Carles Puyol made his comeback on Saturday, but El Capita's return was not enough to lift FC Barcelona to a win as El Blaugrana got a 0-0 draw at Osasuna. The draw, which felt more like a loss, ends the club's historic start to the Liga season. Late in the first half, Marc Bartra had a great chance to give FCB a lead heading into halftime, but his header was high and off. Great play in the 54th minute as Martin Montoya nearly found Neymar, but the ball just missed Neymar's sliding feet. Cesc had a terrible miss in the 61st minute, as his shot inside the box was high. Lionel Messi entered the game in the 68th minute. There were other chances, but in the end, no goals and no win as FC Barcelona and Osasuna grab a point each.
The Best: Carles PuyolIt was amazing to not only see Carles Puyol back on the pitch, but to be dominate again. "El Capita" was strong, fast (for a 35-year-old) and was leading his team throughout the game. Puyi was out there giving orders and encouraging his team by clapping his hands while saying "Vamos!" (Let's go!). Earlier this week, many Barcelona players mentioned that Carles looked like he was rejuvenated. And it certainly looked like it. With AC Milan and Real Madrid coming up, Barça needed Puyol's physical presence as well as his leadership in order to get through this tough part of their schedule-not to mentioned much needed depth at the centre-back position. Grande Puyol! Grand Capi! Welcome Back!
The Worst: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Cesc FabregasThe golden trio of Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas was nothing close to gold on Saturday. Xavi's passes were off all game. Andres Iniesta had not power in his shots and his passes were not typical Don Andres. And Cesc's game was off, culminating with two shots on goal that were terrible. Many fans will say it was the FIFA virus that hit FC Barcelona again. But to be fair, Xavi, Iniesta, and Cesc have been in Spain since last weekend, as the Spanish national team played at home against Georgia. Yes, they played minutes for La Furia Roja, but they had time to rest since Tuesday, and they didn't have to fly very far. Neymar traveled farther than all three, and the Brazilian played very well. I could give a pass to Xavi as he's older, but Iniesta and/or Cesc should have had a better performance. Perhaps I'm being a bit too tough on all three, but there are plenty of other players and teams that travel many miles, yet the FIFA virus doesn't hit them. Sorry, but for me, it's beginning to sound like an excuse. Very disappointing.
What We Learned?: Tata Martino has still yet to get rid of the obsession with "The Perfect Pass" and press more.When Tata Martino was hired, my hope was that he would begin to get rid of FC Barcelona's obsession with what I call "The Perfect Pass." While the tiki-taka will always be the staple of the Barcelona style, the major fault of the style is that it can lead to constant passing-looking for the perfect pass play-to make the goal. Shooting doesn't become the priority; it's only there when the opportunity opens up. But as we've seen in Barcelona losses, in particular, the losses in the UEFA Champions League of recent years, El Blaugrana passes and doesn't shoot. This showed itself again in the Osasuna game. Yes, there were plenty of moments to score a goal, but throughout the game, there were many moments were the team kept passing it, but hesitated to shoot.
I give credit to Osasuna for some good defensive plays, but this was a winnable game. Osasuna's defense was vulnerable, but Barcelona kept passing it instead of pressing more. Tata Martino still has plenty of work to do. His style has not fully taken over the team mentality. Not that I want to see the tiki-taka gone, but against Osasuna, we needed more "tiki-Tata", not tiki-taka. In my opinion, Tata made a mistake by starting Neymar at LW and not CF/False 9. Maybe if Alexis Sanchez was available, Tata would have started Alexis at RW and Pedro would have been at LW to open up the CF spot for Neymar. Cristian Tello was available to start at LW as well. Cesc at the False 9 works better with the Spanish national team, not so much with FC Barcelona. Neymar already proved he is the best option at the CF spot whenever Messi is not available with two great games against Celtic and Real Valladolid.
I'm hopeful Tata will straighten out a few things during practice this week.
What's Next?: Tuesday at AC Milan.The biggest week of the earlier competitive season has arrived, as Barcelona will travel to Italy to face AC Milan in Champions League action. Look for Alexis Sanchez to get the start as he rested this weekend. Gerard Pique will more than likely start as he rested against Osasuna. With Mario Balotelli out for Milan, look for the Barcelona defense to play a bit up front, as Milan's major threat during a counterattack will not be there.
Xoel's Final Word
I honestly had a bad feeling about this Osasuna game. Not because of the "FIFA virus," but more because of Osasuna and the fact that they have played FC Barcelona tough in Pamplona these past few years. Barcelona tends to live on the edge in road games, and on Saturday, they had to settle for a 0-0 draw that felt more like a loss. With Real Madrid's win earlier on Saturday, Barça are now only three points ahead of Los Blancos heading into next weekend's Clásico.
Although Barcelona only got one of the three points in Pamplona, El Blagurana moved up on the Liga table thanks to their Catalan rivals as RCD Espanyol defeated Atletico Madrid 1-0 late Saturday night. FC Barcelona sits alone on top of the La Liga table with 25 points, Atletico at 24 points, and Real Madrid at 22 points.While some Barça fans are already looking ahead to El Clásico, let's not get ahead of ourselves, Culés. A tough match against AC Milan is first.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona