Lionel Messi 2013

Two Super Cup matches, no victories. Barcelona are making their way into the new season quite slowly, which means Lionel Messi is clearly out of shape or still suffering from some sort of injury, while his combination with Neymar wasn’t there to be seen and their defensive problems continue to be something that will haunt this team for the rest of the season.

It didn’t really help that the Atletico Madrid tactics of halting Barcelona involved going hard into Lionel Messi every time he touched the ball. It was impressive how Diego Simeone managed to plan a defensive stand for 90 minutes against Barcelona, especially at the Camp Nou. Every time a Barcelona player had the ball 30 meters from goal, there were two players to make sure he had no clear path.

Messi’s speed was off. His quickness wasn’t the same. And the physicality of the match, not to say brutality at certain points, was a bit too much for him. He did get the chance to make up for his disappointing performance with a penalty kick, but it seems that his frustration from the match itself influenced his shot, hitting the crossbar and leaving the match at a 0-0.

Three big problems existed for Barcelona, two of them completely individual. Andres Iniesta was on the bench, and Barcelona looked much better after he came on to the pitch. It’s not a Cesc Fabregas problem, who didn’t do too badly despite moving from position to a different one each week, but it’s more of an Iniesta problem, as in Barcelona need him more than they need Fabregas on the pitch at the moment.

Barcelona 2013 Supercup

The other one was Alexis Sanchez, in a terrible display. He lack initiative and seemed slightly lost every time he had the ball on the right wing. He didn’t get enough support as the Barcelona game congested on the left side, but the Chilean should have done better. Things improved once Pedro came on the field.

The third? Defense. Atletico Madrid had only 22% of possession in the match, and yet they were the much more dangerous team. Javier Mascherano is excellent when his job is pressing the midfield and intercepting passes, but his marking on players and zones as a centre back creates so many problems for Barcelona, not to mention their fullback situation, as both Jordi Alba and Dani Alves fail to contribute on both ends of the pitch.

Neymar is the one who ended up scoring Barcelona’s only goal in both encounters, the one that won them the trophy. Yet he seemed far away from the action on too many moments. He should be playing a lot closer to Lionel Messi, or at least try to link up with him a bit more than he did. Atletico do deserve praise from the way they isolated Barcelona players from each other, doing an excellent job of blocking passing lanes, but the overall weakness also had to do with Barcelona simply playing bad.

It’s good to air out the bad performances in matches you can afford to lose or at least not win. Lionel Messi will have to do better pretty soon, and also put behind whatever injury or fitness issue that’s bothering him. Neymar is going to take some time adjusting to the system, while the rest of the issues – too much passing and possession, not enough decisiveness and shooting while the defense looks shaky once more, seem just like they were last season.

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