FC Barcelona and Focusing On The Positives

Pre-season can be a frustrating time for Cules... - Stanley Chou

Barcelona's pre-season preparations may have been a little unusual, but if the past is anything to go by, the future is still bright for the Blaugrana

In the light of Barcelona’s somewhat underwhelming 3-1 victory over the Malaysia XI at the Shah Alam Stadium yesterday, social networks were flooded by a group of ever-pessimistic Culés, looking to capitalise on this lacklustre performance and a group of minor injuries as a reason to criticise Barça president Sandro Rosell. As Amri Yahyah lashed home a 20-yard volley, the outcry was worryingly familiar: "we need a centre-half" cried the angry fans, almost in unison.

"If we concede against Malaysia, what hope do we have against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich?"

Thankfully for Rosell, their cries of derision were soon silenced, as a Rosell-signing Neymar restored Barcelona’s slender advantage. As "unproven", "overhyped" and "overpriced" as Neymar supposedly is, he sure knows how to finish; gliding past a defender with a nimble turn, the Brazilian calmly slotted the ball past the Malaysia keeper at his near post.

He might not be able to play in the centre of defense, but there is still every reason to believe that Neymar’s arrival is going to drastically improve this Barcelona team, and rectify one of its major flaws – Messidependencia.

Remember, Barcelona may have conceded seven goals over two legs against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League, but they also failed to muster so much as a few shots on target, yet alone a single goal. And while Barcelona were missing a number of crucial defenders over the course of that two-legged encounter, they were at full-strength offensively – provided that you discount Messi’s fitness, or lack thereof.

So, on the basis of that tie, one might even argue that Barça’s offensive needs were more pressing, much more urgent that their need for a new defender – as for all intents and purposes, the return to fitness of Javier Mascherano could be classified as a "new signing", at least compared to Barcelona’s squad for the match against Bayern.

Unfortunately Barcelona’s failure to add a new centre-half (at least by the time of publish) is just one of a plethora of criticisms levelled at Sandro Rosell, who according to many, should have never sanctioned Barça’s tour of Asia in the first place. The clause in Thiago’s contract is regarded as another high-profile error, and these "failures" are compared and contrasted to the current situation at Real Madrid.

After all, the grass is always greener on the other side...

Yet, for all this talk of the future – of impending doom and a descent into mediocrity for Barcelona, and of incredible success for the youthful Real Madrid – there has been little talk of the past and this is particularly surprising.

Rewind to the 2010/2011 season, or more accurately, the pre-season – and glance at some of the similarities.

Despite claiming the La Liga title with a then-record 99 points, Barcelona appeared to be a team on the "decline". Eliminated from the UEFA Champions League in humiliating fashion by Internazionale in the season previous, Barcelona went on to make a few questionable moves in the transfer window.

An underrated and underplayed midfielder moved abroad to a potential European rival for a fee that was arguably below market value and he was followed out of the Camp Nou exit by a superstar striker, whom the Blaugrana sold at a huge loss. Another striker, this time a veteran centre-forward-turned-left-winger also headed for pastures new, again for a surprisingly low fee and a useful defender was allowed to leave on a free transfer. With the start of the season looming, Barcelona had only really made one major acquisition as they moved to sign a long-term target, a striker/winger purchased at great expense in a deal agreed at the start of the summer.

After an exhibition against Valerenga at the Ullevaal Stadion, the club departed on a Tour of Asia where they would face an all-star league team selected from one of the countries they were visiting.

Contrast these actions with those at Real Madrid. After missing out on the La Liga title, Florentino Perez opted for a new manager: a two-time UEFA Champions League winner (formerly employed by Chelsea) hired to bring the glory days back to the Santiago Bernabeu. With a giant transfer budget, this manager soon stamped his personality on the squad, preferring to forgo expensive "ready-made" talent in favour of some talented youngsters. So, turning his attentions to a single league, the manager pulled off an encouraging double swoop to sign a talented attacking midfielder and an industrious central midfielder.

Madrid also resigned a former youth team player who had just logged an impressive season away from the Bernabeu and complimented his arrival with another young midfielder, signed for a relatively inexpensive fee, believed to in the region of £5 million. Content with these dealings, Los Blancos then travelled to the United States of America where they played a couple of games and trained at UCLA.

The similarities between "then" and "now" is remarkable; and of course Real Madrid’s new-found focus on youth barely made an iota of difference on the title race and aside from a few moments of rare glory, their expensive, previously successful manager couldn't knock the Blaugrana off their throne.

Are there any guarantees that the same fate awaits Carlo Ancelotti? Obviously not, but perhaps these similarities can remind us that despite this unusual pre-season, sometimes it helps to simply focus on the positives every once in a while.

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