Barça 3, Eibar 0, aka “Football’s constant lessons continue”

"Still got it? I never lost it, son!"
“Still got it? I never lost it, son!”

Football is fun, mostly because it can teach us so much about things, like a crafty old veteran who hunkers down to explain everything that we missed about what we thought we had just watched.

One of the things that football teaches us is that expectations are illogical. As people crowed about Messi popping off the bench to bang in a brace for Argentina, and Neymar popping in four for Brazil against Japan and wondering how many they would score against Eibar, only a few cautioned that friendlies aren’t reality, and space given by a 3/4ths speed friendly opponent can evaporate when the match Matters.

Eibar rolled into the Camp Nou, a newly promoted side who sat in the top 10 of the Liga standings, ready to do battle for the point it arrived with, but willing to take three if fortune smiled upon its eleven warriors. And this wasn’t no stinkin’ friendly.

And while there were chances, as the team whose most expensive, record signing was roughly the same price as the cars that Barça’s sponsor doled out to its glamor boys, held its own through dogged determination, lunges and effort. When all that failed, they had Xabi Irueta. And spirit. The first half ended with Barça having enjoyed 80 percent possession, but with no goals to show for it, but it wasn’t the international break, even as people rushed to claim that excuse.

Eibar was playing its collective asses off. The problem with such a thing is that you run out of ass if you keep playing it off and your opponent, stocked with players who always have just a little more magic in the tank, is laying in wait.

"Like I said. The run dictates the pass."
“Like I said. The run dictates the pass.”

Barça’s first goal didn’t come because Eibar was tired. It came because of an absurd bit of magic that really is a testament to the quality of Eibar’s collective that it took a goal like the one crafted by Xavi and Messi to finally, after more than an hour of play, beat them. Xavi will always tell you that the run dictates the pass, that he is only as good as the movement in front of him. But when that movement wasn’t there, he took it upon himself to demonstrate as he laid a ball to Messi, then moved into the space vacated by a defense that said “Hey! It’s him! And he has the ball!”

Messi just slid the ball through to Xavi, who fittingly, passed the ball into the net. It was goal that looked easy, but was a thing of such speed and precision that it took your breath away. It has to be that good, because Eibar wasn’t making mistakes, playing precisely the kind of disciplined football that thwarts Barça precisely because of the stagnant sort of forward play that makes players have to hold the ball too long, that doesn’t demand the pass through incisive movement. So Xavi had to do it himself.

Neymar time

The second goal as well was a thing of beauty, an even more remarkable feat as Barça, finally clear about the quality of the opponent that it faced, elevated. The goal sounds easy: Alves passed to Neymar who hit it into the back of the net. But if you look at the pass from Alves, which has to be weighted precisely so, and the movement of Neymar, who slides back a bit to make his space, a move that probably, in the first half when the defenders have fresher legs, is followed by his markers. But not this time.

But the bar was already raised so when Alves plopped in that perfect pass and Neymar moved into it, swinging his shooting leg, it was the kind of sweet perfection that saw Neymar hitting the ball exactly so, creating a rocket that left the Eibar keeper helpless, even as he kinda guessed right as to the trajectory of the shot. Like a game of basketball HORSE that requires increasingly difficult shots, Eibar was forcing delightful, top-quality goals. That the best was yet to come was kinda crazy, when you considered what had already transpired.

eibney

Neymar was absurd in today’s match, part of the “Shouldn’t Have” brigade. We didn’t need a Brazilian show pony with funny hair, Robinho II, a selfish prat who would do stepovers and dive. Some cautioned, saying players should never be judged, that his talent was real. This season, Neymar is showing exactly why Sandro Rosell wallowed through a shit trench to land him. Because it isn’t just goals. It’s speed of play, associative play, effort, a willingness to fight and a desire to win that subsumes everything.

When a player wants to win, he doesn’t really care who scores, as long as someone does. If that someone is him, cool. If not, okay. But did we win? Yes, there are a great many professionals who have that quality. What Barça has, however, is two players, both among the best in the world, who have that quality. And sometimes, desire+quality=absurdity.

Early deaths

So it was that when Messi worked a play with Neymar, who was ringed by defenders yet laid off the perfect pass for Messi, becoming in effect a pillow-soft wall that enabled Messi to have to think about nothing except the crazy angle he would be required to hit to somehow guide that ball into the back of the net.

And that’s what happened. Great players make sport look easy, and we have no frame of reference. People who play football can understand something of what it must have taken, but without the stupefying skill set that lets you even think to try something like that, an essential component of the evaluative template is missing. So your mind watches, and in effect says something like, “!!!” Because that’s all there is.

This week, the footballing world marked the 10th anniversary of Lionel Messi at FC Barcelona. And a lot of it was weird and kinda maudlin, “I remember when he was good,” and the like. After that goal today, and many of the runs before that, people acted like they hadn’t just spent days piling dirt atop a box that contained a player’s legend.

Messi is still That Messi. Is there the same childlike joy, that “Wheeeee!” factor? Nope. Not as much. There can’t be. Defenses used to let him run around like an unfettered colt because who knew that when he started kicking up his heels, it would result in 90 goals in a calendar year? Messi picked up 2 defenders. Then 3. Then 4. These days, he’s fronted by as many as 5 defenders, would-be spoilsports who, if they can’t stop him legally, will kick a chunk out of him. How in the hell much magic can you create in a world like that?

It’s why when Messi scores these days, they are often wonder goals, because how in the hell else are you going to beat 5 men plus the goalkeeper? It was fitting that Messi’s goal was the most beautiful of the three, because it answered a question that so many inadvertently raised this past week about a player who isn’t performing as many feats of magic, because he can’t. But that same player is, in his own way, becoming even more decisive in a football match. He isn’t the player that he was because he’s in a different world. That he is also a potentially better player right now is rather odd to contemplate.

eibmess

Run Pedro, run!

Is there a more maligned starter than Pedro right now, a player who, like Seydou Keita, you have to watch to fully understand. But you not only have to watch him. You also have to ask yourself a question: Who is going to do that?

Years back, when Keita was taking a lot of stick for “not doing anything,” I spent an entire match just watching Keita and what he did. Turns out he did a lot, even as he did a lot that you didn’t notice. The complexity with Pedro is not only that he does a lot you don’t notice, but that he used to do a lot that we DID notice, which is scoring goals.

In just the first 20 minutes of the match, Pedro sprinted to the middle from his right-hand phone booth to retain possession. Then he burst his lungs on an unrewarded run. Then he did it again. And again. He held up play twice to keep possession, facilitating Alves. He made more runs, created space with movement, gets back on defense and forward on offense. He made a bad pass, then sprinted over to fight an Eibar player for the ball and break up their attack. He fought for possession, kept it, made a run and created space for Messi during a Messi/Neymar high-wire act.

All in the first 20 minutes.

I get it. Pedro doesn’t score goals any more. The danger in football is that we reduce a player to the thing that he does, which in the case of Pedro isn’t entirely accurate. He’s the Thierry Henry of the Canary Islands, in that Henry did so much for the side, but because he wasn’t scoring goals as people expected, he wasn’t pulling his weight. Meanwhile Guardiola kept playing him, just as Enrique keeps playing Pedro because when all is said and done, somebody has to do the work. So deep into the second half when Messi is standing around, waiting to come to life when the ball comes to him, Pedro is sprinting from the right to left side, to help defend an Eibar attack.

Why? Because somebody has to.

So what happened to Pedro? Where are the goals? This compilation of Pedro goals is an interesting one, because it makes the answer to that question clear: They’re in space. Every last one of the 44 goals that Pedro knocks in during the 3-minutes of video have the same things in common: running space and shooting space. He doesn’t have to beat a defender, or work to find shooting space. He just has to line up the shot and finish.

In the new reality, Pedro doesn’t have space because Barça doesn’t have space. Gone are the days when you could get behind a defense with a well-timed burst, which used to be his stock in trade. Because defenses are packed back, the one thing that can make him go is … well … gone.

The other difficulty for Pedro is that he is stationed on the right, as a winger, a player whose job is complicated in that he is the right winger in name alone. Dani Alves is the functional right winger, which makes Pedro’s job more defensive than almost any attacker you can think of. It also means that when he gets the ball, instead of it landing at his feet on the run in the box, he is getting it in a place where he has to beat a couple of defenders, then make something happen. That is Messi territory, which makes it no wonder his goals have dried up.

And no, this isn’t to defend Pedro, but it is to attempt to explain Pedro. He isn’t terrible, no more than any of the other maligned Barça players are. What he is these days, is a player who is being forced to do something that doesn’t match his skill set, because bigger, brighter players are occupying that team space. So Pedro is That Guy, the one who does all that other stuff. He will help celebrate the goals, and Enrique will pull him aside and say “Nice work,” even if he doesn’t say “Excellent match,” because that, these days, is Pedro’s job, and that’s why he starts, even when names such as Munir and Sandro make supporter lips vibrate.

As Munir found out when he started a match, it’s different when the defense hasn’t been chasing the likes of Pedro around all day. When Pedro can do nothing else, he runs. And he fights. Pedro isn’t starting because everyone else sucks, or he has compromising images that he is blackmailing Enrique with.

He’s that guy, the one who does the stuff.

Triumph of the Unwanteds

During a Twitter chat while today’s match was on, someone “said” to me, in this case about Sergi Roberto, “It’s cos he’s never going to be the best player in the world and apparently Barça shouldn’t have anyone of whom that can be said.” And that’s exactly right.

But again, football teaches us the folly of haste. Javier Mascherano was supposed to be a no-passing card magnet. Today, he started at the DM slot and was brilliant, no less brilliant than he usually is at CB, mostly because a Barça CB is a glorified DM. Yes, the DM has someone behind him in case he errs, but in the high-risk manner of Barça’s defending style, that isn’t always true. So the question is, was Mascherano perceived to have had a better match because people have it in their heads that he isn’t a CB? Interesting, right?

Jeremy Mathieu is a chain-smoking old man, overpriced at 20m, so thank heavens he gave 3m toward his own transfer. But he was still overpriced at the 17m it actually cost the club. Um … okay.

Claudio Bravo. ZubiZa was stupid for signing him. Memo Ochoa was available on a free. Keylor Navas would have been so much better. Sure he has clean sheets, only because he doesn’t have to do anything. Okay. Gotcha.

Sergi Roberto came off after coming out the worst in a collision with an Eibar player, and Ray Hudson, who was calling the match on my U.S. television feed, had very kind words to say about his play, and they were accurate. His first 10 minutes had the stank but then he grew into the match. He isn’t Andres Iniesta, and is never going to be. What he is, however, is that player that teams need: won’t make wrong decisions, will be in the right spot and will work his butt off. If the world of lofty standards that are culer expectations, is there really room for that?

"I got this."
“I got this.”

Next Saturday is the Classic. It is also, like in years past, a match before which RM is playing like a horde of marauding Visigoths, whose giant sandals are going to stomp the terra and grind the bones of Sprites to make their bread. Well, maybe. Or maybe not. In the overall scheme of things, the Ajax match on Tuesday is more important to the team’s overall aspirations than the win next Saturday, because the work that the team put in today against a tough, resolute opponent built in the necessary breathing room.

And like today, next Saturday is going to be loads of fun because man, that’s what this game is all about.

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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.

104 Comments

  1. Peter
    October 18, 2014

    Sergi Roberto is growing on me every time I watch him play. For me he is another Keita-like midfielder, the quiet working man that doesn’t shine with the stardust of brilliant football, but a guy who is ready to run, fight and keep on doing that until the final whistle is blown. Barça needs that kind of men on the team.

    Kxevin, you put it very succinctly, Eibar ran its collective ass off. So did Malaga a few weeks ago. So did Elche, Granada, Valladolid and Ajax last season in front of their fans. And here’s the funny thing – these teams don’t really have stars. What they do have is workers, players motivated to show what they’re capable of in front of Barcelona. And sometimes they do, because on the pitch there are eleven vs. eleven. And sometimes victories and draws that taste like victories are won on guts, grit and clenched teeth alone.

    Best of luck to Eibar in their twenty-nine remaining games that don’t involve Barcelona, because that team deserves to stay in Primera Division. For sheer damn determination and grit.

  2. ciaran
    October 18, 2014

    I don’t know Kxevin, Pedro and Neymar were on the pitch for 70 and 76 mins respectively and ran 8.9km and 9.0km each. Not a world of difference for the work horse Pedro.
    Then with the ball, Neymar scored one spectacular goal, had a great assist and was involved in some brilliant football. Pedro, well, did nothing.

    He runs, sure. He harries and hunts and wins possession on occasion but when he gets possession he has no idea what to do with it. He never beats a player, never plays a through ball and rarely shoots anymore.

    • October 18, 2014

      But again, ciaran, I suggest that Pedro IS doing what he’s supposed to do. Because somebody has to. Messi isn’t, Neymar isn’t, and when Alves gets caught up the pitch, Alves isn’t. So here comes Pedro. It isn’t glamorous, but it works, which I reckon is why Enrique keeps starting him.

      So I understand when people say that Pedro did “nothing.” I thought the same thing. Then I started thinking, “Enrique could start Sandro or Munir, or move things around to get rid of the woefully ineffective Pedro. So what’s he doing?” Then I watched him, and only him. It was interesting.

      His game isn’t beating players off the dribble, etc. He finds space, and shoots. But the way he is being asked to play, he effectively is never in a spot where he can be Pedro, so to speak. It’s a fascinating quandary for a player who would probably be a reliable 20 goal a season player in the Prem.

    • IamXavi6
      October 19, 2014

      Thats a very broad statement. Pedro scoring a reliable 20goals a season in a more crowded, physical league? No chance. He is not that haul of a player.

  3. G6O
    October 18, 2014

    I have to disagree on Pedro and Sergi Roberto. We can probably afford to have one of them on the pitch against the weaker teams, but not both, and I am not sure we can afford to have even one against top opposition.

    Yes, Eibar tired, so we don’t have a controlled experiment here, but still, almost everything interesting happened after Iniesta came in. Sergi Roberto just does not offer anything offensively, and if you also have Pedro out there, it becomes a lot easier for the defense to close the available spaces for Neymar and Messi. And that’s how we get 60 minutes of 0-0 with a total of 2 good chances. If that was the plan – get them tired, have Iniesta rested for next week, play him for the last 30 minutes and win the game, great. Mission accomplished. But it’s not just going to work as Plan A.

    Maintaining possession and doing defensive work is a good thing, but it is not enough.

    And to be honest, I can’t understand why – I have never seen Sergi Roberto play a dangerous pass forward. How is that possible? You’re a La Massia-raised midfielder, you train with the very best in the world at providing those, how is it possible that you don’t pick up any of it? I can see and play those passes, it’s really not that hard.

    • October 18, 2014

      Well Enrique thinks we can, which is kinda all that matters. As I noted above, Sergi Roberto was nowhere near as bad as people say, unless you apply the Iniesta standard to him, and then what midfielder measures up? Except Iniesta.

      People rip on Rakitic for the same thing, not playing through balls, not playing dangerous balls, etc, without really looking at what he does on the pitch. Each player has a job. Iniesta’s job is to be Iniesta, just as Sergi Roberto’s job is to be Sergi Roberto. Enrique knows what his players can do, and plays them for a specific reason. He doesn’t start Sergi Roberto expecting him to be Iniesta. He starts him because he needs that specific skill set from a player in that position.

      It was funny how quiet Twitter got about Sergi Roberto once he played his way into the match. That’s one sure indicator of how a disliked player is doing. Silence usually means he’s doing well, and Sergi Roberto was.

      I just don’t think you can evaluate a player based on another player’s template. There is only one Xavi, one Puyol, etc.

    • G6O
      October 19, 2014

      I am not evaluating him against a template, all I want is for him to generate some threat (Rakitic actually does do that, BTW).

      Because it really isn’t that hard. I don’t see why if you are a midfielder for Barca, you should not be expected to pose an offensive threat through dribbling and passing in addition to doing defensive work.

    • Tom
      October 19, 2014

      Did you miss his back heel to messi? Pretty offensive to me.

  4. deerwithwings
    October 18, 2014

    Great article. I’m split down the middle however.

    I agree with Ray (and Kxevin). I think Sergi Roberto had a pretty good match, and IIRC, he did go forward a few times, including a kick 1, 2, 3, with Neymar or Messi that resulted in a possible chance. I do think Keita was a better player in his own right. I was kicking around here when he still played for Barça, but I really like Keita, and I thought he played an important role at Barça. Sergi R., might have a future at the club, or he might not, but he is quality, and it’s not fair for pretty much any midfielder in the game to be compared to Iniesta. The man is top five in the world, even when he isn’t playing that well.

    However, I find Pedro to be a bit toothless. I think Ciaran has it right. If he is playing wing to cover for Dani, well, then why didn’t we fix the actual problem in the first place and buy a RB, and play Dani as a winger.

    I get it that we didn’t. I respect that three coaches in a row are (not)seeing something in Montoya. But, Eibar should have scored, and that was on Dani not Pique. He is an excellent player (he reminds me of Dennis Rodman) , and come Saturday, I am going to love it every time he (hopefully) stuffs CR. I guess I am trying to cover the normal retorts, but my point is that it doesn’t make since for me to have a winger who’s main responsibility is to cover for the RB. Pedro get’s the ball plenty. His crosses aren’t any better than Dani’s. He can’t beat a man anymore. Sometimes he does get space, but he has been whiffing it. He looses his starting position to Suarez soon, and we have Sandro and Munir in the chamber. It’s a good time to cash in, but I’d like to make a friendly wager that he doesn’t mark 20 in the EPL =)

    Anyway, I absolutely loved today’s game. I really want Eibar to succeed. They play with a lot of grit. The three goals today were beautiful, and I am so so happy that Xavi scored. I really think he should stick around at Barça for another season at least. He provides our team with so much depth.

    • deerwithwings
      October 18, 2014

      kick 123 should read “nice”

    • October 19, 2014

      Well, we will never know how close the team was to getting Cuadrado. As far as buying a right back, Roma just renewed Maicon, and there are rumors of talks between us and Alves. That should speak volumes about the quality and quantity of right backs in world football. They just aren’t out there.

      I’m right there with you on Pedro. He IS toothless. But I wonder if that is an acceptable risk for Enrique, given the other stuff that he brings to the table. I don’t know that for sure, but I have to suspect that he continues to make him an automatic starter when fit for a reason. I dunno.

      I’ll still be surprised if Xavi is with the team at the end of the winter window. Gone in summer for sure, particularly with Denis Suarez looking more and more likely to come back.

  5. PrinceYuvi
    October 19, 2014

    Messi is more involved,
    Neymar is more confident,
    Rest shall follow.
    Playing Messi as a lone striker/RW Or Neymar Pigeonholed on left seems such a waste now.

  6. PrinceYuvi
    October 19, 2014

    Xaviiiiii….!
    Embarrassed, I forgot to mention ‘The Football’.
    Excellent article, kx.

  7. TITO
    October 19, 2014

    Pedro’s main job is to be a threat on opponents goal. Period. Everyhing else is a plus for our game.
    That’s how i see a forward.
    The thing is that Pedro USED to run a lot, cover space, help in defense BUT also scored goals, created chances, was a threat. This is the issue. We need him up front.

    • October 19, 2014

      But we don’t “know” what his job is, rather what we think his job should be. That is the complexity, and the thought I was trying to get at.

  8. PrinceYuvi
    October 19, 2014

    Xavi produced an absurd skill last night – a monstrous backheel spin or something.
    Anybody has a youtube link [not vine] ?
    Thank you.

    • Jim
      October 19, 2014

      Think this is it. Had to stop the game at the time to see exactly what he did. Unbelievable ! However, there were at least another two or three occasions when I reckon not many players in the world would have managed to keep possession. We need to enjoy watching him while we can. I suspect there will be a few clubs hatching plans to persuade him not to head off to the USA at the end of the season.

