Player in Focus: Andrés Iniesta

Player in Focus: Andrés Iniesta

When the two sides met at the Parc des Princes earlier in the season, Paris Saint-Germain emerged as 3-2 winners in an enthralling contest that was particularly notable for its frantic, end-to-end tempo and lack of midfield control. Despite PSG and Barça accumulating the highest average possession in their respective leagues, what decided the match was the exploitation of open space left in the midfield, with both sides guilty of this particular offense.

In the build-up to last night’s rematch, the spotlight was further cast on the midfield due to the absences of Marco Verratti through suspension and Thiago Motta through injury. Recently – and indeed shockingly – maligned of late, Andrés Iniesta had the biggest point to prove of the 22 men on the pitch. How did he fare?

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A game won on the extremes, job done in Paris

A game won on the extremes, job done in Paris

That was good, not far from a perfect Champions League away result. Had Jérémy Mathieu not wildly slashed at a weak Gregory van der Wiel shot, FC Barcelona would have left the Parc des Princes unscathed and shoo-ins for the a semi-final place. Regardless, a dominant 3-1 away win against one of Europe’s elite sides is as good as it gets in football’s toughest competition and makes Barça a near certainty to advance. This was the best display against Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) of the three, though very different from to the master-classes against Manchester City (though more and more that’s looking largely due to City’s ineptitude). Again, tonight showed this is an adaptable and ever-shifting Barcelona.

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Barcelona look to knock out weakened PSG

Barcelona look to knock out weakened PSG

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.

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Foreign Affairs: Manchester is red, Málaga surprise again

Foreign Affairs: Manchester is red, Málaga surprise again

Welcome to totalBarça’s newest series, Foreign Affairs. Every Monday, senior writer Hady Ezzeddine offers you a round-up of the weekend’s most interesting fixtures with a unique totalBarça take. This week, we take a look at England’s quality, upcoming opponents PSG, and the best of the rest in La Liga.

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Player in Focus: Jérémy Mathieu

Player in Focus: Jérémy Mathieu

Up against a rojiblanco side whose last defeat at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán came 14 months ago, and with everything to play for in La Liga, fans and pundits alike expected the blaugrana backline to be in for a serious test against Sevilla. While Gerard Piqué’s renaissance has been well documented, Jérémy Mathieu’s recent goal-scoring exploits have wrestled the limelight away from the Catalan defender. Firmly under the microscope, how did the Frenchman fare on the night?

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Fitness: Barça’s secret weapon?

Fitness: Barça’s secret weapon?

It’s finally here. The business end of the season, the string of matches we’ve all been waiting for, is finally before us. At this time, a quick glance upon Barcelona’s situation in comparison to the continent’s other great powers could be useful. And when we say ‘situation,’ we don’t mean form. We mean how well prepared each of Europe’s powerhouses find themselves at the start line of the uphill task of battling for titles. A quick glance will certainly convince even the most doubtful that things are, in fact, looking good for Barcelona.

For the sake of comparison, we will be plotting the current status of Barcelona’s squad against the current squad status of three other Champions League quarter-finalists who are thought to have good chances of winning Europe’s premier club competition: Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Atlético Madrid.

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Barcelona lament errors as Sevilla extend unbeaten streak

Barcelona lament errors as Sevilla extend unbeaten streak

For 83 minutes it seemed like FC Barcelona were about to end Sevilla FC’s amazing unbeaten streak at home, but that’s football. Barcelona squandered tonight a two-goal lead that may prove vital as we get closer and closer to the end of the season, and a disciplined Sevilla under the guidance of Unai Emery secured a massive point to keep them in the race for a Champions League spot. Disappointed? Angry? Satisfied? What exactly happened tonight?

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Revising the narrative: The evolution of Luis Enrique’s Barça

Revising the narrative: The evolution of Luis Enrique’s Barça

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.

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Player in Focus: Pedro Rodríguez

Player in Focus: Pedro Rodríguez

In the press conference leading up to the Almería match, Luis Enrique was under no illusions as to the importance of beating the downtrodden side, declaring, “If we want to win the league, then we have to make sure we win this game.

The Asturian spoke of “put[ting] out an eleven to win the points,” but given the quality of the opposition, who are embroiled in a proper relegation dogfight, Lucho did not hesitate to rotate his side. Sergi Roberto, Marc Bartra, and Pedro Rodríguez were all afforded rare starts, while Adriano Correia continued to deputize for the injured Jordi Alba.

Roberto put in an assured performance, Bartra found himself on the score-sheet, and Barça strolled to a 4-0 win at home without having to get out of second gear, extending their lead at the top of the La Liga table in the process. But how did Pedro, the man with the biggest point to prove, perform on the night?

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Barcelona pass Almería test in second gear

Barcelona pass Almería test in second gear

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.

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Freeze Frame: Celta Vigo vs. Barcelona

Freeze Frame: Celta Vigo vs. Barcelona

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).

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Segunda madness: Barça B’s relegation battle

Segunda madness: Barça B’s relegation battle

With 10 games left to play in this season’s Segunda División championship, what we have before us in terms of the relegation battle is really capable of driving cules crazy. Five teams are fighting to keep themselves away from the bottom four spots, with 18th placed Recreativo only three points away from bottom-placed Sabadell. And for the first time in several years, Barcelona B is in serious danger of dropping to Spain’s third division. Read on to take a look at what Jordi Vinyais’ men will need to happen in these final 10 games if they are to stay up.

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Player in Focus: Rafinha Alcántara

Player in Focus: Rafinha Alcántara

It’s ironic that the majority of drama, intrigue and memories provided by a collective sport such as football are predominantly founded on individual narratives. How would Adriano Correia cover for the injured Jordi Alba? Would Sergio Busquets be able to seamlessly slot back into his holding role after Javier Mascherano had taken over for a few matches? Would Lionel Messi be able to tentatively reclaim the Pichichi crown from Cristiano Ronaldo after the Madeira native bagged five against Granada? The brightest spotlight however, shone on Luis Enrique’s protégé, Rafinha Alcántara, on the duo’s return to the Balaídos, where they led Celta Vigo to a ninth-place finish last season.

Decked out in blaugrana and back in the ground where he earned La Liga’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, the 22-year-old Brazilian was unquestionably under the microscope. But how did he fare last night?
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Sporting Gijón-Barça B: Crazy game yields a point (0-0)

Sporting Gijón-Barça B: Crazy game yields a point (0-0)

Yet another game, yet another point for Jordi Vinyals’ Barça B. The reserves put in a solid, if not spectacular performance, considering that they were playing against the league’s third-placed side, and came out unscathed following a pulsating end-to-end affair that saw both teams squander good chances to get the win. Vinyals’ men gave it their all, the coach did his best trying to mastermind the first win for the blaugrana in nine matches, yet everything came to no avail. Read more…

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Take Kubo and the FIFA-banned players: What next?

Take Kubo and the FIFA-banned players: What next?

When Barcelona were hit with a harsh transfer ban for wrongdoing regarding international transfers of minors, everybody’s attention was focused on how the first team would be affected. Talk of contract renewals, panic buys and endless discussions became daily food for thought (and publication) for Catalunya’s hungry periodicals. However, what most people failed to acknowledge in the immediate aftermath of FIFA’s announcement was that this ban was ultimately about children. Children under the age of 18 whose only concern was, and remains to be, to play football. Almost a year after the transfer ban was issued, 9 youngsters are still battling to stay sharp on the sidelines. Inevitably, some have jumped ship.

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The season-end marathon

The season-end marathon

Well folks, we’re finally here. The year began with Barcelona and Atlético Madrid tied on 38 points with Real Madrid ahead by a point and a game in hand. What seemed like a crisis then seems like a golden opportunity now. Barça lead the Primera division with 68 points, four points ahead of their eternal rivals, eight points ahead of third place Valencia, and nine points separating them from title holders Atlético Madrid. The boys have stopped the RojiBlancos, knocked them out of the Copa del Rey, destroyed the Premier League champions and clinched a victory against the European champions. But while everything seems nice and rosy, all of this would be for nothing if Barça doesn’t keep up the pace in their final tests.

It’s time for the business-end of the season marathon!

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MSN vs BBC: All the stats you need

MSN vs BBC: All the stats you need

As the clásico approaches, it’s become sort of a trend to predict the starting lineup of both teams. This time, however, one segment of each of the Spanish teams are indisputable – that segment is the attack. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are all starting on Sunday for sure; just as Barça’s Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr and Luis Suárez guarantee a starting spot as well. And while the media bombarded us with these silly nicknames of ‘MSN’ and ‘BBC,’ it gets harder and harder not to get caught up by the excitement of football’s greatest eternal rivalry.

Messi eats too many pizzas. Ronaldo is an egotistic piece of crap. Suárez is a cheater, not a footballer. Gareth Bale is Madrid’s latest Galactico flop. Neymar is ridiculously overrated. And Benz, well, should I even go there? Point is, you could say what you like about every player. Haters gonna hate. However, we at totalBarça bring you a breakdown of each of el clásico’s attacking tridents. We’ve categorised both trios’ statistics in the league into these five categories: Scoring, passing, ball control, chemistry and team impact.

Shall we begin?

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Clásico preview: A tale of two cities

Clásico preview: A tale of two cities

No names, but here’s a sample of what this here website’s readers had to say about Luis Enrique following the 1-0 defeat against Real Sociedad on January 4th – “This dude Get to go. Period”; “Lucho..,you fool”; “No strategy, No urgency, No direction”; “He is a clueless idiot with 0 tactical knowledge and he is arrogant on top of that”; “He is such a clueless coach”; “FRAUD”; “He has no desire to win matches.” That was the overwhelming consensus, with frequent accusations of incompetence and arrogance and one solemn vow to never watch Barça until Lucho was shoved out the exit door. Well, that pious soul has missed some sumptuous football since and the tune being sung by culé nation sounds significantly different. Would Barça win the clásico on Sunday, that tune will turn into a symphony of jubilation.

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Eibar-Barça: Business as usual

Eibar-Barça: Business as usual

No rival can ever be underestimated in football. Especially if we are talking about La Liga. Yet sometimes you can be forgiven for valuing some games a bit more than others. After all, can a game against little Eibar ever have the same value as a game against your eternal rivals or a game that will decide whether you will play midweek in Europe for the rest of the season? In their first visit to the Estadio Municipal de Ipurúa, Barça’s players played as much as they needed to do to make sure that the team will go into next week’s clásico defending a lead no matter what.

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3-1 victory sees Barça comfortably reach Copa final

3-1 victory sees Barça comfortably reach Copa final

Villarreal huffed and puffed, sprinkled in a little hacking and stomping, and Barça won 3-1 anyways. The game was effectively over before it got going when Neymar put Barcelona ahead three minutes in. At the end of the day, it comes down to basic financial arithmetic: Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez versus Ikechukwu Uche, Luciano Vietto, Denis Cheryshev. Whilst Villarreal gave it their all and had a flurry of chances in a first half against an opponent that clearly knew they were 4-1 ahead on aggregate, superior caliber creates higher quality opportunities which leads to a greater frequency of goals. With a smiling Sergio Busquets on the bench, who despite what looked a horrific ankle injury reportedly only suffered a sprain, Barça qualify for the Copa del Rey final as everyone expected they would and with no damage done (fingers crossed still, you never know).

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Match Preview: Barcelona rumbling toward Copa final

Match Preview: Barcelona rumbling toward Copa final

Can you hear that sound? That’s the rumbling of the earth caused by the Barça faithful as they carry out their pilgrimage to the Camp Nou every match day. That’s the sound of cleats ticking against the tunnel floors of each stadium the blaugrana have marched down in the Copa del Rey, La Liga and Champions League these past two seasons. That is the comforting yet tense pam-pam-pam of relentless passing of foes into submission. It’s the sound of the occasional long boot of the ball as it whistles through mild Spanish air onto the gentle foot of a magician. That dull clang is the sound of footballs whistling by keepers’ finger tips, banging off of goal posts, swishing against back netting, and every pilgrim screaming his or her head off, releasing the tension of living through what seems like an eternity.

The journey has been long and arduous—loaded with slips, drama and disappointment. Not since the late Tito Vilanova lifted the 100-point La Liga trophy in May 2013 have FC Barcelona and its faithful tasted significant silver. The club ended the season 15 points clear of Real Madrid, which seems ridiculous today. But now, a new final is just 90 minutes away. The pilgrims have stood by their team as it has steadily shed its skin, transforming into something stronger and more lethal with each passing week. It’s been a delicious display of the attacking football we know and love, even if it is a little different from that addictive style Pep Guardiola got us jonesin’ for.

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An opportunity spurned but still an advantage earned

An opportunity spurned but still an advantage earned

An imperial first half followed by a bumbling second gave life to a tie that should be dead and put to bed. Given the palpable ease of the first 45, it was a poor showing to concede that extent of control to Manchester City and sit back, knowing City’s goal was only the next chance away. Even when Gaël Clichy was sent off following two clumsy (and deserved) bookings Barça didn’t put the home side under enough pressure. Then Lionel Messi threw away Pablo Zabaleta’s gift of a penalty to encapsulate an undeserving second half performance. Winning away from home is always the goal, yet tonight feels an opportunity blown. I’m genuinely disappointed with Luis Enrique tonight for not reacting appropriately to what were the two obvious problem areas. You obviously overwhelmingly fancy the blaugrana to see out the 2-1 advantage but The Citizens walk off this evening a happier side than they should be.

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Excellent Málaga end Barça’s win streak

Excellent Málaga end Barça’s win streak

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.

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I must say, Luis Enrique, well done

I must say, Luis Enrique, well done

“If we lose or draw, then it’s party time for the media.”

– Luis Enrique Martínez García 

A funny thing happens when Barça suffers a loss or draw. The players demonstrate mortality, making them easy to talk about and criticize. A 10-game winning streak rears its head however, and suddenly, silence falls upon the internet. Let’s give credit where it’s due, shall we? Ever since that horrible week which followed the loss against David Moyes’ Real Sociedad at Anoeta, Luis Enrique has whipped his team into shape, figured out his strongest starting eleven (finally), and has been on form ever since. He has one foot in the Copa del Rey final. He’s one point away from a disastrous Real Madrid in the league. And he’s soundly beaten a team we struggled against on six occasions last season—thrice in a row. From a man who was supposedly one match away from getting sacked, I must say, Luis Enrique, well done.

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Match Review: Barcelona 3-1 Villarreal: Copa final in sights

Match Review: Barcelona 3-1 Villarreal: Copa final in sights

Just a couple of weeks ago, these two sides faced each other at the Camp Nou as each battled for three important points in La Liga. The game was difficult and close, with FC Barcelona having to comeback from a one-goal deficit to stay in the race. And tonight they went head to head again. The match was once again a challenging one, but it was clear that one of these two sides learned from its earlier mistakes and studied its opponent well. And with the 3-1 victory, Barça has taken a huge step toward the Copa del Rey final.

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Copa del Rey Match Preview: FC Barcelona vs Villarreal

Copa del Rey Match Preview: FC Barcelona vs Villarreal

Villarreal CF will face FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou Wednesday in the visitor’s first-ever semi-final in the Copa del Rey. Both teams have had terrific starts to the year despite Villarreal losing 3-2 to the hosts in La Liga earlier this month. The blaugrana are on a nine-game win streak, while the submarino amarillo have won five of the last six.

“We do not claim to be perfect,” FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique said. “It is impossible to be perfect. Imperfection also makes nice football.”

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Freeze Frame: Athletic Club vs. Barcelona

Freeze Frame: Athletic Club vs. Barcelona

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.

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The Road to the Clasico

The Road to the Clasico

…And then it was one point. Barça’s emphatic win at San Mamés, combined with Real Madrid’s emphatic loss to Atlético Madrid, puts the fate of the league title squarely in our hands. As in many seasons past, the Clásico could once again determine the La Liga champion. But first, let’s examine the path for the league leaders up until the big game in March.

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Athletic Club-Barcelona: Esto es Barça!

Athletic Club-Barcelona: Esto es Barça!

The Barcelona team we watched last night at San Mamés was a pure joy to watch. Credit to Athletic for making Barça work to a resounding 2-5 victory at a ground where the blaugranas hadn’t won since 2011. It also has to be noted that Barça’s defence didn’t have the best of nights. Yet the team’s quality was there, standing tall and imposing over La Catedral, like a ghost haunting. No matter how much Ernesto Valverde’s spirited troops huffed and puffed on yesterday’s cold night at the Basque Country, there was only ever going to be one winner. Barça simply gave that impossible sense of being untouchable. Read more…

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Copa del Rey Match Preview: Atlético Madrid vs FC Barcelona

Copa del Rey Match Preview: Atlético Madrid vs FC Barcelona

The highest-profile remaining match left to play in the Copa del Rey will send either FC Barcelona or defending La Liga champions Atlético Madrid into the semi finals to face a formidable Villareal or possibly Getafe. But regardless of what happens in the next phase, Atlético must now overcome a 1-goal deficit at home against the Liga and Copa runners up it successfully overcame in both competitions last season.

Forever with a point to prove, both clubs will throw everything they have at this match in order to avoid elimination in a tournament where few adversity is actually left.

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