How will Barcelona save face?
There is always a risk that as you isolate yourself from the caricature arseholes you exaggerate the extent of their condition. It becomes a part of your condition that they are massive arseholes to be avoided at all costs. You turn into a twenty-something teenage recluse and a cliché in your own right. At that point, self-awareness is the saviour. Occasionally, integrate yourself into a group of Them – go downstairs whilst they’re pre-drinking – and discover and reaffirm that they are precisely the people you thought them to be, leaving you exactly right to be sitting alone in your room every night. Then you’re not a cliché, you’re just right.
With moral superiority trapped in your locker like that photograph of Laura Marling you stole, nothing can stop you. Except that you are alone in your room now. This is the dilemma. The more you go into the outside world, the more likely you are to take on the quality of an arsehole, but the more you sit fantasising about your upcoming relationship with Laura Marling, the less likely it is to happen between you and the folk-singing sensation. Moral superiority is limiting in the extreme. Laura, I’m in here!
This is where Pep Guardiola finds himself. Though his Laura Marling crush is pure speculation at this point, he has trapped himself in moral superiority corner. His Barcelona team finds itself (though not in an existential sense – arf!) five points adrift of Real Madrid in La Liga – as far away as at any point in the last three seasons. What it tells us is that, having fixed itself so firmly to the aesthetes’ bandwagon, The Barcelona Way which has won two Champions Leagues is becoming a burden. Passing teams into submission has started to look susceptible to its own inevitability. Barcelona are becoming predictable, but with a world’s worth of praise behind them, the options for change are limited to finding a Fabregas to replace a Xavi.
In each of their five draws and one league defeat this season they have had more possession than their opposition. There has been no drastic transformation: we are seeing steady decline, not a revolution gone wrong. Barcelona have not mustered up change, their opposition has simply had the time to learn how to be more adept at tackling their ninety-minute routines. However, the tactical nuances aren’t what are interesting; how Guardiola moves away even slightly from the stall he has set out in the last three years is the real one to watch. He has described his team’s approach as “brave” and his fans have suggested that he has created the greatest team of all time: what a “brave” move it will have to be to initiate a change, then.
Something must surely give, if only because of the competition. Jose Mourinho’s main trait as a coach is, to put it modestly, that he is a genius maverick enigma. Each aspect of that description, you’ll note, screams flexibility like a dominatrix. Mourinho has formed his niche as the baddie, but unlike Guardiola’s goodies, he has avoided attaching obligations to himself and his team. It means that some weeks Real Madrid keep sixty-five percent percentile percentage possession, whilst others, a Cristiano Ronaldo header at the end of a breakaway will do. If Mourinho sees that long balls will do it that week, theoretically, nothing stops him from asking his team to play them.
Barcelona and Guardiola have a notion of pride whilst Mourinho and Madrid have been known to look upon dignity with contempt. The latter is the position that wins league title tins. Ask Alex Ferguson: since his Manchester United stopped being any good, he has sold off anything that might constitute watchable football for wins. The alternative is Arsene Wenger’s chizzled-in-stone attachment to ideology, which saw him sitting alone on a bench this weekend as his Arsenal lost to Swansea City – another photograph for his rival’s mantelpieces.
Barcelona need to change. A repeat of the first half of the season will not have them lifting that naff trophy at the end of it. But how they go about it will have to be delicate in order to save face. We’ve had a whip around and come up with some suggestions for Guardiola on how he might transform his team.
Lie about it
Drop Fernando Llorente up front with Messi, but refuse to admit that you’ve done it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Fernando has been a crucial part of this team for nearly a decade and anyone who says differently is a liar or a fool.” This will not work to convince anyone, but if you cause enough of a scene, they may not ask you about it again.
Insist that Mourinho made you do it
“There is not a chance in hell that I, Pep Guardiola, of my own free will, would have chosen to buy Fernando Llorente. Mourinho made me do it. Have you tried saying no to that man? No, you have not, so you cannot judge me. I am just another pawn in that genius maverick enigma’s game, and I have only moderate shame in telling you that. He grasped my shoulder and I felt a warmth that was not of this world.”
Slip into Madrid’s kit
“That wasn’t my team.”
image from welloffside.com