Shakhtar 0, Barca 1, aka “Let’s cruise home, boys.” (1-6 agg.)

It is rare that a game of football is exactly what it is predicted to be, but this was one of those matches.

We rolled into the Donbass, the indomitable fortress of Shakhtar, with a curious record of never having won an away Champions League match in the knockout stages under Pep Guardiola. We also boasted a 1-5 aggregate scoreline, thanks to getting some good work done in our house last week.

So this match was supposed to be us keeping Shakhtar in control, while resting for an immense match this weekend …. and that’s exactly what it was. To advance in this tie, Shakhtar had to win 4-0. The odds of that happening were as likely as me being able to go out into my backyard, flap my arms and fly to Barcelona.

Yes, people said, they had their chances in our house, chances that if turned, make this a much more interesting tie. But it’s safe to say that even with the gaudy scoreline, we weren’t really at our best in that home leg. Tonight, we showed signs of regaining the form that make us the most feared side in Europe, as we essentially held Shakhtar at arm’s length while rarely taking it out of second or third gear. The quality gap was immense, so much so that you started to wonder how in the heck Shakhtar got that far.

And you’d be a fool for wondering that, as they boast a quality side, one that on the night was decimated with injuries and suspensions. And Guardiola showed the appropriate respect, rolling out with Valdes, Alves, Mascherano, Pique, Adriano, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Afellay, Messi and Villa. He had the seeming objective of playing the best possible side, believing that said side would have an easier time cruising while not stressing itself too much, which is again, exactly what happened.

The predictability even extended to Shakhtar’s pressing hard and playing out of their minds for about the first 15 minutes, buoyed by a roaring, jam-packed Donbass. But after about 14 minutes, we got control of the match, and that was that. There isn’t really a whole lot to say about this one, so I’ll save the purple prose for another time. Yes we scored, breaking our away Champions League duck in grand style, as Alves flicked a no-look pass to Messi, who controlled, rolled and smoked a low, hard shot past the keeper, on the dead run.

This goal came at the most brutal time to score in a match, right before halftime. It was also one of the rare times in this match that we stepped on the gas. We knew it, Shakhtar knew it, the world knew it. Both coaches said the right things, but there was only one way that this match was going to go, and so it went.

Team: 7. A few slack moment that allowed them slivers of daylight, to yield greater danger than was warranted, but ultimately the group did exactly what it was supposed to.

Guardiola: 10. The right side, the right moves and he had his charges ready to play. It’s hard to imagine what he could have done better.

Valdes: 10. What an absolute monster match, made even more so by the loooong stretches of possession that we had. For him to be able to find the presence to make the saves that he did after standing around watching us pass the ball around was just spectacular. Is he getting better?

Alves: 8. His defense is underrated, but he showed that off today, during the times that Shakhtar threatened our end of the pitch. Offensively and possession-wise, he was his usual self. We’ll just ignore that whole free kick business.

Mascherano: 9. A couple of positional glitches, but dare I say that we have found our new center back for the rest of this season. Pace and coverage, along with resolute defending and the ability to get into an attacker’s back before the ball comes, still with the presence and pace to get back. He took ball after ball, stopping attack after attack. It was almost Puyolesque.

Pique: 7. A very good match, but he loses a point for that ridiculous flop in the Shakhtar box, off the lightest of touches. Very strong in the air, and brought the ball forward on the attack with Piquenbauer style. Mascherano’s presence complemented him in a way not seen since Captain Caveman roamed the terra.

Adriano: 9. A brilliant match. In addtion to stopping goals, he almost scored one while contributing an aggressive, dynamic attack on both sides of the ball. He’d steal it on one end, then be down at the other end to cut in from the left wing. The more time he gets, the better he becomes.

Busquets: 7. Uncharacteristically loose with possession before settling down, facilitating our command and control style with no-nonsense efficiency. His understanding of where to put the ball and how hard, is a wonder, given his tender age.

Keita: 8. It’s as if Guardiola said to him, “Just go out there and get in the way.” He did more than that, with steals, passing control and all-around play, but his ability to make attackers take that one extra dribble and pause that one moment extra is invaluable.

Xavi: 7. Didn’t have to do much. Controlled his area with his usual calm aplomb. With the vivid Thiago display fresh in our minds, it’s easy to underestimate how amazing Xavi is as he feeds pass after perfect pass to our attackers.

Afellay: 8. If we sell this dude in the summer, we’re crazy. His attacking and defending (even a defensive header in our box) were extraordinary. If he sticks it out, I can see first-team football in his eventual future. This is as comfortable as I have seen him in the system, working high-speed overlaps, blasting shots from distance, controlling and passing. And he looked part of the offense, as there was zero hesitancy on the part of anyone to feed him balls.

