Barca 1, Almeria 0, a.k.a. “Wallowing in it.”

So. Happy. Right. Now!
So. Happy. Right. Now!

Wow. What a golazo! That it was the only goal wasn’t really surprising when you watched the match for more than 10 minutes, as Hugo Sanchez unveiled a new formation, the 0-10-0, in an effort to keep us from scoring, shamefully playing for a draw at the Camp Nou.

Thankfully, the footy gods brought us the new, calm Pedro!, who spun and smoked a shot into the far upper 90, that was astonishing. Maxwell will get credit for the assist, but it’s a gift because that goal was all P!.

Who knew that it would be the only goal?

Guardiola rolled out a lineup that gave me instantaneous pucker: Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Puyol, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro!, Messi, Ibrahimovic. Why? Because Busquets will always have his moment, Maxwell gives away corners too cheaply and Marquez is still experiencing his Great Decline, which makes Puyol grab his fireman costume and run around too much. And whenever that happens, we concede.

Thankfully, Almeria had about as much interest in attacking us as I have in showering with a brick of limburger cheese, as The Fear kept them in check. “Can’t have them beating us 6-0. Nope. No way. Just kick them and the ball and off we go.”

And it almost worked, were it not for the aforementioned moment of individual brilliance saving the day. And a few more words about that golazo. Because Pedro! always attacks with the ball, the three defenders forming a triangle around him were playing him for the run or the pass. To his credit he realized this and decided that something from distance was just the trick. It’s his second strike for us that was crucial, that was again done with power and accuracy. And that moment was needed, because Almeria decided to man-mark Xavi again, as that is the tactic of this season and will remain so until Guardiola finds a way to beat it. I’d like to hand him the clue phone, which has someone on the other end saying “Busquets and Marquez don’t help!” With one constant follower and another shadowing, Xavi was effectively marked, and rarely allowed to be our devastating puppet master, except in non-danger areas.

This meant that Iniesta had to be the orchestrator, and that we had to one-touch our way into scoring positions. Iniesta, however, was just too anonymous and unselfish to a fault. He also looks like a little boy out there, with a body ill-suited to play the physical matches that the officiating dictates. And you can’t even say that the ref was having a bad match. He just wasn’t calling the ticky-tack stuff that we usually get. In every replay, the defender got ball first. It could be argued that the only call he missed was when he awarded a corner for a challenge in the box, but the defender didn’t touch the ball. So it’s either a penalty or a goal kick, dude. A corner is a punk call.

We also wasted Ibrahimovic by throwing long balls his way and saying “Do your thing, big fella,” or not working overlaps properly, which left Ibrahimovic’s three defenders to keep him company, with nobody taking advantage of the space created by his presence. It’s early days yet, but I’m sure he could be forgiven for thinking, just for an instant, “I could have stayed in Inter for this kind of stuff.” Pedro! worked very well with him, but you could see him trying to find space in which to work, being constantly shadowed by much of the very determined Almeria defense.

There were spaces to play into, that would come whenever Ibrahimovic took the ball and moved, and someone moved into the space that he’d just vacated. He lofted in a perfect ball for Pedro!, who should have done better with it. Then it was a perfect setup for Xavi, who knocked off a shot that the keeper still has no idea how he stopped.

And we spent more time arguing with the ref instead of playing the kind of one-touch football necessary to rip Almeria apart, bickering over alleged fouls not called. But every side that we face henceforth is going to play us physically, and the trick is to give it back when you can, and play through it when you can’t. Alves understands this, so does Puyol. The calls aren’t coming. Why should officials make the rich richer? Get over it and play football.

There were many bad signs in this desultory match that was a lot more tense than it needed to be:

–On one play Messi was charging the box, and Iniesta and Ibrahimovic stopped running, because they knew he was going to not even consider passing.
–Xavi didn’t touch the ball for stretches of time, thanks to diligent marking.
–We didn’t really control the midfield in an attacking way.
–Our defense is susceptible to full-speed attacks.
–Marquez, in his role as defensive mid, sucked more than a Pop-Sicle convention.

