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Barcelona Don’t Need Kojak to Discover an Obvious Truth

28 Feb 2013

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Lionel Messi has failed to spark Barcelona

REUTERS

If it ain't broken, fix it. Rather than unearthing large dollops of their television Euro millions on the Spanish equivalent of Shoestring to find out whether or not much-vaunted players are behaving properly during time off, Barcelona should use their resources more wisely.

Amid a time of apparent public outrage in Catalonia that claims Barca allegedly endorsed the use of private detectives to tail Gerard Pique and his girlfriend, the pop singer Shakira, off the park, matters on it are suddenly more pressing. Or not when you study Cristiano Ronaldo leading Barca a merry dance with a couple of sweeteners in Real Madrid's 3-1 win at the Camp Nou that smoothed Jose Mourinho’s men a path to the Copa del Rey final.

It would not take 70s TV detective Kojak or his ilk to work out where the world's most fabled club side are going wrong under duress.

"Who loves ya, baby?" bellowed Theo Kojak. Well, the vast majority of football lovers rejoice in the Barca brand. Most people continue to doff their caps to them or are jealous of them, but that does not mean the world game’s greatest exponents of passing football are exempt from inspection.

The tiki-taka style of short passing is glorious, but it is not the only method that produces results. Change for change's sake in life is pointless, but failing to embrace or adopt an alternative approach can be as equally fatal when the favoured route is failing to bear fruit.

Barcelona have come up short with their short passing routine several times over the past year when they have been provided with obstacles that tend not to exist in a lop-sided Spanish league that is grossly unfair due to the uneven distribution of television wealth that exists between the big two and the rest.

Barca and Real claim around half of the television money from La Liga with the other half handed out piecemeal to the opposition, or cannon fodder some might say, but this has left them feeling the pinch elsewhere. Namely in the Champions League, where clubs are unwilling to turn up, roll over and have their bellies tickled.

Chelsea, Celtic, AC Milan and Madrid, in the Copa del Rey, have shown what can be achieved when clubs formulate a game plan and stick to it rigidly.

Barcelona could and should have smashed Chelsea to smithereens to the first leg of their Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge last season. Despite dominating possession and shots at goal, they lost to Didier Drogba's sole effort of the night. The second leg in the Camp Nou followed a similar pattern with Chelsea, minus the red carded John Terry, somehow roadblocking their way to the final with 10 men and a couple of classic away goals in a 2-2 draw.

Despite possessing the budget of an English Championship club, Celtic seized upon the main thrust of Chelsea's argument in the group stages.

The Scottish champions lost 2-1 with the last kick of the match in the Camp Nou, but won 2-1 in Glasgow where they exploited Barcelona's lack of height in defence and their susceptibility to shed goals when teams counter attack.

Defend in numbers, defend stoutly in certain areas and force Barcelona to move the ball wide seems to be the kryptonite that leaves Barca without an antidote. This is not anti-football, just common sense.

When you have men up front such as Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin-Prince Boateng or Tony Watt as the fulcrum of your strategy, Barcelona are vulnerable to shipping goals, such is their addiction to attack.

Milan enjoyed similar benefits during a 2-0 win in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 match at the San Siro last week. Barcelona binged on possession as per usual, but it became a tiresome watch as they failed to cut through large swathes of black and red shirts. There was a certain inevitability about it all when Milan seized upon a couple of the opportunities that came their way.

Once is bad luck, twice is careless, but three times? If it keeps happening, it is more than misfortune.

Forget the dewy-eyed who hanker after Pele, the argument can be made that Lionel Messi is already football's greatest with Diego Maradona and perhaps even Ronaldo his closest competitors to such a mantle, but there is nothing wrong in looking at alternative methods with or without such protagonists.

Barca began shelling high balls into the Milan box looking for the hotly pursued Gerard Pique in the game's death throes, but by then it was too late.

Teams can play in a comfort zone against Barca because you know they are going to try to play through you rather than go around or above you. Shots from distance and crosses into the box were conspicuous by their absence during the match against Milan, who lived well within their means on a San Siro pitch unsuitable for stylish rolling of the ball.

It is not outlandish to suggest Barcelona should have some type of reserve ammunition for such evenings. It is either stubbornness or poor forward planning that they do not have all eventualities covered.

Fernando Llorente will join Juventus this summer, but would surely have been a potent addition. As would have been Drogba. The obvious power of Samuel Eto'o and Yaya Toure from yesteryear are also missing to supplement more diminutive figures.

Despite all the plaudits that they rightly bask in, Barca will feel a sense of emptiness if they regain the Spanish title, but are forced to do without the Champions League.

Barca regularly enjoy over 70 per cent of possession, but what does this mean without goals? "Statistics are a bit like bikinis - it shows a lot but not the whole thing,” said the Scotland rugby coach Scott Johnson after a recent match. Milan would dine out on extinguishing Barca’s flame by spending the evening in their own half.

If you wind up in the cemetery at the end of combat, it doesn't really matter who buried you. Or how you got there.

Tags: Sports, World, Featured, BARCELONA, KOJAK, OBVIOUS TRUTH

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