It was a night of anti-football at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, just as Getafe manager José Bordalás would have scripted it.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
La Liga referees are more concerned with their feelings than protecting the players and the integrity of the game.
Bordalás took a “by any means necessary” approach to getting a result.
Xavi and Barcelona were left holding a bag of excuses.
As it was last season, maybe a lackluster debut will serve as a wake-up call that gets the team going. Perhaps the club will learn that it needs to get busy on the market before it closes to address the glaring deficiencies on the pitch.
But beyond that, they need to be honest that they weren’t prepared for the match, let alone ready to start the season.
As much as we hate to give credit to an opponent who played dirty, they accomplished their objectives perfectly.
Getafe is already a Bordalás team
The word Bordalás means something in Spain.
This is a man who manages lowly clubs and gets them to perform above their level by fighting and scratching their way to results.
He is a promotion and survival expert.
First, he got Alavés promoted to the first division in 2016, and then with Getafe in his first spell as manager, the following year. In 2019, he led Getafe all the way to a fifth place finish, securing what seemed like an impossible spot for the small club in Europe.
La Liga continues to be a duopoly, and a manager like Bordalás relishes being a giant slayer. And as a player, when you’re David going up against Goliath, sometimes you’re happy to have a leader who empowers you to fight, especially if your name is Damián Suárez.
And yes, this is a tactical approach, whether you’re offended by it or not.
Bordalás doesn’t recruit these soldiers, he converts them into disciples.
Everyone on the night was doing their job, throwing in an elbow, executing a karate kick, talking trash to affect the performance of a frustrated opponent.
The idea is to chop up the game, disrupt everything, and take talent out of the equation by getting the stars to play in the mud and contribute to their own demise.
As kids getting bullied back in grade school have trouble learning, it’s not the act that gets you into trouble, it’s the reaction.
Getafe were happy being the bully getting into the heads of the Barça players.
Poking them, calling them ugly. Daring them to do something about it.
Raphinha obliged, and the game changed on a dime.
Xavi Hernández, who had every right to be frustrated, followed suit in the second half. Come on Xavi, we all know that Spanish referees have fragile egos, and are more than happy to throw you out in a performative display of defending their honor.
Bordalás and Getafe had you right where they wanted you.
But there was a way to beat them, and that was by actually playing football.
Xavi and Barça lacked identity and a plan
Whereas Real Madrid had been training in their 4-4-2 diamond all preseason, albeit to mixed results, Barcelona vacillated from the game to game with formations and tactics.
At least in the case of their rivals, it can be said they’re sticking to something and looking to spend time getting better at it.
Barça went into the summer with big questions that are still unanswered at the dawn of the new season.
The biggest one of all was how to move on from Sergio Busquets.
Oriol Romeu was perhaps the best Blaugrana against Getafe, but that’s not saying much. He was very involved defensively, had some good moments in the final third, but ultimately the midfield still looked incapable of doing what a Barça midfield needs to do: play fast.
That’s what made Busquets irreplaceable for so long.
He was slow on his feet but a quick, instinctive thinker, who could get the ball where it needed to go. A true reader of the game and a conductor on the pitch.
If you are going to play with four midfielders, there should be a baseline expectation that the passing will be fast and sharp. During the first hydration break, Xavi was instructing them to play two-touch football at a maximum. Should he really have to be explaining this when there are four midfielders on the pitch?
And when you select four midfielders, it comes at the cost of having an extra attacking player. And as it turns out, Barça’s best attacking moments in the game came in the second half once the extra attacking players were added. No surprise there.
Lamine Yamal and Ansu Fati instantly made their impact felt with a forward-looking ball over the top, and a goal hungry player in Ansu who knew how to find his spots in the box.
Raphinha will surely get a suspension for violent conduct. This may be a blessing in disguise for Xavi, who will now be forced to see past his preference for the Brazilian and give a chance to overlooked players who are dying for a chance to impress.
On the bright side, Barcelona started the season where they left off: with a clean sheet. Defensively, they never looked bothered. But it’s not a solution to have Ronald Araujo playing full-back, especially against inferior teams.
Barcelona need to be brave, play faster, and come up with a tactical approach that gets more going in the final third. Robert Lewandowski should be getting touches in the box, but right now all he’s getting are a few touches well outside the box, and that’s not playing to his strengths.
In conclusion, I’m skeptical of this 4-2-3-1 and I’m very confused why a Xavi-coached team isn’t better at passing the ball.
As much as I love to see Frenkie de Jong carry the ball forward, I’d much rather see the team working together with good spacing and quick passing to take away the advantage that a team like Getafe seeks to gain. If they want to get physical, space them out. If they want to sit low in a block, make it hard for them to get and stay organized by playing fast and direct, especially in moments of transition.
I think Ez Abde is an instructive tale on the night.
He looked quite sloppy, but still probably the most dangerous Barça player. What I like about Abde is that he doesn’t overthink and isn’t afraid to take risks. What he lacks in decision-making can be fixed with experience. He’ll do better in a 4-3-3 where he can play wide and run at defenders. I’d love to see Lamine Yamal doing the same thing on the other side.
For now, Xavi would do well to take the blame and know there is plenty he can control in order to beat a team like Getafe.
This is La Liga. Many teams play like this, and the referees are predictably unpredictable. But Barcelona need to be above the fray by playing good football.
On opening night, they simply did not.