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So far it’s been a good season for us. We’re on the track to willing La Liga, la Copa del Rey, and we’re still alive in the Champions League. Certainly the defense has been good, and Messi has been spectacular. However, one of the unsung heroes (or villains, however you want to look at it) for Barcelona this year has been the post. Love it or hate it, it’s had an impact this year. Never was that more plain to see than against Chelsea, in which Antonio Conte’s London side hit it four times. But beyond that, it’s become an important part of the season since it began.
In the first leg, despite a 1-1 draw that left us in good position with an away goal, Chelsea were the better side. The chances were frequent, and while Barcelona had possession, Chelsea seemed more comfortable. Willian scored the first, a curling shot straight to the bottom corner. I don’t fault Marc-André ter Stegen for letting it in, though. I don’t think he even saw it clearly. Either way, it was a sublime finish from Chelsea’s best player over both legs.
But before that, Willian had hit the post twice. Chelsea’s best two chances had thus far been nullified not by the defense, but by the upright.
Flash forward to the second leg. Another Messi masterclass, with a Dembélé rocket sandwiched between, saw us through to the next round. The defense was better last night as well, but the post was there for us too. It turned away a Marcos Alonso free kick and deflected Antonio Rüdiger’s header.
Chelsea pushed us as no other team this season has done, and much respect and credit to them. Even after going down so early last night, they didn’t give up. Maybe an unpopular opinion, but Busquets outplayed N’golo Kanté in the first leg, with Kanté returning the favor in the second. He was everywhere. Willian was great, as was Marcos Alonso. Not that we wouldn’t have passed without the post, but it certainly helped.
However, as the post giveth, the post also taketh away. By December 20th, Barça had hit the pole 26 times in all competitions, Messi alone 14 times. Paulinho, Luis Suárez, Gerard Piqué. By that time, we had an 8 point lead in the league. One can only imagine, had only half of those shots gone in, what the lead would be. Since then, Messi has hit it once more and Suárez has hit it twice more. Just off the top of my head, Jordi Alba has also hit it and Phillipe Coutinho hit a curler off the post against Espanyol.
To put it in perspective, Messi still leads the Pichichi race with 24 goals – even while hitting the post 16 times so far. Quick math leads us to believe that just half that amount would have seen him score 32 goals so far. Cristiano Ronaldo, even with his bad run of form in the beginning of the season, has hit the post 7 times.
It’s not easy to explain why we’ve missed by so little so much. It might just be a statistical anomaly (i.e, a coincidence), which happens every so often, given a large enough sample size. However, I don’t remember a season in which we or our opponents have done it this much.
Oh, well. It hasn’t affected us as much as it could have, and in some cases, it’s even helped us. It’s good to know that even with this weird occurrence, we’re still in pretty good shape. And hey, maybe if ter Stegen can’t get there in time, the post will.
In football, only a handful of players can craft and dictate a game the way Leo Messi can.
However, in the return leg with PSG, we saw something else. We saw someone else take that responsibility and push the team forward: Neymar da Silva Santos Jr.
What we saw that night was nothing short of legendary. Absolute relentless football from Neymar saw us going through to the quarters last year. and Although, I might’ve said back then, out of emotion, that the future of Barça is in very safe hands and despite that not being the case anymore as there’s a general hatred towards the Brazilian for his antics after leaving, I cannot express what was going through my head watching Neymar take on all those defenders, minute after minute and dribble his way around them, never giving up or losing energy for even a second. It was simply astounding and is, without a doubt, somewhere up at the top of my most emotional moments in football list.
He has his fair share of haters and surely left them with a game to remember. Everything was perfect that night. The atmosphere at the Nou Camp, the noise the fans were making, the tension inside the stadium, the hopes and dreams and possibilities all hanging by a thread. This was genuinely a rollercoaster of emotions and I don’t think I’ve felt anything like this in any game of football.
Then came Roberto’s goal.
There was only one team that could pull this off. And they did.
