Seeing how successful Barcelona is, people can’t help but to draw comparison with other greatest team ever. Wunder Team of Austria in 1930s (frequently falls into oblivion), Magic Magyar Hungary in 1954, Brazil in 1970, 1982, and 1986, Netherland 1974, or AC Milan in early 1990s. One could freely argue that Barca wouldn’t able to break through the best back four ever in form of Maldini-Costacurta-Baresi-Tassoti. And anyone would say the offensive power of Brazil in Pele or Zico’s era was better . And the other has opinion, Barca wouldn’t stand a chance against golden ratio of physical, technical, and tactical quality of Total Football under Cruyff commando. The arguments will lead nowhere as they are endless, but statistic isn’t something to argue for. Whether the teams mentioned above were better or worse, statistic proves that no team has ever achieve so many trophies as Barca have done. So statistically Barcelona is the most succesful team ever in the world. But, despite of difference in term of how their football played and pros and cons of each of them, they have one similarity. Every succesful team has key figures who could determine victory or loss singlehandedly. So, who are the key figures behind current Barcelona ? Here is the list of top 6, ranked from bottom to top.

6. Victor Valdes

Surprisingly I name Valdes as the number 6 in the list, ruling out the more high profile player such as Pique, Pedro, Fabregas or Villa. There is a strong justification behind it. Valdes is no longer the weak link in Barcelona team.

Back then, Valdes was blunder-prone goalkeeper and when the ball was heading toward him, Barca fans would have chill shooted down their spine as he would do something stupid. No one will forget how his terrible chip gave a cheap goal for Villa TWICE not once and he would fumble even the easiest ball.

Now, Barca fans can rest assured whenever Valdes accepts the ball. Except of few mistake he did when he let Van Persie scored at near post and El Classico December 2011, he does his job without any fuss. What makes him a great goalkeeper isn’t his superior reflex, positioning, or commando like any previous goalkeepers have. His greatest power lies in his passing ability. In term of distributing the ball upfield, Valdes is the best goalkeeper ever. Before emergence of tiki-taka Barca, goalkeeper is but a last-resort wall who will thwart any ball which breakthrough the defence. Now, goalkeeper must act as a cornerstone of offence and it is Valdes who revolutionizes the role. He has improved his handling, his reflex isn’t bad either. Add up his ball distribution quality, you cannot rate Valdes as a weak goalkeeper anymore.

5. Dani Alves

Barcelona didn’t bought him  £30 million (23 million transfer with potential 7 million depended how he performed) for no reason. Pep just was promoted from coach of Barcelona B to Barcelona senior. Inverted winger strategy was not popular yet, but Pep and Barcelona saw a destructive potential in it with Lionel Messi cutting inside and one wing back providing the width. And no one but Alves who matched perfectly what Barca needed. He has legs and lungs to run covering the right sideline for 90 minutes. With Messi distract the left back of opposition, Alves would bomb forward at right flank, leaving the defender into abyssal dilemma. Mark Messi means leaving Alves with space and time to whip his first-class-quality cross to penalty box.  Mark Alves and Messi will rampage in defence vital zone.

It is the width what Barcelona seeks from him. Despite their immense array of quality in the team, Barca doesn’t have someone who provides the quality from width. Messi plays best in free role close to opposition goal. Iniesta can pass superbly but crossing is different case, furthermore he tends to drift from flank to inside. Pedro, although he frequently positions himself at outside, his best role is a scorer and his best trait also drifting inside. Maxwell prefers dribble to cross and his crossing is just so-so. When no one provides the width, the opposition just simply stacks up their men in central position and Barcelona wouldn’t have any space to breakthrought regardless of their passing quality. The solid proof is, the only loss of Spain in World Cup 2010 was against Switzerland when Spain didn’t have width before they introduced Navas in the game. Switzerland just put their men at center and Spain only could circulate the ball around the box but to no avail. Without Alves, Barcelona’s offensive power would decrease by some levels.

