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Is Barcelona Soccer's Greatest Team Ever?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

More than most sports, soccer has a way of exalting its past. Time and pre-HD pictures have a way of making history seem better than it was. Which is why the fact that some are wondering whether Barcelona this year is the greatest club team ever is a testament to what's going on at the Camp Nou.

Domestically, Barcelona has won 18 of 20 Liga games and is on pace to gain 104 points, which would shatter the previous record of 99 it set just last year. At the current rate, Barca will score 122 Liga goals, pulverizing the previous mark of 107, and concede just 21, the second-lowest total for a 38-game season. In the Champions League, it's been smooth sailing as well, with four wins and two draws in the group stage.

But what sets this Barcelona apart from other dominant teams in recent history is the way it plays the game, which is, at once, breathtaking to watch and unlike any other top side in Europe. In a single game, a top team beating up on a weaker opponent might typically control 60% of possession—65%, at most. Barcelona has averaged 73% possession in La Liga and 72% in the Champions League.

It's not that having more of the ball automatically makes a team better: Inter won the Champions League last year despite having just 45% possession throughout the competition. Possession stats matter, however, within the context of what a club is trying to do. And Barca's game revolves around keeping the ball endlessly, which serves three functions. First and foremost, when the opposition doesn't have the ball, it can't score. Second, a lack of possession wears teams down mentally, because there is no time for them to switch off. And last, it plays to Barca's strength: with gifted players, Barca keeps them in a position to hurt the opposition—that is, have the ball at their feet—for a long time.

Barcelona's possession obsession is a way of maximizing the skill set of this squad, filled with creative, undersized players with a keen understanding of passing and movement. It's a sterling example of the old truism: Tactical systems and styles of play should suit the players at your disposal. Put Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola in charge of, say, Manchester United or A.C. Milan and odds are that one of three things would happen: He'd change his philosophy, he'd have to bring in a raft of new players or the team simply wouldn't be very good.

But there are a number of wrinkles to the way Mr. Guardiola has worked this season, his third as Barcelona's manager. For a start, he's rotating his squad less and using fewer players. Barcelona's 11 most utilized men have been on the pitch for 80.8% of the time in the club's La Liga matches. Last year, the figure stood at 72.5% and the year before, when Barca won the Champions' League, it was 72.3%. (As a metric it's somewhat imperfect, since injuries to starters—Barca haven't had many this year—can skew the results, but it's still telling.)

The implication, of course, is that while Barcelona benefits from this great chemistry, a regular's prolonged absence might have disastrous effects, especially since the squad looks rather thin in certain positions. If one of the two central defenders—Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique—needs a breather, Mr. Guardiola's preferred solution is shifting Eric Abidal into the middle or moving Sergio Busquets back from midfield and inserting Seydou Keita. He can do that as long as one guy is missing. But it becomes difficult to do with multiple absences. And the situation won't improve if, as it appears likely, Gabriel Miltio, Barca's only other veteran central defender who's hardly played this year, is sold in the January transfer window.

It's a similar story up front. When one of Lionel Messi, David Villa or Pedrito is out, Mr. Guardiola either turns to 20-year-old Bojan Krkic or moves Andres Iniesta into the front three, inserting the ever-dependable Mr. Keita into midfield. It's the kind of approach that might blow up in Mr. Guardiola's face is Barcelona hits a rough patch with injuries and suspensions.

There's another downside of this approach. If newcomers don't acclimate right away, the way Mr. Villa did, they're stuck in a vicious cycle: They don't play well, so they don't play often, which makes it more difficult for them to play well when they do get to play. Argentina captain Javier Mascherano, a $35 million summer acquisition, has suffered from this quandary. Despite his pedigree, he looks out of place in the Barca midfield—he's started just three league games in the past two months—yet without more playing time, it becomes more difficult for him to integrate. This may explain why half of the 22 men who have appeared for Barcelona in the league this year have come through the club's youth system, where they were drilled in the Barca way.

The other concern is that Barcelona is somewhat one-dimensional. The average height of the front five is just 5-foot-7, with Mr. Villa the relative giant at 5-foot-9, and there is no big man on the bench to provide an aerial threat. Mr. Guardiola has addressed this issue by moving the 6-foot-2 Mr. Pique or the 6-foot-3 Mr. Busquets up front in key moments of games, but it's obviously not the kind of thing he can do for 90 minutes. The decision to dispense with size and power up front may have something to do with what happened last year, when Barcelona spent a fortune to bring in 6-foot-5 striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, only to let him leave after just one season. Mr. Ibrahimovic, despite not playing badly, often looked like a fish out of water at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona is defying much of the conventional wisdom of modern soccer, which calls for physical, athletic players, a balanced team and ability to vary one's style. All of which points to the fact that if Barca keep this up, we will have witnessed something truly extraordinary. Barca isn't just breaking records. It's shifting paradigms.

Source from : Wall Street Journal
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Quốc Vịnh said...


Ngọc Phong Đỗ said...

tuyệt cú mèo

When Sangkala Talking..... said...

yes, i believe it, go barca

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Develop you a good soccer striker! Most of the strikers have the skill to score goals by putting or placing the ball into a position where the goalkeepers just can’t reach. This skill is called the finishing skill.

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