Luis Suárez scored in the first minute and ran joyfully into the arms of his teammates. Lionel Messi scored in the last minute and collapsed on the ground behind the goal, exhausted. Between the two, there were 92 minutes of scintillating, scoreless football. Before the match, Luis Enrique had said that he was worried about his team’s fitness after a grueling run of games, and it certainly showed as Valencia battered Barcelona in the first half. Somehow, the Catalans held on, and in the second half were able to regain control as their opponents tired. Once again, Barcelona defended deep and chaotically against a disciplined, high-pressing side, and once again won three points through their superior stamina and quality. But it wasn’t easy.
FC Barcelona: 2
Valencia CF: 0
FC Barcelona: Suárez (1′), Messi (93′)
Give us your player ratings after the jump
Denis Suárez just scored this beautiful volley in the 88th minute to put Sevilla FC up 2-1 against Zenit St. Petersburg in the Europa League. Denis was on the bench to start, as has often been the case in 2015, but was substituted on at half-time by Unai Emery in an attempt to overcome a 0-1 deficit. The on-loan Barça youngster delivered in style to earn Sevilla a crucial lead in the first leg – and hopefully some more minutes for himself.
As part of our cross-network coverage ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash, fellow Football Collective member and resident Paris Saint-Germain experts 1970 PSG give us valuable insight into the opposition. I sat down with 1970 PSG’s Ross Mackiewicz to chat about both teams’ chances, tactics, and what viewers could expect to witness. Be sure to pop on over to their site for some expert analysis on the French giants, as well as our own answers to their hard-hitting questions.
Barcelona travel to Paris Saint-Germain tomorrow to take the next step towards the coveted Champions League. Reaching the semi-finals after last year’s failure against Atlético Madrid is a must if Barcelona are to return to their once-dominant status. Paris Saint-Germain are a formidable rival: they have defeated Barcelona once this season, they have knocked out one of Europe’s elite in Chelsea FC, and they have not been beaten at home in 11 months. However, they are also weakened, missing the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimović and Marco Verratti, and possibly also Thiago Motta and David Luiz, who have both sustained injuries. Barcelona will want to seal the tie in the first leg.
The overwhelming narrative of Barcelona’s season so far has been this: Luis Enrique muddled along all fall, changing line-ups at will and ignoring the midfield, and then he and his team were galvanized into action by the crisis at Anoeta. This story of resurrection has been repeated dozens of times, and public perception of Barcelona has swung from being out-of-shape strugglers to Champions League favorites in barely more than three months. But that narrative has never really held water with me. For starters, the defeat to Real Sociedad never seemed as much of a crisis as the media and club politicians made it out to be. After all, dropping points at Anoeta, especially after a long break, seems about as natural as breathing. More importantly, I think the real roots to Barcelona’s renaissance under Luis Enrique go farther back, to the last time the Catalans faced Sevilla.
A home match against 18th-placed Almería was never going to be particularly exciting, especially with a daunting gauntlet of Liga and Champions League games ahead. In fact, the game’s most interesting aspects were how Luis Enrique rested players for the road ahead, with Gerard Piqué, Jérémy Mathieu, Andrés Iniesta, and the misfiring Neymar Jr. all left on the bench. It was up to Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez to score goals, which they had no problem obliging – along with the now traditional set-piece goal from a defender, this time delivered by Marc Bartra.
Celta Vigo made life tough for Barcelona on Sunday. Some of the reasons were obvious – an away match after an international break, an extremely well-drilled opponent, and a still-developing midfielder handed a surprising start. But sometimes, you need to slow the match down, to stop and watch a moment again, to really catch the details. Welcome back to Freeze Frame (and apologies, the videos still don’t work on mobile).
ALL OF THE TESTS WERE POSITIVE: The doctors ruled out an injury, but yesterday he still trained without putting on studs
HE WILL BE AT TOP LEVEL BEFORE CELTA: Leo will train at the same rhythm as his teammates today and will be a sure starter in the trip to Vigo
CENTRE-BACK LINED UP: LAPORTE & BOATENG
Barcelona is contemplating the possibility of reinforcing the core of the defense if Vermaelen does not recuperate fully.
