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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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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Context and clean sheets: a look at Elche-Barcelona

Context and clean sheets: a look at Elche-Barcelona

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.

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Barça B mid-season progress report-Part 2

Barça B mid-season progress report-Part 2

Barça B’s win against Recreativo Huelva on Saturday marked the midpoint of the reserves’ season. Such milestone dates are usually great opportunities for reflection. 21 games into the Liga Adelante season, totalBarça youth specialist Savi Marquez tackles the Barça B side and lays down his mid-season progress reports. Each and every player is scrutinised to the deep detail here and graded in the fashion of the standard A-F system, including plus and minuses. Read more…

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Barça B mid-season progress report – Part 1

Barça B mid-season progress report – Part 1

Barça B’s win against Recreativo Huelva yesterday marked the midpoint of the reserves’ season. Such milestone dates are usually great opportunities for reflection. 21 games into the Liga Adelante season, totalBarça youth specialist Savi Marquez tackles the Barça B side and lays down his mid-season progress reports. Each and every player is scrutinised to the deep detail here and graded in the fashion of the standard A-F system, including plus and minuses. Read more…

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In defense of the 28

In defense of the 28

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.

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Debts paid, but can Elche overcome deficit?

Debts paid, but can Elche overcome deficit?

With recent wage disputes finally settled, Elche CF will now look forward to hosting FC Barcelona at the Estadio Martínez Valero in Alicante, Valencia in the hopes of overcoming another embarrassing deficit–a five-goal thrashing handed to its players in the first leg of the Copa del Rey Round of 16 at the Camp Nou.Click for more

Neymar, Suárez, Messi – Barça beat Atlético 3-1

Neymar, Suárez, Messi – Barça beat Atlético 3-1

That did not look a team in the midst of mutiny. FC Barcelona put in their best performance of the season, in particular with a sensational first half that at the very least merited the two goal advantage. Atlético Madrid certainly overstepped with their physical play, it got dirty, and only through the incompetence of La Liga officiating finished the game with all eleven men on the pitch. It was that same ineptitude from Undiano Mallenco that also gifted the visitors with a chance for points. At the end however, Barça matched Atletí intensity and very deservedly walked off the Camp Nou pitch worthy winners.

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Copa del Rey Match Preview: FC Barcelona vs Elche CF

Copa del Rey Match Preview: FC Barcelona vs Elche CF

This would probably have been the ideal match to rest Lionel Messi in, versus say, a match against a team that Barcelona does not consistently beat. But alas, #MessiGate appears to have come to a head, and the shambolic state of the club is no longer a perspective left for the pessimistic and moderate. Anyone capable of rubbing two sticks together can now see that whether the rift between coach and talisman is real, exaggerated or entirely fictitious, Barcelona as a club is far beyond the point of corruption and singular malfeasance by its former and current presidents. Whether aimed at Barça manager Luis Enrique or the board itself, a power play has taken place, and as any sane bookie could have predicted, Messi appears to have come out on top.

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Valladolid-Barça B: Reserves’ Waterloo (7-0)

Valladolid-Barça B: Reserves’ Waterloo (7-0)

If Barcelona B’s defeat to Mirandés last week was a matter of bad finishing and horrendous errors at the back, then this week’s defeat at Valladolid is as shameful as a defeat can get. Barcelona B lost 7-0 to a team that had shown to have nothing special up to this point, and no matter how this hurts, Eusebio’s players deserved to lose by this margin. Barcelona B succumbed to their worst ever defeat in the Liga Adelante yesterday, and sadly, the scoreline was somewhat flattering for the visitors. Read more…

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Probably about 70:30, a PSG 3-4-3 analysis

Probably about 70:30, a PSG 3-4-3 analysis

We had control of the game from the start, even though they scored first. We knew where we could do them damage, where to find space, and where we could get our decisive players into the game. We wanted to accumulate as many players as possible in attack, to try and unbalance the opponent. We gave up some chances, but against this type of opponent, that will happen. We are stronger when we can use different shapes. To sum up, a very good night for us.

- ESPNFC

That’s how Luis Enrique summed up the much talked about 3-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Well, I’m about to talk more about, A LOT more, so if that’s your kind of thing…onwards!

