It shouldn’t be this way, not for a huge club like Barcelona. Things shouldn’t hinge on the amount of minutes one player, as talented as he may be, plays each time. And yet once more Lionel Messi came on for a cameo appearance to save his team from defeat with one wonder goal and another assist, although eventually it wasn’t enough for more than a meaningless draw.
Barcelona could have clinched the La Liga title if they would have won at the San Mames, their final visit at this historic stadium, while Real Madrid would have lost in the derby. Both things didn’t happen, and now the lead is 11 points with five matches to go. It’s not a question of if, but a question of when. And still, the overall feeling from losing 4-0 in the Champions League was guiding the players for the first 60 minutes.
I’m not sure Cesc Fabregas knows what his position is anymore. He was used as somewhat of a false 9 in Messi’s absence (waiting for his chance on the bench), but didn’t look comfortable in the role at all, while Pedro was having one of his worst performances ever, ruining all the hard work Alexis Sanchez (later rewarded with a goal for it) did throughout the match.
Thiago was the more dominant player in the midfield, even with Xavi playing next to him. You could see the aftershock of the Munich defeat still having its way with certain players, even the most confident of champions Barcelona possess in the squad. They did create chances to try and erase the lead Bilbao took early on, but all the chances Fabregas, Pedro and Sanchez stumbled upon in the box were off target or simply too simple for Iraizoz to handle.
And then came on Lionel Messi, 60 minutes from the start, and everything changed, as Fabregas moved back to a more familiar role, and Messi took the reins up front. No injury slowing him down, no overall shock on his teammates’ expression. Bilbao aren’t Bayern Munich. It was good enough to score two goals in three minutes before another defensive frailty allowed the Basque side to equalize with only injury time minutes left to play.
Barcelona look like a team that can’t wait for the season to be over, and Lionel Messi the only thing keeping some sort of venom and drive in the squad. There’s no chance of overcoming the four goal deficit from the first leg, but there’s certainly an opportunity to bow down from the competition with a little bit more respect and dignity, and possibly even make Bayen sweat a little bit if things go a bit to their way.
But the whole world knows that without these players are close to impotent. It’s not that they lack talent, but the last few seasons have subdued their skills and belief, playing next to such a footballing phenom. One of the things Vilanova will have to address, and soon, is where do Barca go from here, because while Messi is close to unstoppable most of the time, the rest of Barcelona isn’t. Without a plan B and C, not to mention players not called Messi to execute these contingency plans, the glory days of the Guardiola regime aren’t coming back.