Real Madrid 3, Barça 4, aka “The space race”


Wow. Just … wow.

It is rare that a Classic lives up to the billing. At the nexus of all the hype, all the reams of verbiage and speculation have in the past, resulted in high-volume bits of drollery. Even the first Classic this season was, truth to tell, kinda boring unless you were culer. It was 2-1, and Barça pretty much put the match on lockdown.

But Bale was knocked, RM was still finding its way, pundits said. They are playing great right now, and know what is at stake. Bale is fit and productive, Ronaldo is in rare form. Barça on the other hand, is beleagured, set upon even by people who were presumed to be friends. It’s easy to see why pretty much everyone said that RM was going to win today.

I Tweeted before the match that we were going to win 1-2, and would walk it if Alba brought his defensive game today. Why? Because this club has not, this season, lost a big match. And there is absolutely no reason to think that they were going to lose this one, because Barça still has the best players in the world. Is Barça the best team in the world right now? No. But it is a team that is made up of players who are the best or among the best at their position.

Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Neymar, Messi. That is a fantasy football side that you buy if you have an unlimited budget in Football Manager, rather than one that a manager can routinely call upon. People bet against that team, call it inadequate, say that it can’t defend, can’t attack, can’t do this or that. And when it confounds its critics, the cries of “Yeah, but …” begin, nitpicks at this or that player.

I have said it before and will say it again: you go all in with love. There shouldn’t be half measures to cushion the blow should a bad outcome happen. It diminishes the potential joy. Go all in. I believed this team would win because I believe this team can win every match that it plays. Just look at the roster.

As we know, it doesn’t win every match that it plays, because those great players are also human beings. Can’t say that such knowledge will ever affect the belief I have in this team. And it showed why today in a glorious moment, made more so by a very simple fact: win or go home. The Liga is either 1 point, or insurmountable at 4 or 7 with 9 matches left.

So those little geniuses won. But they didn’t just win by outplaying their more physical, bigger, stronger opponents. They won by controlling space more effectively than their opponent. Every key play in the match today was the result of space — taken or created — being used to positive effect. RM ran and slashed, while Barça picked and plucked.


31 games without defeat. The last time RM was beaten was the last time that they played us. There are now 9 matches left in the season. The big winner today was Atletico, who are now top and have the head-to-head tiebreaker against RM, but they play us in the last match of the season.

“We weren’t always in the right shape on the pitch, and we paid the price,” said Ancelotti. Spot on.

The consequence of being in that wrong shape was opportunity and difficulty.

Space: The contested frontier

In just one example, look at the astonishing pass (14:35) that Xavi puts right on Messi’s boot. When Xavi looks up, he sees that Messi is in between two RM players, with nobody covering the inside. The run is just begging, and when Messi makes it, the ball is already on the way. It lands directly on his boot, and you would have bet your house on Messi making the score 0-2 instead of bending the ball wide. And yet, there it was, space being used and ceded, as only the Gods know what possessed them to let Messi get behind the back line, unmarked.

Truth be told it was a pass that few players in the world can make, a pass that maybe you just don’t account for in your Probability Factors. But it happened, and was another symbolic moment in a match absolutely filled with them.

Look at earlier in the match, when the first goal came. At the moment when Messi is about to receive the ball that he is going to spank to Iniesta for the first goal, if you pause the image (at 6:08), Iniesta is all alone on the left side, trotting with purpose like a sleeper. The RM players are ball focused, with four players around Messi. Bale just let Iniesta sashay past him to begin the run, and when Messi gets the ball he already knows what is going to happen, and so does Iniesta.

Iniesta takes the pass in acres of space, and detonates past Diego Lopez to give Barça a 0-1 lead. Just like that, in the 7th minute. Can RM be forgiven for thinking that Iniesta doesn’t score goals, or did someone not do their job on that run? Either way, space was crucial.

Even before that it was clear the kind of match it was going to be, as Messi (again) laid out a pass for Neymar to run onto, a ball into space created by player movement. In the past, in more violent times, a tighter back line probably cuts out both those passes, or Arebeloa just knocks Iniesta over. In this match, today, a goal was the result, a goal that defined the proceedings.

Carvajal pointed at Bale as Ray Hudson screamed, “The mad magic of Barcelona comes out, with beautiful football!” And so it did as more than 20 passes were strung together, up and back, passes that made a pressing, ball-hawking RM defense move and pay attention, waiting for the sleeper. Neymar on the right was an interesting decision from Tata Martino, almost one that optimists could suggest shifted attention to that side of the pitch, with just a mere creator on the left in Iniesta, while hell raisers in Neymar and Alves were on the right.


When RM equalized, again space was used and ceded. But rather than making space with passing and control, Di Maria did a slash-and-burn run, facilitated by an exquisite flip pass from Bale. At the moment Di Maria crosses the ball, there are players looking at him. Neymar was trotting back, while Alves was laying off. Space. So Di Maria put the ball directly onto Benzema’s head, whereupon he made space by outleaping Mascherano. 1-1.

Shockingly, the same thing happens again, and Benzema tags us for a brace in less than 10 minutes, all because of space, poorly controlled.

Whenever a goal is conceded, goats are looked for. Mascherano was the whipping post on this goal but if you look at the situation when Di Maria lays in his cross, Benzema is on the dead run, already to the inside of Mascherano, who didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of outjumping the bigger, stronger Benzema. Pressure on the passer from Neymar (trotting) or Alves (watching) might have prevented such an accurate cross but there again, space conceded, and taken advantage of.

“You cannot give Benzema that amount of space,” said Ray Hudson after their go-ahead goal and he was absolutely right. But the space creation started with quality. This pitch was filled with great players. How can anyone really, truly expect this match to NOT have goals, NOT have great plays? Spectacular players make things happen, things that create an advantage for their team.


Pundits mutter that Barça relies upon great individual players doing their thing rather than team excellence. That isn’t a valid argument for me, because why the hell do you have those kinds of players if you aren’t going to let them do what they do? The first Barça goal was team and system. The second was individual wonder, as Neymar and Messi did the kind of craziness that they do, in phone booth-like spaces. The final, go-ahead goal was Iniesta being his own absurd self, forcing an error from yet another world-class player.

Look at that second goal. Messi did a high-speed give and go, bounced off an RM defender, stumbled, regained control of the ball and slammed it to Neymar who somehow controlled it while surrounded by 3 defenders, then did a crazy sort of side-foot pass to Messi, who slammed it home. You can take every X and O in the world, diagram stuff and whiteboard plays in practice. But the goal came down to two top-class players deciding to make some magic.

Rather than seeing those moments of solo magic as some sort of failing, I see it as a broadened success window. If that whole team thing doesn’t work, give it to a genius and let him do his thing. Our geniuses were slightly better than their geniuses, with one in particular standing above all: Messi.

For me the worst use of space by RM was in how much they ceded to Messi. Maybe they read Marca, who said before the match that Messi was in crap form. But pass after pass, when he got the ball he had space to move, space to pick passes and make runs without fear of a rugby tackle or cleat to the Achilles. In one absurd moment (18:32) Messi AND Neymar have gobs of space to play with, as Fabregas runs into his own bubble on the left side. Messi plays it to Neymar, who is stopped by a last-ditch tackle in the box.

Complicating matters is that Barça continued to play as a team that includes the best player alive. And that best player decided that he didn’t care how he hurt an opponent. He scored goals in the run of play. He scored a hat trick, two from penalties. But most impressive for me is the stupefying passes that he laid on, one for Iniesta on his goal, the other for Neymar in the red card incident.

“You don’t need to love these players, people, but you should marvel at them,” says Hudson.


Tactics and selection headaches

Knowledgeable people say that Ancelotti got the tactics wrong. Culers screamed that Martino got the starting XI wrong. Maybe they are all right. The space was odd, to be sure. But was that because of a system that worked? People always think that teams play in a vacuum. “So and so can’t defend.” Ronaldo makes his living making defenders seem inadequate. Messi makes them seem invisible. These top-class players will wreak havoc with any coach’s game plan.

But boy, were people out for Martino. “Should have started Sanchez,” “Going for name players instead of relying on form.” But Martino knew what he was doing. In a match in which teams can play to a standoff, talented 1v1 players can make a difference. Neymar set up Messi for the tying goal, then drew the penalty that put RM down to 10. Yes, he was laggardly in tracking back in the first half, but clearly got a talking to before the second half. Neymar was decisive even as he wasn’t brilliant, because of potential that was respected by an opponent, potential that created space.

When Pedro was brought on for Neymar, the difference was clear. Pedro got the ball, did a feint or two and passed it back to midfield. That is what he was supposed to do at that point in the match, in a substitution that was as much defensive as offensive.

Was Mourinho right?

