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Tito Vilanova’s FC Barcelona: Back to the drawing board

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Enough is enough. FC Barcelona’s performance against Deportivo La Coruña showcased two personalities, if you will. For the first half an hour FC Barcelona were ruthless and efficient, leading 3-0 by the 18th minute, courtesy of Jordi Alba (3’), Cristian Tello (8’) and Lionel Messi (18’). Normally one would assume any team with a three-goal cushion to conclude the match in convincing fashion, especially FC Barcelona. Then it all fell apart as Mr. Hyde began to show his nasty side. The match between Deportivo La Coruña and FC Barcelona ended in a 4:5 victory for the guests, with Lionel Messi once more producing moments of magic and dragging his team to yet another triumph.

Still, let’s put one illusion to rest, this is not the FC Barcelona side fans grew fond of over the last few years. This is the worst team since the Frank Rijkaard era. Ever since Frank Rijkaards’ side were force to form a guard of honor for 2007/08 La Liga champions-elect, Real Madrid, and humiliated at the Santiago Bernabeu, FC Barcelona went back to the drawing board, installed Pep Guardiola as manager and became one of the finest teams in history. To all fans of that particular side, that era is gone. It’s a rather surprising development since FC Barcelona president, Sandro Rosell, particularly appointed Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager, Tito Vilanova, to provide continuity for a project that was started under the previous board. Twelve games (in all competitions) into the new season and FC Barcelona have only managed to keep a clean sheet on three separate occasions: in Lisbon against Benfica (0:2); at home against Valencia (1:0) and Granada (2:0). Ignoring the Champions League matches, that’s just two clean sheets in La Liga.

The record thus far after eight rounds of La Liga: FC Barcelona have scored 24 goals and conceded 11. To provide context and put it into perspective, in 2008/09 the record stood at 105:35, in 2009/10 at 98:24, 2010/11 at 95:21, and finally in 2011/12 at 114:29. At present FC Barcelona concede 1,37 goals per game. In comparison, at their defensive worst, in 2008/09, Pep Guardiola’s side ‘just’ conceded 0,92 goals per game, while at their very best only allowed 0,55 goals per game (in 2010/11).

In fact, FC Barcelona has at least conceded two (2) goals in four of their last five La Liga fixtures, managing a clean sheet just once against lowly Granada CF. The absence of first-choice centre-back pairing of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique cannot be used to excuse these abysmal displays. Without trying to sound like a broken record – Carles Puyol’s injury woes were well-document and not entirely surprising while Alex Song is a defensive midfielder for crying out loud. To add insult to injury, FC Barcelona just recently loaned out Andreu Fontas, a natural centre-back, to La Liga rivals, RCD Mallorca. The reasoning behind the belated loan deal: Andreu Fontas is in dire need of match practice. Right. That’s the most logical and reasonable course of action – to loan out a natural centre-back and put all hopes in a defensive midfielder, Alex Song, who provides next to no stability at central defense. Genius.

Tito Vilanova has once again missed the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong and lay rest to the suggestion that FC Barcelona are overly reliant on Lionel Messi. The truth is, FC Barcelona are as dependent on Lionel Messi as any side in club football. Without Messi’s assists or goals, FC Barcelona would have only won three (3) matches in all competitions. The games were FC Barcelona did not rely on Lionel Messi’s genius to achieve victories were: FC Barcelona vs. Real Sociedad 5:1, discounting for La Pulga’s goals the final score would’ve read 3:1; FC Barcelona vs. Granada 2:0; Getafe vs. FC Barcelona (1:4) or (1:2) if Lionel Messi’s goals are discounted.

It is kind of worrisome when Sandro Rosell’s biggest concern is to extend Lionel Messi’s contract, which, funnily enough, doesn’t expire for another four (!) years when the real problem is closer to the 16 yard box. Two years ago, in the summer of 2010, Sandro Rosell arrived to much fanfare, even more promises, and implications that the previous board mismanaged the club. Hmm, mismanaging suggests that one does not properly take care of affairs that need to be taken care of. On one hand there’s one of the best paid athletes in football, if not all of sports, who still has an ongoing contract which doesn’t run out before the summer of 2016, and a hole as big as the Grand Canyon at the heart of FC Barcelona’s defense on the other. Apparently, extending Lionel Messi’s contract until the end of days has priority over signing a half-decent centre-back. How this is not falling under the banner of mismanagement is anyone’s guess.

