Tata Martino suffered his first loss as manager of FC Barcelona as his team was beat and beat good by Ajax 2-1 on Tuesday night in Amsterdam.
Barça's first best chance at goal came in the 14th minute as Cesc Fabregas' shot inside the box was nicely blocked by the Ajax defense. Ajax got the scoring started in the 19th minute as Thulani Serero beat Jose Manuel Pinto to make it 1-0 for the home side. In the 42nd minute, Ajax doubled their lead thanks to Danny Hoeson. At the half, Barcelona did not have a shot on target.
Not even one!
In the second half, Neymar was fouled
outside "inside" the box, and the referee gave a red card to Joël Veltman. Xavi stepped up and slammed in the ball to cut the deficit to 2-1. Barcelona controlled the ball possession for the rest of the second half, but ball possession doesn't matter. It's all about goals, and Tata Martino's men didn't find another one in the game. Classy win by Ajax.
Let's get to the Best, Worst, and What We Learned from this game.
The Best: Ajax
That's right. My "The Best" award goes to Ajax. Why? Why not?! They dominated the first half of the game, and were never scared of FC Barcelona. This Ajax performance reminded me of the way Celtic played last CL season against Barcelona in Scotland. Celtic was never afraid of the Catalans, and stunned them with a classy win. Ajax did the same thing on Tuesday night. Former Barcelona player, now Ajax manager, Frank de Boer had his men ready. They knew the Barça defense was weak-especially with no RB-and they went full steam ahead at Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, and the rest of the back line. Ajax also frustrated Xavi and Andres Iniesta by swarming in on the duo and stealing the ball away. Ajax's hustle was superb, and I was a bit envious that Barcelona lacks that kind of hustle.
Grande Ajax! Congrats Frank de Boer!
The Worst: FC Barcelona...at least most of them
Neymar tried his best to bring his team back, and I thank him for that. But his shooting was off, and he didn't have enough to make the comeback. It's OK. I can live with that. He'll only get better. Pinto tried his best, but he couldn't do anything about the goals. But everyone else was poor to really bad on the night.
Tata Martino did not have a good game plan for this game. And for that, he deserves to be criticized. I don't know why Tata put Puyol in as RB. I know Puyol used to be a RB, but that was ages ago. I love Puyol, but we all know his role and his physical ability is limited on this team. Pique had a terrible game, so did Javier Mascherano, as well as Alex Song in the CDM spot. Sergio Busquets was in need of rest, so Tata didn't put Busi in for Song. Busi was very much missed in this game. The back line's performance against Ajax proved to us just how good Marc Bartra has been all season long. He is by far Barcelona's best CB right now. Because of this, Tata should have started the kid in place of either Pique or Mascherano.
I understand injuries have devastated this team so far, but Barça had the players to, at minimum, get a draw in a game like this-especially if the defense gave the team a chance. I'm not trying to take away anything from Ajax. They fully deserved the win. All I'm saying is that I expected a bit more from Tata Martino for this game.
What We Learned: The loss against Ajax reaffirms the need for a true striker-with all due respect to Neymar and his abilities.
While all of FC Barcelona played poorly against Ajax on Tuesday, I can't help but think the game may have been different if Barcelona had a true striker on their squad. Now I know this is an argument we've been having for a while, but it's games like Tuesday's that reaffirm the need for a true number nine. As much as I love Cesc Fabregas, his "False 9" play only works well on the Spanish National Team, not FC Barcelona. And NO, the Spanish team doesn't truly play the same as Barcelona. There are some similarities, but it's still different, overall.
Neymar can be Lionel Messi's fill-in guy for El Blaugrana, but wouldn't it be great to see a true striker available for this team, when called upon? That would allow Neymar be free at the LW spot, while the striker pushes forward, pressuring the opponent's CBs, and waiting to get an opportunity to score. Cesc and Messi need to fall back and play at the midfield position much of the time when playing the False 9, somewhat easing the offensive pressure at the front. It's not that Cesc or Leo are doing something wrong, it's just the nature of the False 9. But how much longer will this club go without, at least, having a striker coming off the bench, if not, starting in games when needed?
For those who may ask about Gerard Deulofeu, I don't believe the kid will be ready to take on the striker role for this team. He needs a year or two before he'll fully be ready, in my opinion. Maybe Sandro Rosell already knows Barça needs a striker. Maybe that's the reason he sent scouts to go take a look at Porto's Jackson Martinez recently, according to multiple reports in Spain.
I know all of this sounds like an over-reaction, especially since so many Barça players are hurt, but I do believe games like we saw against Ajax show us that a true striker may make a big difference for this team-especially when Lionel Messi is out. It can't all be on Neymar, at least not yet. The presence of a striker in the middle of the attack is needed. I'm hopeful Barcelona will, at least, look at options for a striker (starting or back-up) in January, if not, next summer.
What's Next?: Sunday at Athletic Club Bilbao
Barcelona now turns their attention to La Liga as they head to the new San Mamés and face Athletic Club Bilbao. Look for Marc Bartra to start as he rested against Ajax. Alexis Sanchez should start as well, as he missed the Ajax game due to suspension. Sergio Busquets, who was badly missed against Ajax, should also start as well.
Xoel's Final Word
Ajax was not afraid of FC Barcelona, and the home side swarmed and defeated the Liga leaders 2-1 on Tuesday night. It was a poor performance by the Catalans, but give credit to Ajax for playing terrific football. Can't win them all. The most important thing is to learn from this loss and improve.
Time to get back on the training ground, boys. A tough challenge awaits on Sunday, as FC Barcelona travels to Basque Country to face Athletic Club Bilbao.
Time to get back to playing good, solid team football. Time to get back to winning.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona