Barcelona: Vilanova's Refusal To Buy A Centre-Back Will End In Failure At Camp Nou

Despite a late, late, winner, Barcelona's problems at the back will not stand up against the European big boys. Or Atletico and Real for that matter. Why, then, haven't they bought a centre-half?
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In the event of my demise…please let me witness FC Barcelona buy a centre-back, just one. Last night’s Champions League tie against Celtic Glasgow once more proved that FC Barcelona’s defence has more holes than Swiss cheese. Okay, what’s the first and most common explanation for FC Barcelona’s weak defensive record these days? Tito Vilanova has no options available to him, it’s a makeshift defence. That’s not an explanation. That’s an excuse.

Who was actually the genius that decided against buying a proven centre-back?

Tito Vilanova.

Is it unfortunate that Gerard Pique, Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol are currently unavailable for selection?

Yes, it is.

However, Eric Abidal was never realistically going to feature in the remainder of 2012. The fact that he could actually return to football is a small miracle and a testimony to his determination. At best, he could’ve featured sparingly towards the end of the current calendar year, with the emphasis on sparingly. So that reduces the list of ‘first choice’ defenders down from three to two, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. The latter has spent the better part of the last two years in and out of the treatment room. Furthermore, at a ripe 34 years of age it’ll only get worse. He’s going to become more injury-prone, not less.

So how is this not the fault of Tito Vilanova?

Perhaps Tito Vilanova confused the phrase “Prepare for the worst, Hope for the best”.

Counting on Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol to last a full season without an injury? I’m sorry, but that’s not sound management on his part. Perhaps Tito Vilanova confused the phrase “Prepare for the worst, Hope for the best”. He simply didn’t prepare at all and went straight for hope. I wonder.

Though FC Barcelona has somehow managed to win the match against Celtic Glasow 2:1 (after conceding the 0:1 in the 18th minute), at literally the final whistle (Jordi Alba scored the eventual match winner in the 90’ +4), it was once again a very hard fought victory. Granted, the ability to overturn a deficit and come out victorious is what separates champions from also ran-ins but one should avoid to be in the precautious position in the first place. FC Barcelona has conceded in five (!) of their last six matches in all competitions. In four of those matches the Catalans conceded at least two goals.

Attacking has always been FC Barcelona’s area of expertise, defending…not so much, at least not until Pep Guardiola took over the reins at the Camp Nou. According to PedritoNumeros FC Barcelona has already conceded 18 goals in 13 matches, in 2011/12 it took the Catalans 32 matches to reach that tally.

Every other week when I’m watching my favorite team play I’m hoping to grasp what manager, Tito Vilanova, and the FC Barcelona hierarchy are trying to sell us. Namely, that the Catalan club has no need for a specialist defender.

By their own admission, FC Barcelona’s 2011/12 campaign was a failure.

By their own admission, FC Barcelona’s 2011/12 campaign was a failure. The club failed to retain the two most prestigious trophies, La Liga and the Champions League. One is a marathon that allows for the odd missteps, the other is more or less a sprint of sorts. One mistake can cost the progression into the next round. There is a very little margin for error on the continental stage. Lionel Messi’s failed penalty kick against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final is testimony of that. If injuries have become a such a common occurrence in Barcelona, and opponents such as Celtic Glasgow or Spartak Moscow so hard to beat, one wonders what would happen if the Blaugrana found themselves in the exact same situation in the knock-out stages against ‘quality’ opposition?

I try my best to understand the wisdom of deciding against buying a centre-back. It somehow still eludes me. My mind longs for explanation, a reasonable argument that supports the delusional idea that FC Barcelona are above signing a natural successor to Carles Puyol’s throne. How many injuries before Tito Vilanova, Andoni Zubizaretta (director of football) and Sandro Rosell (President) come to their senses and sign the much needed replacement for Captain Caveman? The unprecedented success achieved during the Pep Guardiola-era must’ve fed the notion that all it takes to fix a problem is to buy a midfielder. Though Cesc Fabregas is not a flop by any stretch of the imagination – he was/is not what FC Barcelona needed in the first place. Sure, he is a nice player to have, a fabulous one at that, but his area of expertise is attack, not defending. If the idea behind signing Cesc Fabregas was to lessen the burden on Lionel Messi to produce goals, then it has failed thus far. La Pulga still accounts for more than 50 percent of all FC Barcelona goals, either through direct (scoring) or passive (assisting) involvement.

