Mallorca 0, Barca 3, aka “Moments of individual brilliance”

Manel Montilla/El Mundo Deportivo

This is a rare one for me, in that it was a match that was fraught with complexity, that found us missing key parts of the engine that has driven our club to its status as one of the best extant — and yet it turned into a comfortable win that allowed us to punch the cruise control button, and ease into an important midweek encounter.

Who knew?

We rolled into Mallorca’s house as something of a mess (by our standards), and Mallorca were ready to pounce. They came at us with pressure, aggression and physical play, aided by a referee who decided (rightly) that the players would decide this match. So they were all over us, and we were struggling with plenty of nothing from something of a “best available” lineup from Guardiola, featuring Pinto, Adriano, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Busquets, Keita, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro!, Villa.

The problem was a decided lack of movement on and off the ball, which made us stationary targets for the Mallorca pressers, who clogged up the midfield and passing lanes, determined to not let us possess them to death. It was a side that played fast and slow, the former on the attack, the latter during stoppages in play, as they were cognizant of the fact that time was on their side, that we were less than we usually are. No Valdes, Puyol, Alves or Xavi, four crucial parts of our starting XI, and we were in their house.

There was no rhythm to the match or our possession, as risky passes, dwelling on possession too long and lack of movement conspired to yield 0 shots on goal for most of the first half. Mallorca charged at us as the home side should, applying pressure of the break and sparking last-minute interventions on the part of the defense. Villa was offside twice within 20 minutes, and this was getting the feel of a very, very long afternoon. A clean-shaven Guardiola looked worried, as he looked to be explaining those very things to whomever was willing to listen, since the players clearly weren’t.

We were even messy on the defensive end of the pitch, incapable of starting play from the back as is our style, in part because of the Mallorca pressure but also because we were just plain off, something easy to jugde by the number of long clearances from Pinto. Barca keepers don’t usually just boot the ball up the pitch, but it was happening far too often on this day from a club that was going nowhere slowly.

There were brief signs of life as Iniesta hit Messi with a remarkable pass in the box, only to have Messi somehow miss everything on what should have been a sure goal, but indicators were pointing up. We went from a side in which the setup men were having to hold the ball because our attackers were standing there looking at them to one full of danger as the players realized “Hey, I think we have to run toward that net-covered thing, and maybe something good will happen.”

And then, suddenly, it all came together. Having players such as we have is a luxury because when the team is off, sometimes individual talent allows something remarkable to happen. This season, our goals have usually been things of beauty, passes stitched together from a quilt of possession, inexorable assaults that leave teams with the knowledge, yet the inability to do anything about them. But Mallorca knew what to do, and they knew that we were off song, but the amazing gifts of individual talents are what would save the day.

Keita, Messi and Busquets just batted the ball back and forth in the midfield, and you could see Messi straining at the bit. As he broke for goal, my thought was certainly “Oh great, a Mallorca defender will get in the way of this one too.” But Keita’s pass was perfect, and perfectly timed. Messi pillowed the ball with his feet, then lofted it up so that he could head it over a stunned Aouate.

Just like that it was 1-0, and Mallorca were stunned and a bit frustrated. They had done everything absolutely right, and it was nothing more than individual brilliance that beat them and their keeper. What keeper alive would ever play an attacker for what Messi did? It was an absurd goal that had its roots in passing and off-the-ball movement, the very things that got us to our exalted position in world football. It was nice to have them back, but spare a moment for the Mallorca players, who were rocked by that goal as was I, frankly. I get used to seeing us, and I know how good we are, but to have a player who can score a goal such as that ….

If there is even a moment’s hesitation, a defender gets there, or the keeper does the right thing. The control has to be millimeter perfect, the lift has to be such that only Messi’s head can get to it. It’s a training ground play, really, something that you would never try in a match. But why not? Worse still, it’s the kind of goal that there is no psychological answer for. Yes, you can shrug and say “He’s the best player on the planet, so what do you expect?” But it never works like that, and you could see it in the faces and movements of their players, who were hoping to get to the half scoreless. Not to be.

And it really shouldn’t have been as Villa left at least two goals begging, including an astounding diagonal ball from Maxwell that found him all alone in space in the box, and somehow …. some way …. agggghhhh! But suddenly, we were in control of the match.

