Perfection, Barça and notions of stability, aka “Foundations are important”

"What did that Dutch guy say about us?" "Dunno."
“What did that Dutch guy say about us?” “Dunno.”

There is as much danger in being overly pessimistic as there is in getting overly excited, but it’s very safe to say that there isn’t a culer who, even in a most optimistic moment, would have thought that after 5 matches Barça would be perfect: 5 wins and 0 goals conceded.

Last season Barça delivered the best start in the history of the club as a Christmas present, before fizzling to a trophyless conclusion. Whether you want to place the blame on the loss of Valdes, heartache, fatigue physical and psychological or whatever is up to you. Maybe it was all of the above.

Yet it isn’t misguided to suggest that this season feels different, even if the future might yet make this gaudy start a fond memory. Let’s have a few looks at feelings and why they matter:

Quality and discipline

Last season as with this one, a new coach started. But where last season’s coach was saying that “Puyol will be our most important signing,” this year’s new coach had a veritable bumper crop of new signings from which to choose, players who enhanced the team at crucial points. Rakitic, who functions as more of a second DM than the traditional Barça midfielder, has been the biggest difference. His presence means that suddenly Busquets doesn’t have acres of space to cover all by his lonesome as Xavi and Iniesta chug their wee legs to catch up to an opponent attack.

Rakitic is also a more disciplined player, knowing when to move up and when to move back. He stopped a Levante scoring chance in our box, and blasted home a golazo from the edge of theirs. He has covered for Alves, cleaned up Busquets mistakes and recovered possession. And just as importantly, he has added pace to the Barça midfield, which once again allows that group to function as a buffer for the pushed-up back line rather than a turnstile.

Last season, bereft of any covering pace, the FBs had to pinch in to help put out fires in the center of the pitch, which left the flanks open to opponent wingers. The gaps for opponents to exploit were many, and often required Valdes heroics to plug at the death. This season, midfield pace and discipline means that Busquets can return to his role of hybrid midfielder, one with defensive duties who is cognizant of his importance in the team’s attacks. Yet again today, a Busquets turnover became a pass for Messi and a goal threat.

We also see that stability in what has become Enrique’s preferred CB tandem of Mascherano and Mathieu. For those who say “Hell, Mascherano is STILL playing at CB,” I would suggest that he isn’t, that the traditional Barça CB’s role makes him more of a DM than Busquets, adding yet another layer of security with sure tackling and interventions, roaming helped by the pace of Mathieu and the defensive strength of Alba, who is also playing a more disciplined role this season even as Alves flits about on his fanciful bursts, secure in the knowledge that Rakitic and Mascherano have his back.

And yes, there is something of a placebo effect in the head coaching presence. Last year, it was “Tata who? That Argentine nobody? I’m worried!” This year, Enrique was greeted with huzzahs. It’s easier to find an effect that is reassuring and positive in something that you actually want.

Return to the past

Barça is not a defensive football club and never will be, but when the system is working, Barça is also one of the most secure teams, defensively, in the world. It’s because once again, defending is starting with the attackers as Messi, Munir, Pedro and Sandro all press opponents who try to play the ball out from the back, applying pressure at the most crucial part of an attack.

This leaves an opponent with a couple of options: continue trying to play it out and risk an interception, or hoof it long in an attempt to bypass the pressing forwards and mids. But because of the pressed-up defenders and attackers, if you don’t win possession of that hoofed ball (more difficult because the spaces between the lines is more compressed this season), you are on the back foot as a midfielder feeds the ball to Messi, who is right at your doorstep with a running start.

If you try to play it out, a stray ball leaks from that applied pressure and is scooped up by the CBs, who then feed it back into the mixer.

Either way, it means that an opponent’s chances on goal will be minimal, which means defensive security. This was a crucial element of the Treble season, as unsettled opponents turned the ball over, or just hoofed it out to stop attackers from running at them yet again, as fouls and yellow cards piled up. Gaudy possession stats weren’t a desire as much as a byproduct of an effective system. During today’s 0-5 win over Levante, Barça possession percentage was in the low 70s. Some fluke occurrences might transpire, but it will usually be rather difficult to beat an opponent when you don’t have the ball.

Another return to the past is in the return to the pass, judiciously applied. As part of the myth of tika-taka, sprites played rondos hither and yon, deciding to pass the ball into the net when the moment was right. The reality of that system is that triangles facilitated the short passing game. Under Enrique, the passing game is still there but the lines are longer, the mobile rondos exchanged by a man moving into an open space to receive the ball from a slightly longer distance away, even as it is a pass with just as much security as the shorter ones of the past as a consequence of how the team uses space.

The future

It’s no coincidence that this season, Messi has more assists than goals. The Argentina Messi was bound to collide with the Barça Messi at some point. The difference this season is that Messi has players to pass to.

Last season, Messi was the center of the universe. Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Sanchez all fed Messi, and Neymar was still learning what he could do. This season, Messi is still the center of the universe but a more versatile one with real actual forwards to play with. Neymar has been used in that role, as well as Munir and Sandro. All have benefited from Messi passes.

But it’s obvious that this is an incomplete system that is still awaiting its final piece in the arrival of Luis Suarez, who has just over a month to go in his four-month ban. Right now, Sandro and Munir are the beneficiaries of this system that draws attention to Messi, who is more often than not fronted by 3-5 defenders whenever he gets the ball near the box.

In the past, there have been two problems: static attackers and Magic Messi. So an attack would either fizzle when there was nobody to take a pass, or when Messi would try to beat the entire defense to score. Both offer poor percentages, no matter how often you apply them. Sanchez was certainly capable of functioning as a forward, but he was more often than not, stationed on the right wing as Messi had freedom of movement in a cleared-out center.

This year, Messi is a bit more withdrawn, still close to the opponent box but in a way that draws defenders and opens up space for a mobile, hard-working forward. At present, Munir and Sandro are thinking, “Boy, howdy, this scoring goals in La Liga stuff is easy.” Because it is. And it is because the best player in the game right now has taken on a role that will not yield him as many goals, but is every bit as decisive.

It has often been said that Messi just wants to win. Who scores the goals is immaterial. And while this has always been true, if we want to parse truth by degree of veracity, it has never been more true than right now. Neymar slotted home into an empty net, thanks to a Messi pass. Sandro slotted home into an empty net, thanks to a Messi pass.

When Luis Suarez comes on line, it is impossible to say what will happen. Messi might have to return to scoring more, as defenses collapse on Suarez. Neymar might take off like a rocket as the third man in a bizarre situation in which he is the lesser of three evils. But it’s plain to see that the attack is being worked out and groomed for the presence of that last piece.

Results

This season, Barça has yet to play an excellent match, or even a very good one. They have been good, very good at times and kinda clunky at others. The team has faced opponents who are defensive, for anyone foolish enough to think that no major silver last season would make teams more brave. Even as Barça has struggled to score, it has, up to this moment, always found ways to score. Pique bundles it in off a set piece. Neymar gets loose like a jackrabbit behind the defense. And when all else fails, a moment of sublime skill turns the trick.

Last season, far too often it felt like that last option was the only viable one, that if an opponent set up in two banks of 5 as Levante did today, a draw was the inevitable result as the team would somehow cadge a goal, then give one up in a moment of frailty, or a set piece.

Against Elche, the first goal came in the 43rd minute. The goal against Villarreal came in the 82nd minute. Against Athletic Club, it was the 80th minute. APOEL broke the trend as the goal came in the first half-hour. Then against Levante, it was just before the stroke of halftime. The stats are interesting:

Elche 72% possession/0 opponent shots on target/93% passing; Villarreal 72% possession/0 on target/89% passing; Athletic Club 61% possession/2 on target/82% passing; APOEL 71% possession/1 on target/91% passing; Levante 73% possession/2 on target/92% passing

There are lies, damned lies and statistics, but in considering why this year’s team feels more secure, numbers do indeed say something.

