La Liga Review: Osasuna 1, FC Barcelona 2, Or, Let Luck Suffice Where Inspiration Won’tBy: Ade C. | August 27th, 2012
Well… we won. That’s good, right? This is definitely the kind of match that last season we would have lost in spite of having all the possession, all the shots on goal, and all the bad luck in the world. But this time, well, this time we carried off the three points, so we ought to be happy…
Except I’m not happy. I’m not happy at all.
It was bad match. It was the kind of match when you start off impatient, go through moments of disbelief, anger, frustration, and end up staring blankly at the screen, muttering things like “who are these people?” and “is it really that hard to string two passes together?” and “if Piqué needed a brain transplant, did they have to use Iniesta as the donor?”.
Tito chose a strong starting XI for what always has been a complicated fixture in a complicated ground: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba, Busquets, Iniesta, Cesc, Tello, Alexis and Messi. You could argue that Masche is ahead of Piqué and Puyol on the Most Realiable list, and anyone would definitely take Xavi over Cesc, and Villa over Tello, but it’s close enough to our All-Star that you can’t blame anything of what happened to lack of quality. On the bench were Pinto, Mascherano, Adriano, Xavi, Pedro, Song and Villa, while Afellay, Fontàs and JDS were left in Barcelona to arrange their loans/departures (insert sadface here).
The first bit of bad news was that Barça were sporting the tequila sunrise away kit. You could see players from both teams shielding their eyes from the horror, and it’s actually a believable theory that Barça players misplaced so many passes because they tried not to look at their teammates.
Because misplace their passes they did, and it was only partly due to Osasuna putting a lot of pressure on the midfield onwards (mostly through fouling, jostling and body-checking). Mostly, it was Barça looking unlike Barça.
So, we weren’t overly surprised when Osasuna scored first, through Joseba Llorente and his five inches on height on Jordi Alba.
What was surprising was the lack of reaction from Barça. Usually, conceding an early goal (as unfortunate as it might seem), usually galvanises the team into equalising as soon as possible, and once they’ve done that, the goals keep coming. But not last night. Iniesta missed the impossible not once, but twice, then went around sending passes that went too long, fell short, or happened to meet the leg of an Osasuna player; Cesc was invisible, for good and bad, as was Messi, who was dropping deep to help out Iniesta, but not having much success. VV and Piqué conspired, somehow, to keep Osasuna from scoring more goals. Barça’s midfield became the Swamp of Eternal Inaccuracy.
Thus ended the first half… and thus started the second. An hour had gone by and it looked like even a draw was too much to aspire to, but then Tito did what Pep would never had done: he started subbing people in. First came Pedrito in for Cesc, then Xavi in for Iniesta, and finally Villa in for Tello.
These subs took ten minutes, and within a minute of Villa being subbed in, Barça scored through a reanimated Leo Messi. It was a slightly silly goal, and pretty much definitely offside, but we’ll take it.
And shazam, five minutes later… another Messi goal, thanks to an Alba assist! Wow, this looked like the Barça of old.
Osasuna made merits to equalise in the ten minutes left (how they didn’t score a manita, we’ll never know), but luck and VV helped Barça get away with the comeback and the three points. An undeserved win is still a win.
Still, this match left a bitter taste in my mouth. Barça was a mess before Xavi came in; say what you will, Iniesta has had a very poor couple of matches (his first half against Real Madrid was abysmal) and Cesc is not stepping up to fill the gaps. Messi can’t be the only scorer (particularly if he’s not as his best either), and our constant defensive hiccups have stopped being endearing and started being a serious danger to my health (mental and otherwise).
It only took a couple of matches to regain all my pessimism, how about that?
VV: 8. He saved us a handful of times, and there was very little he could have done on Llorente’s goal. Hopefully he got all the clumsiness out of his system against Real Madrid.
Alves: 7. Still leaving gaping holes in our defence, and this time his contribution to the attack got diluted in the whole sorry mess.
Puyol: 8. An Osasuna player broke his cheekbone. What did Puyi do? He shook his curls and carried on playing. Hopefully he won’t be out for long (and we’ll get to see him in a mask).
Piqué: 9. I greatly enjoyed mocking Piqué all throughout last season, but I am so, so infinitely glad to see that he’s back to his best.
Alba: 8. Speedy González is doing pretty well, and looks perfectly at ease with the team. He needs to keep to his feet more, though.
Busquets: 7. He was the best in midfield, but that wasn’t saying much. I usually expect better from Busi. Not good in preventing the cross that led to Llorente’s goal.
Cesc: 5. He was there, honest. He gets points for being a warm body on the pitch. But his contribution this time was minimal.
Iniesta: 4. I have high expectations about very few people in this world, but Don Andrés is one of them and he’s falling woefully short. He had ONE good pass, but was otherwise unremarkable when the team needed him to set the pace, and those two misses in the first half were unforgivable.
Tello: 7. He never stopped beating his head against the burly Osasuna defence; mostly useless, but the stubborness counts for something.
Messi: 6. He scored twice, yes. But that’s all he did. Am I wrong in wanting more?
Alexis: 6. Almost the only time I notice Alexis’ presence on the pitch is when he takes a dive. But he gets points for his participation on the first goal.
Pedro in for Cesc: 8. Same stubborness as Tello, but more effective. Offside he might have been, but his movements for the first goal were really good.
Xavi in for Iniesta: 9. MOTM Angels sang when he came in. The team settled down. Passes began to flow. I’d almost swear the away kits didn’t look so bad when Xavi was playing.
Villa in for Tello: 8. He opened spaces for Messi and, more importantly, he looks closer and closer to full fitness and a full-time return!
Tito: in spite of his legendary poker face, he managed to get himself sent off for protesting to the fourth official. The club have announced they will appeal his possible suspension (which could be of up to two matches). But his subs were spot on, and I even appreciate his attempts at enforcing some sort of rotation.
The good bit is that -in spite of the general lack of quality or inspiration- Barça managed to find the right mix of inspiration, good luck and stuborness to get the three points in the end. That’s what we were lacking last season (remember our Osasuna loss?), and what can make all the difference in the world in a long tournament.
Now, if we could only regain our passing ability in time for Wednesday’s Clásico…