This sport that unites me and you is very strange at times. A club can have the best manager in the world but lack the necessary quality when it comes to its players; no matter how much changes he might try to make, they will often let him down, because they are just not good enough. It (the club) can have the best quality of players possible, but they tend to behave as all human beings are expected to after long periods of working - they get exhausted, injuries sneak in, they lose their form and they make mistakes, and then they go in to the game and fail to execute their brilliant manager’s plan, not because of a lack of quality on their part, but because their bodies requires a break at times, their brains needs a certain amount of rest to function at maximum potential, to be able to be efficient in controlling the entire body, the asset they use in the game.
In another case, players are the best, but their tactician in horrible. They are ready in all aspects of the game, but their silly manager often provides them with a horrible plan. They have no choice but to do what the man says because well, he can bench or even sell you if you show any signs of disrespect. And then your talented team goes on a string of losing streaks. It takes a great deal of luck to have a team with a perfect balance of:
1. A Great manager
2. Great players, and more importantly
3. Healthy/Fit and on-form players.
Let’s see how our boys fared in this encounter with Atletico Madrid:
Victor Valdes 8.0 MOTM
I’m not sure if he cared much about the criticism he received recently, if he did, he probably was out to prove a point. He was an absolute beast in this match. Yes he did not keep a clean sheet, but the only goal he conceded was due to a collective team weakness - defending set-pieces. The team could have easily dropped the points without him in this match. He made about five legendary saves and the majority of those were one on one. Even under pressure, he still distributed the ball well and helped build play from the back. His reactions and diving were top class too, but it was his handling on a couple of occasions which denied him a clear 9/10 rating.
Daniel Alves 7.0 Yellow Out 77’
There are days you think he attacks better than he defends and some days it’s actually quite the opposite, but his performance in this game had equal credit and fault in this game. Defensively: he made a couple of brilliant interceptions and his tackling was very good and enough to disrupt a lot of potential counter attacks from the Falcao inspired Atletico Madrid. On the other hand, he was easily beaten a couple of times on the flank and was caught out of possession on another occasion, his yellow card on the 70th min for pulling back Filipe was deserved. In Attack: he made a handful of poor passes and his first touch let him down a couple of times, but his goal on the 36th min might quite easily make you ignore all those flaws. He was substituted on the 77th min possibly as a precaution since he was already booked or maybe it was an attacking substitution?
Captain Puyi had a decent game defensively as well; it was not his best game though. He played well at the back, making some fantastic interceptions, passing the ball well and helping a lot in building play from the back. His long pass from deep on the 53rd min was intercepted and it was almost costly as the Madrid based team almost took advantage. Conceding a corner on the 90th min was probably not a good idea knowing as the team struggles to defend them, but he was lucky as it created no desired outcome for our opponent.
He was easily our best defender in this game and by a long shot. He didn’t get a foot wrong during the game and proved to us that the manager made the right call by starting him instead of Pique. We could have conceded a goal on the 29th min if it weren’t for his well timed last ditch tackle. He loses most of his points because of having been anonymous for a certain length of time; there was a point in which I almost thought he was not on the pitch.
Eric Abidal 6.5
The Frenchman had a slightly poor game by his standards. I’m starting to think he prefers to concede a corner more than a he does a throw-in because all the three corners that he conceded, including the one we were punished from, could have been avoided. He was working under pressure too as the ball often had a lot of pace on his side of the pitch and he found it hard to display his usual calmness on the ball. He communicated well with Valdes on the 5th min to help clear a dangerous ball in the 6 yard box. He also still managed to make his classic interceptions including a crucial one on the 28th min.
Sergio Busquets 7.0
The Spanish international had a good game both in midfield and defense and he formed a wonderful link between the two zones. He defended well when we lost possession and distributed the ball well when we had it. So many times he was fouled hard and the perpetrators get away with it because of his ‘reputation’. Everyone wants to see a replay first after he is fouled just to make sure he was hurt, but unfortunately refs don’t have the luxury of replays. If you remember his recent injury, some people thought it was not a big deal until they saw the wound itself. He needs to learn from Messi and remain the strong man he is when a tackle is not a big deal, we can definitely benefit from such an improvement. This one is very sensitive and I hate that it’s the sole card our opponents use during debates.
Xavi Hernandez 7.5
He almost got us a goal less than two minutes into the game as a great attack by the team ended with him sending a powerful shot inches off target from just outside the box. He played well the midfield maestro and him and Andres complement each other well. Xavi controlled the game as usual and he was unlucky not to score from his well executed free-kick on the 20th minute, but maybe the credit should all go to the keeper for that one. His passes don’t require credit anymore as they are expected but his work rate is amazing for a man of his age. He showed good chemistry with Alves to defend one dangerous counter attack around the 22nd min man. Good game Xavi, good game.
