Every time Thiago scores, Barca fans start to crow “Cesc who, Cesc who!” I don’t quite see the relevance, because it’s news to me that we’re interested in Cesc as a goal scorer.
Thiago is a phenomenal player and he’s been having an incredible preseason, relentlessly netting goal after breathtaking goal, and to have a midfielder dominating the team’s scoring is something relatively new to Barca. For years now it’s been the forwards getting the job done with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta getting their names on the score sheet only occasionally. I think that’s part of what makes the prospect of Thiago so exciting for Barca – he’s bringing something new to the team; but in light of this something new, I think people are forgetting the importance of the something old.
Thiago has scored four goals in four preseason friendlies for Barca. Apart from that, the only other goal the team has seen was an odd one from Jonathan Dos Santos. Nothing from any of Barca’s forwards – Villa, Pedro, Afellay, Carmona, Soriano before he got injured – it’s just been the Thiago show. Now picture those four matches if Xavi is on the pitch instead of Thiago. Those goals don’t get scored by Xavi but they do get scored by Barca’s forwards, because Xavi is doing what we count on him to do: playing up the passing game, distributing the ball, feeding killer assists to his teammates.
If these four preseason matches are anything to go by, more than anything Thiago reminds me of Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano is a midfielder that is an undisputed goal scoring machine; he has an incredible eye for the net and possesses that astonishing ability to conjure up goals from the midfield – unlike the forward that is waiting on the pass from the midfielder so he can score, he has the creativity to score independently. I see all this in Thiago. Another notable thing about Cristiano is his low assist count – he’s more focused on getting the ball to the net than to his teammates. That’s just the kind of player he is.
In this preseason so far, Thiago’s goal to match ratio stands at four to four, but Barca’s win to match ratio stands at one to four. One win out of four matches in which it’s largely just been the Thiago show. I don’t mean to say that Thiago is a selfish player or that he’s bad for the team – not at all; I’m convinced he’ll make the most incredible addition. Wthout a goal-scoring threat in midfield Barca has already been virtually unstoppable; it’s almost scary to imagine what they’ll be like now with Thiago in the mix.
And that’s my whole point, that Thiago is something new and exciting to be integrated into what we already have, and it’s what we already have that we have to watch out for. By that I mean Xavi – Xavi the playmaker, Xavi the assist master, Xavi the midfield maestro.
Many people like to argue that Messi would not score so much if he didn’t have Xavi and Iniesta feeding him the ball. With his national team, Messi hasn’t scored in ages because Argentina’s midfield is beyond dysfunctional; he’s had to be playmaker himself instead of looking for the net. Barca’s game stems from the midfield and Xavi has been nothing short of downright crucial.
Xavi is also not as young as he once was. Last season he had to miss out on a considerable number of matches due to tendonitis, and this is something that’ll only worsen as he gets older. He hasn’t played a single match since the Champions League final, opting out of international call-ups to get some rest and he’s been resting for two months, yet here we are, four matches into the preseason and he’s still not able to play. In case you haven’t already grasped it, this is a huge cause for worry. Xavi is not going to be able to play as much as before and Barca is going to suffer for it, unless we have someone to replace him. And Cesc is the answer. I guess Xavi knows this, and this is why he’s continually pressing for Cesc to come to Barca, more than all the rest of the Barca players; to an extent where a lot of people are deeming it disrespectful of him. Xavi’s not a disrespectful guy, he just knows what the team needs and is looking out for Barca.
The sad thing about Cesc is that because he’s been injured so much (and considerable fault lies on the incompetence of Arsenal’s medical staff for this, at Barca he would not have as much trouble) people tend to forget what an incredible player he actually is – he really is one of the most exceptional midfielders you will find. I won’t go as far as to say a full mix between Cristiano and Xavi, but something along those lines: When fit, he scores his fair share of goals – not as frequently as the likes of Cristiano but a lot more often than Xavi or Iniesta – and more importantly, he’s also assist master extraordinaire. Cesc Fabregas, despite spending almost all of last season sidelined with injury, has more assists than any player – Xavi included – in the top European leagues over the past three years. Let me say that again: more assists than anyone, and that’s counting an entire season in which he barely played. Which is to say – amazing.
There’s a reason that Pep makes Cesc’s signing a priority, and there’s a reason that as Xavi’s fitness declines, he relentlessly pushes for this transfer to happen. And who knows better than the midfield maestro himself and Barca’s genius of a coach? The next time Thiago scores a goal, we might not want to be so quick to cry out “Cesc who?” – maybe instead we should dig out the old favorite we’ve been crowing for three years now, “In Pep we trust.”