Barcelona Has a Chink in Their Armour: No Free Kick Specialist
It was very evident today, what with Chelsea doing their part to stifle Barcelona into a draw at the Camp Nou, that they are missing something.
The big chink in Barcelona's armour is they don’t have a player who can step up and smash home a free kick. This is an especially frustrating soft spot and Achilles heel since they’re repeatedly earning free kicks in dangerous positions, what with Iniesta, Etoo, Henry and Messi turning defenders inside and out.
Plus, at times, they seem more comfortable playing the ball around and in the actual goal box area rather than shooting, so they’re fouled and earn free kicks in mouth watering positions for players like Beckham, Pirlo, Cristiano, Deco and their once favorite son: Ronaldinho.
However, Barcelona has no free kick specialist. Ronaldinho is gone. Xavi, Messi and Dani Alves have yet to score off a free kick from what I’ve seen. The fiery Brazilian Alves strikes the ball hard, but he’s no Roberto Carlos. He may well become a free kick master like Carlos, but he better hurry up. Alves always seems to over hit the ball, tantalizingly close at times but frustrating to watch. I haven’t seen Alves hit one on frame or where the keeper has had to make a save. Come on, at least make the keeper make a save.
Sure, Alves barely misses and sometimes catches the top of the net as the ball dips, but with Ronaldinho, there was less hope and more fear from the other team that he would score. When Dinho stepped up a goal was very nearly expected when he was in his prime. Teams were so accustomed to him bending balls into the top corner that the wall would jump, and so Ronaldinho shot low and scored.
Like Alves, the same goes for Messi, and it's his one and only weakness: he can’t bend the ball around the wall and into the net like his mentor, Ronaldinho. And this is something that Messi has admitted to in the past and hopes to improve upon. And if you’re going to say who is the best player in the world, and if free kicks are taken into account, then the edge would go to Manchester’s Cristiano Ronaldo. He has won games for his team with a free kick.
I think it's crucial to have a player who can score off dead balls. Barcelona need this player, and it could turn out to haunt them in the Champions League and La Liga. With all of their possession and creativity, they miss out on so many opportunities when dead balls aren’t turned into goals.
Perhaps Thierry Henry should take a shot at these free kicks. Xavi and Alves usually huddle around the free kicks arguing over who's going to take it. Maybe it's time for Etoo or Iniesta or Henry to get a chance. I believe Henry was the go to man while at Arsenal. He can bend the ball with precision and power. Why not give him a turn Xavi?
I’m sure this is something that Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff have been frustrated with all year long. They happen to be coaching one, if not the best Barcelona sides ever, and yet they can’t score from a dead ball situation unless it’s a penalty kick or corner.
I would love to see Barcelona solve this problem. I would love to see Alves, Xavi or Messi step up and smash home a free kick at Stamford Bridge to win the game. But unfortunately, I just don't think it's going to happen, not this year.
Who should they sign as a free kick specialist to solve this problem? David Beckham might very well be available. Ah, that would be too much though. He's already played for three of the best teams in the world. He can't add a fourth. It just wouldn't be fair. And I don't think Real Madrid would let it happen, but who knows.
And now Lionel Messi has become a master at taking free kicks.
Some wonderful players have worn the Barça colours over the years. But only a special few are revered as free-kick specialists. In the current team, there is no doubt who the star is in that particular department –Leo Messi is a veritable virtuoso who has scored an amazing 23 free-kicks for the team.
He’s scored seven of those just this season. Three were against Sevilla (two in the European Super Cup and one in the league), and he got two against Espanyol (one in the cup and one in the league last weekend). His other two free-kicks this season were scored against the two Galician teams (Celta and Deportivo) in the league.
Sooner or later, the Argentinian looks set to match another historic free-kick specialist at Barça, the great Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman, who is now managing Southampton, scored 26 free-kicks in his time at FC Barcelona (23 directly and 3 indirectly).
The ability to score from free-kicks, whether it’s by blasting the ball from long distance, curving it around the wall or by whatever other means, is a skill mastered only by a chosen few.