The Catalans lost their second game in a row to drop to third place in La Liga and, more worryingly, were unable to win a match they dominated from the outset
The honeymoon period is well and truly over for Luis Enrique. Life as Barcelona boss had started so well for the 44-year-old, but defeat in the Clasico last weekend followed by this latest loss at home to Celta Vigo means alarm bells are already ringing for the Asturian coach.
After conceding their first goals in La Liga at the Santiago Bernabeu in last weekend’s 3-1 reverse, Barca looked likely to bounce back on Saturday and the Catalans created chances aplenty to win this game. Instead, however, they lost it – and they only have themselves to blame.
Luis Suarez worked well on his home debut and popped up on both flanks, setting up Lionel Messi for one opportunity and seeing a second-half shot superbly saved by Sergio Alvarez. But the Uruguayan looked over-eager to impress at times and too desperate to score. He needs a goal, but it failed to arrive.
Neymar’s decision-making also hindered Barca and the Brazilian – twice on target in this fixture last season – was guilty of some poor passing late in the game, as well as wasting a wonderful chance as he shot wildly against the crossbar from close range.
Messi came closer still. The Argentine attacker saw one effort miraculously cleared – via the bar – by Jonny and watched in frustration as Sergio somehow saved another shot that had looked destined for the top corner. Chasing Telmo Zarra’s Liga goalscoring mark of 251 goals, the 27-year-old is still stuck on 250 and his influence decreased as he dropped deeper in the second half.
He had to. Because Barca’s midfield – their strongest sector in recent years – has struggled this term and was found wanting again on Saturday. Ivan Rakitic hasn’t been the same since the defeat at Paris Saint-Germain in late September, while Rafinha is far from the player who shone under Luis Enrique at Celta last season, Sergio Busquets is still struggling to find form and Andres Iniesta is injured.
The defence hardly helped here, either. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba were wasteful in possession and Barca missed the distribution of Gerard Pique, who was left out of the squad altogether and watched the game alongside his old central defensive partner Carles Puyol and the injured Thomas Vermaelen in the directors’ box.
Lacking the service they usually receive, Barcelona’s forwards eventually lost their way and Luis Enrique sent on Xavi and Pedro to try and rescue the game after Joaquin Larrivey had given Celta the lead. But how he would have liked to have been able to count on either Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, both sold in the summer and on fine form in the Premier League earlier on Saturday
As it was, the changes made little difference and Messi was restricted to free-kicks late in the game. Lacking help from his middle men, the Argentine cannot do it all alone.
“I’m not concerned,” Luis Enrique said. “I’m just angry.” And sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta backed the man he hired from Celta in the summer. “There are no doubts about the manager,” he said. “We have to congratulate Celta.”
It was hardly a vote of confidence, however, and the wisest words came – as they invariably do – from Javier Mascherano. “We weren’t comfortable all night and we weren’t able to play our normal game. That’s worrying,” he said.
Barca fans can only hope their coach was paying attention.