Villarreal 2, Barça 2, aka “Dooooooom!”

What is luck? Barça drew at Villarreal, a result that in many circles set off a blizzard of recrimination and assertions that the team dropped points. In some more extreme quarters of social madia the vitriol abounded. But it’s important to understand how the Liga standings look right now:

Barca: 76 points
Atleti: 67 points
RM: 66 points

There are 8 matches left in the Liga season. For Barça to let its lead slip, the team that is on a now 39-match unbeaten run would have to lose three of its last eight matches, assuming Atleti runs the table. Even then, Barça wins the head-to-head tiebreaker. So really, Barça would have to lose four of its last eight matches, which would be an epic, magisterial, volcanic collapse.

Barça went into an away ground, El Madrigal, where the following teams have lost: Madrid, Atletico, Sevilla, Athletic. Until subs were made, moves that made perfect sense tactically, Barça was rolling along. Villarreal did what opponents usually do, but aside from the shock to the system less than a minute in, things were looking like (deep breath) a win. So what happened?

Well, it depends on who you ask. This space was an oasis of calm, a refreshing alternative to tumult of Barça Twitter. Because what happened, essentially, is the same thing that almost invariably happens when Barça let in goals: mistakes were made. Let’s break ’em down.

Goal No. 1

This one was crucial because it gave Villarreal life at a time when they desperately needed it. As Luis Enrique once said, when the team analyzes goals, they usually find that it’s a collective rather than an individual failing. And so it began, with a shambles of possession on the right sideline. A recent failing of Alves is that he is too fond of the ball. In the time that he took to control and caress, rather than just one-timing for Rakitic who was running into space, Alves was closed down by a Villarreal player, who deflected the ball into the air.

Alves dutifully chases the header, he and Busquets close down and the loose ball falls, fortuitously, to a Villarreal player who did what Alves should have, which was one-time it to a teammate who was in acres of space. He slides it to Denis Suarez who, on the dead run, evades a mistimed Mascherano tackle effort. Mathieu comes to the aid of Mascherano instead of looking around to cover any loose men. Had he done that, he would have spied, with his own little eye, Bakambu, running free. And he would probably have been able to block the shot, or clear the rebound. Instead Bakambu stabbed home, Mathieu looked bewildered and Mascherano looked frustrated at having missed the tackle on Suarez.

It’s easy to say that Pique would have made some kind of difference, that the Barça defense was funky when he went off, but it’s hard to say whether Pique would have been able, as a right-sided CB, to do much to prevent that goal that was, in effect, a comedy of errors. Garbage in, garbage out isn’t just for technology departments.

Goal No. 2

This one was a whole lot easier, really. It comes down to pressure, and what makes players make the decisions that they do. Villarreal was on the attack, rushing pell-mell into the Barça box. A cross fell to the feet of Busquets, who inexplicably pushed it out for a corner. Yes, there was a man rushing at him that he probably saw. Perhaps he determined that his team has given up precious few goals off corners this season, so that was a safe play. Perhaps he got the yips, even as Phil Schoen, on the match call, suggested that Busquets was the calmest man on the pitch.

On the ensuing corner the ball deflected off Mathieu, who committed the cardinal sin of standing there when the ball hit him. He didn’t kick it, or head it, or do anything at all, except stand there. Damn him! Couldn’t he have been standing somewhere else? Well, no, because we can presume that he was watching for runners from center, a task for which he was perfectly placed. It was just simple bad luck.

Barça had a couple of other chances to put the match away still, including an excellent late chance as Mascherano made a run, dribbled and laid a perfect pass to Suarez who banged his volley wide, capping off a match that makes the above picture rather appropriate, as he was the missing part of MSN. And yes, Messi, though evincing flashes of brilliance, was also less than his stellar self, even as Neymar quite clearly came to play.

Villlarreal is, it’s safe to say, was one of the last remaining difficult matches for Barça this season. Even if you had to crane your neck and stretch your head as far as possible, it would be difficult to find four losses in the team’s run in to the end of the season. Next is the Classic, a match that will be treated with vastly more importance than it in fact has because it’s Barça v RM. Truth of the matter is that it will be after the international break and if RM win, Barça will still have a 7-point lead over them and 6 over Atleti, assuming that they also win. So what?

As tempting as it is to suggest that this Barça, now on a 39-match unbeaten run is flawless, there are many flaws, some of which were manifested today. Arda Turan, despite his fine outing, is still a rather significant step down from Iniesta. Yes, the Turk is rounding into form but he still lacks the instinctive Barça notion of keeping the ball moving. Against a pressing Villarreal, this got him into trouble a few times. He will learn that he can do more with less. Receive and give, keep it moving.

The comfort that the team has on the ball can be exploited by a quick, physical, pressing opponent. If Alves just shuttles that ball on to Rakitic (something Sergi Roberto probably would have done), that first goal doesn’t happen. But it’s instinct for a ball-playing team to want the ball at its feet. In many ways, it was having that instinct drilled out that made the Guardiola teams so difficult to play. Pam, pam, pam, pam. The ball hardly ever stopped, and if it did you heard about it from the coach. Luis Enrique allows more freedom, more opportunity for a player to wait for a run to materialize, or dribble into space with an eye toward unleashing Messi, Neymar or Suarez. Sometimes, that doesn’t work, as today. Sometimes, goals result from that mistake. Because in football, things happen all the time.

Space sometimes can work against a team, so the same openness that allowed the team to move Villarreal around in possession in the first half, becomes a running lane when possession is turned. The value of having the ball has not diminished from coach to coach. Barça is still crap without the ball, something that is true of most teams.

Context is important when considering the “dropped points” part of an equation such as today’s match. Barça is the best team in the world, and is supposed to win every match that it plays because of that exalted status. In real life, opponents have something to say about that. Is a dropped point at a ground where every top team in La Liga has been beaten, really thus? Good question. Here’s another one: Should we be all that concerned about a team that hasn’t lost a match in almost 6 months? Yes, there is the culer necessity to always see doom, and the Liga championship isn’t over until it is mathematically impossible for Barça to lose it. Yet the question stands.

Barça had some bad luck, and some good luck. They were lucky not to have conceded in the first minute, lucky that Pique handball, the proper one, wasn’t spotted by a ref who was, to be generous, shitty. They got lucky on the penalty call for the second goal, a bang-bang play that wasn’t all that clear even after watching many replays. A more neutral observer would say that they were lucky to get a point, that it was a gained point rather than two dropped ones, as Villarreal wasn’t interested in messing about today. Streaks involve luck, and good usually outstrips bad.

The Neymar penalty was an interesting example of this, and also the kind of penalty that culers used to scoff at when RM were given them, but here’s the thing about penalties: you have to be there to win them. As Barça was making elegant curlicues, deciding to mosey into the box from time to time, the opportunities to win penalties were scarce. These days, with Neymar and Suarez treating the box as this magnet to which they are drawn. danger is always present. Neymar took the pass and knocked it past the keeper, who in the perfect vision of the replay, got ball at the exact nanosecond as player. So what’s the correct call there, and did Barça get lucky?

Luck is sometimes made as Rakitic found out in knocking home the first goal, as a Barça set piece resulted in a bit of chaos. The ball fell to the feet of the Croatian midfielder, who made no mistake. Luck? Who knows where a ball is going to fall, right? And yet, by following the play, Rakitic was where he needed to be. Luck is like a contest. You have to be in it to win it. For 39 matches now, Barça have been good, even when being just good enough. They have also been lucky, but even that state is born of quality.

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. Enter Your Comment…matthieu is a decent defender but he should not be used coming from the bench. He usually comes on the field in his pajamas

  2. As annoying as it is to lose a 2-0 advantage, the team has earned to be given some slack. LE chose to give Arda playing time in one of toughest away games of the season (as Ini was having “muscle discomfort”), and this is necessary for him to learn the ropes and be of real use beyond rotation in easy games. If you are used to watching Barca, it is easy to see that Arda is not yet comfortable. He occupies the wrong spaces at times when trying to be available to Alba, he waits to long to make the pass, he gets into trouble when running with the ball and he has become a yellow-card magnet (though this was a doubtful one from an awful, awful ref, who perhaps “ruined” our game by giving Piqué that first yellow). But we all know how Suarez looked when first entering the team (a bit like yesterday, actually…) and we also know that Arda is a good player – but it still remains to be seen if he adapt his game and find his place. But that assessment is way to early to make, and his is improving. I guess it is hard to get used to the cool of Barca after that intensity of Simeone…

    And Sergi at RB… to me, he is the most solid alternative in the squad – better with the ball than Vidal, and more consistent than Alves (though Dani has a level of greatness in him that Sergi will never have). Sergi, La Masia-born as he is, thinks TEAM all the time. He understands his role, and his limits without being too meek. In midfield, you need a bit more and he tends to disappear somewhat, as he cannot really muster the creativity. As pivote, he does well because he is a good passer and has great positional sense and work rate. But from what I’ve seen, RB is where is excels every time.

    Clasico will be important only psychologically, not for points – and LE knows that this is important, so hence he will prepare as if it was a final. And I think this correct. Sending a rotation eleven onto the field might be rational in one sense, but losing to RM at home is not good for anyone, while a win might help to keep momentum in the CL tie, too.

    1. You are right about the Clasico. After all, we might well face RM in the Champions League as well, and taking the next match seriously will both prepare the team for that and be important psychologically.

