FC Barcelona have come a long way since being humiliated by Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu two years ago. A lot has changed since Carles Puyol & Co. had to form a guard of honor for their most fierce rivals.
Frank Rijkaard, the manager who guided FC Barcelona out of their misery was replaced by Blaugrana legend and La Masia poster boy Josep “Pep” Guardiola.
Further, Ronaldinho, whose form took a nosedive after a disastrous World Cup, was shipped off to AC Milan. It’s widely accepted that Ronaldiho had to go; he had become somewhat of a liability to the dressing room of FC Barcelona.
In his very first season as head coach of FC Barcelona Pep Guardiola managed to achieve a near impossible feat, winning every competition they contested in. A feat even more special when you consider that (almost) the same team finished 18 points behind Real Madrid in the season prior.
Pep succeeded where Rijkaard failed, man-management. He also perfected Barca’s already stylish brand of total football and brought out the best of Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi. In short, he succeeded on all fronts.
The icing on the cake were the successful promotions of La Masia youngsters Sergi Busquets and Pedro Ledesma Rodriguez.
The King of Catalunya
It’s safe to say that after his superhuman feats in the 2008/2009 season Pep Guardiola became the unofficial King of Catalunya. He had the football world at its feet and could do no wrong in the eyes of Culés around the world.
As a reflection of his newfound status amongst the world’s finest managers Pep was given, more or less, absolute freedom in his dealings. His very first decision was to off-load FC Barcelona’s then all-time third highest scorer Samuel Eto’o and 49.000.000€ to Inter Milan (there’s something about the city of Milan that attracts Barca legends) for big-game bottler Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The reason for doing so? A remote feeling.
Pep’s misuse of power didn’t end there, it merely just begun. He always felt that it was essential to buy Dymytro Chygynskiy, a player who was cup-tied for the Champions League, for the lump sum of 25.000.000€.
Reason? He was seen by Pep as the long-term replacement for Carles Puyol.
Where are they now? Not in Catalunya.
What mark did they left on FC Barcelona? Debt, a whole lot of debt.
There’s a fine line between genius and madness
Even his worst critics will concede that Pep Guardiola is a fine tactician who deserves to be mentioned alongside the world’s elite. But the same squad that conquered the football world in 2009 looks like a shadow of its former, imperious self.
The football world assumed that when FC Barcelona finally managed to prise David Villa away from the Mestella the Blaugrana had an unstoppable attacking force similar to the attack of 2008/2009.
Though David Villa is much more suited (he’s perfect) to Barca’s way of playing than Ibrahimovic was, he is totally wasted on the left-wing. Pep Guardiola bought the arguably best centre-forward of the world only to waste him on the left-side of the attack.
Question: Why does David Villa, the most consistent goal-scorer in La Liga for the past 5 years have to play on the left-wing?
Answer: Lionel Messi
In Pep’s new tactical set-up Messi plays as a withdrawn striker with Villa and Pedro on the flanks.
Now why would you pay 40.000.000€ on a striker just to convert him into a winger? So far David Villa has not entirely disappointed but not convinced either. He has a meager two goals in La Liga to his name whereas Zlatan Ibrahimovic had five at the same time last year.
It’s not David Villa’s fault he doesn’t score as much as he is used to, it’s Pep’s. Though we all want Messi to shine we don’t want him to do it at FC Barcelona’s expense. This new scheme only benefits Messi’s talents and restricts Villa’s or even Bojan’s skills.
Maybe Lionel Messi is not reaching a 100 percent when restricted to the right-wing but even a Messi at 80 percent is too much for any defense. In return, playing David Villa as a CF would enable him to play closer to his potential (since he is not remotely as talented as Messi). Villa on the left-wing is by no means the worst option but the El Guaje is a certified goal-machine.
Why has David Villa to accommodate Messi when the latter is the best in his position (the right-wing) while he is an above average left-winger at best. What makes this scheme even weirder is that David Villa may very well be the best in his.
Where in previous seasons Busquets and Pedro emerged from La Masia, this season has yet to see a youngster bursting into the team.
In Xavi’s absence due to injury Seydou Keita was given the nod ahead of more creative players such as Thiago Alcantara or Jonathan dos Santos. Now, the Malian is a hard-worker but not the most creative player in Barca’s ranks.
Sure, there isn’t a like-for-like replacement for Xavi but when you have creative players why do you opt for a worker instead of a more creative player?
When the canteranos can’t get a game against the likes of RCD Mallorca or Sporting Gijon, when are they going to get precious game-time?
Taking a risk at this stage of the season is much more feasible than at a later point. It was Pep who decided not to make any more signings because of La Masia’s youth players.
On Sunday Bojan’s performance against RCD Mallorca was abysmal but you can hardly blame the youngster.
Like David Villa, young Bojan is too anxious to get on the score sheet to the point that he fired shots from all over the pitch. His behavior can attributed to the fact that he wants to make the most of his limited game-time.
In defense of Bojan it also must be noted that he was deployed as, you have guessed it, left-winger. Had Bojan played as a centre-forward his countless attempts on goals would have been welcomed as it is very much the job-description but Pep is hell-bent on maximizing Messi’s potential.
Temporary loss of sanity or permanent damage?
In conclusion must be said that even though Pep gets the best out of Messi he is failing to get the maximum out of his squad. What’s more worrisome is the squad at his disposal is one of the finest in world football but without Messi they look awfully average.
Xavi and Iniesta are the best midfield pairing in the world, David Villa is the best centre-forward but without Messi this year’s Barcelona are looking short on ideas and harmless up front.
How can a squad that boast two, three or four of the top ten players in the world look so uninspired when just one of them isn’t around?