The Good and Bad of New Barca
We have seen Barca getting a comprehensive win over minnows Levante and then come across a tough opponent in Athletico Madrid. In the match with levante, we saw how Barca looked sharper and more effective than last season, it gave us hope for a faster and meaner Barca but then again in the match with Athletico Madrid, we found out the issues which need ironing. Here is my take on what we learned from both the games on what has changed and what has not under the new coach.
First the Good things
Higher intensity – we have seen in both the matches that Barca is trying to get the intensity of play to earlier levels, retrieving the ball from the opponent and denying them space is back in the tactics. We know that this is not at all a new thing for Barca or in that case any team in present scenario, but it is always a good sign to see the players running and putting pressure on the opponents and it definitely gives results. Tata Martino has been able to get the intensity back to a certain extent, hope he can continue to keep the players on their toes and motivated
Rotation - one thing that has definitely changed under the new coach, that is the rotation of players in a match, Martino has not shied away from substituting Messi, Iniesta or Xavi. This was absent in the previous season. Tito always played it safe, he was averse to experimentation and that led to fatigue and ultimately contributed to the embarrassment in the UCL. Martino seem to understand the importance of trying out players and getting a balance in the team. I expect him to continue this and give all the players a balance of action and rest to up their performance and efficiently use them for varied opponents.
No Messi Dependence – Martino seems to understand that one player does not win trophies and he is not giving in to the popular demand of playing Messi and Neymar together, he wants the team to do well and without any certain individual. I expect him to do the same with Xavi, Iniesta, Alba and Alves at the least; because it seems that Barca can only play a certain way with this combination on ground.
Recharged Alexis – we have seen a new confident Alexis in these two matches as well as the friendlies, he seem to be confident, faster and much more enthusiastic, in fact he has stood out from the rest in both the matches. It will be great news to finally see the full potential of this gifted footballer. With him scoring and providing, it will be a treat.
Now the Bad things
No solution at the Back – although Martino has stated that he does not need a CB immediately, I do not see much depth in the squad and the back line still remains dangerously exposed if not as bad as last season. The defense still has problems dealing with air balls, long clearances and set pieces. Alves always seem to helpless except pulling or tugging at somebody’s shirt, Alba gets marauded and pushed out of the way by stronger forwards and wingers. I honestly have not seen Xavi, Iniesta or Messi defending any airballs. It is just Pique and Macherano and Busquets to the rescue whenever the ball is in the air. Alba and Alves still lack the defensive quality to be expected from a stronger team. We can hope that Batra, Bagnack, Adriano or Montoya can do better in those positions but they too do not radiate confidence. Barca needs a tall defender who is good in the air; hope Martino realizes it sooner than later.
Fabregas not utilized – In my view, Fabregas is much more effective in winning games than Iniesta, he may not have the dribbling skills and runs of Iniesta but he surely makes the attack much more direct and creates many more chances, he is also a better header and scorer than Iniesta. We have seen that whenever Fabregas is in the field he gets involved in both the flanks and covers much larger areas of the ground, he also seem to have a better co-ordination with alexis and Messi. Martino should start with Fabregas to get early goal advantage, Iniesta may be brought to sustain a match, but Fabregas should be used more if Barca has to score more. Although we have seen that Xavi is playing more direct in the last 2 games, but he does not have the same energy anymore and tends to bring monotony in the attack. Hence Sergi Roberto and Fabregas should be tried more often.
No innovation – In the last 2 matches, we have not seen any significant innovation from the Barca we saw last year. Martino is still starting with the same players, same formation and very similar style. We have seen that most of the better teams have learned how Barca play and they know exactly how they have a chance of beating Barca. Without bringing in new starters or tweaking with the formation, it will be the same old story, where decent teams with energy will be able to stop and beat Barca. We saw how in the second half, Athletico Madrid started pressing and Barca looked drained.
I surely hope that Marino is in the learning process and he is well aware of all the positives and negatives of the team. He sure is working on how to improve the performance and make Barca unbeatable. I trust him fully and I am sure, in time he will address all the lacunas in the Barca game and make us proud.