Athletic Bilbao 2 Barça 2

An injury time goal from Leo Messi saved us a point in a thrilling game at San Mames tonight to keep our unbeaten record going this season. However, the draw will not be celebrated as it now leaves us three points behind rivals Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. The game was never going to be easy and the persistant rain did not help us, a slip from Javier Mascherano led to Ander Herrera putting Athletic in front after 20 minutes, but after Cesc Fabregas had headed in an equaliser there really was no escuse for the sloppy defending that gifted Athletic a Piqué own goal with ten minutes remaining.

The surprises in team selection today were that David Villa started on the bench, and there was also no place in the starting lineup for Seydou Keita who has always played in previous games in San Mames. Guardiola preferred to go for his “touch players” Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas who started at centre forward while Messi began on the right with Adriano on the left. The first decent move of the match came from Adriano moving inside and combining with Iniesta but Athletic keeper Gorka Iraizoz did enough to keep the ball out despite the ball squirming under his body.

However, Athletic were not to be outdone and in the 13th minute they created their first moment of danger when Piqué failed to cut out a through ball, Athletic had a man over but fortunately De Marcos hit his final effort over. The pressing from Athletic was constant which gave us very little time to think. In the 19th minute Valdés cleared, trying to find Alves but Susaeta nipped in to rob the ball before striding clear on the left as Mascherano slipped, as Piqué and Busquets moved across to cover Susaeta pulled the ball back to Ander Herrera who had time to pick his spot and curl one into the far corner past Valdés’s dive.

To be fair we responded well to the goal, Alves might have equalized a couple of minutes later but his shot from Messi’s pulled back free kick hit Iraizoz on the foot. We insisted with our attack and a minute later Abidal broke away on the left before sending a delicious cross that floated over Aurtenetxe for Fabregas to rise above the penalty spot and head firmly past Iraizoz for the equalizer. The goal led to a hectic period of open play most notable for three darting runs from Messi, the third time he managed to dink a pass through to Iniesta but Iraizoz was out quickly to save with his shins. However, we were never looking totally in control and in the 35th minute Muniaian should have done better after beating the offside trap but he failed to get good contact on his shot and Valdés was able to save easily. The first half ended with the home crowd angry with the referee after Adriano grabbed Iraola’s shirt as he entered the area but it was not the type of penalty you see awarded very often.

In the second half the conditions became more difficult as the constant rain began to leave a little surface watewr which made the circulation of the ball much more difficult. Watching the game I always had the feeling that Athletic were getting the best of things though it was Barça who had the better chances. In the 48th minute Fabregas was again in a good position inside the area but Adriano couldn’t convert his centre, then Iniesta had a great chance to chip Iraizoz who was way out of his goal but his 45 yard efford didn’t get enough height to clear the goalkeeper. Our next chance fell to Fabregas but he chose to pass to the offside Messi instead of shooting, and then when he did find Messi a few minutes later, the Argentinian’s side-foot was too soft and too close to Iraizoz.

Then with half an hour remaining Pep brought on Alexis for Xavi, with Fabregas moving back a bit but the change did not have the desired effect. Villa came on for Adriano but we were failing to find the final pass. Then in the 80th minute disaster struck. Athletic swung over a corner from the right, Piqué failed to connect with a header which may have slightly distracted Abidal who made a hash of his attempted clearence firing the ball against Llorente, from there the ball flew back at Piqué who could not react in time to do any more than see the ball bounce off him and across the line. It is a long time since I can remember such a defensive cock-up.

Again we responded and showed some fighting spirit. We almost got an own goal straight back after Messi sent a dangerous ball into Cesc but Amorebieta’s clearance bounced off Iraola and went just wide of the post. It was the type of thing that makes you feel it is not your day and it seemed even more so when Villa’s effort was saved in the 87th minute. However, we were fortunate again when Amorebieta got a second yellow card in the 90th minute and perhaps this led to a lack of organization at the back for Athletic, this is the only way to explain the mess they made between goalkeeper and defence a minute later which gifted Messi the chance to fire home the equalizer from 15 yards.

There were certainly some players who did not have their best games. Valdés could not have done much with Herrera’s shot but it was his poor kick that led to it and he also gave away possession a couple more times with poor distribution. Fabregas, despite a very good header for the goal, did not look very involved as the central striker, while all of our defence were guilty of some poor concentration (I still can’t believe that second goal!). However, my biggest beef here is with Guardiola. Obviously it is great to have so many options and also the tactical variations can surprise the opposition. However, it seems to me that the changes can also have the effect of confusing the team. I sometimes wonder whether Guardiola needs to make these changes to stop himself getting bored. He is obviously a tactical genius but the desire to show this and try out new things may have the effect of tiring out our own players mentally. They have to be very sharp to be constantly adapting to the changing positions and who knows, maybe that is why we showed such poor concentration defending that corner tonight.

