Something seems to be happening at Barça

Something seems to be happening at Barça

Rarely in football do you sincerely think “that was bloody brilliant”. Obviously I’m not referring to the second half (except for Arda Turan’s wonderful moment of theatre), but that first half was one of wonderful ebb and flow. It started with a bang, then an elegant rebuttal, an unsurprising controversy, a swift reply and finally it ended with a bang. Instead of being called for a clear handball, Jordi Alba burst the length of the field to superbly assist Neymar’s winner on a night the Brazilian sparkled. Down 2-3 at the half (2-4 on aggregate), Neymar finally had enough of the relentless fouling, got into Gabi’s face and then stood up to Fernando Torres. Eventually that concluded with Gabi being sent off during the break and viewers needing a double take when Atlético took to the field curiously a man down.

I must say, there’s been few firmer admirers and supporters of Atletí but lately it feels things are getting nasty. The soldier “never say die” mentality is shifting into a bit of a sore loser routine. The Atlético guys seem to genuinely believe they’re being wronged despite cynical and excessive physical fouls that are blatantly obvious. Whether a direct consequence or not, it was poetic that referee Gil Manzano had to ask for a new disappearing spray can with 10 minutes still to spare. He blew over thirty fouls and distributed 13 yellow cards (10 to Atlétio Madrid) as well as 2 red cards. Barça were unable to beat Atletí in six attempts last year, they’ve now won three times in barely over two weeks with an aggregate score-line of 7-3. Something seems to be happening at FC Barcelona.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

Calma Luis, calma

Calma Luis, calma

Tug away, pull with all your might, try by force and you’ll never be free. The harder you try, the tighter the bamboo grips – on this simple principle the age old Chinese handcuffs have imprisoned many an index finger. As soon as the prisoner relaxes, so does the snare and voilà, freedom. We human beings so often get in our own way. We want something so badly that our attempts become desperate, frantic and ultimately counterproductive. Whether it’s Dee gripping the rat trap (for any of my Always Sunny brethren out there) or Luis Suárez in blaugrana, often when one stops trying so hard nature takes its course.

Continue reading »

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…

Continue reading »

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…

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

February is coming

February is coming

The stage has been set. Luis Enrique still might not have earned trust from the Blaugrana faithful just yet. However, he has earned some patience from the fans after Barça’s victory against title-holders Atlético Madrid, in order to turn this season around and live up to the hype made of the ‘Lucho era.’ Real Madrid’s elimination from the Copa del Rey has set the dates to two more encounters with Diego Simeone’s men – So is the stage set for their revenge or is it set for Luis Enrique’s rise?

Continue reading »

It’s do or die for Lucho’s legacy

It’s do or die for Lucho’s legacy

Football can be strange. A loss at a ground that Barça failed to win since the Rijkaard days sparked a rain of crap on the Asturian coach. But this time it was different. With eleven players on the field, the man who was solely under fire after the game was the man on the sidelines with his controversial decisions. I won’t lie. I backed Luis Enrique so far throughout the season, but this game put Luis Enrique on thin ice. And while the 5-0 demolition against Elche in the Copa del Rey might have calmed the atmosphere a bit at Camp Nou, it is Sunday’s game against Atlético that will truly decide Luis Enrique’s future – not only as Barça’s manager, but his managerial legacy as a whole.

Continue reading »

2015: A black hole?

2015: A black hole?

It’s become very easy for us culés to panic during times of defeat, with pitchforks raised in the air calling for someone’s head. That defeat against Anoeta wasn’t the case, and with only a few days into 2015, things seem darker rather than bright. I’m usually an optimistic man, but looking at the facts before us, it’s hard to believe this year will be successful for the team. Maybe a few individuals will enjoy it, but without any structure, Barça looks like it’s heading into a black hole.

Continue reading »

I do not trust Luis Enrique

I do not trust Luis Enrique

Trust is essential to relationships. It is something that is not easy to earn and something that should not be given away cheaply. “In Fergie/Arsenè/Pep/Carlo/whoever We Trust” is one of football’s most common stadium banners – a fan base expressing their faith in said leader on the basis of trust. I don’t trust Luis Enrique, and frankly nobody else should either. Let me be clear, this does not mean I am advocating for his dismissal or further demonizing the near satanic reputation of the board many relish in perpetuating for appointing him. I don’t trust Luis Enrique because he has given me no reason to.

Continue reading »

Where do we stand? Evaluating Enrique’s Barça

Where do we stand? Evaluating Enrique’s Barça

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.

Continue reading »

Acing it or failing? – Mid-season Report Card – Midfielders & Forwards

Acing it or failing? – Mid-season Report Card – Midfielders & Forwards

While not technically the mid-point of the 2014/15 campaign, the Christmas break and coming of a new year presents the perfect time to mull over FC Barcelona’s season thus far. There’s a new man in charge, familiar stalwarts and a host of fresh faces hopeful to make their mark in Catalonia. So who’s been making an impression and who has left us concerned or wanting more? totalBarça offers up opinions from writers  and  on whether players are acing it or failing.

Continue reading »

A warrior and winner: Luis Suárez’s determined search for excellence

A warrior and winner: Luis Suárez’s determined search for excellence

I remember watching Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool FC last season when the team was at its best and, to the astonishment of many, was on the verge of winning the Premier League. Rodgers inarguably transformed Liverpool into something special last year, and he did that with a very moderate squad when it comes to individual quality with the exception of a few players. But make no mistake, Luis Suárez was the main reason behind the English club’s fine season, not Rodgers. Why? Because the Uruguayan is a born winner.

Continue reading »

Acing it or failing? – Mid-season Report Card – Goalies & Defenders

Acing it or failing? – Mid-season Report Card – Goalies & Defenders

While not technically the mid-point of the 2014/15 campaign, the Christmas break and coming of a new year presents the perfect time to mull over FC Barcelona’s season thus far. There’s a new man in charge, familiar stalwarts and a host of fresh faces hopeful to make their mark in Catalonia. So who’s been making an impression and who has left us concerned or wanting more? totalBarça offers up opinions from writers ,  and  on whether players are acing it or failing.

Continue reading »

Barça’s midfield offers the path of least resistance

Barça’s midfield offers the path of least resistance

Martin Ødegaard is the “beautiful bride.” Reminiscent of a starry-eyed yet rather absurd pack of singles vying for one woman’s carefully choreographed affections on ABC’s The Bachelorette, a bevy of Europe’s most eligible suitors have been swooning the 16-year-old Norwegian in the hope of receiving his final rose and becoming the “fortunate groom.” Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s child-bride metaphor aside, the meticulous courting of Ødegaard would be commonplace in America’s well-oiled collegiate recruitment machine but it’s unprecedented in the European club market.

Continue reading »

Merci, Roi Eric

Merci, Roi Eric

Yesterday an FC Barcelona legend retired. This player began his Barça journey in the 2007/08 season under coach Frank Rijkaard. 193 official matches and two goals later, this player would see himself win 15 trophies with the club. Not only that, he would be a very integral part of what I believe, without question, is the greatest team ever. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he is one of the most tactically and positionally aware defenders that I’ve seen play the beautiful game. However, none of this really matters because all these trophies amassed are insignificant in the face of the other victories this superhuman achieved. This player’s name is Éric Abidal.

Continue reading »

The curious case of Pedro Rodríguez

The curious case of Pedro Rodríguez

Emerged in a golden generation of la Masia graduates and Spanish pearls, Pedro Rodríguez was hailed as the ideal squad player. Doesn’t take much credit, the Canarian was always the most easy going player in a coach’s squad. He possesses speed and good technical abilities, and played a big part during Guardiola’s dominant era when he emerged in 2009/10 and was the first to score in all six competitions Barça played in. A forward that lived to serve, but wasn’t afraid to strike at goal as well. He never had the potential to become a phenomenon, but he was good competition for any player in his calibre.

Fast-forward to today, and it isn’t the same case anymore. Pedro used to be a missing piece in a forever star-studded Barça attack-line that featured the likes of Eto’o, Henry, Ibrahimović, Villa, Alexis, Neymar and of course, Messi. He would operate on either wing, and bring the best out of his partners up front with his fantastic final passes that only require a tap-in finish. He worked in the shadows in a similar ethic as of Busquets’, and let the bigger players get the merits through his humility. If anything, Pedro always seemed like he felt lucky to play at such a big club alongside such phenomenal players. However, a lot has changed since his glorious rise, and it’s more of a headache to fit the 27-year-old in Luis Enrique’s current XI. So what happened?

Continue reading »

Messi’s best is yet to come

Messi’s best is yet to come

Oh how the world of football can instantly change at the hands of one astonishing and mesmerising footballer. It’s been just a bit more than two weeks since I wrote my last article, and man how things have changed since. Not only did Leo prove me right after hitting three beautiful hat-tricks in the past four games, but he did each and every one of them in such a style to silence his critics for good. The diminutive Argentine might not win the Ballon d’Or come January, but I believe his best is yet to come. Read further to know why.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

Right-back where we started

Right-back where we started

Seems just like yesterday we were pleading, praying, and shouting for a serious solution – any solution – to FC Barcelona’s defensive malnourishment. With an ailing and literally stapled Carles Puyol just months from retirement, and a shunned and discarded Éric Abidal no longer at the club, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta finally pulled himself up by the gator straps after a veritable prodding from the media, and somehow completed a set of signings that appeared to have addressed all of the questions surrounding depth and positional frailty–not just defensively, but all over the pitch. Each addition seemed quite effective and logical, except for that last odd signing of Douglas Pereira dos Santos from São Paulo FC. Continue reading »

La Liga is a marathon, not a sprint

La Liga is a marathon, not a sprint

The mood in Barça nation is extremely volatile. We culés can be in the dumps one day, but the very next day we are dreaming of silverware. This season has been no different. Three weeks ago, pessimism was at its peak. Defeats by Real Madrid and Celta, as well as a scrappy win at Almería, somehow convinced Blaugranas that the team was not capable of anything. Fast forward to the present, and the same people are saying that the win at Valencia means that the Champions League and La Liga are ours. Do these people realise why a league is decided over a 38-game season and not in one single the-winner-takes-it-all match? Read more…

Continue reading »

Copa del Rey Match Preview: SD Huesca vs FC Barcelona

Copa del Rey Match Preview: SD Huesca vs FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique Martínez García threw culés a wily screw ball at the weekend in Valencia by fielding a surprising line up consisting of midfielders Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano. Although the plan failed convincingly despite the win, the morsel that optimistic fans should take away is that the club is under the stewardship of a daring leader who is willing to tinker and shock in order to achieve results and stave off complacency.

