A [lackluster] Treatise on Barcelona Finances

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By now you are well aware of the monetary news being published today.  FC Barcelona has announced a record profit of 48.8M euros for the 2011-12 season.   A quick list of the reasons for this positive turn contains: lack of bonus payout due to failure to win La Liga (12M euros) and the Champion’s League (unknown amount), ever-increasing ticket sales, growth of the global brand, record kit sales, increased domestic and international TV revenue, the sale of Maxwell, and the rescission of problem contracts on the books for years. Compared to the past two seasons, and in light of the impending Financial Fair Play (FFP) penalties to be imposed by UEFA, this is an extremely encouraging development.  But this is FC Barcelona, it’s more than a club, and that means responses ranging from exultant to downtrodden and everything in between.  So let’s dig in a little deeper shall we?

It is probably best to get this out of the way early, but Barcelona is a business and it is a brand, and it is those things above all else. It is a fan-owned business with an elected corporate leadership and the sooner that the fan base accepts this fact and understands that the club will be run like a business, the better.

It is difficult for many to hear, and some of you will vehemently disagree with me, but FC Barcelona, for all of its history and meaning to Catalans and the ideals it has embodied, must be run like a business, and a successful one at that, in order to survive and succeed. The trappings of modern association football are such that the bottom line must come first. No longer can a club sit back on its laurels and hope that winning cures all, or even that great history will do the trick, just look to AC Milan right now.  Shaving untold millions off in fire sales disguised as transfers because winning wasn’t enough and exterior factors did them in when it came to coming in under FFP.  To this end, Barcelona has moved to act more like a business and less like an extremely large social club.

One idea is that the club leadership should funnel all profits directly back into the club coffers because of the partnership between fan owners and administration, but that’s not how incorporated partnerships work. The club is out to be profitable and successful, probably in that order. It might hurt to hear this, but that’s the nature of business. It’s impersonal and it’s not particularly worried with how you or I feel. One step in this direction was the sponsorship deal.

The sponsorship deal with Qatar Foundation, the richest in the world ever signed to that point, has been a boom for Barcelona financially, and while many maligned such a move as “selling out” or “selling our souls,” it was a financially sound and financially necessary move.  (Incidentally, if we’re really looking to complain about it, shouldn’t we look more toward Qatar’s woeful treatment of women and minorities and its generally awful civil rights record, instead of worrying about what it does to the club’s image?) Qatar Foundation also had some part, however small, in the largest amount of kit sales in the club’s history. Of course this could also have something to do with fielding some of the most popular players in the world, but what do I know?

Now the other piece to this puzzle is the club’s handling of the announcement. After years of bashing the Laporta administration, Rosell takes to the airwaves to tout his successes and effectively rub it in the faces of Joan and his supporters. Instead of simply putting this information out there, it has been bandied about to every press organization that will carry, including as far away as the New York Times.

What does all this mean? Well, fans had better get used to this being run like a business looking out for profit for the foreseeable future and yes this includes possibly selling the naming rights to the Camp Nou, so just prepare yourselves. It also means that the club’s finances are likely to continue to be used as a political tool for the foreseeable future. Running the club as a business is a good idea, but using this as a political motivator is not. Does this mean Barça sold its soul? Possibly, but remember, the market value for anything is what someone else is willing to pay for it.

Posted in Barcelona30 Comments

Happy American Thanksgiving from BFB

Today is Thanksgiving in America. A day with mixed meaning and mixed significance to many (including myself), but also a day to commemorate things we’re thankful for. Obviously we’re thankful for Barcelona as an organization and club, all our writers, and of course our followers and commenters, without whom there would be no purpose on our writing. But I especially want to hand out a bit of thankfulness for our “Pale Blue Dot”, the Earth, of which Carl Sagan coined the phrase and wrote:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Pale Blue Dot

Also, here’s a little bit of Cesc giving thanks:

Cesc Fabregas

Posted in Barcelona18 Comments

The Comprehensive: FC Barcelona vs. BATE Borisov Review

We should all be so lucky as to kiss the MESSIah

It will sound weird to say, but on a historic night for Lionel Messi and one that saw Barcelona break every normal convention it has established for away Champion’s League group stage matches for 3 years, I am having trouble writing this. On the night of such a comprehensive beating, I find the descriptions difficult to come by. In a loss or a listless draw, I can boil my rage and point out flaws, or try to calm the collective fan conscience. But here, here I’m adrift. Then again, it’s a good problem to have and I’m done complaining about it.