The pre-match events and everything that happened during it were also interesting:
Raul and Jese Rodriguez stating that Real Madrid are the true comeback kings and Barcelona is not a team that can pull this off.
Ramos saying he enjoys when Barca lose and that it helps him sleep at night.
Di Maria’s premature statement.
Di Maria’s premature celebration where he ‘shushed’ the Camp Nou after Cavani’s goal to make the score 3-1 (agg). What was he even thinking doing that in front of 93,000 fans?
Enrique assuring everyone that if PSG can score 4 against us then we can surely score 6 against them.
Neymar’s bet with his teammates to score at least 2 goals.
Suarez’s statement when he said that if Barca can score 4 against Real at the Bernabeu, then scoring 4 against PSG at the Camp Nou is also a possibility.
Verrati and Draxler being cautious in their statements when both of them stated that Barca is better than PSG and Barca scoring 4 goals at the Camp Nou against them is not an issue for the likes of MSN.
Neymar’s talk with Sergi Roberto discussing the area he should stay in and wait for possible crosses.
Philippe Coutinho rumors are swirling once more as the Brazilian is reported to want a move to Barcelona. Amid claims he’s house hunting here and Nike advertisements that seem to be predicting the future, most fans want two things. One, they want to see Liverpool’s #10 in blaugrana. And two, they just want answers.
But is Coutinho worth the price tag they’ll inevitably slap on him?
Unfortunately, no answers here. The rumors will persist until he’s sold or the transfer window closes. Once it does, if he remains in the Premier League, there’ll probably be rumors during the summer.
The latest figures thrown about were €140 million + variables, which is a lot of money. While that number is economically feasible for a club like FC Barcelona, especially if they can pull off the sales of Arda Turan and Javier Mascherano, that’s a lot of money. Also remember that Ousmane Dembélé, the most expensive signing in the club’s history, was recently signed for over €100 million.
Is Coutinho worth it? Let’s take a look.
Coutinho doesn’t really have any equivalents in this current Barça side. What I mean by that is no midfielder we have plays the style he does.
Iniesta is a great passer and has great control of the ball, but he isn’t as young or athletic as Coutinho, so he can’t make runs like he does. Rakitic is stout defensively and a good organizer, but his touch on the ball and passing isn’t as good as Coutinho’s. Busquets is a good defensive midfielder, and his timing and accuracy on passes are right up there with Iniesta’s. Paulinho is agressive offensively and is very physical, but Coutinho is much more skilled than his national team mate. Finally, Sergi Roberto is more of a right back (again) and he hasn’t featured in midfield much (even though he should).
Coutinho is fast. He has pace with the ball at his feet, and his skill allows him to get away from defenders. His passing, while not as good as Iniesta’s or Busquets’, is pretty great and is better than Rakitic’s or Paulinho’s for sure. Sergi Roberto has shown the ability to launch a run past defenders, but Coutinho has more pace than him.
Of course, I’m not giving a complete comparison here. I’m just highlighting areas in which Coutinho differs from our current players. He has good qualities, maybe some we don’t have now, but no player is perfect.
That pace of his means he can sometimes try to do too much and be dispossessed. He needs some more composure and discipline. Defensively, he isn’t asked to do much, and I don’t think he’ll be asked to play stellar defense for Barcelona either.
Coutinho played forward until he was 12, and for good reason. He’s a good finisher and he seems to have an eye for goal or a timely assist. He was prolific for Liverpool last season, finishing with 18 goals and 10 assists for both the Reds and Brazil (2016/17 season). He’s a good free-kick taker, as well.
Philippe Coutinho 16/17 - All 29 Goals & Assists | 1080p HD - YouTube
Plus, he’s already played in La Liga, and in Catalunya as well, suiting up for Mauricio Pochettino’s Espanyol for a year in 2012.
Coutinho would make a difference on this team, and I’m simplifying these comparisons to Barça’s current midfield. If they were to sign him, he would come in and instantly be one of the best players on the team. It’d be nice to have someone other than Messi that can complete a dribble, lay off a pass or shoot, and create for themselves consistently. Not comparing him to Lionel Messi, but right now he’s the only one who can do that. Signing Coutinho would change that.
