Monday, September 05, 2011

On to the next one

I must admit I was skeptical. Of course I wanted him back, who wouldn't? He's our boy after all, Barça born and bred. The number four jersey has been vacant for over a year now. Word was that it had been given to Thiago Alcantara. What?! Does this mean he's not coming? I can't go through all this again next summer. Will he? Won't he? Should he? After another crippling end of season collapse at Arsenal it became clear that yes, absolutely he should. Things had come to a complete halt at the Emirates. It was time.

But how would this work out. How as Cesc Fabregas going to fit into what was already the best midfield in the world? He's not better than Xavi or Iniesta (not yet anyway) Would he he cooling his heels on the bench, getting frustrated? And what of Thiago, sensational in the U-21 European Championships and now promoted to the first team from Barça B? We don't need Cesc, we have Thiago was the talk, indeed I was one of those saying it.

Well, four weeks in and Fabregas' impact and seamless integration into the team (coupled with that of Thiago) has proved I hadn't a bloody clue what I was talking about. Cesc has been nothing short of exceptional. Gols in both the SuperCopa against Porto (a real thing of beauty) and Villarreal (plus two for La Roja against Chile on Friday night), his understanding with Leo Messi is such that you'd think they grew up together playing futbol or something... Their movement, Cesc bringing something that Barça lacked last season, a midfielder that who powers forward into the box and gets on the end of things, and interchange of positions has been a joy to watch. I know it's only been two games (he barely featured in the second Madrid game but did show Beckham-like awareness in being the first to celebrate the winner with Messi, ensuring he was on the front page of every newspaper in Spain) but crikey, the evolution of this Barcelona team and his part in it, well, don't go booking your flights to Munich in May just yet but it's hard to see any other side coming close.

Real have definitely improved (Ozil will, if he's fully trusted by Mourinho, will again excel) but ten so have Barça. Alexis Sanchez is a huge upgrade on Bojan and Jeffren and fits perfectly into the 3-4-3 system that Guardiola is currently employing (though I suspect it'll be rather fluid over the course of the season bearing in mind the return of Pique, Puyol and most significantly, Dani Alves.

Basquing in their reflected glory

It's Sociedad away at the Anoeta this weekend and even the Barça website has flagged how flat FCB can be coming back from the International break. On the plus side, the Spanish and Catalan players haven't had to travel too far (Geneva and erm, Lagrono) but Leo and Mascherano have been on the moon or wherever that ridiculous friendly against Venezuela was played so I wouldn't expect either to start. Barça lost away to Sociedad last season in a match that was smack bang in the middle of the Clasico Survivor Series and looked to be heading for a draw had it not been for some ridiculous defending, needless showboating and an injury that was pretty much the end for poor Gaby Milito. Barcelona completely lost their heads and in the space of ten minutes threw the match away. As it happened it counted for nought as Madrid also lost (at home to Sporting Gijon). Even factoring in the post-international come down I'd expect a much more professional performance this time and a win, though not a very comfortable one.