      I actually like Sergi Roberto better as a midfielder than right back, it’s true that he doesn’t have the speed or the power to be a decisive factor going forward as right back though he’s very solid defensively and in keeping the ball. In midfield his calmness, great passing and positional play can really shine. Between him, Denis Suarez and Rafinha next season could be a good one for La Masia graduates again.

    2. He functions well as a mid, too, but better as DM, to me. I simply don’t see that he has the creative consistency to occupy a AM spot, despite managing well enough. He puts in a shift, and has shone during a few games, and perhaps if he allowed a few more games in a sequence he will find his way. Either way, I think his greatest contribution to the team, after all, is his versatility – he will do well wherever he plays, though perhaps not well enough to be a regular starter/first choice. At many other teams, he would be a star, of course…

      Denis looked pretty good, from what I saw, and seems to be an integral member of a currently (this season) very strong team. Will be interesting to see how he will fit in next season if brought back. And to see how Rafinha handles his return. My guess is he will play some minutes once the Liga is wrapped up, but won’t be involved in the real action this season.

  3. I didnt think we even deserved a point from that game. So all the better.
    Such a pity that brilliant through ball from Messi ended up in such a controversy.

    I think, a team who can play a really good passing game, with one or two decent finishers upfront, can cause problems to this Barca.

    1. Of course such a team can cause trouble – to Barca and to about every other team in the world ; ) Fortunately for our team, playing in La Liga has them very used to playing against teams with great passing games.

      I still say that yesterday the real problems came (in the form of two goals) when the team insisted on playing out the back despite over half of their team camping in our half to press our defense + midfield. This Barca is not too bad at long balls when needed so it seemed a stupid decision.

  4. With that said, isn’t it time we re-learn the by-pass-the-midfield tactic again? Boy! I use to enjoy those midfield-less games

  5. With that said, isn’t it time we re-learn the by-pass-the-midfield tactic again? Boy! I use to enjoy those midfield-less games. Teams are busy pressing us high in our half and 2 or 3 passes later they are picking the ball out of their own net

  6. I had a crummy feed for a while, and it would pause for a few seconds quite frequently. One interesting thing was many times we would be in their box, the screen would freeze, and 5 seconds or so later when it refreshed the situation was reversed, and villareal was in OUR box! Damn they are an exciting team.
    Well, we knew they are a tough opponent and I think even the team is happy to have gotten away with a point, as it could have been worse.

  7. It was a difficult match. Villarreal showed up to win. They weren’t interested in our streak, they wanted to close the gap on Madrid and to ensure that they are playing CL next season. Denis Suarez wasn’t thinking of next season.

    I thought that the lineup was a little strange. Firstly I would have preferred Sergi in midfield with Dani or Aleix at right back with Arda on the bench as when you look at our bench we had a goalkeeper, Munir and 5 defenders. That is not a deep enough squad. At least if we had Arda on the bench we would have had an option to change things.
    Secondly, we had two right backs on the bench along with a couple of left sided defenders. I understand Lucho’s desire to add a forward or two to the squad.

    Arda was poor but his barca career is still only 3 months old. Iniesta was badly missed and Rafinha will be ready for minutes shortly. Rakitic had a good match, not just because of the goal.

    There was talk of Suarez being rested for fear of picking up a yellow and missing the Clasico but I believe that it severely affected his game; he was absent. Battling for every ball is his game and bar the tussle leading to the Rakitic goal he wasn’t involved.

    Finally, it was amazing the drop in quality/concentration of the back four once Pique departed. He wasn’t having the greatest game but he is our most important defender by a distance now. He can be paired with most of the other CBs but none are the same without him. A top class alternative in the summer will be a welcome addition to the squad.

  8. I don’t get this Rafinha hype, dude has never impressed me, always clumsy in possession and lacks creativity. He has no eye for a pass and Sergi Roberto who is always in his oh-shit–have-the-ball-if-anyone-is-going-to-screw-up-then-it-isnt-me mode is better than him in that respect, Rafinha’s only skill set being the occasional dribble. Our headache now is creativity in midfield when Iniesta isn’t playing and I only hope with time Arda Turan solves that problem cos for now we just have 3 midfielders; Iniesta,Busquets and The Rakitic (non creative) crew

    1. It’s all opinions of course, but I would give both Sergi Roberto and Rafinha a lot more credit than you do.

      It is true that Sergi Roberto doesn’t bring that much to the table offensively right now, but I am pretty sure that he will be able to do that as well when he both gets to spend more time playing within the system and gains confidence.

