FC Barcelona: 5 Unsung Heroes Who Are as Indispensable as Lionel Messi
It is natural to shower praise on Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta for Barcelona's incredible results under Pep Guardiola. Everyone knows that they are irreplaceable players with unique skill sets and outstanding qualities.
What people sometimes forget is that these three magicians are supported by a cast of equally irreplaceable players whose roles in Barcelona are just as unique. It is easy to overlook the hard work that needs to be done to ensure that Barcelona play the way they do. Sometimes, a simple sideways pass is just as important as a 50-yard-through-ball that slices through six opposing players.
Here, we look at five players who are often overlooked in Pep Guardiola's team. They may not have panegyrics written for them, but they play extremely important roles without which the Barcelona system would not sustain itself. Here's to Barcelona's unsung heroes.
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Sergio Busquets is one of the most underrated footballers in the world. Most observers of football seem incapable of looking beyond his occasional theatrics when they dismiss him as just average.
The truth is that Busquets is an extremely intelligent player. Despite lacking a traditional defensive midfielder's strength and pace, Busquets is rarely caught with his pants down. This is mostly down to his positioning which is simply flawless. Busquets' knack for getting into the right positions coupled with his almost instinctive understanding of the tactical flow of the game means that he is usually the player to chalk up the most interceptions of opposition passes.
Along with his positioning, Busquets is also a very calm player in possession. This makes him an ideal distributor of the ball from positions deep within the Barcelona half. This video is the perfect showcase for Busquets' composed passing.
Without Busquets, Barcelona would find it extremely difficult to hold the possession figures of over 70 percent that they routinely display in matches. Without Busquets, they would leave all sorts of gaps in their defense when their wing backs bomb up and down the pitch. Without Busquets, Barcelona would not win the trophies that they have been winning.
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque showered the greatest praise on young Busquets when he said,"If I was a footballer, I would like to be like Busquets."
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The Zamora trophy is awarded to the goalkeeper who has the lowest goals conceded-to-games ratio in the Spanish League. Victor Valdes has won this trophy four times, with three consecutive wins in the last three years.
However, Valdes' wins are disregarded with the unconvincing argument that with the sort of possession that Barcelona keep in matches, it should be easy for any goalkeeper to play for them. The truth could not be more different.
Valdes possibly has the best ball control for any goalkeeper in the world. This is extremely crucial to Barcelona's tiki-taka style of play. Because Valdes is able to play the ball with his feet, Barcelona's defenders and midfielders look to avoid pressure by passing the ball all the way back to him. In turn, Valdes becomes the first man in attack for Barcelona because he is able to play intelligent passes to players around him.
Valdes is also an excellent shot-stopper. He is one of the toughest goalkeepers to beat in a one-on-one situation. This video shows his sweeping and his shot stopping in some big matches for Barcelona.
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Dani Alves is one of the main reasons this Barcelona side is as good as it is. He brings a set of unique talents to the table which no other right-back in the world is capable of.
The most common dismissal directed towards Alves is the classic,"Oh, but he cannot defend." Not true. Alves has, time after time, shown that he is capable of taking on the best attacking players in the world. He has shown, more times than one, that he is capable of subduing Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. He is also often found having to defend against two left-sided players, and comes out with flying colours on every occasion.
A common misconception in footballing circles is that Xavi and Andres Iniesta assist most of Lionel Messi's goals. This honour actually belongs to Alves. In 2010/11 he assisted more than 10 of Messi' goals, while Xavi and Iniesta assisted less than seven each. This season, he is third in the team's assist charts with 10 assists in all competitions so far.
Alves should be considered one of the automatic selections on the Barcelona team sheet whenever he is fit. There is no fullback in the world today that can slot into this Barcelona lineup and play the role that Alves does week in and week out. Alves' unique qualities show why Barcelona fought so hard to tie his contract up till 2015 last season.
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Over the past two months, there have been a lot of questions asked over Eric Abidal's contractual situation. Many people have said that Barcelona should sell him and recover whatever money they can instead of entering into protracted negotiations which could end up with him leaving on a free transfer.
When he finally signed a new contract tying him to the club till 2015, I must admit I almost screamed with joy.
The football market is severely devoid of quality left-backs. There are only a handful who can be considered truly world class. Abidal certainly belongs in this elite list. He has had a few shocking performances in the past, most notably against Chelsea in the 2009 Champions League semifinal. However, his confident performances since then have elevated his position among Barcelona fans.
The skill which Abidal has improved most is his dribbling and passing. He used to be a liability with the ball at his feet. Now he boasts a pass completion rate of 92 percent, comparable to the best midfielders in Barcelona.
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Javier Mascherano is, shockingly, considered a flop signing by many. People point to his inability to unseat Sergio Busquets from the starting XI as 'definitive proof' that he is not good enough for Barcelona.
The truth is that Mascherano is simply not suited to play as an orthodox defensive midfielder for Barcelona, and he was not purchased for that role. He has, in fact, proved to be a brilliant deputy for captain Carles Puyol at the heart of Barcelona's defense.
Mascherano's success in the center of Barcelona's defense is, in hindsight, rather obvious. He is, after all, very similar to Puyol himself. Both players are not incredibly tall but have a fair amount of pace. This means they can cover for the slower Gerard Pique when faced with a counter attack.
Both players also wear their hearts on their sleeves, but do not lose their heads when they dive into tackles. Puyol has shown excellent last ditch defensive quality in the past, notably against Real Madrid in the Camp Nou in 2009 when Barcelona won 1-0. Mascherano's moment of glory was the impeccable sliding tackle which dispossessed Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner as he looked set to score the goal that would send Barcelona out of the 2010/11 Champions League.
Without Mascherano, Barcelona would have found it extremely difficult to replace Puyol during his long term injury at the start of the current season. Since Puyol is still in delicate physical shape due to a set of surgeries on his knee, one can expect Mascherano to feature regularly in a similar role for Barcelona over the next few months.