Levante In One Short Act

Happy New Year from BFB to you and yours. It’s 1-1-11 and you know what that means! It means, uh, um, er, well, I don’t know. I guess it means we’re starting a new calendar year and by the time we get back to this point on our constant journey around the sun, things will once again seem totally different. It’s been an eventful year and I expect nothing less from this one. Please see our poll! DO IT!

And it gets started quickly, with a January 2 date with Levante, who come waltzing into town on the back of being demolished by Real Madrid to the tune of 8-0. And speaking of demolished…

Scene: A field outside of Barcelona. Men stand around in a group, stretching.

Gerard Pique: Sheshush Chrisht.

Bojan Krkic: What’s wrong with you, Gerard? Are you sick?

Carles Puyol: Shick of being show bad at keeping up wish me.

Pique: Shounded like a goosh idea a sheh time… [rubs his stomach then head]

Puyol: Shot for shot wish sheh Pushi? Happy New Shear, Sherard’s toilet.

Bojan: Eeeewwww.

Pedro: Good thing you’re already suspended for the game tomorrow.

Pique: I am?

Gabi Milito: How come I didn’t get an invite to these festivities?

Puyol: We dransh liquor, nosh blood.

Milito: Oh, okay.

Bojan: Who’s going to start for them? We’re doomed!

Mascherano: I’ll play linebacker!

Pedro: What?

Marc Bartra: Hey everyone, I’m going to be in the squad this weekend!

Pique: Yoush better not shcrew up!

Puyol: Happy New Year! Drinks on Gerard!

Pique: Wait…wut?

Puyol: Awoooooooo! [he and Pique run off foaming at the mouth]


And that’s how the training went this morning for FCB. The rest of the world was too hung over to really notice what was going on and, truth be told, it’s College Football New Years Day and there’s not much I can do about it. Oklahoma is on, after all, in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and I cannot be expected to pay attention to other things.

Levante is fairly terrible, but we can’t take them lightly. Bartra and Abidal are expected to start together and that should be enough to get us through as Levante doesn’t have an offense to speak of. Apologies for how short this is, but much more this coming week as I’ll be back in the swing of things and will have more time. Holidays are so harsh, you know?

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


  1. Have no fear Villa will get on the scoresheet. Or Pedro! will get his hattrick.

    Don’t underestimate us, Levante! It’s not 07/08 anymore–we can hold onto a lead now! 😀

  2. Thiago has immense potential to help Barca “break buses.”

    His touch and control in confined spaces is brilliant.

  3. Well that was exciting. Unnecessarily so, (*glaring at you Dani and VIlla*) but exciting nonetheless.

    1. “It’s an honour to wear this shirt and I hope to wear it for many more years. Visca el Barça! Visca Catalunya!”

      via barcastuff

    1. He made two assists, almost scores a goal and… besides the mistake… had an overall great game.

    2. He made two assists, yes, but he squandered several chances in front of an open net and made some very strange passing choices. He wasn’t terrible, but in no way was he the best player on the pitch.

      I would say Pedro for sure, or even Thiago since the whole team seemed to perform better when he came on.

    3. Alves was solid, but he ruined it for me with his decision making in the end. Even that pass to Pedro for the 1st goal was stupid.

      I’ll go with Pedro as MOTM.

  4. Thiago was definitely on fire in this game. I hope we see him on the field with Xavi more often.

    Pedro!! is made of win.

    And I swear Dani Alves is going to kill me one of these days.

    1. If I knew where Dani and Villa lived, I would be waiting for them right now. Weapon in hand.

  5. Barcastuff: Calm start of the year.

    CALM. Yeah, that was calm alright. I was on the edge of my seat in the last few minutes.

    Dani, you did not do good things for my heart today.
    PEDRO!!!!!! is a savior.
    Give Thiago the contract please.
    And Xavi’s a legend!

  6. Feel so relieved about the win. The last 10-20 minutes were too exciting for my comfort. I can understand it being after break but am happy that we played levante and not one of the big guns.

    Pedro was the man today. He is proving at each match day what a good player he is. He has become one of the deadliest strikers in world.

    Thiago was impressive as well. Alves was literally everywhere from sublime to ridiculous.

    For my money, against teams like levante we need better wingplay and today we missed a good left wing.

    1. Once Thiago came on, Villa was able to move out to the wings more, and that made a lot of difference to his play (much better than in the first half).

      It will be interesting to see whether Afellay will make it easier to play against this kind of team.

