Barcelona vs. Espanyol: 6 Things We Learned
The “Periquitos” arrived looking to not only win their first match here since 2008/09 but also score their first goal in five years.
Barca, meanwhile, were looking to preserve Tata Martino’s unbeaten start as we enter November.
It was always going to be an uphill struggle for the visitors, especially when you take into account Barca’s current form and goals-to-games ratio.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from the match.
Expansive Barca, Narrow Espanyol
There was quite a marked and noticeable contrast between the two sides in terms of their setup.
With the cross-field diagonal again in full effect from Barca, they worked the channels at every opportunity.
Espanyol, with their tight 4-5-1, kept things central and, at times, none of their players were wider than the width of the penalty area.
It gave Barca no room whatsoever to go about their work and made for a frustrating night for Tata Martino's men.
Montoya as Left-Back
You couldn't say that Martin Montoya staked a claim for a more permanent residency on the left side of defence Friday night.
Although he got forward on a good few occasions, his presence was on the periphery rather than decisive in an attacking sense. There was certainly no synergy with the raiding Dani Alves on the right.
Montoya looked awkward in the role, always looking to shift to the right foot at every opportunity.
He may only be a stop-gap solution there; however, it seems fairly clear that Tata Martino does not fancy him on the right, so this was his chance to give the manager some food for thought.
That he didn't do so probably sees him spinning toward the Camp Nou exit door in double quick time.
Espanyol Fearful of Expressing Themselves at Camp Nou?
Are Espanyol beaten even before they step onto the Camp Nou pitch? There certainly seems to be an inferiority complex whenever they play Barca.
We see clubs go years without being able to win at a particular rival, often with no apparent reason.
Javier Aguirre’s men dispatched Atletico Madrid 1-0—the only team to defeat Diego Simeone’s side this season—which suggests that there is more to his side than that which was shown by them Friday night.
A contentment to sit back and soak up the pressure and rarely attack smacks of a side short on confidence. To win against Barca you have to be brave and trust in your ability.
Perhaps, only the returning Victor Sanchez can hold his head high in this regard.
With only two wins for the visitors in the last 32 years, Aguirre would do well to explain his negativity…
Barca's Final Ball
Have you ever seen a Barca game where so many of Barca's final balls were so poor? It was atrocious at times, Alves the chief culprit with at least three wayward deliveries.
There were glimpses of some aesthetically pleasing build-up play in the first half but come the killer pass...nothing.
No one was immune either. Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi—they were all at it. Certainly not something we are used to at Barca.
Neymar should be spared purely on the basis of his sublime double nutmeg to set up Alexis Sanchez's opener.
Is Lionel Messi Fit?
Even if you take into account that Lionel Messi is returning from injury and is therefore building up his fitness, the interplay we saw from him Friday night just wasn't the Messi of old.
There was no zip about his game in general terms, and, perhaps, we should attribute this to the close marking of the Espanyol defence.
You could almost sense that the player himself didn't want to overstretch himself, and the best evidence of this was in the final minute as Cesc Fabregas' pass released him on goal, only for his acceleration to desert him.
Is there any argument to use him more sparingly for a handful more games?
Did the Pique/Mascherano Pairing Work?
On the evidence of Friday night's game, you would be fair in your critique if you were to suggest that a Gerard Pique-Javier Mascherano centre-back duo is not the right marriage moving forward.
The Argentine was especially nervous, almost gifting Victor Sanchez a first-half goal. There were other occasions when just a little pressure applied by the visitors saw momentary lapses at the back.
Against more incisive attacking sides, goals will be had.
Pique moved forward with ease during the game, and his distribution was generally good; however, he, too, suffered from not paying the requisite attention.
That area of the pitch is crying out for the calming presence of a leader. Carles Puyol's return to full fitness can't come quickly enough.