Carles Puyol’s wiff and Sergio Agüero’s shot past Victor Valdes officially gave meaning to La Liga. If you were to say to anyone with half a brain that Real Madrid would be four points from the top at the beginning of March, they would be wondering if you were in favor of legalizing the tax on weed.
In February, La Liga was all locked up and mathematics was the Catalans’ best friend. Unfortunately for the Blaugrana, Luck is a fickle lady. In a span of three weeks, Real Madrid shaved off eight points from that lead and the league is once again competitive.
There is no way you can blame Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, or Yaya Touré. The Barca attack can’t be blamed as much as the opposition’s credit to adjust. Barca are no longer being waited upon in the defensive third. Teams are now slapping them in the mouth and taking advantage of the holes that their midfield left at their backs. Those holes were exposed even more when teams did not wait for Barca to touch them to death. They are not waiting for destiny’s team to impose their will on the entire league or even Europe for that matter.
Oh, now the backline. Never have I seen a unit collapse collectively as the Barca back four. That is a case in futility if I may say so. Speed is not their strong suit and players like Diego Forlán and Agüero are able to take advantage of the matchups that they have against them. Rafa Márquez and Carles Puyol seem exposed. No longer can Márquez use his sense of anticipation to try and stay even with the players he is marking. His age is starting to show and the best example was the game against the US. Since then the Mexican intenational has been in poor form. Sylvinho lacks youth, Dani Alves lacks a desire to defend,Gerard Piqué lacks options, and Martín Cáceres lacks experience. The defense was not exposed as much in the first half of the season thanks to the pressure they applied to the opposing goals. Having the ball 60-75 percent of the time, deep in enemy territory, and generating shots on goal at a rapid pace left the chinks in their armor unexposed.
When you have a shaky defense and a shaky goalkeeper, your odds of losing are much higher. Victor Valdés is one of the best when he is on top, but struggles mightily when he is not in form. These past three matches for the Barcelona keeper have been a nightmare, a regression of sorts you might say. The gaffes against Espanyol, Lyon and now against Atlético Madrid have him at a potential crossroads at Barcelona. For years he has been the undisputed man under the sticks for the Catalans. You could say that during this time Albert Jorquera has been along for the ride. José Manuel Pinto might have been the man that they were looking for, but he has not given the Barca brass a reason to give them a sense of security either. There has been no competition at the goalkeeper spot ever since Andoni Zubizarreta was the man. The team will have to seriously consider bringing in someone that will give Valdés the opportunity to truly compete for his spot. It is unfortunate to see a goalkeeper come to this point in his career when he was responsible for many saves. That is the cruel reality of the goalkeeping- you aren’t remembered by the games you save, but by the games you blow.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Real Madrid have done what they have to do. They have won the tough games. Although the Catalan press have called them “somniferous” based on their style of play that is the antithesis of Barca. But let’s remember one thing, football is a cruel sport. Teams don’t earn style points when they win. The judges don’t declare you a winner bsed on how you play on the pitch. If you win by one goal or ten, if you have the ball 80 percent of the time or touch the ball twice, three points are three points. Maybe Barca are a better team than they were last season, but mentally they are seem to be the same.
It is easy to win games when you wipe the floor with opponents. Barca have not learned the one thing that a true champion needs to know. They have to learn to win in adversity. They have had their moments where they have passed those tests; but to face adversity in addition to doubt is the reality of what makes a champion. Not knowing this just makes you an also-ran, regardless how good you are.