Rae's Say: Barca's 3-4-3 and German film-making
Given how erratic they've been for months now, it's telling that Barcelona find themselves on top of La Liga with twelve matches to play. The blaugrana have stuttered and spluttered in many a Primera game this season, particularly on their travels. Not since November 19 have Barca prevailed away from home in Spain's top flight, when they thumped Mallorca 4-1 at the Son Moix.
Yet for all their inadequacies as a unit in this campaign, I still think it's reasonable to view Frank Rijkaard's team as favourites to win their nineteenth Spanish championship. On quality of squad alone, they cannot be touched by the others. Secondly, the challengers have not demonstrated a capacity to take advantage of Barcelona's failings so far.
Sevilla are a strong side without question, but their failure to open up a three point gap last week (they lost 1-0 away to second bottom Nastic) provided additional grist to the mill of those who believe the Andalucians lack the mental fortitude to go all the way.
Valencia are better equipped than Fabio Capello's capricious Real Madrid, to make a late season charge, but I would be surprised if either team can finish ahead of Barcelona.
The blaugrana face a tricky match in Huelva on Saturday, against a lively, speedy Recreativo side, pushing hard for a place in European competition next season. The Recreativo striker Florent Sinama Pongolle, on loan from Liverpool, was spot on in his assessment the other day that, if Barca adopt a 3-4-3 formation at the weekend, it'll make his job that bit easier.
We have seen 3-4-3 in two big away games during the past couple of weeks. While Rijkaard's teams won both matches on the night, against Zaragoza in the Spanish Cup and against Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League, the system places far too much stress on the team's beating heart, captain Carles Puyol.
The problem is Barcelona's version of three at the back has no room for wing backs. The use of two hard-working wide players is surely a quintessential component of making this system work. Rijkaard chooses to accommodate all his central operators, Xavi, Iniesta and Deco, as well as a holding player, Edmilson or Rafa Marquez, plus three front players. This gives the opposition carte blanche to find space on the flanks, as well as through the middle when Puyol, Oleguer and Lilian Thuram are pulled into wide areas.
Very few Spanish teams have made 3-4-3 work to their advantage. If Rijkaard is prepared to sacrifice one or two of his creative midfielders, so as to add wing backs like Belletti and Sylvinho, perhaps it has a future.
Better still though, stick to 4-3-3, Frank. No team plays that way better than Barcelona on song.
Hollywood's attempts to make movies about the world's most popular sport over the years, have generally ranged from the cringeworthy to the downright absurd. Don't worry, I'm not suddenly morphing into Barry Norman! Bear with me here.
How nice to be able to use this space to praise a film maker who really knows how to capture football's essence and translate it to the big screen. The man I'm referring to is Sönke Wortmann. Who?
Wortmann, the son of a miner, grew up in Germany's heavily industrial Ruhr region, and briefly played professional football before deciding that he lacked the talent to be the next Hansi Müller. Years of study eventually took Wortmann into the world of film and television.
In 2003, Wortmann's film 'Das Wunder von Bern' ('The Miracle of Berne') skillfully intertwined West Germany's unlikely 1954 World Cup triumph with the general socio-political climate in the post-war years. The result was a stunning production, which for me, ranks as the most compelling football film ever made.
Mind you, Wortmann comes close with his two-hour 'fly on the wall' documentary on the German national team's remarkable performance at last summer's FIFA World Cup finals, 'Deutschland: Ein Sommermärchen' ('Germany: A Summer Fairytale.')
He was given unprecedented access to the German national team dressing rooms, hotels and training pitches last summer by then coach Jürgen Klinsmann, and was even allowed to sit on the bench with camera in hand during matches.
Sönke Wortmann's latest offering, released last October, is a must watch for anyone looking for the inside scoop on last summer's World Cup hosts
Note to Hollywood directors. Next time you feel inclined to make a football film, just call Wortmann.