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La Liga: UD Almeria 1-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

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A recap of Barcelona's thoroughly underwhelming 2-1 victory over UD Almeria as goals from Neymar and Jordi Alba ensured the Blaugrana avoided another embarrassing defeat

Denis Doyle

After slipping to two successive La Liga defeats, FC Barcelona looked set for a third as they fell behind in Andalusia to UD Almeria in the early Saturday afternoon kick-off. Former Espanyol striker Thievy got the goal, clinically finishing a chance on a counter-attack as Barça seemed to have no answer for the tactical setup of the hosts. However, a host of changes at the break, not least the introduction of Luis Suarez and Neymar, slowly but surely turned the tide in the Blaugrana’s favour as Neymar converted a Suarez cross to tie the teams at 1-1 before Luisito provided once again, this time for Jordi Alba to grab a winner. Deserved? Nope, but three points nonetheless as Barcelona temporarily moved into top spot.

Almeria

Barcelona

Possession

27%

73%

Total Shots

6

18

Shots on Target

2

6

Corners

4

5

Fouls

16

9

Offsides

1

2

Yellow Cards

2

0

Red Cards

0

0


No Neymar. No Luis Suarez. No Xavi. No Gerard Piqué; even with the international break looming, Luis Enrique opted to field what many would consider to be a weakened line-up for the trip to Almeria. At best, it was a bewildering selection, but hey, as long as Barça picked up the three points, what difference would it make? Anything less than a victory on the other hand...well, that would certainly raise a few question marks to say the least.

Still, there were positives: a start for Marc Bartra, more game-time for the dynamic midfield of Ivan Rakitić and Rafinha Alcântara and a start at right-back for Adriano Correia, ahead of Dani Alves. Even then, dropping Alves for anyone other than Martin Montoya or Douglas? Lucho sure loves to keep us guessing...

***

In truth, it was the hosts who started the match the brighter side; pushing the tempo right from the start, it was clear that Almeria were hoping to capitalise on any early Barça nerves, as they pressed high up the field and nearly got lucky in chasing down Cladio Bravo. However, ever the cool customer, the Chilean gave a little dummy and escaped the pressure without much trouble. Faced with this up-tempo start, Barça quickly established that they needed to "slow things down", and settled into possession at the first opportunity.

With Barcelona in possession, Almeria quickly dropped deep. It was a smart tactical decision from their coach Francisco – try and win the ball in Barça’s defensive third, or pack their own defensive third. Ceding control of the middle third ultimately wouldn’t cost them much, at least in comparison to the alternative.

Perhaps therein lie the genius of starting Pedro and Munir ahead of Neymar and Luis Suarez. Barça couldn’t afford for the lack of movement and isolation we witnessed against Celta. On the other hand, taking his two favourite or at least most talented colleagues away left Lionel Messi shouldering the bulk of the offensive burden. Not ideal, but not crippling for the Blaugrana either, purely because Messi is a freak of nature.

Within the opening ten minutes, a moment of Messi magic nearly opened the scoring, but Almeria managed to keep the Argentine at bay with a combination of strong goalkeeping and desperate defending. The follow-up effort from Munir was clever, but ultimately easy for Almeria keeper Ruben to save.

At the other end, a clumsy challenge from Marc Bartra could have easily seen Almeria gifted a penalty kick as a reward for a particularly fast-paced and dangerous attack, yet the referee was unmoved by their protests. There was a tangle, and certainly I couldn’t have blamed the referee if he had given the penalty. Alas, Barça escaped, at least for the time being.

Naturally though, Barcelona were living on the edge. The concession of what felt like countless corners and free-kicks left us defending far too many set-pieces for my liking, but what was most troubling was our complete inability to clear our lines from open play and the threat that Almeria posed as a consequence. Thankfully, Almeria struggle to convert their chances, otherwise this could have gotten quite out of hand as Mascherano in particular was guilty of playing a completely different, and deeper, defensive line to his colleagues.

Lionel Messi sensed our lack of control and was dropping deep to try and compensate. Unfortunately, that almost never works in either respect – we don’t really gain much more control and we lose our biggest attacking threat. Without Neymar and Luis Suarez, there simply wasn’t a viable alternative when Messi dropped deep. Munir was looking bright, but unrefined, while Pedro was all but anonymous on the left-flank.

And when he did get involved, he wasn’t exactly setting the world alight. A cross from the left byline found Munir at the far post, but he was swarmed by Almeria defenders and seemingly had no options available. So, he improvised – that’s where his youthful arrogance and pure ability comes in handy – lifting the ball over the Almeria defense to find Rakitić ghosting into space behind his marker. The Croatian met the cross with a fine header, but a super-human effort from Ruben saw the Almeria keeper scramble across and claw the ball off the line.

Still, the danger was not clear and Lionel Messi looked set to pounce and bury the ball into the open goal; but it wasn’t to be. Messi met the loose ball with a header but he got too much power on it and could only watch is disbelief as his shot rebounded clear off the crossbar.

Barcelona – not taking their chances. Almeria? Clinical as you like...

Lionel Messi has to take a portion of the blame; the breakdown in play came as a direct result of the Argentine taking on an army of defenders and ultimately coming up second-best. From there, Almeria were free to launch a counter attack and the pace of Thievy was simply too much for Marc Bartra or Javier Mascherano to handle, once the through ball made it past them, they were hopeless. Thievy raced clear and one-on-one with Bravo, the Frenchman buried his chance. The composure, the technical quality of the finish...it was a wonderful goal and Barça were behind.

Again.

Whenever we’ve fallen behind under Luis Enrique, we have lost. It’s a cold, hard fact. Our inability to switch up our approach is well-known. Sure, we had weapons off the bench, but in all honesty, we needed them. The current crop out on the field weren’t getting it done. Against Almeria.

And that’s sad; we were playing Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić....Rafinha, Munir, Pedro, I could go on, but what’s the point? We deserved to be down, plain and simple. Who cares what reputation these players have, they weren’t performing.

To go back to the topic of my previous article, are Culés simply failing to accept the truth that all of these guys, not just the usual scapegoats, are worse than they were under Pep? Messi for example...an error in judgement like he made for the goal would have been unthinkable under Guardiola. Why is he doing it now? There was a lack of support and movement from his colleagues, but to take an unnecessary and stupid risk like that when the simple option could have been to play it backwards and retain possession...well, it’s not exactly Ballon d’Or winning stuff.

Entering the half-time break a goal down to Almeria; proof, if any more was needed that we really are human after all.

***

Enter Luis Suarez. Enter Neymar. Admission from Luis Enrique that his initial selection was wrong. Brave? Sure. But if you’re right in the first place, you don’t need to make these kinds of changes. Even then, I’d argue that the introduction of Xavi was required ahead of Suarez, but let’s see how these changes played out before we throw Lucho under the bus.

Neymar coming on should have changed things, but Almeria’s setup was such that Neymar too was forced to drop deep, far too deep on far too many occasions. Almost picking the ball up as a left-back rather than a left-forward, or even a left-winger meant that Neymar couldn’t make much impact, at least initially. Luis Suarez on the other hand was looking lazy. Off the pace – just a step too far forward all the time. More than the defenders, Suarez was giving the linesman a work-out.

Then Messi starting feeling his thigh. The TV director picked up on it immediately, so as Xavi was warming up, Enrique had another potential fire to put out, and little to no options to deal with it. If Messi was injured, the only viable option would be to push Rafinha forward. The next few moments suggested that Messi would continue, but it was always there – a thought at the back of the mind, that he wasn’t really 100%.

Enter Xavi, for Sergio Busquets as Lucho went for broke. He had to, there was no choice. This really was the last chance saloon for Barça who desperately needed this gamble to pay off.

At face value, it wasn’t working, but thankfully, Barça had Neymar.

Even if Xavi couldn’t get his foot on the ball thanks to some clever marking from the Almeria team, Neymar finally found some space in the centre and after an intelligent low cross from Luis Suarez, was in position to convert a golden chance for his 10th of the La Liga season. Was there a hint of good fortune about the goal? Of course, but after a display like this, Barça were always going to be fortunate to draw level.

It was the turning point. Almeria had been the better side up until that point, but the goal drained their self-belief and gave the visitors a much-needed boost. Luis Suarez went close to overturning the deficit just minutes later, dragging a shot just wide of the far post. Lionel Messi nearly lobbed Ruben with a header from the best part of 18 yards (yes, you read that right) and in general, it seemed as though Almeria were tiring, both physically and mentally.

Advantage, Luis Suarez. Signed for his goalscoring prowess, the Uruguayan was making an impact for an entirely different reason this afternoon. Creatively, he was the architect behind Barça’s best chances and after providing for Neymar’s equaliser, he was at it again, lifting the ball over the Almeria defense to find Jordi Alba in space at the back-post for another easy chance. The Catalan converted and the turn-around was complete.

Did we deserve it? Probably not, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles when you have players of the calibre of Neymar and Luis Suarez ready to come off the bench. Individual quality bailing Barcelona out of jail...where have we seen that before?

After the international break, Barça host high-flying Sevilla at the Camp Nou, but until then, Visca el Barça!

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