Villarreal 0 FC Barcelona 0

Another two points dropped away from home tonight now leaves us a horrible seven points behind Real Madrid and the possibility of a fourth consecutive Liga now looks much smaller. Perhaps the effort to overcome Real Madrid on Wednesday night took its effect on our players. What is clear this season is that we are finding it increasingly difficult to raise our game for some away games and perhaps after three and a half years of success the desire is not quite as high as it once was. It might have been different had Cesc Fabregas’s shot crept under the bar instead of bouncing out, but despite an excellent 15 minutes at the end from substitute Cristian Tello we couldn’t find a way through.

With so many injuries Pep Guardiola had limited options for his team selection but he still managed to surprise, preferring the strength and power of Mascherano in midfield over the creativity of Thiago Alcantara who I had expected to come in as the natural substitute for Andres Iniesta. Carles Puyol was at right back in a defence of three with Dani Alves and Adriano employed as wingers. In the third minute Adriano crossed from the left and after Messi had headed the ball back Xavi sent in a pass to Alves in an excellent position though instead of shooting Alves tried to send in the low cross that hit a defender before Diego Lopez turned the ball round the post for a corner. We were looking the more alert of the two teams in the first exchanges but then in the ninth minute Cani played a couple of neat one-twos to work a shooting chance from the edge of the area and Villarreal woke up to the realisation that if they worked for it they could start to worry Valdés.

However, it was Barça who continued to look the better team early on, we came close to a goal after robbing the ball high up the pitch thanks to our pressing, but Alves again tried to cross instead of shooting and the chance was gone. Then in the 17th minute Alves spotted Messi and sent him through on goal, Diego Lopez came off his line and Messi characteristically lifted the ball delicately over the advancing keeper but instead of a golazo the ball passed inches wide of the far post.

However, as the first half went on Villarreal began to rise as they realised we were not having our day. We saw danger after a free kick from the left as Valdés went for the ball that Piqué got to first, heading the ball up in a loop towards our own goal line where Mascherano had to be brave to head away under the bar, knowing he was going to get clattered by the forward. Encouraged, Ruben and Senna had shots, Valdés having to make a fine save to prevent Senna’s 20 yard drive. Then Villarreal had the ball in the net from the corner but Gonzalo was correctly called offside. Mascherano moved back to make a defence of four and we finished the first half with a couple of attacks but first Messi slipped in full flight and then Cesc failed to get  a good enough control from Messi’s pass.

The second half began with a moment of controversy. Piqué lost the ball in almost exactly the same way as for Madrid’s second goal on Wednesday, Borja surged into the area before going down as Busquets challenged. There seemed to be contact though Borja made a bit of a meal of it and the referee decided to ignore it. We entered a frustrating period where we couldn’t seem to penetrate the area, and this was seen clearly one time that Adriano got away on the left wing but there were only yellow shirts in the area waiting for his cross.

The change seemed obvious and Alexis was brought on for the last 30 minutes though his miracle recovery didn’t appear to be 100%. the minutes kept ticking away and nothing was happening apart from a hopeful shot over from Adriano and a couple of runs from Messi that came to nothing. The stars were missing with Xavi and Cesc particularly quiet. Guardiola’s final move was to bring on Thiago and Tello for the last 15 minutes and for a while it looked like Tello would make all the difference. He attacked the right back at every opportunity and showed the spark that was missing from the rest of the team. Tello had only been on a couple of minutes when he pulled the ball back to Cesc whose shot took a deflection before Diego Lopez made a superb save pushing the ball against the crossbar, Alexis and Tello tried to pounce on the rebound but the defence were quick to close them down. Tello had a couple more tries to break the deadlock, but his dangerous low cross found nobody again in the six-yard box and with just a couple of minutes remaining Tello found Messi on the edge of the box but despite finding a gap to shoot through Messi’s shot went straight at Diego Lopez.

The feeling tonight is obviously not a very optimistic one. The performance was flat and it is not the first time this season that we have failed to do enough away from home. There will be plenty who want to recall our bad luck at times and certain refereeing decisions this season, but no complaining will recover the points lost, there is nothing for it now but to buckle down to try and win all our remaining games. It is a classic cliché that football is a funny old game and perhaps the seven-point gap may lead to a moment of relaxation from Madrid. It might not come next week or the week after that, but we will have to wait for our moment like a hungry wolf and when we get a chance to cut the difference we will have to pounce and then see whether Madrid can handle the pressure of seeing a lead reduced. It is a small chance but we must go for it with everything we have. There really must be no the-Copa-and-the-Champions-will-do type thinking or we may end up with nothing. This is not a time for any drastic action but Guardiola needs to be at his very best to lift the team which wasn’t looking nearly as fresh as it needs to be to keep winning titles.

Barça: Valdés 6.5; Puyol 6, Piqué 6 (Alexis m59, 5.5), Abidal 7; Busquets 6, Xavi 5.5 (Thiago m75, 6), Mascherano 6.5; Alves 6, Messi 6, Fabregas 5.5, Adriano 6 (Tello m75, 7.5).

Barça yellows: m89 Thiago, m92 Alves

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10 Responses to Villarreal 0 FC Barcelona 0

  1. Caleb says:

    Uhhggggg…..siggggghhhh…. The league is a long shot, now. Nic, you’re totally right that we have to keep pushing. I’m sad, but I’m with Guardiola’s comments following the Espanol match; I’ll never be disappointed with this group of players. They’ve given us some of the best football the world has seen. They’ll always be great, even if the league gets away from us.

  2. layibiyi says:

    more dropped points…whats new?

    well, y’all know my feelings since about last year. The law of averages just makes it almost impossible for any top club in the 3 or 4 major leagues to win 4 consecutive leagues in this modern era. The amount of factors that come into play is just too much to successfully overcome continuously(injuries, luck, referee decisions, motivation etc). With that mindset, I am hardly down at the realization that we have dropped points once again. The only upsetting issues are that the direct rival is ‘mourinho and madrid’ as well as imagining that if any team was to win 4 leagues in a row, It would be this team.

    I can still remember the version of this game last year where we managed to come away with a 1-0 victory courtesy of pique. This was achieved without xavi and messi mainly. There was praise and everyone acknowledged that those are the type of games that win you titles. This season, the opposite seems to be happening in those kind of games.

    What I feel is that we continue to push them as you have suggested and as madrid as done to us in the last couple of years. They always had a chance to make something of the title chase by playing us towards the end of the season but they never capitalized. Its our turn to keep up the pressure and see what happens in that game and all the others. And we still have the opportunity to disprove another ‘norm’ being no back-to-back champions league in the modern era. That would be wonderful if achieved.

    On to the next one.

  3. bc9jaCulé says:

    Although the liga is now officially Madrid’s to lose, I still STRONGLY nurture the possibility of Barça clinching it — up until it is mathematically impossible. And even if we don’t win the league eventually, I think the most reasonable explanation for it would be the solemn realization and appreciation of the simple fact that; WE JUST CANNOT ALWAYS BE THE WINNER. Some fans (myself inclusive) could point to a thousand–and–one factors responsible for the situation we’ve come to find ourselves in (the incessant injuries, tiredness, complacency in away games and recently home ones too , tactical inadequacies, ………) but who are we to blame these group of pure wonders and that really aint as relevant as simply counting our blessings and losses (if we don’t win the liga, that is) and striking a balance in-between. Only then, will we, as culés, TRULY appreciate the efficacy and magnitude of what these eternal group of players have accomplished for the past 4 years (undeniably accomplishments of ASTRONOMICAL proportions). And may I emphasize that I’m not consoling myself or any other culé out there for that matter. I’m just giving my take on the whole scenario as it might likely unfold. Not undermining the ability of our players, but, if (a really biiiiig IF) they eventually wrestle the liga from the tight grips of Madrid in which it currently is, the never–say–die attitude in me would have really been strengthened like never before.

    I just fervently pray and hope that we can at least win the Copa and CL at the end of May as that would be truly historic and heart–warming.

    Now, more than ever, I say;
    Som–Hi Barça!!!!!

