After a harrowing end to the 2011/12 football season, FC Barcelona are keen to regain Spanish and European supremacy this season and establish themselves as arguably one of the best teams ever.
However, after a promising start, La Blaugrana have shown a dip in form and some early season concerns have appeared over the past few days.
TheHardTackle takes a look into 5 of the biggest early season concerns for Tito Vilanova and Co. that could possible demolish Barcelona’s chances of ‘regaining the supremacy’ they held for a few years and knocking the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid off the European and Spanish summit respectively.
1. Injuries and Drained out Spaniards
Last season, one of the prime reasons why Barcelona couldn’t compete on three fronts was the injury crisis that developed midway through the season and lasted long enough to shut down the club’s chances to have a strong in-depth team during the business end of the season.
Three gameweeks into the new season and Barcelona already have Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Isaac Cuenca and Thiago Alcantara on the sidelines. Added to that, one will have to see how players like Jordi Alba and Xavi Hernandez will be able to play week-in week-out, considering the two were heavily involved in their nation’s Euro 2012 campaign and there are chances that they could be severely drained out.
In all fairness, if the injuries continue to affect the team to such a large extent and the Spanish entourage of Barcelona is unable to play at its potential best due to fatigue or other fitness problems, the 2012/13 season, too, could end up in a mighty disaster for the Catalans.
2. The Defence
Tito Vilanova could regret his decision to not buy a centre back during the summer transfer window and instead, splurge £19m on defensive midfielder in the form of Alex Song.
Even though Song isn’t a poor signing, he was a luxury that Barcelona didn’t need. The reason is that the Catalans’ defence is currently in tatters. Carles Puyol is entering the twilight of his career, Gerard Pique is still struggling for form and Javier Mascherano often commits some silly mistakes that result in some adverse consequences for the team, the latest being the one against Real Madrid in the all-important Super Cup tie.
Added to that the full-back often leave Pique and Mascherano isolated at the back, thus making Barcelona easily vulnerable to counter-attacks. Keeping all these in mind, Barcelona should’ve bought a defender in the summer and if the club are to produce a good season, some changes to the defence are needed.
Tito could sign a player like Dede in winter transfer window, but due to the club’s financial problems, it looks highly that any new player could be afforded this season.
Hence, the only option left is to give Marc Bartra more first-team opportunities. The 21-year-old has heavily impressed for the club’s reserve team and he surely has the potential of a commanding centre-back who could possible ease the club’s defensive worries to at least some extent.
3. Real Madrid
Barcelona’s biggest worry right now is perhaps Real Madrid. The latter is currently one of the best teams in the world and their win in the second leg of the Super Cup clearly justifies the somewhat bold claim.
Los Blancos were at their devastating best during the game, defending well, exploiting Barcelona’s weaknesses and not allowing the likes of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta their magical game.
In other words, Jose Mourinho has finally found a way to end Barcelona’s much-acclaimed tiki-taka playing style. Against Barcelona, the ‘Special One’ often plays with a defensive-minded approach, looking to counter at every possible opportunity and putting pressure on Barcelona’s centre-backs and the error-prone Victor Valdez.
As a result, after years of humiliation, Real Madrid are finally starting to get the better of Barcelona. Their attack of Cristiano Ronaldo, Di Maria and Benzema has proved out to be too good for the Catalans’ defence. The patient deep defensive line has started to even get the better of Lionel Messi.
Adding to that, it’s not only Real Madrid’s performance against Barcelona, but also against other teams that could possibly threaten the Cules’ chances of reclaiming the Spanish title. Even though Mourinho and Co. have already dropped five points this term, they have consistently performed well against the same teams over the past ten months, that have often troubled Barcelona.
Even though how Madrid perform against other opponents is not in the hands of Barcelona, the least the latter can do is find loopholes in Mourinho’s tactics and exploit them in the upcoming fixtures.
4. Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez
With the chances of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez being drained out by the gruelling and taxing fixtures list, it is important that Cesc Fabregas plays at his very best for Barcelona and be the midfield maestro for the team in the possible absence of his two seniors.
After a fabulous start to his Barcelona career, the Spaniard’s form has substantially dropped and the 26-year-old is now hardly the player who forced Pep Guardiola to splurge out £35m for his services last summer. Yes, he might have been playing somewhat out-of-position, but Fabreagas’ overall game has shown a downturn and it is important the former Gunner star returns to top form sooner, rather than later.
Alongside with Cesc Fabregas, Pep Guardiola also signed Alexis Sanchez last summer for a fee of £37.5m. However, like his transfer counterpart, Sanchez, too has been a mediocre player for Barcelona until now. The Chilean has so far been unable to produce the dazzling plays for the team and lately many have even started to question the youngster starting most of Barcelona’s games.
Yes, injuries might have plagued his blossoming Barcelona career, but the 23-year-old still doesn’t seem as a player who fits into the tiki-taka playing style.
5. Lack of Support for Messi
So far, Barcelona have scored eight goals in La Liga. Out of them, Lionel Messi has scored four and Puyol, Pedro, Adriano and David Villa have scored the rest.
These stats clearly tell us the immense burden on Messi to produce the output in the final third for the team. Last season, the reason why Barcelona couldn’t breach the walls of stubborn defences was the non-availability of a true poacher on the final third. David Villa was injured and Alexis Sanchez and Pedro were not able produce consistent performances.
However, with the return of Villa this season and Pedro finally finding his feet, one could surely hope that the two will be able to take some pressure off Messi.
Written by Guest Author Surya Solanki