Deportivo 0, Barca 4, aka “Might as well have come out to play”

Eduard Omedes/El Mundo Deportivo

Fat lot of good it did Deportivo La Coruna to play turtle, as they still got a four-spot dropped on ’em. Yes, better that than a manita, right? Maybe. I wouldn’t presume to speak for that club, but judging from the reactions of their fans as they were playing at 0-2 as if protecting a 1-0 lead, probably not.

But that’s what we’ve reduced sides to, the notion of “losing with honor,” as if such a contradiction in terms were possible. A loss should gall, stick in the craw like a barnacled artichoke. Instead, people see the Blaugrana shirts and think, even at 0-2 down, “Let’s not lose by any more.” It’s psychological, and brutally so. There are many, many matches that we win even before the first ball is kicked, as teams think about us and what we bring to the table, and say “Okay, play tight and let’s see what happens.”

Heck, we all know what happens.

If you sit back, you cede possession to us. When you do that, a number of things happen:

1. We will score, eventually, barring a superhuman effort for 90+ minutes
2. You won’t score, because we have the ball
3. The rare chance that you get you will probably choke, because you’ll be shocked and play too quickly
4. And we’ll redouble our efforts to never let you have the ball

As Deportivo went, so goeth many of our matches this season, a year that I can so far label The Terror. Because it isn’t just that we have some of the greatest offensive players in the game playing for us. Pep Guardiola has instilled an insatiability that has as its progeny a willingness to work. Hard. So Villa tracks back, Messi tracks back, Pedro!! tracks back, just as the fullbacks run at you on offense and mids create suffocating pressure that eases the job of our defenders, who just scoop up loose balls and feed them right back into the mixer.

This system isn’t impossible to play against, because we’ve seen sides have success against us. But now that we are taking every match seriously (can’t wait for that Hercules rematch!), our system is pretty close to impossible to play against, because it’s rooted in constant movement, on and off the ball. Do you play a zone, and mark spaces? Or do you try to choke off the midfield with aggressive man marking. With the former, a moment of brilliance kills you. With the latter, Messi drops back to become a playmaker, and everything shifts. Either way, you die.

Deportivo chose a defense in depth, hoping that they could do something Guardiola’s XI of Valdes, Adriano, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Mascherano, Keita, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro!! and Villa. After all, the Puppetmaster isn’t out there, right? Iniesta can’t be as good a playmaker as Xavi, can he? Close up those spaces and see what happens. For just over 20 minutes, it worked, but then something remarkable and inevitable happened. Mascherano made a defensive play, gangstering the ball from Deportivo, and played it to Pique, who was being rather lackadaisical about play. Mascherano called for the ball, because he saw that Deportivo had a numerical imbalance, and Messi was enjoying that rarest of things, a puddle of pitch all to himself. Pique played to Mascherano, who played a quick, hard pass to Messi, who found Villa sitting just on the shoulder of a just-reset defense, between two defenders. A subtle look was exchanged, Villa made the run just as Messi released the ball, leaving the two flat-footed defenders for dead. He played between the legs of the charging keeper, and it was 1-0.

It was yet another goal from us that had its roots in defense, and also a demonstration of why, when Maradona was asked about his ideal World Cup XI, said “Mascherano and 11 others.” El Jefe was spectacular today, in a way that I can’t ever remember us having. He takes balls from people. We have had The Yaya, a planet-sized defender who can win balls, and Busquets, who plays exceptional position defense, winning balls with anticipation of play patterns and being in the right spot. But the appropriately nicknamed sMasch just strolls over and takes it. Sometimes its a standing steal, other times a slide tackle. Still other times it’s just making life so difficult that you’re loose with possession, then he or someone else steals it.

It’s also a style that’s perfect for a Xavi-less midfield, because rather than the metronomic precision of our Maestro, Iniesta brings a bit more daring to the role. The results are roughly the same, but midfield play will be a bit looser. When that happens, you need someone to fix a problem. That someone is Mascherano.