Messi: 8. Loose possession and a number of giveaways in the first half, then he settled in and just dominated, able to turn it on and off when he wanted to. The goal was a thing of beauty, and he has broken the club scoring record, tallying 48 goals this season. Pretty absurd, that. Incredibly, he works just as hard on offense and defense.

Villa: 4. Pressing so hard, so much so that it’s making his job even more difficult. Tracked back more this match to play defense, understanding that scoring isn’t everything. As a matter of fact in a match such as this one, our scoring was one of the least important things that we could do. Control was crucial, and unfortunately he exhibited looseness on all parts of the pitch. It’s hard being a Barca forward. Did he come to us as fit as he needed to be? Good question. Another good question is would Krkic have displaced Villa this year, as he did Ibrahimovic last year, late in the season.


Pedro!! (for Xavi): 5. An average performance, capped off by another glaring miss. But you can see him coming back into form at the right time, news that is immense for us. His nose for the ball is unerring, which will lead to more goals for him, and soon.

Milito (for Pique): 6. Once he got putting the boot in out of his system, played a strong stretch. He made up for what he lacked in pace with positioning and all-around physicality.

Jeffren (for Villa): incomplete. But he didn’t get injured, which counts for a lot.

Now comes the stretch of the season that will decide our season, and its ultimate success. We have four Clasics looming, beginning Saturday. At the end of this stretch, we will know how we stand in the Liga, the value of the Copa and whether we will be visiting our second Champions League final in three years. Not sure my heart or psyche can take it, but there it is. At least Messi and Alves have the right attidude:

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. Not to continue to cause trouble, but it would be difficult to choose between Casillas and Valdes right now. Each is an ideal keeper for his club. Casillas is the more traditional keeper, where Valdes is that sweeper keeper that our crazy high back line needs, that extra defender who will proactively run out to make a play, instead of staying in the box to make the stop.

    Yes, Casillas does that, but I think that even his more die-hard supporters will admit that he doesn’t do it as much as Valdes.

    It’s horses for courses, really. This was the first Valdes match for me, where he showed the between-the-sticks reflexes, anticipation and ability to read a match that the best traditional keepers evince.

    People could argue for Casillas or Valdes until blue in the face, but both are great keepers, and perfect for their respective clubs.

    1. Ding Ding Ding. We have a winner. You should run for mayer or something, Kev. I don’t usually vote for Cules that run for office, but you got my vote here 😉

    2. My view is tha VV is better on one on one while Casillas is better is better in outreach saves.

    3. Hola!! I don’t think I ever have commented here but I do follow this blog occasionally and comment at Bassam’s space often. You Kxevin basically said everything I have been saying over at the MadridOffside in defense of both iker and vv. Glad to see shared opinions at times.

    4. I liked what you said over there. Andres talks about us being delusional, but he is the same person talking about De Gea being better than V.V. Seriously?

      And then he lazily mentions Julio Cesar. I say lazily because if anyone has watched him this season, he wouldn’t even make a top 10 list. It’s the same with people lazily saying Maicon is the best right back in the world. Watch some matches first, then come talk to me.

      Cules are delusional yet the same people who say that were talking about Özil being as good as Iniesta, Busquets being worse than Gago, and all this nonsense before the first Clasico. Give me a break.

    5. I remember there’s a poll on before El Clasico,
      it’s 1 vs 1 battle in every position…

      and yes, I laughed so hard at it…
      only 4 Barça players won the poll…

      the most ridiculous poll result will be Ozil is better than Iniesta… gimme a break!

      VV vs Iker = Iker
      Alves vs Ramos = Ramos
      Pique vs Pepe = Pique
      Puyol vs Carvalho = Carvalho
      Abidal vs Marcelo = Marcelo
      Busquets vs Khedira = Khedira
      Xavi vs Xabi = Xavi
      Iniesta vs Ozil = Ozil
      Villa vs Benzema/Higuain(?) = Villa
      Messi vs CR = Messi
      Pedro vs Dive Maria = Dive Maria

    6. what a joke of a pole:
      alves is obviously better than ramos, but i think it should be more of a comparison of alves and marcelo since both are attacking WB. Abidal is better than marcelo but has a very different role. Busquets is definitely better than Khedira. Like you said Iniesta is much better than Ozil even though they are better suited for different systems. I don’t know much about Di Maria to compare him to Pedro, but the fact that Pedro is two footed gives him an advantage in my mind.

      personally I think it would benefit the NT to have VV over Ikerface. VV plays with more of the defense and more of the team in general. of course since Iker is the capitan he won’t be replaced

    7. True. They are very different keepers, but there’s very little to separate them in terms of quality. Casillas has had the advantage that he is older than VV and his career with the NT started out earlier. If it had been the other way around, i don’t think he would have been able to displace VV either.