Let’s start with Messi of course. Adjectives are useless endeavor for him at this point. Instead, I’m just calling him The Adjective from now on, since words have begun to fail. Anyway, at age 24 The Adjective has tied Ladislau Kubala as the club’s second-leading scorer at 194 goals with his brace today. Both goals were precisely taken, if only after the first was utterly flubbed by the BATE keeper, and Messi looked to be a nuisance and yet still in control at the same time, it must be maddening to watch him in opposition. Messi equalled the number in 280 official games, giving him a 0.69 goals per game average in 7 seasons. As if we need any more indication of Messi’s greatness, but it took Kubala more than 11 season to reach the mark.

History is wonderful and everything, but what’s more important, and showed up again today is the continued luscious passing that Messi exhibits, along with improved off-the-ball movement in midfield. In all competitions this season, The Adjective has 10 assists, to go along with 14 goals… in 10 official games. He also has taken an increasingly less forward role, allowing Cesc to occupy a “false 10″ in the front while The Adjective moves in and out of midfield and forward, creating chances for himself and others. I think we all rightly worried that with age, The Adjective would lose some pace and maybe ball skills and be reduced to a set-piece weapon, since many of his goals in the past came from pace and skill and body control. Now his movement is opening up lanes for all players, more so than it previously was, and his passing, especially to Alves and Fabregas, has become something wonderful to behold. It may seem small, or even obvious, but with such a prolific player, the little improvements are sometimes the ones that make a player’s career and peak last even longer (see: Michael Jordan developing a post fadeaway toward the end of his Bulls years).

Now on to the team’s somewhat out-of-character performance. When asked specifically about the group stage games under Pep Guardiola, most fans of the club are almost certainly going to point to Barcelona’s substandard away performances, especially against the former Soviet Block. Pep’s sides have made a habit of playing down to away teams in the CL, especially Shaktar and Rubin Kazan, as well as at Copenhagen. These teams had played tight, almost bus-parking defense and stifled the team’s creativity.

Tonight however, the team was nearly perfect. BASE had zero desire to play an offensive game, they packed the box. They are part of the old Soviet block and Barcelona was playing away from the Camp Nou. Apparently, that meant little tonight. Barcelona was methodical. Their finishing clinical. The defense appeared when needed–apart from what appeared to be some confusion when Puyol and Valdes bumped knees in the first half, but that might have also just been a damn good pass. Another common CL complaint the fans usually bring is the missing of easy chances, there was no such thing today. Barcelona scored 4 and received an own goal (courtesy of signing him away from Manchester United in July), and had some other chances, but the blatant ones were put away. Pedro and Messi both had relative tap-ins, and The Adjective’s second along with Villa’s were just icing on a nice cake.

Barça did away with its bugaboos, at least for one night, and continues to play stunning, if sometimes frustrating, football. I know the dread from some came after 3 2-2 draws in quick succession, but it wasn’t as if the club was going through some all-out slump, or something. While drawing Sociedad was the product of a poorly played game, drawing Milan was down to two mental slips that came at critically stupid times. Valencia were, and are still, very hot and that was a wonderful game to watch. What we are forgetting, maybe, is that the team has also blasted Villareal, Atletico Madrid, BATE, and Osasuna, as well as beating a game Madrid side over 2 legs, and has taken home 2 cups already.