That we got to the half only 0-1 up was surprising, after an Eric Abidal goal was correctly ruled offside, a goal that was yet another example of how amazing Messi was being when he wasn’t vexing the crap out of me. He spanked a pass into space for Abidal, who was playing like a forward at the edge of the defense, waiting to make the run. The pass took into account Abidal’s pace. It just didn’t take into account the speed of his takeoff, as our French Greyhound was off by a shoulder lean.

But 0-2 was inevitable, and beautiful. Messi worked the ball loose with a battling burst of one-man pressure, and was off to the races before having his shirt grabbed by a Deportivo defender to stop his breakaway. So Messi shook Villa off of the ensuing free kick, and unleashed this curlicue of a ball that had the poor Deportivo keeper throwing up his hands in frustration. It was an unstoppable shot that seemed to bend twice in the air, for a 0-2 lead that might as well have been 0-20, given how much Deportivo threatened our nets.

It was also a goal that removed all hope for Deportivo, which meant of course that more were to come, even as they switched to damage limitation mode. Our third goal was, like so many of our goals, rooted in the hard work of someone who is not the scorer. Pique battled Deportivo defenders for the ball, retaining possession like an attacking midfielder or forward with such grace and fluency, a newcomer could be forgiven for wondering why we had such a tall mid out there. He regained possession and smoked a pass to Iniesta, who drifted left and unleashed a savage snap shot that was in the back of the net before Arranzubia could even think about it.

The force field was still down, and the difference between Iniesta and Xavi, even as they play the same role, was clear. Its simple definition can be found in the adage “with risk comes reward.” Iniesta is always an attacking player, even when he’s the distributor. Xavi always has the steering wheel in his hand, and sometimes looks to distribute to a fault. Both are magical, but in very different ways. This match made it abundantly clear, at least for me, who the successor to Xavi is.

The fourth goal came shortly thereafter as a Messi-led fast break found him being absolutely cleared out by a Deportivo defender, only to have the loose change fall to Pedro!!, who chipped in a deft shot for number four.

Taking nothing from Deportivo, this was a routine victory from a side that has yet to lose on the road, a mark that is yet another sign of its steel core. It takes a lot to roll into another club’s lair and slap it in the face. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is an amazing, special club that we need to celebrate every time that it plays. Even when not at its best, as it was today, there will still be moments of beauty that take your breath away: a perfectly weighted Iniesta backheel to Messi; a one-touch midfield interplay at full speed; a spin that leaves a defender for dead. Our beloved club won’t always be this amazing, and I’m happy to be around to witness it all.

Team: 8. Exceptional group effort in a destruction of a defense-minded side. Breaking buses takes extra work and movement, all willingly provided by a group of players never content to rest on laurels. It’s defense and attack as a team, and all-out efforts to get the ball back.

Guardiola: 8. A good rotation that worked like a charm. The match was decided by the time he made and subs, but it was nice to see the future get some playing time.

Valdes: 7. What I liked so much about Valdes’ match today was his distribution, that was well thought-out and hit with accuracy and power. And what a save in extra time, to deny Deportivo its consolation goal.

Adriano: 5. Very solid. People who were finding much to dislike about his game today will also, upon futher review, find much to like. His pace and work rate are exceptional, and he had any number of first-rate, very intelligent passes. Also note how well he switches the pitch. It wouldn’t take a lot to imagine, in a world in which Dani Alves moves on in search of filthy lucre, more reps turning Adriano into a right back that wouldn’t lose us all that much from Alves, and gain us some pace. He would be a different player from Alves, so they couldn’t be compared. That said ….

Pique: 4. Still slumping for me, with those long diagonal balls that never work, uncertain play and movement on the defensive end and a laconic approach to his play that, when we turn possession, sees us losing the advantage of a defender playing the ball quickly up the pitch.

Puyol: 6. The defense was a little sloppy on a few occasions, and he has to get his mates’ tendency to head the ball aimlessly into the air to clear it, under control. That can lead to sure danger. Mostly good, but guessed wrong a number of times.

Abidal: 8. Another exceptional match, and the goal would have made it even better. But he and Mascherano just owned their patches of the terra today. He is, right now, in addition to being our best defender, the calmest defender with the ball.

Mascherano: 9. Held back from perfection only by a few loose passes, El Jefe is a player that needs to get more time in the side. His defense is exceptional, his passing world class and his transition from defense to offense can catch many a side off guard. A remarkable player, who is looking like a bargain at his price, given his quality.

Keita: 8. Keita is that guy, like that friend you have that is always there for you. He makes runs, steals, defends, harasses, passes, tracks back and does everything that club needs to win. You can see why Guardiola is so fond of him when he plays as he had these last two matches.

Iniesta: 9. He was extraordinary today in his holding creative role, keeping possession when necessary, attacking when necessary. A beautifully taken goal capped off a stunner of a performance. I still don’t know why some say that he isn’t the Xavi heir apparent, particularly after a match such as today.

Messi: 7. His work rate kept him from being rated lower for selfishness. He ignored teammates on too many occasions, even as he also accounted for three of our four goals today. Dribbling into 3 or 4 defenders is rarely a recipe for success, despite what the highlight reels tell him.

Pedro!!: 4. Despite the goal, his weakest match ever in the colors, as he just couldn’t do much right except for work his butt off. Even when you can’t score, you can still work to track back, be available on the runs and make movements that create space for teammates, all of which he did.

Villa: 5. Better today, but still making the wrong runs. You could see Messi correcting him on more than one occasion today. He’s still finding his way, learning when to make runs and when not to, what side of a player to be on and how to move. It will come. A very well-taken goal, that took into account the running keeper’s stride length. Crazy.


Krkic (for Villa): 2. Nothing good, yet again. Made a few runs, got in the way effectively on the run leading up to the 4th goal.

Afellay (for Pedro!!): incomplete. Not enough time to rate, but more than enough time to anticipate this dude getting more time. He moved, passed and received as if one of us already. It’s easy to see what Guardiola means about his “flawless” assimilation.

Thiago (for Iniesta): incomplete. Watching Thiago and Afellay demonstrates that the former is still a work in progress, but the end result should be stunning. He has confidence, but not assurance. That will come, along with improvements at reading the match and learning when to take risk.

Next up is the first Copa leg against Betis. Not sure who will play for Guardiola, but as noted before, I want to see me some more Afellay. This dude, for 3m, could turn out to be the bargain of the century.

P.S. soccermomof4 asked me to translate this sign, as part of the review, that was shown when Krkic entered the match: Bojan, te cambio tu pantalon por un pimiento de Padron. And frankly, I can’t. I can do a literal translation, but my colloquialism needs work, particularly when I realize that Pimientos de Padron are little peppers that are served in bars and restaurants, sort of a fun delicacy in which you never know when one will be hot. Kinda like Krkic. Or there might be a jibe at his testicular capacity. Padron is also a small town in Galicia. So my willingness has been quashed by my lack of full knowledge. Anyone?

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Wow I wanted Xavi to win this one, but Messi already at only 23/24 having won this much… wow he could dominate this the way no player has ever done (Cruyff, Platini, van Basten, etc won thrice- Messi could win another four or five times!)

  2. Guess they didn’t go up together…..but surely after they will take a pic together with it..

  3. It looked like Leo didn’t actually want to win. His reaction when his name was called was “What, it’s me? Ahhh.’

  4. I also wanted Xavi to win, but… here’s to Leo winning every single individual trophy until he hangs up his boots!

  5. i called it. said that the votes would get split between iniesta & xavi making messi the winner.

    i really hoped xavi would get it, though.

    completely forgot this was on. i did get to catch messi’s speech, though.

  6. Well, he’s got a pair of golden balls now. πŸ™‚

    Pep looked like he was going to explode from pride when he was presenting it. Knowing that no matter which of them won, he is their coach.

  7. So, that’s two awards where Spain got “robbed”. Del Bosque and Xavi. Damn, they must feel peeved. πŸ˜›

    And yes, jordi, it’s possible to feel sad and happy at the same time.