    8. Ok, if you are going for a straight forward comparision of Valdes against Casillas, Casillas will emerge the definite winner. Casillas is more assured in the box and can deal with aerial threats with ease. But that should not the prism through which we should look into.

      The real question is if given the chance to sign Casillas will you go for him and replace Valdes. My answer is no. Simple reason is Valdes is the best keeper for Barca. We are notoriously known for holding a high line in defense. So the biggest threat for us come from a smart striker breaking that high line and moving one-on one with Valdes. Valdes is the best when it comes to one on one. Many football pundits don’t give him the credit for that. He rushes early off his line and goes down very late, that two factors make him the best in one on one. Actually Casillas has a huge weakness coming into one on one situation. Second he is a better ball distributor than Casillas. That factor again is very crucial for our setup than any other team.

      So the bottom line is Valdes is the best keeper available for us. Ok, I would change my mind if we can sign Buffon but not for Casillas.

    9. didn’t people always used to complain about Iker’s weakness in the air compared to Buffon, Van der Sar, Cech, etc?

  2. The story of the match today for me was the tremendous quality of play from the back line in aggregate.

    What a difference from the first let against Shakhtar where there wasn’t a great deal of solidity at the back.

    All 4 players were terrific.

    And I think that starts with Masch. He was just tremendous playing CB. He was the perfect complement for Pique and allowed Pique to play in the way that he’s most comfortable.

    Time and time again Masch broke up, interrupted and slowed down attacks while also cleaning up for mistakes in front of him.

    The team worked much better with Masch playing behind Busquets.

    Adriano. What can you say. He was just fantastic both in attack and in defense. Agree that he continues to get better and better as he gets more time on the pitch. His pace, technique and strength as just a wonderful combination for a FB in the Barca system.

    Notice how Adriano has stopped crossing the ball in the air into the box as he was doing over and over in the beginning of the season. He’s learned. And now he’s attacking off the edge and forcing teams to defend him and be careful of what he can do with the ball. That in turn opens up critical space in the middle of the pitch.

    Dani was also fantastic. He’s an underrated defender. People confuse what Pep wants from him tactically in terms of playing high up the pitch with Dani being a “bad” defender. He’s not. It’s mostly an issue of the trade offs Pep wants to make in order to create width on the right while allowing the RW to play a relatively free role to position switch and cut in while also having iniesta play center left.

    Pique – having Masch behind him helped. He looked more assured today than he has the past few matches.

    Upfront Afellay was just terrific. He is just such a well rounded, balanced player. He does so many things very well. Maybe no one thing “great” but he really has the entire package. He’s just a great fit for the Barca system. He’s going to continue getting better in the system next season.

    Just watching Chelsea and Man United today – they both could desperately use Afellay in their mid fields. And I imagine that given his transfer fee both clubs would have jumped to get Ibi. But he wanted to come to Barca. And he’s worked hard both offensively and defensively and like Masch never made a fuss about playing time. He stays.

    And Messi – just sublime. Incomparable. And once again what really makes it difficult to understand how great he is, is the manner in which he defends. Up 5 aggregate goals in the second half and he’s still working extremely hard to press and defend.

    1. Yes, i was impressed by Adriano today. Never liked him much but I’m starting to respect him now.

    2. I do think that Sergio is better at DM than CB and Mascherano would fit in well at CB given his pace and his tendency to make last-ditch tackles..However, we’re jumping the gun if we judge Mascherano’s ability to play CB based on today’s match. We were sitting a bit more deeper and absorbing more than usual today. He’s yet to face a fast counter-attack and that’s when we’ll come to know his true ability.

    3. well, I think he’ll a better CB than Busi…

      sMasch has more pace and I think stronger in defending…

      but I worry about him doing hard tackle though…
      as a DM he’ll only get yellow, but as a CB it’s a straight red when you tackle the last person…

    4. That’s why I’ll be damn pissed off at Pep if would let 3M go!!

      But what do you guys think? I prefer 3M in the wings rather than in the midfield. We could use his pace more than his distribution. We lack pace up front so we should use him there.

  3. VValdes was awesome today!!! then again I am majorly biased….. The team played well and connected well

    I really hope Afellay stays….

  4. As a specification, Kxevin, this wasn’t the first away victory by Guardiola’s team in the CL. It was the first away victory by Guardiola’s team in the knockout stages of the CL.
    Messi and Mascherano were great today, but let’s also remember that Shakhtar could have easily been 1-0 by the 15′. Job done and onwards to the first of four Clasicos. I’ll be a wreck by 4 May.

  5. now that is exactly where mashcerano should be playing. Don’t know why pep never tried it but I’m really glad that it worked out

  6. I couldn’t watch the match as I was ill.
    Are there any links for downloading the match that works on a smartphone. Especially the first half

    1. Haha. Watching Barca on a phone really won’t do justice!! :p
      It will not be satisfying Im tellin ya

    2. that’s not what I meant. I want to download on my mobile then watch on my laptop as my laptop is not compnnected

  7. Kxevin, 9 is way too high for Mascherano man. It was a good, typical centre back performance from him, but a score like a 9 should be reserved for MOTM performances, something like Puyol put up in the classico last season. Sometimes i get the feeling that you are a little harsh on some players and forgiving to others.

  8. Seems Barca are very fortunate to have players who can play in multiple roles. When Puyol was injured initially, Abidal slotted in CB nicely. And when he had a surgery, we now have Masch as a CB! After last night performance I don’t think our backline is that shaky anymore. Let’s get the job done!

    1. But would you risk him in a straight knockou-match without any previous playing time?!?

    2. He is Puyol, with over 10 year experience. I don’t think he will be having a shock. He knows what it’s all about. But of course I dont expect him to play the full match.

  9. – I won’t even consider having Casillas+cash at Barcelona instead of Valdes, RM fans won’t even consider having Valdes+whatever at their team instead of Casillas. So its all good. Quality is just one of many factors that decide who starts for the NT, and they both have it though strengths and weaknesses of both varies.

    And regarding Arsenal’s goal, I will just say that Valdes mistakes were far fewer (and even less embarrassing sometimes) than Casillas mistakes in the past 3 years, but its just the way it is. Valdes got used to it, so who am I to complain.

    – Another thing that was discussed in the previous post…Pinto should/must/have to play the CDR final, and I think he will. Case closed.

    Not a lot to say about the match last night. Satisfying performance. Just one punch under the belt to get you all irritated: Sometimes, Pep annoys me for taking very long time to figure whats obvious. But no one is perfect, not even Manuel Preciado The Great.

  10. Another good question is would Krkic have displaced Villa this year, as he did Ibrahimovic last year, late in the season.
    My answer would be: Yes, but only for the non-Classico matches. It would have given Villa the obviously needed rest before the Clasicos.
    Based on the pure performance, I would even start Bojan over Villa in the Clasicos, but I doubt that Pep would ever have done so 🙂

    Such a shame that Bojan is injured right now, in the most crucial phase of the season and when he just started to look brightly again.

    1. I don’t really understand where all this negativity is coming from.
      He doesn’t look low on confidence at all. If his confidence was low, he would be running around pressuring, tackling. A player who is low on form wouldn’t bother to do that. He won’t fight.

      Another characteristic of a player who is low on form is missing sitters. Did he miss sitters? No! Did he get chances to score last night? Not really.

      He would’ve had one chance. In the second half when Messi was counter attacking with 3M on his left and Villa on the right. Villa was clear on goal but Messi didn’t see it and passed to 3M instead who for the 2nd time in this match when given a chance to shoot decided to bring it back to his right and thus killing the momentum.

      There was another moment when 3M got the ball and decided to bring it back to his right foot but it was stolen as it was so obvious. This was the 2nd time he did it. The defender kinda knew exactly what he was going to do.

      I was kinda pissed at Pep for not taking Messi out. I mean c’mon, what could happen? We are leading by 6-1 on aggregate? No way on earth could they made a comeback!

    2. For my part, the negativity is coming from Villa’s offensive contributions in his last 9 or 10 matches.
      Did he even make an assist during that time?

      I didn’t say that Villa lacks confidence, although I somehow feel that, when there’s a close-up of Villa’s face during recent matches, I don’t see sheer confidence or ambition but rather a little bit of insecurity, maybe also tiredness. He’s repeating that the goal drought doesn’t worry him as long as he is playing for the team etc., but I think the lack of goals does indeed have an effect on his mentality.

      He did not miss sitters yesterday, but he should have scored against Almeria. It’s true that he is not missing as many sitters as he used to in the time prior to his 9 matches goal drought, but that is probably due to not getting so many sitters served on a plate.
      Your argument that not missing any sitters and not having any goal scoring opportunity speaks for David Villa is beyond me^^

      If Villa doesn’t improve for the 4 Clásicos, it will make us suffer a lot. The 4 Clásicos are Villa’s last chance, imo, to prove that his first season is better than Ibra’s.

