There are apparently unimportant details that at times can be used to examine a soccer team. At the moment there is one such detail ongoing at Barcelona that is evident in the attention the technical staff places on protecting the goal. The squad that traveled to Prague to play Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League included three goalkeepers: Víctor Valdés, substitute keeper José Manuel Pinto and Oier Olazábal from the youth team, to cover even the most unlikely of circumstances.
Barça coach Pep Guardiola announced on Monday that as of now, whenever the team travels to an away match in Europe, it will do so with three goalkeepers. A side lauded for its attacking capabilities, Barcelona also takes great care of its own goal. The statistics bear this out, and even more so when Guardiola deploys a back three, especially in games at Camp Nou. Barça has not lost a league match since April 30 — against Real Sociedad in the Anoeta Stadium — and has gone 22 Liga games unbeaten. It has not conceded a goal at Camp Nou this season and on its domestic travels it has scored 26 and has only been breached four times: twice against Real Sociedad and twice at Valencia.
In the Champions League, only AC Milan had managed to get past Barça's defense over the first three games, in the first and last minutes of the opening group match. Before Tuesday's match, Valdés was 38 minutes short of breaking Miguel Reina's 1973 record of 824 minutes without conceding.
The L'Hospitalet de Llobregat-born goalkeeper is chasing a record-equaling fifth Zamora Trophy as La Liga's best stopper, which would be his third consecutive win. Last season, Valdés conceded just 16 league goals. In 422 matches with Barcelona, he has kept a clean sheet 195 times.
Pinto also has a Zamora to his name — the same amount as Real Madrid's Iker Casillas — achieved with Celta Vigo in the 2005-06 season.
Even in the absence of his first-choice central defensive pairing of Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué, Guardiola has been able to fall back on Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano and Éric Abidal to fill the breach.
The physical fortitude of Abidal to play in the middle was already well known, but the adaptation of Mascherano has been the most welcome development for Guardiola. "El Jefecito" has followed a similar trajectory to many Barça B players, operating as a central defender after plying his trade as a holding midfielder. "At the moment he's the most in-form central defender in the team," Guardiola said last week.
The Argentinean has been the most consistent choice in the position this season, and in the past five league games he has recovered the ball 66 times and committed just three fouls.