Barça 0, Malaga 1, aka “Pin the tail on the donkey”


There is a children’s game that is loads of fun, if you haven’t played it. You get a donkey poster or stuffed figurine. Then you blindfold a kid, give him the donkey’s tail, which is usually a piece of cloth or something, with a pin through it. Then you spin the kid around a few times, then turn him loose to pin the tail on the donkey.

That game is a lot like what the culer fan base resembles after a loss, as everyone seeks reasons for what happened, almost as if the most obvious ones are too obvious to consider.

It can’t be as easy as Malaga played really well and Barça played poorly, because the necessity for the mental palliatives that serve as supporter placebos is a constant. But let’s get right down to it.


This isn’t a crisis. This was a loss. Football teams have them. Really. It’s an eloquent testament to the football Barça plays that when an occurrence that is fairly routine for other clubs peopled by humanoids happens, the Barçaverse heaves, and is thrown into a tizzy. The team that so many are freaking out about won 11 matches in a row, went 3-0 against Atleti and has a midweek date in the Champions League knockout rounds, after winning its group. Crisis? 99% of football club supporters would kill for that kind of a “crisis.”

“We aren’t other football teams. We aren’t supposed to lose matches. We have a higher standard.” But of course. Other teams begin each and every day with a commitment to being poor, and building to stay that way. “We don’t want to win. Of course not! We leave that to teams with a higher standard. We just want to lose with style and dignity.”

The obvious difference is that Barça has better players, a winning tradition and a certain set of expectations, demands that don’t allow for mortality. Every match must be a win, every performance perfect. If that doesn’t happen, then what happened and whose fault is it?

There is even talk of a “lost” Liga championship that was in fact never “won.” Barça, with today’s loss, went from not needing help in the table topped by RM, to needing help. But did anyone honestly think that Barça was going to win out this season? Impossible to conceive, given that many still don’t think the team has the right coach for the job, or is playing in the correct manner.

The reason that many of us predicted no silver for Barça this season isn’t because the team doesn’t have the talent to win silver. It does. What it doesn’t have yet is the cohesion, the automatic tasks that fully gelled teams have on offer, rote tasks perfectly performed because of complete knowledge of what a teammate is going to do and where he is. That takes time, gaudy winning streaks notwithstanding.

“Barça isn’t playing consistently enough to win the Liga.” Who among the top 3 is? Atleti lost to Celta. Are they? RM is in as much of a “crisis” as Barça. All three are going to drop more points this season. Assume nothing, expect nothing. Just enjoy the ride as a team comes together. Today’s failure was collective and rather complete, abetted by a quality opponent who played its collective asses off.

“Alves screwed up! So did Bravo.” Okay, perhaps without that error the loss would have been a draw. but Barça never looked like scoring today really. Not sure who folks want to blame for that, but it starts with Malaga and ends with the players checking the mirror.

Winning vs results

This was an excellent match because Malaga is exactly the kind of team that was, like La Real at Anoeta, always going to be a very stern test for Barça. The thing about playing Atleti is that it wants to win, wants to play like a team that wants to win. They will attack, which will leave them vulnerable. Malaga wants a result, and will take a win. So that team will play differently, with more fire, cohesion and willingness to sacrifice everything to get a result.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t want to win. It does mean that the day’s objective is a different one that affects how a team plays. Atleti will attack as a unit. Malaga will pass up an attacking chance if it means losing shape at the back. There might be a shot from distance or some long pass attempt that doesn’t have a chance, because the important thing is to keep shape and stick to the match plan.

Some are saying “If Malaga, then City,” but there is no inference that can be drawn from this match except what we already knew, which is that Barça is a team with flaws, and it’s easier to stop someone from scoring than it is to score.

Malaga played a perfect match

Let’s assume Malaga’s coach to be fond of hallucinogens, and he popped one. The resultant hazy bit of giddiness allowed him to see, in his mind, his team taking advantage of an egregious error and taking the lead, then having Barça play into his defense’s hands time after time.

He would come to, splash cold water in his face and say, “Whoo, baby, that was crazy. I just had the wildest fantasy.” And yet, that is exactly what happened. I rather imagine Malaga couldn’t believe that things worked out exactly as their coach diagrammed it. Every last one of their players sweated his heart out, and did more than was necessary to get a result today. They ran, defended, dove, fouled and took every advantage to disrupt play and waste time. And the one chance they got to score, they took it. And that’s that.

At the core of their intelligent defending strategy was something very simple: to disrupt a team, break it into pieces. Everyone has long been saying that Neymar is one of the keys to the Barça attack in the way he accelerates play, and makes things possible as he heads toward the box or cuts to the middle to become a playmaker. So Malaga attacked Neymar directly, walling him off with multiple defenders. Neymar played into their hands by trying to beat them before doing something, rather than hitting the reset button and passing it back to a midfielder.

Part of why he didn’t have that available option was because he wasn’t getting any help from anyone, so his only option was to stop the ball and try some magic. This too, was exactly what Malaga wanted.

Disabling the Hydra


Meanwhile on the other side of the pitch, Messi was facing his own coterie of defenders as the two poles of the Barça attack were isolated. This meant that Suarez, who needs those two poles as fully functional playmates, instead became an attack without a purpose, dashing hither and yon but never really getting the ball in any place that allowed him to be a danger. Further, Malaga decided that it was fine letting him run around, because if they spent all of their efforts on Messi and Neymar, it wouldn’t matter what Suarez did.

Compounding the complexity was the poor play from Iniesta, so there were no other options to get an attacker the ball. Further, because those defenders are in effect already in position as they deal with Messi and Neymar, they are already ideally placed to deal with any stray balls that might come in from mids.

Malaga’s game plan made three of the best attackers in the world an island, and defenders just shuttled back and forth between the islands as necessary.

The part that Barça played

It’s worth asking whether any of this would have worked had Barça not been as dull as a rusty butter knife today. Typical of the play today was when Messi had the ball and was running, on the break, at a solo Malaga defender. He made the wrong decision with the ball, and in effect handed it to the defender, who sent his teammates off on a time-eating break through a sieve of a midfield. Where was the press? Well, as Malaga wasn’t all that interested in attacking full out, what point was a press?