Signing a proven centre-back must, and should be, the first thing on Tito Vilanova’s to-do list. While his decision not to buy a centre-back has not backfired yet, it nevertheless weakened a defense that already needed an overhaul when he inherited the squad from Pep Guardiola. FC Barcelona are not the all-conquering juggernaut of seasons past. And with the mantle of invincibility gone, so is the fear factor. During the Pep Guardiola-era a 3:0 was enough to break the oppositions’ spirit to mount another fight, let alone comeback. These days a 3:0 lead is not even a sufficient lead to ease the nerves of fans. Of course, sooner or later, both, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique will be available for selection again. But, the aura of superiority has vanished due to the negligence to buy a specialist defender. As the likes of Real Sociedad, Osasuna, Getafe and Deportivo La Coruña have proven – any team can score against FC Barcelona. In the past only very few teams managed to score one goal against the Blaugrana, this campaign four (five if the Champions League is included) sides have already scored at least a brace against FC Barcelona.

Tito Vilanova’s FC Barcelona is less the continuity of the Pep era than the marker of a rebuilding phase. And as it’s always the case with buildings, one starts with the fundament first. Judging by the looks of it, FC Barcelona’s fundament looks anything but rock solid.

¡Visca el Barça!”

Follow me on Twitter @JubeiKibagame

Comments (21)

  1. You must be Real Madrid fan, to write an article such as this. While it is good to keep a clean chit, lets not forget that all Barca’s first choice defence is out injured. Even if Barca had gone into the market and bought at Central defender, I don’t think that one person would have covered for Puyol, Pique, Abidal and Alves. Of course it would have made it better but would not have solved thec injury crisis. Its also important to note that Barcelona haven’t lost a match this season. And saying that Barca depends on Messi is just ridiculous, of course they have to depend on him that’s what he is paid to do you fool. Messi also depends on Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas etc. You mentioned about Messi’s assists, if you do homework properly you will find out that many of Messi’s goals were assisted by either Xavi, or Iniesta or Fabregas etc. So if you take all those goals out too, then Barca would have lost on many occasions. What I am trying to say to you is Barca is a team and everybody depends on everybody. Messi wouldnt Messi without Xavi and Co. Xavi the same. So why don’t you keep your opnion to yourself as you are not very good at gathering the facts. Its just a word of advice.

  2. Tito vilanova should get a full right.

  3. How did you figure out that I’m a Madrid fan in disguise? However, if I’m a Madrid fan and you a dedicated Barcelona supporter, how come it is you that is insulting me by labeling me a fool? I honestly hope you’re not representing the archetype of a Barcelona fan.

    You seem to confuse your personal opinion with ‘facts’. If I may offer you some assistance, the latter is supported by statistics and evidence. Are the statistics I have quoted not correct?

    Doesn’t it bother you that whenever Messi fails to score Barcelona’s game plan implodes in itself?

    His statistics are great, yet somehow last season turned out to be a relative failure. For instance, Messi failed to score against Chelsea and Barcelona didn’t progress to the Champions League final. Surprise! Just food for thought.

    Next time you take your time to comment, leave your emotions out of it. You give a very bad account of Barcelona fans. Nevertheless, thank you for feeding my ego.

  4. Barcelona have two major problems, one is the central defense another is the goalkeeper, right now, the team does not have any goalkeeper at all! Lack of defense and goalkeeper is creating a lot of pressure for the strikers and the midfielders, in many matches this season, the strikers and the midfielders will be scoring while any ball played to Barca’s goalpost will turn out to be a goal. Valdes is not qualify to be a goalkeeper in Barcelona not to talk of being a first choice. While i am talking this is because i am a Barcelona’s fan the situation is very very annoying. They should go as early as possible and look for at list reliable goalkeeper and defender, if they continue with Valdes on the goalpost he will going to denie them virtually all trophies this season, even if Puyol and Pique comes back, they are still going to have problem because of the dead keeper, when ever i am watching Barcelona play my mind is not always at rest. In fact, Barca is like a team playing without a goalkeeper.
    i wonder no one is dressing that very problem.

  5. With no ego involved, I will leave out the first and final lines of Comfi’s comment and say he is accurate to a word.
    I will also add that Barcelona’s attack this year has looked more creative, and involved more of the team, than last season’s and the bench is more reliable. Not comparing managers, much of that is down to those returning from injury.
    Every team in the world dreams of a brilliant left back. We hope to have Abi back, and now we also have Alba who is fantastic – and can score a few too, usually for us ;-). And Montoya did an excellent job with so little experience.
    I like Song. We could have used him at the “business end” of last season, and we will need him when the fixtures pile up again.
    No one denies that we need more cover in central defense, even Tito. We also know that Barca makes mistakes in the market unless they are sure the player fits in more ways than the position he plays.
    In the end, I can’t imagine many other teams who could lose their entire first team of defenders, keep their chins up as if nothing is amiss and graft another win to continue their unbeaten streak. This team is not just beautiful they are incredibly hard workers. The fans appreciate that, and any new player will have that expectation to live up to

  6. The beauty of an argument. Even accounting for the rather unfortunate series of injuries – it was always a question of when, not if, Carles Puyol gets sidelined by an injury.

    For the better part of two years he’s been in and out of the side, due to injury. Never because of sporting reasons.

    Isn’t it the job of a manager to calculate for such events? Furthermore, wouldn’t the acquisition of a centre-back freed up Javier Mascherano to do what he does best – being a defensive midfielder.

    Mind you that Mascherano is a, or used to be, a world-class defensive midfielder.

    Like Tito Vilanova said, Sergio Busquets isn’t going to be playing second fiddle to no one. So what’s the logic behind buying Alex Song?

    Can someone, anyone, explain the rationale behind his signing?

    If Barcelona’s defense is looking vulernable it’s because of their own undoing. I’m sorry but I will not join the “it’s-not-Tito’s-fault” choir.

    It’s ridiculous to assume that any of the available centre-backs available to Tito, Marc Bartra and until very recently, Andreu Fontas, would’ve done worse than Alex Song or whoever was asked to play in central defense.

    Except for one game out of the last five (!) Barcelona have at least conceded 2 goals against any opposition.

    You’d hardly expect that from, say,….any side that aims for the title.

    Barcelona’s policy in regards to centre-backs is hideous, absolutely laughable.

    To give you an analogy. When you notice that your car engine is not running as smoothly as it used to – do you go fix that engine or do you wait until it has completely broken down before you go see a mechanic?

  7. And if Tito had bought a center back and they failed to perform it would again be Tito’s fault. The man cant win. If they believed Fontas was up to the grade he’d be playing just like Montoya simple as that.

    At the end of the day all teams struggle when there first choice defenders are out of action. Man United suffered plenty problems in that department with Vidic out and Barca dont have a single one of there first choice back 4 that isnt injured; Alves, Puyol, Pique and Abidal. Barca have 4 players who make excellent centerbacks but unforftunatly only Mascherano is fit and able and he seems to perform his best by Puyol’s side.

    All i can say is yes Barca are struggling defensively but its still early doors and too early to judge Tito imo. With Villa back, Cesc and Pedro performing, the return of Alves, Puyol, Pique and Abidal on the horizon im looking forward to Barca having there best 11 avaliable again for the first time since Wembley.

    However doesnt matter what folk say theres no convincing some people.

  8. @DivineVisitor

    Eric Abidal was never realistically going to return in the remainder of 2012. Don’t you agree?

    Carles Puyol is, let’s face it, nearing the end of his career. Furthermore, he has spent the better part of the last two years in and out of the treatment room.

    So your argument is – Tito’s hand were tied because his preferred centre-back options are unavailable.

    One is quasi permanently injured these days and the other one has been recovering from a potentially life threatening operation.

    Therefore, wouldn’t it be logical to plan ahead and have contingency plans in place?

    I’m just saying, your argument is flawed.

  9. @Adi-Oula Sebastian

    And yours is perfect?

    All arguments tend to have their flaws. Song was purchased to be back up to Busquets, play CB when needed due to previous experience in that role and to add depth to the squad and lets face it he’s not performed too badly so far.

    The Depor game was a bit of a freak of nature really, a Penalty for a foul outside the box, a great free kick and two freak blunders by Valdes and Alba.

    Should Barca have purchased a CB? Yes they probably should have, and its something thats been being said since Marquez and Milito left the club during Pep’s reign.

    The back 4 don’t have alot of experience playing together, could be that there still gelling? Once upon a time Abidal was considered Barca’s weak spot until he managed to integrate and it took him a wee while.

    How many top class centre backs do most top teams usually have? Barca’s best 3 are returning from injury, perhaps it was the club’s decision to have faith in the players available and wait till Pique, Puyol and Abidal are fit again rather than purchasing another centre back. A gamble? Perhaps but Barca are coping thus far.

    There is also nothing to say anyone brought in would have performed better than those who have been given the minutes. Think back to Cáceres and Chigirinsky, their performances at the club were no better.

    Im not saying everything you’ve written is wrong but IMO you’re being far too critical, its too early to judge the team. Give them time. Have patience.

