On Monday night, FC Barcelona took to the field in the Joan Gamper Trophy against Serie A side, Napoli. With the Partenopei coming off the back of a great season, where they finished third in Calcio, subsequently qualifying for the Champions League, no-one quite knew what to expect. This was a team featuring the likes of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi. At least on paper, a close game seemed to be in the cards.
FC Barcelona’s line-up, didn’t offer any surprises, with Andreu Fontas being entrusted with first team duties against the fabled Napoli trio. The most notable absentee from the starting XI, Lionel Messi; instead Cesc Fabregas featured in the "false no.9" position, while Guardiola opted to play Seydou Keita in midfield. Essentially it meant that Barcelona were starting with a makeshift backline, without a midfield destroyer, or even an anchorman.
A bold move by Pep Guardiola; not even the most optimistic Barcelona fan could have expected how the match would unfold in favor of the Blaugrana. FC Barcelona tore Napoli apart with surgical precision, exhausting the vocabulary of the commentators, and at times, bringing the clichés to life.
Everyone has heard of "they are trying to walk the ball into the back of the net" phrase. It usually followed an attack in the latter stages of the Rijkaard era, where the Blaugrana would play brilliant football, but ultimately failed to threaten. More recently, it has been used to describe Arsenal impotence, but on Monday night, the world saw it happen.
FC Barcelona teamgoal vs Napoli 32 passes (Lionel Messi 4-0) (via allasFCB2)
The fourth goal of the evening saw FC Barcelona carry the ball forward from defense, picking and probing at the Napoli backline; it was a joy to behold, with over 30 passes crafting a goal that would not be out of place at the Louvre.
Not even the sheer ineptitude of Andreu Fontas could ruin the match. While the campaign has not even started, it appears as though Barcelona could hit the dizzying heights they reached in last season’s 16 game winning streak, perhaps even eclipse their own benchmark.
Speaking of Andreu Fontas, and despite the wave of publicity, Barcelona have resisted the urge to bring in defensive reinforcements. With Gerard Pique injured, the pressure could yet again weigh on Guardiola to buy a defender. However, I’m hoping that he does not; and if he does not, Barca fans should be very happy.
While the team does need cover in defense, Guardiola’s hesitance hints at three things. The first is that Carles Puyol has at least one season left of top level football. Returning in around three weeks, the influential captain has been out for what seems like eons. Though if Guardiola does not sign a big-name center back, such as Mats Hummels, perhaps it is because he knows Puyol has some gas left in his tank. It would be pointless to buy an expensive Hummels-type of player, only to bench him when Puyol returns in the near-future.
The second ties in with the first: Puyol has a season left, so expect that big-name signing next season. If Guardiola feels that Carles Puyol has one season left in him, then he will reconsider the defensive area next season. Since this team doesn’t need further offensive options after the signings of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas, is this an indication for FC Barcelona’s next transfer targets?
Thirdly, it strongly hints that Guardiola will be staying with FC Barcelona for at least one more season. Should I be right with the other two points, Guardiola must be considering extending his tenure as Blaugrana manager. Unlike Jose Mourinho, Guardiola has deep-rooted ties with his boyhood club. Whereas Jose Mourinho prefers to deliver short-term success as opposed to a long lasting legacy, case in point, his former side, Inter Milan, who are on the verge of become the laughing stock of Europe. When Jose leaves a club, it suffers a loss of form, but with Guardiola, it is not that simple.
He was not brought in for the sole purpose of success, but as a fan of the club, Guardiola knew the identity, hence double the motivation to bring glory to club he is so fond of. When he calls it a day, Guardiola will not want to leave his favorite club in ruins, but with a blueprint for success. His hesitance to "complete the team" is making me believe that he will be around for a long time yet.
The match against Porto could be classed as a rude awakening for Barcelona who looked out of sorts, but the positives remain: the poor performance still got the job done. Thanks to a one-of-a-kind fitness policy, the Blaugrana should peak around November and April, and if they can grind out results like that until then, the club could have more to celebrate.
The outlook seems to be bright for FC Barcelona, but how will the team deal with the pressure? No longer will they be defying expectations, but clamoring to live up to them.
Season 2011/12: The Making or Breaking of a Legacy.
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