The cameras zoomed in on a helpless Xavi Hernandez on the sidelines. An expression of sternness was etched across his face. It was telling of what was a miserable night for Barcelona in San Sebastian. Their sublime master class against Manchester City days earlier was nothing but a distant memory.
Having earlier knocked Real Sociedad out of the Copa Del Rey in dominant style, where they dictated the full 180 minutes of play, it would seem that Martino had found a winning formula to propel the Blaugrana back to the top of the table alongside their Clasico rivals, Real Madrid. However, the Catalans’ fall from grace was anything but spectacular.
And with their match at the Anoeta arguably the last remaining difficult away fixture of the season, barring their Clasico match next month at Santiago Bernabeu, a win would have set the Camp Nou outfit for a second La Liga title in a row.
In a week where Barcelona managed to highlight their strengths and expose their weaknesses in the space of just three days, it comes as no surprise that Tata Martino finds himself in the firing line, again.
Out went the possession-based tiki-taka style that has become synonymous with the club over the past few years and in came defensive instability and tactical foolishness. Why Alex Song started alongside Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta in midfield remains one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
Barcelona, who are so comfortable dictating the flow of the match, lacked a second midfielder who could share in the creative responsibilities with Iniesta. Song still seems to struggle with dictating the tempo of the game. Furthermore, his defensive capabilities are well below par and failed to assist the defensive pairing of Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra, who looked slow and out of shape and were often outmuscled by a physically superior side.
In attack, things were just as miserable. Neymar, who took a knock in the first half, looked far from his best. Messi too cut a peripheral figure for much of the match and generally failed to threaten La Real’s back four.
Questions remain as to whether the Argentine tactician is suitable for the colossal task at hand, and his decision to bring Alexis Sanchez on for Martin Montoya was another eyebrow-raising moment. The tactics that were deployed were off from the very beginning and Barca were lucky to avoid further humiliation.
Martino’s naivety of the task at hand suggests that the South American is out of his league. Prevailing at San Sebastian has always proved to be a tough task, and Tata’s predecessors have still managed to win the La Liga title despite defeats at Anoeta. However, the momentum is clearly with Madrid. And with Los Blancos in the midst of a 26 match unbeaten run, the League title is the capital club’s to lose.