Barca 1, Zaragoza 0, aka “Wake me when it’s over”

Um. Wow. Who ever thought that a win could be so massively boring and at the same time, fraught with uncertainty? But, thanks to a Real Zaragoza side that came into our house looking for precious little more than pride and to nick a goal off the counter, so it was. The old adage is that there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but not in this case:

Shots: 23-3
Shots on goal: 12-1
Possession %: 82-18
Corners: 13-2

Yes, they had two very good chances, either of which could have resulted in goals, but again, the Footy Gods are rather humorless at times such as this. Because you have to play the match if you want a shot.

This, my good people, is going to be the shortest review EVAH! Because here’s what happened:

Zaragoza, came out, determined to play for a draw in our house, lining up at times in the horrific 5-5-0, stacked lines that said, simply enough, “We don’t want to concede.” So we kept the ball, like, forever or something. Then we scored, when Messi took matters into his own hand, with a Kxevin-approved run at the defense to create space for a cross that a Zaragoza defender tried to clear, but he only got it as far as Keita, who tapped home. 1-0, and that was that. Why?

Because even after we scored the goal, Zaragoza slid from “We don’t want to concede” to “We don’t want to concede a second.” So they stayed back, venturing forth only courtesy of long balls, one of which almost worked. But again, the Footy Gods are humorless when it comes to matches such as this one, in which one team decides to play turtle. 82% possession doesn’t even begin to describe it, because of their 12%, probably .002 of it was actually with the intention of endeavoring to score a goal. So we kept the ball, time ran out, and that was that.

Guardiola rolled out with a lineup that had rest in mind, sort of: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Milito, Maxwell, Mascherano, Keita, Xavi, Messi, Krkic, Pedro!. And was clear from the outset what Zaragoza’s plan was, a game plan that was foiled by our scrappy goal, the kind of goal you’re going to score against a defense such as they rolled out. But here’s the thing: If you cede possession to the other side, content to try to play for a break, that means that you have to actually try to get the ball from the other side. Instead, it was like a passing drill out there, with both sides content as things were. Their subs walked off, there was no real sense of urgency on their part, no real belief that they were going to get that goal back for an unlikely draw.

My Man of the Match is Keita, who would have had a brace, but wuz robbed by an incorrect offside call. And that’s that.

Oh, yeah …. Messi’s effort that led to the goal was “Kxevin-approved,” because he had space to run into. Rather than his usual Quixotic gambol at a gaggle of defenders, he had the corner, took it and turned it, giving himself undefended space to run into. That kind of a run is always going to produce panic, and so it did. Zaragoza had it all played properly, but like the Olympians steered Paris’ arrow toward the heel of Achilles, the Footy Gods said “No, this must be a goal. So we can go to bed and stuff.”

And so it was.

Team: 8. There were some runs not made, some sloppy moments, but overall, an excellent performance. We work harder in practice. The lines of support were excellent, and the tracking back was extraordinary, the few times that Zaragoza actually decided to attack. I do wish we would quit whining about calls that clearly aren’t going to come. Tex was calling that match in a way that let the players decide it, which meant that clear, play-altering fouls were called. The rest he just let go. Yes, that kind of a match call rarely benefits us, which doesn’t mean that we should stand there, arms akimbo like supplicants, while the other side runs at our goal.

Guardiola: 9. Almost perfect, but he should have rested Messi. I know, I know. Then where would the assist have come from, you big dummy? I know. I believe it would have come from somewhere, because we would have actually stepped on the gas, rather than swanning around in second gear. Right lineup, and it was time for a start for Krkic. This was the match for it, and so it happened. Dude had back surgery on Thursday, roused himself, got dressed and coached his club then went back to the hospital. That there is full-on man.

Valdes: 7. Key, key moments in his role as sweeper keeper, including bailing out Pique. Nice to have highpockets back between the sticks. His reflexes and pace in closing on the ball surely prevented a goal today. He didn’t have a whole lot to do, but did it beautifully.

Alves: 8. Another excellent match, as he was a demon on both ends of the pitch, as well as in the midfield. Yes, I screamed my usual “Shoot, Dani, shoot!” because he should. He dribbles too much at times, but is a constant danger on the attacking end, and less of a liability on the defensive end.

Pique: 5. He is soon going to get a reputation as one of those defenders susceptible to the long ball. Zaragoza kept trying, and it worked once when he was just moved off the ball by an attacker, and again when he was left for dead by Sinama-Pongolle. The former shot was wide, the latter parried away in an excellent 1-v-1 play by Valdes. Both plays came down to positioning, and in both instances he failed. Utterly. He had a very good match aside from those two moments, but in a match that was never going to have a lot of goals in it ….

Milito: 6. Very solid. Didn’t have a whole lot to do, but was more than capable in the center. I can’t see him getting real time against a club that will actually be trying hard to score, but he was very good against Zaragoza.

Maxwell: 7. Very good today, but I wanted to see him attack more and involve himself even more deeply in the offense. Seemed to be in limbo a lot of the time. Again, this was a perfect match for him, as Zaragoza weren’t really going to do much of anything to catch him out. The times that he attacked, good things happened, which is why I was wanting more of it.

Mascherano: 9. A truly brilliant match today. His closing speed is remarkable when in full flight, and he made it clear today why Valencia weren’t stupid in not playing the ball on the ground anywhere in the midfield. Every time Zaragoza did, he took it. His passing skills were also on full display. What a luxury it must be to have a player of that kind of talent, on the bench.

Keita: 9. As noted above, my MOTM. He was everywhere, snuffing out everything with pace, positioning and calmness on the ball. And when he wasn’t killing Zaragoza’s intentions in the midfield, he was raising hell in their box. A header went wide, a goal was disallowed, then he finally knocked one in. He’s a Guardiola favorite, and you can see why.

Xavi: 9. Absolutely magical today. A match such as this one is crucial to have him at his best, because if a pass goes awry, Zaragoza were looking to break quickly. Xavi just held everything under control with his usual calmness and just enough flair to make you understand how hard is is to play as he does, with every pass hit with the right amound of pace, exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Messi: 7. Very influential today, particularly when playing off Alves with those high-speed 1-2s they do. Delightful assist for Keita, made with pure quickness and ball control. There are matches such as this one, where he plays in a way that is aware of the midweek demands, yet cognizant that his side needs him. Contrast these with the full-on sleepwalkers.

Pedro!: 7. For me, a play that exemplifies Pedro!’s match was when he forced an error as Zaragoza tried to play the ball through midfield, by sheer effort. He ran at one player, then the other, in full-on windmill mode, forcing an errant pass regained possession for us. Defense and offense were very good in equal measure, and he even became the left winger, when Maxwell moved back to begin to consolidate the match.

Krkic: 4. Is this really the best that we’re going to get this season? Villa came in and was instantly about 1,000,000 times more dangerous than Krkic, who seems to somehow take himself out of the play. I’m not sure how he is always putting himself in positions that make it impossible for him to get the ball, but he does. He just isn’t playing naturally right now, and loses way too many balls through not being strong enough to hold his position, and position on the ball. Yes, this was his best match in a long, long time, but that isn’t saying much.


Villa (for Krkic): 6. This was an excellent substitution, and Villa was certainly playing his way to a higher rating. He was constant danger with his movements in and around the box, movements that made possession retention easier, and resulted in a number of excellent scoring chances for him.

Abidal (for Maxwell): incomplete. Again, an excellent substitution, as Abidal just proceeded to do his thing.

Iniesta (for Pedro!): incomplete. He got more of a match-pace warmup for next week’s huge match against Arsenal.

We have a important stretch of matches coming up, a stretch that doesn’t make me happy to hear that Puyol is still in pain, two days after practicing normally with the club. So much for green lights. Here’s hoping he’s back for Arsenal.

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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. Goo
    March 6, 2011

    Great review Kxevin, except did the Pepster really undergo surgery last Thursday? I thought they were just giving him really really strong pain meds. No matter, the dude is still the man.

    • Jnice
      March 6, 2011

      He hasn’t had surgery yet. I think he’s holding off on that for now.

  2. barca96
    March 6, 2011

    Whoa. That was really short.

    I disagree with your views on Maxwell. He hardly contributed anything to the attack. He didn’t take on any defenders, didn’t make a decent pass in the box when he had at least twice the chance to with many players in the box. And how many times was he free on the left and in the end his pass hitting a defender.

    If Pep was smart, he would’ve put on Adriano who could actually make use of the space on the left just like how Alves used the space.

    I thought sMasch deserved the MOtM award. He really deserved it. Really really amazing. Nobody ever passed him.

    Bojan is just lost. But to be fair to him there were too many defenders. There were hardly any space.

    • Jnice
      March 6, 2011

      Agree with your take on Maxwell.

      However, I don’t think Adriano was necessary to put on unless the match was still 0-0 and we needed a goal.

    • xavi
      March 6, 2011

      There may be a slight chance Adriano was being rested for the game against Arsenal after his brilliant display against the second best team of Spain

      • barca96
        March 6, 2011

        🙂 Haha you’re funny.
        The guy hardly got any playing time and you think he was rested.
        Im not like having an evil laugh but really funny laugh.

