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Three talking points from Royal Antwerp 3-2 Barcelona

Another defeat for Xavi’s side

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images

A partisan, raucous crowd greeted Barcelona in their final Champions League group match against whipping boys of Group H, Royal Antwerp.

The Belgians were out in force to roar on their heroes, and they were given the perfect start when Inaki Pena was beaten before two minutes was on the clock.

Noise from the stands was incessant throughout, and the hosts responded by fighting for every ball and, for the most part, making Barca look second best.

It was another awful showing from the Catalans and here are three talking points from the game:

No discernible shape from Barca

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Pedro Salado/Getty Images

Unlike Mark van Bommel’s side who were organised and disciplined for the most part - just as Girona had been at the weekend - Barca rarely looked to have a coherent shape to their game.

The attacking players rarely managed to string more than a couple of passes together between them, with Ferran and Marc Guiu’s goals the only pieces of attacking play worthy of note from the front men.

Why was Robert Lewandowski even there given that Valencia on Saturday is of much more immediate concern?

There was little in the way of midfield domination whilst the defence didn’t often push up as a back four in a straight line meaning that the hosts could, and perhaps should, have taken advantage of the offside trap more often than they did.

All the while these and other basic tenets are missing from Barca’s play, Xavi is going to find the growth of this team stunted.

Where was the leadership?

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

I’m sorry but Sergi Roberto isn’t captain material. Given the armband because of his La Masia roots and time spent at the club and for no other reason.

Though it could be argued that this game didn’t really matter, that Barca were still going to qualify as group winners, that’s not really the point is it.

Before the match Antwerp had conceded 15 goals and only scored three and were there for the taking. A big win to restore a bit of confidence.

After conceding the early goal some leadership was required for Barcelona but it was sorely lacking from Roberto at that point, and throughout.

There was never a chance he was going to grab his team-mates by the scruff of the neck and drag them up to Barcelona’s standards.

In the end Barca were left chasing the game and consistently left themselves outnumbered at the back.

Antwerp’s third was a scarcely believable watch and meant a result that’s incredibly damaging for this team’s credibility.

Bye, bye Oriol

Royal Antwerp FC v FC Barcelona: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Talking of which, Oriol Romeu needs to be handed to Girona on a platter on January 1.

The midfielder started his second stint at Barcelona well enough, to the point where culers had a genuine belief that losing Sergio Busquets might not turn out to be the disaster that everyone expected.

Unfortunately, in the space of just a few short months, we’ve seen that Oriol Romeu is definitely not the answer.

At fault for two of Antwerp’s three goals, a suicidal pass from Inaki Pena notwithstanding, he contributed nothing to the performance which should, in all fairness, leave Xavi’s job hanging by a thread.

It was a completely unacceptable 90 minutes. Again.

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