      Rafinha DOES already have that creativity and offensive drive, at the cost of being a bit less accurate in his passing. For me, he was right on the edge of becoming a solid midfield option when that horrible tackle happened. He reminds me a lot of Thiago (of course) who also displayed some of the same strengths and weaknesses, wasn’t considered all that good by most fans, and is a starter for one of the strongest teams in the world right now. Of course, Rafinha wouldn’t be the first youngster to never regain his full form after such a long injury, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed it won’t happen with him.

    2. Both rafinha and sergi roberto are relatively young. As has been pointed out repeatedly, neither xavi nor iniesta were obvious future best in the world types when they were 22. They both clearly had promise, but that was it. I think we have quite a number of kids like that in the pipe — in addition to rafinha and sr, there is also denis suarez (v impressive all season) as well as sergi samper.

    3. Really? SR has been playing super well all year. Ask del Bosque.

      I respect the fact that everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I for one think Roberto is having an amazing season.

  9. Villareal can beat any team in the EPL, that was a great match. I’m always baffled by the idea that a team should win every game.

    1. It is an odd, but persistent quality of much of the Barça fanbase. As noted above, Barça is the only top team in Liga to not lose at El Madrigal. And yes, they would have, on a different day that Suarez didn’t have them basically playing with 10, probably won. His “absence” was as significant as that of Pique bringing the ball out of the back.

      When I saw the 0-2 lead, I left to meet a friend for breakfast with a degree of comfort. Barça usually close that deal. Then I watched the second half, and it was pretty clear what happened. Plus, this isn’t the charming-but-compliant Villarreal of yore, right?

      All of those factors make the reaction to not having won the match rather baffling for me, as well.

  10. For me, there are two types of games we can lose; those where we lose to a better team on the day and those where we should win but don’t, for whatever reason. There aren’t many of the the former around. I’d say only Bayern at the moment ( I’ve even got RM in the second category) so it’s maybe only natural that we spend a bit of time wondering how a particular performance could have been improved.

    Once we’re looking at a performance like this I like to take my time and view it again, a luxury I know not everyone has. That quite often softens my attitude to the team’s performance. At the time I sometimes feel we need more effort but on a second watching you find yourself ( especially with Messi) saying well was it actually worth him killing himself carrying that ball on a dribble.? What he tends to be doing is lulling the defence before deciding at some point there is a gap and goes for it. He is absolutely brutal in this and undefendable. The other thing always worth looking at is, as Kxevin does her, how the goals are conceded. ( we know we can score goals in more ways than any other side). This always bears a second and third look.

    I missed this match and have had to rely only on. YouTube highlights but it astounds ( that’s not too strong a word ) me how anyone could give Mathieu the flack he has been getting as I look around the Internet. Some are even suggesting he was at fault for both goals !! That’s just careless viewing. To get rid of the second first, he was standing in exactly the right position for the corner, as Kxevin says looking for runners. The hard hit corner deflects off someone’s head ( so fast I still can’t make out who it was ) hits him like a cannonball and goes into the net. No blame whatsoever.

    The first is interesting and, again as Kxevin says ( I must be mellowing on my hols Kxevin !) this was genuinely a goal with more than one author. Don’t know if anyone remembers but I talked a few games ago about Masche’s positioning for throws and how he goes out too far rather than getting others to do the work. Well, here he didn’t really have a choice although it was that positioning which eventually left him a yard short of making the crucial tackle. Look at Rakitic’s run forward. Never gonna get the ball, but more importantly he doesn’t bust a gut to get back to help our numbers so Masche has to stay wide a tad longer. That means that when the ball is played centre, and what a pass, Masche is too wide, bearing in mind the one thing you never allow is a player breaking between your CBs. ( I’m leaving alone the comical error which allowed Suarez to collect the ball from between Busi and Alba (?) ) Masche makes an attempt at a tackle but misses and that is the crucial point which caused the goal. So far, Mathieu has been in perfect positioning and its here that I would deviate slightly from Kxevin’s account. When Suarez breaks through the tackle he is clean through on goal. At that point Mathieu can’t just turn his back on that and run the other way leaving him one on one with the keeper. He makes the correct initial move towards Suarez to intervene/ make him rush it then when he gets the shot off turns to look for his man who has pursued a highly unlikely run outside the far post but which ultimately pays off because of where Bravo, correctly, pushes the ball. He’s now too far away although I do wonder if a huge sliding tackle might have helped put the guy off. Really a goal born of circumstances but a number of authors. Mathieu, however, for me wasn’t one of them.

    In Sydney now to meet my daughter and staying in Darling harbour. What a sight every morning ! However, home soon for the business end of the season. – and what a season it has been no matter what happens from here on. Only point I would make is that when our run does end we have a thoughtful response to it unlike some of the other sites I’ve been looking at for comments/ reports of the game. Believe me what we have here is good …

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