Signing Suarez not enough: Barcelona needs to give its defence teeth to win titles

With the addition of Luis Suarez, Barcelona have crossed two pressing hurdles that impeded their progress to the Primera Liga title last season.

Firstly, it gives them an attack that is at par with Real Madrid’s. Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale formed one of the most potent attacks of last season’s Spanish top flight and with Bale having settled well into his role at the Santiago Bernabeu, he is only likely to surpass the achievements of his previous season.

 Signing Suarez not enough: Barcelona needs to give its defence teeth to win titles

Suarez' signing has strengthened Barcelona's attack but bolstering the defence is the need of the hour. Reuters

An attack featuring Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi will surely give Madrid’s trio a run for their money, but more importantly, following Neymar’s acquisition last summer, eases even more pressure off their Argentine talisman.

Now that Suarez has provided the Azulgrana with one of the Liga’s most feared attacks and has added much-needed depth to the attacking element of the squad, Barcelona desperately need to emulate Guardiola because their foundations were constructed on an extremely solid and disciplined defence.

Barcelona’s defence of Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Dani Alves was key to their unprecedented success. Puyol’s absence has shown just how important he was to organising that defence and in order to return to their trophy-winning ways, it is his absence that the club will need to address now.

The organisation that Puyol provided to the Barcelona rearguard made him indispensable to the team and during his increasing absences at the back due to a combination of frequent injuries and advancing years, Pique was unable to adequately lead his fellow defenders and Puyol’s leadership was found wanting on more than one occasion.

There are few defenders who would be able to fill Puyol’s shoes and it is imperative that Barcelona splash the cash in order to land one of them.

Puyol’s presence to Barcelona was as vital as Thiago Silva’s was for Brazil during the recently concluded 2014 FIFA World Cup. It was only when the Paris Saint-Germain man was absent from the hosts’ starting lineup that they realised his importance.

Silva does an excellent job marshalling the French team’s rearguard and he would surely consider moving to Catalonia if the right offer came along. While PSG would be loath to let their captain go, they cannot spend any more following their acquisition of David Luiz for a record-breaking fifty million pounds because of the conditions imposed on them by Financial Fair Play, according to French newspaper L’Equipe.

The capital side are chasing both Real Madrid’s livewire winger Angel di Maria and Toulouse youngster Serge Aurier but will need to sell before they buy.

The right offer could therefore tempt Les Parisiens into letting him go, but should he choose to stay in Paris, there are others that Barcelona could try to sign. The Borussia Dortmund duo of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are both leaders in their own right and could provide a suitable alternative at the heart of the Barcelona defence.

However, Barcelona will not be able to negotiate a cut-price deal for either of these two players because the Signal Iduna Park side will not want to break up an established defensive duo that have been playing together for a long period of time.

Dortmund will likely want to re-invest the money they get from either Serbia international Subotic or Germany’s World Cup winner Hummels in finding a readymade replacement for whoever leaves for Spain, in addition to bolstering their squad with a couple of first-team additions to give them additional depth and therefore will not let either defender leave on the cheap.

While signing a centre back is of prime importance for Barcelona, what is equally important is that new coach Luis Enrique brings back to the Camp Nou the positional discipline that was characteristic of Guardiola’s teams.

It was a discipline that depended on Barcelona’s players knowing where their teammates were and accordingly filled in any gaps that were caused by player movement. While both Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta displayed this positional discipline, the recently departed Cesc Fabregas failed to show that awareness.

Xavi knew when to move forward and join in his team’s attack and when to fall back and join in his team’s defensive responsibilities. Fabregas, on the other hand, would bomb forward at will, leaving a hole in between defence and midfield that other teams would exploit at will.

Barcelona have signed Ivan Rakitic to replace him and will need to instill in him the same discipline that is synonymous with the rest of the Barcelona team. The former Sevilla captain was arguably the ailing Andalucian club’s standout player last season and does display the technical intelligence required to shine in his new surroundings.

But while Enrique is setting a defensive template for his team to adhere to, he will also need to wean Barcelona’s dependence off Messi. With the passage of time, the club’s opponents have learned how to limit the Argentine superstar’s impact on the pitch. Messi’s inability to exert his usual influence on proceedings make Barcelona look decidedly pedestrian while going forward.

The reason the Blaugrana have brought in an out-and-out but extremely mobile forward in Suarez is so that they can build the team around more than one player. While Gerardo Martino was at the helm of the club last season, he did attempt to wean the team off Messi by playing him out wide and he did try to institute a Plan B by asking his team to play aerial passes when their tiki-taka model wasn’t working.

Unfortunately there are few players who can match either Messi’s skill or his influence, and Suarez is one of them. The Uruguayan hotshot is as composed on the ground as he is adept in the air and while he will complement Barcelona’s passing game, he will also give them the opportunity to put in place a Plan B.

Also, given the intelligence that the Barcelona front three are blessed with, they will be able to operate in any of the forward attacking positions while still keeping their team shape intact, thereby confusing opposition defenders.

Suarez’s arrival at Barcelona is not just a show of power. It is a calculated footballing decision that is guaranteed to win the club matches when they are in a sticky situation. Winning championships, however, will require the addition of defensive reinforcements.

Updated Date: Jul 23, 2014 14:08:32 IST



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