Lordy, what the hell happened? First of all, I’d like to give a big, giant thank-you to Comcast, who have added TVE to their lineup, which enabled me to watch this match in full, big-screen, DVRed glory.
I’m only sorry that things weren’t better. Man, did they start out well, but here is the bottom line: Depth is going to be a problem this season, but we all knew that. When ALL of your starting XI are, for one reason or another, called away from the team with a match that you’d like to win coming up, it’s no surprise that when facing a fit, rested opponent’s first-choice side, things aren’t going to go all that well.
So what happened?
1. Fatigue. You could see it in the possession statistics, as a 68-32 became a 50-50. We aren’t going to win any match in which the other side has half of the possession. Our back line is, even at its best, too fraught to allow those kinds of numbers. When you roll out a tired right back, a kid, and guy with 1.5 knees and a French Greyhound, it only goes to follow. More importantly, we got tired. You could see our players walking when the Sevilla players were running.
2. Loss of control. Messi for Ibrahimovic was a dumb move. Messi for the worthless Krkic would have been a much better move, unless Guardiola wanted to limit Ibrahimovic’s minutes. But we lost a target man that anyone takes seriously (Messi will make runs and kill you, but he isn’t an in-the-box target man). We also lost a forward who is willing to play the possession game, take the pass and knock it back to the midfield. Messi wants to do something with every ball. That ain’t always good.
3. Depth. Txigrinski, anyone, over Sergi Gomez? I’d take that one. But our president needed 15m, stat. The height would have been valuable, as well as the position defense that Txigrinski was quite capable of playing. The Sevilla goals came from simple marking issues, in every case. Fabiano split a defense that should have barred his way. Then Kanoute did the same thing, then Abidal just decided to stand there instead of marking anyone. Shameful, but not surprising.
4. Donuts, anyone? Keita was the only midfielder capable of standing up to Sevilla’s physical attack, spearheaded by Zokora. Basically, we were bullied off the pitch. They ground us down, then took advantage of it to nail 3 goals in a match that we should have been able to control had we not been a big ol’ hole where our midfield should have been.
But for the good, I have no idea what is going to happen this season with our Big Swede, but we have not had a striker who can score a goal like he did today since Real Ronaldo. I don’t have time to play silly comment-based games, so I will leave it at that. The touch and control required to one-time that ball from Maxwell past Palop, while being attended by two defenders …. are you kidding me? Now, somebody is probably going to say that Krkic could have score that goal, easily. Whatever.
We rolled out with a lineup of Mino, Alves, Sergi Gomez, Milito, Abidal, Oriol Romeu, Keita, Dos Santos, Krkic and Ibrahimovic. That’s only three players who are going to be in the starting XI when the real matches begin. Even at that, we were very strong at the beginning of the match, controlling possession and attacking Sevilla with verve and inexorable weight. The goal was inevitable. That it came from precisely the kind of simple pass that Ibrahimovic saw so rarely last season, while making the run that people say he never makes, was icing on the cake. I rather imagine that Guardiola wanted to call Rosell and say “See? See?!”
You could see a side that looked something like us, only it lacked calmness with the control, simply because right now, Dos Santos plays too quickly. Where Xavi has the presence and skills to control the ball even while being battered by Zokora, Dos Santos doesn’t, so he gets rid of the ball quickly, which makes play move too quickly, which forces us to lose possession and chase passes that needed that little extra breath before being made. Xavi calms the side down.
Once the lack of calm started happening, we starting just kicking the ball long to get it out of the way, rather than playing it along as we customarily do. This gifted Sevilla with possession, which meant that it was only a matter of time. When that time came, Sevilla took full advantage. Hats off to them. The rest will be dealt with in the ratings, the first of the season.
Team: 5. This was a unit finding its way, one that will probabaly never play together again. They did fine for a while against the might of Sevilla’s first team. The size, strength and movement of Kanoute pushed things over the edge, as it came when things were starting to get very, very sloppy as regards possession.
Guardiola: 5. He got the starting lineup right, but to my mind, he erred in subbing Messi for Ibrahimovic, and waited too long to make the Correia substitution. I also would have liked to see Dos Santos and Thiago. I don’t believe that they fill the same role, and in swapping one for the other, the exact same issue of midfield command and control existed, but in a different way. And Abidal canNOT play CB, and should never be allowed to again. There. I said it. I do think that he wanted to see what certain players could do in certain situations, so he let them pretty much play it out, to see what would happen. I don’t know that he cares that much about the SuperCopa, and I think it showed in what he did with the lineup in this match.
Mino: 5. I thought he was solid, and made an excellent reflex save off a header that was, granted, smacked right at him. Still, a lot of keepers don’t make that save. He wasn’t really called upon until he didn’t have a real chance. His back line hung him out to dry, which is why his rating is higher than a keeper who let three get past him.
