The sadness associated with the culmination of a European campaign is always compensated by the various transfer rumours that run around in circles as fans and players get an inkling of who the clubs would be bringing in or driving out over the summer. With Bayern Munich being closest to having themselves being synonymous with the word perfection this year, it was vital that other European giants add or trim their squad to meet financial and tactical needs.
Brazil’s Neymar is no doubt a talent that would have eventually made it to Europe from the depths of South America. With Barcelona and Real Madrid in the hunt for his signature, the youngster finally decided that Catalunya was to be his destination where he would play alongside arguably one of the best players in the world in Lionel Messi. The public war of words between Pele and Diego Maradona on who among Messi or Neymar was the better player would be resolved next year. The prospect of the 20-year old lining up alongside Messi backed by Andres Iniesta and Xavi is a show of strength of attacking talent. Goals will come in surplus.
But what this season has truly taught us is that Barcelona are human. They are not unbeatable, an aura they had possessed during their time with Pep Guardiola. This season under new manager Tito Vilanova has seen them lose to Celtic, AC Milan and a thumping at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Not to mention defeats in La Liga to arch rivals Real Madrid only compounded the defensive woes that this team had.
|Barcelona were made to eat humble pie a lot this season|
€28 million was shelled out on Neymar, easily one of the best strikers in the world. Despite possessing only one fit centre-half in Gerard Pique, who again needs to introspect as he has not replicated the form that saw him becoming one of the best central defenders in Europe during the all conquering 2008-2011 seasons that Barcelona had, the Catalans have yet again chosen to spend enormous amounts to add to their attacking third.
With Carles Puyol clearly on the decline, Eric Abidal’s recovery from surgeries taking a toll on his body and Marc Bartra still a few years away from cementing a permanent spot in the heart of the defence, the need of the hour is to strengthen the backline. Arguments against this notion would be based around the use of Javier Mascherano and Alex Song as central defenders, but it is equal to fitting a square peg in a round hole. With the duo better off in the middle of the park protecting their defence, they as such cannot be entrusted with the task of being the defence. The same can be said for full-back Adriano who played as a central defender in the return leg against PSG at the Camp Nou where he was exposed brutally by the pacy forwards.
The Argentine Mascherano has performed admirably but his mistake against Milan in the return leg at the Camp Nou gave M'Biaye Niang a clear run on goal whose effort came off the upright to the relief of the former Liverpool man.
|Song and Adriano - substitutes for the real thing
With names like Mats Hummels and Thiago Silva being linked with a move to Spain, one wonders why the Spaniards did not pursue them with the same vigour that they showed with Neymar. Yes had Barcelona not taken such an active interest in the Brazilian he might have gone to Real Madrid in all likeliness. But it is not that the Catalans are weak in the attacking third. With David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, Messi and a fantastic talent in Cristian Tello, it is surprising that they chose to prioritize attack over defence.
As a result it is clear that one of the above with the exception of Messi and Pedro will be on their way out of the club.
In stark contrast to the four-time European champions, every major team in Europe has considerable depth in their central defence which allows them to build a sense of competition for starting berths even though they are not in the best of forms. The Catalans have more often than not lined up with Gerard Pique, not because he was a great performer, but because they had no other experienced stopper-back.
|Team||First choice central defenders|
|Arsenal||Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Squillaci|
|Manchester City||Nastasic, Kompany, Lescott, Toure|
|Chelsea||Terry, Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz|
|Liverpool||Skrtel, Agger, Carragher, Coates|
|Tottenham||Dawson, Vertonghen, Kaboul, Caulker, Gallas|
|PSG||Alex, Sakho, Silva, Camara|
|Real Madrid||Pepe, Varane, Ramos, Albiol|
|Barcelona||Pique, Puyol, Bartra|
|Manchester United||Vidic, Ferdinand, Jones, Evans, Smalling|
|Bayern Munich||Dante, van Buyten, Boateng, Badstuber|
|Borussia Dortmund||Hummels, Santana, Subotic, Owomoyela|
|Milan||Zapata, Mexes, Yepes, Bonera|
|Juventus||Bonucci, Chiellini, Barzagli, Peluso, Caceres|
Central defensive compositions for Europe's big guns
The team under Guardiola’s first season in charge had the likes of Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito to add to Gerard Pique, Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol thus forming a good set of central defenders and ensuring that the side was not found wanting in the event one of these were injured or suspended.
Milan with their limited personnel exposed the chinks in the Barca armour in the second leg of their Round of 16 clash at the Camp Nou. PSG nearly made them pay for their frailties till Messi came on and weaved his magic. Bayern Munich was the team against which Barca’s luck ran out as the Germans ruthlessly tore them apart at will to record a 7-0 aggregate. The much vaunted attack was suppressed with the other important aspect of football, defence.
Javi Martinez, a player who Barcelona had pursued along with Bayern and Manchester City in the summer of 2012, shut down Andres Iniesta with such efficiency that he could only stand by and watch helplessly as he saw his team crumble around him.
With Victor Valdes’ decision not to renew his contract, the Catalans are on the lookout for a goalkeeper too to fill in for the La Masia graduate who was uncontested for a majority of his career despite his suspect performances in goal.
While the focus right now has shifted to Germany thanks to their stupendous performance in the Champions League, it is an opportunity for Barcelona to sit down and analyse on how to improve a porous backline or else run the risk of a repeat of this season.
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