Barcelona vs. Almeria: 6 Things We Learned

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IMarch 2, 2014

Barcelona vs. Almeria: 6 Things We Learned

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    Lionel Messi's free kick was simply irresistible.
    Lionel Messi's free kick was simply irresistible.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Barcelona went into Sunday's game against Almeria looking for a win to keep them in title contention.

    An insipid performance against Real Sociedad last time out forced Tata Martino to admit he had made one rotation too many. Barca had only themselves to blame.

    The visitors went into this match having not scored in eight of the last 11 matches between the sides, stretching back seven years.

    Two draws and nine losses tells it's own story, and it would take a monumental effort from Francisco Rodriguez's side to confound the critics and see Almerica leave Camp Nou with the three points.

    Let's take a look at six things we learned from the game.

More Set-Piece Woes

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    Victor Valdes was at fault for Almeria's opener.
    Victor Valdes was at fault for Almeria's opener.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Victor Valdes caught in no man's land. Carles Puyol horribly misreading the flight of the ball. Cesc Fabregas ball-watching.

    All of the above equal yet another simple set-piece goal from the opposition.

    Such schoolboy defending is genuinely threatening to derail Barca’s season, and the Blaugrana will come up against far more able exponents of the set piece than Almeria before season's end.

    It’s just not funny anymore.

Almeria Too Compact in the Early Stages

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    Almeria allowed Barca far too much space down the flanks.
    Almeria allowed Barca far too much space down the flanks.Getty Images/Getty Images

    Barcelona identified Almeria’s weakness almost immediately.

    Far too narrow and compact, the away side virtually invited Barca to raid the flanks at every given opportunity.

    Even before Alexis Sanchez’s opener, Dani Alves had opened up the right channel on at least three occasions.

    Neymar garnered similar success on the opposite side and should really have done much, much better when put clean through by Xavi Hernandez on 12 minutes.

Alexis Sanchez: The Complete Centre-Forward

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    Alexis Sanchez continues to impress.
    Alexis Sanchez continues to impress.Getty Images/Getty Images

    Top scorer Alexis Sanchez showed once again why he deserves to be a permanent fixture in this Barcelona line-up.

    Despite starting on the wing, the Chilean showed enough to warrant a move inside to more central areas.

    A poacher’s goal was a single facet to his battling, all-round performance, and an inventive back-header to set up Messi in the first half was a sign of the confidence with which Sanchez is plying his trade at the moment.

    It wasn’t so long ago that supporters were calling for Barcelona to dispense with his services.

    Thank goodness their cries were ignored.

Almeria Can Be Proud of Their Performance

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    Almeria's work rate and application are deserving of the plaudits that will come their way.
    Almeria's work rate and application are deserving of the plaudits that will come their way.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    They might have lost the game, but Almeria won many friends after this performance.

    Combative, hard-working and positive, it was refreshing to see an away side arrive at Camp Nou determined to impose their own style on proceedings.

    Even allowing for their weakness in allowing Barca to pepper their box with crosses from both sides, the away team had more than enough about them to cause a massive upset.

    Jonathan Zongo in particular was full of running, and he provided a constant outlet for his under-pressure defence.

    A continued high level of application in their remaining games will surely see Almeria retain their La Liga status for another season.

6 in 6 for Messi but Still Room for Improvement

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    Messi scored a wonderful free-kick, but he didn't really affect the game otherwise.
    Messi scored a wonderful free-kick, but he didn't really affect the game otherwise.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Supporters pay to be entertained, and you can normally rely on Lionel Messi to provide the goods.

    His sublime free-kick gave him his sixth goal in as many games since coming back from injury and had the Camp Nou masses on their feet.

    Yet there is still a sense that the Argentine is holding something back in his general play.

    The explosive pace is still missing, and his passing is laboured at times.

    There is also a noticeable lack of tracking back, which has been as much his hallmark as his attacking prowess.

    Could it be that he is putting country before club with an eye on arriving at the World Cup in the best possible shape?

Tata's Rotation Hurting Barca?

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    Tata Martino was forced to watch from the stands.
    Tata Martino was forced to watch from the stands.David Ramos/Getty Images

    Are Barca fans expecting too much?

    Just a handful of defeats all season would appear to be a fine appreciation of Tata Martino's rotation policy.

    However, the consistency in Barca's play is not there. A team replete with such an array of stars are just not dominating games in the manner that it is used to.

    The early part of the second half was especially poor from Barca's point of view.

    At this level, one could argue that the wider squad should be able to dovetail together without any problem at all, but you don't see other successful sides making half a dozen changes week in and week out.

    Isn't it about time Tata stopped tinkering?