Classics under Mourinho were nasty, violent, contentious affairs. And finally, he beat us by playing a different kind of football. It distracted, bowled over and turned talented sprites into unfocused whiners. And it worked.

Ancelotti came into this match riding a 31-match unbeaten streak. The last team that beat them was us. They were, by all accounts in brilliant form, and many people whose opinions I trust had us losing this match. Ancelotti came out to play a football match, because he had football players. He pressed, played a high line, attacked and lost.

There were fouls, but things didn’t really acquire an edge until late in the match, when the outcome was beginning to feel like a done deal. But 95% of the match was two teams, each with their own style of play, running at each other like gladiators.

And Mourinho had to be watching and thinking, “See, told you they can’t be beaten by playing football.”


There were three penalties and one red card in this match, a match that was nonetheless well officiated. Culers usually mutter about an official who keeps his whistle in his pocket because it benefits the opponent. But in a more cleanly played, balanced match, that same ref can benefit us as much as the opponent. So it was today.

The penalties are most contentious, of course. When Ronaldo got his penalty, dragging the leg and being clipped by Alves, my first reaction was to suggest that Messi or Neymar get into the RM box at the first opportunity, to force the official to make that same call on the other end. Neymar did, and got the call. Supporters of each club will say that no, theirs was justified. But the Neymar and Ronaldo penalties were pretty much the same, a dragged leg and player looking for contact in the box. Yes, Ronaldo was fouled outside the box, but between continuation and the pace of the play, you try making that judgment call.

The Iniesta penalty was a flat-out mugging. So. Was the controversy that the visiting team got not one, but TWO penalties in RM’s house? That is the only rational contention that anyone could have. All three were penalties, correctly adjudged. Play was allowed to flow, niggling calls weren’t being made and a great match of football was the result. Controversy? There will always be controversy in a Classic. But today’s, for me, didn’t come from the officiating.

Quality in abundance

Individual performances in such a dynamic match are easy and difficult to evaluate. Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets were delights. For a player who is past it and doesn’t make forward passes, I wonder who that was playing today.

Alba continues to be the defender many hoped he would be, holding down that side of the pitch and roaming, a la Abidal.

Pique was excellent today, even keeping Benzema from a first-half hat trick with an off the line clearance.

Mascherano was strong, even having the audacity to take a poke at goal from distance.

Neymar wasn’t great, even as he was decisive, and Valdes, truth be told, didn’t have much to do but did make a couple of fine saves.

Yes, those players all made errors. Of course they did. When you square off against excellent players, they will make you create some errors, but don’t be mistaken: this team rose to the occasion with quality and style.

What now?

Now it’s a Liga horse race in which Atletico has the upper hand. Win out and they win the Liga. It’s simple for them. But they play us the last match of the season, a match that could well, if we win, result in the RM winning the championship. And wouldn’t THAT just be a kettle of crap?

But for now, there are 9 matches left. The top two teams are level on points and the third-place team, Barça, is but a single point off the top. Every match is a final is usually a cliche, but not in this case. 9 matches to decide the league, and we can delight in being fully in love with a team that has found its form.

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. Brilliant game, experienced every single form of emotion known to mankind during the game. Thanks for the great article Kxevin, time to watch the replay of the match.

  2. I was so nervous/excited during the match that I think I might have experienced a sort of blackout. The only thing I really remember are the goals. The rest is just a blur of popcorn, nerves, beer, more nerves, screaming, beer, nerves, shrieking, and finally indescribable joy.

    It’s nearly 4 in the morning here and I can’t go to sleep. I tried.
    So now instead of going to bed, I’ve decided to just skip sleep and watch the replay of the match instead.

    Loved the review. You never disappoint.

  3. Logged in after ages to let you know that your reviews rock, Kevin. I F5’ed the site many-a-times waiting for it to come up today.

    So so, _so_, happy with the result.

  4. Absolutely priceless moment: Xavi Alonso realising that the referee was, actually, really, truly going to give a penalty against the whites IN THE BERNABEU AGAINST BARCA.
    Whaddaya mean? Just because we sandwiched him in the penalty area. I mean, nobody pulled a knife, right?
    I hope this ref doesn’t catch any lifts with strangers for a while.

  5. Query: would the ref have given two pens if he knew that Mourinho was going to slash the tyres of his car and put s… in his glove-box? I wonder.

  6. Masch strong?

    It ain’t just a river in Egypt.

    The team had to play out of their skins, and they did, but Martino, by stubbornly sticking with Masch, and not giving Bartra the minutes he needed prior to this stage in the season, has made a huge mistake in my opinion.

    We’re still in it though, and getting to enjoy some seriously crazy football to boot.

    1. Totally agree. Bartra needed the minutes to get match fit and mentally ready to take over that position from Mashe, whose hight is not conducive for that position. There’s no other way to look at it. Martino needs to correct this mistake yesterday because its an obvious flaw that will continued to be exploited by Atleti, Munich, etc

    2. agreed. Bartra has shown nothing but class when he’s played. I love Monster Masch, but he’s not a CB. He’s a DM covering our weaknesses. It doesn’t matter how many years he plays in the position, he’ll always be a DM.

  7. Was Mourihno right? I say “no”. Yes, I am gonna pull a captain obvious and say that Barcelona has also lost against teams that actually went into the field to play football. Yes, even in the Guardiola era.

    However, I also say that it is good that RM actually decided to play football against Barcelona… somewhat refreshing at least…

  8. Well.. Well! What a Game!
    I had said on these very boards, in the last post, that Iniesta would be the difference maker in our attack and Messi would grab a brace, and I followed that with sumptuous bets on Iniesta scoring, Barca winning, and Messi grabbing a brace. Erm, i got that brace thing wrong, but I was so so so PROUD of watching my team play last night.
    Absolute happiness!
    It was almost perfect. I just can’t get myself to criticize Masch, even as I realize a deficiency of inches in a man’s height was literally the difference between them scoring and us walking away with a Manita without reply. This team continues to give us moments that we are lucky to witness. That people would ever write this team off, or nit pick, and spout ‘what if’s’ just bugs the crap out of me.
    Tata Martino is a boss. No European experience against possibly the epitome of European experience (eyebrows) and he has come out on top in both occasions. Yesterday is still a blur.
    But these were some of the memories…

    Barca played really well. And all our goals and chances were quality. The way the team casually passed the ball around their box was so reassuring to see. Masch’s shot wasn’t too far and neither was one Iniesta left foot shot from distance. Pique continues to prove that in the big games, he really steps up. We are too lucky to have players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi in our team. It isn’t supposed to be fair. Enjoy them.
    The scoreline says 4-3 but really, it wasn’t as close. If messi and Neymar convert those chances early in the first half, that they normally do otherwise, its 0-3 and we would have seen a very different game being played out. This was Barca doing what they do best. Dominate EE at their house, wherever.
    Even if Barca do not win anything this year, Tata Martino deserves to be retained and empowered with enough authority and the signings he wants. Really hoping Barca can take the lead in the Liga soon enough.
    What a game. Monday is so much better this way.

    Visca Barca i visca Catalunya!

  9. Hi guys. Been away on holidays for 3 weeks. Came back to see the classico on tv…what a game! Always had faith. Messi with extra fite in his belly to prove the haters and doubters wrong again!

    Still in it…enjoy the moment and the RM excuses…Visca

  10. Oh just wondering: has anything come against Cesc and or RM as far as any fines etc for the fraccas after the Messi goal?

    ALso did Busi step on the head or not…if he did can anyone truely see if it was intentional? I like Busi but this again is crap he and the club do not need. Its not who we are

  11. And guys..
    you can keep watching this for hours endlessly.

    He runs in to a brick wall in Ramos, keeps going on, lays that perfect pass into Neymar’s feet, gets the return, takes a first touch that releases him against four defenders crowding him and drives home an unstoppable shot well placed. I mean! I got nothing man. This guy becomes a beast when playing EE.

    We are lucky to have the world’s best player playing for us, doing things like this routinely. How many quality goals has he scored against Real Madrid? That alone is a proper testament to his greatness. In contrast, I cannot remember a single goal Penaldo has scored against us, which showcases his skill and technique rather than his athleticism or our lackadaisical defending.


    1. that initial pass through ramos and pepe to neymar was such a beauty, what a vision with a mili second of reaction time

    2. I agree, when Messi is in the mood to score he’s just an absolute beast! Luckily he doesn’t need any extra motivation to turn on beast mode vs. EE.

      I think you’re being a bit unfair with Ronaldo though – I think his autopase with his heel on the counter a few years ago was decent. Maybe Valdes should’ve stopped it though.

