Football NewsMonday 5th December 2016

Guillem Balague: El Clasico offered more evidence that things have to change at Barcelona

Guillem Balague: El Clasico offered more evidence that things have to change at Barcelona

‘Clasico’ by name though certainly not by nature, this was one version of the world’s most famous league football match that will not linger long in the memory.

Not that this is something that will concern neither players nor fans of Real Madrid who celebrated the taking of a point at the Camp Nou like a victory while for Barcelona the result will seem very much like two points lost rather than one gained.

For the fans this was a Clasico lacking any real definition certainly not until Barcelona scored or more specifically until Andres Iniesta joined the action just after.

Then Barcelona became more recognisable and then there were two clear chances from Neymar and Messi.

Once again Real Madrid showed what they have been doing all season with a never-say-die approach that guarantees that this is a side that will compete to the very end. They scored in the 'embers’ of the game and, for the record, this better late than never approach has so far this season earned them 11 points they would not have otherwise had, not forgetting the European Super Cup they won against Sevilla at the start of this campaign.

There might be an element of luck about it but it’s more than that and while some of Zinedine Zidane’s substitutions did not make complete common sense - Casemiro for Isco a case in point - this is a manager that has worked the oracle primarily because he has been able to keep his second string players happy, focused and switched on and has worked in detail on vital set pieces.

Yet Real Madrid’s last-gasp equalising header from Sergio Ramos ultimately tells us more about Barcelona than it does 'Los Blancos’.

It came about as Marcelo down the left hand side this time with his back to goal and running away from goal. Barcelona players had been specifically told to avoid committing fouls in and around the box, especially not down the flanks and certainly not when there was no imminent danger.

This was advice that Arda Turan decided not to heed although that really is only part of the story.

There was also a lack of intensity in Barcelona’s defensive work near the end. The set piece that brought the goal was attacked by five Real players and defended by four from Barcelona, while three others stood motionless.

Games are won or points are lost on the smallest details and this is a perfect case in point. Ramos’ equalising header from Luka Modric’s free kick now gives Real Madrid a six point lead over their main rival and extends their unbeaten run to 33 games.

Barcelona on the other hand are now enduring their worst league start for 13 years and this is a side under Luis Enrique that is conceding more than ever and has six points less at this stage in the previous years during his tenure and a side that has now drawn its last three games.

One of the reasons for this could be that for as much as the second string of players are making an impact at Real Madrid, the exact opposite is happening at Barcelona.

Denis Suarez certainly has it in his locker but there seems to be a lack of confidence there, Andre Gomes doesn’t seem to be justifying the faith his coach has in him because he is not doing what he does best which is make those runs towards goal, nor is he particularly prominent when Barcelona look to play their passing game.

I know that Enrique would like him to be thinking about becoming a Sergio Busquets type of player but I don’t think he is up to the task. He can play in front of him but doesn’t currently seem to have the necessary confidence to do the sort of things we all know he can do.

Following the introduction of Iniesta, seven minutes after the opening goal, Barcelona combined better with their little triangles, Messi touched the ball more from that moment than he had done for the the rest of the game and, perhaps most importantly, the arrival of the man from La Mancha, meant that from then on that Busquets could focus more on his role as an anchor in the centre of that midfield as opposed to trying to do too many different jobs on the pitch.

Psychologically the reappearance of Andres gave the side and crowd a lift and that was also when Neymar and Messi had the chance to put the match out of Madrid’s reach.

But as I have always said, this is a team built almost exclusively for the benefit of the 'Holy Trinity’ up front. If they fail to deliver then the team suffers. Suarez has only scored two goals in the past six games, Neymar has assisted more than he has actually scored (13 as opposed to six) while at this stage last season he had scored 16 and most revealingly, Messi hasn’t scored in six games against Real Madrid.

The simple fact is that there is an over-dependence on the front three and when they don’t excel the team struggles.

On almost every set piece Lucas Vazquez looked exclusively to have been designated the task of stopping Gerard Piqué from performing his defensive duties and it’s interesting that this was precisely how the equaliser came about.

That said, there were three players that could have headed clear the ball that was finally met by Sergio Ramos.

Other problems concern Javier Mascherano who is not getting any younger and, these days, is frequently tardy in the tackle and was extremely lucky not to concede a penalty with his early challenge on Vazquez. Ter Stegen still looks like he is lacking confidence and I can’t think of a single game when his performance has earned Barcelona the points. Sergo Roberto attacks well but still has much to learn about the defensive side of his game and there isn’t a replacement waiting in the wings.

What we are getting now from Barcelona is almost like a speeded up version of football, one that actually runs counter to the essence taught at La Masia.

The only real certainty is that this is something that is going to have to be addressed and whether or not that will involve the club returning to its essence or maybe replacing Enrique remains to be seen.

As things stand Barcelona want him to renew his contract which finishes at the end of this season, but the bottom line is that this Barcelona have dropped 14 points in 14 games this season, their worst start since 2004.

Most worryingly Barcelona fans will not be impressed by a glance at the league table that this season shows a Real Madrid side six points clear at the top and without a single defeat to their name. Things are going to have to change at the Camp Nou

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