Some matches require more than just close to your best, even if the opponents don’t have the most impressive of names. Lionel Messi came on too late to change anything for Barcelona, who failed in their attempts to be led by Cesc Fabregas and Neymar as they failed to win for the first time this season, heading into one of the more difficult weeks they’ve had in quite a while.
The 0-0 draw against Osasuna isn’t just the first league match (After 8 consecutive wins) Barcelona have failed to win in, but it’s also the first time a Spanish team has managed to keep a clean sheet against the champions in almost two years.
With AC Milan and Real Madrid coming up in the next 7 days, Barcelona opted to start without Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves and Alexis Sanchez. While having a lineup with Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Pedro playing next to Fabregas and Neymar isn’t exactly what you would call a weak team, it simply isn’t the strongest one Barcelona can use, and it showed in their inability to translate their possession and dominance into final-third effectiveness.
Neymar was hard to stop with the ball, but it might be that Martino sometimes needs to give the Brazilian a more central role on the pitch instead of being left on the wing to build from there. Cesc Fabregas was clearly having an off day, and Lionel Messi’s entrance in the 68th minute for Xavi, who was looking better and better in the second half, should have probably come in the place of the younger central midfielder.
Messi couldn’t change the complexion of the match during his 22 minutes, playing for the first time in three weeks, still not completely over his thigh injury. However, Barcelona created enough chances to do better than just 0-0, but it was usually Fabregas at the finishing touch and not Neymar or Pedro, who has become the weakest link in the front trio this season, unable to match the impressive displays of Alexis Sanchez.
Luckily for Barcelona, Atletico Madrid couldn’t handle the prospect of being alone at the top of the table and lost to Espanyol, with Barcelona’s little sister giving them a huge hand in remaining in the lead of the league, not sharing it with anyone.
However, with Barcelona more worried under Martino about fatigue than ever before, it’s going to be interesting to see how he approaches the next two matches, at the San Siro and the Nou camp, in terms of spreading the minutes. Players don’t perform as well with only three days of rest, but Real Madrid have an even more difficult game playing against Juventus as their Champions League appetizer to the Clasico.
Lionel Messi will be starting in a week’s time against Real Madrid, but it’s not too certain he’ll be playing the full 90 minutes against AC Milan. Considering how bad the Italians have looked this season, it might not require the best of lineups Barcelona have in order to get a decent result (draw?) from Milano, as Lionel Messi and Neymar could both use some minutes of rest.