On a weekend in which the other top four sides in Spain all dropped points, the most important thing for Barcelona in the end was the three points. The result was their first league win in over four weeks and puts them back on top of La Liga table. Despite a fairly comfortable looking scoreline in the end, the performance from Barcelona left a lot to be desired.
In the first half, Barcelona had plenty of possession in Villarreal’s half but struggled to create virtually any opportunities. Dembele was a constant threat down the right, but he was the only player creating danger going forward with Coutinho and Messi way below their usual standards. Messi in particular looked rather off for some reason. Starting in the False 9 position, the Argentine saw very little of the ball with Villarreal’s defense and midfield crowding out his space. Messi also looked especially limited in his movements, so maybe his display was down to not being fully fit or picking up a knock in the first half.
After the break, Villarreal grew into the match even more and controlled most of the possession in the early stages after the restart. For much of this period, Barcelona were pushed back by Villarreal’s attacks and struggled to maintain possession enough to assert their authority on the match. Just as in the first half, Dembele remained the key threat going forward by exploiting the space Villarreal were leaving as they went forward. Fortunately for Barcelona, their defending was much improved from recent weeks with Gerard Pique the key one in keeping Villarreal out throughout. Although his final ball was quite poor going forward, Nelson Semedo was also crucial defensively for Barcelona and is definitely an upgrade over Sergi Roberto in that side of the game.
Barcelona’s impotent display going forward will definitely give Valverde some questions to ponder in upcoming matches. Given how much Messi and Coutinho struggled in their roles today, a change of system that drops them a bit deeper might help. With Dembele thriving recently on the right wing, perhaps more of a 4231 with Suarez or Munir (until Suarez recovers from injury) up front would do better at getting the team’s flair players into the game a bit more.
Despite sitting top of the table, this pattern of disappointing league performances will surely concern Barcelona supporters. Apart from the Real Madrid and Sevilla wins, there has not been a single convincing league performance since the Huesca match on the first weekend of September. Perhaps they would raise their game more if there was a tougher challenger, but Barcelona continues to play like a team that would not be able to challenge for the title against a stronger Atletico or Real Madrid side.