Laporte (Athletic) is the most promising and preferred, and there has already been some contact with Boateng (Bayern)
Gerard Deulofeu shone on Monday in the Spanish U21 team’s 4-0 thrashing of Belarus, sparking a wide discussion of the on-loan Barça forward’s merits and his future. Specifically, how he stacks up against the incumbent fourth forward, Pedro Rodríguez. Pedro has reportedly joined Dani Alves and Xavi Hernández in considering a possible departure this summer. In all three cases, there are arguments to be made for the veterans’ worth to the team, but also for giving the opportunities to younger players with potentially higher ceilings (and higher risks). But Pedro’s case, I think, and the tricky decisions Barcelona must make about him in the near future, encapsulates the value of experience better than any other.
FC Barcelona have confirmed that the 2015 Copa del Rey final against Athletic Club de Bilbao will be held at Camp Nou. The only other time Barcelona have played a cup final at Camp Nou was in 1963, a 3-1 victory over Real Zaragoza. Real Madrid, of course, were the last team to play a Copa del Rey final in their own stadium, losing 1-2 to Atlético Madrid at the Bernabeu in 2013. Reports are that both Barcelona and Athletic had wanted to play the final at the Bernabeu, but were denied. The final will be played on May 30.
Last night, I attended my first ever clásico. It’s often called a showcase, an exhibition of the finest (and most expensive) players in the world, but what I saw was more battle than spectacle. It was sloppy at times, thuggish and theatrical at others, but there were also examples of extraordinary brilliance on both sides. The pace of the game could be tracked by the noise in Camp Nou, occasionally subdued but mostly frenzied: roaring, whistling, and hurling obscenities at the enemy – which included not just Real Madrid players but Mateu Lahoz as well. If some claimed that Barcelona were not the better team, they were certainly the tougher one, and this was a battle to be won.
Lionel Messi’s evisceration of Manchester City has been universally praised by players and journalists alike. It may have been one of his best ever Champions League performances. I was lucky enough to be at Camp Nou Wednesday night, and while I cannot hope to compete with the descriptions of Sid Lowe, something beyond the sheer spectacle of the evening stuck with me.
Things are changing at FC Barcelona, and Luis Enrique’s men have reasserted themselves as one of the most feared teams in Europe. As the team is on the rise, so too is totalBarça. We are seeking to expand our squad to better provide our readers with the quality and consistency of Barça analysis they have come to expect. Many sites cover the daily life of FC Barcelona, but at totalBarça, we seek only the most creative and insightful writers. If you think you have a unique point of view to share, totalBarça can offer you the platform to share your words with the wider culé world. Apply here for a chance to be part of a diverse and dedicated crew of writers, editors, and media specialists from all over the world.
Barcelona host Rayo Vallecano at midday tomorrow, in a game that will be as entertaining as it is predictable. Paco Jeméz is near-universally admired for his uncompromising approach to football—he recently gave an interview in which he declared, “I became a coach to see my team play well…winning for the sake of winning doesn’t interest me.” While Rayo’s attacking approach is admirable —indeed, some have even suggested Jeméz as a candidate for future Barça manager—it rarely yields results against FC Barcelona. The blaugrana have won all seven games since Rayo returned to La Liga in 2011, with an aggregate score of 31-1!
As part of our cross-network coverage ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash, fellow Football Collective member and resident Manchester City experts Typical City gave us valuable insight into the opposition. I sat down with TC’s Alex Timperley to chat about both teams’ chances, tactics, and what viewers could expect to witness. Be sure to pop on over to their site for some expert analysis on Manuel Pellegrini’s club, as well as some cross-network collaboration with totalBarça including their own Q&A: Inside the Opposition!
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Barça’s winning streak was always going to end. That it happened right before a trip to England to face Manchester City is disappointing, but the dropped points were inevitable. Despite not having a midweek game, Barça – and Messi in particular – looked tired, disorganized, and unmotivated from the first minute, in sharp contrast to their performances the last six weeks. The visitors, on the other hand, were nothing short of superb, and young manager Javi Gracia may just be returning Málaga to their best form since 2012. They have taken four points from two matches against Barcelona, and are the only one of La Liga’s top 10 to beat Real Sociedad at Anoeta. And while it’s easy to speak in vague generalities of how disciplined and hard-working Málaga were in defense, their success is most clear in contrast to Levante last week.