Happy Messi

levmessrak

Even as the team is FC Barcelona and not FC Messi, you would be wrong to discount the effect of a happy genius on the team’s overall play. Is it a coincidence that the team’s most desultory performance was against APOEL, the match in which distracted Messi returned? Psychology is an important part of any sport, that belief and contentment that go into the makeup of a top athlete that makes him do his best, and want to do his best.

It isn’t difficult to deduce that the millions and millions spent this summer transfer window on adding quality players to the team invigorated its best player. Yes, the World Cup was also playing on matters Messi last season, but you’d better believe that the inaction of parsimonious weasels had a significant effect on players, as they wondered exactly how committed this board was to producing a winning football team.

In the here and now, for whatever motivations, that commitment is no longer in doubt. That makes the employees, most notably the perpetual Employee of the Month, happy. Happy workers are productive workers.

The house has a foundation

Last year’s house was beautiful, but was built on stilts. This year’s house is also beautiful, but sits on a foundation of concrete, resting on granite pillars. This year’s good start feels different because it is different, even as the season might end in the same way as last season did, and we should be prepared for that. There is certainty even in the face of uncertainty because of structure and discipline. There is a structure that is important and apparent, systems in place that should serve the team well against faster, stronger opponents as well as slower, weaker ones.

In the legal profession, it’s called due diligence. In athletics, it’s simply doing the work. Neymar, once he figured out that his ankle injury wasn’t as bad as he thought, wanted to get back onto the pitch. Players are coming in on days off to work out, and rushing back from international duty early. It’s the work and quality born of competition that makes the team better.

Last season, Pique was the starter by default. It was him, Mascherano and Bartra. Who YOU gonna pick? This season, Mathieu would appear to be Enrique’s choice, and you can see why. Mascherano is a player who, like Martino, Vilanova and Guardiola before, Enrique wants to have on the pitch. And Thomas Vermaelen is about to come on line, as well. If you want that spot, take it. Earn it. Make it impossible for me not to play you, is the gauntlet that Enrique is throwing down this season. There might be preferred starters, but there aren’t any automatic ones.

That, so far, is the biggest difference this season: the players have to put out. Not that they didn’t work their tails off last season in the face of soul-crushing adversity, but there is nothing like worry over losing your place to make you raise that personal bar. And there is no better foundation than happy, hungry players trying to outwork each other to curry the coach’s favor. So Messi kicks at a defender’s ankles as he tries to bring the ball out, Rakitic slides into an upright or Neymar earns a yellow for an opponent after stealing the ball then leading the break.

I like it, and you should too even as you should also be cautiously optimistic. There’s a long way to go yet.

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Written by:

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

162 Comments

  1. Nav
    September 21, 2014

    Pretty much sums up how I feel about us so far (albeit in a far more eloquent manner). Also, three points are three points whether we get them against a 10 man Levante or Real Madrid away. I know this has been said multiple times but a lot of people still don’t appreciate a solid start. Three more points last season and the Liga would be ours.

    Rakitic IMO will be the buy of the season. He’s hard working, technically gifted, and plays for the team. He doesn’t fit the typical barca midfielder profile and I think we’re better for it.

    I’m obviously not as well versed on footy tactics as some of you are but I think we played really well against Bilbao (great, even). It’s just the final pass that was lacking. We created lots of opportunities, didn’t allow Bilbao (m)any, and generally controlled a game which we’ve traditionally had difficulties with. Not to mention only one shot on target. ONE SHOT!

    I really want to see how we fare against AM this season given how difficult they were for us last season; but with their dip in form I fear that won’t really happen anymore.

  2. bhed
    September 21, 2014

    Hectored! I knew it. Oh well, I think it’s worth reposting. If the powers that be disagree, feel free to delete my reposting.

    While it is right and proper to celebrate the mauling of a 10-man team at the bottom of the table, I’m going to be that guy who pees in the self-congratulatory Jacuzzi.

    People, our right back situation is dire. Dani is so far past his sell-by date, if he were cheese, he’d be covered in green fuzz. He hasn’t defended effectively since spring of 2010, and he’s completed more passes to opposing players than he has to our guys. He hasn’t been a scoring threat, or a foil for killer combinations with Messi since I don’t know when. I used to love the guy, I still like him as a person/character, but it’s time to face facts. If you think I’m being overly harsh, please explain why Brazil benched him halfway through the World Cup in favor of a geriatric Maicon, and it was an immediate and noticeable improvement.

    His back-up, Montoya, while a very nice boy who helps old ladies cross the street, unfortunately plays like those old ladies. He’s regularly beaten on defense by guys who are not particularly fast or skillful. He couldn’t dribble past a bunch of orange cones, and when he does get near the opponents goal/touch line, apparently he’s under orders to count to ten before attempting to make an assist. Sorry, but there’s no way he’s good enough to be in the first team at this level.

    Then there’s Douglas. I’ve heard that name before. I think it’s the name of Luis Enrique’s niece’s cat, or maybe the name of a cocktail. I’m not sure which, but if he had a shot at challenging for a spot, I figure we’d have seen him for at least a few minutes by now.

    So what should we do about this? Well, if we are somehow allowed to deal this winter, we need to throw serious money at someone who might have a chance of being a decent right back – preferably somebody defensively minded and tall who can cover when Alba bombs up the left.

    Barring that, if we’re stuck with our present personnel, I have a crazy idea. Adriano as our starting right back with Alves as the backup. The incentive of a lucrative contract with another team might goad Dani into playing better when Adriano inevitably gets hurt. Montoya can then be a backup for Alba, whom we’ll lock in a lucite case in between games. Douglas can be in charge of watching the lucite case. It’s so crazy it might just work.

    What say you Cules?

    • Momo
      September 21, 2014

      Agree on Dani, he’s been dire.

      Disagree on Montoya however. Not much of an attacking threat, but defensively I think he’s been fine. No where near as bad as you describe. Plus when he and alba are playing alba gets alot more freedom.

      Don’t know anything about douglas though.

    • BA
      September 22, 2014

      far from having a “defense made of concrete”, i’m still noticing real gaps there; particularly in transition. our midfield, led by Rakitic and with Busquets’ brilliant form of late, has been covering alot of those gaps but it can’t happen forever. i’ll reiterate my love for Dani Alves and think his fiery personality is much needed in a revitalized team; but you’re right that hasn’t been the player he was a few years ago for some time now. Montoya is solid (if unspectacular) against mid-to-low-table opposition but who would trust him in Champions League knockout, or against the Madrid teams?

      likewise i think the pairing of Mathieu and Mascherano, while playing reasonably well thus far, has some serious deficiencies that better teams can exploit. perhaps if Vermaelen can recover his form from a few years ago? (still confused by that purchase) ? he can challenge for one of those spots. hopefully Masch’s, because as much as i like him as a player, he remains very much NOT a center-back. an oval block for a round hole, so to speak.

    • September 22, 2014

      Not defense. Team foundation. Nothing is ever perfect. Every team has gaps that can be exploited. That’s life in an imperfect world. As with last year’s jackrabbit start, people said “Ignore the gaudy record, because this team is doomed.”

      It’s easy to find reasons to be gloomy. But it’s also easy to look at the way this team plays, and understand that even as Enrique’s system is still being worked out, there are differences. Rakitic didn’t lose that ball yesterday and shrug, as players did last year. He lost the ball, tracked the play and followed the attacker, making his last-ditch clearance in fact rather logical.