So, is he worth it? I’m of the opinion that no single player is worth that amount of money, but in the current market, it seems inevitable. If they can lower the asking price, great! Sign him. If not, I’d still go ahead and do it. The majority of the fanbase seems to agree with me.
But unfortunately, all we have so far are rumors. And maybe that’ll be all we’re left with.
A win is a win, no matter how you slice it. A draw isn’t winning, but at least it’s not losing. So far this season, FC Barcelona have won every game they’ve played but two, against Atlético de Madrid and Olympiakos, which they drew. Say what you will about the team’s form, its depth, or the tactics of Ernesto Valverde, they’ve had, at least record-wise, a tremendous start to the 2017-18 season. They’ve put themselves in a great position early on, especially in La Liga. Players like Lionel Messi, Samuel Umtiti, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are at a world-class level of form. And while Valverde’s tactics may rub some of us the wrong way, at least he’s willing to take risks. That being said, we can’t waste the golden opportunities we have now.
Of course, none of this means anything if they can’t keep it up. It’s true that at times this side has struggled to score and suffers from lackluster midfield play. The return of Andrés Iniesta should help against Sevilla, but the loss of Sergi Roberto to a hamstring injury doesn’t. To a lesser extent, the loss of André Gomes to a thigh problem hurts the team as well. They’ll both be out for at least a month, a month in which our depth will truly be tested.
Roberto’s ability to play basically any position is one we don’t really have a replacement for. The sooner he can be back, the better. Gomes, while not quite up to the level we’d like him to be, isn’t terrible. With those two out, Valverde will be forced to explore other options.
These injuries may just turn out to be a blessing in disguise, however. The injury to Gomes means that Denis Suárez might get more run time. So far this season, he’s played well and has fans imploring Valverde to play him more. The injury to Sergi Roberto might pave the way for increased minutes to Nelson Semedo, another player fans have wanted to see more of. For good reason – he’s played very well the few times he’s featured. The ideal would be to play both Semedo and Roberto, moving Roberto up to midfield, but we’ll get to see the Portuguese right back more either way.
I’m a huge Sergi Roberto fan, and I do think his injury is pretty bad news. However, now is the time for Ivan Rakitić and Paulinho to step up. We all know what Paulinho brings to the table: physicality, an eye for goal, and good attention to defense. Time will tell if his ability to pass and control the midfield will appear. Rakitić, in my opinion, is a great player under a bad run of form right now. Can he reach his heights of the 2014-15 season? I fear we’ll need him to as soon as possible.
Iniesta and Sergio Busquets shouldn’t be worried about. They bring to the table what they’ve always brought, consistently. My only fear is that Iniesta seems to be getting old, quite frankly. Will our depth be enough to keep him healthy and playing well?
Luis Suárez… it’s hard to explain what’s happening to him right now. It’s not that the chances aren’t there, it’s just that he seems unable to string two good plays together even once. He’s missing sitters that he would never have dreamed of missing two years ago. If his knee is bothering him, it might be excusable, but if it is an injury affecting him like this, then should he even be playing?
That being said, November isn’t an easy month, with matches against Sevilla this weekend and Valencia, this season’s revelation, on the 26th. If you ask me, this isn’t just a flash in the pan, by the way, Marcelino’s Valencia are the real deal. Champions League matches against Juventus and Sporting Lisbon, who recently battled each other to a 1-1 draw, also loom in the distance.
Sometimes, inexplicably, maybe due to schedule or other factors, teams that aren’t playing very well manage to win. While everyone would love to see Valverde’s squad play better, I’m perfectly content with this level of form as long as we can continue winning.
Despite the problems we have, we are first in La Liga, with an eight point lead on arch rivals Real Madrid as well as Atleti. Valencia, sitting in the second spot, have 24 points to our 28. 28 points out of 30 possible isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. In the Champions League, comfortable in the group, Barcelona have also gotten good results. Most notably, a 3-0 domination of Juventus.
