The Blaugrana were held in another disappointing show
Barcelona dropped a few more points in their La Liga conquest but remained unbeaten as they were held to a 2-2 stalemate by a sprightly Celta Vigo at the Balaidos.
With a Copa final against Sevilla coming up on Sunday, manager Ernesto Valverde fielded an admittedly weakened line-up that struggled to keep up the pace with a belligerent Celestes.
Regardless, the visitors went ahead against the run of play twice in the game, through Ousmane Dembele and Paco Alcacer. But in the aftermath of both occasions, were pegged back with an equaliser.
This was another rudderless performance from the Catalans who are although edging closer to the title, have witnessed a massive drop in quality of football in the recent games. Let’s delve into the major talking points.
#1 Barcelona fringe fail to impress
A visit to the Balaidos was never going to be easy for Barcelona. It’s their bogey ground (4-1 and 4-3 defeats in the last two visits) and Celta Vigo are the bogey team (just three wins in the last eight league games). But with an all-important cup final lurking around, Valverde opted to rest many of his regulars, handing the fringe a chance.
Except, Barcelona didn’t look any better or worse than what they did against Valencia at the weekend. Once again, they appeared sloppy at the back and the opposition enjoyed having a go at them. A collective tally of 14 shots on their target (31 overall) in only the last two games suggest a drop in defensive rigidity.
Even the attacking vanguard, wasn’t at its characteristic self. The visitors had to rely on one moment of ingenuity for the opener, while the second one was a result of a goof-up by the hosts.
After several months at the top of their form, fatigue has clearly set in. Even the much-changed lineup today failed to inspire any confidence nor exude any sort of quality.
#2 Iago Aspas is all but on the plane to Russia
In what has been a topsy-turvy campaign for the Galicians, centre-forward Iago Aspas is one of the few shining lights, having consistently delivered and carried his team through the thick and thin. And another goal last night took his tally for the season to an incredible 20 goals in the league.
He now trails only Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi in the overall charts, whilst being the most prolific Spanish player in La Liga this season. He’s the quintessential no.9 who thrives when serviced and can give some of the best strikers in the world a run for their money.
With several players vying for a spot in Spain’s strike department, Aspas should be somewhere at the top of the pecking order for his rich vein of form. Having also impressed in the recent spate of international friendlies, the erratic form of Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa adds to his cause. He’s as good as in Julen Lopetegui’s squad that would be flying to Russia for the World Cup.
#3 Dembele continues his ascendancy
Ousmane Dembele was handed a rare chance to strut his stuff on the field and he did impress. He not only put the visitors ahead, but the manner in which he dispatched the chance was a glimpse of his immense potential.
Alcacer laid off for the Frenchman who scythed down a few steps before slotting it past Sergio Alvarez from a tight angle for his first goal in La Liga. The former Dortmund player also maintained a 100% shot accuracy on the night and created two more chances himself.
In an injury-ravaged debut season with the Blaugrana, Dembele has found the going to be really tough, while the manager’s restraint in using him regularly has also seen him spend some time on the bench even when fully fit. But in a reasonably good performance last night, he showed that he deserves more time and also made a case to start in the Copa final this Sunday.
#4 The Skyblues were guilty of missing too many chances
Celta Vigo could’ve pulled off another major shocker like they have in the previous two seasons when they hit Barcelona for a four. The only difference here was in the poor finishing, unlike in those two occasions when they fired at all cylinders.
Chance were aplenty again, as Daniel Wass, Iago Aspas and Maxi Gomez were among the chief creators on the night, but were left undone by some subpar finishing. Those two strikers especially had enough opportunities to bury the game long before the final whistle.
Ter Stegan deserves credit for his share of blocks and interventions, but there were moments where even he couldn’t have done anything had Celta been a little more precise and unerring.
Barcelona were really let off the hook here.
#5 The Blaugrana have a lot to do ahead of the final
If the last three games are anything to go by, then all the prognostications of an easy triumph over Sevilla in the Copa Del Rey final would have cold water poured all over it by the performance turned in by them. For Barcelona are really not in their element at the moment and appear increasingly worn out.
The defence is losing its robustness while the midfield is running out of juices in the tank. The chronic dependency on Messi has become more evident than ever. But as we’ve witnessed in the 3-0 loss to Roma last week, even he can be stopped. And even if he was brought on once again as an impact substitute, failed to make a telling difference.
From having stormed their way in the first half of the season, Barcelona are now limping in the recent weeks. And even if Sevilla are dealing with inconsistency of their own, one must write them off at their own peril. They stand an equal chance in the final as their mighty rivals, who have many screws to tighten ahead of the kick-off.