Tito Vilanova: How Can He Make Barcelona His Own Next Season
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both showed up at Camp Nou back in October, both scoring a brace as Real Madrid and Barcelona took part in an exhilarating 2-2 draw—one of the season's most wonderful matches.
If it was once again notable for the brilliance of the world's two best players, it was also notable for one other reason: it represented Barca's only dropped points pre-Christmas.
Tito Vilanova had taken over Pep Guardiola's all-conquering side and made them better. At least that's what the results suggested.
The flew through 2012 winning 16 and drawing once; La Liga's best ever start. Before the winter break they had 49 points and the league all but won.
By the time the curtains came down on the campaign, they had reached 100 points. A landmark that marks their best ever season and the Primera Division's joint best—Madrid hit the same amount last season.
They were 15 points ahead of the second-placed side—another league high.
Vilanova, with the help of Jordi Roura, produced this despite spending the second half of the season fighting against illness, yet still Barcelona stand accused of somehow having not performed to what was expected of them this season.
So what can the 44-year-old do to make to La Blaugrana his own next season?
For so many years the Catalans have been associated with good football, with attacking football. Even if he continues to allow Messi to produce exceptionally high standards, even if he makes Neymar an instant hero, and even if he allows La Masia graduates Cristian Tello and Gerard Deulofeu to thrive, he'll still face the same argument:
"Anyone could manage that Barcelona side."
The truth is they couldn't. The truth also is that, while they remained unbeaten, they were starting to look different to Pep's Barca. They were more direct at times, scoring more goals, but conceding more too.
If he can stop the latter, he'll have made a start at shaping this side towards becoming "Tito's Barca."
He'll need to sign a center back, but the tools he currently has aren't makeshift. Gerard Pique can be a world-class defender, it's just about coaxing that ability out of him for the whole season. Jordi Alba has shown he can defend as well as he can bomb forward, while the competition between Martin Montoya and Dani Alves is teetering on getting interesting.
Then there's Adriano, Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano, plus any other La Masia graduates. Able tools indeed, but it's a defense just lacking one big signing.
The key for Tito to unlock his legacy will lie in locking out the oppositions' forwards next season.
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