For instance, in the 2011/12 La Liga campaign FC Barcelona scored 114 goals, Lionel Messi’s was involved in 70 of those which equals to a ratio of 61,4 percent. The numbers for this relatively young season after eight match days stand at 24 goals, with Lionel Messi’s contributions accounting for 11 goals and 4 assists (according to transfermarkt) – up until now the Argentine genius has been directly responsible for 62.5 percent of all goals FC Barcelona scored in La Liga. If this is any indication to go by, this campaign will not be different to previous ones in regards to Lionel Messi’s importance to FC Barcelona game plan.

Messi-dependency is a potential threat, so long as little Lionel can stay injury-free FC Barcelona can lull themselves into a false sense of security

For better or worse, it’s more of the same. Messi-dependency is a potential threat, so long as little Lionel can stay injury-free FC Barcelona can lull themselves into a false sense of security. Without the involvement of Lionel Messi, the Blaugrana would’ve only won on three occasions across all competitions in the ongoing 2012/13 campaign: Real Sociedad, Getafe & Granada.

With a defence as susceptible to goals as FC Barcelona’s, the Catalans are just one Lionel Messi-injury removed from disaster. FC Barcelona has just recorded three clean sheets across all competitions. Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona conceded 35 (2008/09), 24 (2009/10), 21 (2010/11) and 29 (2011/12) goals in La Liga. At their absolute (relative) worst (2008/09), FC Barcelona conceded 0,92 goals per game in 38 match days. The 2012/13 La Liga campaign has just started and the Catalans have already conceded 11 goals after match day 8, at a ratio of 1,38 goals per game. One could be tempted and attribute this worrying statistic to a few off games like the 4:5 goal fest at the Riazor that inflated the current figures. However, FC Barcelona has conceded at least two (2) goals in all but one of the last five (5) fixtures. Yes, the mighty, and supposedly best team on the planet, have only successfully fended off the attacks of Granada – all others were invited to make a feast out of FC Barcelona’s ‘defence’.

FC Barcelona’s attack relies heavily on Lionel Messi while the defence is quasi non-existent. The only area that goes happily about their business: midfield. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as almost every FC Barcelona player is a midfielder. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, the number pegs around seven and a half (Javier Mascherano isn’t really a centre-back but he hasn’t featured in midfielder either). The number of dedicated (read: natural) centre-backs: five. Though Marc Muniesa is injured and not expected to return to action anytime soon. Marc Bartra finally made an appearance against Celtic, while Andreu Fontas was loaned out to rivals RCD Mallorca – amidst a crisis in central defence. So the number of ‘real’ centre-backs at disposal stands at two (one game doesn’t mean Bartra enjoys the trust of Tito Vilanova), Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. Though many Culés haven’t come to terms with the idea that the latter isn’t forever young, it’s apparent that the legendary Captain is already in the twilight of his career.

More people have given testimony to a Yeti sighting than witnessed the arrival of a centre-back at the Camp Nou these days

More people have given testimony to a Yeti sighting than witnessed the arrival of a centre-back at the Camp Nou these days. In fact, the summer 2009 was the last time FC Barcelona actually bought one: Dmytro Chygrynskiy. But he only lasted a single season and hasn’t been spotted since.

From the outside looking in, Tito Vilanova is clearly way over his head managing a big club like FC Barcelona. He decided against buying a centre-back in the summer and in all likelihood sanctioned the loan deal that sent Andreu Fontas to RCD Mallorca. Even worse, with the exception of one match, the first leg of the Supercopa de España against Real Madrid, his team has yet to fully convince over 90 minutes. While the current position at the summit of La Liga suggest otherwise, FC Barcelona are not at the top of their powers, let alone Europe.

Personally, I was hoping to write something different but somehow FC Barcelona’s leaky defence has become the recurring theme of this season. It’s a very bad running gag, which we’ll probably have to endure to the transfer window reopens in January at the very least. I have read somewhere that Alexandre Song has a superpower, the ability to be invisible, on current account I’m tempted to believe that. Nevertheless, it would do the player a huge disservice since he’s the last to decide which role he occupies within FC Barcelona’s set-up.

The three perpetrators for FC Barcelona’s defensive shortcomings go by the names of Sandro Rosell, who is overly concerned with extending Lionel Messi’s contract that doesn’t expire for another 4 (!) years, Andoni Zubizaretta for failing to buy a centre-back and Tito Vilanova for distrusting the centre-backs (read: Marca Muniesa, Marca Bartra & Andreu Fontas before he left) he has at his disposal. If pinning the hopes and trust into an ageing, and increasingly injury-prone, centre-back is evidence for solid management I’m not too eager to find out what their definition of ‘adventurous’ is. As far as I can tell this is more akin to wishful thinking than coordinated planning.

Follow me on Twitter @JubeiKibagame

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