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Barca’s Transfer Season So Far

July 31, 2009

Note: This was originally posted at the FCB Transfers Blog.

A few days ago, Ahsan at Five Rupees had an interesting discussion on the transfers Real and Barca have made so far. I have some thoughts of my own regarding the transfers, and then I’d like to address Ahsan’s contention that removing a top player can have a major impact on a team’s win-loss ratio.

Of course, the summer isn’t over yet- Pep has announced that Ibra is not the last man in, and Perez is openly gunning for several more changes to Los Blancos. But I think we’ve reached a plateau for the time being, and any further activity will only be REALLY wrapped up by the Liga kick off.

The Galacticos, Pt. II.

Is Real Madrid going to have dressing room conflicts this year due to the massive changes?

Obviously. Pellegrini’s greatest challenge may well be man-management rather than strategy and tactical decision making. Real’s strategy still interests me a great deal – I want to see how they’ll fit Robben, Kaka, and Ronaldo in the midfield with Rudi, Raul, Higuain, and Benzema all vying for two forward slots. And how they can maintain any kind of balance (Diarra is good, but he’ll be isolated and left vulnerable in the center for long periods.) Ahsan contends that Ronaldo won’t be able to be the big daddy at Real that he was at Old Trafford. True. Everyone pays their dues. Raul, for one, isn’t about to let Cristiano come in and steal the Bernabeu limelight.

Kaka isn’t really the conflict type so I don’t foresee issues there. Benzema has been the star of Lyon for at least two seasons now and he’ll have to swallow his pride on the bench too, poor guy. His purchase really knocked my socks off. I mean, you have Higuain who has been pretty brilliant for the past two seasons. You have Ruud van Nistelrooy coming back from injury. Raul still chips in. Huntelaar hasn’t been horrible in his brief stay, scoring 8 goals in his first 20 games.

I think there is some sense to this outrageous spending (give the Madridistas some sense of respect, restore some pride, rejuvenate the Real Madrid brand, and bring in confirmed match-winners, which Ronaldo and Kaka are, whether we like it or not.) It was inevitable if not necessary given the humiliation Real suffered at both the European and local arenas. Liverpool’s 4-0 thrashing resonated around the world, capturing worldwide attention, while the Bernabeu hammering is likely to feature in many a nightmare in the Spanish capital for years. It was worse than the pasillo and 4-1, in my opinion.

But there’s a lot of NONSENSE too, because Real’s problem wasn’t the attack last season. It was the midfield and the defence. They had a ‘we can score more than you can’ policy and if they keep at it, well, i’m up for another 6-2 🙂 Their only really classy central midfielder is Lassana Diarra (Sneijder is very attacking, and they’re planning of selling him too, God bless them. I’m praying Barca snap him up for under 10m.) Guti is too old and inconsistent to play regularly (just 20 appearances in all competitions last season) and Gago too ineffective on his own.

Hence, unless Madrid can maintain their excellent defensive record AND accomodate the new signings without too much loss of stability both on and off the playing field, I’m not overtly worried about them. Of course, Xabi Alonso appears to be heading to the Bernabeu, and that IS cause for concern…

The Swap of the Century

Has there been a bigger player exchange since the turn of the century? Ibrahimovic for Eto’o – both proven goalscorers around their prime, both match winners, both coming off a league victory, and both have the distinction of topping the goalscoring charts in their league at least once (Ibra won the Capocannonieri this year, and Eto’o won the Pichichi in the ’05-’06 season.)

Barcelona has paid top dollar for Ibrahimovic and the Swede brings massive expectations – I hope that he gets the time to settle. I hope the comparisons to Eto’o stop, because they are different players. They may occupy the same POSITIONS, but their ROLES are different. Cules will have to keep in mind that each player has his pros and cons, and it is unrealistic to expect Ibracadabra to conjure up 30 goals in his debut season.

Pep knows like the rest of us that Eto’o was setting himself up for a big move this summer all along – too bad his wage demands were so astronomical. I agree with many commenters in that the squad needed to be freshened up too. Hunger in the dressing room never hurt – in fact it was one of the major catalysts for the Triplete. Plus Eto’o has lost the touch he used to have back in ’06 – he was a real monster back then. This time he wasted so many opportunities he could have EASILY bagged a half century of goals.

As for the Villa vs Ibra debate, it’s pointless now, isn’t it? We know Villa would have molded in much better to the Barca system as someone who doesn’t need to adapt to La Liga and plays in a similar system for Spain. Then again, Ibra IS a former Ajax player, he should be able to catch on quick. Plus Villa does NOT bring a Plan B (although he is a more clinical finisher). Ibra can take free kicks and has positioning sense as well. Workrate and pace are the two major issues, and with the huge expectations at Nou Camp, I feel it’s going to be a sink or swim, nothing in between like Henry adapting last year. If he can keep running and play normally, hooray. Otherwise we’re in for a major disappointment.

