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.
Here is the second instalment of El Pivote’s Christmas Holiday report cards! The first instalment can be found here.
Sometimes pupils will 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.
11. Thiago Alcanatara – C
Having watched Thiago’s development meticulously over the years, it’s clear that he’s got more to give. His season has been compromised by injury and trying to edge your way into a midfield consisting of Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc and Busquets is never easy, even when you’re injury free. The times he has played he has done fairly well; however there are still too many inexcusable misplaced passes that cause all sorts of problems, especially when our full backs are higher up the pitch. It will not take long for him to put in some high class quality performances, but as for any youngster, progression is still required.
12. Jonathan Dos Santos – C
It’s very difficult to judge a player who simply hasn’t been given enough game time to warrant a rating. It would perhaps be unfair to state that he’s struggling, but with Thiago looking to impress, Cesc back from injury and Song being treated as a midfielder nowadays, maybe a loan move away from the club might be something that he would consider.
13. José Pinto – B
Pinto has played in three Copa Del Rey games so far this season and only let in one goal. Given that Barcelona have offered him a one-year contract extension, it’s no surprise that he’s deemed to be ticking along nicely.
14. Javier Mascherano – C
I’m sure giving Mascherano a C will cause some disagreement amongst the readers, but it simply cannot be said that he has played this season at his highest level. There have been plenty of technical defensive errors this season and when Piqué and Puyol were injured, there was more talk of how Barcelona should have signed another centre back, rather than talk of Mascherano taking charge and showing that he can challenge Piqué and Puyol for a starting place on merit. Indeed he’s not a centre back by nature, but not having one of the usual two alongside him has caught him out on occasions. Progression in the second half of the season is very possible.
15. Marc Bartra – B
I was torn between giving Bartra a B or a C. It’s clear that for a young player, progression is always a prerequisite, but it must be said that whenever he has played, he has looked pretty good. What nudged it more towards a B is that it must be taken into account that he’s hardly played at all alongside the regular two Catalan leaders at the back. When he started at home against Celtic alongside Mascherano, it was Bartra who looked the more composed, and this was without Busquets in front to help him out. I’m sure training sessions against Messi every day are helping him out somewhat (or completely destroying his confidence!) but if he’s the reason we did not buy a centre back in the summer, he’s shown glimpses (and reasons) of why.
16. Sergio Busquets – A
Busquets has clearly been told to cover more ground this season, finding himself higher up the pitch more than under Guardiola. And with his magical technical ability, why not!? A couple of people who didn’t realise this was a two-part series summed up most fans’ opinions on the midfielder; “You seem to have forgotten Busquets. His is the first name on the team sheet and the team doesn’t look the same without him. I love our midfield with him. It’s too beautiful to describe,” and “How can u omit Sergio Busquets. It’s criminal!! That’s the backbone of possession, custodian of tiki taka after Xavi!” The one problematic situation that arises every now and again is when Piqué dribbles out of the back and Busquets fills in (that’s not the problem though!). Teams know that he isn’t blessed with pace, and on the rare occasion when possession is lost cheaply in midfield, strikers now have the confidence to outpace Busquets. Falcao’s goal was as example of this; reminding me of Pato’s goal for Milan in the first minute of last season’s Champions League campaign. With that being said, Busquets cannot be faulted for someone else losing the ball and let’s not forget his quality, composed finish against Atlético.
17. Pedro – B
A case could be made for Pedro to get a C. He scored in the first league game against Real Sociedad and then again in the next game against Madrid in the Supercopa. Unfortunately then the goals dried up. Is it poor form? I think the fact that he’s scoring goals aplenty for Spain in the same period suggests that it’s not. Is he selflessly playing for the team, and playing for Messi in particular? I think so. It cannot be underestimated just how much Messi distorts the stats. He’s so deadly, others hardly have the chance to finish, and rightly so. Sanchez has only scored 1 this season. Iniesta only has 3. But in terms of assists, Sanchez has 5 and Iniesta has the most with 12. Pedro has 7 assists in all competitions which is one less than Messi, but one more than Xavi. Del Bosque’s constant inclusion of Pedro proves his worth.
18. Jordi Alba – A
In the last few days Jordi Alba was saying how he never expected to be back at Barcelona playing left back. Well back he is, and he’s back with a bang. His blistering pace helps him get out of some sticky situations sometimes, but on the ball he’s been solid and as an attacking force he’s fitted in absolutely superbly from the first kick. When Abidal is back to full fitness, it’ll be tough for him to dislodge Alba from the left back role as he continues to be consistently on form.
19. Martín Montoya – B
This is a young player that has shown progression throughout the season. Lately, we haven’t seen much of him as Dani Alves and Adriano have been rotating in that role, but when he has played, he has looked like he belongs in the squad. Of course there are plenty of improvements to be made before he’s the finished article, but he’s shown potential in defending and attacking situations. I wish his shot against Real Madrid had gone in rather than hit the bar!
21. Adriano – A
What a season he has had. From being sent off at the Bernabeu to being drafted in at centre back in the league to scoring a beauty against Atlético. To be honest, I cannot remember too many players who can so comfortably play in as many different positions as Adriano. He provides pace at centre back if needed, provides width on whichever flank when selected, uses both feet to great effect and scores important goals. The equaliser against Atlético is fresh in the memory, but don’t forget he got the only goal in the 1-0 win at home against Valencia earlier this season.
[youtube NoWA0cKh6-k nolink]
22. Éric Abidal – A
For defeating his health issues and making it back to the last training sessions, he gets an A. Simple as that.
23. Isaac Cuenca – C
Having not played at all this season, I hope he continues to progress in his comeback from injury. Obviously this is a completely different case from Abidal.
25. Alex Song – C
Let’s not waste anyone’s time here. He was bought as a centre back primarily, who could also play in midfield. But it’s an absolute certainty now that the coaching staff has little confidence in him to be able to play at the back. His lack of acceleration almost makes him as much of a liability as playing Busquets there, and simply put, he’s not going to be selected again at centre back unless in an absolute emergency. As a defensive midfielder though, he can be deemed to be a replacement for Seydou Keita, and a back up for Sergio Busquets. In this role, he’s played fairly well in my opinion. Unlike Jordi Alba, he’s had to adapt to the culture and language, so in that respect he’s done ok, knowing that he was never going to be a regular starter. Regardless of whether you think he’ll play at centre back again, progression is still required, especially to warrant the transfer fee.
26. Marc Muniesa – C
Just like Cuenca, having not played at all this season, I hope he continues to progress in his comeback from injury.
37. Cristian Tello – B
Tello got to 10 goals for Barcelona quicker than Messi did. He only needed a minute on the pitch to get a goal against Valladolid, and given that he’s played a lot less than Sanchez and Pedro, his 4 goals and 4 assists in all competitions deserve credit. He definitely looks as though he is working hard on his game and physique, and may that progression continue in 2013.
Tito Vilanova – A
Last but not least, Vilanova deserves a lot of credit for improving Barcelona after Guardiola. He is doing things his way and learning more and more about his players. The fact that he’s getting the best out of Fabregas is brilliant for all fans, and it really was a sad shock to the system when reports came out of his health issues springing up again. With all looking good again, I can already see him getting a warm welcome back at the Camp Nou, along with Abidal. Vilanova is definitely the man to lead us in the business half of the season.
Until next time…Happy New Year. El Pivote.
Source: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe