Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Time for change at Barcelona

It's time to stop the ticky tacky passing and possession play and adapt to the way that soccer is being played now by teams much younger and much quicker than them. Barcelona's two recent defeats to AC Milan and Real Madrid have left many to wonder what is happening right now to Barcelona? Why are they in a slump?

The brilliance of Barcelona is hard to question. How can you argue with a team that has won 15 titles in the past 5 years. Barcelona has always been a team that is about possession and build up play. They frustrate opponents by keeping the ball with quick, crisp passing and by letting their superb midfielders feed whoever they have up front attacking for them. It has been proven, however, you can counter Barcelona's style with the exact opposite of their style, by playing all defense. Chelsea showed this in last years Champions League semifinals when they played 9-10 men on defense and stymied the Barcelona attack. Recently, AC Milan deployed a similar tactic, but with more offense than Chelsea and produced a 2-0 win over Barcelona heading into Camp Nou.

So what is wrong with the Barcelona system as of late? They are miles clear in La Liga so nothing right? Wrong. The Spanish La Liga is a weak league in general, fielding 3 quality clubs and the rest mid table to bottom table clubs in any other division. So it is no surprise that Barcelona ran away with the league title in sights this season, who besides Real Madrid can stop them? No one in La Liga because no other team besides Real Madrid has the talent to match the Catalans. The real problem I see is the lack of a pure striker. Barcelona has not needed a pure striker for the most part, as Lionel Messi emerged onto the scene as (arguably) the greatest player in the game today. But Messi has his flaws that other player for Barca do not mask. He is relatively weak, able to be knocked off the ball by bigger opposition. He is short, though Barcelona rarely plays air crosses, he can't reach a cross in the air over defenders 6 feet tall. But this is obviously all nitpicking at a player who virtually mastered his craft.

What we have seen throughout the past 2 games is something else though, teams that field a reliable striker or another superstar can bother Barcelona greatly. AC Milan used Stephan El Shaarawy and his pace and skill up front to bother the slow, aging Barcelona central defenders, and Real Madrid utilized their own goal machine, Cristiano Ronaldo, to cause massive problems in the back. Teams will soon start to realize if you field a dominant striker up front and can plant enough men on defense to basically form a wall against Barcelona, you can beat them. 

Another huge problem is the "Messi or bust" system Barcelona seems to go into when they are in trouble. The Argentinian may be amazing, but he can't do it all alone. Countless times I have seen Barcelona struggle to score against quality defenses, and when they get frustrated everyone that gets the ball looks to Messi. Is this a terrible strategy? Of course not, more times than not Messi will find the back of the net, but against rapidly increasing big, skillful, fast defenders a smaller player like Messi may find it hard to run past these players, which is where a central striker would come in handy. 

So who should Barcelona look into this upcoming transfer window if they fail in the Champions League because of the lack of a striker? The big name that comes to mind is Mario Gomez. With Mario Mandzukic taking over attacking responsibility for Bayern and the rumored transfers of Falcao and Robert Lewandowski said to be in the works, Gomez will struggle to find playing time. Gomez would fit the Barca system in a way not usually seen by Barca fans. He is a striker that doesn't need the ball at his feet when the going gets tough, he wants it in the box, in the air preferably, so he can put the goals away. Would he be a perfect fit? No, but with Sanchez/Pedro/Iniesta/Xavi/Messi feeding him the ball, the big German would be an invaluable goal machine for the Catalans.

What do you think? Is it time for a change at Barcelona?

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