In a space of just five days, the football world has been treated to two mouth-watering El Clasico encounters. Tuesday’s Copa del Rey semi final at Nou Camp proved that with the current squad, the Catalans will find it an uphill task beating Galaticos ever again.
No doubt, Barcelona play the best football in the world but they face a very big challenge that I don’t see their coaches and management putting emphasis on. They have become very predictable in their style of play.
Assistant coach Jordi Roura, who is standing in for the ailing Tito Vilanova, was left with no option seeing his stars succeed at keeping the ball (much more) than their Madrid archrivals but could not stop Portuguese playmaker Cristiano Ronaldo finding the net twice in either half.
In the last couple of La Liga matches, Barca have struggled to win, especially away from home.
I have my reservations why Barca, despite the awash of talent and class at their disposal, the consistence of the club’s performance is in jeopardy.
Barca have an edge over competitors in Europe in that most of its influential players hail from Le Messiah (the club’s academy); meaning they understand each other quite well and play the same kind of football.
Passing square and fighting hard to keep the ball is a wonderful idea, for it neutralises the opponent completely. It has indeed worked for Barca for a number of seasons now.
Teams have learnt that Barca’s back four is fragile—with ageing Puyol, attack-minded and ever wandering Dani Alves and Alba, sluggish Gerald Pique.
In beating Barca, opponents have learnt that much as they keep the ball for so long, they eventually lose it and there are lots of gaps at the back to exploit. Ronaldo had a party on the Copa del Rey Nou Camp tie because there was always space to run into on both flanks.
Wisely, Mourinho deploys his tactics of parking the bus, try as much as he can to close down spaces from his own half—patiently waiting to win it, then outpace flatfooted and chasing Barca’s back four.
That’s what exactly happened on the counter-attack at Nou Camp that saw Pique bring down Ronaldo in the box for the penalty that resulted into the first goal.
At this moment, Alves was at the centre line. The entire back four keep a highline and reserve no gas to race with pacing CR7, Di Maria and Huguain.
Two, the body language of Barca players has a big story to share. Lionel Messi is tired. The number of games he plays for Barca no other player plays them in the entire La Liga season. Vilanova forgets that Messi too is a human being who naturally needs rest.
Messi is such an influential player but the Catalan side ought to learn how to deliver without him. At his age, he feels everything is alright but sometimes if the body responds well, the mind doesn’t yet good form in the game of football requires a right balance between the body and mind.
Long unbeaten run is also at times risky as it creates complacency. In situations where the team gets checked like it happened in the Copa del Rey return leg, players tend to switch-off immediately.
The spirit of fighting back is not part of Barca stars. They are so used to leading and winning. El Clasico is both physical and mind game.
Barca felt unfairly treated when a penalty awarded to CR7 was not leveled-up with another to Pedro or Messi despite of the numerous hard tackles in dangerous positions.
Physically, they seemed deflated with Ref’s decisions. Mourinho’s stars just capitalised on that to exploit the laxity that eventually emerged in all areas of the Barca side.
There is a saying that “Over analysis leads to Paralysis”. The Barca style of playing square balls and failure to move the ball fast enough to allow strikers make sleek movements behind the opponents’ back four hinders their efficiency.
This used to be Pep Gardiola’s major challenge at Barca. He knew how to go about it….he could keep on the touchline and shout to his players all through the match no matter whether they’re winning or trailing.
Mzee Jordi Roura could not do this. Even Tito Vilanova lacks the aggressive touch that Pep used to bring to the side.
Barca need to do three things; learn to rest (or rotate) its stars, as a matter of priority buy a defender to replace ageing Puyol and immediately find a new captain of his character and zeal, and harass players to move the ball faster–minimize playing square balls to reignite its direct players like Messi, David Villa, Christian Tello and Alexis Sanchez etc.