I completely agree with Ahsan in that it midfield is our biggest worry now (it was the leftback slot before, thank God we got Maxwell). Hleb was drafted in specifically to provide depth in midfield, but had to be let go. He has to regain his confidence – has to be given regular playing time if he’s going to return to Nou Camp and hopes to succeed. Guddy seemed to be going, but nothing is confirmed yet. I don’t consider him a reliable midfield replacement – personally I like him but he seems to have copied Eto’o’s feet of stone trick. Busquets has come up and has acquitted himself well, but not well enough for me to be convinced. Rafa may have to move into the DM position at times this season, if we don’t bring in someone, whether it’s from the cantera or outside. At the Wembley, only Pedro, Dos Santos, and Jeffren REALLY impressed. Gai was flashy..but that seemed to be all – I’d pick Pedro over him any day. Victor Sanchez hasn’t done badly in the midfield either. But we need someone of Iniesta’s ilk who can take the ball forward and link up with the attack. By the way if I’m not wrong Maxwell is a capable side midfielder as well. Oh, for a Xavi clone…defense, central control, and playmaking, all in one…

Ahsan suggested a new formation on the assumption that we won’t sign any more midfielders and that Henry cannot play through a full season. A four-man diamond in the midfield with Yaya, Busquets, Xavi, and Iniesta (lessening the workload on each). We will probably never get a 4-4-1-1, because a) it reduces attacking options and b) Alves already functions as a midfielder for more than three quarters of a match anyway. However, Messi dropping back into the midfield is a possibility i feel. He’s shown that he can be a playmaker AND he’ll get to roam around as well. I’d hate that, though, personally..his runs down the right wing, cutting inside, that’s what always got me going.

So, on to the points of contention.

In Ahsan’s words:

“I guarantee you, if you remove any of Messi, Iniesta, Kaka, Essien or Gerrard from their teams, there’s no way they’ll be good enough to maintain their rough position in their respective tables.”

I believe that Guardiola’s rotation policy and Messi’s absence in several games this season has proved that Barca don’t depend on individual brilliance. Nothing can guarantee a first-place finish but I’m pretty sure that if you took out Messi, Barca would be, AT THE VERY LEAST, strong contenders for AT LEAST second place. Ditto for Iniesta. There is no substitute for those two players, but the Blaugrana have played without them several times this season and succeeded. Essien was out for most of the season but Chelsea remained in the title race at the end – their squad IS that good. Gerrard, I agree, is nearly indispensable at Anfield. He’s been dragging Liverpool for years, and the title push last season was only a possibility due to key inclusions such as Torres, Mascherano, Benayoun, and Riera. Kaka, I don’t know, haven’t followed AC Milan enough to be able to make a judgement.

“How can a team lose the so-called best player in the world and still finish exactly (or near) where they finished last season?”

Because it’s a team game – one individual can do only so much. I hate Ronaldo’s sneering guts too, but I can’t deny that he has been an undoubted matchwinner for Manchester United on multiple occasions. Arsenal in the semifinal. Porto in the quarterfinal. Aston Villa in the league (Macheda’s goalwinner was the icing on the cake, but what SAVED Man U was Ronaldo’s two goals in the game). That’s three of the top of my head in just the past few months. If having the best player in the world could automatically improve performances in the league, why did the original Galacticos fail so spectacularly? How much impact has Robinho (a contender for Liga’s best player in the first half of the ’07-’08 season) had on Manchester City? Are we about to assume that a Lionel Messi move to Tottenham Hotspurs will take the Spurs to a top-two finish in the EPL?
In the league, consistently good team performances do the trick, not one-man shows. That’s why Gerrard (for my money a better all-round player than Ronaldo any day) has won the Champions League but not the Premier League.

“I think if you take out the five guys I mentioned (Messi, Iniesta, Essien, Gerrard, Kaka) from their teams, they will all drop off considerably (as Milan will find out this year).”

Milan ended 3rd last year and after the departures of Kaka, Maldini, and Beckham, will probably drop but I don’t think they’ll end up lower than 5th position. Their problem is an aging, stale team – and not even having one of the top 5 players in the world could make them title contenders. In any case, how do you define ‘drop off considerably’? One or two spots should be understandable given variable form, injuries, exceptionally bad luck, and more. I’d say that if a team really does depend excessively on a single player, then the loss of that player should result in a drop of at least three positions. Remember we’re talking about top-class teams here, the European elite. The starting XIs are all world-class players, bar none. However, only time will tell. We can only make educated guesses from our vantage points, with our lack of detailed knowledge about the club’s workings and the plans. Hindsight is 20/20. Let’s see where Milan end up a year from now 😉

And let’s hope Barca end at a similar position, come what may! 🙂

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