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Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Alexis Sanchez... FC Barcelona's Three Musketeers

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FC Barcelona’s La Liga campaign started with an emphatic 5-nil victory over Villarreal on Monday with usual suspect Lionel Messi once again on the score-sheet along with this season’s new recruits Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, and La Masia’s latest sensation Thiago Alcantara.

A lot was talked about Barcelona’s transfer policies during the summer transfer window (which ended last night) and the acquisition of future €29 million bench-warmer Cesc Fabregas. Alas, how has that proved to be wrong!

It was always going to be a tough task convincing critics that the transfer of Cesc would be a prominent move and not just an obsession, and hats off to Pep Guardiola, the man who can do nothing wrong at the moment, for giving Cesc a starting berth in which he impressed tremendously. Bringing in new recruits in a team with so much talent was never going to be easy and picking the right players for a team that wins almost everything that’s thrown their way is always a tough task.

Barcelona 5-0 Villareal All Goals Highlights 29/08/2011 (via gab3ler)

It was a perfect debut for the former Arsenal captain, scoring at the stroke of half time after making a run forward into the box and Lionel Messi made no mistake finding him with a near perfect through pass which Cesc had no problems putting in the back of the net. Fabregas’ has announced himself to the league, and all credit to Pep for bringing back the La Masia protégé and long-term replacement for Xavi Hernandez back to the club. Xavi has been phenomenal for Barcelona for the past few seasons, and would make anyone’s dream team. But age is likely to catch up with the midfield general and playing every game of the season week in week out would be too tough a task even for him. What Pep has done is he has brought Xavi’s likely replacement a good two years in advance, and would give him enough playing time to cement his place in the side before Xavi hangs up his boots. Cesc is likely to play in different positions this season, and we will probably even see him alongside Xavi a lot more than initially expected. Cesc Fabregas himself has said that he is here to play side by side with Xavi and not replace him, and that is exactly what we’re likely to see as the season moves on.

What has also featured prominently in news and blogs is the future of young prospect Thiago Alcantara. His performance on Monday night speaks volumes of his ability to break defenses and the trust Pep has in the young Spaniard. Pep had emphasized that Thiago is not for sale and would not feature in any potential exchange/swap deals and now we know how serious he really was.

Thiago started at right centre in midfield in a star-studded Barcelona midfield line-up (minus Xavi) and still managed to outshine his seniors with a brilliant performance. He scored the first goal of the season for Barcelona and then set up Lionel Messi for the fifth goal. His vision was magical and ball-control reminiscent to Xavi’s. This performance of his follows his brilliant form during the U-21 European Championship with Spain and the pre-season campaign with Barcelona. He was voted to the team of the tournament in Denmark and managed to score a handful of goals for the Catalan side. Thiago has proved to be the true product of La Masia, and can claim a midfield position in Barca color’s sooner rather than later.

Alexis Sanchez might not be quite familiar with some football rules, (taking off your shirt is a yellow card mate!) but his greatness cannot be denied. Although he scored a goal in his debut game for Barcelona, the best is yet to come from this talented Chilean. The heart-pounding dribbles, running in at defenders, and the kind of game-play that had Serie A sides in awe, tempted Pep Guardiola to come knocking.

Alexis Sanchez also brings to the table a sort of a Plan B, a different approach and tactic, something that failed miserably with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Although I believe that Pep would like to gel him in with the rest of the squad and adjust him to the quick one-two’s, he is more suited at the latter stages of the game when the opposition is tired with the constant pressing game that Barcelona deploys. He would be able to open-up defenses with his quick feet, tantalizing weary defenders. It reminds me of the Champions League semi-final second leg clash against Mourn-inho’s Inter Milan where Barcelona failed to open up their stubborn defense with their quick passing. A player like Sanchez would have come in handy at the time, running hard at defenders, catching them out off position and would have had helped create gaps for Barcelona to exploit.

Barcelona are well equipped to defend their title this season and the likes of Cesc, Thiago and Alexis will give players a much needed rest between games. Real Madrid has had a busy transfer summer themselves and would come in much stronger than they did last year (already evident in the Spanish Super Cup) and given that Barcelona are likely to play a lot of games again this season, they would need all the legs available to help them stay stop-notch until the end of the season.

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