El Pivote: Christmas Holiday Report Cards (Part 1)

El Pivote: Christmas Holiday Report Cards (Part 1)

El Pivote (or The Pivot) is a weekly totalBarça column by Anoop Jethwa about the trials and tribulations of FC Barcelona.  From the positives to the negatives, this piece will dive deep into the living fabric that is Blaugrana   We welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section.

As millions of young Barcelona fans around the world will be bringing home their report cards from school this week, El Pivote will attempt to give the players their respective grades as well.

Sometimes pupils have end of term tests, and fresh from facing Falcao’s Atletico Madrid and Valladolid without Vilanova, the Barcelona players certainly had a few questions of their own to answer. Here’s the simple grading scheme:- A = exceptional, B = good, ticking along nicely, C = progress required next term to get back on track, D = struggling.

1. Víctor Valdés – B

Víctor Valdés is a very superstitious man and every time he feels as though he’s had a bad game, he’ll always have on a different coloured shirt the next time out. At the start of this season, there were signs that he was lacking freshness and sharpness, most likely due to working tremendously hard during training for the Euros as opposed to resting, but his penalty save against Levante was proof that he was heading in the right direction. After Mourinho dropped Casillas against Malaga, a poll in Mundo Deportivo showed that out of 5306 votes (at time of writing), 72% would sign Casillas for Barcelona. Assuming thousands of Madridista swashbucklers didn’t jump online for some skullduggery, it shows that Valdés will not go down in history as one of the all-time great goalkeepers. Whilst Casillas is a symbol of Real Madrid however, I do believe that Barcelona fans can respect the fact that he is a graduate of the youth team there, as bringing through youth is a major part of Barcelona’s philosophy. Against Atlético, Valdés already had his post to thank before Falcao showed who is world class and who is not in that duel. A top notch goalkeeper could probably have done a little better to prevent Javi Guerra’s goal for Valladolid too. Given all of that though, he has made progress already this season, but there’s certainly plenty of potential to fulfil before he gets an A grade.

2. Dani Alves – B

I was wondering whether to introduce a B- into the grading scale just for the Brazilian full back, but I stuck with what I had. Why? Because this player always makes a couple of key mistakes a season; this we know. He was correctly crucified against Sevilla, but incorrectly crucified against Madrid and Mallorca for goals conceded. Whilst an improvement is still warranted, I feel that his performance against Valladolid on the weekend showed us of what he is still capable. With the emergence of Montoya and Adriano’s fabulous strike from right back against Atlético in the penultimate league match, he is now fully aware that a drop in form in the business half of the season will see him dropped to the bench.

3. Gerard Piqué – A

Taken from UEFA.com, “I believe love changes you,” Piqué said. “It’s a very important part of your life. And when you have it, you see things in a different way than you might have done before. When you’re single, you concentrate very much on football and your friends. Now it’s about your partner, and there’s a baby coming too; so things change and you have to adapt.” It’s fair to say that Gerard had a dip in form earlier this year. Some suspected what it was Shakira’s fault, and this quote supports their theory. However, I believe that Piqué was brilliant for Spain in the summer, had a break to concentrate on family matters, came back fresh for the season, got injured very early on, had another break to spend more time with Shakira, and now he’s back with a bang. He really looks as though he’s enjoying his football, and he’s evidently happy in life, which goes a very long way on the pitch. The freedom and confidence, which had deserted him somewhat last season, is back in his play. The only thing that can be asked of him is a tiny bit more concentration when defending, but I get that feeling he’s ready to rise to any occasion once again.

4. Cesc Fàbregas – A

After a blistering start under Pep, Cesc found it difficult to consistently contribute to the team last season. This season, Vilanova has not just made Cesc feel part of the team, but given Cesc license to dictate a more direct style of play whilst Xavi sits behind and keeps things ticking over. Under Rijkaard, it was Deco who was closest to Eto’o and his decision making for a killer pass or a strike at goal was generally brilliant. Fàbregas, this season, has shown why the money was paid to bring him back, and his link-up play with Messi, especially against Deportivo, has been a joy to watch. From a team point of view, it’s very encouraging that without him, the team has still been able to pick up points and play a convincing style of football. His goals and assists have pushed him from a B to an A. More of the same please, Cesc!