        • xavi
          March 6, 2011

          If Guardiola wanted Maxwell to play against Arsenal he would surely have rested him IMO, especially since Arsenal have pacey wingers and the fullbacks would have to run a lot playing them!!

          And Adriano did play last two matches(both against Mallorca & Valencia) so it’s only logical he’s given rest if he were to start against Arsenal, which is in less than 3 days after yesterday’s game. But since Maxwell had been substituted, we may not come to conclusion he won’t start against them!!

    • Jim
      March 6, 2011

      “But to be fair to him there were too many defenders. There were hardly any space.”

      Maybe that’s why both Maxwell and Alves found it hard to pick out someone in the box?

      My only quibble with Maxwell going forward is my old one that he doesn’t really have an attacking mindset. When he gets the ball like yesterday his control is excellent and because of that his first touch could easily take him towards the line or their box whereas he tends to stop it. I want to see more of the mindset he showed with his shot where it looked like he actually wanted to score. However, I thought he had a pretty good game overall.

      Interesting that even after a decent display and playing against a very defensive side Pp still didn’t use Adriano.

  3. mardia
    March 6, 2011

    Great review, Kxevin. I missed the match, and I can’t feel too sorry about that, as this sounds like the type of match that would have frustrated and bored me in nearly equal measure–I say bored, with the caveat that this is Barca, so obviously I’m going to be invested for the full 90 minutes.

    Glad about the three points, sorry that Messi wasn’t subbed out in the second half, and fairly amazed that Pep was in attendance himself–I think it’s a safe bet he’ll be on the sidelines for the Arsenal match on Tuesday, which is more than I can say for Puyol unfortunately. Fingers crossed that our Captain Caveman returns.

    As for Bojan–oh dear. The overwhelming verdict I’ve been getting is “best game he’s played in a while, but that’s not saying much” which, talk about damned with faint praise. If that’s the most we can hope for, then…oh boy.

  4. Jnice
    March 6, 2011

    Good review, I agree the match was a bore at times mostly because of Zaragoza’s unwillingness to do anything other than defend.

    Everyone was pretty solid, Keita and Mascherano being the standouts, and for me, Mascherano was MOTM.

    That said, I have a couple of issues with both Pique and Maxwell.

    -Pique looked strong in the first half and covered for Milito well, but then comes the second half, where he loses out to a Zaragoza attacker similar to the way he lost out to Diego Castro in the Gijon match. How does a CB as strong as Pique apparently is, get bundled aside like that? Dunno. Later, they play a simple long ball to Sinama Pongolle, who easily beats Pique for pace and has a great chance to score. They tried to the same thing again later, but the ball was just too long.

    It would have been a shame to concede in a match where the opponent wasn’t interested in scoring, but that’s almost what happened because Pique acts as if he has forgotten how to defend.

    – Maxwell. Yes, he keeps it safe, doesn’t do much wrong, etc. But what does he actually do? He gets the ball, he passes it back. He gets the ball, he passes it back. Or, he gets the ball in space, loops in a cross only a giraffe could reach (Josep came up with that). Repeat.

    Where is the dynamism or creativity? Why not take advantage of the space you have and try to do a little more? He took a shot in the second half that almost led to a goal. Great. Now why don’t doesn’t he do more of that? He is easily the most frustrating player to watch for me week in, week out. I said it last week and I’ll say it again, I want another left back.

    You can accuse me of hating on him, but I really don’t care. I struggle to see what he brings to the side apart from being a nice guy willing to pass the ball back to the attackers/midfielders.

    • barca96
      March 6, 2011

      Yup. That’s the word. Frustrating.
      Why does he hold back so much? And I don’t think anybody notices this, but the guy loses the ball very often.
      And he doesn’t have any urgency at all. Not when defending nor when we’re attacking.
      That shot was beautiful but it seemed like he knew that he was going to come off and decided to do something.

      Jim is probably not having a good night sleep now due to me criticizing Maxwell :p

      Did you guys notice Pique taking a dive into the grass after he lost the battle?? I had a good laugh for 5 mins. It was so hilarious. It wouldn’t be funny though if Zaragoza scored.

      Kxevin is right. I said that Bojan couldn’t do much because there were too many defenders but when Villa came in he kept getting the ball. Everwhere and made good use of it.

      Im still damned piss at Pep for not taking Messi out. Imagined he did get injured after the last minute challenge.

      And seriously, even in a match like this we couldnt give some time to Thiago and Fontas. Not even on the bench. Really disappointing.

