FC Barcelona won its second straight League game to jump to eighth place, and there's still more than half the season left. Barça stomped Recreativo de Huelva, the worst team in the First Division, 3-0 at home, on an own goal, a hard shot from outside the area by Rochemback, and a nice give-and-go between Cocu and Motta that Cocu chipped in from short range. Hey, Xavier, you said I blew all my football cred by wanting to use Cocu and Gabri as defensemen; well, last night, Cocu played defense and Gabri was going to before he was scratched due to injury; Gerard took his place. It worked. Agreed, against el Recre, but it worked. Now let's see how they do against midtable Málaga next week. By the way, both Saviola and Riquelme were benched last night. So was Mendieta. The standings are now Real Sociedad 36 points, Real Madrid 33, Deportivo 29, Valencia 28, Celta 27, Betis 26, Mallorca 23, Barça 22. Mallorca will fall by the wayside. Betis and Celta will be tougher to catch. Valencia and Depor aren't too far away, nor does either team have significantly better players than Barcelona. They are within range if Barcelona manages to put together a decent non-losing streak--if they win a few games and tie a couple. Madrid is out of range, and does have significantly better players than Barça. If they keep playing like they're playing--they beat Valencia 4-1 last night--they'll win the League this year for sure. As for Real Sociedad, they're beginning to stagnate just a little. Three of their five best players--De Pedro, Xabi Alonso, and Kovacevic--were out with injuries last night, and they don't have a deep bench. They're good, but they'll be caught, at least by Madrid and possibly by somebody else. Here's a prediction for the League 2002-03: Real Madrid, Valencia, Real Sociedad, Deportivo, Barcelona, Betis, Celta. Barça fails to qualify for the Champions' League.
Here's my classification of the Barça squad based on their performance this season:
Stars (significantly better than average, guys who can really make a difference): Kluivert, Puyol.
Superior (above average, the kind of guys that a good team can use): Xavi, Luis Enrique, Cocu, Overmars.
Replacement (average guys who are generally available on the market; you can easily buy someone as good) with Future Potential: Saviola, Riquelme, Rochemback, Motta, Iniesta, Navarro. These guys are young and are likely to become Superior players and are worth holding onto as a long-term investment. A couple of them will fail and one just might become a Star. If I had to bet on one to become a Star, it'd be Iniesta.
Replacement Forever (you should sell these guys and get someone cheaper): Gabri, Gerard, Dani, Mendieta, Bonano, Enke, Reiziger.
Just Get Rid of 'Em Now: De Boer, Christianval, Andersson, Valdés.
Already Gone (to Benfica): Geovanni.
In comparison, Real Madrid has five Stars (Ronaldo, Figo, Zidane, Raúl, Roberto Carlos), and the rest of their starters are Superior. They never have to play anyone worse than a Replacement guy with potential. Neither does Depor or Valencia. Barça, on the other hand, just has too many guys who were thought to be Stars who are really Replacements with potential, or just plain Replacements.