FC Barcelona continued their unbeaten domestic run with a hard-fought win against a side which avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth. A wonderful volley from Xavi Hernandez and an own goal by Borja Gomez, both in the dying moments of the match, ensured that the Catalans avoided a disappointing result on the fifth gameweek of La Liga.
Many a times, the defence was unorganized and vulnerable and the attack lacked potency in front of the goal. TheHardTackle analyses what Tito Vilanova could change in the team in order to form a more cohesive unit that won’t struggle regularly against ‘Mickey Mouse’ teams and help the them regain European and Spanish supremacy.
Play Cesc Fabregas in a deeper Role
When Cesc Fabregas was bought from Arsenal last summer, he was seen as the natural replacement for the ‘ageing’ Xavi Hernandez and many critics even expected the then 24-year-old to push his apparent predecessor to the Barcelona bench.
However, fast-forward 12 months and ironically, Cesc Fabregas is still struggling to fit into the Barcelona-system of play and Xavi Hernandez is still the heartbeat of Barcelona’s midfield. However, one of the prime reasons for Fabregas’ inability to produce the required goods has been Pep Guardiola’s and now Tito Vilanova’s tactic of playing the former Arsenal captain in an attacking role, alongside Lionel Messi and Alexis or Pedro. Frankly, even though his goal scoring record might have improved with this move, but Fabregas is not even moderately a good attacker. The Spain international’s finishing is sub-par, pace not quite ‘lightning fast’ and most importantly, he himself is not comfortable in playing in an attacking role. During his Arsenal stay, Fabregas was most effective, when used in a deep-lying or central midfield role. His passing and vision are one of the best in the game and playing as a forward doesn’t allow him to use two of his best qualities.
Ergo, Tito needs to shift Fabregas back in the midfield, probably alongside Xavi and Sergio Busquets, in order to get the best out of the lad. From a deeper role, Fabregas could easily orchestrate Barcelona’s plays, become the attacking hub of the team and truly establish himself as the ‘next Xavi Hernandez’.
Shift Lionel Messi back to the wings
A risky and an arguable point, however, for the benefit of the team and Messi himself, Tito needs to shift the Argentine back on the wings. The reason is quite plain and simple – even though playing as the centre forward has turned him into a more effective and the best player on the planet, it has also drastically increased the burden and workload on the 25-year-old. Due to his central position, almost all of Barcelona’s midfielders and attackers look for Messi to start any attack, play the key pass and subsequently even end the move. If he’s unable to do so, the entire team suffers. No one else is able to step up in Messi’s place and Barcelona virtually transform into a barren team with a vague attack.
The likes of Sanchez and Fabregas barely even try to create any useful plays on the wings and have arguably become Barcelona’s poorest performers over the past 12 months or so.
Thus, due to the inefficiency of his teammates and excess burden on his shoulders, it’ll be wise if Messi is given back the right winger role and either David Villa, Cristian Tello or even Gerard Deulofeu, is given the chance to lead the team’s attack.
This might just help the team in more than one way. First and foremost, shifting Messi to the right wing will provide the likes of Sanchez and Fabregas to improve upon their performances, contribute more to the team’s attack and finally justify their exorbitant price-tags.
Secondly, if Messi is shifted out to the right side, he won’t have the usual three-four defenders man-marking and running with and around him all the time and instead, he will only have to go head-to-head with one full-back. Even on his worst days, Messi is good enough to exploit any full-back in the game and even though he might not score the same number of goals from the wing as he does from his ‘false nine’ position, but he will surely make Barcelona’s attack more dynamic and possibly as good as that of Real Madrid’s.
Yes, Tello and Andres Iniesta, who is currently on the treatment table, might be two players who try to assist Messi in breaking down the opposition’s defences and allowing him to play freely in the advanced position with relatively less pressure, it’ll be interesting to see how the two will fare this season.
Tello still lacks the required composure and experience and is a little too one-dimensional; Iniesta, on the other hand, is coming off a taxing year of football and might not be able to last throughout the entire campaign without suffering more injuries.
Promote Marc Bartra and Gerard Deulofeu
As already mentioned, Barcelona lack forwards in their team and Gerard Deulofeu can solve this problem. The 18-year-old is considered as the best La Masia product after Lionel Messi and has the potential to break into Barcelona’s first team this season. The Spanish youngster is a typical ‘number nine’ – he possesses electrifying pace, great poaching abilities in front of the goal and can set up his teammates to score important goals.
This season, he’s already scored four goals for Barcelona B in just three games and certainly looks like a player, good enough to break into the senior team. However, even though Deulofeu’s promotion to the first team could put an end to Barcelona’s desperate search for a player to rival Lionel Messi’s goal-scoring exploits, it is highly unlikely that the club will actually take this step due to lack of experience and age.
On the other hand, promoting Marc Bartra is a must for Barcelona now. With Pique and Puyol injured, Barcelona have no healthy central defender in the team right now. Even though, Mascherano and Alex Song have formed a new defensive partnership for the time-being, however, both of them are, at times, prone to silly errors and mistakes which might cost the team dearly in the long run.
Bartra has been a consistent performer for the reserve team over the past two seasons and is now good enough to play for the first team. His tackling is fairly decent and he is a good header of the ball too. Moreover, he can pass the ball quite well. His displays during the pre-season showed his true potential and his promotion is a risk that Barcelona should definitely take – who knows, they might just get a long-term replacement for Carles Puyol, without spending a single dime in the transfer window.
The season has just started and there’s quite a long way to go right now. However, to avoid another disappointing season, Tito Vilanova needs to make some changes to the team and transform them into a more commanding unit.
The remedies might just sound risky, but one it’s a risk worth taking. With an 11-point lead over Real Madrid and the European season off with a win, Barcelona should aim to build on this momentum by ensuring that the youngsters are given the required playing time. Players like Fabregas are played in their best suitable positions and Messi is not the only threatening attacker in the team.
By Guest Author – Surya Solanki