Tata Martino's Lack of a Plan B Cost Barcelona the Match

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IJanuary 19, 2014

FC Barcelona's coach Gerardo
Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Barcelona came into the match against Levante looking to replicate their scintillating performance from the opening day of the La Liga season.

An emphatic 7-0 win on that occasion was a just reward for Barca’s astonishing superiority—they were almost perfect.

How, then, do you set about explaining Sunday night’s performance? These 90 minutes were so shambolic as to have you believe you were watching a completely different outfit from that which took the field in the first meeting.

Barca boss Tata Martino felt the ball did not run for his side, while he also lamented their lack of spark in front of goal.

"The result isn’t what we came here for nor was it what we deserved. We were not fortunate in front of goal," Martino said, according to Barcelona's official website. That, though, is an unfair assessment on Levante.

Levante hadn’t beaten their more esteemed visitors since 1964, but they almost managed the impossible after a sterling defensive effort.

Nothing went right for Lionel Messi and Co. tonight.
Nothing went right for Lionel Messi and Co. tonight.Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Worryingly, Martino could not find any answers to the problems cropping up all over the pitch in a performance that deserved to see Barca ousted from the top of the table. It was a collective disaster.

Much of Barca’s best work comes through the middle of the park, and it was obvious to anyone with even just a passing interest in football that the home side would flood the midfield to stifle Xavi Hernandez’s creativity.

Levante’s defence were on point for the most part, and this solid base allowed them to build. There was simply no space in between the lines for Xavi, Cesc Fabregas or Messi to go about their work.

It really wasn’t too much of a surprise when Vyntra headed the home side ahead on 10 minutes. Yet again, Barca conceded from a simple set piece, allowing Vyntra to rise unmarked and send the crowd into rapture.

Gerard Pique was far too lax in his effort to clear the danger, leaving Cesc to attempt a nonexistent challenge on someone considerably taller than himself.

That one of the home team's best headers of the ball would be tracked on a set play by a diminutive midfielder is inexplicable and inexcusable. In fact, it’s downright amateurish.

It’s a common theme as far as Barcelona and set plays are concerned, however.

That Pique redeemed himself just eight minutes later with a carbon copy of Vyntra’s goal only served to paper over the cracks of a dismal 90 minutes.

Gerard Pique was again to blame for Barca conceding from a set piece.
Gerard Pique was again to blame for Barca conceding from a set piece.Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Levante were compact in the middle but often left a lot of space down the flanks, yet neither Pedro Rodriguez nor Alexis Sanchez could take advantage of the space presented to them.

Even Messi was off colour. We are so used to seeing Barca’s highwayman coolly riding into town and leaving with swag, but it was not to be this time.

Martino needed to inject something slightly different to give his side a little more urgency. They were in danger of becoming labored and predictable in the game.

A 74-percent possession statistic across the 90 minutes (via WhoScored.com) is as good as Barca have produced all season, but this was not the night to be playing pretty football.

Too many times before, we have seen teams “park the bus,” and Barca must do more to counteract this counterproductive style of football.

Martino has long been lauded as being a man with solutions, a manager who isn’t tied to one particular style, a forward thinker and a pragmatist.

Well, he had no answers against a hardworking Levante side who were prepared to leave all 10 outfield players in their box at times to repel any onslaught.

It was ugly but entirely predictable, so would anyone care to explain why such a supposedly studious coach like Martino had nothing up his sleeve?

We'll see what lessons the Argentine has learned when these two meet again on Wednesday in the Copa Del Rey.


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