      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Hpn_N0XTd8g

    • PrinceYuvi
      October 19, 2014

      You’re a saviour.
      Thanks so much, jim.
      Yes, he manages to keep possession so many times in trickiest situations.
      But this move was so Ridiculous that
      Camp Nou couldn’t help but Roar their approval 🙂
      Xavi, Iniesta are stamped as
      Out of the world Passers,
      but I think Ball-control is their prettiest facet.

    • October 19, 2014

      Yeah, that was pretty crazy. Twitter pretty much exploded when it happened, even as nobody quite knew WHAT had happened.

  9. lala10
    October 19, 2014

    Pedro is a whole lot of huff and puff at the moment. Sure he does some of things right but overall he is in a rut. A good in form Pedro should help defensively by pushing his marker back and dissuade him from venturing upfront. The hustling and recovery is nice and well for the team but he needs to carry a bit more threat. Otherwise his spot is in serious jeorpardy once Suarez comes back. A player of his standing should be doing a lot lot more. Maybe the managers have struggled to get to him because if its a spell of loss of form it has gone on for too long.

  10. Jim
    October 19, 2014

    Should we be worried that Busi, Neymar and Messi are training apart from the group today with a CL then a Clasico in the next seven days ?

    • October 19, 2014

      Nope. I suspect that it’s just recuperative stuff. They will have Ajax midweek, then the Classic. I suspect they need rest more than a full training.

  11. georgjorge
    October 19, 2014

    I like your thoughts on the Xavi goal a lot!

    I can see your point regarding Pedro, though I don’t like it. If Luis Enrique deems it necessary for his system to have a workhorse rather than an offensive threat among his front three, then so be it. It’s just unfortunate that since Alves isn’t heavily marked and usually available as an outlet, players (most notably Xavi) seek him out so often, and then between him and Pedro the attack often dies.

    I have to disagree on Sergi Roberto though. You say that it’s senseless to compare him to Xavi or Iniesta, but those are exactly the players he needs to be compared to since they are competing for the same spots. Roberto isn’t a bad player, but in a team “lucky” enough to have Xavi, Iniesta, Rakitic, Busquets and Mascherano available for midfield, I just don’t see any necessity of him playing. He is solid, but that’s not enough with that competition. And Rakitic for example does also fight and put in defensive work, but he does so much more than Roberto in addition.

  12. PrinceYuvi
    October 19, 2014

    Peter is travelling to Barcelona on monday ?
    Happy journey.
    Don’t forget to visit the most important part in Barcelona – The Beach 😉

    • Peter
      October 19, 2014

      Wait… Barcelona has beaches?

    • PrinceYuvi
      October 21, 2014

      Aye. Hope you’re having fun 🙂

  13. barca96
    October 19, 2014

    Mashcerano has a tough time when under pressure. I said it last time that playing the ball out from the back is much easier from the middle where you have many players around you. He did alright though but his passing wasn’t quick and precise and he buckled under pressure a couple of times.

    Sergi Roberto did ok but he doesn’t seem to have the skill or confidence to turn and face the goal with the ball.

    Alves had one good cross. I which he could have a better ratio. So many wasted balls.

    Pique had 2 brain fart moments there. He just dozed off and we nearly conceded 2 goals. I still prefer him to start next week though but Lucho gotta give Bartra more time.

    • October 19, 2014

      Every player in world football has a tough time under pressure, particularly when that pressure is applied by peers. Look at the balls Messi and others gave up yesterday. Pressure causes errors. It’s supposed to. The question is what do players do when consistently under pressure. Mascherano was excellent yesterday.

    • barca96
      October 19, 2014

      Hmmm Busquets doesn’t have a problem controlling a pass when under pressure with players around him and distributing it right to team mates’s feet. Mascherano had a few moments last night. Didn’t you notice that?

    • October 19, 2014

      Yes, Busquets does. He had two very dangerous giveaways under pressure against PSG, most recently. Mascherano had moments. Messi had moments. Neymar had moments. Pretty much everybody had, and will have, moments. Those moments, and how your teammates then back you up, are part of the game.

    • barca96
      October 19, 2014

      Everybody has moments yes but with Busi it’s very rare. You quoted a match against a CL candidate. I noticed this when Mascherano plays with WC too. Nothin wrong with occasional mishap but I guess I’m too spoiled by the standards set by Busquets.

      Mascherano just can’t match Busi for passing, composure under pressure and on the ball. However Mascherano is more aggressive and reacts faster to a counter attack.

  14. October 19, 2014

    More about this piece, which has sparked quite a bit of debate, the part about Pedro in particular.

    One of my favorite writers at my day job, Chris Borrelli, has the most curious mind of anyone I have ever met. He even takes different routes to and from work, so that different visuals will stimulate his thinking. He is also that rarity, a reporter who self-generates about 95% of his stories, and he’s in the paper constantly.

    With Borrelli, everything starts with a very simple question: Why? That question is at the root of all journalism, from investigative stories to blog posts. If the writer doesn’t ask why, the piece usually reads as though it doesn’t have conviction, isn’t going anywhere.

    I have watched Pedro since he debuted for Barça, and witnessed his decline as a goalscorer. I watch him play, and joined the “Pedro sucks!” chorus because hell, look at him. He gets the ball, tries a move or two, runs over his own feet sometimes then passes it back. WTF?

    And then, I started asking why, as I always do. My mind isn’t as curious as Borrelli’s, but I ask myself why a lot. It leads to stories and story ideas in my day job, and posts in this space. Often, those posts ask questions about an accepted view of a player or thing, because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

    “Pedro is crap.” “Then why is he still playing?”

    Then you start looking for answers, which are speculative, since only Enrique, Pedro and the coaching staff actually know. But on Friday, Enrique said “Pedro will start.” There wasn’t even a question. So I got to thinking, “Why?”

    One of my favorite Twitter voices speculated that Enrique was trying to build his confidence. Why? He doesn’t seem to care about the confidence of Montoya, Adriano or Bartra. So why play Pedro, just to build his confidence? Again, dunno.

    Maybe Enrique sighs, says “He sucks, but he’s all we have,” to his coaches and pencils Pedro onto the lineup card. Or maybe something else is going on. Dunno.

    But if we don’t ask “Why,” if we shutter the mental hatches and say “He doesn’t do this one thing, therefore he is poor,” I think we cheat ourselves out of not only debate, but chances to think about the game, our team and its players in different and fun ways.

    Just my .02.

    • ciaran
      October 19, 2014

      I don’t know really. Like you I have seen a productive Pedro and now see something that resembles that player but has so little in common with him.
      Pedro used to create havoc with his movement and would run off the ball all day. I watch him closely these days and there’s nothing. He is barely a shadow of who he used to be. He has scored 1 goal this season and has no assists. He is rarely involved in any promising attacks and every time he gets the ball he either plays a backwards 5 yard ball or losses possession.

