Rangers versus Barcelona
Barcelona is a club that is not always easy to comprehend; it is often referred to as the unarmed army of Catalunya. Perhaps the result of the club being such an important institution in Catalunya is that there is almost always a power struggle at the club, or surrounding the club. A power struggle that divides rather than unites and is often more harmful than helpful.
After a year full of disappointments the question was not if the club needed a revolution or not, it was if it should be a brutal or subtle revolution. The board and coaching team opted for a subtle one, and rather than looking for a scapegoat, they decided to reinforce the team with first team players who would make no player feel that they would play whatever their performance, not even Ronaldinho, Eto’o or Deco. The players would not be allowed to relax; there would be no time for complacency. Logic said that existing players were not really that bad, they are even world class, it was just that they were not hungry anymore, were not willing to put in that extra bit of scarification that is needed at top level in order to fight for trophies consistently. That logic is proven to have been correct, even though at the beginning of the season nothing seemed to have changed. Performances were half-hearted, Rijkaard seemed distant and it was even thought he was quite close to being sacked. How quickly things change in football.
It may be a coincidence that with Ronaldinho’s absence the team began to perform, and they reassembled the side that took the world by storm. Strong in defence, aggressive at retrieving the ball and lightning quick en-route to goal. Ronaldinho seems to have the effect of slowing games down, as everything needs go through him, he uses more touches than Iniesta, who is simply playing much better than Ronaldinho. Ronaldinho who has not really performed consistently since the final in Paris 2006, has almost become a burden for the team, admittingly a luxurious burden. With Henry still adapting, Eto’o out with a knee injury and Ronaldinho kind of missing Messi has taken over the crown as the teams star and he is the one they look for when in need of a result or to make things happen. His form since his comeback from injury last season has been sensational. He is scoring crucial goal after goal, creating master pieces in almost every game and is still only 20 years old. The team does not consist of only Messi and Iniesta as three of the four signings this summer have been of an extreme importance in becoming defensively secure. Abidal is simply a Defender, in a serious mould, Milito seems to have played in the team all his life and Touré, Yaya Touré (Arsenal’s Kolo Touré’s younger brother) is perhaps the most important signing of them all. It is no coincidence Rijkaard’s main headache for the game against Rangers is getting Touré fit, which will be tight. He is the kind of player they so much missed last year, not only a strong and physical presence at that crucial defensive midfielder position, but he is also a neat passer of the ball and wins almost every aerial ball. He will be needed against a physical and aggressive side such as Rangers. If Touré won’t be fit, it is likely that Iniesta will play there, which will be a huge advantage to Rangers, as he is frail, even if he does recuperate more balls than you would think due to his intelligence, but that will also result in the rest of the formation being predictable, not only on paper, but also on the field. Messi’s and Iniesta’s quick passing play has brought out the best in both Henry and Deco, while Ronaldinho’s slow pace makes it much easier for the opposite to gain position and defend themselves. With Iniesta and Messi at the front, it will be Rangers who will have to be alert to their interchanging of positions, where you never really know where the danger might come from.
Barcelona is suffering various injuries to their backline and they will suffer if both Márquez and Touré are out (they are their best players at defending high balls). The fantastic results Rangers have gained mean that Barcelona will have to take the match extremely seriously if they are going to stay top of the group. It will remain to be seen if Rangers manage to surprise Barcelona and get a result or if the nerves of Catalunya will be calmed and not calling for a new revolution.