Archive | Messi

Barça 5, Cordoba 0, aka “Does it matter how the chef stirs the pot?”

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Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha (pant, pant!) bwahahahahahahahaha!

Whew! Now that I am composed, Barça put the hammer down on Cordoba 5-0, to roll into the holiday break with a bang. This was a match was either wasn’t very interesting or fascinating as can be, depending on what you were looking for.

Prima facie Barça did what it was supposed to do in stomping a relegation side in Cordoba. 5-0. So what. Couldn’t they score any more? They put eight past Huesca. Do these guys suck, or what?

What was interesting for me was that Cordoba had 8, sometimes 9 in the box, determined to prevent Barça from scoring. Once Pedro stamped that first notion with a giant FAIL, their plan B was to stay close and maybe nick one on the counter. Luis Suarez’s soft shoe nutmeg put paid to that, and the rest was history.
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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Messi, Review, Thoughts2 Comments

Hope and beauty, aka “Making the nonsensical make sense”

FC Barcelona v Real Valladolid CF - La Liga

The question was a simple one, posed by a favorite Twitter account, that got at the core of everything about this game that has become so much more for so many.

The more BVB fail the more I cheer for them and like them. What’s wrong with me?

My reply was a simple one, that “Hope is at the core.of sport. It’s why it’s all so beautiful. It isn’t the winning. It’s that moment when hope is realized.”

Even when humanity intrudes into sport, making game irrelevant, when all you want do is stop thinking about something and crying, hope is a part of it all.
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Posted in Messi, Thoughts4 Comments

Getafe 0, Barça 0, aka “The correct answer to the blame question is ‘all of the above'”

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The rain, the pitch, no penalty, Enrique sucks, Alves …

The quest for blame in the wake of a negative result scatters thoughts like dandelion spores in a hurricane, a fascinating search that often finds them landing in odd places and pollinating certain ideas.

But today’s draw vs Getafe was a great many things all at once, too many to lay at the feet of an individual unless that individual is the Getafe team, which played like lions today. Want to blame someone? Curse them and their moving, aggressive, systematic defense that took full advantage of a Barça team coming off of a very difficult mid-week match against a strong European opponent.

Full credit to a brave opponent, who were it not for a couple of Claudio Bravo saves, could have caused a much bigger upset than the absence of full points for Barça.

Rather than playing the blame game, let’s assess something of what happened today, and whether there are any solutions at hand.
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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Review33 Comments

Barça saved Barça

Pep Guardiola became Barcelona coach in 2008. Pep guided the club towards years of glory. He created what was considered the best team in history.

It was considered the best team in history for many reasons. That team could entertain, win matches, win trophies, and go out every match day with ridiculous score-lines.

Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola
There is much more to say about Pep’s team but no one is interested in a history lesson. So, we move on.

Move on? I guess that’s the correct word to describe the rest of this article.

You can’t help but notice how people (not only Barcelona fans) are deeply attached to Pep’s Barça. They link that team with any possible version of Barcelona whether in the past or present. Although this type of comparison may be healthy as it encourages Barcelona to always move forward, it is also the most devastating comparison a person could make about football teams.

Back into history: Pep’s team was not only an exception to football teams, it was an exception to football itself.

Pep’s team created images such as: The goalkeeper can last matches without being involved much. The midfield will always link up perfectly regardless of the opponent and how the opponent reacts. More could be said about what Pep’s team portrayed but the main point is that it was an exception to powerful football teams, let alone football teams in general. No team could dominate a match so easily.

Pep’s team shifted the average score-lines upwards. Football was always averaging 1-0 and 2-1 scorelines. Pep’s team simply crushed that average. We witnessed easy 3-goal differences. We sat back on the weekend to wait for another 5-goal difference against a mid-table team. Pep’s team turned 4-goal differences into a norm. And 4-goal differences are an exception in football, so how would you describe the scorelines with 5, 6, or even 7 goal differences? Ridiculous.

I am sure Barça fans worldwide can describe that specific team (precisely the 2011 team) better than I. Pep’s team took football out of the reality it lives in.

Consequently that team also took football fans, specifically Barça fans, out of the reality of football. Barça fans became so deeply attached to that team, and can you blame them? With all that glory why wouldn’t you be deeply attached?

And here comes the most dangerous part of all.

Barça supporters were staring happily at Pep while he built the perfect Barça. However while doing so, some bricks fell off. By the time Pep left Barça these bricks formed one huge wall. This wall is known as the ‘creativity block’.

A simpler way of explaining it is this: “Do it like that. It’s how it worked before. Don’t think of something different. Different is bad.”

The more ironic part of this is that Pep was and still is one of the most creative coaches in the world. However, he seemed to have left some certain “rules” in Barcelona. He left rules and ideas that were so strict and rigid that creativity had no place anymore. And the moment creativity, innovation, and taking risks have no place is when anything declares failure.

What rules?

From player positions to instructions to a complete style of play, Barça fans and possibly even the people in charge were stuck to the idea: “Well, that’s how it worked before.”

There is a fear of trying something new, even as, again, many disregard that “trying something new” is mostly what Pep himself attempted.

There is a fear of seeing Lionel Messi in other positions. There is a fear of Busquets not being the center of the team. There is a fear of Xavi not being the main controlling force in midfield.

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And the examples about other players and more importantly the style of play also exist.

There is a fear of seeing a long ball and actually not being 100% safe. There is reluctance to shoot from outside the area to break a defense and be more direct (this is changing recently) instead of passing your way through it.

This is not a request to push Lionel to other positions. This is not a request to bench Busquets. This is not a request to stop Xavi from being the main orchestrator. This is not a request to shift play toward constant long balls or endless shooting. On the contrary, these players are doing great and our style of play has been proven effective for years.

However, this is a request to keep an open eye for other options and not be afraid to try them. Because if football was dependent on a set of rules and certain ideas we would never watch it because it would be so boring. In reality, football changes a lot and obviously so do teams.

With that said, let’s move more into the present.

Barcelona recently defeated PSG in a match that witnessed Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez scoring. Many might argue that it wasn’t the best Barcelona performance. That’s true. The team seemed shaky on several occasions. However, the team was also experiencing a lineup that made everyone in the world go: “Huh?”

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PSG has a very talented midfield that gave us problems. This, was in addition to knowing that Andres and Busquets are not exactly going through their best periods.

Barcelona conceded first with a goal from non other than Zlatan. However, if Barça fans learned anything from the recent scorelines in La Liga it is that this team has a resilient character. From being down by one goal against Espanyol then reacting, to fighting until the last second against Valencia, Ibrahimovic’s goal was obviously not going to keep this team quiet.

A long ball from Mascherano to Luis Suarez caused Lionel Messi’s goal. Later, Neymar showed his own brilliance with a beautiful shot from outside PSG’s area. Finally, and after a beautiful passing display, Suarez ended the match with a rebound goal after another Neymar attempt.

Luis Suarez

Team needs improving? The answer to this question should always be a ‘yes’.

Formation needs to be used more so that players get used to it? Yes.

Among all the discussions one discussion remains the most intriguing:

“Barcelona and Luis Enrique were saved by individual brilliance, not team display.”

Again, it wasn’t the best team display. It is also worth mentioning that individual brilliance is actually one of the most beautiful parts of the game. The ability of these very talented forwards doesn’t show the lack of the team’s structure in any way. In fact, it only shows one thing: they are world-class players capable of changing any game. That’s what they’re here for.

However apparently Pep disagrees. According to many, in Pep’s era Barcelona scored most of their goals by team play. The players held hands as they passed the ball into the net. This statement is true, yet very inaccurate.

Many, if not most, of Lionel Messi’s goals in Pep’s era or now are based on his individual brilliance. Why stop at goals? When Lionel Messi dribbled 3-4 players and his teammate went for a tap-in, isn’t that also an act of individual brilliance from Lionel?

When did individual brilliance become something that displeases the fans?

More importantly, when did individual brilliance deviate away from manager instructions? Was it only Neymar’s decision to take the shot against PSG? Probably. However it is surely not only Neymar’s decision that he is shooting more this season. Instructions exist too. From hitting the post with a beautiful shot to his excellent goal against Real Madrid, Neymar has obviously been given more freedom. He has obviously been given instructions to do what he sees fit. He is individually brilliant but he has also been given the proper instructions.

Individual brilliance cannot be separated from team-coach brilliance, especially in a team where Lionel Messi plays.

Individual brilliance saved Barça? Not exactly … Barça, being who they are saved Barça.

The ideas of Pep and the past won’t save the team now. Brilliance and innovation were always the two things that kept this club going. They’re the reason why I fell in love with it.

It is safe to say: Barça saved Barça.

Posted in Barcelona, Champions League, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts23 Comments

Barça 3, PSG 1, aka “Excellence is usually about belief”

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The bracing, all-encompassing majesty of sport is that the best team doesn’t always win. What sells out stadiums as newly promoted teams face championship sides is precisely that, the belief that on any given day, anything can happen. From back when Goliath didn’t see it coming, looking down to wonder what that little dude was doing, giants have toppled.

And yet, the better team usually wins, and with soul-crushing regularity. Regulars gather in bars and living rooms to console themselves with the almosts and what ifs of the vanquished, the magic of retrospect, because that’s easier sometimes than saying that like death and taxes, the better team is usually going to whip your ass.

Paris St.-Germain understands that now, that what happens every now and again is what needs to happen for a lesser team to beat a better one: mistakes must be made, and the lesser team must play exceptionally well. This occurred in their house, the Parc des Princes, as Barça gave up balls, went to sleep on set pieces and the narrative was born that PSG kicked Barça butt as the latter looked a mess.

Only a few, foolish culers dared to say that despite looking at sixes and sevens for most of match, Barça still managed a couple of goals and it was only a heroic intervention on the PSG doorstep that kept a team that played kinda crappy from walking away with a share of the points.

So when that very same PSG rolled into the Camp Nou as the only unbeaten team in Europe, and with its superstar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic back, it took a certain kind of culer to worry. The others were divided into two camps of the same mind: Barça is going to win. It is going to beat a team that is isn’t supposed to and win a group that it shouldn’t, because what else would happen?

One side based that belief in success on the whimsy of the supporter. Of course my team is going to win, because I always expect it to win. The other side based it on logic, that Barça didn’t play very well in the previous match, didn’t have Luis Suarez, made plenty of errors and further, PSG is less well-equipped to defeat Barça with its talisman in the lineup. Further still a result should be expected because Barça is playing better and better, rounding into shape as gradually as would be expected from a team with a new coach and staff, 8 new players and a passel of doubt to overcome, but it is coming into shape nonetheless, and is a better team than the group that lost to PSG.

But another, equally important group of supporters have to also believe, and that is the athletes. Sport doesn’t leave room for doubt. In the milliseconds that can decide the difference between an outstretched toe poking a ball away and a defender arriving just a smidge too late, there isn’t any room at all for doubt. Doubt is a luxury the desperate can’t afford and make no mistake about it, FC Barcelona is desperate.

After a season at the end of which nothing of import could be reported, a season in which doubt was allowed to rear its head in a statement from a talismanic player, you wonder what really happened to bring the team that handful of goals short. Talent gets you some of the way, but belief gets you the rest.

Wednesday, at the end of 80 minutes, a group of players in blaugrana, stroking the ball around, keeping it away from a team of talented athletes that many expected to bring destruction, at the apogee of each one of those delicate passes was belief.

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Barça has a coach in Luis Enrique, who by all accounts isn’t interested in doubt, or what anyone thinks of him. His belief is complete and unwavering. As people wondered whether he was the ideal coach to lead this group of athletes, not many gave any weight to that personal conviction, that ability to make capering millionaires understand that if they do what they are supposed to, the belief that if you follow my system, success will come.