      Out of possession he used to be very effective in winning ball possession but he is no more than a nuisance now, only on occasion influencing the changing of possession.

      A manager can’t rely on the likes of Munir and Sandro to win matches at this level and for the most part, the defensive contribution of Pedro would still be far greater than that of the young ones and that’s why he is probably starting.

      I just can’t comprehend why he wasn’t sold in the off season as he is so clearly pay his best and doesn’t ever look like getting back there. Deulofeu in less minutes in a worse team has been involved in far more goals than Pedro and has infinitely more potential than he does. Yes, he has an ego and doesn’t work hard enough but if the most important contribution for an attacker is how good a defender they are then there’s something wrong in my opinion.

    • G6O
      October 19, 2014

      This^^

      Basically it’s very simple:

      Pedro used to do all the things that he is doing right now but in addition, he was also a goal scoring threat. And it wasn’t just because there was space behind the defense, he would also take shots from the edge of the box and those shots would pose a threat. He was able to dribble much better and more consistently too

      That’s why so many have a problem with him now.

      The answer to the question why he is playing is very simple IMO – there is no better option. Munir and Sandro are not better than him right now – offensively maybe (though they have definitely cooled off after the good start) but defensively they have to improve a lot. So you play Pedro because on balance, he is the best third option. But he is not a good third option.

  15. Laurentiu88
    October 19, 2014

    as a cons for last nights game, there were some miss’communications in our defense between Pique and Alves especially… I still can’t understand how Alves, which was last defender, inexplicably decides to stop running with the attacker that was just receiving a through pass…

    so, some set up for the classico! ucl games will be interesting this midweek.

  16. Tata2
    October 19, 2014

    Its simple, Pedro is still playing cos Dracula can’t play yet! My .02!

    • Gekko64
      October 19, 2014

      it’s really as simple as that, till Suarez is available we’ve got Pedro and two promising 19 years old.

  17. Peter
    October 19, 2014

    Denis Suarez just placed a brilliant cross for the forehead of Gameiro. Elche 0-2 Sevilla.

    • October 19, 2014

      Also, did you see that pass in the first half from Deulofeu, that really deserved a better fate? He’s also tracking back like crazy. Dude wants to make Enrique’s mind up for him, apparently. Only one match, but he seems to be working his way toward becoming a more complete player, which is what Enrique said he needed to become to stick with our first team.

      Yikes. If he and Suarez return next summer, and Sandro/Munir get promoted, who cares about a transfer ban?

    • ciaran
      October 19, 2014

      Deulofeu is always dangerous but the other side of the game that needed improvement and as has been suggested Unai Emery looks to be the right man to get the most out of him.
      Even the freekick that resulted in the first goal, if that had been taken by a current barca player, a meaningless floated cross would have been headed away in likelihood but he has the audacity to try to shoot from there.
      I like the kid, and with the rest of the young players around like Suarez, Halilovic, Adama, Samper, Grimaldo, Sandro and Munir we have a very very bright future.

  18. say2
    October 19, 2014

    Brilliant post as usual Kxevin, loved the game in whole. Team played really well and created chances against a very deep and tight defence.

    good things were link up play between Messi and Alves, also between Messi and Neymar for the goal, those were just thing of beauty. I see Messi staying just on the right side when Saurez comes into the starting line up and then we can see more link up play between him and Alves, and for that link up play we would not find any other player in the world who can connect with Messi better than Alves..

  19. luisthebeast
    October 19, 2014

    hi to all of you!i am from greece and i hope we will have a fun season!

    • Jim
      October 21, 2014

      Sorry, Luis. Missed your first post earlier. Welcome, and we look forward to your contributions :). As you say, it’s shaping up to be a fun season.

  20. October 20, 2014

    Loving the Pedro discussion here.

    I think Kevin’s “why” question is a very pertinent one, as is his answer. He runs a lot, with which he creates space for others and allows Dani Alves to move forward. This is undeniably true. But we can also say the following:

    – Lexus ran a lot, created a lot of space for others and allowed DA to move forward. And even during his three-month scoring drought that first half of his second season when everybody called for his head, he was more of an attacking threat than Pedro.
    – Munir runs a lot, creates space for others and allows DA to move forward. He has also often been chosen ahead of Pedro while not even offering a whole lot more on offense.

    So why was Alexis sold and why does Munir get so many minutes that were expected to go to Pedro?

    1. Nobody would have offered us more than 10M for Pedro.
    2. Pedro is dedicated to our colors. We can play him or not, he will still play his heart out for Barça. He knows he’s not amongst the most talented. If ever we do decide to try him out at RB (the option has been bandied about for two years now) he will play his heart out at RB.
    3. The question remains, why has Munir gotten so many minutes over Pedro? I do believe Ciaran and others have already answered this in the comment section.

  21. mr.undercover
    October 20, 2014

    The game was cool, I noticed that we don’t score early goals this season almost most our goals comes after the first 30+ minutes or the 2nd half? Do we need to worry about it?

    • October 20, 2014

      I think I probably speak for most culers when I say that I usually get antsy when we haven’t scored after 20-25 minutes into the game.

      Having said that, as long as we end the match with 3 points, we’re good.

    • G6O
      October 20, 2014

      So far we have been able to get away with it.

      But last season there were many games when we had the ball, created a few chances in the first 30 minutes but did not score and then you just had that feeling that we were not going to win the game. And more often than not we indeed didn’t. So I am also one of those who have the habit of worrying in such situations

    • October 20, 2014

      Watch the match, and let it happen. Quell the expectations and sense of doom. This team is in exceptional control for most of the time this year. Even against PSG, the loss, really came down to 3 boneheaded moments more than a messy match, and the team wasn’t even at its best.

      If you spend all day waiting for a safe to fall on your head, you aren’t going to have very much fun with your day. It isn’t a question of “So far we have been able to get away with it,” but rather looking at the team play its matches, and understanding how they go. There has never been a situation this season, even against PSG, where the other team has looked more likely to score than we have. Ever.

      So when I see that, and us creating chances, and the opponent defending like crazy, I just think of scoring as a question of not if, but when. Matches like Malaga will happen, but they will be rare, and a consequence of an opponent fully committed to playing for a 0-0 draw.

      But I don’t even think there will be many of those. Last season was last season, and this season is this season. You can view last season as this albatross, or as a pretty remarkable year where despite all the crap and tragedy that went down, the team we love got within 5 goals of being in with a shout at the Treble.

    • G6O
      October 21, 2014

      It’s always a matter of when, not if with us.

      The question is the parameters of the statistical distribution – if the expected value for the waiting time exceeds 90 minutes, you are in trouble…

      Last year it often was

      P.S. I am actually realtively happy with what I’ve seen so far this season

  22. luisthebeast
    October 20, 2014

    well no fear cause we have luis the beast the best player last season in europe and my favourite non barca player when he was in ajax and liverpool!

