FC Barcelona: Midseason Review and Grades
With the year coming to a close, every club will be taking a look at the factors that dominated the first half of their seasons. However, Barcelona has much more to look back on than the average club.
The season began in a very shaky fashion. La Blaugrana was hit by the injury bug, and the defense looked to be nearing panic mode. Thankfully, the defense was settled and now looks to be as strong as it has all season, while the entire squad is nearly 100 percent healthy.
Though history was made and trophies look to be a real possibility, there is much more to a season than mere results.
With roughly half of the 2012/2013 season gone, let us take a look at what the first half had in store for fans. After reviewing the season, we will also see midseason grades for each Barcelona player, and new coach Tito Vilanova.
Let’s begin, shall we?
History Was Made
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If there is one factor that was dominant in the first half of the season, it would be breaking records.
Barcelona broke, and continues to set, the record for the best start to a La Liga season (via fcbarcelona). This current side still remains undefeated in domestic play, only suffering a draw as their worst result thus far.
La Blaugrana has made history by securing an unbelievable 49 of 51 possible points. The historic start currently sees Barcelona sit nine points above second-place Atletico Madrid and an earth-shattering 16 points above rivals Real Madrid.
But the Catalan giants are not only finding success in Spain. La Blaugrana also won their Champions League group and are soaring through the Copa del Rey.
However, there was also one more record broken that deserves immense praise.
Lionel Messi finished 2012 with a total of 91 goals in all official competitions. The previous record of 85, set by Gerd Muller, was completely shattered as Messi laid claim to a feat that may never be broken (via ESPN).
With Barcelona and Lionel Messi playing phenomenal football, the first-= half was certainly entertaining. But let us not forget that the current success could also be a harbinger of what to expect in the second half of play.
Young Stars Stepped Up
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There is no denying that Barcelona hangs its hat on the famous La Masia youth academy. With the success of the youth program, every season allows fans to see young stars showcase their skill, and this season has been no different.
Martin Montoya treated fans to a display that suggested he was no ordinary 21-year-old. The Catalan right-back filled in for Dani Alves on multiple occasions and now looks set to make the position his own in the not-so-distant future.
Young Thiago also enjoyed a wonderful first half, though injuries made the start difficult. In recent games, the 21-year-old has made a case to earn a starting spot very soon and can already be considered the heir of Xavi.
Not to be out done, Cristian Tello may be the biggest surprise of the young season.
While the poor form of the wings has been the weakness of Barcelona, Cristiano Tello has been splendid. The young attacker could be considered the most consistent at his position, and the club sees a future for Tello, who recently signed a contract extension (via fcbarcelona).
The future also looks bright for young Marc Bartra, who has all the qualities to become the starting center-back soon. However, the tall defender needs much more time to be ready to take the position from an aging Carles Puyol.
Other young stars such as Gerard Deulofeu enjoyed decent playing time, and the second half of the season suggests even more minutes for the future stars.
Poor Form at the Wings
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Although the season has been a tremendous success for La Blaugrana, the wing play has been very disappointing.
David Villa fully recovered from his broken leg to start the season, but has not received enough time to make a solid comeback. His return did show promise with early-season goals, but lately the Spaniard has struggled to make an impact (via Goal).
Alexis Sanchez and Pedro have also failed to impress.
Both wingers have been promising in providing assists and tracking back to defend, yet the goal scoring has not been prevalent. Sanchez and Pedro are struggling to find the back of the net, and goals must come to support Messi.
However, young Cristian Tello has been a bright spot for Barcelona. His speed and dribbling has created difficulty for defenders as it adds another dimension to the system. Tello may soon become a starter for Barcelona.
The biggest move was moving Andres Iniesta to the left-wing.
The Spaniard has been arguably in the best form of his career while on the wing. Iniesta has become a threat to score and is creating a massive amount of chances.
This move also allowed for Cesc Fábregas to play alongside Xavi in the midfield, which has made the team even stronger.
While form can come and go, class never changes. Expect at least two of the struggling wingers to step up in the second half.
La Liga Is Almost Over
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With such a huge lead in La Liga, Barcelona may have already won the domestic trophy in just the first half of action.
