Luis Enrique’s Barça lost top spot of La Liga tonight after slipping to a disappointing 0-1 defeat to Eduardo Berizzo’s Celta at Camp Nou. Luis Suarez gave a promising performance in his first home league game for the club but Barça were denied four times by the crossbar and Joaquin Larrivey’s 55th minute goal earned all three points for the visitors.
It shouldn’t be ignored that Barça created about a dozen decent chances on the night, and besides the crossbar the Celta keeper Sergio Alvarez made a string of saves to deny Suarez, Messi and Neymar. The trio of Barça forwards were all lively throughout though perhaps their individual actions were better than their combinations. Despite the chances it can’t be said that Barça played well apart from the opening spell and the fifteen minutes before half-time.
The problem tonight was mainly in the midfield. Rafinha began well against his ex-team-mates but was fading by the time he was subbed off halfway through the second half. Rakitic lacked ambition with the pass and was pretty irrelevant, while Busquets’s form continues to slide and he is currently a long way from his best which meant Celta’s transition from defence to attack was facilitated.
As expected Suarez began on the right of attack and some early touches demonstrated his undoubted class. He may need to learn that high crosses gain little reward in this Barça team as his first couple of centres went over everybody. However, from the second cross Rafinha collected the ball on the left and pulled the ball back to Neymar who curled a fine shot from 25 yards that came out of the bar.
The first danger from Celta came after 16 minutes when Mascherano was forced into fouling the lively Nolito on the edge of the area, but the ex-Barça man curled his free-kick over the bar. The Celta attacks became more frequent which resulted in a series of corners for the visitors and Bravo needed to be alert from one to stop Pablo Hernández’s header.
Messi was having an on-and-off game but he reminded everybody he is only a goal away from Telmo Zarra’s record with three chances in five minutes. On the half hour the Argentinian went on a run infield from the right and sent the ball out to Neymar who crossed low and Messi met the ball first time with a blistering shot but Alvarez sprang brilliantly to his right to make the save of the night. Two minutes later Neymar tried to dribble through the middle, and when a defender got a foot in Messi was following up to take the ball into the area and clip the ball past Alvarez but Jonny was sliding back to divert the ball against the bar. Soon after, Suarez showed good off-the-ball movement to receive on the left and send in a magnificent cross that Messi sent high with a disappointing header.
Barça ended the half well with Suarez working himself space for his first shot though Alvarez dived and held on. Then a long ball from Mathieu hit the referee on the way through to Neymar who had to change course but still got into the area only to be thwarted by another excellent save from the Celta keeper.
Barça should have taken the lead early in the second half, and it’s fair to say it would have been deserved at this point of the game, but from seven yards out Neymar fired Alba’s cross against the bar after Messi spotted the left back’s late run forward. The killer punch was lacking and Celta threatened to punish Barça in the 53rd minute but Mathieu made a good block on Hernandez. Then two minutes later Alvarez sent a long kick down the middle, Larrivey at 1.86m unsurprisingly beat Mascherano in the air, Alves was covering but he made a less than convincing move for the ball, Busquets was also hesitant which allowed Nolito to gain possession and send a devastating back-heel between Alves and Mathieu to Larrivey who swept the ball low past Bravo from 14 yards.
As at the Bernabéu Barça played worse after going behind. It took ten minutes before the first chance to equalize but Alvarez was alert to save with his foot to stop a sneaky effort from Messi. Immediately after Luis Enrique brought on Xavi and Pedro for Busquets and Rafinha and Barça switched to 3-4-3 with Alves, Mathieu and Alba at the back, Mascherano and Messi as the defensive and attacking points of a diamond midfield with Xavi and Rakitic, Pedro went wide on the right of attack with Suarez at centre-forward and Neymar on the left.
Barça did create some chances in this final 25 minutes but the team lacked order and could have been punished more. Bravo had to save from Nolito, with substitute Charles heading a difficult rebound over an open goal, and then again after another shot from the Celta sub. Barça’s chances were varied, a weak header from Suarez straight at the keeper, two free-kicks from Messi, the second of which clipped the top of the bar, and a disappointing Pedro drive high. The best attempt came from Suarez with a powerful shot in the 84th minute but Alvarez was again equal to it with a fabulous save. Two minutes later Suarez made a promising run into the box but instead of shooting he tried to pass the ball back to Neymar which gave the defence the chance to intervene.
There is definitely work to be done by Luis Enrique. The midfield seemed to get by-passed today, by both teams, and he will have to decide if the idea of getting the ball quickly to the forwards is such a good plan. However, the defeat can also be blamed on individual players: Busquets seems in serious need of a rest to sort out his hip problem as he just doesn’t seem as mobile, and together with Alves he was most at fault with the goal. Both full-backs were disappointing with little effect in attack while Rakitic contribution in attack was limited to just one decent cross and one wayward shot. Finally, despite some promising moments from the front three none of them managed to find the net and Barça have still not won a point with them together. My immediate impression of Suarez is that I want to see more but there is the underlying sensation that the magic trio may not be the answer to all our problems. With Alexis thrilling fans at the Emirates the feeling that the money might have been spent better elsewhere will linger on.
Barça: Bravo 6.5; Alves 4.5, Mascherano 7, Mathieu 6.5, Alba 5; Rakitic 5, Busquets 4.5 (Pedro m65, 5.5), Rafinha 6 (Xavi m65, 5.5); Luis Suarez 7, Messi 6, Neymar 6.
Celta: Sergio Alvarez; Hugo Mallo, Cabral, Sergi Gómez, Jonny; Krohn-Dehli, Radoja, Pablo Hernández (Borja Fernández m69); Orellana, Larrivey (Charles m76), Nolito (Madinda m88).
Goal: m55 Larrivey 0-1
Yellow cards: m13 P.Hernández, m73 Sergi Gomez, m93 Pedro.