    3. sorry ryan,
      even that penaldo goal, ok, that heel flick to get the ball ahead was decent. but after that… really? is that a great precise goal? that second touch was bad. then he just basically hits the ball hard, not thinking about placement. matter of fact, it was so close to valdes and i cant believe he didnt save it. not impressed.

  12. When the ref makes a wrong call against us, its normally, ‘the ref made a mistake and is only human’ but when the ref makes a wrong call that favours us, its usually chants of uefalona, conspiracy theories etc. Cry stiano penaldo should be ashamed of himself, he went missing all game and scored from a dubious penalty and still has balls to cry of conspiracy theories. Can’t wait for Messi to reclaim his ballond’or. If you were a neutral watching, it was easy to tell who the best player is.

  13. People were also talking about Benzema missed chances that would have put the game out of contest in the first half, but how about the messi and neymar chances that would have made it 3-0? Their goals came from unfortunate circumstances and not from sheer brilliance compared to us. Like someone mentioned, those two benzema goals would have been prevented by a true CB and its easily a manita lurking. Their 3rd wasn’t also without controversy. I don’t know if Neymar dived in the Ramos red, but if he did then, boy should be a hollywood star, cos it took several replays to create doubt as to whether it was a dive or not but we deserved. What Iniesta did for the fourth goal is what I’ve always wanted him to do. When the match is not in our favour, he could enter the penalty box and draw fouls. With Iniesta, you can’t just help it but foul him.

    1. No dive. He might’ve looked for contact, but Ramos was stupid enough to give it to him. I actually think Ney is bringing his left leg back to shoot when Ramos clips him. All 3 penalties were legit in my eyes. Continuation is in the rule books. I think Crynaldo could’ve stayed on his feet though. How many times have we seen Messi go nearly to ground and get on with it. Maybe it’s a center of gravity thing though.

  14. In depth analysis, Kev.
    Liked that.
    Even if we end up trophyless (which I pray we don’t) I’m proud of the fact that we silenced doubters and critics for the fourth time in a big game. There isn’t much we can ask from them, is there?

    VALDES could pretty much do nothing about the goals. What a way to bow out in your last clasico.

    ALBA was solid, maintained balance in his oscillation btw attack and defence.

    PIQUE impressed alot regardless of my opinion of him. He led the backline well, a yeoman’s job. His goal-mouth clearance was decisive.

    MASCH his short-comings as a def was effectively exploited. But on a whole, his intensity and commitment couldn’t be faulted.

    ALVES effervescent display as usual. Aside ball watching for the first goal, his wing was constantly overloaded by 3 EE players and wasn’t helped much by Ney. That shot of his that hit the post wasn’t coincidental. I wish he could shoot more (benevolence aside). That’s one great potential of his that has grossly been under-utilised. The power, speed and venom of his shot is remarkably unstoppable.

    BUSQUET controlled the midfield well with Xavi.

    XAVI orchestratred and did what he likes best- possess the ball. And for a good measure at that.

    INIESTA Here is my fav part. To say he was sublime and sensational could well be an understatement.
    A good goal sense and zeal like Messi’s would place him on par with that lil genius.
    Is it me or does Iniesta seem to be shooting more lately? He also attempted another shot which was blocked.

    NEYMAR like Kev said, he wasn’t brilliant but was decisive. No doubt that he would come good eventually.

    MESSI ………………………………………

    1. That 2nd shot of Iniesta’s was struck beautifully. That would’ve been a golazo of GOLAZO’s. Dani is ok from range. Not sure how long you’ve been watching, but he used to take a lot of longer free kicks because of his power. They usually ended up in row ZZ. I don’t mind a poke here & there to keep defense honest though. Adriano as well. Iniesta is definitely feeling it at the moment. He’s in the Zone. Some of his dribbling & maneuvers made my draw drop. Xavi & Busi as well. They didn’t put a foot wrong all match. Incredible considering the amount of pressure they were under.

  15. For the record, it was Cesc who made that incredible pass to Messi in the 15th minute. And yes, only a couple of players in the world can make that pass and we have nearly all of them.


    As for Mascherano, he can’t make himself taller and I don’t lay blame on him for being the player he is. In matches like this, the smallest things can make all the difference and if he was physically bigger then he could have prevented the two Benzema goals. I’m not definitively saying he would have but with his height/jump it was impossible to head both of those chances.

    I will also not say that playing Bartra would have fixed that because he may made other errors and hasn’t played enough football for me this season to get the nod in a match of this magnitude.

    It’s a very interesting title run in now.
    Atletico are top, have a better head to head with Madrid and if they win all their matches they are champs… except they have to play us.
    Real Madrid have worse head to head’s with both of Barca & Atleti but don’t have to play either team.
    We are a point behind and if we win all our matches we may hand the league to Madrid.

    Also interesting is that if all 3 teams were to finish on level terms, we would win the league… The only likelihood that this would happen is a loss for Real in the last 9 matches and a draw between us and Atletico. This would result in us getting the most points out of the head-to-head meetings amongst all of us this season and we would be champions due to the mini-league system La Liga has in place.

    1. I don’t see how that math works – a single RM loss and a draw between us and Atletico means Atletico is a point ahead of both us and RM and wins it. For the teams to end up tied on points, it will take us drawing a game, RM losing a game, and us beating Atletico in the last game.

    2. sorry, my bad. We will have the upper hand if all teams finish on level points but that is unlikely. The most that teams are likely drop is a two points for a draw.
      Still, it’s good to know that we have the edge in head to heads

  16. Yea, noticed Ini has been shooting more and notably with the left foot. The accuracy and power of his left foot amazes me. His second left footed rocket could have easily fizzled into the top left corner save the deflection

  17. A good read. Rivals were confident enough to play an open game, and against us this never works. Scoring at ease. I think the “new Mũnchen” will also suffer in the same way when we beat them in the CL final.

  18. I do not care if we win the liga anymore. We have won both classicos this season.:)

    What a match, the last few minutes I am not sure if I was breathing.
    The whole team was excellent, even though Neymar could have been better and Masche could have had 4 or 5 inches more of added height :). Friends, there is no point in blaming him. He had a good game, but he cant use a stool in the box right? It is the mistake of the club, that we didnt had a CB. Masche for me, was fine. Even if buy 2 CB’s I hope we dont sell him, he will be a wonderful DM for us.

    Is there some injury or some issues with Sergi. He definitely looks suffering.

    The connection between Iniesta and Messi is out of this world. We are slowly ‘rondo’ing the ball till it reach Messi, all 4 defenders are on him, he lifts his head to look left, and then it is magical, both Iniesta and Messi knows exactly what is going to happen. I was stunned by that moment. To know it was 23 or 24 passes, all the more so. We are all so lucky to watch these two playing together.

    And really, no one might have carved out that second goal out of nowhere like Messi did. Except the fourth goal, Messi was involved in all the important key passes for our 3 goals. He could have scored another one and could have had another assist too. he had 4 or 5 real key passes, I think.

    This is what happens, when you go all out to attack Barca. I only wish if Pedro had started. We may have had more ball in first half. But no worries. Thank you Tata.

    Thank you team, it was the most thrilling football experience in a long time.

    A word for DeMaria, Benzema and Bale too. (Bale really ran through us couple of times!)

    What was Pepe telling Messi?

  19. Really breathtaking stuff last night. Can’t remember the last I felt all kinds of emotions in just 90mins. For the CDR final Classic, I’d like to see Masch in MF alongside Busquets in place of Cesc and Bartra in defence.

  20. I’d also like to point out how Alves also ALWAYS raises his performances against EE. Way to burrow your way in to a Culer’s heart. Against Madrid, time and again, he has shown that not only does he have the defensive ability to keep their most ‘dangerous’ attacker in check, he also considerably threatens the opponent with extremely good offensive displays. Who can forget some of the long distance goals he has scored against Madrid. Last night, he came brutally close to finishing off a wonderful sequence of play outside their box with a delicious drive. Too bad it hit the wrong side of the post. Millimeters!

    I keep saying this. Song may still be dispensable, But if the club decides to get rid of either of Alves, Mascherano or Alexis, that will most certainly be one of the biggest blunders they will ever commit. Akin to the Eto’o, Yaya and Abidal sales. Alves still has another 2,3 years of quality service to give. And he loves this club.

  21. there was something about the team at 3-3, we weren’t running like crazy for the win, it was all pass pass pass… like they know it would only take one clear chance… on good knock as their opponent was a bit groggi..maybe we were like an old champ, awaiting his moment for that final punch!

    on the ref, in 34th min di maria could have seen red already after one handball and the foul from behind. just saying.

    next two weeks will be very interesting. real’s tough games are now and in between the ucl games. they looked a lot more tired then us and with the injuries of jesse and arbeloa and the out of form of isco their bench looks pretty thin. i hope they run into some trouble.

    whatever the outcome of this season it sure is fun. and sure it was nice to see a classico where players hugged and talked and coaches acted like gentlemen.

    any theories on that massi and pepe chat during the game? 😀

  22. This a great review and I love how Kxevin breaks down the goals we conceded. But just as I tweeted to Kxevin on twitter I reaaly wish we could increase the margin for error in our team. Yes we are lucky to have geniuses in our team – but even they are human. Now when we have a situation where every lost ball / floated cross in our half results in a 75 – 80percent chance of conceding then thats too high IMHO. This problem also stiffles creativity at times ( see Neymar ). Hopefully we can address this in the summer. Game on in the Liga though!

  23. Agree with you, Psamuel.
    It’s always convenient for the media and anti-barca fans alike to ignore decisions against us.
    Do you recall one incidence in the first half where Neymar was tackled in the box? That was a def penalty.
    One thing is sure; their moaning won’t increase their points to 7.

  24. Haha! And of cos, I saw the pepe tackle on Neymar and felt it was a penalty but nobody made a fuss about it so I kept quiet. There was also a Pepe handball on the edge of their box that would have resulted in a good scoring chance.

  25. In the aftermath of things, it is surprising that people are still taking potshots at Mascherano. The way that Barça defend means that usually when a goal is conceded, there’s more than one person at fault. I understand … it’s Mascherano, rather than a favored player, but as I note above. In the complete absence of ANY pressure whatsoever on Di Maria, what do you expect one of the best players in the world to do?

    He laid a perfect pass onto the head of his attacker, who outjumped a shorter defender to hit an excellent header. And that’s that. Perhaps pressure on the Di Maria cross results in a less-perfect effort that can then be defended by Mascherano. Maybe, maybe not. But I do hope that Alves and Neymar got pictures of the moment that they stood there and watched.

    Di Maria got behind Alves pretty much when he wanted.

    Barça does not have traditional defenders, and I think it’s about high time that people stop expecting that we do. Rio Ferdinand would probably have stopped that first Benzema goal. Do you want him in our back line when it comes time to attack? Nope. Pick any traditional defender of the type who would have maybe (yes, maybe, as the cross was absolutely perfect) made the play on that ball, then ask yourself whether that defender is going to be able dart to midfield, make a play on the ball, slide to his feet and pass it to an attacker. The reason Mascherano played over Bartra is that Mascherano is a better Barça CB than Bartra right now. Places are earned in training. If Bartra were playing well enough, he would be playing.

    I was bonding with a very knowledgeable RM supporter about what CBs were out there who immediately came to mind that met the team’s needs, and neither of us could really think of one. That is the kind of specialized player a Barça CB is. Someone mentioned Mangala. Maybe. But he’s already locked up to City, for 40m+. Can you see Barça spending 40+ for a CB prospect, a player who might not work in our system?

    If people want the Barça way, that Way includes the Barça CB, which is really more of a glorified DM. That’s why defending as a team is so important — beCAUSE we don’t have those kinds of defenders. That type of defender would in fact be an impediment to our style of play, which attacks and defends with 11, including the keeper.

    There are 9 matches left. I know it’s an impossible ask, but what say we celebrate our team and its players. Another day, another opponent who was supposed to crush us, and another win for Barça. Nobody was perfect in that match. Nobody. Not Messi, not Iniesta … nobody. Call one out, call them all out.

    Meanwhile, this team is battling for a Liga championship that with an astonishing victory it is right back in the thick of. I’m proud as hell of this group of players.

    1. What potshots? Why is he immune to criticism? We can criticize other players after a match but we (me not yet)criticize Mascherano, it is called potshots? He was at fault for 2 goals, nothing wrong with calling him out. Better than sweeping it under the carpet.

    2. I understand the criticism towards Masche. Ok he is short, he is not a CB but right now he is the best CB option we have to partner Pique. We can complain all we want but we won’t get any new CB till the season is over. And no, Bartra isn’t ready for el clasico of this importace.

      Why don’t we applaud Mascherano for doing a good job out oh his position? Except for Javi Martinez I doubt there is any DM in the world who can play CB at this level and still does a great job. Espacially at barca.

      Agian it’s not Masche’s fault. The board didn’t buy that Cb we all want. Shouldn’t we be grateful towards our #14 who has played out of position for 3 years to cover our ass?

      It’s ok to criticize but be fair to the man.

    3. He isn’t immune to criticism. My point is that it is a wholistic view of the goals, rather than the finger of blame being pointed at one person, as in “He was at fault for 2 goals.”

      If you really break down and look at the two goals, to label any one player solely at fault is, as with almost any goal, complex and erroneous.

      If you don’t ask what Alves and Neymar were doing on those goals, the examination of them isn’t sufficiently thorough. The truly churlish could even ask why Valdes didn’t attack Benzema on the header, to try to reduce the angle.

      In that goal analysis, you could ask yourself how Bale was so open, and able to deliver such a pitch-perfect pass to Di Maria, so that he could do his damage. It’s what I mean by a wholistic approach. Richard Whittall did a recent breakdown of a key goal in a match, where common analysis was that a single player was culpable. His breakdown made it very clear that such a thing was far from the case.

      barca96, you often bristle when someone contradicts your view. That doesn’t help discussion. Have a look at the two goals from genesis to the ball hitting the back of the net, and it’s easy to see what I mean.

    4. When criticizing a player, It should be for the things he can actually control, For example giving di maria all the time in the world to perfectly line up his cross is something that CAN be controlled and prevented, Being too short is NOT something a player can do about, Hence it’s not a valid criticism, But if anyone still insist on pointing a finger to somebody, It should be toward the coach for playing him in the first place, Mascherano for me did a good job within his limited physical capabilities, Anything outside of that is out of his control.

    5. I agree with the general ideas you outline, but Abidal and Puyol were capable of doing these things. So it’s not like such CBs do not exist.

    6. I think the problem with Masche is that what he brings to the table is often overshadowed by what he’s lacking.

      He will never be able to win a perfectly placed cross against a player like Benzema. Then again, he should never have had to. Dani Alves was MIA far too often on the right side. Just watched the second goal again. Phil Schoen called it as it happened, “DiMaria with the open cross”! An open cross! That cross can’t be allowed to be that easy for Angel to put in!

      But when we needed the bulldog in our back line, he was there to get all up in CR’s business, especially in the second half.

      He will never grow taller at his age. He could never cover both his and the right back’s duties simultaneously. And lest we forget, he was up against a really excellent front line. That front line scores with ease against lesser and greater opponents alike. Did we really expect a clean sheet?

      I think RM needs more credit for those goals and Masche needs to be cut a little slack.

    7. For me, neymar and alves were caught out far too often making Masche look real bad…I personally thought both Ney and Alves had a not too good first half defensively…

    8. The whole right side was poorly defended, and you can include Xavi in the list of culprits as well. It is a lot to ask Dani Alves to cover Di Maria and Ronaldo.

      However, not for the first time, el jefecito was left wanting in a top game. He was attacked time and time again and he was lucky to concede only two goals in the first half. Relatively speaking, delivering that perfect cross becomes just that bit easier when Mascherano is defending the marker.

      I’m not saying he’s a bad center back. He played well against AM and against City, too. But for Barcelona he plays a position where his weakness exacerbates our weakness and it is unnecessary because for three summers in a row we have neglected to find a solution.

      Bartra is not the answer either, I’m afraid, because I don’t see him as all that compatible with Piqué.

    9. Yes Maschrano doesn’t look like he will grow any taller 🙂

      But what he lacks in height he can make it up by reading the game better. After playing CB for 3 seasons now, he should’ve improved his positioning by now but he keeps on making the same mistakes.

      I don’t think anyone is blaming his height, it’s his positioning that’s causing problems. He really needs to improve on that.

      The blame on lack of height goes to Tata. He’s the one and only person that chose Maschrano despite knowing that his lack of height will hurt us.

      He may make up his lack of height against Bartra with aggressiveness or something else but I’d take height advantage and Bartra’s shortcomings against Maschrano and pick him over the latter.

      Bartra certainly doesn’t make so much positioning errors and he certainly will be able to contest an air ball. Masch lacks in those 2 aspects and if he’s beaten in either one, it will be a very dangerous moment where we have a very high chance of conceding because Maschrano and Pique are the last lines of defence between the attacker and Valdes.

    10. I think the problem with Masche is that what
      he brings to the table is often overshadowed
      by what he’s lacking.

      My last paragraph. And I’ll add one more.

      What he lacks is bigger than what he brings to the table.

    11. And the problem with prolonging this argument is that it takes away from us celebrating the fact that WE FREAKIN’ BEAT MADRID IN THEIR OWN HOUSE!!!

      Life doesn’t always give us happy moments. Let’s enjoy it when is does and worry about the details later.

    12. How much do you expect a 21-22 year old CB to do in such a game? because that’s apprximately how much experiece Masche has as CB. with ONLY 3 years experience as a Barca CB (the hardest CB position in the world) I think what mascherano is doing is beyond what anyone expected of him. He was only supposed to be a cover and not and a long term replacement for Puyi.

      Players develope their defensive instincts and positioning when they are young and not already 27 years old.

      I wouldn’t say it’s Tata’s fault either because if he was to choose his own squad I think only Pique and possibly bartra would still be in the mix (as CBs).

      So if you really have to point the finger at someone it has to be the board for the obvious reasons that we’ve talked about for as long as I can remember.

    13. Was Graham Hunter taking potshots? Was he avoiding criticizing a “favored” player? Does he (and many others, including former professionals) not really understand football? Frankly, I love Masch’s character, so I don’t appreciate the “potshot” comment. It’s cold, hard football analysis.

      Since we’re calling it like we see it, I think the “it was a team failure” is a cop out. It’s true as far as it goes, but it’s also so vague as to avoid all responsibility for anything.

      I believe in the last post you said Masch was our top CB, ahead of Pique. Still think that? It’s not just about height, it’s positioning, it’s instinct.

      While there might not be a lot of top quality CB’s available at the moment, this is where Martino failed. Bartra should absolutely not have started yesterday. He should have been getting minutes since January so he could start. Rosell, by not getting a top quality CB when he had the chance (Thiago Silva anyone?), is the real villain, but we’re making things worse by refusing to admit that Masch is a great CM, but not an elite starting CB for one of the top 3 teams in the world.

    14. No. “Team failure” is not a cop-out. At all. If people want to line up too kick Mascherano, rock on. And you can’t say that a favored view is “cold, hard football analysis” while a view with which you disagree is a “cop out.” That doesn’t fly with me. Sorry. Either it is all analysis, or none of it is.

      And sorry, but it is taking potshots if you single someone out for something for which they are not entirely culpable.

      Graham Hunter, while a respected football journalist and someone I hold in high regard, is not the be all and end all to evaluating performances. It is also important, in all the dudgeon, not to mistake me saying the goal isn’t entirely his fault with an overall endorsement of his game. But if I were to apply the same evaluative template to the entire team, they would all come up short, from Iniesta and silly giveaways, to Messi going on psychic walkabout, to Xavi making questionable decisions when RM had the ball, etc etc.

      Mascherano had, for my tastes, a better match than Alves. Ancelotti’s substitution of Di Maria helped Alves as much as anyone else.

      As to “this is where Martino failed” in discussing CBs, that assumes that he has control of the transfer budget and can single-handedly decide to buy a player. This is incorrect, and another example of applying culpability to a person who isn’t at fault. But let’s say that Martino is at fault for not acquiring a top-quality CB. Then Guardiola is even more at fault for not getting one, since the need existed during his tenure, and has only become more acute since then?

      Or should we ask questions of the people who control the transfer budget, the board? All a coach can do is ask for players. Guardiola did, so did Vilanova, so did Martino.

      And again, the Thiago Silva myth. That deal was never, ever a possibility. He was packaged with Ibrahimovic by Milan. They were never separate, and we weren’t willing to pay the money for the pair, particularly as we already had our turn with Ibrahimovic. So Silva, who wouldn’t have been the best choice for our back line at any rate, went to PSG.

      Barça doesn’t have an “elite starting CB.” Period. Barça has players who play the position that suit the way that the team plays. Until culers understand that, they will be doomed to eternal disappointment, no matter WHO the club buys for that position.

    15. “Barça doesn’t have an “elite starting CB.” Period. Barça has players who play the position that suit the way that the team plays. Until culers understand that, they will be doomed to eternal disappointment, no matter WHO the club buys for that position.”

      Exactly my thought, thanks!

    16. I never said it was Martino’s fault for not BUYING a CB. I said it was his fault for sticking with Mascherano instead of getting Bartra the meaningful minutes he would need to take over the starting role at the business end of the season.

      I also don’t believe he was entirely at fault for the goals. Again, he just doesn’t have the positional sense (instinct?) to be the starting CB. At the beginning of the season I thought he might be, but at this point – no. This performance was just another example of weaknesses that have been evident for 3 years.

      Agree on Alves, but he was being dangerously exposed time and again because of Neymar, and to a lesser degree Cesc. For the record, all season I’ve questioned Alves’ defensive suitability and questioned whether his offensive strengths were worth it. He’s given away a LOT of silly balls all season, and his pace chasing down wingers isn’t what it used to be. I still think we need a right back who can challenge/replace him.

    17. I would say Kompany, T. Silva, & Dante could all play for us at CB. Those are just names that come to mind. No, their not available, but could be this summer if we stump up the cash. Then there are the youngsters that are possibilities. River Plates Eder Balanta & Botafogo’s Doria. Doria is well known to AC Milan’s new coach, Mr. Clarence Seedorf who played nearly a season with him and is trying to bring him to Italy in the summer. The kid is a stud and 19 years old. The time has come to buy a defender in his prime and a top top prospect.

  26. Sigh. MH370 is down and out. I have been hoping all this while that it landed somewhere. Lost for words. Now we will never really know what actually happened even if they find the black box. I really can’t imagine what the family members are going through and I can’t even begin to think what the passengers went through in those hours before it went down. Really really sad.

  27. football is a collective game. most goals are a result of mistakes but to say that a mistake in some part of the field cant be put out by the other part of the team is folly.

    Calling out Masche for his errors should not be a sacrilege. A better positioned CB would simply have dealt with those crosses. That Di maria executed well is true but he also found an accomplice in Masche. Those two goals were ultimately very preventable.

    Alves was not very much responsible because in that first half he faced so many 2 v 1 situations. He had no help from neymar at all and he was slaughtered.

    Lets be cherish our team; support it to the hilt but also recognise where it needs to be improved. If Masche watches those two goals again and doesnt wince then we are in trouble.

    1. No, folly is adapting a contention to suit your needs. Once and for all, NOBODY IS SAYING THAT CALLING MASCHERANO OUT FOR ERRORS IS SACRILEGE!!!.

      What I am saying is that goals conceded are usually “garbage in, garbage out.” You can’t call out one player without calling out another. Look at the goal again. Mascherano’s positioning was fine, but he got outjumped by a taller, stronger player. Done.

      I will never, ever stop being the way that I am when it comes to evaluating performances. Nobody, but nobody has asked a single question about Alves and Neymar, except me. It’s all “Mascherano conceded the goal.”

      Watch the entire play develop, and you will see a few points at which the goal could have been stopped. Mascherano was the last man. By then, he was screwed, as screwed as Valdes on that second Benzema goal.

      But yes, it’s Mascherano’s fault that a world-class player was allowed to put a cross directly onto the head of a bigger, stronger player. Got it.

    2. Hw many times do we see plays degenerating in some part of the pitch and become goals at the other. Not often because most of the times the danger is snuffed out.

      For the most part, for me anyway, Mascherano is adept at sniffing the danger. Yesterday he failed period. The mitigating factor is height but nous as well. Surely when that cross was made did he read it correctly? If he jumped what was the purpose? In the box if you know you cant jump you dont present the other player a free jump. You foul softly, unbalance the player subtly so that he has it difficult. For the most part Masche is again adept at this.

      He failed just as Messi failed to bury his one on one. His anticipatory sense yesterday was off thats all. Most of the time he is a BOSS but not yesterday.

      When he had Diego Costa in his pocket we hailed him so its fair that we do point out where he was at fault.

      This game is a game of mistakes and fine margins; especially @ the top.

    3. I’ve been a long time lurker and it’s my first post, Kxevin lost his cool and it requires extreme measures.

      Calling out individual players for specific goals is sometimes obvious, but in this case it’s not exactly Masche, Dani or Neyar’s fault.

      If you look at the set-up of Barsa, having the world top 3 dribblers as forwards invites what has exactly happened in the game: fouls on them in the penalty box. If you combine that with the type of defenders Pepe and Ramos are, we shouldn’t be too surprised that there where 3 penalties (one not called) and a red card.

      The price for that is also obvious: Neymar does less defensive work then Pedro and Alexis. With a defender less on that wing, it’s harder to stop Di Maria, Cristiano and Marcelo.

      Considering Cristiano & Bale where confined very well, only Di Maria was the threat.

      So it was basically a bet made by Tata: increase the chance for red cards and penalties on the expense that Di Maria will be more dangerous. Eventually, he won that bet.

      It also explains why Neymar was substituted: once the red card was given and there was less than 30 minutes on the clock, there is more value in defending conceding another goal (while still looking for the win) rather then looking for another red card.

      I also think we should really value the opposition, how many teams have managed to beat RM playing open? The team we support just did that all by playing beautifully.

