Having eight Barça players starting in the final of the Confederations Cup was a definite cause for Culé pride. However, the majority were representing Spain, and after Brazil’s comprehensive 3-0 victory last night there was the same uncomfortable sensation of impotence that was experienced after Barça’s Champions League exit to Bayern Munich.
It would be easy to throw the blame at the non-Barça parts of the Spanish team. Arbeloa was woefully poor at right back, Casillas might have done more to stop all three goals, Torres was inexistent in attack, and when there was a chance to pull a goal back with a penalty, wannabe-hero Nivea-boy Ramos messed up big time.
In comparison the Barça boys didn’t do too badly. Admittedly Piqué had one of his more inconsistent games but Iniesta was again Spain’s best player while Pedro was unfortunate to have two goal-bound efforts brilliantly saved by David Luiz and Julio Cesar. However, despite reasonably decent performances individually from Xavi and Busquets, the Barça trio in Spain’s midfield found it difficult to connect with the forwards and were often helpless to deal with Brazil’s counter attacks.
There was much to be admired about Brazil. Neymar’s electric speed, Fred’s opportunism, Thiago Silva’s composure, but also key to last night’s victory was the physically imposing roles played by Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho in Brazil’s midfield. The manner in which Spain were overpowered by a physically stronger team was reminiscent of Barça’s defeats to Bayern when Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez worked tirelessly to deny Barça space.
So what can Barça learn from the Confederations Cup? There were similarities between Spain’s tournament and Barça’s 2012/13 season. Both Spain and Barça were brilliant at times but there was a failure to control the most important games. In the last five years Spain and Barça have been the most successful teams in the world but previously Spain always had Xabi Alonso to add defensive stability in midfield while Guardiola’s Barça often turned to Seydou Keita for the tough away games.
I recognise that Iniesta’s best position is in midfield, however, the midfield trio of Xavi-Busquets-Iniesta has now been exposed more than once, and perhaps in tough games we should consider sacrificing a forward to allow Iniesta a freer forward role in order to accommodate another midfielder. When Fabregas is on form he is an obvious option to come in but I’d like to see Song or Mascherano given the Keita role to make us more solid against powerful opponents. Or we could of course put in a bid for Paulinho.
The obvious positive thing for Barça to take from the tournament was the explosive form of Neymar. I hold my hand up and admit I was wrong in my evaluation of our new signing. Before the tournament I had only seen him play four times in full. I’d seen highlights of other games and stuff on Youtube but I generally like to see a few full games to make a fair judgement, and in the games I’d seen he had not impressed much. I was worried about his ability against top defenders, however, he has clearly shown that he can cause any defence problems with the speed of his runs, while the power of his shooting was demonstrated by four splendid goals, and he also showed a lot of character which suggests he won’t be too fazed by the move to Europe. I still don’t like the interventionism of Rosell in his signing and still feel we might have reinforced other positions with the money, though having said that: who cannot be excited about the prospect of seeing Neymar and Messi leading the Barça attack in the coming season?
Unfortunately there is plenty of other business to resolve before the season starts. The most pressing issue is the signing or not of a central defender. It is well known that Tito Vilanova wants Thiago Silva and if he can be persuaded to take a cut in salary to fit in with Barça’s wage structure, and if PSG can be persuaded to accept an offer, then there is little doubt that the Brazilian would be an excellent addition to the squad. However, the ifs are pretty big ifs and if we fail to sign Thiago Silva then we are back to a scramble to find an available player who Tito, Zubizaretta and Rosell can all agree upon.
We are still waiting to see if Thiago Alcántara will agree terms with Manchester United for a move to England. It has been reported that Thiago is insisting on a similar clause to the one in his current Barça contract, allowing him to leave Old Trafford for a lower fee if he doesn’t appear in a designated number of games for the Reds. It doesn’t guarantee that Thiago will play but it does allow him to move on if he doesn’t play often. United are said to be considering the clause as it’s not one they usually have.
The good news is that Rafa Alcántara has signed a new contract until 2016, though it seems he may be loaned out this season, possibly to Luis Enrique’s Celta. There are quite a few other players who could either be loaned or sold and it’s always better not to let these issues drag on all summer. Bojan, Deulofeu and possibly Cuenca could all be loaned out as well as Rafinha, while Villa, Afellay and Johnathan dos Santos are all looking for permanent moves. Barça’s opening friendly of the preseason is against Lechia Gdansk on July 20, that’s only 19 days away. Let’s hope we make the right moves in the transfer market while the players who have appeared in the Confederations Cup get some well earned rest.