Barcelona’s bare back

Real Madrid ended their inconspicuous start to the season by clinching the Supercopa de Espana with a win over bitter rivals Barcelona.

Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo struck early for Jose Mourinho's side, but Lionel Messi's first half free kick dragged ten man Barca back into the tie after Adriano was sent off. But what will stick in the minds of people who watched the second El Clasico of the season is just how bad Tito Vilanova's Barcelona were defensively.

After a shaky display at the weekend where Osasuna almost embarrassed the Catalan giants, a better display throughout the team was expected as they once again locked horns with their sworn enemies. What was served up instead was another showing where Barcelona struggled to find their rhythm, and more importantly, they looked capable of leaking goals at the back.

Last week's first leg ended with goalkeeper Victor Valdes committing footballing suicide by trying to dribble past Real Madrid winger Angel di Maria, only to stumble and allow the Argentine to tap into an empty net. The spotlight on Wednesday was on Valdes to improve on his performance and show that he can bounce back from errors – but it wasn't Valdes that would cost Barcelona the game.

Early on, Madrid cut through the Barcelona defence like a hot knife through butter as Gonzalo Higuain was played through on goal, only to fire at Valdes. The Argentine hit-man did find the back of the net but only after calamitous defending by his compatriot Javier Mascherano.

From a long punt forward, Mascherano misjudged the flight of the ball and it allowed Higuain to waltz through on goal unchallenged and slip the ball past Valdes, sending the Bernabeu into delirium after just 10 minutes. Another howler then allowed Madrid to make it 2-0. Another long ball caught Gerard Pique out, and after dithering around the ball, Ronaldo flicked it past him, had all the time in the world and slammed it underneath the body of Valdes.

The comedy capers didn't stop there, as Barcelona were sliced open yet again and Adriano dragged Ronaldo down when he was through on goal. As the last man, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz had no option but to send the right-back for an early bath.

The second half continued in a similar vein as Madrid found goalscoring chances easy to come by, so why were Barcelona so porous at the back?

Well it didn't help that two big parts of the defence were missing. Captain Carles Puyol was named in the squad but didn't feature after fracturing his cheekbone in the 2-1 win over Osasuna, whilst flying full-back Dani Alves pulled out of the game shortly before kick-off due to an injury. This meant a reshuffle, with Adriano moving from the left to right hand side, and Jordi Alba came in on the other flank. The late changes to the team can't have helped, but this is too simplistic. Alba and eventually Martin Montoya pushed forward, forcing Pique and Mascherano to push wider to cover the gaps they left behind. As a result, huge passing lanes opened up in the middle and Higuain took full advantage.

Barcelona have had troubles at the heart of their defence for some time now. Puyol is now 34 and has recently struggled to make appearances as injuries get the better of him. Mascherano has converted to play in defence in Puyol's absence and we've also seen Sergio Busquets play there. Has this chopping and changing resulted in Barcelona's worrying displays?

Pique's form has been up and down over the last 12 months and again looked susceptible to the long ball which Madrid exploited time and time again. Their problems at centre-back should have been dealt with this summer, but instead they chose to sign Arsenal midfielder Alex Song instead. A number of centre-backs were linked but again the problem is left unaddressed.

Real's display tonight will breathe hope into other La Liga sides. By targeting the centre-backs, Madrid found a chink in Barcelona's armour for other teams to exploit, and the constant carousel of defensive combinations hasn't allowed one partnership to blossom – certainly not like Pique and Puyol in previous seasons.

It's hard to admit, but Puyol can't be relied upon for ever, and eventually Barcelona have to replace their talismanic skipper. It’s just, fans expected an addition this summer, and it hasn't arrived.