When times are good and the club is winning, few question a manager’s decisions. For a club like Barcelona, rarely does the entire squad suffer from a dip in form and fail to get results in multiple matches at a time. However, due to the high demand for success and an expectation that every game will be a victory, criticism comes swiftly when the team struggles. Against Celta de Vigo, Luis Enrique’s former club, the manager warned that they would face adversity and need to be at their best to overcome their opponent on the road.
Luis Enrique’s premonition of a difficult match came to fruition, particularly in the first half. In just one ten-minute stretch, Barcelona came unraveled and the Galicians capitalized. After 22 minutes of lackluster football, it was the Dane, Pione Sisto, coming down the right wing after a Sergio Busquets turnover and slotting the ball past the goalkeeper low and hard. Whether Jordi Alba could have done a better job of closer down the man quicker or Marc-Andre ter Stegen could have cut off the angle better, blame should be shared for the first goal. For Celta de Vigo’s second foray on net, Iago Aspas streaked down the left side of the pitch against Gerard Pique and slammed a shot home again low and hard past the netminder. While both of these goals can be chalked up to mistakes made by the Barcelona defense and midfield, these goals also showed the quality of their opponent.
The third and fourth goals are what begot the criticism for the Blaugrana. On Celta de Vigo’s third goal, Iago Aspas put the pressure on Jeremy Mathieu and ter Stegen and forced the own goal on a long ball into the box. Mathieu needed much better composure and should have gotten into a better position to at least clear the ball for a corner. As for the fourth goal, it may be a nightmare that the young goalkeeper will relive for quite some time. His apparent nonchalant attempt at a pass led directly to the eventual winning goal, and even the herculean efforts of Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique could not reverse the team’s fortunes.
While a loss by one goal may not spell gloom and doom for a season, it was certainly Barcelona’s worst loss of the year so far for a number of reasons. There seemed to be a lack of composure from a number of very important figures in a time when, with Real Madrid drawing on the day, Barcelona could have gone top of the La Liga table. In any loss, even if it was foreseen, Luis Enrique is the first to take blame. If the Estadio Balaidos was known to be such a difficult place to play, then maybe Iniesta should have started the game instead of coming on as a substitute for his 600th appearance for the club.
With Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Javier Mascherano on the bench and Lionel Messi still nursing an injury Enrique chose a match right before the international break to rest normal starters. While the result may have been the same with the regular midfield in place at the first whistle, it should be surmised that the team may have at least begun their comeback in the first half.
Rafinha, Luis Suarez, Neymar and the aforementioned Busquets and Mathieu all lacked the sharpness and bite that the match called for, and this was evidenced by the subbing of Busquets and Rafinha and the own goal from Mathieu. For the Frenchman, having just retired from international football to focus more on his club duties, a showing of that caliber could shake his confidence if not handled correctly. The same can be said for ter Stegen, but amplified.
The 24-year-old German already publicly took the blame for the defeat, a terrific display of maturity, and hopefully his time alongside his fellow countrymen will allow him to wash away the miscues and refocus his skillset. All goalkeepers who play with the ball at their feet as consistently as he does are more susceptible to errors, but those errors must never cost your team three points. The modern goalkeeper takes chances off his line and passes out of the back, and ter Stegen must polish up on these skills or he may find himself back in a battle for the starting job.
The truth is that even with the intense amount of criticism for a very negative defeat, Barcelona are still in a good position in every competition. Luis Enrique should be given flak for his line-up decisions against Celta de Vigo, but the Andalusian manager has certainly gotten more right than wrong in his time at the helm, all but silencing the doubters who cried of Messidependencia.
If they can learn from the loss, it will make the team as a whole stronger on the other side of the international break. Much like two seasons ago when they lifted the Champions League trophy, Messi will be looking to return from his time off better than when he went down, and that could spell trouble for Manchester City in the Champions League and especially their upcoming La Liga opponents, all of whom sit in the bottom half of the table with the exception of Sevilla. With Real Madrid also not firing on all cylinders, settling for draws more often this season than they should, the first meeting between the two giants at the start of December could very well decide the league winner.