Athletic 2 – Barça 2, as San Mamés got the draw it deserved

My match thoughts, numbered for easy consumption:

1. Impressionist Tito envisioned a beautifully lit Bilbao in blue and scarlet with Valdés, Dani Alves, Piqué, Abidal, Song, Xavi, Thiago, Pedro, Fàbregas and Alexis as his brushes of choice. Of course Bielsa is quite the painter too, so we ended up sharing the canvas. It’s all good. Fuck the Guggenheim, San Mamés is where it’s at.

2. Messidependency is all the fashion these days. The diabolical flea turned the game around immediately. Within one minute he threatened the goal and within two he set up Pedrito. Before long he slalomed through the Bilbao defense and scored the equalizer with a flick of the foot. It was a magical effort, his 44th goal of the season a contender for the goal of the season. Shortly afterwards he set up Alexis with a brilliantly headed pass for Barça to take the lead.

3. A steady (and not entirely invalid) criticism has been this year that the fact that our game always flows through Messi makes us relatively predictable and easy to defend. Still when he doesn’t play, our offense often seems to lack a focal point instead of becoming more diverse. Our frontline is still incredibly talented even without our Argentine extraordinaire, but the problem is that most of our attackers like to have the ball played to their feet. The two players we do have who can make forward runs to invite through balls have either stopped doing so (Pedro) or stopped doing so (Villa). Sanchez has that ability but doesn’t do so quite enough. When he starts making those runs more often, watch out.

4. Speaking of Lexus, he was easily our best forward during the first forty-five minutes. He was an active part of the offense and defense and consistently made the right decisions on the ball. He was unlucky not to get the opening goal when he hit the post after an excellent attempt, and although he disappeared somewhat later in the game, he more than made up for that by scoring what should have been the winner. I have been one of his harsher critics among the BfB team, but note that I have never given up on him. I am glad to say that after an extremely frustrating first half of the season, he is making a very strong case to not get sold this summer. Not only is he scoring (like I said he would), his decision making is also improving.

5. Lost possession, long ball… Put Abidal in a complicated position near our own corner flag, lost possession… Long ball, lost possession… Awesome one-time pass, tiki taka, wow, nice… Long ball over the ground which Cesc could not control… Long ball, loss of possession… Long ball under pressure.

What’s that? Oh, you got my notes! I wondered where I left them. The above is what happened every time our Victorian Secret had the ball passed to his feet. Six out of seven times it resulted in a loss of possession. Previous games have offered similar tallies (in my head only though, not on paper).  Now I am not saying he had a bad game. No, Sir, that is not what I am saying. What it does suggest, however, is that when he moves to another club, his passing won’t be missed as badly as is often claimed.¹

6. Barça conceded the 35th goal of our league campaign, equalling our worst defensive year under Pep² with five games to spare. We have been talking about the state of our defense since the season started. I feel there are three factors at play here. We don’t press us much as before, we employ a slightly more direct and riskier style, and we have never adequately replaced Puyol and Abidal. As for the goals, Piqué got absolutely roasted by Aduriz and neither Abidal nor Jordi Alba blocked the assist. And the equalizer would not have happened if Captain Carles or king Eric had been on the pitch at that time – either one of them would have properly headed away the cross that led to Bilbao’s second goal. As some of our female readers might say, size matters, and through no fault of his own, Adriano came up short. Draw your conclusions as you see fit, I have been arguing that our backline lacks height and physicality for quite some time now.

7. With Xavi nearer to the end of his career than to the start, Cesc continues to trade off good performances with mediocre ones. Sport magazine was quick to publish the possibility he might return to London this summer and I dare say some culés would not even mind (though in my mind we’d be crazy to let him go). In the meantime Thiago had one of his better outings of the season. Both midfielders should have a place in Barça for years to come, although a player of Cesc’s quality and maturity would do well to show us some more consistency.

8. I don’t know what’s what anymore… Sport magazine? Culés? Well, yes, a poll taken in the former – and presumably answered by the latter – showed a whopping eighty percent in favor of letting Tito go. Pardon my French and then some, but mother****ers are crazy! You’re telling me that a coach with the winningest start in La Liga since its 1929 inauguration is not good enough for us? The man who made one of the most successful managers in the history of the game, who is leading the most expensive team ever assembled, give up on the league after a mere half season?? And you’re not willing to give him the chance to coach our team for a complete season, uninterrupted by a potentially fatal disease that caused him to observe trainings through webcams for months? Crazy, that’s what’s what.