    2. I think they did okay, regarding the situation: our two CBs out, Messi not there and the trashing Levante got before the break, and so the players thought they could do in second gear. Normaly I am never afraid if we play the big teams because I know everybody will be focused 100% and start in first gear (like against Villareal, Espanyol, the EE,)I am worried about the Hercules, Mallorcas, Rubins and Levantes of this world, when they think they can do by 80%.

  7. Guardiola: “Seeing how obsessed he is: if his tendons hold on, Xavi can play another 500 games for Barcelona.”


    —Pedro! is man of the match for me. We probably wouldn’t have won the game without Alves, but I’m still pissed at him for taking a billion years in the box.

  8. There’s going to be matches in the long season where you just have to be happy to take the full points and move on to the next match. This was one of them.

    Very disjointed match. The team looked much better the second half in attack.

    Taking Mascherano out of the match was a major risk and I don’t think that was the right substitution.

    It left Barca without a true holding player. And the lack of a true holding player was a major reason for the Levante goal.

    It was a great strike but the reason for the goal was that Levante found space between backline and midfield – exactly where the holding player is supposed to be.

    Xavi was playing too far up the pitch. Keita wasn’t back either. Busquets got caught out of position when he tried to step up into space and that let the ball through to Stuani who was left 1 vs. 1 against Milito. And Milito, understandably, looked largely off form today.

    Thiago was needed in this match. But not at Mascherano’s expense. The proper move would have been to take Bojan off (who had a very poor match) and sub Thiago in and move Iniesta to the wing.

    Instead Pep used two moves to do something similar (Thiago-Masch and Keita-Bojan). But in the end this left them worse off defensively as Keita is not a true holding player and did not play like one this match either.

    1. i’d have to disagree. i think we could chalk up their goal to any one of a number of factors: a fresh Levante player playing differently from his predecessor, a fresh Barca defender who in combination with the previous point wasn’t sure who to pick up, a perfect ball over the top or a one-in-a-hundred volleyed finish. probably all those things together. but i think it’s bordering credulity to say that Mascherano would certainly have been positioned to, and indeed intercepted, the ball that led to Levante’s goal.

      Thiago, Mascherano’s replacement, certainly provided more than Mascherano himself had up to that point; so in that very basic sense the sub was a good one. Pep choosing an positive option over a defensive one after the first goal, in order to force Levante open even further and keep them pegged back, both permitted our 2nd goal (along with a host of chances) and left Levante with far fewer chances than they’d had in the first half. that they ended up putting one of those, off a sublime ball, into the back of our net with a volley almost seems irrelevant.

    2. Agreed. Bottom line was we had two defenders there, neither of whom was marking the man. Masch wouldn’t have been in between them. It was reminiscent of Jorda’s diving header – two defenders but neither taking responsibility. Not getting at either, just saying that’s the difference between players used to that position and fill ins.

    3. I wasn’t trying to suggest that if Mascherano were playing that the goal would definitely not have been allowed. There’s obviously no way to know that.

      And as with any goal allowed, there are always a myriad of factors for why it happens. The finish was obviously outstanding.

      But the goal’s origin tactically was due to Levante finding a large gap in space between the Barca lines. Stuani was initially closed down by the Busi and Milito. The reason why Levante were able to maintain possession subsequently was due to Valdo being unmarked in the gap in space between the barca mids and the backline.

      An unmarked Valdo in that gap in space allowed Stuani an easy outlet for the ball as Busi and Milito closed him down. Initially the CB did what they are supposed to. In general you want to have the two CB double the opposition’s most advanced player – especially when he has the ball. Busi and Milito did that OK (not great but adequately – they forced Stuani to play the ball backwards, away from goal).

      And one of the reasons why Valdo found space between the lines to provide that outlet was due to the fact that there was no midfielder for Barca playing deep between the lines. That’s the job of the holding player. So while there’s no guarantee Masch would have been there to close down Valdo or to intercept the back pass from Stuani to Valdo, there’s a fair probability that he would have. That’s exactly what the holding player is supposed to do and Masch does that job at an elite level.

      Go back and look at the replay. As Valdo receives the ball to feet unmarked both Xavi and Keita are running back frantically to try to defend. Neither was in the traditional deeper holding position to start with. I think it’s much more likely that Masch would have been.

      When Valdo receives the ball unmmarked Busi is then forced to try to step up into that open space to try to close him down. That leaves Stuani on the inside of Milito, open for a diagonal ball through. Providing that diagonal through ball wasn’t very difficult for Valdo because he had time and space on the ball and Busquets was forced out of position when he stepped up.

