Despite playing at the Camp Nou and Atletico Madrid finally dropping points, Barcelona failed to take advantage of this rare opportunity, floundering cheaply when it truly mattered. Drawing against 16th placed Cadiz, the Catalan giants struggled to avenge their loss against the visitors in the reverse fixture and gave a dissatisfactory response to the 4-1 drubbing they suffered against PSG just a few days ago.
The season is long and as devotees of the beautiful game, giving up is never an option. Nonetheless, the club continues to pour acid on its pre-existing wounds as there are currently no signs of light at the end of this gloomy tunnel.
1. Barcelona’s Possession Lacks Purpose
Looking at the stat sheets and having a peek at the amount of possession as well as the shots that Barça had, one would naturally conclude that the Blaugranas had an extraordinary performance, with poor finishing the only thorn in the side. However, this was certainly not the case.
The problem with Barça proved to be a lack of versatility in the way they attacked. In some matches, they tend to utilize the left flank to break down stiff low blocks, but on this particular occasion, against Cadiz, Ronald Koeman’s men were far too focused on building plays from the right flank in the offence. Albeit Dembélé and Dest combined for some sublime link-up plays, they failed to create clear cut chances for their teammates while the Frenchman’s finishing was also mediocre. Oftentimes Jordi Alba’s overlapping runs were ignored and misjudged.
Another glaring issue with the Catalans was that they struggled with the liquefied link-up plays in central areas of the Final Third. Considering the visitors sat back and soaked up the pressure, the movement of the ball and rhythm was inarguably slower than usual, a testament to the club’s loss in motivation. As was seen in the clash, it was mainly Messi and Pedri’s sleek combinations that led to some degree of penetration through the centre. Other than the duo, there were no signs of any alternation of roles, and players looked inflexible on the pitch, completely contradictory to the game against Alavés.
Furthermore, a pivotal reason ended up being a lack of conviction in possession. It is always wise to control the possession charts and maintain an imposing figure on the ball. Still, there are likely not going to be any major benefits, if the club plays with unnecessary caution and do not trust the defence. Playing high voltage football is bound to leave the back-line exposed on the counter; this lack of belief between departments and minimal interdependence – which the PSG defeat surely must have impacted – proved to be a critical factor in the Catalans’ pragmatic approach.
2. Lionel Messi: A one-man army
He creates, he scores, he does it all. There is no match to the Argentine king and on innumerable occasions, has Messi proven to be the defining factor in a disjointed Barcelona team. However, there is also no arguing with the fact that Messi’s talents are being wasted in the closing stages of his career. By the end of the game, when the whistle is blown, and Barcelona depart the field with head in hands, Messi is obliged to pay the price for playing at a club that constantly lets him down, with his genius being misused and superpowers taken for granted.
After a 4-1 pummeling at the hands of PSG in the Champions League mid-week, the level of optimism amongst the community was certainly dwindling. While the belief Barça had generated had instantly fizzled away in the blink of an eye, the encounter against Cádiz offered the team a new lease of life, an opportunity to prove that Messi’s services were not being wasted. Woefully, that was not the case.
In an insipid first half where Barça struggled to carve open Cádiz’s rigid low block, Lionel’s picture-perfect penalty was the only goal separating the two sides, who looked as calm as a Persian cat slumbering. He was always looking to create chances, dribbled past players as if they were mere training dummies and created chances whenever an opening arrived. After proceedings, as the El Submarino abandoned their incredibly compact low-block, the Catalans simply failed to take their chances.
Dembélé and various other individuals may have looked electric on the field, but their energy came to no fruition, with nobody able to find the back of the net. With 2 key assists to his name and a lively exhibition, Messi was worthy of far better. Even so, Barça appear to be devaluing their captain time and time again as he proceeds to be a one-man army.
3. Ronald Koeman’s questionable line-up proved to be costly
The very same team that conceded 4 goals to PSG, was humiliated at home soil and made a mockery of the club’s values was started against Cádiz in what undeniably appeared to be a perplexing decision from Ronald Koeman. Usually, in such cases, a manager is keen to integrate fresh blood or allow those deserving of a chance to prove their worth. However, in Koeman’s case, his stubborn nature eventually prevailed.
While Barça have finally found their go-to XI, players whom they can rely on, there are bucketloads of players waiting in line, anxious to give the starters a run for their money. The likes of Fransisco Trincão, Riqui Puig, and even Umtiti had, at the very least, earned the right to show why it was their time to shine. Unfortunately, in Koeman’s eyes, playing a team that had been traumatized by the Parisians just a few days later seemed more feasible as the talented bench of Barcelona was left out in a rather bizarre opportunity cost.