      THAT is the difference. Or one of the differences. Mathieu screws up and Alba bails him out. Alba screws up and Mathieu bails him out. Mascherano errs and Bravo charges the ball. A team doesn’t need perfection. It needs redundant systems that account for failure.

      So when I discuss a foundation, that is what I reference.

    • BA
      September 22, 2014

      last year, my predictions were correct.

      there’s a huge difference between this year and last year; predominantly in the midfield, where Rakitic and Busquets have been providing alot of that “foundation” you’re talking about; both have covered so much ground so intelligently that, in my opinion, they have papered over the issues with our still-wobbly defense.

      Mathieu has played well overall, but is still settling into the system and making the odd defensive error (were he Gerard Pique i’m sure we’d be all over this). that’s understandable given his time in the team, but in order to account for that he needs a real partner in the center of defense. that partner, again, isn’t Javier Mascherano. as you say, redundant systems. the problem remains that Mascherano, brilliant player though he is, is not a center-back and has a tendency to rush forward (as he did in this game which earned him a booking) impetuously to close down space; as any good defensive midfielder would do. hopefully the inclusion of Vermaelen and some tweaks to Dani Alves’ positioning can accommodate the fact that half our back line has virtually no experience playing together, and that none of our back line are orthodox defenders (Dani and Alba: attacking wing-backs, Mascherano converted DM playing CB, Mathieu converted LB playing CB).

      the defending, therefore, has to be done across the team; which in my opinion is being disproportionally done by Rakitic and Busquets, which distorts the picture of how our back line is playing when put in the position of having to defend as an orthodox back line; and which is the position it will increasingly find itself in within Lucho’s more “stretched” system.

      do you see my point?

    • BA
      September 22, 2014

      and incidentally, i don’t consider that a “gloomy” prognosis; i go into every season with a varying level of cautious optimism no matter how good we look. this is just how i see the team is playing with no emotional value attached.

    • September 22, 2014

      I do get what you’re saying. And recall that I said last season that the team wouldn’t win silver. Said the same this season, but I expect it to be more entertaining as it happens.

      But I think that Mascherano isn’t a CB. He’s a Barça CB, which means that he’s functionally a DM. Mathieu, with those same attributes in a bigger package, is working out the same way. Vermaelen also charges forward, as do Pique and Bartra. I think that’s what the team looks for in a CB, that DM-like tendency.

      Yes, that trait will catch Barça CBs out from time to time. That’s where you need to have that FB or midfielder ready to catch their backs if necessary. I also think that Ter Stegen, who tends to play keeper with an outfield player’s mindset, will also help in that regard.

      I just think that applying traditional defensive orthodoxy to the Barça system will never satisfy. It’s hard for me to watch CBs who play as if they are magnetized to their own box, but I have gotten too used to our way of play.

      Properly played, Barça defense happens in the midfield, with the CBs as backstops. So yeah, Busquets and Rakitic are going to be doing a fair share of the work.

  3. September 21, 2014

    Hear hear for the optimism! Nobody is perfect, but that was a great game to watch. Four goals and one goalazo, another clean sheet, and some great combination up front. Mascherano was easily the best defender and his pass to neymar was really special.

    • September 21, 2014

      That pass to Neymar made me laugh, mostly because that’s all you can do in the face of absurdity, but also I remember all the “Mascherano can’t pass” stuff that greeted his arrival.

      I really liked the match today, even as the team didn’t play particularly well.

    • Jim
      September 22, 2014

      I went back to have a look at this because I couldn’t remember it. Bottom line is that it was a decent pass but no more. That’s not taking anything away from Masche who had a good game but if you hit a high lobbed ball from the halfway line into the opposition’s box there’s no way your forward should have an unchallenged header. Although there are a lot of encouraging signs about LE’s approach this season and the way the team are responding having now re watched the whole match I have to say Levante were shocking and look like relegation fodder even at this early stage. If that’s the most fight you can muster at home you’re doomed.

    • September 22, 2014

      Oh, Jim, give Mascherano a little credit. That was a fair bit more than a decent pass.

      Levante came out to get the point they started with, the better team didn’t let that happen. I like that.

    • Jim
      September 22, 2014

      Oh no, I’m quite clear we did well to put them to the sword and as I said there are a lot of encouraging signs. I also thought Masche did everything he had to do, apart possibly from the needless yellow, well. He was the better of the two CBs by some way.

      I just cant drool over a slow long ball ( count how long it was in the air ) which lands at the penalty spot and should have been meat and drink to both CB and keeper. I mean the keeper should be on his six yard line when the pass is played – he only has to take four paces and jump ! I’m not slagging Masche for trying it – it’s worth a go – but it shows how poor Levante were that it worked.

    • bhed
      September 21, 2014

      Very true on the pass to Neymar. That was a beauty.

    • barca96
      September 22, 2014

      Only one golazo? Which is your golazo? Rocketic or Messi? Mine is both but I’m leaning more towards the latter. I have a soft spot for chips.

  4. bhed
    September 21, 2014

    Oh, I wanted to add that I agree with Kxevin on most of the positive signs, except that Masch, while I’m absolutely glad he’s playing, is not really acting as a DM. In fact, he’s playing as the deeper CB. Also, Levante, at least today, could hardly be considered a test of his skills at CB.

    Still, overall excellent analysis of where we are so far.

  5. September 21, 2014

    A kinda bummer thing today was this notion flitting about social media that Neymar was faking it somehow with his ankle injury, and making a lot over nothing. If you watch the play, the Levante player lands on Neymar’s ankle (the same one that has been injured before) and rolls it over, so to speak. I rather imagine dude was freaked out.

    The team doctor checked things out and made the call for the sub, as a precaution. Turns out Neymar’s ankle has a minor sprain, and he is a doubt for the midweek match against Malaga.

    I just don’t know of another player on our team who wouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt in a similar situation. When a Levante player elbowed Neymar in the back as well, all I could think was, “Man, pretty much the same spot he got hammered by Zuniga.” Probably others were thinking, “Nothing in that, why is he always acting?”

  6. PrinceYuvi
    September 21, 2014

    Thanks for the article, kx.
    You missed one point though.
    Losing ball in the final third is no longer a taboo & thank goodness for that.

    • September 22, 2014

      Agreed, and that giving away a corner does not result in me leaning as far out of my car as possible with one eye closed and the other attempting to look at something else.

    • PrinceYuvi
      September 22, 2014

      Ha. That car routine seems quite dangerous though.
      True story. I can watch a barça match without clawing my eyes out now.

      A loose ball – drawing opponents out – interception – pass to messi/iniesta – a chance !
      I like that routine.

      I think, There was an instance where Dani & Messi double-marked a ball bearer
      & trapped him against the sideline.
      Nowhere to go, That was so Atleti.

  7. barca96
    September 22, 2014

    Pheeuw. It’s been 11 days. Finally. Thanks for taking the time. Looks like you’re the lone ranger nowadays.

    • September 22, 2014

      Yep. Hoping that changes. No blog should have only one voice, editorially.

    • stefan2k
      September 23, 2014

      Thank you for keeping this place going with the quality we got used to. Enjoying your articles and comments!

  8. September 22, 2014

    I cant wait until Suarez joins Messi and Neymar.
    Of all the passes Messi made, his one to Alba was incredible (which he shot slightly wide). Nobody can pick a pass as fast as Messi, not even Maradona.
    Neymar’s first touch on receiving those put me in pass is not excellent, but he has lot of talents to, still, convert them. (he did this also in the last league match, which was very similar in its weight on the ball to the one Villa scored, with his first touch, against RM in the Manita match)
    And finally, we have Rakitic. Excellent.

  9. September 22, 2014

    The thing about Neymar is that he changes the speed of the match. He has done it in sub appearances, and did it yesterday as a starter. This pace change means more chances, and more fouls/yellows for the opponent.

    We haven’t had a player like him since Ronaldinho, and it is a welcome addition. The perfect illustration, aside from the first goal, is the play where he tracked back, stole the ball and broke up the sideline. The only option that player had was to grab and hope. The yellow means that the way that defender can play is changed for the rest of the match. And that guy is thinking, “I have to face Neymar while carrying a yellow.”

    And greatly underestimated is the effect of his deceleration. He can stop from a high pace and change direction like few other players. He really is an anomaly.

    The first goal is another example. The sheer speed in which that play had to develop left about zero margin for error. The pass had to be hit hard, and the attacker had to control it fast to get the shot. Even then, their keeper was brilliant in almost stopping the play. Neymar’s first touch was a bit off but on the dead run he got the ball in check, rounded the keeper and bang.

    He really is an extraordinary player, who must be welcoming the arrival of Suarez as much as anyone. Right now, teams are fouling him, repeatedly and systematically. Suarez should relieve some of that pressure.

    • September 22, 2014

      Also worth noting that in Neymar, we also have a player who can play as fast as Messi, which is huge. Messi’s speed of thought and action are extraordinary, even as his systemic training in the Masia way means that he doesn’t accelerate a match in the same way that Neymar does.

      But a huge part of why Neymar and Messi work so well together is that the game happens at a different speed for them. Hope Suarez can keep up.

    • phunky
      September 22, 2014

      Just watching how Neymar is playing off Messi- this WILL be Neymar’s 30 goal season.

      IMO, more than Messi having a 50 goal season if Neymar has a 30 goal season- we are going to have a Guardiola-esque first season with Lucho.

  10. IamXavi6
    September 22, 2014

    A fine post. Agree with all you said. Its a long season; but Enrique has the team disciplined and ruling with an iron fist. best thing is he has realistic cover for poor form and is putting everyone on notice.The team has hunger and intensity back. Lucho is in the house and boy cant you tell.

  11. pslio
    September 22, 2014

    Eh? No mentioning of Mascherano’s through ball? Had Neymar converted it would’ve been a Messi-esque assist! It’s almost like he’s taking upon himself to create a new position called A(ttacking)CB.

    My favourite is still Rakitic’s save. That combination of intelligence, speed, and bravery, wins him MOTM in my mind. Although most polls seem to favour Messi, who seems to be on a quest to a different kind of record breaking: the shortest start, the quickest to earn a red card, and the most ludicrous penalty miss. A very entertaining game indeed.

    • Peter
      September 22, 2014

      the (A)CB was invented in the late 80s, the invention belongs to His Tintiness Ronald Koeman.

      Raketic(Rocketic for English speakers) continues to amaze me. It’s amazing how Barcelona found a creative/attacking pivote with a nose for goal, it’s amazing how hard-working he is. It’s amazing he cost 18 million Euro and at the same time as a part of the deal Denis Suarez got to play and learn at Sevilla (where he is starting to get awesome reviews).

    • barca96
      September 22, 2014

      I just just found it after reading some great articles like Jorge Mendes and Micah Richards. And also another vote of no confidence to Qatar from a FIFA member. Sometimes when I want to cheer myself up, I’ll read Guardian’s MBM and Dirty Tackle. Guaranteed funny.

    • bhed
      September 22, 2014

      That was wonderful, thanks for the link! Loved the sly, snarky humor. How often do they do that for Barca games? Other games?

    • PrinceYuvi
      September 22, 2014

      Guardian used to cover most barça matches until the end of Tito’s regime.

      After the 7-0, they kinda lost interest in us & started following Bundesliga matches.

      This season, it’s all back to norm.

  12. Peter
    September 22, 2014

    It strikes me how Barcelona is one really strange team:

    The keeper has to be good with his feet and act as the last defender.
    The CBs do what pivotes(DM) do in normal teams
    The Fullbacks are expected to provide the needed attacking width.
    The DM is the main ball carrier, and is also the third CB
    The main hitter drops back to get the ball
    The wide strikers prefer to drift towards the center.

    One CB is a converted fullback was a converted winger.
    Another CB is a ball-carrying defender who loves to get forward and play as CF
    Another CB is a Pivote(DM)
    The starting LB is a converted winger
    The starting RB used to play as a wide midfielder for his national team
    One of the starting Right CM is a converted attacking midfielder who gets to play a lot as Pivote.
    The left winger can shoot with his left foot, but only in emergencies, and shoots badly.
    The CF is 1.69 m tall(Think Tom Cruise in real life)
    That same CF is a converted winger was a converted Enganche.
    The striker team has an average height of 1.73m – and that is with the new tall guys included.
    The right winger has dropped hints he won’t have a problem playing as fullback if the coach requires it.
    The coach is an adopted from the mortal enemy, who consequently turned mortal enemy of the mortal enemy.

    At this point I wonder whether someone at the club hasn’t looked over the rules of the game and hasn’t ordered a few dozen outfield jerseys with each keeper’s name on them… just in case.

    • September 22, 2014

      Did you notice that yesterday, our CBs were Alba and Mascherano, almost certainly the shortest CB combo in any football league outside of Juvenil A.

      Your very good observations are also why I keep suggesting that to apply normal positional demands to a Barça CB isn’t entirely accurate. Our CBs are DMs in function and positioning most of the time. It’s easy to get “regular” defenders, and line them up, but at what cost to the team’s overall play? What other team has its CB leading a break, or feeding a pass for a forward to run onto from somewhere up past midfield?

      When Alba got gimpy, Mathieu switched to left back and pretty much played like Alba, attacking, taking shots and creating in offense.

      Very perceptive comment.

    • Peter
      September 22, 2014

      Yeah, even though the stream I had was so low quality I often had to guess who the player was by his behavior. Messi is instantly recognizable, as was Dani Alves due to his black boots 😀

      Alba said after the game that it was just blisters, but when he and Mathieu changed positions and the quality didn’t seem to drop significantly, I was quite a bit relieved to tell the truth. Still, it was probably a good thing that it happened in the last stages of the game when poor Levante players were not thinking about saving the game as much as not getting plastered any more.

      Even so, let’s not give Luis Enrique ideas. 😀
      Imagining Alba and Mascherano as the CB pair is not for the faint of heart.

  13. Jafri
    September 22, 2014

    I haven’t had a chance to watch most of the games this season. How is Rafinha progressing? And what news of our loanees, Deulofeu and Denis Suarez?

    • September 22, 2014

      Rafinha is knocked right now. Deulofeu can’t get regular time at Sevilla, which probably says something about how he is progressing, just as Unai Emery said that he has to progress as a team player and defender before he gets regular time at Sevilla … which, it should be noted, is what many of us have been saying all along.

      Suarez is being calmly exceptional at Sevilla, an automatic starter who runs their midfield as he did at Barça B. The two-year loan for him is perfect, as it gives him a first year to show off and solidify, and a second year to make sure that first wasn’t a fluke. But as it goes right now, he’s an exceptional player who isn’t making anyone forget Rakitic yet. If he keeps progressing, at the end of the loan period, he will be more than ready to move in to our XI.

    • Jafri
      September 22, 2014

      Thanks for the detailed breakdown. Interesting that our B-teamer is getting more playtime than our first team player in the same team.

