On another day, the Barcelona faithful would be queueing up to rail against VAR, support its new manager’s use of a new generation in El Clasico, and vow that Lionel Messi and the Blaugranas would turn it all around.
But straightening up a mess is a big challenge and this is especially true at Barcelona, where second-guessing and vitriol are threaded throughout every substandard outcome this season, one which could still be the final season of history’s greatest attacker at one of the world’s most important clubs.
The Blaugranas lost 3-1 at home to Real Madrid on Saturday at an empty Camp Nou. By all accounts including ours, they were within shouting distance of the reigning and favored champions despite an average day from Messi and — again — their status as underdogs.
[ MORE: Reyna, BVB thump Schalke ]
That status is tough to take, especially at home, but Barcelona is in a difficult time of change that may only increase if Lionel Messi is unswayed this season. Its president is facing an election that cannot currently be held in large part due to the pandemic, either a sitting duck or a power merchant who cannot be removed despite a relatively prolonged period of struggle (A report has claimed Josep Maria Bartomeu would face a censure vote if members could gather freely).
The coach hired to right the ship wasn’t able to reinvigorate a depleted and aging squad because the club’s wage bill was too high and there had to be sales in order to make buys.
Instead, the club had to tear up contracts for veterans like Luis Suarez just to get his wages off the books and the only major buy that came after the hiring of Ronald Koeman was right back Sergino Dest (who, it must be said, was quite good in the Clasico loss).
Sergiño Dest was the Barça player with the most successful dribbles (5) during El Clásico. In addition to that, 42 of his 44 passes were successful. Dest recovered 6 balls and only committed 1 foul. [opta] pic.twitter.com/IBuyOLZgsV
— barcacentre (@barcacentre) October 25, 2020
Its best player — heck, anyone’s best player — tried to leave this summer and only stayed because he didn’t want to take his beloved club to court.
Which brings us back to the second-guessing and vitriol. Sunday’s match had two tipping points, both involving VAR. First, Lionel Messi was not awarded a penalty when Casemiro got a piece of the ball but wiped out the Argentine in the box. Later in the match, Sergio Ramos was sent to the spot when Clement Lenglet got a hold of his jersey and the savvy Real captain hit the deck like he stepped on an oil slick.
Koeman went off:
“Some decisions from the referee, I cannot understand this. … I don’t understand the VAR. I think it’s only VAR when it’s something against Barcelona. We have now five games and we did not have any decision by the VAR in our hands. There are some examples. The penalty against Sevilla, against Messi. The two red cards in the first half against Getafe.
“In my opinion it’s a foul that happens every time in the box and it’s defending. It’s difficult. We did not deserve to lose in this way.”
Ronald Koeman speaks about the VAR pic.twitter.com/TThcUzzsGD
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 24, 2020
If things were well-and-good or even average at Barcelona, the fans might be railing against the referee right now. Koeman does, in fact, have a gripe even if Barca and Real generally get more calls than most.
And Koeman’s young squad did show spirit in the loss. The Dutchman knew his team was the underdog, even at home, and started a very young squad. The young players were his best players, for the most part, as Ansu Fati was the star of Barca’s show with Sergino Dest and Frenkie de Jong close behind (Philippe Coutinho, it should be added, had a decent affair but both Messi and the Brazilian are expected to do better).
Yet as much as Barca succeeded, to an extent, in set-up, Koeman waited until the 82nd minute to change his personnel and that largely cost him. It was desperate and too late when he sent in Francisco Trincao, Antoine Griezmann, and Ousmane Dembele at once and then Martin Braithwaite within minutes, a side with little time to find the right mix and conceding a third goal.
In fact, three of Neto’s six saves for Barca came after those subs. That happens when a team is chasing an equalizer, sure, and perhaps we should give Koeman some space as it was his first Clasico as a manager.
Then again, Zinedine Zidane won his first outing against Barca and did that at the Camp No. He now holds a 5W-3D-2L record as Clasico boss.
Which brings us back to the penalty.
Here’s Sergio Busquets, via Marca:
“It’s difficult because you see that there are many games and plays like [the penalty],” lamented Sergio Busquets. “One against Real Betis comes to mind much clearly. They say that they have to be very, very clear plays in which everyone must agree, and I think today they punished us a lot.”
It’s understandable the Barca would try to make the result about VAR and, again, on another day the argument might find welcoming ears.
That time is not now.