Sometimes, it’s not enough to watch the game once. Sometimes a moment is so brilliant or fascinating that you need to pause it, repeat it, or slow it down. With that in mind, I present what will hopefully be a new series, Freeze Frame, in which I present interesting gifs I make of Barcelona’s most recent matches. Without further ado, let’s get to the explosive, extraordinary performance that was Barcelona’s Sunday trip to New San Mamés.
As the final whistle blew on Barcelona’s 0-6 thrashing of Elche, several people noted that the scoreline was misleading out of context. Indeed, Elche attacked decently and defended well, while Barcelona were lackluster for 50 minutes and only broke the game open with goals off a set piece and a penalty. The goals only started to flow once Fayçal Fajr received his second yellow in the 57th minute, allowing Messi and Neymar to run rampant against 10 men. All of which is true, of course. But two things stand out to me in that line of thinking. First, if you were unable to enjoy the show of samba and smiles put on by Barça’s brilliant duo in the last half hour in Elche, you should stop reading this piece and go back to kicking puppies and pissing in flower beds. Second, and more seriously, is this tricky notion of context, the idea that some numbers are misleading and others aren’t, which I think bears more exploration.
The first was an act of defiance, a dramatic response from a team that does not take kindly to being attacked and criticized from all sides. To beat Atlético Madrid twice, however, would be an assertion of dominance, proof that Luis Enrique’s men are here to win. For a team criticized for its inconsistency all season, a chance to repeat their extraordinary demolition of Atlético just 10 days ago would be the best possible statement of intent to their detractors. Moreover, with the Liga race likely to be a tooth-and-nail drag, the Copa del Rey could be Barcelona’s best shot at winning silverware this season – get past Atlético, and they will already have one hand on the trophy.
If there is one thing that has defined Luis Enrique’s tenure at Barcelona so far, it is the running tally of his unrepeated line-ups, currently at a remarkable 28 in 28 games. It is often cited as evidence of Enrique’s indecision and inability to figure out how he wants his team to play. It is also held up as an explanation for Barcelona’s inconsistency, at times alternately brilliant and ineffective. Most of all, however, it illustrates this generation’s over-dependence on statistics, not just to support a narrative but often to write it. In the days before we had Twitter accounts to compile every possible record, would Luis Enrique’s Barcelona really look like anything more than a new coach with new signings and the task of an enormously tricky transition? I decided to take a closer look at each of the line-ups to figure it out.
Real Madrid: I skip the first eleven games and begin with the Clásico, which marked Luis Suárez’s return from his four-month ban and the first time Luis Enrique had his gala eleven available. Like Carlo Ancelotti before him, however, Enrique adjusted tactics radically for his first Clásico, reverting to a Busquets-Xavi-Iniesta midfield and experimenting with Mathieu at left-back. Both decisions were unmitigated failures, but understandable ones given the context.
Ten days ago, at the start of the new year, I wrote that Luis Enrique, for all his crypticness and inconsistencies, had Barcelona in better shape than a year ago and well positioned to improve in 2015. The past week has exploded those notions in a collapse as extraordinarily dramatic as it was overdue. Josep Bartomeu has called elections, Andoni Zubizarreta has been fired, and rumours are swirling that Luis Enrique could be next on the chopping block (not that you’d be able to tell from looking at him, of course). Into this mess walk the reigning champions, Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid.
At the end of a year, we tend to become more reflective and pensive, thinking about who we are and what we’re doing, where we stand as we pass yet another marker. For sports fans, that self-critical process is never confined to late December, but rather a constant whir of comparisons and micro-evaluations every week. However, sometimes it’s good to take a step back and ask, with the rare patience and perspective the end of a year brings, where do we stand? After 24 competitive matches, countless crises and more hyperbolic back-and-forth than a non-Euclidean game of ping-pong, where does Luis Enrique’s Barcelona stand? A complex question, I think, that is best broken into three simpler parts.
