On the face of it, a point away at a strong Atletico Madrid side isn’t a bad result, and most Cules would’ve taken that before the match.
Come the end of 90 minutes, it did feel more like two points dropped rather than one gained, however, as Barca had once again dominated their opponents.
Indeed, having over two-thirds of the possession and almost three times as many passes as their hosts should’ve seen the Catalans score much earlier than their 89th minute equaliser from Ousmane Dembele.
Atletico Madrid 1-1 Barcelona FT:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 24, 2018
Pass accuracy: 79%-91%
Chances created: 1-3
Substitute Ousmane Dembélé comes to the rescue for Barcelona with a 90th minute equaliser at Wanda Metropolitano. pic.twitter.com/qYv7Jc43ir
That they didn’t was due in no small part to Ernesto Valverde’s reticence to take risks.
We shouldn’t really be surprised though, because the Basque has always been considered as a coach who likes to play it safe.
It was one of the main reasons why supporters of the club were crying out for Jorge Sampaoli rather than Valverde at the time of the latter’s appointment.
By and large, his preferred 4-4-2 has been sufficient for Barca’s needs, but when it’s blindingly obvious that a 4-3-3 will work better, we’ve seen it only sporadically. Contrast Valverde’s way of working with that of Quique Setien for example.
There’s also the annoying issue of changes only being made by the coaching staff as a reaction. I guess you could argue that on some occasions Valverde’s changes have saved the day, but far too often he is reactive rather than pro-active.
Take Saturday’s match. With Dembele and Malcom on the pitch it was noticeable how much quicker in the transitions the visitors were, and how easily they were able to get in behind the Rojiblancos. Yet the change wasn’t made until Barcelona had gone behind.
How many times during this season have you sat there screaming at the TV (or at the bench if you happen to be in the stadium), imploring the coaching staff to bring on players that can alter the course of games before there’s an absolute need for them to do so?
Nobody is suggesting that Valverde has to be gung-ho, and his results generally since being in the position do lend themselves to giving him the benefit of the doubt more often than not.
However, he’s running out of credit with a fan base that were never really his biggest supporters in the first place.
With Sergi Roberto and Rafinha now injured, the latter out for the season, Valverde is going to have to shuffle his pack again.
It could be the ideal time to play Carles Alena in certain games as a result, but will Valverde put in youth over experience? Unlikely if it involves any degree of risk.
Luckily for all concerned, no one has really grabbed the chance to pull clear in La Liga and, even now, after dropping as many points as they have and conceding an alarming amount, Barca remain just a point from top spot.
It does mean that Valverde can stay in his comfort zone a little while longer of course.
But if the club do genuinely have aspirations of winning the Champions League (and more), the logic of ‘better to be safe than sorry’ doesn’t really apply anymore.