After 3 seasons of seeing magical football displayed by arguably the best football team ever assembled I asked myself if it could ever get better than this. The answer is YES!!!
The FC Barcelona dominance of world football will continue on for a bit longer. The best show on Earth must go on!!! I am like a kid on Christmas eve every night before a Barcelona game. Can’t wait to close my eyes in order to sleep, wake up and watch the next spectacle put on by this magnificent team.
After lifting the Champions League trophy by making Manchester United look like an amateur side many asked can this team improve? How can they stay hungry?
Let me answer those questions in this piece.
Barcelona have gone out and granted Pep Guardiola’s wishes by signing the only 2 players he requested at the conclusion of last term. He wanted 2 top footballers who could add competitive hunger and quality to his already near perfect squad. Alexis Sanchez from Udinese and Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal were the only players he wanted for his team. The board went to work all summer and granted the manager his 2 requests. They were both timely negotiations and bought at a relatively cheap price if you look at the market and what other players went for in recent transfer windows. Alexis Sanchez cost 26 million Euros with another 4-5 in performances bonuses. Fabregas cost 34 million Euros with another 5 in bonuses. Compare that to robot Andy Carroll 40 million from Newcastle to Liverpool or Radamel Falcao from Porto to Atletico for 40 million. The fact both players demanded that they only wanted to wear the blaugrana jersey and for their clubs to not entertain any other offers carried monumental weight in the negotiations.
Alexis Sanchez is a player I’ve followed for several years now. He arrived at my favorite Argentinian side, River Plate, for a year long loan from Udinese in 2007. He had raw talent and was a dribbling wizard who could effortlessly take on players. Well, it wasn’t until he fell into coach Marcelo Bielsa’s hands that I knew the boy could be a world class player. He would be polished on both sides of the balls and be taught that the team concept comes first. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for him to shine on the world stage for club and country. He led Udinese to a Champions League spot (fourth place finish) and put on quite a display for Chile in World Cup qualifying campaign and at the World Cup in South Africa.
Now he has arrived at FC Barcelona and will fit like a glove. He will play out wide in the 4-3-3 formation and give a massive injection of quality on the wing. His 1 v 1 dribbling ability will give Barca a new dimension. His defensive work rate matches Pedro’s and will help the team when it loses possession. Look for Alexis to displace David Villa sooner than later and add the much needed depth Bojan and Jeffren could not give without a massive drop in quality.
More importantly, Cesc Fabregas has returned home after one of the longest transfer sagas in football history. For 3 years Barcelona has attempted to lure him back with Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger refusing to part ways with their prized possession they had stolen from Barca back in 2003 as a 16 year old.
Many believed his signing was unnecessary with Thiago Alcantara coming up through the ranks. They said he would hault Thiago’s progression. Well, let me tell you that Cesc was brought in to add the best midfield in world football. With him and Thiago, Barcelona have assured themselves to continue with the dominance of world football long after Xavi and Iniesta peak out in next couple of seasons. Cesc has much more offensive productivity than both Xavi and Iniesta combined. He puts himself in remarkable goal scoring positions with exquisite runs off the ball and now he will have the best players on the planet to feed him as well as receive his beautiful weighted thru balls or scoop passes.
All in all, Barcelona are now 2 world class players deep at every position. In previous seasons, the fear of an important injury to any one of the trio of Messi, Xavi, or Iniesta would have spelt disaster. Now, the depth is there for Barca to rest and even afford an injury to one of their stars and still not miss a beat.
Lets look at the depth chart:
GK: Valdes and Pinto (not the strongest position on the team)
Left back: Abidal, Adriano, Maxwell
Right back: Dani Alves, Adriano, Montoya
Center back: Pique, Puyol, Mascherano, Abidal, Busquets
Holding Mid: Busquets, Mascherano, Keita
Attacking Mid left: Iniesta, Cesc, Keita
Attacking Mid right: Xavi, Thiago, Jonathan Dos Santos
Right Wing: Pedro, Alexis, Villa
Center FW: Messi, Cesc, Villa
Left Wing: Villa, Iniesta, Alexis
The squad is at least 16 deep without missing a beat in the world class department. There will be certain variations over the course of this term as Pep has reinvented the wheel on numerous occasions.
Recent examples of his genius have been relocating the already mercurial Lio Messi to a withdrawn #9 center forward role after having nothing but success as the right winger in his entire barca career. Since then, he has turned into a goal scoring and assist machine and Barcelona have won everything, with Leo picking up FIFA player of the year awards and expecting his 3rd straight prize later this year.
Or how about Pep having the holding mid (Busquets or Mascherano) drop deep in between his center backs when the team has possession…..that allowing his outside backs to push higher up the field and create 2 v 1 situations with the wingers on the flanks with ease.
The most remarkable part of this team is humility shown by all these world class players. They all understand the team first philosophy and prioritize that over any individual glory. The collective effort comes first and you see that during games. When someone scores a goal, it is one happy family celebrating it on the pitch and on the bench. There are never any long faces in this dressing room. When they win a trophy, it is a big love fest on the field. Good luck integrating a prima donna like Cristiano in this culture. Zlatan and his ego lasted 1 season and he got the boot!
Barcelona’s squad claims to be as hungry as ever and are aiming at the historic repeat of the 6 cups they lifted in manager Pep Guardioal’s inaugural season. Two cups down (Spanish Super Cup & European Super Cup), four to go. Real Madrid will have a lot to say about the Spanish League and Copa Del Rey. The Champions League will have tough competition in Madrid, Chelsea, Man City, Man U, as well as the usual suspects in the Italian Milan sides and Bayern Munich.
Come late May and many many Christmas Eve’s later, not even the “special one” and his mind games will be enough to keep this team from obtaining another Spanish League (4th in a row) and Champions League trophy.
What are your thoughts on the new signings and possible teams to dethrone Barcelona?