Whether or not Barcelona is in need of a defender is a debate that has been going on for some time now.
On one side, there are those who call for a defensive specialist to be brought in, preferably one of a high caliber, who can fill in for Carles Puyol during his increasingly lengthy absences.
On the other side, folks will point out that the replacements, defensive midfielders such as Javier Mascherano, have done a decent enough job at the back, and when the likes of Puyol, Eric Abidal, etc. return, the club's defensive worries will disappear.
While this second train of thought isn't overly optimistic, seeing as the Barca back line can be quite sturdy when fully fit and on form, it is still too reliant on the "what if" of form and fitness of the club's top two central defenders.
The fact that Barcelona has given up 18 goals in 13 games is very much down to the use of defensive midfielders in the center of defense, and Barcelona's offensive weapons, potent as they are, can only keep digging the team out of holes for so long.
Tito Vilanova had three options heading into this season in terms of his defensive situation just as Pep Guardiola did before him during the later part of his reign.
The first option, a fixture of the Guardiola era, was to continue with defensive midfielders in central defense. The second option was to buy a defender of a solid enough caliber who would not mind playing second fiddle to Puyol and Gerard Pique. The third option was to use the youngsters.
Vilanova has obviously continued Guardiola's preference for defensive midfielders in central defense and even took it a step further when he used Adriano, a winger, in central defense against Real Madrid.
That Barcelona tied that game 2-2 means Vilanova was almost vindicated in his selection. Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal could have been avoided, though, if Adriano had the awareness to step up and catch the Portuguese attacker offside.
When Barcelona bought Alex Song instead of a central defender, it showed the club's stubborn side and questionable transfer policies. A suitable defender could have been bought for the presumed €15 million or less, but Barcelona had even more cost-effective options already at the club.
Using young defenders would be much better for the Blaugrana in the long run, even if they suffer a few pitfalls along the way.
Marc Bartra's performance against Celtic is proof that the youngsters at the club should be given more opportunities to prove their worth. Though he may not have been tested too often considering the pattern of the game, Bartra put in a solid performance.
Statistics on WhoScored.com indicate that he led the team in interceptions as well as effective clearances and was second in tackles. All those numbers were better than his partner, Javier Mascherano.
It is interesting that Barca has no problem promoting youth attackers but has been very hesitant with defenders. The performances of the defensive midfielders, though admirable at times, are almost akin to that of an inexperienced young defender.
Barcelona's style of play is actually much more demanding on the young attackers than the defenders. The young attackers have to click with the likes of Lionel Messi and either score or create goals against packed defenses.
The defenders are usually spectators, and in their one or two moments of work, with either Puyol or Pique beside them, they should be able to do the job. Playing against Liga Adelante sides for a number of seasons is not a good enough learning experience for the young defenders.
So why not give these defenders the proper experience and judge whether they really are good enough instead of having them sit on the bench year after year or sending them packing on loan as was recently the case with Andreu Fontas (via ESPN Soccernet)?
Fontas may have been deemed not good enough, but he could have been given more than his 16 games in three years to prove himself fully. Hopefully the same does not happen for his fellow young colleagues.
Martin Montoya has been effective enough when called upon but is only ever used when Dani Alves is injured. Marc Muniesa has been unfortunate with injury, and hopefully when he recovers, he continues to display his potential.
Bartra seems to be in the best position of the three at the moment. With Pique on the way back from injury, he would have the benefit of another specialist beside him to help him progress even further as the season goes on. That is, assuming Vilanova continues to use him.
If you look back at Pique's rise to prominence with Barcelona, it brings even more questions as to why the younger defenders aren't given their chance.
While Pique may have been a more talented player than Bartra at the age of 21, he was thrust right into the Barcelona side upon his return to the club in 2008 and played a significant role in that memorable treble-winning season.
Shouldn't Bartra and others be afforded the same sort of opportunity, considering the constant injuries? Pique fought off Rafael Marquez, Martin Caceres and even a younger Abidal, who is capable of filling in the center.
All Bartra has in front of him, in terms of a specialist defender, are Pique and the aging Puyol.
No team should bank on the form of its attack to continue as it has so far. Injuries or lack of form could derail the team's attack just like the defense and leave the club in a pickle.
Barcelona also shouldn't bank on the magical return to form and full fitness of its two key central defenders. Pique is young and will recover, but Puyol is definitely on his last legs.
The two may not play too many games together for the remainder of the season. At the very least, Vilanova should rotate between Bartra and Mascherano to partner Pique and whoever performs the better plays in the big games.
Barcelona's defensive ineptitude makes for a thrilling game for neutrals but isn't good for the club as it searches for silverware.
Vilanova has had various routes to go when choosing his defensive lineup, and it's time for him to scrap the use of a defensive midfielder in defense unless absolutely necessary.
Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya provide two good options, and had he been used more often, maybe Fontas would have as well.
As it stands, Barcelona is still the best team around. Its record so far this season proves that.
In the long run, it needs to start producing world-class defenders like it has with attackers and midfielders. The only way Barcelona can do that is by giving them some experience.
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