By Brendon Netto
If there’s one department in which Barcelona seems to struggle in every now and then, its defence. Many of the goals they concede some from set-pieces or when their defenders are outnumbered in the wake of a counter-attack. The fact that they have to cope without their two best defenders in Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol at the moment does not do their title ambitions any favours whatsoever.
Puyol lives and breathes Barcelona and has earned the nickname “Mr. Barcelona”. Without him, Barcelona lose more than just a central defender, they lose a leader and a driving force in the team. He is one of the few Barcelona players who aren’t gifted with supreme technical ability on the ball or natural flair but his strong mentality feeds his determination to succeed. Complacency can quite easily creep into a team as dominant and powerful as Barcelona but Puyol regularly keeps his teammates grounded and focussed on the task at hand.
Pique on the other hand epitomises the modern day central defender with his swashbuckling style of play and marauding runs forward. He may not be the most diligent defender or the best at reading the game but his pace and athleticism usually helps him recover when an opposing forward initially gets the better of him.
Javier Mascherano joined the club as a defensive midfielder but has featured more often in central defence as he didn't do too well with the ball when placed in the midfield. The Catalans’ latest recruit from Arsenal, Alex Song looks to have a similar fate in store for him as well. Against Granada, the two defensive midfielders partnered up in defence and contributed to a clean sheet. However, the shut-out came against a lesser opposition at home and they are likely to face a much more serious examination against Sevilla and Real Madrid in their next two outings in the domestic league.
Los Blancos have already gotten the better of their main title contenders after beating the Catalans to win the Spanish Supercopa. Apart from being makeshift centre-backs, Song and Mascherano haven’t had much time to forge an understanding between one and other, the absence of which could be exploited by the potent attacking threat of Real Madrid.Pique and Puyol are reportedly battling to be fit for the El clasico but barring a minor miracle, Song and Mascherano are likely to fill in for the first choice defensive pairing. If that is indeed the case, perhaps their full-backs should refrain from venturing forward to often against the All Whites as they will be up against one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe. This minor defensive crisis may be Real Madrid’s chance to exploit Barcelona’s weakness and close the substantial gap that has already been created so early in the league campaign.
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