An impeccably observed minute’s silence for Tito Vilanova had added a sombre tone to proceedings; however, Barca’s sharp and incisive start lifted the mood immediately.
A tight little ground where fans are right up close, El Madrigal is an intimidating place to visit at the best of times, but Barca’s recent record there is good, having not lost for six years, per Fussball Wettpoint.
Villarreal were noticeably compact from the beginning, adopting many of the same tactics as other teams have utilized against the Blaugrana recently. Denying space became an all-too-familiar theme.
At least Lionel Messi seemed much more at home cutting in from the right side and was busy throughout the opening exchanges.
Noticeably as the half wore on, however, Barca’s sharpness began to be replaced by lethargy and predictability.
Tata Martino was conspicuous by his absence on the touchline and has perhaps already accepted that his own employment will be away from Catalonia in just a few games' time.
Certainly you would expect urgency and direction from a manager when his team is lacking creativity and application in most departments.
That it was not forthcoming appeared to reflect on his underperforming stars.
It was no surprise when Cani opened the scoring just before half-time, with Barca’s back four at sixes and sevens again.
Martino has done nothing to address the concerns that Barca have in defence, and once Manu Trigueros had added a second for the home side the other side of the break, La Liga title heartbreak was staring the Blaugrana in the face.
Tata’s reaction? There wasn’t one.
Folded arms, he was glued to the bench. A game, and a season, drifting into oblivion and a manager who can’t be bothered. It’s simply not good enough.
Proceedings were enlivened with Gabriel Paulista’s and Mateo Musacchio’s own goals, and Messi’s calm finish after some great work by Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas saw a complete turnaround in just 18 second-half minutes.
The Yellow Submarine were sunk.
But it doesn't disguise the problems that continue to trouble the Blaugrana.
A team that has gone from the pinnacle of world football to almost ordinary in just a few short years is in urgent need of an "MOT." It's not the Barca we know.
A complete overhaul is unnecessary, but more than a cursory look under the bonnet is required.
A few component parts need to be exchanged, and a new driver is definitely required if the Catalans want to find their identity again.
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