Evolution and our beloved football club, aka “Martino is going to need a hug … soon!”


Yikes. It isn’t often that an opinion piece sparks a post outta me, but this one has done it. But it hasn’t done it out of sheer boneheadedness, which I think the post has in spades. It’s also a question of right questions, wrong conclusions that have their roots in devotion to a player, rather than to a club. It is still FC Barcelona, rather than FC Messi, something a lot of culers, including the abovementioned piece’s author, forget.

But let’s get to it. We have a lot of ground to cover.

The author asks the question, what if the team’s biggest problem is the decline of Iniesta? Good question, and one that I agree with in parts, even as I don’t think the question is framed properly. For me, the question is a more difficult one:

Is Andres Iniesta in his present state, fully compatible with Barça any longer?

That giant slamming sound you just heard is minds, shutting down. “You can’t criticize Iniesta. How DARE you, fool?”

But without question, Iniesta is off, and has been for a while now. But that isn’t the club’s biggest problem. It is clear that the author loves him some Messi, and has disdain for pretty much everything else. So that, to my view (which is as subjective as his) taints his perspective. But let’s begin at the beginning, and work our way back to the Iniesta (and, tangentially, Xavi) question.

What problems, and some blasphemy

First off, I don’t see that the club HAS a problem right now, except for poor finishing in two matches, which caused them to drop points (or allowed Osasuna and Milan to take them, dependent upon one’s worldview). Defense is better, offense is flowing more freely … problems? What problems?

“Oh, lawd! We drew against two teams that played organized defense, and pressed us. We all gon’ DIE!”

Probably not. In previous seasons, we have been completely ineffectual against defenses such as we saw from Osasuna and Milan. This season, chances galore were created. Fabregas spurned a pair of glorious ones against Osasuna. Against Milan, Sanchez, Adriano, Neymar all had chances that should have been put away. Then it’s 1-3 or 4, and we’re the Mighty Bus Breakers, right?

I do think that Martino is going to have to take some difficult decisions this season, including maybe fessing up to the reality that Xavi AND Iniesta on the pitch at the same time isn’t the best option any longer, because Iniesta is too soft and slow to compensate for Xavi’s diminishing abilities, which leaves Busquets in a lurch, particularly as Martino also has a new role for him, as he continues to evolve into one of the best midfielders (not just defensive mids) in the world. Note that the super aggro Bartra is one lovely solution to that complexity. But news flash: Xavi has ALWAYS been slow, even as he runs more than any other midfielder.

A big part of why Xavi looks out of it as times is because with no movement in front of him, he has to hold the ball. And the longer he holds it, the more vulnerable he becomes. So people, particularly the forwards, have to get moving, if only to create lanes and spaces. There is a reason that Xavi looks reborn with a front line of Neymar, Messi and Sanchez. They scuttle around like chipmunks, full of industry and threat. Xavi’s job becomes easy-peasy.

Yes, the team plays faster without Xavi. And also looser. But that has always been true, not just this season. Memories will strain to remember a time when Xavi came out of a match, and stuff didn’t fall apart. That clattering sound is the noise that brickbats being hurled at a club legend make, but tika taka can’t be a way of life when it’s going good, and a slow-moving liability when it isn’t. Further, tika taka is, at its core, possession-minded defensive football, to my view.

Don’t forget that Guardiola, when he was here, said we are crap without the ball. He was saying that for a number of reasons:

— Our defenders aren’t traditional defenders.
— Our midfielders can’t compete physically with bigger, stronger, faster players.

So the only way to keep matches even is to have the ball. So even at a 0-0, tika taka works because like a parked bus, the team didn’t concede. Guardiola was a romantic, but also a pragmatist. He played the way that he had to, once Henry and Eto’o left, and the Ibrahimovic experiment failed. Is Xavi less effective at pressing? Yep. But Xavi was effective at pressing in the past because Messi, Henry and Eto’o were pressing, as well as Busquets and Iniesta. So Xavi would roll in and pluck the ball away. Again, easy peasy.

In the here and now, Messi isn’t pressing, Henry and Eto’o are gone and Pedro’s energy often goes toward being energetic, rather than the laser focus of better pressers such as Eto’o, Messi and Henry. And Iniesta being off form means that suddenly, Xavi’s job is harder. It’s also a task that, were the same conditions present a couple of years ago, would have been just as hard.

I have noted on a few occasions that for Martino, when Xavi doesn’t start, he comes in mostly as a defensive substitution, which is to say that he comes in, calms the waters and keeps the ball. If we have it, we can’t concede.

"Whoa, whoa, hang on there!"
“Whoa, whoa, hang on there!”

So now what?

The biggest “problems” with the offense right now, such as it has, isn’t Xavi or Iniesta, though goals from them would certainly be of value, even as you can’t suddenly ask the dog to start talking. But let’s look at our two wingers, both of whom who are ineffective when they don’t have space. Pedro can’t beat anyone off the dribble. Nor can Tello. Both need space, something that opponents aren’t going to give us. So Pedro was invisible against Osasuna because … well … what could he do? No space, so he just passes the ball back to midfield. So at best, he does no harm. And that’s okay in the tika taka context.

Because here’s the thing: Culers can’t have it both ways. They want bags of goals, aggressive play AND not to concede. Impossible. Fast and loose is that way as an evolutionary consequence of its nature. Get some. Let’s roll. If we want tight and controlled, and for folks not to get their knickers in a bunch because an opponent has more possession than we did in a match (along with three fewer goals), people have to get over that. We out-possessed the hell out of Bayern, didn’t we?

Dropping the security blanket

A big part of “getting over that” means losing the attachment to Iniesta and Xavi, the former in particular, as they presently sit. Iniesta is like this security blanket that nobody wants to let go of, maybe even including Iniesta.

