So. A guy tells you as you are walking home from work, “Tomorrow I’m going to kick you in the nuts.”
If, while walking home from work the next day you don’t protect ya nuts, any attendant fallout is on you.
When Xavi and his charges rolled into Getafe on Sunday, they knew exactly what was coming. The entire footballing world knew exactly what was coming. Xavi not only devised a “match plan” that essentially strolled toward that threatening man but walked legs akimbo, inviting that boot to the goolies.
People can talk all they like about “disgrace,” “anti-football” or whatever. Bordalas makes absolutely zero apologies about what he does and how he does it. It’s up to the opposing manager to deal with it. You either have your guys kick the shit out of his guys, which plays into his hands, or you devise a way to nick a goal or two, which then makes them have to do something they aren’t equipped to do, which is play football and try to beat someone.
Xavi’s team did neither. Gundogan, the shiny thing, started, which meant that Pedri, footballing font of all that is good, was lolling about as some sort of second striker, even as it could be argued that the way Lewandowski played, maybe Pedri was the main striker? The midfield was a trio of associative players, and nobody did anything, even the almost 90m midfielder for whom next year is always the year.
Against a team such as Getafe you have to seize control of the match, move the ball quickly with close spaces between players, attack the wings where they are weak, to shift the defense. Oriol Romeu came closest to scoring a proper goal, lashing a shot just wide. Other than that and an almost visit by Own Goal, it was Barça stroking the ball around and getting kicked. As Pep Guardiola said, “Id you get kicked, you aren’t moving the ball fast enough.” Barça wasn’t playing with anything like the alacrity necessary to unsettle the remora that was Getafe as that team sucked the life out of everything good.
It wasn’t Bordalas’ fault that game went the way it did. That was his plan. No shame in the result, a bonus point on his team’s tally. Why would there be shame? The shame lies on the other side, from an expensive forward increasingly looking like a lump, to a Masia gem who is the darling of supporters for no demonstrable reason save the odd goal or two that makes everyone say “He’s still got it, just give it time.” Then you have the Dutch wonder, who if you’re holding your breath waiting for him to seize control of the midfield, I wouldn’t. And Raphinha, who stupidly went off the WWE script and got pranged for it, but not before meekly pushing the exact shot at the keeper that Dembele — yes, him — calmly stroked past a vastly better keeper in Thibault Courtois.
This year, those of us hoping that Xavi was going to evince something like a clue might have to wait for the next manager. The spaces between players are still too wide, the ball still moving too slowly as a consequence, because big spaces are easily jumped by defenders. Even when a player such as Kounde got the right idea and drove the ball forward, there was nobody to capitalize on it. Lewandowski was wrestling with Damian Suarez or having the ball clunk off his feet, and Pedri didn’t quite know what to do in his new and seemingly incompatible role.
It wasn’t until Pedri was allowed to do what he does that things began to happen, but the issue was still finishing. A team that wants to win football matches needs to either have some player or some tactic, preferably both, that will allow them to put the ball in the net. Xavi threw Lamine Yamal, thankfully whose testicles haven’t dropped so he couldn’t get kicked in the nuts, into the melee. The kid proceeded to act like a grownup, even lacing in a flawless pass for Ansu Fati, who promptly lashed it over the crossbar.
Xavi also brought on Abde then had him play on the left, where he and Balde proceeded to get in each other’s way, with both of them having an objective to attack the flank and get the ball to … who, exactly. Xavi just kept throwing on attackers like a kid playing PlayStation online, while Bordalas’ men just strolled from side to side, kicking whoever had the ball and falling over when necessary, to stop the clock.
Yes, the match was ugly, and violent. Exactly as advertised. The ref was dire, and lost control of proceedings in a way that would have him hanging his head if he was employed anywhere except La Liga, where officiating incompetence is the rule of the day. And people talk about him, and the penalty not given because of a handball that might or might not have been real. There was plenty of failure to go around, but on this night, the goat horns go to Xavi, who should have done better, should have known better.
Whether this is his make or break year remains to be seen. Maybe he gets lucky enough to have Atleti and RM crap the bed again, to have opponents finish like crap and 1-0 his way to another title. Doubtful, but there has to be hope. Meanwhile, he seems to have evinced zero capacity to learn. He had Raphinha trying to do what Dembele used to, even as the Brazilian is not that kind of player, neither as talented nor as dynamic. And the results were predictable.
The biggest failing of the night might be how mentally unprepared Xavi and his team were, which doesn’t bode well for the European chances of Barça. Go a goal down and collapse? They couldn’t even manage a bully who couldn’t score against an undefended net, yet almost did, late when it was 10v10 and the deficiencies of the Barça press (such as it was) and defense to stop a team from getting at its keeper reigned supreme. The only good thing about that Barça performance was Oriol Romeu, the player so many culers scoffed about not being good enough. He was better than Pedri, better than Gundogan, better than De Jong. He did his job, which is more than could be said for many a player on the Barça side of the pitch, right down to the manager.
And there you are, laying on the ground, crotch aflame, wondering why that person did exactly what they said they were going to do. You didn’t prepare, didn’t protect. And ultimately, that is on you.