      And outside of that specific moment, in general, when you are playing without your first two starting CB, the holding player becomes particularly critical. Neither Busi nor Milito played that goal well. But that’s not surprising and not unexpected. In general you want to provide them support by having a strong holding player shield in front of them. Neither Keita nor Xavi are that player. That left Busi and Milito more exposed than they otherwise would have been.

      The Barca attack was broken in the first half and needed to be fixed. But the attack wasn’t primarily broken because of the way Mascherano played or because the team was too defensively oriented. The major problem with the attack in the first half was that Bojan was terrible and added very little.

      Taking Mascherano off weakens the defense while at the same time doesn’t directly address the issue of Bojan not being effective,IMO. Taking off a defensively oriented player for another attacker doesn’t directly fix the problem of one of the attackers being ineffective.

    4. i can’t argue with either of the claims that a pivotal part of a DM’s job is to patrol and stifle the opposition between the bands of midfield and defense, or that Mascherano himself does this superbly. i’d probably even agree that he might have even gotten to Valdo before he had time to play that sort of ball.

      but your original claim was that the sub of Mascherano for Thiago wasn’t the right one. i’d simply argue in good faith that Thiago’s positivity, and hand in the 2nd goal as well as providing chances for at least a couple of others did more to pin Levante back *defensively* than Mascherano had been doing up to that point. for the sake of argument let’s say Mascherano gets to Valdo and nicks the ball off of him: then he hands it off to Xavi and we go back to doing what we were doing with limited results before. it’s difficult in this case to argue with success in the context of the whole game: Thiago came on, we looked more positive, got the 2nd goal that put us out of reach and eventually collected our 3 points.

      put as succinctly as possible: i think Thiago added more to the side, in balance of offense to defense, than Mascherano did in balance of defense to offense.

    5. “did more to pin Levante back *defensively* than Mascherano had been doing up to that point.”

      That is correct. By creating more chances (creative passing) for his teammates and being positionally aware for our trademarked pressing in the opponents half, he did help limit Levante’s offensive threat. It is just that he had not done in a traditional defensive sense.

      Now, why Keita (or whoever assumed the responsibility when Mascherano left, mid-filder and/or cb) was “not around” when the ball was being passed to Stuani, remains to be determined. Is it a blown assignment and was Pep wrong to trust Keita to be up-to-the-task considering that he played a similar role for Sevilla?

  9. Thiago: “Happy with the game, not that much with the result.” [barcastuff]

    LOL Thiago. I seriously love this guy. So freakin’ confident 😛

  10. “Which player of the team is capable of coming to the stadium with shoes like this*????”


    Do I want to know, Pique?

  11. Why do you think, at the end of the game, that VV was punting it up field like some EPL keeper? We lost the ball several times that way; it was annoying.

  12. Guardiola: “Bojan has still a big margin to grow. Now it’s up to him to fight for his spot. He has the talent for it. [barcastuff]


    1. Some tough love for Bojan from Pep. It’s certainly necessary, as Bojan really does need to figure out whatever is blocking his progress and just ge of the and play well.

    2. At least, Bojan played his part in the 2-0, it was a neat little turn, a perfect pass to Dani Alves and he still created space for Pedro by continuing his run and occupying two defenders. Surely, Dani Alves’ pass was great and perfectly weighted, but it was mainly Bojan who created the to pass into.

      I don’t want to say that Bojan had an average match, but he was crucial for the 2nd goal which gave us the 3 points in the end.

    3. Agree the tough love is necessary.

      Pep really is supportive of Bojan, but Bojan has to know he isn’t doing enough at the moment.

      And please, can he stay on his feet during a match for once?!

    4. Yeah, his constant calling for penalties is getting embarrassing. Take a page out of Messi’s book and stay up, OK, Bobo?

  13. Regardless of the goal conceded, Pep should have subbed Thiago for Bojan and kept Mascherano. Taking Mascherano out for Thiago might sound an offense move, but then Keta was used in Bojans place (equivalent defensive move) and he had to do the job that Mascherano does (and was doing) much better.

    Pep feel guilt to sub Bojan. He tried his best to avoid it. But when he noticed the bad impact of Masche sub he tried to correct it. It shouldnt have happened in the first place, as it was obviously unpractical.

    1. Completely agree and just posted something along these lines in follow up to my original comment made earlier this thread.

      Pep really tries to be supportive of Bojan. And that’s understandable given how young Bojan is. He tries to provide him with playing time and experience and to boost his confidence whenever possible.

