Barcelona could not win a thirteenth straight La Liga game after relinquishing a two-goal lead and drawing with Villarreal on Sunday after a terrible second half performance. Here's a few takeaways from what we saw at El Madrigal.
1. Luis Suárez was thinking about El Clásico
The Uruguayan had one of the most quiet performances of his Barça career. He simply wasn't engaged, not going all out trying to pressure the ball like he usually does, not linking up with his 'MSN' partners, hiding himself from the more nasty actions, and even looked distracted at times. It simply wasn't the Suárez we've become used to seeing every game.
There is a simple explanation: he didn't want to miss El Clásico after the international break. The game was nervous from the opening second, the referee was booking people every five minutes on both sides, and if Suárez was in the book on Sunday, he would have been suspended for the encounter with Real Madrid next week. It is clear: El Pistolero is saving his bullets for the biggest game in the world.
2. Luis Enrique is human
The coach deserves as much credit as the players in this 39-match unbeaten streak due to his ability to manage the squad and make smart rotations and substitutions game after game. But even Lucho makes mistakes, and that happened on Sunday. I understand and even support the decision to take Piqué out of the game with a yellow card, but he did it a bit early. For the record, Mathieu's terrible performance is not Lucho's fault. If he knew how bad that substitution would have turned out, he obviously wouldn't do it. But he's not a prophet.
To me the worst decision was subbing Dani Alves into the game just a couple of minutes after Piqué went off. The right side of the defense was just fine with another solid game by Sergi Roberto. Roberto had to go to the midfield and Alves, a worse defender than Sergi, was put into the fire against Denis Suárez, who had been raising hell all afternoon. The results were predictable from that moment forward.
Had Lucho waited just 10 or 15 minutes to take off Piqué and had he stuck with Roberto at right-back, we could be talking about another win in this column. But even the best coach in the world makes mistakes. The draw was not entirely his fault and Mathieu did have a giant impact on the outcome of the game. But Lucho did make a solid contribution.
3. The draw was a good result
Here is Villarreal's home record against the current Top 7 this season: four wins (Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla), one draw (Barça) and only one loss (Celta Vigo). The message is loud and clear: no matter how good you are, you are going to suffer at El Madrigal. It's a simple fact, and another fact is that Barça is only the second team this season not to lose there. This means a lot.
Sure, the circumstances that led to the draw are a tough pill to swallow and we should probably have won on Sunday, but the Yellow Submarine usually take down everybody who comes to their turf. Plus, thanks to Atleti's unbelievable loss to Sporting Gijón, Barça is now nine points clear at the top. There's simply no reason to feel bad about this weekend when you stop to think about it. Villarreal is a beast at home, we got a draw out of it, and we're now even more leaders. It's good!