  10. @Adi-Oula Sebastian
    i agree with you that fc barcelona are in dire need of a cb.hell i was pissed off when they didnt go for thiago silva who i think would have been a perfect replacement for carlos puyol.but the rest of your article is utter trash.i am a huge fc barcelona fan since 2003.and i believe that the team has never been stronger.you are talking about argubly the greatest club side ever.and if barcelona are so bad how come they lead madrid by 8 points?manchester united couldnt cope without vidic last year and won nothing.thts just one defender.barca are without their first choice cbs and fbs.thts 4 first choice defenders out.i am rather proud of their showing in spite of not having anyone available.as for fontas if he was good enuff he wouldnt have been loaned out as no one gives young players a chance more than fcb and arsenal.so a team that has the greatest spanish striker of all time in david villa,the greatest spanish defender of all time in puyol and the greatest cm ever in the world in xavi and this is not even talking abt messi.and iniesta and fabregas who come after only xavi in the world in midfield ur arguments are baseless.yes fcb is at fault for not buying a cb but unbeaten in all competetive games this season shows how strong they are.top of the table in la liga and champions league both.give more credit where it is due.

  11. also xavi and iniesta only assited 12 goals for messi last season out of 73.go check it out.

  12. @DivineVisitor

    Eric Abidal is a defender by trade. Though it’s not that much of a stretch to assume that he needed less of an adaptation time than a midfielder, don’t you agree? At any rate, Abidal is blessed with one crucial gift that allows him to compensate for shortcomings in regards to positional play – pace. There aren’t that many players who can outrun Abidal.

  13. @Barcafan13

    arguments baseless? Please elaborate.

    The 8 points advantage are the direct result of Madrid’s weak start into the season. It’s not like Barcelona won 2 games and drew 1 against Madrid to accumulate that many points. It takes two to tango. Barcelona won their games, Madrid lost a couple. Hence, the advantage. No more, no less. Under ‘normal’ circumstances the advantage wouldn’t be as big as it is at present.

    Personally, I don’t expect Barcelona to maintain their 8-point cushion all season.

  14. @Barcafan13

    the fact that Xavi and Iniesta only assisted 12 of Messi’s 73 is actually very worrying. It supports the suspicion that Barcelona are indeed a one-man team.

  15. so basically we are criticising a team that is unbeaten this season? and as for messi being the playmaker of the team that is probably because hes the best player in the world so why wouldnt you centralise play around him ? and as messi said in his interview barcelona play to have fun and play the game it is suppose to be played and if this gets the victories and in a way that is so entertaining then who are we to judge the barcelona management and club? tbh real madrid arent a fantastic football team theyre just very organised and can grind out victories due to the vasts amounts of money spent without these tactics imported by mourinho they would have never had any success so does this mean real madrid are entirely reliant on ronaldo and mourinho the same way arsenal were reliant on van persie last season, people grow old clubs go on its the nature of football and sometimes having a little magician on the pitch is the way in which clubs get succesful so dont its better to embrace it rather than envy it just because you dont agree i mean after all tito manages the best team in the world you take photos in a toilet mirror ;)

  16. and as for the one man team why are the barcelona players so influential in the spanish national team “the best team in the world” to make the point barcelona are a one man team is pretty ignorant, i mean you could draw a case that messi can add more to the team but ronaldinho was the same but did he ahcieve anything after leaving iniesta xavi and c.o? or did barcelona grow from strength to strength, i get the feeling you wont agree with this comment as you seem a little stuck in your ways and addicted to your “stats” but if you put this point across to any professional football pundit they would just say your crazy.

  17. @Ben

    actually, that’s my bedroom. I’d like to know which toilet has a bed but okay.

    For the time being, yes the club is still unbeaten but the fact that Barcelona are leaking goals against ANY opposition is reason for concern.

    Ronaldinho is a strange case. He peaked early and continually degrade. Zlatan has won a title after he left Serie A.

    In direct comparision with previous seasons this Barcelona side is worse defensely. That’s something any pundit will agree upon…even if I take pictures in my bedroom.

  18. Agreed……barca must buy a reputed centerback….we cant rely on this defence to win any title…specially CL…nnd valdes isnt the valdes of 2 years back…looks like he lost all reflexes n shot readings..visca barca.

  19. out of form and still 100% record its not bad and yeah probably could do with bolstering the defence but they dont really play as natural centre backs anyway there more like dm players as they play so high up the pitch which is why song was bought as hes ready made for that posistion, the defence however is no worse than real madrids, a side based upon keeping clean sheets (mourinhos management style). Tbh i really dont care if they do the well score more than you attitude usually makes the matches more exciting as after all football is a game for entertainment, anyone who witnessed chelsea’s cl win last season must agree that was the worst football team to ever win the cl, it was like bolton wanderers under sam alladyce defend defend defend, long ball/set piece for goal.

  20. @Adi-Oula Sebastian
    i dnt understand.now barca is a one man team.messi is tht man.earlier you said he cannot do anything without xavi and iniesta.how can anyone critisize a team tht has the best record in europe this season?thts baseless

  21. @barcafan13

    where exactly have I written that Messi depends on Xavi and Iniesta?