Jump to content

Barcelona are a goal machine

Recommended Posts

just to play devils advocate, why do we have to be the crushing machine like Rafa's Valencia?

why can't we be the new Barcelona ?

Recently we've shown that we are capable of scoring consistently our run of results actually compares well to Barca's, our football's been, well beautiful. So (just for the joy of it) I ask, can we compare our recent playing style to Barca's ?



Three reasons why Barcelona are the cream of dream teams

Chelsea's opponents are coached by a man who knows how to mould extravagant talent

Digg it


Sid Lowe

The Observer, Sunday 26 April 2009


Josep Guardiola is fighting a losing battle. Not on the pitch but off it. If his calculations are correct, and they usually are, he has sat through 104 press conferences this season. He has answered questions in Catalan, Spanish and English, but whatever the language the message is the same. "We have not won anything," he says over and over, as if it were a mantra. He's desperate to quash the euphoria surrounding FC Barcelona. He's also quite right: they have won nothing. But no one seems to hear him.


They would rather listen to Joan Laporta, the club president, describe Barcelona's opening 45 minutes against Bayern Munich in their Champions League quarter-final first leg as the best in the club's history. Or to Bernd Schuster, the coach of Real Madrid, when he says it is "impossible" to beat Barcelona at Camp Nou. Or to Sir Alex Ferguson, who described their destruction of Lyon in the last 16 as "absolutely brilliant".


They would rather respond to El Mundo Deportivo's appeal for a title for the current team, likening it to Johan Cruyff's Dream Team – the aesthetes' aesthetes, the side treated with an evangelical reverence after winning four successive league titles between 1991 and 1994 and the 1992 European Cup, their first triumph in the competition; the side that did so with a commitment to attacking, possession football that bordered on the obsessive. They would rather offer Dream Team II, The Pep Team and Pep's Dream Boys, as if Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Carles Puyol were a troupe of male strippers, than heed the call to caution.


Hardly surprising. Guardiola admits that he is a "son of the Dream Team", having himself starred in it, committed to the style that prompted Guus Hiddink to describe his Barça as "the most beautiful" he ever saw. A successful son too. After last night's 2-2 draw with Valencia, Barcelona have a seven-point lead in La Liga. They are in the Copa del Rey final and face Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final. The midfielder Yaya Touré believes Chelsea are the "worst team we could face" but the feeling must be mutual. After all, three Barcelona players – Leo Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o – have scored more goals between them than the entire Chelsea side.


One is a 5ft 4in Argentinian who needed growth hormones to get that far; one is a Frenchman who was considered past it, dismissed as a "dinosaur"; and one should not be at the club. But together they could be the finest forward line football has known. Why should Barça fans heed Guardiola's warnings with an attack like that, when the opposition surrender so completely; when Manolo Jiménez, the coach of Sevilla, their victims last Wednesday, shrugs: "Barcelona were infinitely superior to us, the planet's best team. There was nothing we could do"?


Most coaches have reached the same conclusion. The question everyone is asking is: how do you stop Barcelona scoring? Since the opening day, no one has. Fifty games in a row they have found the net. Time and time again – 136 times to be precise. They have scored so many that they have rewritten the rules. Once, teams went to Camp Nou and defended, hoping for a draw. If Barcelona scored, they would come out. Now, they keep defending. A 2-0 defeat is a respectable result. Recent modest results speak not of weakness but preservation of the team's energies. Chelsea should not be taking comfort.


"It's not that their opponents are small," Cruyff says, "it's that Barcelona make them small." They scored nine in two matches against Atlético Madrid, while a run against Sevilla, Valencia, Villarreal and Real Madrid ended with four wins and a cumulative score of 12-1. In the Champions League they have scored 29, which is 10 more than Chelsea. On Wednesday they scored their 92nd league goal, overtaking the Dream Team's best in 1993-94. Only two Barcelona sides have ever scored more: Bobby Robson's 1996-97 team (over 42 games) and Helenio Herrera's in 1958-59. At their current rate, with six games to go, Barça will beat both – and the 107 set by John Toshack's Real Madrid in 1989-90.


This season Barcelona have 33 more league goals than Manchester United, 30 more than Wolfsburg, 34 more than Internazionale, 38 more than Marseille and 42 more than Porto. Eto'o, Messi and Henry have 27, 21 and 18 respectively; 66 league goals, 90 in total, between three players. Ninety. It is not just that they have outscored every other attacking trio, it is that they alone have as many as any team in Europe's other major leagues. "On their day," says a grinning Dani Alves, the Barcelona right-back, "they're unstoppable. Their movement is so good, so intelligent."


Collectively, they are Barcelona's best ever forward line: in 1996-97, Ronaldo accounted for 34 league goals, Luis Enrique 17, Luís Figo four, and the substitute Juan Antonio Pizzi nine. In 1989-90, Hugo Sánchez scored 38 for Madrid, but no one else got more than 14, Emilio Butragueño scoring 10. Even Alfredo Di Stefano, Kopa and Puskas could not match them: their best season, 1959, yielded 54 league goals.


