The entire team was completely off their game, minus Jordi Alba and Claudio Bravo. OK, the defense wasn’t that bad. But still, the team overall was dull. Lionel Messi did not show any moments of brilliance—neither did Neymar. Both Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta could set anything up against the Málaga defense. Douglas made his Barcelona debut in this game and had a weak debut. Pedro was the same, inconsistent, sloppy, goofy Pedro that we’ve become accustomed to witnessing.
Overall, it was boring, slow, unenthusiastic football and Barcelona did not deserve to win the game. Maybe this Barcelona team was tired. Whatever the case may be, this is one of those game you learn from, and move on.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the game came when Málaga’s Wellington grabbed Messi’s face and shoved him down. Wellington only got a yellow card for this because…well…it’s Liga refs.
— KICKTV (@KICKTV) September 24, 2014
Don’t go Barcelona or Argentina anytime soon, Wellington. Just saying.
Good info of the game (via ESPN Deportes’ Mr. Chip and @barcastuff)
Luis Enrique is the 1st Coach in Barca history to go his first 6 games without conceding a goal— MisterChip (English) (@MisterChiping) September 24, 2014
— barcastuff (@barcastuff) September 24, 2014
Bad info of the game
Barcelona didn't have a shot on target in a Liga game for the first time since the 2003/04 season #fcblive [via opta]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) September 24, 2014
No shots on goal? None.
No shots on goal is unacceptable. Not with this squad. Not with the best player in the world in Messi on your team, not when you have Neymar and Iniesta. 2010-11 Pedro Rodriguez would have gotten a shot on goal. Today’s Pedro? Nope.
So far this competitive season, Barcelona has had two games where they needed a late (late-ish) goal to win a game, and a third game in APOEL in the Champions League where they only got one goal and looked dull after said goal. At Málaga, Barcelona finally paid for their lack of shots on goal, bad and sloppy play.
Goals and the lateness of some of them has become a pattern so far this season and in recent seasons, and that is a concern to continuously work on. Let's hope it doesn't turn into one when the bigger games come.
A pattern of faults over multiple games is obviously a bigger concern than one game of poor play.
With Luis Enrique's first slip-up of his Barcelona managerial career comes the first criticism by the media and fans.
I don’t think the Málaga game is a cry for a full-blown crisis. But I do think Luis Enrique must go back to his office, work with his other managerial team, go back to the training ground, and work with his players on to not let a performance like Wednesday night’s to happen again this season. I'm sure he's working on it as you read this. Yes, I know the best teams are capable of having bad games—that’s why I’m not going to say Lucho is doing a bad job overall, etc. It’s early and his squad needs to perform better.
No shots on goal is brutal, and it is Luis Enrique’s job to push his men to work on improving. Again, I know these footballers are the best in the world and they know what they need to do in a game. But last season, Tata Martino did not push his men enough, was soft, didn’t fully have the respect of his players, and thus you saw the result of his failed leadership. Lucho is no Tata. Lucho will not allow his team to get soft. Luis Enrique has the respect of his players already and will work all he can to succeed. That being said, Lucho, like all managers, will make mistakes and he deserves to be criticized when it is merited.
"Criticized," not "crucified." Then again, aren’t all football managers figuratively crucified for their team’s problems?
Lucho is by no means perfect. And it’s OK to question some of Lucho’s decisions, like when he substituted Neymar out of the game. I questioned it as well. But it’s too early to say if he doesn’t have what it takes to succeed with this team, as some people have already begun to do so. So far, his record says Luis Enrique is more than likely going to be successful this entire season. You can see how the Barcelona players are working harder on the pitch compared to last season. Last week, Jordi Alba stated how his new manager has helped his game.
Alba: "Last season wasn't good, both for me and for the team. With Luis Enrique, I'm more motivated and working hard, I'm happy."— barcastuff (@barcastuff) September 22, 2014
Anything is possible in football, so we have to wait a bit more to see how Lucho and his squad perform to reach a point where we can say with pure certainty that Lucho and his team are Liga championship bound.
Patience as Lucho and the team’s work continues
Luis Enrique has always said this was going to be a long process in making this team a consistently strong team. Wednesday night’s game was a look at how Barcelona continues to be plagued with these lethargic types of showing in La Liga over the past few seasons. Lucho always keeps it real when it comes to his team and knows what needs improving. On Douglas’ debut, Lucho said, "He played on the same level as the other players." Couldn’t have said it better, Lucho. Dougie (as I’m calling him) was weak, as were most of the other players.
As previously mentioned, some people on social media were critical of Lucho’s decision to take out Neymar and replace him with Munir in the second half. While I do think Neymar gives any team a better chance to win a game, Ney’s game was off and Lucho was probably thinking that Munir could inspire a goal-scoring play. Who knows, maybe Lucho had it in his plans to substitute Neymar out in the second half. As we saw, the substitutions did not work out. It happens, unfortunately. Also, Luis Enrique’s decision not to bring in Xavi is questionable, if not, a bad decision. It's OK to question Enrique's decisions—just not his ability to improve this team nor his overall managerial leadership. He's already proven himself there.
For now, I’m going to give Luis Enrique the benefit of the doubt. This is the first bump on the road for him and his squad this season. Of course there are things needing to be worked on. It’s something to study and work on. But let’s not go overboard on the Málaga result and begin to worry that Luis Enrique does not know what he’s doing, etc. This is a project with new players and a new, harder-working environment at FC Barcelona, and there were bound to be slip-ups.
One factor we have to wait and see is if Lucho decides to switch formations later in the season—especially when Luis Suarez joins the team. Switching the formations around could help solve some of these goal-scoring (or lack thereof) issues when they arise.
Call me a Luis Enrique apologist. I don’t care. Sorry, I’m just not going to go into crisis mode over the 0-0 draw, unlike others. I’m not happy that Barcelona got one point and not the three, and I, like all Culés, expect better from this team. That said, I’m not going to worry that this Barça can’t achieve great things because they had a bad game midweek in late September at Málaga. It happens.
Remember last season when Barcelona went into the Santiago Bernabeu and defeated Real Madrid 4-3. Barça were back in La Liga race, had eliminated Manchester City a few weeks prior in the Champions League, and all seemed like things were going to go up for Tata Martino and the squad for the rest of the season.
Didn’t turn out so well, did it?
Don’t overanalyze one game or even a one/two week stretch. After six competitive games played, it’s looking good so far. As the months go by and games are played, including the addition of Luis Suarez to this offense late next month, all of us will be able to see if this 2014-15 FC Barcelona squad truly has a championship pedigree. Barcelona easily has enough to win La Liga, but let's wait a bit more before we make any Champions League title predictions for this team.
A draw at Málaga is a not a good result, but at minimum, it’s a learning step, and Luis Enrique and the players are expected to learn from the result and get better. If not, then it’s open season on Lucho’s work and the players as well.
Learn from it, and move on accordingly.
Off to work, men. As Lucho said after the game, "There is much work to be done. Now, it's a matter of finding solutions, not excuses."
As all of you know, greatness doesn’t come easy.
Xoel, The Voice of Els Culés and host/creator of "This Week in FC Barcelona" every Monday on SB Nation.