6 Reasons Why Barcelona Are Still Kings of La Liga
Tata Martino's Barcelona side have divided opinion among the Blaugrana demographic.
Although the style of football might be a little different from what we are used to seeing at Camp Nou, there's little doubt that Barca, post Pep Guardiola/Tito Vilanova, are still the team to watch.
Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid are giving Barca a run for their money at present, but no one comes close to matching the beautiful brand of expansive football nurtured and developed by the Catalans.
Let's take a look at why Barca are still kings of La Liga...
The Form of Alexis Sanchez
What has happened to Alexis Sanchez?!
The Chilean is unrecognisable compared to the shot-shy individual we saw last season. Although his goals have tailed off just recently, his contributions to the side have been out of the very top drawer.
This is the most confident we have seen Sanchez since his big-money move from Udinese, and Barca have certainly been the beneficiaries of some defining moments this term.
Who can forget this, by way of example?
Aside from the odd rotation by Tata Martino, Sanchez appears to have seen off competition from Pedro Rodriguez and Cristian Tello for a regular starting berth on the right.
We can expect more of the same in the second part of the season as the player aims to peak at World Cup 2014.
Change of Style but No Loss of Identity
Tata Martino has been true to his word and played a brand of football to beat the opponent in front of him, rather than being tied to tiki-taka.
I have seen a good Barcelona, but perhaps how I look at beautiful football is different to you. I believe that you can have 20 pretty touches [to score] or you can have three.
We know that in addition to winning, which is most important, we are committed to the spectacle and how we set up.
We must solve our problems, not complain. With this squad, I will never make excuses.
With the exception of two poor performances at Ajax and Athletic Bilbao, and the first half hour at Getafe, Martino has his side playing in the best traditions of Barca, and changing up as necessary. It's a breath of fresh air.
Marc Bartra's Continued Excellence
What a success story Marc Bartra has been, and he continues to excel in the centre of defence when given the opportunity.
When you consider how authoritative his performances have been this season, it beggars belief as to why he was systematically overlooked by Tito Vilanova.
Bartra's weakness is, perhaps, a lack of experience, but his presence, distribution and defensive duties have all been carried out with great diligence during these first few months.
There appears to be continuing speculation as to the purchase of another central defender, yet one would have to question the validity of such claims given that Bartra has all of the qualities required to make him a mainstay in the position.
The Importance of Neymar
Another youngster has been the success story for Barca this season. Neymar has done everything required of him and then some.
A price tag of €57 million—astonishing for a 21-year-old—hasn't weighed heavily on the Brazilian's shoulders. In fact, he has positively thrived on it.
His 11 goals and 10 assists is a magnificent return and has in some way justified the price and often insatiable pursuit of the player's signature.
His humility and propensity for hard work has also surprised many, endearing him to team-mates, management and fans alike. And in the absence of an injured Lionel Messi, Neymar's general form has been a godsend.
Considering the punishment he has taken in the first half of the season, it's by sheer luck that he hasn't joined the Argentine on the treatment table, and that is potentially Barca's biggest concern.
One of Barca's biggest recent weaknesses has been the lack of depth in the squad.
There have still been a couple of instances this season where the bench has been light on experience, but in general terms, Martino has coped well with an intentional rotation policy.
His studious management of the entire squad has seen genuine competition for places, with no one player spared a spell on the sidelines.
With most positions now readily filled by a more-than-able deputy when required, such luxury should see a continued high level of team performance for the remainder of the campaign.
Such was his impact that he managed 60 touches of the ball in just 28 minutes and was instrumental in Barcelona seeing out the game successfully.
Much was made of Xavi's tiredness toward the back end of last season, and Martino was quick to appraise the situation, making a firm decision to rest the elder statesman whenever the calendar allowed.
It has, and will continue to, pay dividends for Barca.