As the second half dawned, Mallorca were significantly more tentative. Tika-taka wasn’t in full effect, but excellence was, and it was high time for another display. Busquets took a pass, looked up and saw Villa making the run and smoked a long ball that found our striker in stride, right at his feet. Villa rounded the keeper, made it look far, far more dramatic than it should have, and tapped home. It was 2-0 and there again, it was the kind of goal that was just two players being remarkable. Villa ran offside, jumped back on and stopped. As the defense paused, he leapt and Busquets saw it all happening, with the kind of display that makes those who consider him as the next Xavi, seem not altogether crazy.

Mallorca was done for, but we had another sting in the tail ready for them, a goal that I will always think of as Kaboom, which was almost certainly the sound that was made when Pedro! struck the ball. He took a pass, ran toward goal, drifted a bit to create space and unloaded. Nobody expected the shot even as it was happening, and certainly not with that kind of power and placement. P! probably was, since he unleashed a similar shot against Copenhagen in the Champions League group stages, but hit the post. It wasn’t speculative, either. It was an attacker’s goal, that relied on every gift in the player’s arsenal, and even the ESPN Deportes match commentators were stunned into a moment of silence. “That went IN? Holy crap!”

And just like that, it was 0-3 in a match that was a lot tighter than the score indicated. If they had players of a little more quality, if we didn’t have Abidal in the back line, if, if, if. This one was balanced on a knife’s edge for too long, toppled by amazing talent. Three goals from four shots on target? That’s crazy talk!

Team: 6. Clunky and funky at times, achieving heft only when the match was decided and Mallorca had accepted its fate. The pace of play was too slow, with too much playing around with the ball. Lack of movement was stranding midfielders with the ball, and their quick counters found their way into our box all too easily.

Guardiola: 9. Right starting XI, right subs, and a great call on the start for Keita.

Pinto: 7. Never really had to make any serious saves, but played his role very well. Too many long clearances for my tastes, but some of that is on the defense. He’s getting better at reading play as he gets more time.

Adriano: 6. A much better display, though he still dwells on the ball too much. But his interplay with Messi continues to improve, and when the ball was played to him in a wide position, something good often happened. He’s also calmed down on the crazy-ass shot thing.

Pique: 7. Strong match, helped by the fact that Mallorca didn’t have big-time pace up the flanks. Won headers galore, and looked a lot more assured and leader-like on the back line.

Abidal: 9. Monster. The only thing keeping him from perfection were loose passes in the last few minutes that could have cost the club. It’s the second match in a row that he’s been too casual with these kinds of efforts. But what a match, otherwise, with key intervention after key intervention. He was even attacking up the right side!

Maxwell: 7. Excellent match from a player who improves with reps. He also showed more on the attack, which was good to see.

Busquets: 9. Wow. It’s worth watching the match just to watch him, as he was everywhere on defense, then facilitating offense in a valuable role, since Iniesta was rather withdrawn in his Xaviesque role. Yes, he still gets caught in possession, but once he learns control like Xavi, watch out.

Keita: 9. Hardly put a foot wrong the entire match, and was a bulwark during our messy period, almost single-handedly keeping control of the midfield as he challenged for everything, then made runs at their box to boot. It’s a Man of the Match performance.

"You can't do this to me! I am MOTM!"

Iniesta: 6. A curious match for him, with flashes of brilliance followed by donning of the cloak of invisibility. Late with a number of passes to players that were making the run. You can’t say “Xavi would have ….” because Iniesta isn’t Xavi. But our mids are supposed to make those passes. How he hosed off that pass from Afellay, I will never know.

Messi: 7. Strong and influential, and very competent at reading a match and knowing when he can turn the motor to idle. His runs and passes were always dangerous unlike recent matches, where he sallies into the teeth of 4 defenders. With more action from his front line mates, he almost certainly would have had an assist or two.

Pedro!: 6. He earned one of his exclamation points back with that golazo. His effort is endless, as is his aggression. Shooters try to shoot their way out of a slump. Pedro! tries to work his way out. You can see him returning to form, slowly but surely. And that blast from distance should change the way defenses play our front line.

