Barcelona’s Playmaker Factory

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Xavi Through Ball
Perhaps you could argue that every player in Barcelona’s starting eleven is a playmaker, since they’re all so skilled on the soccer ball. And it’s funny, while Barcelona are the possession kings and constantly string numerous passes together, they aren’t afraid to counter attack or play that decisive direct pass that leads to a goal. Sure, their style of play is centered around keeping possession, but they’re always looking for that pass that cuts out the defense. And that’s what playmaking is all about.

 

Yes, even Barcelona’s goalkeeper, Ter Stegen, is a playmaker (I’m half joking).  Remember Andre Ter Stegen’s assist to Griezmann though? Ter Stegen had the vision to play a quick goal kick right to the feet of Griezmann.

But Barcelona seems to generate playmakers like Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets, and Rakitic like a soccer passing factory. They are these engines of passes that destroy opposing teams.

And what sets a playmaker apart or makes them unique? It’s that killer pass. It’s that pass in behind the defense that forces defenders to turn and face their own goal so they’re chasing the play. That’s the type of pass that really leads to goals.

There are two main types of athletes on any sports team: role players and playmakers. The positions they play don’t really matter, whether they’re defenders or forwards or midfielders. Nor do any particular attributes that the player may possess matter all that much except one. What is so important in being a playmaker is the ability to make an impact. Sure, the playmaker is incredibly skilled on the soccer ball but their ability to impact a game is unique.

In soccer, the playmaker is the one player who is always running full speed ahead at defenders, sending in crosses, scoring brilliant goals, or making the killer pass. Most teams usually have just one or two of these players, but what sets apart a club like Barcelona is they have 7 playmakers. Yes, seven.

Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, and Pedro each have the ability to single-handedly take apart any defense and send in a pass to Barcelona’s goal maestro, Lionel Messi. How did I select these players and dub them as playmakers? It was quite simple. I just looked at the stats and saw which players had more than 5 assists so far this season in the league matches.

Perhaps that is a weak manner to judge the team’s assault of playmakers, but feel that it takes a certain caliber of player to achieve that number of assists. Also, take a look at the number of players with 5 assists on some other major soccer clubs: Real Madrid (3), Manchester United (3), Bayern Munich (4), Manchester City (2), Juventus (4), A.C. Milan (0), and PSG (3). None of these clubs comes even close to 7.

With so many options at the helm, this is what makes Barcelona such a powerful and dominating side. You simply cannot focus on one particular player, because there are 6 others who could just as easily make a play. Just when you get comfortable in dealing with Messi’s incredible skills, Iniesta cuts through the defense and sets a ball for David Villa to tap home.

Likewise, look at a team like Bayern Munich, who have dominated Germany’s Bundesliga and routinely progress far in the UEFA Champions League. In their second leg against Arsenal, without key playmakers like Frank Ribery and Bastian Schweingsteiger, the team fell 2-0, and progressed only because of the away goals rule and their earlier 3-1 victory. Bayern’s other playmaker types players like Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller were handled, and they could not find the impact to score.

Naysayers will look to Messi’s 42 La Liga goals and argue that perhaps the single impact of the Argentinean master is accounting for the vast majority of Barcelona’s goals. But I would suggest taking a look at the recent record of the Spanish national team, which is basically Barcelona without Messi. Having won two European championships and a World Cup with guys like Xavi, Alba, Iniesta, Fabregas, Villa, and Pedro, clearly the high number of playmakers still enables that team to be effective and win games.

And this reason alone is why Barcelona is the best club in the world and why they will probably stroll past PSG and anyone else who gets in their way to another Champions League trophy. Although it would be a strong test for them to perform the feat without Messi, should he ever be injured, I do think this is probably the only team that would still be favored even without their best player, because as you can see, Barcelona is built of a squad of playmakers who are all capable of performing magic with a soccer ball.


Nicholas Spiller is a freelance soccer writer and can be reached at: nrspiller@gmail.com

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