      But today that goal of being supportive of Bojan conflicted with Barca’s need to win the match. Pep tried as hard as possible to stick with Bojan, but in trying to do so only wound up weakening Barca’s defense in midfield while still needing to take Bojan off the pitch later on.

      That sequence of substitutions was not ideal.

      So far this season Bojan is not delivering on Pep’s faith in him. Hopefully that will change. But Pep’s comments after the match on Bojan needing to get better were telling. He rarely if ever says things like that, especially right after a match.

    2. “Taking Mascherano out for Thiago might sound an offense move, but then Keta was used in Bojans place”

      then this: “But when he noticed the bad impact of Masche sub he tried to correct it.”

      Let’s look at the timeline for a second.
      47′ Goal! Barcelona 1, Levante 0
      49′ Substitution, Barcelona. Thiago midfielder replaces Javier Mascherano.
      59′ Goal! Barcelona 2, Levante 0. Pedro Rodri­guez (Barcelona)
      65′ Substitution, Barcelona. Seydou Keita midfielder replaces Bojan.
      (a 15′ gap)
      80′ Goal! Barcelona 2, Levante 1. Stuani (Levante)

      Now, what exactly is this (obvious) “bad impact of Masche sub” you were talking about (team scored another goal less than 10 minutes afterward while keeping Levante’s offensive threat under check)?

      Could it be just as simple as that Pep opted to be proactive and go for the second goal to “kill the game off” instead of protecting an one goal lead?

    3. The answer is simple: I was not counting the goals. I was watching the match. Or else, based on the logic of your comment:

      – We scored one goal while Mascherano is playing. We didnt concede.
      – We scored one goal after the substitutions (with thiago playing almost the same amount of time), but we also conceded one. Noting that the opponent obviously had a mental breakdown after conceding the first which we can assume made their resistance decline.

      We conclude that the subs didnt add to offense and weakened defense. But Obviously, this is not how things work. Right? Right.

      Maybe, If Thiago would have taken Bojan’s place, Iniesta, Thiago and relatievely Xavi would have played more advance. The fullbacks would have been released to stretch the field (Which the team lacked) while the trio of Mascherano,Abidal,Busquets closing defense, maybe the team would have scored more, and kept a clean sheet. We will never know, but we know that the subs didnt make things better anyway.

      And that’s not a hindsight argument. I pointed that out on twitter directly after the first half.

    4. And BTW, this is not how Pep roll.I cant recall many times where he took a conservative approach after scoring twice. But if that’s the case, then He should have put Milito in -instead of Bojan- and moved Busquets forward to the Holding midfielder position, rather than using Keita there. So no matter how we look at it, Pep wasnt at his best tonight.

      Watch the match again, and you will see how far the lines were unstable in the second half;)

    5. “I cant recall many times where he took a conservative approach after scoring twice”

      Could it be that after the games like at Sevilla last year (3-0, 3-2) and after allowing Inter to score no less than 3 (0-1, 3-1), Pep decided to maybe try something else from time to time?

      Although, this game haven’t had that much at stake, it rivals the aforementioned two in a way that the team was “out of sync” (after a week off, something that has been proven to be a plague to this team in previous years) kind like the game in Milan when they had to travel by bus after the beating they suffered at Espanyol.

      (talking about the “unstable” lines) Who is to assign the blame to either manager or players? Could it be that Pep prepared them for the task and the player(s) himself just didn’t deliver?

    6. “We conclude that the subs didnt add to offense and weakened defense. But Obviously, this is not how things work. Right? Right.”

      I don’t think you understand what was I arguing about. The point was about the statement you had made earlier: “But when he noticed the bad impact of Masche sub he tried to correct it”

      So the focus is on the period elapsed from the time of the first sub, min 49 (thiago for mascherano) to the second one, min 65 (keita for bojan). The relevant is what happened during this period.

      I’m sure that while you were watching the game you had no problems noticing that not only our team scored, it looked more potent and Levante had not threatened us.

      Now, to try to establish the reasons (and whose fault is it, player vs manager) why the team allowed a goal and try to weigh the fact that the team, clearly, had more meaningful shots and generally looked more potent in the second half, is a separate topic.

      Hope this helps.

    7. No problem. I wasnt convinced by the sub. I thought Mascherano was doing a better job than Bojan. I do think the team didnt get better after the first sub (Thiago for Mascherano) as the fullbacks were not as commited to offense at the same time as the team needed (because one of them had to cover defensively). I do think it was better to take off Bojan and use Pedro and Villa as forwards with the support of the world coming from the flanks and center. And based on all that, even though it happened that the team scored, the substitution was wrong from my point of view.

