He’s played the most minutes of any Barcelona outfield player this season, and though he’s not as quick over the ground as he used to be, Gerard Pique’s performance at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday was far from laboured.
Alongside Clement Lenglet, Pique has been a standout for Ernesto Valverde’s side this season, with a 90 minutes against Real Madrid that was surely his crowning glory in 2018/19.
Consistently in the right place at the right time, the centre-back threw himself in the way of everything, broke forward as often as the match situation would allow, silenced the home ground on more than one occasion, and even had the temerity to dribble across his own goal being hotly pursued by Real’s attackers.
Once upon a time he was mocked for not taking his defensive duties seriously, but it appears that Carles Puyol’s teaching didn’t fall on deaf ears after all. Pique has become the consummate leader.
When others prefer to ordain Sergio Ramos as the best defender in the world, they do so by neatly overlooking a player who is his equal at the very least in playing terms, plays a captain’s role most weeks - though does so without the armband - and whose disciplinary record is far, far better than his contemporary.
What can’t be discounted either, is the personal abuse that the centre-back has to put up with at every away ground in Spain for political as well as sporting issues.
Far from cowering away, Pique remains front and centre at all times, and the master class that he delivered on Saturday has to be up there as one of his best ever 90 minutes in a Barcelona shirt.
He marshalled the back four with authority and led by example, a particular highlight being the way in which he shut down Vinicius Junior’s contribution time and again.
Gerard Pique's match today should be obligatory viewing for every centreback. Impeccable— Lee Roden (@LeeRoden89) March 2, 2019
The Brazilian has quickly become the darling of the Bernabeu, but his contribution was severely limited thanks to Pique’s excellence.
His understanding with Lenglet is also worth noting, the pairing looking rock solid once again. Certainly, on the evidence of the last few games, it’s a long way back to the first team for Samuel Umtiti.
Though he’s shown no side of mental or physical tiredness, now is the perfect time to give Pique his first break of the season.
Need to talk about @3gerardpique. Playing his best football in his career. Possibly the best football any centre-backs have put in for this game. The gigantic man, the truest culé on planet earth. Hats off, Gerard.— Fiaz Hamzath (@fiaz_hamzath) March 2, 2019
To take Rayo Vallecano lightly would be a mistake, but with Lyon following straight after, Ernesto Valverde needs his big names to be fresh.
Focus should really turn to the Champions League now, and if that means resting players for games they’re expected to win, so be it.
Not that Pique will want to rest mind. Why would he when he’s playing like this?!