Las Palmas 1, Barça 1, aka “Hay, Liga?”

Awful. Legitimately, truly awful.

Barça came into Las Palmas, a crucial away match, and got slapped in the face by a smart coach in Paco Jemez, who drew his team up to take advantage of a Barça team that was, frankly, rather naive. At any point in the match, just as in any point in the last run of matches save Girona, you can see a disjointed team that is at times undisciplined.

Solo runs, dribbles into banks of defenders, ridiculous decisions in the final third and weird passes into the box all played into the hands of a team fighting for survival, who would take a surprise point against the league leaders with celebratory joy.

Only Messi came to play today, and play he did, with dribbles, runs and an almost violent free kick that put Barça ahead. That is when the match got messy. Mateu Lahoz — the ref who calls ’em like only he sees ’em — blew for a penalty off a Las Palmas set piece. Reasons varied, and even Lahoz didn’t have one. Might have been a Sergi Roberto foul, might have been the Digne handball. Perhaps the Vermaelen foul, in a temporary bit of color blindness? Either way, it was a penalty, a lifeline for a team that creates nothing from open play, and wasn’t really going to create much from open play unless its opponent got stupid with possession, and gifted them runs and open play, chances to run and cause havoc.

Such was the contentiousness of the penalty that Barça seemed rather disinterested in playing football after that, just running around with no sense or direction or purpose, no structure, no nothing. It’s as if each player thought to himself, “We can beat these mopes in our sleep,” then set about proving it on an individual basis.

Paulinho and Aleix Vidal were part of the XI, and both were subjected to excoriation by Barça Twitter, and both were poor. But the entire team was poor. Sergi Roberto was distracted and slow. Iniesta was invisible. Suarez, defanged by playing with a yellow Sword of Damocles dangling over his head, was completely ineffectual. The list goes on.

Valverde pulled Paulinho and Vidal for Coutinho and Dembele, and there was much rejoicing. Now this machine will go, just you wait. But it didn’t play any better than it did with the miscreant two in the XI, because of the lack of structure. Barça ran with Las Palmas in an open match as long as the match was on the Barça side of the pitch. On the Las Palmas side, it was disciplined defending, with energy and anticipation. And it worked.

Dembele came in and looked like an impostor, far worse that he did on the weekend because Las Palmas wasn’t stupid like Girona was, and knew enough to just shepherd him into spaces where he couldn’t really do any harm, cut off from a right back or Messi, who was making Quixotic runs at banks of defenders as Suarez stood there like a glowering slug.

There was a lot of attention focused on invididual players such as Paulinho, but Barça had one shot on goal in the entire second half, of which six minutes were added. One. Valverde and Iniesta had issues with the Lahoz penalty call, but neither expressed much about the way the team played, something that did far more damage than Lahoz. The gaps between lines, such as they were, were immense so that when possession was lost at the terminus of another individual effort, Las Palmas had plenty of space to play into, and on it went.

Coutinho buzzed around, but was ineffective as well. Iniesta watched from the bench with the chagrined look of a man who sees a once sure thing becoming substantially less so. Barça has drawn four of its last five matches, while Atleti has won all of its last seven matches. Sunday will be a titanic battle, one in which there is no way that Barça will be as poor as they were against Las Palmas today. If they are, they will lose. Badly. And the lead, which was once at eleven points, will be at two, with a steady diet of low blocks coming at the team.

Jose Mourinho, when he was in Liga, said that a team might not lose a lot of matches, but could draw its way into second place. Barça is still unbeaten in Liga, but the possibility of going unbeaten and finishing second in the league is suddenly real, should the current trend continue.

The team is in a moment right now. The Girona beatdown, as noted in this space, was an anomaly assisted by an opponent that should have known better, playing like naive children. Today was reality. Many are talking formations, but it’s even simpler — Barça had no structure, no way of play. It looked like a team that was looking past a weak opponent and got caought.

In Liga, after Atleti on Sunday, Barça have Malaga, then Athletic, Sevilla and a suddenly resurgent Leganes. Atleti have Celta, Villarreal, Deportivo and Real Madrid. Sunday’s match is, therefore, suddenly a must-win for Barça against a team that is in stellar form right now with its rumored-for-Barça star coming off consecutive hat tricks.

