Inconsistency has characterised Barcelona’s recent form in La Liga.
Specifically of their opening seven games in Spain’s top flight this season, the Catalan giants have won four drawn one and lost two, as they currently occupy fourth place in the table.
Although being a potent attacking force whereby they have scored 22 goals, with the frontline triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez combining brilliantly, Barcelona are at present defensively fragile, with that particularly the case during their recent 4-3 defeat to Celta Vigo.
Frailties exposed by Celta Vigo
Whilst Eduardo Berizzo’s team twice capitalised on the poor distribution of goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen to score, Barcelona’s defence were tormented throughout the game by Pione Sisto and Iago Aspas. The 29-year-old Aspas not only scored one goal and provided an assist for another but also pressurised Jeremy Mathieu into an own goal.
As a consequence of that Barcelona have now conceded four goals to Celta Vigo at the Baladois for two consecutive years, since they lost the corresponding fixture 4-1 last season, with Aspas once again an inspirational figure in his team’s victory.
In addition to defending haphazardly against Celta Vigo, despite scoring three goals, Barcelona’s attack was low on both creativity and inventiveness, in the absence of Messi. The mercurially talented Argentinean’s deputy Rafinha was replaced at half time by Andres Iniesta, with Barcelona trailing 3-0. On his 600th appearance for the club, Iniesta inspired his teammates to deliver a vastly improved second half performance.
Nevertheless Celta Vigo resisted Barcelona’s best efforts to score an equalising goal and inflicted a second league loss of the season on Luis Enrique’s team.
Great performances interspersed by disappointments
After opening their La Liga campaign with two successive victories against Real Betis and Atletico Bilbao, Barcelona then lost 2-1 at home to Alaves.
That game represents the origin of their current inconsistency, since they then began their Champions League campaign with a 7-0 group stage win over Celtic, before beating Leganes 5-1 in La Liga.
In doing so Barcelona produced two typically dynamic and vibrant performances, to respond brilliantly to the disappointment of losing to Alaves. Subsequently however for a second successive league game Barcelona failed to win at home as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Madrid.
Despite dominating proceedings and taking the lead through an Ivan Rakitic goal, Barcelona was denied victory as Angel Correa equalised for Los Rojiblancos.
Whilst his team’s failure to beat Atletico represented a major source of concern and frustration to Enrique, so too did the injury sustained by Lionel Messi during the game, as the 29-year-old suffered a recurrence of the groin injury which he suffered in the process of helping Argentina beat Uruguay 1-0 in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier last month.
Without Messi, following their draw with Atletico, Barcelona then emphatically defeated Sporting Gijon 5-0, as they delivered an extremely dominant and polished performance. A chief architect of that was Arda Turan, with Turkey’s international captain scoring his team’s fourth goal.
Turan also played a vital role in his team’s 2-1 Champions League win over Borussia Monchengladbach, although he, along with Neymar, Luis Suarez and Paco Alcacer, who is yet to score in five appearances for Barcelona were powerless to prevent their team’s loss to Celta Vigo which marked a continuation of their recent inconsistency.
Defensive problems and uncertainty plague Barcelona
Ultimately that is largely attributable to the defensive problems which are currently plaguing Barcelona, since although free scoring they have also conceded goals at a high rate.
To quantify the susceptibility of Barcelona’s defence to exploitation, they have kept just three clean sheets in nine competitive games this season, with Alaves, Celta Vigo and Real Betis each having scored more than one goal against them.
At present, along with Sevilla, Barcelona have the joint third worst defensive record in La Liga having conceded 10 goals, although that is just one fewer than they’d let in at the same stage of last season. Nevertheless whereas Barcelona had then accumulated 15 points, this term they have just 13, with them being two points adrift of the Madrid club.
Whilst that is only a marginal deficit and one which Barcelona are more than capable of overturning, in order to do so successfully Enrique must strive to ensure that his team overcome their current inconsistency.
Although currently far from being detrimental to Barcelona’s prospects of enjoying a good season, so as to ensure that they do not become so, their defensive frailties must be remedied as a matter of priority by Enrique.
There has not been a great deal of continuity in Enrique’s selection of defenders this season with the year-old manager naming six different defensive line-ups in seven La Liga games. In doing so Enrique has fielded all eight of the officially recognised defenders and two of the three goalkeepers within his squad, as he experiments to try to find his best defensive base.
With the exception of Gerard Pique, neither any defender nor goalkeeper has been an ever present for Barcelona this season, as not only has Enrique’s team selection lacked consistency but so too has the form of his players.
Outlook remains bright for Barca
Nevertheless in many of Barcelona’s early season performances there has still been a wealth of positive aspects, with it now being the responsibility of Enrique to inspire his players to combine those so as to embark upon a consistent series of games free from fundamental errors and graced by their universally acclaimed elegant style of play.
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