Archive | Thoughts

10 post-Classic points, aka “It ain’t over, but many things should be over”

"Okay guys, we sucked. Next question."

“Okay guys, we sucked. Next question.”

So. Barça got its collective tails handed to it yesterday. What does it mean, and what are the implications, moving forward? Here are 10 thoughts about just that.

1. Exorcismus Guardiolus: Time to eradicate all things Guardiola. Cries for “What Guardiola brought us, blablabla,” are pointless. That team, that system existed in a moment in time. Nobody was prepared for it, but people got prepared for it. It affected Spain just as it is affecting Barça. Time for the team and culers to move on. The question is “What can Enrique bring us?”

2. People seem somehow surprised that RM attackers ran past Iniesta and Xavi like they weren’t even there. Why? They weren’t, for all intents and purposes. It isn’t about triangles and possession. Not with the players that Barça have. It’s about getting the damn ball in the net. The play is slow because the players in charge of dictating it play slowly, then can’t help when possession is turned. Enrique has to solve that. Pedro is one possible solution. The Cuadrado desire is becoming more clear.

3. Enrique should figure out what the hell he wants to do, and then do it and not waver. You don’t set up a system, buy players and then decide in the biggest Liga match of the season to go conservative. The lineup was illogical, and turned Barça into Celta. It shouldn’t have happened. It starts with the coach. If only there was half as much focus on Enrique as Mathieu …

4. The change that has to happen to the team is hamstrung by the looming transfer ban. It’s also a case of hanging on to players too long. Should the team have sold Iniesta by now? Good question. Xavi is still effective against everybody except the types of teams Barça have to beat on the big stage. So why are both players still there? Why is Busquets still an automatic starter? Iconic players make a coach conservative.

5. If Barça is no longer going to defend with eleven as it attacks with eleven, changes have to be made in the way the team defends. At present, when attackers pierce the nonexistent press and slow mids, the back line is going to have problems. It can get away with them against lesser opposition. If Neymar isn’t going to track back, sit him down until he figures it out. Enrique shipped out Deulofeu for defensive deficiencies. The player can’t be blamed for wondering why him.

6. I don’t care how hard the players work in practice if they go on mental walkabout in matches. Barça has conceded six goals (PSG, RM) through stupid play. All six goals could have been prevented. You can say that even as you can also acknowledge that Barça was outplayed.

7. Like every Barça coach since the Ascendancy, Enrique doesn’t have the nerve to yank Messi. He should develop that nerve. When Messi goes absent he never comes back, even as he might sometimes find himself in a position to do something wonderful. “They defended him really well,” say supporters. When the hell has a focused, alert, charged Messi been able to be stopped? Early in the season, Messi set the tone, running, pressing and leading by example. Those days seem to be gone.

8. You have to fail before you can succeed. There were moments when (in attack) Enrique’s system worked. But if you are going to have a lineup that needs possession, you can’t be sloppy with it and you can’t leave big spaces, which means exploitable passing lanes for a top defense. It didn’t look at times like players knew what they were supposed to do, and that’s on the coaches. There were also too many speculative passes that went to RM players, when somebody didn’t make an expected run. For the run to dictate the pass, the run has to happen.

9. This board failed the team and the supporters, but was it ever going to be allowed to make the kinds of significant changes that would have been required? I reckon that it would have been pilloried if it had. It was time to sell Ronaldinho and Deco (past time, actually). Many culers are romantic, and believe that this team can still beat top sides with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets running around. I am as romantic as the next guy, but the game has moved on. RM demonstrated that very clearly.

10. Retrospect. Even with that beating, there was a very real chance that it could have been 0-3 20 minutes into that match. This team has quality. What it doesn’t have is a margin for error. Pace and athleticism give you that margin for error, because fast, strong players can fix their own mistakes. Even as we moan into our libation of choice and hunt for reasons, in looking at the team that we have, it can compete against top competition. But its coach is going to have to make some very, very difficult decisions.

Posted in Analysis, El Clasico, La Liga, Thoughts182 Comments

Real Madrid 3, Barça 1, aka “Ownership”

Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona

Miguel Ruiz, FC Barcelona

A big part of being a grownup is ownership, taking control of the moments in life when you so desperately wish you had done better, raising your hand and saying, “That’s on me.”

Players raise their hand to acknowledge a loose pass, or a shot that shouldn’t have been taken, but who will raise their hand in the aftermath of a very thorough hiding at the Bernabeu? Xavi mouths platitudes, such as “We had ‘em in the first half, blablabla,” and Iniesta says “You hate to lose matches like this.”

But who will take ownership?
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts49 Comments

A chat with the other side, aka “Bassam talks Classic”

Miguel Ruiz/FC Barcelona

Miguel Ruiz/FC Barcelona

In advance of the Classic, we talked to Bassam Dgheim of Real Madrid Football Blog, about 10 things. Bassam, who many of you have interacted with in the comments space here, is good people, and a reminder that we fans are all human critters. It’s the teams and clubs we dislike. I have done my part, which is now up (thanks, Bassam!) at RMFB. So with many thanks to Bassam, here we go:

A Barça win will put us 7 points ahead. How big a dent would that be to RM’s title hopes?

Yes and no. It’s still very early in the season. Major shake ups in the squad have gotten us to the point were we are 4 points away. But I would be worried more about us in the long stretch than right now, because that’s when the team will be a well oiled machine. Right now we are doing well because we have great players. But little hardship might steer the ship the wrong way. So while 7 points away will be rough to come back to, I don’t think it is the end of the league. We meet again at this season and have another chance to pull it back.

To beat Barça, Madrid needs to take advantage of (enter Barça’s weakness and/or key match-up in favor of Madrid)/To beat Madrid, Barça needs to take advantage of (enter Madrid’s weakness and/or key match-up in favor of Barça)….

To beat Barca, Madrid needs to take advantage of the left flank. With Bale set to miss the game, the team will adjust more and more towards CR running the show. Alves is good, but he has his moments, especially in defense. With Rakitic and Iniesta putting in leg work in defense, but not actual positional defense, I think the combo of Modric and Kroos will need to exploit that and spring the ball well to the left flank.

To beat Madrid, Barca needs to do the obvious: Attack from the right flank. Marcelo is brilliant going forward, but he is god awful in attack. And similarly, without Alonso in the center, Messi is gonna have a lot of space dropping deep. If RM don’t control that, then they might be in big trouble.

How has Mourinho leaving affected the clásico, and is Ancelotti too much a pragmatist to care about the hype?

How has rain fall affected the drought? Very well I would say. I’ll keep this more general than just the clásico: Mourinho leaves and we win the double, including the far awaited 10th CL title. And had it not been for poor decision making, RM were easily looking at the treble last year. Ancelotti brings in a aura of zen and calmness that we have not had since VdB. And he knows that one game won’t define his season. With Liverpool done like they were on Wednesday, I think pressure is really off Ancelotti in this one.

Which Barça player(s) do you despise?

Alba. Alves. I used to really dislike Sanchez. Not fond of your manager at all for the all so obvious reasons.

Is the team better without Bale in reality, against Barcelona?

Yes and no, again. Against Barca, the team might miss Bale much more than against any other team. He has the work rate to drop back and form a 442, while maintaining a dominant a quick threat on the right flank. Under any other circumstances, I would say he’s a huge miss. However, his replacement is a guy with the name Isco, and I rate him extremely high. Iniesta with more goals and less assists is a good description. Has improved leaps and bounds since last year, especially on positional play and work rate. Turned from a player that needs the system to be centered around him to a player that is capable of fitting into the system well. I feel more comfortable with him coming in.

What’s the biggest change in this year’s RM side from last year’s?

We no longer need to hear bout La Decima every second. So that’s a big change. Alonso and Di Maria leaving are the other two big changes both personnel and formation wise. With Di Maria gone, we lose that extreme work rate and assist machine. But much more importantly is losing Alonso. He was the anchor in midfield. Organized the defense very well and orchestrated the attack brilliantly. Our defense has suffered most in his absence, as he was the leader in that domain. He was the equivalent of the coach on the field. No surprise that Pep picked him up.

Has Casillas got the support of most merengues? Do we only hear from his detractors because they scream louder?

Getting Mourinho as your manager is like getting a tramp stamp. You might remove it, but the essence and memory of having gotten it is still there (think Ted Mosby from HIMYM). While Mourinho is gone from the team, there are many who supported him that still linger. Chelsea fans, Porto fans, Inter fans, they are all Real Madrid fans. And all want to make sure we never forget we ever got that tramp stamp. So for me, it is definitely a case of detractors scream louder. Let’s not forget, the Ultra Sur gave Mourinho a trophy of appreciation during his last game for us. And they were the only fans he went and bid farewell.

What has Kroos brought to the team that wasn’t there before?

It’s a tough question to answer. The main reason behind that is because Kroos is playing a position he has never had to play before. While he grows into that position and while the formation changes to adjust to his strengths and weaknesses, we are seeing more and more why he is so highly rated. He obviously brings the vision on the ball, the mobility in the center of the field and of course, the football IQ. He adds more of a short directness to our play as opposed to the long directness that Alonso had. I think the best is yet to come from Kroos as he adjusts.