We have problems, no doubt about it. This coming month won’t be easy, and I do expect a slip-up eventually. But despite these problems, we’re in a good position right now. We have a golden opportunity to survive this month. If we can make it out of November with some cohesion and maintain some of the lead we have right now, we’ll be in good shape. We’re not playing particularly well, but it’s hard to argue with results.
Last game of the qualifiers for the World Cup. A win needed to make it to Russia. All eyes on Messi himself.
What happens next?
A hattrick from La Pulga to secure a place for next year’s tournament. An efficient clutch performance, an outrageous chip, the persistence that was needed to book a ticket for next summer. The Ecuadorians were left flat on their backs by the end of the match – they simply had no way to stop the monster they were facing.
Argentina’s hopes didn’t even last a minute as Ecuador scored first. But the little man wasn’t having any of it. Not tonight. Within the next 20 minutes he scored twice to give his nation the lead in one of their most important matches in history at a stadium where not even Maradona could get 3 points.
Messi’s been carrying this team for far too long and as long as Sampaoli struggles with team selection it will continue to happen. It’s been about 11 months since someone not named “Messi” scored for Argentina in this campaign. Three managerial changes, dismal form without Leo, and overall inefficiencies almost cost the greatest ever a spot in another World Cup.
I have no idea where this team would be without him and what they would do without him. Maybe Messi does have some regrets over the day in 2004 when he chose to play for Argentina instead of Spain. But one thing is for certain: he plays his heart out. Always. He bleeds for a nation in which some still disrespect him through comparisons to a drug-addict and jealous old man.
His calmness, his coolness, and apparent ability to keep all frustration inside will always be something used to define him. And it’s certainly something I’ll remember him for. This is a team that doesn’t deserve him especially after all these years as they’ve let him down final after final. There’s one more chance now for everything to be fixed. With Messi in his usual form, a manager who knows what he’s doing, and some nation-carrying as per requirement, things look a bit hopeful for La Albiceleste. A Messi with a smile on his face like last night is a Messi we all love and we all hope to see. This man deserves gold in his hands next summer; he deserves everything he has his eyes set on. A sight like that would certainly bring tears to the eyes of millions.
This was an appreciation post for Leo Messi, the greatest of all time and all that’s he done, especially for his nation. And for those who don’t know, “Dios” means God in Spanish. Leo Messi is the God of Football. Now and always.
Growing up a Barcelona fan and witnessing Leo Messi’s arrival into the first-team and his eventual dominance of the world, I could never have predicted that there’d be a time where he would struggle to make it to the World Cup with his national side. A trophy that was inches away from his hands three years back is now one that looks like a fleeting fantasy.
The weight of a whole nation seems to fall on the 5’7″ frame of the little man. While you could argue that Argentina have, arguably, the best options available going forward, the fact is that those players are polar opposites to what they are for their respective clubs. You have Di Maria, who looks out of place and extremely wasteful on the right-wing, far from his good years as a central-midfielder. You have Sergio Aguero, the greatest goalscorer in the history of the Premier League who struggles to find his English form for country. And what Higuain’s done over these years for Argentina is quite evident. While Burruchaga immortalized Maradona, it was Higuain who couldn’t do the same for Messi.
Imagine a career where you’ve won two Copa Americas and one World Cup. Add to that 8 league titles and 4 UCL trophies while having the biggest say in how the winners of those trophies were decided. You’d be hailed as the greatest of all time. There isn’t much room for doubt anyways but this career would have smothered any that remained. Luck, however, chose a different path for a certain man. Lionel Messi is the best footballer alive. No matter what you say or think. Teammates have let him down in every major tournament as he’s dragged Argentina to three consecutive finals only to watch his perfect passes be put everywhere other than in the back of the net by the likes of Di Maria and Higuain.
