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The Emergence of Barcelona's David Villa

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If you are reading this blog then you are well aware that on Monday afternoon Barcelona crushed Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, and it was as one-sided a match as I have ever seen. The fact that the losing team, Real Madrid, is regarded as one of the best teams in the world is what makes the result truly epic. When Barcelona and Real Madrid get together everybody watches, not the just the blaugranes and madridistas around the world but neutrals as well.

Lost this year in Barcelona, amongst the brilliance of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta, is the continued emergence of David Villa. Villa of course is well known as a clinical striker from his years at Valencia, or to wider audiences his fantastic goal scoring record at the international level with Spain, winning the 2008 European Championships and 2010 World Cup in the process (along with Xavi and Iniesta).

Entering the 2010-11 campaign, only Cristiano Ronaldo (75) and Lionel Messi (67) had more league goals in the past three seasons (from top tier leagues) than Villa (66). Not bad company considering Ronaldo and Messi have won the past two Ballon d'Or awards. Nobody was questioning whether or not Villa is a world-class striker but the question remained, would he be a good fit at Barca? Just the year before, Barca coach Pep Guardiola sent Samuel Eto'o and a lot of cash to Italy to acquire Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede lasted just one season at the Camp Nou before being loaned back to Italy. Although in my opinion he is extremely lazy, Zlatan is certainly an above-average striker yet he could not fit in at Barca.

Barcelona struggled out of the gate during its first six league games, with a 2-0 loss to Hercules and a 1-1 draw versus Mallorca leaving Barca trailing Madrid in the La Liga table early on. Barca narrowly defeated Sporting Gijon 1-0 during that span despite out-shooting their opponent 16-3, thanks to a David Villa goal. By all accounts, Barca were creating plenty of chances but were unable to find the back of the net with any kind of consistency. David Villa played in five of those first six games, missing one due to suspension, and scored two goals during that stretch. Barca took 13 of a possible 18 points at that point.

David Villa was getting plenty of chances to score but was unable to finish. Although Villa was used to playing with many Barca players at the international level, the lofty expectations that come from a transfer to an elite club may have been weighing him down. One thing Villa did not have experience with is playing alongside Lionel Messi. Villa has always been the top player on his team in recent years and that approach will clearly not work for the blaugrana. Villa showed he had a great ability to get open and create shots and he showed he is a fantastic passer for someone who is known for being a deadly scorer. If there was a weakness in his game it was his ability to take opposing defenders one-on-one.

The passing game at Barca moves so fast that often times the ball would get to Villa and he would hold onto it and prepare to make a run at his defender. This often lead to turnovers and, even when he was able to get in a cross, the momentum of the quick passing game was lost and defences were able to regain their shape.

In the past seven games Barca have taken a maximum of 21 points. Villa has scored six goals in those seven games and has looked much more like the finisher we have seen at Valencia the past few seasons. The most exciting aspect for Barca fans is the way in which Villa and Messi have come together, most evident in this weeks El Clasico 5-0 thrashing of Madrid. Messi assisted on both of Villa's goals and Villa's finishing touch was world class. Villa is also looking much more comfortable on the left wing, he is still confident making runs at his mark but also seems much more in tune with the quick passing game and is willing to keep the ball moving. Villa looked especially confident as he torched Sergio Ramos on Monday before sending a beautiful left-footed cross to Pedro for a goal, just off the fingertips of Iker Casillas.

Let there be no mistake. David Villa is a world-class striker and is a fantastic fit for Barcelona. I believe losing Samuel Eto'o for Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a mistake, which of course is easy to say in hindsight. I also believe in Pep Guardiola and I think Pep has correct his mistake by sending Zlatan packing and bringing in David Villa. Villa is a true team player and is a great fit at Barcelona.

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