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Three thoughts on Sporting Gijon v. Barcelona October 2, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Spanish soccer.
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1. Could Alberto Botia become the next Cesc Fabregas (in transfer terms)? — Like Fabregas and Gerard Pique, the Gijon center-back left Barcelona very young, although on otherwise very different circumstances. Botia looked good against Barcelona, and indeed whenever I’ve seen him, he’s looked like the real deal. Considering that Barcelona only has two oft-injured senior center backs in its squad, it doesn’t seem inconceivable that Botia return.

2. Was that a 3-3-4? It appeared that Barcelona used Adriano, Lionel Messi, Pedro and David Villa in forward roles, although you might argue that Pedro was actually playing Cesc Fabregas’ do-whatever-you-want role. The game did not suggest that, whatever the formation, it was tremendously effective — Pedro is, after all, a very different player from Fabregas. It’s also interesting that Adriano is now part of the attacking rotation.

3. Is Dani Alves the boy that cried wolf? In the second half, David Barral punched Barcelona’s Brazilian right back across the face in midair. It was emblematic of Sporting’s especially violent approach to dealing with Barcelona — they seemed particularly keen to give an extra kick to players who were already going down. This violence seemed to target specifically Alves and Sergio Busquets, men who have a reputation for exaggeration. When the referee deemed disinclined to take Alves reaction to Barral’s fist seriously, that made sense: Alves and Busquets fake injury all the time, so you can probably get away with more violence against them.

Three things that went through my mind during Barcelona v. Atletico Madrid September 24, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Spanish soccer.
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The man's psychic stress is palpable

1. Barcelona is ominously confident.

As the Barcelona team becomes a whirring instrument of bloodless atomization, much of the emotional resonance is sucked out of the actual football. Goals are no longer an emotional release for Barcelona’s players. There’s neither the catharsis of joy one gets from surprising himself by scoring a goal nor the catharsis of relief one gets from scoring a goal to loosen the pressure of expectation. Instead, their faces in the post-goal scenes seem to say, “Look what you’ve gone and done, you scamp.” They score, then they laugh it off.

2. Pep Guardiola’s on his last season, isn’t he?

Guardiola, on the other hand, does not look like he’s having a good time. The pressure must be crushing and the rewards minimal. Last year’s Barcelona team would already probably have been remembered as the greatest of all time if Guardiola had walked away at the end of it. If he wins the European Cup this year, there really will be nothing left for him to prove at Barcelona and no dispute about who is the best team of all time. You can tell it weighs on him. He’s essentially a nice, introspective guy. Jose Mourinho has identified making him miserable as his quickest route to a meaningful trophy. After being pretty much flawless for the last three years, he’s probably beginning to wonder what it even means to win things in soccer anyway. He looks miserable. He needs a break.

3. Dani Alves might have a future as a center-back.

It’s fairly common for players to start out as attacking fullbacks, then move inside as they age. Paolo Maldini and Ruud Krol are the most famous examples, while Carles Puyol was viewed primarily as a fullback in the early part of his career (Billy Costacurta, on the other hand, only appears to have started playing right-back in his forties, or maybe I’m showing my age). Alves has a reputation for being poor defensively and positionally though. I think that’s undeserved; Alves isn’t bad defensively, he just does less defending than most defenders. I think he’s very good at it when he does. Sid Lowe pointed out on the Guardian’s Football Weekly Extra this week that one of the big things Barcelona misses without Gerard Pique is a player who starts moves from the back. Alves is an excellent passer, even more so at center back because he doesn’t have to run 80 yards before receiving the ball, so putting him back there seems like an ingenious solution to this temporary problem at least.