9. I digress… Back to the game: if we have to lose points, I prefer it to be against los Leones de Athletic Club. As is their won’t, they fielded a team of Basques only, nine of whom were brought up in their own academy (how do you say Masía in Euskera?). Unless your name is Maradona, the games between our two clubs are usually among the more entertaining³. This match was no exception. Since it was our last encounter ever at the San Mamés, one of Europe’s oldest stadiums and home to one of its most special clubs, it is only fitting that it ended in a draw. Visca el Barça! Visca Catalunya! i visca Euskadi!

“Messi-dependent? Leo is the best player in the world. It’s normal you can see it when he’s not there.”
Jordi Roura Solà



¹ Just for your clarification. I do think that for his position Valdés is an excellent passer of the ball and that that makes him a good fit at Barcelona. This match, however, does suggest that we have a tendency to exagerrate his passing skills, or at least the positive effect those skills has on our the game. Also, the very fact that I decided to take specific notes every time he had the ball at his feet should suggest to the reader that this match was not a one-off either.

² Our worst defensive year? The one that coincided with the triple glory of league, cup and CL championships.

³ The respect that has characterized the matches between both clubs has not always existed. On the 24th of September of 1983, Diego Maradona almost got his leg sawed off by Andoni Goikoetxea, who had broken Barça player Bernd Schuster’s leg two years earlier. Hence, the nickname, the Butcher of Bilbao. When Maradona next faced Athletic a year later he instigated an all-out brawl. It was to be the end of the Pelusa at Barcelona, as president Nuñez unforgivingly shipped him out to Napoli. I sometimes still wonder what would have happened had Goikoetxea not broken the ankle of arguably the best player ever as he was to embark on his career in our beautiful club.

By Levon

Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...


  1. Someone please supply me with the list of all nicknames we use around here. Fairly new to this site.
    So far my knowledge extends to – Oil can = the other ronaldo.

    1. Welcome PrinceYuvi,
      Here is a very short list

      EE = Evil Empire = Real Madrid
      TB Thong Boy – ChristianoR
      Getting Hectored = Authoring an in depth comment only to to see that comment lost to obscurity because a new post has just been put up.
      P! = Pedro
      LoveBlob = Live Blog

      this is an old list no doubt, but I’m an oldtimer from the pre (official) Kxevin days at the Offside.

      …the rest of the list I’ll give you in person at Camp Nou at the annual BFB Road Trip game.
      …and I’ll show you my Isaiah autographed Offside teashirt.

      (you’re being hazed again)

  2. Good read, Lev! keep up the good work.

    For me, this was a great match to watch, our dropped points notwithstanding. our matches against bielsa’s athletic (and esp in pais vasco) are always fun to watch.

    1. and i had the same idea about tello…either he is the doghouse (because, after all, xavi and messi played, so it doesnt seem that tito has a mind to ‘save’ anyone), or he is a sure thing to be there wednesday.

      alves pique bartra/abi adriano/abi
      xavi iniesta (busquets, if fit)
      alexis messi tello

      i have feeling busquets wont be fit and yet will play anyway.

    2. Adriano must play because he can dribble and score goals
      Bench Busquets, even if fit. Barca need someone who can but horns with Martinez. Song is that man.

    3. Agree, the most fantastic match I have watched all season. Two swarms of bees chasing after the ball. Moment someone got the ball he got ambushed. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where players had so little time on the ball.

    4. They are, aren’t they? And I always feel kind of guilty when we crush them! Then again, not taking any points off of M*drid over the last two, three years makes them fully deserving of the occcasional Catalan manita!

  3. busi should start? i really like busi buh he shouldnt be getting as much starts as he is getting now not with song there.
    song has been really good especially in matches prior to big games…its funny that i didnt see a song mention in this post, pedro’s form has taken a deep lately(thats if ur lately means a fine 2 seasons ago) why hasnt anybody brought up his sales discussion? in all honesty lexus has been better than him all season.

    1. Song was magnificent. A far more complete player than Busquets, who doesn’t offer much when Barca are under the cosh.
      Tello is obviously being kept for Wednesday, as is Villa. Alexis was probably dragged because he will also start.

