A disappointing 3-0 defeat to Juventus at home soil was a clear indicator that Barcelona are still extremely incompetent in the big encounters, and have much work yet to accomplish before considering themselves as contenders in Europe.
When teams attack, Barca waver. When oppositions sit back, the club loses its bearings. With possession, there is no conviction. Without it, they are even worse. Every slight hint of progression is woefully marred with disastrous setbacks.
As the Blaugranas finish group G in second place, Barca Universal takes a deep dive, highlighting 3 prominent takeaways of the Barcelona 0-3 Juventus game:
1. Defensive fragility continues to cost Barcelona
As the saying goes, “Attack wins you games; defense wins you titles.”
Barcelona, at the moment, seem to be direly struggling in both departments, looking like a pale shadow of their former self as neither games are being won, nor titles. The defensive calamities brought upon by the poorly positioned back-line have put the club in jeopardizing positions on innumerable occasions this season.
While Piqué did not have the best of starts to the campaign, his absence is being felt every day. Clement Lenglet has frequently faltered without his presence, making irrational decisions, which were once again highlighted against Juventus.
In the last two encounters, the Catalans have fallen prey to their own miscommunication and unorganized layout at the back, with Lenglet’s dip in form putting Barcelona in critical conditions. After a subpar display against Cádiz, the Frenchman yet again played a substantial role in Juventus’ second goal of the game as he was caught ball watching and left his marker completely free to convert the cross. After proceedings, he even went onto concede a catastrophic penalty.
In addition, Ronald Araujo gave away a needless penalty in the opening stages of the game. Albeit Cristiano Ronaldo’s dramatic fall turned the tides in Juve’s favor, it was undoubtedly a risky challenge, to begin with, and the Uruguayan center-back was forced to pay the price for his lapse in judgement.
Pinning the blame entirely on one particular individual would not be wise, but Lenglet, being the leader of the back-line, has continuously proven to falter and failed to lead Barca’s distressed defense.
2. Riqui Puig a ray of light, during dark times
Rotting on the bench for nearly half a season now, Riqui Puig has habitually been rebuffed by Ronald Koeman. Lack of playtime and minimal faith has been disappointing to watch. However, in spite of not gaining Koeman’s trust, the youngster came out with a statement to prove; as slender and flimsy as he may appear to the eye, Riqui continued to be a ray of light for Barcelona in midfield.
From challenging regular starters to being banished out of the squad, seeing the injustice against Riqui Puig has had fans visibly upset. Even so, a second-half cameo against the Italians was enough for the gleaming La Masia prodigy to prove his unmatched worth in the team.
Having been substituted for Pedri in the 66th minute, Riqui, simply put, stole the show. Although Pedri has asserted himself to be an immensely talented youngster with a bright future ahead, Puig has always been a cut above the rest and he paid testimony to his incomparable talent on the grand stage.
While it could be argued that Riqui was not heavily involved upfront, in the little time he had on the field, he was always hankering to progress the ball; rather than looking for the safer option. Time and time again Riqui squirmed his way out of pressure with delicate touches and beautiful body orientation that allowed him to detect spaces, where an exponential impact could be made. Added to that, he illustrated his terrific ball retention skills and counter-pressing throughout the match.
With a 93% passing accuracy and 2 key passes, Puig illuminated the field between the lines, where he has invariably been a joy to watch. If Koeman desires to turn things around in the League, the 21-year-old must start featuring games more often.
3. Messi deserves better
Imagine being the best in the world for years, carrying your team to positions where just a little external effort would salvage a victory, and performing week in week out at a level which other players could only wish to reach. Yet, all you’re rewarded for is trophy-less seasons and humiliations in Europe.
Messi is broken, he’s seen enough. And while as unbelievable as the truth may seem, Leo’s human, a mere mortal that has emotions and is affected by the turmoil constantly plaguing the club.
Against Juventus, Messi failed to intertwine with the back of the net but was Barça’s only source of threat upfront. The Catalans had simply 7 shots on target, and unsurprisingly, all were generated from the little magician.
Although Messi’s shortcomings in front of goal may be frustrating to watch – considering how efficient he has proven to be in recent times – he’s still the sole reason Barcelona stood a chance against the Italians. Without him dazzling defenders or taking shots, Juventus would have unquestionably continued to charge up-field and maintain their attacking stance, which would have seen the club go out in even more misery.
Leo had no intentions of staying at the club and was still retained. He wanted to be in a team where chances would be converted, defensive fragility won’t cost matches and he could enjoy the privilege of operating in a conditioning system. For all that he has done for Barça, he had, for once, earned the right to be selfish.