5. Carles Puyol – A

More than Messi, if there’s one player that I sometimes feel it’s morally wrong to criticise, it’s our captain. The aggression with which he rose to attack the ball against Benfica probably wasn’t warranted, but that’s what you get from him. It meant he missed the league match with Real Madrid in the next game, however when he hasn’t been sidelined through injury, he’s shown why he’s been given a new contract by the club. If Maldini, Scholes and Giggs can play into their late thirties, there’s no reason why Carles Puyol cannot do the same. No one is expecting him to play 50 games a season, but when he’s on the pitch, the leadership he brings is second to none and everyone else around him looks assured. Perhaps no more superman diving headers in closing stages of matches already won before a vital clash, but apart from that, I’m pretty happy.

6. Xavi – A

If I can’t morally criticise Puyol, I definitely cannot physically criticise Xavi. I can’t. I won’t. What a player. What a magnificent player. The quality of possession which he provides is truly special. I feel like I am going to miss him just as much as Messi when they’re both retired. When I look for highlights of former legends like Romário, Rivaldo and Luis Enrique, there are clips from all sorts of random games. For Xavi, you can simply choose any game over the last decade and his all round general play makes world class sound inadequate. This season has not been any different. He had gone a long time without directly assisting Messi for a goal in La Liga before this season, but he’s got that back again and even in the last game against Valladolid, he directly assisted Messi after opening the scoring himself. Just like Puyol, it’s no wonder the club have extended his contract.

7. David Villa – C

I am a huge fan of David Villa; always have been and I always will be. He was struggling for form before he broke his leg last year. This season his recovery has been slower than expected, and therefore his playing time has been minimal to say the least. But there’s something about a winning strike from Villa that puts a huge smile on my face. The goal against Manchester United in the Champions League Final is a shining example, and it cannot be forgotten that the winner against Sevilla this season was another Villa strike that had me jumping for joy – not just because of the circumstances of coming back from a two goal deficit, but because of the scorer. These finishes are in him, we know that. His overall play, however, has left a lot to be desired. Passing, off the ball movement, first touch and keeping himself onside are certainly areas in which improvement is necessary. I didn’t want to give him a C, but I cannot honestly say he’s ticking along nicely… as much as I hate it.

8. Andrés Iniesta – A

People thought that they would never see another player play with such style and grace after Zinedine Zidane. Although not everyone would agree, I certainly place Iniesta on the same level as the great Frenchman. We could probably do with some more goals from Andrés, but he does seem to score when the big occasions come around, like Milan and Chelsea in the Champions League this calendar year. His goal against Levante was a rocket, but as usual his first touch and creativity have been of the highest quality. Let’s not forget that Adriano’s super strike against Atlético was from a long range cross field pass from Iniesta. A few more goals maybe, but keep it up, Andrés!

9. Alexis Sanchez – C

The first thing I will say is that Messi would say he loves Sanchez for all of his off the ball runs, which create space into where the Argentine can dribble. The game against Betis was a fantastic example of that. So then why give him a C and not a B some people will ask? The answer is worth €37 million. If off the ball movement and creating space were all that was needed from a no.9 at Barcelona, Tello, Rafinha, Deulofeu, Cuenca etc. could have done that for free. Sanchez said himself that he’s nowhere near his potential, but with movement worth two assists against Betis and a proper assist against Atlético, it’s important not to outlandishly criticise the Chilean. Unfortunately his miss from 5 yards out against Valladolid will provide material for the doubters, but I remain hopeful that he’s closer to a B than a D. One thing that should be pointed out regardless is that he does work hard to try and regain possession, but he needs to be careful about giving away silly free kicks when tackling while playing against sides that thrive on set pieces, like Celtic.

10. Lionel Messi – A

Coming deep and losing possession of the ball against Atlético; not scoring from his free kicks against Valladolid…I should give him a D! Sorry, not funny I know. But I’ve run out of superlatives for this bloke. His energy, his dynamism, his strength, his ability to stay balanced when getting fouled, his striking accuracy, his acceleration – he’s got everything, and his opponents this season have felt the full force. My words cannot do his performances justice, so I’m just going to stop and let his forthcoming Ballon D’Or do the talking for me. The one thing I wasn’t overly joyous about was his angry, vociferous demeanour towards David Villa earlier in the season against Granada, but it seems to have been a one-off.

Until next time…Merry Christmas. El Pivote.

Source: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe