Things to take away from the Scottish mini-tour
"At Barcelona, full-backs are auxiliary strikers. Midfielders are auxiliary strikers. On occasion, even Presas Oleguer is an auxiliary striker." - The Herald match report of Hearts v Barca.(Yeah, but Oleguer, bless him, is rubbish at it, whereas some of our fullbacks and midfielders are fairly good at 'playing' strikers.)
Brilliant quote. To be honest, under Rijkaard we've actually gotten more into the revolutionary concept that defending might be a good idea, but we're never going to look like Capello's Juventus. (On the other hand, I'd never slag off Capello's Milan for obvious reasons.) On a related note, see the Barcelona Offside for a fun cartoon making fun of both Capello's defensiveness (exaggerated, IMHO, in the Spanish media) and your average Barca fan's, um, considerable zeal for attacking football (spot on).
- Apparently some good physical work done in a cool climate.
- Allowing Rijkaard to see most of his new players in action and think about formations.
- Facilitating Henry's recovery after not playing for five months.
- Further emergence of the two brilliant youngsters, Krkic and Dos Santos. The latter is scarily like Ronaldinho, even in looks - think the hair's on purpose?
- By all accounts a successful PR exercise (hey, we aren't the 'club who are most anxious to be well liked and look good' for nothing).
- The sight of Ronaldinho reclining on the far end of the away dug-out overspill, wearing flip-flops and a floppy sun-hat.
- The cash, obviously, because after all we do need to fund our transfers somehow.
- Xavi's been looking very good indeed.
- Good planning overall, although with a tour two years (!) in the making, you'd expect that.
- Still can't defend freekicks and corners, although that may improve when we get 3 of our central defenders who can head the ball back. Or it may not. At this point, I pretty much take for granted that both my club team and my national side suck at defending set pieces as if it's genetic for both.
- Not sure how well the travelling will go down, especiall combined with the trip to Asia and then Germany to play Bayern.
- Is Henry really going to sit on the bench? I can see Rijkaard's (entirely sound) logic in not starting him with Ronnie and Eto'o - because it would unbalance the tactical formation - but we all know that the Frenchman, wonderful as he is, does have his prima donna side.
- Related to that, what's going on with Deco? I wouldn't mind rotating the 3 attacking midfielders according to opponent, as long as we're not looking to sell him.
- I'm still not sure our increasing problems with breaking down teams who know the 4-3-3 inside out by now have been solved.
- Need to score more from open play that's not the result of a cross. That's the true measure of fitness and fluency for this team. For long periods last season our play stuttered and we only scored from penalties, freekicks, even some corners and from crosses but not by playing through midfield. In fact, we were frequently overwhelmed in the middle of the park. That can't happen again.
My two cents about likely formation and pecking order this season, given what we've seen so far (4-1-2-2-1):
(Excuse the rubbish formation diagram, as blogger hates me today.)
Where --> means preferred to, and = means equally preferred:
GK: Valdes --> Jorquera
RB: Zambrotta --> Belletti (if he doesn't leave) = Oleguer.
CB: Carles Puyol --> Gabi Milito --> Rafael Marquez (if he gets back to form) = Liliam Thuram --> Oleguer
LB: Eric Abidal --> Sylvinho
DM: Yaya Toure --> Rafael Marquez (if he gets his form back) --> Edmilson (if fit and not sold off)
CM: Iniesta = Xavi = Deco (depending on form and opponent)
RW/LW: Ronaldinho --> Leo Messi --> Samuel Eto'o --> Thierry Henry --> Gio Dos Santos --> Bojan Krkic
ST: Samuel Eto'o --> Thierry Henry --> Ronaldinho --> Eidur Gudjohnsen (if he stays) = Bojan Krkic
The squad does look fairly well-balanced, although as always our problem DM spot still looks a little lacking in proper cover. More on this later, definitely, especially given the fact that every single Barca fan has spent what seems like the entire off-season since Henry's signing discussing formations.
Lastly, to balance out my doom and gloom about our new no.14 (how ungrateful of me to despair at such a great player joining, right?) an interesting quote from vice-captain Xavi:
"Henry's arrival was the key moment. It was as if everything was erased and we could begin again. For us and the fans," the midfielder said. "In the streets I see people full of enthusiasm, which is not easy to achieve. There are only a few players who can lift a depressed club."
That, and the added competitive incentive for Ronaldinho, is for me the best part about Henry's arrival.