Why Tito Vilanova Should Trust in the Barcelona Youngsters
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With the title already in the bag for La Blaugrana and their visitors safe from relegation and no hope of getting into Europe, there was nothing but pride to play for on either side.
It was the perfect game, one might say, in which to rest the star names and give those squad players/La Masia graduates that have struggled to impose themselves over the course of the season a decent run out.
It was a chance to demonstrate strength in depth and for the management team to assess the balance of the squad as a whole. Moreover, it was a chance for a timely confidence boost as the summer transfer window approaches.
This could've and should've been a game in which Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova tinkered with formations, tactics and style.
That he felt compelled to stay with his "tried and trusted" lieutenants in a game so meaningless says much about his opinion of the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Marc Bartra, for instance.
In a season that has seen Xavi Hernandez already play over 50 games for club and country and with a national team friendly in New York just 10 days after the end of the season—not to mention the Confederations Cup—one wonders just what sort of logic Vilanova imbues his charges with.
The team is looking tired and out of sorts. Bayern Munich gave Barcelona a footballing lesson in the Champions League, and you could see how leggy a number of Blaugrana players were, especially during the second leg of the tie.
Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique have not had a proper summer holiday for nigh on three years now. One wonders what the longer term consequences of that are for this Barcelona side, especially given that next year is a World Cup year.
A hallmark of the Pep Guardiola era was that he was not afraid to always keep freshening things up in-game, to maintain sharpness for a full 90 minutes.
It's becoming more and more noticeable how little faith Vilanova places in the youngsters.
If Barcelona are to adequately assess if they do have a "Plan B" or not, then clearly the squad players, those of Barca's future, must be given minutes on the pitch in the present.
Gerard Deulofeu is a particular case in point. He's far too good for Barca B in the Liga Adelante, and despite his obvious potential, he has only featured for the first XI for 26 minutes this season in a convincing 5-0 win vs. Real Mallorca. Criminal.
Whilst Thiago finds himself in the unfortunate position, along with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, of being on the periphery of midfield, a more-than-acceptable 92 percent pass accuracy across the season should really have seen him considered for the entire game tonight.
Granted he has the somewhat immovable objects of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets barring his progress to some degree, but with those sorts of performance figures, and in a match such as this evening's, what on earth does the player need to do to force himself into the thoughts of the manager?
Martin Montoya was unlucky not to score and to also concede a late penalty tonight. But his general all-round play—whilst not in the class of Dani Alves—will allow the youngster to go away and ponder the aspects of his game that need to be improved.
Vilanova will be well advised to allow him to cement his understanding with the rest of the defence over the course of the final two La Liga matches, with an eye on a more regular berth and some much-needed squad rotation next season.
That Marc Bartra was again left out of the Barca back four tonight is a real kick in the teeth for the player.
When given the opportunity—as against Mallorca—Bartra responds with a willingness and desire to do well, and a hard work ethic, as evidence by the heat map below.
His passing accuracy of 88 percent has been as good in the Champions League as La Liga.
With Gerard Pique taking his eye off of the ball on more than one occasion this season, surely Vilanova can see the tangible double benefit of a fired-up, ready-to-prove-you-wrong Pique and a more confident and assured Bartra?
It would appear that Barcelona are no longer just "Messi dependent," and that could well spell danger for the future well-being of the production line at La Masia.
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