There is a subtle, patronizing suggestion among Barcelona-observers that Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova were mere like-for-like replacements, mere company men steeped in the Dutch ethos that has marked the Catalan side for three decades. How else, after all, could one explain the sturdiness of Barca under Vilanova during Pep Guardiola’s sabbatical? It is merely a well-oiled machine on autopilot, in need of only the most obvious corrections to maintain course.
Except there is evidence of a marked shift in the team style under the new manager this season. For one, the number of shots for to shots conceded has narrowed, but this has been countered by an almost preternatural ability of its players to score heaps of goals, with Messi leading the way, as reflected in the impressive percentage of shots that go in.
Jonathan Wilson yesterday hinted as much at the approach, writing “Tito Vilanova’s team looks more direct than Guardiola’s and is perhaps a touch more functional,” with the caveat that we won’t know much until the knockout stages of the Champions League. One shouldn’t extrapolate too much here, but it’s safe to say Barcelona is now a team less obsessed with form than the incredible content of its individually blessed players.
That at the very least, requires excellent coaching. Sadly, it seems Vilanova’s experiment with Barca is nearing a premature end. The Guardian reports:
Barcelona have suspended their scheduled media activities for Wednesday amid reports in Spain concerning the health of coach Tito Vilanova.
Vilanova, who replaced Pep Guardiola this summer, had a tumor removed from his parotid gland in November 2011 while working as the club’s assistant coach. Media reports in Spain suggest the 44-year-old Vilanova has suffered a relapse.
There is already speculation that Pep Guardiola will return to replace him, but that kind of talk can wait until another day. For now, let’s hope those attending to Tito will help him to recovery.
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