  28. Kxevin, aren’t you contradicting yourself? A few members criticize Mascherano and you claim that they’re taking potshots.

    They made their claims just like how you made yours. Why call it a potshot?

    When you criticize Messi for losing the ball (turnover) which resulted in a goal (couple of times), why didn’t you apply the same rules that you’re putting on Mascherano now?

    Btw do you keep a record of my comments? There have been many instances where there were heated debates between members here (not me) but of course I’m singled out once again.

    1. No. YOU aren’t being singled out, so stop it. Debate and deal with it. YOU aren’t the one being piled on by people, I am. I am used to it. I am the only one who even has an issue with your opinion. So explain why I am incorrect, and support your position. Easy.

    1. No, the point is apparently eternal unhappiness. An immense win over an eternal rival and “Oh, if only Mascherano didn’t suck, if only we didn’t concede a single goal, if only, if only.”

      It makes dealing with supporters difficult.

  29. I don’t really understand how Tata is at fault for playing Masch. It’s not as though Tata has a lot of options for CM. Bartra is showing a lot of promise but is thus far untested in the big matches, and in my opinion for good reason as Masch normally turns up when needed. Sure, he could have played better yesterday (and he needed Alves help, who in turn needed Neymar’s), but thankfully Pique was on point.

    All in all, I thought our defense did all right, i.e., guess what, we won. Obviously, this has a lot to do with scoring 4 goals in Mardid’s own house, but a lot of those goals begin with our defense’s ability to move the ball from the back. During the entire game, as nerve racking as it was, I had an inexplicable and overwhelming feeling that we were destined to win, and this against one of the best teams in Europe. Funny that, considering during the Valladolid match I was convinced we would never score!

    That match was perfect: maximum entertainment in its singularity (the match itself) and for the league. Furthermore, if we were to lose the league, we will at least have bragging rights for the Clasico.

  30. Madrid gave up 4 goals, two of them in open play. Who is singling out any of their defenders as unsuitable/ too inexperienced/ a bad choice by the coach/ not good enough/ whatever for Madrid? Someone may be more at fault for a certain goal than another, but nobody says they are unworthy.

    Elite teams with world class defenders give up goals to other elite teams because they are facing elite forwards.

    We won. Let’s enjoy it just a bit!

    1. Actually if I were a merengue (brrrr – shudder) I would have been really upset with Ramos, who treated his penalty box like a private beach area in the lead up to Messi’s first goal and then got himself sent off and gave up the penalty in the 2nd half.

      Luckily I’m a culé, so I get to be critical of our own players even if they rock and gave me so much happiness last night!

    2. Gah! You almost said. ..!

      But you would never have said that Ramos isn’t good enough. Just that he sucked that game.

      Point is, Masche is good at what he does. He can’t do what he’s not suited for. There is plenty of blame to go around on those goals and it’s not all his fault. Let’s not marginalize his good contributions and forget how well he has deputized at a position that is not his natural one. He’s done admirably while we are waiting for the boArd to get their stuff together. This is the same Mashe that owned City’ forwards and also Diego Costa.

      Disclaimer: Any typos are to be blamed on my stupid phone.

    3. I probably wouldn’t, but I think Ramos is a better central defender than Mascherano. I think the fact that he can’t do what he is not suited for is exactly the problem. It is not his fault, I think he is an inspirational player both on and off the pitch. But that just makes it extra wry when opponents wouldn’t pick him out as the weak link.

  31. To the argument about playing Bartra more so that he is ready for big matches –

    We want all trophies. We want to win all matches every single season. Bartra is not developed enough to be relied upon day in and day out. If we do experiments like Anoeta and lose, it’s the end of the world. People blame the coach for not playing the best team and tinkering too much (yes Bartra played that match).

    When the competition is fierce and the difference between the top teams are very small, margin of error is very little and every match is like the final. So under this tremendous pressure, when do we have the time to play an young inexperienced centreback and let him develop. Not only that, consider Xavi’s situation. Are we in a state to give more minutes to Sergi Roberto and let him develop? In a club with sky high expectations such as Barca, the only option is to increase the squad depth and buy developed CBs, who suit our style. And that is a discussion for the summer.

    Neymar on right would have worked perfectly (from an defensive standpoint) if he tracked back in the first half. Anyways, I have faith in our players. And for me, Masch has had enough good games this season to earn that.

    1. Good points. I guess I have a bit more faith in Bartra based on his performances when he has gotten a run of games, but good points nonetheless.

    2. It’s not just that, it is also that he doesn’t pair well with Piqué, our other central defender he is most similar to. And Piqué is the only one who can consistently defend headers, which, along with his other qualities, makes him pretty much untouchable right now.

    3. Any CB in our system will have a steep learning curve. Mistakes will be made. Whether or not it’s Bartra or a seasoned vet. The way any CB develops and gains experience is through playing time and mistakes.

    1. Sorry, many positives of course! That one stood out at the moment because I was starting to worry if he lost his form.

  32. as much as we had want its impossible for fans to watch a game of football and not have a thing or two to say about it. Generally its because there are always things to improve on.

    Barca and Real played a great great match yesterday. Do you think Tata is in Happyland he has no things he thinks should have gone differently? Same with all cules here. We value the perfomance and the win but wish it had been better.

    IMHO i think for the most we were all delirious with joy. Now the dust has settled we are taking a breath, basking in the light of life but acknowledging that wow i am alive but i could easily have been otherwise.

    Sometimes i get a feeling that we sometimes carry baggage from other universe like twitter etcetra but what i have generally seen here is mature discourse.

    Think am lucky that iam too unsophisticated for the other universe anyway.

    Visca Barca

    1. “I talked to him and had a very good offer to go and play for six months in Uzbekistan where they would have given me 26 million dollars. In his office, he said to me: ‘That could do you good, go for it.’ I told him that Eto’o was the one who made him win and that he would come and ask for forgiveness.”

      Apparently Eto’o could tell anything to anyone in the dressing room.

      Point of fact: Eto’o went away and… Barcelona kept on winning.
      Second point of fact: Eto’o wanted to be loaned for six months, apparently in 2008-09. But he apparently wanted to be traded, not file an official transfer request. I don’t know how contracts work in Barcelona, but to my knowledge in the EPL when a player requests a transfer, he waives his bonuses and other performance-based variables, which form a significant part of his salary.

      P.S. For me, in the world there are two people who can refer to themselves in third person and not be deemed Dbags. One of them is The Rock. The other is The Zlatan.

    2. sounds like a bunch of lowbrow whining to me. Eto’o was a brilliant player (still is, i’d claim) for us and i respect his contribution to the club, but if that’s the kind of attitude Pep got from him, no wonder he sent him packing. the no-drama harmony our dressing room has largely enjoyed since Eto’o and Ronaldinho were shipped off (Ibra aside) is a testament to how important Pep thought that state is to a winning team…. and guess what? he was right.

      Eto’o’s and Ronaldinho’s egos were impediments to the mental state of the team that Pep wanted to play. we loved them both, in different ways, but i for one am glad they were dismissed so resolutely when the time came.

  33. It’s not even that bad,
    last season we couldn’t even manage routine counters.

    This season we’re doing just great (Thanks, Tata).

    Please don’t tell me Masch didn’t learn a thing in last 3 seasons.
    All those clean sheets came outta nowhere ?

    Also, nobody is singing ballads about Pique.
    He saved the game.

    Maybe we’ll wait untill he makes mistakes in next few games.

  34. It’s really funny how things evolve in football…
    At the tail end of the last decade we controlled the midfield with 3 midfielders and people couldn’t cope with us.
    Then, in the Pep era, we moved Messi into the centre to use 4 players in the centre of the pitch v Man Utd and people couldn’t cope with us again.
    This season in the big games we’ve essentially been playing with Cesc too meaning that it takes us 5 players to get the same job done as we did with 3 a few years ago.

    It definitely affects the way we play, having less width in attack and having less of a goal threat.
    At stages last night (around 2-2 & 3-2), I was looking at the match and thinking that we needed an extra forward on the pitch but didn’t want to sacrifice a midfielder for it as it would result in less control of the match.

    Is this to do with Xavi’s age or just that teams have figured us out?
    I don’t know but Xavi is being relied upon every bit as much at 34 as he was at 28. We will have to learn how to play without him eventually.

    It makes you think really, because even though at different times I’ve been ok with the idea of selling this or that first team player in my 20+ years supporting this club, I’ve never been in a situation where there is such a hard player to replace as Xavi…

    1. Xavi is impossible to replace. Iniesta is the closest thing that we have, even when Thiago was with the club.

      Pressing and defense-wise, our best midfield is Fabregas/Busquets/Iniesta. But match control-wise, any midfield that doesn’t include Xavi will have some serious questions asked of it.

