Athletic Bilbao 1, Barca 1, aka “Our pretty boys have become men”

This match took about four years off my life. Is anyone fully aware of the steel that this side has now? We began to see it against Copenhagen in their house, as they played what is still the most aggressive, physical, pressing match against us, and we nabbed a draw. We stared Espanyol down in their house and put five on them. And today, Bilbao in the San Mames, a place where their men become lions, able to run a little faster, press a little harder and feel less fatigue ….

and we advanced in what was a draining, positively brutal match. Bilbao came out with all guns blazing, defending in depth, giving every player who touched the ball a little extra kick or shove, rooted in the theory that the ref won’t call everything. To our credit, we didn’t whine, grumble, dive or call for cards. We just went about our business, and took care of business.

And suffice it to say, I’m pretty sure I won’t get any argument about Man of the Match this time ’round, his second in a row, Eric Abidal.

It took 130 Barcelona matches for Abidal to score his goal, and what a goal it was. Now, I don’t want this to read like an ode to our French Greyhound, and I want to say right off that he was complicit in the goal that Bilbao scored, in a lapse of concentration that could have been fatal to our chances. But the man was everywhere. The Bilbao fans even tried to take him out by hitting him in the head with a cookie, of all things, thrown from the stands. To no avail. He got up, and resumed his task of destroying every hope that Bilbao had of scoring, then topping it off by scoring himself. I’m surprised he didn’t eat the cookie.

Fast learner? For sure. Recall the awful scuffed shot against Levante just this past weekend, compared to the way that he spanked the ball in this time, taking advantage of the space created for him by Messi, a man who wasn’t going to let his club lose today. He fought the lions like a lion for the ball, won it back and slid it to Abidal, who made no mistake. Messi deserves just as much credit for that goal as Abidal. There aren’t many players around with the foot speed, control and tenacity to win that ball back, then have the presence of mind to have already surveyed the field. Don’t discount the amazing diagonal ball from Xavi to Messi, either.

And the Greyhound shall lead them.

Full credit to Bilbao, who got in our faces like few teams have. They didn’t get our best game today, but they got our best effort. We stuck out our chests and in effect said “We aren’t playing like the best club side in the world right now, but we’re still better than you.” Then we proved it by playing through a knife fight. Bilbao wanted this match. Bad. And for the first time in a loooong time, we have a coach who has instilled in these players the backbone that allows them to face up to anything. Kind of makes you wonder how Hercules came into our house and stole one, doesn’t it?

Bilbao fans will say that we skated through on the away goals rule. I say had it gone to extra time, we would have scored again. But it didn’t come to that, in what was a flat-out barn burner of a match. Guardiola wanted this one. You could tell, as he rolled out with an excellent side of Pinto, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Adriano, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Pedro!!, Messi and Villa. In effect, he traded possession for steel. Keita isn’t Iniesta, but he was just the thing to team with Busquets, and destroy everything. Bilbao resorted to lobbing long balls up the pitch, to bypass the agile, long-legged, two man black hole that sucked everything in.

And Bilbao were defending like fiends, helped by our front line that was still shaking off the vacation blues. Messi was dribbling too much, the runs weren’t materializing and when they did, the passes were off. Then suddenly, gloriously, it all came good as Alves dropped a ball directly onto Villa’s head, and he hammered it …. right at the Bilbao keeper, who to his credit played an excellent match. Defending headers is a simple matter of geometry and axes. Pass to player’s head and the only possible angle is this one, then you stand there. The best headers of the ball can evaluate and strike the ball a glancing blow, which from Villa would have beaten Iraizoz like a gong. Instead, it was a drama-free save.

We kept possession, pressed and pried as their defenders stuck legs out, got bodies in the way and defended their goal in front of their fans, in their house, as if their lives depended on it. And when they got the ball, we won it back and pressed some more, until in the 77th minute, we finally broke the lock. That they came back to score against us was inevitable and frankly, deserved. A beautiful ball caught Abidal in a moment of indecision. He’d been easily dealing with those all match, but was caught pinched in a bit too far toward the center of the pitch.

Yes, the rest of the defense let the runners converge on the ball without lifting a finger to stop anything. Team goal, as most that we concede are. But garbage in, garbage out as for a couple of seconds, Abidal was the trash man. And Bilbao kept pressing for the winner, for the 2-1 margin that would nab the match for them, and our defense did its best to help, by popping headers into the air and defending with uncertainty. Bilbao tried to take advantage, to no avail. There was mutual respect shown after the match, deservedly so. It was 0-0 for a long time, but anyone who says that it was boring, needs their head examined.

I would be remiss if I didn’t castigate Bilbao a bit for their playacting. No quarter was given, so none should be asked. Yet every time we came near one of their players, he fell down as if shot. Even Llorente resorted to trying to draw a late penalty with a ridiculous dive. Do these things detract from their incredible effort? No. But it’s hard to give them the full respect. Yes, a side will do any, all and everything to win against us. I fully understand that. But it doesn’t make it right, or palatable. If you’re going to kick us, you can’t whine and roll around on the pitch at the slightest contact. You just can’t. And fittingly, the toughest, roughest gladiator on the pitch, killed them.

“The most unlikely goal scorer,” as one announcer called Eric Abidal, correctly so. But it was going to take an extraordinary moment such as that, as Bilbao were not going to let the usual suspects beat them. But that’s been the story for us this season, winning the matches that we have to and responding to every challenge, every gauntlet that someone slams down. Perhaps the problem with Hercules was that we didn’t take them seriously. Where was the challenge? But this was different, and it was extraordinary. We have been pretty before, and fast, and flamboyant and exquisite to watch. But we have become psychic thugs, a quality instilled by Pep Guardiola. Is the road to the final now easy, with a second El Clasic to look foward to, with silver on the line? Let’s not disrespect potential opponents like that.

But only a fool wouldn’t say that signs are very positive, signs made possible by pretty boys who are now men.

Team: 8. Individual weakness, collective strength as even players who weren’t having a particularly good match bit, kicked, scratched and fought, playing through negative tactics then taking the other fighter’s best shot.

Guardiola: 9. Right lineup, right substitutions. And his emotion was real as Villa missed a scoring chance that I still don’t know how he missed. He understands when to let the players see him, and when to return to the bench.

Pinto: 7. Fine play and some very good saves, as he patrolled his box with style. But he was a bit slow in his decision making on that goal, a play that Valdes probably makes.

Alves: 5. Some good moments, his best being the header that Villa wasted. For a guy playing for a contract renewal, he hasn’t been all that inspiring of late. He also seemed sluggish getting back, and responding to the Bilbao counters that mostly came to his side.

Pique: 5. Erratic, and his passing was off. He hardened up late in the match, but was a far cry from being the bulwark that we expect. It’s no coincidence that he improved when Puyol entered the match.

Abidal: 8. He should have been more decisive on that goal. Yes, he had a lot of space to play and yes, it was a brilliant ball, but still. Having said that, he was MOTM today, and nobody else was even close. I have said before that he is, match in and match out, our most consistent defender. Now he might also be our best defender.

Adriano: 4. He seemed to run out of energy, a trait that we’ve all noticed before. And he didn’t give us a lot when he had his energy. There were some nice plays, but he still doesn’t seem very comfortable with defending, and it showed. Abidal saved his bacon a few times.

Busquets: 8. An excellent match. He can be a destroyer or he can be a facilitator. Usually during any given match he is both, but I always enjoy watching him as a pure defensive mid, because he’s so frustrating. He gets fouled because the opponent just loses it. Reads the flow of an attack very well, for ball stops and/or steals.

