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. 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…

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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. 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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Champions League Match Preview: AFC Ajax vs FC Barcelona

Champions League Match Preview: AFC Ajax vs FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona is playing AFC Ajax Amsterdam in Holland, and despite last year’s loss, Barça will be coming out the gates with fire in their eyes, especially considering a loss would drastically change the face of this group. Also, a certain Uruguayan will be making his Champions League debut against his second European club with a point to prove, having missed out on the Ballon d’Or shortlist.

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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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Match Review: FC Barcelona 3-1 AFC Ajax

Match Review: FC Barcelona 3-1 AFC Ajax

It genuinely is different watching live. I was fortunate enough this evening to enjoy the match in prime seats and literally wouldn’t have had a better view of the action. At the same time, I didn’t take notes so forgive me some possible inaccuracies and omissions. So, here goes.

An Ajax goal in the 88th minute made Barça unnecessarily sweat before yet another fantastically taken Sandro Ramírez goal made the result sure. A final 3-1 score-line is far more representative of the match pattern than 2-1 would have been, with FC Barcelona dominating Ajax entirely until Luis Enrique made the big changes in the second half. And as a side note, come on Lucho, telling the public the Real Madrid match was entirely out of your mind when removing Neymar, Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta is borderline insulting. That’s why you did it, it’s what you should have done it, and what happened afterwards is not a reflection of decisions taken at the time. That reflection being Barça considerably relaxed in the final half hour, eventually conceding a messy goal. But almost as importantly, the response was quick and fierce, a most positive element.

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Match Review: FC Barcelona 3-0 SD Eibar

Match Review: FC Barcelona 3-0 SD Eibar

One analyzes the process, not the result. It’s a widespread, deeply ingrained yet erroneous mindset doing it the other way around. I didn’t fret for one second tonight that FC Barcelona would walk away winners. There was nothing frustrating or lacking in the first half, it was simply sport, where not everything comes off and inches and microseconds may as well be miles and hours. That’s why one trusts the process. Barça were exceptional in the opening 20 to 25 minutes tonight. One could highlight the ferocity of ball recovery (certainly fulfilling Pep’s 6 second rule), relentless pressing, the speed of passing and movement and several outrageous mig tocs, and all would be correct. But really it was the steely focus, the intense concentration and unmissable pursuit of excellence. It took a bit of luck in the first and then a lot of class in the second to eventually slay a commendable Eibar 3-0.

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First Impressions: Goalkeepers

First Impressions: Goalkeepers

A pause in club football for the international break provides an opportune moment for some reflection and projection. With about a sixth of the season over and done with, the totalBarça writing team looks into “First Impressions” of the Luis Enrique tenure. The series dives into each positional unit and considers whether there is novelty, areas for improvement, issues of concern and more that may factor into how the 2014/15 season could play out.

Considering how little time the two spent together, Alex Song and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen can hardly be remembered as Barça teammates. Yet perhaps Song’s clumsiness in training on August 11th will end up the beginning of the end for Ter Stegen’s FC Barcelona career. If that sounds extreme, it’s because it is. But is it possible? Most definitely. The Cameroonian’s knee into the German’s spine almost certainly stopped Ter-Stegen beginning La Liga as the number one following his excellent pre-season performances and Claudio Bravo’s gaffe against Napoli. So often in professional sports one’s misfortune is another’s blessing. Coincidence, especially timely ones, can seem innocuous at the time nonetheless prove anything but so at the end. With each additional minute Bravo remains unbeaten his roots between the sticks dig in deeper and Barça’s goal keeping situation becomes increasingly nuanced.

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First Impressions: Midfielders

First Impressions: Midfielders

A pause in club football for the international break provides an opportune moment for some reflection and projection. With about a sixth of the season over and done with, the totalBarça writing team looks into “First Impressions” of the Luis Enrique tenure. The series dives into each positional unit and considers whether there is novelty, areas for improvement, issues of concern and more that may factor into how the 2014/15 season could play out.

Over the past few years, FC Barelona’s midfield has arguably been the most consistent and strongest in the world, providing the fans with one less thing to worry about. What in the world is better than having Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets as your midfield trio? And along the way, we’ve seen amazing players like Cesc Fábregas and Thiago Alcântara come and go with both claiming they were’t utilized correctly. What they didn’t know was that change was imminent, and Luis Enrique has already begun reforming his midfield.

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First Impressions: Center-backs

First Impressions: Center-backs

A pause in club football for the international break provides an opportune moment for some reflection and projection. With about a sixth of the season over and done with, the totalBarça writing team looks into “First Impressions” of the Luis Enrique tenure. The series dives into each positional unit and considers whether there is novelty, areas for improvement, issues of concern and more that may factor into how the 2014/15 season could play out.

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First Impressions: Forwards

First Impressions: Forwards

A pause in club football for the international break provides an opportune moment for some reflection and projection. With about a sixth of the season over and done with, the totalBarça writing team looks into “First Impressions” of the Luis Enrique tenure. The series dives into each positional unit and considers whether there is novelty, areas for improvement, issues of concern and more that may factor into how the 2014/15 season could play out.

“With Neymar on board, I would have planned for the possibility of selling Messi, and some would agree with that, others not.” That was the legendary Dutch Johan Cruyff’s input on Neymar’s purchase by the club last season. And while the Barça legend might have had a point watching the duo last season, he cannot be any more wrong this season. A new coach, a new striker, and a new system. The cycle begins, and the face of its leader would be Luis Enrique. The former Barça player received a job with many problems. From ageing players, to over-dependence on certain ones, to lack of involvement from others. It was clear, the system had to change, and so far it’s been going smoothly. Let’s take a look on how the roles of the three men up front has changed this season.

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First Impressions: Full-backs

First Impressions: Full-backs

A pause in club football provides an opportune moment to do some reflection and projection. With about a sixth of the season over and done with, the totalBarça writing team looks into “First Impressions” of the Luis Enrique tenure. The series dives into each positional unit and considers whether there is novelty, areas for improvement, issues of concern and more that may factor into how the 2014/15 season could play out.

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The Wall

The Wall

Seven games, seven clean sheets. The thought of Barça maintaining such a record was unthinkable in recent years, yet Luis Enrique has achieved what no club in the history of La Liga has; a perfect start for the defensive line. And while the headlines tomorrow will praise the newly signed goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, I believe that the man behind our successes at the back is the same man many culés doubted when he signed this summer. That man, ladies and gentlemen, would be Jérémy Mathieu.

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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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You can see it in their eyes

You can see it in their eyes

I can see it in their eyes because I’ve seen them before. I’ve been on a lot of different football teams during my competitive years and each always had a unique emotional feel and dynamics. Ok, they all weren’t wildly unique to one another, but you knew the special ones from the less special ones. And yes, it wasn’t the Champions League to put it mildly, but for a group of teenage, competitive guys who almost exclusively knew they’d never be playing at a higher level, that they had reached the pinnacle, our treasured regional competitions may as well have been the World Cup to us.

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Match Review: Levante UD 0-5 FC Barcelona

Match Review: Levante UD 0-5 FC Barcelona

Ten minutes into the game, it was a familiar scene. Barcelona were away from home on a shoddy pitch, patiently working the ball back and forth as they tried to break down the two banks of five men defending deep in front of the opposition goal. Then it happened – a stray pass in midfield fell to Levante, who broke quickly into the spaces left behind the fullbacks. Down Barcelona’s left, evading a desperate challenge from the exposed centre-back, then crossing to the unmarked man on the opposite flank. An easy goal – Barcelona have seen it too many times over the past two seasons.

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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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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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