Barcelona undoubtedly have the greatest team at their current disposal in this decade. Their dream-like football as close at is possible to ‘Total Football’ that was inspired by the Dutch. The recent Ballon D’Or top three nominations all come from the Barcelona academy (Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi), a small recognition of the dominant nature of the Catalan giant in recent years. They blew away their closest rivals with finesse and ruthlessness 5-0, only serving to cement their invincibility. But their slip-up on Wednesday night in the Copa Del Rey against Athletic Bilbao, may have raised a few eyebrows in the football world.
Barcelona were fortunate to come away sharing the spoils, as they did little to suggest they were worthy of a draw let alone a win. Bilbao, who should be credited for their driven performance, ruffled Barca’s feathers, getting stuck in and pressing as early and quickly as possible. I have always said that Barcelona, for all their pretty football, would crumble under intense physical pressures created in the English game, with the best example being Stoke City, and their art of the long throw via Rory Delap. Although they did not crumble, it was evident that the likes of Messi, Pedro and other ‘lightweight’ players were constantly bombarded with challenges and hard tackles in a bid to destroy Barca’s rhythm and flow.
One performance does not illustrate much, and they did end up qualifying for the next round of the domestic cup, but a supposing seamless team appears to have a few missing links, that potentially Arsenal and other Spanish teams in the league can exploit. Dani Alves is suspect in defence, too far forward to really come back to defend, whilst Sergio Busquets seems to be the simple passing machine. The best thing to do to combat a team with a lot of possession, is to stay organised in your own half, not to get sucked into constant movement. Busquets, the lynchpin of the Barca team, keeps them ticking, which should mean that the centre forward drops back to confront him as early as possible, leaving no space for him to manoeuvre. Then when space does open up through the middle inadvertently when the two full backs push up down the flanks, the opposition central midfield has to try and get a quick shot in. They must understand that chances are very hard to come by, and could ultimately catch out a sleeping Valdes.
Busquests does not seem to impose his towering physical qualities, a shadow of Yaya Toure’s physical presence. Sergio, is more of the Barca prototype i.e the ability to have a wide range of passing, but lacks the powerhouse element in his game. If the striker is willing to drop deep to ensure that Busquets’s effect on the game is limited, then the supply to more creative players like Iniesta and Messi would be cut off.
Barcelona, for all their attractive football, are not infallible. Far from it. They lack someone with ruthless aggression and though many of you would point out mop-haired Carles Puyol, his lack of pace however, tends to give the speedsters of the game to bypass him with ease. However, this article should not be interpreted as saying that the likes of Stoke City and other physical sides could beat Barcelona. Those with the blend of power and technical quality like the Chelsea team a couple of years that gave them a run for their money, and more recently Mourinho’s Inter Milan are sides that have the capability to implement such a system, although still remaining with quality individuals. For me, my dream game for this year would see Barcelona at the Britannia, on a rainy and cold day, with Rory Delap unloading a few corkers of a throw-in and really showing what the English league is about. Power, skill and tenacity.
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