After the match, Pedro’s words percolated with belief. Iniesta said Enrique didn’t allow them to doubt, to not believe, that he knows what he wants. In a world seemingly wracked with doubt and worry, the coach and the players knew, and believed.

So when the starting XI came out today, there was an explosion of sorts, because nobody quite knew what to make of it. Ter Stegen, Bartra, Pique, Mascherano, Mathieu, Busquets, Pedro, Messi, Neymar, Suarez.

–Was Pedro the right back?
–Was Bartra the right back?
–Was this a double pivot?
–Wait, are they going to play a 3-4-3?

Brains hurt as people tried to figure out permutations, while others said this lineup was further evidence that Enrique didn’t know what he was doing. Some media figures suggested that the team didn’t practice with this lineup, based on the scant information they were allowed to gather during their supervised practice session visits — because yes, the team is going to work out its secret plans in front of the press.

Doubt and the necessity to lock Barça into a rigid formation created a carpet of doubt and worry, even as some were excited by the possibilities of a coach who looked at what he had and, whether out of necessity (Dani Alves was suspended) or inspiration, decided to shake things up.

The teams lined up and some screamed 3-4-3! The whistle blew and, because that is what happens when a set of variables is presented with a stimulus, formational rigidity became something like a bowl of marbles. On a team such as Barça, where DMs or CBs bring the ball up and forwards track back to steal and break up attacks, does it really matter what formation it takes before it becomes the inside of a supercollider, except for chalk talks and dudes with telestrators?

What matters to the players is belief and effectiveness. “Play my way, and you will succeed.” So the match started, a pell-mell fury of teams that were purported equals going at each other, but some knew better. Some predicted a Barça win, simply because Barça was the better team. But if you don’t believe that, if your coach, your captain doesn’t believe that, certain things aren’t possible. So when PSG scored an early goal from the precise same kind of mistake that allowed them to win at their house, Enrique calmly pulled aside his on-pitch captain and calmly explained what went wrong. And this time Barça just kept on doing what it was doing, what it was supposed to do, what it believed it could do.

They got chances, we got chances, and when the scuffed, bouncing sort of ball that Suarez will tell his grandchildren was an intentional pass effort fell to the boot of a charging Messi, suddenly it was 1-1. Barça ran even harder, the passes zinged even truer, and the doubt changed shirts. PSG looked increasingly tentative as Barça looked to get fully on the front foot. Possession was higher for Barça, and its players ran and ran. Its star forward ran almost as many kilometers as its hyperactive defensive midfielder. Everyone ran, everyone tried, everyone cleaned up after each other.

After the match, in the words of one seeking solace where it can be found, PSG coach Laurent Blanc suggested that perhaps the new-look Barça lineup confused our players more than his. Of course he chose to ignore the illogic of a team confused by its own taskings putting a 3-1 home beatdown on his team, because seeking solace and logic aren’t always compatible quests.

Belief is a shaky thing. It takes a lot to make it as firm as it needs to be to make a better team understand what it is, and for a purportedly better team to suddenly begin to wonder. Sometimes, it takes as little as a few seconds and a capering Brazilian’s wonder strike to do very different things to belief.

On Sunday, Barça withstood all but a few seconds of a perfect half of football by Espanyol, then a Messi wonder strike changed everything. Espanyol lost a bit of that doubt and suddenly, passes were easier to make, holes easier to find, movement hard to come by.

So it seemed in the aftermath of the Neymar golazo, a dipping piledriver that came at the worst time, just before the half, that PSG slipped a bit as Barça gained a bit. Being a front runner does that, but also looking at the Barça roster and understanding very simple things. They have Ibrahmovic, Barça has Messi, Suarez AND Neymar. They have Luiz and Silva, Barça have Pique and Bartra, home-raised players whose knowledge of how the club plays can bridge an ability gap.

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Barça was the better team and played like it. So when the third goal was bundled home by Suarez, PSG almost seemed to accept its fate. It got corner kicks, but rather than the psychic walkabout that allowed celebratory backslapping at the Parc des Princes, alert defenders cleared danger. PSG went on runs, but tackles and interventions thwarted efforts as for some, Barça played exactly as they were expected to play, did exactly what they were expected to do, which was beat a team that they were better than.

