Two steps forward, one step back
Barcelona went into Saturday’s match after wins over Levante and Real Sociedad that had propelled them into fifth place and suggested the title might not be beyond them this season.
Yet the draw to Valencia means Barca drop points for the seventh time this season and are now eight points behind leaders Atletico Madrid who also have a game in hand on Ronald Koeman’s men.
It’s a case of two steps forward, one step back for Barca with the same old problems continuing to crop up, but at the moment the team don’t seem to be getting very far under the new coach.
Messi equals Pele
One of the few positives from Saturday’s match was Lionel Messi equalling Pele’s record for the most goals scored for a single club. It’s been coming for a while but the captain finally notched goal No. 643 for Barca by bundling home a deflected cross after seeing a penalty saved.
It’s Messi’s sixth La Liga goal of a curious season for Barca. The 33-year-old looked well short of his best form once again but still looked the man most likely to make the difference at the Camp Nou.
Messi’s next goal will see him move past Pele and claim yet another historic record as his own. The captain has two more chances to do it in 2020 with Real Valladolid and Elche up next in La Liga.
Barca still can’t defend corners
Barcelona dominated the early stages of the game but went behind from yet another set-piece after Mouctar Diakhaby lost Antoine Griezmann and had the simple task of heading home completely unmarked.
Defending corners and set-pieces has been a weakness for some time at Barcelona, but it’s definitely becoming a theme of the current campaign under Koeman.
4 - No other team has conceded more goals from corners than Barcelona in LaLiga this season (four, level with Huesca). Surprised.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 19, 2020
Three of the last five goals Barca have conceded in La Liga have now come from corners (against Cadiz, Real Sociedad and now Valencia), and Koeman admitted it was a problem after the match.
“We have to know how many tall plays we have to defend against tall players. He [Diakhaby] was all alone when he jumped up to score. We have to defend better and mark our opponents more. We’re smaller than most teams and we have problems at set pieces.”
There’s no doubt that opponents will be looking to exploit Barca’s obvious weakness at set-pieces, and it’s something Koeman and the team need to address pretty quickly.
Coutinho adds nothing
Philippe Coutinho was back in the starting XI yet again on Saturday and once again contributed very little and simply offered further proof (if any were needed) that a line-up including the Brazilian, Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann simply doesn’t work.
The 28-year-old did look bright at the start of the campaign but hasn’t managed to recapture his early-season form after coming back from injury. Indeed on this form it’s difficult to see quite why Koeman deems him worthy of a place in his starting XI.
The Dutch coach even left Coutinho on until the 78th minute before finally deciding to replace the Brazilian with the scores still tied at 2-2. Koeman then proceeded to bring on Clement Lenglet in another baffling substitution.
Pressure back on Koeman
All of which means that Saturday’s result puts the pressure back on Koeman as Barca’s poor start to the season continues and hopes of a title challenge fade.
The simple facts are that the Dutch coach is failing to get the best out of his players and a return of 21 points from 13 games in La Liga is just not good enough.
Koeman’s system continues to leave too much space in midfield, and his stubborn refusal to offer Miralem Pjanic or Riqui Puig more playing time makes little sense.
The Barca boss will know as well as anyone that patience will be in short supply if results don’t improve quickly, particularly with elections set to take place in just over a month.