Are Barcelona Back To Their Best?

The opening day of La Liga saw Real Madrid struggle in their match against Betis and left it late to secure a 2-1 victory. Whilst there is clearly still work for Carlo Ancelotti to do to get the team playing as he would like, their fierce rivals were also beginning the season under new management and they had a completely different experience.

6-0 up at half time against Levante, and displaying the free-flowing football not seen for some time, Lionel Messi and company were putting on a show for the home fans. And Gerardo Martino was content with the seventh goal added in the second half to round off a perfect league debut; a truly dominant display with signs that there is more yet to come.

 Although everyone would have expected a home win for the current champions, the manner with which they took their opponents apart was breath-taking and often resembled a playground match between men and boys. Time after time, the fans saw quick one-twos and short passes slice through the static Levante defence, and more often than not result in a goal. Everyone was playing with the freedom and enjoyment that hadn’t been seen since the first half of last season, before Tito Vilanova had to leave to receive treatment for cancer in New York.

Whilst the number of goals was highly impressive, it is fair to say that the defence was not tested and they will certainly come up against much tougher opposition in both the domestic and European competitions. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano formed the central defensive partnership in the opening match and there is still no sign of a new defender joining the club, despite the announcements from the president and board members that this is the main priority this summer. 

A failed attempt to lure Thiago Silva away from PSG meant that their attention turned towards Chelsea and David Luiz. Although the Sideshow Bob look-a-like was regularly criticised during the start of his career in England, he appears to have matured and developed into a more complete defender in recent years and is starting to receive the recognition he deserves. However, Jose Mourinho has stated that he will not sell the Brazilian international and considering the animosity between the Portuguese coach and the Catalan club, it seems like this avenue is well and truly a dead-end.

Barcelona have stated that the main difficulty they have is not in finding a good defender, but in finding a defender that also has the necessary attributes to be able to play out from the back with confidence and accept the philosophy that the club has. Mascherano is a decent alternative and has the quality to play in this position against most teams, but he doesn’t have the necessary pace or height to be able to cope against the biggest rivals. This was obvious last year when Barcelona were unable to exert their high pressing game on Bayern Munich and were taken apart by the speed and pace of Robben, Ribery and the German attack. When they try to defend deep and allow the opposition to come onto them they look vulnerable to crosses, whilst if they apply a high line but don’t press effectively then a decent pass behind the back line leaves Mascherano and Pique treading water against the fastest strikers in the game. 

One aspect that will have been noticed by managers across Europe in the drubbing of Levante was that the team returned to the aggressive hounding and incessant pressing last seen under Pep Guardiola’s management. Even the players themselves admitted that when Vilanova was absent they did little work in training on this tactic, much to their detriment. This certainly allows more freedom regarding the choice of defender, as they will often be watching the play ahead of them rather than chasing back towards their own goal under pressure from an opponent.

Who, then, should be considered for this role, and will they have to break the bank to sign him? The purchase of Neymar has already taken a considerable chunk out of the transfer budget and now that there are only a few weeks left before the window closes, will selling clubs raise their prices in the knowledge that clubs are slightly desperate to get their targets?

Not so long ago, Mats Hummels was being talked about to partner Pique and I still believe that the Borussia Dortmund stopper would be a good choice for them. Not only has he demonstrated his talent at the highest level with both club and country but he is also able to orchestrate play with an excellent range of passing and has the composure and calmness that Pique is renowned for.

Dortmund are certainly not a selling club, but they don’t possess the financial power of Bayern Munich and have to consider all offers on their individual merit. A £25m – £30m bid would probably be sufficient to take the 24-year-old to the Camp Nou and alleviate the pressure on what is often a makeshift defence. Martino will be desperate to add to his options in this area because an injury to Pique could spell disaster for them. The defence is the only weak point in the team and adding a world class central defender might just allow them to once again lift the Champions League.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *