FC Barcelona 2018/19: Veni Vidi Valverde

Zososoxfan

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Cross-posting from the summer transfer thread with some minor edits to get this started:

On defense, there is still some player movement that will occur. Digne has indicated that he wants to leave, although Palencia and Cucurella may be ready for backup duty. I actually really like Digne and if he can wait Alba out one more season, he could be the heir apparent (and Alba could use more rest). Mina is almost certain to go out on loan with the excellent Llenglet coming in. Umtiti will be the no doubt starter and Pique will still get tons of minutes, but I hope he gets more rotation. I think Vermaelen is still on the squad, but may not be come fixture 1 in which case, Mina may stay. La Masia prospects Cucurella and Palencia are getting close, but the club has shown little patience with young players in the last decade, in large part because their quality has generally dropped (e.g. Bojan, Munir, Deulo, Rafinha).

With respect to Barca's MF, I read about some rumors regarding Rabiot. But, like @speedracer said, it would make a lot of sense to see if Roberto can finally be a rotation piece (really a backup for Busi) in the MF. There are also a few academy players that may finally make the jump to fulltime squad (namely Alena, and to a lesser extent Samper). Arthur seems like he will get some real PT, but it's hard to say with South American imports (see: Douglas). Rafinha is still on the squad, but should be loaned or sold. Gomes is likely to be sold and Arsenal makes too much sense. Coutinho may have to play in MF more, so that Messi, Luisito, and Dembele can all get on the field simultaneously. Denis may also finally get more PT.

The biggest issue I see at the moment though is a backup CF. If it's Alcacer, there needs to be enough confidence in him, Dembele, and Coutinho to keep the offense in top shape when Suarez is off form and Messi needs rest (something I think will become a big issue this year finally, similar to CR7 last season). There are a few CF targets that make sense to me: Angel Correa (not much of a CF though), Lewa (would make a lot of sense), Morata (unlikely), Rodrigo, Immobile, Belotti, Kramaric (I think he plays CF for Hoffenheim), Mertens (if he plays CF for Napoli), Ben Yedder, Maxi Gomez, Dzeko (as a stop gap), Alario, Milik, etc. It's been the Barca MO in recent years to just go for the best available regardless of long term plans, which makes me think Lewa could be possible (total speculation on my part based on his barking at Bayern), but Barca are always apt to raid other La Liga teams too so Rodrigo and Gomez make sense too. On the wings, Messi, Dembele, Coutinho is not quite enough for rotation, especially if Couts is going to be used in MF. Vidal and Munir are still on the squad but not up to quality IMO. I hope Denis gets some action, or La Masia product Arnaiz gets a shot. I could still see a quality but not headlining deal here (similar to Semedo last year).
It's been a quiet summer for the Catalans, but that is offset a bit by the fact that Coutinho arrived in January and Dembele barely played last season. Gone is the Illusionista as the list of players from the Pep core are down to 3 (Messi, Pique, and Busi). Arthur was brought in from Brazil to bolster the MF and perhaps Mina will see more time at CB.

Personnel wise, I think there are a few keys to the season:
  • Where will Coutinho play. Although he lacks speed, Coutinho is really at his best at LW. His combination play and outside shooting are best utilized there, but he may have to play in MF if EV wants to play Dembouz-Luisito-Messi in a front 3. The development and integration of Denis and Arthur's ability to step into MF are key here as well.
  • RB. Semedo seems like the obvious answer here, but last season he wasn't a lock and Roberto played over him. If Semedo does step in, then Roberto could be a real key to the MF. If Roberto doesn't step into MF this year, he likely never will (at least not at Barca).
  • Old guys. Pique, Busi, and Messi. I think this is the year where these guys finally slow down to the point where they will either alter their game or be rotated more frequently. The club should really be thinking about how to keep these legends fresh for the biggest matches and start integrating other players. For Pique, Llenglet, Mina, and Vermaelen should make this fairly straightforward. For Busi, there are lots of bullets in the chamber but no one knows how good Samper is, if Roberto can do it, or if Rakitic is there, whether there is someone else who can perform his other role. For Messi, no one will duplicate what he brings, but the team can also play a more straightforward scheme and play with 11 men. Messi brings nothing on defense and while he carries the offense for 80-90% of the season, when he goes off form the team has no alternative. Which brings me to...
Ernesto. Ernie has come out and said he expects to revert back to a 4-3-3 this season. Cules are overly concerned with this, as the responsibilities of the wingers can make a 4-3-3 look like a 4-5-1, 4-4-2, or any other number of formations. But, if EV tries to keep balance in formation rather than throw numbers forward in attack, the fanbase will get restless.
 

bosox4283

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I think this year's La Liga will be hard to predict. Real Madrid lost Ronaldo and Zidane. Barcelona lost Iniesta. Atletico has lost Gabi and Torres (maybe not as skilled as he once was, but he's still the team's hero).

If Dembele and Coutinho can progress this year, maybe Barcelona will remain the favorites with a very strong core of Dembele, Coutinho, Messi, Suarez, Busquests, and Rakitic.
 

67YAZ

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Messi to Inter? So that’s why they snaked in and scooped Malcolm just as Roma were closing the deal.

Is Malcolm the eventual Suarez replacement? And does this mean Mina has to go (assuming that Malcolm takes up a non-EU slot)?
 

