Barca were positively craptastic yesterday at El Madrigal against Villarreal. The Blaugrana dominated for much of the first half, but Ronaldinho and Eto'o missed a series of chances, such that the game was 0-0 at the half. In the second stanza, Villarreal took the lead and never looked back. The game illustrated two flaws that have felled Barca all year:
1. The lack of a good defensive midfielder. With Motta and Edmilson having fallen out of favor with Frank Rijkaard, Barca's first-choice three-man midfield this year has been Xavi, Deco, and Iniesta. All three are great players, but none of them can be described as a Makelele-type ball-winner. As a result, the team struggles defensively, especially on the counter, because they lack a screen for the central defense. I'm inclined to think that Xavi's injury last year was a blessing in disguise, as it forced Barca to play Edmilson or Motta behind Deco and Iniesta or van Bommel.
2. Bad play in second halves. Whether the team is out of shape as a result of complacency after conquering Europe last year or the team's tactics are crap as games go on as a result of Johan Neeskens failing to replace Henk Ten Cate, Barca routinely plays worse in the second half this year, especially in 2007. Want some evidence:
Valencia - 0-0 at half becomes a 2-1 loss.
Sevilla - 1-1 at half becomes a 2-1 loss.
Liverpool (first leg) - 1-1 at half becomes a 2-1 loss.
Real Zaragoza - 0-0 at half becomes a 1-0 loss.
Villarreal - 0-0 at half becomes a 2-0 loss.
The team's home form and overall talent might be enough to win the Primera and Copa del Rey, which would be a successful season, but there is something wrong with this side and the question is how it will be addressed in the off-season. Do they sell Ronnie to Milan or Eto'o to Chelsea and use the proceeds to buy a replacement winger/striker, a defensive midfielder, a third central defender, and a left back? (Incidentally, Sylvinho was atrocious yesterday. I haven't seen such inaccurate crossing since Cristiano Ronaldo's first year in Manchester.) What do they do with Rafa Marquez, who was excellent last year and terrible this year? Do they keep him and make him the solution to the defensive midfield spot? Are they going to keep Zambrotta or is he headed back to Juve? Do the dos Santos brothers figure into the team's plans for next year?