It was, nonetheless, shameful the way their counters waltzed through the Barça midfield as a team became complicit in its own demise. Poor decisions with the ball, bad movement, non-compensatory actions found multiple players in the same spot, wrong or no runs made and poor passes. There was too much individuality, which always plays into the hands of an intelligent defense, and the ball moved entirely too slowly for so many reasons:

— Malaga’s defense made every Barça attacker with the ball have to look for options.
— Slack movement played into the hands of the Malaga defense.
— As the defenders were already in place, passes on the ground were never going work, which didn’t stop Barça from trying them, and ceding possession.
— No runs means no unsettled defense means no spaces to take advantage of.

Everybody had to hold the ball, dribble and run with it, which made the Malaga team very happy, atop the team being dull from top to bottom. You can pick the excuse you want, from officiating decisions to Enrique to this or that player. But none of those had as much of an effect on the match as the two sets of players, one sharp and one dull.



Enrique, in an effort to influence the outcome of the match, made a series of subs that were the right subs, though I wonder if they were for the right people. Should Rafinha have come off before Iniesta? Did the Pedro sub happen too late? People will cite his missed shot with disdain, and it was wasteful as can be — but they will ignore the effect that he had on space and the pace of the match, as is their right. But his influence was noticeable, as was that of Mascherano, who came on for a lackluster, wholly ineffective Alves.

The effect of this, in addition to Rakitic, was that play turned and Barça got on the front foot far more effectively. They were still being hamstrung by the aforementioned woes in the final attacking third, but at least Malaga wasn’t being gifted counterattacking, time-wasting forays.

Some say that this defeat can be laid at the feet of too much individuality, too much reliance on the skills of Messi, Neymar and Suarez rather than an overall team system that can, in match after match, walk the ball into the net. But even ignoring the fantasyland qualities of such a notion, when your best players are ineffective, it doesn’t matter what kind of a system you have.

Was that a bus, or a train?

“Parking the bus” is more misused than “tika taka” these days, as many scoffed about Barça being worthless against a bus. A true parked bus doesn’t bother with attacking forays, doesn’t want the ball, doesn’t even care how much the opponent has the ball as long as people are in place to hoof it away. Malaga defended deeply and intelligently, but to dismiss their tactics today as “parking the bus” does that team a disservice.

Were the roots of that defense deeply planted in the catenaccio tradition? Yep. There was always one more man to beat, as that back door was latched tight as a drum. Targeted catenaccio? Sure, why not? But the bottom line was Malaga had a plan, and executed it flawlessly, with the help of Barça.

A parked bus just hoofs it out. It doesn’t have time to parse, or worry about individuals. Ball. Foot. Gone.

The question is what would have been an ideal solution for the complexity posed by Malaga? Seems simple in retrospect: Neymar is walled off, Iniesta scurries over to accept the pass, runs into the box where Neymar, taking advantage of his markers being distracted by the ball, now has free space. Meanwhile on the other side, Messi sits back to ensure that some defenders stay out of the box and Rafinha darts in to fill that traditional Messi role. And let the games begin.

But that didn’t happen, and it was mostly Malaga’s fault. This is like Anoeta, where people scream about Enrique not starting Messi, Neymar and Suarez while ignoring the fact that the trio was up in the second half of that match, and did exactly nothing. Some times, on some days, the opponent is just better. Not better than Barça overall, but superior on that day. It happens. And as culers scurry around, blindfolded and clutching a tail in quest of the ass of an ass, it’s worth remembering that.


By Kxevin

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


  1. Hopefully it doesn’t have something to do with our dressing room. But I have a feeling, it does. As soon as I saw Enrique’s comment yesterday about Messi, I kind of had a bad feeling about this match. For me, the attitudes were not right, the players were not enjoying like they have been doing in past few matches.

    Anyways, hopefully it’s just my nightmares and we get back to winning ways on Tuesday at Manchester.

    1. Let’s hope this does not re-start the circus. Why is it so terrible that people think differently? What is irritating is that media are so desperate to frame the situation as a drama. It is tedious, really. More so, if you read the match report on the same site, it is primarily a review of Messi’s performance, not that of the team. The topic sentence reads: “Lionel Messi was largely anonymous…” Not Barca was lackluster or frustrated or whatever.

    2. “media are so desperate to frame the situation as a drama”

      very good words to remember now and in the future. let’s try to look at media with critical eye and not bite on these sorts of (non-) stories.

      what gave me the bad feeling was in the first 10 minutes, it seemed we were already in “lets not work too hard today” mode, then rafinha’s shot got cleared off the line. and you just knew it would be one of those days.

  2. No need for any knee jerk, everyone was so off, it happens. Wish we had a more creative mid and better players off the bench but Oh well, I still think we annihilate City.

  3. A well written, reflective article. You make the best point about Barca expectations vs what football is really like, and indeed, we never had anything ‘won’ at this point of the season.

    Make no mistake, plenty of twists left in this season for Barca, both CL and Liga.

    The only criticism today is,yes, the players were flat, which, to me doesn’t fly, given we could’ve gone top (ok, only temp) after a win today. No more motivation should’ve been needed. Just goes to show these guys are human after all, and if you can score early against Barca at home, you can indeed get a result.

    Onwards and upwards we go to Citeh

  4. No doubt a tough loss that will put any fan in a foul mood. Malaga defended brilliantly as they did at home a few months ago. Sometimes football games and even entire seasons come down to moments: moments of individual and collective brilliance, moments of good and poor luck, and moments of poor judgment, mistake, and miscommunication. For me, this game came down to a generous gift to the visiting team that changed the entire dynamic of the game even as it was just getting started. What would have happened had that mistake not been made no one can claim to know. Maybe we would have won. Maybe we would have still lost.

    I don’t think our team played that badly and the effort was there to mount a comeback to snatch another victory after conceding the opening goal. Beyond that, I’m not sure there is that much to complain about–the lineup was strong and the substitutions made sense but we weren’t up to the challenge. We had some half chances, a goal line clearance, some questionable calls against us, but hardly as many opportunities as we did against Celta when their keeper had the game of his life. Bad time for a game like this, but that’s the way it sometimes goes.