Look at the Guardiola Treble season club. Tika taka, my ass. That team cut your throat fast and often, then played with the ball to play defense. It pressed, took the ball back and then kept it. People say that tika taka, at its worst is pointless, but it isn’t, because we have the ball. And that is one of the core values of Xavi and Iniesta. Because when Iniesta makes runs into the box and, inevitably, loses the ball, that helps the club how? Yes, it’s pretty, yes, he does those moves that eviscerate defenders. To what end? Mostly beautiful failure.

The more recent role of Iniesta as a more aggro Xavi is more interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it shows that Martino isn’t blind to the passage of time on our Maestro, who is at the nexus of tika taka for Spain and Barça. Spain doesn’t win 1-0 because it’s boring, or has a problem scoring goals. What tika tika is supposed to do is control the match. The point isn’t to score goals, though goals certainly come as a consequence of possession from time to time. We have the ball. So you can’t score. Is it full time yet?

Tika taka acknowledges that while 5-0 is nice, 1-0 also works. Because three points is three points.

The security blanket being dropped to the floor means that Xavi and Iniesta are evolving, again to match the skill sets of the attacking players we have. Both are being asked, under Martino, to be more vertical. Higher risk, greater (well, faster) reward. Meanwhile, Busquets is operating more and more as that reset button, a modified Xavi role in which during tika taka, Xavi was home base. This sometimes catches Busquets between a rock and a hard place, but he is adapting.

The roles are all three players are changing under Martino, in a way that acknowledges a number of things:

— Xavi isn’t the man he once was, even as he was never the man of legend.
— Iniesta is best suited right now to be that “next Xavi,” even as that role doesn’t exist. It’s modified.
— Busquets can’t ever be that “next Xavi” either, even as he and Iniesta can split up Xavi’s role in a way that is greater than the part it replaces.

Iniesta isn’t off because he’s off. He’s off because he is struggling to adapt to a new role under Martino. We have seen glimpses of that role, that modified Xavi, and it’s been wonderful.

The Neymar problem

"I'm a dancer, not a fighter."
“I’m a dancer, not a fighter.”

Neymar doesn’t tika taka. Neymar has the skills to tika taka, and is already acquiring the patience necessary to control and close out a match, as Martino has alluded about his team, but Neymar wants the take the ball and make something happen. He’s like a more talented Tello in that way. Tello gets the ball and says “The goal is that way. Let’s go.” So does Neymar. He wants to take on defenders, make space and stuff happen. And already, his teammates are relying upon him to create, as the roles of the midfielders evolve.

Likewise, Pedro is more comfortable with an unbalanced, fast-moving game. Chaos reigns. Fabregas thrives on chaos. Sanchez creates chaos. The number of players whose fundamental leanings are antithetical to tika taka is growing. To my view that is a good thing, because Messi also likes that chaos. Anybody who thinks that Messi likes to pass the ball around, oozing up the pitch toward a defense that is bunkered in like the Western Front, is nuts. That just gets him kicked.

Messi wants to get the ball at get at them before they get settled. And now, he has running mates who are ready and willing to bust out with him, just as he had in the Treble season. Yes, those running mates have the quality and ball skills necessary to play tika taka. But Barça football is possession football, rather than tika taka, which for me is a tactic adapted to suit the capabilities of the players that Guardiola had.

Advancing and adapting

As Guardiola’s tenure continued and the team continued to play in mostly the same way, results diminished. Why? Opponents figured stuff out. Let them keep the ball. Just don’t let them in the box. So things had to change. Vilanova began to add verticality to the team’s possession game. Fast and loose. More goals conceded. Bound to happen.

Martino came into a team that had just purchased the game’s finest young attacker, and a very direct player. He also inherited a club that needed shaking up, not least of because as Pique noted, it was doing things the same way not because it couldn’t do anything else, but simple inertia. People took note of his comments and groused, but he was spot on.

Now, the team is playing differently, and it’s playing better. It’s playing better because it is changing the way that it attacks, in part because of that very direct player, Neymar. Messi is also very direct. But with Messi being the only blunt object, it made the attack easy to stop. Xavi isn’t going to kill you. Xavi is going to make the pass to the guy who will pass to the guy who is going to kill you. Iniesta isn’t going to kill you. He will unbalance your defense to the point where space is created for the killers, Messi, Pedro, etc.

People say that we need goals from the midfield, but when Xavi and Iniesta are in there, those goals aren’t going to come. That isn’t their game. We scream at Iniesta to shoot, but you might as well tell the cow to fly. His brain doesn’t work that way. Xavi will ghost into the box and tag a few goals, but he doesn’t think of scoring, either. And Busquets isn’t usually sufficiently advanced to get into a position to score goals. So yes, forget about those midfield goals, even as they would be very, very useful.

Xavi will get some more goals, because of his advanced role on the pitch as Iniesta becomes that modified Xavi, and Bartra/Pique and Busquets initiate play.

"That way. Just don't ask me to head the ball."
“That way. Just don’t ask me to head the ball.”

What’s different about Ghostface?

Note that increasingly, what teams are doing is walling off Iniesta’s route into the box, channeling him toward the end line. Defenders don’t care how many croquetas he does, as long as he doesn’t get into the box. Two players just escort him to the end line. Done.

Nothing is different about Iniesta, except the way that opponents are playing him, and (I know … you hate me even more now) his inability to cope with that different way. Iniesta is Iniesta. He’s a magician with the ball and one on one, can beat anyone alive off the dribble. But then what? A smart defense just cuts off his passing angles, as we’re seeing more and more. You get a man between him and any of our attackers, in case he does the impossible, as he does from time to time. Then he’s in the box. He isn’t going to shoot. If he does, it’s going to be easily dealt with by the keeper.

Iniesta is still Iniesta. But without the likes of Henry and Eto’o running around, or a vibrant Villa or rampant Messi, he’s just this little guy with great ball skills. So what do you do with him? Martino is showing us a possible way.

Why did the team drop points to Osasuna and Milan? Poor finishing. Simple as that. The whole team was off, even Neymar. Some were less off than others, but everyone was off. And the goal(s) didn’t come. Xavi created, Iniesta created, chances were there. Just not goals.