To most viewers, FC Barcelona thumping the 19th-placed team in La Liga 5-0 at home is the definition of business as usual, but in many ways Barcelona-Córdoba was a match for the unexpected. With rare sightings of Martin Montoya, a misfiring Messi, an in-form Pedro, and not one but two set-piece goals, fans were taken on a veritable safari tour of foreign sights.
They say good things come in threes. “They” being superstitious people, but also culés and Cruyffistas. After all, threes are the basis of the Barcelona style: the midfield trio, the front three, and the all-important triangles formed all over the pitch. With that in mind, I want to look at Barcelona’s first three games after the international break, what could potentially turn out to be the season’s turning point. Under pressure after dreadful performances against Real Madrid, Celta Vigo, and Almería, Luis Enrique managed three important wins against Sevilla, APOEL, and Valencia. As always, there were caveats with each match. Sevilla were surprisingly poor, APOEL were minnows, and the most recent match against Valencia was muddled, confusing and ugly. However, three points from Mestalla is no mean feat – it is, after all, something Pep Guardiola accomplished only once in five trips there – and the victories over Sevilla and APOEL were as stylish as they were crucial to their respective campaigns. Most importantly, Luis Enrique played three different systems in the three games – although the success of these systems was mixed, the contrast with the rigidity and confusion of October is clear. Luis Enrique’s team is still coming together, but there is a logic to his choices now, a hint that he is developing tools for the long haul.
Like all stunning moments in life, the Barcelona-Sevilla game yesterday made us reexamine what we take as given. At the core of it all was Lionel Messi, and at the core of Messi is one question: “How the hell did he do that?” But there were other questions too, like: “Wait, so that guy with the goofy smile being lifted in the air is the one who’s going to leave Barcelona?” or “Weren’t Sevilla supposed to be good?” or “Weren’t we supposed to be terrible?” My question, admittedly, would have to be “How do I write about him?”
Only once the final whistle blew did the red haze start to fade from cule eyes. Looking at the scoreline, it was hard to fathom the bile and spite that had been spewed for the previous two hours. But as the rage started to subside, some questions started to come forward. Would Luis Suárez have been as effective if he had started the game against a fresh, hardworking and disciplined Almería side? Did two away games three days apart, including an unexpected overnight delay in Amsterdam, play a factor in Luis Enrique’s choice of lineups? The international break was put forward as a boon – no Barcelona games for Enrique to worry about – but these fixtures have always been more ache than break for Barça’s players, most of whom have tremendous responsibilities in their national teams.
Having earned a crucial 0-2 win against Ajax on Wednesday, Barcelona must find ways to continue their positive momentum against Almería this weekend. Two losses against Real Madrid and Celta Vigo made clear the startling problems with Luis Enrique’s team so far, and while the performance in Amsterdam was an improvement, there are still many flaws to iron out. With the disruption of the international break coming up, followed by key matches against Sevilla and Valencia – both currently challenging near the top of the table – Luis Enrique must use this opportunity to get his team in order and earn the confidence of both the players and the fans.
Despite the star-studded rosters out on the pitch, last night’s Clásico was fundamentally a battle between the managers. Carlo Ancelotti unquestionably made short work of Luis Enrique in the Asturian’s first time in charge of a Clásico, but it is worth looking back to Ancelotti’s own debut almost exactly a year ago for comparison. Carlo alluded to the event in his pre-match presser – he famously decided to start Sergio Ramos in midfield only to find Lionel Messi shifted out to the right wing. The surprise move went fundamentally against the current of Ancelotti’s first two months at Madrid, in which he had been painstakingly rebuilding Mourinho’s shattered team into a balanced, possession-comfortable side in his own image. Having finally established the blueprint of his system, it was a rash move to adjust it too radically for the Clásico and backfired significantly. Almost exactly one year later, Luis Enrique fell into a similar trap. But Ancelotti’s Madrid, now in their second season and well-established as the fearsome technical side their manager had envisioned, punished those mistakes ruthlessly. Read on after the jump for a look back at the game.