Look at Messi’s game vs Peru – I’m not one for stats but this is important to note to get my point across – 6 key passes and 4 clear-cut chances created. And as you’d expect, all were missed by his teammates, this time including new addition Benedetto. What else is Messi supposed to do? He can’t really have a game better than this and watching Argentina’s matches will make you realize that. It’s not his fault this happens and he doesn’t deserve one ounce of the blame or hate he gets for Argentina’s lack of trophies. For the past one year in this FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, all of Argentina’s goals have been scored by Messi. That says all you need to know about the team. There’s too much for one person to do.
One of Argentina’s greatest and one of football’s purest #10s, Riquelme, had this to say:
“If I were returned the passes as they are returned to Messi in the national team, I would shout on them until I had no voice, I do not understand what’s wrong with these kids, I do not understand how they play so badly here. Leo must be losing his patience all the time.”
I’m grateful that out of the 4 – 5 billion years that Earth has existed, I was born in the era of Lionel Andres Messi. There’s absolutely nothing in the world that can tarnish or belittle this man’s legacy and his status as the greatest footballer to live. A World Cup would certainly cement that claim in those who still have doubts.
Before all that, however, there’s one final mission for the little man himself. A trip to Ecuador, at one of the most hostile stadiums in the world to visitors due to altitude and location, to seal a spot in one last World Cup to battle for. As long as there’s a Messi in this team, there’s hope.
Despite 500 kilometers lying between these stadiums (and a Portuguese border in the case of Estadio Jose Alvalade), the three of them have more in common than you would think.
Barcelona visited all three one after the other. First Getafe, then local rivals Girona, followed by a trip to the neighbors for Sporting Clube de Portugal. Barcelona won against all three as you’d expect. 9 points from a possible 9. But these weren’t typical Barcelona wins. In fact, there was something to these three wins, something about the three sides that set them apart, that made them unique.
As I addressed in my previous pieces, Valverde came in, reduced Messi’s burden to an extent and gave the midfield around him some structure. His Barcelona seem to have one quality that we haven’t seen for a while and that’s the ability to grind out results.
When I said the three stadiums have a lot in common, I meant that they were home to three away fixtures for us where we did not play well but still managed to get a win. That’s the quality that this team has displayed a few matches into the season. After last season’s inability to win the league and disappointing defeats to Alaves and Malaga we had to bounce back this season and Valverde has made a team that does just that.
This ability to grind out results is very important in the long run towards the end of the season. We see a high-pressing, energetic, re-motivated Barcelona team this season that looks hungry and looks ruthless on the pitch. Not ruthless as in getting 5-0s and 6-0s each game but making sure the team walks away with the most important thing after each game: 3 points. It’s important that the team knows how to put the ball in the back of net when they can’t seem to break down teams or find their rhythm.
From last season’s shortcomings it’s a refreshing change to see us walk out of a match not exactly satisfied or at ease but with a win. Whether that’s confronting Shibasaki’s unexpected volley past Marc Ter Stegen, Maffeo’s man-marking of Leo Messi or Jorge Jesus’ astute tactics and backline, this team has found a way to win games when things aren’t going their way; this team is ruthless and persistent. This is the new Barcelona, this is Ernesto’s Barcelona, this is a false-9 Messi’s Barcelona and this is a winning Barcelona.
I, like many others, expect great things from a side that’s started the season in such an optimistic way.
One of the most difficult – and overlooked – positions in all of sports is the goalkeeper. In many ways, they are the most important player in the defense. In a team like FC Barcelona, they are important tactically as well. As they can see the whole pitch, the keeper is often called upon to play the ball just like a midfield player. Being a keeper is an important job. Which is why I’m proud to say ours is Marc-André ter Stegen.
But first let’s begin at the back. Ernesto Valverde’s defense has been nothing short of impressive so far this season. Having kept a clean sheet in their first four games, he’s clearly decided on his first choice defense. Jordi Alba at left back, Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti as centerbacks, and Nelson Semedo at right back. This is a lineup he’d been using since the preseason, and it’s worked better than any other.
