Granada 1, Barça 3, aka “Change is good”


“Why aren’t people happy with your team?”

It’s an interesting query that I had to deal with the other day on Champions League day, which is pretty the only time that a Prem-centric universe pays attention to those little guys from Spain. It was a struggle to come to grips with the answer, but finally came the distillation: the team is winning, but it isn’t winning in the right way.

What makes the above summary even more interesting is comparing the away match at Granada this year to last. Barça lost away to Granada last season, as it pranged the ball around in a half-assed tribute to a Way that used to be, patient midfield play in the form of a stylistic white flag from its then-coach, Gerardo Martino.

This year, Barça won off of the strength of three goals rooted in a dynamic brand of football. Yes, the passes came from a midfielder, but rather than the possession-based probing, the waiting for an opening and keeping the ball until one came, the pass reacted to the run of a dynamic forward, and struck. had Messi as MOTM, a selection that was as hilarious as it was myopic. Rakitic was MOTM in a walk for this watcher as he played a superb, dominant, all-pitch match. He was involved in all three goals as well as defense and possession, he was brilliant along with Suarez, even as the team wasn’t. Even more interesting is his midfielder display at a time when again, some observers of the team are suggesting that Enrique isn’t doing things in the right way.

Sergio Busquets had something very insightful to say on the matter, in a recent Guardian interview with Sid Lowe:

“ … at first under Guardiola, teams didn’t give us so much respect; they played openly. Now 95% of them wait, shut down, and counter-attack. It’s more difficult to play one-touch [so the new style] is partly a reaction to other teams. It’s a mix now. Team-mates are not as close to me, which has advantages and disadvantages. There’s more space and a lot more counter-attacks. We have players that can change the game. Messi, Neymar, Suárez … ”

Do you perform the same task in the same way irrespective of the personnel in place? Farmers don’t hitch carts to thoroughbreds. They have plowhorses for that. Change, and adaptability to change in a footballing world that reveres the past is something worth considering. The game respects the views of past greats on a game that they only see in the stands or on television. And people listen, rather than saying “But things are different now.” This is in part because there’s really no way to catch them out, but also because people want the past.

Just as old people want to be young again, culers cherish the days of the Capering Sprites and the lovely midfield triangles, elegant dissections of mostly willing opponents. It was only when those opponents decided to rise up against the oppression that complexities arose, and coaches took a shot at attempting to solve them. Tito Vilanova opened up the attack to make the game more vertical, a revolution that was interrupted by his illness.

Tata Martino came in and cranked the volume on verticalidad, a move that got him little more than scorn that reached its hilarious, absurd culmination in a 4-0 pasting of Rayo that was “bad” because the team lost the possession stats. And Martino, chastened, backed off the revolution that saw Barça roar into the break a record-setting side, and went back to plunking the ball around midfield against opponents who probably couldn’t believe their luck.

Luis Enrique came in, and didn’t give a damn what anyone said. He had a notion, wanted to not only build a Barça that was adaptable, but also build a Barça suited to the strengths of its attackers. He ignored the dogmatic ruckus raised by those who cherish the midfield elegance of bygone days because like Busquets, Enrique understands that the game has changed, that opponents are no longer willing to stand around and marvel at Xavi and Iniesta as they make curlicues. And even if they were, Xavi and Iniesta can’t make those curlicues any longer. They can no longer meet their own sepia-toned standard as time does what it does. But even beyond that, opponents force an adaptation that a team would be foolish not to undertake. It isn’t wrong to bang a ball to Neymar and let him do his thing. It’s just a different way of responding to a stimulus.


There were a few Xavi comparisons made to the Rakitic performance today on social media, comparisons that I desperately wish hadn’t been made, because Xavi isn’t the point. Xavi is a brilliant player and a true Barça legend. But he isn’t and shouldn’t be a reference because he is, like he and Capering Sprites, a wonderful one-off that culers should blow the dust off of and unveil to remind people of a more beautiful, stylistic time.

Change is always necessary in response to a stimulus, and resistance to it is illogical. Many scoffed at Enrique for adapting to opponents, suggesting that “Barça has its style, and people should adapt to us.” Opponent after opponent did, and that was the problem. Adding to that is that at this point in time, Barça has the best, most dynamic attack in world football. To misuse that attack in service of a Way would be absurd and frankly, silly.

Look at today’s first goal. Alba banged a lovely, long pass for Suarez to run onto. Suarez just banged the ball into the box, something that I wish our attackers would do more often, a speculative spear of a lash at the ball that essentially said, “Something cool could happen here.” In the ensuing consternation, a defender made the wrong play on the ball and Rakitic slammed it home. A long pass and a cross.

The second goal was even “worse,” as Raktic again worked a give-and-go with Suarez that culminated in a lobbed ball over the top for Suarez to run onto. Then he finished, as the Footy Gods wept.

Speed, pace, versatility and dynamism are never, ever bad things, even at the expense of misguided notions of identity. What did people think of the long runs and dynamic passes over distance of Ronaldinho, or the long passes out into space for Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o to run onto? What did they make of Guardiola’s defenders, banging long, attack-starting passes out of the back? It’s worth wondering again. The short, triangle-based passing game was every bit as much a reaction to a stimulus as the way that Barça plays now is. An old person’s life isn’t “wrong” because they aren’t 25 again.

Granada, at home, came out ready to fight. Ray Hudson described it as an alley fight, which was very apt. They pushed, poked, charged, fouled and tried to make life as difficult as possible for a team that was coming off a high-energy midweek display against a top-quality European opponent. It was a team that Granada suspected wouldn’t be at its best, and it wasn’t.


As intricate and lovely as the system of the recent past was, complexities arose when the team wasn’t functioning at its best, as the interrelated parts didn’t mesh. At Granada today, really only Rakitic and Suarez were standouts. Xavi was invisible and most ineffective because this wasn’t his kind of match. That was the opponent’s fault, rather than anything having to do with anything that Enrique did. Messi was off. Neymar was dynamic, but not as effective as he has been in the past. And still, Barça won.

That Barça won today in that very different way was no more “wrong” than when the team Barça defeated Atleti by, in essence, playing without a midfield. These situations are just part of the game, which is different from day to day, match to match, minute to minute. Adapt or die. It has been noted before that Barça is less secure and more dangerous this season. There is something about having the ball all the time that reassures. Even if they won’t let us score, at least they won’t score.

But it’s really a question of method vs results. The bottom line for many is that a successful team is objectively doing things the right way. It is only in the subjective realm that things such as not playing the right way enters the picture. The challenge is in defining that right way, applying a model or template to the way that a set of athletes goes about its business. That’s a challenge, because a team and its coaches are always going to adapt. The triangles came about because of a personnel change. Messi as false 9 came about because of personnel change. If a team could keep on winning by playing the exact same way all time, why wouldn’t it?

At what point is the system flawed because of what it is, rather than the people tasked with executing it. And what is the sin in changing that system to adapt and potentially triumph over a new set of demands.

That, of course, depends on who you ask. Granada for example, isn’t all all pleased with the Barça adaptation.


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. Interesting review of this game and defense of Enrique. The problem with trying to size up Enrique at this point is that to a fan without any inside knowledge of the team and the dynamics of the lockeroom, I find it hard to draw any definitive conclusions about his performance so far. The team is currently playing well and we have a legitimate chance at all three titles, so I would imagine Enrique’s fate as Barca coach will be decided over the next few months. My guess is that to stay on the team has to either win La Liga or at least get to the finals of the Champions League and that’s probably the standard that would make me support him as well.

    Perhaps the most unfortunate event this year happened before the season started at the World Cup in the Italy-Uruguay match and it would have been an interesting counter-factual to imagine how the team would be doing have Suarez played the full year. There might be an effective partnership developing between Rakitic and Suarez as their skills seem to complement each other well and this game may be the best indication of that yet. In this sense, Suarez and Rakatic may have been the perfect signings and it’s unfortunate that it took six months to begin to see how well they can fit into the team. Let’s hope that the first half of the Man City game is an indication of the type of football we will play in the decisive games coming up in the business end of the season.