  14. mr.undercover
    September 22, 2014

    It was great match, a lot of improvement have bn noticed specialy the balance which our midfield offers! For the 1st time in couple of years am no more affraid from any breaks by oppositions! As kevin mentioned above its all about the system been applied to work perfectly! Oh rakitic was just WOW! Need such distance rockets along the season!, by the way am certainly confused on which type of formation we used when in posession, its seems more like a 2-5-1-2ish or somthing like 3-2-3-2ish am not good in tactical breakdowns like many guys here! Someone should illuminate me please. Thanks

    • KEVINO17
      September 22, 2014

      Can you imagine Xavi getting back and making the goal-line block that Rakitic made?

  15. September 22, 2014

    The only errors I really saw yesterday were mistakes with the ball, generally in how hard it was being hit to other players, and i think the pitch/weather effected this. That’s all. This was mostly present on defense with Mathieu, but also Rakitic. However, nothing came of it. One might say that Real Madrid would have capitalized, but we’ll cross that bridge in a few weeks.

    I can’t really see a reason based on the past few game for LE not to play Mascherano at CB. He’s been playing pretty damn well over there.

    @Jim: I just watched that pass again, and I have to say, it looks pretty good to me. I also mentioned it, as Kxevin noted, because Javier gets a lot of criticism for his lack of passing, which I think it ridiculous.

    @Peter: love that breakdown. I also think this is way Javier is still playing CB.

    Anyway, someone mentioned this somewhere on the internet, but the fact that the team looks a bit rusty is good. Last year we peaked far too earlier.

    Rakitic and Neymar doubtful for midweek. My only concern here is that Messi will probably play a full 90. I hope he gets some rest this weekend because its PSG next week.

    Also, if Levon is lurking anywhere, the Messi at #10 was what you and I were calling for this summer during the great Suarez debate, and my my, it looks very promising.

    • Jim
      September 22, 2014

      I answered Kxevin above about the pass but I reiterate I’m not having a go at Masche for trying it. It came close to working and he had a decent game. It’s all just opinions anyway 🙂

  16. KEVINO17
    September 22, 2014

    Can someone tell me what Dani contributed to the team, apart from losing the ball regularly and pumping crosses to nowhere. The action really seems to have shifted to the left. But still…

  17. Jamal103
    September 22, 2014

    Even though Dani’s crosses do not lead to direct chances, the scramble Levante’s defence to head the ball away creates goalscoring opportunities. If you look at the buildup for Rakitic’s goal, this is clear. The danger originates from Dani’s misplaced cross.

    Contrast this with Montoya’s crosses that barely get past the byline, not to speak of the 6 yard box.

    • Jamal103
      September 22, 2014

      @KEVINO17

    • Gekko64
      September 23, 2014

      Thank you. I am so fed up with the Dani hate on this blog, it’s ridicolous.

    • September 23, 2014

      I wouldn’t say “this blog,” which implies that there is a party line as stated by the BFB writer(s). There isn’t. There are certain commenters who aren’t fans of Alves, just as there are certain commenters who aren’t fans of Pique, Mascherano, etc, etc.

      Blanket statements are best avoided. Thanks.

  18. September 22, 2014

    I know it’s only four games in, but I’m looking at the table after Valencia’s win and it is quite refreshing.

    Perhaps last season gave a little positive reinforcement for those facing the duopoly. Imagine some better TV revenue distribution.

    Anyway, I love the more competitive Liga, and it’s really because of good scouting and great youth development.

  19. Jamal103
    September 23, 2014

    I understand that it’s commonplace to congratulate Messi for a beautiful assist but the team should show more love to Sandro when he scores. It was honestly embarrassing to see him celebrate alone….Pedro would not have taken that chance.

    If anything, they should have all went in to hug Busquests for that marvelous second assist.

    • barca96
      September 23, 2014

      Yeah it was cringing to see him getting embarrassed like that. I’m not a fan at all of players celebrating and running to the corner waiting for other players to join when all he had to do was tap it in. If it was a solo run or a great shot then I wouldn’t mind.

      I was joking with my brother that it was a Tello moment. I wonder if he’s at peace now without dictator Messi shouting at him 😆

    • Gekko64
      September 23, 2014

      Well, to be honest it’s only his second goal with the “big boys” so his happiness is well justified 🙂

    • G6O
      September 23, 2014

      My view on this is exactly the opposite – ideally, most of the goals we score should require very little effort on the part of the player who puts the ball in the net, as he will have been set up so well that all he will have to do is a simple tap-in. Those are the goals we score when we really outplay the defense and that is obviously a very good thing because if we don’t score those, we will have to rely on miracle from Messi and Neymar, and that’s not a good strategy for winning trophies(as we saw last year). But in such cases the player most responsible for the goal is usually the one who gave the final pass (and sometimes even the pass before that) thus running towards the sideline with your hands raised as if you just dribble past the whole defense and scored has always seem an overtly selfish thing to me – the right thing is to run towards the person who gave the assist and celebrate with him. And this is what Barca players have traditionally done.

      If you dribbled through the whole defense and scored, by all means celebrate wildly in whatever way you want. But if it was laid to you on a platter, you should not do that.

      Both Neymar and Sandro started running towards the sideline, then they realized they had to acknowledge the assist, and turned around. Which was the right thing to do.

  20. September 23, 2014

    Suarez will be playing with Barça B in a friendly against Indonesia U-19s tomorrow. Why, I have no idea.

    — Enrique was asked about Bartra, and his answer was essentially, there are 18 players per squad and 11 can start. Bartra will play when he’s good enough.

    • Peter
      September 23, 2014

      I don’t understand the “why” here. 🙂 Why as in why are Indonesia U19 playing Barcelona B? Maybe the Indonesians are at Ciutat Desportiva to use the premises?

      Of course, Luis Suarez needs playing time against real opposition, even if it’s not the level of first teams. Training can be as hard as possible, but it’s still training.

    • HisR0yalFlyness
      September 23, 2014

      Agreed. Training can only do so much. LE is making a concerted effort to make sure Suarez can hit the ground running when he’s available. Bring on the friendlies. Match fitness is the goal so it can’t hurt.

    • September 23, 2014

      But it’s U-19s. I have to think Suarez would get a better workout in training with the first team. Plus, think of the babies!

    • Peter
      September 23, 2014

      Sure, but:

      1. Training sessions are 45 minutes. A friendly is two times longer.
      2. Training sessions, as intensive as they can be, are still intended to condition the player and prepare him for the game, but they aren’t the game itself. To put it in other words, Barcelona’s training sessions do not feature full-on challenges and tackles. You play with your team-mates, not really against them.
      3. Training sessions are played on a small scale mostly, a mini-pitch with fewer players. Besides, in training they train certain aspects and rehearse new things, schemes and combinations.
      4. Under 19 they may be, but their stamina very good indeed. Suarez would probably get soaked trying to keep up. Pride is at stake.

      I have to use my own experience as an example, but just learning for the exam is not enough. You have to practice solving problems and if possible, sit a few practice tests – and if possible, sit a real one.

      Just to remind you, when Suarez started training with the team he was about 2 months without putting on football boots – and apparently they hurt him the first few times around.

  21. PrinceYuvi
    September 23, 2014

    So, the team is shaping up nicely !
    What should we do to make it more lethal ?

  22. September 23, 2014

    Rakitic and Neymar trained as normal, Enrique says they will be fine for Malaga, if needed. Vermaelen and Douglas also trained as normal, but the former still has not gotten the green light.

  23. ooga aga
    September 23, 2014

    if matt damon and matt dillon had a baby it would look like sandro ramirez.

