FC Barcelona: 4 Ways They Will Use Their New 'Mr Fix-It' Alexandre Song
The 24-year-old admitted this week that he was happy at Arsenal, but an offer from the Catalan giants was too good to turn down.
"I would have stayed but when the Barcelona train comes in for you, you just can’t miss it."
Indeed, many players dream of wearing the famous blue and claret stripes of Barcelona, but few get the chance. Song will not be an automatic starter with Barca, however. He should start getting familiar with the comfy bench on offer at the Camp Nou.
The transfer came as a bit of a surprise for Barca fans expecting another addition to their sometimes shaky defence. Barca Manager Vilanova had, however, outlined his desire for a versatile player, and in Alexandre Song, he gets just that.
Speaking with BarcaTV, the Cameroonian explained:
“At Arsenal I played in the defensive midfielder and center back positions, and with my national team I sometimes have played right behind the forwards. I have no preference, I’ll gladly play in any position the manager tells me to.”
So how on earth does Tito Vilanova fit yet another midfielder into his squad of burgeoning talent?
A Backup for Sergio Busquets
Upon signing for the Blaugrana, the Cameroonian assured the press that he was not coming to Barcelona to replace Sergio Busquets, who he rightly describes as the "best in his position."
Busquets, however, cannot shoulder the responsibility of shielding Barca's defence on his own for a full season.
The Spanish international played 2,435 minutes last season, fewer than only Messi, Mascherano, Alves and keeper Victor Valdes [stats via Soccerway.com]. Indeed, the Catalans have struggled to play the same without Busquets, and his loss to injury would be a huge one.
In Alex Song, Barca have a player with the right qualities to fit in to the Busquets role nicely. Admittedly, he lacks discipline at times, but if there is one place he will learn it, it is in Barcelona. His passing, technique and defensive presence, however, cannot be questioned.
Few teams can boast a second choice defensive midfielder as good as the 24-year-old.
An Option at Centre-Back
It is pretty clear that Vilanova sees Song as a real option at centre-back.
The Cameroonian actually began his career at French club Bastia in this more defensive role, before being told his qualities were better suited to the defensive midfield position.
FC Barcelona, however, is a different kettle of fish, as we have already seen with the transition of Javier Mascherano.
The qualities required of defenders and midfielders in Barca's unique style of play are very different than those needed elsewhere.
For starters, comfort on the ball, speed and positional awareness are essential for a defender in Barca's high line. Song has all of these attributes. His experience in this position should help him adapt. His height will also be invaluable, as the Catalans have already been exposed by the aerial threat a few times this season.
Recently I argued Barcelona should have signed a real centre-back, and I stand by this, but Song should provide adequate cover as a fourth or fifth option.
An Impact Player
The old argument for Seydou Keita was that he was a player handy to have on the bench because he could come on late and 'close down' games with his hard work and physical presence.
The thing is, however, he never really did this. In fact, when the Malian entered the fray, the Blaugrana would often lose their grip on the game.
Perhaps I am being harsh on a loyal servant Guardiola once described as his "ethical and moral barometer". However, as outstanding as his morality might be, I am only interested in his football. Needless to say, I was a little bit chuffed when he left this season.
Alex Song has been described by some as Keita's replacement, but Song's qualities should prove much more useful off the bench. He is more adept in a defensive role, tackles well and his passing is far superior to the Malian's.
His passing also has a direct quality about it, quite different to the likes of Xavi and Thiago, for example. Last year we saw that Fabregas' incisive passing was a useful addition to the Barca midfield, and Song will hopefully bring more of it.
A Tactical Option
One element that quite clearly differentiates Song from Busquets is his willingness to get forward.
The Cameroonian is a far more mobile player who enjoys playing from box-to-box. Thus, do not be surprised to see the two play in tandem at times this season. Indeed, this could be the sort of formation we will see when Song comes into games from the bench.
With a few tactical experiments expected this season, a 4-2-3-1 could well be in the cards. Particularly if the Catalans find themselves needing to hold on to a lead with a more defensive approach.
This formation could also help to accommodate Cesc Fabregas, who struggled to adapt last season. A 4-2-3-1 would suit both former Arsenal men perfectly, with Cesc enjoying an attacking role behind the centre-forward, and Song taking up a running role out of defensive midfield.
By no means am I advocating a wholesale change, but tactical variations are important for a team like Barcelona. Former manager Pep Guardiola was wise to slightly innovate his team each season, so as to keep his opposition guessing.
One positive about Tito Vilanova's management so far has been reunifying the trio of Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta, whilst turning back to the tried and tested 4-3-3.
Still, there will be times this season when something different is necessary.
There is no doubt that Alexandre Song was, in part, purchased from Arsenal due to his versatility.
Not only can he fill in in a number of positions, but he also offers Tito Vilanova an interesting tactical option.
The Cameroonian could take part in tomorrow's Supercopa against Real Madrid, albeit from the bench. Indeed, this could be his very first trophy in professional football. His ambition, however, as he tells BarcaTV, is limitless.
Barca came into the season with a few problems to solve, and Vilanova will look to his new acquisition for answers. Thus, Alex Song is Barca's new 'Mr Fix-It'.
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