If anyone was surprised that Barcelona struggled to get their regular dominant possession game to work yesterday in Osasuna, he probably didn’t watch the same match last season when the hosts grabbed a quick 2-0 lead that lasted till the end. It wasn’t much different in Tito Vilanova’s first away match, but this time Victor Valdes made enough stops, and Lionel Messi was there once again with his golden touch.
Why did Barcelona struggle? For a number of reasons, although eventually, they don’t matter in the short run. They won their second match of the season and already have a 5 point lead of Real Madrid, which means something despite the fact that we’re only in August because this is the La Liga, and teams find it very difficult to claim points against the big two.
First, giving Xavi a rest to start on the bench came just against one of those teams that feels very comfortable pressing Barcelona, something that they don’t usually see in recent years. Osasuna opened with three players up front and really came hard on the ball movement, which wasn’t helped by the less than perfect pitch. Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas aren’t the organizers Xavi is, and in the hectic, messed up game that developed even before Joseba Llorente’s goal in the 17th minute, not having that kind of order to settle things down proved costly.
Once again, Barcelona weren’t playing deep enough. Lionel Messi was forced to move backwards and help Iniesta and Fabregas create, while Fabregas didn’t make the opposite move forward that worked quite well with the Spanish team during the summer, with him as the highest man up the order. Tello didn’t have the greatest of matches, feeling the small measures of the Reyno de Navarra a bit limiting. Alexis was a bit more effective, but has so far limited his strolls to the middle, remaining an option to the wide alone.
In the second half things didn’t change by much, although Alexis Sanchez a lot more like an actual striker when Pedro came on from Cesc Fabregas. Osasuna kept threatening Barcelona with their counter attacks against a very exposed Barcelona defense, but Valdes, Pique and Puyol looked a bit better, enough to stop the attacks at least. Then came on Xavi, and everything fell into place. A goal from an early offside position, order on the pitch, a sending off to an Osasuna player and Lionel Messi coming up with some winning magic for the millionth time.
At home, giving Xavi his moments of rest isn’t that crucial, especially against teams that head into Barcelona just hoping to concede less than 4-5 goals, like Sociedad were on the first weekend. With the national team, Iniesta showed he can play for Xavi as the central midfielder. He still needs to grow into that role for Barcelona, while Vilanova needs to try and actually play with someone in front of Messi at times, and make life a bit easier for him. He did score two goals, but he’s had better matches before.