So what’s different between last season and this season so far, apart from Alba and attitude? It’s not like the injury curse has let up. And we still suck at defending set pieces, though there might be a marginal improvement in taking them (mainly because Dani has been banned from coming anywhere near a stationary ball). Cesc’s hairstyle has shown no improvement whatsoever, except to get him detained at Russian airports for looking suspiciously like he snuck in along with the cargo (come on, we all know the passport issue was just a front). Pique’s beard comes and goes, and Puyol’s curls remain as immaculate as ever. Sanchez is still unable to shake off his personal battle with gravity that he inherited from Bojan. And no one has banned Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Busi from playing together in the interests of fair competition. Yet. But there are some stark differences that we really ought to highlight, just so we can gain more insight about the game we all love.
1. The sideline show
Who can forget Pep gesturing frantically from the sidelines, his gestures growing increasingly animated with the number of goals Barca is leading by? Or Pep thwarting Xavi’s attempts to drink water with a series of urgent instructions? Or Pep giving Cesc a friendly shove for joking about the mental anguish of seeing Barca send a hundred and twenty seven chances evenly distributed to goal posts and crossbar? A quiet, introspective Pep would have had us all worried sick and taken out half the fun in watching a Barca game.
Here’s a video of Tito coaching from the sidelines, on the other hand. Well, it’s not really a video but just a picture. Just imagine putting it in a loop for 90 minutes and you get the general idea. Where thousands of fans clutch their thumping chests with sweaty palms wondering if Barca can come out on top after yet another cliffhanger, Tito merely raises an eyebrow.
2. Messi’s Fixation with Even Numbers
According to barcastuff, these are Messi’s goals in Liga this season: 2 – 2 – 0 – 2 – 0 – 0 – 2 – 3 – 2 – 0 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 2. Notice any patterns? Except for that one odd occasion when he scored three and got a ribbing from his family (“where on earth are we going to put this match ball? Not in the nursery!!!”), Messi has safely stuck to two. He has, in fact, scored two goals in each of his last eight starts. These things tend to lend a bit of calm to the proceedings and can come in handy for any team in the world.
3. Adriano AKA Goal Scoring Machine
Adriano has been a revelation this season. A bit like finding a hundred dollar bill unexpectedly in your coat pocket. As he has grown in confidence this season and gotten better and better, so have his goal celebrations. Why is this relevant? Because no accomplished goal scorer likes not having his celebrations all sorted out and ready.
4. The Half Time Snack
Or something along those lines. You remember the script for too many games last season. Barca play well, lead by two goals going into HT. And then they eat their HT snack. And in the second half they somehow end up conceding two and the game ends in a 2-2 draw. It happened inevitably, so much so that 2-2 became one of the more popular scorelines with the team. Not one that Pep and Tito appreciated though.
It took a great amount of investigation from the same team that suggested that Jeffren’s injuries might have been caused by his hair gel, but the reason was finally discovered to be the half time snack.
Tito substituted that shortly after the Spanish Super Cup loss, and there has been no turning back hence.
For success and trophies that is, not half time biscuits, just to be clear. This Barca plays like it’s never lifted anything remotely shiny before which, you have to admit, is a huge achievement for a team that has won 14 shiny
pots, cups and pans trophies in the last four years. Maybe it’s the idea of having a newish coach. Or the lack of winning everything not nailed down last season. Or Arbeloa’s “I think this is our moment. I will say this phrase to Barcelona, ‘Your days of glory will soon come to an end'”. Whatever it is, it has spurred the team on to give it their all and win consistently. Till now. Talking of which…
6. The Importance of Hlebruary
We all remember the dreaded curse of course. Some years, Hlebruary starts by mid-Jan and extends well into April. Tito knows this well. Which is why he has initiated a pre-match ritual where the players stand around in a circle, look into each other’s eyes (unless you are Alexis Sanchez being pressed down by the weight of Geri Pique) and chant “Remember remember, there is still Hlebruary” (what? chants don’t always have to rhyme). Nothing inspires them more than this, we are told by our inside sources.