Is it Barcelona making it look so easy, or is the rest of La Liga helping?
Football Pubcast blogger Hayden Shaw, aka El Haydo, goes out on a limb with his latest train of thought, which makes for interesting reading indeed…
I feel like I’m trying to write my wedding vows. This next question is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write in my life. Ok, here goes….
Are Barcelona THAT good or are mediocre La Liga teams making them look better than they are?
This blog has already taken me twenty minutes to get to this stage. Not because I’m a slow typer. But because I had to go and shower after saying that. It made me feel dirty. The purist in me loves the way they move the ball, adores the fact that almost their entire starting XI is Spanish, that half of them are products of the club’s famous academy and that their coach is a former playing legend who their current passing metronome grew up worshiping.
When Barcelona took Real Madrid apart, winning 5-0 and making Mourinho look like an utter amateur I was gobsmacked. Considering the opposition, the grandeur of the stage, it was one of the greatest performances that I have ever, and will ever witness. For that result alone nobody can ever detract from them, and I don’t want people to think that this is what I am trying to do.
This blog is actually less about how good Barcelona really are and more about the quality in the rest of La Liga.
So far this season Barcelona have scored an average of just over 3 goals per game. 64 goals in 20 games to be precise. They have conceded just 11, just over a goal every 2 games. Now the fact that after more than half a season they have lost just one game, have 55 points, a goal difference of 53 and have won 10 of their games by 3 goals or more. 4 of those were 5 or more goal thrashings. These figures aren’t including the game being played tonight against Almeria which they were winning 4-0 at half time. One team has managed to beat Barcelona in La Liga this season. Hercules somehow managed to win 2-0 at the Nou Camp. Mallorca achieved a draw, again at the Nou Camp. But that was 14 games ago. Since then they haven’t dropped a point. I’m going to repeat that. They haven’t dropped a point.
Now, for clarification I am absolutely, 100% NOT part of the Andy Gray school of football where women don’t know offside and Messi couldn’t hack it at Stoke (if you don’t believe me read my blog on why Andy Gray is a giant tosser. However, (yes I know this is sounding like a Richard Keys apology right now) I do think there has got to be something a little bit wrong when Chelsea have lost more away games than Barcelona have conceded away goals (5 away losses for the defending EPL champions and 4 away goals conceded by Barcelona). Now a lot of that is down to Chelsea, undeniably. But even if you look at Manchester United, unbeaten after 23 games (although definitely without setting the world alight form wise) then the comparisons do seem to suggest that Barcelona are either so, so superior to everyone else or the rest of La Liga needs to buck its ideas up. Manchester United have a similar home record (P12 W11 D1 vs P11 W10 D1 L1) but it’s away from home that Barcelona come into their own (P9 W9 vs Manchester United’s P11 W3 D8 – United conceding 10 more goals and scoring 16 less away from home than the Catalans).
Is all of this because England’s top teams are suffering a little at the moment? Perhaps. Perhaps not. All 4 made it out of their Champions League groups. 3 of the 4 topped their groups (Arsenal’s punishment for coming second is a chance to play Barcelona in the knockout stages). But I think a large part of it is because the “lesser” clubs in the Premiership play one of two ways. They either have a hell of a go and throw everything, up to and including the kitchen sink at the top teams and try to surprise a result out of them. Or they go for complete and utter solidity and hope that they can sneak something. West Brom even tried to play Arsenal off the pitch at the Emirates and managed it. Whichever approach they take they usually seem to have a game plan.
Sometimes it doesn’t go at all to plan; generally an early goal can prove a massive set back, especially when they are playing away to one of the bigger teams. But usually there is some sort of idea on how they are going to nullify a team. Up until the arrival of Chamakh it’s been the World’s worst kept secret that to stand a chance of beating Arsenal you need to defend narrowly, deny them space to play intricate passes through the middle and into feet. You make them cross the ball and then head it away at will, hopefully resulting in a counter attack which can bring you the goal you need. It requires luck, of course. A defensive game plan against a team that good usually does. But when you consider that Arsenal are just a diet Barcelona, and that Barcelona carry virtually no aerial threat apart from their two centre backs.
So, why are teams getting humped by Barca every week? I can’t even begin to imagine the extent of damage to my lungs and hamstrings if I tried to chase the ball around every time Xavi made a pass. But I do know that there is no way on this Earth that teams in this League would be stupid enough not to play 5 in midfield against Barcelona, a lone striker working hard after scraps. One player sitting on Xavi the whole game, trying to make it as hard as possible for him to dictate the pace of it. They’d show Messi outside. Lord knows that it wouldn’t work every time, he’s the best player in the world. But they certainly wouldn’t provide him with a ticker tape parade to goal.
This isn’t a blog about Johnny Foreigner not liking it up him. And maybe if Andy Gray had said even half of this then people would have taken his opinion more seriously. I genuinely believe that Barcelona would win the Premiership, and they would make it a beautiful place to be. They’d win it because Arsenal come close and Barcelona are even better than that AND they can defend. And they have a good keeper. But I don’t think they’d walk it every week. Of course there would still be plenty of games where they turn on the style. Where teams struggle to get anywhere near them. But would it be such a procession?
Right now only Real are even close to Barcelona, 4 points off the pace Madrid have 51 points and are currently 9 points above 3rd place Villarreal. It’s not that they are both so far ahead that’s scary. It’s the points per game ratio. Barcelona have 2.75 points per game so far. At this rate they’ll finish the season on 104 points. At their present rate Manchester United will win the EPL with 84. When two teams are able to dominate TV revenue the way that they do, negotiating their own TV deals and taking such a huge percentage of the money available to the League, it is hardly all that surprising when nobody can get close to them.
Just look at Rangers and Celtic. Flip a coin and you’ve decided the SPL winner. Well with a couple of anomalies it seems to be the same in La Liga and although people can point to the dominance of a few teams in the EPL over the last few years at least there seems to be a genuine chance of several teams doing it this year for no other reason than everyone seems capable of beating everyone.
Of course there are financial gaps in the Premiership, in some cases HUGE ones, but at least the TV money gives the smaller clubs half a chance to sign some players. Aston Villa just spent £18m up front on striker to get out of a relegation battle. Now Manchester City may spend that much on a substitute, but, if their behaviours are to be regulated in order to try and ensure fair play then surely La Liga needs to be looked at as well. The doping of Madrid in particular is beyond belief, and I would love to see @SwissRamble take a look at their accounts, and just how huge sums of money have been written off of their debt sheets.
As I said at the start, as a purist I love what Barcelona do. This isn’t about EPL vs La Liga because if I had to choose a League to watch at the moment it would be the Bundasliga, financially far tighter and more competitive for it. The reason I’m giving the Barcelona example is it’s getting to the stage where teams are barely turning up against them.
Games matter more when they are competitive and I just worry for Barcelona that when they come to play in the Champions League, and they come up against teams that can defend, whether they will come across the same problems that they did against Inter, and against Manchester United (in the semi final where they failed to score in both legs, not the final where they pulled MUFC’s pants down). Because for the quality of football played, Barcelona should really have been in the last 3 finals. But the problem with scoring for fun against whipping boys is that it doesn’t give you much preparation for a well drilled, well organised unit who are prepared to defend like dogs.
I’m not saying that Barcelona couldn’t do it on a wet night in Stoke, but maybe the experience of having to would be more beneficial to them than an easy night in Almeria.