“Iniesta isn’t playing like Iniesta.” Nope. Because his role is different, forced to be so by the presence of Neymar.

A rock and a hard place

Martino, like Guardiola, inherited a team that he probably wouldn’t have chosen, were he starting from scratch. But because both are excellent coaches, they can adapt. Look at Bayern. They aren’t playing tika taka, even as they are playing possession football. The two shouldn’t be confused. What’s more is that they don’t NEED to play tika taka, because they have the physical studs necessary to slash and burn, just as we did in Guardiola’s first year. Abidal, Henry, Eto’o, Toure Yaya, Messi.

Guardiola inherited a side that he analyzed and said, “Sheeit, we have to keep this ball, or we’re screwed.” Pragmatism. Martino, as a disciple of Bielsabub, has that same pragmatism. He locked things down and played ugly football when he had to, and also beautiful, attacking football.

But make no mistake, I don’t think that if Martino were choosing a team from scratch, the roster would look the same as it does now. So Martino has to adapt a system and player roles in a way that can accomplish a result, without getting too far outside a player’s skill set. Iniesta can be a modified Xavi. Easy. Xavi can be a controller drone, as he develops vertical tendencies. Easy. “If Iniesta scored goals, he’d be a shoo-in for the Ballon d’Or.” And if I had wings, I wouldn’t have to pay Iberia to get to Barcelona. You ask players to do what you believe they can do, then go from there.

And now, Neymar. The problem for Martino, as Cruijff pointed out, is that he and Messi are both spectacular players. Cruijff thinks they are incompatible, long-term. I disagree, but it will take a coach who is unafraid of angering the Best Player Alive. If I were Martino, I would be terrified of disrupting the Golden Goose. But this team has a possibility of being something extraordinary, if Martino can figure out a way to make it a great team that Messi is the best player on, rather than a collection of great players who play for and revolve around Messi. That difference is huge, but is dwarfed by this team’s potential. We will have to see if Martino has the courage to try to grasp that ring.

So what now?

We wait. And watch a team evolve. We can also get more excited about the years to come, even, that this one. Because capering around at La Masia, even as Eusebio is keying their paint, are players that are well equipped to take the club to that next level. People say Sergi Samper is the “next Xavi,” but from what I have seen, he is more aggressive, more vertical. Denis Suarez, scheduled for auto promotion next season, is another forward thinker. Tika taka isn’t going to die. The tactic will always be a viable way of defending when a club has such skilled players with the ball.

But if Martino is still our coach next season, once he learns fully what he has and what he would like, I think we could see something truly spectacular.

"Parched. Yelling at little people is hard work."
“Parched. Yelling at little people is hard work.”

By Kxevin

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.


  1. A comment from EEfootballblog:
    ‘See how poor Barca were
    tonight? Only managed to
    score thanks to a lost ball from
    a mediocre Milan, even though
    they played well, it’s a
    mediocre side.
    Saturday, we have to destroy
    them!’ And how did milan manage to score? With this kind of comment, I’d be hurt if we don’t give these shameless cheats a mauling come saturday!

  2. Fascinating read really fascinating even if does throw up the need for counter points. Here goes:


    First of all i think we need to appreciate that Iniesta’s game has not been about numbers. Iniesta critique, like the one the sparked the post is a little harsh. Iniesta role is a media punta who drifts between the lines looking for those pockets of space in which he can collect the ball and hurt the opponent. Iniesta game is based on intangibles which if you don’t watch the game you are unlikely to be aware post game. Unlike Fabregas he plays very well but doesn’t get the number of goals and assists that reflect his performance on the pitch. In terms of numbers the Iniesta we had during the Guardiola years as well as now. If you look for numbers in his game you will be very disappointed yet he does so much much more that meets the assists and goals sheet.

    I also find it a little bit awkward that there is little appreciation for his dribbling because rarely does he do anything to showboat rather his dribbling is a function of the situations he finds himself in. I thought it was a shoe in that in a team like Barcelona who face packed defences in EVERY game that it is vital we had dribblers like Iniesta. The more the better. Even if it is true that teams may be limiting his damage his presence is still worthwhile as his contributions look like they offset those limitations. Does he lose balls? Who doesn’t lose balls? The more you dribble the more likely it is that you will lose balls especially with packed defences.

    Lastly i don’t see how we can say Iniesta isn’t contributing to the cause so much so that we feel he is in the team on past performances. That seems harsh and untrue and to put things in perspective the guy did not have a proper pre season is adjusting to the new demands of a new coach and even if his standards have slipped a wee bit he entitled to work his way back into form much the same any footballer who was injured is.


    The assertion that Neymar, Alexis and Messi are not exactly Barca centric players holds some water. Especially for the first two but Messi is different in that he has been with Barca for his entire career so far. At heart he may be an individualist but the education he has received ensures that more often than not those individual tendencies are curbed. Seeing that the midfield has direct players in front of it solves half the problem for me. The unsolved problem is the opposing team’s mentality when facing Barca. This directness we may want our midfield to exploit will truly work if and only if the opposing team wants to play ball. Neymar is direct pacy and a great dribbler but his effect will always be curbed if there are two lines of four because he will have nowhere to run. Ditto Sanchez. A little simpler for Messi but the fact remains the same. So in that sense the midfielders tend to slow things down looking for openings because the opponent keeps closing the gaps. Tactical width then comes to the rescue. Notice how many times Xavi bypassed Messi when seeking Alves yesterday- first half especially.

    I don’t see how Neymar’s presence impacts on Iniesta’s presence or lack of. They play in different positions and the only common factor for me is that they are both great dribblers. The main casualty as i see it is Fabregas who inorder to get game time in midfield has required Iniesta to be shunted to the left.