  4. Atletico attacked RM, much more than Bilbao did us in the last 10 minutes or so. Still RM managed to win, because their defence managed to hold their fort, because they knew their job and they did it very well.

    If our defensive problems are still blamed on our lack of pressing, I think I have to say, our defence is even poor than we think. It looks it is the duty of other players to protect the poor defenders. No wonder why most of Europe didnt see us as a great defensive unit in the peak of Pep era, as it is our possession which saved the defence from humiliation. They were made to look world class, by the effort of the other players. Is it fair?
    Each and every ball entering our half gives some scare of a goal now.

    I agree if Abidal was there instead of Alba, that second goal would not have happened. Which clearly shows that our defenders lack quality.

    Song also was excellent in this match. Not a word on him??

    1. Pep always said that we had to press like crazy to win the ball back precisedly because we were a horrible team without the ball.

  5. The Athletic-Barca brawl with Maradona was pretty bizarre, as everyone forgot they had arms and was just kicking each other.

    Anyways, this makes Messi’s 20th consecutive goal in the league, right? That’s pretty ridiculous, even if I would’ve preferred a few of those to have shown up in the Bayern game!

  6. No mention of Song? Right…To be honest I am just happy to have managed a review that didn’t include any embarrassing mistakes and/or typos for once, lol. Had I included a paragraph about your man, it would have gone something like this:

    A boneheaded no-look pass on the edge of our own penalty area notwithstanding, Alex Song had another good match. He has played a lot better than I expected so far – when played in position he has never had a bad game. In fact, I don’t even understand why a hernia-suffering Busquets started against Bayern last week. I still don’t understand why we bought him, but I am starting to think he might have been the right purchase at the wrong time.

  7. Comment by Phil Ball!

    “I also disagree with the idea that, despite the two goals that should never have been given, Bayern deserved to win anyway – and so it doesn’t matter about the illegality of the goals. Of course it matters! Two-nil is very different to 4-0. Had those goals been disallowed, I’m not sure that we would have heard all this hysterical talk about the end of an era. I doubt that Barcelona can turn it around, but I suspect that they might wish to make a few points on Wednesday night. Remember the slogan of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Don’t panic! Indeed.”

  8. Isaac Cuenca has asked to stay on loan at Ajax for another season. He thinks it will be good for his development, and is enjoying his time there now that he has recovered from his knee injuries. I think this is a very intelligent decision. He has clearly seen the Neymar on the wall and knows that if he comes back to Barça he won’t get a lot of playing time. Frank de Boer likes him, and it seems probable that Ajax will be happy to keep him. He will be able to develop as a player, and I fully expect him to come back to Barça eventually (once Villa has moved on). My own preference would actually be to bring back Cuenca and forget about Neymar, but Rosell wants what he wants.

    1. I agree that extending Cuenca’s loan at Ajax would be great for him, but what’s in it for Barça?

      Long term loan deals make little sense to me. Either a player is good enough to play at our club, or we sell him. We all know we need the transfer money this summer, right?

    2. What’s in it? We get back a more experienced, developed player. If the Neymar doesn’t go well, or if Villa or Sanchez or Tello leave, we have an available player who can slot right in with very little adjustment time and who doesn’t cost us anything. And a season (and a half including this year) isn’t exactly a long-term loan. It’s not like we would get a huge amount for Cuenca anyway.

      And we wouldn’t need the extra transfer money if we weren’t blowing it all on a player we don’t need.

    3. For me, anything over a year is a long term loan. If M*drid sells B-team players for over 5M, why can’t we?

      Anyway we are on record as being comitted to reducing our squad size. I think they want to downsize to 22 players. Next season will count 29 (including players coming back from loan and Deulofeu).

      We also need a CB and possibly a GK if Valdes leaves this summer. Hard choices will have to be made. Of the players who are at risk of being sold, I really want Alexis to stay. And I would listen to any good offers for Pedro.

      As for not needing Neymar, judging by our offensive performances against Milan, Bayern, M*drid this season, our attack definitely needs something… Neymar is a risky purchase, but the chances of regret if we do not buy him are just as high.

    4. a reduction in squad size to 22 would be suicidal. we have 23 first-team players on the books and our season has already been crippled with injuries (and, i would argue, lack of form through lack of competition), particularly at the back.

