In the last decade, Barcelona added 20 pieces of silverware to their trophy cabinet. Their tiki-taka brand of football enabled them to dominate teams by monopolizing possession and driving home the advantage in goals. With the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta marshaling their midfield while Lionel Messi amongst others plundered goals aplenty upfront, the Catalans were widely regarded as the best team in club football but never the most ‘complete’.
Their possession based game dictates that they pick a pass even when under pressure on the edge of their own penalty box. Such is their philosophy that technique and the ability to play out from the back became more valued attributes in their defenders than the actual art of defending itself. However, teams have attacked their vulnerability in defense of late and reaped the benefits.
The need to bolster that aspect of their game is evident and has been for a while now. It makes perfect sense then that they would chase Thiago Silva so fervently, a centre-back widely regarded as one of the best in the world.
Perhaps the Brazilian first caught their eye in 2011 when he produced a couple of outstanding performances against them with AC Milan in the Champions League. Despite showing a keen interest in Silva during the following summer, Barcelona were helpless as Paris Saint-Germain’s extraordinary bid saw the defender move to the French capital.
In many ways, Silva is just the sort of defender Barcelona need. He reads the game well, is organized, tackles neatly and has an aerial presence but he can also play football. He’s good with the ball at his feet and is confident when bringing it out from defense or picking passes. However, defending is his primary concern and it’s that focus that separates him from the rest.
Carles Puyol has never been one to mess around at the back and he’s been a rock for Barcelona for a long time but he doesn’t play the same number of games anymore. Gerard Pique for all his physical attributes and technical ability has never been the warrior-like defender Puyol has. Silva on the other hand is the perfect blend of Puyol’s old school toughness and Pique’s modern day cutting-edge.
Unfortunately, PSG have recently stated that the Brazilian will not be sold under any circumstances this summer and it seems as though the Catalans must look elsewhere. However, the fact that they’re interested in a player like Silva is a step in the right direction for them. What they must do now is continue their search for a defender in the same mould, something they gave up on far too easily last season.
Instead of signing a defender last summer after Silva joined the Parisians, Tito Vilanova purchased Alex Song from Arsenal. The move hasn’t yet worked out for the club or player. Song couldn’t break into Barcelona’s illustrious midfield and looked out of sorts when played in defense. When Pique and Puyol got injured, Vilanova had to juggle the likes of Song, Javier Mascherano, Marc Batra and Adriano in central defense of which only one was a natural albeit inexperienced centre-back.
Even Sergio Busquets was deployed in defense at times. Chopping and changing makeshift centre-backs was hardly the sign of a team claiming to be the best in the world. Overall, their defensive record was still excellent, statistically speaking at least. However, that’s largely because most teams they faced simply weren’t equipped to attack their back-line. Every time they came up against a side who could, they conceded.
They may have boasted the second best defense in La Liga but over the course of the season they conceded plenty against stronger oppositions. They leaked 12 goals in 6 encounters with Real Madrid while they were exposed in the Champions League against AC Milan, PSG and Bayern Munich who put 7 past them with no reply over two legs in the semi-finals.
They may keep a fair amount of clean sheets in the league where few teams have the ball for long enough to hurt them or the ability to counter decisively but they’ve clearly struggled against the better sides. For all the technically gifted players that come through La Masia, the academy hasn’t produced a top defender of late and it’s time Barcelona reel one in.
They’ve shown a keen interest in David Luiz but not only is he seemingly unavailable, he wouldn’t bring the solidarity their defense needs either; despite his obvious talent going forward. Other than the Chelsea man, they’ve only been linked with AS Roma’s Marquinhos of late.
It won’t be easy but Barcelona cannot afford to give up the search for a centre-back this time around. They’ve spent over €50 million on even more firepower by signing Neymar and now it’s time to invest at the other end of the pitch.
|Who do you think Barcelona should sign in defense? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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