In basketball, you have a set number of players (twelve) and it matters little if the starting five does not work, as substitutions are unrestricted. In football, you have only three chances to correct the mistakes in naming your squad. This makes managing a team in multi-competitions campaign a even harder job. On Saturday, Gerardo Martino made a mess against Real Sociedad in rotating his squad and paid a hefty price of gifting Real Madrid the top spot in La Liga. There are three questions that Martino did not get his head around:
(1) Do they need to rotate?
With 38 league matches, about 20 games for cups and European matches, plus some international duties for majority of the players in a season, the answer is yes, they do need to rotate. However, it is not the first time this group has to face congested fixtures. They should be mentally prepared, and although some of the young legs are gone and it was their third game in one week, it was never a tough game against Rayo and they had a man advantage for most of the second half against Manchester City. You would believe the intelligence of the like of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi should enable them to prevent from being physically over-drained, as they have demonstrated in the past few years. The decision to bench both Xavi and Fabregas on the bench undermined their playmaking ability significantly.
|Greizmann celebrating his goal that brought the lead|
(2) Was this the right moment to rotate?
Real Madrid's victory made Barcelona's game a must-win. especially with Madrid derby lining up next week, it is important that Barca keeps up the pace so that they can have a chance to be in the pole position after the derby.
If this is not a strong enough reason, Real Sociedad's home record should have convinced Martino to field a stronger team. They have been unbeatable at home in all local competitions since their loss to Atletico Madrid in September last year. Ten days earlier, Barca also failed to win in the same ground in Copa del Rey, despite still advancing on aggregate. Despite their inconsistency throughout the season, their form at home is unquestionable.
Finally, ahead of the clash with Manchester City, they have an easy two weeks. facing bottom half teams Almeria and Valladolid. Surely it makes sense to bite the bullet this week which could be as rewarding as putting them on the front foot of the title race? As Atletico stumbled tonight, now it's their rival Real Madrid who has the sole upper hand.
(3) Did it have to be that radical?
Four days after the victory at Manchester, Martino rested more than half of the team, including three at the back, only one was injury-forced. Introducing Pedro and Neymar back did little harm to the attack, but it was the selection of Alex Song that was the most dubious. The Cameroon is still yet to find his feet in Spain and playing him in a back-three is not the natural formation Barca has been used to. While they still dominated possession, the creativity in midfield was not quite there to support the front three. It is no Song's fault and his own goal was unlucky, but Martino definitely had better options on the bench.
|Disappointing night for Alex Song again|
Bartra and Montoya have both showed solid performance this season. Still relatively young to highest level of football, playing away against a team sitting fifth in La Liga is tough for both. With Gerard Pique looking sluggish all night and Adriano stronger in attack than defence, Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela had torn their defence apart with ease. Poor communication between the back four was well-exposed in David Zurutuza's goal as the penetrating midfielder was never picked up. Only Martino knows the best if Dani Alves or Mascherano was fit enough to play.