In a recent article, I stated that Barcelona had in fact already won La Liga, and the premise remains true. Only a total collapse from La Blaugrana could lose the league at this point.
After surrendering the title to bitter rivals Real Madrid last year, it seems as though a new fire was lit under Barcelona.
This team is hungrier than ever, which has made for some dramatic wins.
Champions can always be characterized by winning games that they shouldn’t have. This is nowhere more prevalent than in the beginning of Barcelona’s season. Difficult wins against Sevilla and Valencia proved this team refuses to lose (via Goal).
As a whole, this Barcelona side is firing on all cylinders with no end in sight. La Liga could be wrapped up in a historic way if Barcelona continues this run. And it all started with a phenomenal first-half display.
The Treble Is a Real Possibility
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Winning La Liga would be huge for Barcelona this season, but to take home three trophies by May would arguably make this one of the greatest teams in history.
Luckily, the start to the current campaign has shown that La Blaugrana can win the treble.
We must all understand that just because Barcelona has what it takes doesn’t mean it will be easy.
La Liga may be the easiest trophy at this point. But the Copa del Rey may actually prove difficult as it appears Barcelona will have to face Real Madrid before the final (via Goal).
Any Clasico is always difficult. A draw with Real Madrid will certainly be the most difficult challenge in route to a repeat in the Copa del Rey.
Yet, it is of course the coveted Champions League that could prove the most elusive.
Along with Bayern Munich, Barcelona is heavily favored to take home Europe’s biggest trophy. But the road to Wembley will be very difficult.
Barcelona must remain healthy and in form to win the Champions League, as almost any team the Catalans face will be capable of pulling off a win.
Entering the New Year we know that Barcelona can win the treble, but will they win is completely different question.
Tito Vilanova Is Off to a Wonderful First Season
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When Pep Guardiola left the club this summer, his assistant Tito Vilanova was unanimously selected as his replacement (via fcbarcelona). And to this point, Vilanova has not let anyone down.
The new Barcelona manager has overseen the best start to a Barcelona and La Liga season. On top of earning strong results, the Catalan boss has proven to be a wonderful manager of his players.
Be it rotations or selecting the best lineup for a particular game, Tito Vilanova has shown the Barcelona faithful that he is more than capable of running a successful club.
Barcelona figurehead Johan Cruyff stated earlier in the season that the right time to judge Vilanova would be after things got difficult (via Goal). At the midpoint of the season, that time may have already come.
Vilanova certainly has had many different challenges to deal with. But he has maintained his team’s form and has been extremely successful as the new manager of Catalan club.
Though he has tweaked the system a little from the days of Pep Guardiola, Vilanova has remained true to the Barcelona way as everyone expected. More on Vilanova’s first season can be found here.
So Is Jordi Alba
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When Jordi Alba was purchased this summer, the move made total sense (via Goal). But little did Barcelona know just how well the left-back would turn out for the club.
La Blaugrana was in desperate need of a left-back entering the summer. Long-time starter Eric Abidal was recovering from a liver transplant and has just recently be cleared to play (via ESPN).
Jordi Alba was seen as the future for Barcelona as the club looked to reunite the player with his boyhood club and home.
Not many predicted that Alba would be one of the most outstanding players for Barcelona this season.
His defending has helped immensely, while his speed has given great cover when opponents seek to counter attack. But it is the attacking ability of Alba that has been the biggest addition.
The 23-year-old has been instrumental in linking up with Andres Iniesta and the wingers for Barcelona. He continues to create overlapping plays and has proven to be wonderful in playing balls into the box from the left flank.
Only time will tell what the legacy of Jordi Alba will look like. But for now, Alba is already a superstar in a Blaugrana shirt.
Grading the Players
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Victor Valdes: B-
Valdes has had a fairly decent season, not overly wonderful but also not bad. Big saves were made that won Barcelona games. But a few mistakes have cost Barcelona.
Jose Pinto: C
While Pinto has performed extraordinarily in the few games he has played, there has not been enough action to fully rate the goalkeeper. But the 37-year-old has made some remarkable stops this season.
Dani Alves: B-
Injuries have plagued the season of the Brazilian right-back. However in the stretch of games he has featured in, Alves has been stellar, especially lately.