As you can see, this lineup won the Gamper trophy against Chapecoense. Ter Stegen hadn’t yet rejoined training after playing with Germany during the summer, but the defense was already set up.
Jordi Alba appears rejuvenated this year, saying that he’s been “playing with more happiness and spark” lately. Much has been made about Semedo’s offensive prowess, but not to be overlooked is that he’s really good defensively. As he showed against Juventus, he was more than capable of dealing with players like Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic one on one and was good at reading plays and breaking up passing lanes. He and Alba make for two very quick, speedy full backs that can chase down offensive players and bother them.
As I predicted last season, Samuel Umtiti has taken over Javier Mascherano’s starting spot. He has become one of the best young center backs in the world, strong and quick-thinking. He’s also cold-blooded and plays very well in possession, perfect for a Barcelona player.
Piqué seems to have improved his form after a shaky preseason. There was a time when there was an argument for him being the best center back in the world. Let’s be honest – those days are long gone. However, he remains an invaluable leader and a solid defender, great in the air. Any goals he can give you, like the one against Espanyol, are just icing on the cake.
Disclaimer, though: no defense can completely keep out the great players. While I did say they did a great collective job against Juventus, they didn’t completely limit the Italians. They had them out of rhythm, which is what great defenses do. But players like Dybala and Pjanic, as I mentioned before, will always get up some dangerous shots. Which leads to the last line of defense.
Ter Stegen’s performance has so far been exemplary. He had several key saves, one on a low, hard strike by Dybala, another a leaping finger tip deflection on a shot by Rodrigo Bentancur. Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain tried to get past him, also to no avail. Against Espanyol, he made sure to keep the visitors scoreless. Even when Pablo Piatti had a clear chip for a goal, ter Stegen bothered him just enough. He ended up chipping well wide.
He’s allowed no goals in his first four games. When it comes to goals allowed, zero is a very good statistic.
He’s also been asked by Valverde, like he was asked by Luis Enrique, to be another passing option in the defense. The difference this year is that he’s improved and grown. The passes he makes seem more mature, and technically better as well. Whereas last year he might turn the ball over against pressure, he is able to clear lines and pass straight to the midfield. Another favorite pass of his is towards the sides, i.e. Semedo or Alba, which opens up the field and keeps them wide.
Just look at this goal and how simple it is once ter Stegen makes the pass to André Gomes:
Luis Suárez Trick-Shot Goal vs Espanyol | (09/09/2017) HD - YouTube
While we sing the German’s praises, it’s also important to remember and give some love to Jasper Cillissen. He’s more than a capable backup, also used to playing on the ball, and he’s got some saves in him too. He showed off his skills during the preseason when ter Stegen was still on vacation. The Dutchman impresses whenever he plays, even against top sides, so you know he’s reliably good.
Jasper Cillessen - Amazing saves vs Atletico Madrid - YouTube
We’re in very good hands with them in goal.
Valverde seems to have righted the ship following the Super Copa defeat to Real Madrid, as opponents have scored zero goals against us since. Among one of the many areas he’s put his stamp on has been the defense. If we can continue playing it at such a high level, this team might accomplish more than anyone thought they would. We’ll see if ter Stegen, with the help of our other talented players, can remain an Agent Zero.
Let’s get one thing clear from the get-go: Ousmane Dembele is one of the most talented players in world football, and this writer’s first-choice signing to replace Neymar when the Brazilian announced his departure. The young Frenchman playing alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez is a tantalizing prospect, one which, when Dembele adapts to his new teammates, will bear great fruit for Ernesto Valverde.
