FCB vs. Atleti/Las Palmas

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I'm going to do this a bit differently and start off with a question: Do you think, this Barca squad (the squad that just played Atleti, and the squad that started against Las Palmas) could beat a Champions League Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich, or even Man City? 

I don't think so at all! Although we beat Atleti, I must say, this one felt like a loss. In the last 10 minutes, winning or drawing was not up to us, it was up to the refs, the other team, luck, whatever, we had no control. For the first time in as long as I can remember, we parked the bus and became what Barca fans have hated all along. 

Sadly, it could have been different. Don't get me wrong, I understand playing defensively in a big match, closing down the defense towards the end to ensure a 1-0 win. However, tactically speaking, not bringing on a player that could offer an outlet up top, to ensure, at the very least, we had an option to pass to, or an opportunity to get a game winner if the other team scored, that, I don't understand. Let's get into it!

The Line - Up (Las Palmas) 

Coming off the 6-1 domination of 8th place Girona, an AMAZING positive positive game, Valverde decided to go with a more defensive setup. Electing to start Paulinho and Vidal over the recently impressive Coutinho and Dembele. This line-up made absolutely no sense what so ever. 

First off, this was a bottom of the table squad in a game 3 days before the biggest game of the season. Luis Suarez was facing a yellow card that could keep him out of the Atleti game, Pique was injured, and both Paulinho and Vidal had been lackluster in their past appearances. This was an excellent opportunity to continue integrating Dembele and Coutinho into the squad. Yes, they got some time, however, as seen in the Girona game, they need time to get into the game, at this point, they should not be off the bench options, they should have started. 

Paco should have started, and at the very least, Yerry Mina should have been on the bench for Pique. (Not even mentioning Denis Suarez)

A Draw with our Starters

In the end, a game that should have seen our stars rested, in a routine win for our subs (two of which are worth over $200 million and would be starting on any other team) turned out to be a labored draw that underscored our Messi dependence. It was a bad look coming into the business end of the season. I highly doubt that had we started with Coutinho or Dembele we would not have been able to sub Messi and Suarez out at half. 

Especially, knowing that Dembele would not start against Atleti. Dembele was actually the only player who added some offense towards the end of the game, putting in the only shot in the last 15 mins for Barca and a cross that could have won the game had Luis Suarez been able to bring it down better. 

The Line - Up (Atleti)

I was very surprised to see Coutinho starting this game, it was the right decision but surprised me due to Valverde's patterns in big games. Honestly, I knew Dembele would start on the bench and agreed with that decision because the balance of defense was important to start. 

Gomes in for Iniesta…almost funny at this point

So Iniesta gets hurt early, sad, not much you can do about that. To sub in Andre Gomes, just absurd. Paulinho has had a poor run of form however, I would have put him in way before I let Gomes anywhere near this game. Objectively speaking, I understood not bringing in Dembele due to the fact that it was still pretty early in the game and the only argument that could be made for Gomes is that he would offer something more defensively. However, if you watched the Girona game, you would have seen that Dembele can get back and play defense. Also, had Dembele been played more against Las Palmas, we would have all been more confident in him being the first sub. 

Either way, Gomes comes on and goes on to play 60 to 65 minutes of football. In that time, he hit a truly terrible cross to the Atleti keeper, not even like a good cross that the keeper came out for, he hit the ball directly to the keeper! He had 1 positive forward pass, in 65 mins! He lost the ball a good bit, and couldn't even head it out of the box. He offered nothing going forward, or defensively, and he even stopped a break we had, to pass the ball back. 

Personally, I would have subbed him off at the 60th for Dembele as Gomes was playing that Right Attacking Mid and even Right forward at times and doing nothing. Players were refusing to pass him the ball, and both Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba provided more wing play than he did. I challenge anyone to tell me how he helped this squad today. 

A Win that feels like a loss 

We got the 3 points, however, compared to that win against Real earlier this season, my current outlook for our future is bleak. After the first Classico I felt unbeatable, unplayable due to Valverde's ability to adapt. I thought once we got Dembele back, and Coutinho we would be truly unstoppable…I do not feel that way now. 