  8. The notion that there’s some uncertainty regarding who the greatest footballer in the world is, is only a media creation.

    Inside of football, amongst the players and coaches, there is simply no question. I don’t think there’s even much of a serious debate.

    When you hear how other footballers talk about Messi, you can just hear the it in their voice – they know better than everyone else how special, how historic this player is.

    I wanted Xavi to win as recognition for his sustained brilliance in the parts of the game that get less attention than scoring goals.

    But at the same time the award is for who was the best player. And there’s just no way to say Messi is not the best.

    The whole criticism of him and his performance at the world cup seems to have had very little sway amongst people inside of football. He didn’t score but he did play very well at the Cup.

    Congrats to Leo!

    1. Perfect summary πŸ™‚

      I was torn apart between Xavi and Messi, but I don’t want to complain now although I would slightly have preferred Xavi to win it. Judging by pure skill, only Messi could win this. I mean, we saw the passes from him against EE… now Messi is almost as good and as deadly a passer as Xavi!

      I also love Iniesta, that’s for sure. But the Gazzetta Dello Sport reported that Iniesta wins, and I always felt there wouid be something wrong with it. And knowing that 2/3 of the judges are actually football professionals / coaches, I foundt it hard to believe la Gazzetta…

  9. BTW I always wonder who Renaldo votes for since he is the captain of Portugal n all…ON that note don’t Fifa usually prints out who voted for whom afterward???

  10. Im just sad for Xavi because hes not young like Leo and Andres so there goes his chance.On the other hand Leo is the best so he does deserve it .my poor cule heart is confused.

    1. Yeah I feel the same. Messi is a magical player, the best in the world, but it is a pity and a travesty that now Xavi isn’t gonna get one (like many other legends such as Maldini, admittedly). Xavi was a favorite this year cos of the Spain WC win- if Barcelona have a successful club year the thing is Messi will win individual prizes over Xavi, Spain was what could have given him precedence.

      Well I did NOT expect Messi to win it at all, cos of the Spain WC win, but on one hand it’s well deserved for amazing level of performances and magical ability, and on the other hand I’m just really sad for Xavi. And Iniesta to a lesser extent, but he’s still young.

  11. Congrats to Leo. You could see he genuinely didn’t think he would win. Feel for Xavi, but can’t say Messi isn’t deserving.

  12. They could have at least gave Del Bosque Coach of the Year IMO. but as we all saw the World Cup didn’t have much of an impact in the voting.

  13. I think the greatest recognition for Xavi is that he was considered such a favourite. He used to be so, so, so underrated, even back in 2008 (The Best Players in the World (and Xavi)).

    At least he got the recognition he deserves. Go Xavi!

    1. I think the greatest recognition for Xavi is that he was considered such a favourite.

      Great point, Kari.

  14. Why are you all sad? I wanted Xavi to win but when Pep said Messi! I just ran out of joy in room jajajaj

  15. Don’t know how i feel about the award, after all it is a team game that without xavi and iniesta, all would not be possible. But i do agree, the best player did win it, and i am very happy for him, just really wanted to see xavi win it, as did i think everyone. Even messi was shocked when he saw his name on the paper because pep opened it backwards, but still a great feat for Barca, and our system of youth players.

  16. i thought pep looked disappointed giving it to messi, i don’t know.

    messi is such a little kid, sticking his tongue out & leaning on the podium :^)

  17. Well, I, for one, am pretty happy. Messi deserved it as the actual best player in the world. Funny how he was the most obvious choice but there was so much talk about this being Xavi’s last chance and should win it for sentimental reasons (as well as football merit).

  18. Congrats to messi.
    I think this surprise spoiled your plans of the next post ?
    I know you all had a pic of xavi ready to post after it! πŸ˜›

  19. I think Xavi himself won’t be disappointed or sad, and that’s why we should simply feel happy for Barca, for Leo, and for Xaviniesta!

    And I would have loved to see Crynaldo’s face when Messi won it πŸ˜€
    After claiming to be the best, 2nd and 3rd best player of the world, and his agent confirming that he is the best footballer not only in history, but also of the next 500 years – damn, that look on his face must’ve been priceless!

    1. I think deep down you will always feel a bit disappointed if you don’t come first at something. That’s just how it is. But, I’m sure they are glad Messi has won it and at the same time, they are recognized more than ever before.

  20. is it me or did no EPL players make the best 11. 6 are from Barca, 3 from Inter and 2 from RM.

    1. LOL @Nik!

      Honestly, can you think of one EPL player right now that deserves to be in the best 11?

    2. Anyone from Stoke City. As we all know, Messi couldn’t even hang with those cats.

      …just kidding. Of course no EPL player should be in the best 11. I was hoping my sarcasm would show through in the original comment. πŸ™‚

  21. Well apparently Xavi came third….

    Over the years Spanish players hasn’t got any much recognition really. As much as people hate to admit it Raul to deserved one.

    BTW Messi winning it this year means in Spain whole footballing history they only have one winner

  22. At the current rate, next year will be Messi-Ronaldo-???
    Messi could win three in a row. It depends on the rest of the Champions League but theres almost no doubt they’ll go one-two. who is third? Nasri????

    I’m also very surprised, but wow. Poor Xavi, adam bader is so pissed. atleast I have that to be cheery about.

    1. I love the touch of Pep giving the award, and his comical incorrect way of opening it. πŸ˜€

  23. Same feeling here like everybody else: on the one hand I am so disappointed that it was not meant to be for Xavi, for me he will be the greatest player who never one it, the same as 82 Brazil will always be the best team never to win the WC. On the other hand it is Leo and if I remember all the phantastic things he did: the 4 against Arsenal, the hattrick against Valencia and Zaragozza when we were on the brick, like someone said never felt so bittersweat

  24. Messi for me is the right choice, i will be surprised if the voting count is even close, because actually no one comes close to messi.
    However i didn’t watch this, because as a barca fan there was no competition from other clubs, barca is the biggest winner.

  25. at the end of the day, messi is the perfect canddidate to win it…this award ain’t for the person who had the best season…if it were like that then valdes could have got it …after all he did “win” the world cup….
    Messi completely deserves it because hands down, he is tTHE world’s best player…and let’s not forget it wasn’t fifa who voted, it was tons of national captains and coaches…
    I am sad that xavi didnt win it, but i think leo is the world’s best player…who the helll scores 47 goals in a season …sooo FUCK YOU ANDY GRAYYYY

  26. Like everyone I was pulling for Xavi, but with Messi being announced my reaction was kinda like “well, obviously”. There should be no sadness in the best player in the world being rewarded as such. And Xavi doesn’t need any awards to validate his brilliant career. He will go down in history as one of the greatest midfielders ever regardless. But the best man won and we should be thankful to bear witness to a player who may go down as the greatest player ever to lace up the boots.

  27. Messi obtained 22.65% of the votes, ahead of his club team-mates AndrΓ©s Iniesta (17.36%) and Xavi (16.48%).

    Mourinho, who led Inter Milan to the UEFA Champions League, the Italian Serie A and the Italian cup before moving to Real Madrid in the summer of 2010, won with 35.92% of the votes, ahead of Spanish national coach Vicente del Bosque, who received 33.08%, and Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola (8.45%).


  28. Happy for Barca, not happy for Xavi, who was the best player in the world last year, because he didn’t just excel at club level. Sorry, but if the best player of the year includes the World Cup, then you can’t give it to a guy who, as leader of his national side, saw that side get bounced early from the tournament. Particularly over a guy who was integral to his national side winning the WC, while being equally integral to his club side winning that championship.

    It isn’t just goals, it isn’t just runs. I won’t argue that Messi is the best player in the world. I will argue that he didn’t have a better year, in footballing terms, than Xavi. And if the award is supposed to be for that, then they got it wrong. And the fact that Xavi was third just makes my ass hurt.

    1. Do you think Messi won because Xaviniesta split votes? I mean it has to be. Xavi even finished last.. While Xavi captured the hearts of the world with his play, Iniesta captured the hearts of the world with one kick.

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