Newspaper article International New York Times

Barcelona's Best Plan B Might Be in England

Newspaper article International New York Times

Barcelona's Best Plan B Might Be in England

Article excerpt

With the club on a two-game losing streak and a number of key players injured, its best young hope might be Gerard Deulofeu, who is playing at Everton on a transfer this season.

When Barcelona loses its footing and loses two games in five days, it can feel like losing a friend.

How fickle we are sometimes. What nonsense is said and written about a club that has developed such a philosophy that its team -- and the Spanish national team filled with many of its players -- has managed to beguile us at the same time it has won world titles.

But with Lionel Messi and a whole host of others sidelined through the inevitable strains of playing too much comes instant recrimination. Tiki-taka, the style of passing and movement that served them so well, is dead in the eyes of critics.

It may be temporarily out of service.

Messi is back in Argentina, recuperating after his recurring hamstring problem proved that he needs time and patience. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, those little masters of both passing and chasing interminable successes for club and country, are not getting any younger.

Carles Puyol keeps coming back from brutal injuries, but he is no longer a defender for two games every week. Jordi Alba and Dani Alves, fullbacks who run like wingers, have taken knocks that rule them out for a few games.

Even the goalkeeper, Victor Valdes, is getting treated for injuries instead of blocking shots.

So Barca traveled to Ajax Amsterdam and took a beating last week in the Arena. It was a loss the Catalan team could afford because its place in the next round of the Champions League is already certain.

Then Barcelona journeyed on to Bilbao and was run down, 1-0, against the Basque side, a home team that could prepare all week long for the contest on Sunday. Athletic Bilbao is deeply proud of its own style, its own insistence that only a Basque can wear the shirt.

And since the new 53,000-seat San Mames Stadium opened this season, no visiting team has yet been able to still the rampant running or the tigerish pressure of Athletic on its home turf.

Speaking of turf, how strange it appeared that a player the caliber of Neymar, the Brazilian on Barca's left wing and a poster boy for Nike, should take almost the whole of the first half to change his footwear.

He slipped at crucial moments. He, and others, had clearly misjudged the lush, wet surface of the new San Mames grass. But in any event, these are the weeks when Barcelona needs Neymar to grow into the shoes of the absent Messi. Apart from once stretching the home goalie to a magnificent save, Neymar was not the inspiration for Barcelona on Sunday.

Maybe that is unfair. The ball reached him all too seldom. Gerardo "Tata" Martino, who came from Argentina last summer to replace an ailing Tito Vilanova as manager, is trying to add something to Barcelona. …

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