  2. First things first. I’m happy we got the points yesterday and Im not unhappy with the way we got them. Sometimes you have to just get the ball forward quickly and not make mistakes at the back. It was a horrible pitch, not conducive to good football and apparently windy as well. We’ve all been there and in such conditions it can take you two or three touches just to control a ball. Also, For me, Rakitic looked like a Barca midfielder for the second game in a row which is pleasing.

    However, what’s with this constant dissing of “the way”? I’m not sure what that actually is as we’ve always scored goals of all sorts but leave that aside. If we assume that there is/was a way can we have a look at the case for it failing ?

    Last season we reached the final of the Copa, the semi finals of the CL and finished second in LA Liga. Not a bad return although we’d all obviously want better. Wait a minute though. Are we all remembering how we “failed” in these trophies.

    In the Copa

    We had Pinto in goal. Didn’t cover himself in glory in either the first or second goals
    We had no Pique so it was Bartra Masche in the middle at the back. Not having a go at Bartra but no way should Bale have lived through that challenge on the sidelines.

    In the CL

    We had Pinto in goal
    We only had Pique for about 10 minutes over the two legs
    We suffered a ridiculously great goal from a speculative hoof from a player who hadn’t done it before- or since
    We scored a beautiful goal in full accordance with the way with Iniesta’s slide rule pass through a packed defence

    In the league
    We had it in our hands on the last day at home and were leading 1-0 before they scored from a corner and, well, we’ve been there before in terms of who was meant to be marking. (Xavi was also sitting on the bench in a decision he described as one of the most surprising and disappointing of his career but we’ll leave that aside)

    That doesn’t strike me as a bad effort. When you add that
    Neymar is now in his second season and twice the player he was last,
    Messi was totally distracted, by his own admission for parts of the season,
    we now have two excellent keepers in case one gets injured,
    you add Suarez to the mix as a presence in the box (which some of us had been calling for since Villa was signed and despatched to the wing )

    you have a much more potent outfit whether or not you pursue ” the way”.

    Winning ugly is fine. I genuinely have no problem with it on days like yesterday but it’s not something I want to watch week after week. I could tune into the EPL for that ( well, I do, but that’s not helping my argument so we’ll leave that aside). It will also not take us over the final hurdle imo. For that we need all parts of our team firing. What I have a difficulty with is the constant restating of something that as far as I can see didn’t happen and a notion that somehow Tata had the answer and threw it away when it is at least equally likely that he realised that it’s better to have quality football and control of the ball to win trophies and he was just derailed by Tito, VV, Pique’s injury, a lack of genuine threat up front and some individual defensive errors.

    I hope this doesn’t come over as a pessimistic outlook. I still think we will win one of the big ones this year but it won’t be because we abandon ” the way”. Rakitic’s goal yesterday wasn’t something to point to in admiration. It was a hopeful cross aimed at nobody because there was nobody to aim it at. We had an outrageous slice of luck that the defender not only duffed it but in the precise way he did for it to result in a goal. It was the sort of goal my hometown team has to rely on. Most of our goals are still scored by passing through a packed defence, will be for the foreseeable future and for that, imo, we will need the way.

    1. I have an issue with some people thinking that it’s only a Barca goal of five or six players are involved in the build up. All the best teams have various ways of scoring goals and ignoring that you have Neymar, Messi and Suarez in your team would be incredibly stupid.
      Tiki taka was coined as a phrase to describe the passing triangles that our midfield used to control the game but then people used it to describe any possession football and all of a sudden a lot of teams were playing tiki taka even though they weren’t and then we started realising that we needed more than one way of playing in order to evolve.

      I don’t have a problem with any of it.

      I was delighted seeing Rakitic and Suarez being the match winners yesterday, it’s more evolution. Neymar getting a match rest will be good for him and giving Pedro a start should be good for him too. I would love to see Messi getting a match rest too but our fforward line is too thin on the bench so I still don’t think I’ll see it any time soon.

    2. Not sure if you think I have an issue with any Barca goal, Ciaran, because I don’t. Especially Rakitic’s yesterday as I was just starting to get that feeling.

      We’ve always scored all types of goals under Pep, from long shots to quick through balls ( that’s what made Pedro his name really ) to beautiful movements in the box with flicks and tricks. No problem with any of them. With the three we have up front at the moment it is a good idea to get them the ball quickly if there’s a chance for a quick break. Never had anything against that. But how often does that happen? Since Christmas say, how many of our goals have been scored against one or two left at the back? All I’m saying is that it’s not the answer to most of our situations because we will find ourselves up against a packed defence and having to ping the ball about quickly just outside their box looking to move them from side to side. I don’t want us to end up relying just on that because teams will find an answer to that, too. Never used the phrase tika Taka. Don’t know what it means.

      Georgjorge, you’re right and I wasn’t trying to put a distance between us. We score anyway we can and play as circumstances dictate. I was taking issue with the notion that possession football had somehow failed us last season which I can’t see how the facts support, certainly not at the moment. Do you really think we wouldn’t have done better with a top GK ( sorry, but Pinto was never that, much as we loved him), a fit Pique, 2nd season Neymar and Suarez occupying the CBs ? We also need to watch because Messi takes his rest in games during periods when we stroke the ball about. If we start playing back to front all the time we will then need to rest him a lot more.

      Lala10, sorry I don’t understand what you mean by positioning. Do you mean a more defensive formation?

      Georgjorge, as an English teacher (ex) I have complete authority to go with the flow of language change or oppose it ! Just as well I’m not one who clings to the past 🙂

    3. The mids were too far apart and Xavi was not central enough. He was way too left and as a result the game passed him by. I don’t really get what his role was yesterday.

      Only Raktic seemed to thrive there.

    4. Sorry, Lala. I thought you were referring to the last game of last season which I had mentioned. Absolutely agree with what you say about yesterday. Right substitution and no idea what his role was although it wasn’t a day for getting the ball down and playing anyway.

    5. Not at all Jim, if I meant you I would have said that.
      I am very happy that we have more ways to win a match than we had last season or any of the recent seasons. We have vvery different types of midfielders, forwards and even defenders but I still don’t think that we have enough quality backing up our forwards.

    6. I think you’re not even that far from what Kxevin is also trying to impress, namely, that sometimes you can win ugly, sometimes you can win in a beautiful way, but it’s always dependent on the conditions you’re playing in (including of course the opponent) which way you’ll be able to play. I would love for Barca to form beautiful triangles in every match – and I think that’s what Kxevin argues against – but it’s just not possible anymore in every match, and maybe not even in most matches. That we didn’t win anything last season with that style of play (and I really think it didn’t depend mainly on injuries and individual errors, also we only made quarters in the Champions League) is only part of it; other parts are that Xavi won’t be playing for us much longer, and that we have three attackers who are not exactly at their best in a tiki-taka-system.

      Or maybe I just misunderstood your or Kxevin’s points. On an aside, this must be the first time I’ve seen an English teacher use the verb “dissing”. Wouldn’t you get expelled from some English teacher society for that?

      What I’d like to know, however, is who these people are who seem to cling to this “way” of Barca and insult the team when they don’t play it even if they’re winning – because I sure don’t see many of them in this space.

  3. And thanks to Villarreal, we now have things in our own hand again. Heroic effort without some of their stars. Hat’s off, and a very exciting game. It is becoming increasingly obvious that CR is adopting a more pure striker role; he is certainly not involved much in the play apart from some little flick sideways before he runs toward the box. Missed plenty, but buried the penalty no problem. Madrid did not look overly impressive, tired (like some of our players did, too). Will be an exciting spring, this!

  4. remember the last few weeks of last season…it seems none of RM, AM, or Barca could take the Liga by the neck…everyone kept losing. who knows, maybe something similar happens this year. The season is long and men get tired…

    but, this weekend has been good to us and i am happy for that. now to book our place in the CdR final vs a very good villareal side, wednesday…

  5. I am more and more interested in the role of luck in football. If enough things don’t go its, then any team, no matter how good, will not get 3 points from a match. Here is where figures like Guardiola and Mourinho are fascinating because I think each in his way wants his team to play in a way that takes luck out of the equation. Guardiola’s and Spain’s “tiki-taka” 2010-2012 side sought to take luck out of the equation by keeping possession of the ball. Mourinho, on the other hand, tries to reduce the role of luck in a match by doing his best to make sure his team does not concede and then score on the counter. Since both usually coach top teams then both strategies look are enormously successful in not losing unless one of its players “makes a mistake”.

    Fast forward to Barca this year and I think that some of the dissatisfaction with a game like Granada is that we were in no way tactically or even technically better than our opponent, but instead relied on the superiority of our players to somehow manage to take advantage of the “lucky” opportunities that fell our way to score. To me, the irony is that this is just the kind of style that could win us La Liga. We should count our blessings when team wants to go toe to toe with us and take their chances to win the game. In the end, it is far better for us then facing parked buses week after week. In this sense being an imperfect team that seemingly can be beaten or has to rely on “luck” works to our advantage and opponents might start playing us more like they do other teams including RM.

    1. …and lesser teams try to take skill out of the equation by leaving the pitch in a horrible state, fouling, etc.

    2. that said we had 67% possession vs granada, probably not significantly different from the average rate during the guardiola era. id say this was a very professional victory, no blessings to count..we created more than they did, didnt have 3 keys members of our spanish “columna” in the lineup, etc…a professional victory. no bus to face, but not a good pitch for the same passing we saw vs man city. i wouldnt call it luck…we played the way we needed to play…(id say it was a conscious choice, after reading the post-match comments from the team and coach.)

  6. True, but I don’t mind other teams opening up and thinking that with a little luck then can beat us. Even RM fans who are down at this moment are reassuring themselves about the Classico with quotes like this :
    “It’s just a game… They have Alves too so anything is possible.”

  7. Davour has re-echoed what I once said here. CR just wants to bang in those goals to win him some balon d’or. He is now hardly involved in meaningful play build up and notice a large chunk of his goals have been scored in the box. He gets the ball, gives a pass to the either side and dashes into the box to get at the end of a tap in or a header. You won’t blame him, the balon d’or has been reduced to a goal scoring contest so why not? That’s why for me it will always be unfair for anyone to compare him with Messi. He should be put in the Suarez, Ibrahimovic and Benzema category where I even feel they are more technically gifted than him

  8. Looking forward to Wednesday, I wanna see the faces of those who believe Villa real can beat us 2-0 at the end of the match especially those of the writers on

  9. Funny how this new disconcerting style gets the blame when we lose. I think because it seems more dangerous than tiki-taka. But there is inherent danger in any style. When we lost playing tiki-taka, it always seemed terribly unjust: the refs, the fouls, the footy gods, were to blame, never the style….except maybe to say we needed a plan B. Well now we have a plan B, a C, a Q, and who knows what. It will probably take another year ’til it no longer hurts the eyes. I hope the mister gets that long, even if we “fail” and take second in la liga, the cup and bow out of the CL in the semis.

