Archive | Thoughts

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

espmess

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

Appeals, Douglas and Barça, aka “An investment in rage”

barto

There is probably, I am sure, someone around who would like the sitting board of FC Barcelona gone more than I.

There is probably a person somewhere who has disliked Bartomeu since childhood, who once upon a time had the board collectively kick their puppy in a conga line of canine disdain.

Which brings us to today’s CAS hearing on the appeal of the two-window transfer ban that was handed down to Barça for violations in youth player registrations, errors that the board has copped to in calling them benign-sounding things such as “administrative oversights.” And there is a vile, evil part of me that, if you listen very closely, you can just make out a faint sound as it screams, “Lose the hearing! They will be brought to account for their actions, and it will be one more nail in their coffin. Die! Die!”

But I love this club far too much to ever, ever wish anything bad for it. I love this club enough to apply objectivity and see that the board has done many of the things that it has done for reasons that are valid to them, even as they rile me to my culer core. (Well, except the horizontal stripes … that crap is just bonkers.)

I also know the damage that a two-window ban would do to the ambitions of the club and team that I love, which means that I can’t in good conscience do anything except root for the club and its lawyers, even as there are voices out there in the world who would prefer the opposite, whose views are in alignment with my Dark Side. Sometimes you have to take some healthy tissue out to remove a tumor, goes the logic, and I understand that. I just can’t in good conscience personally support such a thing because of the potential damage it might cause.

Anger is sometimes good. Rage rarely is. Anger can clear your mind, just as rage invariably blinds. We see but we can’t see, because all that we see is what our rage is telling us to see. Perhaps that explains a lot of my stance against being a fan of a certain player. For as you are a fan of a player it is just as easy to dislike a player, to not see something even when it’s right there in our faces, because of the blindness that is an aftereffect of rage. I”m not mad at Douglas. I’m mad at the situation that means a fast-diminishing Alves is still our best right back.

But even there, looking around at the footballing world makes you wonder where the quality RBs are on the market. They seem to be even more scarce than that “world-class” CB that everyone talks about. As the team failed to get Cuadrado and Enrique didn’t want a purely defensive RB, problems arose. Someone, somewhere who knows a lot more about football and assessing talent than I do, decided to take a shot on Douglas. Okay. He’s here. Now let’s see what happens.

It’s a weird thing rooting for a club. There’s so much that you have to put aside as a consequence of that allegiance. I hate that the club I love signed a player who troubles me morally. I hate that the club I love has, as one of its best players, a man who stood accused of calling an opponent a monkey. I hate that it kicked iconic players to the curb as said player sat weeping at a press table. I hate sold shirt fronts, surreptitiously sold stadium naming rights and all of it.

But when our players stride onto the pitch wearing those famous colors, even if those colors are highlighter yellow, I want nothing more than success for that entity.

This makes it a struggle for me to understand things, not only wanting an appeal to fail, but the almost obsessive dislike of players.

I watched Douglas play in the Copa match on Wednesday, and thought, “Hmmm … not as bad as his first time out, and he is actually trying to DO something this time. Better.”

douglas

And it was weird to think that because out in the world of social media, predominantly Twitter, the steadfast belief that Douglas is the worst footballer on God’s green Earth has been pre-sold with such vigor that it is seemingly impossible to imagine him even completing a pass, never mind actually not comprehensively sucking. So when you say “There were positive things in his game,” it becomes the same as saying that Douglas is the second coming of Dani Alves. He isn’t.

Reality is that I, like most observers, still have no idea WHAT Douglas is, but I know what he isn’t: He isn’t as bad as his detractors make him out to be. He can’t be. Because if he were, every pass would have been intercepted by opponents leading to goals, he would have knocked in a couple of own goals to boot … and kicked a puppy while snatching Thiago Messi’s binky.

Douglas, however, is just the latest. Alex Song has been on that list. Alexis Sanchez spent a long time on that list, and even now, many say that he is playing well because it’s easy to shine at a lesser club, and he still isn’t “Barça quality,” whatever that means. Pique is a dimwitted, unfocused playboy, Sergi Roberto is a waste of oxygen who cost us some player or another. What they all have in common is that they are (or were) Barça players.

And there is a perception gap that is often attendant to that worldview. When Sanchez ran at three players and lost the ball, it was often, “He can’t beat anyone 1v1.” But when Messi makes a run at 3 players and loses the ball, it’s “Oooh, man! Almost! He’s so brilliant.” We have to strive to see everything, instead of what we want to see.

There is a seeming craving for the failure of the Undesirables that is odd to me because if they fail, the team fails and the club is damaged. Champions League failure means less prize money means the bottom line is affected means less money for transfers means more whoring out of the Barça brand and a return of the color copies moratorium. No, I want and need for every one of our players to succeed, including the ones with a taste for human flesh and who hurl invective at wild-haired Brazilians from behind the safety of a cupped hand. Everyone. I don’t have a choice in that, really. I don’t want to be right when it comes to the failure of my club.

Yet the silence when a detested player performs well is deafening. One of those players can not put a foot wrong for 89 minutes and 58 seconds, misplace a pass in the last seconds on injury time and it will start: “A-HA! Told you. He sucks. Can’t even complete a damn pass on the ground. Anybody who defends him is stupid.” Can you really see everything objectively then? Good question. But in many ways it becomes like the person who says to you on social media, “Your an idiot.” Applying a bit of perspective sometimes makes a picture clearer as we put our short-term happiness in the hands of 11 millionaires in short pants.

Even when culers circle the wagons, it’s sometimes for good and bad. In a recent commentary piece by Paul Scholes, he said that the team looked “bored,” for lack of a better descriptive. There is much to agree with in that piece, even if the reasoning behind why it is occurring is wrong.

Someone said that Thomas Vermaelen will never play a match for Barça. I hope that isn’t the case, because he’s one of our players, who was signed for a reason and can be a help to this club. I hope that Douglas continues to improve, loses that deer in the headlights look and develops into something other than a punt of a transfer. I have to hope for these things, because of how much I love Barça.

Nobody, but nobody can tell anyone how to support a club. People can love the club deeply even though they find nothing but wrong in everything that the team and organization does. Being a supporter isn’t about blind loyalty or always seeing the bright side. I don’t know that it’s even about wanting the best for the club. I can’t even adequately express what it’s all about, except from my worldview, from my very personal side of things.

And from that world it’s about seeing, not being blinded by pre-sold notions, about expecting the best and being saddened when that best doesn’t come without losing hope that next time, it will. It’s about expectation and heartbreak, tears and exultation, about wanting the best for every player on the team no matter how they came to the team. It’s about pride and history, traditions and beauty. It’s also about going your own way in how you show the love for that team.

Posted in Soap Box, 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?!”

valgoal

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

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 Sevilla preview and notions of coming home aka “Thanks, Peter!”

suarez

(This is a guest preview from Peter, who if he keeps it up …)

I’m coming home,
I’m coming home,
Tell the world I’m coming home.
Let the rain wash away
All the pain of yesterday.

Bargain of the century?

Less than 48 hours before kick-off, it may be a good idea to speak about Sevilla’s progress this season, and two of Barça’s Lost Boys that are currently learning the trade there. When we talk about Denis Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu and their learning curve in the sweltering heat of Sevilla, amidst lakes of Salmorejo, Sangria and Flamenco dancers, it’s good to first start with some statistics.

Denis Suarez has been in Sevilla since late June, that is five months and counting, during which he had an injury, which slowed his adaptation. He started in Sevilla’s loss in the European Supercup, after about a month in the club. Since then he has played eleven La Liga matches, three Europa League games and one Copa del Rey. In his eleven La Liga matches Denis Suarez has started 9 games, and has been substituted four times, amassing a total of 815 minutes. The players with more minutes on the team are starting striker Bacca with 944, pivot revelation Krychkowiak with 904, and starting centerback pair Carriço (900) and Pareja (894) who have played 10 games.

In those 815 minutes Suarez has scored one goal and leads the assist charts with three, as well as 15 key passes, key passes defined as goal-scoring opportunities that don´t end in a goal. In the beginning of the season he was the attacking midfielder playing in the hole in a typical 4-2-3-1 formation, but as the season has progressed Unai Emery has tweaked with the formation, often putting Suarez on the left wing, whereas the right wing is usually occupied by Aleix Vidal or Gerard Deulofeu, leaving the hole for Banega.

I wouldn’t say that Suarez has been “immense”, but his quality has definitely helped offset the departure of Rakitic. His youthfulness contributes to the velocity with which Sevilla counter-attacks, which the double-pivot formation facilitates. Another potent weapon are his free kick crosses into the area, which have been converted into goals on two occasions. Stressing again, this is after four months with the team. As his knowledge of the game and his team-mates increases it’s almost certain that Suarez’s influence and importance for Unai Emery will increase even more.

He had his best performance in the home victory against Villareal, which saw Sevilla lose the game 0-1 in the 79th minute, until Suarez scored in the 88th and Bacca completed the turnaround with a penalty in extra time. At the time of writing Suarez’s passing rate is more than 81%, and in the match against Villarreal 70% of all his passes were forward. He capped his performance with a goal, and was the reason for the late surge of Sevilla — helped by the vociferous Biris Norte — which ended with a penalty in injury time. The initial run in the area was made by Suarez, who saw his pass intercepted before a Sevilla player was brought down from behind just as he was leaving the box. The resulting penalty was converted by Bacca.

Suarez has been called the revelation of La Liga, quite deservedly so. He pulls more than his fair share of creative plays and even though his tracking back and defensive contributions seem negligible, there is enough evidence to suggest that Unai Emery has instructed him to stay open and alert in order to be able to initiate a quick counter. He is young, and has to learn, but with less than a third of the La Liga season gone, he is fast becoming a starting player for Sevilla.

God made him

Deulofeu went late to Sevilla, after he failed to convince Luis Enrique in the pre-season. Initially he struggled for minutes at Sevilla, and his attitude when he appeared in the first games seemed to be overly demanding of his team mates. Since those early days, however, Deulofeu seems to be maturing. He has started five of the last six games for Sevilla, with a total of seven appearances/356 minutes on the pitch.

deulofeu

His defensive work rate has gone up and with the veteran Coke at his side (author of the 90th minute equalizer last season at Camp Nou) the two have pretty much anchored and barricaded Sevilla’s right flank. Deulofeu took time to adapt, but since finding his feet he has walked, then started running. Right now his most dangerous skill is his dribbling, which he does more than any other Sevilla player. He doesn’t create a lot of chances, but those that he does … For Sevilla, Deulofeu shares the assists top spot with Denis Suarez, providing three assists and four key passes, and has also scored one goal, which was all it took for Sevilla to grab the three points against Real Sociedad. He is also the leading assist maker in Europa League -– two impeccable long-range free kicks found Krychowiak and Mbia to give Sevilla the win against Feyenoord 2-0.

Like Suarez, he is a default set piece and corners go-to guy, and he almost scored a goal from a free kick against Villarreal. Aleix Vidal is often his competitor for the place on the right wing, another Catalan who came from Almeria after a great Primera season. Deulofeu’s match of the season so far was that same game against Feyernoord, in which he tried a whooping 13 dribbles (seven of them successful, practically all inside or just outside the Feyernoord box) and in general created the visiting side’s defense lots of headaches. The two free kicks resulting in goals for all intents and purposes decided the match after half an hour played.

So far …

Sevilla now sits in fifth place after drawing at home against Levante. Had the team won, as it was doing until the 79th minute, it would’ve finished the round in third place, above Valencia and Atletico. Statistically speaking, Sevilla has become better than last season, even after the departure of Rakitic, Fazio and Alberto Moreno. Last year one recurring tactic was to give the ball to Rakitic, who would send it forward for Bacca to chase. This season Sevilla have become (much) more dangerous in the air, already scoring five goals (of 18 total) in La Liga and 2/7 in Europa League in that manner. But even last season Sevilla had very good proficiency in the air, reaching the finals of Europa League on away goals after M’Bia’s extra time throw-in header (which has probably become as mythical for Sevilla as Iniesta’s screamer against Chelsea).

This season, however, Sevilla’s footballers have so far scored almost two times the quota of headers from last season in La Liga (10/69), while in Europa League the levels are almost triple of last season (2/20), already equaling the total goals scored from headers last season. Unai Emery has a more cohesive team, which can devote more time on set piece plays, and the results are a cause for optimism -– last year Sevilla was 14th after 12 games with 13 points, and a goal balance of 20:25. This year the result after 11 matches is a fifth place with 23 points, with a balance of 18:11.

Three important things:

1. Last year Sevilla had already played Atletico, Real Madrid and Barcelona after the 12th matchday. This year’s Sevilla will still have to play Real after the 12th matchday, whatever happens at Camp Nou.

2. A crooked scale that nevertheless could help measure the performance compared to last year’s can be made from comparing the results, where available, against the teams that Sevilla has already played this season. The result, before the match with Barcelona and discarding the results against newcomers Deportivo La Coruña and Cordoba* show +3 points at home (+1 from Levante, +2 from Villareal) and +1 points away (+2 from Elche, -1 from Atletico), with a goal difference against the same opposition 11:9 compared to the 12:9 last season.

3. Sevilla’s starting keeper Beto was injured in the first half of the first game, which meant that the recently signed back-up keeper Mariano Barbossa (who left Las Palmas after the Canaries failed to be promoted after a heart-attack-inducing play-off against Cordoba) had to play his first competitive game on the first matchday. He was then injured during the victory over Espanyol, which meant that B-team keeper Sergio Rico, fresh from Segunda B, had to start in the games against Getafe, Feyernord and Cordoba, and then once again the second half-time of the match against Standard Liege

(*- the only measuring stick available would be performance against last year’s newcomers and last year’s relegated teams, and the point result is the same and the goal difference is similar.)

In other words, schedule alone is not the reason why Sevilla currently sits fifth in the table, at equal points with Atletico. The team is more effective.

bacca

On the other hand …

But it’s not all roses and kisses. Rakitic is in Barcelona and his absence, as with that of Alberto Moreno and Fazio, will be felt. Still, in my opinion it is possible, in fact probable that this year’s Sevilla is a more dangerous opponent than last year’s.

The team doesn’t rely on the Rakitic-Bacca connection that much, and the midfield is substantially stronger both in terms of skill (Suarez, Banega, Aleix Vidal and Deulofeu have been added to compensate the loss of Rakitic and Cherishyev) and muscle (MBia was signed permanently and Krychowiak was signed from Stade Reims). This area for Sevilla has shown so far to be more cohesive, more creative and better overall.

There are more avenues of approach, more routes for the ball, more and different ways to score goals. Maybe the team will crumble more easily against bigger opponents due to the lack of experienced leaders and incomplete cohesion, as against Atletico, but that is disputable. In that instance, it seems that Sevilla was just beaten at its own game, failing to deal with Atletico’s pressing and proficiency with crosses and set pieces.

In terms of the face-off with Barcelona, Sevilla seems more dangerous despite the more solid defense that Enrique has created. Suarez and Deulofeu have extensive knowledge of the principles and methods of Barcelona. What’ss more, the pivot pair of Krychowiak-MBia has been fusing together very nicely, anchoring the midfield and shielding the defence while at the same time putting a lot of elbow grease toward the destruction of the opponent’s midfield as well as building up play.

We may see quite a lot of what was seen last year at Camp Nou, Sevilla defending en masse, looking for an opening and a fast counter and throwing bodies forward for set plays. Suarez is the default executor of corners and free kick crosses in the area from the left side. Deulofeu does the corners from the right, but that’s not set in stone -– Deulofeu got his two assists against Feyenoord from two long, curling free kicks from the left side. The precision of those crossed free kicks is marvelous, but it also helps that both Krychowiak and Mbia are tall, athletic pivots.

Suarez and Deulofeu, along with Vidal and Bacca, possess acceleration and speed that could create a lot of headaches after turnovers, but I think the real threat will be the set pieces. Pay special attention to Mbia, who is having the season of his career so far, with five goals from eight starting games (three headers), which was the total of goals he got last season for the whole season, and has become the second-best goal-scorer with a total of five, after Bacca’s eight, in all competitions. However, take away the goals from penalties, which Bacca takes, and Mbia has scored five goals in 712 minutes, whereas Bacca has scored his five over 1065 minutes.

Tale of the tape

What is the main weakness of Sevilla then? I would say it’s the defense. With the leave of Fazio who went to the green grass and higher salary of Tottenham, the central pair of Carriço-Pareja often need Mbia and Krychowiak to help them. It could be said that the fault also lies in the keeper rotation out of necessity, even though all three Sevilla keepers have for the most part done a spectacular job under the circumstances. Still, Sevilla has kept a total of three clean sheets this season, against Elche, Getafe and Real Sociedad, when La Real were in their worst form.

Marking from the defenders is often loose or entirely missing, especially on the Sevilla left. Coke on the right side has managed to often do it by himself, but on the left the defense has been overrun more than once, because Mbia and Krychowiak normally cover the center approach. In his best moments Denis Suarez has shown the diligence and work rate that is so often seen in wide midfielders that play against Barcelona, in the readiness to press, track back, back-up the lateral and try to isolate the threat coming from the flanks. But at his worst, against Atletico, he simply couldn’t handle the pressure and the experience of Juanfran.

Rakitic could offer some insights about weaknesses of the Sevilla defense, but if Suarez and Deulofeu start and don’t run their tails off, the Sevilla fullbacks could be isolated, which would stretch the defense and provide more space for the Barcelona striker team. This could also cause a chain reaction -– at least one of the central pair would be drawn to the duel on the Sevilla left, which would mean that either Mbia or Krychowiak would have to cover that approach, which would leave them ill equipped to intervene to rushes coming in from the blind spot, as well as shots from the second line. Sevilla’s defense has been caught with its guard down more than once this season, and more than a few goals resulted from opposing attackers losing their markers in the left zone of Sevilla’s box and scoring a vital goal. Sevilla has not lost a game in which it scored the first goal this season.

When Sevilla attack, they usually do so fast, but if they decide to pass and look for an opportunity, the weak spot so far seems to be Mbia, who has been robbed time and again of possession, especially when he has moved forward and left a hole in the defensive net. Sevilla’s defense also has problems coping with a fast-moving opponent that knows what it’s doing -– the majority of goals conceded happened during combinations, in which up to four Sevilla men were seen close to each other, marking nobody. If Barcelona manages to circulate fast and assured, it’s possible that the defense will get overwhelmed and holes will appear.

Barcelona on the other hand would have to hope that the team can both diminish the number of corners and/or crossed free kicks taken against. A probable central pair could be Mathieu and Pique, due to the increased aerial defense. If Mascherano can be spared from CB duties, his presence in midfield will be welcome, because the midfield would be dealing with Krychowiak and Mbia’s muscle, as well as possibly the youthful presence of Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu/Vidal on the right of the attack.

Alba did not feature in the last friendly of Spain, which means that for the last eight days he would have just trained and prepared. He would be fit and we could see a very interesting duel on the Barcelona left, with Alba and either Vidal or Deulofeu trying to get the better of the other. On Barcelona´s right I’d expect Dani Alves to feature again, because hate it or love it, he still remains the best package at RB that Barcelona has -– and he hasn’t played since Amsterdam, which was on the 5th of November. if we’re to judge by the videos he posts, expect him to be rested, fit and motivated. It will surely be an interesting match. Not easy, but interesting. Last season Barcelona won in the final second of injury time. The year before that Sevilla went forward both in the away game and in the home game, and the away game featured a 3-goal comeback with a 93rd minute goal by Villa. The reigning champions of Europa League will not sell their skins cheaply.

Personally I expect Sevilla to play their cards close, massing numbers in the approaches to their box and hope for a quick counter and/or set piece. Barcelona, depending on the line-up, can push and hope for a quick strike, which would oblige Sevilla to go forward in search for goal, which would leave more space behind. Granted, it’s always better to score first, but that holds even more so for Barcelona, given Sevilla’s proficiency in the air. If Sevilla scores first, the task will become very hard.

emery

Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Preview, Thoughts25 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

Standards and ghosts, aka “Barça and the 1985 Chicago Bears”

bears

The 1985 Chicago Bears won a Super Bowl, the hyperbolically monikered championship of American football, a Roman-numeraled event that was an extraordinary thing.

The Bears had style, the Bears had swagger. The Bears had a long-suffering group of supporters, who braved weather that would make even hardy souls giggle at the notion of sitting around in it for three hours to witness a passel of mediocre giants stumble about.

The 1985 Bears didn’t just do it. They told you they were going to do it, and then did it. The group played one way, and dared you to stop it. The root of the team’s dominance was its defense, a then-groundbreaking “46” defense (that eventually came to be known as the Bear defense) that placed an emphasis on stopping the run and destroying the quarterback. They rang up gaudy scorelines, and didn’t just win … they often humiliated and destroyed, coming within one game of an undefeated season.
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Posted in Analysis, Champions League, Supposition, Thoughts55 Comments

Opinions and narratives, aka the “Gotcha!” syndrome

repent

Two negative results. This is what we know.

Where many differ is not only in how those negative results happen, but what they mean. It’s at this time that the difference between opinions, assessments and narratives become most fascinating.

On social media during the match, I Tweeted that “Messi held the ball too long there.”

Someone responded that others also did at other times during the match, and WTF?! That person also suggested that my reaction to a moment was “Criticizing for the sake of criticizing.” And because I love language and how it’s used, here’s something short delving into semantic differences.

If you have an opinion or an assessment, that’s different from a narrative.

Assessment: Bravo got caught out by that header.
Opinion: I don’t think the club should have bought Bravo in the summer.
Narrative: Did you see Bravo’s positioning on that header? Told you the club shouldn’t have bought him.
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Posted in La Liga, Thoughts105 Comments

Barça 0, Celta Vigo 1, aka “Hunting season is open”

celmess

“This will be an interesting week. Hunting season is open,” said Luis Enrique, referring no doubt to the massive upheaval that is expected after two losses in a row, both in pretty much the same manner when you really think about it.

— Opponents won challenges, got to loose balls, outfought Barça
— Chances not taken that can console those who crave consolation
— No evidence of a real system, a real way of attack
— Key players not on form

It feels like I have been typing this much more than usual these past few months dating back to the end of last season, but full credit to Celta and the damnable keeper of theirs. The better team won today, successfully taking one of the few chances it had and converting it beautifully. It was a deserved win, a victory forged from effort, talent and more than a little bit of luck, an alchemy that describes almost every victory by a team.

