Messi, FC Barcelona Champions league round up, and – Oh!- what about Benfica?By: Ramzi | December 4th, 2012
Many records he broke already, and many are looking forward to the moment he scores another record breaking goal, a record that survived over 40 years untouched by the giants of the game, from Van Basten, to Ronaldo (The Ronaldo), Romario and Ronaldinho or Raul, all the way up to Emile Heskey!
As I tweeted last week, breaking a new record for Messi is like ordering a pizza, baked and delivered. I will not list all the records he snipped as I shouldn’t turn a post to a thesis. Every week, he breaks his record of number of records he or any other player ever stepped over. For me, that is his record that sums them all.
He is the best player I witnessed, and that includes Maradona. Messi modernized Maradona, perfected the miracle of supernatural talent. Messi is an upgraded version of Diego, the V2.0.
Maradona was a magician, Messi is a magical machine. The first is a basket of lethal tricks; the later is a football weapon of mass destruction. And in the increasingly demanding level of the game nowadays, it is the later that can make the difference more often than not.
I was a fan of Argentina throughout my childhood. Football for me was: Argentina (many players in the national team, with Maradona and Redondo at the top), FC Barcelona, and Van Basten. I watched Maradona playing for Argentina and I followed his club football. When he gets THAT ball and decides to go all the way, you just can feel it, the opponent feel it, and it just happens. Simply unstoppable. Yet, what makes Messi a standout is that he does so almost all the time, with an unmatchable consistency. It may sound surprising, but Maradona had many “normal” games where he was barely involved. Messi, in his worst game, play as good as -or a little better- than the MOTM. He does his defense responsibilities, lead the buildup, feed assists and score goals. Unlike any player, at no time you can feel “This is definitely not his night”, as you always feel he can turn the table at any moment.
Regardless of the records he breaks or not, individual trophies he gets or not, and titles he wins or not, he remains unmatched, and incomparable!
The season went way better than anyone’s expectations – so far. If you consider the injury crisis the team suffered in the past two months, it is unthinkable to be that comfortable at the top of la liga.
In the champions league, the club already secured a place in the knockouts. Mission accomplished.
Yet, there is lot of work to be done if the club wants to hunt the CL title at the end of the season. The fact that the team achieved qualification at the top of the group, added to the satisfaction coming from La Liga situation covers lots of flaws that there is a need to fix before getting to serious business – because let’s not fool ourselves, the group stage was just a warm up for the tough battles.
To put things in perspective, FC Barcelona played five games in the group stage so far; three of the results (out of five) are unacceptable if you put it on the knockout scale:
Barcelona 3-2 Spartak Moskva
Barcelona 2-1 Celtic
Celtic 2-1 Barcelona
Now I am not sure what teams will meet FC Barcelona in the coming knockout round and then all the way to the title – if the club survived. But if FC Barcelona suffers any of the listed results in a knock out stage (That is winning 3-2 or 2-1 at home or losing 2-1 away), then FC Barcelona will have one step out and the other on the edge.
Why winning 2-1 at home is bad and losing “just” 2-1 away is also bad? No contradiction there. Because as the group stage told us, FC Barcelona still struggles against compact defense and both results will drive the opponent to play that tactic with extra determination.
It will be easy to refer all the problems to fragile defense, and there is a truth in that. Yet, FC Barcelona scored an average of two goals per game. On this level, that may not be enough as it can easily drop to a goal per match in the coming -more demanding- stages. Struggling in offense make the team very desperate to throw everyone in the opponent’s defense third to score. That is where FC Barcelona’s defense get more exposed to counters. We saw that against Spartak and we saw it against Celtic- twice.
Current FC Barcelona offense is very demanding in quality AND numbers, and that is the roadmap that makes the defense suffer. Three forwards, and two Center midfielders with two fullbacks all running over the opponent defense leaving two center backs locked on the halfway line, and a Busquets uncertain whether he has to link up with midfielders upfront and give-up on defense cover (especially to assure lateral cover), or disconnect with midfielders and play deep creating a space in the midfield for opponent to station and generate counters. This is one of the puzzles Tito will have to work on in the coming weeks.
When everything goes Blaugrana way, Barca’s football is alcoholic. Simply mesmerizing. But the flaws of the system are still the same. We are not talking here about the need of plan B, but the flaws of plan A that we didn’t get the right players to fill, nor did we engineer a tactical evolution to solve.
For that reason I say, while this is still a team that has an excess of quality capable of washing away its defects most of the time, there is still lot of work to be done, or at least -to win CL- there is a need to have enough luck and more Messi.
A match against Benfica
This is one of the matches you enjoy watching every once and while. No pressure against an opponent that has all the world to play for. A great chance to give new players a chance and to try new things. Being under no pressure help sometimes to score easier as you play calmer and without anxiety. It will be great if Messi scores, but the only thing I hope I don’t see is a team so desperate to feed Messi with scoring opportunities. Because it never works better this way. The opponent will see that and react per se. Having all players willing to score distract opponent more, and ultimately makes it easier for Messi to notch one or two. Now of course, all that if Benfica let it happen.
FC Barcelona’s squad for the game:
Valdés, Pinto, Piqué, Puyol, Villa, Messi, Thiago, Dos Santos, Sergio, Montoya, Adriano, Song, Sergi Gómez, Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu, Planas, Rafinha and Tello.
My favorite lineup:
Pinto, Montoya, Pique, Puyol, Planas, Song, Thiago, Dos Santos, Tello, Messi, Villa
However, we may have Song instead of Pique (so that Puyol can teach him a lesson or two), and in this case JDS plays –sigh…- as a holding midfielder.
Sergi Gómez is a player I always predicted he can make it to first team and I still believe in his qualities regardless of the feeling that his development has slowed down a lot. Sergi Roberto will have his chances to start and he will be subbed in at some point in the game. I prefer starting JDS and hopefully he performs well so that his transfer value increase. Rafinha still has to find his footsteps, and Deulofeu still need two more seasons to be ready for some first team work. He can get to the match in the second half, and learn some lessons onsite.
And we should all welcome Nolito back, even Aimar and other ex-La liga players all in Benfica’s squad.
An exciting match that no one should miss!
Some Related Barcelona Posts:
- Champions League: Benfica 0, FC Barcelona 2, Or, A Costly Victory
- FC Barcelona-Celtic, Champions league night: Just score more!
- FC Barcelona – Spartak Moscow Champions league And La Liga match