  23. barca96
    October 20, 2014

    Again much talk about a Deulofeu assist when it’s just another free kick or corner kick. Many culers ridicule Ronaldo for tap ins because it bumps up his stats, it’s the same to me with assists stats coming from a FK/corner kick.

    • ciaran
      October 20, 2014

      There is an art to taking set pieces. I would suggest that Xavi is probably the best passer of a ball in history and can put the ball almost exactly where he wants it. When he takes an indirect freekick or corner, his delivery is more often than not in the right area. But, and this is a big but, there’s no where near enough pace on the ball.

      Deulofeu’s dead balls are often hit with the pace of a shot at goal, even his corners are very pacey, and it is much harder to deal with them.

      Juninho P of Lyon put in the best at pieces in my memory and they were powerful, accurate and unpredictable. I don’t rate him less of a footballer because it was ‘only’ set pieces.

    • deerwithwings
      October 20, 2014

      With Neymar, Messi, Luis, and Rakitic, how the hell are they going to decide who takes the set piece kick? What a wonderful conundrum.

  24. deerwithwings
    October 20, 2014

    With the impending classic, the internet is a buzz with so many armchair managers. However, I think it is worth noting that for the first time in a few years, our actual manager has a wealth of tactical options.

  25. Peter
    October 20, 2014

    I’m writing from the modest room of my modest but extremely affordable hotel but suffice to say my reaction was comparable to Lev’s. I’m in friggin’ Barcelona and my ugly mug is on a shiny-new commitment card!!! Another dream come true, and I’ve just completed another dream, by purchasing(with a significant discount, I might add) a ticket for tomorrow. It’s still almost too good to be true, but it is.

    Camp Nou and Museum Tour tomorrow, as well as trying to get in as much from Barcelona(truly a lot to see) in the few hours I have. I’m definitely visiting La Sagrada Familia, and I’d appreciate any recommendations/suggestions any of you may have. 😀

    • georgjorge
      October 20, 2014

      I’m envious.

      But then, I haven’t shown the dedication you’ve shown so far (twenty-four years?). Have a good time, and hope the match(es) turn out to be every bit as good as you imagined them!

    • deerwithwings
      October 20, 2014

      i’m a big fan of poble sec myself. take a walk around montjuïc and then get some pintxos at quimet i quimet.

      super jealous!

    • Jim
      October 20, 2014

      Maybe showing my age here but unlike some other cities I found the tourist bus the quickest way to see different parts of the city by jumping on and off. Could use the one that goes up by the stadium for the tour then grab the next one – can’t remember but is that the one that goes to Montjuic ? My other absolute sight to see given just a day or do in the city is the ( journey up to) and the view from the top of Tibidabo with the whole city below you. Not much use on bars as my good lady wasn’t as interested in investigating at the level I suggested 🙁

    • deerwithwings
      October 20, 2014

      I used to teach an english class right under tibidabo, and would cycle up top once a week! those were the days. the view of montjuïc is something else though. walk straight up poeta cabanyas.

    • ciaran
      October 20, 2014

      I love just strolling around the gothic quarter of the city. Give yourself plenty of time to just see things. Lad Ramblas is a great place to spend a few hours but keep your possessions safe whilst there, especially at night. There’s also a great food market just off Las Ramblas which is worth a visit if you’ve time and want some of the freshest fruit that you’ll ever taste.

    • October 20, 2014

      Have fun, Peter. La Boqueria (market) is pretty wonderful. Something for every taste, and then some. If you’re looking for some really good small plates, I always send people to La Fonda, a favorite spot of mine.

      La Rambla is useful for traversing the city, but there isn’t much to see on it. But what a walking city, and there’s a bar/gelato joint on La Rambla, Patagonia, that was pretty reliable if you were craving something ice creamy.

      Be sure and get a xocolata while you’re there, and just walk the city. Not sure how long you’re there, but my first time there I grabbed one of the tourist buses, just to get a handle on the city, then wife and I set out by foot/taxi.

      Don’t forget to check up on the status of Sagrada Familia.

      Montjuic is an odd place. When I visited with a frequent commenter over at the Offside Barcelona, my wife and I said that we were planning to visit Montjuic. He and his mother exchanged a glance, and he said, “We don’t go there.”

      We had always heard you should go, so despite that, my wife and I went. All I can tell you is that for some reason, as we entered the castle, I got the worst feeling. I thought it would pass, but it got worse, until I was crying and couldn’t proceed. My wife helped me out, and we left.

      She said that she got a similar feeling when visiting the former prisons in N. Ireland, like some truly terrible things had happened there before. So I did some digging, and figured out why. The castle has some bad juju. Still not sure why it affected me that way. It’s the only bad experience I have ever had in Barcelona.

      Defo take the stadium tour, mostly because you get to go down to the pitch. It’s pretty extraordinary. If you don’t get chills you’re a harder culer than I.

      Not sure where you’re staying or how far it is from the Camp, but allot plenty of time to get there if you aren’t in walking distance. Matchday traffic can be a bear, unless you take the Metro.

      The Committment Card is a special thing. You’re well on your way to being a soci, and while it doesn’t make me as happy as it makes you, I’m smiling for you. It really is a special thing.

      Good luck, have fun and take notes, as I will be expecting a guest post when you’re back.

    • deerwithwings
      October 20, 2014

      the spanish government used that fort to bombard the catalans on occasion. IIRC it was also a prison. that might be the bad juju.

      montjuïc however is just the hill. i don’t recommend the side near plaça espanya, poble sec is a really beautiful neighborhood!

    • Peter
      October 21, 2014

      I can actually see Montjuic hill from my balcony. 😀 Last night I went out to enjoy the breeze, and the sight of the cable car spooked me. I’m in a small hostel just between the park and Mirador de Colom, in a zone superbly connected and apparently even more superbly situated, so it seems I’ll have time to visit quite a bit. But I think I’ll be leaving Montjuic for last and just for the view. For all its historical significance, it remains a bad place imho.

      I’m definitely not a harder culé than you, but for that later.

      In a turn for speaking before checking, the Camp Nou tour is not available today because of Ajax. Still, I hope to visit the Museum, but until then I have two hours to find and enjoy breakfast. 😀

    • Ryan
      October 20, 2014

      If you enjoy the Sagrada Familia, you should check out Gaudi’s other works. They’re all really nice to visit, including the Parc Guell, Casa Batllo, and Casa Mila.

  26. October 20, 2014

    For the case of sergi Roberto, i just think it boils down to mental image, in my head sergi Roberto was suppose to be a flair player, a final passer, technical dribbler and a possession hub. The picture i had of him was truly of a dazzling dribbler, a crisp passer of the ball, that is supposed to glide the dreamy pitch and awe crowd. However decent job he is doing now clearly does not involve any of those. Which to his standards not anybody else’s, is not good enough.

