Not even Lionel Messi could help Barcelona F.C. this past Saturday, they lost against Valencia, they lost the first place in the league and they showed their main weakness, the midfield and the center-backfield.
The main problem and root of criticism comes because “we” as fans and critics have been spoiled for the past 5 years, the soccer world was able to see the team that played the most beautiful soccer in the world and probably in the history of the sport. It was good when it lasted but everything changes, over the years oppositions started to figured out the team’s weaknesses and they adapted. The changes occurring in the team are nothing but adaptations, the problem perceive because since Barcelona has been so perfect before, nothing can top the way they played at their peak years, nothing.
Besides the creator of this amazing soccer team leaving, Pep Guardiola, and some small changes in the group of players, the main problem is the aging of two of the three pillars that the team had, Xavi and Puyol. Martino has just started to coach this team and he has a long-term project that will eventually bring long-term results. He is a thriving coach who has a fresh approach to the game and has simultaneously proved that he is capable of being the leader of this team.
Xavi’s creativity and vision are still intact, but because of his age the injuries started to become a bigger issue and his physical form has also started to decay. There are plenty of players who posses the ability to put the ball where they want, who can see the perfect opening for the perfect pass, and who can control the ball like it was part of their own bodies, just like Xavi, the problem is finding a player who is going to adapt to the players that surround him, and a player who is going to rise up and make plays at critical times.
Puyol is the most important loss for the team, not taking anything away from the amazing Mascherano, but Puyol was not only the captain but also the great leader for Barcelona. Puyol may not be the most talented player, he might not be the fastest nor the best skilled, but for this specific team he was able to make every player better with his leadership, heart and devotion for the team. Puyol is a fighter and a leader of man who could adapt to any style of play through his wide defensive vision, he is a great at heading the ball and a good tactician when positioning himself. This great central defender made Pique look like a great defender as well, he isn’t and we are seeing it now. Puyol is close to retirement and the team is yet to find a replacement that could fill his shoes in the back, Mascherano is an all-terrain player who can adapt to any position and he has certainly helped a lot, but he is not a central defender by nature.
What center back is ready to step up and fill Puyol’s shoes?