    I really like Kxevin’s comments about how most of our opponents have the advantage of going into a match satisfied with a draw while for our team a draw is rightfully considered a poor result. That means, in effect, that at the opening whistle our opponent is satisfied with the status-quo while it is up to us to make things happen. The more time it takes for us to score that opening goal, the braver and more confident their defense becomes and the more desperate our team will be for a breakthrough. Throw into that mix our early mistake and the fact that the rest of the game turned out the way it did can hardly come as a shock.

  5. For once, this is a perfect loss, its the perfect place to get out from, the perfect reset or recession, the right motivation, and just the right amount foolery to make Manchester city believe they can pull a sociedad or malaga on us.

    This loss seem deliberate for that one Purpose for it. Trust us to completely obliterate city and i say that confidently.

    1. The author states that playing along the flanks makes us too easy to defend and prefers us to play through the middle like 2012-13. I’m not sure of his point, since attacking through the middle is not exactly the hardest thing to defend, as has been thouroughly proven by teams such as Bayern, Atlético, even Celtic when they played against us.

      I get his point on how the midfield is largely bypassed these days or just reduced to passing the ball along to Neymar and Messi, giving up much creativity. I’m not sure of the solution though…in theory, it would be nice to have BOTH the quick throughballs to our forwards on the flanks when play is quick, and the intricate combinations through the middle seen over the past years when their defense is settled in one system. I just don’t know if such a combination would work in practice since all the players involved in a passing sequence need to be on the same wavelength as to which style of attack will be executed at a particular moment. If Enrique could pull such a thing off, it would be beautiful.

    2. the writer in the link needs to look at what the other team is doing. the reason we were on the flanks is because malaga didnt give us anything else. they literally had 11 men in a block in the last quarter of the field, even pinched in a bit, and they ceded us the flanks. (this blog you’ve linked looks like a platform for whining. he calls himself the “Ranting Cruijffista,” indicating he is predisposed to sniping at our coach and even our players, which he does)

    3. I never see that writer to say anything positive about the club. Sure he can think he is world’s number one “Cruijffista”. Sure he can oppose everything this board did. But I’ve not got any point of his Luis Enrique opposition. Sure he can think he knows the club more than Luis Enrique. Sure he can think Luis Enrique is a cunt because he loaned Deulofeu in favor of Pedro and Munir. The only reason I found his hatred to Luis Enrique is “Luis Enrique isn’t a perfect Cruijffista, he came from Real Madrid”. But when someone continuously writes against someone without logic, then that’s calls hate. And when someone writes based on hate, I don’t prefer his/her opinion. In his opinion the coach should be Oscar Garcia, because he is “Cruijffista”. I bet if Oscar Garcia were now manager and lost some matches, the writer’d say, making an inexperienced like Oscar manager was a mistake, It should be bringing back Guardiola.

    4. As I noted in the passing post, the game is moving to the flanks, in part because it’s so easy to defend in the middle. It’s the challenge of having a team that has Neymar AND Xavi on it, representatives of two worlds.

      The ideal midfielder in that team doesn’t exist on our roster, but Rakitic is closer to it than Xavi or Iniesta. We really haven’t used Rakitic in a role similar to how he stood out at Sevilla, except on rare occasions.

      Unfortunately, a better two-match stretch would have flipped Malaga and Levante, I reckon. You can not concentrate and squeak past Levante. Not Malaga.

    5. Funny topic is just two weeks ago Levante won against Malaga by a big margin. And Malaga’s last 2 win is against two Champions league positioned side.

    6. As Kevin said, Malaga played a perfect match, it’ll help us in the future. We should give credit to them who deserve. Malaga deserves praise and Barca deserves criticize, but after winning 11 consecutive match including 3-0 against Atleti, I believe Luis Enrique deserves something from the supporters. Now if we look through statistics, it’ll say at his season, Pep had similar number of win, lose and draw to Luis Enrique. I hope Luis Enrique is smart enough to know how to manage situations.

  6. I come to think of Kevin’s comment a while back that when the team functions, Messi does too (or along those lines). Yesterday was a good example of that: Messi did not trust the team but was trying, increasingly, to do everything “by himself”. Going down deep to take the ball from Busquets or whomever, and make attempts to start play from there (often with a long pass to Ney or Alba, whereafter things unfolded as described in the article). Of course, a better strategy would have been to run into space, or to stay out wide and combine from there or whatever the tactics might suggest. I feel, for all Messis brilliance, that it is seldom a good idea for him to fall back deep and start play from there. To my mind, this is a sign of a team not functioning.

    And true, there is certainly no crisis; one game can never set off a crisis, which really is a concept which should be reserved for prolonged issues. We had a bad game, a painful one. I do agree on Pedro, though; he missed a great chance, but Neymar missed the ball and lost focus on some occasions when Messi made is trademark cross, and Suarez couldn’t stay onside, Messi dribbled when he should’ve passed and lost the ball etc etc. As I said in a comment in the previous thread: he contributed energy and pace, creating space and momentum. But it was not to be.

    1. I just checked it out. Pretty ridiculous. It seems that there is just this convention about in wrting about football matches that makes the outcome some kind of inevitable result. Hayward even wants to take this a step further in that now Barca are back to “square one” and are no longer the favorite against city because they lost a game to Malaga.

      Football isn’t science, it’s drama and the beauty is that anything can happen at any moment. The winning team does not always play better, have superior tactics, or even deserve to win. (see Chelsea v Barca 2009 and 2012) The only thing that that we know is that the team that won put the ball in the net more than the losing team. (Though this is not always true as well (see Barca vs Inter 2010, Barca vs. Atleti 2014).

  7. To me, a lot of the tactical discussions currently surrounding the team go back to the Rakitic vs Kroos debate that I imagine the club had after last season. On the face of it, the decision must have been a hard one. You can see why Enrique and the club went with Rakitic. He was perhaps the best midfielder in La Liga last seaon and a physical and defensive presence–something we have been missing in our midfield since Keita left.

    But at this point in the season I’m not sure Enrique knows how best to incorporate Rakitic’s talents into the team. He doesn’t provide that midfield organization and discipline that a Kroos would. Instead, his best attribute seems to be his ability to destabilize defenses by spraying the ball around the field with long dangerous passes and shots outside the area–almost like a Stevie G. He would be perfect in the EPL, but I’m not sure is he is the best midfield partner for Iniesta. For this reason, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rakitic and Xavi in the midfield against City.

    1. I know it’s blasphemy, but my favorite midfield right now is Rakitic/Rafinha/Mascherano. I wouldn’t play it in every match, but it’s the right mixture of physicality, pressing, passing and all-pitch play.

      I think that the series of injuries, etc to Rafinha have set him back, but I suspect that increasingly, he and Rakitic will be getting the nod this season. I would have subbed off Iniesta long before Rafinha yesterday. The latter works better in those spaces left vacant by defenders converging on Neymar. He’s also physical enough to ride out challenges.

      I wonder if the seeming inability to work Rakitic fully into the side has as much to do with the diminished capabilities of Xavi and Iniesta as it does Rakitic. I wrote in the past about the team being caught between past and future, thanks to appalling management.

      No offense meant to anyone, but Xavi and Iniesta should have been gone by now, with their successors already in place. But a succession of coaching changes and a board fighting the wrong battles meant that a real assessment of and necessary changes to the team never happened. You can’t add Neymar and keep Xavi. They represent different worlds. But what we now have is Iniesta, who shows flashes but still isn’t what he once was (and never will be), and Xavi, who is better than Iniesta at that same task.

      Thiago wasn’t the answer, despite what so many believe. But I’m not sure that Kroos would have been, either. But the priority for me flips your notion. Rather than finding the ideal midfield partner for Iniesta, we should be trying to find the ideal midfield partner for Rakitic. Being transfer banned until winter 2016 complicates that quest, and I don’t think Denis Suarez is the answer to the question, though he is a real talent.

    2. I don’t know about writing off Iniesta…he had some pretty good games in the last weeks, including against Atlético. And yesterday, like you said yourself, most of the team were worse than they could be. Like many of the others, he’s dealing with playing in a very different system than the one he’s used to, so I don’t get why unlike others he doesn’t get the benefit of a season’s time to integrate himself into it. In addition to his dribbling skills he is able to play lethal throughballs, he has even shown over the last weeks that he is able to bully opposing midfielders off the ball, so I see no reason why he wouldn’t be able to play in the current incarnation of Barca. you might be pinning a tail on the wrong donkey here yourself ;).

      I also think that Rafinha – Rakitic – Mascherano would be great in breaking up opposing attacks, not so great in actually keeping possession of the ball. Keeping possession of the ball may seem inferior to throughballs to our attackers nowadays, but I still believe that a certain amount of it is important.

    3. Good points, georgjorge. I do wonder if possession in the tradition of the recent Barça past is something that we should be considering as the team moves forward, though. The close-passing, possession style that came to the fore in the Guardiola days is a midfield-dominant style. Given the players that we have, I wonder if a more dynamic style isn’t worth consideration, one more suited to the styles of Raktic/Rafinha/Mascherano (or Busquets).

      I get that Iniesta needs time to adjust to a new system. I just don’t believe that he has the necessary skill overall skill set. And it’s a skill set that is diminishing even further as he ages.

      I agree that we have to keep possession at times. Finding the balance between control and aggression is the complicated task, I reckon. But at this point I would be playing Xavi over Iniesta. I don’t know that either one fits the ideal vision of what I suspect Enrique might have in mind, but Xavi is Xavi.

    4. I’ve now watched the match three times. I’m not sure why Iniesta now tends to get blamed more often than not. I thought he played well, and has been playing well – he was definitely trying to create opportunities. There were a number of wasted chances by many – including by our front line.

    5. “Blame” is not the right word, Doug. That wasn’t my intention at all. For me, Iniesta is just a symptom of the poor planning on the part of the board.

      My hope is that we can objectively discuss the players we have. The way Malaga strolled through our midfield was a problem. Malaga is a good squad, but there are better ones that Barça will be facing in Europe. Yes, the team will institute the press, as it did against Atleti. This will help Iniesta or Xavi.

      As noted above, the whole team was off, and distracted. No specific player is to blame. Iniesta is just a point of discussion.

    6. I think the fact that Iniesta is singled out, though, is relevant, Kxevin. I’ve been as hard as most on him but he created a lot, generally tried to get into the box and although not perfect made an attempt at defending. Your ideal midfield has Rafinha who I thought wasn’t nearly as effective as Iniesta and was presumably run past every bit as much ( Id argue more) than Ini.

      You seem to have a fairly settled notion that Xavi/ Iniesta bad or at least no longer up to it, Rakitic / Rafinha good. I haven’t heard you say a word even remotely doubting them yet they have produced nothing that I could point to which would justify them starting over either of the other two. I recall that they were brought in because nobody would run past our midfield then. Well, there hasn’t been a jot of difference. I don’t think R+R are playing badly, it just seems that they are getting a pass for things I’m not seeing and which are still being pinned on X and I. I could understand, but not agree with, a sentiment that says we drop the two older ones and stick with the two younger ones for the future but if we’re judging like with like I see two players who can control a game and create a threat and two who struggle to get into the games and usually just pass the ball on.

    7. Actually, the single Iniesta mention above was a query: should Rafinha have been subbed before him. Is that singling out? I guess it is, in a way, for purposes of a contention that I have it in for them.

      Judging Rafinha and Rakitic by the Iniesta and Xavi standard is always going to leave the new guys short. But without knowing the full capabilities of what they can do in a fully adapted system (which we still haven’t seen yet), it’s safe to withhold judgment.

      As for the match proper, the addition of Rakitic, Mascherano and Pedro effectively ended the Malaga sashays through the midfield. So make of that what you will.

      I won’t suggest for an instant that Rakitic is the equal of Xavi or Iniesta in the Barça system of the past. As for the system of the future, that remains to be seen.

      I don’t really care about players, except as much as they work within the team. So Rakitic, Pogba, Iniesta, Xavi, Sergi Roberto … whatever. The question is who works within what the team is trying to do? It strikes me that Enrique has some other plans up his sleeve, but this doesn’t even include weighting chronological reality.