Many will seek consolation in the same libation, Retrospect, that they quaffed in the aftermath of the RM defeat. Then, it was “If Neymar doesn’t rush his chance and Messi converts, it’s 3-0 and a different match.” Today, it’s “If we just don’t hit the crossbar and their keeper doesn’t come up huge, it’s 4 or 5-1 and we cruise.”
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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Messi, Neymar, Tactics, Thoughts44 Comments

The ‘Illegal’ Pass Into Space.

Since the beginning of this season, and definitely the seasons before, the ‘Xavi style’ of attack has minimized the risk Barcelona players take when approaching goal. There is hesitance in the style of play. There is a lack of confidence in the pass.

I call it the Xavi style but Xavi is definitely not the only man responsible for this mentality when approaching the opponent’s area. In fact, Iniesta has his share of it as well. And when zooming out of just blaming the players, you notice the bigger picture. Any player who plays in Barcelona’s midfield will suffer the same change in mentality because of how dominant that style of play is in training. You can call it a belief if you may.

“Always pass to the player’s feet, never into empty space”

Who suffers the most from all of this, though?

Neymar: The man has been on great form recently. But one of the main reasons his danger is minimized is because he doesn’t get to run the way he has always been taught. When our midfielder has the ball and sees Neymar running into empty space you can actually notice a look of hesitation on the midfielder’s face. That is, of course, before he rotates his body left or right to look for a safer pass. And Neymar’s hope, along with our attempt of scoring a goal, is crushed.
It is worth pointing out that Neymar is possibly one of the best players who move without the ball and playing to his powers will be crucial for his development and Barca’s success.

A great example on all of this is Neymar’s goal against Atletico Madrid last season in the Champions League:

Neymar 1-1 CL QF

Iniesta’s pass to break the entire defense was one of his best. However, if he just hesitated and turned around like many Barca midfielders do we would have wasted yet another Neymar run.

Suarez: The same things that apply to Neymar apply to Suarez but there is something worth adding about Luis:

Suarez has the ability to physically overcome other defenders. Whether it’s a ground pass or a long ball, Suarez is Barca’s missing physical link in attack. He is the typical striker everyone talks about(with great vision too but that’s another issue). He’ll fight for every ball. Let’s just say if a defender and Suarez were running after a ball with equal chances I’ll have my money on Luis. But again, if we don’t ever provide that ball into space for Suarez then we’ll be minimizing his danger.

Multiple times this season Neymar has waited for midfielders to take that risk and trust in themselves and in Neymar himself but they rarely did.
Actually, Messi has been practically  the only one encouraging Neymar to run into space which lead to the connection we see between them. Because beyond just football, Neymar knows that Messi will push him to the edge while other midfielders won’t. And Neymar, thankfully, responds in a very impressive way to each time Lionel gives him an opportunity.

This has also affected Suarez in his first ever match for Barcelona. He waited for a through ball 2 or 3 times and never got what he wanted.
This kills a player’s enthusiasm. Because, put yourself in their shoes, the constant feeling of rejection is not what a forward wants.

The midfielders:
Yes, the midfielders suffer from not taking a risk as well. They minimize the possibility of being chance creators which is the basic confidence boost to any midfielder in the world. It is almost as if the midfielders enter the field with the intention to pass left of right until the forward pass seems 100% safe and TO THE FEET. By doing so, they minimize the time spent on creating chances and maximize the time spent on just passing the ball around endlessly.

Some may argue: “what about the counter attack if we lose the ball because of a risky pass?”
That’s just looking at the glass half empty.
Because what about the amount of chances these guys upfront  are capable of scoring? They already proved their skills. Time to give them what they need.

Problem here is if Barcelona had mediocre midfielders everyone would understand the need for safety. But Barca can go up against almost any team in the world and say: “we have better passers than you”. With that said, being great at something means you have to utilize it.
We all know that our midfielders can play the safe pass perfectly. They only need to remember that their passing talents never stopped there.

Posted in Analysis, Barcelona, Tactics, Thoughts29 Comments

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