      Various names have come and gone over the years, all ignoring the reality that there is only one Xavi. Sergi Samper? Maybe. Still a little laconic about closing down attackers. Forget about CBs, etc, that Xavi question will be a huge one to answer, one that will potentially mean changing the way that the club plays and approaches matches.

  35. In perfect world,

    1. we’d keep the ball for 90 mins.

    2. valdes won’t make a single save

    3. We’d score a zillion goals

    4. Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo, Dimaria
    would forget how to attack a bunch of 5 ft. something guys.

    That’d be boring.
    I’ll take the 4-3 ; thank you.

  36. Kxevin, personally I think Masche left a little to be desired in the second goal. However, his position was impeccable for a conventional cross across the face of goal. The problem was that he was just an eye-blink late checking the location of Benzema. Even so he tried to correct his mistake, but he was just a little short. Again, Di Maria had an excellent night and Dani Alves didn’t have the help from his winger and midfielder, the vital fractions of a second that let a world-class player get his bearings and assume the correct posture. All of this contributed to the goal. We can’t just point fingers, because unless it’s a huge personal mistake(ball given away for example), scoring a goal takes at least two.

    In any case, your post was a real pleasure to read.

    I’ll leave y’all with a comment I read in the Guardian:

    “This “vulnerable” Barcelona is one top CB signing away from becoming unbeatable. Just imagine if Thiago Silva was in the place of Mascherano.”

    P.S. Probably not entirely true, but perhaps one reason why Barcelona cannot practice defending high crosses and corners is precisely because there aren’t any traditional “9” strikers on the roster?

    1. The mistake that everyone makes is twofold:

      — Assuming that I am claiming Mascherano had a good match
      — Absolving him from culpability in the conceded goals

      My single, sole and solitary point is that almost any goal that a team concedes is a group effort, and Mascherano had help.

    2. Like I said, for me he was guilty of not checking on Benzema’s location, but on the other hand he couldn’t hang a little back, because something like 90% of crosses are across the goal, just out of reach of the goalie. Maybe his covering of Benzema could’ve been better, I don’t know.

      In any case, you’re right that it’s a group effort – Xavi was drifting towards the center, Neymar didn’t track back(fast) enough and Dani Alves, who didn’t have a very good night, had to defend all that space by himself against a superb Di Maria. We should not forget(and by we I don’t mean you, but the culerada in general) that the other side also wants to win, the other side also has players capable of magic given half a chance.

      Honestly, I hope Tata and the board find a very good “Barça CB” and sign him. It’s tough to say it, but if Song is replaced by a very good CB, it would add real versatility in the squad – Mascherano is the DM of Albiceleste and I certainly think he could play next to and substitute Busquets, at least in the lower intensity games – and at the same time be available for CB duty if it’s needed – which would mean obligatory more time for Bartra. Sure, it would make the squad even smaller, but… Puyol wasn’t getting that many games this season anyway. 🙁

      P.S. Lest I forget, Pique impressed me last night. If he could just put on some more muscles, stop wearing long sleeves and wear his hair long… Daydreaming again.

  37. I don’t get it, really, i mean really, really, really. People are depressed because????
    We fucking won last night as i recall.
    But i’ll watch the game again, maybe the final score is my bad.
    One thing is to express an opinion (regardless how ridiculous it is), which is ok, but another thing is to continue to support your own opinion when you realize that you might be wrong.
    Funny enough, we should bash Song as well for the conceded goals last night. As usual.

    1. Nobody is bashing Song. Personally, I just think Mascherano would be better than him in the Busquets position – iff the CB pair is covered by Pique/Bartra and a very good CB.

    2. It’s just that I have a soft spot for Song. Well, for all the players, but for him in particular. He is more than a decent player who was being misused by Tito and as a result suffered abuse by the culerada. Personally I feel dirty just for contemplating the idea of selling him. But for me Masche would be better in the role of a DM.

    1. Very weird analysis of Messi’s 1st goal, there. The problem was not that the defense gave him too much space.

      The problem was that they didn’t clear the ball that was knocked loose from Neymar’s feet in the penalty area. They should have never let Messi get to the ball. Space had little to do with it.

    2. For me the point is in something else – the author seems convinced that giving Messi one square meter is already too much. For him the Real Madrid defense should’ve known you just don’t give meter of space to Messi. 😀

    3. Lol, sure, I get that, but at the moment that he gets to the ball it is too late for anybody defender to close him down. He just takes one touch and he shoots. This is why talking about how they gave him “space” in that particular situation baffles me. It is as if the writer analyzed a still shot instead of the actual play.

    4. Thanks for the link. I love it when an unbiased neutral point of view is given. Some of the comments I’ve read on other sites and the comments from the Madrid players themselves are delusional. I’ve always felt a sense of pride that we are gracious in defeat most of the time. We have our moments. Blaming the pitch & referee’s. However, unless there is a blatant cock up by the ref, we usually give the opposing team their due.

    5. I don’t know about unbiased, the guy works for SPORT, the hack piece against Tata in SPORT Qatar was his job. 😀

    6. For me that is correct. If you look at past Classics, Messi has NEVER been given space to even touch the ball without getting fouled, never mind being able to work a give-and-go, no matter how deft.

      To be sure, Neymar ups the creative ante by being a player who approaches that Messiesque level of creativity and ability work in an exceptionally tight space. It could even be argued for the Messi goal from the run of play that Neymar’s presence created the situation that allowed Messi enough space to get into the box.

      Neymar was surrounded while Messi was running. At some point you run out of defenders, and there is an imbalance somewhere. That was the space that Messi exploited.

      Marsden is correct in that even that small an amount of space in the box is too much if you are looking to keep a player who has no wind-up on his shot from scoring. So if the ball gets to his foot, he’s shooting and damned if you know where it’s headed, precisely because of that lack of backswing.

    7. Brother, you’re preaching to the choir. 😀 I’m just amused by Marsden’s “this is common knowledge, yo!” attitude, because the same guys who voted for Ronaldo and Ribery now nod sagely at this common knowledge and say “well, of course”. Just that.

  38. Kxevin, I have to say, I really admire the way you keep lifting morale and try to minimise that “descent into abyss” negativity, for every single loss AND win, which has snowballed ever since our treble. Respect.

    I do understand why some of us are being overly critical. It’s just because that crop of players is so damn special and unique that we set the bar higher and higher for the team. I see it as legitimate. But i also wish to convey something: this is my 15th year as a Barça fan. Like many of us here, i’ve been through a rollercoaster of highs and lows! Well THIS is a good phase, guys. If we can’t enjoy it, then let’s brace ourselves for the bad times. Because they WILL come eventually.

    1. I understand expectation. I also understand being fed ice cream by a supermodel and muttering because the air conditioning in the luxury hotel room is set too low.

      As you say, bad times will come. This is an extraordinary group of players, and I guess like you, I recognize how special they are. But I’m too busy marveling at and appreciating what they can do.

      And congrats on having that much time in the culer brink.

    2. I feel sorry for those of us who are not taking time to appreciate this team. Quite frankly, i have the pre-game jitters only for the Clasicos now..! That’s because the players have surpassed my expectations, personally.

      If i had to rely on what i’ve seen since ’99, then it probably should’ve been our second or third consecutive year without any trophies, either because the team is just not hungry anymore or because of off the field disruptions. But these current players still manage to offer us spectacular games almost every week! Crazy, really.

      True, we’re all entitled to our opinions. But we’ve got to cherish the great moments. Not so long ago, VV had some howlers and was considered not suitable for the greatest team in the world by a majority. Now that he’s going…

      Masch has been doing a terrific job so far for a makeshift defender. With his skills set at the back, most matches he’s gonna be a rock, some he’s gonna cost us. As Kxevin rightly pointed out, he wasn’t helped for both conceded goals. Barça defends and attacks as a unit. If we don’t press opponents – trouble for us.

  39. So here’s my big question. If all top 3 teams play out their remaining games and we go into the Atletico match without the ability to win the league, do we tank on purpose so EE doesn’t lift the cup? 🙂

    1. I’m soooo relieved that I’m not the only one with these morbid thoughtsI Was going over these possible scenarios yesterday. Oof!

    2. Nightmare scenario, for sure. But do we really want atletico to win the league at Camp Nou?

    3. Well if we don’t win the league then EE defintely don’t deserve it. They didn’t win a single big game throughout the whole league season. And if you think about the monumetal effort that Atleti put, to actually challenge the big 2 then yes I’d rather award them with a title at the camp nou than to give it to EE who will just rub it into our faces and it’s not like they need more league titles. We gotta reach them eventually you know 😉

      Tbh what atletico is doing deserves respect. The only reason I don’t want them to win is because I want barca to win.

