Barcelona’s first game of the 2023-24 season might very well be the worst: the defending La Liga champions played a truly horrible match against Getafe at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, with a goalless score that doesn’t really tell the story of how bad the game was. In a match filled with dirty tactics from Getafe and no tactics whatsoever from Barça, the highlights were three red cards, a lot of elbows thrown and another excellent cameo by Lamine Yamal that is the only positive from an otherwise disastrous season debut for the Catalans.
Getafe had one goal in the first half: they didn’t want to play footbal or offer any kind of threat going forward; all they wanted to do was to be as physical and annoying to frustrate Barça’s players and cause them to lose their heads. They did so by pushing players and throwing elbows all over pitch, but were smart to do it off the ball so the referee wouldn’t see it.
Barça tried to play football, dominating possession and trying to progress through the lines to create chances against a very tight low block from the home team. It was difficult to find spaces but there were a couple of good opportunities on a shot from distance by Oriol Romeu and a shot by Raphinha that was saved by goalkeeper David Soria and nearly turned into an own goal on the rebound.
But for the most part Getafe’s plan worked, and with three minutes to go in the half they truly succeeded in their dirty tactics: Raphinha made a stupid decision to thrown an intentional elbow at Getafe left-back Gastón Álvarez right in front of the assistant referee, who spotted it and told the main official who had no choice but to show the Brazilian a straight red card.
Barça found themselves down to 10 men, and at halftime they had a lot of work to do to find a way to win down a man and against a dirty team that were going to play even uglier football in the second half.
Both coaches made attacking substitutions at halftime: José Bordalás took off his injured center-back Stefan Mitrovic and brought on a winger in Portu, while Xavi Hernández replaced Andreas Christensen with Ez Abde and moved Frenkie De Jong to center-back.
Barça continued to try having more of the ball and send bodies forward looking for spaces, and Abde’s introduction added a more dynamic and direct presence to the Blaugrana attack.
And then, 10 minutes into the period, a potential turning point: Jaime Mata was given a second yellow for a foul on Ronald Araujo and the home team also found themselves down to 10 men.
The game once again settled into the pattern from the opening 30 minutes: Getafe in a very low block, with Barça having all of the ball and trying to find space inside a very tight Azulones defense.
But the Catalans showed an inability to create any meaningful opportunities, and they also lost their coach as Xavi was shown a straight red for dissent. The game had become completely unwatchable as we headed into the final 20 minutes, but apparently they still needed to be played because of the rules.
Xavi’s brother Oscar Hernández decided to roll the dice and sent in 16-year-old Lamine Yamal to bring some life and joy into the match, and the youngster completely changed the game with his skills and vision, instantly creating a massive chance that Ansu Fati nearly scored with his very first touch as a substitute.
Barça finally looked like a cohesive attacking unit in the final 15 minutes, moving the ball much quicker and having more runners and presence in the box while Getafe started to look more and more tired having to defend with just nine outfield players.
But the Blaugrana lost the momentum from that short spell of good play and once again made it very easy for Getafe with bad passes and poor decisions in the final third. The game crawled to an ugly finish, and the final whistle came after nearly 16 minutes of added time to end a truly terrible match in Madrid.
This was a truly terrible advertisement for La Liga, with very bad football, dirty and ugly tactics from a team that doesn’t belong in the elite, and awful refereeing that allowed everything that is bad about the game be the at the forefront for 90 minutes. We are all victims of a crime against the beautiful game, and Barça’s season could not have started any worse.
Getafe: Soria; Suárez, Duarte, Mitrovic (Portu 46’), Álvarez; Iglesias, Aleñá (Lozano 65’), Djené, Maksimovic, Mata; Latasa (Mayoral 65’)
Red Card: Mata (57’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Kounde, Christensen (Abde 46’), Balde; Pedri (Fati 79’), Romeu (Yamal 76’), De Jong; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Gündogan (Gavi 79’)
Red Cards: Raphinha (42’), Xavi (70’)