In his third season in Barcelona, Javier Mascherano was expected to take the final step forward. Instead, perhaps he's taken a step back so far. Partly, this is because he set such a great standard last season, but partly it's been that he's been not quite great.
With 20 starts, Mascherano has been the main man in central defense. As it's been discussed before, the team has conceded too many goals. Of course, it's largely not been Mascherano's fault. In fact, it's hard to blame one single person at all.
However, Mascherano was probably the best defender last season and he's the most experienced on the field quite frequently this year, with Carles Puyol. It's not so much that he's been bad, because he hasn't. It's just he hasn't been quite as great as we've come to expect.
A tough-tackling but smart player, intense but well-behaved, Mascherano has been a great addition to Barcelona's squad. He's made an admirable shift from a defensive midfielder to a ball-playing central defender. Even he admits that at Barca, it's his best position.
Last season, he came in fourth for BarcaBlaugranes' award for best player, behind only Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta. That's how good he was.
This year, can the same be said? It's a bit harsh to criticize him for not being the fourth best player, but the team has really needed him to be this year.
It's probably a bit unfair, but Mascherano did register two own goals (well, technically one) this season. He probably was not happy that his deflection off a Georgios Samaras header gave Celtic a 1-0 lead at the Camp Nou.
Mascherano has yet to score in a Barcelona shirt, but he did register a good assist in the Supercup first leg against Real Madrid. His long diagonal pass was worth of a world-class midfielder, and Pedro was able to control the ball and hit it into the back of the net. The only criticism one can make is Pedro was slightly offside, but this isn't Masche's fault.