    4. “Well if we don’t win the league then EE definitely don’t deserve it. They didn’t win a single big game throughout the whole league season.”

      Kind of like us last season, right? I’d say that if it weren’t for luck and biased referees their title aspirations would have been finished after the first ten games or so when they were still getting used to playing together, but we have to admit that the stretch of 31 unbeaten games was remarkable.

      If Barça lose the league it is because we couldn’t win the games in which we played badly.

    5. Levon,

      Last season we did really good in the first league clasico, we outplayed real and almost won the game. It ended up 2-2.

      the second league clasico (which we lost 2-1) was after all the shit storms that came at our club..Messi injured, Tito cancer etc etc..

      we did manage to win vs atletico twice. So I think we were way more desrvant of the league last year than real this year.

      “I’d say that if it weren’t for luck and biased referees their title aspirations would have been finished after the first ten games or so when they were still getting used to playing together”

      ^^ I agree on that one but that’s a normal season for EE right? 😛

      the 31-unbeaten streak is great but it’s nowhere as awesome as our 31 games unbeaten streak in the league only in one of pep’s seasons, which sadly ended in anoeta as usual.

      If we don’t win the league it’s fine by me but I just don’t think EE are real champions this year..

    6. No way do I want to see anyone else celebrate a Liga title on our field.

      Nor do I want to gift it to Real Madrid.

      Nor can I condone tanking a game for any reason. Especially if it’s Puyol’s last in the colors.

      Hence. Nightmare of all nightmares.

  40. Kxevin, you are doing some extraordinary football education here on this blog. Keep going. I guess everyone needs time to learn how to watch this complicated system. Normal football fans don’t really know how to enjoy such teamwork because not too many teams rely on teamwork as much as we do. While in attack, we appreciate teamwork, many still do not know defense rely even more on it. So anyone who think a single player are blamed for any goal conceded should keep learning. We all need to keep learning as we don’t know much.

    Reasons why Mascherano should not be singled out are explained by many already. Need no repeat. Valdes was also partly responsible for a save he got 80% of. Crossing with such ease must be questioned. If you play a Puyol in there, it will have similar effect. Even maybe Pique. Just many other times when Mascherano is not playing, VV bailed the CBs out. We all know it. So, we can’t blame Mascherano for making mistakes. He is remarkable because he bounced back in the second half. Player with less experience will collapse and won’t be able to play. You see Mascherano was still playing normally after 2 massive errors in a match that has the fullest pressure. Dribbling and passing in midfield. Careful with the ball near our box instead of mindless clearance. He is the player who has the most mental toughness besides Messi. This bit is something I notice, not just the errors he committed.

    Oh, the other day I saw some CBs that we wanted to buy played for another club. They are supposed to solve our problems if we got them last Summer. All the a setpiece defense and position and stuff. And they are not even playing as attacking as Barca do. Guess what, they conceded TWO headers. They should not be playing for us if we want a solution once and for all. Or, should you question the existence of a perfect Barcelona CB?

    1. I’m still savouring. The reaction of most of my friends who had written us off but I’m finding it hard to deal with the Masche swings going on. I disagree wholeheartedly with Kxevin’s assessment that he was first pick on form but then we’ve agreed to disagree for the last three seasons on Masche. However, from then on I’m torn. Masche can’t keep playing CB for us – he just can’t. Would it have been right to pitch Bartra in ? Not in my opinion. Just not a game for him. So I’m left with having to go with Masche and the guy gave us his all as usual and to be honest his positioning is getting a little better.

      So I wasn’t gonna jump into this one. But the contention that somehow Puyol or a Pique would have lost those two goals, given all that’s been said about the ease with which the crosses came in, is ludicrous imo. Leave aside Pique as he’s been winning arial duels forever for us and was Ronaldo even playing in the Clasico ? I’m not buying that Puyol wouldn’t have first of all made sure Benzema didn’t get his head to the ball for the first and Puyol would have got to the second. Masche’s fault? Probably not as that implies he had a better option available to him which, given his height, he probably didn’t.

      Anyway, back to the smug satisfaction of us proving that the ball still travels faster than the man 🙂 How tall, physical and fast did they look against us ? Don’t tell me we weren’t all sitting there hoping that our midgets still had it in them to stop this juggernaut. Let’s enjoy it. We can’t keep defying time. In particular, if you have a recording of the game, pour a glass of your favourite wine and take 20 minutes to watch Xavi and Iniesta twisting and turning in that midfield. I have already and I ended up shaking my head in disbelief.

  41. Jesus, some fans. I cannot believe the number of comments on this page that are negative in the aftermath of possibly the most important win of the season. It beggars belief.

    Also not sure why people are arguing over Mascherano. He played because right now he is the best player we have to play at CB and he does a pretty damn good job. He is not perfect and he makes mistakes, just like every other CB out there. Ramos, who is considered one of the best CB’s in the world was all over the place yesterday and got himself sent off. Shit happens when you are playing against quality players. It is like people forget our team were defending against a front 4 of Ronaldo, DiMaria, Bale and Benzema!

    I am also not sure why people keep getting at Kxevin for defending Mascherano because he isn’t even really defending the guy, all he is saying is that there are others who are as culpable, if not more for the goals, which I agree completely with. Mascherano is short, we all know this, his team mates know this, the coach knows this. So you know what, instead of complaining that the guy is short, something that cannot be fixed, it is far better to complain about the FREE cross into the box being allowed, something that CAN be fixed. You ask me that goal was much more Alves/Neymars fault than Mascherano’s. Don’t let players cross into the box, or at least don’t let it be as EASY as it was for DiMaria.

    Anyways, to be honest, right now, i couldn’t care less about all this nonsense. We beat them. We beat them in their own house when everyone, including Barca fans, were saying we were going to get our asses handed to us. Make no mistake, this Real Madrid team are monstrous, but you know what, we are still better. Even with our has been engine and our disinterested superstar player.

  42. Several tidbits that stood out for me:
    Was that a miscontrol or a pass from Neymar for Messi’s first goal? I hear this and that, and on replay it looks like the ball bounces off his foot, but then rolls like a golf ball, at perfect speed into a perfect sliver of open space, to an onrushing Messi… I guess Ney is just that type of player, producing magic even when off form and not intending to.
    Pique is the best defender in the world. Hope he stays that way and gets some help, at long last.
    Without Xavi, we are just another good team out there. Potent attack, solid midfield, shaky defense that nonetheless gets the job done within the system. Compete for all trophies, win some big matches, lose some. Pretty much like Bayern or Real. With Xavi, we are a juggernaut that can outpossess, frustrate, tire out and clinically finish anyone, Bayern and Real included. I’m kinda hoping he’ll do a Pirlo and play for another decade.
    On that note, what makes a player truly great is not his ceiling, but his average. Guys like Cesc, Alexis, Pedro, Alba, Masche, Bartra have all had phenomenal matches for the club. They have also disappeared in some big matches. Xavi, Messi, Iniesta and Busquets virtually never disappear, always step up in big matches, and when healthy, are reliable like a clock. We bought Neymar for that potential, of being consistently great and decisive.
    And on a different note, I was surprised to discover that, out of the whole Madrid’s 11, I only find two players truly distasteful: Cristiano and Pepe. Yuck. The former is a necessary evil in modern football, while the latter will soon give way to Varane. Hopefully, Arbeloa will also disappear behind Carvajal. The rest of them I don’t mind so much. DiveMaria has his moments, but turned into helluva player. Can’t take Teh Ramos of the big mouth too seriously, since he always gets sent off against us and provides comic relief otherwise. Most of them seemed to clean up their act a bit with Mourinho gone. Modric helping Alba to his feet, Bale shaking hands with Pique, Marcelo checking on our Brazilians, and general goodwill all around, unbelievable!

    1. Yeah, I had a similar experience, which was nice considering the bar was full of both parties (a uniquely American [read North and South America] experience). I didn’t even have a problem with Ronaldo, but Pepe is horrid. Do Madrid fans actually like the guy?

    2. I should add that this sentiment had a lot to do with the game itself. Goals all around, and though we are all obviously ecstatic with the win, I would have been proud either way.

    3. Also worth noting, a quick google search: does anybody like pepe? is definitely worth a laugh.

      You can also learn about some of the best pizza in New Haven.

    4. Ronaldo dove twice in the beginning of the match, and for a Balon D’Or winner, he just b*tches and moans way too much. C’mon dude, you’re the biggest, strongest, fastest dude on the pitch, playing against a bunch of five-footers, and you fall over and feel sorry for yourself? Gimme a break.

  43. There’s 2 things I love. Winnings titles. And watching EE fail. Sign me up for own goals if it means Pathetico take la liga and not EE if it comes down to it.

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