H.Valdes 27, 59
Despite the impressive acquisitions that newly promoted Hercules added over the summer – namely David Trezeguet, Nelson Valdes and Royston Drenthe – one would be forgiven for thinking pre-match that this would be a routine victory for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
Early signs seemed standard. Guardiola’s 4-3-3 was the expected formation, and as usual, Barca began to slowly dictate play. In their own inimitable way the Blaugrana probed with patience, looking like they were unwilling to move out of third gear, yet at the same time looking capable of scoring at the drop of a hat. However, that goal never came, and it is difficult to pin point exactly why. Hercules’ first goal was spawned from a set-piece – arguably Barcelona’s weakest area despite boasting the likes of Gerard Pique among the defensive ranks. David Villa provided hints of why he should slot into the Barcelona line-up quite comfortably by managing to work his way out of tight situations and acting as provider of chances as well as executioner. Lionel Messi often drifted deep, looking to pick up the ball and run at the Hercules defence. However, not even the maestro Messi could unlock this back line. Even the half-time introduction of Xavi could not provide enough spark to claw a goal back. The problem with Guardiola’s tactics are when the system is not working, they appear to lack many fresh ideas. There are no longer any target men such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic to introduce to mix up the play, just a series of like-for-like small yet tricky attackers, who can try and pass their way through rearguards all day to no avail, albeit it rarely are they frustrated.
The debut of Javier Mascherano provided particular intrigue. When Barcelona were breaking forward, the Argentine would hold fire, slotting back into a make-shift back three. This would provide the Blaugrana with effectively an attack force of seven players, yet providing sufficient bodies to cover at the back. Almost the perfect formula, it would seem. However, when on the back foot, Mascherano appeared to disappear into an uncomfortable central area, never really knowing who to pick up. This possibly provided part of the answer as to why Hercules were allowed free-reign to run at the Catalonian defence on several occasions. Ultimately, Mascherano’s substitution at half-time came as little surprise, yet as with every new signing time is necessary to adapt. Nonetheless, the Argentine hatchet man will not have long to impress the demanding Blaugrana faithful, with many beginning to question already what he can offer that more than Sergio Busquets.
It would be unlikely for Barcelona to slip into some sort of extended dip in form. The result smacks of early-season rust, such as the 1-0 defeat to Numancia on Guardiola’s debut in 2008 – the same season the club went on to win the treble, it is worth noting. Nevertheless a rapid response will be demanded, but no rash changes in tactics or personnel are required. Guardiola has enough previous success in the bank to be allowed to dismiss this as an off-day.
21 Adriano – 3 Pique – 22 Abidal – 19 Maxwell
15 Keita – 8 Iniesta
9 Bojan – 7 Villa – 10 Messi
46 – 6 Xavi on for 14 Mascherano
46 – 17 Pedro on for 9 Bojan
46 – 2 Alves on for 21 Adriano