  10. Really what all this banter, about the failings of ‘the way’? its just amazing.
    like seriously, yall should take a moment and honestly ask yourself, if teams actually adapted to a fit sharp in-form FCBarcelona tiki-taka weilding side, or did they rather adapted to a slow, unfit, lackadasical barca?..i mean, its bearable when haters rant about tiki-taka being outdated, but to hear cules, with emphasis, cules, join in that rickety train of misguided thoughts, is- to say the least, really depressing
    i mean, will anyone in his right mind- and by that i mean being objective, ever ever wager his lifesavings, that a fit, motivated sharp and ready barca, wont take to the cleaners teams, who right about now, have supposedly adapted to them? come on now
    i mean, its apparent that when pep began to lose it, unfit players, where the pinnacle of his problems..i dont know, when cules go on a tirade against ‘tiki-taka’, i just get to think there’ve got something against it..i really don’t know if its a case of masking your grief for the bygone glory days of the recent past with these- to be generous, antagonistics stance toward tiki-taka..seriously its baffles me, cause this aint about saying the players havnt got what it takes now- which is more logical, but which i dont also think its the just getting everything twisted up..take your mind back, even after the glorious tackle by batra on bale, that sent the latter through on goal, pinto didnt needed to be a combination of oliver kahn and schmechiel to save the resulting goal..and that was just a similar scenario that kept on repeating itself all through the important game last season..what we even talking about, the barca of the second half of last season, was at best a caricature of 2010-2011 use that as a basis for such argument is hypocritical..much has been said about the 7-0 beating by bayern..BUT, that was a match in which; messi was off- and when that happens two seasons ago, yall sure knows how the drill normally go. but wait, that wasnt even enough, there had no coach,to put simply their coach was somewhere, in some hospital bed fighting for his live..and yeah the normal thing that a team does under such circumstances, is to go win the treble, probably achieve that while sipping tea and munching pizza on the field of play..heck, there’re barca aint they? its tiki-taka isn’t? and in the events of failure, tiki-taka is rubbish, should have been thrown away already, like since 1990..brilliant reasoning, sherlock holmes.
    and while i dont particularly have any problem when haters get to be so brilliant, for all i care, the pacific is big enough for all of ’em to jump into, its perplexing that cules also decide to condescend into such level of intlligence..
    you want my take? tiki-taka- the much maligned ‘way’ is good enough to rip any opponents apart..just let the right manager deploy the right players in the right way, with the the right mindset, and we’ll be singing ole, by noon

    1. I like tiki-taka as much as anyone. But if a team gets beat 7-0 over two games, I think it’s caused by something more than its most important player being “off” and their coach being absent. 7-0 is enormous. And when essentially the same side with essentially the same system goes on to lose in the quarterfinals of the Champions League the next year (when they always made at least the semis all the previous years) in a way that hasn’t anything to do with luck or bad form, then the question whether the system is still the best thing to have is a valid one.

      It’s easy to point out the disadvantages Barca have when they lose, but other teams suffer from injuries and bad form as well – and some of them have managed to do better than Barca over the last two years.

      For what it’s worth, upon re-watching the ManCity match it looks a lot like tiki-taka – and in many other matches, it doesn’t. I think the point is less that tiki-taka should be purged from the minds and hearts of the players but that some matches may require different tactics.

  11. ” i think its caused by something more than its most important player being ‘off’ and their coach being absent ”
    well, something like what, if you wouldnt mind far as i can recall the both legs were barely three weeks apart, and a mighty lot is supposed to change by that time, right??
    basically apart from the first few months of titovilanova’s spell as headcoach, i think the rest of that season was below par..and to use that to cast jugdment is really harsh..i know a lots of people thats has refrained from judging tito, cause its totally illogical to try to rate him given his illness..this arguments is one very tough subject, and i expect oppsosition camps should at least be a little more brilliant and smart..grabbing at tito spell in charge to cast judgments is looking for an easy and cheap way out, please..and then it get worst- you decide to bring in martino in the seriously??what in heavens name justifies such incredible thinking..i mean, what exactly did martino gave to this team, that ironically he should be thrown in the camp of pro tiki-taka-ist?? tiki-taka of all things??..or probably because of the feeble attempt he made at going possesion oriented at the second half of the season ??..i think thats just seeking a cheap victory..martino himself even admitted to not offering anything to FCB..his spell in charge was one of utter much, that i’ve even tried to forget that such season ever existed..and yet some people decide to stick him on the sides of tiki-taka- of all things, just so they can make a case against it..tiki- taka wasnt what was played in the last two season, period…yall who holds contary view to that, i just hope you weren’t watching the back of your television during guardiola’s glory days…

  12. I see…you choose to dismiss the last two seasons from the argument whether tiki-taka is still viable. But even in Guardiola’s last seasons, you could see the cracks appearing in the form of opposing teams being better and better at attacking or defending against this form of football. I’ll say it again, I loved tiki-taka enormously but I can see that it’s not something that can be played for, say, ten years through with great success.

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