      Xavi is old. This will be his last season at the club. Iniesta is aging fast. The club will need to have contingency plans.

      — On a different note, I returned to this comments space with some trepidation. It didn’t take long for the accusations of favoritism to come flying at me, which was one of the reasons I decided to stop commenting. And this is not only because nothing could be farther from the truth, but because I think that accusations such as that are, in the face of everything that I have said about not caring about, or not being a fan of any player, demonstrate that people really aren’t paying attention to what I am writing, or not believing me when I write it.

      Either way, it’s a contention that is impossible to refute. It also distresses me to a degree sufficient that I should return to absentee landlord status.

    8. It’s more than just a single comment though, isn’t it?

      To be clear, I have absolutely nothing against anyone holding any view whatsoever ( that sounds pompous – it’s not meant to) . It’ll be clear by now that I don’t always agree with prevailing sentiment and that I enjoy the cut and thrust of the comments section. I hope I usually manage to do that in a civilised way and please let me know if I don’t as its not intentional.

      However, I’m clear that although I think my views hold some merit and that I look at incidents and players objectively, I’m also clear that in the end they are my opinions, and as such Im happy to defend them and that events may well prove me wrong, no matter how strongly I hold them. I won’t BS you, though. I’m just not sure how anyone’s thoughts on something as subjective as a football match can be anything other than our opinions, no matter how objective we think we are being. Just my view on it, I know. Doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention or believing that’s what you’re trying to do. I like to think my ( previous) profession means that I can at least do that !

      I’m just not sure how you expect us to debate where all views are valued but yours are an objective account of the situation and any questioning of them constitutes an attack on your impartiality, and you feel you have to then withdraw from commenting. That’s your right but its hardly helpful when the leader of this space which you know I value ( I’m here rather than in real life half the time ! ) takes his ball home every time someone questions something he says. At the moment, you’re right, there needs to be a discussion about how we would like Barcelona to play. There is now a clear alternative to the ways of the last few years – as you say, maybe there even isn’t an alternative as we won’t have the players to continue as we have.

      The extracts below are all from this one article and comments and are intended to do no more than illustrate why I feel it was fair to respond in defence of Iniesta. I don’t think you have it in for them – I disagree with your opinions that’s all.

      “Compounding the complexity was the poor play from Iniesta, so there were no other options to get an attacker the ball. ”

      “I know it’s blasphemy, but my favorite midfield right now is Rakitic/Rafinha/Mascherano. ”

      “I wonder if the seeming inability to work Rakitic fully into the side has as much to do with the diminished capabilities of Xavi and Iniesta as it does Rakitic. ”

      “I would have subbed off Iniesta long before Rafinha yesterday. ”

      “No offense meant to anyone, but Xavi and Iniesta should have been gone by now,”

      “But what we now have is Iniesta, who shows flashes but still isn’t what he once was (and never will be)”

      I actually agree that we need to start integrating R+R into the side this season as you’re right, Xavi will be gone at the end of the season, although Iniesta is only thirty and we’ve all watched Giggs and Pirlo light up a midfield role all over Europe until nearer forty. I’ll even agree we’ve left it a little late as R+R are cleatly needing a first season to get used to our system. What I’m reluctant to do is cast someone aside because of the number beside his age. I also agree that at the moment, if you’re only going to play one of them, Xavi is playing better.

      (I’ve read and re-read my post and thought more than once about whether or not to post as I don’t want to see a situation where Kxevin retreats from commenting as he feels got at. This isn’t intended as anything of the sort and I’m clear we’re the worse off if that’s what he chooses to do. I value this community as it is and just worry that the length of this turns it into something more weighty than it was intended. Brevity was never my strongpoint. )

  8. I disagree with those taking issue with the writers motives of the article I posted. He says time and again he wishes to be proven wrong.

    He and those of us who have said critical things about this club are not bound to having to constantly be “right” , I never want to be proven “right” at the expense of my team losing/floundering. Which is why I take hard stances sometimes, worst that can happen is im proven wrong and that means the team solved whatever issue I was having.

    He is Someone who simply wants the best for this team, and sees loses as even worse because we can’t even say ” well at least we still have our set in stone system”. While that is an entirely different topic, I posted this because he gives actual reasons for his ire rather than simply flying off the handle for no reason.

    I appreciate your response Kevin, that’s the kind of thing I was looking for.
    Xavi I agree on being phased out already, but as spotty as is form can be, idk if people really expected Iniesta to take such a prolonged dip… Not sure what the long term/ next year answer is either…

    Still think we destroy City unless they park their Giants all game, but only Mou can get away with that in England I think…

    1. Well, I would say that we all want the best for the club and team, even if we sometimes disagree on the ideal path for that “best.” I just hope that we can all do it without forming factions, etc. It isn’t for or against, positive or negative. We all want to see the best from the club and the team.

      City will play it tight. I don’t expect Barça to walk the match, unlike others. I can see a 1-1 or 2-2 there, but we’ll see.

    2. I completely agree. I definitely want what’s best for the club and team. I also have no interest in forming an opposing faction. However, when you post that both Xavi and Iniesta “should have been gone by now”, that Iniesta is in obvious decline, and shouldn’t be in our starting midfield, you’re obviously voicing a strong opinion, of which I strongly disagree with.

      If the club and Luis feel it’s necessary to sell Iniesta, I’m sure there will be plenty of takers.

    3. Doug, we are supposed to disagree. Any space such as this that marches in lock step isn’t a very interesting one. Disagreement is how ideas improve, disagreement is how opinions are made clearer, forged on the anvil of dissent. I love disagreement. Respect is the only thing I am after.

      Disagreement doesn’t mean factions. It just means discussion. I just don’t want any more, if it can be helped, of the idea that certain opinions, people or notions aren’t welcome here. Everyone is welcome here, as are their ideas. The discussion is what makes this space work. Nobody here is a cheerleader, or negative, or a blind follower, etc, etc. Everyone here loves the club enough to come to a space and discuss it. And that’s cool.

