Report: Last season everybody was surprised how Javier Mascherano at first struggled at his natural position, holding midfielder, but then flourished as a central defender. This season El Jefecito improved even further as a defender and was one of Barcelona's most consistent players. Pep Guardiola rewarded Mascherano with more playing time, in fact Javier played more games than he ever did in a single season in his career.
Of course injuries to fellow defenders were a large factor in this but Mascherano never looked out of place, may it be playing alongside Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, or Eric Abidal, in the heart of the defense. Mascherano was a model of consistency, always playing at a high level and never taking a play off. Looking at the stats you could even make a case that he was Barcelona's best defender of the season.
By a large margin Mascherano led the team in recovered balls and clearances, and was among the leaders in both categories in the 2011-12 edition of the UEFA Champions League. For a player of his height, he's only 174 cm (5ft 8in) tall, he lost remarkably few aerial duels even though he was almost exclusively marking taller players.
Passing has always been one of the most underrated aspects of Mascherano's game mainly because in Liverpool he wasn't a big factor in play buildup. But here, in Barcelona, everybody has to be involved and yet you never see Mascherano making bad plays with the ball. He does everything with a healthy measure of confidence that leads to clean passes (and tackles for that matter) and keeps him out of trouble.
The 2011-12 season was by far Mascherano's best in Blaugrana colors but one could also make a case for this being the best season of his career. This by itself shouldn't come as a big surprise because El Jefecito is just now coming into the footballers best years, he turned 28 just three weeks ago, and if he continues like this he could soon become El Jefe.
Arron Duckling's View: After a hit and miss first season with the club, I wasn't overly optimistic about Javier Mascherano's chances of breaking into the first team, but some 10 or so months later, I find it hard to believe we survived without him! There was clearly a space for him in the team - especially after his performances against Arsenal and Manchester United in particular, but who would make way for the Argentine? I suppose in that sense we were "lucky" to experience all those injuries and Gerard Pique's loss of form; after all it led to Mascherano's rise to prominence as an all-conquering, no-nonsense centre back.
He isn't without his flaws, as the matches against Chelsea and arguably the latter showdown with Real Madrid brought to light his occasional lapse of positional concentration, but he always gives his all, and that's what we tend to admire most. How many times did we applaud Mascherano's work-rate, or an impeccably timed slide challenge? Almost too many to count. His epic battle with Fernando Llorente will live on long in my memory at least. 2011/12 for Mascherano was simply titanic.
Moment of the season: Believe it or not but it is hard to find highlights for a player like Mascherano even if he plays most of the games and does so many things right. The highlight I chose is from arguably the most emotional game from last season, Pep's last La Liga game at Camp Nou as the coach, against Espanyol. I strongly encourage you to watch the whole video because it was one of the best games Barcelona played all season. But this being an article about Mascherano I have to say that his highlight begins at the 7:00 mark (and ends after he saves Jose Pinto from an embarrassment).
Barcelona - Espanyol 4-0 Highlights HD 05.05.2012 (via TheNewsBarcelona)
|Started on the bench||11|
|Shots on goal||1
Record with Javier Mascherano in the starting lineup: 36-10-3
2012/13 Outlook: This largely depends on who Barça bring in at center back, if anybody at all. If it's defender that is better than the Jefecito, which is not an easy task, Mascherano could see diminished playing time in the backline but could see more minutes spelling Sergio Busquets in midfield. If the defender brought in will be seen merely as a depth player then Mascherano will remain the primary backup at central defender behind Puyol and Pique, though, if Puyul struggles with fitness Mascherano can easily step in and become the starting defender once again.
Next up: Gerard Pique