The Ongoing Dilemma of Barcelona’s Center-Back Situation

BarcelonaUpon Pep Guardiola’s appointment as Barcelona manager in 2008, the club embarked on a new challenge, and history was written in the four years that followed. Guardiola became the most decorated manager in the history of his beloved club, obliterating opponents week in week out, breaking records that stood for years, and playing a scintillating style of football that left spectators worldwide in awe.

At the end of the 2012-13 season Guardiola stepped down, and his trustworthy assistant Tito Vilanova was chosen to take charge of his dynasty. Lately, Tito had to unwillingly resign due to a cancer relapse, leaving behind a team made up of some of the most talented players in recent years. Between Guardiola and Tito, Barcelona’s football defined an era. Their style of play was labeled Tiki-Taka by some, and a modern version of “total football” by others. But regardless of the name, no one can argue against the fact that Barcelona managed to capture the hearts of cules all over the world.

In his four seasons in charge, Guardiola implemented a high pressure system that enabled his team to win the ball back in the opposition’s area, thus rendering the rival team’s attacking threat to a minimal level. In addition to that, Pep emphasized on having superior ball possession in order to limit and control the opponents’ influence. By doing so, his team managed to only concede 55, 39, 36, and 48 in the seasons between 2008-09 and 2011-12 respectively.

When Guardiola took his much-debated sabbatical, Rosell’s decision to appoint Vilanova stemmed from the thought of keeping the same philosophy going, and the majestically played football flowing, since Tito was his predecessor’s effective right hand man. It’s only normal to assume that he would have grasped every bit of his methods, but unfortunately, this did not seem to be the case.

Tito’s Barcelona managed to scandalously concede a sum of 66 goals in 60 games. This 1.1 goal/game rate is much larger the 0.88, 0.66, 0.60, and 0.75 rates achieved under Guardiola’s guidance, which simply implies that things have not been running as smoothly as they should be. A thorough analysis of some of Barcelona’s games shows that the previously implemented defensive strategies were completely missing as of late: no intense pressing, no versatility or effective ball possession.

The result was a team susceptible to counter attacks and dead ball situations. Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Mallorca, Malaga, Real Madrid, Deportivo, and PSG managed to score two or more goals against Barcelona, while Bayern completely demolished them, exposing a defense that has been suffering for too long. As a result, Tito and his sporting director Zubizareta promised club supporters a world-class center back to solve the team’s defensive shortcomings and deputize for the aging Carles Puyol. So what has happened since then?

Upon the conclusion of European competitions, transfer rumors started to surface, and almost every top defender was linked to Barcelona. Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen, Daniel Agger, Mattheus Doria, Inigo Martinez, Raphael Varane, Eliaquim Mangala, Mats Hummels, Jeremy Mathieu, Branislav Ivanovic, Adil Rami, and recently Santiago Vergini were some of the names associated with plugging the gap at Barcelona’s defense.

BarcelonaOf all the mentioned names, only few were realistic targets; players that have the capability to function in a not-so-easy Barcelona system and that are practically followed by the Catalan club. Thiago Silva was deemed “untransferable,” PSG’s president even went as far as threatening to hijack Lionel Messi if Barcelona continue to pursue his Brazilian defender.

Marquinhos was labeled an “interesting talent” by Zubizareta, but Barcelona was not given a chance to negotiate his transfer as he was snapped up by PSG. David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic were automatically retained and declared fundamental to team’s plan by Mourinho. Hummels was seen as a similar type of player to Pique. Where does this leave Barcelona in their hunt?

Before delving into names, the manager (now Gerardo Martino) will have to address the functionality of the team in terms of pressing, a more balanced structure, and turning possession into creativity and goals, as was the case under Guardiola’s management. Then the issue of who will be insignificant. Pep’s team managed to dominate several games with a makeshift defense, some of which were finals (Champions League to be particular), simply because the team functioned in a certain way that capitalizes on its qualities while covering up its deficiencies.

Last season in particular, Barcelona were susceptible to defensive exposure because they failed to come up with any new tactics, always playing the same way, and teams can sit down and work out exactly how they can prepare their team to beat them. Jupp Heynckes stated before the semi final game against this team that he knew exactly what each of the Barcelona players would do, and he worked out exactly how to neutralize the threat.

Mourinho also had the luxury of trial and error games to sort out his tactics. In the end, he sacrificed his midfield, crowded his defense, and left a couple of his very fast players upfront to inflict menace on Barcelona’s defense. Whomever the defender, be it Puyol, Pique, Mascherano or any other world class player that will be signed, if the team functionality is not set up in a way to protect the team’s defense, then the Catalan club will suffer like they did last season.

Now Fontas joined Celta Vigo, Abidal  and Muniesa were released, and Puyol is not getting any younger, so Barcelona have to sign a player to compete with Mascherano, Pique, and Bartra for a center back position. But what should be noted is that the issue of the name is not as important as the team strategy as a whole.

There is absolutely no need to splash the cash just to cover up administrative and technical blunders. Papers worldwide scramble daily to fill the pages, and while some stories are clearly garbage, others are based on some inside information, so Barcelona should avoid dipping in an inflated market just for the sake of spending. After all, Rosell claims that the sole focus of his board is to reduce the financial dampening that Laporta put his club in.

Written by Hassan Chakroun

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Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano: Multiple Injuries See Barca Play Youngsters

Barcelona vs Rayo VallecanoThe weekend has passed, and the historic Milan-Barca game still comes in mind. Although the spirits might be up and running for the team and their fans, it was only a matter of time till some bad news struck them. Barcelona captain Carles Puyol could be sidelined for up to a month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday. Xavi (hamstring) and Victor Valdes (suspension) also sit out Sunday’s clash, but youngster Marc Bartra is available after overcoming a knee problem.

Now, since we’ve covered the bad news, it’s time to highlight some of the good points. After an unbelievable comeback the Catalans put through, it showed the team could easily take on a top-flight team in Europe with very little tactical supervision. Barcelona upped their game defensively (quite literally if you look at how high their back-line was) and continued to apply masses amount of pressure. Physically, Barcelona showed initiative and good, clean tackles were made.

With Rayo’s game coming to place tonight and the several injuries that have struck yet again, the team needs to compromise and rotate with their formation. Both squads, having played out a goal-fest in previous times with Barcelona scoring a little under 13 goals in their last two visits to the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecan. Currently speaking, both won and lost twice in their last 5 domestic games, showing that Rayo is in terms of form, prove to be relatively fit; Starting with the Catalans:

Predicted Barcelona Starting XI

Pinto, Montoya, Pique, Bartra, Correia, Thiago, Song, Fabregas, Sanchez, Messi, Tello

Barcelona vs Rayo VallecanoBarcelona, having been 10 points clear at the top of the table, could afford a bit of rotations every now and then, and judging by the amount of center-backs they possess at the moment, it’s pretty safe to say that Bartra starting is a huge possibility. Tello and Sanchez should be a good defensive and offensive duo that act as pillars for the flanks, both pacy and both relatively on form, especially with the Chilean scoring and assisting twice during his last two previous games.

Barcelona’s midfield will probably be looking for some Thiago and Cesc action, and Alex song to probably start off the game instead of the over-played Busquets, giving a good sense of rotation and somewhat assures it will definitely be a free-flowing game. As for the back-line, it will be interesting to see how it forms. Personally speaking, I would like to see some youngsters start. Montoya is defensively brilliant and hasn’t gotten much playing time recently, so it would be a good time to rest Dani Alves. Marc Bartra is to form a partnership in the heart of the defense alongside  Pique.

Predicted Rayo Vallecano Starting XI

Ruben, Tito, Galvez, Amat, Arbilla, Trashorras, Adrian, Bangoura, Dominguez, Piti, Delibasic

Rayo might on paper approach the game with a (4-2-3-1), but will definitely play a different formation when off the ball. Most likely a (5-4-1) in attempt to tighten up the spaces between the midfield and back-line, plus stall Barcelona from attacking the flanks, especially with Dani Alves and Alba probably missing out on the game, it will be interesting to see how the Rayo players presume throughout the full 90 minutes within very compact spaces.

Individually speaking, Rayo have their mad-men as well, Piti being the name. The winger has scored 11 goals in the league already and masters many positions. His flexibility will come in handy against a team as dominant as Barcelona. Tactically speaking, Rayo probably won’t start up the build-ups to their attacks via the midfield, they will try to blast those over-head kicks as much as possible and it’s Piti’s job to receive them, control the ball for a while, and wait for his players to go all out.


Rayo is no easy side, but judging by current forms and by taking the mental attributes into consideration, Barcelona will be out for a win from the start, and the youngsters will be out to prove their worth. I see the game kicking off to a tight start but once both teams get the hang of the playing field, 2-3 goals should be scored. Now, my predictions are rarely ever true, but I’ll go with an unusual one this time.

Prediction: Barcelona 3-0 Rayo Vallecano

Written by Hasan Al