    For Pedro;
    Pedro can still put on a decent defensive Job and still ”want to score!” this is barca and no matter your shift on the day, get your shiity self to the score board. Its really been a long time since i saw Pedro try to score, like intend to score, he should grow into his 25 goal a season promise. His hustle shouldn’t take him away from his goals.

    • G6O
      October 21, 2014

      I think you are confusing him with someone else due to how many players named Sergi we have in the youth teams. I never had such an expectation as he has never shown that flair you are talking about

    • October 21, 2014

      Hahahaha… You obviously never read anything about him before seeing him play. There is a reason he is getting so much stick from us.

  27. October 21, 2014

    Yay, Peter is in Barcelona! My favorite spots, besides my l’Hospitalet neighborhood where people are unpretentious and not a tourist is to be found, are Barceloneta and the rambla down Arc de Triomf (the latter especially during the evening).

  28. norden
    October 21, 2014

    With Neymar, Messi, Luis, and Rakitic, how the hell are they going to decide who takes the set piece kick? What a wonderful conundrum.

    An easy one – Messi decides who is going to take the kick.

  29. georgjorge
    October 21, 2014

    Can’t wait for the game tonight. Even if it’s not a decisive game by any means (unlike the game later that week), this season has me all excited about the way we play, and I don’t want to miss a single game of Messi and Neymar magic, Rakitic and Mathieu tackles, Xavi passes etc.

  30. Tata2
    October 21, 2014

    Sadly am gonna miss tonight’s game. I wonder why bad things happen to good people. My choir is having a choir day and am the one on the keyboard, and can’t catch a stream why the program is on. I really love this team this season and don’t wanna miss any matches

    • deerwithwings
      October 21, 2014

      do what i do: avoid the news all day and download the match. no fancy tv’s here =)

      rojadirecta

      i miss all the champions league live as i teach classes every afternoon. it’s a pain, but to be honest, the download is generally better than the stream.

    • Peter
      October 21, 2014

      Might have something to do with the statement of a soci during the general assembly, who stated that according the statutes, a soci can be stripped of his membership if he hurts the club, especially financially, and asked specifically what the club intends to do with Jordi Cases. The statement was met with applause.

  31. ooga aga
    October 21, 2014

    line up vs ajax

    ter stegen
    alves pique bartra alba
    rakitic masch iniesta
    pedro messi neymar

  32. G6O
    October 21, 2014

    Some crazy scores in the other games…

  33. lala10
    October 21, 2014

    Pique ought not to start the classico. He is not focused enough. Too many elementary mistakes these past two games

  34. ciaran
    October 21, 2014

    Why do we still allow Dani Alves take freekicks? I reckon that he hasn’t scored a freekick in three or four seasons at least.
    And to make things worse, he never even gets it on target to force a save or a deflection.

    • Davour
      October 21, 2014

      Was thinking the same thing – with Rakitic standing right beside him! Must be some silly hierarchy thing, allowing Alves to waste these chances for his own amusement’s sake…

  35. georgjorge
    October 21, 2014

    Very strong first half, done enough for the win there. What an exquisite first goal – incredible skill from everyone involved.

  36. Peter
    October 21, 2014

    Thing’s I saw that if someone told me had happened I’d call him/her a liar:

    1.Both goalscorers subbed with almost half an hour to go. Pedro is the veteran striker.
    2.People in the stands wondering whether the direct free kick with a shot on goal will be taken by Dani Alves or Jordi Alba.

    • socrates
      October 21, 2014

      Full report, please!

  37. 86ed
    October 21, 2014

    The day’s only bummer was Cavani’s goal with seconds to spare. I really do hope we win the group and avoid Chelsea or Bayern in the next round.

  38. Jim
    October 22, 2014

    I have a lump in my throat and I’m not even a Liverpool supporter.

    That anthem was awesome !!!! If that doesn’t inspire Liverpool who’ve been v poor all season, nothing will. Casillas didn’t look too calm. Think I might linger on his game for a while…..

  39. Jim
    October 22, 2014

    Meant to say – come on ye Reds !

  40. Jim
    October 22, 2014

    Oh well. I suppose it was always unlikely with three passengers up front who allow the RM midfield time on the ball. Too much smiling with Ronaldo for me. Not enough hurt that they’re two down . Time to check on Arsenal.

    • Dar_vincy
      October 22, 2014

      Gutted likewise, Jim.
      Pathetic they couldn’t sustain or be productive with their bright opening.
      Their comically amateurish defending, unsavoury as it has been all season, permitted Madrid’s attack to thrive. As expected.
      Fortunate not to be handed a shellacking.

      Would be immensely glad to see Masch deployed in the midfield…with one of his duties comprising of limiting Ronaldo’s influence in the zone between the dm and the defence.
      His aggression, intensity, uncaring attitude for fanciful and cute plays, pace, doggedness, and professional ‘disturbances’ are ingredents I believe we can leverage on in the defensive midfield department.

  41. deerwithwings
    October 22, 2014

    the clasico lineup is such a toss up. SO MANY OPTIONS!

    one thing i do know is that i think suarez should start. pedro missed (if by a hair) a sitter today. while messi did too, he provided an assist and another goal. i really wanted pedro to score that one, but sandro showed him up.

    saturday is going to be very exciting! to bad the game is so early so me and anyone else in the usa’s CT!

  42. FCB16
    October 22, 2014

    Hey Ciaran have you finished your shrine to the other best player ever after his goal today? Still lol’ing at that
    Cruyff, pele, maradona, best, garrincha, Maldini , Beckenbauer and on
    And on but NO to genius on the Internet it is CR7 and his hair gel who is #2
    After leo. Good thing you have countless opinions of players and pundits to back up your assertion? Oops

    • ciaran
      October 23, 2014

      I simply argued that in my opinion Messi is the best of all time and there’s very little to separate he and Ronaldo on current form.
      If Messi wasn’t playing then Ronaldo would have most of the best stats in the history of the game and could possibly have 4 or 5 Balon d’Ors. The fact that they are playing the game at the same time will always mean to me that Messi is the greatest because no two other greats were at their peak at the same time to so easily compare.

      I’ve no interest in shrines to players I don’t like but that doesn’t diminish the player that he is.

      I also wouldn’t be surprised if Neymar were to pass him out on most respects by the end of his career. The improvement in only one full season in Europe is amazing and his composure in front of goal is amongst the best I’ve ever seen.

    • October 23, 2014

      FCB16, because ciaran’s reply to your barbs is calm and gracious, I will not moderate your attack. But you know how we discuss things here, which is with respect, not ridicule and sarcasm.

