What the fuck! What was that? Barça, who began the day just a point behind league leaders Real Madrid, gave a horrendous performance in losing 1-0 to Valladolid, a team in the relegation zone with just four previous league victories this season. If Real Madrid beat Levante tomorrow they will move four points clear of Barça while Atlético could move into second place with a win at Celta tonight.
It might be said that this defeat began in Tata Martino’s press conference yesterday. The coach was visibly irritated by the questions from the press about his intentions to continue next season. Whether or not there is any truth in the suggestion that Martino doesn’t want to stay on, the lack of enthusiasm shown by his team today indicates a clear failure to motivate. On the other hand if Barça put in any more performances as poor as this it is unlikely anyone will want Martino in the job anyway.
It can’t be said that the Argentinian coach took Valladolid lightly, starting with his strongest available team with just Alexis of the team’s big stars starting on the bench. The team began in typical style, immediately taking control of possession, but failing to find any way past Valladolid’s basic flat 4-4-2 formation. The problems began when Barça started to lose the ball, through sloppiness and Valladolid’s tight marking. In the fifth minute Xavi gave a poor ball to Busquets which was robbed and after a quick lob over the top Javi Guerra fired a shot straight at Valdés.
Did it serve as a warning? Did it hell. Valladolid showed far more desire to win 50/50 balls and they soon won a series of corners. From the first, Barça broke away quickly with a tremendous run from Messi which ended with a powerful shot that Valladolid keeper Mariño palmed over the bar. However, this was just about the only moment of quality from Barça in the entire game. From the third corner, in the 17th minute, Barça only half cleared the ball and Fausto Rossi was allowed to shoot from 25 yards, the ball hit Mascherano and bounced straight to Guerra whose shot deflected off Adriano and back into the path of Rossi who swept the ball past Valdés from ten yards.
There was a touch of bad luck about the goal but it certainly wasn’t out of the blue. Barça now had 73 minutes to put things right but it is sad to report that the reaction was minimal. Granted, there was one good Messi pass to send Neymar clear and Barça were unlucky the linesman incorrectly raised his flag. However, in the remainder of the first half there was only one brief decent spell between the 30th and 35th minute but Neymar blazed over from 25 yards and Messi twice, and Fabregas once, sent shots straight at the always-well-positioned Mariño.
The first half ended with Xavi and Piqué arguing with the referee Hernández Hernández as the teams left the pitch but the big question was whether Barça could wake up to the fact that La Liga was slipping away. There was a brief reaction at the start of the second half with Adriano shooting wide from 25 yards and then a sprint into the area from Messi ended with an angled right-foot shot which Mariño saved with an outstretched left boot. Fabregas fired a snap-shot well wide, then in the 57th minute Fabregas found Messi who touched the ball on for Neymar who was in a perfect position to score but the Brazilian was leaning back and sent the ball well over the bar.
A word here on Neymar because I haven’t been so disappointed by a player since Thierry Henry’s first season under Frank Rijkaard. It’s all very well scoring a hat-trick with Brazil but his last three Barça games against Real Sociedad, Almeria and Valladolid have been poor, poor and poor. I don’t know if he has been affected by all the controversy surrounding his signing, and I recognise his talent and our need to be patient with him, but his finishing has been dreadful recently while his attempts to get past defenders today all came to nothing.
Perhaps he is just suffering from a general malaise that has infected the whole squad as the entire team looked jaded and in many ways the performance was reminiscent of that final season under Rijkaard. The final 30 minutes today were the worst of all as Barça failed to create another decent chance. Martino finally called for Alexis but instead of taking off Neymar the coach chose to remove Fabregas who at least had shown some spirit. Messi moved further from the danger zone but the result was that the team looked more disorganised.
Martino’s second substitution, Sergi Roberto for Piqué, helped even less. There was no switch to a defence of three as Busquets dropped back alongside Mascherano while Xavi took Busquets’ role. Even more disorganisation followed and despite Neymar finally getting pulled off in the 73rd minute there was little Tello could do to change the course of the game. Valladolid’s substitutes Rama and Oscar nearly added to Barça’s humiliation near the end when the first made a good run into the area but the latter fired just over from 12 yards.
Besides the talented Javi Guerra there really is nothing special about Valladolid apart from a group of players with a desire to survive the drop who believed in their chances against an uninspired Barça. There is serious concern after this afternoon’s game. There were rumours after the Real Sociedad defeat that Martino had “lost the dressing-room”, for his unexpected changes in that game, and while it is rarely as black and white with the amount of respect a coach has from his players, today’s performance suggests the worst while Martino’s irritation with the press yesterday might be explained if he has problems with the players.
In a week in which Carles Puyol announced his decision to leave the club in June it was very sad to see a Barça performance so lacking in Puyol’s commitment to the cause. For fuck’s sake, this morning we were still in with a decent shot at the league this season, one point behind hated rivals Real Madrid. You can understand Valladolid’s motivation as relegation is a massive threat, but didn’t Barça have reasons to be motivated? Martino has said after the game that the defeat was not due to a lack of commitment but to a lack of ideas. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold true if you look at the disputed tackles in the game or at Valladolid’s five yellow cards to Barça’s one (Piqué for handball). Commitment and desire also lead to better concentration, which leads to better and quicker movement of the ball, which leads to opening spaces, which this afternoon we failed to do. Poor concentration, on the other hand, leads to sloppy passing and failed dribbles which we saw too much of today. If the team believe they can just go through the motions we will end the season with nothing.
Valladolid: Mariño; Rukavina, Jesus Rueda, Mitrovic, Peña; Rossi, Alvaro Rubio, Marc Valiente (Sastre m58), Bergdich (Rama m72); Manuche (Oscar m65), Javi Guerra.
Barça: Valdés 6; Alves 5, Piqué 5.5 (Sergi Roberto m72, 5), Mascherano 5.5, Adriano 5; Xavi 5, Busquets 5, Fabregas 5.5 (Alexis m61, 5); Pedro 5.5, Messi 5.5, Neymar 4 (Tello m73, 5.5).
Goal: m17 Rossi 1-0.
Yellow cards: m46 Bergdich, m52 Rossi, m65 Piqué, m75 Peña, m82 Rubio, m91 Sastre.