 4. Andres Iniesta

With Xavi, Iniesta has forged the nearly telephatic teamwork . While Xavi acts as primary playmaker and stays in hole spraying the ball to his teammates, it is Iniesta job to  provide the driving force. He runs, glides, and slithers past defenders with amazing control and technique. With his first-class passing and vision, he also acts as vice-playmaker alongside Xavi to provide extra attacking outlet.

His coordination with Messi is superb too. Messi has free role in attacking scheme. Sometimes he sits at shoulder of defence ready to punish even smallest mistake of defender. But sometimes Messi roams around the midfield, trying to outnumber his opponent’s midfielder and drawing the defender out of their position. When Messi runs rampage at midfield, it is Iniesta job to exploit the gap at defence line. The best example of the scheme was when Barcelona won over Madrid 3-2 in Super Cup. Look how Messi drawn Carvalho out ot his position and Iniesta darted forward to receive the through ball to score.

He could work as vice-playmaker, run to shake the defence line,  pass the ball around to open the chance for his teammate, but he also could act as a scorer. He has quickness and dynamism which Xavi lacks and he has perfect game-understanding to know when he should assist the midfield or dart forward to score. He truly is the best complement in his combination of fatal triangle with Xavi and Messi.

3. Lionel Messi

What must be said already been said. Best player in his generation by some distance and arguably one of the best ever in football history. Barcelona main scoring machine and most assists also come from him. There has been no one except him who roles as top scorer and top assists at same time. Too bad he missed Copa Del Rey and El Pichichi title last season, but that didn’t matter whatsoever. Copa Del Rey is the least prestigous trophy among the rest which Barca achieved while Ronaldo scores more than him, Messi’s goals weight more as he scores against big teams including Madrid numerous time and Ronaldo doesn’t have even half of his assists.

He showed his immense talents under Rijkaard tenure, but it was Pep who shaped him up to the like we saw today. Under Pep, Messi scores astounding record with minimum 50 goals and double digit assists tally per season. Several years ago, Messi was known for his close dribbling. Now, Messi has developed into more complete attacker by adding sense of teamwork. Pinnacle of individual excellence integrates into perfect harmonic system, Messi and Pep’s Barcelona defines how a superstar should work in a team without sacrificing his talent.

2. Xavi

Messi is Barcelona best player and he is the main scorer, but it is Xavi who controls the match and crafts the chances. Tiki-taka without Messi may result in fruitless possession, but without Xavi, Barca will struggle even to uphold their beloved philosophy. Although all Barcelona players have exceptional passing ability, but only Xavi who is able to recycle the ball and keep possession for another, another, and another minute. Not even Iniesta and Messi can do this. He is the main reason why Barcelona always get over 60 % ball possession regardless the opposition.

Cruijff once said ,”If we have the ball, they can’t score”. Years later comes someone who incarnates the line with perfect fashion. If Barcelona always have least conceded goals for every year, it is not because they have perfect defence. In contrary, Barca’s defence is awful espcecially without their captain Puyol. It is because Barca only give 30 minutes for their opposition. And Xavi is the main actor behind the rest of 60 minutes. With his extremely excellent game understanding and deft passing, Xavi attacks and defends at same time. To put it short, he is the fundamental, the brain, soul, and heartbeat of Barcelona. He is the most important player in Barcelona,…..oh wait…

