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La Liga roundup: Messi-less Barcelona halted by Osasuna

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Barcelona’s draw and Real Betis’ win highlight Saturday’s La Liga action.

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Osasuna 2-2 Barcelona

With Antoine Griezmann’s magic nowhere to be spotted, Barcelona felt every bit of Lionel Messi’s absence for a second time this season.

Messi has yet to feature for the defending champions this season. Without him, Barcelona are off to a their worst start since Pep Guardiola‘s treble-winning side 11 years ago, earning only four points throughout three matches.

Barcelona’s latest hiccup? A 2-2 draw against a persistent Osasuna.

Osasuna’s game-defining goal came in the late stages, following a penalty call on Gerard Pique. Roberto Morales’ brace concluded a triumphant draw for the home side, that despite being severely outpossessed, managed to create more chances than Ernesto Valverde’s side.

Although the numbers aren’t in their favor, there is a glaring break in the clouds for Barcelona: 16-year-old Ansu Fati, who became the club’s youngest player to score in La Liga. The highly-touted left winger was brought on in the second half, and proved to be pivotal in the Catalonian’s punctured frontline.

With or without Messi, Barcelona host Valencia next, while Osasuna hope to continue their positive run against Real Valladolid.

Real Betis 2-1 Leganes 

For the first time this season, Real Betis have won a game.

With back-to-back losses to start the new campaign, Los Verdiblancos were far from meeting the high expectations that had them bouncing back from a wobbly 2018/2019 season. The team’s transition following a plethora of departures didn’t help the cause.

That continues to be the case for Real Betis, but with players such as summer signing Nabil Fekir, who continues to become more influential with each passing day, things can be different for Rubi’s side this time around.

The 26-year-old Frenchman, who missed out on move to Liverpool last summer, scored the game-winner against Leganes. With Giovani Lo Celso in London with Tottenham, Fekir is seamlessly becoming the ideal replacement: scoring two goals in the first three games La Liga.

The Sevilla based side can benefit from it again with Getafe up next, while Leganes, who are dead last, can learn something from Betis’ perseverance ahead of their bout against Villareal.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 2-0 Real Valladolid

Getafe 1-1 Alaves

Fractured, unmotivated Real Madrid drawn at last place Osasuna

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Having only allowed 20 goals through 19 games, Osasuna has one of the best defenses in La Liga. Unfortunately, because los Rojillos have scored a league-worst 14 goals, José Luis Mendilibar’s team have only won three times this season (also a league low). No surprise, Osasuna sits last in Spain’s Primera Division.

It’s a team Real Madrid should streamroll. Even on the road — even without Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and Pepe — a team with El Real’s resources should have no trouble with Osasuna, a team they outscored 12-2 in two games last season.

But this is the 2012-13 Real Madrid, a team that’s never lived up to the club’s lofty expectations. They’re a team that started the domestic season flat before transitioned into Champions League disappointment. As winter came they embraced a dressing room chaos that eventually became a type of existential crisis. As José Mourinho confronted the heart of the team by challenging Ramos and benching Casillas, El Real’s play became  a fractured and unmotivated team with no sense of consequences.

After today’s 0-0 draw at El Sadar, Los Blancos could be staring at an 18-point Liga deficit if Barcelona wins at Málaga tomorrow, yet there is little indication they care. Even Mourinho, perhaps out of tactics to use with this team, has adopted an accepting approach, saying he had “no complaints” after the match.

Against one of the Primera’s worst teams, the most expensive squad in the world were played to a standstill, left of absorb as many attacks as they created. They put one shot on goal to Osasuna’s two and split possession with their hosts, and failed to exhibit the kind of dominance the squad’s capable of imposing on a squad of this caliber. Yet José Mourinho “liked the team’s attitude” and had “no criticism” of their performance.

Clearly, he should. His squad showed none of will that was on display last Sunday when a 10-man team withstood a hat trick from Xabi Prieto to beat Real Sociedad, 4-3. As today’s second half ticked away and Mourinho threw on Karim Benzema, Kaká, and Mesut Ozil, there was never an uptick in intensity. There was never any desperation, let alone an increase in effectiveness. Repeatedly Osasuna seemed able to win possession, transition quickly, and put Real on their heals. That shouldn’t be happening against a team as impotent as Osasuna.

The only possible explanation for Real Madrid’s apathy seems to be focus on la decima – their 10th European title. The nine-time European champions are consumed by the pursuit, which is the whole reason why Mourinho is even in Madrid. That fixation combined with the team’s late fall swoon may have forced all their eggs into one basket, making these mid-January league matches almost inconsequential. Perhaps Mourinho has decided to make short terms sacrifices with the hopes of getting his team ready for Manchester United (their Champions League Round of 16 opponent).

If that means benching his best goalkeeper (Casillas) to regain his authority, so be it. If that means upsetting the locker room by butting heads with Ramos, he think that’s for the best. If that means continuing to try places to play Luka Modric, perhaps that will leave them in a better place come February. And if that means dropping points in January, losing track of Barcelona and Atlético Madrid in order to prepare the team for the decima, that may be his only way to salvage this season.

The problem for us, looking on from our detached position, is not knowing whether this is preparation or folly. Real Madrid looks inexplicably bad, and there’s no reason for it. They’re playing worse than we’ve ever seen a José Mourinho team play, and unless there’s some sign this team can turn it around — some indication there’s a method to this melancholy madness — it may not be Mourinho’s team for long.