      But nobody should be attacked for any opinion, positive, negative or whatever, or feel like they are being marginalized or disrespected. I see that more often than I should in this space, and need to make that very clear. Any and all views are welcome and respected. If people are treated with disrespect, a mod will step in to make things clear, such as when agar was personally attacked in a previous comments thread.

      — To clarify, I think that the club has been in limbo since Guardiola left, with a succession of coaches that has made it impossible to truly evaluate the direction in which the team needs to go. A regrettable degree of ruthlessness need be present if a team is to remain at top level. The Fabregas and Sanchez transfers are a couple of examples, even if they are easier than considering more distressing transfer options. For example, what if the club had kept Sanchez and sold Iniesta, using Sanchez in something of the roaming role he plays at Arsenal? Interesting.

      I have nothing against Xavi or Iniesta. But they and Neymar occupy different tactical worlds, when you think about it. So does Suarez in some ways. That midfield-based, possession-loving Barça must, of necessity, adapt. So the flank-based play that many scoff at, I see as a natural adaptation to the direction in which the game is headed.

      So yes, I wonder if Xavi and Iniesta are the right candidates as that team and system evolve. It doesn’t mean I dislike them, or disrespect what they did for the club. But time and teams move on. Hopefully the team can have some stability and keep Enrique, and the new president (yes, I am being hopeful) decides to keep him in place so that the team can have the same coach two seasons in a row for a change. Then we can see what the next steps will be in the evolution of Barça.

  9. Is anyone else starting to get annoyed by our two headed keeper solution? Ter Stegen is clearly the keeper of the future and needs playing time to integrate himself into the team. I appreciate what Bravo has achieved in the league but the team’s best potential can only be reached with Ter Stegen in goal. We need a sweeper keeper who is great with his passing. TS may be more prone to make mistakes than Bravo at his point but there is a lot that we are giving up.

    Teams will continue to try to hit us on the counter by hoofing the ball long and there is no better goalie other than Neuer to prevent this. You can’t “blame” Bravo for Danni’s mistake against Malaga but with Ter Stegen in goal that ball would have been cleared and it would just have been a cute example of “Dani being Dani” like numerous times with Valdes in goal.

    Good as Bravo has been, you can’t ask a 31 year old goalie to be something he is not. To win the League or the Champions League at this point we need a Valdes 2.0. Ter Stegen just isn’t going to be that if he only plays a few times a month.

    1. I wouldn’t say annoyed, but certainly intrigued. There are two ways of looking at it, I reckon. One is that Bravo is playing in the competition that Barça is least likely to win in the Liga, right? (I would insert a smiley emoticon if I used such things.)

      But I do think it speaks volumes that Ter Stegen is the keeper of choice in the two cup competitions. Champions League is a huge deal. Unlike with Valdes and Pinto, where Pinto would bring things along until they got serious sometimes, Ter Stegen is the keeper of choice for the two competitions in which Barça has a realistic shot at silver.

      Next season will be interesting. You could almost see Bravo moving on and the Masia kid becoming No. 2 keeper if Enrique remains as coach. Clearly Bravo wasn’t purchased as a long-term option, but I also think the team reckons the Ter Stegen language skills were important to deal with.

      Agree with you on Bravo vs Ter Stegen. It’s an instinct thing. Ter Stegen’s option is to play out from the net, and sweep. Bravo is more of a stay home keeper. Should Barça advance past City, will Ter Stegen get some Liga matches, just for competition sharpness? Interesting question.

  10. Regarding the link above by that Brazilian guy who calls himself a ranting Cruijffista and bitches about our club regardless of when we win, lose, play badly or rock the house (you have to at least admire his consistency)…

    That guy’s funny. I wonder if he was even alive when Cruijff coached. He certainly didn’t watch many of his games live on TV (I mean, how could he if most games weren’t broadcasted live back then). I read a quote the other day, which I’ll paraphrase:

    “Cruijff always told me to look for the most forward player first and if the pass is not there play the ball to the player closest to me.”
    Pep Guardiola

    Food for thought? A line behind Pep was Ronald Koeman whose pinpoint precision meant he could put the ball anywhere on the pitch.

    Do I think our ideal midfield is Masche – Rakitic – Rafinha? As much as I’d like to have a midfield we can call Marara I just don’t see the quality there. And by quality I mean, ooooffffff, quality. However, a ranting Cruijffista who writes that because we don’t try to tiki taka our way through 90 minutes of football we are betraying “the way” should just stop ranting. I stopped reading some time ago in any case.

    1. As long as we are breaking into factions, I want to start the anti-Pep society which is founded on the following beliefs:

      1) Ibra and Eto are both cool guys and easy to get along with.
      2) Pep has such a bad case of OCD that he should be forbidden from coaching.
      3) Pep underperformed in the Champions League and his legacy was founded on an illegitimate “Miracle” at Stamford Bridge”.
      4) Pep is Anti-American euro-trash because he refused to shake the opponent coach’s hand when his team played the MLS all-stars.
      5) Pep actually secretly sought to trade Xavi for Steven Gerrard because he wanted to remain “Barca’s greatest midfielder”.
      6) Pep ruined young Bojan’s confidence and career by refusing to start him in the CL final in 2011.
      7) Any argument that criticizes a coach because it’s not what Pep would have done is null and void.
      8) A team should be forced to forfeit a match if it ever has more than 80% possession.
      9) We party like it’s 1999 whenever Bayern lose.
      10) Italy’s drug ban against Pep should be reopened and he should be extradited to Rome in a new trial for “crimes against football”.

    2. 5) Pep actually secretly sought to trade Xavi for Steven Gerrard because he wanted to remain “Barca’s greatest midfielder”.

      But then he would be Barca’s second greatest MF, behind Stevie G!
      Trolololol, YNWA

    3. To be honest, whilst kicking off football manager seasons I used to ditch Busi for Gerrard.

      The only thing missing in Pep’s Barca : Those 30 yards screamers

    4. It’s really funny. I’ve been watching barcelona late ’90s. Before Pep, I’ve never seen barca playing “tiki-taka”. Luis Enrique’s barca much similar to Rijkaard’s barca. As they said Rijkaard is a “Cruijffista” because Cruyff “appointed” him. I wonder where these guys were in Rijkaard days. I would like to ask if Rijkaard (who played Cruyff’s main European rival side AC Milan) is a “Cruijffista”, then how come Luis Enrique(who was Barca’s former captain and former B team manager) isn’t? Worthy to mention, Laropte brought back Luis Enrique to B team (So far as I know, they said, Laporte is Cruijffista).

    5. I think that ideas can be discussed without attacking the person who presents them. Lucas Resende has very strong ideas, as do we all. But it gets messy when we stray from discussing those ideas.

  11. I don’t there is/has been a tactical shift where the wings are now the main forte. There wings have pretty much been where some of the games been shifted. I think that Barca played more through the middle because we had a stubborn manager who believed in his ideas and stubbornly hung to them even in the face of adversity. In the same manner he exhorted and emboldened his teams to play from the back even amidst the suffocating EE press that would quickly and severely punish any sloppiness. So Barcelona mostly bucked the trend of using the wings because of the coach and also the personnel which could probe probe and probe more.

    Despite these seeming changes/ no changes a coach welded to a certain viewpoint would remain loyal. LE, it seems, is not that dogmatic a coach. Not that i am complaning.

  12. I was thinking about how much Abidal made possible yesterday, as some very smart tactical notes on Twitter discussed Puyol and his role in the press and specific pressure as applied to opposition forwards.

    I responded that Abidal made all that possible because of his quality, range, pace and calmness on the ball. So Puyol could roam because somebody always had his back. It’s a quality that has been absent since Abidal departed.

    Alba has pace, but isn’t calm. He doesn’t seem to have that same lateral range either, though he clearly has the pace to go sideline to sideline, as Abidal did. People always talked back then about Barça playing a dangerously high line but it wasn’t all that dangerous, really, because of Abidal and Puyol, the erasers.

    Things seem more contextually fragile today because even if we envision Mascherano in that Puyol “fireman” role, as conflagrations pop up, Alba is off running around somewhere and the play is usually behind Busquets at that time. So Alba has to come steaming in, but is scrambling rather than the days of Abidal, where he’s just standing there waiting for the play to develop.

    The defense seemed so calm then because it was. Alves has never been a defensive stalwart, but the difference was that Pique could be fully confident that all he had to do was hold down that side. Now, he might have to back Mascherano who is off putting out another fire or covering for Alba.

    While the defense isn’t more fragile, it is more precarious. There are more “Whew!” moments because of the structure of the team and how it defends and attacks attackers, not to mention of course the change in the press and how it works.

    — In other news, the Messi/Enrique stuff is back, because why wouldn’t it be, right? One bad result=crisis return.

    — In a world chockablock with objective data, it’s always worth considering what we see. MD posted a stat that Mathieu started in 6 of 7 of the negative result matches. If you look at that for a moment, you think “Daaaaammn, what’s up with Mathieu?” But let’s flip that.

    “Messi started in 6 of the 7 matches in which Barça was winless.”

    Looks different/more absurd now, doesn’t it? I’m never sure where data like this comes from. Going farther back, remember when Barça hadn’t lost a match that Song started? That’s another example. Dribbles, successful dribbles, take ons, short passes, long passes, parsed by either foot, etc, etc. Data without analysis is just data.

    1. Interesting end point to this piece from totalbarca:

      “Despite this loss, Barcelona have been the best team in Europe since the November international break, when the team first turned a corner and fully incorporated Luis Suárez. Since then, they have won 19 games, drawn 1, and lost 2, better than Real Madrid (W16D1L3), Bayern Munich (W10D2L2), and Chelsea (W14D6L3).”

  13. Don’t you just hate when friends come round and you have to sit making polite chatter while watching your team go down on the TV in the background ? My impression at the time, while paying lip service to the current topic of conversation was that there was no energy about us. I’ve now just rematches the whole match and I confess I’m not a lot clearer about what happened.

    I know Malaga played well, held a suicidally high backline and got away with it ( although there were at least a couple of decisions which should really have gone our way. They pressed with vigour but still threw quite a few forward when they countered and, crucially, whenever they lost it the nearest man stopped our reply, legally or otherwise. Good play.

    After that it gets hazier for me. Yes, any team can lose a game anytime but that’s an easy out. For me, we did lack energy ( not effort which to me is slightly different). Our press was wishy washy and more than one player seemed clueless as to what their job was on that day.

    We broke the cardinal rule of having to chase the game from early. No idea what Alves was doing, no idea why we didn’t have two left back in the middle for the corner but as we didn’t Alves doesn’t take that chance and headers it away. No blame to Bravo and in reply to other thoughts about Ter Stegen it really wouldn’t be fair for me to put him in just now. Bravo has been great – no blame for this goal- his starting position was perfect. TS has made way more errors and has me more nervous I general than Bravo, even although I know he is a super keeper and will hopefully be our number one for years.
    Defence played okay for me. I thought Pique was immense again, Mathieu was better and Alba got up and down really well although final ball wasn’t great. I wouldn’t be too hard on Alves. He doesn’t really have previous in making goal costing errors but it’s what I often say about Masche – trying that pass back just isn’t thinking like a CB. If you’re last man back and on your own get it out of there. I’m having a hard time remembering Abidal’s lateral contributions as well. My recollection is that he was ( as Pep insisted ) so high up he was unavailable and that our defensive solidity was down to having the best CB partnership in the world. That’s not to be confused with when Abidal played CB when I thought he played really well and did a lot of covering.
    Midfield was a mess, yes you do need a quality midfield and for me that’s one of the reasons they were still running at the end. We just didn’t move the ball often enough or fast enough to keep them having to adjust position. The game hasn’t moved to the wings- they are left undermanned because it’s actually quite difficult to create anything from wide when you don’t have a tall forward line. The angles are much easier to close down. Ask my bounce game pals from a Monday night. All they look to do is hit the byeline and lob a slow high ball over expecting the tall CBs to somehow miss it. Btw, how many crosses did we fire in last night ? Jeez…

