Gerard Pique’s Masterful Positioning Key In Keeping Atleti at Bay

Gerard Pique Barcelona

Barcelona knew their trip to face Atletico Madrid at the cauldron that is the Vicente Calderon wouldn’t be easy. It never is these days. Atleti’s manager Diego Simeone fully ensures this.

His sides always have a certain doggedness and toughness about them. A real hard edge. The Spanish term mala leche (meaning bad milk), which has been used to describe the likes of Hristo Stoichkov and even Luis Suarez, applies aptly to the way they often tend to go about their work – especially at home.

Speaking prior to the match, Barcelona’s manager, Luis Enrique, clearly understood that the task of taking home all three points wasn’t a mere formality.

“At the Calderon, if you lack intensity, it’s tough to win. It is the first game where we’ll be able to win the title. That’s a huge motivation,” he said.

Although Gerard Pique was hoping to spray the champagne after the match, so long as Barca clinched the title by winning against Atleti, the Spanish international knew he, and his side, still had a job to do against Simeone’s men. “From what I’m reading it feels a bit like we’ve already won the treble, yet we still haven’t won a single thing,” he explained before kick off.

Pique’s brilliant display against last season’s La Liga champions, in an eventual 1-0 win, certainly went a long way to securing what could be the first triumph in Barcelona’s quest for the much vaunted treble. His exploits didn’t grab the headlines, but nonetheless, in a purely defensive sense, he was outstanding.

Playing alongside his excellent central defensive partner Javier Mascherano, Pique dealt masterfully with almost everything that confronted him. Positionally, he was customarily superb. He always knew what the perfect position to occupy was, in order to deal with the situation at hand.

With the pacey Antoine Griezmann often his opponent for large periods (he also had to deal with Fernando Torres, as the pair regularly switched), Pique’s knack of knowing where to situate himself was crucial in dealing with the dynamic Frenchman. By using his masterful ability to read the game, amazing awareness and excellent concentration, he was able to not let Griezmann get goal-side of him, nor get in behind him. This was vital, for it limited an avenue of attack which Griezmann has proven to be so lethal from this season, plus it also limited the effect of the former Real Sociedad man’s pace very well.

By shifting across to cover in behind his right back, Dani Alves, Pique also ensured the Atleti forwards couldn’t exploit Barcelona down the channel on the counter, where Simeone’s players can be so deadly.

The Mattress Makers would regularly look to launch their counters with long balls forward, but due to Pique’s dominance in the air against his smaller opponents, this method of attack was also nullified.

In addition, the cerebral approach of the former Manchester United player meant he rarely was required to go to ground or make any reckless or unnecessary challenges, instead preferring to keep his feet and hold his post. It must be said that the approach worked wonders. Pique really did exude assuredness, authority and composure in all of his work – something that was made all the more impressive considering the frenetic atmosphere inside the packed Calderon.

The fact that he made no tackles, but produced three interceptions and five clearances, gave evidence of his preference to keep his feet, as he used his superlative footballing intellect to disrupt Atleti’s forward forays instead.

Due to Barcelona having so much possession, he wasn’t called into action a great deal, but when he was, he answered his team’s call superbly, proving yet again why he’s such valuable member of this Barcelona team.

Negating this strong, fast, determined Atletico side is no walk in the park, but with Pique steering the ship defensively, Barcelona did so with aplomb.

Securing the league title means the Catalan giants have conquered the first hurdle in their search for the treble.

The odds are stacked in their favour to complete what would be an utterly memorable season, with them facing Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey decider and Juventus in the Champions League final.

You get the feeling if they’re in fact to achieve this incredible goal, Barcelona’s world-class central defender will be crucial in their quest.

With him being a World Cup winner, European Championship winner and multiple Champions League winner, the 28-year-old’s leadership, when coupled with his experience, will be a huge asset to Luis Enrique’s outfit.

Only time will tell if they can make history and take home their second treble in six years. On current form, it’d take a brave man to bet against them.