Zososoxfan

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Messi to Inter? So that’s why they snaked in and scooped Malcolm just as Roma were closing the deal.

Is Malcolm the eventual Suarez replacement? And does this mean Mina has to go (assuming that Malcolm takes up a non-EU slot)?
Even though the Inter rumor was a joke (they made Icardi the captain and just signed Lautaro Martinez among a bevy of other reasons), one of Mina or Vermaelen has to go out this season. Umtiti, Pique, and Lenglet are clearly a tier above the other 2, and while it's definitely a good idea to keep around a 4th CB, that seems like a role Vermaelen would relish as opposed to Mina who is still trying to establish his value. I bet he gets loaned to a club that asks their defenders to play the ball out of the back, as that is what Barca want from him long term. His heading and defensive work will come along at the appropriate speed regardless.
 

67YAZ

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Joking about Malcolm replacing Messi. Barca fans would melt down if that was the plan.

I am curious about why Barca dove in for Malcolm seemingly to nip him away from Roma. He’s immensely talented, but I don’t think ready for big minutes at a mega-club. A couple years at a club like Roma where he could break in, prove himself in the Champions League, and then move to a club like Barca if he’s shown to be of that caliber. But hey, they went big for Dembele last year and invested in Arthur’s future already this summer. Is there a youth movement afoot?

Also, I think signing Malcolm pushes them to 4 non-EU players, which puts them in a weaker position if they want to sell Mina.
 

PedroSpecialK

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It seems the Barca interest in Willian was legit, but I don't think their bid ever reached the insane €72m or whatever was reported, as Willian is about to turn 30.

They probably figured a few extra million € for a younger player that's already nearly at Willian's level who can be taught to track back was worth the gamble. Not to mention that getting into the bidding late prevented there from being a 'Neymar tax' that all the bigger clubs seem to be facing now.
 

Zososoxfan

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I agree with @PedroSpecialK that the interest in Willian was legit, but never as lucrative as reported. I also don't understand why they wanted Willian and ended up with Malcom when I think there is a much greater need to find a young CF to give Suarez breaks and begin developing at the club. The one answer I can think of that makes some sense is if Valverde has decided on a formation/system that is incredibly demanding of his wingers and that he will need to rotate them consistently to keep them fresh and find the ones that fit best. I could see a system built around Busi, Rak, Coutinho, Messi, and to a lesser extent Suarez that tasks the wingers (with help from the FBs) with not only defending and attacking from the wings but also making runs in behind the defense. One of Barca's biggest problems last season (especially when Dembele went down) was a lack of speed in the attack. Messi at this point in his career needs runners ahead of him to be effective. Alba was the only speed merchant frequently last year and while he is obviously a terrific target (even more so as a LB), he leaves gaps in behind and he can be even more effective when there is another weapon on that side (although I admit that Coutinho cutting in from the left will likely be a perfect fit with Alba). In any event, Malcom is another option to Dembele for when speed is needed and perhaps EV will try some interesting formations with both of them on the field.
 

speedracer

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No idea how many of the Barca B guys have any real shot at the A side in the foreseeable future, but it was pretty awesome to see them fearlessly working the ball out of Tottenham's high press during the second half (even if it did lead to the occasional turnover in a bad spot).
 

Zososoxfan

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Also, it looks like Digne is heading to Everton. I really like Digne and as I said before, I think he would be taking over for Alba permanently next season but he has been a professional and deserves the chance to start this season if he wants it.
 

Zososoxfan

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You mean the one with a royal crown over a Catalan field?
Yes, I had the same reaction at first too. i.e. that the use of a crown on a Barcelona crest is...likely not favored. However, it appears that the 1899 badge was just a copy of the City's coat of arms. I have read the wikipedia entry on this subject and I'm still not clear on whether the crown represents the Spanish monarchy (I admit this is more likely) or something of a more a local nature. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Barcelona#Crest

During the Middle Ages a former royal crown (without arches, orb and cross) set atop the shield, as was customary in territories of the Crown. In the 17th century was introduced the royal crest of the Aragonese monarchs, a winged dragon, as the city Valencia or Palma have done during the previous century. In some cases, the winged dragon will in time be transformed into in a bat, Rat penat, commonly used in local heraldry.[12] Together with the crest, a helmet was situated above the shield and bears lambrequins and the former royal crown (open). By the 19th century the bat has cornered the dragon as can be seen in the Offical Gazette of Catalonia and Barcelona since 1810. The bat and the fomer royal crown without the helmet were remained for much of the century.

The removal of the bat from the coat of arms of Barcelona has been seen as a loss of an emblematic symbol shared by other capitals of the former Crown of Aragon as Palma, capital of the former Kingdom of Mallorca and Valencia, in the former homonymous kingdom.