Once again, some social media pundits snarled and scoffed at individual brilliance, as if there is a law against being magical, against top-class players doing what they do. There is a memory, a fading bit of burnished illusion that back in the day, magical midgets would pass a ball up the pitch, perfect triangles forming the springboard for an inexorable path toward goal as flawless little dynamos walked yet another goal into the net. That memory makes athletic wonder seem somehow base, beneath the expectations of the game.

But individual brilliance can also buttress a team, make its resolve even firmer as a genius does exactly what he is supposed to do.

The better team won at the Camp Nou today. It won despite sub-par performances from a few key players, including its best player of all. It won because that’s what it believed it would do. It won because its coach knew that it would, because he devised a system that if it was followed as it should be, would ensure victory. It won because its players executed that plan to a level that was not enabled by individual excellence, but enhanced by it.

And for now, the next test awaits as a team rounds into shape and hurdles mountains of doubt, leaping along with just a little more spring in its step because maybe for the first time this season, this is a group of players that is all in. It was as beautiful to watch as it was effective as it quelled doubt in all but the most committed, for a magical yet logical evening.

“Barça won.”
“Well, duh. That’s what it’s supposed to do.”

psgdef

Posted in Champions League, Messi, Neymar, Review, Tactics, Thoughts70 Comments

Barça 5, Espanyol 1, aka “The aesthetics of results”

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When people snark and caterwaul about the Liga talent gap, today’s Catalan derby serves as an excellent illustration.

More than a tale of two halves, it was as stark a depiction of haves vs have nots as you will ever see.

It’s a fairly easy thing to summarize this match, and the truth lies in that summation: Espanyol played a perfect half of football, while Barça was far from perfect. In the second half Barça raised its level, rendering what Espanyol did irrelevant. 5-1. Done.

Is it really as simple as it seems from that stark paragraph? Well, yes.
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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Review, Thoughts96 Comments

Mister Stat Guy, Justice For Leo

My laptop is in front of me, my fingers are on the keyboard and my cup of coffee is getting cold. It’s getting cold because when I first ordered it I sat down to write about Lionel Messi. I thought this was easy…Obviously not.

You see, when it comes to Lionel Messi you ask yourself a golden question: “where do I begin?”

Lionel Messi recently broke the “La Liga top scorer of all time” record.  Nothing is more fascinating than how it all started.

“That chip though”

It goes unnoticed, sometimes, how Leo changed parts of the game. Leo has the ability to execute a perfect chip every time he encounters a goalkeeper. Now if you’ve ever grabbed a ball with a group of friends and headed down to the field to show off your mad skills, you would know that executing a chip with this much ease, precision, beauty, and in that ridiculous repetitive physics conquering  *deep breath* fashion is one of the most difficult things in the sport. As for Lionel, he does it after a few milliseconds from receiving the ball.

It’s almost as if time stops, Leo prepares himself for the chip, executes it, then he presses “play” for you to watch what he is about to do.
Why bother do that when I can just smash it in? I mean a goal is a goal after all… Right?

On paper and for the stat obsessed a goal is a goal. It will just increment the score-line by one. However, for spectators and people who have paid money to be entertained (after all that’s the point of the sport) 1 plus 1 is rarely equal 2.

This leads me to my point.

A letter to mister stat guy

Dear mister stat guy,

I have something to say.

How will you record what Lionel Messi has just done? Do you think a bunch of numbers will represent what he does on the field?

Your book goes something like this: “Lionel Messi, 3 dribbles, 1 chance created”

Does your statement describe that Lionel just made 3 players look like absolute fools after he controlled the ball with an astonishing fashion? Does your statement describe that the thousands in the stadium were suddenly on their feet and the millions watching at home were either giggling or in shock? Does your statement mention that Lionel has just seen a player who is yards away from him, detected his run, and sent the ball with so much precision that the teammate’s run coincided with the ball hitting the ground? Did your statement mention that Lionel had the physical and mental ability to execute these four actions in a matter of 2 seconds? Will your numbers do him any justice?

