the picture again. From passing and defense to ball control, Busquets was on today except for a couple of Bad Busi! moments.

Dos Santos: 5. I wasn’t a big fan of his performance today. He was invisible mostly, and didn’t seem to know what to do with the ball when he got it, losing it on more than one occasion. The side worked better when he exited, only in part because the player replacing him was one Lionel Messi. His role seemed to be part playmaker part DM, but we had a guy named Busquets already performing that role, so now what? That uncertainty seemed to permeate Dos Santos’ play. Of the Bs out there, he looked the youngest, not visually but in quality of play. Looks like he needs more time in the oven.

Thiago: 5. Again, some good and some bad, in equal portions. He’s way too casual with the ball, with long passes that hardly ever found their target, hospital balls and mishit passes. Then he would enjoy a run of wonderful play that makes the reasons for his promotion apparent. Definitely the next Iniesta rather than Xavi, however, as he roams far and wide to work his magic. He’s a keeper, for sure, even as you can see the lack of maturity in his game. I don’t think it’s anything that real exposure to the first team can’t cure, though. The talent is there, and if the rumors of his January promotion are true, it’s welcome news.

Jeffren: incomplete. FF showed flashes out there, and is moving less like the driverless Ferrari that he used to seem like. He needs some luck.

Krkic: 3. He looked like a B teamer today, folks, after a run of excellent showings with the first team. He was almost completely anonymous, until he got the ball, fell down and lost it. Hopefully this won’t damage his fragile confidence. He was in a tough spot today as the 9 against a big, physical, resolute and organized side determined to play defense. Better, more experienced players than he have fallen prey to the very same thing.

Substitutes

Vazquez (for Jeffren): 6. I really liked his match today. I don’t know that ultimately, he has the quality to break into the first team except as a squad player, but his movement and passing skills were on fine display, as was the fact that he is really green. His goal was exceptionally well-taken. B teamers always look surprised when they see that shooting, passing and scoring are the same, no matter the opponent. The way his face lit up was a riot. It remains to be seen what his future holds, but I don’t really see him as a first team player in the future.

Bartra (for Krkic): 6. Nice work in his hybrid role, and excellent movement. Strong pace and good instincts should see him getting more and more first team looks next year. He won’t be promoted, nor should he be, but he’s definitely a keeper. His future is bright.

Messi (for Dos Santos): 7. You could see him taking the match off and just leaving the motor purring rather than running, but even with that, the side’s performance stepped up a notch when he entered. And that mazy, crazy run of his, even though it resulted in nothing more than a blocked shot, was a delight. I’m not usually a fan of his solo runs, but that one had such danger and intent written all over it. It wasn’t running directly into a nest of defenders, but rather taking on a bevy of them and leaving them all in his serpentine wake. That run deserved a goal, but there was one defender too many.

This is also Guardiola’s best group stage record, in a win that dispatched a demon in Rubin Kazan. It was also a match that gave us the opportunity to examine from key future first teamers in depth in real match conditions for extended periods, rather than a sub that comes on in the last 5 minutes of a decided match. And I liked what I saw, particularly from Fontas who, with every appearance, makes the sale of Txigrinski seem less crazy, tactically (not fiscally).

And that’s all I got, folks, except does anyone see anything Yayaesque in this Fontas shot? Just asking.


Pere Punti/El Mundo Deportivo

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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.

159 Comments

  1. ooga aga
    December 8, 2010

    A: 1. Spurs 2. Inter
    B. 1. Schalke 2. Lyon
    C. 1. Man U 2. Valencia
    D. 1. Barca 2. FCK
    E. 1. Bayern 2. Roma
    F. 1. Chelsea 2. Marseille
    G. 1. Real 2. AC Milan
    H. 1. Shaktar 2. Arsenal

    arsenal will play Barca, Real Madrid, Bayern, or Schalke

    so does that mean we have a 1/6 chance of playing Arsenal, or 1/4? πŸ™‚

    • mei
      December 8, 2010

      Clubs from hte same country cant face each other in the next round too?

      • ooga aga
        December 8, 2010

        no they cant

    • mei
      December 8, 2010

      Arsenal has 1/4 chance before any draw is made to face us.
      We have 1/6 chance to face arsenal πŸ˜‰

      • ooga aga
        December 8, 2010

        i suppose it depends on how the draw is conducted whether it is a 1/6 or 1/4 chance that barca plays arsenal. we need to wait 9 days. and then, 2 months. Gah!

      • mei
        December 8, 2010

        well thats true.
        It cant be really described with a number attributed to a probability since for example if EE schalke and bayern sequently come up in the first three picks, arsenal will be necessarily drawn with barcelona.