Keita: 8. That man worked like a dog today. He got into the side and showed why in a better world or on a lesser team, he’d be an automatic starter. From box to box, defendending, controlling, passing, even going in hard to give Bilbao defenders a taste of their own medicine, it was hard not to love his match today.

Xavi: 7. As always, the Puppetmaster controlled things, even as it was clear that he missed his pale partner in crime, Iniesta. More than a few times the incessant, physical Bilbao pressure got the better of him. Really settled when Iniesta entered the match.

Pedro!!: 7. Was plagued by intermittent invisibility, but what an all-pitch match. He looked to be flagging a bit toward the end which is understandable, as he ran like a crazy person from offense to defense and back again, stopping Bilbao on one end, taking a pass and trying to set up a teammate on the other end.

Messi: 6. Aside from a few wondrous moments, he was off his game today. Duh. It was his first match back after vacation. Too much keeping of the ball and not quite enough consistent movement. But man, what an assist!

Villa: 2. For every good thing that he did, he followed it with two bad things. I liked the all-pitch effort, as he tracked back like a defender. But he simply has to score goals. In a match such as this, we don’t get that many chances. He had two glorious ones, and hit them both directly at the keeper. Strikers will have periods like this. Kinda puts the Ibrahimovic slump in perspective, doesn’t it?


Iniesta (for Adriano): 7. He entered the match, and suddenly we kept the ball a lot more and looked a lot more dangerous. Amazing what giving Xavi a partner in crime will do for the side. He wasn’t making as many hurtful runs, focussing instead on possession.

Puyol (for Xavi): 5. This was trading back line fire for possession and control, as Bilbao began to press harder and look more threatening. It also allowed Abidal to move to left back, his preferred position. Was a bit sluggish, and an on-form Captain Caveman doesn’t allow that goal.

Afellay (for Villa): incomplete. Don’t think he even touched the ball, but what a match to be dropped into.

Beyond that, there ain’t a whole lot to say that this doesn’t already say.

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Written by:

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. BarcaGirl_Indo
    January 6, 2011

    wow… 2 for Villa!
    we thought you would give him 0 or 1, Kev… 😀

    but I think 2 is fair enough, and we should give him credit for his effort to track back like a defender…
    like Guardiola said, he didn’t score, but he worked hard…

    and Abidal… is the King of The Left Flank… 😉

    • Víctor
      January 6, 2011

      I watched the game and I’d give him a 4. Many will disagree with me, but 4 is still bad, obviously. Granted, he missed a chance that he shouldn’t have missed, but I don’t think he was that bad.

  2. BarcaOwl
    January 6, 2011

    An entertaining and informative review as always. Thank you, Kxevin. 🙂

  3. Louis
    January 6, 2011

    You didn’t directly say it (I don’t think) but I get what you’re saying.

    Games like this are what defines championship and legendary teams. They found a way to get the job done despite the fact that they we were not on form and facing a fiery opponent in their house that were playing as if this was their Championship.

    Nothing is insurmountable for great teams who come together as one, no matter the circumstances, and this team proved it today.

  4. Nik
    January 6, 2011

    Is it me or is our Greyhound’s tongue really grey in that picture?

    Great review as always Kxevin. Hopefully, the newcomers (and maybe some of the older ones?) here realize that the score you gave Villa is:

    A. a rating of his performance in this particular game
    B. not an indictment in his future in the squad
    C. most definitely not a call to sell him and
    D. probably a sign you hate him (I kid, I kid).

    Glad to see Dani get his crossing better in today’s game. If Villa can get some of those headers finding the back of the net, I’ll be a happy camper. That attack option will come in handy against some of the buses we will face.

    • tutomate
      January 6, 2011

      I kinda like it. Except for the logo. But hey should put a blaugrana stripe down the left side ala 2008 style.

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      January 6, 2011

      looks like Valdes’ jersey… 😀

      not really a fan of it, but it’s definitely better than WHITE (a horrible design showed at Santos Innocentes’ Day)

      • yuley
        January 6, 2011

        I’ll miss unicef at the front though…

  5. Andres
    January 6, 2011

    Definitely the most exciting 1 – 1 draw I’ve seen since…Stamford Bridge, probably. 🙂

    Full credit to Bilbao, for sure. It’s been quite a while since Pique spent so much of his time on our side of the pitch, retrieving back passes and balls rejected from the packed midfield. Full credit to the fans, too – there are going to be a lot of sore throats in Bilbao tomorrow.

    And Abidal’s celebration was the happiest thing ever.

  6. K_legit
    January 6, 2011

    Abidal..maybe the best defender in our squad at the moment?

    and what a cool finish..reminded me of Gio’s goal against the EE a few years ago

  7. OSBAG
    January 6, 2011

    Early review this is. Glad we are still in line for the treble. I cant remember the last time alves got a cross to head right.

    • ML6
      January 6, 2011

      Ive always wondered if FM is good, your opinion?

      • Zain
        January 6, 2011

        Oh yeah, i would highly recommend it (even above FIFA and PES)! Especially if you are interested in the tactical aspect of football. Its quite extensive, so it might take some time to get a hold of everything in the game. But once you do, it could keep you hooked for months !

        Also,the player database is very vast and the attributes given to them are as accurate as they can get.That makes the game very knowledgable too.So all in all, its a pretty realistic experience.

        On the plus side as a Barca fan, players like Messi, Xavi, etc. have been made quite unique with special skills capable of playing tiki-taka.I find it pretty useful as a substitute when you just need your Barca fix ! 😀

      • OSBAG
        January 6, 2011

        I played FM for a while but it failed to hook me. PES Master League has all of my free time hooked. Currently in season 2024/2025 messi, pique and bojan still playing. Bojan has really matured maybe he would be in real life.

    • Jnice
      January 6, 2011

      Legend in both the virtual game and real life.

      And yes, ML6, FM is the best.

  8. Roz
    January 6, 2011

    Man dont you love how karma works. People should throw more cookies.

  9. Cule
    January 6, 2011

    So we will be playing Betis in the next round after they beat Getafe 3-1

  10. Helge
    January 6, 2011

    Tough match, as expected. But the result counts! Up against Getafe now, the quarter and semi-finals will be played within the next 4 weeks! Afterwards, the CL knockout stage begins – so we will have plenty of “2 games a week”-weeks from now on 🙂
    Getafe won’t be that easy, but I would play a stronger B team against them anyway.

    Now… David Villa *ARGH*
    This guy causes me lots of concerns recently, more than Bojan! I thought the Real Madrid match was his breakthrough, but since then he has shown below average performances. I dunno how many golden opportunities Villa has already given away this season, but it should be around 15 times in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. This might not have cost us yet, but if we had been knocked out by Bilbao yesterday, there would only have been Villa to blame – you cannot miss BOTH these chances in a tight k.o. match!!!
    He did hardly contribute to the passing game or defensive game and barely made any runs, it was pathetic.
    To be honest, I don’t see Villa has any advantage over Ibra right now, if you compare the performances in their first 5 months respectively.

    • Helge
      January 6, 2011

      Forget about Getafe, I expected them to go through without looking up the 2nd leg result 😀

      • MoSSi
        January 6, 2011

        We can show Barca B how to destroy them. I think they drew against them earlier this season.

  11. MoSSi
    January 6, 2011

    From Barcastuff:

    Keita didn’t lose one ball in the cup game against Athletic Bilbao.

    Damn! Go Keiteeeeee!

  12. gowtham
    January 6, 2011

    so..its betis:D im a happy:D
    good game though yestrday, abidal is a CHAMP

    • January 6, 2011

      I think they were tthinking that was the start of something big, rather than an aberration. That first goal gives so much hope, right?

      • Jnice
        January 6, 2011

        Nah, Cule is right, the incident he is referring to took place after the final whistle. Javi Martinez looked like he didn’t know the rules.

        • January 6, 2011

          Whoa! I didn’t see that one. That’s funny! I thought you were referencing their joy after scoring.

    • Vj
      January 6, 2011

      I think Javi Martinez was shocked when the ref blew the whistle, he thought that the 3 mins were not played..

      C’mon guys! Do you really think a World Cup winner doesn’t know the away goals rule?

  13. mei
    January 6, 2011

    Thanks for the review.
    However , I think dani alves got a very high rating for his performance.
    Apart from 2 crosses , that were good enough he failed again and again , and frustratingly enough wasted many times posession on the ball.

  14. El Diez
    January 6, 2011


    Can some one provide me the revista de la liga download link, please?

    • Jnice
      January 6, 2011

      Revista links are in the post entitled “Why Basques Have Heart Attacks”.

  15. January 6, 2011

    Regarding Villa, now everybody understands the hard life of a striker. Henry had those moments, Eto’o had those moments, Ibrahimovic had those moments.

    The ball just won’t go in! And with strikers, it affects every aspect of their play. I know that everyone thought that Villa was going to come in and, with his tenure on the Spanish NT, fit into our side and start banging in goals.

    For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Villa’s struggle is that it puts his predecessors into perspective.

    He will come good, but his weaknesses (overall pace, foot quickness, frequent static moments) aren’t going away.

    Perhaps Villa will teach patience and calm when it comes to our attackers.

    • soccermomof4
      January 6, 2011

      I don’t know if it is purely coincidental, but it seems to me that Villa gets into these funks when he is on a milestone goal. It took him forever to equal Raul for the NT and now isn’t he trying to reach his 150th league goal?

  16. soccermomof4
    January 6, 2011

    Good review, Kevin. Thanks!
    I don’t know what was more thrilling for me, the goal Abidal scored or the pure joy of the celebration.

  17. blitzen
    January 6, 2011

    I gotta be honest, I haven’t seen the game yet, and judging from the post-match comments I thought it would be a Villa hate-fest in here today, so I was planning to stay away. I didn’t want to get worked up about something I haven’t seen for myself. But I’m addicted to this blog so I popped in and am pleasantly surprised.

    I have watched Abidal’s goal (a few times), and I’m so happy for him! The extra love Xavi gave him in the celebrations was so sweet! Barcastuff says the other players gave him a guard of honour when he went back to the dressing room. 😀

    So besides Valdes and Pinto, the only players who haven’t scored for us this season yet are Mascherano, Adriano, Thiago, and of course Afellay. And Thiago isn’t even officially a member of the first-team yet. I don’t know where I would find such a statistic, but I am 100% sure that makes us the team with the most scorers. Total football, indeed.

    • January 6, 2011

      The players should have. As much as one player ever wins a match for us, Abidal did. And I hear you on the Villa hate-fest potential. But I have confidence in the family here. I also think, as I referenced above, that we have learned from our past impatience to give Villa more time and tolerance. Which explains the absence of the hate-fest, I think.

      I’m happy for Abidal because he has gotten so much stick from so many people about his performance at left and center back, stick that is not supported by his match performances. Only now, that he is so brilliant even the most devoted naysayer can’t ignore it, he gets the unreserved love that his performance has warranted for some time now.

  18. January 6, 2011

    That match was draining to watch. Can’t imagine what it was like to play.

    It’s funny – but the way the team has played this season greatly increased the stakes for the match yesterday.

    It’s not fair – but it’s almost impossible right now to not think Barca has a real shot at another treble.

    When they tied in the home leg, they put those aspirations in jeopardy because of how difficult it is to play at San Mames.

    I’m very impressed with Athletic. What really opened my eyes was the two legs together. They defended brilliantly in both matches, but did so through two completely different tactical approaches. They played two different defensive systems against Barca and executed almost flawlessly in each.

    The first leg they maintained shape wonderfully.

    Their variable press yesterday was fantastic and extremely aggressive. They played in a style very reminiscent of Copenhagen.

    The key to the way they pressed Barca yesterday was the way they pressed Busquets. Busquets from his deep role is often the barca player who has the most time and space on the ball. That’s frequently the case with holding players. Yesterday Tocquero and Llorente tracked Busquets everywhere and put intense pressure on him.

    At the same time, they did the same to Xavi with Javi Martinez.

    This ground down the Barca’s ability to systematically build play. It forced Messi to drop very deep to midfield to help Xavi and Busquets. It also forced Alves to essentially function as another midfielder and take on even more responsibility for maintaining possession and building play.

    Cup games are always difficult because players need to rest. I understand why Pep didn’t want to start Iniesta, especially since Keita needs minutes as well.

    Yesterday’s match was a strange one for Keita. I thought it was a good example where a player can play fine and do his job very well, but his skill set is the wrong tactical fit.

    A major reason why Athletic were able to pressure Busquets (and Xavi) the way they did is because Barca didn’t have a third ball control midfielder to act as an outlet. That’s not Keita’s fault – it’s just not his game. He played well defensively. But what Barca needed was another player to reestablish build up of play in the midfield. In the future Afellay will be extremely useful in situations like yesterday.

    The club moves on. A huge relief.

    • January 6, 2011

      “It also forced Alves to essentially function as another midfielder and take on even more responsibility for maintaining possession and building play.”

      And this is why Alves got the rating that he got, my people. I should have made that clearer, but writing a review at midnight, when you rose for the morning workout at 4:30, doesn’t make for the clearest mind. Euler to the rescue!

      It’s also worth noting, as the club contemplates the Alves renewal, what he can do. Just sayin’.

    • Ezequiel
      January 6, 2011

      Actually, I thought Keita often provided the only possible outlet on the left side. Adriano was just awful and Villa was quite anonymous.

      Keita is obviously not the player to keep the ball running in the midfield, however his presence was absolutely necessary against Bilbao. He added some steel to the midfield as well as occassionally crashing the box and offering some aerial presence.

    • BTTFCule
      January 6, 2011

      I think Bilbao pressed in zones. They never pressured when xavi and kieta(or Iniesta later) moved to advanced Mid positions. They pressed our defenders and their defense stayed pretty deep. The space in the middle created by this zonal pressing were not utilized effectively by Barca midfielders(Affelay or Iniesta earlier in second half would have made things interesting). They followed and pressed Messi everywhere so I would say our forward line didn’t utilize the space created by Messi either.

      I didn’t watch the match twice. This is the first impression I got watching it on 300kbps stream 🙂

  19. January 6, 2011

    –T’was also World Cup player share payday. Not surprisingly, since we had the most players, we also had the biggest club payday, at 867k.

    –You fans of the Castrol Rankings already know that Messi was their most productive player of 2010. They needed computers for THAT?!

    –Buzz is that Arsenal and Chelsea are wrestling over the Milito loan. Nothing concrete, so who knows? Guardiola quotes: “There are decisions that I make or the club makes but this one is exclusively his (Milito’s). Knowing him, I understand (his wish to leave), but I am not upset. It’s impossible to be upset with Gaby. Believe me, I have been a soccer player and I put myself in his shoes and I understand it.”

    To me, this means say your goodbyes to Gabi Milito, folks.

    –Guardiola on Abidal: “He’s been spectacular. As much at centre-back as full-back, he’s in an impressive spell of form. Wherever we put him, he always plays well. I’m very pleased for him.”

    –Cruijff didn’t accept the club’s invitation to hang with ’em in Zurich for the Ballon d’Or shindig. All of the club’s other past winners have.

    –Um. Ahem!

  20. pr17
    January 6, 2011

    very nice post euler esp the points on keita. finally u pointed out something that almost everybody else including kxevin seems to have turned a blind eye to.
    Villareal, FCK and now Athletic have tried to choke us by curtailing our passing from defence to midfield (Busi)by putting 3/4 men in our half and / or man marking busi and were all midly successful.

    Seems i am in the minority on Keita – everybody seems to be gung over keita but in reality i feel, he contributes precious little. Nice non fussy player, who has learnt not to give away the ball and makes runs into boxes. But he contributed one goal and no assists since sep 09. he is not a left back, nor a left sided midfielder, nor a defensive midfielder and more of what a bits and pieces footballer (Cricketing term).
    The reason for our lower goal outout was a) henry losing form b) zlatan missing chances and c) keita contributing little in terms of creative balls
    with iniesta in place of keita this season, there has been a marked difference. I find keita’s role surplus – If we want to attack then get on thiago/ if we want to defend then use a double pivot of busi and mascherano.

    • January 6, 2011

      Well that’s why Euler is our tactics whiz, and breaks matches down in that way. The reviews are big picture, so I’ll note that Bilbao pressed the hell out of us and was physical as all get out. Then Euler digs in deeper. It’s why we’re a team.

      I will also note that “strange match” doesn’t mean bad. Keita was excellent yesterday in all aspects of the game. And he didn’t lose a single ball. If we give Xavi accolades for completing 917,000 passes per match, even though 85% of them are four-footers to Iniesta or Alves, then Keita should get the same kind of love, right?

      I think that Keita is one of those Swiss Army Knife players that Guardiola likes, who you can plug in somewhere and will still be effective. Look at the recent transfers: Afellay: MF, RW, LW, F; Adriano: RB, LB, MF, AM; Mascherano: DM, CB; Villa: F, RW, LW.

      Keita’s role is perfect for physical matches such as this one, where you don’t want the other side beating on Iniesta while still fresh. As noted above, our danger factor improved with Iniesta in the side. Keita’s job isn’t to contribute creative balls from the midfield. It’s to break stuff up, crash the box and be a destructively creative presence and a safety valve. So Xavi bumps the ball to him, gets free of his marker, then gets the ball back from him.

      I think it’s important to understand Keita’s role in this team.

      That said, the team has evolved away from his role having that much value. We just don’t play that many matches against sides that can press us mentally and physically like that. The emphasis has shifted, which is yet another reason I’ve speculated that Keita will be sold this summer, particularly with Mascherano in the house.

      • blitzen
        January 6, 2011

        I’ve speculated that Keita will be sold this summer,

        I’m not going to say you’re wrong, because it does seem logical, but my gut feeling tells me Keita will stay for another season at least. He just renewed his contract until 2014, remember? And we know that Pep values Keita very highly even if he can’t play him as often as he deserves. I think if Rosell tries to sell Keita out from under him a la Chygrynsky, Pep would be furious. As long as Keita is OK with riding the bench and mostly getting minutes in Copa games, I don’t see him leaving. He will be 31 in a few days, after all, he doesn’t have that many good years left.

        • January 6, 2011

          I know, blitzen, but often renewals just make a player easier to sell. No danger of a free transfer potential.

    • January 6, 2011

      with iniesta in place of keita this season, there has been a marked difference. I find keita’s role surplus – If we want to attack then get on thiago/ if we want to defend then use a double pivot of busi and mascherano.

      I think you’re being too harsh on Keita. On the whole, Keita contributes positively and is a useful player on the squad.

      Iniesta is one of the 5 best players in the world. There’s a real argument to be made for him being the second most talented player in the world. So it’s only natural that replacing Keita with Iniesta makes the team much better. Replacing say Michael Carrick with Iniesta would make Man U a much better club. But that doesn’t make Carrick a poor footballer. Iniesta is brilliant. He is a historically great footballer.

      In general, Barca completely dominates possession and builds play as it chooses even when they only have busquets and xavi in midfield. In those matches, Keita offers different skill sets and they can afford to have a player who is sound on the ball and does not lose it but doesn’t build play creatively through his individual possession. They can well afford and benefit from having a player like Keita on the pitch.

      Yesterday just happened to be a match where Keita’s skill set wasn’t ideal. He did his job – for example he was quite good on the press and regaining possession for Barca. It’s just that they couldn’t build play coherently the way they usually do. The game changed when Iniesta came in – but that’s not really Keita’s fault.

      In the future Afellay will be playing in games like the one yesterday. Thiago is very talented but it’s in his best interest to be integrated slowly. I really like him. But at times he can be careless with the ball and lose it.

      Finally, you are making a more general argument, one that has dominated football over the past two decades. You’re arguing for the specialization skill sets. That’s been the general direction of the sport for years. Barca has been one of the few exceptions as a club to that dynamic. And I do think it’s good for the club to have at least one “jack of all trades” player on the squad.

  21. pr17
    January 6, 2011

    also i dont agree to a 8 for keita and 2 for villa. From previous trends it seems that if villa misses a sitter or scores but misses a few chances, he never scores above 6 where as keita gets a 7 or 8 everytime being anonymous.
    A couple of serious Valdes mistakes too which could have led to goals also fethces him a above 6 rating.

    • January 6, 2011

      And you aren’t supposed to agree with the player ratings. I don’t care if anyone agrees with the player ratings. Watch the match twice, with key moments via slow motion or if necessary, frame-by-frame, and you might. You might not. That isn’t the point.

      You are supposed to read the review and the rating, and give your reactions to it. That’s what makes the interesting discussion. Just know that each match is its own universe, so there is no “from previous trends” that can be extrapolated. Overall, Villa was awful, in this match. And had he not done so much extra work in midfield and tracking back on defense, he would indeed have been rated lower. He was static, clumsy with the ball and offside too much, even if you exclude the couple that the official got wrong. That is unacceptable performance, no matter how you slice it.

      In their respective roles, whether you agree with their presence in the side or not, Villa and Keita, for me, played to their ratings. Hope that’s clearer for you now.

  22. January 6, 2011

    @Euler & Pr17

    I dont understand this Keita argument you are making, especially in terms of last night match. If it wasnt for the supernatural performance of Abidal, Keita would’ve been the clear MOTM for me, and by far.

    Keita in this game-as he usually is- was the player with the best tactical calculator on the field. Watch the match again and track his performance. He tracked back and intercepted lot of dangerous attacks (one cross my mind now as almost a guaranteed concede). He backed Busquets and he delayed Athletic counters through amazing positioning work closing spaces and checking passing outlets which gave Pedro and co the chance to hammer Athletic players with pressure and retain possession. He was the main outlet for all players (especially Xavi) contributing in the buildup and enhance the off-the-ball movement all over the place. He advances and made well timed contributions into the box (and its a shame that lot of times his teammates didnt pick him as we are too anti-direct sometimes to make a killing diagonal cross). To sum it up: He was just P.E.R.F.E.C.T.

    What skills does he lack exactly? He makes himself available for the pass perfectly. He passes perfectly and contributes in possession par to anyone. He defend perfectly mixing tactical awareness, defensive skills and steal. He proved being our best midfield goalscorer when he plays regularly (and even when he doesnt), he has scary long shots (Though at Barcelona his shooting attempts declined), and beside Pique (And Puyol in set pieces) he is the only player we have who can make opponents concerned when he run into the box demanding a cross.