  24. Peter
    September 23, 2014

    Watching EE vs Elche, Elche are playing as if their roles are reversed. Ronaldo and Bale constantly left unmarked or marked loosely. Is this the same Elche from the Camp Nou, when their CFs were trying to press Busquets and waiting to pounce on a high ball, while everybody else formed a citadel around the box?

  25. ciaran
    September 23, 2014

    You don’t have to like Ronaldo but you have to respect him. Penalties, tap ins or whatever the man is a machine. Another 4 goals tonight make it 9 goals in 4 La Liga matches. Impressive.

    • Peter
      September 23, 2014

      For me it’s official:

      La Liga teams have two modes of play: ordinary, and anti-Barcelona.

      Elche were leaving so much space and marking so loosely it’s just hilarious.

    • Valdemar II
      September 23, 2014

      Yeah, a lot of people keep overlooking this ‘elephant in the room’, one of the most important factors in football: space. For a team like ours it makes the difference between 8-0 and 2-0, and individuals are often rated without taking it into account. A recent example would be Hames Rodriguez in the world cup; supposedly the tournament’s best player, but against Brazil he received the Messi treatment and disappeared.

      By the way penalties should not count as goals in the individual statistics; one would be impressed to read that a Lampard scored 14 goals in a season, but if 10 of those were penalties…

    • Nav
      September 23, 2014

      A goal’s a goal man.

    • Valdemar II
      September 24, 2014

      As far as the individual statistics go, penalties just serve to dilute; see my example of Lampard playing for Chelsea. A better statistical point would be % of penalties scored, where 90% is better than 80%, obviously. The ease of scoring penalties is also related; an amateur could score a penalty on Neuer, etc.

    • kosby
      September 23, 2014

      Also I didnt watch the match but I don’t think EE lets the opposition team settle down when the opposition loses possession..usually there is a maximum 5 – 8 secs before EE go for an attempt on goal.

      However EE;s defense this season looks vulnerable compared to last few seasons. Time did not creep on just Xavi. I would definitely put my money on a faster transitioning team like Dortmund to put a few past them.

    • Jamal103
      September 23, 2014

      Both penalties were wrongly awarded. Ronaldo and Marcelo both dived.

    • Peter
      September 23, 2014

      Real played a 4-4-2 with James on the right and Isco on the left as the creative mids, two pivotes Kroos and Illaramendi(yes, he finally started a game) and Bale and Ronaldo as the strikers.

      It seems that opposing teams don’t rate Real’s creative players that high. If you know the reason, please enlighten me, because I saw too many times a single loose marker on both Isco and James, which let them cross to unmarked Ronaldo/Bale. On the other side you get Montoya, Alba and Dani Alves, who normally get double-teamed every time they get close to the box.

      Anyway, must stop looking at the other teams, and instead we should look at how Barcelona is doing. But I still don’t really understand parking the bus against Barcelona and trying to win with open play and creativity vs Real… At Santiago Bernabeu of all places. Did those guys sleep through the Real Sociedad and Atletico games?

      Anyway, away at the Rose Garden tomorrow. Luis Enrique is going to hand out the call-up before departure at noon.

    • Sangoku
      September 23, 2014

      Read an interesting translation of an interview of Laureano Ruiz (apparently one of the pioneers of the Barça philosophy) over at totalbarça which was posted a while ago. Essentially he says that we dominate matches too much. Even if opponents want to play openly, they can’t.

      Now against Real, although I haven’t watched them yet, I assume those teams have a little bit more freedom. Plus Real have their fair share of long range shooters who draw defenders out of position.

      Here’s the link:
      http://www.totalbarca.com/2014/history/ruiz-i-invented-the-barca-method

    • September 23, 2014

      I’ve thought something like that as well Sangoku, especially in watching some of the more vertical matches this season (vs. Elche/Villarreal come to mind). There seem to be a lot more attempts at the long pass/or through ball this year which is opening things up a bit. Obviously there are more variable, e.g., Neymar’s movements, Messi becoming 50/50 provider/scorer, Rakatic, &c. Anyway, in general there have been more chances this year.

      The game vs. Apeol however, & for various reasons all of which I am not necessarily criticizing, we had more control and less chances.

    • ciaran
      September 23, 2014

      Apparently my whole point was lost.
      The closest anyone else got to admitting his abilities was nav saying a goal’s a goal.

    • Peter
      September 23, 2014

      No, the point wasn’t lost. Ronaldo is an impressive player, incredibly dangerous, which is why he shouldn’t be allowed the space he normally is, nor should he be marked that loosely.

      The only reason we depreciate him is due to the fact that if Messi and Barcelona were allowed that much space it would normally be a debacle. But that’s only in comparison to Messi. On his own Ronaldo is a beast. One that falls down at the slightest breeze, provided he’s inside the box. But a beast nonetheless, just ask Godin and Miranda, two not too shabby lads themselves.

    • BA
      September 23, 2014

      it’s always hard for other people to give Ronaldo credit when he gives it to himself so much.

      an outstanding player, to be sure, but i think he’s an outstanding orthodox player; Messi, to whom he will always be compared when they’re playing at the same time, is simply something else. i’m not quite sure WHAT Messi is yet, but he has skillsets and a mentality that Ronaldo could only dream of having. it’s also tough to praise him for his feats when all of them have been surpassed by Messi. for instance…

      as a goalscorer Ronaldo is incredible; a machine, a phenomenon when you look at his goals tally since moving to Real Madrid: 264 goals now in 254 games is stunning. those were numbers that weren’t supposed to be able to exist anymore. however, Leo Messi, during the same time period, has scored 277. Messi has also established the records for La Liga goals in a season (50) and a calender year (91) during the time of Ronaldo’s greatest goalscoring achievements.

      Clyde Drexler was a great basketball player. people will remember him as long as people talk about the sport. but he played in the era of Michael Jordan so his feats on the court will always pale in comparison.

  26. kosby
    September 23, 2014

    Great article Kxevin, thanks for leading a lone battle ! Somehow we are still vulnerable to the long ball fast counter attack, the one where Rakitic saved us. Im guessing Mathieu with his pace is better equipped to deal with such balls than Pique. He probably just needs some more time to settle down properly. It was awesome to see Busquets going forward without having to worry about defense since Rakitic is there cover – probably the most important signing for us this season. I also thought Alves lost the ball quite a lot yesterday, maybe it was an off day for him…but these kind of days are starting to appear more frequently these days.

  27. Tata2
    September 23, 2014

    It infuriated me that last weak, apoel were still parking the bus with the likes of Samper and Sergio in midfield and most of the second string players in the bench. To other teams, it doesn’t matter who is playing in the barca line up, be it barca B or Juvenile A in the players in the first team starting line ip, they just park the bus any way. I watched the 2-8 mauling of depor and saw how much space they gave to EE. I bet you that barca score lines will be hitting double digits if other teams play us like they do against EE. You see how things look like for them once they meet a good bus parking team who don’t let Rinaldo breathe. One other thing, no discredit to Cr7 but he won’t be scoring so much if he got the mess treatment. The team plays for him, every cross, pass is directed towards him while Messi has to create something with 6 players marking him (yea I have a pic were 6 Villarreal players were on him).

  28. Peter
    September 23, 2014

    I was just looking for today’s training session, and here’s something you may want to check out in about fifteen hours:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibEsE54e4IU

    Apparently people want to see Suarez play, be it against the U19 Indonesia team… So Barcelona obliged. 😀

  29. Tata2
    September 23, 2014

    *sorry many typos, blame it on the android phone

  30. Peter
    September 23, 2014

    Sangoku, this is a reply to you, because it became just too long.

