I’ll be completely honest – the first leg of Barcelona vs. PSG was somewhat of a joke: Ibrahimovic, PSG’s world class striker: suspended… Verratti, PSG’s pace-setting-midfielder: also out… Thiago Silva, PSG’s world class defender: came off early with an injury… His replacement David Luiz (fresh off an injury): did not look fit for the pace of the game. And, this caused a total lack of team chemistry, and it showed – Barcelona had 68% possession in that first matchup, and Luis Saurez made their entire defense seem (and feel) insanely ill-equipped with his spectacular goals. In summation, PSG didn’t have a proper go at Barcelona in the first leg, and this lead me to believe that in the second leg they would come out swinging. Against Chelsea, the shear tenacity of their players lead them to victory – but in this game, they were just outmatched, and outclassed.
Ever since Xavi’s been replaced in the starting lineup with Rakatic, Iniesta has experienced somewhat of a revival – and the way he set up Neymar’s first goal today is purely an example of that. Rakatic tracks back and it gives Iniesta and their defensive unit cover in ways that Xavi wasn’t able to do over the last couple years as he’s gotten older. When Mascharano plays defensive mid for Barcelona, both Iniesta and Rakatic are more easily able to attack with reckless abandon, but I believe Enrique started Busquets today because he’s a but more technically savvy than Javier at maintaining possession. But back to Iniesta… in his golden days he used to glide through defenses with unbelievable precision, and I truly thought he lost that ability as he’s gotten older, but it seems as though he can still turn on the flair.
Over the last couple years Barca have been rebuilding… and last year, Xavi was no longer himself, Neymar was still settling into the club… and they simply didn’t have time to jell together as a team. This year, Neymar has completed his transition into a left forward, Messi has gone back to his right forward position – where he started his career – and no longer needs to exhibit the work rate of a center striker, because that’s where Saurez comes in. Furthermore, at the right forward position, Messi is more likely to come into midfield to set-up his teammates for the attack, something that he does better than anybody else in the world.
PSG have a lot to work on, they truly missed Thiago Silva again, and the injury that’s kept Luca Moura out has been devastating. He is truly a player that needs to be used more – not many players can dribble through teams like he can, and the offense needs to work through him. The next round of the Champions league will be one to watch, especially as Barca continues to roll through the competition, let me know if you think they (or another team) are the favorite in the poll below.
I know I’m a little late here, but the El Clasico was unbelievably defining, not just for Real Madrid, but more so for Barcelona. They had so many opportunities to score during this match, and they will continue to have more opportunities as long as Luis Enrique doesn’t switch back to his rotational lineup. The cohesion that Barca displayed was top-notch, and Messi, despite ending the game without a goal, lit up the soccer world with his performance at the right wing/forward position (where he started his career).
While Rakatic and Mascherano ran up and down the field constantly, Iniesta was free to be a bit more creative, and while he no longer glides and shifts like he used to, he still was able to spot the correct passes throughout the game. Rakatic would support the team in attack when necessary, and Mascherano seemed content playing back in front of the center backs, leaving Dani Alves and Jordi Alba the chance to do what they do best (support up the flanks).
Real weren’t terrible… in the first half. In fact, the game should have been a draw – considering Bale was onside for his “offside” goal. That being said, for the most part, Real were lethargic, despite a moment of sheer brilliance by Benzema to setup Ronaldo with his goal. Ronaldo had one more opportunity earlier, but he just couldn’t finish as the post denied him the brace.
Real seemed to miss something this game: Isco and Modric are great players, but they’re not pacey, and they’re certainly not able to produce speedy runs like Di Maria, or just put themselves in the perfect position to score goals like James Rodriguez. And Kroos is like Xabi Alonso, but much more attack oriented (which can be good, but not against quality teams like Barcelona). Real will need James moving forward, and they will need Modric to get back to full fitness since his injury – while he has been playing well, he doesn’t look as great as he was last year. It will be interesting to see how the calm Ancelotti handles his team moving forward, especially considering Bale’s lack of form.
Barca on the other hand… Suarez is the missing link on that team – he finishes chances with such precision, and he has the pace and technique to keep up with both Messi and Neymar. I’d go as far as to say he’s just as good a dribbler as Neymar (call me crazy). Barca seem to be on a roll, and with Messi being used on the right, and coming back into midfield to help create chances, Barca truly look unstoppable at the moment.
Without a shadow of a doubt Cristiano Ronaldo deserved the Ballon D’or for his efforts this past year – everyone knows that, except there is one issue that grinds my nerves: there is so much bias in the footballing world, and the media plays such a huge role in both that, and in picking the winner, that the true meaning and expectation of a Ballon D’or is somewhat screwed up. What I mean by that is this: There is no science to how the Ballon D’or winner is selected, and while I suppose there can’t be, it still hurts me to see how much of an affect an individual’s goal scoring record, media attention, and media speculation can affect the outcome… There is so much emphasis put on the La Liga title race, the feud between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate, that much of the world forgets about other players, and leagues (and how effing competitive the Bundesliga and Premier league are).
Let me put it to you this way, if I were to decide on the top three best players in the world last year shortlist, I would no doubt put Diego Costa and/or Toni Kroos on that list (and probably take out Messi)… Costa won La Liga last year, lead his team to the Champions Cup final, and scored a hell of a lot of goals. Kroos won the Bundesliga and the German league with Bayern, and the World Cup with Germany. And, as we all know, Messi didn’t win anything, but he did make it to the finals in the World Cup (and scored a lot of goals last year)… As well all know, Cristiano won the Champions league, the Spanish Cup final (which he didn’t play in), and scored a hell of a lot of goals.
The question that remains though, is this: how do you set yourself apart from the rest of the pack when you’re not in a position to score a lot of goals? Clearly it’s not win? Because, if you win, the guy that scores all the goals is still going to be crowned the Ballon D’or Champion. It’s kind of messed up, isn’t it?
I’m of the opinion that too many players aren’t garnering the love, respect and admiration that they deserve in this age of football. Unless you possess the flash, flair, goals, and more importantly: the media intrigue, you will never really be crowned the best player in the world. Again, let me reiterate, I think Cristiano deserved it this year, but there needs to be new metrics for measuring the success of and impact of other players on the field like the midfielders and defenders in the world, and how they contribute to the success of everyone around them. It’s sad that over the last couple years, the media has dramatized a feud between Messi and Ronaldo, rather than marveled at the fact that Manuel Neuer revolutionized his position, becoming the first of his kind as a sweeper keeper.
All that being said, I could be completely wrong on this Ballon D’or debate. In other words: perhaps Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are in fact just that much better than everyone else in the world and perhaps historically it’s been an award that’s given to attackers — But, if that’s the case, then they should have a best player award for each position, and I don’t mean individual position, I mean one goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder and one attacker. Fifa, the media, and the world would eat up the intrigue involved in three separate awards. Furthermore, players like Neuer, Kroos, and Lahm would get the recognition that they truly deserve.
Such a system would motivate younger kids to be the “best defender in the world,” rather than have a whole generation of young players obsessed with being on the pitch as attackers – which would be awesome, because I don’t think their are that many pure defenders anymore, something I discussed this blog post about Carlos Puyol last year.
Anyways, let me know if you agree through taking part in the poll below 🙂
I know it’s been a while since I posted an article, and I apologize for that, I recently started a new job and I’ve been rather busy – but let’s get back to football, too much has happened over the last couple months. I’m going to start with Barcelona…
The situation at Camp Nou is dire, but it’s not as dire as the media will have you believe. Barcelona are still alive in every competition, and their team, although aging, has more than enough talent to survive another transferless window… but, the real question (and the only question) that one must ask: Why isn’t Enrique managing his players correctly!?
Luis Enrique’s defiance is somewhat unfounded — when has a constant rotation of players in and out of the starting lineup ever created team cohesion on the field… and in the locker room? You can make the argument that the genius Josep used to rotate players all the time, and still does at FC Bayern, but lets be honest people – he doesn’t do it after he’s figured out what’s working (except of course for his tactical blunder against Real last year in the Champions Cup). But anyway, the issue with Enrique is that he doesn’t know what’s working, and he’s not giving himself the chance to find out.
There is no doubt that the arrivals of Ivan Rakatic and Jérémy Mathieu were much needed, but it’s unbelievable that Enrique would constantly rotate Rakatic in and out the starting lineup, especially with the older, former stalwarts Xavi and Iniesta and not allow for Mathieu to get comfortable in the center of the defense in a partnership with Pique! Let me explain why…. two reasons: 1) I don’t often agree with Sergio Busquets, but Barcelona do need to be taller and more physical, so they must allow Pique and Mathieu to play at center back together, and 2) did anyone not see how effing spectacular Javier Mascherano played at his natural position, defensive midfielder this past summer at the World Cup? If he were to play in front of Pique and Mathieu, they would be an extremely fearsome and aggressive group. Furthermore, at a deep defensive mid position, Masherano would allow for Alves and Alba to do what they do best, attack from the back.