The fact is, though, that against Juventus FC there was another player, also signed this summer, who impressed in a position where Barca have had a lot of trouble over the past couple of seasons. Nelson Semedo was bought and presented at Barcelona without too much fanfare and early rumours surrounding the Portuguese full-back stated that he was ‘worse than Douglas’. It’s safe to say that the Juve game put such rumours firmly into the metaphorical trash can, where they belong, as Semedo was a key component in a comprehensive performance by Valverde’s men. To put into context just how impressive Semedo has been, and how much Barca have needed a player like him, there’s a need to understand exactly why the right-back role has been such a problem for the club. A big part of that problem, ironically, was Dani Alves, and just how good he was at doing exactly what was needed of him at the right time.
Pep Guardiola made Alves the most expensive defensive player at the time when he arrived from Sevilla, primarily due to Alves’ ability to make the right-flank completely his own. Only Guardiola knows whether he always envisioned Messi in that false 9 role, but with Messi eventually moving into the role he’s rediscovered recently under Valverde, Alves had a huge task on his hand. The entire right-wing was his to do with as he pleased, but this also meant that if things weren’t working out, either offensively or defensively, on the right, the blame fell on him entirely.
He had to juggle 3 main jobs:
Providing width on the right to stretch opposition defences while putting in the occasional dangerous cross.
Forming triangles with Messi, Xavi and Busquets in midfield and playing quick one-twos to disrupt the opposition and set Leo on his way.
Track back whenever the opposition countered and stop them from threatening the Barca goal
These were just his ‘primary’ responsibilities, gargantuan as they already were, as Dani Alves also found some spare time to score goals, produce wonderful through balls and make goal-saving tackles throughout his time at Barca, both under Pep and Luis Enrique.
Speaking of the Asturian coach, Alves, in all his glory, was able to adapt from Pep’s strict passing and possession system to Lucho’s more vertical game effortlessly. Under Luis Enrique, Xavi was reduced to a role from the bench, Messi returned to his position on the right and Ivan Rakitic took Xavi’s place, trying to implement Lucho’s more vertical ideas. None of this fazed the Brazilian right-back though, as although he wasn’t required to dominate the right to the same extent in an attacking sense, a lot more combination play and tracking back was required from him to both give Messi a little bit of freedom and allow Rakitic to integrate into the system effectively. The rest is history, as Lucho’s team managed a treble that season, a big chunk of credit for which goes to the Messi-Alves-Rakitic trio.
Nelson Semedo hasn’t had an extended period of time to prove himself and we, as a fanbase, need to be cautious and try not to jump to too many conclusions this early in the season. The game against Juventus FC, which was important for so many reasons, was an excellent stage for Semedo to show the Blaugrana what they’ve been missing since Dani Alves moved to Juventus.
He’s shown in league games that him and Gerard Deulofeu are starting to form a good understanding and will cause problems for defenders, but in the Champions League, on Dembele’s first start, it was clear that a very dangerous partnership could be on the cards once both players are more settled into their respective roles. Semedo also happened to be tasked with keeping Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa quiet. Just how well he fared there was typified by an instance in the first half, where Dybala, racing through on goal, was forced to send a weak shot straight into the arms of Ter Stegen as Nelson was steaming in behind him, breathing down his neck and applying the necessary pressure. As much as I love Sergi Roberto, he wouldn’t have had the pace to do that and Juve may have had a goal had Barca not had the Portuguese to count on. The thing which most excited this writer, however, was just how skillful the new right-back really is. One turn, where he left two players for dead and nearly burst into the box, exemplified that he has it in his locker to be a real attacking outlet for Barca, and will only gain confidence to be just that with time. Against Juve he was more focused on his defensive responsibilities due to Alba’s marauding runs down the left, but as he gets more comfortable alongside his new teammates the two will learn to share the attacking responsibilities, and Semedo looks like he may even have the edge over Alba in that field.
Ever since Dani Alves left, Barca have had a struggle replacing him, even if Mr. Remontada has filled in admirably for the Brazilian. In Semedo, Barca have someone who has the potential to be just as valuable as their greatest ever right-back. He will make mistakes and needs time to integrate fully into the team, but his progress so far is Umtiti-esque, which is the biggest compliment I can give him 4 games into the season. Yes, Ousmane Dembele has the potential to be a world-beater, but against Juve he was firmly the second-best new signing on the pitch. Here’s to hoping from more of the same from Nelson Semedo.