      • Jnice
        March 6, 2011

        I notice when he loses it mostly because it usually happens out of nowhere, when he is under no pressure whatsoever.

        Anyway, in a match like this, I think it would have been great for someone like Fontas to play because Milito won’t be here next season. For now, I’ve given up on hoping for him to play again this season. If he can’t play against Zaragoza at home, he won’t play against anyone.

        • barca96
          March 6, 2011

          Yeah. It’s not just Fontas. Thiago as well.
          I mean c’mon. This was probably going to be easiest match for them to get some 1st team action and in the end, even 3M didn’t get any time.

          I know I will get some flak for this but Pep doesn’t really
          1)rotate and
          2)give youngsters a chance. I know a lot of youngsters got their first team action but they were mostly in Copa. Who has been promoted since Pep came in. Only Busi and Pedro. And then there is a huge gap with the next in line.
          I understand that you have to do it step by step but wasn’t this one of the matches where THiago and Fontas can get experience?

          Thiago will get promoted next year but that doesn’t mean that he can’t get some experience before being a full memeber.

          Fontas has shown is in the past that he is capable being a back-up so why not give him a chance now before we need him in an emergency?

          Like Jim said in the other post. Rest Messi and let him come on later in the match. That would scare the s**t of the Zaragoza players. Having to deal with the other stars for one hour and now getting a superstar.

          I really thought that I could see 3M in action. sigh

          • xavi
            March 6, 2011

            He is right not to have started Thiago in this match. Zaragoza were very reluctant not to let us score, Thiago won’t have made much difference. And as we already know, some times he gets reckless and loses the ball… so imagine he played instead of Xavi, we would have suffered from counter attacks for sure. I wanted him to start too, but in the retrospect I think Pep made the right call.

            Regarding Fontas, Milito didn’t play for a very long time and he deserves a chance for staying man. We can’t just let him rot on the bench meanwhile playing youngsters. It’s not like the youngsters are not getting playing time too, I mean they play week in week out in the Segunda anyway! And if we do get past Arsenal, we are in for a very tight schedule and we might need Milito in case of player absences and he needs to be at his best during those times… which would be the case if only he plays now & then!!

            I accept the case of 3m… he sure should have started. If not at least come on in the second half. Wrong call there Pep, Fly! wouldn’t have been any worse than Bojan out there!!

      • Jim
        March 6, 2011

        No problems sleeping Barca96 🙂 Especially after yesterday’s match. And feel free to criticise him all you like. I’ve been one of the most critical of the offensive side of his game.

        Where I get riled is where people criticise his defence and then can’t give me any examples. Look, he’s not a 9 or a 10, ever, but what he does is lock his side down and allows Alves a bit more freedom to roam without thinking too much about defense. If we had an Alves on both sides we’d be even better offensively but would lose a lot more goals. You can’t afford both FBs to have a completely attacking mindset. Very often his biggest contribution is to help drag the defense over to him so that we can work it back to alves in a bit of space. That’s what he does. Could we get a better LB ? Yes. Is he doing a good job atm? Imo , ( and obviously Pep’s as well) yes.

        Rumours of his demise have been much exaggerated from the last thread where someone ( and they know who they are 🙂 ) invited me to say cheerio to him.

  5. March 6, 2011

    We had like 86% possession in the first 30 minutes.
    That shows how reluctant Zaragoza were to come out and play.
    A well deserved win!

  6. blaunero
    March 6, 2011

    Watched the game from me office where I alas had to be despite it being a Saturday. I was bored almost to sleep. Zaragoza defended and we didn’t really move either. After we scored it was pretty much just tedious football.
    I’ve come to realize that it is Messi and not Guardila who calls the shots whether Messi plays or not and for how long. If he doesn’t get a rest in a match like this then he never will. What we can hope for is that he gets a yellow vs Sevilla and so he can have almost three weeks with only an international game to play. That’d be the day, but somehow I don’t see it happening.

    • Nav
      March 6, 2011

      Don’t forget that one game in 3 weeks can also interrupt his playing rhythm.

      • blaunero
        March 6, 2011

        At this point I’m actually quite comfortable with his having a few weeks off. Yes it will disrupt his rhythm but only in the short term.
        As I said though. It’s unlikely to happen.

  7. Jim
    March 6, 2011

    Good take on the game, as always, Kxevin. Don’t disagree with anything really. I thought Keita had a great game. Maybe I’d have had Xavi as my MOTM as he had to do his stuff without either Iniesta or Busi and with Bojan ( along with Pedro I thought ) not really on the same wavelength.

