El Clasico: Iniesta Up Front Has Made Barcelona A Toothless One Man Team...
Let’s cut to the chase. Shall we?
Heading into the return leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final FC Barcelona ‘only’ needed a goalless draw against eternal rivals Real Madrid to progress to the final. However, as Dani Alves has noted a couple of days ago FC Barcelona don’t do ‘draws’ and only know how to play attacking football.
The Alzugrana were comprehensively beaten, or rather humiliated, by Real Madrid 3-1, at the Camp Nou of all places. A mistimed tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo courtesy of Gerard Pique led to a perfectly justified penalty award. There’s an unwritten rule that the fouled player should never take the penalty themselves. Apparently nobody cared to inform Cristiano Ronaldo, as he duly obliged and converted the penalty kick to give Real Madrid the 1-0 lead.
Those who harbored hopes of an epic comeback by FC Barcelona witnessed a collapse of gargantuan proportions instead.
Perhaps that’s a bit of hyperbole.
Still, the Blaugrana never looked likely to get back into the tie – even when the match was still open at 0-1. A solitary goal would’ve ensured extra-time. Shortly after the break CR7 all but confirmed FC Barcelona’s exit from the Spanish Cup by scoring yet another goal. This time however he took advantage of a rebound, after a superb run by Angel Di Maria who skinned FC Barcelona skipper Carles Puyol only to be denied by Blaugrana keeper Jose Pinto. Almost exactly 10 minutes after Ronaldo scored his second of the night, Real Madrid youngster Raphael Varane followed suit by scoring his second of the tournament (and second against FC Barcelona).
Jordi Alba’s consolation goal for the hosts in the 89th minute came way too late to have any impact at all. Quite frankly, the tie was lost even before the match has started. For the umpteenth time this season have FC Barcelona tinkered with their attacking triumvirate. In-form David Villa has once again been relegated to the bench while Andres Iniesta was shifted to the left-wing to make room for Cesc Fabregas at center midfield.
The one million dollar question is: When exactly has shifting Andres Iniesta to the left-wing produced any favorable outcome in a must-win tie?
By tinkering with what is possibly the best midfield in the world (Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets) FC Barcelona were left short on ideas emanating from the middle of the pitch. The creative tandem of Xavi and Andres Iniesta is unmatched in all of world football. Furthermore, by favoring Andres Iniesta over David Villa the Blaugrana effectively played with one attacker, Lionel Messi.
Though Andres Iniesta has scored some vital, if not historic, goals throughout his career he is not the natural goalscorer David Villa is. El Guaje may lack the sublime touch, the vision and creativity Andres Iniesta calls his own, but he is mobile, two-footed and a predator in front of goal.
The suspicion that FC Barcelona is essentially a one-man team has been confirmed once and for all. If Lionel Messi isn’t scoring, then nobody is. That may be a slight exaggeration but it’s very close of being true. The Argentine wizard was once again rendered mute by a compact defense. When he’s the solitary goal-threat to focus upon, it makes the task infinitely more achievable for the opponents than having to deal with two or more in-form forwards.
Besides, Lionel Messi has been looking somewhat subdued in recent outings. Though he prefers not to be rested one is inclined to believe that he could use a day off or two. Nevertheless, even an off-color La Pulga is still better than the majority of his peers, but not Cristiano Ronaldo. Ever since he was snubbed for yet another Ballon d’Or award at the turn of the year, the Portuguese looks like a man on a mission. Real Madrid may endure one of the more underwhelming campaigns in their history but it has nothing to do with Cristiano Ronaldo’s form or contribution to the cause.
That’s where FC Barcelona’s missing manager, Tito Vilanova, his technical staff, and to an extent, the clubs board factors in.
Towards the end of last year Tito Vilanova was diagnosed with cancer. Again. However, he successfully underwent surgery and is currently receiving follow-up treatment in New York City.
For rather sentimental reasons FC Barcelona’s hierarchy opted to entrust Tito Vilanova’s no. 2, Jordi Roura, with the role of caretaker manager in his absence.
While FC Barcelona’ stance on the matter is admirable, it’s ultimately misguided. Their first order of business should’ve been to:
a) either find a suitable interim manager (a la Jupp Heynckes when FC Bayern Munich sacked Jürgen Klinsmann towards the end of the 2008/09 season)
b) give Jordi Roura full autonomy for the duration of Vilanova’s absence
FC Barcelona’s board did neither. Instead they stubbornly tried, and still try, to project themselves as an institution that loves and cares about its employees. They took the motto, “Mes que un club” a little too far.
Though the Blaugrana pride themselves to be, “More than a club”, they still are, indeed, a professional sports organization. This may come off a little cold but the first and foremost task of a sports club is to win trophies, or win period.
To be perfectly clear, no one is suggesting to get rid of Tito Vilanova because of his ongoing health problems. It’s quite the contrary. The sensible and rationale course of action would’ve been to temporary relieve Vilanova off his duties and afford him the time to fully recover from his chemo therapy. Instead the higher-ups at FC Barcelona steered the team right into the no man’s land of accountability.
According to various news reports Tito Vilanova is still heavily involved in picking the starting XI and tactical set-up of the team. The reports even suggest that he is communicating in-game substitutions to Jordi Roura via smartphone instant messenger whatsapp.
This unique arrangement has worked thus far but is now beginning to show its limitations. Due to their status as La Liga runaway leaders and overwhelming quality FC Barcelona weren’t confronted with any real challenges domestically. But it’s the knockout competitions that exposed the Blaugrana or caretaker Jordi Roura and his whatsapp application.
The fact that the board very publicly declare Tito Vilanova to be the one and only authority as far as the football team is concerned, effectively renders his no. 2 nothing more than a puppet. As such he has no real influence over the team. Before he can make any decision in regards to the team he has to run it by the manager in absentia, Tito Vilanova. A circumstance that is neither helpful nor effective.
When one thinks about it the sheer idiocy of the whole idea becomes apparent. The time difference between Barcelona, Spain and New York City, USA is 6 hours. Meaning Jordi Roura and Tito Vilanova have a relative short window to exchange ideas and discuss tactics, if they do at all. And that’s not even incorporating the time Tito Vilanova spends in treatment.
No matter how one slices it, it’s a pretty stupid idea to begin with, let alone to execute it.
Within a matter of a week FC Barcelona’s hope of achieving another treble has evaporated due to (mis)management on a grand scale. Perhaps the Alzugrana would’ve lost to AC Milan and Real Madrid regardless but one is inclined to believe they wouldn’t have faltered so spectacularly. Not this FC Barcelona side.
For better or worse the domestic league is FC Barcelona’s to lose, but while the Copa del Rey has never been much of a priority to the Blaugrana it’s a nice trophy to have. On current account the Champions League is all but lost at this point. By the time Tito Vilanova returns from his rehabilitation the La Liga title could probably look like a consolation price in what could’ve been a spectacular, if not historic, season.
Follow Sebastian on Twitter @JubeiKibagame