FC Barcelona slipped to a draw at El Madrigal in the evening kick-off, meaning that the gap between first placed Real Madrid and the Blaugrana now stand at seven points. Being honest, that gap is almost certainly insurmountable, and Barcelona will have to turn their attentions elsewhere if they are to salvage something from this season. Villarreal got their tactics spot on, and their efforts deserved a point, but Pep Guardiola will be frustrated that the team he sent out could not get the job done.
Ultimately, Guardiola experimented tonight with his team selection, with an unusual 3-4-3/4-3-3 hybrid, that simply did not work at all. I get the injury problems necessitated a switch of some kind, but with players like Cristian Tello on the bench, why couldn’t he risk handing a start to one of the B team players?
Barcelona started fairly well, at least in comparison to the rest of the game, with Dani Alves beating the offside trap only to fire the weakest shot imaginable towards goal, before it was blocked and diverted out for a corner kick. It was such a good run, he didn’t really believe he was onside, and ended up taking it half-heartedly as a result. How he may come to rue that mistake when he watches the game back...
The next half-chance fell Barcelona’s way after Gonzalo dallied around in possession, leading to about four of five Barcelona players arriving on scene to strip him of the ball. Alves was the man to benefit, but Gonzalo recovered well (as he always does) to make the block. The resulting corner was whipped in to Gerard Pique, but the Spaniard could only direct a weak header straight at Diego Lopez.
Then came one of the chances of the match. Leo Messi, free of the defense (albeit with a suspicion of offside) bared down on Diego Lopez and the Villarreal goal. As you would expect, Lopez tried to close down the angle, but Messi lifted it over him with a trademark chip. Unfortunately, the ball bounced wide of the far corner, and Messi had missed a one-on-one. You could tell: it wasn;t going to be Barcelona’s day.
Victor Valdes returned in goal after the Copa del Rey, but he was just as susceptible as Pinto was when Villarreal delivered a cross into the box. Valdes decided to try and punch it, but got more of Pique than he did of the ball, and Mascherano had to head it off the line to save a goal. The rebound was volleyed goalwards, but blocked by Eric Abidal. Barcelona got away with it, just a little.
Towards the end of the half Villarreal started to put the Blaugrana under some sustained pressure, with Marco Ruben losing his composure after shaking off the challenge of Carles Puyol, before Marcos Senna rolled back the years with a long-range piledriver that Valdes tipped round the post. The resulting corner kick was headed to the back post and Gonzalo, but the Argentine was offside, so his headed goal did not count. Barcelona needed to improve over the half-time break.
Needing, and doing though, are two completely different things. Barcelona remained uninspired in attack, and nearly compounded our misery when Busquets tripped Borja Valero in the area. Fortunately, the referee did not point to the spot. Alexis Sanchez was brought on for Pique, who looked to have picked up a knock, but Barcelona did not create anything of note until the 80th minute, when Cristian Tello and Thiago entered the fray.
Replacing Adriano and Xavi respectively, the pairing ignited the smouldering ashes that passed for a Barcelona attack, especially Tello with his pace and skill. He skipped away from Angel and cut the ball back for Cesc Fabregas, whose shot was deflected and then tipped onto the bar. It was the best chance of the game to date.
But it got worse. Gonzalo escaped a red card for his pull-back on the lightning fast Cristiano Tello, and Lionel Messi tried to drag the team to victory. His efforts were saved, but one rebound fell to Cesc, and you thought, thank God, and easy chance! Oh no...Cesc failed in the most epic of fashions, skying the chance, and Barcelona’s league title hopes faded into the distance. Put simply, they were not good enough, and well, Real Madrid are. Now Pep has to figure out how to beat Valencia in the Copa del Rey. For once, I do not envy him.
No longer am I Peptimistic. Visca el Barca!