David Villa and Lionel Messi have a more fluid relationship, says Guillem Balague
Guillem Balague blogs on David Villa's revived alliance with Lionel Messi and Real Sociedad's progress.
Last Updated: 19/03/13 11:19am
Back in January it was pretty clear that Villa wanted to leave Barcelona and that Arsenal were willing to buy him if Barcelona let him go, but they didn't.
At that point somebody within the club should have been telling Villa that he had an important role to play for the team but although I believe Tito Vilanova approached him with that view, it wasn't backed up by action.
Villa found himself sidelined and as a result he felt that he wasn't given the opportunities that he deserved. Again, when he had those doubts he didn't get enough support.
But talking can be overestimated too.
Sometimes you just need to produce on the pitch and that's what's happening after a transformation in the relationship between Lionel Messi and Villa.
It was interesting to see that Messi had the opportunity to pass the ball to Alexis over Villa ahead of Barcelona's first goal against Rayo but he went for Villa instead, which suggests that a relationship that had been tense has become much more fluid.
I think that Messi realises how important Villa is to the team, either as No 9 or even from the left hand side of the attack because he takes away one or two defenders and gives Messi more freedom.
It's a better combination and one that people in the club had been demanding - they wanted a No 9 in there because otherwise it became easier to stop Messi.
Real Madrid remain 13 points behind Barcelona and are still susceptible at set-pieces.
In fact, if you count penalties 37 per cent of the goals they've let in come from set-pieces which suggests there's a significant problem.
The staff at the club say they are doing plenty of work to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents and that they pass that information onto the players, but if one of those players then lose their individual battle, it all falls apart.
Ramos, for example, has lost his mark four times out of those 15 so he's got to improve.
Meanwhile, the continued progress of Real Sociedad is a fantastic story of a team that with Inigo Martinez, Antoine Griezmann and Asier Illarramendi in the ranks now has more quality than it has had for decades.
Illarra is the closest they've got to Xavi Hernandez, so keep an eye out for him. They also have internationals with the quality of Claudio Bravo, Chori Castro and Alberto de la Bella - plus mature players like Xabi Prieto and Carlos Martínez. It's a great combination.
But they also needed a manager who was brave enough to put them in and not ask for players that guaranteed less quality. Philippe Montanier is now that man.
Sometimes managers go for defensive midfielders who have got less quality but guarantee more work instead of giving chances to players coming through, like Ruben Pardo or Illarra.
In the last 12 months it has been more the case of a manager adapting to the side than the other way around.
Last season Montainier would have gone for more defensive players - this season he's given them the freedom and the confidence to the young players that they ended to become the team that they are at the moment.
In my eyes they are still a top-four team and I am confident that they will finish in the top four this season.
Guillem answers your questions...
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Hi Guillem, a quick question about Atletico Madrid. How much is their excellent form down to the individual brilliance of Diego Costa - and how much is it to do with the team's seeming ability to out-think other teams? i.e is their success down to the players or the manager? P.s. Costa fully deserves his Brazil call up Jim, Halifax
GUILLEM SAYS: Costa is the most uncomfortable player to play against. He is easy to wind up but he winds people up as well; he commits his fair share of fouls but is also fouled in equal measure. He has actually become a better goal-scorer and more essential than Falcao since the turn of the year. Atletico have to be careful with Falcao's physique since he got injured and Costa has been exploiting his chance in that position and is becoming the leader of the team. But he has been told by his manager and fellow players that he is so needed that he can't put himself in a position where he is sent off, that he shouldn't push the limits so often. Anyway, Brazil have called him up and if they hadn't Spain would have because he offers something different - especially as only Alvaro Negredo and Villa are perceived as being up to scratch at the moment.