Royal and condal crown

During 16th and 17th centuries the use of the heraldry of Barcelona was also used as coat of arms of the Principality of Catalonia. This use may reflect the Principality as heir of the County of Barcelona or the governmental capacity of the Generalitat over the territory of the former county. The heraldry of the city of Barcelona has depicted different types of heraldic crowns, both royal or county crown have been used in different variants. The crown of count referred the history of the territory and the royal crown has been reflected the rank of the titular of the county. The royal crown equals city and territory as other realms of the Hispanic Monarchy. For this reason, the historiography referred to these holders as Count-King (Comte-rei). From 1800 to 1931, successive town and city councils used both crowns with or without the crest of the bat.[10] After the Spanish Civil War, the coat of arms showed a former royal crown without the crest.[10][13]

The current version has the modern Spanish Royal Crown, a crown a circlet Or and precious stones, with eight rosettes of oyster plant leaves, five visible, and eight pearls interspersed, closed at the top by eight half-arches, five visible, also adorned with pearls and surmounted by a cross on a globe.
 

rguilmar

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Iniesta and Paulinho out, Vidal and Arthur in. Vidal would give that much needed bite to the team (not the Suarez type of bite). He’s getting up there in age but I’m a fan. This signing makes sense to me.

The Malcom signing has me scratching my head a bit. Like others, I was convinced they would sign another true striker, yet they got another winger instead. Maybe keeping Munir? There are rumors of him going to Sevilla and Alcacer off to England. It’s impossible to separate fact from fiction this time of year though.
 

Zososoxfan

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Iniesta and Paulinho out, Vidal and Arthur in. Vidal would give that much needed bite to the team (not the Suarez type of bite). He’s getting up there in age but I’m a fan. This signing makes sense to me.

The Malcom signing has me scratching my head a bit. Like others, I was convinced they would sign another true striker, yet they got another winger instead. Maybe keeping Munir? There are rumors of him going to Sevilla and Alcacer off to England. It’s impossible to separate fact from fiction this time of year though.
This signing makes some sense in that Vidal can still possibly be a world class player with a skillset somewhat unique to this squad. I'd say that he and Rakitic seem somewhat redundant, but they can play simultaneously and give a different look and Rakitic played way too many matches last season too. Malcom surprised me a bit, but I think it makes sense for several reasons. First, it makes sense to amass more attacking talent to see which ones break thru (this will push Dembele). Second, Coutinho is going to be a big part of the club for the next few seasons, but it's not clear how he best fits in. Adding another talented front 4 player gives EV more flexibility to resolve his best XI puzzle. Lastly, EV may have a new system in mind that requires a ton of work or a unique skillset and Malcom is another bullet in the chamber.

But, I ultimately agree that this squad still lacks a backup central striker. There are some options out there and I'd expect Barca to pick someone up in January if Luisito has a slow start or if someone becomes available.
 

Zososoxfan

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I watched the match over the weekend, but didn't watch all that closely. What stood out in the first 30 minutes was that the team was struggling to put together some coherence until they started finding Coutinho. He really helped get the team into gear and opened things up for everyone else.

Malcom picked up a knock and Lenglet came on for Umtiti in the 70'. Arthur and Vidal both got into the match which was good to see.

I enjoy Raki scoring very much!
 

Zososoxfan

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Got around to watching the Girona match and it was quite a shitshow. Discussion of this match has to start with the VAR-induced red card given to Lenglet. On the play, a foul was actually called against the Girona player, who went down in a heap along with Lenglet after the collision. After both getting up, the two players shook hands and the match appeared ready to restart. Gil Marzano then stopped the match for review of the foul. During the review, the Girona player is seen aggressively going through Lenglet to try and win a loose ball, and Lenglet's arm comes up and his elbow makes incidental contact with the Girona player's face/head. Lenglet was shown a straight red. I am very much a fan of VAR, but this was the worst application of it I've yet seen. In real time, it was clear that this contact was incidental and there was intent to injure. A yellow would've been a bit harsh--a red was asinine. Marzano went on to miss 2-3 penalty shouts in favor of Barca in the second half (at least one of which was glaringly clear), but the red takes the cake. Watch out Lahoz, Marzano is coming after your 'worst ref in la liga' title!

In terms of the match, Barca got off to a bright start when Vidal centered a good ball from the right for Messi who first-timed a low shot to the far post. More than anything, that is what I will remember Messi for in his late career--the ability to slingshot low powerful shots with unbelievable accuracy from any angle on his first touch. After Lenglet's red which occurred in about the 35th minute, EV got Umtiti warmed up but did not sub him in and instead dropped Sergio into CB. After a ball bounced in the box, Sergio was cautious about not drawing a foul and Pique was late to get over, and Girona put one in just before the half. I think EV's decision was defensible (he didn't want Umtiti to go in cold with HT right around the corner), but this was the exact risk he was running by doing so.

Suarez was doing well in the first half to combine with Messi and other attackers, but after HT, he reverted back to hit current shit-form. There is tremendous debate in Barca circles about Suarez, but he is certainly struggling at the moment, primarily by having bad touches and prematurely ending Barca's possession-based attacks. Dembele had a pretty bad first half and struggled to get into the flow. He was taken off at HT to make room for the second CB. Arthur popped up all over the pitch and does seem to have a lot of skill, although I don't recall him making many positive passes in the final third. Vidal struggled to get into the flow of the match throughout and despite his assist, his performance left a lot to be desired. When Couts and Rak came on after an hour, the team looked much better and held most of the possession, even being down a man.

I like EV a lot and think he is committed to squad rotation this season as he should be, but he needs to work in the new MF one at a time. In other words, he can sit Rak or Couts, but not both at the same time. Both Arthur and Vidal are likely better fits for the Rak box-to-box role, although Arthur may be able to be the attacking MF. This would really be a spot for Denis, but EV doesn't seem inclined to give him chances.

