Deportivo Alaves gave Barcelona a run for their money on Sunday, but it did not come as a surprise. After all, it has been the theme in the Azulgranas’ recent games to dish out horrendous displays.
The Catalans were outrageously poor in the first half and even deserving of the loss in many ways. The second half was better, but nowhere close to the level one expects of the defending champions.
In the end, a Robert Lewandowski brace got the team over the line with a special mention to Ferran Torres for the game-winning penalty. It leaves the staff and management with questions to no end over the viability of the current setup.
Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Barcelona 2-1 Deportivo Alaves.
If Barcelona’s first half against Deportivo Alaves brought one headline, it was the Catalans’ shambolic defence.
Last season, Barcelona boasted of a defence that had claim to be Spain’s, if not Europe’s, best defence. With Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen and Jules Kounde working in tandem with Alejandro Balde, Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal was safer than ever.
This season, the personnel has not changed. The additions of Joao Cancelo and Inigo Martinez were only expected to enhance Barcelona’s already formidable defence, but it has not gone to plan.
In just 13 league games, they have conceded 13 goals and the fragility at the back is frightening.
Alaves made easy work of Barcelona’s defence in the first half last night, creating chances at the drop of a hat. The goal conceded in the opening 20 seconds is a testament to the poor game the team had at the back.
Jules Kounde had an absolute stinker on his birthday, and the Frenchman’s off day did not help. He was constantly caught out of position or out of his depth by Samu Omorodion as attacks poured in from all directions.
Truth be told, Alaves should have scored at least four goals in the opening 45 minutes. The result is harsh on the visitors but is a direct result of their inability to be clinical in front of the goal. Barcelona’s defence was inexistent, at least until Ronald Araujo returned to centre-back.
The Lewandowski factor
Ahead of kickoff, Robert Lewandowski was on his worst goal drought of the past decade. Having not scored in Barcelona’s last six games, there were serious doubts about his form and ability to be the match-winner.
As the team’s only viable centre-forward, a lot of Barcelona’s success lies directly at Lewandowski’s feet. Their pool of alternate options is very limited, and it was clear their lean patch had a direct correlation with the Pole’s.
It is thus not surprising that Xavi’s men took all three points last night only after the Poland captain stepped up his game.
For 45 minutes, Lewandowski was nowhere close to his best. His first touch was deplorable and he looked lost for ideas in front of goal.
Yet, all he needed to turn it around was half a chance. In the 53rd minute, the striker found himself at the end of Jules Kounde’s ambitious cross. While his position was not ideal, he still managed to produce an atrocious header to beat Antonio Sivero.
Lewandowski once again stepped up for Barcelona’s winner on the night after Ferran Torres won a penalty in the 77th minute. His execution from the spot was impeccable, as the goalkeeper had no chance of saving it.
It is safe to say that the striker was the primary reason behind Barcelona’s turnaround last night, and in many ways, the ‘Pole’ factor.
A lot to fix
The three points against Alaves are invaluable to Xavi Hernandez’s side, which quite clearly is still in jeopardy.
They remain in contention for the league title, staying within four points of leaders Girona and two points of Real Madrid. A defeat last night would have extended that gap to seven.
Despite the strong second-half display and the win under the belt, however, it is clear that Barcelona have a lot to fix, and fast. If a stitch is not made in time, things could get really ugly very fast.
Up ahead in the Catalans’ schedule is Rayo Vallecano after the international break, a side who held Real Madrid to a draw not so long ago. They then travel to face Porto in a game that will make or break their position as table-toppers in the UCL group.
Barcelona then faces back-to-back blockbuster clashes in Atletico Madrid and leaders Girona. Needless to say, the coming four games will play a big role in how their season shapes up.
Xavi Hernandez thus has a serious task up his sleeves. Having admitted on his own that his side is not in the best mental space, he must find a way to work around it.