Cesc Fabregas 6.5 Yellow Out 79’
The ex-Arsenal skipper was crucial in this game. He made one Messi-like solo run on the 9th min that should have been rewarded with a decent shot on target. He is crucial to the system and his unselfishness makes him the top class player he is. He made a reckless tackle on the 45th min that earned him a deserved yellow card but his Assist to Alves for the opening goal helped ease the tension for a difficult away fixture in a hostile stadium. He was replaced by Pedro with about ten minutes of normal time remaining.
Andres Iniesta 7.0
He tries very hard to be Iniesta when deployed on the wing but it comes naturally to him when he’s playing centrally. He made on crucial clearance on the 5th minute and his long dribble and pass on the 21st min was mesmerizing. The team was always dangerous in attack when he was involved but he was often isolated out in the left wing. He moved back to his favorite position after Cesc was pulled off on the 79th min and finished the game on a high. With the amount of work-rate he displays in every game, doesn’t make you wonder that he makes the least number of fouls?
La Pulga was very decisive in this game as usual. None of today’s goals would have been scored without him. He drew too many defenders to himself before making a Messi pass to Fabregas who was under no pressure at all to cross to Alves for the first goal. And then when the Atletico fans had their hopes up about stealing a point Messi shred their club into pieces with a Ronaldinho-kind of a free kick from a difficult angle. He made dangerous runs, dribbled, defended and tackled, passed, crossed and made a whole lot of other things in this game alone. He got his fifth yellow of the season on the 8th
min and I’m not sure he’ll enjoy having to sit-out the next game against Sporting
Gijon, he has no choice though. Here is to hoping the team will make it without him.
Alexis Sanchez 6.5 Yellow Out 85’
If there is one thing Alejandro is consistent on, it is his pressing. Sanchez is a nightmare for defenders with or without the ball. In this game, he was often marked by 2-3 defenders; he always did his magic until he was close to someone he can pass the ball to. His decision making is world class in the final third; his attacking passes were wonderful and he was unlucky not to have scored with powerful shot on the 67th min. I’m waiting for the end of the season before I can commit myself to deciding who our best signing of the season is.
Isaac Cuenca 6.0 In 72’
Came in on the 72nd min to replace Alves on what seemed like an attacking substitution. He did bring in his fresh fast legs on the right wing but he decided to keep things simple and stick to the basics; simple passes and movement. He also showed a glimpse of his crossing abilities but he didn’t see too much of the ball to cause too much damage.
Came in for Alexis with about 5 min to play. Guardiola was looking to see the match through and Pique helped to do just that. He was only one minute into the game when he stopped a potentially scoring opportunity from an Atletic counter. He did his part with the time he was given.
Pedro N/A In 79’
He came in on the 79th min for Cesc but was not involved much to earn himself a full rating.
A tough game for the boys but they still managed to scrape a win with a single goal margin. They are still not themselves away from home, but this will serve bit as some motivation, especially since there are still more difficult games to be played in the Champions league. I might be wrong but with rumors of £42m floating around in our bank, I’m hoping we get a defender to spice things up next season. The team might be having some difficult games in recent times but they are still FC Barcelona
, the best club in the world.
Pep Guardiola 8.0
This guy is very underrated as a tactician, seriously. His team selection was wonderful; he knew about off-form players in Pique and Predro so he decided to start them from the bench and started the more on-form players. It’s not necessarily about the substitutions he made but the order in which he made them; He removed a defender and a midfielder for attackers after Atletico pulled on back, then a striker for a defender after we took the lead in the final minutes. Best Coach in the history of our club.
Aletico Madrid’s Honorable Mention
Radamel Falcao 7.5
He caused our defense some problems and made them look like amateurs at times. Every ball at his feet looked like a potential goal when near our box. He was pulled back for offside on a couple of occasions and one of those calls is debatable. He deserved his goal on the 49th min to make it 1-1 off a corner taken by teammate Gabi. Atletico are known to sell their best players, here’s to hoping they keep Radamel so we can continue having players of his caliber in the league.
So what was that about at the start of this article? Well it’s simple, our beloved team combines points 1 (great manager) and 2 (great players) perfectly, but we are not completely in luck when it comes to the third (fitness and form), more so this season than ever. But our manager is so good that he almost always knows when and how to feature an off-form player and our players are so good that they can cover for each other during one’s absence.
Pique and Pedro are struggling to find their top forms at the moment; in fact they are merely shadows of their own selves. Both players are starters when they are at their best, but the coach has to do the most difficult thing, to have to tell his players that: "guys, today you are starting from the bench" of which I’m not even sure if he has to explain why. Masche was good enough to cover for his fellow team mate in Pique and Cesc did the same for Pedro, and then they, Pique and Pedro, came in late to see off the game. Only the manager knows from watching them for those few minutes whether or not they are ready to start next time. Pep did well in this game and mistakes aside, every player on the pitch was on a mission to execute the plan he laid down before and during the game for them.
Check out our review here if you haven’t already and finish off anything to do with this game in the comments sections. Next stop - Sporting Gijon