    It’s difficult to think where Bojan’s next playing time is coming from unless we suffer injuries. It’s not that he isn’t working, it’s not even that he isn’t making good runs – he is. They’re just don’t seem to be the runs that the passers are looking for. I feel sorry for him as it’s more a feel he needs for the right runs than more effort. It’d be good if we could wrap up the league early and give him a run of three or four games to make our minds up finally. I live in hope…

    What’s the news on Wilshire? He really impressed me yesterday. He has a knack of playing the slow tempo then suddenly bursting past someone in midfield and all of a sudden he’s at your back four.

      • Jim
        March 6, 2011

        Thanks, Jnice. That could be big.

        Btw, there is no way Pep’s not going with Busi, Xavi and Iniesta in the midfield, imo. This is one of those where Pep has to make up his mind. If we’re going to pass them off the park ( our best chance) we need the A team on there. That means no Masch and no Keita although as I said above i thought Keita was great yesterday. I’m also a little concerned at the thought of us bringing on the defensive mids if we are defending a small lead. It hasn’t really worked for us in the last 15/20 mins. Don’t know why.

        If Puyol doesn’t make it I think I would go with Milito and Abidal in the CB positions but I do worry a little about Milito although I thought he had a decent game ( against virtually no opposition admittedly ). Can’t help feeling when Pique got isolated both Puyol and Abidal would have been a lot closer to providing cover.

  8. Eklavya
    March 6, 2011

    If theres not going to be Walcott and Van Persie starting and also possibly no Cesc and Wilshere then I hope our line up will be:

    Alves Puyol Abidal Adriano
    Xavi Busi Iniesta
    Pedro Messi Villa

    If however Puyol doesn’t make it, then I’d like it to be:

    Alves Busi Abidal Adriano
    Xavi Masch Iniesta
    Pedro Messi Villa

    • flyzowee
      March 6, 2011

      Wilshiere and fab are def playing, Puyol for me has lyk a 40 percent chance since he basically has in knee what xavi had in his tendons.

      It wud be gr8 if we cud sumhw squeeze Smach into our lineup come tuesday if puyol doesnt make it.

      • Jim
        March 6, 2011

        Source for the Arsenal ones, Flyzowee ?

        • Jim
          March 6, 2011

          It’s okay. Apparently Wilshire has tweeted that he will be fit to play acc to Sky Sports News.

  9. ak
    March 6, 2011

    alves was the man of the match for me, he was massive yesterday

    and there’s not a single nike store in new delhi that has a barcelona jersey
    either they are all sold out(hope so), or there’s no demand
    i just hope that they get another stock of this season’s kit before the next season starts

    • blitzen
      March 6, 2011

      Have you asked them if they can order one in for you? They might do it.

      • ak
        March 6, 2011

        they told me to come check again next week
        but they didn’t look too hopeful

  10. soccermomof4
    March 6, 2011

    Thanks for the review Kxevin. Sorry that you had to watch such a boring game twice. As frustrating as the game was before the goal I don’t think we broke much of a sweat, so I’m not too worried about our players not being rested. We did just enough and maintained our composure, which I think was the perfect way to play with Tuesday fast approaching. Very satifying performance all things considered.

    Also, thanks for the new SAT word. What other football blog has writers that use the word, Quixotic!

  11. blitzen
    March 6, 2011

    Nice, review, nothing to argue with except that I would have swapped your ratings for Pique and Milito. Pique made a couple of mistakes but overall had a better game than he has in ages. Milito wasn’t bad, but he was so slow it was painful at times. Can we really afford to play him against Arsenal with his lack of speed? Well, we may have no choice.

    Actually I didn’t find the game boring at all. I could watch Barcelona pass the ball around between themselves all day and not be bored. 😀

    Overall I was very pleased with the performance of the whole team. Bojan was very unlucky that that lovely header was just a couple of inches too high. He was perfectly positioned for it, the angle was just slightly off. He had a good effort, and I think Pep will be happy with his game.

    Messi looked tired toward the end and should have come off for Afellay. Bad Pep. In other news, his beard seems to be growing in ginger.

    I would have been happy with any of Keita, Mascherano, or Xavi as MOTM, they were all excellent. Villa looked great when he came on, too. If the game was 10 minutes longer I have no doubt he would have scored.

    • blitzen
      March 6, 2011

      I forgot to add, I have never noticed Pedro’s windmill-arms more than in this match! LOL!

  12. El Tel
    March 7, 2011

    Ah, the dreaded 5-5-0. I remember Liverpool using that set up a few years ago for their away games, playing Neil Mellor up front. It’s supposed to be a “can’t lose” tactic, but it often did. Won’t be seeing that from the Arse on Tuesday though.

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