Match Review: FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Lionel Messi of Barcelona (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with his Barcelona team mates during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Celtic FC and FC Barcelona at Celtic Park Stadium on November 23, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

What a relief it is to have Lionel Messi on your side. Not only is he a magician on the field, but he also has the ability to be the ultimate decider of games- more so than any player in other player in the world. Is it a coincidence that Leo happened to be the player making the run-on into the box conveniently for Neymar to put in a dinked cross that ultimately led to the first goal? It all looks so simple- so easy. But often it is not. Leo has started the season on fire, scoring 17 goals in 13 appearances, whilst also racking up five assists.

The truth is this was an important victory. Not in performance, but in importance. Coming to Glasgow and leaving with a victory is a tricky task – the last time la blaugrana visited Celtic Park, we went home unhappy customers in a 2-1 loss. The Bhoys are always difficult to beat at home, and as expected, were once again tricky to crack down last night. Luis Enrique’s men were also reeling from a bizarre and uncommon 0-0 draw, at Camp Nou, and all with the scintillating form of the goal-machine, Paco Alcácer leading the line. Not to mention, without Lionel Messi. This was an important result that was needed to get the ball rolling as we are headed for el Clásico in the not-so-distant future, and form is needed if we are to keep up with the form of Zinedine Zidane’s men. This was also an important result to set the right precedent, that there is no such thing as a “bogey” stadium – that if we can win in Glasgow, that indeed, not even a cold and snowy winter’s night in Stoke could stop us.

Though it was an important victory, this does not mean it was a particularly eye-catching performance. There are still areas of concern that need attending to. Celtic, though not perfectly, were still able to trap us in our half of the field successfully for periods of the game, especially in the first half – a theme that has become consistent by our opposition this season. Though we managed to come out unharmed from this one, it still makes one wonder. Has Lucho found a solution for this relentless pressure? By the evidence of this performance, it would suggest so. But it should not be forgotten that a team featuring the likes of Neymar, Messi and Luis Suárez managed to score one goal from outfield play – the other coming from a penalty. Can we really keep pinning all this on the bad form of Sergio Busquets, who during these situations, consistently seems to be drowning until either Messi or Neymar has completed a triangle of passes wide on the touchline to eventually evade markers and bring the ball in the oppositions half? These triangle passes wide on the touchline, heavily relying on the individual talents of Messi and Neymar, seem to be the only solution Lucho has come up with to solve this dilemma. It may work on this occasion, and against nine out of ten sides in the world, but against defensively astute sides such as an in-form Atlético Madrid in a knock-out competition, this may not be enough.

Let’s audit how this season has gone so far. Can we look at this side and say there has been a considerable improvement in performance since last season?

To make one thing clear, this writer is not a hater of everything Lucho. In comparison to the happenings at the Santiago Bernabeu, Zizou’s men seem to be on an upward trajectory this season. Let us be neutral for a minute and admit that there have been improvements in leaps and bounds made by Real Madrid. But can we say the same for this blaugrana side, at this particular juncture?

The truth is, it is too early to come to conclusions. One must remember the historic start made by Los Blancos in the 2014/2015 season, where Madrid managed to rack up a 22 game win streak which eventually led to a disastrous trophy -less season, shattering the high expectations that had been placed on them during this streak. One cannot come to conclusions in November, however, one can make observations at current progress, and the truth is, this Barcelona side has more or less maintained its level. What is worrying at this point, though, is this level, though it is extraordinarily high when all the bells and whistles are working, has stayed the same, while opposition has become, and is increasingly becoming, smarter in how to overcome it. The gap between ourselves and our opposition seems to be shrinking, as sides continue to emulate the precedent set by Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid as a ‘How to Stop MSN guide. The impact of this strategy has just been down to how successfully each side can execute it. Our failures this season all look the same – an inability to get out our half.

This being said it is not all doom and gloom. One mistake Lucho has learned from is that a lack of rotation hurts you in the long run. Perhaps it would be fair to say Lucho has sacrificed results at times by fielding a heavily rotated side so as to ensure he never repeats this mistake. These are positive steps. At this point in time, it would seem Lucho has employed a ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it approach to our attack. Sure, our monsters up front are able to do enough against most sides. But “most sides” is not the concern here. The concern is what will happen in the UEFA Champions League semi-final, in a two-legged affair against a defensive juggernaut. By the look of things, it would seem even the most basic culé who only tunes in once a final is in play or during el Clásico weekend could guess what our starting lineup would be between now and that semi-final. And sure, Lucho has made it interesting on midfield selections, but all his options offer the same attributes as the other. The real question is, should we be concerned by this increasing predictability?

Up next, another difficult away trip to the Anoeta to face Real Sociedad. Lucho has another opportunity at setting a good precedent by winning at a venue that has proved tricky historically. Our season has been successful up till this point. 4 points off the top of La Liga, top of our UEFA Champions League group – not a bad start at all. But it has also not been a great start. It is impossible to know whether things are going well or not, however with the looming Clásico ahead, we are sure to be given a taste of reality.