  4. bc9jaCule says:

    On the balance of mature reflections and considerations, these are my submissions:
    Last Night’s Lineup:
    I wish I don’t have to say this, but I really must. See, I’ll NEVER bring myself to terms with playing natural full backs as OUTRIGHT wingers. It might actually pan out favorably in some games but that’s simply because even a static clock will always be correct twice a day BUT that does not make it correct the whole day. No matter the attacking prowess they (the full backs) may possess, it can only be fully harnessed and optimized by having them attack by overlapping from their positions (as that will almost free them from any particular marker) and falling back to position when we are not on the attack. I remember elaborating on this issue after the 2 – 2 draw against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames earlier in the season during which Adriano started as a left winger (I think Enrique will remember) – the 2 – 2 draw against Valencia at the Mestalla where Alves started as a right winger also comes to mind. Why didn’t Cuenca start last night, WHY???!!! Even Tello, in the little time he was on the pitch, showed how much a natural winger can influence a game to get the desired results. If Guardiola REALLY TRUSTS the canteras to step it up big time, he must straighten his spine and start them in such matches as these are the type of games in which they will cherish the very rare opportunities they come by.
    Last night’s lineup was just too questionable. How many defenders started the match, 4,5,6,7 or 8? Valdez was defending the net: Alves, Adriano, Abidal are natural full backs: Puyol and Pique are natural center backs: Sergio and Masch’ are natural defensive midfielders. That makes 8 – away from home!!!!! What does that portray? It’s as if we were actually playing for a draw. And that leaves Messi as the only natural striker/attacker on the field because Xavi and Fab are playmakers. That sort of stifled the mechanics, dynamics and general flow of the game, thereby limiting the chances created.
    My Take On Cesc:
    I think Pep might be consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously pulling an Ibra with Cesc. Reason being that; Cesc looks lost in recent matches, not knowing what exactly is his role on the pitch, pointlessly wandering between midfield and attack and this, in my opinion, has directly or indirectly affected Xavi’s performance. The fact is; the only thing Cesc contributes to this team is the goals he scores and he should be strictly played in the false 9 position and even when that’s not coming through, he should be subbed off without the slightest hesitation. More so, it is our style – the intricate strings of passes – that mostly leads up to the goals and if he fails so often when making simple 10–yard passes, he simply should not so regularly be in the starting XI just yet. Besides, Thiago is always available to fill up the XI. And if Pep will keep hesitating to sub him (Cesc) off WHEN he totally underperforms just like the case of Ibra, then we might be really in for big misses on the titles we are vying for because we almost missed out on the Liga in Ibra’s first and only season with us, not until Pep started benching him for Bojan towards the tail end of the season when he (Pep) realized that Ibra had cost us the UEFA CL due to his poor performances against Inter back then.
    ……………continued in the ensuing post

  5. bc9jaCule says:

    My View on Pep and His Substitutions:
    I don’t like the fact that Pep SO MUCH DELAYS his subs when a match is not turning out as planned and to be candid, that’s the only aspect of coaching I think Moaninho has on him. He (Pep) doesn’t dare to take the risk of substitutions early enough in a match so as to generate the desired outcome. He HAS TO inculcate this in his coaching arsenal because, sometimes, even if you have your best XI (in their fittest condition) negotiating an encounter, things might not work out well in the match and would require an early enough intellectual substitution to locate the needle in the haystack. I can only imagine Moaninho, Ferguson or Wenger tinkering with swift substitutions if they had the luxury of managing this wonderful squad we’ve got. Pep must be WILLING TO TAKE RISKS with his substitutions and they must be made early enough (well, I guess that’s the aspect of his coaching career that really needs to be worked on and FAST) because even a player of Messi’s standards could not change the outcome of the 2 – 2 draw against Real Sociedad earlier in the season despite being subbed on in the sixty-somethingth minute.