    I did read that article about Ruiz, and for me it’s absolutely true.

    Tata implemented some of those aspects, especially in big games – the enticing of the opponent to come forward for example, used in both Clasicos.

    Luis Enrique seems to be implementing some of those as well, he said today in his presser that Rakitic’s goal wasn’t a fluke, but the fruit of a resource that teams should use, players coming in from the second line to shoot from a longer distance.

    Actually there are two or three ways to play against Barcelona, depending on the way to count them but all require intense concentration:

    1. Parking the bus is pure defensive football, which allows deep superficial penetration, but closes the approaches to the box and depends on constant multiple marking of the ball carrier in dangerous zones and shutting down his forward passing lanes. The result is insane possession and also absolute lack of creative possession. The first and only goal of the parked bus is not conceding, because that means a point is won. Once that goal is achieved, the second goal is scoring in the most resource-conserving terms possible, i.e. set piece goals and counters. Not achieving that goal is not a failure, because the first goal has been achieved.

    2. I’d like to call that “counter-pressing”. This is the BVB type, but it can be used only with younger players and with very fit players. In Pep’s terms, it’s the 6-second rule played for 90 minutes. Insane, high-speed, coordinated pressing by the whole team is in the essence of that tactic, and it takes advantage of the fact that the opponent is accustomed to not being challenged for the possession and also of having better fitness and body strength levels. The problem is that most top teams do not need to use that, and most of the rest lack the know-how and squad depth to implement it. One example of that, which bore fruits for some time can be seen in the way Real played Barcelona in the away Clasico 2011-12. The pressing by the front four Real players allowed Benzema to score after 23 seconds, but it was one reason why Alexis had huge tracts of empty land between him and Casillas when he got the ball. Afterwards, in the second half at 1-2 Real tried to overwhelm the defence and score an equalizer by pouring forward bodies to help the tiring Real players, but that left even more space at the back, duly abused by Iniesta, Dani Alves and Fabregas.

    3. It’s a bit of a combination of the two, it’s what made the 0-7 on aggregate against Bayern possible. That, and stacking the board in Bayern’s favor, but let’s not digress.
    This tactic employs selective pressing and relies on the fact that Barcelona will try to attack. It’s defence in depth with geometrically increased levels of pressing combined with disruption of Barcelona’s vital pieces. Essentially Barcelona players were not molested until passing the center line. That’s when Mandzukic pounced on Busquets, since Busquets was the main link between the defence and the midfield, as well as primary ball carrier. The ball would mostly go wide, or go to Messi, who would then be pressed and kicked as he tried to go forward. The same would happen to Iniesta. Due to the conditions of the pitch the ball couldn’t be lobbed diagonally to cut across the corner of the defensive line, because that would mean a Barcelona winger trying to win a duel with a physically superior Bayern defender, if it could reach that winger in the first place. The Bayern wingers were ready to start a forward move due to the hectares of land and were constantly bullying the inferior Barcelona wingbacks, due to their position high up the pitch, while at the same time being close by in case they needed to add bodies in the wider zones.

    Anyway, to come back to the original topic, the reason why I fumed against Elche.

    The reason why I fumed against Elche is because of that mentality that Real are a team that can be dealt with normal play as in building from the back and passing. This is Real Madrid and you’re playing them at Santiago Bernabeu. Last season Real lost only two games at Santiago Bernabeu – against Atletico and against Barcelona. That in itself should’ve said something to Escribá. But here comes the second – both Real and Ronaldo had to prove to themselves that what happened against Real Sociedad and Atletico is not a symptom of underlying structural failures and that the thrashing of Deportivo wasn’t just a fluke. Real were also four points behind Atletico and six behind Barcelona, after four rounds. They need to win and to keep winning, and that is what should’ve turned on the alarms in Elche’s head.

    The last thing Elche had to do was open up and try to win the game. If Elche had stood back and entrenched themselves, I believe that it would´ve been possible to endure the initial onslaught from Real while conserving their own strength. Elche should’ve blocked the avenues of approach and allowed Real to try to break a wall by banging its head against it, because as the minutes would go by without conceding, Real would’ve grown increasingly desperate and even reckless. Reckless behavior is prone to making mistakes, and Elche should’ve tried to take advantage of that, conserved its strength and waited for the opportune moment – because there would’ve come a moment when Real’s players would be tired both physically and mentally, thinking only about going forward and scoring and not paying attention to details.

    Instead, Elche tried to kill the hedgehog by sitting on it with their bare asses, and got their ass handed to them, spikes and all. I wonder whether the rest of the teams will take notice.

    • September 23, 2014

      i’d like to see that in twice as many words and as a blog post =). in other words, great post.

    • September 24, 2014

      well said Peter.

      I have thought about this for a long time. Real is afforded a lot of space, the kind of space that we see regularly in EPL, and I cant understand why liga teams do that.

    • Sangoku
      September 24, 2014

      Awesome post, as usual, Peter. Agree with deerwithwings as well, would absolutely love to see you do blog posts!

      What you write makes total sense as to what Elche should’ve done.

      Having not watched any RM matches, I can only assume that Real was being given space against Basel and Depor too. After those 2 games, it’s impossible for the Elche coach to not know that it won’t work against Real.

      As for us, it’s nice that some direct play is being gradually implemented. It’s still early but We do not seem predictable like last season.

    • Peter
      September 24, 2014

      The reason why it makes sense to you(and me) is because we have seen it more than once used against Barcelona.

      Maybe I´m too harsh on Escribá. He may have lacked starting players and relied on subs, but this is why I don’t understand the lack of effort in defense. It´s not like Elche cannot park the bus, they did it vs Barcelona last season.

      Having said that, A parked bus vs Madrid would require defenders outjumping Cristiano and Bale, and not many can do that.

    • Sangoku
      September 24, 2014

      Well, I was thinking about that. As you mentioned, parking the bus requires concentration and also discipline position-wise. But maybe average teams find it even more complicated against Real because they have to deal with long range shots from anywhere, free kick specialists, great headers from corner plays, players who switch wings and again you noted it in an earlier comment that Bale and Ronaldo are difficult players to mark because they run a lot. It surely gets overwhelming.

    • Peter
      September 24, 2014

      Yeah, but here’s something else:

      Ronaldo and Bale won’t have anywhere to run to if the box is filled with opposing players. If they barge in a defender it’s a foul in attack. If they shoot from distance against a full box the probability of it going in is low as well.

      The real problem last night was loose and inconsistent marking as well as far too much space and time allowed to the wide creative players. Time and again Isco and James were allowed to just pick their time and focus on a cross. Time and again Elche’s five midfielders watched from the center the struggle of the defence, and then when they got the ball, the sucked in possession.

      Here’s one more statistical reason for Elche not to play as they did last night: Elche hadn’t scored a goal since early May. I mean really, is Santiago Bernabeu against Real’s wounded pride the place in which to try open your scoring account of the season? And instead of counting their blessings and dropping back, bringing up the razor wire and Claymore mines and waiting for an opening to force a corner or a set piece, Elche tried to attack in order to increase their advantage. Ok admirable, but do it like Real Sociedad, do it like BVB, pouring people forward in order to overwhelm the midfield. Bale, Isco, Ronaldo, James, they aren’t defenders, they’re strikers and attacking mids. That way it could’ve worked, although the real current deficiency of Real are corners and set pieces, especially in this match, when they didn’t have Pepe, Benzema, Khedira and Xabi Alonso. What Elche did was reminiscent of Rayo Vallecano, except that humble Rayo does it well. Anyway, it’s in the past now.