I've also been surprised by how many matches Couts has not started. After Messi, he is the most consistent attacker and stirs the proverbial drink. I recognize that there have been spacing issues when both Couts and Dembouz start, but at this point I think Couts is the priority. Munir, Malcom (he's expected back from injury soon), and even Denis (Denis would probably be the MF behind Couts in that scenario) can all be deployed in conjunction with Couts. All that said, I like the fact that Dembouz is getting a real chance to get going. In a perfect world, I would try Dembouz on the right, Coutinho on the left, and Messi in the hole for a 4-2-4 with a diamond attacking front.
 

Zososoxfan

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Barca dropped 3 points away at lowly Leganes yesterday. EV again tried to rotate, starting Vermaelen (!) at LB and Munir in the front 3. Both went poorly. Vermaelen predictably did not get forward at all and was glacial getting back on the flank. Munir had a terrible showing and came off after a nondescript hour. Lots of credit should go to Leganes who defended very well and funneled everything to the middle where they closed down quickly and effectively. Barca could not take advantage of space on the wings. Leganes started the second half hitting long balls to take advantage of Barca's high line with slow players lined up next to each other (Pique and Vermaelen). Cuellar had some terrific saves to get the 3 points.

Things started OK as the team sorted out spacing with this odd lineup, with Messi unlocking the defense with some nifty dribbling, hitting a low hard cross to the top of the box, where Couts took a bad first touch popping the ball up, but then slotting home on a wicked volley. I've said it before but Couts is clearly the second best attacking player at this point and he should rarely be sat. Dembouz had another really rough match and didn't create much danger. He should have had more room to operate on the wing with Alba not starting, but he did not make the most of it. I'd really like to see him down the right and see if it makes any difference. The team was better organized when Luis came on for Munir. It actually made me appreciate that even while Luis is not on form he is still a bona fide #9 with a terrific workrate. I think Barca absolutely need to bring in another in January. Alba came on at '70 and helped, but Messi had one of his worst matches I can remember and no one was able to pick up the slack. Malcom also saw his first action since coming back from injury.

All that being said, I will remember this match for reminding me how sad I was to see Digne leave. I respect his decision, but EV should have rotated him in more to convince him to stay. Also, Dembouz really needs to get going soon because when Messi, Couts, and him play together that should be enough firepower to score more than one goal. Maybe they need Suarez (or another #9) for spacing, but this was a bad loss.
 

Zososoxfan

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Well now, Barca drew against Bilbao this weekend and things are getting very uncomfortable in the Catalunyan capital. EV went with a very different lineup, presumably to help get some rest for LM, but also because it's necessary at this point:

MaTS
Alba-Lenglet-Pique-Semedo
Rakitic-Roberto-Vidal
Coutinho-Suarez-Dembele

I take this lineup as EV saying Sergio and Messi are our two most important guys ATM and we need them rested for UCL. I was thrilled to see Roberto get the start at DMF (but of course, he pulled a muscle and had to come off at the beginning of the second half). I was even more interested in having three MF in Rak-Roberto-Vidal that seem a bit redundant. Even more still, it was going to be interesting to see how the team would adapt without Messi in the lineup.

The MF was very fluid with each of the three starters all taking turns at the pivot while the other two got forward. Surprisingly, it was Vidal who provided the most incisive passing. The team was slightly slower and clunky in buildup than usual, but did create a lot of chances in the first half. The problem was the finishing wasn't there. While Suarez had one of his best matches of the year IMO, creating chances for others, playing aggressively, creating problems, etc., Dembouz had yet another stinker (with his TO partly responsible for the goal). Couts was good in the first half, but fell off in the second.

Pique has looked lackadaisical in these early matches. Umtiti is now expected to be out for months, so settling the CBs is definitely priority number one for EV right now.

While Barca fans are currently arguing over whether to continue trying to get the 4-3-3 to work, or switching to a 4-4-2, I think a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 may be the best deployment at this point:

MaTS
Alba-CB-CB-Semedo
Sergio-Rak/Vidal
Couts-Messi-Dembouz
Suarez

MaTS
Alba-CB-CB-Semedo
Sergio
Malcom-Couts-Messi-Dembouz
Suarez

Both formations emphasize that more creativity is needed to break down compact defenses. The way to do this is have more players capable of playing between the lines and combining at the top of the box.
 

Zososoxfan

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Yesterday was the first time I’ve seen Arthur Melo play. He looks like a gem - quick feet, great in tight spaces, and worked hard.
There were shades of Xavi in there. He was certainly occupying the same space, provides a bit more defensively, and most importantly allows Rak and Busi to do what they do best. I've been a huge supporter of Dembele (take note @teddykgb), but he doesn't belong in the best XI ATM. He can give Coutinho (@teddykgb) and Suarez a rest here and there, but the best lineup almost certainly includes Coutinho-Suarez-Messi up top and some combo of Busi, Rak, Arthur, and Vidal in the MF.
 

Royal Reader

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Also, it looks like Digne is heading to Everton. I really like Digne and as I said before, I think he would be taking over for Alba permanently next season but he has been a professional and deserves the chance to start this season if he wants it.
I have read in numerous places that during the Franco years FCB/BCF were forced to replace the Catalan flag with the Spanish one in their badge, but have never seen one. Is this a myth?
 