    If We End Up Losing The Liga:
    Most importantly, if Moanhino ends up winning the Liga title, let me categorically accentuate the fact that it was not wholly or particularly the doing of his team, rather, partly due to the inconsistencies of Guardiola’s experimentations and general approaches to games. It will hurt me to lose the Liga (especially to Moaninho’s Madrid) because we won 3 Ligas on the trot by directly and indirectly besting both Madrid and the also-rans (taking at least 4 points off of Madrid in both legs regardless of the coaches and players they had against us). Alas, now that we even have a better squad depth, they might win the league without needing to directly best us or take any points from us.
    We must keep fighting though but if we drop more points before Madrid drops any, we should just let go of the Liga and switch focus by resting our first teamers only to participate sparsely in the remaining Liga features but wholly and trophyly in the remaining CDR and UEFA Champions League fixtures.
    That’d be all for now and please accept my apologies if I’ve irked you with my extremely long post. Anyways, please feel free to disagree with me on any point as I just had to say what I’ve said and they are purely MY OPINIONS.
    Som–Hi Barca!!!!!

    • barcacentralnic says:

      Great post. One other factor that may be influencing at the moment is the trip to Japan in December for the Club World Club. Two years ago we were knocked out of the Copa by Sevilla in the month following this tournament and in Dec 2009 our trip had only been to the Middle East. Players like Xavi and Puyol who are in their 30s now were not at their best yesterday. So, what is the answer? The only possible solution I see is more cantera. Tello nearly made the difference yesterday, and there are plenty of others who would certainly add some freshness to the team. Obviously I’m not calling for them all at once, but a newboy so often gives a boost to the team. I totally agree about Alves being better as an attacking right back rather than a winger, and if you aren’t going to put Alves at right back then why not give Martin Montoya another chance there, I think he’d walk straight into many top flight first teams if he wasn’t at Barça.

  6. barcacentralenrique says:

    for the most part im happy with the reactions. i was really sad expecting a “damn this” and “damn so and so”, “he sucked”, “why did pep do this..”etc. look, you cant always win. you just cant. we’ve seen history in the making, and just cause (if) we dont win the league this year, doesnt mean its over. there is no reason to blame anyone or anything. pep is trying new things, he has the absolultely bloody right. remember despite his success he’s only been a top tier manager for 4 seasons. so yeah, i was disappointed with the game but i will not be disappointed in this team ever, as long as they try and ive yet to see them not trying. we’ve also had a season filled with injury, which we have not handled as well as before.

    its not over yet. but its time to just focus on us and not on catching up. let madrid do what they do and if we just focus on ourselves you never know what will happen.

    we have a seriously tough february in store, so i hope the team rests up a bit and we get some of the injuries back. as long as we have pep in charge and the players following him im not worried for our future, irrespective of what happens this season.

  7. FCB-Parbo says:

    All I can say I still love this team. They wanne please the fans, but sometimes they don’t have that in their hands. Sooner or later this would happen, coz they have fight for us for almost 4 years at the highest level. I believe in this team and they will hold their head up high and they will bounce back. They are still the best in the world and not RM. The season is not over and is still long.

    Visca Barca!!!
    Forza Barca!!!

  8. Hilal says:

    Shame about the dropped points but I really cannot complain. I love this team and this group of players so much. They have given me more joy then I ever thought possible from watching a bunch of guys kick around a ball. What they have achieved since Pep took over is truly remarkable. Most fans dont get to experience in a whole lifetime what we have experienced in the space of a few years.

    Not that I think anything is over, I just wanted to express the joy this team has brought me because I have heard so many fans complain over the past few days I just think a bit of perspective would be nice. The league will be tough, but its not over till its over and even with the injuries and fatigue I still think we are favs for the CL and the cup. Over two legs I just dont see any team getting the better of us.

    In a few weeks we will have Iniesta and Pedro back and Sanchez should be fully fit in a week or so, so we really just need to ride this next month and make sure we dont drop any further points. That being said even if we dont win a thing this season I will be happy. I will be happy because I believe in this team and no matter what happens this year we will come back even stronger next year. I always had a feeling this would be somewhat of a transition year with Cesc, Thiago and Sanchez, plus all the tactical variations Pep is employing. It may not happen this season but we will come back stronger than ever, I truly believe that.

  9. Caleb says:

    After reading the reactions above, not only am I even happier to be a Barca supporter, I am also glad to be connected to this blog. We may not have the most comments and heated debate isn’t that prevalent (TETMD, where are you?), but the supporters here are reasonable, level-headed Cules at heart.

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