Teams "park the bus", we need mesmerizing FC Barcelona back

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona (R) celebrates with his teammate Xavi Hernandez after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between FC Barcelona and FC Viktoria Plzen at Camp Nou on October 19, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

In the past few seasons, FC Barcelona has built a reputation as the best team in the world and arguably as one of the best ever. The thing is Barca were not very friendly on their way to the top for all categories of teams (local and abroad, big and small, old and young to name a few), they kept on enjoying huge score lines. A lot of opponents were mere victims. Outstanding 3 to 8 nil score margins as the team collected their record 12 trophies in just above three years. Managers tried to fight back in the process with different tactics and game-plans. Millions of pounds were invested on international stars: a collection of veterans and exciting new talents, but one game plan by the Spanish giants kept on conquering the whole of Europe, simple but not easy: passing and movement.  From defenders to midfielders to attackers – not necessarily in that order – pass pass pass… and Bang!!!

Most of their players are not gifted in height which makes them vulnerable to set pieces, so they made it a point to concede the lowest number of those on their hey-day. A few teams have attempted it in the past, but now almost everyone they face is doing it: parking the bus that is.

Teams were bound to get tired sooner or later, but who can blame them really? Your players lose their morale when faced with a hiding, so why not keep the score to a traditional clean sheet for both teams; end the game with a point instead of nothing seeing as going for three is seen as being overly ambitious. So this has become the Catalan club’s biggest challenge in the 2011/2012 season, to continue dismantling these teams and still emerge victorious in the end. But something is lacking at the moment to effectively complete this mission.

The extreme team dynamics, the fluidity, where are they?

This has always been and will arguably always be the team’s approach to the game. The movement, the triangles and the fast ball-to-feet passing; but they haven’t been able to do these effectively in the opposition half of the field in recent games. Passes are being misplaced, the passing and movement is slower and a couple of players are out of form. When this part of their game is being done effectively, it doesn’t matter who plays in which position, because all are doing one thing: defending together and attacking together. When they aren’t doing it very well, it becomes difficult to beat these teams because it’s not easy to kill the shape of their compact defenses. When playing in the opposition’s half with about ten of their men behind the ball, you need to pass the ball fast and move fast, when you do that, once in a while defenders follows you and open spaces, spaces we’ve been known to capitalize on. So why aren’t they doing it? Well I can only guess that they are either out of form or tired.

Midfielders continues to shine, but attackers tend to lose it

The first thing that clicks in my mind when someone mentions the Barca midfield is the Xavi-Iniesta duo. They have been outstanding. Xavi is conserving possession, distributing the ball and dictating the pace of the game while Andres Iniesta is dribbling, opening spaces, passing and shooting if an opportunity arises. Their attackers tend to disappoint them in front of goal. Balls are being shot right at the keeper and some choose to make yet another pass when the better option would have been a shot on goal. Some waste time on the ball in the final third until defenders are able to go back to shape, closing down the opened spaces and then… we are back to square one.

The leader in attack, something must be wrong with him

I’m not sure about you but I have spotted a couple of things about the two times FIFA World Player of the year, Lionel Messi that is. His on the ball skills are still unmatched but… apart from a couple of his passes being off target, Messi stopped pressing. This man on his hey-day is amazing to watch and I mean without the ball. He runs after everything within a 10 meter radius and he runs after any ball he loses. In fact, that is why people never realized that he loses the ball a lot, because whenever he did, he almost always got it back and fast. If you are claiming that he is simply conserving his energy for the big runs well I think he’s over doing it. Well you know what they say, "form is temporary but talent in forever", and so I am strongly hoping that it was a "form" thing.

They also say that when "you establish yourself as a leader" people always see you when things go wrong, if they are right, maybe that is why I said that stuff about him.

From "Pedrooooo!!" To "Eish, whatsup with him?"

Pedro Rodriguez is currently undergoing an out-of-form spell. His recent displays are shadows of his own self. But with all that, I don’t think leaving him on the bench will help his case, he needs to keep on getting the minutes until he re-discover his shooting boots.

They bought you for a reason, time to prove your worth

Our recent purchases have suffered from injuries. Cesc Fabregas recovered to join in late against Sevilla, even though he did change the dimensions of the game when introduced, I can only claim that he didn’t have enough time to change the score line. Alexis Sanchez has been sidelined for a while now, but rumors have it that he’s so close to a come back. Cesc showed us already what he has in store for us, those combinations with his once La Masia teammate in Messi and those EPL-like high passes (accurate ones by the way), he needs to come back to that and continue on proving to himself and the critics out there that he is worth it, that no-one made a mistake (that excludes Arsenal of course). The same applies to Sanchez, he didn’t have quite enough time to show us what he had to offer, and the injury affected him big time. His dribbling skills might be what we are missing against the aggressively defensive teams. I strongly hope that he comes back with a full spirit and remain injury free for the remainder of the campaign.

Nothing says "in your face" to a bus than an early goal

A goal around the 0-20 minutes mark is always the way to deal with this ultra defensive teams. They come to a game hoping to leave with a point and once they are a goal down, putting 10 men behind the ball becomes useless and they start to attack opens spaces and offer the Catalan outfit exactly what they need. But failing to get one makes the game even more difficult as the clock runs because the opposition players gain more and more confidence and our players become more and more frustrated.

The Status Quo

Pep is the genius here, he always anticipates and he did see this one coming before the season started. That is why while people were screaming the famous "we don’t need Cesc", "where will he fit in" and the "Alexis will just be a bench warmer" Pep never showed one iota of doubt. He has been handling the bus-parking situation very well; it’s only injuries and out-of-form issues that seem to mess with his work.

Next stop?... Granada and beyond.

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