Any lack of cohesion within the squad can be put down to early season jitters more than anything and while the scoreline should be celebrated, the goals swooned over, and the Villa's first competitive goal danced around, there were some moments of weakness and discomfort that should be looked at.
In the first half, a clearly under-the-weather Xavi did little to command the midfield, hanging both Busquets and Keita out to dry on multiple occasions. Guardiola's move to sub him at halftime and withdraw Iniesta in the midfield playmaker role paid massive dividends immediately, with possession becoming more controlled. There was more of a rhythm and it looked more like Barça despite there being fewer goals in the end, though not for lack of trying.
Villa strayed offside too often, but will mesh with the tempo quickly as he comes back to full match fitness; it's not as if he's never played with the bulk of the squad, after all. Pedro was unexciting in his 45 minutes, but most of the attacks were aimed at Villa anyway, so his largely anonymous match was never a major factor. All of the mistakes--including the penalty that was clearly not a foul at all--will be figured out soon, especially once Puyol returns to regular duty and Abidal is able to slot in on the left where he is far more effective than Maxwell, at least defensively. Alves will continue to provide width on the right while Adriano will be able to give him rest and competition.
The midfield has been reinforced by Javier Mascherano (who I briefly profiled here), a €22m purchase from Liverpool with some reports saying Mascherano himself put up €3m to make the deal happen. There are different schools of thought to this one, ranging from dancing in the Internet streets with joy to taking to those same streets with pitchforks. I fall somewhere in the middle. I'm a bit perplexed as to his usefulness simply because I'm not sure of his passing abilities. That's not to say he's not a good player--even a fantastic one--but his main skills appears to be destroying attacks, not starting them and it was precisely this thinking (along with other factors, to be sure, but mainly this) that pushed Barça to sell Yaya Touré to Manchester City for €24m. Even if it's something more than a business deal and Yaya and his agent overstayed or talked their collective way out of the team (and his agent, Dimitri Seluk, certainly personally benefited to th tune of €6m in the deal), Mascherano appears to be committed to being a part of the squad, claiming he'd be stupid to think he would always start.
Regardless of personal feelings about the Yaya or Mascherano cases, there's the ever-imploding Ibrahimovic deal to take your mind off things. The Swedish striker is now a Milan player in a year-long loan with an option to buy for €24m next year; some reports state that it's an obligation to buy. The truth of the matter is somewhere between getting hosed and making a killing. If there really was such bile between Pep Guardiola and Ibra as the news reports and press conference quotes suggest, then it's good riddance. The financial aspect suggests that Milan knew what was going on and came calling with a lowball offer (originally reported at €40m, then €25m plus Marco Boriello, the latter of which I laughed out, joking with friends that we would be insane to accept such an offer) that we were forced to accept due to circumstances.
Those circumstances include a dramatic quotes by Mino Raiola that further inflamed the fires burning between manager and player and a series of perceived humiliations of Ibrahimovic, including withholding him from even a minute's playing time in the Supercopa second leg. Were it not for the cumbersome millstone of his previous transfer fee (€46m), many fans would not be complaining about the current deal, but that fee is real and represents an ill-advised investment. Not only was Ibra expensive up front, he also added €10m to the wage bill. Given that the €46m is a sunk cost and the €40m in remaining wages are being saved, the deal is not the horrible sinkhole that some are making it out to be, but it is certainly indicative of Guardiola's dislike of the player.
What was last year a dream buy is this year a horrible investment and the blame lies with all sides. Guardiola is a coach first and a friend second. He has a style and an approach that allow for no individuality and no questioning. If you are interested in playing for Barça, you must accept his totalitarian rule. If this acceptable, the club will occasionally find themselves on the receiving end of bad business. Other times, players like Pedro will surprise everyone, including themselves, and turn into World Cup winners in the span of a few years. So it is partially Guardiola's fault for not being willing to iron it out with the player, but it is also the player's fault for not ironing it out with the manager. And if we as cules make our bed in Guardiola's camp, we have to lie in it, come what may. For now, David Villa appears willing to work as hard as ever to earn his way into the team while Ibrahimovic looks set to rail against Guardiola and slowly turn anyone who was sympathetic to his plight against him.
*Birmingham City has signed Alexander Hleb on loan for a year. He should do well there. No word yet on the exact terms, but some speculation suggested Barça will be paying part of his salary.
*Sevilla has signed Martín Cáceres on loan for a year with an option to buy next summer. Again, he'll do well there and hopefully he'll be able to make a name for himself. He's a solid player and while my high hopes for him at Barça went unfulfilled, he should be capable of establishing himself at Sevilla.
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