The side that has Lionel Messi, the world’s best player, within its ranks is never the outsider…or so common knowledge goes. Not even against an in-form and resurgent Bayern Munich side. Not even when the new Bundesliga champions boast the best defensive record anywhere across Europe’s top 5 leagues. On one hand it’s a testimony to the mercurial Argentine, on the other hand it’s proof that Barcelona rely too heavily on La Pulga’s brilliance. It’s a team game after all.
Who has been Bayern Munich’s standout performer of the 2012-13 season?
Is it the ever bored and rarely tested Manuel Neuer, whose form can’t be assessed due to his lack of ‘action’?
Is it Bayern Munich’s record signing Javi Martinez, who is doing his job in an unassuming, almost unnoticeable manner?
Or do the flair players such as Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery deserve to be singled out as Bayern’s best player?
In truth, none of the above, it’s nobody, really. Perhaps, if anyone must, should and could be singled out for praise it’s Brazilian centre-back Dante.
The latter is a prime example for the efficiency of Bayern Munich’s scouting/transfer policy and the failure of Barcelona’s. Unfortunately that’s just one of quite a few things Barcelona must reassess and improve over the next coming weeks and months if they want to remain a serious contender/favorite for the Champions League title.
While Bayern Munich originally signed aforementioned Dante as squad player to provide competition for German internationals Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber, he quickly established himself at the heart of defense. Barcelona’s Tito Vilanova on the other hand requested the acquisition of Arsenal London defensive midfielder Alex Song. The Blaugrana manager viewed the Cameroonian international as a replacement for Seydou Keita in midfield and makeshift centre-back, essentially a 2-in-1 player.
However, it hasn’t even taken Tito Vilanova half a season to deem his experiment a failure. The last time Song featured in central defense was in October 2012, he has since played sparingly…in defensive midfield.
To put things in perspective, Bayern Munich bought Dante for €5 million, who has firmly established himself as a starter, whereas Barcelona paid €19 million for Alex Song. Worst of all, Song was consciously acquired as a squad player. Imagine that. Barcelona paid almost four times as much on Song than Bayern have on Dante. One is a starter, who actually played in the Champions League semi-final; the other warmed, and still warms the Barcelona bench. Just be clear, Dante played, and he had a flawless game against Barcelona.
The Azulgrana must buy a world-class centre-back in the summer. And nobody fits the bill better than Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels. The German international is blessed with all the attributes which makes him the most attractive option for Barcelona. He’s tall, strong technically, and an astute passer of the ball. Furthermore, his organizational skills are far superior to those of Gerard Pique. Shakira’s boyfriend is a marvelously gifted centre-back, however, a leader he is not. That’s why Barcelona needs a Hummels-esque character to play alongside him.
One world-class centre-back is the bare minimum Barcelona should acquire over the summer. Perhaps Barcelona should also trigger the release clause of their former youth product, Alberto Botia, currently at Sevilla, too.
In addition, Barcelona should also sell/loan Andreu Fontas and Marc Muniesa as they aren’t at the necessary level required to provide adequate cover for Pique and Puyol, let alone be starters. Marc Bartra has shown some potential, thus he should be the only youngster Barcelona retains.
The Blaugrana should sell Alex Song, the sooner the better. At €19 million he has proven to be massive failure. If he had come at a cheaper price-tag one would be inclined to label him a decent addition, but €19 million for a benchwarmer is a bit much.
If Barcelona does indeed sale Song, Mascherano should be shifted back to his natural position in defensive midfield. He’s arguably less physical than Song, then again, which ties exactly required a physical presence amidst Barcelona ranks? Um, the Bayern Munich tie. Well, Alex Song didn’t play any part in that fixture, right?
La Masia graduate Jonathan Dos Santos should also be sold. It’s apparent that he’s not likely to succeed at Barcelona anytime soon. Though in this case it’s not a matter of quality, Dos Santos is a wonderfully gifted player; he’s just unlucky to share the dressing room with infinitely more talented individuals.
One of the pillars of this Barcelona team, Xavi, should be rested more often. The Catalan turned 33 earlier this year and it’s important the Blaugrana successfully integrate/mold his heir apparent, Thiago, to become his successor.
The Bayern drubbing has highlighted and confirmed Barcelona’s dependency once and for all. If Messi isn’t somehow involved in creating a goal, the Blaugrana look short on ideas, and unlikely to score. Barcelona had two thirds of the possession in Munich, yet the game could’ve even lasted 180 minutes and the Azulgrana would’ve still not mounted a viable attack.
