Real Madrid achieved its goal, Barcelona is facing the change of an era.
Real Madrid has gone full circle. Last year it was bombastic, hugely attractive but when it came to the crunch, its performance was plainly disappointing. If the objective this year was to build on the existing style and make the team more competitive…well, one cannot tell at this stage if the transformation has been a success or not. Real Madrid has toyed with defeat in the last few days, the culmination being a mad game Friday last week that Efes still cannot believe it lost. Whereas Real Madrid last year struggled to win clutch games, this year is the opposite. It almost looks like Real enjoys living on the edge. Even the key players have changed. Last year Chacho, Rudy and Llull were the leaders. Over the last few days we have seen a surprising distribution of responsibility in a number of “secondary” players. Carroll played an outstanding game against Barcelona last Sunday, Rivers has played very solidly against Efes and Nocioni led the hard work Friday to come back from a negative difference of 20 points. Today however it was again time for the talent. Chacho,Rudy, Llull et al.
The conclusion is that Real has made it to the Final Four with little contribution from Rudy and playing, let’s say, not terribly well. But nobody is going to argue with success after two years of disappointment. One last comment: Real Madrid is going to face a harder Final Four this year than the two previous ones.
FC Barcelona is a completely different story. I think that the way Xavi Pascual has managed the team over the last two years plus the good work of Chichi Creus, the general manager, have created wrong expectations about this Barça. In my opinion FC Barcelona is performing well above its potential. This is a team that is going through a deep transformation. It is not just that Navarro is barely contributing this year, it is the very core of Xavi Pascual’s system of the last four years that is ending.
Pascual built a team that revolved around Tomic. Marcelinho provided the pick-and-rolls and a cohort of talented players the rest of the work (Oleson, Navarro, Lampe, and so on).
That model is no longer functioning. The reason for that is the absence of clear roles. Satoransky has not taken over from Huertas, Pleiss is no match for Tomic (in fact he is too similar to Ante, but unable to perform at his level), Abrines/Hezonja we still don’t know who is to replace Navarro and above all there is a worrying lack of intensity in the paint. Combine that with the uncertainty of Tomic’s and Hezonja’s future and you get the size of Pascual’s challenge.
Today’s game vs Olympiakos showed all the limitations Barcelona has. It is true that Pascual did not use Hezonja at all and that he still seems to trust Navarro beyond all reason. It is also true that Pascual has built a team that just looks unbalanced. Nachbar, Lampe, Pleiss, Tomic, there are only so many “soft” big guys you can have in your roster before it looks…well, just soft.
One last comment about Barcelona. Less than 4.000 people attended Barça’s game on Friday vs 10.000 plus in Madrid. Something is not working between Pascual and the fans. He is the most successful Barcelona coach since Aito and still does not get the credit for it. He is managing a huge generation change,however people seem to be tired of him. In that respect he is in a similar situation to Pablo Laso’s. Strange.