  2. ooga aga
    December 8, 2010

    segundo table

    1 Betis = 10-3-2 = 33
    2 Rayo Vallecano = 9-3-3 = 30
    3 Celta = 8-5-2 = 29
    4 FC Barcelona B = 7-4-4 = 25
    5 Salamanca = 7-3-5 = 24
    6 Valladolid = 6-4-5 = 22
    6 FC Cartagena = 6-4-5 = 22

    • Kari
      December 8, 2010

      Solid 4th. Booya!

  3. Nick
    December 8, 2010

    Busi had many more bad moments than just “a couple”, so I’d say that 8 is generous.

  4. December 8, 2010

    Real Madrid – Inter/Lyon
    Barcelona – Arsenal/Ac Milan

    • Kari
      December 8, 2010

      Team you want us and EE to face I presume. I like the Lyon choice πŸ˜‰

      • December 8, 2010

        Such games create a good story board before the game. RM Vs ex mou or the curse
        Barcelona Vs Ibra team or hm…why did I pick Arsenal? No idea…Shesh!

      • Josep
        December 8, 2010

        the curse?

      • December 8, 2010

        Lyon. RM curse in the CL.

    • jordi(TM)
      December 8, 2010

      I wouldnt be surprised.Uefa likes a story so Mourinho will get “his” inter, and for the events of the summer with cesc and ibra we’ll get the gunners o milan.

      • December 8, 2010

        I don’t care who we get. We’re the best club football side in the world right now. Whoever comes, dies.

      • Hilal
        December 8, 2010

        My thoughts exactly. None of those teams worry me. The away game might be a little tricky, but at home we demolish any of those teams. In fact the only team in the CL right now who worry me are Chelsea. Even though their form is abismal right now, on their day they have the players and the set up to be a concern. Barring injuries/bad luck I dont see any other team beating us over two legs.

      • soccermomof4
        December 8, 2010

        Bring it!

  5. beeeef
    December 8, 2010

    *http://plixi.com/p/35615483

    saw this @ theoffside barca page.

    • Kari
      December 8, 2010

      As expected from my favourite player.

    • Josep
      December 8, 2010

      Touching story I read it earlier. Its not just him but his whole family. The one quality of Leo’s no one can deny is he’s an absolute gem of a character. You have to love the guy.

  6. mei
    December 8, 2010

    barcastuf reports that nolito intends to stay!
    Thats another win for this great team.
    The status it has achieved self motivates almost every member of this club to stay , fight and take their chances even if they are seemingly out of the picture.

    • December 8, 2010

      Hleb intended to stay, as well. For the record.

      • mei
        December 8, 2010

        hleb was an outcast and a has been .
        Big paycheck and minor interest from clubs.
        I think that nolito is quite the opposite.

      • Josep
        December 8, 2010

        Only in the paycheck department. He’s looked at by Benfica as the largest club, not that they’re anything to scoff out. It’s all just rumors thus far.

      • Jnice
        December 8, 2010

        Think Nolito will ultimately do what is best for him and his family. To me, that means going to Benfica or wherever to play first division football and get paid a bigger paycheck. Good on him if he leaves.

  7. Euler
    December 8, 2010

    Looking at the potential opponents for the CL – many of them have real problems along the back line.

    The three Serie A teams in particular have no pace whatsoever on the back line (and don’t have much pace across the pitch).

    Arsenal has been very porous along the back line as well for the usual assorted reasons – at CB as well.

    Lyon and Marseille have been inconsistent for much of the season in Ligue 1.

    In short, this is a promising group for this Barca team to have to draw from! Many of the potential opponents are going to have a great deal of trouble defending Barca.

    They are also going to have trouble with Barca’s pressing.

    • mei
      December 8, 2010

      so in short , they have problems all the way and you did not even mention the biggest issue : they will barely touch the ball πŸ˜›
      But , two months is a long time.

    • Josep
      December 8, 2010

      As far as I’m concerned the teams who finished second in group isn’t a surprise. Maybe Arsenal I guess.

      But whoever we get matched up with we should have no problem with. I’d like Inter, I’d like Arsenal, but I’d really just like to win. I don’t care about grudges, rematches, vendettas, I care about W-W. We always struggle in the first leg when its away from home.

      Whoever it is we must crush!

  8. Kari
    December 8, 2010

    Darn it! I’m so excited to see who we draw now, but it won’t be until next week.

    WHY THE HELL ARE THE EUROPA LEAGUE AND CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAWS HELD AT THE SAME TIME?!

