FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Defense? What defense?

David Ramos - Getty Images

Alexandre Song must come good tomorrow for Barca to stand a chance of victory

This Sunday, 7th October, Barcelona face hated rivals Real Madrid at home without a defense. Well, to be fair, it’s really just one player I have a problem with and that’s Alexandre Song. Javier Mascherano is not immune to mistakes either but last season, he was without a doubt our most consistent CB and definitely more naturally inclined to play at the back than Song.

Alexandre Song, is fast moving to the top of my list of "Barca’s most useless players". Admittedly, a very short list. I understand that if he were brought in as a replacement for Busquets, then he would do alright. Song’s one touch passing is acceptable and he has a certain level of creativity that would allow him to play in more advanced positions as well but 20 million euros for a substitute that doesn’t offer anything new to the team?

They say his physique or rather his physicality would help us. Maybe, but I would still have chosen to keep Keita rather than pay 20 million to buy his replacement. As far as footballing traits are concerned, Song is a sort of jack of all trades without really excelling in anything.

  • 1) He is not fast. i.e his pace definitely does not justify his price tag.
  • 2) His positional awareness is abysmal and although it hasn’t shown yet, I can’t help but feel it’s bound to happen soon.
  • 3) Despite all the talk about his physicality, the second goal Barca conceded against Sevilla showed that Song just let Negredo pass which was disappointing to say the least.

What I will give him credit for is that as a player who doesn’t speak Spanish or Catalan, he seems to have adapted quite well to the side if one were to believe Mascherano and Xavi. I might be overtly pessimistic but I do agree it’s too early to throw him to the wolves and that Song will need at least one season to really find his place in the team.

My problem is, that’s way too late for the clasico coming up. At this point, what I regret is Tito not giving Bartra ANY minutes this season. Bartra is a unique case, I must admit, from the games I saw him play in preseason. Like Montoya, Marc Bartra is surprisingly mature and calm on the ball and seems to keep it simple till he gains the necessary experience. Defenders, in general, are prone to making mistakes at a younger age and generally hit their peak only around 27 or 28 years of age. Bartra has shown talents that could make him great in that he has shown great positional awareness. I can’t help but feel that if Bartra were getting minutes, I would have chosen him over Song to play in defense.

Barca’s style of play(i.e the high defensive line) demands defenders to have one of the following two options:

1) Positional play, so that danger can be cut off before it starts. This is a trait that cannot be taught, it takes years and years of practise to get it right but in general the intelligence that the defender shows is something that he’s born with. Check Puyol’s top games and you will see. Our Captain has never been the fastest player on the pitch but he’s made up for it by reading the game so well.

2) Pace: When a player lacks the awareness and finds himself out of position often, then sheer pace is required to make up ground. Bartra doesn’t have too much pace but he isnt too bad either.

3) A mix of both: Mascherano has done well because he has a mix of both traits. Since he played as a destroyer for Liverpool, Mascherano was already aware of where he needs to be and if not, he had the pace required to make up for it. Finally, the Argentine is probably the best at last ditch tackling in Europe right now.

What does all this have to do with Song? Well, from the little we’ve seen of him, it does’nt look like he has any of these traits in abundance. Like many pivots or defensive midfielders, Song has a tendency to step up towards the ball to pressure the opponent which is alright if you have a solid back line to save you incase of an error but when you are playing in defense, it’s imperative that Song gets this right, especially in Barca, cause of the amount of space available behind the back line.

Neither does he have the pace to catch up if he makes a mistake. Worse still, he doesn’t seem to have Mascherano’s determination and grit to get back and make that last ditch tackle.

As far as the clasico is concerned, here are my predictions if Song starts:

1) Cristiano Ronaldo is gonna have a field day. Allow me to explain, on the very occasions when Ronaldo gets into that space behind Dani Alves, we could remain calm because usually what happens is Busquets drops deep and this allows Puyol to cover for Alves till the brazilian gets back. 9 out of 10 times, Puyol owns Ronaldo. Song, however, is prone to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

2) Madrid will definitely score a couple of goals at least. The best we can hope for is that our attack scores more than theirs and that won’t be easy, with Pepe and Ramos as Centre backs for Los Blancos. Worse, Tito seems adamant not to give David Villa a start(I really hope I’m wrong here and that Villa does start and has a great game).

3) The fear that Barca used to instil in opponents, including Madrid has gone. We can be beaten. The slight advantage we have by playing at home is, in my opinion, cancelled out by the fact that Ronaldo and co. have done well against us recently and especially at Camp Nou.

All the dooms day talk aside, there are a couple of things that would have to happen for us to win. The most obvious is that Song and Mascherano are flawless on Sunday. The whole team will have to pressure and do it right but most of all Busquets will have to be on his A game so as to cut out any danger before Ronaldo, Benzema and co have time to run at Song. Furthermore, the two centre backs will have to extremely aware of the ball over the top which was our undoing in the 2nd leg of the supercopa.

All that said, make no mistake that I am definitely giving Song the time he needs to improve. Unfortunately for Tito and Barca, our 2 starting centre back’s are out injured and therefore the coach will be forced to choose between Song and Bartra. Due to the reasons mentioned above, it is safe to say that Song will start in defense. Like Cristian Tello, Song just might find Real Madrid a little too much to handle so early into his Barca career. Tello was terrible in last season’s Clasico but Pep had little choice as far as a winger was concerned. The good news is that Barca have had time to prepare. Moreover, Song and Mascherano have had time to build some chemistry and we can hope that they have a good day.

Possible outcomes?:

  1. A narrow loss thanks mainly due to Barca’s defense.
  2. A narrow victory despite a shaky defense because our attack click and take their chances.
  3. Not probable but possible, a draw.

Barcelona, however, can afford to draw this match. It is highly unlikely that Tito will set up the team to get a point especially at home. In conclusion, I hope all of you take this article as a warning. Even if we lose this match, blaming Song, Mascherano or Valdes is not an option simply because it takes time for a goalkeeper to get used to a new defensive line.

For more Barcelona vs Real Madrid coverage, be sure to check out our Clasico Storystream

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