UCL matchday 3: Barcelona v. Celtic recap

Wow. Just wow. The results from yesterday honestly could not have been any more perfect. Well, I would have vaguely liked to see Juventus win, but seriously, whatever.

Anyway, onto Barcelona. Nervewracking, terrifying, put the Deportivo match to shame in the anxiety it provoked (but not in the entertainment value – I’m not sure Depor even own a bus), but they pulled it out at the last possible second with Jordi Alba scoring his third goal in two games. And this one was in the right net! Yay, Jordi!

Major talking points:

1) Marc Bartra.

Tito, can we please stop playing Song and Adriano at CB and refrain from trying out Dos Santos or Cesc or Messi in that position, and just use the CB we have? Bartra was the best defender out there. He’s obviously not Puyol or Pique, but his instincts were good, he showed composure, and most importantly, he remembered that he was supposed to be defending, which meant that he actually defended. I think that if Adriano or Song had been playing at CB, we would have lost this.

Now, when your side has 82% possession, that’s obviously a bit different than when they have 60%. I’m not going to get irrationally exuberant and propose that Barca start playing a 3-4-3 with Bartra as the only CB. However, this was a very promising debut, and I’d like to point out that having someone tall to defend… oh, say, set pieces, for example, is a really good thing.

2) Barca’s defense is still really, really bad, in a stomach churning “Oh dear god Celtic have the ball in our half I can’t watch” sort of way.

Little unwieldy as a talking point, but can any Barca fans disagree? If you do, please check to make sure you’re not wearing rose-colored glasses, because IMO, this was just pathetic. Bartra aside, the defense was in a shambles, and when the newly-promoted kid on his debut is the bright point, there’s a serious problem.

Mascherano just didn’t have a great game. I’m not just talking about the Celtic goal – he was useless on set pieces and just seemed a little lost. Again, with any of our available players but Bartra alongside him, I think we would have lost. He did have some important interceptions, but even those were often last-ditch efforts that shouldn’t have gotten to last-ditch in the first place. He’s picked a poor time to fall into bad form.

Adriano was good on the attack, but he didn’t contribute much to the defense. Alba was better on the attack and did do a decent job of shutting down his wing (which, to be fair, is his job – the CBs should have everything else sorted), but still, given how poorly Mascherano was playing, a little extra support would have been nice. In all fairness to both of them, though, I think that part of that was the effect of playing against a bus – they needed to press harder to break through.

Even so, there were points where I might have though Pedro was the RB if I was an ignorant observer, which… isn’t great. Pique and Puyol can’t get back soon enough.

The rest of the team did seem to track back to help with the defense, which is good. However, someone needs to take Alexis aside and tell him that ‘helping’ can’t involve giving away free kicks near the box. He was responsible for the free kick that got Celtic their goal and a couple other close calls, and by the end I was begging someone, anyone, to stop Alexis from helping. He was like the little kid who dumps the entire bag of sugar into the batter when their mom’s back is turned. Nice effort, but…

This turned into a novel. Given the state of the defense, can you blame me?

3) That damned bus.

The bus is hard to break through, and Celtic were parking it big time. I understand that. However, while our defensive difficulties do harm our ability to play out of the back quite as much as usual, I’m not convinced that that was the problem. Barcelona need to figure out how to break through the bus, and it’s clearly still a work in progress.

4) Attack has new teeth.

As a Valencia fan, I have loved Jordi Alba for awhile, and if he had to leave, I’m glad he came to Barcelona.

That said, I could not have predicted how much our new LB would add to our attack. Alves has not been in great form this season, but Jordi Alba’s contribution to the attack in general and his partnership with Iniesta in particular is just as lethal, IMO. Pedro, Cesc, and Villa are all better this year than they were last year, which helps, too, but Jordi Alba is just a menace.

This isn’t news, of course, but I don’t think Barcelona have had to deal with a bus as big and obnoxious as the one Celtic parked last night, and Jordi Alba was instrumental in getting past it. His goal was just icing on the cake.

Alba hadn’t really won anything before the Euro this summer, and judging from his hyperactive squirrel routine, he doesn’t intend to stop there.

5) Hearts of champions.

Okay, enough with the pessimism. Once again, the team kept fighting until the end, and once again, their efforts were rewarded. Yes, the problems with the defense are worrying, but ultimately, those will pass. It’s easier to get over a couple injuries than to find that hunger and drive and resilience.

I’m proud of them, and I have to say, I’m really proud of the fact that Messi didn’t have to rescue the team. I’m not saying he wasn’t good and didn’t contribute, because he was and he did, but ultimately, at that clutch moment at the end, it was Alba who got there and Alba who booted it in.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one just hoping for a Messi free kick or something, just to get past the bus… but it wasn’t Messi. It wasn’t even just Alba. It was everyone. No one was letting up, everyone was giving it their all until the very end, and that is what was missing last year. They tried, yes, absolutely, but they just weren’t as sharp and they didn’t have the same hunger to grind out wins no matter what.

If they keep this up, I think Tito will be able to look back on his first year as Barcelona’s coach and be very, very proud. And speaking of Tito – is there anyone who isn’t thankful that they went with him rather than a big name? I’m not sure they’d be playing quite like this for someone else, someone they don’t already know and respect.

Okay. I think I’m done waxing poetic now, and props to you if you managed to get through it all.


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