x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Copa del Rey defeat to Real Madrid proves predictability is a problem for Barcelona

Barcelona have been hampered by lack of innovation and chances of a treble seem more improbable now, writes Andy Mitten.

Lionel Messi had very little impact against Real Madrid. Josep Lago / AFP
Lionel Messi had very little impact against Real Madrid. Josep Lago / AFP

It is not yet a crisis, but mighty Barcelona are on the ropes. The team may be 12 points clear at the top of the Primera Liga table, but a despondent mood has enveloped the club following two emphatic defeats in key matches in less than a week.

In Europe, AC Milan take a 2-0 lead into the second leg of their last 16 Uefa Champions League tie at Camp Nou in two weeks after inflicting the most comprehensive defeat since the Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova era began in 2008.

That was until Real Madrid went to Camp Nou and won 3-1 on Tuesday, knocking Barca out of the Copa del Rey in front of a 95,000 crowd.

The pair meet again on Saturday in the league, although Madrid, who are 16 points adrift of their rivals in the league standings, are expected to rest key players ahead of their Champions League game against Manchester United next week.

What has gone wrong? Barca maybe using the same players too much. They maybe using the same tactics too much, as teams are finding ways to counter them.

They are missing their coach Vilanova, who is still receiving cancer treatment in New York.

It is inevitable that they will miss their coach not being in the stadium, by the pitch and making changes, rather than online.

Vilanova cannot rush his cancer treatment, but performances have dropped markedly since he stepped aside from day to day duties.

Barca's team have stopped scoring, many players look sluggish, the passing slow. Impressive possession statistics count for little if games are lost. Barca famously press with intensity when they lose possession, but their efforts recently have looked anaemic.

As Iker Casillas, the Madrid goalkeeper, said after the game: "We didn't really suffer tonight."

He was not being disrespectful, just truthful.

Lionel Messi was anonymous in Milan and one of the least effective players on the pitch against Madrid; only Sergio Busquets performed to anywhere near his normal level.

Barca's tough run of games continue. They are 12 clear of Atletico Madrid in second place with 13 games to play.

The league is surely theirs, yet "only" winning the league will be considered a failure after they made the best ever start to a Spanish season.

Only a week ago, fans were talking with conviction about winning the treble, now they are wondering why they have not kept a clean sheet in 12 matches and whether their season is on the verge of collapse.


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