      Levante were not Zero-threat in the first half. Everytime they put the ball on the space (the flank) They had their moments, and What I expected is that Pep will ask Mascherano to support defense. To make such a sub 4 minuted after the beginning of the second half is like shooting yourself in the leg. Did Levante threaten after the sub? Thats a hindsight argument. When Pep made the sub, he was not reasonable. Especially when you are one goal up. You wait for at least 10 minutes to see the opponent response. So unless if Mascherano had an injury or something, that was one of the weirdest subs. If he was injured, Milito would have been a more reasonable alternative (with Busquets moving forward to the holding midfielder position). Conclusion: I see no good in that sub.

      The next sub was Keita taking Bojan’s place to play Mascherano’s role. Something we wouldnt have needed if we did it right the first time. Simply put: What did Bojan do since Barcelona made the first sub? Iniesta on the flank in his place would have done more, right? You bet. So the two subs failed to meet the quality that one sub could have delivered (Bojan out, Thiago in).

      It was Levante. The players’ quality can cover tactical mistakes. Hope this helps.

  14. @Ramzi (since the reply option is not available at the previous thread)

    I guess it boils down to: “I do think the team didnt get better after the first sub”. An individual opinion about the (newly discovered) potency of our team and the level of threat Levante presented during the period between subs.

    I will watch the game again as soon as am able to do so. Maybe we should make a poll here to gauge the impression commentariat got , like the one last night 😉

    “I do think it was better to take off Bojan and use Pedro and Villa as forwards with the support of the world coming from the flanks and center”

    If I’m reading correctly, you are merely suggesting this as an option (based on your preference). Another venue Pep could have explored. You are not making a guarantee that this would have yielded better results, correct?

    Also, haven’t we tried something similar just few days ago against Bilbao? Bojan and Pedro up being supported by Iniesta (of all the people)?

    “Especially when you are one goal up. You wait for at least 10 minutes to see the opponent response.”

    Do you allow the possibility that Pep had looked at the 8-0 loss Levante suffered against Madrid, looked at the succession of goals (6′, 10′ then 69′, 72′, 74′), then “noting that the opponent obviously had a mental breakdown after conceding the first” (as you have helpfully pointed above) decided to “go for the jugular”?

    Could have he assumed (based on performance from the practice ground this past week as well catalunya game) that the team is capable of doing so with Bojan on, cb with superior passing skills (busquets vs milito) and no extreme help from the full-backs?

    Note: I have no intention of declaring that my opinion is “the only correct one”. I merely am trying to offer a different point of view.

    1. Correction: The first paragraph should also have included: “and the opportunity cost of doing nothing (leaving Mascherano on the field and the team in the same formation).

  15. Today was definitely not a game to include in the highlight reel, but considering the timing of the game and the absences in the squad, I really didn’t expect it to be. Still, it was good to see us grind out the win and grab the needed points.

    MOTM was most definitely señor P!!. His workrate is just fantastic. And I’ll have to agree with Euler and Ramzi regarding the subs. Thiago coming on was the right move; he definitely injected some life into the game. However, Thiago coming on for SMasch wasn’t (IMO). The right player came, but the wrong player went off. Still, we won the game, so eh. Good to see Gabi get some minutes.

  16. Not sure about the rights or wrongs of taking Masch off but I really can’t see Pep working out a strategy at half time then changing it a few minutes into the second half. My immediate thought was that Masch was injured but Sky said that they had been watching Thiago warming up vigorously during half time by dribbling past the coaching staff so that implies that Pep knew he was going to put him on early in the half.

    The only conclusion I can draw is that Pep felt he didn’t need a DM but wanted to give Thiago the time and the pitch on which to warm up at half time so he’d be up to speed.

    With regard to the loss of the goal I’m putting it down largely to a slice of bad luck and good play from them. Our shape is good when the ball is originally played forward. The CF isn’t going anywhere but Busi gets a foot in and it then goes straight to one of their midfielders who is following up. (Yes you could argue that our midfield should have had it covered – Keita certainly let his man run from midfield unaccompanied.) However, Mascherano would have had to be standing no more than a couple of feet away to have any chance of stopping his one touch control and pass. The guy was only on the ball for a second! The only other bit of bad defending possibly came from Milito who chose to follow Busi towards the man on the ball instead of marking his man. After that you need to accept it was a cracking finish which had to be taken first time as he wasn’t getting a second touch. Even after watching it another 6 or 7 times I’m struggling to put it in the category of a bad goal to lose or to see how team shape / substitutions caused it.

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