The final blow came when Real Madrid’s 4-2 win over neighbours Getafe gave them a two-point lead over Barcelona. Whilst just two games into the season, it is significant for being the first time Real have had such an advantage over the Catalans for three years – dating back to September 27, 2008.
The draw away to Sociedad highlighted the re-emergence of one of Barcelona’s weak-spots. With nearly half of all Sociedad’s attacks coming down the home side’s right wing, it was no secret that Coach Philippe Montainer had told his men to focus on troubling Barcelona’s left-back Adriano. Imanol Agirretxe’s catalytic headed goal came after Adriano did not close Xabi Prieto down quick enough, and allowed him to cross in from the right.
The result was hard to take for L’equip Blaugrana – they dominated possession and the players’ frustration was clear to see. Midfielder Sergio Busquets, who played centre-back in a back-line again without Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, spoke on Sunday of the need to “correct the mistakes” that ultimately cost his side all three points: “Last year we also began with problems, losing to Hercules, but it’s no good worrying about it.”
Puyol and Pique’s imminent return from respective injuries will go some way to fixing these mistakes, but there have still been occasions when these two have played and the same weakness has drawn pressure. Given their technical talent, Barcelona much prefer to defend against teams who keep the ball on the floor, and become unorganised when defending high balls from crosses and set-pieces.
Their shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of Hercules early last season highlighted both this and their left back problem. After a cross into the box from a Hercules free-kick was not properly dealt with, Nelson Valdez poked a shot past Victor Valdes to gain the lead. Hercules’ second came from Barcelona’s left when Tiago Gomes ran too easily off Eric Abidal – playing centre-back but pulled out the left – and cut back for Valdez to finish and cause a big upset.
Since that upset, there have been a number of high-profile games where Barcelona have conceded the same type of goal. Cristiano Ronaldo’s winning header in the Copa del Rey final happened because the Portuguese forward found himself unmarked and in a good amount of space between Pique and Adriano. More recently, in Barca’s Super Cup games against Real in August, their rivals scored four goals against them. Three of these goals came from crosses and the other from when Karim Benzema beat Abidal on the right wing and set up Mesut Ozil.
Admittedly, Barcelona’s style of play usually means opponents have very few chances to attack them, or to highlight any vulnerabilities. However, having struggled to hide them against Sociedad, it is interesting to see Pep Guardiola’s side immediately face Milan, a team with physical presence in attack, and players such as Antonio Cassano and Ignazio Abate who will target Barca’s left-back position. The odds may still be in the Spanish side’s favour, but after a demoralising weekend for Barcelona, Milan will rarely have a better chance to get their first victory over them since October 2004.