As promised I bring to you PART II of FC Barcelona: A Preseason Look at Newly Promoted Alcantara and Fontas-Squad Depth- & the B Team, featuring newly promoted center back Andreu Fontas. Here's PART I in case you missed it.
This summer Pep and Co. decided not to sign a new central defender from the transfer window but to promote from within. Last season the depth issues, as far as the center of defense, were devastatingly evident. It appears as though Puyol’s injury problems are not going to be put in the past. As he ages he’ll likely become more and more injury prone and what Barca need right now is a quality replacement.
Sure we have Mascherano and Abidal (Busquets’ place is clearly not in the center of defence) who can take up that spot when we need, but that is hardly a sustainable solution. It thins out resources in other areas of the team. If Barca refuse to buy from the transfer market that solution must come from within. In comes Fontas as he is promoted to the first team.
I got my first "real" glimpses of the young defender during preseason and was hopeful that he would ease some of the worry I had over Barca’s ever thinning back line. Unfortunately his performances have done little to ease my worries and those of my fellow writers here on barcablaugranes.com. To quote Jose, "he sucks." I guess we could/should offer better analysis than that. He lacks pace, which is very dangerous for a team that plays a high line and is susceptible to counter attacks. As far as his tackling or challenging for possession goes, he’s reluctant to commit. He finds himself on the wrong side of the attacker too often. At the start of preseason, I was willing to give Fontas the benefit of the doubt. He’s still young and relatively inexperienced, especially at the level that the first team plays.
The problem with Fontas is he’s not any better than the other options that we have for center backs; he’s not even better than those whose natural position is elsewhere.
For example, Eric Abidal is a left back as we all know. He has shown when necessary that he is a capable central defender. He may not be able to read the game as well as Puyol, for example, but he makes up for that with pace. If an opposing striker gets past him, he can usually catch up and then make the necessary tackle.
One of Mascherano’s jobs as a defensive midfielder is to recover possession. That’s a quality that makes him a suitable substitute center back. He’s never too shy to make a tackle and is not slow by any means.
Gerard Pique is not the pace-iest of defenders but he reads attackers intentions well. He is also not timid to challenge for the ball. Puyol, the best center back we have, is equipped with those three qualities that make a great defender. Due to his experience and ability to read the game opposition players don’t easily get past him. If one does get past him Puyol doesn’t hesitate to pursue him. Though he is not as fast as Abidal, he usually has enough pace to shut down an opposing strikers attack. Puyol doesn’t shy away from hard tackles. All of these things are essential to a really quality center back. What Puyol has that is hard substitute is his ability to lead and organize the defense.
As far as I can tell, Fontas doesn’t possess any of these qualities to the extent that justifies his being promoted to the first team at this time.
I think Jose put it best when he said to me:
"Fontas is slow in speed, won't challenge you, and he seems to not read the game at all. But it might be that he does know how to read it, but his reaction time is so lethargic that by the time he moves, opponents are miles ahead of him."
Of course the player needs time to develop and learn how to read the game better and to gain confidence in other areas of the game. But the club is in a bit of a crisis as far as center backs go. Gabi Millito has gone on a free transfer this summer and no other defensive reinforcements were bought in the window to improve the squad. Like I said Puyol’s injury concerns are unlikely to dissipate as he is getting older, so real defensive cover is needed, not just short term quick fixes, putting a left back or DM in. Just because these players can play in the center doesn’t mean they should be left as the only cover. It weakens the depth we have for other areas. I keep thinking it would’ve been wiser to sign a center back in the transfer window especially now as the season is about to start and our back line is in doubt for the Clasico.
As I wrote this, I heard news that Gerard Pique is injured. And Sergio Busquets is a doubt for this weekend’s match. Dilemma.
If Busquets can’t play then Mascherano might have to play in midfield. That would force Pep’s hand into starting Fontas in the center of defence. So what will our defense look like for the Super Cup? Alves-Abidal-Fontas -Adriano?
Is anyone confident to face off against Real Madrid with that?
Keep an eye out for PART III about how preseason went for Barca B! (ha unintentional rhyme)
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