What I’m saying is that maybe Barça turned over a new leaf after this game, by breaking so many of its normal conventions. Regardless, the team played superbly and beat a game, if not certainly talented, BATE side. The game was well played from beginning to end. It therefore is hard to write about, at least for me, and you’re stuck with me on this one, so suck it up cupcakes and celebrate this one.

Hugs

Posted in Champions League, Review77 Comments

Barcelona Season in Review, as Told by “Jurassic Park”

[Note: this was written June 4, 2011]

RAWR!

Barcelona’s 2010-2011 season has ended, and it has ended gloriously. Like a firework created by Gandalf, lit by Messi, and exploding with the force of 10,000 super suns. Yeah, that’s pretty. So what better way to recap the season than by quoting the single greatest movie of all-time: “Jurassic Park.” For those of you who don’t know, here’s the quick and the first on the film (the book is awesome too, but come on, the movie is SO quotable): British man is wealthy. British man funnels money to dinosaur excavation research. Through inexplicable, yet still seemingly possible, genetic recreation and biological experimentation (read: cloning), dinosaurs are brought back from extinction. British man wants to start dino amusement park. Lawyers (woohoo!) want real paleontologists/scientists to sign off on safety before insuring the park. They come to park. Everyone surprised. Inexplicably, British man allows grandchildren to accompany scientists through park. Tech guy sabotages park. Tropical storm limits leaving island. Defenses down. Goat. T-rex. Tree. Dinosaur sex change. Reset the system. Shit gets real. Awesome early 90s computer hacking sequence. Shit gets realer. Escape. There you have it. And without further adieu, I give you the greatest season recap in 65 million years.

Ian Malcolm: “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.”
Lionel Messi. They always say put your best foot forward, so we start out with the world’s best player, the two-time defending FIFA Ballon d’or winner, and all-around swell messiah. There’s really no point in naming his accolades for the season, but in case you forgot: 55 games played; 53 goals (nearly 1 per game *cartoonishly-large goggly eyes*); 24 assists (77 goals contributed on the season, are you kidding me?); Champion’s League top scorer (3rd consecutive); Champion’s League Final MOTM; 2010-11 DiStefano trophy winner; CdR top goalscorer; medals in La Liga, Champion’s League, and Supercopa de Espana. And lest anyone have delusions of him being lackluster in big games we have: 2 assists in Manita vs. Madrid; goal in 2nd Clasico (his 8th in all Clasicos); 2 goals in CL quarters against Arsenal (2nd leg); 2 goals in first leg of CL semis against Madrid; and the game-winner in the CL Final at Wimbley. godlike.

Robert Muldoon: [seconds before being eaten by a raptor] “Clever girl”
The raptor is Dani Alves, and he’s mighty clever. He is and will be forever trashed by opponents as a diver and a whiner and by some fans as not loyal enough (yes I’m eyeing you, yes you know who you are), but he’s the missing link in the team’s evolutionary chain. The right back who Sid Lowe once presciently called the world’s second best player is a vicious attacking machine who passes well, runs well, moves into space well, tracks back better than he is given credit for, and is a hassle to deal with in defense. Scoring 4 goals and giving 20 assists in all competitions (15 in La Liga, making him 3rd), he is a constant pain to opposing sides and never stops running. He also seems to be the most excited when another teammate scores, which is awesome to watch.

John Hammond: “All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked.”
Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, but John, if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”

The 2-0 loss to Hercules seems like a long time ago, but as I remember it, there were a lot of people who felt it an ill omen. How could such a talented team and defense be opened up by little ol’ Hercules? No goals, what about Villa? Will Messi get on track? Ah, hindsight and all that. Now it is a faint glimmer of a remembrance of walking dream perhaps, but it was a huge moment at the time and would prove to be the biggest darkness before the dawn and all those other quaint platitudes. But oh the handwringing at the time. Just seems funny now.