If there is one man that deserved a better outcome at the Camp Nou, it was Lionel Messi. As time goes on, it’s become glaringly obvious that Messi is being let down on the big occasions and the joy of playing for Barcelona is being gradually sucked out of him.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
In the final edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 domestic campaign, Barcelona incurred their fifth defeat of the league campaign. It was end-to-end stuff in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, as an exceptional first-half performance from the hosts was followed up by a tantalizing second from Barça.
This game had everything someone could ask for in a Clásico. There was controversy, passion, goals and for the first time in a few years, a red card was the cherry on the top. These are Barca Universal’s takeaways from the game in the capital.
Real Madrid’s efficiency on show
With four shots on target, 1.58 Expected Goals, and two goals to their name, Real Madrid put to show their sheer efficacy in front of goal, as well as in defence. For the first half at least, Zinédine Zidane’s men were always at the right place, at the right time making all the right movements and to devastating effect.
Los Blancos‘ philosophy is one of winning, and doing so regardless of how the victory is earned. Contrary to the Catalans, who not only need to win, but also do it a certain way, Los Merengues are more than capable of abandoning their usually proactive approach to games in favour of a more reactive one. The fact that they are not bound to a specific ideology makes winning matches one of the simplest of tasks.
They held the ball for only 32% of the game, which goes completely against what a majority would expect them to. At the end of the day, however, possession matters significantly less than what one does with it. With every lapse in concentration from the Garnet and Blue, Madrid had enough men forward, and well enough positioned, to hit them where it hurt.
Despite the relatively low xG, they had enough big chances to even lead 4-0 come the halftime whistle. When it came to defending, their tight-knit defence, in stark contrast to that of their rivals, barely broke a sweat. They imposed an impenetrable low block, and applied a collective press to force as many errors as they could.
In addition to this, Zidane has the luxury of having a starting eleven of devastatingly versatile footballers in his arsenal. Fede Valverde for instance was as much a right-back as he was a central midfielder and a winger. He executed each role to pristine perfection, and so did his peers to ensure all 3 points, and bragging rights stayed in Madrid.
Excellent mentality shift
Following such a harrowing performance in the first half, few, if any, could have expected Barcelona to mount a comeback. Had this been any other team, that would have been possible, but given Real Madrid’s first-half performance, this was all but envisageable.
Indeed, the Catalans did fail to get any points from the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, however, the sheer mentality they showed in the second half was a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Koeman made the necessary adjustments to the side, reverting to the 4-3-3 and with it, they wrought trouble in the Madrid backline.
Lionel Messi celebrating the goal. pic.twitter.com/ZX1HzWSqAR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 10, 2021
If in the first half Barça seemed caged in endless cycles of worthless possession, then in the second they made thorough use of it. The Blaugrana created eleven chances for themselves in the second period, and while doing this, they in turn limited Los Blancos to just a single shot on goal for the entirety of the half; a complete turnover from their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
It was nail-biting stuff up until the final second of the game, as Ilaix Moriba’s volleyed effort struck the underside of the crossbar. Given the overall performance from both sides, a draw would have been a considerably fairer result, but even in defeat with this version of Barça, the players and fans know that they can keep their heads held high.
A game of fine margins
Games of the magnitude of El Clásico will forever be decided by the most minute of details and the same was the case here.
The first significant one was the frame of the goal. In the first half, following the umpteenth counter attack from Real Madrid, Fede Valverde, who up until then was having yet another phenomenal showing against Barcelona, struck the frame of the post with a shot that crucially bounced underneath Sergio Busquets.
In the second half, Ronald Araújo nearly scored an own goal, but with Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, the ball rolled delicately onto the post and out for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with Madrid fighting for their lives, Ilaix Moriba struck the underside of the crossbar to end this sensational tie on an emotional high.
Jordi Alba has often been criticized for being just as much a blessing offensively as he is a curse defensively. In the build-up to the hosts’ opener, he had one task to fulfill: mark his opposing fullback. This is one he absolutely failed, as he drifted too far inside, and by the time he had noticed his error, Lucas Vázquez already had Karim Benzema in his sights. Too little, too late.
The final significant detail was in the goal that won Los Blancos the game. After what many consider a poorly given free-kick from the referee’s standpoint, Toni Kroos surely could not believe his eyes when he saw the sheer state of Barça’s wall. Marc André Ter Stegen’s poor leadership of his defenders left him utterly vulnerable, and his German counterpart spared him no blushes, slotting it home to seal the victory for his side.