There is a larger question to be asked here, which is was Barça buttressed by the failings of its Liga counterparts and is finally playing to its real standard, or is the team in a crappy bank of form? Sunday will teach a lot, but in three matches, two Liga bracketed by the Chelsea return leg, Barça have the potential to dramatically change the view of its season in a way that many wouldn’t have predicted a month ago.

Opponents have figured out ways to stop Barça from scoring. When the attack gets desperate, gaps open up, which are exploitable by a quality opponent. Were Las Palmas a better side, it might have won today’s match, so there is something to be grateful for. Meanwhile, Barça have to figure out how to play against opponents who are not going to put their necks on the chopping block, and fast. Or “Hay, Liga” could well become “Bye, Liga.”

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

23 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    March 1, 2018

    In Sunday we will win and we will be +8 but 6-7 players are nt good for Barca.
    I am bored of Vidal,Digne,Paco,Denis,Andre and their mediocrity.
    Also Coutinho and Dembele must learn how to defend and mark a player and how to press.
    It s nice to want rotation but it seems many players cant offer much as starters.
    Also thank you Lucho,we could had Grimaldo,Samper and Munir for free as squad players but we spend 80M for Paco,Digne and Andre Gomes.

  2. Rokke
    March 1, 2018

    Considering Atleti’s form, this league is looking an awful lot like we’re going to bottle it.

    • Rokke
      March 1, 2018

      Also, we desperately need to figure out how to play against teams that congest the center of the pitch like Las Palmas did today and Chelsea did. We look toothless when Messi doesn’t have any space to operate in. I have no idea how we can do it, but I guess it’ll have to be a team effort since we don’t have a Neymar around anymore.

  3. ooga aga
    March 1, 2018

    Yep, Atletico are in great form. And we are still 5 points ahead of them, despite their great form. So I guess that means weve been doing a job too. The evidence is not that we are going to bottle it, but that we are a better team than them over the course of the season. I feel confident about Sunday. We will shred them. 3-0 Barca.

  4. Jamal103
    March 1, 2018

    Kevin good article.

    You say the GIrona game was an anomaly but why was that so? Would you admit EV’s tactics and personnel have something to do with it? I don’t buy your claim that Dembele and Coutinho did not change the dynamics of the game. Dembele was instantly feeding Suarez with dangerous crosses and opening up our right flank . Coutinho was more subdued. In a game like today, subbing in two impact subs that are relatively new players is bound to put some undue pressure in their heads. You could see this with Coutinho as he second-guessed his shots and his passes. If EV wants us to remain fluid, he ought to have built on the momentum from our last game. You cannot sit here and tell me that 18th placed Las Palmas is better than 8th placed Girona. A first half performance with Cout and Dembele could have completely ended the game and allowed us to make some substitutions for rest. It would have put less pressure on Dembele and given him time to form chemistry with Roberto while Las Palmas afforded us the space to do so. Instead he gambled and started Iniesta, played Raktic, played Messi and played Suarez for a full 90; if he was trying to rest our essential players before Atletico, he failed miserably.

    I’ve noticed with EV that he is a very defenisve-minded coach. A Mourinho-lite if you will. It could have something do with his coaching background with Atheltic where he would he have to protect vital leads vs tough opponents and mitigate for his lack of quality players. But he has the players now. His decision to bench Dembele after the latter’s warmup vs Chelsea came off the back of Messi’s goal is primary evidence for his MO. I don’t loathe him for this mindset but as some of our best games this season show, [Juventus and Girona], it is sometimes better to use all your attacking potential than play conservatively.

    We are coming off the back of four draws in the last eight games. Our giant lead in La Liga has shrunk and Atletico is scoring multiple goals per game. If Valverde continues to play conservatively and play players based on name rather than form, yes that means Gomes deserves a start bc Paulinho has been poor for multiple games], we will end this season with only the Copa to play for.

    • Rivaldo
      March 2, 2018

      Agreed. Great analysis.

      As I have said before Valverde is coaching Mourinho’s handbook and the team is suffering in this moment because players weren’t given confidence earlier – he hasn’t rewarded form but played his “security blanket” and at the time where milage and form will show its head we need better decisions.

      By the way I am not say ValverdeOut as one suggested buy rather the frustrating trend needs to be corrected. I’ve aleo said before he had to endear himself to the board and players, ehich means results and getting the most influential players on your side. But he hasn’t shoen much of developing players which might come in his 2nd/3rd year as a coach.

      Many expect us to roll Chelsea but i can see Chelsea knocking us out due to certain weaknesses in our game – we’ve become more Messi dependent as the season draws to an end, teams play Alba differently, etc.

      The Atletico match will show us what/if this team and coach has learnt from it’s errors.

  5. Víctor
    March 1, 2018

    Apparently Barcelona should thrash every opponent out there or it is #ValverdeOut.

  6. PPos
    March 1, 2018

    We have to beat Atletico this weekend and we cannot start both Paulinho and Vidal. Goddamn were they awful today. It was a terrible match to watch. Barcelona seems to be running out of steam and we need to regroup quickly.

  7. luisthebeast
    March 1, 2018

    Paulinho must be sold the summer,i hope Tite starts him in WC and some clubs comes to buy him because if he stays he will be another Turan,earning high wages and keeping a place in the squad.
    It was a stupid transfer.

  8. luisthebeast
    March 1, 2018

    I also read that Valverde did wrong that he subbed on Dembele late because Las Palmas were defended deep.
    Sory but why the club bought Dembele,to run is space?Or to use his dribbling skills vs that kind of defense?
    Valverde subbed on 2 fresh players that costed 300m and i expected a LOT more.

  9. Víctor
    March 1, 2018

    People harp pn Paulinho and Vidal and yes, they were poor… but they weren’t the only ones. Suarez was pretty bad too… granted, him being more worried of getting suspended than playing was a factor on that and everyone knew that he would be like that… except Valverde. Iniesta was also quite off today… unusual of him but sadly getting a little bit more common as of lately. Also, let’s face it, shooting is not one of Iniesta’s strengths. (Yes, despite the Iniestazo and his WC winner)

    Almost the whole team was bad today. Dunno, maybe they thought that they’d automatically win the game by just standing there while wearing the Barcelona shirts or something like that.

  10. mvarfi
    March 1, 2018

    Remember your observation, this Barca is “a work in progress”. Naturally, there will be frustratingly stupid stumbles along the way. Any team can have a good day, even Las Palmas. They were lucky too. The referee was sympathetic to them. I agree that we neither looked organized nor attack as a unit, but those were only two of the myriad of variables that affected the outcome of the game. There have been multiple matches this season where we’ve been victorious, but hardly dominant. This could have been one of those, if not for the penalty capriciously awarded. I am looking forward to Sunday as I reckon the team WILL raise their game. I have faith in this lesser Barca.

  11. bhed
    March 2, 2018

    Hi Kxevin. Greetings from the SF Penya. Just came by to say, after this last month of games, I’m glad to see the back side of Hlebruary!

  12. =EQUALIZER=
    March 2, 2018

    Wow wow!
    First time I have seen Valverde look desperate.
    The way he threw on all 3 subs in cooter, dumbele & rakitic towards the latter moments of the game. Very unlike his thoughtful substitutions in the early part of the season when they all worked wonders.

    I really like our mister and know that he has done a tremendous job this season. But this match there WAS NO REASON

  13. =EQUALIZER=
    March 2, 2018

    To start Iniesta with cooter on the bench. Paulinho continues to suck ass. And Aleix Vidal is simply dog shit. Period. He has no business being on the team just because he is catalan.

    Finally Mateu m****Fu**in Lahoz.
    This guy is a real C**t and obviously wants to make it as hard as he can for barca.
    that penalty is absolute BS and so was the non call on their keeper,..

    anyway onwards we march.
    Hope this atleti bastards don’t ruin it for us this year. as they always seem to do..
    winning liga off of us on the last day in the camp, kicking us off CL QFs only to bottle it against RM in the final etc..

    lets hope this season is different.

    • georgjorge
      March 2, 2018

      You seem angry about many things.

    • Víctor
      March 2, 2018

      To be fair, it was the right call at the end of the 1st time… that shouldn’t have been punished as handball…

      Still no idea on the PK… that’s for sure. However, maybe we should stop blaming refs? They have both “helped us” and “gutted us”… they are human afterall… besides, blaming refs is not the way I want this team to operate.

      Finally, besides the ref, the team was a big mess. How come you can’t put 2 goals or more past a relegation side?