Alan Grant: [frightening a small child who mocked raptors] “The point is … you are alive when they start to eat you. So you know … try to show a little respect.”
Could it have been anything other than the Manita in the first Clasico? No, no it could not. There were more interesting games that the team played, more competitive, more fun to watch in terms of suspense, but as far as games that involve bitch slapping your eternal rival in the mouth, silencing the doubters, and setting up the rest of a double winning season, this one takes the cake. I am no particular wordsmith, as you must all know by now, so I have the Spoiler’s description of the game, which was awarded their Match of the Season honor:

It takes something pretty bloody special for a 5-0 hammering to be considered the Match of the Season, but this was absolutely, amazingly nice.

Barcelona were incredible. They were beautiful. They were sex on 22-legs.

Yep, that about sums it up. In retrospect, it wasn’t the most important league game of the season for Barcelona, nor for any other competition really, but as a fan of the Blaugrana, a 90-minute surgical torture to the tune of 5-nil will put a smile across your face for years to come.

A rush of blood to the head

John Hammond: “Spared no expense.”
Well it wouldn’t be this season’s review without mentioning the Qatar Foundation sponsorship thing (I could also have included David Villa’s signing here, but I think the QF issue somehow was a bigger thing). I fell firmly on the side of those who believe (maybe because I resigned myself to this fact over a year ago) that it’s just business, it was going to happen, and the sponsor might have been worse (read: a picture of Sepp Blatter on the front, BP oil on the back). But no matter how you feel, it was a HUGE deal. Barcelona will be paid €170 million over 5.5 years making this the largest shirt sponsorship deal in football history. Some viewed it as the ultimate violation of everything the team stands for, then again, I kind of viewed that as happening when they wouldn’t let me become a socio because I’m not a Catalan. So yeah, get in a dither about that if you want, but I view xenophobia a might bit harsher than getting paid. Selling out? Perhaps. Luke being jaded? Most likely. Nevertheless, it was big news, and it will shape some of the things to come in the team’s future, both on the field and economically. However, this is sexy as hell:

Tough as a T-Rex hide

Ian Malcolm: “Life finds a way.”
The prospect of 4 matches against Madrid in 18 days was enough to excite a number of fans, and enough to drive the rest to drink. Then remembering that those matches could decide La Liga, would decide the Copa del Rey, and would determine one of the finalists for the Champion’s League, you might have considered killing yourself. It was too much, way too much. 2 Clasicos in the league every year involves enough press room histrionics to cause me to avoid any mention of them. However, no season review would be complete without the mention of 4 games against the most arch of rivals just as evolution is not complete without the messy process of billion of years, and billions of dead. In the end, 1 win and 2 draws was enough for the Barça Double’s life to find a way, even if the Cup of the King was not survival of the fittest, but instead an action to make the team stronger going forward. And without survival, and that’s really the only word for it, or those 4 games, we would never be treated to Barça’s 4th European Double in history and pictures like this:

Much deserved trophies for a great star


Heart-warming

Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever witnessed, yet you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.”
Eric Abidal was diagnosed with a tumor in his liver in mid-March. We did not know the extent of problem, whether it was cancerous or benign, but we do know that he had surgery to remove it shortly after diagnosis. Most called it a season-ending injury. Hell, invasive surgery like that usually keeps a player out for a long period just because they have no fitness coming back. Then, Guardiola subbed him in during the Champion’s League semis against Madrid in stoppage time. It made for a good story but Adidal was clearly out of shape and his positioning was suspect. But Pep knows better and started Abidal in the Final, and he played well. Not great, but well enough. But overcoming the possibility of cancer to return and play in the biggest club football game on the planet gains you a special place in the hearts of your teammates and other fans. So of course Captain Puyol, who played very little in the game, handed the armband to King Eric for one of those incalculably sweet and beautiful moments: Abidal lifts the trophy in the place of the Captain and the Vice-Captain. A touching moment, and probably the Barcelona moment of the year.