  9. the neymar call is a right call, so many european clubs are boosting their ranks and the psychological effect of having someone as deadly as neymar is an added plus for the fear sign teams waiver around every time they face us. and we could also use a neymar especially now that PEDRO isnt playing well

    1. Pedro has had a couple of off games, but his performance has certainly not dropped to the point where the club would consider selling him. And even if he was playing as poorly as you seem to think, he has done enough for this club over the last 5 years to justify giving him some time to get back to his best. His work rate and positive attitude are extremely valuable to the team as well. He’s not going anywhere.

  10. How good has Dani Alves been this season? I know he had a slow start to the season, but would I be wrong to claim he has been our 2nd/3rd best player this season? He may or may not be ahead of Iniesta

    1. Alves has had a great season, although he’s looked kind of tired the last couple matches.

      I would put him in the top 5/6 Barca players this season, but not ahead of Don Andres.

    2. I have misgivings about Dani. He romps forward, but doesn’t give us much of a cutting edge (too one-footed for a start), and is, as a consequence, often out of position at the back. I think there is a reason he gets so much space during games – opponents don’t respect his attacking ability and boost their defensive numbers on our left.

  11. – The mosaic in Camp Nou for tommorow would read “Barca, Pride, Barca!”. Very true, we fight for pride tommorow. We have to regain that pride after humiliation in Munich. I hope our players just enjoy the game, die in the pitch to win and see if the scoreline would carry us to Wembley

    – Looks like Busi is doubtful for tommorow. I don’t worry at all if Song play, his physicality and height could add some solidity in defense, in an aspects that Busi lacks. And i dont think we have to force injured player (Busi, Masche) to play with half fitness.

    – I think the base tactics for tommorow would be a reflection from Milan game. Intense pressing, stay compact, free up some space for Messi and take some risk with the backline (hybrid with 4 to 3 defenders). I quote part of statement from *hmmm* Mou; more or less sounds like this: “In a crazy night where all chances become goals, everything is possible”

    Keep the faith cules! Visca Barca!

  12. – Just checked that some pillars of Bayern ie Schweni, Javi Martinez, Lahm, Dante and Gomez are one card away from suspension. Maybe with a bit complacency and over confidence, Jupp Heycness could rest some of them for the final? Or even if the play, they would resist/hesitate to commit fouls. that would resulting less pressure in the midfield and we should take advantage of. More space for Xavi and Iniesta to produce chances for forwards.

    1. jupp hankies (sp?)already said he will be fielding full strength lineup regardless of who has accumulated yellow cards….then again im sure he will be asked this again today in the presser.

    2. Correct me if I’m wrong but if I’m not mistaken UEFA put up a new rule where in the final, all the accumulates yellow card will be wiped out

      Or it could’ve just been a dream because I wouldn’t find this rule fair.

    3. i think uefa was considering that but then it didnt happen in the end. could be wrong

  13. Busi officially out? Big blow for me but we’ll see if Song is as good as some think. This will be his first real challenge.

    1. Well, Sergio did not exactly have that good of a game in Munich, right? I think that Song deserves to play over an unfit Busquets.

      It will be nice to see how he does against a strong opponent… If I am not mistaken the only top team in which they “trusted” him to start was at home against Valencia

    2. no abidal OR busquets. abidal has problems with his calf.

      so i dont know what it could be other than

      alves pique bartra adriano (or adriano in middle, montoya on L)
      iniesta xavi
      messi…et al.

  14. im going to the game tomorrow. im worried that the bayern fans will be louder than ours, like it happened during the PSG match, but i will scream my head off. look for me in the nosebleeds.

  15. You gotta love the Guardian liveblog:

    Ronaldo’s freekick takes off like a Ryanair special and lands miles away from the desired destination.

  16. Word has it that the special one left a note in the real dressing room that read ” GONE TO GET MY HAIR DONE. YOUR DINNER’S NOT IN THE OVEN.
    Gotta love the guardian liveblog. LMAO

  17. Ok, so its up to us to save the pride.
    But these last 10 minutes were …. and they have only themselves to blame – Borussia.

    1. I was rooting for Madrid fail today – the thought of Madrid winning it after us getting thrashed in such a way is absolutely terrifying, I can imagine they feel the same.

      Hopefully we can pull off a miracle tomorrow.

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