I felt like the hunters had become the hunted, I saw us do what Chelsea did to us during our last encounter, what every team started doing towards the end of Pep's reign. Draws due to Messi freekicks are not sustainable, and my concern is that the true problems of this squad are being hidden behind the 1 point here or 3 points there. The fear is that we will be exposed soon. Do we win the league, probably, do we win the Copa, most likely, can we in the Champions league going like this…definitely not. 

Sustainability

My biggest problem is that our team is not sustainable. Which is crazy given the close to $300 million we are not utilizing. The reason you spend so much is to ensure your team has options. Currently, Dembele has shown lots of promise for being just 20. He can be an attacking option in this squad once fully integrated. Games like that against Las Palmas are clear opportunities to get him more time so that if necessary in a big game, he's not coming on with no idea of how to best be effective. That's sustainable. 

Giving a player like Denis Suarez more time, so that, when we have a situation like we had today against Atleti, we could have an integrated Denis, who could easily fit into the Iniesta role (as a backup option) or even a wider attacking role without having to rely on a player in Gomes with worse stats than anyone else on our team. 

It's so frustrating to hear Valverde talk about players like Dembele and say "what matters is output on the pitch and not practice" then play Gomes, and Paulinho. By output to minutes alone, Dembele has a higher success rate. Overall, we are heading to a part of the season where we can't keep doing this "hope Messi scores, then we defend for our lives" thing. That is not how you win Trebles. 

I love this Club, I care about our future, and I hope things get better. I am looking to see how we line up next week, hopefully, Valverde has learned his lesson. Optimistically looking to the future…Forca Barca! 
 

FCB vs. Girona

 Great confidence boosting win for the boys! We looked good in the first real look at the new offensive weapons we have available. Let’s get into it!   The Line-up   I am getting tired of the concept that fans cannot criticize or question the managers or players. This line-up was nearly perfect, however, Pique should have never played this game.  That said, the line up was just about perfect. Although, I would have liked to see Messi rested a bit, and Yerry Mina start over Pique. Paco could have also gotten some minutes.  But, it was great to see Dembele, Coutinho, and Semedo getting the start. This line-up was an offensive powerhouse and from Dembele’s first pass to an overlapping Semedo who almost linked up with an oncoming Coutinho, I knew goals were abound.   Dembele    It’s sad to see how much hate this young man gets from some Barca fans. He’s been injured, played very little minutes in the grand scheme of things, however, aside from his return from his second injury (not a great game for him), he’s shown nothing but promise for the 20 year-old he is.  This game was no different. Starting with the brilliant pass to Semedo in the first minute, he was offensively dangerous, picked great passes, played some defense, had an assist (should have been 2) and almost scored a goal. Even when he had a misstep, he was still impactful as the Girona defense had no options on that right side.  He did grow better as the game progressed, but as always, you can see his potential. He runs at defenders fearlessly, providing that element that Neymar had, and very few others in the game right now possess. He has the mixture of speed and awareness that will make him a absolute stud for this team. As he gets more time, and confidence, we will see this kid blossom into a very very important Barca player. His contributions so far are evidence of that.   Coutinho    Where Coutinho fits has been on my mind for quite some time, this game kinda settled it. If you think of him as in Iniesta replacement, his performances seem lackluster. However, if you see him as a False 9, or even a left attacking forward, it all makes sense.  This game, his primary contributions came in the final third. He made multiple runs into the box, could have had a goal early if Messi had fed him. He wants to shoot, he wants to set up the 1-2 around the 18.  Great goal, great assist. I am looking forward to seeing more from him in the coming games, we just have to stop thinking of him as a replacement for Iniesta, or at least I do.   Nelson Semedo   What a great game for him, until the injury. I truly believe if there were space for Sergi Roberto in the midfield (which there is if you stop playing Paulinho so much, or Gomes), Semedo would be our starting RB. Great work rate, and has yet to let us down when given the start. Offensively he is a danger, and combined with Dembele, absolutely vicious at times.  Very sad his injury, reminiscent of Vidal’s due to the timing, but luckily he won’t be out for too long.   IVAN!!!    What a game for Ivan as well!! I have been pretty clear about my belief in his necessity to our squad. This game he played deeper, as he’s been doing in Valverde’s system, however, his importance is his ability to contribute offensively. His perfect pass from extremely deep in our half found Luis Suarez who subsequently found Messi for our second goal, then he passed it to Dembele who subsequently found Luis Suarez for the 6th goal.  Rakitic had a pass accuracy of 99% with 76/77 passes landing. To think, we almost lost him because of Gomes! For me, this was a Man of the Match worthy performance.   Messi/Suarez   Messi is the greatest of all time. Luis is as clinical as ever. Not much else to say. Loved Suarez’s attempts to get a yellow at the end of the game, the ref really wasn’t falling for it.   Subs   This was my biggest issue this whole game. Not only should Pique have not started, Valverde didn’t even have Vermelan ready when Pique got reinjured. He should have been subbed at half time. The question for me is, had he not reinjured himself, when would Valverde have subbed him out. Pique played almost a whole 10 minutes after going down. This is simply unacceptable for one of our best defenders especially at this time in the season, Alti Madrid and Chelsea back to back and we are playing an injured Pique against Girona?   Overall    Amazing game, great to see Coutinho and Dembele get 90’ and do very well. Valverde is now in the position of having too many offensive weapons and if used well, possibilities are endless. I have watched this game twice now, looking forward to seeing performances like this to come. Forca Barca!

Great confidence boosting win for the boys! We looked good in the first real look at the new offensive weapons we have available. Let’s get into it!

The Line-up

I am getting tired of the concept that fans cannot criticize or question the managers or players. This line-up was nearly perfect, however, Pique should have never played this game.

That said, the line up was just about perfect. Although, I would have liked to see Messi rested a bit, and Yerry Mina start over Pique. Paco could have also gotten some minutes.

But, it was great to see Dembele, Coutinho, and Semedo getting the start. This line-up was an offensive powerhouse and from Dembele’s first pass to an overlapping Semedo who almost linked up with an oncoming Coutinho, I knew goals were abound.

Dembele

It’s sad to see how much hate this young man gets from some Barca fans. He’s been injured, played very little minutes in the grand scheme of things, however, aside from his return from his second injury (not a great game for him), he’s shown nothing but promise for the 20 year-old he is.

This game was no different. Starting with the brilliant pass to Semedo in the first minute, he was offensively dangerous, picked great passes, played some defense, had an assist (should have been 2) and almost scored a goal. Even when he had a misstep, he was still impactful as the Girona defense had no options on that right side.

He did grow better as the game progressed, but as always, you can see his potential. He runs at defenders fearlessly, providing that element that Neymar had, and very few others in the game right now possess. He has the mixture of speed and awareness that will make him a absolute stud for this team. As he gets more time, and confidence, we will see this kid blossom into a very very important Barca player. His contributions so far are evidence of that.

Coutinho

Where Coutinho fits has been on my mind for quite some time, this game kinda settled it. If you think of him as in Iniesta replacement, his performances seem lackluster. However, if you see him as a False 9, or even a left attacking forward, it all makes sense.

This game, his primary contributions came in the final third. He made multiple runs into the box, could have had a goal early if Messi had fed him. He wants to shoot, he wants to set up the 1-2 around the 18.

Great goal, great assist. I am looking forward to seeing more from him in the coming games, we just have to stop thinking of him as a replacement for Iniesta, or at least I do.

Nelson Semedo

What a great game for him, until the injury. I truly believe if there were space for Sergi Roberto in the midfield (which there is if you stop playing Paulinho so much, or Gomes), Semedo would be our starting RB. Great work rate, and has yet to let us down when given the start. Offensively he is a danger, and combined with Dembele, absolutely vicious at times.

Very sad his injury, reminiscent of Vidal’s due to the timing, but luckily he won’t be out for too long.

IVAN!!!

What a game for Ivan as well!! I have been pretty clear about my belief in his necessity to our squad. This game he played deeper, as he’s been doing in Valverde’s system, however, his importance is his ability to contribute offensively. His perfect pass from extremely deep in our half found Luis Suarez who subsequently found Messi for our second goal, then he passed it to Dembele who subsequently found Luis Suarez for the 6th goal.

Rakitic had a pass accuracy of 99% with 76/77 passes landing. To think, we almost lost him because of Gomes! For me, this was a Man of the Match worthy performance.

Messi/Suarez

Messi is the greatest of all time. Luis is as clinical as ever. Not much else to say. Loved Suarez’s attempts to get a yellow at the end of the game, the ref really wasn’t falling for it.

Subs

This was my biggest issue this whole game. Not only should Pique have not started, Valverde didn’t even have Vermelan ready when Pique got reinjured. He should have been subbed at half time. The question for me is, had he not reinjured himself, when would Valverde have subbed him out. Pique played almost a whole 10 minutes after going down. This is simply unacceptable for one of our best defenders especially at this time in the season, Alti Madrid and Chelsea back to back and we are playing an injured Pique against Girona?

Overall

Amazing game, great to see Coutinho and Dembele get 90’ and do very well. Valverde is now in the position of having too many offensive weapons and if used well, possibilities are endless. I have watched this game twice now, looking forward to seeing performances like this to come. Forca Barca!

FCB vs. Getafe

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In a game that we tied with clearly mixed feelings all around, I thought there were many positives with largely future implications. Let's get into it!

The Line-up

I loved seeing some different faces in there. I clearly would have liked to see Nelson Semedo get some time as well as Denis Suarez, however, I wasn’t upset at Paco getting a chance. Lucas Digne at CB was a big surprise, especially with Yerry Mina getting his first start, but we did with what we had. I sometimes like these game, seeing some of our other players get chances does make me happy.

This was also another opportunity to see how Coutinho was settling into the squad.

Lucas Digne

While Yerry Mina obviously grabbed all the headlines (next…), I honestly thought Digne was an unsung hero this game. He handled himself very well in the CB position, he was in the right position when he needed to be and, used his speed to close ground very nicely. He's clearly not winning any headers, but I very much believe had Mina not put in such a headline-stealing performance, Digne would have been a talking point. It's great to see that if we needed, we can count on him.

Yerry Mina Man of the Match

Man of the match for a lot of people, myself included. I think defensively he is a stout player. He is strong, aware, and can make up ground. It is early but I was very much impressed with his lack of crucial fouls, you would think a man of his size would have gotten at least one.

Where I was most impressed however was with his confidence going forward. Yes, he made some bad passes, tried to force a couple to Paco (Digne covered). However, I saw those passes and thought, wow he is daring. They were accurate (ish), in that they would have gotten there had they not been forced passes. He is also clearly going to be a threat on set pieces, a new dimension to our game that opponents are not used to.

His willingness to put a pass forward reminded me of Umtiti (who is clearly more accurate). I look to a future where the two of them are running the Barca defense and I think they will make a dominant dominant pair.

Coutinho

His was a weird performance for me. Honestly, I felt he was missing for large parts of his time on the field. Apart from the two attempts, I didn't see him control the game like Don Andres does in that same position. Something was clearly off with him in the midfield to start. I'm not saying he's not a good player at all, I am just saying he clearly needs more time. We had all the elements needed to be successful, Jordi and Sergi on the wings, Messi and Suarez up top, Rakitic and Busi in the middle, I do not know what explains his lack of impact. 

The Don

Coutinho's lack of impact was contrasted by Iniesta's immense impact on the game. When he got on, things calmed down in our midfield. We got more possession and started spreading the ball wide more. I recall saying a couple of weeks ago that the master is still teaching, and this week my question was: is the difference really that large between Iniesta and his eventual replacement?

Only time will tell, we know Coutinho has the ability, maybe Iniesta starts and Coutinho comes off the bench? Either way, I am glad we have Don Andres until the end of time!

Dembele is Back!...kinda

Reading people's reaction to this young man's return was the most confusing part of the week or me. Mostly everyone was no negative like he had been the reason we tied this game the whole time?

First off, yes let's acknowledge that he hit some bad passes. Let's acknowledge he tripped over his own feet a couple of times. But let's also acknowledge that he had a positive impact, ran at defenders, and hit dangerous balls in. He did more than Paco and Coutinho, not that this is a competition between the two. He almost had an assist and overall added danger to that right side.

I think the real issue with his performance was that he's finally listening to the doctors and the older people around him. I saw a young man coming off his second injury to a physical game, not sure of how hard to push himself. After his last injury, he came on and re-injured himself not because someone hit him, or he fell wrong, but because he pushed himself to the limit. You never do that after an injury, that's the best way to get injured. I was glad he had some level of an impact even though he was clearly not going 100%. I'd much rather that than him scoring 2 goals, making an assist or 2 and us losing him for another 2 months.

Get off his back, give him time to get back to full fitness. If you watched the Celta game at all (the game he got re-injured) you will know that when this kid is fully fit, he will be a force for this team with uncapped potential.

Overall

We could afford to tie this game. It's not the end of the world. We gave some game time to players who needed it and we got to see some future talents shine. It was a net positive for me this one. Looking forward to seeing the next! As always Forca Barca!

 

 

 

 

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FCB vs. Alaves

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Soooo...I'll start by saying, to win championships, you've gotta be good...and you've gotta be lucky. The luck comes with the skill, and having Messi doesn't hurt either. We kept fighting this game, and made some great adjustments in the second half however, Alaves have some legitimate anger over the Paco offside that lead to Messi's game-winner and not getting the pk from the handball in the box (although unintentional). Let's get into it...

The Line-up

I was ok with the changes this game, we are at the business end of the season so rest and rotation will be crucial for our long-term success. My issues came with starting Paulinho in a very ball control heavy squad. I liked 4-3-1-2, however, I think Roberto would have been a much better inclusion as a direct passing midfielder.

Alaves Playing on the Counter

So much credit has to be given to Alaves. Although bottom of the table now, they've always played great games against us since they were promoted. This was no different, and they reverted to the old park the bus and attack on the counter strategy.

Few teams have really tried this tactic this year as most have gone with the high pressure that worked against Enrique's Barca. Clearly, the high pressure does not work against Valverde's team for a whole 90' as evidenced against Real Madrid and Betis.

Their defense was compact and their offense efficient. It was a true test.

Too Many Options

This test was made harder by Valverde's team selection. Not that too much was wrong, however, you could tell we were experiencing the problem of too many short passing players in a compact space.

Coutinho has not yet really learned Valverde's system and has a strong desire to play through the middle...neglecting the wide pass (in this instance Digne). The inclusion of Roberto in the starting line up and Paulinho off then bench would have nullified this effect because Roberto is a more direct passing player. Either way...we were impotent up top due to this midfield line up early.

Ter-Stegen and Umtiti

Without these players today, this game would have been a totally different story. Umtiti's awareness and ability are just fantastic to see. He does the little things just perfectly...including cutting off angles, something that saved us on the first great counter-attack from Alaves.

Ter-Stegen is like Messi to me at this point, you can only talk about how good he is for so long until it's just a fact that does not need to be uttered out loud anymore.

The Turning Point

It's clear everything changed with the inclusion of Alba and Roberto. I do feel at this point Valverde brings Roberto in as a Right Back simply to have him on the field. I would have rather remove Paulinho for Roberto but...he was on and that's all that mattered.

Instantly Barca started to utilize the width...with Alba getting fed much more than Digne. This changed the game as it stretched the field and gave us the ability to cut in as an option, not the only option.

Iniesta

I'll finish this off with a comment on this legend. What a season he is having! In a game where the biggest talking point was the first start of his eventual successor, he proved the master is not yet done teaching. I'm am looking forward to seeing him in the champions league.

Overall, Messi scored the free kick and the game was over. Valverde's adjustments were crucial...the tenacity of our team was crucial...the desire of our players crucial. This game...against a bottom tier team...that tested our strategy and put us to the sword...the desire to win displayed by our team continuously bolsters my faith that good thing are on the horizon this season. Forca Barca! 

FCB vs. Real Betis

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So, at this point, I don't think there is anything else that can be said about the brilliance of Messi. He was undoubtedly the talking point of this game for good reason. However, there were many great performances around the pitch on this day.

The Line-Up

I was relatively happy with the line-up. Andre Gomes starting was a dumb idea to me but then again, it always is. I loved having Semedo at right back and having Sergio Roberto back in his natural position! Understandably, Paulinho was hurt in the last game so a start was probably unlikely, however, Denis wasn't even on the bench. Either way, as always the question with the line-up, what has Gomes done to deserve another start? 

Sergio Roberto

I've been wanting Roberto back in the midfield for so long, I see him as the next Xavi and a highlight of my week was his contract extension. He started off showing us why he belongs in the midfield, those runs he's made in the Classicos, he was making frequently in the midfield. I am very much looking forward to seeing many more of those in the future. He almost scored as well, but then again, he is the Xavi heir, not Iniesta. 

Ivan the Terrible

Another player I've loved in our midfield has been Ivan. He has his detractors, but I think people are quick to forget his heroics during our last champions league run. Under Valverde his role has changed a good bit. He's been playing much deeper and really showing he can do it. Prior to scoring the first goal, his best contributions were defensive. I'd hate to say he's seen a resurgence under Valverde, because he wasn’t' bad with Enrique, Enrique just wanted to play Gomes more. 

Either way, Rakitic is playing very well. His first goal was fantastic, but the pass to set up Suarez's first was just sublime. This game was a true showcase of how versatile he is, and with more performances like that…let's just say, our odds are good. 

Luis Suarez the Play Maker
 
I spoke about his return to form a couple games back, I think it was the Celta Vigo game. He's back and it's amazing, however, the main talking point for me this game was his positioning. He was rarely up front in this game. I would have to think it was by design, and if it is, Valverde's thrown everyone another wrinkle. Luis played deeper than I've seen him ever play, setting up the first goal, but not just that, hitting cross-field balls from deep right like Messi does. It was crazy to see and a very interesting switch of tactic. 

I'd like to see more of this in the future to really understand it fully. Either way, it worked well and was another thing for opposing coaches to worry about. 

The Best Timed Injury

Thomas Vermaelen has had a good series of games, I have not been as excited as everyone else because I think our defense showed some holes with him playing, however, he did well. His injury could not have been better timed however because we got the man back! Samuel Umtiti back going into the business end of the season is a great boost for our team. With Yerry Mina ready to assist, we can even ease Umtiti back in slowly to ensure he's 100% for Chelsea and whoever else. 

All we need him to do is sign a contract extension and our future is safe! 

Another Start for Gomes

I almost got out of here without talking about this guy. To be fair, he played the best I've seen him play for us so far. His 4/5 fouls were problematic, however, he did competently pass the ball forward more than once this game. I am not going to praise him for playing like a professional for the first time in a Barca jersey, however. He did things that every player under him has done from day one. I am legit starting to think his size is the only thing that coaches see in him. On paper, he could be an all-time great with that size. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the confidence or skills to back it up. 


Seeing Out the Win

It was the 87th minute, and Betis had the ball, what was Barca doing, 2 lines of four players in front of our goal! Idk if it's just me but, I've not seen us play this compact defense at the end of a game up 4 goals. I love what Valverde is doing, this is how you see out a win, I will never advocate parking the bus, however, that we can do it, that we have the concentration and desire to do it, is great to see. We have to thank Valverde for that. 

Overall, it was a great game for us, we absorbed the pressure first half, wore them down, then outplayed them. The only thing left to say is, Messi's going for his 6th Balon d'Or …keep watching! Visca Barca! 

 

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