Luis Enrique Wrong to Bench Lionel Messi and Neymar in Real Sociedad Shambles

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2015

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - JANUARY 04:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on prior to the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and FC Barcelona at Estadio Anoeta on January 4, 2015 in San Sebastian, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

"After seeing the result I do not know if I would take the same decision," said Luis Enrique after seeing Barcelona tumble to a 1-0 defeat by Real Sociedad, when asked about his decision to bench Neymar and Lionel Messi.

Well here's a piece of advice, Luis. Don't.

There was nothing good about the idea, and that's not spoken based on hindsight. Not playing your two best players is not something that a manager should need to learn is a bad strategy.

Particularly when you're playing at a ground that's notoriously hard to win on. A ground that both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have been beaten on this season. A ground where Barcelona have not won in the league since the era of Frank Rijkaard.

Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

Pep Guardiola, the greatest manager in Barcelona's history, couldn't win there on two occasions, despite taking the lead both times.

The ideal time to bench your two best players does not come hours after the league leaders have dropped points away at Valencia, giving you the chance to take control of the league and move to the top.

If Barcelona had won after Madrid's Mestalla nightmare, they would be two points clear, and even though Madrid would have a game in hand, Enrique's team would control their own destiny. If they won the rest of their matches, they would be champions.

There is the argument that Messi, Neymar and Dani Alves, another player benched, needed to be rested after their Christmas holidays, from which they were allowed to return later than other members of the squad.

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - JANUARY 04:  Head coach David Moyes of Real Sociedad shakes hands with Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona at the end of the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and FC Barcelona at Estadio Anoeta on January 4, 2015 in San Sebasti
David Ramos/Getty Images

That's partly due to the fact that traveling to and from South America is time-consuming.

However, the purpose of these holidays is for players to rest and recover. Not to come back tired and unable to start the next game.

Enrique may say that Messi and Neymar will benefit from the extra rest later in the season, but then if that's what you're going for, why include them on the bench?

In fact, with only a Copa del Rey game on Thursday night to look forward to before next weekend, why not let them stay away even longer?

If Messi and Neymar weren't ready to play, they shouldn't have been included in the squad. The team looked turgid without them in the first half and not a great deal better with them in the second.

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - JANUARY 04:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on  frpm the bench during the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and FC Barcelona at Estadio Anoeta on January 4, 2015 in San Sebastian, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty
David Ramos/Getty Images

Luis Suarez performs in fits and starts at the moment and in this match offered little to the team. Munir El Haddadi looked lost, and the Pedro who had been in fine form in December did not seem to be the same one who played against Real Sociedad. 

There's no harm in resting your two best players in a game which you are comfortable favourites to win, but to do it at Anoeta is a horror decision.

As it is, Enrique has the worst of all worlds. He has the defeat and the criticism that goes with it. He may have annoyed his two star players, who probably don't appreciate sitting on the bench. He hasn't even rested them, after being forced to call upon the pair to try and knock down David Moyes' brick wall. 

Messi and Neymar being benched is obviously the most eye-catching part of the mess that was served up to Barcelona fans on Sunday night, but take a closer look and there's more texture.

There was Gerard Pique being dropped, despite finally coming into some good form. That didn't work out because Jeremy Mathieu had a shocking game and was substituted to prevent him getting a red card.

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - JANUARY 04:  Head coach Luis Enrique of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and FC Barcelona at Estadio Anoeta on January 4, 2015 in San Sebastian, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Image
David Ramos/Getty Images

Then there was the decision to play Martin Montoya instead of Alves. There's nothing wrong with that in principle, but it likely signifies that Enrique has changed his mind about a player who was kept firmly out of his plans for several months.

Again, there's no problem with Enrique being big enough to change his mind, but there's the distinct feeling that he doesn't know what his best team is and what tactics he needs to use.

The likes of Ivan Rakitic and Rafinha may be able to add something different to the midfield, but the constant rotation of players hasn't helped anyone.

Most Barcelona supporters hoped that he would firm up his thoughts over the Christmas period and take on the challenges that come with renewed vigour. Instead, Barcelona only seem even more confused.

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