FC Barcelona: Healthy Gerard Pique and Defensive Depth Could Be Like New Signing
We're about halfway through the international break and so far Barcelona have been able to avoid a major injury.
Their rivals, Real Madrid, have already lost both left-backs for at least a couple of matches while Sergio Ramos and Sami Khedira have also taken knocks.
Last season showed just how important staying healthy is. After the first Clasico last fall, Barcelona were leading Los Merengues in the league and looked to be on their way to retaining their league title before a series of injuries tore their season apart.
Remembering last season
The list of players lost for a significant amount of time is so long that it is almost laughable.
David Villa, Pedro, Ibrahim Afellay, Eric Abidal and Andreu Fontas all missed more than half the season. Carles Puyol, Alexis Sanchez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Isaac Cuenca and Thiago also missed significant time.
By season's end, only three players even started 30 or more matches—Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Victor Valdes.
To use Real Madrid as a comparison, imagine that last season Jose Mourinho had to play large portions of the season without Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Marcelo, Ozil and Angel di Maria.
How well would any team do with so many players unavailable?
Fast-forward to this season
So far this term, La Blaugrana have been lucky with injuries. They have lost their two best center-backs and their biggest defensive leaders, but have managed to overcome those losses with only one point dropped.
Now they have made it through the toughest part of their first half of the season and have a chance to get a long chain of wins before facing the likes of Atletico Madrid and Malaga in December.
If they can get back to full health, the chances of carrying that form through the end of the season are pretty high.
The broken rec...broken rec...broken record
Whether you read my articles regularly or are a fan of Xoel Cardenas, you know that Bleacher Report's Barcelona columnists have been clamoring for defensive help at the club for well over a year.
While almost every fan agrees at this point, we all also agree that the chances of Barcelona buying a top center-back in the January transfer window are rather small, despite the great need for a move.
While that could cost the team in the long run, there is one player who could keep Barça on top through May—Gerard Pique.
The center-back has not been at his elite best since the start of last season and has yet to show that he can maintain that form without Carles Puyol.
However, if he can just stay healthy and on the pitch, his partnership with Mascherano is good enough to win any and every title available.
If Barça can draw Real Madrid with Adriano in central defense, they can beat any team in the world with Pique there.
Pique is not the only player who could get Barça over the mid- to late-season hump. Thiago and Isaac Cuenca would also be immense if they can give TIto Vilanova more depth and tactical choices.
If Pique can stay fit, will Barcelona be strong enough defensively to win multiple titles?
Thiago is the most similar player to Xavi both in Barcelona and Spain. There is no player who has his discipline, control and vision in midfield. Alex Song has been incredibly helpful so far, but he is not the general that Thiago can be when in top form.
Isaac Cuenca also provides a unique option for Vilanova. The youngster does not have the pace of Cristian Tello or the boldness of Alexis Sanchez, but he is probably the smartest and most versatile player of the three.
His crossing, ability to outsmart defenders and vision make him an incredibly useful tool when trying to break down highly defensive teams.
Chances are that Barcelona will suffer a few more injuries before the season is over. In today's football, nearly every team has to manage key losses during the season.
Barcelona have already started losing important players this year, but are still doing well in all competitions despite that fact.
Getting Gerard Pique, Thiago and Isaac Cuenca back would provide incredible depth as the team tries to stay alive in three competitions.
Pique's health will be especially important as defense remains the greatest weakness at Camp Nou.
If Barça's No. 3 can stay on the pitch and prove that he is ready to become the new leader of this defense, any cries for a new defender could be silenced until the summer when the club will be more willing and able to bring in Puyol's replacement at a more fair price.
Whether or not Pique can do those things remains to be seen.
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