Barça: Valdés 5.5; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 6, Piqué 5 (Thiago m81, 6), Abidal 6.5; Xavi 6 (Alexis m61, 6), Busquets 6, Iniesta 7; Messi 6.5, Fabregas 5.5, Adriano 6 (Villa m72, 6.5).

Goals: m19 Ander 1-0, m24 Fabregas 1-1, m80 Piqué o.g. 2-1, m91 Messi 2-2

Barça yellow card: m64 Piqué

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21 Responses to Athletic Bilbao 2 Barça 2

  1. Lee says:

    What a game! It’s hard not to root (somewhat) for Bilbao, a team with a great tradition, as you’ve mentioned, and this game was lively and swamped and exciting, and the tie was probably the fair outcome. I thought Fabregas played much, much better than you gave him credit for. Yes, Abidal’s cross was lovely but it was a stunning header, and unless I’m wrong Fabregas, playing the false 9, caused Bilboa to pick to yellows. (The second-yellow red card at the end was also key, as it turned out.) To be honest, I thought the 5.5 rating for Cesc ridiculous. If Messi had played exactly the same game as Cesc I doubt he would have been given such a low rating. Yall are hard on Cesc, who has played beautiful football since coming over. And Iniesta gets a 7 while Cesc gets a 5.5? Um, Dre missed two crucial shots. Did Cesc?

  2. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    Fabregas played a 6.5 for me. I have no beef whatsoever with the result. It was always gonna be hard to play our possession style in those sort of conditions.

    On the other hand, i do feel that we should have started with Villa for this encounter. Adriano had a really decent game…but i have the feeling that David Villa could have caused them to pay much more attention in defence than Adriano.

    We are 3 points behind Real Madrid sadly, but Bilbao is certainly a worthy opponent. They deserved all the credit for their points. Bielsa certainly is a great manager. One of Argentina’s most exciting manager’s available.

    On a different page, do any of you guys feel that the reff was trying hard to give us the advantage towards the end of the match. I thought the sending off was harsh….I would really hate to believe the rumor that the officials are most often behind us but our stats in terms of penalties and red cards against us in the past matches are not helping (i do feel some are worthy though) Any opinions on this people??

  3. FCBarca88 says:

    I thought Fabregas was definitely the best player, no doubt. Messi and Iniesta were both quiet and lost the ball more than usual, obviously the rain doesn’t help. But Fabregas was the most active, and such an amazing header.

  4. Babatunde Abiodun says:

    Well,thats football for you but Guardiola should stop using unreliable tatics and rotation in this squad,hope he will learnt his from this game

  5. le says:

    I have to agree that Cesc did just as well as most of the team today. Iniesta didn’t have a great game and did miss some of our best chances. I’m usually lenient with his low goal scoring, but when he’s one of our three strikers I’ll be more critical of his finishing. Messi seemed pretty off, too. It seemed like some of the stuff he was trying might have come off on a dry surface, but was always going to be difficult in such slippery, wet conditions.

    But this was never going to be an easy game. The rain will always help our opponents (or I guess hurt them less). I’m not that upset at the result. But we’ve got to be very good from here on out.

  6. Caleb says:

    That last comment was me.

  7. Caleb says:

    Or maybe next. It’s in moderation, I guess, but my name was put in as “le”

  8. blaugranaboy says:

    i also don’t think fab played badly but no one really played very well. minus that brilliant cross from abidal and deserving header on the end, not much to smile about.

    the conditions were tough, that was obvious. but what really annoyed me last night was more our attitude. we seem to be playing overly safe. in the effort to maintain as much possession as possible to limit our opponents chances on goal, we have become slightly too unambitious and risk adverse going forward. twice we went down and twice we reacted immediately. thats the problem. reaction, not initiative. i mean as soon as we went down 2-1 there were more chances in 8 minutes than the previous 35.

    we had the better of bilbao last night, 2nd half in particular. but so often we’d find some space, messi or cesc would want an early ball over the top, and xavi or busquets just cut it back and slowed the game down, letting them get numbers. i defend us often when people say we over play. however last night and this season in general, ive seen traces of it. now look, im not saying our style is wrong and we need to start hoofing the ball at every instance, far from. but when the moment seems possible, give it a try 2 or 3 times. mix it up. just playing it around is becoming too predictable and i think a bit exhausting on the players. plus we have the personnel to do it. xavi can drop it pin point onto some ones foot who has the ability to take it down. thats my major gripe with last night. not much else. the 2nd goal was just unlucky, it happens.

    the conditions were obvious and i dont know how much that annoyed the players. but still, remember malaga 3 years ago or so? that was the worst footballing conditions ive ever seen. it was like 3 times more wet than last night. the difference was we fought harder and went direct at them. with that type of pitch, if you take a man on, chances are he can slip. put the ball into the area, chances are its gonna take a weird bounce or bobble and opportunities present themselves. i remember messi powering a ball through mini lakes on the pitch to score.

    anyway, not a great way to go into another moronic international break but thats how it is. 3 pts behind madrid, hopefully that gives us more motivation. cause right now, at this moment in time, madrid are a better team than us. deny it if you like, but if you watch them they are ripping teams up with a hunger and swagger that worry me.

    fcbrocks – dude, i saw the ref totally differently. if anything, he was trying to help them the last 10 minutes. the red to amorebieta was weird, but he ignored about 5 bookable offenses before hand for blatant pulling our players back. i was shouting at the tv the amount of times we would beat the man and muniain or herrera would just wrap their arms around and pull the guy back. thats my most frustrating foul in football, its just blatant cheating and merits a yellow card every time. when they went down 2-1, bilbao were using every cheap trip in the book to waste time and break our momentum. so when at least one was sent off i thought it was justified.

  9. bc9jaCulé says:

    Bboy, you said it just as I see it. Especially the aspect about Xavi slowing the game down. In fact, I get worried sick of the time he wastes with the ball @ his feet, thereby not making the attack tick fast.

    Again, I think Pep is over doing the rotation/formation aspect of our games. I simply can’t fathom any justifiable rationale behind his decision to start Adriano on the wings when he’s got Villa and Alexis (even Cuenca) on the bench — against an in-form Bilbao, AWAY at their historical Estadio San Mames. SERIOUSLY???!!! Pardon me but I’ll have to borrow the words Ibrahimovic used to describe him because indeed, he’s got a delicate assortment of Ferraris but he’s driving them like some bunch of old fashioned Fiats. Don’t get me wrong, I usually relish it when tough opponents like Bilbao EARN a draw against us but only after we’ve fielded our best lineup available. 4 draws and 7(may be 6) wins in 11 (may be 10) games aint good enough from Barça as I’d rather settle for 2 losses and 9wins. We need to get our acts together before Madrid drifts too far away from us because we simply can’t deny the fact that they’ve got the most potent attack in the world right now. Not scared though, just concerned.

    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

  10. blaugranaboy says:

    bc9jaCulé, as much as im happy you agree with me and someone else sees this, i need to just clarify that its only in few instances i see this as an issue. i simply cannot ever blame xavi as he has been my favorite player and one i regarded the best midfielder for over a decade and i regard him as the best of his type in history. he much much much much much (u get it) more often has been the reason we (and spain) tick rather than the the very few times we dont. my main point was, lets mix it up here and there. lets take a risk and lose possession for a few minutes and try a quicker break a several times a half so the opponent cannot defend us as easily. its just a few variations to the system that will help us out, we did this under rijkaard and pep’s early years, so its not anything new. ive actually seen xavi this year, in one of the home games (not sure when), put a hand up and apologize to villa for not playing the early pass. its kind of a strange thing. maybe pep has gotten overly focused on the defensive element of our system and the need to be so safe with the ball. i dont know for sure of course.

    in term of rotation, im not fussed. i think he actually didnt want to start alexis cause of the conditions. that slippery pitch is a huge risk for a player fresh from injury. im sure that was his main reason for not starting him and i was surprised to see him come on actually. ill bet a lot thats also why puyol didnt play.

    villa, look, i think we can all be fair to say he isnt at the level we thought he could be so benching him is fine with me if pep thinks that what is needed to get him going.

    frankly, its not like we couldnt have won for the lineup we had. we had chances.

    my main thing is really just taking a bit more risk going forward and taking a chance on the early break. that will help our game a lot.

