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Barcelona loyal to a fault with Mascherano’s defending

Converted midfielder is a fine servant but a liability in defence

Barcelona's patience with Javier Mascherano, centre, is admirable but may come at a precious price for the team as a whole. Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters
Barcelona's patience with Javier Mascherano, centre, is admirable but may come at a precious price for the team as a whole. Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters

Barcelona’s central defensive issue is not new.

The days of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol holding the fort and pushing forward as a pair are all but over. The warrior-like Puyol is 35 and injury-prone. He has recently returned from a seven-month absence.

Barca tried to sign central defenders, most recently Thiago Silva of Paris Saint-Germain, but the Parisians improved his contract and Barca backed off, claiming they had sufficient strength at the back. They pointed out the emerging Marc Bartra and the versatility of Javier Mascherano and Alex Song, two midfielders who play more often in defence.

With Sergio Busquets in fine form, Mascherano has been used far more as a central defender, a position he excelled in when Barca won the 2011 Uefa Champions League final.

Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova and Gerardo Martino all revere Mascherano, as do his teammates.

There is no doubt that he reads the game well, communicates superbly and is a top-level footballer.

He will make a great coach, yet he is too mistake-prone to play central defence. He gets outjumped and he misplaces passes under pressure and is easily turned by fleet-footed attackers.

He is too risky an option for a team that already take risks by pushing their defensive line so high that Victor Valdes, the goalkeeper, considers himself an outfield defender.

Mascherano was at fault twice against Chelsea in 2012 during the Uefa Champions League semi-finals and for a goal against AC Milan two weeks ago, just as he was at fault for letting Sevilla back into the game recently when he tried to mark two players at a corner.

The surprise was that a player who is such a good communicator did not summon cover for the spare player.

Mascherano is nothing but honest. After the error in Milan, he claimed he was in so much pain about making another mistake because of the burden he was putting on the team.

Such is his popularity, he can afford to be that honest, but it is baffling that one of the best teams in the world will not buy a new defender. Baffling, too, that while they claim to have faith in Bartra, they are reluctant to play him.

Mascherano has a role to play, but while he makes mistakes, doubts will persist that it is a central defensive one.

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