Saturday September 17, 2011 (19.00 UK)
Messi 38, 41, 79, Fabregas 13, Villa 34, 76, Xavi 57, Roversio (og) 40
Camp Nou, Barcelona
Doubts surrounding the Barcelona team following successive 2-2 draws against Milan and Real Sociedad now appear to have been premature. It was a point raised by sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta in his Press conference on Saturday night, following Barca’s 8-0 win over Osasuna that answered previously emerging doubts.
All too often there is a knee-jerk reaction to such results as the Catalans’ recent draws, and it takes a performance like Saturday night’s to put things back into perspective. An incredible 84% possession and several missed scoring opportunities that could have easily resulted in a double-figure score-line, proved once again that it is perilous to question Pep Guardiola’s side at the moment.
The truth is, Barca are a team in the next stage of their transition and Guardiola is making tactical adjustments to eliminate what he regarded as weaknesses in their performances last season. As with any transition period there are teething problems and for the team from Catalonia, these problems have resulted in a couple of drawn games. It is a reflection of the standard of this team that such draws can be interpreted in such a negative light.
After his recent line-ups, the Barca Coach could have been be accused of being cautious on Saturday after fielding three recognised defenders, but one of those defenders was Dani Alves, and he was deployed in a forward role in what was essentially a 3-4-3 but lined up more like a 3-1-3-3.
Alves has played in this forward role before both for club and country, and most memorably in El Clasico at Santiago Bernabeu on April 10, 2010. On that occasion Guardiola put Alves forward right in a 4-3-3 and brought Lionel Messi into his now preferred central role. The move was made to counteract the fact that Real Madrid Coach Manuel Pellegrini had switched Alvaro Arbeloa to left-back to deal with the Argentine, as he had successfully done when playing for Liverpool in 2007. The change worked and Barcelona won 2-0.
This 3-4-3 formation seen on Saturday was used in the 5-0 demolition of Villarreal on the opening day of the season but this time it was even more devastating and opponents Osasuna, who had enjoyed a steady start to the season, were the unfortunate victims of the 8-0 onslaught.
It was clear that the lessons of the previous two games had been learned when, after 10 minutes, Messi set up Cesc Fabregas to make it 2-0 and, rather than take their foot off the pedal and assume it was game over, Guardiola’s team went into overdrive in a relentless search for more goals and by the time half-time arrived it was 5-0.
The second half was slightly more subdued with both teams seemingly resigned to the outcome. Eric Abidal, who had a slight ankle problem, was withdrawn and replaced by Adriano and then Carles Puyol was subbed for Maxwell. This left the Champions League winners with a back line of Adriano, Javier Mascherano and Maxwell that emphasised once again how Guardiola views his team to be versatile and interchangeable. It is this universality that will be the focal point of the next stage of transition for the club.
The innovative Milan Coach Arrigo Sacchi once declared that in order to push football forward it was necessary to eliminate specialists, and instead have players that were universal and could play and function as part of a unit, wherever they were positioned on the field of play. In order to do this most effectively, the team must press high up the pitch and essentially attack and defend collectively. This idea was also part of the Dutch Total Football philosophy that Guardiola draws inspiration from.
While many people would find it hard to imagine how Barcelona could possibly improve given their success over the last three seasons, Guardiola believes he still has not finished the project he started in 2008. He sees weaknesses that can still be eliminated and admits that some have been caused by his own mistakes, as he is still learning himself.
This season marks the next stage of his single-minded and obsessive pursuit to evolve the game to an even higher level. The only crisis will be for those that continue to think that this team has already reached its peak.
Barcelona(4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Puyol (Maxwell, 55), Mascherano, Abidal (Adriano, 45); Xavi (Afellay, 61), Thiago, Busquets; Fabregas, Villa, Messi.
Unused subs: Pinto, Fontas, Keita, Pedro
Osasuna (4-1-4-1): Fernandez; Bertran, Roversio, Ruben, Raitala (Cejudo, 45); Lolo; Damia, Punal (Timor, 80), Raul Garcia, (Ibrahima, 62) Lamah; Nino.
Unused subs: Ricardo, Flano, Calleja, Sola
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