There is no crisis of such at FC Barcelona, though it is clear to see why a minority think otherwise. The performance yesterday was abysmal (by Barcelona’s standards) and quite frankly, had it not been for Xavi’s magical free-kick, it may have been a second successive stalemate for the Blaugrana. The whole team appeared to be suffering from fatigue with Lionel Messi the most obvious example.
Passes went astray, movement off the ball was virtually non-existent and don’t get me started on the shooting. In short, it was one of the worst Barcelona games I had seen under Pep Guardiola and despite my sentiment in the match review, three points is not always ideal, and can paper over cracks. These cracks are visible to the naked eye, and are getting larger by the day. I cannot see a quick fix.
The solution was simple heading into the Granada match: rest some key players (Lionel Messi and Xavi) and still pick up a result against one of the worst sides in the league. I mean no disrespect to Granada, but whatever side Barcelona field should have dispatched their efforts with a consummate ease. Instead, the key players were left on the pitch, and the performance of the team slumped as a result.
Not only that, but Pedro fell awkwardly on his ankle, and is now joining Alexis Sanchez on the treatment table. That leaves Lionel Messi and David Villa as the only strikers from the first team. Andres Iniesta could feature on the left-wing, and Cesc Fabregas could be used as a Trequartista but that would leave the midfield short of numbers as well.
Basically, Guardiola dug himself a hole before the Granada game, and with his decision to keep Lionel Messi on the field for the full 90 minutes, has made it a whole lot deeper. Now he has two options.
First, he could continue as he has been doing: playing Lionel Messi from the start and for the full 90 minutes. Some actually believe this is a valid option, and I hate to be the bringer of bad news but it is simply not viable. Remember the end of last season? David Villa and Pedro were in a dreadful run of form, no doubt thanks to the punishing schedule of the past few years. Devoid of any real substitutes, Guardiola continued to play them throughout this run of form, and optimistically, some Barcelona fans said that each were just "one goal away from regaining confidence".
This goal did not come, simply because the duo were fatigued, and while confidence was a factor, other aspects of the mental game were getting to them. Pressure to score in the next game, the increasing lethargy; it was all on their mind, and they did not score too many goals during that run.
In my opinion, this is exactly the same to what Lionel Messi is facing now. The pressure on him to deliver is simply staggering, and unlike other matches, assists and chance creation are not acceptable for the fans. It must be goals, and quick. Yet people say he should just "stick it out" and wait for the goals to come?
How long can Guardiola wait? A game? Maybe two matches? How does another 16 game drought sound? Hell, it could go on forever. Each game he starts without a rest will bring more pressure and more fatigue, it has to be stopped before it gets out of hand.
That leaves Guardiola the option that I would be favouring, dropping Messi for a match or two, and letting him rest like a normal human being. This is a man who had no pre-season training, and since starting against Real Madrid in the Supercup he has not had enough time to recover from the gruelling schedule he puts himself through. Resting Lionel Messi sounds like a cardinal sin, but could in fact be the boost that the rest of the team needs.
If Guardiola rested Messi, then David Villa would be the top dog in the front line. This could see him move to his original centre-forward position, and while the pressure would be on El Guaje to deliver, he would be comforted by the knowledge that Guardiola trusts him to lead the line. Our manager mentioned that Villa does so much for the team, and it takes a special type of person to adapt to this new role. Why not repay that effort with a temporary shift back to his true position?
Then we get to Xavi Hernandez: scorer of that superb free-kick, and long-time midfield leader at FC Barcelona. I thought he was meant to have an Achilles problem? As far as I knew, Pep was signing Cesc Fabregas and promoting Thiago Alcantara to compensate for his ageing body, but it seems nothing has changed. Xavi plays every match, and despite Pep indicating that he would be rested last night, he started against Granada.
As the scorer of that free-kick, I am glad he did, but again, it was clear that Xavi was far from his best. I counted four misplaced passes in the first-half yesterday, and while this is a small amount for an average midfielder, we are talking about Xavi here. The impact he had on the score line justifies Guardiola’s decision, but El Maestro needs his rest, and Thiago needs to be trusted in his absence.
Should Xavi and Messi start again on Saturday, we will have learnt a valuable lesson about Guardiola. Of course, this will depend on the result, but imagine that Barcelona drop points, or barely scrap a 1-0 win with neither having any sort of impact. What that would show to me is that Xavi and Messi are a law unto themselves at the club, much like a certain bucktoothed Brazilian and his midfield buddy from Portugal were at the end of Rijkaard’s era...
I accept that this seems a little far-fetched at this point in time, and is an over-reaction on my part; I can only hope that this is going to be similar to last season where Barcelona started October slowly, only to destroy Sevilla 5-0 in the final game of the month.
Unfortunately I just cannot see Real Mallorca capitulating in such a fashion, though rest assured, I have never wanted to be more wrong in my life!