Barça Alone At The Top
Posted by hiphopmama on December 7, 2008
Barcelona 4-0 Valencia
- 1-0 Thierry Henry, 20′
- 2-0 Thierry Henry, 28′
- 3-0 Dani Alves, 46′
- 4-0 Thierry Henry, 79′
The title of this post doesn’t just refer to their place in La Liga, which is nothing new; it’s about Barcelona’s utter superiority to every other team in Europe at the moment. I suppose there is a case to be made for Inter and even Chelsea until a few weeks ago, but I don’t think either of those teams or any other can hold a candle to what Barcelona is doing. They haven’t lost a game since August, and since then they have 17 wins and just 3 draws, including some mind-blowingly good showings against a range of opposition. There was the 6-1 pounding of Sporting Gijon, 6-1 over Atletico Madrid, 5-0 over Almeria, 4-1 over Malaga, and 6-0 over Valladolid. Their most impressive victories, however, have been the last two, when they absolutely dismantled a pair of top five teams in Primera Liga play. Last week, they demoralized a surging Sevilla side 4-0 on the road, and just this weekend they spanked Valencia 4-0 at home. While the goal totals have been impressive, even more notable is the number of clean sheets the team has kept. Sevilla isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse but they do have some serious attacking threats, including Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, who had just netted a hat trick for Brazil in international play. They got under Fabiano’s skin so much – not a difficult task – that he earned himself a red card and an early exit. The Valencia scoreline was even more surprising for the way they kept one of the hottest strikers on the planet, David Villa, off the score sheet. Villa undoubtedly misses his attacking partner David Silva who has been out injured for a while, but that hadn’t prevented him from scoring 12 goals in 13 league games coming into the Barcelona match-up. Yet the Barcelona defense held firm and stubbornly denied Villa and his teammates so much as a consolation goal.
The element that makes Barça stand out from the pack the most is their complete play as a team. In top flight European football, everyone has a stacked line-up. Barcelona’s is no different, with Eto’o, Henry, Messi, and Bojan up front; Xavi, Iniesta (currently injured), Hleb, Yaya, and Keita fortifying the midfield; and Puyol, Marquez, Alves, Abidal, Pique, and Milito (also injured) manning the back line; plus Valdes between the sticks, just to name a few. The all-star squad doesn’t capture or explain their dominance, though. The complete cohesion does, and new coach Pep Guardiola has to be credited for that. With such an array of talent at his disposal, it’s quite a feat to successfully manage the egos involved and know how and when to shuffle the deck to get the best performance out of your team. Guardiola has done that almost to perfection this year, involving everyone to an extent and picking the right squads to get the job done week in and week out. His substitutions have been equally flawless, although the number of blowouts Barça has inflicted has made it unnecessary for him to perform much magic from the sidelines.
For all their attacking prowess, the strength of the midfield and back line has been their anchor this year, allowing the wing players to storm forward and facilitate the offense. Xavi has once again been masterful in his role as the team’s ultimate orchestrator, pulling every string at precisely the right moment. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Yaya, who has been a rock in midfield, winning a gazillion tackles and completing damn near every pass he attempts. His immaculate play has been absolutely central to the team’s success, and they would be foolish to leave him out of their plans, either by allowing him to languish on the bench amidst so much talent or by letting him make his way out of Barcelona. He has been repeatedly linked to his brother’s team of Arsenal – a scenario I thoroughly endorse as a Gunners fan – but I don’t see that coming to fruition. He fits with the Blaugrana and deserves to have his place with them cemented, at least for the rest of this season.
If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am. When I first started paying attention to the Primera Liga, I was a Real Madrid fan, largely because Barcelona’s performances were generally uninspiring with an uncommitted Ronaldinho leading the way and a failure to achieve what they could have. With all the typical strong-arm wrangling going on in Madrid and the ever obnoxious Ramon Calderon making his team difficult to like (to put it mildly), I have seen my allegiances shift somewhat. I’m not an out and out Barcelona fan – in fact, I’m not a committed ANYBODY fan really, since I have only been seriously watching for a few years. Instead, I just enjoy watching great football and I appreciate the teams whose style and ethic fit in with my own. Arsenal has emerged as my favorite side in English football, but I have been more equivocal in rooting for teams from Spain and Italy. This season has made my allegiances even more tenuous, and Barcelona’s team mentality and outstanding play make it difficult not to pull for them. If they keep up with this pace, I might be the latest in what is assuredly a large group of converts.