Round 32 of the 112th edition of the Copa del Rey has begun. Enter the Primera División. Enter los canteranos. Enter another opportunity for Lucho to really dig into the depths of his squad and understand fully the arsenal at his disposal. Continue reading »

The Midfield Battle

The Midfield Battle

FC Barcelona’s midfield has seen many changes during the past year and each midfielder is now fighting for his place. There is one position that has often been lacking competition as the undisputed Sergio Busquets has dominated it, but recently another man has been eyeing the defensive midfield spot. Since Luis Enrique took over, Javier Mascherano once again started playing in midfield with Barcelona for the first time in several years after multiple campaigns in the heart of defense, and the Argentine is giving Busquets a run for his money. Both are excellent in their own game and if I am to give each of them a title, Busquets will be the ‘genius’ and Mascherano will be the ‘warrior’. Read on for more.

Continue reading »

Who deserves it more?

Who deserves it more?

For the past few years, the goalkeeping position was always one that worried many cúles. While it’s widely considered that Víctor Valdés is one of the greatest Barça goalkeepers of all-time (if not the greatest), he did have his moments when luck was not by his side. And then there were those other moments when you feel like you’re about to suffer cardiac arrest when Jose Manuel Pinto has the ball at his feet. What I love most this season, other than the fact that our attack is a Messi-Neymar-Suárez trio, is the quality the team possesses between the posts. And long may it continue.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

Oupa against APOEL

Oupa against APOEL

Two hatricks and two significant records surpassed by Lionel Messi act as the fulcrum to Barça nation’s improved mood. In another performance that saw Luis Enrique play a more classical system with forwards starting wide then cutting in and midfielders centralized, FC Barcelona sparkled in dispatching a usually stodgy APOEL side at home. The Cypriots offered nothing going forward, but this is a side that until last night only conceded a goal a game and made mega-bucks side Paris Saint-Germaine (PSG) work-hard for both theirs. Messi was at his ultimate best, putting so many others in goal scoring positions while also scoring himself and tracking back in defense. Luis Suárez showed off his trickery and genuine football genius scoring his first goal with a trademark move and finish. The interplay between two of the world’s true football wizards only foreshadows many moments of wonder to come.

Continue reading »

Champions League Match Preview: APOEL Nicosia vs FC Barcelona

Champions League Match Preview: APOEL Nicosia vs FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona will face APOEL Nicosia in Cyprus on matchday five of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday evening. There is still plenty to play for from both clubs’ perspectives. Barcelona is one point behind group leader Paris Saint Germain, while APOEL can still muster a Europa League drop-in should it overtake AFC Ajax.

In other news, having just become La Liga’s top scorer, Lionel Messi can break another record Tuesday by scoring one more goal, putting him one past Raúl González’s 71 Champions League goals. The record is Messi’s to lose however. Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo is hot on his heels and could potentially claim the record should Messi not score and the Portuguese net two or more against FC Basel on Wednesday.

Continue reading »

Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

“At the moment, I am living in the present,” said Leo. “I am thinking about having a great year and winning the trophies we want at Barcelona — nothing else. Later, we will see. In football, things change all the time. Although I have always said I would like to stay there forever, sometimes everything does not always go as you want.” Most of us will look at the comments above, and cherrypick the context that satisfies ones need to understand the situation. And not to sound like the hundreds of newspapers that took the free ride with Leo’s comments and create their own fantasies; the truth is – Something big is bothering Messi. Whether he eventually leaves for a bigger club, or leaves to his boyhood club, or even decides to retire in Catalonia, it will be his decision based on his satisfaction.

Let’s get one thing straight before we begin. My opinion on the subject is without a doubt that Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer to have ever graced the football world, let alone the Camp Nou. However, the article you are about to read will be a contradicting and confusing one. I have waited a few days after Leo’s comments to hear all the arguments at hand, the ones for and the ones against the Argentine’s departure, to finally present it to you so each one of you can make your own clear assessment of the situation. So let’s begin.

Continue reading »

Barça B: A case of mismanagement?

Barça B: A case of mismanagement?

Barcelona B were last year’s headline grabbers in the Liga Adelante. The team, despite having a dismal period in autumn (a time when even relegation seemed possible) managed to stage a spectacular comeback to finish in third place, always staying true to the Barça way. Fast forward to the present though, and Barça B find themselves in the same situation as last autumn. What on earth went so wrong?

Continue reading »

On patience, fatigue, and the long haul

On patience, fatigue, and the long haul

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.

Continue reading »