Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Barcelona's right-wing dilemma

I'm easily delighted by the little glimpses one is sometimes privileged enough to get of the inner workings of a team. For example, Frank Rijkaard said after the first leg of Barcelona's Champions League semi-final with Milan that he'd had a chat at half-time with the man who eventually scored the tie's only goal. Rijkaard asked Ludovic Giuly how much longer he could play, and the reply was 20 minutes. Of course, he then went and scored before the 20 minutes were up.

It's a nice little story, reflecting the kind of relationship Rijkaard has with his troops
("One thing you can say about me is the good relationship I have with my players, from No. 1 to No. 24,")
but it also illustrates a potential problem that Barca have to confront sooner or later. While Giuly is playing wonderfully right now, just when we need him to, he has rarely been able to play out the full 90 minutes since joining in 2004. The 4-3-3 employed by Rijkaard is physically demanding on all the players, but the man on the right wing has an especially heavy burden. His counter-part on the left, Ronaldinho, is the only one exempt from defensive responsibilities (which is just as well since he defends horribly - are you listening Dunga?), but he must track back constantly into midfield, or to put pressure on the opposing side's winger and fullback, as well as running all over the business end of the field, interchanging positions with the striker and Ronaldinho.

In one match last season, Messi - who is better at defending than most realize - lost the ball to his fullback (not exactly a regular occurance), chased the full length of the pitch and won it back, by which time he was almost by his own side's corner flag. Similarly, the sight of Giuly chasing the fullback all the way into their final third is a familiar one. Messi is a young man with frightening pace and power, so he can cope just fine, although I'm still uncomfortable with him playing 2 full matches in 4 days - he inevitably runs out of steam near the end of the second.

Giuly, on the other hand, is a fabulously commited and elegant player who runs his heart out, but in Barca's system he fades after about 75 minutes into a game. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he's the first player to be substituted every time. I admire him greatly, and he is one of the most popular players in the dressing room with his easy-going manner and good sense of humour, but he is 30 years old. If he cannot cope with 90 minutes of football now, what about 2 or 3 years down the line?

He considered letting his contract lapse and going to a club where he would be playing more regularly during last season, when Messi was keeping him out of the side, but decided against it in the end. Congratulations are in order to the Barca managament on this, by the way. Good work securing that contract extension quickly instead of letting the rumours (Liverpool were apparently interested) run and run. After how injury-prone Messi has proven to be this season (no thanks to defenders like Zapater, Emerson and Ricardo Carvolho), Giuly might actually end up seeing more playing time than his rival for the spot yet again, after the Argentine's frustrating injury setbacks last season kept him out of the later Champions League games.

My point in discussing Giuly and Messi and their respective issues (one is injury prone, the other can't play 90 minutes) is to express concern about the right-wing position. It's a good thing Gio Dos Santos might possibly have a future in this position, although of course despite the hype he's totally unproven at the top level.

The other point in talking about Giuly is to lament his bad luck with the national team. Through first injury and then falling out with the coach, he's missed every single major tournament going despite being undoubtedly good enough to start for France. The likes of Malouda and Ribery are great, but I don't see how one can doubt Giuly's claim to a place, given his ability. At the age of 30, he has only 11 caps. Missing the World Cup this year must have been a major blow. Unless Raymond Domenech regains some of his sanity (not too likely) he looks set to miss out on Euro 2008 - his last realistic shot at an international tournament - as well. Incredibly sad. But having won the Champions League days after he failed to make the World Cup squad must have been sweet.

(Incidentally, with all the press laments over the lack of an outstanding striker at the World Cup - hey, with all respect to Miro Klose, they said it, not me - how sad is it that Cameroon missed out? If you saw the brilliant hattrick Sammy Eto'o scored against Angola - who qualified, unlike Cameroon - in the African Cup of Nations, it's hard not to think about what he would have bought to the tournament. His tears after they failed to qualify is one of the saddest things I've ever seen in football. Ah well, he's young, there's always the next one.)


Isaiah said...

Good post, as usual, but it left me wondering about Barcelona's January potential and desires. With such an injured squad, who will Barca target during the transfer window?

You seem to suggest that there needs to be more cover behind Giuly on the right wing, but would it be wise, in your opinion, to throw down cash for another right-wing player?

