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.