"The secret," Guardiola says, "is that they are very good players." Henry is Arsenal's all-time leading scorer, Eto'o Spain's top scorer over the past five years, and Messi has averaged just under a goal every other game before this season. Yet they have outdone themselves, all three on their highest-ever totals, and such success is something of a surprise. After all, all three were in the team that finished 18 points behind Real Madrid last season. Eto'o scored an impressive 16 in 18 but his public confrontation with Ronaldinho was corrosive, landing him on the transfer list. Henry scored 19 and had 12 assists in all competitions, but most agreed with the critic who called him "a relic", while he complained about his position, snapping: "Forget about the Arsenal Henry. These days I'm just the left-winger." Messi produced sublime moments but completed a third season in which injury obliged him to miss at least 10 games.


Arriving in the summer to succeed Frank Rijkaard, Guardiola got lucky, but he also got busy. It was his good fortune that no one wanted to pay for Eto'o. The skill came in his collective handling of the forward line, and it has made all the difference.


Privately, Guardiola insisted last season that, such was the talent available, all it would take was seriousness and organisation to get Barça back on track. Ronaldinho's presence in the dressing room had, according to one insider, made that harder. "He had made Barcelona great again. Seeing him as a shadow of what he had been hurt the other players," the source says. The Brazilian departed. So too Deco, a man with the charisma not only to go off the rails, but to take others with him. And so did the man who had allowed them to drift, Rijkaard. It was a fresh start under a new coach: in came Guardiola's strict regime, with checks and fines. "No one set a limit last year," admits Rafa Márquez, the Barça centre-back. "There is order and discipline now; that's the secret," adds Xavi. "It's all for one; there is solidarity again. Pep has restored order."


The timing was good. After two years without success, Guardiola discovered a receptive squad. "One thing is fundamental – the hunger," says the former Barcelona striker Hristo Stoichkov, an old team-mate of Guardiola. "The difference between this year and last," says one member of staff, "is that there is desire and a coach." The vices of Rijkaard's laissez-faire approach were ditched. "You mean we have to train too, boss?" ran the joke that revealed the change. Eto'o, whose beef was with the failure of other players – in particular Ronaldinho – to put in the same effort as he did, was delighted.


Guardiola's method is characterised by the asphyxiating pressure on the opposition. The whole team push forward, chasing every ball in packs. During pre-season, sessions were constantly stopped while he berated players, Messi especially, for not pressuring at throw-ins. Guardiola never let up, nor did he want his players to. "You're the best player in the world with the ball – you have to be the best without it," he told Messi.


The pressure begins with the forwards. This team is built from the front. Henry, Messi and Eto'o have all committed more fouls than centre-backs Márquez and Carles Puyol. "Our defenders are our attackers," says Alves. "Pressure is the key." The benefits are not just defensive. "The closer we are to the opposition's goal when we win the ball, the easier to score. There's less distance to cover, fewer players to beat and normally the other team's out of position," Alves explains.


This high-intensity approach ultimately results in less work. Last season Henry complained at having to make 60-metre sprints up the wing. As Cruyff explains, by squeezing their opponents, Barcelona conserve energy. "Running for running's sake is pointless," Tito Vilanova, the assistant coach, says. Henry looks fresher, less resentful, and he is scoring goals. Similarly, Eto'o no longer grumbles about chasing ­defenders because he is not alone in doing so. Messi, too, has seen the benefits. When it works, players are convinced.


Attentive and perceptive, Guardiola has had to handle Eto'o, Messi and Henry personally, to mould individuals into a collective. Despite their own egos, they are suited to playing together. Eto'o chases and harries and moves, constantly opening gaps for others, always on hand; Henry is gracefully quick coming in from the left; Messi meanders inside, opening up the combination with Eto'o, Iniesta or Xavi and leaving an avenue for Alves to exploit.


It was Guardiola who persuaded the club to allow Messi to travel to the Olympics with Argentina, where they won the gold medal. Guardiola's clever handling, from personalised training to careful rotations (nine times Barcelona have started without him in the league alone), has resulted in an injury-free season. Fully fit and with a functioning team around him, Messi is the world's finest footballer. He is, says the former Barcelona coach Louis van Gaal, "like Luís Figo and Rivaldo mixed together: he provides the goals and the assists".


And that is the thing. The functioning team. One where even the water carriers can play. Xavi moves the team, providing more assists than any player in La Liga – "I think he misplaced a pass once, in 1996," jokes Van Gaal. Alves and Iniesta – the former a new signing, the latter, Guardiola's particular weakness, finally handed genuine responsibility – have added something extra. Everyone is fitter, better organised, brighter and hungrier than before. The identity of the side – the Dream Team's identity – is clear. It is not just the goals that blow you away but the control. The whole package.


"What do Henry, Eto'o and Messi have that makes them so special?" ­Stoichkov asks. "Xavi, Iniesta and Alves behind them. Just as me and Romário had Laudrup, Eusebio and Bakero. And, of course, Pep Guardiola."



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...