By Charlie Scott
Much was made of Barcelona's appointment of Tito Vilanova as coach following Pep Guardiola's sabbatical from the game at the end of last season, with many within football, particularly in Spain, unsure of the 44-year-old's suitability and capability of taking the reins at the world's biggest club and sustaining the fantastic form they enjoyed under the previous boss.
On his very first day in the job whilst being unveiled to the media, Vilanova was bombarded with questions surrounding how he would compare to the man he had replaced, the man who in his four years in charge of the senior team won 13 trophies and had such a huge role in shaping the attacking style that the team so effortlessly exhibits to this day.
"I'm just here to do my job. I'm not worried about the comparisons with Pep. I lose them all anyway," said Vilanova to the ravenous press. The Barca players echoed this sentiment, with Andres Iniesta one of the first to slam any attempts to relate the two manager's records with one another. "It is not good for everyone to start comparing Tito with Pep," a calm Iniesta told El Pais. "Let's start at the beginning, do the right thing by all and not put extra pressure on Tito."
The Blaugrana may not have wowed their fans so far this season as they did so frequently under Guardiola, but, after eight games in all competitions, they have lost just once - winning the other seven. Throw in an unbeaten pre-season and everything seems rosy under the helm of the new coach.
|PEP AND TITO'S FIRST EIGHT MATCHES
|(H) vs. WISLA KRAKOW 4-0
(A) vs. WISLA KARKOW 1-0
(A) vs. NUMANCIA 1-0
(H) vs. RACING 1-1
(H) vs. SPORTING CP 3-1
(A) vs. SPORTING 1-6
(H) vs. REAL BETIS 3-2
(A) vs. ESPANYOL 1-2
|(H) vs. REAL SOCIEDAD 5-1
(H) vs. REAL MADRID 3-2
(A) vs. OSASUNA 1-2
(A) vs. REAL MADRID 2-1
(H) vs. VALENCIA 1-0
(A) vs. GETAFE 1-4
(H) vs. SPARTAK 3-2
(H) vs. GRANADA 2-0
Vilanova himself will be delighted with the start his squad has made to the 2012-13 season, statistically anyway. His achievements so far stand above those of Guardiola at the same moment in his respective reign. By this point in the 2008-09 campaign Guardiola's Barca had lost one of the two legs in their ultimately successful Champions League qualifying tie against Wisla Krakow, while also picking up just a single point in their opening two matches in La Liga, after a 1-0 defeat away to Numancia on the opening day was followed by a 1-1 draw at home to Racing Santander.
However, while Vilanova's side have secured maximum points from their first five Liga matches matches, they are yet to thrill as Barcelona have done so frequently in the past four years. Statistically they look unstoppable, but aesthetically something is not quite right with this current side.
Lionel Messi has dipped in and out of games, a remarkable factor considering he has already scored 10 in all competitions this season, while the defence has looked shaky at times particularly following the injuries to first Carles Puyol and then Gerard Pique.
Against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League, on September 19, it took a late Messi double to get Barca out of trouble, as they trailed the Russian side 2-1 at Camp Nou midway through the second half. Then, just three days after that tight victory, they struggled to overcome Granada in the Liga with Xavi coming to the rescue to break the deadlock in the 87th minute of the game and direct his side to a 2-0 win.
|HOW THE TWO COACHES COMPARE
Guardiola's side, including a revitalised Samuel Eto'o, had cantered through pre-season, running riot against the likes of Hibernian and Dundee United to achieve sizeable wins that contributed to a goals-to-game rate of over four during their six preparatory matches. Yet as soon as the competitive matches began to flow they faltered. Vilanova's team on the other hand, have been a model of consistency, but for their close loss in the second leg of the Supercopa against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid.
Guardiola's team meanwhile, although stuck with those two losses against Wisla and Numancia, and the draw against Racing, had at this stage in the 2008-09 season begun to make people sit up and take note of the football they were playing, particularly the performance they gave during a 6-1 demolition of Sporting Gijon away from home in La Liga.
Such displays became the norm as the season wore on, and acted as the cornerstone for what turned out to be the club's most successful season in history as they won the first treble in Spanish football history, triumphing in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
Despite Vilanova's impressive win ratio, his side are yet to produce one of those breathtaking performances that fans know his players are capable of, and the longer that wait goes on - for all their early victories - doubts will remain over how successful his Barcelona team can be.
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