The totalBarça loan watch: February 2015

The totalBarça loan watch: February 2015

In a squad like Barça’s, there will always be someone who can’t fit in. There simply can’t be space for everyone, and inevitably some players are cut loose. This season, Barcelona has five players on loan at four different clubs in Spain and abroad. Denis Suárez and Gerard Deulofeu at Sevilla, Cristian Tello at Porto, Alex Song at West Ham United and Ibrahim Afellay at Olympiacos. In this totalBarça special, we run the rule over all of five Barcelona’s loaned players and evaluate their progress in the first six months of the season.

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“City don’t fear Barça” – the feeling’s mutual

“City don’t fear Barça” – the feeling’s mutual

The message from City is “we don’t fear them”. Well, if they’re not afraid, Barça most certainty need not be. Exactly 371 days ago, Manchester City and Manuel Pellegrini lost this tie before it kicked off. City were dazzling in the Premier League, a narrow home defeat to Chelsea aside, Pellegrini’s crew were decimating all in their path, including scoring 6 goals against both Tottenham and Arsenal. Just three days before what was eventually a limp 2-0 home defeat to Tata’s Barça, City convincingly exacted revenge on a full strength Chelsea in the FA Cup with a 2-0 win of their own. A thorough beating of the only title rival who had bested them that season, how could one take more confidence into the Champions League?

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Piqué Rises

Piqué Rises

Humans by nature love to see the fall of a hero. The best movies always show the fall of a hero, their flaws, and weaknesses and, of course, their struggle. Why? Because we humans tend to put our feet in their shoes, we like to feel what they feel and think of how we would react if we were them. Movie makers tend to always try their best to make us feel sorry for the hero and that is the case in many blockbuster movies such as Dark Knight ‘Rises,’ where the director showed us a broken, humiliated and weak hero (Batman).

Why am I writing all this in an article about Gerard Piqué?

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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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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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“Monumental fall?” Come on, Paul

“Monumental fall?” Come on, Paul

I remember the day I heard about Neymar’s final decision to move to Barcelona. My Puerto Rican roommate woke me up at 2 am in Barcelona to show me his Instagram post. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was overjoyed, excited about the future of Barça and the sweet combination between Neymar and Messi. I woke up the next day, sipping my fresh juice when I opened this article written by Paul Macdonald on Goal.com entitled “Barcelona beware: Neymar is a player set up for a monumental fall.” The article went on about how Neymar is a “sponsored behemoth” that represents “Football 2.0″ where a player is perceived as being a lot better than he actually is due to his immense marketing glorification. A lot of people agreed with that and the idea that Neymar was going to flop in Europe became a popular opinion. I know for a fact Joey Barton isn’t a fan of the Brazilian, calling him overrated and a bench player. I didn’t agree, because the day I saw him waving the Barça flags and treating the kids at his presentation in Camp Nou, I saw a young star that is willing to prove a point – he is the star he was born to become.

Fast forward 20 months later, and let’s check out what this “sponsored behemoth” turned out to be.

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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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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.

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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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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.

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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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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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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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.Click for more

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…

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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.Click for more

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.

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