Alves: 3. From positional errors and uncharacteristically sloppy control to general scatterbrainedness, this wasn’t his best match. Tired from the friendly? Maybe. But too many Sevilla attackers were able to get the corner on him, or get leverage on him to do something creative. This is unacceptable, and if he’s going to be mediocre on the defensive end, he needs to kick out the jams on the offensive end. He didn’t.
Sergi Gomez: 5. The kid showed that he has immense promise, but he isn’t ready for this level yet, and it showed. Positional sense is one of the things that separates great center backs from good ones. You just don’t get caught pinched up with a player the likes of Fabiano running around. And you place your body so that you restrict passing options from the midfield. That didn’t happen, so Sevilla’s first goal was a piece of cake. A kid and a slowpoke must have had Fabiano wiping the drool from the front of his shirt. Yes, he made some very good plays, and shows the kind of play that will earn him a serious look some day.
Milito: 3. The veteran is supposed to marshal the back line and keep things under control. He didn’t do that, and got smoked on that second goal for which Abidal also had culpability. If you go for the steal you’d better make it, otherwise your back line partners are screwed. He missed it, and from that moment on the pass for a fresh Kanoute to run past Milito as if he were waiting for a train was simple as can be. He didn’t play anything approaching the kind of match that he needed to play.
Abidal: 4. His qualities as a left back verge on unassailable. He was destroying stuff like crazy out there, and once he decided to start contributing to the attack, we became a much stronger offense. Then he switched to center back and became a disaster. I still contend that the problem with him is decision making. CB gives him two sides to worry about. He chose wrong on the second Kanoute goal.
Oriol Romeu: 4. When he wasn’t invisible, he showed promise. Our command and control stems from the qualities that make a Barca defensive midfielder: making the right pass, and being in the right position. Busquets is so good at being that safely valve. This match could have used a pure destroyer to sub it at DM, but we don’t have such a thing. I’d like to see Romeu shadowing the midfielder more, making himself available for that simple, possession-maintaining pass. I liked his movement, and again, I think that his future is bright. But he wasn’t up to it today, not in the face of grown men.
Keita: 7. Excellent match. For a while he was like the Lone Ranger out there, standing up the likes of Zokora, making simple passes and trying to maintain possession without the calm presence of Xavi out there. He looks ready to go for this season. Overall, probably our best player on the pitch today.
Dos Santos: 5. Much promise, but he has to learn to play the ball less quickly. Tempo is set by the person occupying his position. When you play fast, the whole side tends to play fast, and that’s when problems arise. It takes time to play the way that we do, and Dos Santos seems to have the problem of keeping the ball moving too quickly. Weird problem to define, right? But it manifests itself in his getting and distributing, rather than getting, surveying and then distributing. The difference is small, but huge.
Andrade: 5. Some beautiful passes and fine runs. His lack of pace caught him on two occasions that would have been excellent chances for another, pacier player. For Andrade, the defense just cut his slow ass off. I love his all-pitch game, and his willingness to not ignore the simple pass. But he was woefully deficient on helping us to maintain the kind of quality possession that we need to excel against a tough, physical opponent who wants the ball.
Krkic: 3. I know I’m not supposed to start the season punching on Cuddly Toys, but he was terrible out there, right down to a poor decision with the ball where he found himself in the box in an excellent spot, and chose to pass to a clearly offside Messi. I’m not sure how long people are going to continue making excuses for Krkic. Yes, he has good matches, but this outing spotlighted all of his deficiencies: inability to get and hold a position being foremost on that list. And his decision making with the ball needs a lot of work.
Ibrahimovic: 7. He and Keita get my joint Man of the Match today, for being stalwarts against an increasingly physical attack. Ibrahimovic was scoring, creating, making possession passes and generally being a threat that kept Sevilla honest. Once he came off, Sevilla lost their minds.
Messi (for Ibrahimovic): 3. Dire. I know he’s had a long World Cup campaign and all that jazz, but sometimes, the best play is to reset the offense rather than running at 3 or 4 defenders. You don’t have to do something for the highlight reel with every ball. Seriously. We lost a lot of control when Messi entered instead of Ibrahimovic, because he doensn’t do the kinds of back and lateral passes that Ibrahimovic will made, just to maintain possession. No knock against Messi, but sometimes it’s important to just make a simple, direct slide back to the defense.
Thiago (for Dos Santos): 5. I wasn’t that impressed, but it wasn’t a full match for him either. He had the opportunity to help us salt away, or at least control the rest of the match.
Correia (for Milito): 4. He might have played to a higher rating. His pace and sheer effort level are going to be very welcome this season.
Make no mistake, I want us to win the SuperCopa. I think it’s important to start the season right, by grabbing the first piece of silver that we can lay our hands on, starting with the rematch. I’d like to see us roll out with our first-choice squad, to see what happens.
P.S. Yes, ratings for the Team and Guardiola were initially omitted. Whoops! The record has been fixed now.