For Barcelona's Good, Piqué Must Sit Saturday's El Clasico

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COMMENTARY | Bad news and good news from FC Barcelona. The bad news is that the team's website announced that central defender Gerard Piqué finished Tuesday night's match against Milan in the UEFA Champions League (which ended in a 1-1 tie) with discomfort in the hamstring of his left leg. Tests confirmed that the player's muscle is strained, therefore he will follow a specific workout regimen on Thursday and Friday and will not practice with the team.


The good news is the bad news seen with an optimistic approach. It means that the injury could force Piqué to miss Saturday's clash with Real Madrid in a much anticipated El Clasico at the Camp Nou. I would bet the royalties from this article that the most interested party in Piqué's recovery is Cristiano Ronaldo. Something tells me that CR7 would love the opportunity to have old Gerard guard him instead of Bartra or Puyol.


Blaugrana supporters cringe at the prospect of having Piqué in the lineup. They know he's not what he was two or three years ago. Once regarded as one of the world's best central defenders, Shakira's consort has become, perhaps even before Pep Guardiola's departure after the 2012 season, a liability, the weakest link in the Barça defense. A defense that leaked more than a broken dam last season, but has improved considerably under new coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino despite absences, at various times, of key personnel (Puyol, Alba Mascherano).


In 14 games this campaign (9 in La Liga, 3 in CL and two in the Spain Super Cup with Atletico Madrid) Barcelona has allowed only 8 goals and has kept a clean sheet in 8 matches. Along with tactical changes implemented by Martino, the merit belongs mostly to goalke eper Víctor Valdés, who is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. Too bad it is the last.


The maturation and blossoming of Marc Bartra is another explanation. After the signing of Neymar during the summer, finding a central defender was, in the fans' view, the top priority. Thiago Silva was the desired one, but it never happened. Luckily, Bartra's ascension appears to have solved the problem, but s ome people think the team still needs a central defender.


The central defender to be replaced is not Captain Puyol, who will be 36 in April, nor Mascherano, who's not really a central defender. Who needs replacement, or at least some time on the bench, is Piqué, the overrated, slow, clumsy defender who can't jump, can't mark, can't focus and can't tackle. Most of the times he's not where he should be, but when he is his interventions make Barcelona fans cover their eyes in fear and embarrassment and provide comic relief to the impartial observer.


Tata doesn't think so. Paradoxically, he has given Piqué more minutes than to any other player, except Valdés, and played Bartra because he had to-Puyol and Mascherano were unavailable at the same time-not necessarily because he wanted to. Not sure what Tata sees from Barça's sideline, but watching the games on TV it seems that his protégé has had a hand in 7 of the 8 goals Barcelona has allowed this season. Martino can double check on his DVR.


In the August 28 game with Atletico in Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup (1-1), lost inside the penalty box, with no apparent immediate business to attend to, Piqué was the closest spectator to David Villa as his former teammate volleyed in a cross from the left.


On September 1, in the 3-2 league win over Valencia, Piqué turned the back to Helder Postiga, like he was trying to avoid being hit by the shot, instead of challenging the Portuguese striker who volleyed a cross from the right for Valencia's first goal. As Barcelona's tallest defender Piqué should have been close to Postiga on the corner from the left that produced the second goal. Instead, Postiga out-jumped Iniesta, who's 10 inches shorter, while Piqué enjoyed the scene.


On September 14, in the 3-2 win over Sevilla, Piqué is caught out of position, then falls on his four like a drunken sailor inside the box as Vitolo passes to Rakitic, who beats Valdés. In the last minute of the game, Piqué guards nobody as Coke, alone in the middle of the penalty area, volleys in a corner from the right to tie the game, 2-2.


In the 4-1 win over Real Sociedad on September 24 Piqué is caugh t like a deer in the headlights on a high ball close to the goal line outside the small box. Moving awkwardly, like trying to catch a butterfly, he mistimes his jump and takes himself out of the play allowing Agirretxe to cross to De la Bella for an easy score


Finally, on Milan's goal at San Siro on a counterattack, Mascherano took the blame, although Piqué should have played the ball because he was facing the play, while Jefecito was running back toward Barcelona's goal. Then Piqué didn't challenge Robinho, letting him pass to Kaka in the box, and he left Kaka too much room, allowing him to return the ball to Robinho for the score.


There were other moments which did not result in goals because Valdés made great saves. One of those, perhaps the most embarrassing track of this lowlight reel occurred in Spain's FIFA World Cup qualifying game against Belarus on October 11. On a Belarus counterattack Vitali Rodionov went past Piqué like we wasn't there. Piqué tried to tackle him, rugby style, but he missed and fell like a sack of potatoes, then batted the ball away with his hand. I'm sure if he could he would delete this.


V ladimir Moraru played soccer for 15 years and has watched it for 60. He has been following FC Barcelona since 1958, the year Messi's dad was born.

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