The Blaugrana may have beaten Real Valladolid 1-0 to stretch their Liga lead but the display raised serious doubts over their Champions League hopes
First, the good news: Barcelona suffered no injuries in beating Real Valladolid 1-0 on Saturday night to move seven points clear at the top of La Liga.
Now, the bad news: everything else about this performance.
Indeed, the best thing that one could say about it was that the second half wasn’t quite as horrid as the first.
Barcelona were atrocious in the opening 45 minutes, appearing to play the game as if it were literally a warm-up for next week’s Champions League clash with Lyon, and they only led at the interval thanks to a penalty from Lionel Messi.
In truth, they were lucky not to be behind, with Nacho having blown an extraordinary four-on-two break just moments before Gerard Pique – of all people – was bundled over in the Valladolid area in the 43rd minute.
The centre-half’s decision to venture forward was hardly surprising.
Barca were slow and stagnant in midfield, and utterly ineffective in attack.
The temptation would of course be to blame Kevin Prince-Boateng, who endured a horrendous Liga debut for Barca.
Kevin-Prince Boateng Barcelona Valladolid
However, it is not his fault that the Catalans opted for a cut-price option during the January transfer window when their need for another quality centre-forward has been evident since Paco Alcacer was allowed to join Borussia Dortmund at the start of the season.
Krzysztof Piatek was available but he was allowed to join AC Milan, meaning on the same night he was plundering his sixth goal in five appearances for the Rossoneri, Boateng was toiling up front for Barca.
It was actually tough to watch. The likeable and multi-talented striker nearly cleared the stand with one effort midway through the second half.
When he was put clean through on goal moments later, he didn’t even manage to get a shot away, which prompted an embarrassing attempt to win a penalty, and then a desperate appeal for a corner.
Ultimately, he could do nothing but put his head in his hands.
This was a nightmare first Liga outing for Boateng after his dream move to Camp Nou and it will hit him hard.
But he shouldn’t be made the scapegoat on a night when so many players underperformed.
As Pique pointed out afterwards, while this may have been a much-needed win for Barca after back-to-back draws in La Liga, they were collectively awful.
“It’s important to pick up the three points, but we have not played well and the feelings on the pitch were not positive,” he confessed.
“It was not a good performance. We weren’t the Barcelona that we want to be. The only good news is the win, getting back to winning ways, but we struggled against them.
Lionel Messi Barcelona Valladolid
“We were not moving the ball quick enough and when we don’t do that, we suffer. We must be better on Tuesday [against Lyon]. If not, things won’t go well.
“We have to be more fluid; that’s what’s given us so many titles. We know that and other teams know that, so we have to improve.”
Particularly up front.
Boateng’s performance may have painfully illustrated how short on quality cover Barcelona remain in attack but it is worth noting that main man Luis Suarez was far more profligate on the night, missing three sitters after being introduced midway through the second half.
The game also strengthened the suspicion that Ousmane Dembele is – at least until he matures – going to be one of those players who is either unstoppable or unwatchable.
The frustrating Frenchman was inevitably replaced by Philippe Coutinho, who, even more predictably, failed to impress.
Even the great Lionel Messi endured a frustrating evening: he’d already booked for dissent – a very rare sight – before missing a penalty – sadly, a more common occurrence – in the dying stages that would have made the game safe.
As it was, Barcelona rather fell over the finish line, doing nothing to banish the suspicion that their Champions League hopes will once again hinge entirely upon Messi’s genius.
That’s certainly not good news. In fact, it’s not even news at all.