    We often hark back to the Etoo Henry Messi days when the goals were spread almost evenly and wish it was the same now as then. That in itself is a wonderful thing but we need to remember a few things. Etoo and Henry were centre forwards whose primary job for most of their careers was to score goals. That they were also able to play was a bonus. As a result even coming from wide they could still register goals because they had goal scoring insticts. When people talk of Messi dependency they forget to mention the number of easy chances that Alexis, Pedro and the others fail to put in the back of the net. Take those chances and we don’t have that discussion.

    The other thing to consider is that the year the goals were spread so evenly was the base year of Messi explosion on to the world stage. It was a natural progression that as time went on he would score more because this team in general creates chances. Does he overshadow others? Yes because he is that good. Do others in better positions look for him? Yes because they know that on average their ability to score is lesser than Messi’s. What the team needs is not to build away from Messi because he is that good. His candle does not shine brighter because he puts out that of his team mate. We are drawn to his light because he makes it shine brightest. What the team need and what they did was to look for someone whose candle may shine as brightly as Messi’s. Barring injuries and stuff i am pretty sure Messi’s goal numbers will continue to be high even as Neymar’s also rise greatly.

    As it is the team and fans need to calm down. The only worry these two games have been the lack of goals and Messi’s rustiness. The general play was way way better. Personally i was more worried after the Rayo game.


  3. My 2 cents…

    With regards to yesterdays game in particular, is it no suprise that when Neymar plays for Brazil or deployed as a “F9” for Barca in the absence of Messi he is more dangerous/involved in the team’s attacking play? This is not to say that he’s incompatible with Messi but that the tactical setup of the team with Messi playing directly affects Neymar’s position and responsibilities on the field, i.e. It was clear yesterday that Neymar was asked to keep “tactical width” with the aim of trying to stretch the Milan defence which in turn limited his involvement.
    Even when Messi was occupying the right wing for long spells of the game yesterday, Neymar was still keeping “tactical width” with Alexis manning the central position. Couldn’t Neymar move centrally and Alexis to the left wing instead?
    I also believe that Tata has a tough job and decisions to make regarding the front three if it involves both Messi and Neymar on the same field.
    Yes it’s still early days and Neymar has to not only learn the system but accept that Messi is still the main man but I just dread the future in which Neymar becomes another Alexis by sacrificing what’s great about his game for the sole purpose of tactical instruction.
    You only have to look at the Celtic game as an example to realise what Neymar is capable of doing if he’s let loose, let’s not forget that Celtic is one of the most defensively disciplined teams in Europe and yet he was ripping them apart.

    Like Kxevin said, How Tata handle the evolution of this team with both Messi and Neymar at the fore-front is going to be critical for the harmony of the squad.

  4. Today morning, during my running, met some of my friends, couple of them still into professional football, fans of EE, Juventus, et all. None of us thought there was a problem with Iniesta. After all its only Messi and Iniesta who tries the most risky pass or dribble. We faced a quality double decker bus and had problems in finishing.

    Apart from the Adriano chance, we all were wondering how Neymar lost the best chance, trying to shoot it first time, when he had the time and space to stop the ball and finish clinically. One could say the angle was not easy, but players like Cr7 and many others often scores from that angle. Just an abrupt decision by our youngster. He just need to watch and learn, how Villa scored the third against MU. Neymar had more space and time, just a different angle, but in the box.

    I also would say, if we are still talking about Messidependencia, then its not Messi’s fault. That goal proved why and can go into text books. With any of our other players, the Milan players would have won it. In very little space,with two defenders on body, Messi managed to place it precisely, without lifting his feet at all. Amazing skill and presence of mind. I absolutely agree with lala10 above – What the team needs is not to build away from Messi because he is that good. His candle does not shine brighter because he puts out that of his team mate. We are drawn to his light because he makes it shine brightest . If only the candles around him were a level close to him, he might have ended with two assists too – Adriano and Cesc chances!! When a player, always taken care of by at least 3 players, still manage to be our killer, then that is some special candle.

    This was not a bad result at all. Another event when Messi doesnt earn a free kick, which should have even got a second yellow for Muntari, and may be like Celtic, we could have made use of a man advantage in the last minutes.

    Our worry is that, we are going to face the same bus for almost every CL match now.

    1. I too thought that there was nothing wrong with Iniesta. I actually thought he looked the most confident since the season started.

  5. kxevin yet another masterpeiece from you, where do you draw inspiration from?

    I dont think that messi is limiting neymar’s influence of the game, from what i’ve seen so far neymar has been afforded so much freedom as alexis and messi, and why all the fuzz about messi limiting his ability? neymar has been brilliant this season he is still direct and also plays flambuoyantly too, he might not be getting as much goals as we’d like but his consistency is pretty much evident.
    the talk on iniesta is pretty rash and to pinpoint his problems to how we are playing now is very inaccurate, personally i think iniesta hasnt been iniesta since pep’s departure, even prior to that, he was largely off form for a large portion of last season, and constantly lacks consistency in that he sparkles in one match and burn dully in another. the system is fine, remember pep iniated this system albeit another approach, i remember him playing tello, pedro, messi and cuenca in a particular match, i think its more of a personal problem than a general thingy, he was clearly not at his best at the confederation cup.
    seeing how possessive we are with our possess-but-direct approach, i rue the sales of thiago, he would definitely have been a hit this season, coz he has the abilities of our attacking(?) midfield trident of fab, ini, and xavi.

    its easy to blame masche for that goal but pique made it happen, if he had dropped slightly below masche, masche would have definitely made a better choice, and how the hell di he lose a physical battle vs robinho?

    about the draw, IF WE PLAY LIKE THIS AGAINST EE, WE WILL DEFINITELY WIN BY A 3 GOAL MARGIN, not undermining the strenght of EE though.

  6. Amazing writing, Kxevin.

    I think that Iniesta’s form is off. I know that he plays a different role, but I also think that he is not at his best physically. It’s not about numbers when it comes to him, and it never has been. But it is about creating stuff for the rest of the team. He does get a lot more credit than other players, ie Cesc, and I get why that happens. But I wish we could judge everyone on current performance and not based on memories. Even with his 2 misses against Osasuna I would rather have Cesc in the line-up against Real. His anarchy works better with the attacking trio (that I think will be the same on Saturday) and can compensate Xavi’s eternal calm.