Villa: 5. Solid, but too slow to react to passes, and decidedly unclinical in the box today. His passes are too risky, and resulted in lost possession far too often for my tastes today. Yes, he notched a crucial goal, the “Aaaahhhh,” goal. But that was 70% Busquets, with that amazing pass.

Substitutes

Krkic (for Villa): 2. I know he came on, but I forgot about him, so invisible was he. He just isn’t playing with freedom and flow. Everything he does seems tight, and forced.

Afellay (for Pedro!): 6. He looks comfortable wherever Guardiola puts him, on left wing today. Some excellent passes, including a sterling ball for Iniesta that really should have notched him an assist. Too fond of the dive for the end line/cross thing. Versatility in attack would help him.

Montoya (for Adriano): incomplete. Not enough time for a full rating, but our right back of the future showed flashes of the promise that marks him as the next Masia defensive wunderkind.

And hats off to Deportivo La Coruna, and the groundskeeper who painted their goalposts. Their holding of EE gives us a 7-point lead in the standings at a time when we are rolling into a very difficult stretch of matches. Valencia at home in midweek could be a very complex thing, so it’s very nice to have a cushion. Until then, I have to say that I don’t know what the hell is going on here:


Manel Montilla/El Mundo Deportivo

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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.

253 Comments

  1. Miguel
    February 27, 2011

    great give & go w/zigic 😉 then off the post!

  2. SoccerMom
    February 27, 2011

    From: ‘El Barça te vacía’ (‘Barça wears you out’: El País, 02/27/11):

    “La imagen de este equipo es Keita”, argumenta siempre Guardiola. “Su maleducado entrenador lo hace jugar 10 o 15 minutos, pero él nunca se queja, es una maravillosa persona”.

    “Keita is the image of this team,” Guardiola always says. “His mean manager only lets him play 10 or 15 minutes, but he never complains … he’s a great guy.”

    • Miguel
      February 27, 2011

      maleducado? that’s cute.

      guardiola’s just making sure he’s fit for the big games!

    • February 27, 2011

      SoMA! Back from fighting the world to give us a little hello!

  3. Roz
    February 27, 2011

    Goalllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!

  4. February 27, 2011

    OMG what is it with Arsenal keepers and cup finals?????????

  5. mega_tajh
    February 27, 2011

    Congrats to Birmingham City!!!!!!!!

  6. Roz
    February 27, 2011

    Wow. Wow. I wanted Cesc to win something at club level with Arsenal. Not to be I guess.

  7. Diego
    February 27, 2011

    Arsenal have been Hlebbed 😀

  8. Eklavya
    February 27, 2011

    GOOOOAAAAAL!!!

  9. Eklavya
    February 27, 2011

    ARSENAL HAVE EFFECTIVELY BEEN HLEBBED!!!

  10. Diego
    February 27, 2011

    Hleb with Us in the The Treble season.
    Hleb with Birmingham and they win the Cup.

    Coincidence ?

  11. Diego
    February 27, 2011

    This was waaaay before the Match

    A Goal.com Comment

    9:11 AM Feb 26, 2011

    birmingham will win 2-1 Thanks for the goals from zigic,martins and rvp
    1 Thumbs Up
    14 Thumbs Down

    • Eklavya
      February 27, 2011

      He Hlebbed the 14 people who thumbed him down 😀

  12. Roz
    February 27, 2011

    You?

  13. Miguel
    February 27, 2011

    koscielny getting shoved back to the ground in obafemi martin’s goal celebration was priceless!

    • Diego
      February 27, 2011

      That’s why I’m so happy. Everyone thought Arsenal would win Comfortably.

  14. outerspacedout
    February 27, 2011

    Haven’t even read the comment thread here yet, just popping in to say:

    LOL AT ARSENAL BAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    • Diego
      February 27, 2011

      Fixed the Laptop Charger ?

    • outerspacedout
      February 27, 2011

      nah still only on on my phone but i just had to get on just for this. i was with my cousins wen my dad called me in at the 92nd minute for me to see Arsenal losing 2-1 then I just got so pissed off first thing- wanted them to finally win something- then started laughing my head off before gleefully logging in here to laugh at it a bit more.