But as I said, Almeria wasn’t interested in exploiting any of those …. um …. challenges, so we could wallow in our collective mediocrity. We kept the ball pretty much forever, and Valdes made no saves. None, as in zero. The only ball he had to control near his goal was off a pass, and he flubbed it but was bailed out by his defenders. And that was that.

This match was a win, but it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t really that exciting, because Almeria were never going to score. Never. Not with one forward playing behind the midfield line and everybody else defending. The sole remaining option is to counterattack, but that was never going to work, even when Puyol whipped out the blade for a play that might, at another time and place, earned a red card. As it was he got a yellow and Almeria, for just a second, were able to walk in our shoes.

So, how to deal with that Xavi marking business?

Guardiola made the exact right substitutions with that very thing in mind, first removing Marquez in favor of Gerard Pique. The dividends were immediate, as Pique brought the ball up in his usual smart way, delivering it to the midfielders in a primo position. The result was an excellent Ibrahimovic shot on goal, that was parried away with a stellar save. This was a refreshing change from Marquez dwelling on the ball for too long, playing matador defense and generally being craptastic. So Pique was the first move, because by bringing the ball up, he bypasses Xavi and his marker, delivering the ball to the danger area and forcing that marker to track back on defense.

The second moves were to bring in The Yaya for the awful Busquets, who continued his recent trend of setting up attacks for the other side, and Keita for Pedro!. The only error of this move is that Keita should have come in for Messi, who was shit. Yes, shit. You heard me.

So suddenly, Pique and The Yaya were defenders, attacking with the ball in a move intended to move the entire pitch onto their end. Xavi could then come back to get the ball, or accept delivery from a big-ass house as it went rumbling past. Smart. Very smart. Yes, Almeria continued to play defense as if it were still 0-0, so we could calmly retain possession, and successfully stave off the occasional counterattacking foray in what might be one of the most unimpressive wins from us that you will ever see.

Evah!

Team: 4. Quit whining to the officials and play football. If you dwell on the ball too long, of course you’re going get fouled, or have the ball taken away from you. Duh! Lousy overall performance.

Guardiola: 7. He played people who we won’t be seeing against Rubin Kazan, which explains the Maxwell, Marquez and Busquets thing. But made the right substitutions when things began getting crazy.

Valdes: 5. Man up and control balls in your box. It’s your box.

Alves: 6. Good defense, but was too loose with the ball at times. His passing was also off, and he just wasn’t integrated into the attack.

Marquez: 4. This is how you play when you have a contract on the table? If you’re going to bring the ball up, don’t lose it. And at least try to stop an attacker, rather than putting your arms behind your back and letting him run past you. Oh, and playing a ball with your upper arm might be considered a hand ball by some officials. Yes, you had good moments, but they were outweighed by the bad.

Puyol: 7. Strong and solid, except for the late error. He continues to be the beating heart of this club.

Maxwell: 4. Did you at least yell at the guys as they ran past you? And stop conceding corners so easily. Oh. One word, three syllables: O-ver-lap. On the other hand, thanks for making Abidal feel so warm and secure.

Busquets: 4. How can you dribble a ball out of bounds? What the hell? And why are you so hell-bent on helping the other team score? That’s not what “Charity begins at home” means. You dwell on the ball too long and generally try to do too much. Did you watch how The Yaya played when he came in? No. Did you really watch? People are saying that you’re the future for us. I hope it’s a distant one. My heart can’t take it.

Xavi: 6. Had a few loose balls early, and he has to bury that chance. The keeper shouldn’t have had a shot at it. Controlled well when he was allowed to, but there were too many times that he made life easy for his marker.

Iniesta: 6. Our Ghostface nickname for you doesn’t mean you should disappear for stretches. And make up your mind when you have the ball, instead of getting caught in that “Should I shoot or should I pass” limbo? By the time you decide, the moment is gone.

Messi: 3. You did almost as much to kill our attack as the Almeria defense did, with your consistent ignoring of fellow attackers and constant one-on-one forays that lost ball after ball. Your first touch is a bit loose of late, and your passing lacks precision.

Pedro!: 7. Shoot, dammit! Yes, you did that second time, but you should have done the same thing that first time and you would have had a brace. Nice to see that you chose to take advantage of the acres of space that Ibrahimovic’s presence allowed you. It goes without saying that you’re my Man of the Match. But don’t let it go to your head.

Ibrahimovic: 6. Excellent play with and without the ball. But you can’t get discouraged when that little Argentine dude doesn’t pass you the ball. Nice passing, and you should have had two assists. But that’s life, right, against a defense shadowing you with at least three men. Oh, and happy birthday. Sorry that your present was to have your scoring streak broken.

Substitutes

Pique (for Marquez): 7. You made an instant difference with your intelligent forward runs. Nice work.

The Yaya (for Busquets): 7. See above, Man Mountain. Your control and defensive work in keeping your part of the midfield shut down rocked my world. And so calm with and without the ball.

Keita (for Pedro!): 6. Nice effort and movement. Funny what athleticism does for an offense and defense, isn’t it? Hope you’re all nice and loose for Tuesday, sir.

So, we’re atop the table, waiting to see what happens between the EE and Liga B front-runner Sevilla. Until then ….

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

196 Comments

  1. yogi
    October 4, 2009

    seville are damn good. i like the work their wingers are doing. navas as well as perotti. dont understand why maradona chose to ignore the kid, he seems quite excellent.

    • Boat Forever
      October 4, 2009

      Yeah Perotti seems to be very good. Sevilla in fact have a bunch of good wingers now in Perotti, Navas & Diego Capel.

  2. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    Christ casillas again !

  3. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    Fucking helll, this game should be over.

  4. Miguel
    October 4, 2009

    that is such fucking bullshit!!!

    i’m gonna be so pissed if they wind up w/a tie or a w after that shit.

    that’s why casillas is #1 in the nt

  5. Miguel
    October 4, 2009

    jesus h christ

  6. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    Well this is why i dont watch madrid games :sigh: 1-1

  7. Jose25
    October 4, 2009

    Iker is unbelievable. Unbelievable.

    • Corrine
      October 4, 2009

      i know, i have forbidden a crush on him 🙁

    • SoccerMom
      October 4, 2009

      Is he dying his hair to match his away kit? Girlthing.

  8. yogi
    October 4, 2009

    the game is so different then our game though. just going for it pretty much all the time. ill take 1 – 1 but it is unlikely it will stay that way.

  9. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    2-1, sevilla

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      yay!

    • Boat Forever
      October 4, 2009

      nice

  10. Corrine
    October 4, 2009

    woooo! celebrate good times, c’mon!
    *http://i39.tinypic.com/js2io1.gif <– click

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      fuck yeah! thats me @ the office christmas party

  11. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    Marcelo’s defending is amateurish

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      you see navas break his leg @ the 60th minute?

  12. yogi
    October 4, 2009

    Seville should be at least 4 – 1 ahead. I am enjoying it immensely right now. go seville!

  13. Corrine
    October 4, 2009

    do we play sevilla during the african cup?

    • yogi
      October 4, 2009

      yep 17th jan!

    • Boat Forever
      October 4, 2009

      Well they won’t have Kanoute available then, if it helps!!

    • BA
      October 4, 2009

      yes but we will be Yaya-less. bigger loss i think.

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      or zokora or romaric…they’ll be w/cote d’ivoire too

  14. BA
    October 4, 2009

    i love that Madrid are handicapped by the egos of Raul and Guti, who play in place of superior players just sitting on the bench collecting dust.

  15. Boat Forever
    October 4, 2009

    Can some body explain why Pellegrini didn’t include Granero & Higuain in the starting line-up!? Granero is a very good winger & Higuain is being played in wings lately… So starting them would have been the right move as I see!!!