No, mister stat guy, your statement brought Leo down to the level of other footballers. We can now sadly compare in numbers.

However, these thousands in the stadium and the millions watching at home disagree with what you have to say. They felt the adrenaline. They enjoyed the moment Leo had the ball. They wanted the ball to be given back to him so that they could tell their friends: “Okay, now watch him do something ridiculous”.
Mister stat guy, what did you say when Lionel dribbled the Real Madrid players from midfield to score? I guess it’s something like “3 dribbles, 1 goal”.

But did you take into consideration that this player was psychologically willing to dribble every single one of these top players from midfield in a Champions League semi-final and he actually did it? Did you look past your excel sheet and see the look on people’s faces? You’ll see some guy with tears of joy in his eyes, a woman in absolute disbelief, and a kid who can’t wait to play football to try to imitate what Lionel had just done.

These people are the ones who are truly evaluating the player. You, on the other hand just wrote down “3 dribbles” and “1 goal”. The rest, however, is lost in a silly comparison later on.

Lionel Messi is one of the players whose actions on the field can never be measured in numbers. Flair, technique, thrill, intelligence, cooperation, and ridiculously accurate decision making CANNOT be measured in numbers.

When I sat down to write about Lionel Messi I knew I would not be able to give him enough credit for the brilliance he has shown throughout his career. I knew I would not find enough words to describe him and that’s the reason why this is so short. But I definitely know what makes him great and it was never the numbers. Lionel Messi made you love the sport even more. Lionel Messi kept on impressing the spectators. Lionel Messi built his career on constantly giving hell to the world’s best teams. Lionel Messi is the only player in the world and possibly in history, who you, as a spectator, expect absolutely anything from.
Can you describe that in numbers though?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grab another cup of coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Barcelona, Messi, Thoughts7 Comments

Valencia 0, Barça 1, aka “Wait … WUT?!”

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FC Barcelona won a match off a set piece. Ball by Messi, from the right. In the 94th minute. Off a header rebound and a put back by … Sergio Busquets, that goalscoring machine.

If you wanted to draw up a more bizarre ending to a more bizarre day, I would challenge anyone to take that task.

It is facile to say that “Matches such as this one win championships.” What is not at all easy to say is that Barça showed something today. Luis Enrique said they didn’t quit, but it was more than that. For me, there is poetry in artists sometimes tripping over the easel, sending the canvas sprawling and landing in their own paint.

And today’s match was the equivalent of that artist rolling over on the canvas, and the smeared paint creating a work that a patron buys. Because sometimes, success ain’t pretty.
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Review, Thoughts82 Comments

Welcome to the Batcave, aka “Peter in the house again”

valencia

In the “I could get used to this” category, here is another guest preview from Peter.

Days after it turned out that DC comics does not in fact sue Valencia for its bat image, the team’s home stadium, the Mestalla, was fronted with a giant solar-powered bat that looks orange at day and shines at night, so that lost airplanes at night know they are in Valencia.

Most La Liga teams that are not Barcelona, Real or Atletico have problems after a season that guarantees European competition. Two competitions are too much for most teams, and top clubs and clubs with too much money are forever looking for the game changer. It would be no surprise then that last season Valencia reached the semi-finals of Europa League and was defeated on away goals in injury time by Sevilla at their own Mestalla stadium. Valencia finished last season 8th in La Liga, which prevented them from entering Europa League. And that is a good thing, for Valencia.

After a turbulent and rocky road with lots of curves and turnabouts, Valencia has a new billionaire owner. Peter Lim of Singapore had desired to become at least a co-owner of a football club for a long time, and after he made Bankia a promise they could not refuse, he was sold the club, lock stock and two Mestalla stadiums. Since then Valencia has shot up like a bat on Red Bull.