    However, I’ve said all this before so I’ll leave it at defending Iniesta ( as I’ve been giving him a hard time recently). I thought he had a decent game, certainly better than Rafinha who to me struggles to get involved, partly because he hasn’t grasped the Xavi/ Iniesta technique of ghosting into space just as the passer wants to pass. Again, for me, he fills the space too early allowing time for a marker to readjust. However, you can learn that. Not sure why Kxevin believes you can’t play Neymar and Xavi together. Great players can always play together and we need great players in our midfield or else we end up as yesterday with Messi feeling he has to come back to the halfway line to become playmaker.
    The forwards tried hard but it was a difficult night. I reckon Messi was in power save mode for tomorrow night, resulting in a lot of ( really great but ultimately unsuccessful) cross balls from much deeper than he should. He also gave up his RW berth a little to early / easily for me. Suarez was up against it with that high backline looking for offside. That’s why the mids were so importent. Crosses weren’t doing it as we were using them too often and they were ready for them. Plan B had to be mids bursting into the box late or one twos at the edge of the area. Too often when I froze the screen during an attack there was only Suarez in the danger area. In recent weeks we’ve done better than that.

    All in all, very disappointing and certainly no better on a second watching. What does it mean for Man City? Nothing. There’ll be the usual reaction but the league is now more difficult. Be interesting to see the midfield lineup for that game. Their midfield isn’t bad but Yaya isn’t usually up for too much chasing about after small ones. Agree with the comment above that a Masche, Rafinha, Rakitic combo in midfield doesn’t have nearly enough quality but then I wouldn’t have left Xavi on the bench to watch that disaster unfold last night either so I can’t guess what he’s thinking about.

    1. Note that I didn’t say “can’t play Xavi and Neymar together.” But they represent two different worlds, which is symptomatic of the state that Barça finds itself in, I suppose.

      The TotalBarça breakdown that I put up a link to breaks down what happened better than I can explain. But essentially Malaga had the perfect game plan and we played into their hands. Two weeks earlier Levante beat them 4-1, but they had the same kind of match against Levante that we had against them, compounded by them trying to actually attack.

      Ultimately you can point to any individual player and say that he wasn’t bad. It’s the collective that was starved of ideas and ultimately, goals. There was passing instead of shooting, ill-advised passes in the teeth of a packed defense, just a mess in general. That happens. Better in Liga, where errors can be made up, than in Champions League.

      But if a team is going to try to isolate Messi and Neymar, danger has to come from somewhere, and it didn’t. So no real danger was created. That happens, as well.

      — Also worthy of note is the Sid Lowe Busquets interview that I link to above. He discusses the evolution of the game, usage of space and how the way that Barça plays is changing in response to the demands of the way the team is being attacked now. Very interesting.

    2. Decent interview, Kxevin, but not a lot new elicited from Busi although the confirmation of mix of styles is interesting. I suspect he’s a nightmare to interview although an intelligent guy.
      I’ve just read the review in Total Barca and I have to say I think it’s spot on.

  14. Another stat may be worthy to note. All the matches barca lost this season conceded either within 10 minutes on first half or within 10 minutes on on second half. Against Real Sociedad and Malaga conceded early on first half. Against Celta and Real Madrid early on second half. Against PSG conceded early in both half.

    Few times notably turned around – Against Atletico after conceding early on first half, against Villarreal on second half. Both are in last winning streaks.

  15. I don’t know about other social media channels, but on here discussion of the team and the match seems very civil and levelheaded. I really like this space, and thought it was worth mentioning since many see Barca fans as pessimistic doomsayers when the team isn’t winning everything.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow evening…

  16. anyone want to guess on our midfield vs man city?

    i think xavi will start. otherwise i dont see why he wouldnt have played vs malaga.

    i think we will have our classic xavi-ini-bui midfield.

    1. You wouldn’t catch me arguing with that call – nor betting on it, sadly. However, I agree. I can only think that’s why Xavi sat it out. Big decision for LE though either way. MC don’t have a huge attack so I’ve a feeling we’ll see Pique and Masche at the back with the normal front three. I can see them really coming at us first twenty though. We’ll have to be ready for it and top it in intensity. Then our ball playing will tell. Just hope Messi is prepared to stay wide.

    2. Just watched Revista. Hunter bumped for the Malage CEO which is a pity but a quote from LE which I hadn’t heard and which I think was spot on

      “We lacked a lot of balance going forward. If we don’t have patience to play the ball from one side to the other, then our opponent’s strengths appear.”

      Exactly, Lucho. Hope for you yet my son !

    3. i think it’s great that we have given so many looks in midfield this year. that way, the choice of playing a xavi-ini-busi midfield — which will be critical for keeping possession vs man city that will look to close us down and win the ball — becomes much less easy to foresee than in the past.

      there are other factors about which we might not have complete info… for instance, xavi’s fitness status.

  17. No Chance LE will play Xavi, Ini, Busi in idfield.
    We are away to city and we need a bit o steel in our midfield. So either of Xavi/Ini and Busi and Masche. I would say Xavi to start to give us that extra bit of control in midfield. The rest would remain the same. But just as a thought, dos anyone think Bartra will start in place of Dani?? More defensive cover, more confidence etc. etc.

    1. I was thinking the same thing: Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets lost both games they started as a midfield trio this year. The reason I would go with Busquets is that he is much better with Xavi on the pitch and you need Masch on Aguero.

  18. Bragging rights for who gets the lineup right!

    Here is my prediction:

    Alves. Pique. Masch. Alba
    Rakitic. Xavi

    I haven’t read that much of the previews yet but one interesting back story is going to be the battle of the coaches. Enrique and Pellegrini are in similar positions in that if they don’t win this tie they will likely not be coaching their teams next year. I expect Pelligrini will dictate the tempo of the game. He was very conservative last year, but if he decides to attack, the tie could be decided tonight.

  19. This could be it:





    Like last season, City will keep it tight. Only that it will be more tighter, aggressive this time. If Matheiu was in form, he starts with Pique at the back for me, cos Masch presence in the midfield is essential to countering the physicality that Man city would offer through Yaya and Fernandinho. Obviously, Busquests would be bullied, ditto Xavi and Iniesta.

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