Zososoxfan

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I have read in numerous places that during the Franco years FCB/BCF were forced to replace the Catalan flag with the Spanish one in their badge, but have never seen one. Is this a myth?
This is all I got, from Wiki:

On 16 March 1938, Barcelona came under aerial bombardment from the Italian Air Force, causing more than 3,000 deaths, with one of the bombs hitting the club's offices.[21][22] A few months later, Catalonia came under occupation and as a symbol of the "undisciplined" Catalanism, the club, now down to just 3,486 members, and faced a number of restrictions. All signs of regional nationalism, including language, flag and other signs of separatism were banned throughout Spain. The Catalan flag was banned and the club were prohibited from using non-Spanish names. These measures forced the club to change its name to Club de Fútbol Barcelona and to remove the Catalan flag from its crest.
 

Zososoxfan

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Clasico weekend I coming up on Sunday at 11:15am EST at Camp Nou. Barca are tops in the league coming in with 18 points from 9 matches. Real have gotten off to a slow start and sit 7th with 14 points.

Barca's lineup is entirely predictable but for 2 spots: either Roberto or Semedo will start at RB and there is an open spot because of Messi's injury, likely to be filled by one of Dembele/Vidal/Rafinha, but a small chance that Roberto could start in the MF with Semedo at RB. I'll guess it's Roberto at RB and Vidal in the MF with the hope of countering Modric, Kroos, Casemiro, and Isco. IOW, Barca will elect for more of a 4-4-2 look with a very fluid MF of Busi-Rak-Arthur-Vidal and Suarez-Coutinho up top. It's a conservative lineup lacking a threat down the right, but one that should be able to control MF and limit counters.

For Real, I don't expect any surprises:

Courtois
Marcelo-Ramos-Varane-Vazquez
Kroos-Casemiro-Modric
Isco-Benz-Bale

Asensio off the bench. While the frontline can still create magic and I think the world of Casemiro and Modric, this squad is getting old. Modric is 33, Benz is 30, Marcelo is 30, and Bale is 29. Real are missing CRonaldo more than I thought they would.

In any event, these are still 2 of the best clubs in the world IMO (MANC, Liverpool, Juve, and Bayern make up the rest of the first tier) and typically produce entertaining football when they meet.
 

rguilmar

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Clasico weekend I coming up on Sunday at 11:15am EST at Camp Nou. Barca are tops in the league coming in with 18 points from 9 matches. Real have gotten off to a slow start and sit 7th with 14 points.

Barca's lineup is entirely predictable but for 2 spots: either Roberto or Semedo will start at RB and there is an open spot because of Messi's injury, likely to be filled by one of Dembele/Vidal/Rafinha, but a small chance that Roberto could start in the MF with Semedo at RB. I'll guess it's Roberto at RB and Vidal in the MF with the hope of countering Modric, Kroos, Casemiro, and Isco. IOW, Barca will elect for more of a 4-4-2 look with a very fluid MF of Busi-Rak-Arthur-Vidal and Suarez-Coutinho up top. It's a conservative lineup lacking a threat down the right, but one that should be able to control MF and limit counters.

For Real, I don't expect any surprises:

Courtois
Marcelo-Ramos-Varane-Vazquez
Kroos-Casemiro-Modric
Isco-Benz-Bale

Asensio off the bench. While the frontline can still create magic and I think the world of Casemiro and Modric, this squad is getting old. Modric is 33, Benz is 30, Marcelo is 30, and Bale is 29. Real are missing CRonaldo more than I thought they would.

In any event, these are still 2 of the best clubs in the world IMO (MANC, Liverpool, Juve, and Bayern make up the rest of the first tier) and typically produce entertaining football when they meet.
That went well! No Messi, no problem.

In all fairness, Madrid had a spell of dominating play after halftime. They had some good chances to equalize. In the end though, 5-1 is 5-1, and not having Messi matters, especially to the masses in Madrid who will no doubt be calling for a change at the top.

Back to Barca. The score line was impressive and five goals was a fair amount. The concerns at the back are still there though. Madrid has some great chances to score more than one today. It looked to me though that most of Barca’s defensive problems started up field with cheap turnovers.

Top of the league and cruising through a tough UCL group feels great, but this team has some holes. The defensive weaknesses will hopefully be cleared up as they get healthy.

Not sure why Rafinha keeps getting run with Messi out, but there’s something to be said for having Suarez, Coutinho, and Arthur shine. I like the depth with competition all over the field. Valverde’s task will be resting the top dogs at the right times and getting results, which has been hit or miss so far this season.
 

Zososoxfan

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That went well! No Messi, no problem.

In all fairness, Madrid had a spell of dominating play after halftime. They had some good chances to equalize. In the end though, 5-1 is 5-1, and not having Messi matters, especially to the masses in Madrid who will no doubt be calling for a change at the top.

Back to Barca. The score line was impressive and five goals was a fair amount. The concerns at the back are still there though. Madrid has some great chances to score more than one today. It looked to me though that most of Barca’s defensive problems started up field with cheap turnovers.

Top of the league and cruising through a tough UCL group feels great, but this team has some holes. The defensive weaknesses will hopefully be cleared up as they get healthy.