    I am worried though about the lack of finishing when it comes to our players not named Messi. In the Clasico we have to convert this chances. Because Real are far more dangerous than Milan on the counter. And we are exposed to defensive errors, no matter who we play at CB.

    Speaking of out CBs. They both had a contribution to Robinho’s goal. As did Busi and Dani for that matter. After that, both Piqué and Mascherano dealt with the counters rather well. Note the Masche foul in the midfield circle that stopped Balotelli from charging completely alone towards Valdes. And nothing we say or think could make Mascherano feel worse than he already did last night. His words are just painful to even read: “Unfortunately the team had to suffer again because of a mistake I made that led to a goal. Another mistake. I have made several over the years and that hurts a lot. You can’t commit such errors in these important games. If in the end we would have won it would have been better, but the draw means that the team suffers because of another mistake I made.”

    Regarding Neymar I think he was a bit isolated at times last night because of our need for tactical width. And I loved the composure of his shot that just barely missed the post. I don’t think that he will become another Alexis. He is not as submissive. And he is becoming cockier with each game. This video focuses on his attitude during the game against Osasuna. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUlxLCOTz9U

    Thank you again for the wonderful post Kxevin.

  7. hey, i just wanted to say that the article and comments above were a good read and i hope you keep making these tactical article so fans like me can understand the game better.


  8. Against organized or packed defences, pressing teams, and physical players, the Iniesta-Busquets-Xavi trio is obsolete. It may work on the weekend vs Real because Ancelotti is teaching them a new style, but it would never do had they still Mou-Mou. Martino will have to figure out something new. If he has to cut some players, whether the be Xavi, Iniesta, or Messi, then so be it, but he has to make changes. Playing three midfielders who are only comfortable with latteral passes only plays into our opponents’ hands.

    Our lack of success in important games is beyond worrisome now.

    1. Let’s not exaggerate things here. You speak as if you are the Oracle. In this world only taxes and death are certain. I feel you are utterly disrespecting the hallowed trio. Fabregas for all his qualities is yet to hit the heights of that trio. Respect and a little faith in our players is essential.

    2. I don’t consider anything or anyone hallowed. Speaking my mind is hardly a disrespect to what Xavi and Iniesta have done for us. I would rather argue that considering them hallowed or sacred it doing them a diservice. But whatever.

      The time to move on is close. Quality opposition have found them out, so now either Xavi and Iniesta have to adapt, or we do.

    3. I agree with what you said.
      Xavi – Busquets – Iniesta hasn’t been successful against a big team in a couple of years.
      Cesc isn’t a better player than Xavi or Iniesta but he sure is better than them at certain things.

      I believe that our best XI has Cesc in it. Whether Xavi or Iniesta is dropped for him in the big matches is a question of tactics.

      What I’m saying is blasphemous to many cules but I’m not sure that in our biggest matches this season if Iniesta should be starting.

      I also think that a midfield trio of Busquets – Song – Cesc should be tried at some stage.

    4. Ciaran, I think you must be talking about the more obvious contributions a player can make such as scoring or making obvious assists. I don’t see Iniesta in that way. He is one of only two players, maybe three with Messi, that you can fire a hospital ball at and know it will be controlled. Look at that poor lad who is out for months after trying to follow Ini’s shimmie (as we call it in Scotland.) He keeps possession by ghosting past people as he likes and along with Xavi and Busi is an indispensable part of by far the best midfield i have ever seen. His passing stats, bearing in mind that, until recently, he attempted more direct dangerous passes than Xavi are incredible. It’s not accurate to assess his contribution solely in terms of goals scored.

      Having said all that, I do think Kxevin has a valid point about where we go next. There is little doubt that unless both are in peak form physically with good movement upfront we we could struggle ( as in maybe not win over two legs- not what happened last year) against Bayern. For some reason I’m not fretting over the Clasico. I think it may actually suit us if RM come out to play although if Messi isn’t 100% match sharp as I doubt he is that could be a game changer.

  9. This article is spot on. It’s going to be interesting to follow the team’s evolution through the season, hopefully Martino is the right man to figure things out

  10. Great read, Kxevin even as the article you cited was annoying as heck (albeit pretty spot on about Ini who has been frustrating me for some time now with his tilting at windmills-esque amazing dribbles to nowhere).

    Also it’s great to see good discussion with little or no player/coach bashing here because many of the people over on twitter are in full panic mode.

    Right now, based on form alone, I’d drop Iniesta from the gala XI and put in Cesc (as a midfielder because if I never see him as a 9/false 9/forward again it will be too soon). I’d also rest Pique and Masche for the clasico as they just came back from injury. Xavi plays because if any game needs his calming presence it’s a clasico.

    My choice for the clasico:
    Dani, Puyi, Bartra, Adriano
    Busi, Xavi, Cesc
    Sanchez, Messi, Junior
    Song coming on at some time to add a little backbone may be called for. A back line of
    Dani, Pique or Masche, Bartra, Puyol could be fun too. Adriano can’t stay injury free forever you know.

    Oh, and Masche makes 1 major mistake per year, owns up to it like a man, and moves on. People remember the mistake that lead to the goal (I blame Busi more than him) but forget that intervention against Balotelli. Some food for thought:
    Mascherano (17) was the Barcelona player who recovered most balls against Milan yesterday. Pique and Busquets each recovered 10 [via @latdp]

    Enjoy your team, folks!

    1. Hear hear on Masche. Folks forget his vital intervention vs. Bendtner in the Champions League too!

  11. What a fabulous week … Osasuna, Milan, Kxevin post, Clásico …

    There are two things that come to my mind when watching don Andrés:

    “¡Ay, Iniesta de mi vida!” (Oh, Iniesta, you beauty)


    “¡Iniesta no sabe chutar!” (Iniesta doesn’t know how to shoot)

    The first comes from the Spanish commentators, who then swoon onto a divan and must unbuckle their corsets to emerge from the faint.