It is important that Valencia has less exposure this season. It is important that Valencia wins and keeps on winning, because players in a winning team have less desire to move to greener pastures. It is vital for Valencia that the team performs well, because it will mean a happy rich owner, and happy rich owners can bring sponsors, they pay higher salaries and finance the finishing of a modern stadium. A happy rich owner is more likely to try and retain youth academy graduates with promising futures rather than sell them to the highest bidder.

Peter-Lim-Valencia

Lim brought Alvaro Negredo back from City (on loan), purchased Andre Gomes, Rodrigo, Joao Cancelo (who remain Benfica players, but play “on loan” at Valencia and are probably paid by Valencia) and reinforced the squad with young defender Mustafi to replace Mathieu. Together with youth academy graduate Paco Alcacer, this Valencia team has had its best start of the season since many years ago when the club was a real powerhouse. Like with Sevilla, it’s not just schedule that has made it so. Last year Valencia lost its away match vs Espanyol and drew at home. This season it was a 3-1 home win. Last season Valencia lost against Betis, which was mathematically relegated by Round 30.

Not having to travel and play additional matches every other week helps, but the squad is very strong, and this can be shown from other results: 3-1 vs Atletico (last season Atletico won it 0-1), 3-1 away vs Villarreal (last season newcomers Villareal won it 4-1). The team, unlike last season, is unbeaten at Mestalla, went to Anoeta and came out unbeaten, Anoeta where Atletico and Real went to get beaten and dismembered. This is the team which last season showed clearly that something wasn’t working in Barcelona’s engine when it came to Camp Nou and fought back from 2-0 to a 2-3 win.

Valencia suffered two losses this season:

Away to Deportivo La Coruña, precipitated by a Mustafi own goal in the first minutes, Away to Levante, which saw numerous opportunities for Valencia, and the winning goal for Levante was an absolute instant of brilliance by Morales just after Valencia had drawn at the other end.

So no, this is not an easy task for Barcelona, has never been, but this year it could be even more so. The Valencia team is young, with only two players more than 30 years of age – Joao Pereira and Javi Fuego, who are both … 30. They have stamina and motivation in buckets. I am not trying to be alarmist, but Barcelona has come from an away trip to Cyprus midweek and this will be an away trip as well. Alvaro Negredo warned yesterday that Valencia should and needs to take the game to Barcelona. Exactly what Nuno has in mind is something we would all want to know, Luis Enrique most of all, but signs suggest that Valencia would take advantage of the youth and stamina of the team, and the blaugranas’ lack of rest.

What are the strong points of this Valencia team? First of all, and contrary to logic, it’s the fact that there isn’t one single scorer. Alvaro Negredo has yet to score in La Liga, despite showing signs of improvement, but the best goalscorer of La Liga is young striker Paco Alcacer, sharing the chair with mid Dani Parejo, both having scored 4 goals.

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Eleven players in all have scored, which means that Barcelona would have to cover not one single certified threat, but multiple ones. And yes, that includes Negredo. It’s not known whether Paco Alcacer will be available, but if he is, he will be a primary threat. Bat Nr “9” wasn’t called up for the Euro qualifiers by Del Bosque for his fun attitude, but to score goals (which he did, on three occasions). Bats manager Nuno in his media appearance stressed organized pressing as the key point, combined with possession in the forward zones, but even more importantly, he emphatically stated “Tomorrow we have to score. More than score, we have to win. We have to score and not concede. But we have to score, whatever the player, we have to score.”

Strong points are also set pieces and aerial play. Valencia has scored 24 goals this season. Almost one third of those(7) have come from corners, corner plays and crossed free kicks. Mustafi was responsible for three of those(two headers), but others like fellow defender Otamendi, Dani Parejo and Paco Alcacer have each risen to the occasion. Valencia rely a lot on crosses, because they play from the flanks, which enables the creation of one-on-one situations with a followed dash towards goal, or more frequently a cross towards a striker flying in from the blind spot of the opposition defense. Negredo almost equalized from such a position in the 80th minute against Levante. Had he scored, Valencia would´ve taken the point home.

It’s difficult to talk about the weak points of a team which has conceded a total of 8 goals in twelve matches, two of which came from penalties, but there are. Valencia play with possession and have generally played with a high line, so fast counters would generate threats. Second, Valencia play with possession: being on the receiving end of that same tactic could asphyxiate them and leave them without ideas. Third, and quite important, winning the battle on the flanks could be vital. Expect a serious duel between Feghouli and Alba on the Barcelona left if they both start. Same goes for the right flank.

From the evidence we could assume the following: Valencia may try to press and overwhelm, relying on the youngsters and going for crosses to the area, be they from open play, corners or set pieces. If they go for broke, we may see an attacking Valencia team trying to rush the flanks and fighting like mad to maintain and recover possession of the ball, knowing that doing so could put a stick in the wheel of Barcelona. One thing is certain:

This is a key match. Valencia the team know it. The fans know it. Hell, Peter Lim knows it. He announced that he will be present in the president’s box in the beginning of the week and made sure the Bats knew it. If he hasn´t arrived yet in the City of Valencia, you can be sure he is flying in his private jet towards the giant bat light, because it’s important.

Barcelona are coming to town.

barval

Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Preview42 Comments

Barça 5, Sevilla 1, aka “Congratulations, Messi”

sevmess

Today was an extraordinary day at the Camp Nou, a day on which a truly remarkable thing happened as a 27-year-old player … no, phenom, broke the Liga goalscoring record with a remarkable 253 goals. He accomplished the feat at home, in front of Barça supporters, via hat trick, at the end of a truly absurd week in which people lined up to defy logic in discussing the possibility that Lionel Messi might leave FC Barcelona.

And as fools like me suggested that Messi didn’t give two rampaging shits about what people were saying, that all he wanted to do was take to the football pitch and do what he does better than anyone else alive, it seemed fitting today that Messi did precisely that. Exorcism? Maybe. Statement? Possibly. Extraordinary match by an extraordinary player? Hell yes.

And that last is the point, the point that screams to be made as from week to week players are done, then “Back, how dare anyone doubt” and all points in between, is that each week, each match is different and proves absolutely nothing. Just as some days you go charging out of bed, full of energy and ready to take on the day and other days you roll over and hit the snooze button, what the hell makes us think that footballers are any different?
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Soap Box, Thoughts138 Comments

The job of Luis Enrique, aka “What the hell to do with these leftovers?”

(Photo by Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona)

(Photo by Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona)

An interesting quote from Sergio Busquets should, if it hasn’t already, spark some thinking among those who follow, cover and are otherwise interested in Barça.

Busquets said, simply enough, that the best Barça and Spain are never to return, that tactics and the game have caught up.

This isn’t news to anyone who has been paying attention, or reading the writings of some of us who wonder about the nostalgia, and pervasively perpetual quest for The Way. But accepting that isn’t even the biggest challenge. That hurdle is a much simpler, and rather difficult one:

Accepting THIS group of players and its coaches, and getting our minds around the reality of how this team needs to play to manage success.
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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Tactics, Thoughts109 Comments

Almeria 1, Barça 2, aka “We won, but we still lost … or something”

"What the hell ...?"

“What the hell …?”

“Worst game of the season. (The) second half was a bit better, but more because of the players’ desire than because of our game.

“I don’t know what happened in the first half. The result is the best thing, but the goals won’t hide the things we did wrong”

— Luis Enrique

Even in the aftermath of a narrow win pulled out against a brave, exceptionally good Almeria side, I am still not sure if Enrique was a genius, a jackass, or all of the above.

He started today’s match with a lineup that I confess to liking when I first saw it: Bravo, Adriano, Mascherano, Bartra, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Rafinha, Munir, Pedro, Messi. You get industry from Munir and Pedro, string pulling and attacking from Messi and more industry from the midfield. And if all that fails, you have Bartra and Mascherano, pace and tackling ability, at the back. It was also a lineup that made rotational and meritocracy sense.

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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Messi, Thoughts131 Comments

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