Not sure why Rafinha keeps getting run with Messi out, but there’s something to be said for having Suarez, Coutinho, and Arthur shine. I like the depth with competition all over the field. Valverde’s task will be resting the top dogs at the right times and getting results, which has been hit or miss so far this season.
To me, this match says much more about Madrid than Barca. Madrid looked slow and the tactics were very poor. With Messi out and the current form of the squad (i.e. Dembele struggling, the emergence of Arthur, quality in MF with Rafinha, Vidal, Roberto, etc.), it was obvious that EV was going to try and overrun Madrid's aging MF. They did that and Madrid couldn't do anything in the first half.

I'd like to go back and watch again, but as Alba pushed higher and higher and gave Nacho fits, it didn't seem like there was much of a threat in behind Alba. Perhaps this was tactical by EV (what I want to look for), but when Real switched to the 3-5-2 at half and Vazquez could pin Alba back a bit, it made Real much more effective. Speaking of which, Real's only push back in this match was in the beginning of the second half as Real significantly changed their formation/tactics and Barca had to figure out where to counter. Once they weathered the storm, the counters were there and the route was on.

I really liked the formation when Semedo was brought on Roberto moved into the MF. He is much more adept at being the 'Go' MF than Rakitic and Arthur. Although I think there's an argument as to who is better at the role between him and Vidal.

For now, EV gets to enjoy his standing at the top of La Liga and the UCL group. There's a breather with a Copa match and a Liga match against lowly Vallecano, but then it picks right back up with:

@Inter
Betis
@Atleti
@PSV
Villareal
Copa vs. Cultura Leonesa
@Espanyol
Spurs
 

Zososoxfan

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Interesting week as Suarez has rounded into form and saved Barca with some clinical finishing. If he can get back to scoring goals consistently with one or two touches, he is one of the best CFs in the game. It's when he's forced to help create and take several touches that Suarez falls off. He's also running into space more, likely as a result of getting back into top shape after a long summer.

Arthur has also come back to earth. He's still very skilled, but not dominating games and creating chances all over the field like he was a couple of weeks ago. Still sad to see that Coutinho is not ready to lead this team with Messi out. He is a useful piece and hasn't played badly, but he is playing second fiddle to Suarez and less important than the stalwart MF.

This leads me to EV. While rotation is always a balance, I'm really upset that he hasn't given more rest to Rakitic and Busi. With Roberto, Vidal, and Semedo all clearly in the rotation, there are a variety of ways to get the first two into the action in MF. It's also surprising to me that Dembele and Malcom haven't gotten into the XI in a Liga match, but they seem less deserving. Rafinha has also cooled off after showing well in the Inter match and the one after.

Munir played one of his better matches as a sub against Rayo, but he was also pretty dreadful against Leonesa in the Copa.

MaTS should get a ton of credit for saving Barca's bacon in the Rayo match. The result was very unfair to them, and Barca should've lost, or at best drawn, rather than stealing 3 points away.
 

Zososoxfan

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Barca got beat at home over the weekend 4-3 by Betis and that scoreline is flattering to the home team. The problems were in the MF, where Rakitic looked totally gassed and Arthur has come back to earth. I keep harping on it, but Vidal needs to get a string of starts. The other player who should get more time in MF is Roberto. Semedo needs to be given a real chance to lock down RB where his ceiling is so much higher than Roberto and Roberto can be used in MF. Rafinha can also get PT. Malcom started off very brightly, but disappeared after 20 minutes. Munir has played much better recently, and maybe it's time he get another bona fide chance to be a winger?

Messi returned and played the whole 90, which was a mistake. He looked rusty and should've been eased back in. Suarez is very much in form and has looked great. Ter Stegen also let in a softy which almost never happens. Other goals were not his fault. Betis is a good team and I wouldn't be surprised if they came roaring back after a slow start and claimed a Europa spot.
 

Zososoxfan

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Barca are dealing with a slew of injuries all of a sudden. Rafinha tore his ACL and likely out for the season. Feel terrible for him as he was starting to get consistent minutes. Roberto went down at the end of the first half and will be out 3-4 weeks. 2-3 weeks for Suarez's knee. Cillessen is out for 2-3 weeks, and Arthur is expected to miss the PSV match. The good news is Umtiti is back and Phil Schoen mentioned that Barca may have been missing some of his fire recently, and I tend to agree.

Will be very interesting to see how EV lines up. Malcom, Dembele, Coutinho, Vidal, Munir, and Alena will all be trying to impress. If you are one of those guys and don't play much these next two weeks, I'd angle to move clubs.

My preferred lineup:

MaTS
Alba-Pique-Umtiti-Semedo
Rak-Busi-Vidal
Dembele-Messi-Coutinho

Malcom and Munir off the bench.

I could also Munir getting a chance at CF, though:

MaTS
Alba-Pique-Umtiti-Semedo
Dembele-Rak-Busi-Coutinho
Messi-Munir

Vidal and Malcom off the bench.

I don't love that lineup because it lacks speed and actually plays more like a 4-2-4. You could swap Dembele out for Vidal for more balance, but then you lose speed. Swap out Coutinho and you leave your most skilled non-Messi player on the bench.
 

rguilmar

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Nice bit of business by Barca signing Tobido from Toulouse in a free transfer. 19 year old French defender rumored to be off to Man City. Can’t have enough solid free transfers with La Masia not producing like it did in the past.
 

