MESTALLA, Valencia — It seemed like Luis Enrique was doing everything he could to avoid becoming the Barcelona manager with the longest unbeaten streak in the club's history.
Understandably, considering the second leg of his side's Copa del Rey semi-final clash against Valencia on Wednesday was a dead rubber, he left his first XI at home.
But even beyond that, during his side's eventual 1-1 draw at Mestalla, 8-1 to Barcelona on aggregate, the coach showed he wasn't particularly fussed about the game or beating Pep Guardiola's previous run of 28 games without defeat.
He allowed assistant Juan Carlos Unzue to run things in the technical area, claiming afterward he wanted to rest his voice. He brought on Douglas, more a laughing stock than a footballer, as well as two youth players, in place of more experienced heads such as Ivan Rakitic and Adriano.
But in the end, his three substitutes, Douglas, Juan Camara and Wilfrid Kaptoum combined to good effect, with the latter firing home to deny Gary Neville's Valencia victory and make it 29 without tumbling for the Catalans.
As Neville pointed out in his post-match press conference, per the Daily Mail, his side deserved to win the game, but just couldn't get the second goal to seal it, after Alvaro Negredo's opener.
Kaptoum's equaliser disguised a relatively poor Barcelona performance, although as made clear by the coach's attitude, this was a game to play and then forget about.
With Valencia fans choosing to stay away in their droves, the match had an eerie atmosphere to it, closer to a training game than a cup semi-final.
That's not how his starting lineup should have taken it, though. Ivan Rakitic apart, the other 10 men who lined up all have something to prove to Luis Enrique, and few of them managed it.
The coach tried out a 3-5-2 formation, with Jeremy Mathieu, Marc Bartra and Thomas Vermaelen at the back, Sergi Samper and Sergi Roberto in front of them, Aleix Vidal and Adriano on the right and left respectively and Rakitic as a No. 10 behind Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez.
The Croatian's position later changed into that of a false nine, with the midfielder popping up in the box with frequency.
Sport's Lluis Mascaro was not impressed with what he saw, saying Barcelona's substitutes aren't good enough to be substitutes, writing:
These substitutes, from Adriano to Mathieu through to Sandro and Munir, had a chance to prove themselves. But they did not take advantage of that chance. Maybe they feel so much like substitutes to the stars, they've thrown in the towel already. They've given up to the team's cracks. They're happy to be, best case, on the bench. And that's sad. Very sad. Because Barcelona need good substitutes. Because sometimes the starters get injured. Or banned. Or ill. Or, simply, they mess up. But these substitutes don't serve for anything - not even to be substitutes.
The display proved the coach was right to ask for reinforcements in January, as Ed Malyon of the Daily Mirror reported, even though the club's financial situation meant they were not forthcoming.
Somebody like Nolito would have offered a lot more in attack than either Sandro or Munir did on Wednesday, although the latter did cause some Valencia some problems with his dribbling.
Mathieu and Bartra were shaky at the back, with only Vermaelen offering anything positive. Aleix did a reasonable job of getting up the wing but didn’t create anything of note.
On Sunday, against Celta Vigo, Barcelona will bring back most if not every single one of the players who sat out this game. The step-up in quality will be easy to note.
They have it in them to go on and win the treble again—but only if they manage to steer clear of injuries to players in key positions because they cannot have complete faith in their reserves.
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