Perhaps Messi is also, in addition to his many other talents, clairvoyant and the anticipation of how his teammates were going to play precipitated the pre-match pukes that kept him off the pitch.
There will be talk about missing players, and referee decisions, because those kinds of things have to go on. But Barça dropped points today for a number of reasons, including that it’s easier to destroy than create.
But the simple fact of the matter is that the team wasn’t sharp enough, particularly in the first half. The offense was stagnant as people seemed content to stand around, waiting for Neymar to do something and then react. Of course, with the Brazilian facing the Messi rules, with stacks of defenders on his side, that “something” wasn’t going to happen. If a team wants to win a championship, it wins matches such as today’s outing against a stalwart Malaga. The team finds a way to get the job done.
To work at maximum effectiveness, the Barça system requires movement. The run dictates the pass is a way of thinking as old as Methuselah. Whenever a great such as Xavi was said to have held the ball too long, you could usually look at the offense in front of him and suss exactly why.
Far too many attempted passes today were of the hit and hope variety, pranged toward the box in the vague intimation that something might happen. It did. A yellow-shirted defender cleared the ball. There was insufficient quickness of thought or action, which plays right into the hands of a team with everyone behind the ball, as Juande Ramos made no secret early on of what his intention was going to be as even the most vigorous Malaga attacking efforts were always from the back foot. The key was always going to be to get back the safety of their own box, and hoof it away.
The run dictates the pass because it is incisive movement that creates gaps in a defense, and pressure from ball movement. If one man has the ball for too long, the defense has an easier job, time and again. And this happened, time and again, because Barça players were sashaying about, not making the right kinds of runs or inviting the kinds of passes necessary to break down Malaga.
Only a blind person would say that the team wasn’t hard done by, but Liga officiating is always going to be shit. That Barça team was good enough to beat that Malaga team. Would the proper Barça XI have beaten Malaga? Not with that same effort level. No way, no how. There is pretty much nothing good to say about this match from the Barça perspective. Things were so dire that Pique as CB and a Prem-style lump-in attack became the option. If the players in that XI blame a ref instead of doing a mirror check, not sure there are words to define how wrong that is.
It is trendy to blame Luis Enrique for many things, and this draw will be no exception. But the coach today made moves that should have resulted in results, if the players were interested in execution. If people want to accord fault to him for the decisions that brought in Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer, a Valencia duo whose price approaches 60m but who haven’t really played like being worth a plugged nickel, okay. We shouldn’t assess a player in full until after a season, but so far, both transfers have been poor.
Yet previously, Alcacer was doing the right things. Today, he was worthless. Gomes provided some effort but again, neither transfer has supplied the quality necessary to have a spot on what should be the best team in football, a team that plays the game a certain way, with passing, movement and constant attack. Much will be made of possession stats, corners and shots toward goal. All of those will obsxure the basic reality that the team wasn’t good enough.
Complicating matters for Barça is the reality that the team played without a striker today, as Alcacer was last seen on a milk carton. The level of his inactivity was such that it was the equivalent of reducing Barça to ten players, as the Alcacer roster of moves consisted of the following:
— Lining up offside and not working to get back on.
— Hovering off the shoulder of the same defender.
— Walking around, looking back at the midfield.
— Standing there while the match went on around him.
In the first half, he went a half-hour without touching the ball. A striker performs a key role for the Barça attack. He can be a foil, he can make runs to feed other players from a wall pass, he can also create angles for other attackers. But all of those possibilities involve movement. Without movement, nothing is going to happen. There were Barça players who were moving, but weren’t getting the ball in the right places, but for the most part what a prospective Blaugrana passer had to do was survey the dandelion field in front of him and look for a viable possibility from among the stationary teammates vying for his attention. It was bad in general, but Alcacer was far and away the worst offender.
Turan tried a number of things today, but most of them were predicated on having a foil in the box. Alcacer was standing around, watching. Neymar made moves into the box, dribbles that usually find Suarez or Messi making runs inviting that pass. Alcacer was standing around, watching.
This isn’t about Messi or absences. Barça should have been more than good enough. Malaga was a bunch of kids, standing in their box and kicking everything away that came near them. Shame on Barça for allowing that group, that patched-together crew, to get a point in their house. Familiar readers will expect something positive from this post, a bright side, but there are none on this day, not from this keyboard. The team sucked. Hard done by for sure, but sucked nonetheless.
Blame the international break for a lack of sharpness? Sure, if you want. But players know what they are supposed to do, and aren’t doing it. There will be the usual talk about positional play and no midfield, but the simple fact of things is that today’s effort level wasn’t sufficient to get the job done. And that’s on the players. In a better world, do refs get the wrong offside calls right, or award the penalty to Turan or Pique? Sure. But the next week that Liga officials aren’t boneheads will be the first. It isn’t about conspiracies, but rather about simply being crap. And that is something that Barça, as a team, should know about today.
We know that at least one player has done the mirror check, and found things wanting. Pique summed up by saying:
“We are Barcelona, absences are no excuse. Barcelona’s budget compared to Malaga’s is outrageous, so there can be no excuses.”