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Copa del Rey Match Review: FC Barcelona vs SD Huesca

Copa del Rey Match Review: FC Barcelona vs SD Huesca

Not much opposition was expected from SD Huesca for the return leg of the Copa del Rey round of 32 encounter. Indeed, with a four-goal cushion and having recently dropped points in the league to Getafe, FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique’s thinking was obviously more about resting up for the long La Liga/CdR/Champions League marathon ahead, rather than use Lionel Messi to clobber some pretty weak opposition.

Wisely, Lucho opted to leave most of his first team to watch from the stands. Of the sixteen players called up, he asked only eleven first-team players to suit up. Even Martín Montoya got a much-deserved start. Heavens!

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Copa del Rey Match Preview: FC Barcelona vs SD Huesca

Copa del Rey Match Preview: FC Barcelona vs SD Huesca

FC Barcelona takes on SD Huesca for the second leg of the Copa del Rey round of 32 on Tuesday evening at the Camp Nou.

After a scoreless draw against Getafe at the weekend and a tactically strange experiment against PSG last week, FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique will be looking to continue his delicate balancing act at the helm of the first team. He must somehow look to achieve a convincing result, blood his talented youngsters from the B team, and spare his first team regulars from unnecessary minutes ahead of league action against Córdoba this weekend.

In all likelihood, progression to the next round against either Real Valladolid or Elche will go Barça’s way given there’s a nearly insurmountable four-goal aggregate standing in Huesca’s path.

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Good things come in threes: How Luis Enrique can strike balance at Barcelona

Good things come in threes: How Luis Enrique can strike balance at Barcelona

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.

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Midfield merry go ‘round

Midfield merry go ‘round

Last weekend’s game against Valencia saw the first implementation of the ‘double pivote’ in the Barça starting lineup. Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano were paired together, along with Xavi Hernández. Through the first 18 games of the season, coach Luis Enrique has been experimenting extensively with his starting XI, and the midfield is no exception. Find out how many combinations he has employed after the jump.

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The Myth of the Double Pivot

The Myth of the Double Pivot

Football is just like science. You conceive a hypothesis in an attempt to define something new and innovate using it. You then design a set of conditions and experiment to test if your hypothesis holds or not. If it does, great news; if it doesn’t, you modify it and repeat until it works. This essentially has been the trend this season for Luis Enrique, who has used 13 different XIs in the last 13 matches. The latest of this set of experiments has been to play two naturally ‘defensive midfielders’ in the same eleven last weekend against Valencia. There are several possible reasons as to why Luis Enrique opted to test this system and perhaps it was obvious that at around the seventieth minute of game-play the results were clear in front of him and he opted for a change. Click for more discussion on this experimentation:

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What, me worry?

What, me worry?

It’s always darkest before the dawn. The international break left Barça fans with a lot of worries about the performance of the club and coach. Two games later, and everything’s peachy! Read on for some perspective on the team’s fantastic form.

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Match Review: FC Barcelona 0-1 RC Celta de Vigo

Match Review: FC Barcelona 0-1 RC Celta de Vigo

Wastefulness is one of things you never want to have when playing a game of football. You know that you may not get many chances, but those that you do get you finish well. What happens if you get 19 shots, 15 of those being clear-cut chances? Are you allowed to waste them? Of course not. If you do, you are punished. The ball never forgives. If you make mistakes, it stings you. That was pretty much what happened with Barcelona in the match against Celta. The Blaugranas were looking for a response after the clásico, but ended up wasting a catalogue of chances and losing all three points against a valiant Celta side that did basic things well to inflict a second straight league defeat on the Catalans.

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He’s literally impossible

He’s literally impossible

On the 1st of July Nate Silver’s ESPN statistics and analytics blog FiveThirtyEight published the “Lionel Messi is Impossible” piece. Over social media recently I stated that it’s not the numbers that prove Messi is the best player in the world. What does then? To shorten what is complicated and longwinded reasoning, it comes down to a simple statement: you can just see it. Then a follower reminded me of the aforementioned FiveThirtyEight piece, though he ironically implied that Messi isn’t about stats and figures when the entire premise of the article he cited is stats and figures. Which is precisely the beauty of “Lionel Messi is Impossible”. Even though his genius is exponentially more than the box score, measurables are handy because there are no “yeah, but”s. These are hard, inarguable analytical facts which as I will go through to fortify Messi’s unmatchable grandeur. Now quoting the author Benjamin Morris:

By now I’ve studied nearly every aspect of Messi’s game, down to a touch-by-touch level: his shooting and scoring production; where he shoots from; how often he sets up his own shots; what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots; his ability to take on defenders; how accurate his passes are; the kind of passes he makes; how often he creates scoring chances; how often those chances lead to goals; even how his defensive play marking compares to other high-volume shooters. 

And that’s just the stuff that made it into this article. I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn’t really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.

What I particularly loved about this piece was its scope. Morris crunches a ton of numbers to gives us a perfectly fair representative sample that analyses the gauntlet of football. It’s also a handy source to squash any annoying Ronaldo versus Messi debate. So let’s get into it.

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Match Preview: FC Barcelona vs AFC Ajax

Match Preview: FC Barcelona vs AFC Ajax

FC Barcelona hosts the pioneers of totaalvoetbal AFC Ajax Tuesday evening for round three of the UEFA Champions League group stage. Now approaching the halfway point of group play with a mere 3 points under their belt, the Catalans have a chance to get their campaign back on track in what few expect to be an easy group. With a humbling defeat at Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and a narrow win over APOEL Nicosia, Barcelona has shown its own mortality. And with so many among the Ajax ranks familiar with the Barcelona’s mechanisms, it would be difficult to argue that this should prove a walk in the park for the hosts.

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Match Preview: FC Barcelona – SD Eibar

Match Preview: FC Barcelona – SD Eibar

We are just one week away from the first clásico at the Bernabéu, and everything seems to be rotating around the big match in Madrid. The referee, Neymar’s form, Lionel Messi’s position, the potential return of Luis Suárez. However, people seem to forget that Barcelona have to play another match before travelling to the capital. Unknown Eibar are at the Camp Nou today, and given that the league table guarantees that Barça will go to Madrid above their eternal rivals, complacency might settle down amongst the players. Eibar though is the last team you would want to be complacent against. Read more…

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UCL Rivals: Paris Saint-Germain

UCL Rivals: Paris Saint-Germain

FC Barcelona will travel to France to square up against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on Tuesday. On paper, the Parisians are Barcelona’s strongest opponents in Group F of the UEFA Champions League and should be Luis Enrique’s toughest match yet. PSG have certainly caused trouble for Barcelona in the past, nearly knocking out Tito Vilanova’s weakened side in the 2012/13 UCL quarterfinals. It took some dramatic late heroics from a half-fit Leo Messi to defeat Carlo Ancelotti’s men, but much has changed in the last year and a half. How will the French giants stack up against Barcelona this time around? Read more after the jump.

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Sergi Samper: A culé for life

Sergi Samper: A culé for life

Sergi Samper became the third La Masia graduate to make his official first team debut under Luis Enrique after Lucho trusted him with a starting spot in Barcelona’s Champions League opening match against APOEL Nicosia. Culés were clearly pleased with the 19-year-old’s performance on a night that didn’t bring out the best of the blaugrana, but many Barça fans were surprised by the midfielder, who seamlessly stepped into the shoes of the midfield’s Mr. Dependable, Sergio Busquets, his idol. This question was surely high on the post-match agenda for culés: Who is this kid, and what can he do?

Read more about Samper after the jump.

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UCL Rivals: APOEL Nicosia

UCL Rivals: APOEL Nicosia

FC Barcelona start their bid to win the UEFA Champions League (UCL) four years after the Wembley triumph with a home match against APOEL Nicosia. The Cypriot champions were the team drawn from Pot 4 in the UEFA Champions League draw, but that is about how much most culés know about the Nicosia-based team. This season, just like every year, we give you deep insight into every team Barcelona will face on the route to Berlin, starting with our first UCL rivals APOEL Nicosia. Read more…

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