1. Charles Puyol

No, the most important player is none other than their main defender and captain Charles Puyol. Old saying says “The best defence is attack” and Cruijff said ,”If we have the ball, they can’t score”, but there is also old quote which truth is undisputed “Offence wins the game, but defence wins the championship”. Xavi limits enemy possession, but his magic will come to no avail if the opponent could break through Barcelona porous defence. It is Puyol who thwarts and repels the attack to prevent enemy from scoring. Once again statistic will prove it. Since 11 September 2010, The Catalans has suffered 7 defeats and Puyol didn’t play even a second in the matches. Barca could still win without Iniesta Xavi Messi, but they lose even to the likes of Hercules, Betis, and Getafe. And just count how many times Puyol saves Blaugrana from abyss against their nemesis Real Madrid. There were times when Messi didn’t perform at his best against Les Merengues. There were (rare) occasions when Madrid succeed in limiting Xavi Iniesta influence. But Puyol always succeed in frustrating Madrid. The most recent and fresh is example is when Puyol scored an equaliser in Copa Del Rey first leg which ended in 1-2 in Barca favour. The goal built the confidence and momentum for Cules when in same time he ruins Madrid’s. Even without the recent goal he scored he still is Madrid biggest enemy with fine defending and numerous crucial interception he pulled off.

If we give it a thought over and over, Puyol is the most perfect defender for Barcelona. In ultra attacking mentality of Barcelona, the defence bears the biggest burden. In front of him is Busquet whose nature isn’t a fine anchor man or defensive midfielder. Alongside him in central position is Pique and he doesn’t have spirit, tenacity, and game reading to keep his enemy from breaking through. At both flank, Alves is the suspect in defending and Abidal, second most defensive player in backfour, fails to replicate his Lyon form. Behind him, Valdes isn’t Casillas or Neuer who could keep the opponent at bay regardless how bad the defence is. So, practically Puyol defends alone. It was the same situation and condition which put Cannavaro from the world highest summit into a mediocre defender. He was just crowned as world champion and world best player, but not long after he moved to Madrid. Canna still had Casillas behind his back, Puyol doesn’t. It doesn’t mean Puyol is better defender, it only describes how difficult to defend among all attacking teammates.

Remember Chygrynskiy  ? He was the leader of defence in Dynamo Kiev, but he disastrously failed during his time at Barcelona. It was because he couldn’t cope with fluid passing ability of the team. He was way too static and his distribution was poor, even worst then goalkeeper Valdes. Luckily Barcelona has Puyol. He has been the rock at defence -ever since Van Gaal era- without putting off Barcelona trademark trait of passing.

And Puyol also can play as right back. While it seems like a small matter, it actually is important one in small squad of Barcelona. In long and tiring season, having a backup of certain position is essential and there 2 ways to deal with it. First, having the deep squad just like Madrid have. Second, have a versatile player who can play in different positions.  Pep chooses second option unlike his nemesis. So, whenever Pep unable to insert Dani Alves name into match rooster, he just simply substitute him with Puyol. Although Puyol doesn’t have lungs and legs of Alves, at least he gives solidity in right flank.

Epilogue

There is peculiarity even from the title. Why is it Top 6 instead of common Top 5 ? Actually I also found it weird, but Valdes is just too good to be excluded from the list. To exclude someone who revolutionize the role of goalkeeper is an insult so it would be better to have uncommon list.

The list doesn’t reflect the quality of the players, it reflects how influential they are for the team. There are some quite differences between best and influential player. Messi sure is the best player among them, even among players around the world, but his influence and contribution are still less compared to Xavi and Puyol.

The bad news for Barcelona and fans is, they haven’t found the replacement of number 1 and 2. They still haven’t found someone who could keep the possession and set the game pace just like Xavi does. Also there aren’t someone who could defend valiantly and still ensures good distribution from backline like Puyol does. Thiago Alcantara is the similar mould of Iniesta and unless some dramatic change, he won’t be able to step up in Xavi place and Barca won’t be the same again. In defence, Pep has introduce Fontas and Muniesa into senior team, but honestly they play like Pique instead of Puyol. Imagine the backline with 2 Pique, Valdes will work harder and pick the ball more from his goal more than ever. Beware Barcelona, both most influential players are close to the dawn of careers. And the time Barcelona unable to replace them, it will be the time Barcelona’s dinasty falls.

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