Two nights ago we saw just a glimpse of what Barcelona can do on any given day. If everything clicks. And it did against Celta Vigo. Barcelona simply blew this very solid side away. It is the same team that knocked Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey, and the very same team that have beaten Barcelona 3 times in their last 5 outings. Galician side is one of those sides that has aspiration for European club competitions places and is a potential landmine for big guys from La Liga.
This time, it wasn’t to be the case. Barcelona simply played their game and recorded comfortable victory reclaiming the no. 1 position in league. So what was the difference between this Barcelona and the team that recently suffered a defeat by a huge margin to PSG?
Several things went their way. First Enrique relieved from the pressure that threatened to tear down the team. Once he announced that he is leaving there was nothing to repress him any more. He could go back to basics and enjoy with his team. The similar move brought Guardiola one final roar and Copa del Rey title in his goodbye season with the Catalan team. Enrique’s departure never quite exploded in the press like it was the case with Guardiola. It went away with a bang, but not with a big bang, if some were even expecting it. He came, he won and now he is ready to move on.
Statements of several senior players, such as Pique and Iniesta, that Barcelona must go back to basics and play their own game suggested that their unique style was changed over the time. Enrique experimented a lot, and in the end it gave them the situation they are in right now. Those statements coming from the seniors in the squad meant that they were not entirely happy with some of the recent choices. With Enrique’s decision of departure, things are much easier to swallow and everyone is ready for a final push towards the end of the season.
But the big part of the reason why Barcelona won so easily against Celta was Croatian playmaker – Rakitic! He was always the missing piece of the puzzle called ”the perfect machine”, or in any case ”Barca’s perfect machine”. If the machine is to tick perfectly then all the pieces must be in their perfect places. And that’s exactly what happened at Camp Nou.
Rakitic is a guy who doesn’t complain even when he sits on the bench. But once on the field he is a player who makes the difference. It is not the same team with or without the Croat on the side. He simply sets the pace and if he is not playing Barcelona will most likely face trouble against serious opponents.
As I wrote on many occasions, to have a player in his top form he must play regularly. Enrique’s quest for his holy grail got him to where he is now, and his team into position to chase 4 goals deficit against PSG on Wednesday night. So far, Enrique proved to be bulletproof to learning. Stubbornness can be a virtue, but in the case of Enrique and this season Barcelona we see a devastating effect it can have. Mixing starters in the midfield trio combination made Barcelona lost. It took away the style and intensity.
However, one thing must be noted. New signings are not bad players. On a contrary, they are very skillful players who can fit any European top team, if given the right time to adapt themselves. But Enrique failed to add one thing to his squad – intensity! He simply does not have an equally good substitute player who can fill in the boots of Croatian star player.
Rakitic, as good player as he is, possess another great virtue – he doesn’t have the ”superstar” attitude. He remains humble and at the service of the team. Always on alert, when Enrique calls upon him. Even when the media moved him across the Europe and talk of his unhappiness, he was the first to say that he has to fight harder for a place in the team – what more could a coach want from a player?
But in order to be on his best, he must be given playing time. Instead of that, Enrique kept omitting him from the starting 11, and the result is here, for all of us to see – Barcelona were struggling on a regular bases. Now here is a really important question – does it coincide that Barcelona recent revival comes at the same time when Rakitic managed to squeeze into starting 11?
Enrique’s decision to depart Catalans liberated players from the mental pressure of changed style they were witnessing daily. It greatly contributed to recent good run. But it went unnoticed that Rakitic is also improving. He was making mistakes all over the pitch and his passing was largely misplaced when he was called upon, after a long period of waiting. But now, all the pieces are coming together once more.
This team may not have enough time to peak until the second leg with Parisians. With a perfect scenario where all the pieces of the ”perfect machine” puzzle fit to the right places, even a turnaround doesn’t seem like a mission impossible.
Looking forward to Wednesday night clash!