Barcelona drew 2-2 with Espanyol, La Liga’s bottom side, and this should be yet another warning sign for Ernesto Valverde in a season that’s been full of them. It’s not just because they failed to beat the side propping up the table, one that had not won a game at home since last season. It’s to do with the general lack of coherence and urgency in their play, making them dependent on individual moments of brilliance rather than good, sustained build-up.
This season, it’s usually been Lionel Messi to the rescue. On Saturday it was Luis Suarez for the most part, and then after he came off the bench, Arturo Vidal. It is astonishing that Vidal has started just four league games this season, yet scored more goals than the rest of the midfielders combined. Valverde is mysteriously reluctant to trust Vidal, and while the midfielder can be inconsistent and reckless, his disciplinary record this season is better than Sergio Busquets or Frenkie de Jong. Incidentally, the Dutchman was sent off on Saturday.
Additionally, it’s not like Valverde has the likes of Iniesta or Xavi at his disposal to justify keeping Vidal out of the team. De Jong is new and still settling in, while it seems like Ivan Rakitic’s time is past. Arthur has been injured for over a month now, while Carles Alena was sent on loan to Real Betis, and Busquets has never been the most mobile player. In such a situation, it may be worth giving more playing time to Vidal, especially because Barca’s creativity has been almost non-existent this season. Their open play xG is at 28.98, from which they’ve scored 46 open-play goals, highlighting just how reliant they have been on individual brilliance and the lack of clear-cut chances being created. It’s an enormous gap that one can expect to revert to the mean over the season, even with a superstar like Messi papering over the cracks.
What’s even more surprising is that rumours persist linking Vidal with a move away from the Camp Nou. Unless there is a plan to bring in a midfielder in January (which will be extremely difficult), it would be a ridiculous move on Valverde’s part. While the manager has suffered from some undeserved criticism at times, this would completely be on him. The main issue at Barcelona is that their midfield simply does not create enough chances, to go with their defensive problems and the expectations on Antoine Griezmann. All of this leads towards them being even more dependent on Lionel Messi.