Monday, March 28, 2011

The number 5

It was a pretty banal interview. The usual BarçaTV stuff, how is the squad feeling, are you confident about winning La Liga, are you happy with the amount of playing time you're getting? The last question to Seydou Keita was, however, an eye opener. "How about Puyol? Do you think he can be back before the end of the season?" You what?! When I was over for the FCB-Arsenal match there had been talk of Puyol making the bench and now it is of him not featuring again this season. Keita's answer, along the lines of "erm, I hope so" doesn't fill me with much confidence. For something that seemed fairly minor, Puyol has been out for a Rio Ferdinand amount of time and in his absence the defense has been rather shaky. Abidal has performed brilliantly in the centre but he's not going to play again this season following the removal of the tumor on his liver but Pique has been sloppy, Milito's positioning has been awful and he's as slow as hell. Generally there's been an unorganised, wacky races air to much of the defending. Now of course the injury to Victor Valdes didn't help things, for a few weeks there were constant changes in the back five, this lack of continuity undoubtedly contributing to the increased number of mistakes. But still, the most crucial of all the injuries and suspensions Barça have had to deal with is that of their captain.

Given the instability at the back I am very much hoping the Liga strike will go ahead next weekend, as the prospect of facing Villarreal sans Xavi (suspended), Pedro (hernia) and Puyol worries me. As it stands (with that round being played on June 12th), Barça's next Liga match will be at home to Almeria, who are pretty poor, second from bottom and got walloped 0-8 at home by the blaugrana earlier in the season. It's a game that's very winnable without the aforementioned trio. It would also see Xavi coming back into the side away to Real Madrid the following weekend (of the 17th of April)

Also along the back line (well sometimes, when he's not over-lapping Leo Messi), the news that Dani Alves has committed to the club until 2015 is fantastic. The best right back the club has had in about fifteen years (since Albert Ferrer) and along with the quintet of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Puyol, probably irreplaceable (I can't think of anyone near his level, Philipp Lahm maybe, Maicon on this very best day?) Haven't read what the figures are beyond the buyout clause but honestly I don't care, the club had to keep him and they have.

A quick word about one Francesc Fabregas i Soler, who was rather uncharitably booed off at the Camp Nou a few weeks ago. He needs to get outta Arsenal if he ever plans on winning anything or staying fit for an entire season for that matter. I don't know what the medial staff are like at Shenley but the Milan lab it ain't. Players such as Van Persie, Nasri, Cesc, Rosicky, Diaby, Vermaelen, Song, all of the gol keepers and even that clown Bendtner are forever in and out of the treatment room. Imagine how United or Chelsea would fare with half of their starting eleven frequently struck down with injury and out of the team for three and four weeks at at time, rushed, re-injured and then out for a further four weeks. All too often this season Arsenal have had "surprise, he's back!" moments with players who were clearly not fit (see Cesc at the Camp Nou for a primary example of this)

It's unbelievably short termist and has unquestionably cost them. Say what you will about Wenger's unwillingness to spend money on established players, buy a competent 'keeper, these debates are secondary, they have a squad that is good enough to win the Premier League, particularly this year with United being so underwhelming and Chelsea going missing for nearly three months, but they're never fit so it's never gonna happen.


Jim said...

Good stuff. Alves is a bit of a legend really. Even a while back when Barca were stuffing people 5 and 6 nil, he was lambasting certain people (Pique) for sloppy coverage. It seemed comical at the time and we all chuckled at the little guy squaring up to the lanky guy, but now that Barca are winning games by only one of two goals and everyone looks nervous, looks like he was on the money. Even I could play defence for Barca when the ball's at the other end of the pitch all the time.

Thomas Kelly said...

He's exceptionally competitive and that level of barracking you mention is reminiscent of Puyol, who keeps the rest of the defense on point, something that has really been lacking.