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  • Kneowell Anyanwu

    For me the difference between a good barca performance and a bad one is the speed of movement of the ball and players and how clinical we are in front of goal, the faster we move the ball, and the faster we move without the ball in triangles and up the pitch is the key. This game against celtic is a notch improvement from the malaga game and plenty other games this season in terms of speed of players and ball movement (the the scoreline toned that down a little) when the team is charged to move fast it’s suddenly a different barca from the one that isn’t interested, an interested messi like we saw against celtic makes all the difference, the messi that lakadaisically walks around the third half of the pitch is different. Bottom line is we always have to show hunger and motivation by putting in that extra effort, we have the players in the middle whose skill set are centred on their workrate so we should be able to pull it off again and again. Yes, getting the ball out of the back when we are pressured seems to remain a problem but it was less so today because Gomes dropped often to get the ball, formed a good triangle with alba and Neymar and took some pressure off busquet, and also messi dropped dip to help scoop out the ball too as rakitic and roberto combined to work it out on the right. Iniesta makes it look so easy cos he can recieve the ball with his back to the goal and is suddenly darting at the goal with such speed and dazzling movement his marker is left adrift.

    Teams have learnt to 6 of their men in our own half to stop us from coming out and cut off the MSN, I have been wondering if a double pivot will do us some good to reduce that pressure, but then I remember Lucho have tried that combination and it didn’t work out so well, maybe he should consider doing so with Gomes and busquet in a make-shift setting to see what comes out of it. Lucho has definitely most certainly got to do more in that aspect, we have players that have the skill set to get that ball from the back and hold on to it with quick passes and movement, Gomes has shown that, dennis has the potential but needs the right motivation to commit more just like roberto was taking on players and making some runs when he knew he had to. Our midfield just has to show more character. It’s Lucho’s job to keep that fire of motivation and hunger burning, it’s his job to work out the pressure we face at the back. This problem isn’t new, it’s been there all along, but cules are hungry for a marked improvement in that aspect

    • Eivind Niclasen

      High pressure from opponents has turned into a big problem this season, but the team is still creating plenty of chances. If the forwards were as good at burying them, I am convinced Barca would be at the top of the table. The problem is that MSN has been reduced to just one letter – M. Suarez is going through the mother of all goal droughts, Alcacer is a huge flop and Neymar is more focused on ignoring Digne, dribbling into 2-3 defenders before being dispossessed and exposing the midfield and backline to yet another lightning quick counter from the opposition. He looks moody and bored, unlike the hero of the Selecao. He still provides assists, but something is not right.

      • Kneowell Anyanwu

        If I haven’t given someone enough chance I wouldn’t term them a flop. I wouldn’t term paco a flop yet, this is the second league game he’s starting all season long. Paco hardly got passed to in the malaga game, maybe because his team mates don’t trust him yet, I bet they will give him more balls after he gets his first goal. Some fans complained about how he didn’t move enough but on re-watching the malaga game I saw that even when he did move no one took advantage of it, he even provided a chance that put Neymar through and clean on goal but it was wasted. Rafinha had the chance to put him clean on goal but he didn’t. If only Neymar didn’t disrupt the dynamics by ignoring digne, and dribbling one too many persons maybe paco would have seen more of the ball. You can’t adapt in barca coming off the bench for suarez at the 70th or 75th minute once every 3 or 4 matches, no no that’s simply not enough time to find your groove in a club like barca and we all know that (except of course we want to pretend not to). Not even suarez who got a starting berth started scoring in his second full game, though some will argue he gave assists (but he’s a striker and he’s brought to score goals not give assists, so screamed the culeverse when suarez couldn’t score), those assists were easy because messi was on the pitch and got the ball to him often. Paco is yet to play a complete match with messi yet, the 2 occasions he’s started so far was in messi’s absence. I’m no coach but maybe a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2 formation with both paco and suarez, upfront and messi and Neymar playing deeper than usual will do paco some good. Yes I know the screams will come from barca traditionalists that 4-3-3 is what we play, but hey, even pep plays a 4-5-1 in city and a 4-1-4-1 in bayern and plenty other combinations, not even the best coach in the world operates a rigid system. Playing from the bench once every 4 games or playing a full game with key players such as messi, suarez, and iniesta out of the team can’t be a good thing for any striker.

      • Kneowell Anyanwu

        Was Neymar bought to score goals? That’s debatable, he’s a forward, he should score goals one might say, I would agree, but should I be worried he isn’t scoring? I certainly won’t be, not when he’s pushing his assists to a stratospheric level, he completely owns his position, fries full backs for the fun of it. Come to think of it, no other club can boast of a forward who does what Neymar does to fullbacks, barca is yet to face an opponent whose players destroy our fullbacks the way neymar does to the full backs of every opponent we face. Neymar stands out in this quality and that is largely because what he does is not easy at all though it looks ordinary to the eyes. The MSN is great because they complement each other, not because the compete amongst each other. Neymar compliments messi and suarez by providing those assists, so I wouldn’t say the MSN is reduced to just M, as Neymar plays such a huge role up there with those assists. The reason why you count the M is because a certain N has assisted the M plenty times this season already. While scoring goals are important, Neymar’s first responsibility is to create chances, then scoring goals comes next. Suarez first responsibility is to score goals, creating chances and assists comes next. Messi’s first responsibility is to create chances, then finish chances too, even though these days the small demon hardly can tell the difference between creating and scoring, he performs both functions with such effective equivocation you can’t tell which he does better.