    The second comes from the dh, who barks himself hoarse at the BeIN sports channel while I unpry my white-knuckled fingers from their interlocked grip.

    So that’s about it, what you get from watching Andrés Iniesta. Either the occasional loss of consciousness or carpal-tunnel syndrome.

    And the two concepts that have come up in interview after interview with Martino are: How to Choose and Dance with the Ones that Brung Ya. They seem opposed, in theory, but Kxevin shows how both dynamics come into play for FCB’s new jefe.

    Whom I will hug tomorrow.

  12. Wow Kxevin, where do you finfd passion and enerygy to write this?

    Btw what is the piece that made you write this? When I click on the link, it’ll being me to a Yahoo sports page, nothing in particular.

  13. Unbelievable Post.
    Kx’s best work yet in my opinion.

    There is such morose atmosphere on twitter, everyone is going on about how barca got no variation, how we lack physically & lack numbers of technical players compared to bayern, EE (??)

    Everyone is so sure that we can’t win la decima with this squad.
    People are asking to sign 5 or 6 new players next season. Replace half our team ?

    The team with 8 clean sheets have most ridiculous defense of all times etc etc.
    This is just plain tiring…

    Also, what’s your twitter handle kx ?

    1. “Everyone is so sure that we can’t win la decima with this squad.”

      Hey, I’d be happy with la quinta for now….

    2. R u one of those dudes running around in barca jerseys at Coachella?
      Amazing article btw. BFB readers are spoiled to not only witness the best football on the planet but also wonderful writing and analysis. Thank you Kxevin.

  14. Here’s a twist for the Clasico. MD is reporting that Pique didn’t train with the squad today. His ‘discomfort’ reappeared and he apparently underwent medical tests. No word on the results, but they claim he is a serious doubt for Saturday.

    So, in theory, if Pique can’t play, who forms our best CB pairing?
    Masche and Bartra, Mache and Puyi, or Bartra and Puyi?

    1. Barca just released an official statement and surprisingly his groin issue isn’t the problem. It’s his hamstring.

      “Gerard Piqué finished the match against Milan with discomfort in the hamstring of his left leg. Tests confirm that the player’s muscle is strained, therefore he will follow a specific workout regiment on Thursday and Friday.”

      He is not yet ruled out for the match. We’ll see what happens.

    2. It was impossible to believe that we could have 4 fit CBs for more than 2 games in a row. Would have really love to see the old Puyol-Piqué partnership back. But I am glad we have the Bartra alternative.

    3. I’m happy for Bartra as well, but still… We are playing Real, and that means Varane/Pepe, Ronaldo, Ramos, Benzema/Morata, Khedira and Bale. These guys are big. Not saying that Bartra is a shorty, but Pique is 1.92. 🙁

  15. Thanks everyone for the kind words. My brain doesn’t turn to tactical stuff very often, mostly because like math, it makes it hurt.

    This club has so much talent, and so many questions. And I don’t just mean on the first team. Look at Sergi Samper (who will renew, despite his contract running low) and Denis Suarez as just two examples. Both are forward-thinking attacking mids.

    There is only one Xavi. He was and is an astounding player. But as he goes gently into that good night, the times, they are a changin’, as the song goes. Xavi is moving forward in part because he is more likely to score than Iniesta. But him being forward also increases his pressing effectiveness, because he catches the opponent break before it hits full stride.

    Next season, Martino and the board will have some questions to answer. Samper still a year away so that’s safe, but it will be time for him to shuttle back and forth. Suarez has auto-promotion written into his contract. There will also be Sergi Roberto in that mix.

    It’s also imperative that the club resolve the wing issue. It is THE most important question, for me, vastly more so than the defense. Left wing is pretty well set, and I think that if Cuenca could play on the left side, he’d have a guaranteed roster spot. But overlaps from fullbacks isn’t going to do it. If the “first” front line is Neymar/Messi/Sanchez, capable subs must be had from somewhere.

    Finally, I still don’t read much into the Osasuna and Milan results except poor finishing. We still created great chances, even with no Messi v Osasuna, and a sub-par Messi vs Milan. But the Classic will be very interesting.

    1. It’s gonna be a busy summer in terms of decisions in Barçaville. Not only the eternal CB problem. Also at RB, LW back up, GK…. Yeesh…. And with my distrust of the board and it’s decision making process… I can’t bare to think about it.

    2. Whatever happens, we HAVE to buy a CB in January or the summer. I keep being impressed by Ie, then he breaks … again. Then I watched that Juvenil match vs Milan and was like, “Dayum, we should sign … oh … wait”

      Quality fullbacks are another priority. The optimist in me likes to think where there’s smoke, there’s fire when it comes to Ter Stegen. So that would be sorted in a most excellent way.

    3. I know that we HAVE to buy a CB. I have believed that since the summer of 2010. But…
      We have good kids in La Masia and at Barça B. But we need quality signings. I know that we love the kids and that it is the Barça way to promote from within. But there are some types of players that we need and do not have available, for first team promotion, at the moment.

      I don’t think that there will be many signings, to be honest. Austerity and all that bull. But that does not mean that we do not need them.

    4. Okay, I have to ask, why the CB? I know I’m biased in thinking that Pique will start to perform better with Puyol being around to scream at him, but still, there’s Bartra, there’s Mascherano and Puyol. I just don’t see Pique being off-loaded(despite his mistakes), Bartra is playing better and better and Mascherano is the anchor of the Argentinian national team. Does Tata sell Song to accommodate Mascherano back in midfield, after Song finally starting to look like a capable sub for Busquets? Is it because of Puyol, that you think he’s become too injury-prone?

      I just don’t get it. There are 25 players available tops, that means more or less 4 CB(Pique, Puyol, Mascherano, Bartra), 4WB(Alba, Adriano, Alves, Montoya), 6 MF(Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Busquets, Song, Sergi Roberto), 6 strikers and 3 GK. Say Barcelona don’t need six strikers, five are enough(Pedro, Tello, Alexis, Neymar, Messi) – that still leaves just three spots on the team for youngsters and extra subs – and Barcelona’s youth academy concentrates more on the midfield and attacking players.

      Unless that CB(left-footed preferably) is versatile enough as to be able to be both a CB and feature as a sub for Alba(which means Adriano becomes a sub for Alves, Montoya gets a loan) I don’t see how it would happen, honestly. Please enlighten me.

    5. The statement “Say Barcelona don’t need six strikers, five are enough(Pedro, Tello, Alexis, Neymar, Messi)” is misleading in my opinion.

      If we are truely honest with ourselves regarding our front line, minus Messi and Neymar (still bedding into the team), the rest cannot be called sure goal scorers.

      As Kxevin has alluded in the article, Eto and Henry were proven goal scorers, something that cannot be said about Tello, Alexis and Pedro. I include Pedro because realistically, he hasn’t done much in the last two seasons.
      Both the Osasuna & Milan games proved this with waisted clear changes.

      While the focus has been on our defense and rightfully so, the front line is not doing enough to instil fear to the opposition, Messi and Neymar been the exception for obvious reasons.

    6. Tsivoman, don’t take it out of context. The point is something else – to have one sub for each position on the striker group, Barcelona would need six people. Even if Barcelona decide that with five(the current five in the team listed) they have enough, that still leaves a total of three spots for extra players of all kinds and youngsters in the first team.

    7. Kxevin, for the good of the cules and the readers of this blog I think you should store up Aspirin and Ibuprofen, as well as anti-migraine medicine, and analyse away :P. This was beautiful writing in my humble opinion.

      I’m with you on the Osasuna/Milan analysis, even though I’m nervous for Saturday. It’s very, very difficult to play against an opponent that goes on the field with the intention to wait for the other side to make a mistake. The Goal.com narrative of the match included the gem that Adriano escaped the clutches of Kaka and could finish the match, but shot off target. Adriano, the left back, managed to escape Kaka the winger/striker inside the Milan box? And people talk about the great performance of Milan?

      Dammit, in their coach’s words Milan were doing their best to imitate a relegation-zone Liga team at San Siro. How is that not a headline?

      Anyway, on Xavi and Iniesta. With Xavi under contract till 2016 and Iniesta till 2018, Busquets has already signed, and Fabregas, if he hasn’t signed, will surely do it, with Sergi Roberto and Denis Suarez, how will La Masia graduates be incorporated? A dedicated 3-4-3 with say one wing-back, two CBs, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta/Fabregas and a youngster providing pressure and tracking back constantly? Won’t that put too much pressure on the defence?

  16. There’s one thing we’ve been missing out on now for the past 2 seasons or more? After Eto’o and Henry and maybe Ibra? left, we have been left with only one real goal threat-Messi, that is why parking the bus against us has become much more easier for our opponents cos, the aim is to stop messi from having a shot at goal (if we stop messi from scoring then we could win or draw). Neymar also carries a real goal threat but for now, he is yet to find his scoring boots for barca. Thats my main worry heading into the classico cos, it will almost be about stopping Messi from scoring. One thing I’ve admired about Tata is that, he has being teaching his boys to counter-attack when the opportunity presents itself. In his interview he noted that for a parked bus, it is best to attack when they(our players) recovered the ball than trying to do short passes in through the bus. I also agree that, breaking down a parked bus has to do so much with luck: you are hoping
    1. Ur opponent makes a mistake
    2. You convert the little chances you get
    3. Other things go in ur favour. EE fans have been talking with glee about how we ‘managed’ to score against a mediocre milan team and they forget so soon the ‘Scandal of Elche’

  17. I don’t know how to say this but there is something to EE that’s eerily similar to Man U especially under Fergie. That is the ability to consistently get favourable breaks from refs. Take yesterday’s game. At one all, Juve back and EE on back foot Chiellini goes mad. Then they get a red in the second. Its eerily discomforting especially with a Classico coming up

  18. Now did anyone see the Thong boy’s dive yestaday? Now, thats diving so, lets leave ney alone already. And of cos, the red card, if it were barca, people would having crying about conspiracy theories. Come on, name the number of matches EE have won this season without the help of the ref?

    1. Real – Malaga
      Real – Athletic Bilbao
      Galatasaray – Real
      Real – Copenhagen
      Levante – Real
      Real – Getafe

      And you are wrong. If a Barcelona player had done that, there wouldn’t be a foul or a red card.

  19. I was disappointed to see RM score an early goal against Juvnentus and switched the channel to see RS. Oh, they too were one down. Poor guys, they looked tired. And then comes that penalty (which if followed, every corner/free kick should earn a penalty), I would like to call EE, Penalty Madrid or Referee Madrid. Thats not the end of it and there is the red card, taking all hopes out of Juventus.
    Busquets dont have to do anything, he is always commented as a cheater. The great CR7 did an award winning performance – the forearm of Chiellini is ‘resting’ on the left side of his neck, Cr7 goes down covering his right face, and there it is another soft card.
    Is this sheer luck, or what is it. It is really difficult to digest.
    Didnt enjoy the night at all. Vidal’s show was funny, though.

