Paco Jemez cut a very frustrated figure on Saturday night. At certain times he looked as if he was ready to combust. And you could kind of understand his grief. The 43-year-old’s Rayo Vallecano side put up a good fight against Barcelona. They had chances and they were even awarded a penalty. But, they did not score and did not claim any points. They lost and by a convincing 4-0 margin too. Even so, Jemez saw his side come out on top in one respect – they had more possession.
And this is significant. Barcelona had not lost possession to an opponent since May 7, 2008 against Real Madrid. That is a total of 317 competitive games. That is a long time and it probably would not even surprise anybody either.
Barcelona have become famed for their passing game, known as ‘tiki-taka’. So good at it have they been that at times their opponents have altogether given up even trying to get the ball. And this includes teams like Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid. It is usual for Barcelona to enjoy 65-70 per cent possession and when you have the ball for this amount time, as Brendan Rodgers described: “It’s a football death for the other team…It’s death by football.”
One might argue that this was a ‘one-off’ or that had Sergio Busquets not been rested for Alex Song it would have been a different story. But, this is not the case. Barca played a different style of game. They sprayed long passes, skipping the midfield altogether. They counter-attacked instead of building up the play slowly like usual. Barcelona assistant Coach Jorge Pautasso insisted: “the idea is to keep playing the same way as Barcelona have done in recent years [and, rather than] betray Barca’s style it is just to add an alternative.”
Having a plan B might not be bad thing. At certain times Barcelona have looked as if they could do with one. Gerard Pique admitted during last week: “After many years opponents now know how to play against us so it is difficult.” A fresh alternative therefore seems a good idea and if Saturday evening’s match is anything to go by, it does not look like it will affect their results either. Barcelona made it five wins from five. Curiously, every time they have achieved this they have gone on to win the League.
While Barcelona were departing away from their usual style of play, Real Madrid reverted back to playing on the counter attack. The outcome was similar here too. Los Blancos marched to a comfortable 4-1 win over local rivals Getafe and, in truth, they could have scored more. Had Karim Benzema not wasted a hat-full of chances, they would have.
The same goes for Valencia. Miroslav Djukic’s side completely dominated Sevilla but ‘only’ scored three goals. Though, no-one at the Mestalla will care. After all, this was Valencia’s first win since the opening day of the season so the three points were all that mattered. The win will take some of the pressure off Djukic while only increase it on Sevilla Coach Unai Emery, whose side now sit bottom of the heap and winless.