      Teams with shorter trophy droughts than Arsenal: Portsmouth, Birmingham, Pathetico, Liverpool, Lazio, Spurs..

    • outerspacedout
      February 27, 2011

      Ps. As for cricket, I don’t really care about it at all but I’m rooting for Pakistan. Just cos their captain Shahid Afridi seems so badass. Some players just seem so confident and badass when they play, like Keisuke Honda.

  15. Jose
    February 27, 2011

    Gotta say, I’m happy Birmingham won, if only because that massive refereeing error would have probably tainted an Arsenal win.

  16. February 27, 2011

    Arsenal got Hlebbed!

    And I know it’s horrible of me and I shouldn’t do it, but I smiled a bit when I saw the result. Now I’m sad that I slept in and missed the match.

  17. Diego
    February 27, 2011

    I’m Proud of Hleb. His Ability of Hlebbing is expanding even when He’s out of the Squad and the Bench.

  18. K_legit
    February 27, 2011

    Lets not mince words here, Arsenal should have had their GK sent off and a penalty against in the first minute.
    They were ineffective and the loss of Fabregas was apparent.
    And a special word for two people, Steven Carr and Roger Johnson. Carr, who is an ex-Spurs man and two years ago was retured, came out of retirement, fair play to him. To Roger Johnson who played through an obvious injury and discomfort. That is grit which, I am sorry to say, you’ll see only in the English game.

  19. Diego
    February 27, 2011

    Eklavya .. Do you watch Xherdan Shaqiri ?

    • Eklavya
      February 27, 2011

      I haven’t seen him but apparently the dude is AWESOME and really talented! People keep speaking about him. Maybe Barca will sign him heeheehee

      • Diego
        February 27, 2011

        I saw him scoring an awesome goal but I thought maybe you’re following him.

      • blitzen
        February 27, 2011

        The look on the keeper’s face is priceless!

        It’s so funny I almost forgot I was actually cheering for Arsenal in this game. 😛

  20. Eklavya
    February 27, 2011

    Schadenfreude.

    Im not proud of it … but I feel happy!

    Arsenal offside erupting..

  21. K_legit
    February 27, 2011

    Oh and Poachers never prosper..just thought I’d put it in there

    • February 27, 2011

      But they win you Carling Cups.

      • K_legit
        February 27, 2011

        How exactly?

      • Jose
        February 27, 2011

        Martins poached that last goal.

      • February 27, 2011

        ^ This.

      • K_legit
        February 27, 2011

        ahh cheers for clearing that up..

        Props on the word play Kari!

  22. Diego
    February 27, 2011

    I just saw Martins goal .. If you haven’t seen it then you Must !!!

    It’s AWESOME

    • Eklavya
      February 27, 2011

      I just saw it as well.

      LOL EPIC FAIL HLEB

      • Eklavya
        February 27, 2011

        And now I feel kinda sorry for Kosthingy.

  23. Jose
    February 27, 2011

    I really don’t mean to be mean (honest!), but I have to post this for pure comedic value:

    “Shattered, distraught, dont know what to do. […] I have this sinking feeling that right now Fab would be getting a call from those bastards Pyuol, Xavi, Ineista who would be chuckling and mouthing words like come join us we win trophies regularly in their smooth almost seductive spanish. How long would Fab be able to ward off these offers?

    • Miguel
      February 27, 2011

      those bastards.

      • Vj
        February 27, 2011

        “Sons of bitches” /end Seinfeld

        How come they forgot Pique?

    • February 27, 2011

      While checking if my clone was trolling, I saw that comment too.

      I don’t know whether I should pity the fool, face-palm or laugh. Probably all of the above.

      • Jose
        February 27, 2011

        Whatever you do, make sure it’s in that smooth almost seductive spanish.

      • February 27, 2011

        Oh gosh, I’m going have so much fun with this.

      • K_legit
        February 27, 2011

        does smooth almost seductive spanish involve the word moc moc, oooo and with a hijo de puta thrown in for the heck of it?

      • Miguel
        February 27, 2011

        you forgot “joder.”

      • Miguel
        February 27, 2011

        and “wah!”