  31. September 24, 2014

    Apparently Suarez AND Vermaelen are playing against with B today.

  32. September 24, 2014

    Suarez scores from a Halilovic pass.
    At work, sneek peak through a poor stream, sure its Halilovic and I think he will be a legend for us.

  33. Tata2
    September 24, 2014

    I think we are becoming a bit unpredictable this time as seen by the Smache pass from the back all the way to Neymar. levante didn’t see that one coming just like the Ney first goal too. Busi I think recovered the ball and straight it went to messi and from messi , straight to Neymar as simple as that no tiki-taka-ing about nothing.

  34. Tata2
    September 24, 2014

    I know many of you haven’t noticed that this user name is new yet but I am not new here anyway. I use to be psalmuel but i lost/forgot my password and all efforts to recover it were futile like trying to break
    an athletico parked bus, so I had to reincarnate as Tata2 in honour of the pistachio polo shirt man who left last season

  35. barca96
    September 24, 2014

    I said this even before Suarez was eligible to play vs Madrid,
    he won’t be match ready. He doesn’t have match fitness. All the training isn’t enough. It’s totally different pace in a real match especially in el Clasico. It would be unfair to the players who have been performing prior to el Clasico if Suarez gets to play. That said I wouldn’t mind him playing for 10 mins.

    Also he needs to lose some weight. Besides that he is good to go.

    Halilovic is on the same wavelength as Suarez. The kid is a future super star.

    • PrinceYuvi
      September 24, 2014

      Bad news for Denis Suarez.

    • September 24, 2014

      Doubtful. Denis Suarez will start and star for Barça’s first team. The only question is where.

  36. lea_terzi
    September 24, 2014

    Halilovic’s nose for the ball, feel for space, alertness to opportunities all over the pitch, ability to see and willingness to try whatever crazy move to create danger are what earned him the Croatian Messi moniker. The actual dribbling, passing and shooting still need a lot of work (there are periods in every highlight of his where he misplaces pass after pass without much pressure). Hopefully, his work ethic and patience match his talent. Could see him spelling Iniesta and linking up with our front trio in a year or two (while Denis Suarez backs up Rakitic, and Sergi Samper gives Busi a break). Potentially gorgeous to watch.

  37. pslio
    September 24, 2014

    Barca B v Indonesia U19 full time 6-0. A few things glimpsed from my tiny mobile screen:
    – Suarez can definitely still shoot, but his passes are off. Given away way too many balls. Seems held back a little bit in challenges too which is understandable.
    – B kids are fantastic, especially that one named Halilovic.
    – Varmelean was also there, but did not see many actions from him, not surprisingly. He’s sub-ed off around 60min, unlike Suarez who played full time. So maybe he’s still not fully fit.

    • ooga aga
      September 24, 2014

      apparently vermalen scored the opening goal on a header in the 1st minute. he played on the left.

    • pslio
      September 24, 2014

      Yeah I missed the first two goals. Barca defense wasn’t really called on so it took me a while to even notice he’s on the pitch. Suarez played on the right, and clearly showed more intent to assist or link up with Halilovic than to score himself. This was a dress rehearsal for those two really.

  38. TITO
    September 24, 2014

    Folks,

    A genuine question: My brother is in Barcelona and is asking me is there any chance to attend a training session of the club.
    Tomorrow or on Friday.
    If so, enlighten me how to do it.

    • Peter
      September 24, 2014

      Training sessions in general aren’t open to public. Normally there’s one open training session, that’s on the 3rd of January If I’m not mistaken, at Mini Estadi. But normally training sessions are closed for the public, and except for the mandated minimum of 15 minutes for the press, they’re closed for everybody else as well – unless you’re an accredited temporal resident of Ciutat Esportiva, in which case you may be allowed to watch. Last season there were numerous times when foreign teams using the premises for training were able to watch the sessions, but for us ordinary mortals it’s not possible.

      It doesn’t count as presence at the training session, but often there are fans on the other side of the fence(the plant life-lined one) and they make their presence known. 😀

    • TITO
      September 24, 2014

      He’s on his honeymoon there, so he might get a chance. 😀

      Anyway, i’ll pass him this message, and that other side of the fence thing doesn’t look so bad.

  39. georgjorge
    September 24, 2014

    Our first chance to watch Douglas…

    Also, Bartra! Seems there are now two fixed CB pairings, Pique + Bartra and Mathieu + Mascherano.

  40. September 24, 2014

    Today’s official XI:

    Bravo – Douglas Bartra Pique Alba – Rakitic Busquets Iniesta – Pedro Messi Neymar

  41. lea_terzi
    September 24, 2014

    Dani’s crosses are edging out Douglas’ back passes as the preferable action on the right wing (they at least created some confusion and led to hasty clearances). To be fair to Douglas, he’s probably never seen such a congested defense in his life. Rooting for him to figure it out.

    • kosby
      September 24, 2014

      Very very cagey affair yet. Good disciplined defense by Malaga. Alba has taken over the responsibility to provide crosses it seems. We haven’t been bad at all but its going to take some brilliance to break down that defense. Interesting to see how LE is going to approach the 2nd half.

      Is he going to try finding the answer to how to break down this compact defense ? Or is he going to attack them before they assemble in their compact lines…

    • ciaran
      September 24, 2014

      Well as soon as we substitute Pedro for anyone at all it’ll be a huge help

  42. ciaran
    September 24, 2014

    Well that was an interesting type of aerial challenge from Douglas…

  43. ciaran
    September 24, 2014

    Neymar certainly didn’t have his best game. Malaga are making it a very difficult evening.

  44. ciaran
    September 24, 2014

    It’s times like this you wish we had Luis Suarez.

    • kosby
      September 24, 2014

      how is grabbing someone’s throat not a red card !

    • ciaran
      September 24, 2014

      There’s no reason that it shouldn’t be. The act in itself doesn’t need there to be harm done it is a straight red card.
      It really just encourages diving though, if Messi had pretended that he was shot then a red may have followed.

    • kosby
      September 24, 2014

      He did try 😉

      Overall Malaga were feisty, almost like Athletico were last season. LE tried to rotate but it was probably not the perfect game for rotation. BUT it might’ve been the perfect stage in the league to rotate, considering we’re playing this weekend AND CL mid-next-week.

      Also Adriano definitely looked rusty and Douglas..well tough game to start in.

      We tried to pass our way past 10 people in the box and expectedly it was tough going, maybe Suarez could’ve taken a few shots had he played the game, maybe something wild like – Rakitic playing closer to the box to take long shots and play sMasche instead of Iniesta.
      OR
      try conceding posession and then attempt faster transitions from defending to attack…

      Overall same old problem, same old attempt to solve the problem and same old result. Won’t fault the players too much here, they gave it their all..

  45. Huckleberry
    September 24, 2014

    Come on boys! Play better, faster, less predictable! Don’t playact…

    • G6O
      September 24, 2014

      The press was almost nonexistent during the whole game and we didn’t even dominate possession for some quite long stretches. I don’t understand it.

    • Huckleberry
      September 24, 2014

      Really bad game.

    • Jim
      September 24, 2014

      I put it down to Xavi allowing them to run past him in midfield and get at our defence, unable to control midfield and not being up to finding our forwards with decent through balls.

      Sorry, couldn’t resist……

  46. ciaran
    September 24, 2014

    Fully deserved to drop two points. No urgency and too many players who didn’t show up. Bravo can be happy with another clean sheet though, he made more saves than Kameni at the other end.

    It’s matches like that one that Fabregas used to open up with his creativity. I don’t understand how a much more talented player like Iniesta doesn’t perform better against teams like that than he does in Classicos.

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