Well, I’m sure everyone here would agree that Cristian Tello has surprised everybody. The kid, to quote Dani Alves, has "a 7th gear" and one can see that every single time he receives the ball. It’s also fair to say that if Tello receives a pass with space, there are very few defenders out there who can catch him or get close for that matter.
Since Tello is naturally a centre forward or striker, his finishing abilities are supreme. With Barcelona’s and moreover Pep’s tendency to play strikers as wingers (to allow Messi to work his magic in the middle), the team has options that complement Messi’s false 9 role.
In essence, they have players like Tello, Alexis, Afellay (who isn’t a striker) who are capable of keeping the width that Barcelona need while keeping possession. How many times have we witnessed that situation? When Barcelona is comfortable in possession, with Xavi, almost single-handedly dominating the opponent from, just outside the box.
In that particular case, as Pep has learned, the opponent is in "Ultra defensive" mode a.k.a click the analog button on your xbox controller twice to the left. When the team finds itself in that situation, Xavi ,Busquets and Iniesta have specific roles which include, passing to draw defenders out and probing down the middle of the pitch or distribute to the left and right(something Xavi does a lot and still surprises me with his accuracy and timing).
Most of you will know that the idea of distributing it down the wings is to stretch the opponent’s defense and not allow them to put all 10 outfield players in their box. This is where Tello is tactically brilliant; the few times I’ve had the chance to watch him. The youngster seems to hug the line like no other winger in Barcelona’s squad. At this point, Tello has two options, either dribble and use his pace to get past the opponent’s full back to send a cross in (which isn’t his speciality and Isaac Cuenca is much more suited to this role) or cut back to pass the ball back to a midfielder (who by this time has moved closer to the box forcing Barca and the opponent to take those few steps, closer to goal).
However, the above is not Tello’s forte or at least not yet. In fact, the more I think about it, I get the feeling that Pep Guardiola licks his lips in delight every time he thinks of the options a player like Tello gives Barcelona with respect to tactics.
Pep, in his vast wisdom, has once again shown that tactical prowess is definitely part of his repertoire. Cristian Tello is to Barcelona, what Higuain is to Real Madrid. Mourinho has been clever about how to use his strikers. Pep has one more option in Isaac Cuenca but the point of all this is that Tello is a part of the B-team and being given his chance to perform. While he has done that extremely well, he is also expected to improve in certain aspects of his game such as crossing and his ability to beat a defender on the dribble.
Until that time, when Tello has reached a certain stage of maturity, he will most likely start on the bench and is a great super sub for any team. Think about it this way, Barca are playing Real Madrid, the score is 1-1 and it’s that stage of the game where things are beginning to stall (around the 70th minute). Pep needs to change things, how about bringing on a forward who is faster than most fullbacks at their peak but now Tello faces Arbeloa who is tiring. Who would bet against Tello beating his man almost every opportunity he gets?
At this point of the game, the fight for midfield is still raging; chances are Messi plays deeper to support Xavi and Iniesta in keeping purposeful possession. There are two team mates in Tello and Alexis ahead who either stay wide or create space through off-the-ball movement(Sanchez is arguably as good as Messi in this aspect). You can almost visualize it, Messi receives the ball in midfield, drops a shoulder, skips past a DM and uses that magical left foot to send a through ball right between the opponent’s centre back and right back to Tello who is moving shifting up the gears against a half-dead Arbeloa. Tello is similar to Villa in that aspect but a whole lot faster. Maybe losing David Villa to injury really is a blessing in disguise?
Angles created, angles used, Tello runs straight at the keeper, forcing the centre back to cover for his team mate who is busy eating the grass Tello leaves in his wake. Messi runs straight down the middle, Alexis moves closer to the box and we find ourselves in a 3 vs 3 situation except that the 3 defenders are in panic-mode against 3 great finishers.
Why does Tello not start more games? Well, it’s because his game gives us so much more as a substitute. Next year, assuming the youngster renews, with a whole pre-season Tello would have improved his game and will be more suited to play as a winger. Although in situations like the one explained above, Tello and Alexis play more like two strikers with Messi as an orthodox no. 10. Isaac Cuenca, meanwhile, who is part of the first team, will remain as the favorite to start a game because of those mind numbing crosses he brings to the table but that’s a story for another timeJ
Makes you wonder huh? Does Barca really need Neymar?
Until the next time,