    3. The 4 Clásicos are Villa’s last chance, imo, to prove that his first season is better than Ibra’s.

      Oh man…. I thought nobody’s doubting who’s the better player for us by now. I don’t want to look at stats. Villa adds more to the team than Ibra. Runs, passes, pressuring, tackling (stealing the ball without fouling). If you just want to look at the scoring stat and see who the better player is then I would like to agree to disagree with you on this one Helg.

    4. you forgot the ‘e’ at the end of my name 🙂

      So we’ll have to disagree, unless Villa plays another great Clásico as he did at the end of November.

  11. I noticed one thing last night. On some moments, Pique moved to LB while Adriano takes Pique’s spot, LCB. Why was that?

    I finally figured out who BOrja Valero looks like. Steve Nash!!
    Was watching Villareal yesterday 😆

  12. Thats one very short Review kevin, thank you
    Valdes, Mascherano, Afellay and Messi were just great yesterday, i was doubting Mascherano at CB a lot, but as ramzi once said, CB is a lot about partnership, not just about the player individual skill set.
    Afellay was also a pleasnat surprise, he was everywhere and was doing a good job wherever he went.
    As for Valdes, i cannot say enough, i think he had a breakthrough season last year, now he is reaching new highs with every match he plays.
    Our Season starts and ends in the following 20 days or so where we can win all or lose all (Very hard to lose the league title given how big our point difference is, but u get the point)
    Go barca

  13. Short review Kxevin but good nonetheless!

    Are we talking about goalies today? There are rumors flying around with De Gea going to Manchester.

    I think the top 3 young goalies who aren’t already playing at a top club are (obviously):

    -De Gea

    From what I know all three of them are shot stoppers. I like Lloris the most, he’s sort of kamikaze and doesn’t hesitate to go out and put himself in danger for the team.

    I don’t know much about Neuer except that he has a video highlight of his performance vs. Porto a few seasons ago on YouTube and people know him because of that video.

    1. when you say “Manchester” do you mean ManU or Citeh? I think ManU first when I hear Manchester but now that Citeh buys so many players it is a bit confusing?

  14. Job done but after the first 20 done in a very satisfying way, with control. I’d have taken Messi off as soon as he scored but otherwise Pep got it just about right. I thought Masch had a good game at CB, made even better when you consider his lack of experience in that position. I do have reservations about him playing there against RM purely because of his tendency to always make tackles rather than jockey players. If he doesn’t get that right it’s a game changer against players who dive as much as the RM front line. mind you he does add some much needed pace as well.

    I thought Adriano had his best game in that position with a couple of good covering tackles in particular. I thought Pique was also showing signs of coming out of his sluggish spell but like you, Kxevin, didn’t like the over reaction in the box. A good game as well from Afellay although I wouldn’t go as far as some have done. Still he can only feel good after his best display for us and that’ll give him confidence. I’m starting to feel sorry for Villa. He was in perfect position for passes on two or three occasions last night and nothing came his way. However, until it does he just needs to get his head down and work hard which he is doing. If RM play their high line but no pressing master plan again he’ll get chances. I would like Xavi and Iniesta to be more aware of the quick ball to him though, like Messi’s through ball to him in the last Clasico.

    Final thoughts.

    1. Lucescu is right. We are a world class side but it’s Messi who lifts us to the best on the planet.
    2. Can we stop tempting fate by insisting that Valdes is better than Casillas? first of all, Casillas deserves respect for his displays for both RM and the NT. It may be right but even if we’re moving to a situation where the balance between them is changing, as many have said, I have more time for him than for any other RM player. Secondly, that’s a sure way to ensure sod’s law comes into operation during the Classicos 🙂

    1. Jim, I disagree wholeheartedly on the first final point.
      Lucescu said , if we had messi , we would have overcome them.
      First of all , no they would not.
      This is a team , and is clicking brilliantly even without messi.
      Messi is simply too much to deal with anyway , since he is ever present , consistent and is both pressuring/creating/finishing. Thats just impossible to defend against.
      But this is a team sport. Messi is working that way also because of the team.
      He can’t discredit players like busquets, puyol , xavi , iniesta , dani alves by saying that messi is the one that is needed to be beaten. Having world class players in every position that are working as a team/for the team is a huge reason of this teams success while playing entertaining attacking football.
      Or to put it in another way : transfer messi to another team. Which players would you choose to accompany him?

    2. He may be referring to the atrocious finishing of his team. They would have done a better job with Leo Messi

    3. no offense to Messi, but Argentina couldn’t beat Spain.

      if I transfered Messi to another team I would take Xavi, Iniesta and Alves. That would allow the team to completely change their style. Would they be as good as this current team, no. But they could still play tiki taka and have control of the ball enough to play a similar offense

    4. Messi participated in more than 50% of Barca’s goals this season, If he played with Shakhtar, He would gain possession and have better finishing, He’ll withdraw defenders and allow other players more space. Argentina didn’t play Spain in WC but thrashed them 4-1 in a friendly.

      I don’t know who will win if Messi plays against us with another team, But even goals that Messi doesn’t score or assist, He participates in it somehow.

    5. I didn’t say they would have beaten us with Messi but I stand by what i said about the extra dimension he brings. I did say we are a world class side before you add Messi so I don’t think i was doing us down. However, put Messi in their side instead of Adriano and we could well be watching the rest of the CL on TV. He is a game changer and doesn’t need to be in the game the whole time to achieve that. I certainly wouldn’t like him running at our defence.

      I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re asking me to do in your last point.

  15. I’m in the minority that was not bowled over by Afellay. Not sure what everyone saw that I missed. Yes, he has pace, but this is not a race so if he doesn’t do something skill related, it’s for naught. For example, 1. He seems to be pushed off the ball too easily (a la Bojan),
    2. When he receives the ball on the wings on counter attacks, he typically stops running and passes back – killing the flow of the play.
    3. He looks unsure and nervous when he receives a pass and typically chooses the easiest option of passing to the person closest to him which makes him easy to defend because he is predictable.

    I am so frustrated for Villa. He is a completely different player on the Spain NT. All the things we criticize him for on Barca ie(looks tired, no confidence, poor first touch, disappears in the match) are his strengths when playing for his country. Which can only mean that Pep is not playing him the same way that DelBosque utilizes him on the NT. I wish that the coaches would take a look at this issue and try to tweak it.

  16. by the way, our “out of form” Villa happened to make a nice run across the edge of the box to open up space in the middle for Messi to score his goal last night. Just putting it out there. Funny it hasn’t been mentioned.

  17. Villa also won us a crucial penalty last week against Almeria.

    Not saying he isn’t going through a rough patch right now, but I disagree with the notion that he hasn’t contributed anything offensively for the past 9 games.

    It is so unfortunate that Bojan is out. Villa clearly needs rest, and Guardiola tried to give him the Almeria game off. But now that Bojan out for the rest of the year who do you sub in to rest Villa? Affelay and Pedro are excellent players, but neither one is comfortable playing in the box and making runs as a center forward when Messi drops deep into midfield.

    Hopefully we can secure the league soon and start giving Nolito et al. some minutes.

  18. Valdes is the best GK for Barca, Casillas is the best GK for EE. End of Story.

    Bojan taking Villa’s place ? I think we’re getting carried away, Yes, He has been lively and better over the last few games, but we won’t judge a player over the period of 30 minutes of a match where All our players were on reserve mode.

    Villa makes lots of runs that Alves or Messi ignores, He does his best tracking back, pressuring, and making runs. Comparing him to Ibra is unfair to Villa, He is more comfortable with the players and Guardiola, not causing any trouble, He wasn’t sent off this year “Ibra against Almeria”, He doesn’t mock the referee, He is the one allowing us to play Messi as a false 9, I’m not a fan of either but I think we’re being harsh on Villa, He hasn’t missed sitters, He’s just having a goal drought like any other player.

  19. I cannot even say how much I enjoyed watching that game last night. Both teams played really well. Props to Shakhtar for coming out to play football and never giving up. The scoreline was fair, the game was clean, and I even liked the ref. Very satisfying.

    Now for some blitzen awards:

    I Swear I Don’t Have OCD Award: It really bothers me that the away kit shirts are one shade greener than the shorts, socks, and undershiirts. I can’t help it.

    Suddenly a Shot Rang Out Award: Pique, for being brought down by a sniper, presumably hired by Shakira’s last boyfriend.

    Smells Like Team Spirit Award: Hundreds of Shakhtar fans for remaining shirtless for the entire game! Ukrainians are made of stern stuff. Actually, the entire crowd was fantastic.

    Guess it Wasn’t the Hair Gel Award: Jeffren played for 20 minutes and didn’t get injured! He even looked pretty good. Yay!

