January Break Report: Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique got a chance to salute Abidal with his "22" celebration. - David Ramos

With a few days to go to the next game, we'll be evaluating the performance of players so far this campaign. Today, a look at Barcelona's tower, Pique.

Last season was a bit out of sorts, but Gerard Pique expanded upon a successful Euro campaign with Spain and he looks to be getting back to his best this season.

With 15 starts at centerback, he's been the glue that's kept the at-times patchwork defensive line. Barcelona are still conceding too many goals and failing to register as many clean sheets, but it's hard to fault Pique too much for it.

Javier Mascherano is not up to the great standard he set up last season and with Carles Puyol injured for long stretches, there has been a rotating line of defenders. Pique has himself missed time, most notably the league Clasico which ended 2-2.

There have been some questions about his positioning, and in truth, it's similarly hard to leave anyone spotless for a subpar defensive team performance so far.

He's led the team in blocked shots per game and, partly due to his height, remains the best header of the ball on defense. He has scored one goal and despite failing to register an assist proper, he's put in some delightful passes in the opposition half.

His scoop to Lionel Messi in the Benfica game was largely forgotten because of the Argentine's injury scare, but it remains a brilliant bit of skill, especially for a defender.

There is still the suspicion that he could be even better. He has every single part that would make him the best defender in the world, but yet he can go games without looking too spectacular.

Part of the reason is he sometimes becomes prone to losing focus, and it seems with Puyol keeping him in line he plays better, but without him, he can switch off and try to coast on talent alone.

With the captain lessening his minutes due to advancing age, Pique has to step up and truly become the leader the team expects him to be. Will 2013 be the year?

Lowest point:

The second goal in the return leg of the Supercup made Pique look a bit slow and Cristiano Ronaldo extraordinary. Pique was slow to the ball and lacked awareness to block the Madrid striker from putting his team ahead on aggregate.

Highest point:

His best performance might have been against Athletic Bilbao. He scored his only goal of the season so far, a tap-in after a corner. He helped fend off Athletic's "long ball" approach, yet also helped initiate attacks. He even set up Messi only for the play to just barely fail to find the net.

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