    Sorry for that folks; I really needed to get that off my chest.

    -In other news, Pique got a twitter account (Am I the only one who doesn’t have this thing?). It looks like we’ll be using Twitter as a new “tapping up” maneuver. The Pique-Pique-Iniesta Beast-Beast-Maestro Dream Team. Too bad Xavi doesn’t have it.

    • Jnice
      December 8, 2010

      Get a twitter, Kari! I’ll be your first follower!

      • Josep
        December 8, 2010

        I’ll be the second!

        Who else here has a twitter you should list your account.
        Mine is @Jawsytown
        I swear sometimes tho. And tweet about american sports and stupid things tho so if you don’t want to add me thats cool πŸ˜€

      • Kari
        December 8, 2010

        I feel so loved *sheds solitary tear*

        If I ever get it, I’ll definately add you guys! Okay, maybe not Josep πŸ˜€

      • December 8, 2010

        I am @footballmood but you can call it soccermood if you are an American football fan πŸ˜€

    • Kari
      December 8, 2010

      By the way, that should have read: The Pique-Puyol-Iniesta Beast-Beast-Maestro Dream Team

  9. ElJefe
    December 8, 2010

    Visca Barca!! Thinking ahead to the draw, things are not as great as I’d hope. We have a 50-50 chance of a serious challenge in 1st round of knockout. 3 teams to miss are Inter, Arsenal, and AC Milan (Ibrahimovich or Eto’o, just like old times. 3 teams we’d prefer are Lyon, Marseille, or Roma. Valencia and Cophenhagen are ruled out due to association and Round Robin matchup.

    What would have been more ideal is if AC Milan & Arsenal won their group like they should have, and Real in 2nd which means we they would have been eliminated from our challengers as well, that would have left:

    Lyon, Marseille, Shaktar, Roma, and Inter.

    If Inter had a decent couch and won their group, that would have left

    Hotspur, Lyon, Marseille, Shaktar, and Roma – which would have been a dream.

    We’ll handle whoever we draw…but the draw on the 17th will be a dramatic one.

    • Kari
      December 8, 2010

      Ha! All the teams you want to avoid, I want to get.

      I don’t want another French team.

  10. Kari
    December 8, 2010

    With 27.871%, Arsenal is statistically the most likely opponent for Barcelona in the 1/8 finals of the CL [barcastuff]

    Heck. yeah.

  11. ElJeme
    December 8, 2010

    los atropellaremos

    • Jose
      December 8, 2010

      vroom vroom

  12. Diego S.
    December 8, 2010

    From Barcastuff :

    “Since Diego S. changed his avatar, Only Barcelona B players scored goals for Barcelona” .. Not really from Barcastuff if you’re wondering.

    I hope we get Lyon or Marseille, We go through Our Funk in Feb, To give a chance for Afellay to be tested, I don’t care who we face, but Most of the teams we might face we’ll have A GUY! “That guy who was a Cantera, that Guy pep had a feeling about, That guy who is a friend to Maxwell”.

    • Kari
      December 8, 2010

      True about The February Funk, but we’ve always been pretty crappy in the away legs in the Cl anyway. And our second leg is in March at home, where I’m pretty confident we can murder anyone if we don’t have an off day.

  13. soccermomof4
    December 8, 2010

    I hope we don’t get Arsenal so early. I like Arsenal (I know—now you all hate me)

    But if we do, like last year I will be cheering my fool head off for Barca hoping we make complete fools out of my second favorite team!

    • Kari
      December 8, 2010

      I always had disliked/had a negative view of the EPL, probably because my siblings used to be Juve fans in the 90s and constantly belittled anything English, but Arsenal are actually the I follow in the EPL (i.e. team I prefer to win the win). Barca were always my team though (I constantly thank one Leo Messi for bringing me to this team)

      Since the football people here in Canada are exposed to is the EPL, I saw them in ’06-’07 and liked, coincidentally, the way Fabregas played and the style of the team (“Nothing like the rugby, route one football I see when other teams play!”). So, on Soccer Saturdays , Arsenal was the only team I watched.

      However, because of the past summer, I’d say I’ve become quite apathetic towards them (That may or may not be an understatement. This just in: it is). If they win, meh, that’s okay, I guess (although in some cases, I’d secretly want the other team to snatch a point or score a goal). If they lose… Let’s just say I won’t be upset.

      Bitterness? Yeah, you could say that. One day I’ll probably warm up to them again.

      • Kari
        December 8, 2010

        that’s : team I follow and win the title

      • Ryan
        December 8, 2010

        I kinda like “win the the win” more.

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