  16. Boat Forever
    October 4, 2009

    Whoa!!! We have to play Villareal, Sevilla & Ath. Madrid during ACN 🙁

  17. Fares
    October 4, 2009

    I can’t believe how bad Marcello is …

    • yogi
      October 4, 2009

      Yep. I remember making fun of Heinze and the many mistakes he made. Marcelo is not far behind from what i see. He has been taken around pretty much every time in this match. And we will have Messi on that side. Bring on Clasico!

    • BA
      October 4, 2009

      Marcelo is such a clown. one of the worst divers in La Liga, from left-back.

  18. Miguel
    October 4, 2009

    if only they had played flo flo’s 4-5-4…

  19. Eduard
    October 4, 2009

    madrid lost, makes my day 🙂

  20. Corrine
    October 4, 2009

    TOP OF THE TABLE

    I LOVE YOU SEVILLE

  21. Boat Forever
    October 4, 2009

    Yo!!! FC Barcelona stand top of the table in La Liga

  22. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    jaja ramos missed at the end. the sevilla fans wouldve rioted if that had went in.

  23. iBlau
    October 4, 2009

    GRACIES SEVILLA!!!!!

  24. Kxevin
    October 4, 2009

    😀 😀 😀 😀

    • October 4, 2009

      x1000

  25. yogi
    October 4, 2009

    Maybe Liga is not a two horse race. Though one result does not disprove the theory.

  26. Jose25
    October 4, 2009

    Sevilla now second on the table.

    • Corrine
      October 4, 2009

      omg

  27. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    i dont think marcelo connected with a tackle all game, he didnt even manage to take down any players.I hate him though epecially when he scores and does his stupid celebration.

  28. Boat Forever
    October 4, 2009

    The Evil Empire slips to 3rd position right?

  29. jnelson
    October 4, 2009

    What a great weekend. Thank you Sevilla, for giving AS and MARCA something to choke on. Did anybody notice how the entire game was basically counterattack-counterattack-counterattack-counterattack-counterattack-counterattack-counterattack ??? That soccernet article by Phil Ball I believe is pretty accurate. EE play like two separate teams, counterattacking all game long. I can’t believe how fast Sevilla was hauling ass all game long. Kudos to them.

  30. iBlau
    October 4, 2009

    Now we await the excuses….”Ronaldo didn’t play”, etc.

  31. ooga aga
    October 4, 2009

    Barca
    Sevilla
    RM
    LOL

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      super depor in 4th, valencia in 5th

      villarreal in 19th!?!?

  32. lovelymofo
    October 4, 2009

    That was a fantastic game. Jesus Navas was impressive! Is it true he doesn’t play for la seleccion b/c of panic attacks?

    • Boat Forever
      October 4, 2009

      He’s now playing in CL… Expect him to wear the Spain jersey in near future 🙂

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      slip some xanax in his gatorade & call him up del bosque

    • jordi
      October 4, 2009

      He has homesickness and anxiety attacks but i think he said hes working on it cause he wants to go to south africa. Which would be awesome.

    • Corrine
      October 4, 2009

      never knew that about him

    • lovelymofo
      October 4, 2009

      The announcers on the spanish stream were talking about it, but they were being asses, saying he was a momma’s boy.

  33. Boat Forever
    October 4, 2009

    Can any one else see Madrid going for a new winger during January transfer window? Hope it’s not Suarez 😛

  34. October 4, 2009

    Jesus Navas was just brilliant. Hands down their best player. Though I do agree that Marcelo was just purely horrendous the whole time. But I’ve said he was pretty shit for a couple of decades now (it feels like).

    Woohoo top of the table!

    Only reason it wasn’t 4-0 was Casillas is a beast.

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      isaiyaya, casillas was playing as if he were wearing micky mouse gloves

    • Boat Forever
      October 4, 2009

      4-1

    • October 4, 2009

      Nope, 4-0. They don’t score their goal if it’s not for Casillas’ absurd save moments before.

