Well, we can all die happy in the knowledge that Barcelona can actually still function without Lionel Messi. Despite the diatribe from some sections of the football world claiming that Barcelona are paralytically boring and ineffective without the World Player of the Year, here we are a day removed from last night, and it is plain to see that the Blaugrana actually played well. Considering the circumstances, it was a fine win, although it is a little disappointing that it took so long to seal the deal so to speak.
Despite only having ten men for 40 minutes of the match, Barcelona dominated in every measurable way. They had 80% possession, they won a staggering 83% of aerial duels (once again, I emphasise that Gerard Pique, the only tall player in the defense was sent off with 40 minutes left) and their pass completion rate of 90% dwarfed the measly 55% that Gijon could muster. On top of that, Barcelona completed four times as many passes as Sporting Gijon, and only allowed four shots. That’s a total domination. Just how did the score stay so low, and why did it take so long for Barcelona to take the lead?
In my match review, I noted that Barcelona settled into a worrying rhythm of non-threatening possession and lax concentration, but allow me to elaborate here. The Blaugrana clearly dominated possession, I mentioned as much above, and it was obvious from the match as well. Gijon did fail to get out of their half, mainly out of choice rather than anything else, but from the stats above, what is the norm in terms of chance creation?
80% possession is amongst the highest of the season, but the score-line is one of the worst of the season at the Camp Nou. The team may have camped in Gijon’s half, but failed to really penetrate Javier Clemente’s organised backline. Despite everything, Barcelona still attempted 40% of their shots from outside of the area. That means that on six occasions in the match, the team settled for second best. Pass, pass, pass, move, move, move; that is a simplified version of the ethos Barcelona strives to follow, but last night, they settled for the passing side without ever really moving around to create opportunities. Eventually, someone gets frustrated, bored even, and lets a shot go from long-range.
If you erase the first goal from memory, how many times did Barcelona keep possession for a sustained period of time with a chance being created at the end of it? In fact, if you erase the goals from memory, how many chances did the team create? It might just be my memory, but I am struggling to remember a single one.
Then, as for the lax concentration, Barcelona allowed Sporting four shots. Of those four shots, only one was inside the box, and that was David Barral’s goal. The game plan was being executed perfectly up until this stage as Gijon failed to threaten at all on the counter attack, but then almost everyone lost concentration after Gerard Pique’s dismissal, and Barral nipped in front of Valdes to grab an equaliser. This season has been typified by the exorbitant amount of individual errors that have led to goals for the opposition, and yesterday was no different.
It could have been catastrophic, but for all my complaining, both about the team and Seydou Keita in particular, an old favourite returned. That old clinical Barca, the ruthless finishers that only need to create the bare minimum to exact total destruction. Seydou Keita did nothing all game except he did do something, and that something was score a goal and grab an assist. Andres Iniesta fed Xavi for the third goal, his twelfth of the season and a new personal record, and from five shots on target, Barcelona had three goals and all three points. It wasn’t the most memorable display, but it was one of the most effective. What more can you ask?
As with last week, and all weeks to come, the stats are courtesy of WhoScored.com, and cross-referenced where possible.