Let’s continue… supposing that Enrique gets his act together and plays Pique, Mathieu, Masherano, Alba and Alves the way I suggested… Barcelona still need to get there act together at midfield too, where I believe they are a still working to find a rhythm. With Xavi and Iniesta getting older, and less mobile, Enrique needs to allow Rakatic to develop a role in Barcelona’s offense, rather than have Barcelona’s offense dictate what role he plays. Last year, when Rakatic played for Sevilla, he was one of the best midfielders in La Liga, and this year he always deserves a place in the starting lineup in every game for Barca. Because Rakatic does not possess the flair, creativity and and shiftiness of an Iniesta, he should play in front of Mascherano, where he would add height to a team that desperately needs it. Furthermore, he is young and plays with a level of vitality unseen in Xavi these days, and he would truly engine the attackers in front of him. Now to the top of Barca’s attack…
Barcelona’s attackers are lucky, they are so unbelievably talented that I don’t think it’s an issue for them to speedily develop cohesion. That said, I do believe that they need to play roles that befit them, and not ones that center around what Messi wants to do. Let me explain, when Messi was rising in ranks, and won his four straight Ballon D’or trophies, he played a position that best benefitted the team. He started off on the right wing/forward in his early days (with Ronaldinho and Eto’o), and then moved to the false nine where he thrived most, and then over the last couple years has tried acting as a true number nine, which has had really unfortunate affects. Messi is best when he has space to operate with, and as a false nine under Guardiola, he dictated play so naturally that it was a role born for him, and him only. That said, last year he seemed to wonder aimlessly around the the box, waiting for his teammates to create brilliance that would unleash his goal scoring prowess — the two issues with that are clear, Iniesta no longer plays at the level he used to (so he can’t create as he used to), and in the false nine, Messi wouldn’t have to wait/rely on teammates to unleash him for goals, he would do it himself, and unleash the team around him.
Luis Enrique needs to realize that above all else. Alejandro Sabella realized it going into the summer’s world cup — he let Messi be the creator and the scorer, and reaped the benefits from it (so did Di Maria and Higuaín) as they reached the final against Germany. Furthermore, I mentioned this before, we all saw how Sabella unleashed Mascherano at the defensive mid, position, a role that he plays better than anyone else in the entire world. Enrique needs to realize this, and allow for Messi to take a similar role at Barcelona, where he’s lucky to have better attacking talent than that on Argentina this summer. He must be the magician, and the scorer. As far as I’m concerned, as long as Messi plays the false nine, Neymar, Saurez and Pedro are all interchangeable at the left and right wing, and attacking mid position behind the false nine and in front of Rakatic. Basquets, Xavi, Iniesta all have great experience off the bench, and the young starlet El Hadadi is also worth a bench spot to add a spark when needed… But I don’t think he will have to, if Barcelona plays as I described. Otherwise, his players, his career, and his Barcelona team, will continue to underperform. The time is now to create cohesion, especially without the ability to buy players through this, and the next transfer window… If he fails, players will continue to grab at their head… If I were on the Barca board, I’d beg Alejandro Sabella to coach the team, he got the best out of Messi and Mascherano on Argentina, and could surely do the same for Barcelona.
Do you agree with my tactical ideas for Barcelona? Please let me know in the comments section below! I’ll be sure to respond! And feel free to answer the poll question below.
You might disagree, but I think this is Messi’s World Cup to take… his biggest competitor for the title of ‘Best player on earth’ Cristiano Ronaldo has been eliminated, the Spanish stars that have dominated on both a club and international level for the past decade are out, and Italy is no longer a worry for him – and while there are many other great teams (Brazil, Germany, Netherlands) with many great stars (Neymar, Müller, Robben), I still think that this is Messi’s stage more so than anyone else’s.
As you might know, Messi didn’t have the best campaign with Barcelona this past year and didn’t win any medals on the club level with them. So, the World Cup is his time to not only make up for the bad year that he’s had at Barca, but also play well enough to prove that he’s worthy of praise on the world stage similar to that that he’s gotten on club level. Furthermore, it’s his chance to shut up all the critics that refuse to acknowledge his brilliance until he wins a World Cup (or at least lead Argentina deep into the tournament).
Although Argentina were drawn into relatively easy competition in the group stage, they still managed to win all three of their games in a World Cup that proven that each and every team is a force to be reckoned with – Brazil struggled with Chile, Germany struggled with Algeria – and today Argentina struggled against Switzerland as the game went to extra time.
That said, this game’s result had huge implications on Leo Messi because there can really be no excuses for Argentina’s talent/performance – they’re stacked on offense and many of their players have had wild success on the club level this year. Di Maria won the Champions league with Real Madrid, Lavezzi won the French league at PSG – and they’re both players that are used to supporting bigger stars (Ronaldo, Ibra), so you’d imagine that their experience would translate well in that they’d support Messi as well as they do the superstars they play with on club level…
But, as we know, despite such great offensive talent surrounding him, Messi has had to take control in all three of Argentina’s group matches – he single handedly beat Iran, and had an incredible game against Nigeria to secure the three points. He also scored a crucial goal against Bosnia and Herzegovina….
Fast forward to today… Rather than be the hero, Messi dropped the ball off to Di Maria for a curling shot that won the game. Messi’s making all the right decisions in this World Cup, and their progress in this competition shows it. Furthermore, he’s stepping up when it counts most – and that’s the true mark of a superstar and leader.