Cutting edge missing as Barca are held

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona achieved a goalless 0-0 draw against Osasuna at the Reyno de Navarra in Matchday 9 of La Liga. The Blaugrana enjoyed 73 percent of possession, created 12 goalscoring chances and attempted nine shots, three of them on target.

- La Liga Review

Key 1 -- The Catalans hardly tested the Osasuna goalkeeper until the second half of the game. As usual, the team managed to control possession in midfield but, unfortunately, they did not demonstrate enough fire upfront to challenge the well-organised rival back-line.

Far too often, Barcelona's patient build up game was then followed by a disappointingly final ball, sometimes either too rushed or just not accurate enough to pick the open man.

Neymar was the most dangerous forward, looking sharper and more involved than the rest of his teammates. His confident approach and ability to attract defenders allowed him to assist those around him. While it is also true that the Brazilian international was dispossessed at times when trying to dribble a number of opponents, he always looked the most likely to make things happen in the final attacking third.

After a couple of weeks on intensive work in order to recover from his latest thigh strain, Lionel Messi returned to action in the 68th minute. From that very moment, Barcelona increased the tempo and became even more determined to chase the victory. The quality of passing, first touches when controlling the ball and rotation movement into space upfront were also visibly better.

A couple of clear chances were created but, regrettably, Cesc Fabregas was not capable of converting either of them and take the three points back to the Camp Nou -- It was clearly too little too late for the Catalans.

Having said that, and thanks to Espanyol's win over Atletico de Madrid (1-0 at the Cornella-El Prat), Gerardo Martino's side are now leading the table with one point over Los Colchoneros and three over Real Madrid. The upcoming battle of El Clasico will certainly be decisive in order to shape the title race for the remainder of the season.

Key 2 -- Carles Puyol came back to the starting lineup after 224 days fighting to recover from a devastating right knee injury on the sidelines. The courageous captain returned with the motivation of a fresh La Masia youngster and slotted right into his classic centre-half position next to the much-improved Marc Bartra.

While it is clear that Puyol's fitness is far from his former best due to the obvious lack of competitive matches, I must say that his relentless attitude, faultless commitment and contagious leadership were as good as ever. His experience and ability to read the game allowed him to intercept many through-passes and motivate those around him in the way that only a legendary player of his calibre can.

I definitely couldn't be more delighted to see the eternal Catalan back in the team doing what he does best: Leading the Blaugrana back-line from within and performing his defensive duties in such a professional manner an impressive 15 seasons after his first team debut.

Key 3 -- Barcelona have an incredibly tough week ahead, facing AC Milan at the San Siro on Tuesday and Real Madrid at home on Saturday.

While the Catalan giants have been performing to a considerably high standard so far this season, it would be wise to take this goalless draw against Osasuna as an early warning sign: Unless the team manages to up the tempo and bring their best version of themselves from the initial whistle, any opponents who are capable of fielding a robust defensive line and break quickly on the counter have a chance to succeed.

Gerardo Martino has been very careful when rotating his squad since he landed at the Camp Nou. Let's hope his methodical approach to mitigate the effects of player fatigue has been as effective as expected and Barcelona can field a competitive eleven in order to get a couple of crucial victories over the next seven days.

The Quote -- "We should have won given the chances we created. I'm pleased with the team's performance. We weren't accurate in front of goal. In the first half we were missing that final pass. We were off by centimetres. I would be concerned if there had been a decline in our performance. We tied because that’s how it had to be, I don't think our level has dropped." -- Martino.

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For more news and opinion notes on Barcelona, follow Francesc Tomas at @TomasESPN and Barcablog on Facebook; 49,500 Cules have already joined.


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