  11. lee says:

    No response on why everyone got higher ratings that Cesc, who saved the game with one of the best clutch headers of Barca’s season? C’mon, I’m calling y’all out. Explain to me why Iniesta got such a higher rating? I’m honestly curious. I’ve played enough soccer to know how incredibly difficult that header was, but I won’t pretend to know nearly as much about tactics as you do. What did Iniesta do, aside from missing two vital opportunities to score!, that surpassed Cesc’s contributions to the game? (Aside fro tying he game up in spectacular fashion, Cesc caused Bilboa to pick up two yellow cards and he also hit a a fantastic cross which was not converted.) It is my imagination or has Cesc outscored both Iniesta and Xavi combined this season? It seems to me he’s been steadily scoring goals, which is what everybody else, besides Messi, doesn’t do. I’m thrilled with the kid.
    Please don’t take this as any kind of serious criticism. I love the blog. It’s just that this time I’m left scratching my head.

    • barcacentralnic says:

      Hey Lee, sorry for not replying earlier but it’s been a busy day. From seeing other comments and other reports it seems I don’t have much to defend myself with as nearly everybody agrees with you. I may well have been a bit harsh with the Cesc rating but while watching the game I found myself frustrated with his position (and at the same time with Messi’s). Of course it’s not fair to blame somebody for being played out of position but I think Cesc works much better when he attacks from midfield. You know I wasn’t too enthusiastic about signing Cesc but I admit he has impressed me a lot in his first games. I just don’t think he was so good either against Viktoria Plzen or against Athletic. As for Iniesta I think maybe I noticed him more because of the Athletic fans’ reaction to him but he did seem to be the most active of the midfielders. Just for the record El Sport gave Iniesta an 8 (and also an 8 to Cesc and to Messi). Apologies if I read this one wrong, it makes me pleased to think how rarely my ratings are criticised..

      • lee says:

        Yeah I hardly ever disagree with your ratings. And I like that you do rate them. And I’m sure not down on Iniesta, either.

  12. bc9jaCulé says:

    Well, Bboy, those “few instances” could prove costly come May 2012. See, I adore Xavi both as a player and as a person and his contributions to both club and country are monumental, to say the least. My point is that he doesn’t seem to make the easiest passes lately. Instead, he turns and turns until he completes about 3600 degrees around the same spot. Now that would pass in the midfield but NOT in the opposition’s final third. And like you said, it’s becoming too predictable and it principally affords the opposing defenders an extravagant amount of time to gather at the back and ‘close shop’. When was the last time Xavi gave a through ball that directly led to a goal, or haven’t you noticed that Messi has been the one serving up about 98% of our final balls lately? Even Messi, despite his directness of play, has to constantly dribble past a minimum of 3 defenders at top speed before serving up the final ball, how much more someone who holds the ball in the opposition’s final third for more–than–necessary seconds. But, I’m not criticizing Xavi here. I’m just pouring out my observation about his game in recent matches especially since our 0–0 draw against Sevilla. Well, it’s all good as the season is still very long and nothing’s decided yet.

    And I still insist that Adriano on the wings against Bilbao, AWAY, is a tactical blunder from Pep especially when he’s got better OPTIONS on the bench. Or are we finding it difficult to accept that Pep is human and can make mistakes, that he wasn’t exactly right to opt for Adriano in our attack against Bilbao? I still remember his lineup against Valencia at the Mestalla where he played Alves on the right wing which also backfired immediately (no technical savvy was needed to figure this out). Yet, he deliberately refused to adjust the formation despite the glaring error, not until the second half. Pep is a very brilliant coach and a good person and I admit the fact that no-one can always get things right but the only issue I think he might need to address is his stubbornness (no offence meant, please).

    Point is: he (Pep) doesn’t always have to wait until a game is turning on its head before he puts the RIGHT PLAYER in the RIGHT PLACE and in the RIGHT GAME.

    An ounce of prevention is better than countless pounds of cure, they say.

    Case closeD.

    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

  13. FCB-Parbo says:

    I’ve also noticed that Xavi doesn’t connect so often more with Leo. I miss those through balls or even simple passes to Leo. Even when Leo is un a free run at the edge of the box ready to receive the pass (sometimes calling for the pass that can lead to a goal) Xavi does simply ignored him. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m a little bit concern about this.

    The oppositions have already figured out Xavi’s slow passing game, so he should pass the ball a lot lot faster to his teammates, especially to Leo.

    Please bc9jaCulé don’t use words from Ibraflop, I hate that dickhead. Pep is the master, maybe he’s trying too hard with the rotations to confuse the oppositions. Time will tell if he’s doing a good job or not. We are not falling far behind, give Pep time to implement his ideas. In Pep we trust don’t we?

  14. blaugranaboy says:

    well saying he doesnt make the easiest pass isnt exactly right. he is making the easy/safe pass, but not risking it on the long/quick pass, the more risky pass. i dont blame xavi at all and have no doubt he will make many many amazing passes all year long and next year too. i think the issue of not playing such passes is more a team mentality than individual thing.

    i dont think adriano was an error at all so we can disagree there. he did well enough and got himself in 2 goal scoring chances, one particularly good one and could have scored. at sevilla he showed he is good in midfield, something he has done lesser with us but i watched him since 18 years old and he can play attacking just as well as defense, and actually in his earlier years he was better in the midfield.

    sure the valencia game was a disaster 1st half, so what. he was trying something new. he has earned that right. and he did fix it 2nd half, so i i have no issues there.

    i agree with ur general worry in some senses but this team hasnt let us down in 3 years, and so many times they have been doubted about various issues and they find a way to prove themselve. im ready to give them time and patience to become what we want and even if we dont win the league, im not calling anyone out or asking for any heads. losing is part of sport, actually a far bigger part.

  15. bc9jaCulé says:

    No-one’s reproaching Xavi, Blau. And I never said he can’t deliver those otherworldly passes anymore. All I’m asking of him is to release those passes the moment the chances present themselves especially in the final third. Just like FCB-Parbo above highlighted as he seems to decipher what I was trying to express in my previous posts. I’m not sure you noticed how Thiago brought in some much-needed directness against Bilbao right from the moment he was introduced. Maybe you should see the match again.

    And I still can’t bring myself to reconcile with the idea of playing Adriano in the wings against a tough opponent like Bilbao against whom we often struggle with — even with our best XI. No matter how much you polish the qualities of Adriano, it’s like using a razor blade (because it’s sharp) to cut through a huge melon when you’ve got a sharp and handy knife to handle the job almost seamlessly. Come to think of it, Leo was the only natural attacker upfront until Villa came in to ease the concentration on him. And yes, it’s always cool to try unproven strategies but you’ll also agree with me that it’s simply unwise to introduce a new drug to the public without having done all the necessary lab tests to DISCOVER and ASCERTAIN its effects on rodents before recommending it for human consumption. My point? Pep should establish Adriano as a reliable attacker at home, against weaker teams before putting him in the forefront against tough opponents away from home. Get my drift?!

    Again, I really am not outrightly asking our boys to deliver another Liga trophy at the end of the season but it will be really hurting if we fail to win it because Pep was busy being “TOO WISE” — that is, out of our own AVOIDABLE undoing. Sure, Madrid are the most likely candidates if we eventually couldn’t come through and I’d indeed be glad to lose it to them (GOD FORBID) knowing fully well that we actually dealt our best cards AVAILABLE, FIT and READY in all of our Liga fixtures but that we weren’t good or fortunate enough to fly high.

    FCB-Parbo, please don’t be offended if my usage of Ibraflop’s words irks you. I really don’t like the guy either especially because of his offensive personality.


    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

  16. FCB-Parbo says:

    Hey listen, I think Pep and his staff are calculating their peak. You know, last season RM were winning and winning until we smashed them with 5-0. They are strong now, but so were they back then. We all know what the reactions of some RM players were before that classico game and it is the same story this year. We played them in November and this time around it’s in December. Pep has said it before that he is calculating their peak. So maybe after the international break they will reach their peak to be better and at their best. Against Madrid our boys will give it all and how sweet it will be. IN PEP WE TRUST!!!

    Visca Pep!!!
    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

  17. bc9jaCulé says:

    See, I just hope Pep gets his maths right as he always has and for the record, it never occured to me (even as a thought) that Madrid can beat us because they just CAN’T. My only concern is that;
    henceforth, we should be cautious about dropping any further points before we meet so that when we meet and (most certainly) beat them, we will have a good chance of climbing back up to the top. And albeit they can’t win all their fixtures either, we all know we can’t count on any other team to take points off of Real Madrid and you know how tough and tight it always has been between us at the top of the Liga table. Just saying.

    Visca Xavi!!!
    Visca Pep!!!
    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

  18. barcacentralnic says:

    a bit late, but for anybody still reading, here’s the view of the tactical wizards at zonal Marking –

  19. bc9jaCulé says:

    Thanks a ton for that wonderful link, Nic!!!
    FINALLY, a more tactically balanced and UNBIASED review of every single detail in that match and it VERY WELL EMPHASIZES the issues I was agitating for all along. I sure will visit zonalmarking after every of our match henceforth for such UNBIASED tactical digest — it really helped ease my worries.
    Again, thanks a lot Nic.

    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

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