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La Liga: CA Osasuna 0-0 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's 0-0 draw with CA Osasuna, as the Blaugrana dropped points for the first time this season and under the guidance of Gerardo Martino

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

All good things must come to an end, including Gerardo Martino’s 100% start to life as a manager in La Liga. After guiding FC Barcelona to eight victories from their opening eight matches, Martino’s side slumped to a disappointing 0-0 draw in Pamplona tonight, dropping their first points of the season to lowly Osasuna. The draw leaves Barcelona’s position at the top of the table under serious threat for the first time in over 425 days; if Atletico Madrid escape Catalunya with three points after their clash with Barça’s city rivals RCD Espanyol, they will take control at the summit of La Liga.






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For the first time in seven months, Carles Puyol was named on the FC Barcelona teamsheet, leading out the team as the Blaugrana looked to record their ninth victory in as many La Liga matches against CA Osasuna. Despite the return of Carles Puyol, there was no room in the starting line-up for either Javier Mascherano or Lionel Messi, as Cesc Fàbregas started as Barça’s false nine "relegating" Neymar back to his usual role on the left-hand side of the attack. Would Puyol be able to mark his return with a victory, or would the hosts spring an unlikely upset?

Barcelona started the match well, establishing their style early against a relatively passive Osasuna outfit, who despite their home advantage and a public insistence that they wouldn’t park the bus, proceeded to effectively park the bus. When Barcelona were in possession, Osasuna were hesitant to press, instead opting to cover potential passing lanes and commit multiple players behind the ball. And to an extent, this strategy was working.

It’s an extreme example, but the pressing was actually harming the hosts – Sisi twice over-stretched himself and had to be replaced in the sixth minute by Manuel Onwu, while others who attempted to recover possession were a little late, allowing Barcelona to draw a few early fouls. In standing off however, Osasuna were able to concentrate their efforts on the areas that mattered most – that’s the final third and the middle of the field. Without a clear route to goal, Barcelona struggled to create chances early on in this match, over-relying on the individual brilliance of players like Neymar to move towards the Osasuna goal.

In fact, it took 18 minutes for Barcelona to even attempt their first shot – and that was a relatively tame effort from Andrés Iniesta. Certainly not enough to beat one of La Liga’s better keepers, Andrés Fernandez. And why were Barcelona struggling? Part of the problem was the front-line – without Lionel Messi, Barcelona were lacking an obvious false nine as Neymar drifted inside far more frequently, almost pushing Cesc Fàbregas out of the centre and into obscurity. In the opening half-an-hour, Fàbregas made just 16 touches – that’s nearly ten less than any other Barcelona player, excluding Victor Valdés. At times, it seemed as though Barça were playing with ten men.

But Fàbregas wasn’t the only guilty party – all around the field there was a lack of movement, very little cutting edge of any kind, and when the Blaugrana did move the ball into a dangerous position, they often attempted one pass too many. Over-elaboration and a lack of movement ended just as many chances as the Osasuna defense.

So heading into the half-time break, while it was obvious that Barça were the better side, they were yet to really demonstrate it – the "good news" was that majority of their problems were self-inflicted. A tactical change here, a little more motivation there; surely Barcelona would improve after the break?

And in a way, they did. After a quiet first-half, Fàbregas was beginning to get involved – even if Lionel Messi was warming up on the sidelines. Twice in the opening quarter of an hour of the second half Fàbregas was presented with a goal-scoring chance, and twice Fàbregas spectacularly fluffed his lines. The first wasn’t necessarily an easy chance, but the execution was so poor that it reflected poorly on the Catalan midfielder, while the second was just an out-and-out miss;  it’s almost criminal for a player of his calibre to fail to hit the target in that scenario, especially after such an excellent pass from Xavi.

Motivation clearly wasn’t working, meaning that Gerardo Martino was forced into his first substitution of the night – Lionel Messi was given his instructions and headed on for the final 20 minutes, replacing Andrés Iniesta, therefore freeing Fàbregas up to move back into midfield. At this stage, the pressure was on the Argentine to save Barcelona’s 100% record, particularly with Neymar’s influence waning.

On another night, or perhaps in the opening 20 minutes, Neymar would have reached Martin Montoya’s low cross in the 54th minute, but he was just a fraction too late. Evidently the international break was taking its toll on the Brazilian.

Maybe this wasn’t meant to be Barcelona’s night though? Martino’s tactical switch wasn’t working either, as Lionel Messi was uncharacteristically sloppy in the final third. His passing was inaccurate and his shot was almost bewilderingly poor. When was the last time we saw Lionel Messi drag a shot a good five yards wide of the target? Well, we saw it tonight – that’s when we should have realised that Barcelona just aren’t supposed to equal Real Madrid’s long-standing record start to a La Liga campaign.

Next up, Barcelona travel to Italy to take on AC Milan at the San Siro, before returning to Catalunya on Saturday to take on Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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