      Just because this is a Barça space and you feel differently does not give you or anyone else the right to belittle someone’s opinion. ciaran has huge respect for Ronaldi’s qualities as a footballer. So do I. And that respect is precisely that. Messi is a big boy. He can probably handle someone saying that Ronaldo is a brilliant footballer.

      Ronaldo is among the best that I have seen, as well. ANYONE in this space should be able to express any opinion without ridicule and personal attacks. If you cannot abide by those very simple rules of decorum, your comments will not be welcome here.

      For this space to work, respect has to be paramount.

  43. Tata2
    October 23, 2014

    He’s going to break that record ahead of Messi just cos of the nature of the fixture for the next match day and it pisses me up to the bone. Then ‘great player ever ‘ superlatives will start flying in from goal.com

    • October 23, 2014

      It doesn’t matter what people say about who is the greatest. It only matters what you believe, right? As I noted in a recent post, it is no longer about ranking them, but for the neutrals and supporters of each team to simply enjoy them.

  44. Tata2
    October 23, 2014

    with EE’s attack line firing on all cylinders, do we have to hide the women and the children from the storm that will betide us at the bernabeu or this could just turn out to be one of those matches where el classico debutants in the barca colours always get on the score sheet and we end up the run away winners with a manita,? Am excited and nervous at the same time. I also wish Smach could start in defence as he alone has the pace to get in Thong boy’s face but I also I think he can do same even in midfield all I wish for is a start for him

  45. October 23, 2014

    All the talk is of Neymar and Messi combining so well and Suarez’s impending return, will he or wont he start, etc. The biggest conundrum for me is what to do with Mascherano who is just performing as an absolute beast no matter where he is played. It brings up a big question, play him at CB or keep him the midfield and play Pique/Mathieu as the CB tandem. I kind of feel that would give the most protection against Madrid and without Bale I feel a little more comfortable having Alba play LB.

    It is going to be very interesting to see what LE decides. On form right now I would have to say Mascherano is probably the best DM out there so how can you not play him as a DM? I love Sergio and it is amazing to have the two best DM’s in the world to choose from, but right now, especially given Sergios recent injury woes, I would play Masch.

    Up front, I have a feeling he is going to start Munir and bring on Suarez second half. I think if he was going to start Pedro then Munir would have started vs Ajax. It makes sense, Munir is on better form at the moment, works just as hard off the ball and probably a bit more dynamic and poses more threat. That said Pedro has a lot more experience so maybe he will get the shout on that basis. Either way I do not see Suarez starting. It just doesn’t make sense to do that and given what we know of LE he is not going to start him based purely on his name/cost. If he does start i guess he bloody well earned it in training! I just think he would be more effective off the bench and allows for some tactical changes if things are not going our way.

    Cannot wait! Very exciting times, have not been this nervous/excited for a clasico in quite a while. So many unknowns!!

  46. October 23, 2014

    I think this is as good a time as any to remind all that personal attacks are unacceptable in this space. If you do insist on belittling other people’s opinions, may I suggest such fine comment thread sections as can be found on goal.com, soccernet.com and the likes.

    @FCB16 I’ll let your comment stand as an example of how not to treat other commenters, but another mod might choose to remove it.

  47. lala10
    October 23, 2014

    suarez has to start. Munir is a fine prospect but this is a game too big for him. I will be glad if LE shunts Iniesta to the left wing, inserts Xavi, Busi/Masch,Raktic in midfield. This is a game we will need to be in control of. EE midfield base is not that strong so if we can dominate thru the centre we will win. We have to be mindful of their counters though. Heart racing a bit but i have come to realize that EE are an absolute cyclone against lesser opponents. The only player i have misgivings about is Pique. His form is not very ideal. Otherwise we are good to go. Our Average Messi gives us the platform to win

  48. Jim
    October 23, 2014

    Difficult to guess what LE is gonna do but the unlike last year he seems to me to have genuine options. Bravo in goal is prob a no brainer although to me his kick outs need improving. High on confidence though. For the backline I’d go for Dani ( somewhat reluctantly but he can raise his game for big ones), Pique, Mathieu and Alba. For me Pique and Mathieu should be playing more together as I’m not a believer in rotating CBs. They need time to build an understanding which they’re not getting. Alba is as fast as anyone out there and better than is often suggested. He does suffer from the Barca syndrome of still not sure when to go forward though. In some ways I’d have preferred Bale playing which would have made up his mind.

    In midfield Xavi has to play for me. First name on the sheet. If he plays and is fresh RM will spend a lot of time/ energy just chasing the ball and that first frantic twenty minutes may just be survivable. For DM I’d actually start with Masch. His performances in that position in the last couple of games have been excellent and harness those skills which he is good at rather than where he struggles. Busi is no loss in the air. We could do with Masch as a bit of bite in the opening half hour to keep them honest. Lest regular readers think I’ve completely flipped I’m gonna say that he will get a yellow at some point and at that stage we bring Busi on. Which leaves Iniesta or Rakitic. I’m just not sure on this one. Rakitic isn’t turning out at the moment to be the game dominating CM I thought we were buying – through no fault of his. He has been asked to play deep on the right to cover Dani which is also gonna be essential in this game but hasn’t contributed much going forward for me. Maybe start with him but bring on Ini, who plays these games well in the second half?
    Up front, no way I’d play Suarez from the start. Keep him on the bench. If we’re doing fine leave him there, if not he’s prob one of the top three impact players in the world to bring on to chase a game and what a lift he would give us coming on say with twenty to go and one down! I’m gonna say we stick with Pedro for one more game. We know we’ll get the pressing, he knows he’s only getting a half or so before Suarez so he’ll be everywhere and who knows, maybe his luck will change. Munir would be out of his depth imo.

    Having guessed nothing that LE has done correctly so far, especially the Russian roulette of the last game’s subs where, if you’re taking off Messi, Neymar and Ini you MUST put on Xavi, you can now confidently say he will probably do none of the above. However, which ever side he puts out I’m confident. I always ask myself which squad would you rather have and it doesn’t take me long to say ours, despite the prophets of doom on Revista these days who can’t see past RM knocking goals past AWOL defences.

    • deerwithwings
      October 23, 2014

      As always, I love your sound analysis.

      I agree with starting Javier, but as to Xavi, I’m not so sure. I think Rakitic is being told not to go forward as much as Iniesta. Messi drops back, and Ivan covers for Dani, provides a passing outlet, and sometimes a shot from distance. Rakitic was implicit in the first goal on Tuesday as well. I think he should start to provide some muscle against, for the first time in recent memory, a Madrid side that likes physicality in midfield. I prefer Iniesta to Xavi for this game based on The Don’s form against Ajax.

      Your argument about Suarez is pretty convincing though. I want to see him play a full 90, but spot on about him being an impact sub Saturday.

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