    Pep said many times that Keita is not the most generous player on the field, but he blew it a bit by saying that Keita is the best player he coached. So I am not sure what are the things he lack to be at the team. Maybe some dribbling firework? Well…last night not even Messi was exactly the dribbler we know, and dont let me start talking about the other players at offense (putting Pedro aside). The bottom of line, he lacks nothing for me. He is the perfect player for Barcelona as he proved again and again.

    And how exactly did Keita’s presence directly affected scoring? Is that just a feeling or based on records? Keita wasnt there when he failed to score against Hercules (I think…and too lazy to check). Last season Keita was a goal scorer right? The season before when barca won everything it was Keita who played the matches against RM, Valencia, Villarreal, Sevilla on December when the club broke scoring records.

    We need to get ride of stereotypes. Things like Abidal cant play as a CB. Why? just because we feel so, or because he played one or two bad games. The problem usually is that fans are too much Events-dependent and events are more related to coincident and uncontrollable factors than football framework and “science and art” if we can call it so.

    Seriously, It amaze me that people are still underrating Keita’s quality. Officially the only player I had to defend over three years of time.

    • January 6, 2011

      One great saying Rinus Michels once lite:”The less you feel the holding midfielders contribution, the better they are”

      Knowing Rinus message behind this, I think this also fits Keita. He position himself on the field in a way that prevent the dangerous pass in the first place, rather than trying to make a brilliant (easy to praise) tackle after poor positioning resulting a dangerous attack.

      • January 6, 2011

        Yep. I had to learn this when I would, upon first viewing of a match note that Keita was invisible, then upon second viewing, note “There he is! And again! And again!”

    • January 6, 2011

      Ramzi, speaking for myself, I like Keita quite a bit. And in general I agree with your description of what he did yesterday defensively. As I noted above, he was quiet good positionally.

      He made it difficult for Athletic to circulate the ball quickly to the left flank on the counter (which can one of the key advantages of a 4-4-2 against a 4-3-3). Quick circulation up the flank was one of Athletic’s central attacking strategies yesterday.

      So I think all of that was true for Keita yesterday. I’m not reductively questioning his overall quality or value.

      However, offensively, no I don’t think his skill set was ideal for playing against a team that pressed extremely hard but in a focused fashion.

      Athletic was able to simultaneously press Busquets and Xavi while still defending in numbers in midfield against Messi when he dropped back as a false 9. In addition they were able to maintain pressure on Alves. I believe this was the first time any team has achieved that against barca this season. Not even Copenhagen or Villareal were able to do that.

      Part of why they could do so is because the drew defenders away from Keita and towards the middle of the pitch. Yes Keita was open for an outlet often – but that was actually a problem. He was often waiting for a pass that was never going to come because there was too much pressure on Busquets, Xavi and Messi.

      For example, on a number of occasions Keita was making runs into the box when the ball crossed midfield – as he usually does – only in the match yesterday the passer had little time on the ball to deliver an accurate long pass.

      Athletic effectively broke the Barca formation in half yesterday with their press and made Barca very right sides. They needed a player at left mid who could move to the ball and receive it from Xavi and Busquets and then do something creative with it to build play and link it to the forwards.

      Acting as an outlet and then playing square balls wasn’t what Barca needed yesterday from their 3rd midfielder.

      Keita doesn’t do that and didn’t yesterday. It’s just not his skill set. No knock on him. It’s just the scope of what he does. It’s not his job.

      It’s absolutely no accident that the match changed once Iniesta came in and helped relieve pressure on Xavi and Busquets. Again – that’s not surprising given how great iniesta is and it’s completely unfair to expect Keita to be iniesta so I’m not criticizing Keita for that. Just pointing out that there was a mismatch in what the team needed on this particular day vs. what Keita can offer.

      Barca’s needs where just unusual yesterday.

      • January 6, 2011

        No prob. We will agree to disagree. That’s not how I saw the match. I think the problems-if we have to nitpick problems had nothing to do with Keita, the same as it wasn’t Iniesta’s problem against Hercules.

        Though it worth noting that based on Quality and form both Keita and Iniesta are members in my best lineup at the moment. Though Pep has other considerations, for example:Keita is the least affected by having a bench role. For others their form may get worse.

        But that will spark another argument if I proceed, and I might not be around enough tonight.

        • Jim
          January 6, 2011

          I don’t think you can argue that Pep puts Keita on the bench because Pep knows he won’t argue or that his play won’t suffer, Ramzi. We’ve all seen that’s not Pep’s way. He plays the best team he has most times. Although a decent player he’s vying for a place in the best midfield in the world. The others are much better passers and dribblers than him and when he plays the quality, or at least ease, of our possession diminishes, imo.

          i think it was a mistake not to play Iniesta from the start and Xavi had to work a lot harder than I wanted to see him work in a CDR match because of that. The best way to keep that crowd in check was to bring our a-list passing game to it. I didn’t see the brilliant match that you saw him have but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a good game and play to his strengths. however, his box to box play I’ve not seen for a season now and I can’t remember the last telling pass he made. For all that, he gives everything every game and never rocks the boat and I appreciate that.

          • justsayin
            January 6, 2011

            I too think Pep made an error in not starting Iniesta or Valdez. Was he giving them a rest, allowing others to get a chance or was it a sign that he wasn’t taking the game quite as serious as Liga or Champions? This game was very physical and they were out to shut down Xavi by going after him hard. Not having Iniesta there to get the pass off to quickly and take some of the heat definitely could have caused Xavi further injuries.

      • January 6, 2011

        Villareal is a very good squad. They are one of the more impressive sides I’ve seen in Europe this season. Garrido has done an amazing job there.

        What a game they just played (h/t to JNice for the heads up!).

        Rossi just scored a brilliant goal to seal the match when he was left 1 vs. 1 against the keeper (yes he dribbled around him very collectedly…).

        Down 2-0 at the half and they score 4 in the second.

        Hope they make CL football next season. They will represent La Liga very well if they can keep the club intact.

  23. Josep
    January 6, 2011

    so is it confirmed to be a cookie? That must’ve been one very stale cookie to hurt that much. I thought at first it was a golf ball, it was pretty big and much bigger than a coin!

    I left after Abidal scored, secretly searching for Kxevin on the streets of Chicago to tell him Abidal scored. 😀

    didn’t Betis draw 2-2 with Barca B? I believe Barca B scored two goals late too. I can’t help but see us go through but these two matches with Betis will be A LOT HARDER than everyone thinks. Betis will be very scrappy and I can see them bus parking too, I assume we have the home leg first no?

    I didn’t hear anything about Gabi to chelsea or arsenal, I’ve been hearing blackburn and other smaller clubs. He would help Arsenal a ton, and I’d love to see us put in the cowardly “can’t play against parent club” clause if he went there. but his injuries would almost make it a stupid loan to Arsenal.

    Depor scored 3 last night I think. And 2 the week before. Depor quickly becoming the new Barcelona. 😀

    • Jnice
      January 6, 2011

      I thought Abidal said his head was a tough cookie, not that he got hit by one. It looked like a coin or something definitely harder than a cookie.

    • Para
      January 6, 2011

      I’ve not actually watched the video, just opened it in another tab, but I must say something; one of my favourite things about alias14’s videos is the lack of incredibly loud (usually) techno music accompanying the football.

  24. Jnice
    January 6, 2011

    I suggest y’all tune into the Villarreal-Valencia match right now. Valencia were up 2-0, but Villareal just scored 2 in 2 minutes, so it’s tied 2-2, but Valencia has the advantage due to the away goals rule. 52nd minute right now.

    • blitzen
      January 6, 2011

      I wish I could, I bet it’s a cracker!