Martin Montoya: B+
The 21-year-old has broken out in the many absences of Dani Alves. His defending is solid, and he has also contributed offensively. Montoya is the right-back of the future, maybe even the present.
Jordi Alba: A
Young Jordi Alba has fit right into the Barcelona system. His speed in defense has helped greatly, while his offensive ability is causing defenders headaches. He is quickly becoming one of the world’s best.
The Brazilian has done everything this season: left-back, right-back, center-back and scoring goals. Adriano is almost a super-sub at this point. Early-season mistakes were his only low points.
Marc Bartra: C
Bartra may very well be the center-back of the future. His season has been terrific for his young age. But he has not seen enough time to really see his current ability. He must mature to take over for Carles Puyol.
Marc Muniesa: N/A
Muniesa was perhaps a better player than Bartra entering the season. But a torn ACL has sidelined the center-back for the season (via Goal).
Carles Puyol: B
The Barcelona captain has been in wonderful form this season despite many injuries. However, his age is beginning to catch up to him.
Gerard Piqué: A
Coming off of a poor season, Piqué has turned everything around. The tall defender is playing extremely well and has been a wall in defense.
Javier Mascherano: C
The Argentine defender enjoyed a tremendous season as a center-back last year. But this season is beginning to show that it is not his natural position.
Eric Abidal: N/A
Abidal is just now making his return from a liver transplant which has had the Frenchman out of action since late last season.
Cesc Fabregas: B
The season began in a weird way for Fabregas as his playing time seemed sporadic. Yet the Catalan midfielder has now found his role at the club.
Young Thiago is almost ready to fulfill his role as the heir to Xavi. His decision-making and possession is outstanding as it is hard to find a weakness in the Spaniard.
Andres Iniesta: A
After moving to the left-wing, Iniesta is in the greatest form of his career. The Spaniard is a constant threat in front of goal as well as an assist machine.
Xavi continues to do what he does best. He is the brain of the midfield and has delivered wonderful passes all season. His age is not an issue yet, though his speed might be.
Jonathan Dos Santos: D
The Mexico international has received very few minutes this season. Sadly, the minutes Dos Santos has played have shown that he may not be up for an important role at Barcelona.
Sergio Busquests: A
The lanky defensive-midfielder may be the most important player for Barcelona. His ability to read the game influences the flow on the pitch, and the team often looks lost when he is not playing.
Alex Song: C-
Song was brought to fill multiple roles for La Blaugrana. However, he is being spread too thin. His physicality has been very important, but his decision making has been far off.
David Villa: C
After returning from his broken leg, Villa began the season in a wonderful way. Since then his form has disappeared, possibly due to a lack of playing time.
Alexis Sanchez: D+
The Chilean has been in awful form this season. Sanchez has been unable to score goals which is hurting his performance. He has given a few assists, but is overall lacking in many areas.
Even though Pedro is also struggling in front of goal, his playmaking has been wonderful. The assists he has given have been very important. But the goals must come soon.
Isaac Cuenca: N/A
The young winger has been out all season after knee surgery (via fcbarcelona). The second half of the season could prove vital for his future at the club.
Cristian Tello: B+
Cristian Tello may be the best pure winger at Barcelona to this point. His speed is wonderful and his ability to beat defenders has been great. But he is still a very raw talent at 21 years of age.
Lionel Messi: A+
There is no denying the ability of Lionel Messi. He continues to prove he is the best player in the world and is leading Barcelona to yet another terrific season.
Tito Vilanova: A
In his first season in charge of Barcelona, Tito Vilanova has done everything right. The manager deserves full praise he has led his team to a possible historic season full of trophies
What to Expect in the Second Half of the Season
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If the first half of the season proves anything, it is that the second half may be one for the record books.
Barcelona is on pace to win multiple trophies and could go down as one of the best of all time. Fans should expect continued success from the team as a whole.
Also, we should all expect something to be fixed with the wingers at Barcelona as well as more time given to young Marc Bartra. The biggest expectation, however, is that Messi will continue to make history.
Only time will tell what the future holds. But for La Blaugrana, the future looks very bright.
What do you think of Barcelona’s first-half of the season? What is going well and what should be fixed? Don’t forget to leave your comments and ideas below.
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