And what of the rumors linking Alves to Barca? Doesn't that seem a bit over-the-top with Zambrotta starting (and I believe doing fine) and Belletti and Oleguer fully capable of filling in when they are healthy. While it's no doubt a good idea to get a player of Alves' quality, his price is probably too high to truly consider, unless of course you're the Mourinho/Abramovich spending juggernaut.

Will Barcelona spend in January or stick with what they have (which is working, by and large) until Eto'o and Messi are back to full fitness?

Yrsa said...

I guess both Saviola and Ezquerro and Eidur can play on the right wing. I don't think Messi is someone who can play twice a week for the full time, (did you read marti perarnau's piece on Messi?)
Alves won't go to Barcelona I think, it was an option, but right now Belleti is not doing badly. from what i know alves is not that good at attacking.
he would be too expensive as well.

john said...

Hi Linda,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here.

First of all, congratulation on Team New Zealand success on winning the A1GP of Indonesia. What a race it was despite the whether conditions.

By the way, I’m sure Auckland City must be getting a lot of attention in NZ as they are representing the whole Oceania continent at the World Club Championship. Based on what I’ve seen from their first match against Al-Ahly, they did their best despite the odds were obviously against them.

Is Saviola included in the Barca squad for the tournament?


linda said...

Isaiah: I do think Barca need more cover on the right wing, but we definitely should not go out and buy a player. For one, that person won't be playing a whole lot, and also it would inhibit the development of young Dos Santos, who I mentioned in my post.

In my opinion, Barca shouldn't go out and splash out the cash in January. Perhaps a young left-back should be considered at the end of the season, but other than that I can't see where a big-money signing would come in. Alves is wonderful, but you're right, the right-back position is overcrowded as it is.

Similarly, the rumours about Diego Milito seem equally unbelievable. While it would make me happy as I rate him highly, he would be Barca's 8th forward when everyone is fit, which is plainly Galactico-era-Real Madrid-ridiculous.

So I don't want any signings. And I believe that's what the suits at Barca think as well.

Yrsa: I wouldn't play Saviola, Ezquerro or Eidur on the right - it severely limits all 3 of them. Someone who is suited to the position is best. I agree with you that Messi probably can't play 90 minutes twice a week - whenever he has he's gotten injured. Hopefully it's not a sign of his career to come. (Perarnau's piece on Messi? Could you point me in its direction?)

Alves will stay at Sevilla, I think. They're not stupid enough to sell him yet.

John: it's been a good year sporting-wise for New Zealand - especially the All Blacks, which makes everyone very happy. My other major wish when it comes to New Zealand sport is for us to win the America's Cup back (sailing, held in Valencia in 2007). I was heartbroken when Team New Zealand lost to Alinghi right on my doorstep last time.

I'm sure the boys from Auckland City are enjoying their rare moment in the spotlight. Even if they lose both games, at least it's more excusable than the New Zealand Knights' awful record in the Australian A-League.

Saviola is in the Barca squad and I think will definitely play if fit. Fingers crossed he makes it fitness-wise.

Yrsa said...

here is perarnau's blog.
Very good, informative
jueves, noviembre 16, 2006

Greg G said...

Hi Linda, very good article here. I like Giuly a lot as well. Possibly one solution would be a formation change, albeit temporary. 4-4-2, perhaps? The reason I bring it up is that since Ronnie is so poor at defending, it might be better to allow the mid third greater coverage. Barça certainly have the midfield players for 4-4-2. Once Eto'o returns revert back to 4-3-3.

If that's not a good option, then let Gudjohnsen play right winger. The Icelander plays better deep anyway. Now that Saviola is fit again, put the Argentine as center striker. I like poachers in the middle, and the Rabbit is definitely a poacher.

linda said...

Greg: I think what Rijkaard is doing in games these days when he brings on Xavi for Giuly is pretty much changing to 4-4-2. Nominally Iniesta is playing as a winger, but really he sits in midfield. I will certainly be happy to have the old 4-3-3 back, though. I was watching some highlights from last season and it just isn't the same without everything that Eto'o brings to the side.

Gudjohnsen is a support striker, I think - he'd play well slightly behind a proper center striker. Not convinced he's got the pace for the wing position, but a 4-4-2 with him and Saviola partnered would actually work really well - not possible given the other players involved, of course (where would Giuly and Ronnie go?) but it's a thought.

kharis said...

good post..
come on Barca!