      • Víctor
        January 6, 2011

        Villarreal is winning 3-2 right now!!!

  25. ooga aga
    January 6, 2011

    so we play Betis, i think our B team can handle em.

  26. Kari
    January 6, 2011

    Awesome review, Kxevin. An epic match made legendary by Abi’s goal.

    -Just a little comment on the “Villa-hate”:

    Considering the nature of that match, the emotions that came with it, and the time it happened, that Villa’s miss was horrible. The brutal, intense game could have been put to bed. In the heat of the moment, things are said. I don’t think people really think Villa’s sh*t or any variation (although some could in fact feel that way). If it was P!! or Messi with that miss, I think the reaction would have been similar IMO. It was just that kind of match.

    After sleeping on it and seeing it again, when put into perspective, Villa’s miss wasn’t that bad and it wasn’t miss really, more like a Gorka save (I’m being kind to Guaje here). It also made the game more exciting and that much more epic when we won it. I’ve said for a while that people needed to be patient with Villa and not throw him under a bus, so to speak.

    What makes me really happy is the two of the main so-called “Villa haters” Kxevin and Ramzi were the first ones to defend Villa, saying strikers go through these moments. Kinda puts them into perspective, doesn’t it? 😀

    Abidal: “How does one celebrate a goal? Well, I ran backwards. Don’t have much experience either [barcastuff]

    • Jnice
      January 6, 2011

      I like Villa, I don’t hate him nor do I wan’t him to be sold or anything like that. For me, though, it’s simple, finish your chances. He’s had about 15 1v1s this year and should really be up there with Messi and Cristiano as the top scorer. He did the same thing against Valencia, against Atleti, and others when we needed that goal to finish them off. The thing about yesterday is that I knew he was going to miss before he even shot it. If the roles were reversed and Pedro was on the receiving end of the pass, I have no doubt he would’ve slotted that in.

      Players missing golden chances is something that frustrates me to no end. And this season, Villa has done plenty of that. That is all.

      • Kari
        January 6, 2011

        If there was ever a “like” button, I’d like this comment a million times 😀


        Next season, when he fully learnt the system and used to it, he’ll be a goal machine.

        • Víctor
          January 6, 2011

          That’s what worries me. You can blame his errors at passes or slowing down attacks on him not being adjusted to the system. But those misses can’t be blamed on that. Afterall, that’s what he knows.

          • January 6, 2011

            Exactly victor. Those are chances that any striker should be burying, regardless of how long they have been playing for the team. Villa has missed more than a handfull of those and it is starting to get worrying.

      • Jim
        January 6, 2011

        But it’s not that simple, Jnice. So many factors come into play in a 1 on 1 with the keeper. It’s interesting you say you knew he was going to miss before he missed. Can I ask if you thought the same when he sank the double against the EE, or more recently the double against Espanyol? I’m not getting at your comment here as my first reaction was also that he might miss it but it was because of the way the situation arose.
        Last night’s “worst” miss was actually made harder by the fact that , despite it being a cracking pass from Pedro and just as good a run by Villa, where he finally got the ball made him stop for a fraction. That lost all his momentum where your speed means you can fake to go one way then go the other. immediately the situation becomes”dead” and you have to do something special to finish it. In this you’re relying on the keeper not opting for the same thing you are.

        Even when Messi was humiliating Arsenal’s keeper last season ( remember one either side one below and one over the top?) at least two of his goals were down to the keeper making the wrong choice of what he was going to do.
        Personally I found the first header the worst miss. For me, the second, longer header back across goal was a great attempt and very unlucky. There’s sometimes no rhyme nor reason to a striker’s luck in front of goal.

        • Jnice
          January 6, 2011

          It’s not that simple, but for a player of Villa’s quality, missing this many 1v1’s isn’t normal. I’m not talking about shots from outside the box, I’m talking about him and the keeper.

          Interestingly enough against Madrid I felt he would score, maybe because of the occasion and how we were playing on the night. Against Espanyol I didn’t really think anything before he shot, I just held my breath.

          He did lose momentum on that chance, but you’re telling me a player of Villa’s quality can’t aim far post?

          Again, this is not just a one off, players miss chances all the time, but I know if it were Pedro or Messi, a lot more golden chances would have been converted. Has Villa been unlucky the WHOLE season? I don’t think so. I’ve played as a striker most of my life, so I know it’s not that easy, but the amount of golden opportunities Villa has wasted isn’t normal.

          • Jnice
            January 6, 2011

            I agree with Victor and Hilal. I’m talking about GREAT opportunities in many of the matches he’s played in this season.

          • January 6, 2011

            A striker has many tools in his kit bag: chips, lobs, headers, curlers, bent balls on the ground. Villa is shooting like a striker who wants to be certain: hard, flat and fast. I thought he would just curl it around Iraizoz. Hitting it hard, directly at him isn’t the answer.

            But I repeat, Henry and Ibrahimovic went through the same stuff. Just be patient.

          • Jnice
            January 6, 2011

            True regarding the previous strikers, Kxevin, but I don’t think either of those players had the amount of great opportunities Villa has had at this point of the season. I don’t even think it’s close. As a team, we’ve created more chances than any of those previous seasons and as a result, Villa has been on the end of many of them.

  27. Cesc Pistol
    January 6, 2011

    BTW Does anyone know where I can watch Barca B’s match highlights? Not all are available on youtube and even totalbarca doesn’t have all.

    • blitzen
      January 6, 2011

      You could try the match highlights thread at rojadirecta, but there is no guarantee that anyone would have bothered to upload them.

  28. January 6, 2011

    Villareal is a very good squad. They are one of the more impressive sides I’ve seen in Europe this season. Garrido has done an amazing job there.

    What a game they just played (h/t to JNice for the heads up!).

    Rossi just scored a brilliant goal to seal the match when he was left 1 vs. 1 against the keeper (yes he dribbled around him very collectedly…).

    Down 2-0 at the half and they score 4 in the second.

    Hope they make CL football next season. They will represent La Liga very well if they can keep the club intact.

    • MoSSi
      January 6, 2011

      Let’s just pray that they show up against EE this weekend!

        • MoSSi
          January 6, 2011

          Wanna bet?

          I know it’s haram but let’s just play for who’s gonna be right.. I say Madrid will lose points..

          • January 6, 2011

            Well i hope you’re right, I really do, but I have seen too many good teams just roll over and die for them that I expect it from everyone now. The only team I rely on to take points from those **** is us.

            For example, how well did Athletic play against us in the cup? I guarantee they dont play half as well vs the EE when they face them in the league. Teams want to beat us more than they want to beat them, which is fair enough I suppose… we are the best team in the world right now so beating us is an achievment in itself.

          • MoSSi
            January 6, 2011

            I know, it’s very frustrating to see but Villareal is a different team to Athletic Bilbao..

            They are the only team that play a bit like us, that’s why I think they will snatch a point.

          • Jim
            January 6, 2011

            I have a feeling they are due a fall as well, Mossi. If Villareal believe they can take something from it.

          • MoSSi
            January 6, 2011

            I think they do believe that Jim. They just made a stunning comeback from 0-2. There confidence is sky high.

      • Helge
        January 6, 2011

        I’m pretty sure Madrid will win. Probably even a 4-0 hammering or something like that.
        But luckily I’m invited to the birthday party of my uncle, so I won’t be able to watch it. And for the unlikely case of Real dropping points, I might download the match afterwards 😀

  29. MoSSi
    January 6, 2011

    From Barcastuff:

    In his first trip with the team, Afellay yesterday forgot his flight ticket at the metal detector. Bojan recovered it.

    I think those few minutes he was on the pitch really got to his head, imagine what he could forgotten if he played the whole match? His pants? His pants and his underwear??!

  30. Kari
    January 6, 2011

    I’m so happy allas14 is getting the recognition he deserves. The “Messi never dives” is finally being shown on big sites like The Guardian.

    Visca allas!

    • Cesc Pistol
      January 6, 2011

      It all started after Rayray mentioned it.

  31. simple_barcafan
    January 6, 2011

    Abidal scored!!!!!!!!whoooooo!!!!

  32. simple_barcafan
    January 6, 2011

    “After playing as a fullback and central defender I think it is time to try my hand at the central forward position.”

    – Abidal (post match reaction)…gotta love his comments!!

    • soccermomof4
      January 6, 2011

      I’m afraid he’ll have to get behind Pique on the defender-wannabe- CF queue.

  33. justsayin
    January 6, 2011

    Loved this game. Love anytime a team comes out to play hard and fair against us. (Although, not sure why the same doesn’t happen when these same teams play RM). Hard won games like these show just how good we are. Vacation, away game, bad pitch, unfriendly fans and yet we ultimately find the combination that opens the lock.
    It’s apparent that this is a team or better said, a style of play that has to be played on a consistent (2-3 times a week) basis in order for it to work. Tiki-taka might look easy to some, but is precise work. Hence the reason everyone looked a little “off”.
    And now, of course, Villa. I have not been a big fan of his play from day one, but I actually didn’t think he played that much worse than almost any other game. He missed two opportunities and I suppose that drops him in points. However, notice that Villa is making all the correct soccer runs and moves. He is normally positioned correctly in the box for a pass. He hustles and jockies for position and so why is he not scoring? Part of the problem lies in that his “normal” routine does not work with this team. We are not a team that scores with a striker that is already there waiting for pass. We tend to move the ball slowly down the pitch in unison and most of the goals are scored as everyone is moving forward and then quick, tight passes “on the move” in the box. He’s a good striker as he has proved himself on the NT and Valencia, but he’s going to have to change the way he plays in order to score goals on this team. His other problem is that he has to start practicing ways to to get a ball around a keeper on a 1v1. It’s a skill set that he needs to work on since he has had a few opportunities already this season and he can’t convert. At this point, I would tell him do anything but striking it against the keeper. Try chipping it, or curling it or fake out the keeper so he dives and you have an opportunity to take a kick. Even if those tactics don’t work, it’s always a better choice than using the keeper as target practice.

    • January 6, 2011

      Villa simply tries to play too quickly, which limits his options. Messi has all that time to be brilliant because of his amazing control. Villa doesn’t, so he has less time. With no time, the only shot is the obvious one, which is usually covered. Then he hits it right at the keeper, who has guessed right.

      He just has to calm down.

      • justsayin
        January 6, 2011

        But if Villa has poor ball control how can he take more time? I’m thinking that he has to learn better ball control so he can dribble and make some space for himself to take a better shot. To your point, I think that if he’s not quick to take a shot (any shot) then he’s going to have the ball taken away from him by his opponent.

      • Miguel
        January 6, 2011

        i’m breaking my registration cherry. right. now. i’m so excited!

        villa definitely needs to keep it simple stupid, kxevy cakes. he’s just not a robinho, fancy smancy, “fireworks” (good one ramzi) type of player. he just needs to keep the ball moving & hope messi/xavi/iniesta play him in to space.,17033,9405,00.html

        i just wanted to test out a url. wee!

  34. ooga aga
    January 6, 2011






    real mierda

  35. Barcathegreatestever
    January 6, 2011

    I can’t agree more with you more Kxevin. Filling the shoes of Larsson, Henry and Etoo is huge. With all the expectations on Barca this year the pressure is at a fantastic level. Bojan and Villa play the hardest position on the field for me. Pedro gets off because he is such a pinball his workrate covers for any misstep in control or decision.
    Villa’s touch is slightly too hard and too fast. His decisions also too fast. It increases his offsides makes it easier to defend makes his first touch less consistent.
    I think its all mental. He fits this team like a glove. His range, lateral movement, workrate helps the team rather then impede it when he is not on. That said I don’t like seeing him line up on the right like yesterday.

    • justsayin
      January 6, 2011

      You can’t say that Pedro gets off because his work rate covers missteps, well .. you can but I disagree. Pedro’s work rate is his asset and what makes him a better fit (at least for now). Pedro’s work rate also puts him in position more quickly, makes him track back and win balls, makes him come flying into the box and score goals. I don’t think Villa will ever play like Pedro because he has a different set of skill and that’s fine. But what Villa is doing needs to be modified. I’m still not sure that he needs to slow down, because one of my pet peeves about his game playing is that when he has the ball in midfield and he is being pressured, he won’t quickly pass the ball to a open teammate, he tries to scoot around and turn and the ball is quickly taken from him. In this team, it’s all about quick ball distribution and he many times either slows down play or loses the ball.

  36. Barcathegreatestever
    January 6, 2011

    I also think Villa will be the key for Barca to get back to their previous heights if they are not already there. Messi Iniesta Busquets continue their rise in stature. But Henry’s contribution to one after another teams total surrender was enormous. Larsson before him. When Villa turns supplier they are there.

  37. Tom_Johnson
    January 6, 2011

    I see no point in getting overly excited about a role player giving his maximum effort. The limited set of skills is what designated him as a role player in the first place.

    Neither am I going to dwell on a group of grown men in great physical shape staying organized over the course of 150 minutes (or so) after having the opportunity to study hours of tape. Defense is only half of the game.

    Speaking of passing “outlets”, things are not quite black and white. In order to happen:
    a. Xavi/Busquets have to first maintain possession under pressing and then find a way to pass the ball to the left while the opponent is trying to contain and direct them to the right side of our attack
    b. player who is to receive the ball needs to make himself available/open
    c. upon the reception do something with it

    There is no question that Iniesta will most of the time do something productive with the ball upon reception. He can dribble for one. It is not as easy as it seems to break that pressing in first place. A player might find his way out of trouble but the foul might stop the game and allow the defenders time to adjust.

    Some of you are painting the picture how Keita was wide open all the time exclusively due to his great positioning. Some others are claiming he did nothing meaningful upon receiving the ball, he slowed down the play or gave it away.

    Could it be that Bilbao decided to rotate themselves in such manner (kinda what happens with double-team in an NBA match) to leave Keita relatively uncovered on purpose since he is the one who is the least dangerous of our “attacking” players?

    Could it be that decided to try to take an advantage of his inclusion and would revert to what they were doing at Kamp Nou two weeks ago if Iniesta was there instead?

    That brings me to my next point. It is naive to claim that some player “changed the game”. In this particular case, Iniesta coming off the bench. Such analysis is crippled because it fails to include the factors affecting the opponents fitness. After pressing hard for 60+ minutes and making a strong push forward (a gamble on Caparos’ part) at the beginning of the second half, Bilbao’s players were bound to start getting tired in a hurry. Credit to Guardiola for having such a game plan. Meanwhile, player himself haven’t had any extraordinary contribution upon introduction.

    As for Villa, the three main requirements for the striker in “our” system are:

    – (obviously) goals
    – movement (to open space for someone else) and positioning (timing the run to receive the pass)
    – actively participating in pressing

    Also, having a relatively small ego along with team-first mentality.

    David is doing just fine with the last two. There are some issues with his timing but that is matter of reps and getting to know each other over time.

    Obviously, his biggest downside so far has been missed goal scoring opportunities. In most cases, it appears he had rushed his decision. The lack of concentration comes as a result of either bad conditioning or his judgment is distorted by the low level of confidence. The number of missed opportunities will do that to a striker. It gets under your skin and the longer it goes the more nervous player gets, the more he tries to do too much too fast. Some would say “happy feet”.

    It appears to me Villa is suffering from a mild case of Bojan.

    Few other details worth mentioning:

    – The most important thing that happened in this game is the way we scored the goal. That is the blueprint this team needs to use more against the teams that defend in numbers. “Post up” someone as deep into the box as possible. Someone who can hold on to the ball (even with his back to the goal) for 2-3 seconds.

    The longer he is on the ball the more vary of penalty the defender is becoming. It looks a lot different to the ref when a player goes down while moving fast (the shove Pedro received) as opposed to a slow moving player.

    By holding on to the ball, the player is bound to draw a defender (or two) which is going to open the space for someone else. That is exactly what happened against Bilbao. There was a lot of space for Abidal to run into.

    The whole play looked a lot like a page taken out of small side indoor game. The ample possession “our” team enjoys should allow us to “script” plays like this and exercise them more often against the “bus parking” teams.

    – Our defenders (Pinto included) were very confident (and accurate) on the ball. I especially liked the number of times Pinto passed it to the players feet rather than kicking it towards the half line.

    A honorable mentioning goes to the way what Bilbao took one of their set pieces. The ball was passed to the side in the path of rushing Bilbao player (who had a height advantage over our defender who was pretty much backpedalling) for him to cross it to the box with his head. This delayed delivery has a potential to confuse the defence (shape lost) and disrupt their timing. An example to build upon and add to our repertoire.

    • January 6, 2011

      Good points. And I think that teams always pick their poison against us. It’s one reason that the inclusion of Messi makes Pedro!! and Villa so much better. My fondness for Keita’s game was in his sheer omnipresence. Then again, I don’t expect him to be a creative player. I expect him to bust stuff up, and be there for the occasional put-back or header.

      Villa is pressing like crazy. You’d think he’d be a lot more relaxed and secure in the knowledge that Krkic is the only replacement that we have for him, a player in an amazingly dire form right now.

      • Tom_Johnson
        January 6, 2011

        “And I think that teams always pick their poison against us”

        They have no choice but to.

        I would like this team to evolve to the point where it would be like a pot with so many holes that even the craftiest of opponents wouldn’t have enough plugs available to plug it all up.

  38. January 7, 2011

    Villa’s main issue is that he keeps pressing and forcing the game rather than letting it come to him.

    On a number of these 1 vs. 1 situations in particular he’s trying too hard and over thinking rather than letting his natural skills and athletic talent take over.

    You could see it on that 1 vs. 1 yesterday. Rather than reacting and putting in a decisive shot he just looked like he was thinking about what to do and tried too score by force rather than patience. In turn he just blasted the ball – right into the keeper. And across his career he has bee very good on scoring via patience (as he was in El Clasico).

    This is an issue which is going to change and get better as he feels more comfortable on the team. Remember – Villa has never played for an elite professional club.

    Club football is not the same at national team football. They involve very different dynamics, sets of expectations and pressures.

    Sporting Gijon, Zaragoza, Valencia – that’s Villa’s club pedigree. Valencia has been a fine club over the past decade but they simply are not close to the Barcelona level. For example, how many career CL games did Villa have coming into this season?

    The technical issue which will improve with time is his off the ball movement. Villa played on the counter a lot at Valencia. The Spanish NT is not Barcelona. Barca plays at a much more rapid, aggressive fashion.

  39. pr17
    January 7, 2011

    Apposite points above by tom johnson, euler, kxevin.
    Villa is anxious. I think (my humble opinion)in one vs one he should just decide on a pre decided pattern of finishes – to the left of gk, next one to the right of GK, next 1vs 1 being a lob, a blast, nutmeg etc..instead of thinking what to do. But if there is time (2-3 secs as in fourth goal in clasico) he should do the think and do the right thing.

    My major point (where i disagree with ramzi and kxevin) w.r.t keita is on over rating / getting over excited abt a squad player. He is a fine lad and does little wrong but he isnt a part of our best XI but can contribute as a sub / emergency replacement. But we have evolved more and may not need him next season esp with masch in.

    @Kxevin – On ratings, i take your points abt every match being standalone and reviews designed to spark thoughtful discussions but my comment stemmed from the fact that you were a tad harsh on villa and overly generous on keita. Villa deserved a 6 and keita possibly a 5-7 rating. i take your higher, over arching point that one needn’t nitpick on ratings in posts and have a holistic view on the match as a whole.
    Also ratings seem to be based on perf. wrt individual expectations (hence such high expectations on messi / villa vs slightly low on maxwell or a keita) instead of absolute performance or performance w.r.t expectations of a role (Striker, def midfield etc.). Correct me if i am wrong here. i feel latter concept should be taken into consideration while rating.
    If we take the former then keita deserves an 8, where as on abolsute terms / expectation w.r.t role (second attacking CM expected to contribute assists) he deserves a 5/6.

  40. January 7, 2011

    To Tom Johnson’s point, I think the unpluggable pot was what many envisioned in anticipation of an Ibrahimovic/Messi/Villa front line. Events overcame that notion, if it was even planned. Might have been fun to see.

    PR17, to rate Keita as a CM would be a disservice to him, becauae that isn’t his role when he plays for us. When I rate players, it’s based on absolute performance, performance as part of the whole and individual standatd. Messi has a very high IS, so to speak. So does Villa. All our players do, for that matter.

    But we can’t hold Keita to the Iniesta evaluative standard because when Iniesta is in, his job is very different from Keita’s.

    Keita often gets the ccall against aggressive, physical sides because he is big strong and fast. He’s destructive of the other side’s miidfield play, and a facilitator of ours. He provides pressure relief for Xavi, makes simple passes, destroys and crashes the box.

    Iniesta’s job is to be an aggro Xavi, so to speak. Same passing, same ability to be creative and kill you, with the addition of those runs of his.

    So while Keita and Iniesta occupied the same position on the pitch, they didn’t have the same job.

    • Tom_Johnson
      January 7, 2011

      I think pr17’s position is that the level of expectation often tend to cloud our judgment and make us over/underestimate the importance of the actions that took place on the field.

      More so, when trying to evaluate the contribution of a “role player”, it is a lot like grade system in gymnastics (for the lack of better example). It is easier to perform as close to perfection as possible things that are of less complexity. Important: But that limits how high grade you can get. 9.375 (or so) would be your limit in that case.

      To warrant a grade above that level, the competitor needs to do something more complex and extraordinary. A feat “role players” are often unable to achieve due to their limited skill set.

      • January 7, 2011

        True, but is a starter a “role player?” Good question. The gymnastics analogy is a good one. 10s are rare, precisely because of what they represent: perfection. But again, as with a gymnastics score, a crazy-high degree of difficulty can get someone who might not have been flawless, a perfect score nonetheless.

        Moving that analogy to players, Keita performed his task brilliantly. He had a bobble or two on a landing (so to speak), but he got it done with every positive attribute that he was supposed to bring to the table, including wearing their midfield down, softening them up for Iniesta.

        Now, I do think that people overestimate the importance of goals scored. I’ve given people average scores even though they’ve scored a goal or two, and people say “He scored twice, and deserves an 8.” But not for me, if the overall match wasn’t up to standard.

        So for me, “extraordinary” will usually warrant a 10. Note that Abidal nabbed a 9 for the Levante match and an 8 for the Bilbao match. Dude was ridiculous both matches, but not extraordinary. His subjective personal standard is almost as high as Messi’s.

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