The pressure cranked up on Ernesto Valverde by yet another notch as Barcelona failed to re-energise their season with a limp display at home against Slavia Prague.
Leading La Liga and still top of Group F in the Champions League, the tables cannot apologise for Barca’s alarming displays. Having been peppered by Slavia in a fortunate 2-1 victory away from home last month, the Czechs brought a stoic defence and threat on the counter to Spain.
Barca had their chances. A classic Lionel Messi run and strike thundered off the left-hand join of the goal, while the Argentine was judged to be narrowly offside in the second half in setting up what would have been an Arturo Vidal tap-in.
Ondrej Kolar made several fine saves for the visitors as fortune favoured the brave.
As for Valverde, favour has all but run out. ‘V’ keys were being worn to a nub as #ValverdeOut hashtags took over cyberspace once again just a few days on from their 3-1 humbling against Levante.
While he may point to the ostensibly favourable positions Barcelona find themselves in both in La Liga and Europe, supporters can rightfully demand a far superior calibre of performance.
Valverde trying to turn Barcelona's season around... pic.twitter.com/HuIQq9Abau— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) November 5, 2019
The attack is incredibly one-paced. Aside from a few flashes down the right from Nelson Semedo and Ousmane Dembele, who were both wasteful when it mattered, Barca were attracted to the centre like moths to a flame.
Antoine Griezmann drifted inside and the lack of width on the left was only exacerbated when Jordi Alba came off through injury. Vidal pushed so high up as to be in his pocket and Messi was lost somewhere in that mess.
What that created was a chasm between Sergio Busquets, Frenkie De Jong and the rest of the ‘attack’, as Valverde’s only response except for throwing on a 17-year-old Ansu Fati was to push every other player higher up.
Bayern Munich made their move by dispensing with Niko Kovac, but a mid-season firing just isn’t Barcelona’s style. Keep that hash key handy.
Griez ill at ease
Whether he’s having a stonker or a stinker, Luis Suarez never fails to make his presence felt. In the Uruguayan’s absence, Griezmann is simply not being allowed the chance to make the same kind of impact as he’s been given the Philippe Coutinho treatment on the wing.
The left-hand side of the park has been a poisoned chalice for Barcelona since the break-up of MSN. And while the Frenchman is seen as a ‘flexible’ forward, his best form for Atletico Madrid was as a straight-up striker, so dangerous on the fringes of the box.
Barcelona fans when they see Antoine Griezmann playing on the left wing ... pic.twitter.com/lcb2mquqCa— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 5, 2019
He’s being denied the chance to prove his worth and his unease is clearly transferring to the rest of the team. At one point Messi could have squared the ball for an unmarked Griezmann on the edge of the area, but chose to back himself. When it’s Messi there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that – but just who has Griezmann’s back at Barcelona?
From earning $100 a month in Albania and attending trial after trial in Turkey, to giving Nelson Semedo the examination of his life at Camp Nou – the path that Peter Olayinka has taken to the Champions League is far less direct than his playing style.
The Nigerian, whose European odyssey has seen him based in Prague for the best part of three seasons, was the most dangerous player in the first half on a pitch where Lionel Messi was present.
Becoming a huge fan of Peter Olayinka at Slavia Praha. Very good at timing his runs in behind the defence, and is such a live wire, never making sure his defenders constantly have to watch their back. It's quite fascinating to watch how much he unsettles through simple movement. pic.twitter.com/Q6QawinOsS— Jonas Giæver (@CheGiaevara) November 5, 2019
Semedo didn’t know which way to turn, Vidal had a customary hack, but the lanky 23-year-old kept coming back with his unrelenting, if rather unrefined, forward runs.
He was not the only Slavia player to catch the eye – his forward partner Lukas Masopust made life difficult for Barca’s ragged back-four and Tomas Soucek, the holding midfielder, did not put a foot wrong – but Olayinka is worth keeping tabs on.
The first Nigerian to score on his Champions League debut since a 17-year-old Yakubu in 2002 when he smashed home against Inter Milan, a little more poise to his game could see him climb yet another rung to a bigger club.