It's gone left unsaid for months now, but Derek Rae of ESPN Soccernet finally examines the failure of Spanish champ Barcelona to reach the same peaks as last year. Dumped out of the Champions League
by Liverpool last week and making impossibly difficult work of defending its La Liga title this season, Barcelona is indeed a shadow of its former self. If it weren't for a trailing pack of
similarly inconsistent title contenders, Barca might have played itself out of the La Liga race altogether.
For one thing, the Blaugrana has now gone four months without winning an away
match. Sure, the beautiful passing game is still there, and so are most of the club's playmakers, but all in all it's been far too easy for opponents to get in behind Barca's defense, as evidenced by
the countless breakaways wasted by Real Madrid striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy at the Nou Camp last weekend.
Rae blames it on the 3-4-3 Coach Frank Rijkaard uses in away games, a formation
that puts too much pressure on the defense, he says. Indeed, Recreativo Huelva striker Florent Sinama Pongolle, whose team hosts Barca this weekend, says he hopes the Catalan team plays that
formation because it would give him more space to operate. Naturally, the lack of a defensive presence out wide (Barca tends to use three central playmakers and one holding midfielder) leaves it
exposed in midfield, Rae says, as the left and right forwards, usually Ronaldinho and Messi, don't track back to defend and aren't expected to. The result is a lack of defensive cover and too much
work for Carles Puyol and aging Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta. Rijkaard should instead stick to the 4-3-3.
Read the whole story at ESPN Soccernet »