      • K_legit
        February 27, 2011

        damn how did I forget joder and mierda too

  24. K_legit
    February 27, 2011

    RvP out for the tie against Barça apparently with ligament damage..feel for him.. apparently he injured himself while scoring the tying goal

    • Miguel
      February 27, 2011

      it’s still hlebuary for arsenal.

    • jordi™
      February 27, 2011

      Is this confirmed?

      • Jose
        February 27, 2011

        Not yet. Wenger says he “doesn’t know”.

    • jordi™
      February 27, 2011

      I mean he practically jogged off the pitch

  25. BA
    February 27, 2011

    our new training kit with the Qatar Foundation logo on it is out.

    disgusting.

    • blitzen
      February 27, 2011

      Fugly. Do you think they made the font big enough? Gotta get their money’s worth, ya know.

  26. February 27, 2011

    One way to tell me and my “clone” apart: our views of Fabregas.

    I don’t want him to come, as everyone here knows or should know.

    • Nav
      February 27, 2011

      Eh, don’t worry so much about it Kari. Just the interwebs 🙂

  27. Miguel
    February 27, 2011

    giovanni dos santos makes it 2-1 for racing! villarreal is suffering a european hangover.

    • blitzen
      February 27, 2011

      He almost got another one there as well!

      Damn, my Yellow Submarines are gonna lose. 🙁

      • Miguel
        February 27, 2011

        golazo! there’s still time.

      • February 27, 2011

        Nilmaaaaaaaaaar!

  28. outerspacedout
    February 27, 2011

    Just checked Goal.com Mobile and saw Udinese beat Palermo 7-0. Palermo being a pretty good side (Pastore, Ilicic, Miccoli). Didn’t read any more about it except that Di Natale scored three and Sanchez four.

    Hola all (in my smooth, almost seductive Spanish). That has got to become a running joke here. If you guys dont I will.

    I’m popping in on the next LiveBlog just to go ‘Hola, Mila! *smooth, almost seductive Spanish*’

    Oh my God Puyol or- HAHAHAHAHAHA INIESTA!- talking in a smooth, almost seductive.. my God, Gooners, why do you give me such joy?! Iniesta! Crackovia episode on seductive Ghostface please!

    • blitzen
      February 27, 2011

      Pique: “Ooooohhhhh Cesc, venido ensámblenos! Ganamos los trofeos regularmente! Moc moc!”

      Is that smooth and seductive enough? 😀

      • outerspacedout
        February 27, 2011

        Didnt see this comment before i added the comment about giggling at the original comment by the Arsenal fan. No google translate on my phone so can’t figure out what that is. But ha its not the words its the smooth, seductive way he says it.

        Agh sucks how this is a text only medium I so badly want to read out those in an ridiculously overdone Antonio Banderas accent to you guys. Well just read it like that in your head, hahaha.

    • outerspacedout
      February 27, 2011

      Yeah, I’m rereading that smooth, almost seductive Spanish comment someone reposted here over and over again giggling.

    • Mila
      February 27, 2011

      Hola outer 🙂 Que tal?

      *smooth, seductive Spanish*

      I’m usually just a religious reader of every blog post here, but seeing my name, I had to bump in 🙂

      Good weekend for a cule all around!

  29. blitzen
    February 27, 2011

    Villareal salvages a point, good for them!

    • Miguel
      February 27, 2011

      there are two r’s in villarreal. you have to say it w/a smooth almost seductive roll of the tongue.

      villarrrrrrrrreal!

      • blitzen
        February 27, 2011

        But only one r in Villarato!

      • tntyau
        February 27, 2011

        Also confusing, in Valencian(?), the city name has only one r, *and* only one l: Vila-real.

      • Miguel
        February 27, 2011

        valencian/ catalan. same difference, really.

      • Miguel
        February 27, 2011

        “SPAIN’S foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, may have meant well when he asked the European Union to make four regional tongues—Catalan, Basque, Valencian and Galician—“official languages”. Yet Catalan nationalists were furious. They accused Mr Moratinos of making an “artificial” distinction between Catalan and Valencian, which they deem a mere dialect of Catalan. Josep Lluís Carod-Rovira, head of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), said that, if Valencian were included, Catalan should not be. An ERC spokesman accused the government of “ignorance, lack of culture and bad political faith”. Yet the centre-right Valencian government supported the plan.”
        http://www.economist.com/node/3273749

  30. tntyau
    February 27, 2011

    Go Villarreal!

