One of the more furious debates this season among European football affectionados is the Barcelona style. Changing, or the same? The 1-2 loss to Ajax that doesn’t really change anything came with the old style: Possession, midfield passing and more possession, but too much of the version from last season, that meant pointless ball movement, spiced with predictability. Neymar was the only one who tried something different, but he alone wasn’t enough.
There’s something to be said about the poor defending, which isn’t anything new, allowing Ajax to score two goals in the first half. However, it’s not just a matter of Javier Mascherano or Marc Bartra and other names. Barcelona, as a group, missing quite a few players to injury and suspensions, were looking like a side who just wanted to get his match over with instead of coming out to win it and end the story of the first place question in the group.
Neymar won Barcelona their penalty kick, although the foul was outside the box. It also gave Barcelona a one-man advantage they failed to capitalize on, not really creating any meaningful chances. The options from the bench they used – Adama Troare, Patri and Sergi Roberto showed just how thin the squad was that arrived in the Netherlands. And still, there’s a bit more to be expected from a team that went undefeated until that moment in all competitions.
But maybe Martino is spreading the butter too thinly across the piece of toast. Neymar isn’t Lionel Messi, and putting him to spearhead the lineup with Pedro and Cesc Fabregas next to him instead of Alexis Sanchez just doesn’t cut it, even against naive sides like Ajax, who don’t defend with caution or think about anything than scoring goals until they already had a 2-0 lead. The Brazilian can do a lot of things, but he needs a certain degree of cooperation from Fabregas and Iniesta, which just wasn’t there.
This isn’t a loss that causes concern, it simply ends a streak. This isn’t the Barcelona team we’ll be seeing on most evenings and afternoons – not in the lineup and not in the effort they put in. However, this is the best opportunity to learn from for Martino and his players, realizing that even though there’s a comfortable lead at the top of the La Liga to hold on to and their road up till now in the Champions League has been quite comfortable, taking things easy and getting too relaxed just isn’t an option.