Alexis Sanchez, as gifted as he may be, just isn’t Barcelona material. Interestingly enough, the Chilean would be a perfect fit at Bayern Munich, due to their more direct approach. Though he has gone on record stating his intention to triumph at Barcelona, it would be in the interest of all involved parties if the former Serie A player of the year moved on.
Another player who should depart Barcelona is David Villa. Although ever the reliable goalscorer it’s evident Barcelona’s technical staff doesn’t trust him anymore. The club could still command a sizeable fee for the forward, while El Guaje can take on one last challenge in one of Europe’s big leagues. Rumor has it Arsenal London is still interested in his services.
The revenue from the sales of Alexis Sanchez and David Villa should be spent on a top quality forward. While the media and fans seem to prefer Brazilian sensation Neymar, it would be wiser to buy a player proven in one of Europe’s big leagues. One such player is Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus, who not only is a German international but also has Champions League pedigree whereas Neymar has flopped against European opposition thus far. Not to mention, Reus buyout clause is set at an affordable €35 million, in contrast to Neymar’s €40 million plus transfer fee the Brazilian likely command. In this economic climate paying in excess of €40 million for an untested quantity (in Europe at least) is a too big a gamble.
Tito Vilanova and the technical staff.
Though many a Barcelona fan will point to the commanding lead Barcelona currently enjoy in La Liga, and the sixth successive Champion League semi-final participation, Tito Vilanova is not the right manager to guide the Blaugrana back to the pinnacle of Europe.
Barcelona’s ‘dominance’ in La Liga has been aided by Real Madrid’s indifferent start to the season, as the evidenced by the fact that Tito Vilanova was unable to beat Los Blancos on two occasions (drawing 2:0 at home, and losing at the Santiago Berabeu 2:1). If Barcelona is indeed the most dominant side in La Liga, how come they didn’t beat the Merengues?
The Blaugrana’s sixth consecutive Champions League semi-final appearance is actually supporting the idea that Barcelona’s crop of players is so good it doesn’t even need a manager. Well, an above manager will do, because that’s what Tito Vilanova is – an above average manager.
His record against Real Madrid: 1 Win -2 Draws -3 Losses
And the only time Tito Vilanova’s oversaw a victory over Real Madrid was in a Supercup match. His record against top class opposition in Europe is equally appalling.
Under Tito Vilanova Barcelona were unconvincing at best (Spartak Moscow, Celtic Glasgow, Paris Saint-Germain), horrendous at their worst (Celtic Glasgow, AC Milan, Bayern Munich), and phenomenal just one (the return leg against AC Milan), which all goes to show that the Blaugrana have regressed under the novice manager. Considering that he used to be Pep Guardiola’s no. 2, and a supposed continuation of the old principles, it’s mind-bending to witness Barcelona concede more goals since his appointment, are less disciplined in pressing, and offer less variety in attack than at any other point during the last 10 years (including the Rijkaard era).
Add the massive transfer failure of Alex Song for good measure, and one is inclined that most of Vilanova’s shortcomings are of his own making. Need an example?
It took Tito Vilanova 82 minutes and 4 goals courtesy of a rampaging Bayern Munich side before he made his first and (!) substitution of the night.
Let that sink in.
Not 1, or 2, or 3, but it took Vilanova 4 goals before he decided that he needed to make a change. But instead of changing his tactical approach, he opted to bring David Villa for Pedro, a forward for a forward, when it was it was apparent Barcelona’s midfield was overrun by their Bayern counterparts.
Once again raising the question, why did he request Alex Song in the first place? If Song was bought to replace Seydou Keita, and replace the Malian’s physical presence, why not use him against a Bayern side that outmuscled the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergi Busquets from the go?
Bottom line: Barcelona need a new manager, one in the mold of a Jürgen Klopp who has proven to be a) a remarkable judge of talent, having unearthed Mats Hummels; Neven Subotic, Ilkay Gündogan, Robert Lewandowski etc. and b) a great tactician, supported by the fact that Borussia Dortmund are unbeaten in the Champions League and have defeated Real Madrid twice!
If Barcelona stick with Tito Vilanova, the Blaugrana will be good enough for La Liga, perhaps the knockout stages of the Champions League, but no more than that. The Catalan manager has proven to be incompetent at signings, unable to beat Real Madrid in any important match, and an underwhelming record against top-class European opposition.
Forget the Neymars, Hummels etc. Barcelona needs a new manager!
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