What RM line-up do you expect to see start the classic?

I think we will go with Iker-Carvajal-Pepe-Ramos/Varane(depending on fitness)-Marcelo-Kroos-Modric-Isco-James-CR-Benzema. In possession, James will occupy the right flank, drifting to the middle often. In defense, we will shift to 442, with CR slight on the wing and Benzema waiting to get the ball to spark a counter attack. I would watch out for Carvajal on the right, as he will have a lot to do in attack with Bale out. The dude is fast.

If Alonso had stayed, do you think that he would have fit into this season’s RM?

I think we would not have seen a similar style had Alonso stayed. Ancelotti had to change a lot in order to accommodate for Alonso leaving, even though the general formation is still the same. I worry that this game against Barca is where we will miss Alonso the most, especially with dealing with Messi (from an organizational point of view).

Posted in Analysis, El Clasico, La Liga, Thoughts103 Comments

A Classic preview, aka “Great men don’t always make history”

clas

If great men decide history, the effect of lesser men in steering history is often overlooked.

Saturday’s Classic boasts two of the greatest footballers in history, facing off on opposite sides. As the notion of great men and their writing a script for an extraordinary event goes, you couldn’t ask for a better moment in time. Both titans are on exceptional form, both redefining the idea of what a “good” scoring year is, as people look back on the idea of a forward banging in 25 goals being laudatory with a nostalgic giggle.

The seductive path is to simply say that as Messi or Ronaldo goes, so will go their team, even as recent history argues against that notion. Messi’s biggest role in the scoreline of the 2-1 Classic at the Camp Nou was giving the ball away and launching RM on a rocketship break that led to their only goal. Ronaldo offered threats, but no goal.

Lesser men. Neymar scored one goal and assisted the other. In the Bernabeu Classic, Benzema scored two, while Neymar assisted one goal and drew the penalty for the equalizer, while Iniesta drew the penalty for the resultant match winner. History will record that Messi notched a hat trick in that Classic, but lesser men set the stage.

But first, some reality checks.
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Posted in El Clasico, La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Supposition, Thoughts17 Comments

Barça 3, Eibar 0, aka “Football’s constant lessons continue”

"Still got it? I never lost it, son!"

“Still got it? I never lost it, son!”

Football is fun, mostly because it can teach us so much about things, like a crafty old veteran who hunkers down to explain everything that we missed about what we thought we had just watched.

One of the things that football teaches us is that expectations are illogical. As people crowed about Messi popping off the bench to bang in a brace for Argentina, and Neymar popping in four for Brazil against Japan and wondering how many they would score against Eibar, only a few cautioned that friendlies aren’t reality, and space given by a 3/4ths speed friendly opponent can evaporate when the match Matters.

Eibar rolled into the Camp Nou, a newly promoted side who sat in the top 10 of the Liga standings, ready to do battle for the point it arrived with, but willing to take three if fortune smiled upon its eleven warriors. And this wasn’t no stinkin’ friendly.
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts104 Comments

The Good, the Bad and the Suarez

This is the post I promised Valdemar II, the winner of the World Cup predictions thing who asked for:

“A post about the possible starting elevens and alternate formations for [this] season”

Well, the transfer window wasn’t closed at the time nor was the squad finalized so I thought it would be better to hold off it. Which ended up being a good call since we didn’t sign Cuadrado after all.

Now that we have a couple of games under the proverbial belt, I figured there’s enough material to work with to give a brief overview of the beginnings of the Lucho era.  That, and I’ve been slacking so I hope Kevin, blitzen, Lev and co. don’t revoke my membership.

What I find really interesting this season is the glut of (very good) tactical posts and blogs available on the ‘net these days. (That includes here, Kevin print/tvscreens for the win!). I don’t know if it’s just Barca-centric or if it extends to other teams, but it’s very impressive. As for me, that means rather than give a broad overview I’m simply going to list bullet points of the pros and cons from this growing project Lucho’s begun. A little snapshot if you will.

Also, Suarez.

Except he hasn’t played it yet so it’s really Liverpool!Suarez Continue Reading

Posted in Analysis, Thoughts112 Comments

A personal standard, aka “Messi is better than Ronaldo is better than Messi”

jordan-shrug

The Shrug. The last time that I saw a truly transcendent performance by an athlete was by Michael Jordan, in Game One of the 1992 NBA Finals. One of the benefits of being an old man is that you had the opportunity to see stuff like that, an athlete beyond compare, on the biggest stage in his sport, against the man many suggested is as good as he is, for a championship.

And Jordan, simply put, lost his mind: 39 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Jordan dropped in 6 3-pointers and after yet one more, shrugged as if to say, “I don’t believe it, either.” Football has no analog for that kind of performance. Ronaldinho’s standing ovation game against RM wasn’t one, neither are any of the 4+goal hauls of Messi or Ronaldo.

What was most interesting about Jordan’s performance in that game was that it illustrated that reality of an athlete becoming his own standard, someone who can only be compared to himself. Such things are worth noting the next time anyone thinks of choosing a side in the eternal Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo debate.
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Supposition, Thoughts27 Comments

Rayo Vallecano 0, Barça 2, aka “Achieving a state of grace”

rayomess

Winning is kinda weird when you think about it, because it isn’t supposed to happen.

Even if you consider what has to happen for a goal to be scored, never mind enough goals to win a match, the mind boggles at the amazing complexity of it all, the chain reaction of attackers doing the exact right thing, a sphere being struck by a running foot also doing the exact right thing on a playing surface that contains dips, bumps and other imperfections, finding another running set of feet in the exact same way, as the people trying to stop the ball from going into the net have to do the exact wrong things.

This absurd high-wire act has to happen again and again and again. A cycling coach once told me that to win a race, you have to do 100 things absolutely right. Do 99 of them right, and you finish second. 98 spot on, and you finish third.

Winning can best be described as a state of grace, because it is something of a seeming impossibility even as usually, someone wins and someone loses a match.
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts110 Comments

PSG 3, Barça 2, aka “Okay. So what happened?

Image courtesy FC Barcelona

Image courtesy FC Barcelona

The away Champions League leg to Paris St-Germain was like the baseball pitcher who has a perfect game going. Then he walks a guy. Next guy gets a hit. Next guy hits a home run and suddenly, it’s all gone.

Barça rolled into Paris on the heels of a single draw as the “negative” result, and no goals conceded. This was to be the match, the team’s first match against a grownup, where we would see what this group was really capable of, and a number of things happened.

— Barça conceded
— Barça lost
— Barça was easily controlled at times
— Barça committed absurd defending mistakes that would be a shame for Barça B, never mind the first team.
— PSG played its collective tails off in an excellent display.
— Barça didn’t

Seems simple, right?
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Posted in Champions League, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts102 Comments

Barça 6, Granada 0, aka “What a difference two days make”

Photo courtesy FC Barcelona

Photo courtesy FC Barcelona

Two tales from life, both having bearing on this post.

1. One of my bikes was making an odd, cricket-like noise. This brilliant mechanic checked everything, even pulling the bottom bracket. We scratched our heads as a much less talented mechanic said, “Hey, a chainring bolt is loose.” Voila.

2. My training week is Su: hard; Mo: rest; Tu: very hard; We: long moderate; Th: long hard; Fr: easy; Sa: moderate. On Sunday or Thursday, nobody can beat me. On Friday, my Mom can beat me. It’s the cycle of a training week, and the effect that it has on an athlete.

Which brings us to a pair of matches, and their effect on culers and analysts.
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts21 Comments

Perfection, Barça and notions of stability, aka “Foundations are important”

"What did that Dutch guy say about us?" "Dunno."

“What did that Dutch guy say about us?” “Dunno.”

There is as much danger in being overly pessimistic as there is in getting overly excited, but it’s very safe to say that there isn’t a culer who, even in a most optimistic moment, would have thought that after 5 matches Barça would be perfect: 5 wins and 0 goals conceded.

Last season Barça delivered the best start in the history of the club as a Christmas present, before fizzling to a trophyless conclusion. Whether you want to place the blame on the loss of Valdes, heartache, fatigue physical and psychological or whatever is up to you. Maybe it was all of the above.

Yet it isn’t misguided to suggest that this season feels different, even if the future might yet make this gaudy start a fond memory. Let’s have a few looks at feelings and why they matter:
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Posted in Champions League, La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts162 Comments

Is “mes que un club” just a slogan, aka “Multinational corps don’t have politics”

crest

A favorite Twitter commentator brought something to mind this morning in posting a very good editorial about the club and its stance, or lack thereof, as the September 11 pro-independence (or pro-choice, dependent upon whether you like waffles) day looms.

Many people come to Barça for the football. I would reckon that most come to the team for the football, and think of the club and team as one, rather than the former being a representative of the latter, an umbrella that encompasses everything from many other professional sporting teams to charitable/human rights efforts and other enterprises. And if all you care about IS the football, stop reading now.
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Posted in History/Culture, Soap Box, Thoughts284 Comments

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