  14. Snoopking
    March 2, 2018

    yesterday game was awful, the coach try to use the squad he was using before to achieve some point, we all knew, that’s the best squad we have been using since the beginning of the campaign, thanks God we aren’t defeated yesterday by las palmas, because yesterday all the team are not inform at all only Messi played but the team isn’t ready to win yesterday game, how busquet is dispossess was totally bad alot of errors in yesterday game; and how the opponent grab the chance to equalise the game is disgusting and disgrace to the referee, we cant do nothing to call the action back but lahoz is bad guy to me, whenever i saw him on pitch i feel like distress. ” Paco Jémez (Las Palmas manager): “Mateu Lahoz did an absolute wonderful job refereeing the game. Personally, I love him and all his decisions were correct.” that’s what the opponent coach stated after match.

    Valverde did silly mistake by starting Vidal and paulinho in the same match, they are both crap at the moment maybe i don’t get paulinho right this time, i thought he need some rest but the coach don’t look at that aspect at all, Sunday game will be totally different from this one i surely believed in that. Every day isn’t Christmas . I knew he will have to work on yesterday failure and adjust on it.

    Suarez was needed in yesterday game but he was afraid of receiving yellow card which cost us 2 point yesterday; generally the coach was to be blamed for starting Suarez but afterall all the team are in shamble display yesterday, only messi does the difference yesterday but all the effort end up in draw fair results, but we will work toward next game. Barcelona is more than club

  15. Hristo
    March 2, 2018

    Okay! How many times in a row does he have to play Paulinho and Vidal? Against Chelsea they were ineffective, as we were playing with literally 2 players less.
    Valverde tries very hard negating all momentum.
    Coutinho and Dembele can handle 2 games in a row.
    Next; U have so much space behind LP full backs. No Dembele. Iniesta isn’t having a good game. Yet Couthino comes and is played on the Right, again, just after last fiasco, when the player was played on thr Right to a detrimental effect.
    Then he played Dembele with 13 min left? Why? The spaces are closed. That became obvious. It showed Dembele is a decisive player.

    I just can’t believe one can go and write a whole paragraph or two about the referee, yet the problems in our back are totally overlooked.

    Really Kxevin? “anomaly”? Beating Girona with an extraordinary team as the one we had then? O my…..

    I’ve said before, for while, one of thr best writes around has gone on spiral of optimism and illusion and done with fearsome alacrity 😀
    I’m leaving this place as here we are facing with anything but reality.

    One has dangerously got accustomed to an illusion.

    • georgjorge
      March 2, 2018

      It’s definitely not a “spiral of optimism” to see Kxevin write – as above – that “the possibility of going unbeaten and finishing second in the league is suddenly real” or “Opponents have figured out ways to stop Barça from scoring. When the attack gets desperate, gaps open up, which are exploitable by a quality opponent.”.

      I don’t alway agree with his assessments of the situation, but by now it should be clear that football discussion isn’t a precise science, where there’s one objective solution to a problem and everyone saying differently is stupid. It’s opinions, and the best we can do is exchange them in a respectful way.

      • Hristo
        March 2, 2018

        Beating Girona with optical team is not at all anomaly. If he plays this team. If had been playing Semedo, for example, more often, we would have gotten better results. We saw how terrible SR is at RB.

        Whats to figure out? We need speed and speed we have….
        This tiresome….

  16. georgjorge
    March 2, 2018

    I agree with the sentiment that this was a team failure, with the exception of Messi and maybe one or two others. It looked like the team either was told or came to the conclusion on their own that they could beat Las Palmas in second gear and conserve energy for Sunday that way. Las Palmas gave the team so much space in the first half – not so different from Girona – and so little was done with it.

    I’m not going to criticize Valverde for playing player x or not playing player y. The biggest concern this season has been the lack of squad depth due to players like André Gomes and Denis Suarez not pulling their weight, as well as players like Semedo showing their worth but spending too much time on the bench. Rotation was good, but players like Iniesta, Luis Suarez, Busquets, Sergi Roberto still have no decent substitutes, or at least none that Valverde seems willing to get out there in the starting lineup. Dembélé and Coutinho are going to become very valuable in that regard, but it’s going to take time.

    We’ll all be wiser after the Sunday match. The team already achieved convincing wins over RM and Juventus this season, and a lot of very good games against other teams. If their plan and attitude are right, they can beat Atleti, which would pretty much be the league at this point. A draw would still mean a comfortable cushion. Plus it’s very good practice for the Chelsea match ; )

  17. Hamid
    March 2, 2018

    “The team is in a moment right now”. Let’s hope that it is a moment of regrouping, reassessing and moving forward in a different way. Yesterday’s stumble could be a blessing in disguise. I have faith in our players and their coach. I know they are more disappointed than we are.

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