  20. Very often fans are not the most objective to judge a situation often seeing things they want to see, in positive and negative way. Therefore sometimes it is useful to see what outsiders and more objective spectators think. Here 1 of the 10 talking points of the Guardian, which highlights the problematic actual situation, which, finally enought, is exactly the same as last season and showing that unfortuantely Neymar is not the solutiona and help we hoped he would be:

    5) Neymar still struggling to make an impact

    Considering his price tag, the Brazilian forward has not had the kind of impact Barcelona would have hoped. Against Milan he had a very, very quiet game and only flickered twice during the whole match before being replaced by Pedro with 10 minutes remaining. And with Alexis Sánchez also not at his best, Barcelona were left to rely, as with so many times before, on Lionel Messi for the equaliser at the San Siro. The more worrying thing, perhaps, was that they did not create that many clear chances against a pretty average Milan side who were pushed back for the entire second half. Oh, and one more thing to add from the game: Kaká was brilliant. Marcus Christenson

    1. the problem is not to rely on Messi, the problem is that Messi is the only one they can rely on. that is the reason why we have so much difficulty against parked buses. You only have to neutralize Messi and that’s it. A draw nearly secured. and that is the difference to a team like Bayern / RM. Both have multiple goal threats: Ronaldo/Isco/DiMaria or Mueller/Ribery/Robben/Goetze/Krooes. No opponent could afford to only double/triple up on Ronaldo or only on Ribery, because then the space could be used by their other goal scorers. With Barca, you just have to double/triple up on Messi and can leave others for good as they will not use the afforded space anyway

    2. Isn’t that the problem though?

      Yes, every team relies on it’s star player(s). However, it cannot be ignored that against packed buses, not only do we not convert our chances but against elite teams, they have one or two brakes and it’s a goal.

      The most worrying thing for me about the team is the lack of the fear factor amongst the likes of Alexis, Pedro & Tello.

      Discussions and analysis have been made regarding how the need of our wingers to track back and press has affected their effectiveness in front of goal, and I agree with this analysis to an an extend though.
      You only have to look at what Kaka was doing for Milan. Here was a player who was tracking back relentlessly and yet anytime he was on the ball during an attack, you could almost sense panick amongst our denfense, this is the fear factor that I’m talking about. And this is the guy who hardly had a sniff of the pitch at EE and is almost at the twilight of his career.

      Personally, and some might slate me for this but each time I watch the team play and either of Tello, Alexis or Pedro are on the ball, I’ve subconsciously resolved to not expect anything penetrative to happen. For me this is the most frustrating thing.

      As a Barca fan first and football fan in general second, I follow other teams/leagues/players on a regular basis.
      Just to follow my logic, Di Maria might not be the best decision maker in the final third but whenever he’s on the ball and starts running at the opposition, he creates so much fear and panick.
      Henry and Eto has that fear effect about about them, apart from Messi, the rest do not make the opposition tremble with fear.

      It’s still early days for Neymar and even though the good sings are there already, he can therefore be exempt from lacking the fear factor.

    3. I agree. De Maria, if his brains also were as good as his ability on ball, he would be competing with Messi, for the best player. What a player. I am always scared when he has the ball, somewhere in our final third.

      May be cules wont like this, but I have to say, Morata has already started instilling a kind of fear. He is going to be the best Spanish forward – just my opinion.

      On another note, watching Juventus y’day, I was wondering about Tevez, who was at his Selfish best. Recent comment from Batista confirms that Tevez was included in the last Copa America team for Argentina, only because of pressure from top. I am hoping Sabella wont get influenced by such pressure.

    4. Sorry, but I don’t agree. The reason why you could feel panic among the Barcelona defenders(personally I didn’t feel it) whenever Kaka got the ball is because there would be Kaka and Robinho against Mascherano and Pique, in an empty half of the pitch. It’s not the presence of Kaka, it’s the fact that there are huge tracts of land for the attacker to just kick the ball and run after it.

      As for the lack of fear factor, the fact that the opposing teams have eight to ten players in their own box and every time Alexis or Neymar get the ball they are immediately double-marked is a statement enough. Opposing teams have realized that they can’t just double-mark Messi and play fluid football. They have to keep a very tight and very energetic defence in order to plug the gaps and deny the space in front of the box to Barcelona.

      I remember after the match with Valencia, madridistas were saying that Valencia can’t expect to win when they employ actual attacking against Barcelona. You know what they called Valencia’s tactics? “Suicide defence”. It actually goes unsaid among the Madrid supporters that if you use ANYTHING BUT counter-attacks, shoulder-to-shoulder defence and pressing, Barcelona will. That isn’t a fear factor for you?

      This is why I’m sick and tired of people saying Barcelona are a weak team. If they’re a weak team then why is your center-forward trying to win back balls at the edge of your own box? If Barcelona are a weak team, why are your tactics in essence “Come at me, bro, me and my gangstaz are waiting for you!”? Let’s compare apples and apples, for God’s sake!

    5. Excellent point. Many people argue that Barça are weak now and that we can’t break a tight defense. But if half the chances the team created in these 2 games would have been converted they would have been clear wins.

      Last year, when in the United – Real double, United employed the tactic that most teams do against us. And Real struggled. As did Bayern against Chelsea in the European SuperCup. The difference between Bayern/Real and Barça is that they can pose a bigger threat from set pieces.

      When teams do come out to play against us they usually get hammered.

  21. so wait, everyone wants Barca to win 4-0 against a parked bus AND walk their way past a maze of 10 players ? who are all in the penalty box ?

    I dont understand, do people realize what they are asking for ? The great Treble winning team itself could never do that.

    We won 4-0 against Rayo, who admittedly did not “park” in front of the box, but we won by a huge scoreline and EVERYONE started complaining. Is this the real Barca ?? OMG Tata is changing Barca to a counter attacking team !!

    Come on guys. You cannot walk the ball into the net when the penalty box is clogged with 10 players. Kxevin is absolutely right. Loose game = more chances of goals scored as well as goals conceded. The challenge for Tata here is going to be to play a fast transition/hit before the opposition defense gets organized while not conceding goal scoring opportunities.

    And for this to happen if they want to play the occasional long ball, we as fans should stop complaining about this “change of style” nonsense. I hope Tata doesn’t get pressurized by these negative sentiments.

    And btw excellent article Kxevin. Although I thought Iniesta was pretty good the other day. His dribbles were excellent, the back heel pass to Messi was out of this world.

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