Ousmane Dembélé ran rings around the opposition and put his explosive profile on display, but his finishing was subpar and subsequently played a huge role in a dreary draw at the Camp Nou. Trincão, on the other hand, had scored three goals in his last two La Liga appearances. It’s safe to assume a man brimming in confidence would have savoured the occasion and been a lot more clinical in the final third, as compared to Dembélé, who looked like a lost cause in the final third.
Additionally, Riqui Puig, who was a breath of fresh air against Alavés, was left out. A midfield devoid of spark and imagination direly required his charismatic presence, someone who could play between the lines, rotate roles frequently and locate players with inch-perfect passes. Lastly, Clement Lenglet, who was majorly responsible for the brutalizing Barça, suffered mid-week, shamelessly continued to feature in the XI. His lapse in concentration in the dying embers of the game ensured Cádiz secured a point and just begged the question: what was the reasoning behind his inclusion?
Apparently, the Dutch coach turned his back on the concept of giving chances to players on merit, as was visible in the line-up.
3 lessons learned from Osasuna 0-2 Barcelona — Ugly, but necessary three points
The mighty El Sadar has been conquered yet again! With away performances gaining so much momentum under Ronald Koeman, one has to applaud the Dutchman.
On a night when three points were a must to push pressure on Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, the side did not disappoint. Now, more than ever, all eyes will be on the Madrid Derby. Barcelona lurk just two points below Diego Simeone’s side, and the pressure on Atletico is real.
The name of Osasuna never resonates with a simple win in the minds of Culès. The Pamplona based side is one of the most feared oppositions when on their own soil. Though the absence of fans does factor in massively, it does not take away anything from the Catalans display. It may not have been a convincing win, however, it was necessary. Here are three takeaways from Barcelona’s win over Osasuna.
1. The fatigue is real
That we now see fatigue set in is not surprising at all. The rigid schedule has kept the Blaugranas on their toes for close to a month. An average of two games a week is torturous to players, moreover so when all are must-wins. Given Barcelona’s situation in the League and the tight situation in the cup, Koeman could not afford to rotate either.
The after-effects of playing 120 high-intensity minutes midweek clearly showed at the El Sadar. Kep players like Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Lionel Messi were uncharacteristically sloppy. The game seemed slow and lethargic, with sluggish movements. The first half was abysmal, spare the rocket goal from Jordi Alba. On any other day with such a performance, the equaliser would have come very soon from the opposition.
2. The goals keep flowing, from unconventional sources
One major factor that separated Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent seasons was the spark that found the back of the net. Barcelona, in recent seasons, have been heavily reliable on Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. In any high-pressure games, the whole team would turn to the duo hoping for some magic to be conjured. On the other hand, Real Madrid kept finding goals from every department: defence, midfield and forward.
Now the roles seem reversed. Barcelona when in trouble do not turn desperately to their captain. The Catalans have got goals consistently from all over the pitch. Once again, on Saturday, they walked away with all three points without the forwards scoring any goal.
Indeed, both the assists were conjured by Leo’s sorcery. However, in any other season, Jordi Alba would not go for the shot there. And similarly, no midfielder even last year would dare to go for a goal from the position Ilaix Moriba found himself in. The involvement of the collective for the objective of scoring goals can only be a good thing for Ronald Koeman and Barcelona.
3. The scrambled wins are as important as the aesthetic ones
Any successful side does not enjoy a perfect day every time they step on the pitch. Some days are just meant to be theirs, every pass seems inch-perfect. On such days, no defence can stop such a side.
However, it is the bad days that separate great clubs from average ones. The creme-de-la-creme of clubs scrape out wins even on the worst of days. The wins may not be pleasing to the eyes, but they walk away with all three points nevertheless.
Barcelona under Ronald Koeman are now starting to show these signs. At the El Sadar, the Catalans had everything against them. They had just come off the back of an exhausting 120 minutes at the Camp Nou. Their first choice centre-backs were both out with injury. However, they continued to grind for the full 90 minutes and walked away with a win.
The saplings of a monstrous team have been planted. And truly, we couldn’t have asked for a better gardener. Koeman’s faith in the youngsters even on the worst of nights is fascinating and heavily underrated. Barcelona have now shown to be capable of pulling off wins at both their peaks and lows. The signs are still primitive. However, they are undoubtedly the signs of a great team in the making.