    Just a little puzzled that Cazorla was not brought on until the last 30 minutes, and Nilmar not brought on until the last 20… Possibly still taking it slow for Nilmar coming back from injury (and Ruben doing well in his place), but Cazorla is key for them, no?

  31. Miguel
    February 27, 2011

    how did llorente just miss that?

    go llorente, it’s your birthday!

    • blitzen
      February 27, 2011

      NOW it’s his birthday.

      • Miguel
        February 27, 2011

        that deserves a birthday beer. cheers to him!

  32. blitzen
    February 27, 2011

    Can’t believe how many empty seats there are for this match! Two of the biggest teams in the league! Meanwhile I am halfway across the world squinting at a poor-quality stream. Not fair. 🙁

    • tntyau
      February 27, 2011

      Well, you’re spared the close up of blood dripping down Javi Martinez’s face that I’m getting on ESPN Deportes…

      • blitzen
        February 27, 2011

        No, I got that! @@

  33. Miguel
    February 27, 2011

    now that was a nice goal, llorente!

  34. tntyau
    February 27, 2011

    Crazy goal! An advantage to having long legs!

    • blitzen
      February 27, 2011

      They sure do grow them big in Basque country, huh?

  35. soccermomof4
    February 27, 2011

    Allow me a moment to grieve for my second team. Ok I’m done. The Martins goal…that was hysterical. Be kind to the Gooners while trolling kids, and someone need to tell that that it would be seductive Catalan not Spanish 🙂

  36. Humphrey Bogart
    February 27, 2011

    Great, Bilbao leading 1:0. Bilbao are my second favourite team, maybe they can get a sniff for the CL. I like the Basque country, Bilbao as well as San Sebastian are phantastic cities with nice folks and delicious pintxos.Have also been in San Mames.

  37. blitzen
    February 27, 2011

    What just happened with the ref there?

    • soccermomof4
      February 27, 2011

      Dunno, also was one of Athletics players bleeding?

      • blitzen
        February 27, 2011

        I thought he was bleeding too. But I think everyone will be by the end, this match is so physical.

        Someone got sent off from Valencia’s bench, but I didn’t see why.

    • soccermomof4
      February 27, 2011

      Tough game+ against Bilbao+ in the rain+ tiring Valencia out= good for us!

      • Miguel
        February 27, 2011

        i like the way you think. i completely forgot we played them wednesday. dur.

  38. Miguel
    February 27, 2011

    that’s bullshit. llorente should’ve had another one.

  39. Miguel
    February 27, 2011

    caparrós is awesome.

  40. ooga aga
    February 27, 2011

    why does everyone keep saying that arsenal got hlebbed? he didnt play and wasnt on the bench? hleb’s ghost? where is he anyway, injured? did birmingham loan him to….i dont know….leyton?

    • Miguel
      February 27, 2011

      hlebbed from beyond the grave! i don’t know. why not? i’m pretty sure he’s still on birmingham’s books, he just didn’t make the squad list. why?…

      ooga aga is the punk rock expert round here.

      • blitzen
        February 27, 2011

        I thought that was me. 🙂

  41. Miguel
    February 27, 2011

    off the post!

    • Para
      February 27, 2011

      Miguel, did Munain get carded too after that ‘incident’ off the sideline? I got up to do something and totally missed it.

      • Miguel
        February 27, 2011

        wait, what incident?

        gooooooooool, mata!

      • Para
        February 27, 2011

        It says it on the link you posted. 🙂 Apparantly Bruno and Muniain argued over who was supposed to get the throw in- the latter picked up the ball and Bruno responded by grabbing his leg and flipping him on his back. And then they both got a yellow card each.

  42. outerspacedout
    February 27, 2011

    INIESTA, Master of Seduction… Men and women equal fall into his lap when he speaks. The only reason Fabregas has lasted this long is because of all the years he has spent in manly, manly England.

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