Gazing over the smoldering wreckage of Copa hopes and dreams in the wake of a 2-0 loss to Sevilla, there is something positive to take away: coulda been worse.
This was a match to look forward to for what it represented for a Barça team that had been finding its groove, albeit against lesser opposition. This Sevilla side is an improved version of the team that it took Bayern — yes, the same Bayern that dragged Barça around the castle walls like the corpse of Hector, lashed to a chariot — 120 minutes to vanquish.
But this test was failed, completely and utterly, and culers should take heart that Sevilla didn’t have Ocampos, or it might really have been grim. After the match, Koeman said that Barça dominated proceedings and deserved a better result. Statistically, this is true. Possession, corners, etc, etc, Barça held sway. But there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Sevilla essentially toyed with Barça, a team whose every weakness was exposed as Sevilla could, when it chose, just play with the ball.
It wasn’t just that Barça was slow and ponderous, like a team running in quicksand. It was that Barça was slow, ponderous and bereft of ideas, energy and anything like anything that was really going to allow them to get a result in Seville. De Jong had a different story than Koeman, when he said that the match, particularly the first half, was quite difficult. No lies detected.
Barça didn’t press, didn’t have midfield mobility or pace, didn’t have real motion on offense. De Jong and Pedri looked outmanned, and this was yet another match in which people afterward said “Busquets was fine, he just had too much ground to cover.” Switching the pitch has never been easier for opponents, and anytime anything like a press(ish) manifested itself, Sevilla just switched with a long diagonal, and another easy completion. Barça was outclassed, outworked, outrun, the team whose match-worn shirts you would opt for this match, rather than the sweat-sodden relics on the backs of the Sevilla players.
Everything you needed to know about this match was illustrated by the opening goal, a run by Jules Kounde that left you asking what other team would have conceded that goal. An interruption was a Messi sprint away at the genesis of the play. Nah. Pedri got snookered by a pass. Kounde toyed with the defensive play attempt by Griezmann. Alba wasn’t sure what to do, so rather than sprinting in to help as Kounde slowed, he just watched. Busquets got screened off, and then it was Umtiti’s turn to face a player in full run with the ball at his feet. He began proceedings tracking the man who eventually screened Busquets, before trying the only thing he could and getting a nutmeg for his trouble. Meanwhile, Mingueza was hanging out with Firpo, marking a Sevilla attacker as things developed before the former realized, too late, that Umtiti was doomed. Kounde slotted past Ter Stegen and that was that, a “wonder goal” that was more like taking candy from a baby.
After the goal, and after the match, the excoriation for Umtiti was unrelenting. And it’s obvious and easy. But what we’re really left to wonder after that goal is, what other tean in La Liga concedes that goal? Casemiro, in the same situation as Busquets found himself, would have thrown his body in, cleared both players, taken the yellow and defended the free kick. Correa, in the same situation as Griezmann, would have just taken the tactical foul. Many an CB would have sensed trouble and left Firpo to cover that solo attacker. But none of that happened.
If we play the fart theory of goals, Umtiti smelt it, therefore he dealt it. But man, the comprehensiveness of the breakdown that allowed that goal on a team where stopping the ball is always somebody else’s fault, was never more evident than the Kounde goal. Also evident was the lack of athleticism and pace that allows other teams to solve problems, that used to allow Barça to solve problems. Imagine, if you will, Mascherano as the CB in Umtiti’s position. Yellow, and he would have been proud of it. Things almost seem too dainty for Barça. Nobody is sliding in, throwing a body at the ball to clear it, to protect their goal like mom is in there, reading and not wanting to be disturbed. They might as well just shout “Hey, stop that!” as the opponent runs past with the ball.
The second was even more ridiculous. Messi was on the scene again, with an opportunity to sprint to close a passer down. Again, he chose to watch, moving toward the ball too late. Umtiti, who has much more culpability for this goal than the first one, decides it would be a great idea to move forward to catch Rakitic offside. Only problem was the ball was gone, so he now has to stop his forward momentum, reset his feet and sprint after Rakitic. Instead he slipped and fell, leaving Rakitic in acres of space, with all the time in the world on the ball. He calmly spanked it past Ter Stegen, and that was that.
Barça is a better team than showed against Sevilla. The group looked tired, like a core of older players with lots of minutes in their legs. We can expect the home leg to bring a better showing for Barça, but we can also expect a Sevilla side that will be unleashed, playing for an away goal that would effectively kill the tie. But the team also still has the existing dilemma of an almost disqualifying lack of physical capabilities. Too much of the time it doesn’t look like anyone is FIGHTING for anything. Close down, dive at an attacker, try a sliding tackle that at the very least, makes your body long, take a tactical foul. Other teams pick up yellows against Barça like drink tickets at a buffet. Barça seems to take that whole fair play award business seriously — TOO seriously.
In the wake, we’re left to focus on things like a penalty that should have been given, but hey, it’s Lahoz, and Umtiti being a waste of oxygen. More difficult is to look at everything that’s there, the totality of a deserved ass whipping and find a team that was wanting for a great many things. Sevilla played a very good match, but that’s what very good teams do. On the other hand Barça is, right now, a very good team that is either dying a slow death or hasn’t yet emerged from its coccoon. Take your pick.