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. Continue reading »

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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Match Preview: CD Alavés – FC Barcelona B

Match Preview: CD Alavés – FC Barcelona B

Barcelona B are in action for yet another weekend, with a match for matchday four of the Liga Adelante. Following two successful home outings against Sabadell and Zaragoza, the Blaugranas will have to prove that the opening day fiasco at El Sadar was nothing more than a bad day at the office, and that they still carry last season’s tendency of winning the majority of away games. It won’t be easy, as Alavés is a hard team to beat and the Mendizorroza a tricky ground to play at. But with some key players back from national team duty, Eusebio should have enough resources to at least pursue the win.

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Managing La Masia: The quiet makeover of Barça B

Managing La Masia: The quiet makeover of Barça B

Much has been made of the overhaul Barcelona’s first team has undergone this summer. 2014 has seen the departure of Victor Valdés and Carles Puyol, over 150 million euros spent in the transfer market, and what feels like a return to Pep Guardiola’s values with Luis Enrique. In particular, much has been made of Luis Enrique’s use of the youth team in preseason and the first two Liga games, in which 19-year-olds Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez each made their first-team debuts and scored.

A statistic making the rounds of late shows that Luis Enrique has already featured Barça B players more than Gerardo Martino did all last season. With Luis Suárez still banned and a sulking Gerard Deulofeu shipped out on loan, culés are delighted to have a seemingly ceaseless conveyor belt of talented youths to fill the gaps. Indeed, Barcelona B is brimming with talent in nearly every position, and seems perfectly situated to supplement the first team through the 2015 transfer ban. The timing couldn’t be better. Yet amidst the overwhelming focus on Luis Enrique and Andoni Zubizarreta’s renewal of the first team, few have drawn attention to the quiet work at Barcelona B over the last few years that have brought these talents to the surface. Read on after the jump.

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Match Review: FC Barcelona B 4-1 Real Zaragoza

Match Review: FC Barcelona B 4-1 Real Zaragoza

If anyone told you that Barcelona B would end up beating Zaragoza 4-1 in two weeks’ time of the opener at El Sadar, you would have probably thought the man was over confident, or blown away by last season’s extraordinary exploits. Yet that’s precisely what happened at the Miniestadi yesterday. Eusebio’s team not only beat a promotion hopeful, but they completely demolished Zaragoza. They did so with 10 absences, in the aftermath of a summer that saw many of the team’s stars depart. The storyline is just inspiring. What’s more exciting than the previously sloppy, chance-missing Dongou bagging a brace for the second week on the run, and Gerard Gumbau, some 19-year-old kid who had only previously played football in the Primera Catalana scoring seconds after he came on? These moments are moments only offered by Eusebio’s Barça B. Read more after the jump.

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Comparing Douglas, Alves and Montoya

Comparing Douglas, Alves and Montoya

São Paulo FC fans all over Brazil are lauding the efforts of club directors after off-loading right back Douglas Pereira, whom many fans considered a liability and not worthy of a starting place on their beloved team. To be fair, Dani Alves is also seen by many Brazilians in a similar light domestically, but how one performs from team to team can sometimes provide quite the study in contrast. While assurances of his defensive abilities are plentiful online, numbers from Opta Sports compiled by ESPN Brasil do a little bit more to dispel the worries of non-Portuguese-speaking culés frantically combing the internet for more on who exactly this Douglas character is and what he could possibly offer on a right flank that has been so dominantly deputized by Dani Alves and to a far lesser extent, Martín Montoya. Continue reading »

The rise of Munir El Haddadi

The rise of Munir El Haddadi

FC Barcelona managed to begin the season with a 3-0 win against Elche, with Leo Messi bagging a brace and generally looking to be close to his effervescent best. However, the most grabbing storyline from the blaugranas’ winning league opener was the goalscoring first team debut of Munir El Haddadi. The 18-year-old, who will turn 19 on September 1st, put on one of the most complete displays a forward can produce, and scribed his name on the record books with his first Barça goal. Read on to find out who Munir really is, and whose feat he has been able to match over the past year…

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Match Review: CA Osasuna 2-0 FC Barcelona B

Match Review: CA Osasuna 2-0 FC Barcelona B

Barcelona B’s 2014/15 Liga Adelante season began with a defeat at El Sadar against promotion contenders Osasuna. What the reserves showed on the pitch at Pamplona must have surely left coach Eusebio with plenty to ponder. The team was lackluster, lackeing the grit and determination to match the hosts’ energy. Eusebio’s side created very few chances, and was forced to play with a backline that was totally in shambles. Avoiding relegation will be a challenge this season. Read more…

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Looking into Barça B 2014/15-Part 2

Looking into Barça B 2014/15-Part 2

Barcelona B are coming off the back of an historic season in Liga Adelante, having managed to equal the side’s best ever finish achieved by Luis Enrique’s team in 2010/11. However, last year’s squad has been stripped apart, with many players sealing moves abroad, others moving to La Liga clubs, and others released. Coach Eusebio Sacristán has a squad that includes just 15 players who were with the team last year, with the rest being new signings and players who were promoted from last year’s all-conquering Juvenil A side. Through this mini-series, which is to be split into two parts, we will attempt to give you an insight into your second favourite Barça team. Part 1 gave you an idea on those who are still here from last year’s squad. Read on to meet the rest of the squad, including all new signings…

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