La Liga Review: Osasuna 3, FC Barcelona 2, Or… Well, Damn.By: Ade C. | February 11th, 2012
Fiddlesticks. This is hugely disappointing. A loss in a competition were we couldn’t afford to lose any more points than we already had. Barça are now 7 points behind Real Madrid, who have a game in hand at the Bernabéu against Levante. You might as well say it’s a 10-point gap and call it a day.
Pep, with one eye on next week’s Champions League match, chose the following starting XI: VV, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Mascherano, Sergi Roberto, Thiago, Pedro, Alexis and Messi. Unusual? Definitely. Daring? I’d even go so far as to call it “risqué”. Crazy? Not necessarily.
Let’s see. The defence and the forwards are the best at hand, Masche is the only logical substitute for Busquets (still recovering from that knee injury) and Thiago has proved often that he’s as reliable as they come; Sergi Roberto was the only weak link, and the kid is talented enough to merit a try, particularly if Pep didn’t want to risk the fragile Iniesta (just coming back from injury) and Xavi (who needs as much rest as possible, considering his chronic tendon trouble) on the Liga equivalent of Siberia.
But that was on paper. On the frozen grass of the Reyno de Navarra, it was a different thing. A painful, clumsy thing to watch. The midfield came apart almost at once, revealing a defence that was… well, I don’t have any witty metaphors for it. It was a defence in name only. It was a black hole called defence. It was a goalfest waiting to happen. It was… Piqué and his infectious ‘who am I, where am I and what am I supposed to be doing?’.
5 minutes in and Osasuna were ahead thanks to Likic. And Piqué. Mostly Piqué.
But well, being down by an early goal is not the end of the world. The Football Gods know that more than once it has been exactly what Barça needed to wake up and start taking the match seriously. And it seemed to be going that way, but Alexis’ reaction goal was disallowed for offside (which, for the record, I don’t think it was) and then, bam, Osasuna scored again.
Again, Lekic. Again, Piqué. Again, everyone.
I’m not going to do a minute-by-minute recount of the first half, because I’m miserable enough as it is, but let me make a brief summary of the awfulness:
-Our defence was TERRIBLE. Really, unforgiveably bad. Abidal was the least depressing, and he mostly kept to his flank and let the awfulness happen away from him. Dani didn’t defend at all. Puyol looked uncertain, the strain of trying to be everywhere at once getting to him. And Piqué was just appalling. What’s up with him? He’s had a season of mediocre performances, as if he’s been undergoing a reverse evolution from the stalwart defender who seemed ready to step into Puyol’s shoes two years ago.
-Our midfield didn’t work. I’m not going to begrudge Pep his experiments, because more often than not they give great results, but this one didn’t pan out. Masche has forgotten what it’s like to be a midfielder (and can you blame him?) and even at his best, he’s never had Busi’s game vision. Sergi Roberto and Thiago did their best, but with no support from the back and nowhere to link forward, they caved in under Osasuna’s pressure.
-Our forwards were no good either. Pedrito was so obviously out of form it was painful to watch. Messi seemed torn between wanted to do something with the midfield, or try to prop up the few attacks that Barça could get together. And Alexis, at times the best one, was not that good either, and kept being called offside even when he wasn’t.
A frustrating situation but, still, not irretrievably lost. HT and time to make some changes, fix the obvious problems.
Pep did one of the two things: he brought in Cuenca and Tello (young, fit and raring to go) for Pedrito… and Puyol. Yeah, maybe it wasn’t Puyol’s best performance ever, but why leave Piqué on the field when he’d be so terrible? There is not a single situation in which Piqué > Puyol, except if Shakira is involved, and last I heard, she doesn’t play for Osasuna.
In any case, the influence of the two young wingers started to show right away. Masche moved into the defence, Thiago dropped into DM, Messi fluttered down to the midfield and the Tello—Alexis—Cuenca circus took off. Bang, bang, bang, the game moved into Osasuna’s half and chances began to rain down for Barça. Five minutes into the second half and at last Alexis wasn’t called offside after a lovely Cuenca cross into the box.
Right. 2-1. Doable. Just keep attacking and don’t concede. Don’t, whatever you do, concede.
Which is, of course, what we did five minutes later. Our attack might have improved by leaps and bounds but, sadly, taking Puyol off had done nothing for our defence, as anyone and their blind slugs might have been able to tell you beforehand.
3-1. Even with 30 minutes to go, it didn’t look that doable anymore. It looked more like ‘frustrating’ and ‘annoying’ and ‘the Football Gods are against us’.
So, Pep did what he should’ve done since, um, five minutes into the match, and took off Piqué for Cesc. 3-4-3 now and everything to play for. And, who’d have thought, but almost immediately Cesc sent a lovely pass to Tello who held onto it and curved a lovely shot into goal.
3-2 and fifteen minutes. It wasn’t impossible. In fact, it was very, very possible. Alexis saw his third disallowed goal of the evening (two of which weren’t really offside), and Messi, Tello and Cuenca all saw shots go just wide, just high or saved. But Osasuna also had their chances (the goalpost and the half-blind linesmen saved us) and, in the end, 20 minutes of frantic attacking couldn’t make up for all the rest.
Not going to lie, it’s a very painful loss. Not only because of what it means to our already slim chances at La Liga, but for what it means to team morale and what it says about some players. Sure, everyone is allowed off days, but when those off days become off seasons and there are no replacements and the squad is thin enough as it is and… argh, Piqué, you’re seriously depressing me! Get it together, man, or Muniesa, Bartra and Fontàs are going to walk all ove you next season and I will stand by and cheer them on.
Well, at least no one got injured in this match, which is by no means a small mercy in the times that are running. Though Dani Alves got his fifth yellow and Masche was sent off in the tunnel after the match for arguing with the ref, so we are two players down for next weekend against Valencia all the same.
Doing a player-by-player rating today would only lead to disaster, tears and people calling me a madridista, so I’ll just name-drop some people who did OK today:
-Sergi Roberto: thrown into the deep end, the kid did alright, considering the situation. Didn’t scintillate, but didn’t disappoint.
-Thiago: the more I watch him, even on matches like this one, the happier he makes me. Talent, class and a willingness to put in hard work in whatever position Pep plays him in.
-Tello: the Tello bandwagon has grown wings. The boy is fast, enthusiastic and a great shot with both legs. We’ll have to wait and see how he progresses.
-Cuenca: though his bandwagon has been abandoned in favour of Tello’s, young Isaac still has lots to offer the team, starting with those lovely crosses of his.
-Cesc: I’m going to be bitchy and say that his years at Arsenal prepared him well to come into a losing match, with a team of headless chickens, and make something out of it. Shame it wasn’t enough.
Well, that’s that. We lost, the Liga looks out of reach and we’re not going to be hearing the end of this from madridistas in weeks. But a poor match, a loss and even a distant Liga cannot be enough to put us off Pep’s Barça. This is still a great team, full of great players, and bent on doing great things. We’ve already won a couple of trophies this season, are through to the Copa del Rey final and have a shot at the Champions League for which it’s imperative that we learn from today’s mistakes and then focus on Tuesday’s match.
As always… win, lose, or whatever, through good times and bad, VISCA EL BARÇA!
(all goal videos thanks to 101greatgoals, pics thanks to FCB’s official site)