Well. Over the last week, we’ve been forced to swallow two bitter pills. And unless you’re among the most optimistic (or delusional) of us here, you should probably expect a third bitter pill on its way in a few days. So, after having won every pre-season match we played, facing off against eternal objects of disdain, Real Madrid and Barcelona, is serving as a bit of a reality check. News flash: They’re better than us.
To be honest, even in our string of pre-season wins there were some troubling signs. The moments of free-flowing, possession-dominating, high-pressing football were undoubtedly there. But they were also mixed in with stretches of looking like a half-drunk blob after you’d cut its head off and put it on the spin cycle in your dryer. Of course, that proverbial “head” cut more pointedly be referred to as Krychowiak, Banega, and Gameiro. Players who we all miss badly in their respective positions.
But should we despair? Is this season a loss? Are we all suddenly diving off the Sampaoli bandwagon. Let’s have just a little bit of perspective please.
The guys in this photo are not laughing at us. I guarantee that a lot of Barca players came away from the match and won’t forget just how unpleasant that first half was for them before Escudero got injured. They are well aware that possession was 50/50 at half. And I guarantee you they are not looking forward to a return to the RSP during the season. For stretches against both Real Madrid and in this first leg against Barcelona, we’ve looked damn good. We looked like a team that could steamroll lesser opposition and make the biggest teams in the world very uncomfortable and nervous. No, we didn’t get a result out of either of them, but look at our damn lineup! Who was even on this team a few months ago?
Vietto looked weak and useless, Kranevitter looked weak-er and useless-er. I share in a lot of peoples’ frustration that we brought these guy in on loan and don’t understand why Cristoforo wasn’t given more of a chance. But they’re here now, and its WAY too early to give up hope that these highly regarded players won’t be able to make large contributions by the end of the season.
Remember how we vilified N’zonzi calling him too slow, sloppy, and uncontrolled early last season? Well now we’re dreading what happens if Monaco swoop for him. Remember back when we were unconvinced by Vitolo and might have preferred hanging onto Jairo? Well, now we’re terrified someone will pay his 25 million Euro release clause before we can extend his contract. These were justified criticisms at the time. And they’re reasonable fears now. But they also remind us that we should have a little bit of equilibrium before we either crown ourselves champions or doom ourselves to relegation.
OK. My rant is over. Unfortunately, I had a tough time watching this game yesterday (internet problems) but got parts of it, reviewed the comments, and watched some highlights. And again, we looked pretty damn good the first half. Barca were fortunate to have held on to 0-0 going into the half. That we came unhinged only following Escudero’s really unfortunate injury says a lot. Even still we looked, at worst, on fairly even footing with Barca until their second goal.
I’ll just share a few of my own observations and those of others from the comments on the performances of some players:
Vitolo has been our best player so far. Mudo looks good as well. Mercado looked really good too (had he even practiced with this team?). Kiyotake still looks really impressive while Ganso didn’t look up to speed (again, he only just got back from injury). Also, Rico does need to learn how to distribute the ball better. He had some great saves but his distribution is an issue.
But more broadly, we missed our “head”. We had no one creating true clear cut chances like Banega. We had no one operating as our midfield destroyer like Krychowiak. And we had no charging at their defense with reckless abandon like Gameiro.
This team has a ways to go. It’s undoubtedly still a work in progress. But I’m more encouraged now than I was when the pre-season began. We are going to make mince meat out of the bottom half of the table. Deep breathes everyone. Deep breathes while watching the second leg against Barca in a few days. The games that matter start against Espanyol this weekend.