Why Gerard Pique Is Vital to Barcelona's Liga and Champions League Push

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IApril 13, 2015

Gerard Pique has been flying this season.
Gerard Pique has been flying this season.Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Gerard Pique is really beginning to show the form of seasons past once again and is proving a vital component in Barcelona's XI.

Before anyone decides to mull over his one mistake at Sevilla, spend some time looking at the amount of game-saving tackles Pique has made recently.

Those with very short memories surely can't have forgotten his contribution at Celta Vigo, one which surely went some way to the Catalans taking all three points at Balaidos. 

Or his magnificent man-of-the-match showing in El Clasico, as detailed by David Wood for the Daily Mail.

Why not dwell upon how he has become the commanding centre-back not many thought he could be.

Indeed, it doesn't seem too long ago that there were suggestions Pique couldn't play at anywhere near his optimum level if Carles Puyol wasn't alongside him.

Back in January, Alexandra Jonson of Inside Spanish Football was just one of those to voice an opinion on the subject:

Without Puyol by his side, Pique often lost focus on the pitch and became an unreliability for Barcelona.

...

For those looking close enough, it was clear that the youngster's dip came when Puyol wasn’t present.

The occasions when Pique looked like himself always coincided with the few games Puyol played.

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After being benched by Luis Enrique earlier in the campaign, Pique has been the mainstay in defence and a huge part in why this season's Barca let in the fewest goals over the first half of the season.

There isn't even a question as to Pique's place in the team now; he is one of the first names on Lucho's teamsheet.

The fight, if there is one, is for the other central-defensive position.

Pique has been fully committed to the Barca cause throughout this season.
Pique has been fully committed to the Barca cause throughout this season.Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Jeremy Mathieu, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra and now Thomas Vermaelen must all now earn the right to partner the elegant Catalan.

Mascherano has generally been the partner of choice, but Frenchman Mathieu has staked his claim recently, even if the pair haven't always got on, per French TV station France 2 (via Sport):

At first it was difficult because I noticed that he was a little reticent with me. 

After a few games we created a bit of feeling together, and now I think everything's going better.

According to Squawka, over the course of the 2014/15 campaign, only Lionel Messi and Neymar have fared better then Pique in overall performance terms.

His eight defensive actions is the most by any player in the team, and an 89 per cent pass-completion rate is right up among the best.

No one in the Barcelona side has made more defensive actions that Pique.
No one in the Barcelona side has made more defensive actions that Pique.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

It's also worth noting how much Pique's heading and positional sense has improved.

Perhaps the arrival of the equally commanding Mathieu has helped rid Barca of their Achilles heel of not being able to defend high balls or crosses into the box, but Pique has definitely played his part in this regard.

His head has also been put to good use at the opposite end of the pitch:

Not to mention his maturity on the pitch, which further indicates how much Pique has grown as a player.

Barca are, of course, right in the middle of their most important run of games to date, and Pique will need to call on all of his experience to ensure the Catalans come out of the next few games unscathed and therefore still alive on all fronts.

Suggestions of Pique becoming a future club captain wouldn't be too far wide of the mark if he continues in the same vein, and the responsibility, you feel, would sit well on his shoulders now.

Puyol certainly thinks so, recently saying on Twitter: "Great Gerard Pique, you're the best. Congratulations team. Let's keep going. Visca el Barca."

Yes, Gerard Pique has definitely found his mojo again, and he's ready to spearhead Barca's charge for domestic and European glory.