    Like a BOSS Award: Mascherano, who looked like he had been playing as a CB for years, not days. Yes, he was caught out of position a couple of times, but his speed and tackling ability more than made up for it. And I know I say it every time he plays, but I could watch him take the ball off people for hours. The way he just casually jogs up, sticks his leg in and jogs off with the ball leaving opposition player standing there wondering what just happened. So smooth.

    You Can Still Adopt Award: Milito doing his best to stop world overpopulation by neutering one of the Shakhtar players. Ouch! After that, his game was pretty OK, I thought.

    Third Eye Award: Dani Alves, with one of his trademark blind passes to Messi for the goal. I watched that several times, just because it was so nice. Dani is running with the ball and sees Messi start his run well back from the box. He drops his head and pretends he is concentrating solely on the ball, drawing his marker’s attention off Messi. With perfect timing and without raising his head he shoots the ball to the exact spot where he knows Messi is about to be. Perfect timing, perfect control. For a play like this I can forgive multiple bad freekicks.

    Messi Never Dive Award: Messi, of course, who once again refused to let being surrounded by 3-4 defenders stop him from taking the ball straight through them. Honourable mentions to Dani Alves and Busquets for also staying on their feet! 😛

    MOTM: Of course it should be Valdes, or maybe Mascherano, but I’m going out on a limb and picking Afellay. This is the first time that I thought he looked really comfortable for the full 90 minutes, both when he played up front, and then in the midfield. He had great communication, excellent ball control, and made some terrific runs and passes. He shot when he could and if he had been a little luckier would have had a goal. I thought he worked especially well with Adriano in this game, they seemed to have a good understanding of where each other would be at any given time. Overall an excellent game from Flyboy, and it gives me a lot of confidence that his second season with Barcelona will be terrific.

    And finally, Happy Birthday to our wonderful Captain, and may he play again for Barca soon! Visca Barca, Visca Catalunya, i Visca Puyol! 😀

    1. Kari Dear, when you get a chance, in you copious (not) spare time, could you fix rand and make it rang please?

  20. I don’t know if someone mentioned this before but, how fantastic is it that, with the exception of Milito, none of our players got carded last night?

    From the statistics I’ve read (which may or may not be accurate), none of our players are at risk of missing the second leg of the semis even if they get carded in the first leg. (It takes 3 yellows to recieve a suspension in the CL, right?)

    So provided the players don’t do anything stupid to get sent off in that first leg at the Bernabeu, we’ll have every fit player available to play in both the home and away matches. Given our current situation with injuries, not having to fret too much over suspensions is a massive boost.

    1. well, it is impossible to miss the 2nd leg of the semis unless you receive a red card (or 2 yellows) in the first leg of the semis.

      All accumulated yellow cards will be rescinded after the quarter-finals as far as I know. They have introduced this rule so that it’s impossible to miss a final match due to yellow card accumulation.

  21. I respect your opinion, even as your accusation of bias suggests a lack of respect for what I do.

    A rating and MOTM status are not related. Messi was MOTM vs Almeria, and only got a 5. A rating delineates how effectively a player did his job. Period.

    You’d have to look long and hard to find flaws in his match yesterday, which makes it a 9. He was our best defender, not only for the straight-up defense. As Euler notes, he also made everybody around him better. It was, simply put, an exceptional performance.

    1. How much hope really does Smach’s perfomance at Cb represent esp against the likes of Ade and Higs?

    2. First of all, curse smartphones for NEVER putting a reply where it should be. Not sure if that’s a phone glitch, or an Opera Mini glitch but either way, not happy. #techfail

      I think that Mascherano’s performance is an absolute, because of how he plays the position, which is very directly. He doesn’t worry about the player or what he’s doing. He just stops the ball. If you think about that for a second, it’s pretty cool, and pretty pure. It’s also what he does in midfield.

      Interestingly enough, what Barca CBs do isn’t all that different than what DMs do in most more traditional sides. So it sort of diminishes the “Whoa!” factor of our DMs subbing at CB. It’s what they do anyhow, just farther back on the pitch.

      Zonal Marking breaks it down pretty well here:

      But I think that he doesn’t give Mascherano full credit for doing what Barca CBs always do, which is roll up the pitch.

      The way that Mascherano plays the position for me, removes the danger of any player-specific dangers. Because he just stops the ball. Maybe I’m crazy, but it’s a rare and amazing skill that he has. Think about the CBs that get snookered by players because they’re tracking the player. Mascherano doesn’t care about the player. He just wants the ball. He also has quicker feet than most CBs, which allows him to play the way that he does.

    3. I think ZM makes a good point about Masch going up the pitch. It still leaves Pique at the back all alone to cover and he is slow. So the idea that Masch as cover for Pique won’t work I guess ? They just have to work out who stays back and roams the pitch and when!