  35. Corrine
    October 4, 2009

    this was exactly what i needed after liverpool fell to 5th today… lol

  36. Kxevin
    October 4, 2009

    Watched a little, when Sevilla had gone ahead. What’s with the lack of ball pressure? You can’t just let a side pass the ball around! Neither side put any realistic sort of ball pressure on, and the midfield was like a revolving door.

    Then the nausea started to build, and I switched back to the Chicago Bears game.

  37. Boat Forever
    October 4, 2009

    So is the Thongboy playing for his country? I wish not & I wish Bangs would get to go to South Africa 🙂

  38. Jnice
    October 4, 2009

    VAMOSSSSSSSSSSSS

    Sevilla is nice.

  39. Lumi
    October 4, 2009

    Sevilla made my double week if only the top 3 positions in the table remain the same till we meet EE and send them to HADES!!

  40. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    Cristianodependencia. New word 😀 .atleast they cant say it about us and leo anymore.

    *http://www.marca.com/debate/2009/10/480/prevotaciones480.html

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      i voted “si”

    • Boat Forever
      October 4, 2009

      lol

  41. jnelson
    October 4, 2009

    Actually, Sevilla are still third. They have identical records with EE, but EE have greater Goal Difference, despite the head-to-head record.

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      i thought it went: head-to-head –>goal differential? is that only the case in a runoff? who cares?

  42. Lumi
    October 4, 2009

    Please can someone on this blog answer this quest: Who is a Stopper and Who is a Sweeper

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      //http://expertfootball.com/coaching/positions.php

  43. Lumi
    October 4, 2009

    In Football i mean

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      //http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2009/sep/22/football-tactics-trends

    • Hector
      October 4, 2009

      The Sweeper and the Libero always get mixed up. The former plays BEHIND the defensive line and has freedom to roam the whole horizontal span of the field to make stops. We call Valdes a sweeper keeper because sometimes he plays so far up that its as if he were an extra defender sweeping up the defenses mistakes. The Libero plays in FRONT on the defensive line and, like a sweeper, is given freedom to roam and make plays. This was the Beckenbauer position and he had the freedom to start attacks from that position.

      Some call Pique a libero but I think Yaya is closer to one than Pique in the defensive sense. I see Pique as a stopper on defense (the last centerback on defense who holds the line as opposed to a marker who hounds forwards in constant man marking) but occasionally as a libero on offense.

    • Sid
      October 5, 2009

      If you play a defender behind the defense line (Sweeper), wudnt the defense be vulnerable from attacks of a strikers lurking behind the defensive line (Since there wud not be an ooside trap) ?

  44. Jose25
    October 4, 2009

    If they are tied, then you go to head to head, where Sevilla are up. As far as I remember, even if one game hasnt been played yet, you go by h2h. Thats how it was done between barca and ee since ive been following la liga…

  45. Jose25
    October 4, 2009

    And yeah, technically not a big deal :p

  46. poipoi
    October 4, 2009

    MADRID SE QUEMA 😉

  47. jordi
    October 4, 2009

    Munian is now the youngest player to score in la liga.

  48. Lumi
    October 4, 2009

    hello can someone ans my question

    • Miguel
      October 4, 2009

      i answered it twice already. jesus.

    • Ciaran
      October 4, 2009

      Basically, a ‘stopper’ is a more traditional defender, who just likes to defend. A ‘sweeper’ is a more technical player, capable of bringing the ball out of defense and starting attacks.
      To put faces on the terms, think of it like Puyol and Pique, with no disrespect to either’s abilities.
      Puyol is, first and more foremost a defender. He’ll man-mark an attacker, tackle often and win balls in the air against them. His primary job is to dispossess the attacker and/or clear the ball from his goal.
      Pique is much better on the ball, than the average defender and can easily push up to play as an extra midfielder when we are in possession. He builds attacks from deep and plays spaces rather than players.

      Did that help?

  49. bill
    October 4, 2009

    ha! madrid lost. sevilla outplayed them!

    • El Tel
      October 4, 2009

      Sevilla es maravilla!

  50. Lumi
    October 4, 2009

    Another note i think on this match is that will be far from pushovers when we meet bar injuries

Comments are closed.