Posted in Barcelona, Champions League, La Liga25 Comments

Versatility in a Pinch: 2011-12 Squad Preview

I've created a monster


I’ve never made any qualms about my belief that Pep Guardiola knows a hell of a lot more about this game than I do, and specifically about this team. So when Mr. Guardiola (see, we’re classy like the NY Times) creates his squad I tend to defer to his judgment, possibly to a fault, but that’s just me. This offseason has been no different for me, but for others it has provided no shortage of acrimony, second-guessing, hand-wringing, and general malcontentedness. Calls for more defenders, or less spending, or taller players have largely fallen on deaf ears whilst Pep has promoted 2 and brought in another short winger and the long lost midfielder. Some of these complaints have merit (however little), others however, are your basic fan complaints that ring of a spoiled adult in need of a solid soap-in-a-pillowcase beating. By looking at the components the team has and the different lineups that may be used, I intend to show that not only does the team have much greater depth this year, but is also far more skilled than last year’s Double-winning side.

A few points need to be made before we dig in. First, I am not possessed by the tactical expertise of say a Euler, so this will not be quite as in depth as one of his posts, and it may also contain some minor issues, and for those I apologize. Second, and more importantly, there is one man in charge of the squad for this team, and that is Pep Guardiola. The moves to focus on promoting new players (Thiago and Fontas), add wing depth up front (Sanchez), and bringing Fabregas back as a backup for Xavi, Iniesta, and even at DM, are his moves. Admittedly, we also have to assume that the Angel deal fell apart or never occurred because of Pep’s hand, not Rosell’s. This should also be of some great comfort to fans who fear that Pep is always going to leave next year. Either Pep is the great benevolent one, building his dream team as one of the most talented club football sides in history and leaving it for Luis Enrique in a few months, or he’s here to stay barring unforeseen circumstances. You may decide how the team-building bodes for his future with the club for yourselves.

Since the beginning of Mr. Guardiola’s reign he has reshaped the squad in his image of what it should be, one that is free flowing in attack, carries all the possession, and makes onslaughts look easy (incidentally, I see Villa-Boas making this exact same transition at Chelsea so long as he’s given enough time). And looking back the evolution is stunning.

Essentially, this is Pep’s survival of the fittest. Regardless of whether he knew all these pieces were necessary at the beginning or if it dawned on him at some point in between, he’s doing a good job of cobbling it and his tenure is rife with examples. I’m personally unsure if he ever really wanted a true 9 in the lineup, but it now appears to be done for the rest of his coaching career here. Even with Eto’o and Ibrahimovic, they were asked to also take up more outside positions over time, and the Eto’o/Ibrahimovic transfer sagas proved to be a worthless distraction for the club, but it may have finally pushed the 9 out in favor of the false 9 of Messi (and I hardly doubt anyone can complain with those results). The closest thing to a 9 on the team now is Villa and I am sure it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

The signing of Alves is another example, though the player hasn’t changed, his role has, moving higher up every season, until 2010-11 when he was 3rd in La Liga in assists. Pep wanted that roving RB and he got the best one available, who is now the best one in the world. Additionally, he has used the DM position, specifically with Busquets, to turn into a third centerback or sweeper during matches, allowing both wing backs to move forward, turning the formation into an adjusted 3-4-3.

The youth movement has also become part of Guardiola’s MO managing the club. Pep of course managed Barça B before he came to the A side, and this has informed his promotion and transfer policies ever since. When a B player has become ready and an opening happens at the top, the team has opted for going within the organization instead of without. Gone were the older players in favor of Pedro, Busquets, Jeffren, and Pique, who were all deemed ready to contribute depth. Obviously, not every transfer has followed this trend (read: Alves, Keita, Villa, Ibrahimovic, and Adirano), but viable youth options did not exist for those positions either. Thiago’s and Fontas’s promotions this summer only serve to reinforce this idea. With possible big name targets available elsewhere, the club went with proven youth to provide depth and coverage in two areas where it was needed.

Even when a transfer has been necessary, the most recent ones have been for youngsters like Cesc Fabregas (who like Pique grew up in La Masia, left, and was brought back), Alexis Sanchez, Ibrahim Afellay, and even an ancient-seeming Mascherano who is somehow only 27 now. This does not include the obviously large number of youth players who have appeared in non-promoted backup roles such as Sergi Roberto, Bartra, Muniesa, dos Santos the younger, etc. Should Pep stick around, expect more promotions in the offing in lieu of purchases.

These examples all inform our idea of the current squad, and here we come to the formations and tactics we might see this year. The current first-team players first year players are: Valdes, Pinto, Pique, Puyol, Fontas, Alves, Abidal, Adriano, Maxwell, Busquets, Mascherano, Keita, Fabregas, Thiago, Xavi, Iniesta, Sanchez, Afellay, Messi, Villa, and Pedro. Outside of GK, only Alves, Maxwell, and maybe Messi play one static position, whereas the others are versatile, playing in multiple positions and areas. This is the key to the smaller squad that Pep carried last year (though this is up 1 players from the primary 20 he started with last August) and the reason the team has avoided adding another defender. Viewing the squad as a series of evolutionary steps to true versatility is the better way to look at it, instead of one-off moves meant to fill a hole or two for the interim.

Starting with what is typically thought of as the “strongest” formation for the squad, or what it would have been last year. I use the scare quotes because I feel this year’s strongest squad will be vastly different with the addition of Sanchez and the injury history of Puyol, but we’ll get there eventually.

"Traditional" 4-3-3

Now, the most routine complaint this offseason has been the lack of another defender after Milito left, but it’s one I feel that would be a luxury, not a necessity. Quite simply, the 5 “defensive” outfield positions are occupied by 10 or 11 players (depending on how you view Fabregas as a DM), almost all of whom play multiple positions well. Abidal has served admirably as both a roving LB and a CB, Masch as a CB and DM, Adriano as LB and RB, Fontas as a CB and LB for the B side, Puyol as a RB and either CB, Busquets as a DM or CB, and Pique at either CB position. The following formation represents one where Puyol, Pique, Abidal, and Xavi are all injured, and while it’s not perfect, it’s also not leaving super gaping holes either that some are claiming (seeing as something similar gave up 2 goals to one of the best offensive sides in the world a few days ago).

An injured defense

A similarly bad scenario was lived out on Sunday during the first leg of the Supercopa. The starting backline included Alves, Mascherano, Abidal, and Adriano, with Keita at the DM. Though Keita was abysmal in his position (and awfully out of play there), the others filled in admirably. And while I saw some complaints of “centerback-sized holes” being covered by last second stops (namely by Mascherano), I don’t see these same comments when Pique or Puyol are doing the last second stopping, which is nothing if not routine in Barça’s system. Other more nuanced considerations have to be made when looking at the CB as well, such as finding a cheap, experienced CB who would be willing to play very few games during a season as anything more than a last gasp option. I don’t see one and honestly believe that Bartra will be the next defender the team gets, by promoting him from the B side.

Then of course we have Fabregas. So much has been made about this transfer, both tactically, philosophically, monetarily, and the like, but in simple football terms it is about midfield versatility. Cesc has traditionally occupied the attacking/playmaking midfield roles at Arsenal, meaning he may fill in for either Xavi or Iniesta if need be, and I believe we would see little in the way of a drop in productivity. He has shown a proclivity to do this before, if you’ll remember back to his play during the 2010 World Cup final. He combined with Iniesta magnificently, eventually doing so for the winner (on the same side of this coin, Thiago provides the same versatility for the club, it’s hard to overstate the value these two provide in this regard). A few will wonder about the necessity here, what with Thiago coming on recently and all that, but Xavi’s continuing achilles issues scare me, as does his age, and not long ago we knew Iniesta as “Mr. Glass,” so… It also behooves us to look to the bridge Fabregas provides between Xavi, Iniesta, and Thiago, a sort of “midfield continuum” as Sid Lowe words it.