    4. I just had a look at the zonalmarking article, in particular the graphics that accompany it. Considering that Barcelona’s back-line plays much higher than many defenses, how accurate is the assumption that Mascherano was roving forward in order to make those tackles/interceptions? I would love to see those graphs in comparison with an average-positioning diagram of the defense.

      It may well show that Mascherano was moving forward, but would be interesting to see nonetheless.

  22. Fun review, fun game, fun liveblog.
    I think we needed a low pressure game to rest our battle-weary cule brains.

    On Casillas v. VV, I couldn’t agree more, Kxevin. VV is crucial to our game. Casillas is crucial to EE’s. But I’m going with VV as my fav. It’s those blaugrana tinted glasses again. Actually, as a fan of the Spanish NT, it’s kinda strange (OK, more than strange, it annoys the heck outta me) but when Casillas, Albiol, Arbeloa, Xabi, and even (GASP!) Ramos are wearing red I like them.

    Now let the Morbo begin!

  23. Kxevin, 9 is way too high for Mascherano man. It was a good, typical centre back performance from him, but a score like a 9 should be reserved for MOTM performances, something like Puyol put up in the classico last season.


    What you’ve outlined would be one method to rate players. However, that’s just one approach. Now it may be the approach you favor, but on the whole that does not mean it’s the only way to do it or even the “best” way to do it.

    What you’re bringing up is an issue related to methodology for developing scales or “ratings.” There is no one ideal way to do this. There are whole text books written on this subject.

    You are implicitly arguing that ratings should be essentially pit one player vs. the other. In other words you are stating that the scale should be an “inter-player” scale with a relative standard based on cross-comparison.

    That’s fine. But it’s in no way the only way to do it. I personally wouldn’t do it that way. It creates problems such as how would you rate players when the whole team plays poorly? By your method the “MOTM” could still be given a 9. For example, the team played pretty uniformly bad against Almeria but using a relative, inter-player comparison a player could still be given a 9. I personally don’t find that useful.

    And kxevin’s ratings have never been done based on that approach. He doesn’t use an inter-player comparison as the basis for his scaling as he describes> Just reading his reviews this becomes very clear.

    A perfectly valid alternative to an inter-player rating is to use a standard scale of absolute reference. This is much closer to the system kxevin uses as he describes above. The players individual performance in a match is judged against a reference standard. Now given the nature of football, this reference standard itself will always be subjective to some degree. But so is the nature of an inter-player comparison.

    But even that is just one way to create the scaling. Another method would be to use an intra-player comparison in which a players current performance is based on his past performance. Another method would be a cross-team comparison with how the player performs with respect to an opposition player (e.g. judging how Alves performed with respect to Willian, etc.). I could keep going on with different approaches.

    And with absolute standards there are actually many ways of structuring the standard itself. You could make the standard of comparison a generic requirement for the position. You could make the comparison based on function in the barca system. You could make the standard his performance based on the tactical requirements against that particular opponent. That’s just a few of the approaches.

    And that’s only the issues related to the comparison group/ standard. There are many other issues with constructing the scale itself.

    There’s no one way to do this. It involves trade offs.

    Anyway, this is my long way of saying I really wish we as a community could just stop fixating on the individual rating numbers and picking them apart. And I really wish that we could stop doing that while also coupling it to off the cuff criticism.

    What’s really disappointing is that you are suggesting that an issue of methodology in a complex endeavor is somehow an issue of simple minded bias. And if that’s not what you were suggesting that is how the tone of your comment came across.

    I don’t think people realize how difficult and time consuming writing these kind of pieces is.

    These reviews are uniformly better than what the professional football press produces. Just think about that. These reviews are much better than what the professionals paid to watch and write about the game are producing.

    There is no one way of doing this. There is no ideal way of developing a scale or rating system.

    Can’t we just read the reviews and enjoy them and use the analysis as a point of starting a conversation rather than nitpicking a number?

    This really gets tiring. And when I say that I’m speaking not as a writer but as someone who reads this blog as a member of the community.

    1. These reviews are uniformly better than what the professional football press produces. Just think about that. These reviews are much better than what the professionals paid to watch and write about the game are producing.

      I absolutely agree with this. Whether I agree with Kxevin’s opinion of a particular game or a player’s performance or not, I always find his reviews thoughtful and exceptionally well written.

  24. Afellay looked so good last night..pity he didn’t score..I did notice that he looked very comfortable playing as a Xavi-esque role though not nearly as effective he was very adequate in his performance..If we sell him this summer I swear I will go to Barcelona and bitchslap Rossel

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