All the passmap graphics come courtesy of @11tegen11 who kindly gave us permission to repost them here.
The role “centre-forward” is used interchangeably with “striker” nowadays and the term “False 9” is thrown around frequently in discussions without many knowing what it is really is.
To understand it better, false 9 needs to be seen as a role rather than a position. Only a handful of players in the world are able to execute it as required and that too within a stable structure around them. Wayne Rooney was tried as a false 9 by Sir Alex, Totti played this role as well at Roma and even Cesc Fabregas was deployed in the hole for Spain at the EUROs. But it is Messi who performs the role to perfection.
Pep Guardiola changed modern football with his teams and having Messi operate as a false 9 was a significant move, both for the footballing world and the manager/player himself. The first time Messi was in this role was in the 2-6 thrashing of Madrid at the Bernabeu – a result of a sudden late night call Messi got from Pep. Messi’s positioning and movement caused Madrid a lot of problems throughout the match and one of their defenders of the game, Metzelder, had this to say after the game:
“Fabio [Cannavaro] and I looked at each other. ‘What do we do? Do we follow him to the midfield or stay deep?’ We didn’t have a clue.”
And that’s exactly one of the aims of the false 9 – causing confusion in the opposition back line and bringing players out of position. From here we can move to the current set up at Barcelona and Messi’s role under Ernesto Valverde.
One of Valverde’s priorities upon arriving at Barcelona was to remove the burden of carrying the team from Leo Messi’s back. And he’s done that by restructuring the team around Leo. This season we can see a switch back to false 9 for Messi with an organized team around him and vigorous pressing being carried out. We can see Alba and Semedo pushing high as they’re supposed to be (both being very talented offensive fullbacks) and we can see Iniesta and Rakitic not having to move out wide because of the structure and the support they have in the wide-space due to the fullbacks.
Messi’s role while operating ‘in the hole’ is supposed to be what Metzelder described above. With no dedicated #9 in the formation (because of Suarez moving to the left side and making runs behind the defence), opposition centrebacks don’t know whether to follow Messi into the midfield (bringing them out of position and leaving gaps behind them or to their side) or whether to hold their line and wait (giving Messi the space you’re not supposed to give him). This allows the false 9 to distribute the ball where he needs to and create chances for runners behind the defense or take a chance himself. Messi is a master of the game and has unparalleled vision to perform his duties.
From the videos below you can see how much more involved Busquets and Alba are in this new system, especially with Messi personally and you can also see the new role Rakitic played against Espanyol, something reminiscent of his #10 days from Sevilla. For the first time in ages Barcelona played with a great structure with Messi as a spearhead of the team once again, rather than being present next to Busquets to help create something out of nothing from the halfline.
This restructuring of Messi’s role is a pleasure to watch especially after the “enganche” role he played last season, only for us to witness Neymar and Suarez waste so many good chances created by him. Now we watch Messi getting on the end of cut-backs from Alba marauding down the left flank and placing them into the back of the net – he’s back to the most dangerous place he could be. And this is where he deserves to play. It’s where he scored an outrageous 73 goals in a season and an eventual 91 for the year – and someone of his ability, the greatest of all time, deserves to be free and not frustrated. Let’s hope we can see this role evolve as the season progresses.
The three passmaps below (from all three games of La Liga so far this season) show Messi’s average position every game and it’s quite clear to see where Ernesto wants him to play, especially in the Alaves map (which looks something like a 4-3-3 (5) out of FIFA 17). Go over these carefully and analyze where Messi is playing in relation to his wingers and midfielders.
Here’s a video from uMAXit Football that does a great job explaining the role of the False 9:
Tactics Explained | False Nine - YouTube
You can watch the highlights of Leo Messi at false 9 this season in the league below (video from TalkFCB):
LIONEL MESSI - THE FALSE 9 ROLE | 2017 [HD] - YouTube