Those ideas however, are somewhat obvious. The more nuanced approach is that Cesc can play as a deep mid in defense. As Kevin recently noted, Fabregas started out as a DM in the youth system, and while he’s not the large (Busquets) or hulking (Mascherano) type we are accustomed too, he could still work well back there in my opinion. The midfield would be more compacted to be sure, and Abidal would have to be cutoff from coming forward so as to provide backline support, but I don’t see this as too far-fetched, or even that bad of an option against certain sides that are not great on counter attacks.

Cesc as DM, compact MF

Even a lineup without Messi, an almost unthinkable proposition, is still formidable. Villa would likely slot into the middle of the forward trident, and play a more forward-looking role, instead of Messi who tracks back and takes the ball in midfield, he would play higher up and allow the wings and the attacking mid to provide the offensive link up. Villa played a similar role for the Spanish National Team during the 2010 World Cup when Torres wasn’t on the field. As I recall, he did so to some level of success. This formation would also see the wings push out a little wider and the midfield spread out slightly more. In all, missing Messi would hurt badly, but this lineup and alignment shows a lot of strength.

Messi out, Villa higher

These aren’t even the most interesting lineups that could be brought out. And the intrigue isn’t what matters the most, though I’m sure Mr. Guardiola will test that theory during some random Copa game. What matters is that the team has options in each third, a number of them. And even options at each separate position present themselves. Though they aren’t perfect and you wouldn’t want some of them as your first choice, they are versatile and they work in a pinch. During Pep’s tenure, the team has suffered injuries large and small and has found a plug in every instance, even when you might not have liked it very much. It has happened for 3 straight years, and I don’t doubt it will happen again during this season.

Image: Miguel Ruiz – FCB

Posted in Barcelona, Preseason, Tactics34 Comments

Champions League Draw Preview

The final qualification round for the 2011-12 Champions League ended today and now we know a little more about what to expect from tomorrow’s draw. The draw will occur at 11:30 EST and be shown on Fox Soccer for those of us in America. So let us break this down a little.

As you may know, all the teams left in the final 32 are placed into 4 pots based on their UEFA coefficients, drawn into 8 groups of 4 teams, and then scheduled to play home and away games against the other 3 teams in their groups. Barcelona currently sits 2nd in the UEFA coeffecient (not that it matters), mostly due to being the only La Liga team past the final 16 until last year. However, being the title holders, Barcelona are the number 1 team in pot 1. Other sides placed into pot 1 include Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich (qualified yesterday), Arsenal (qualified today), Real Madrid, Porto, and Inter. Barcelona cannot be drawn into a group with any of these sides.

The second group includes Milan, Lyon, Shakhtar, Valencia, Benfica, Villareal, CSKA Moscow, and Marseille. Barcelona cannot be drawn with Valencia or Villareal because teams cannot be drawn against domestic league foes in the rounds of 32 or 16. Group 3 is the shocker here because of its strength: Zenit St. Petersburg, Ajax, Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Lille, Basel, BATE and Borisov. Barcelona can be drawn against any of these teams. Finally, group 4 contains Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, Dinamo Zagreb, APOEL, Trabzonspor (taking over for Fenerbache who are involved in a match-fixing investigation), Genk, Viktoria Plzen, and Otelul Galati. Barcelona can draw any of these sides.

In my opinion, the best case scenario for Barça involves drawing Marseille or Benfica (because I want nothing to do with Eastern European nations or Milan) from Group 2. Drawing Lille, BATE, or Basel (no to City, Ajax, any Greek team, or Zenit). And then drawing any of the Group D teams that is not Dortmund (they are better than a lot of people know).

A worst case scenario involves drawing Milan or Shaktar, Manchester City, and Dortmund. Though I still believe Barcelona would finish up top there, it would be much more difficult and risk the players a lot more.

So sit back, relax, and we will find out very soon where Barcelona lines up for the Round of 32.

Posted in Barcelona, Champions League277 Comments

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