Zososoxfan

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Barca will try to overturn a 2-0 deficit in the return leg of a Copa QF tie against Sevilla. Honestly, EV has gotten the Copa all sorts of wrong this year. He hasn't committed to making it a full rotation competition (e.g. an uninterested Pique starting last match), but hasn't committed to making it a priority either (front 3 was Alena-KPB-Malcom). We're left with a mish-mash that neither gets results nor rests the key players.

In any event, I would ride or die with a full rotation squad. If Barca get bounced from the Copa, nearly no one will care. After Madrid's UCL success, that is the primary goal and Barca are going to be tough to overcome in La Liga. The treble is always nice, but a UCL-Liga double is 95% the same, and significantly easier IMO.

Cillessen
Semedo-Lenglet-Murillo-Vermaelen
Vidal-Roberto-Alena
Couts-KPB-Malcom

To add, I think EV will go nearly full blast since UCL doesn't start back up for another couple of weeks.

Cillessen
Alba-Lenglet-Vermaelen-Semedo
Arthur-Busi-Rak
Couts-Suarez-Messi
 

rguilmar

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Barca will try to overturn a 2-0 deficit in the return leg of a Copa QF tie against Sevilla. Honestly, EV has gotten the Copa all sorts of wrong this year. He hasn't committed to making it a full rotation competition (e.g. an uninterested Pique starting last match), but hasn't committed to making it a priority either (front 3 was Alena-KPB-Malcom). We're left with a mish-mash that neither gets results nor rests the key players.

In any event, I would ride or die with a full rotation squad. If Barca get bounced from the Copa, nearly no one will care. After Madrid's UCL success, that is the primary goal and Barca are going to be tough to overcome in La Liga. The treble is always nice, but a UCL-Liga double is 95% the same, and significantly easier IMO.

Cillessen
Semedo-Lenglet-Murillo-Vermaelen
Vidal-Roberto-Alena
Couts-KPB-Malcom

To add, I think EV will go nearly full blast since UCL doesn't start back up for another couple of weeks.

Cillessen
Alba-Lenglet-Vermaelen-Semedo
Arthur-Busi-Rak
Couts-Suarez-Messi
Yeah, focus has to be on La Liga and UCL. The fixture list gets tricky with games against resurgent Valencia and Bilbao coming up, and the UCL matchup versus Lyon book-ending games at Sevilla and Real. Getting through this stretch while at least maintaining the 5 point gap atop La Liga is essential. Building on that lead will allow Barca to focus more on UCL should they advance and draw stiffer competition.

Advancing in the Copa is great, but adding fixtures and going all out for the treble can put a strain on the squad. EV has gotta be feeling the pressure to one-up Real by taking both UCL and La Liga this year, especially with a weaker Madrid squad this year both in terms of quality and injuries.
 

Zososoxfan

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There was obviously a lot to enjoy from yesterday, but if Semedo cements himself as the starting RB and it allows Roberto to start playing MF consistently, I think this squad becomes even more fearsome. Roberto can play in a 3 man MF with a combo of Busi, Rak, Arthur, and Vidal and reasonably replace anyone of them and a MF 4 of those provides a lot of options with only 2 forwards ahead of them. Specifically, I'm thinking that a 4-2-2-2 with Busi obviously in one of the pivots and either Rak/Roberto as the other (likely swapping freely) would be damn effective if Arthur plays one of the higher MF spots (i.e. a MF 4 of Busi-Rak-Roberto-Arthur could be very effective).

Where things get even more interesting is when FDJ joins next year. I've always felt that Roberto's best position is DMF, but since Sergi is a god, Roberto's had to find other positions to get PT and he's talented and smart enough to do it. But, with Rak and Sergi getting long in the tooth, perhaps FDJ-Roberto-Arthur is the MF of the future. The thing about FDJ and Roberto in the same lineup is that (from what I've read) FDJ and Roberto's skillsets sound pretty similar, so having them both on the field and allowing them to interchange could be a thing of beauty.
 
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bosox4283

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I don't follow the international market closely, so I had no idea who Arthur was before Barcelona signed him. I see the fee was basically 40M euros, which is a good piece of business for both Barcelona and Gremio, Arthur's team in Brazil.

My question: was Arthur this talented and Barcelona simply outbid all other teams, or was he a very-good-but-not-outstanding player that Barcelona has developed and improved?
 

67YAZ

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I don't follow the international market closely, so I had no idea who Arthur was before Barcelona signed him. I see the fee was basically 40M euros, which is a good piece of business for both Barcelona and Gremio, Arthur's team in Brazil.

My question: was Arthur this talented and Barcelona simply outbid all other teams, or was he a very-good-but-not-outstanding player that Barcelona has developed and improved?
He was on the radar for a long time. He broke into the Brazil under-17 team as a 15 year old and then Gremio’s starting XI by 19. He also always seemed like a Barca player, a box-to-box midfielder with elite range of passing and the ball skills of a striker.

It was a bit surprising when he jumped straight to Barca. Over his 3 season at Gremio, his managers progressively moved his role up the pitch. In his last season, he was a straight up attacking mid, spending his time in and around the opposing box. This slowed his development a bit, having to learn a new role each season. That probably pays off in the long run, but meant he had some uneven performances while being scouted by the big clubs.

Credit Barca with seeing past how Arthur was being used and then putting him back in his natural position.
 
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triniSox

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I think Barca and others identified Arthur's talent and how his style would fit their system well. I think the biggest surprise is how quickly he's been able to step into the first team and play at a high-level.
 

Zososoxfan

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One thing that will get lost in yesterday's match is that Messi didn't play up to his usual standards. Furthermore, yesterday was an example of Messipendencia that seems like was brought on by Messi himself demanding the ball too much and young players (namely Dembele) forcing the ball to him. Messipendencia in the past was usually the result of the team lacking ideas and giving the ball to him in the middle and asking him to conjure out of thin air. But yesterday it felt like the team made good attacking moves but rather than play the final ball to the open man, frequently look for #10 exclusively. Messi is so good that most of the time he creates a half chance or shot anyway, but I can't imagine what the dynamics of playing with Messi are like. Many players have come and gone because playing with Messi is not easy.

I like Roberto playing in the MF as he is a better attacker and overall player than Vidal, but I really thought yesterday was another opportunity for Alena and his skillset. He will likely get some more opportunities in the coming weeks to show he has the consistency, but this team sorely lacks an attacking MF. While the obvious counter to that is that Coutinho feller over there, counting on Coutinho to help win the MF is a problem. If Barca are set on getting their Big 4 on the field at the same time, a 4-2-3-1 could be an interesting setup:

MATS
Alba-Lenglet-Pique-Semedo/Roberto
Rakitic-Busi
Coutinho-Messi-Dembele
Suarez

That team might get run over in MF, but it would definitely create offense.

With Suarez slowing down and wanting to get the most of out Messi's remaining elite years, the club needs to think about the ideal setup for him. To me, it's obvious that he needs to be setup behind a striker or two and at least one winger who can recover and help protect the MF. A 4-3-1-2 would be the framework for that ideal shape, with one of the two strikers acting as an out-and-out winger and one of the MF playing the aforementioned MF role who can spring out to the opposite wing.
 

triniSox

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One thing that will get lost in yesterday's match is that Messi didn't play up to his usual standards. Furthermore, yesterday was an example of Messipendencia that seems like was brought on by Messi himself demanding the ball too much and young players (namely Dembele) forcing the ball to him. Messipendencia in the past was usually the result of the team lacking ideas and giving the ball to him in the middle and asking him to conjure out of thin air. But yesterday it felt like the team made good attacking moves but rather than play the final ball to the open man, frequently look for #10 exclusively. Messi is so good that most of the time he creates a half chance or shot anyway, but I can't imagine what the dynamics of playing with Messi are like. Many players have come and gone because playing with Messi is not easy.
Agreed. I think overall the linkup play in the final third wasn't good enough. Suarez being in poor goalscoring form does put pressure on Messi to demand the ball in goalscoring areas but I think there just needs to be better decision making and sharing the ball overall. I think Dembele should and will look to take on 1-on-1s and look to create space for his shots.
 

Zososoxfan

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Welp, the title of the thread finally pays off, in an ironic SoSHy type of way. Barca look set to terminate EV's reign as Manager. Roberto Martinez seems in line to step in and rumor has it that Henry has already joined as an assistant. While I am more interested in Sarri who should be available as soon as UEL finishes up, Martinez is a safe-ish bet to let this team rinse and repeat next year.

I will write a long post mortem on this season another day, I expect the changes to the squad and its management (by the manager, not the board) to be fairly similar next year. Rakitic, Umtiti, and maybe 1-2 other names will be gone and replaced with FDJ, maybe de Ligt, and maybe Griezmann, but Busi, Messi, Pique, Alba, and to a lesser extent Suarez will be given one last season to be the unquestioned top dogs in the lineup.

Without going into my postseason thoughts too much, I think it's important for Busi to start getting rotated more often. The team cannot support his lack of defensive ability and stamina any longer at the highest levels with Messi still adding nothing on defense.
 

rguilmar

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Rakitic, Umtiti, and maybe 1-2 other names will be gone and replaced with FDJ, maybe de Ligt, and maybe Griezmann, but Busi, Messi, Pique, Alba, and to a lesser extent Suarez will be given one last season to be the unquestioned top dogs in the lineup.

Without going into my postseason thoughts too much, I think it's important for Busi to start getting rotated more often. The team cannot support his lack of defensive ability and stamina any longer at the highest levels with Messi still adding nothing on defense.
I had always suspect FDJ was more of a long term replacement for Busi, no matter what individuals at the club are saying. If I remember correctly, some came out say FDJ’s best position was more attacking.

Now there's a post I'd be interested to read - why Valverde must and should go.
If I were to have fun with this one:
1. Valverde plays a more practical style, which as fine so long as you’re winning, but some at Barca aren’t quite as fond of that style of play and will look for any opportunity for a return to more tiki taka.
2. Bombing out of UCL the way the have the last two years, blowing three goal cushions while playing a more practical way, which should make it less likely for this to happen.
3. The team has been allowed to become even more Messi- centric when they need to be moving the opposite direction, or they will be due for a massive collapse when (if???) Messi loses a step.

Not saying I agree with the above, but that’s what my Catalan cousins tell me is discussed at the dinner tables. To be fair, half of these cousins are Espanyol fans so they have their own take on things.