It can hardly be described as a crisis. Barcelona sits top of La Liga with an amazing 40 points from a possible 45 and is through to the second round of the Champions League as the group winner. But two losses in the space of five days have taken the gloss off the Catalans' superb season start. Under the surface, the cracks are beginning to appear - and now Gerardo Martino must move to fill them by signing in January.
Defeat at Ajax in midweek had been put down to the club's considerable injury list, as a number of players missed out with muscle problems. The 2-1 loss in Amsterdam had been a freak result, they said. No reason for alarm.
But Martino was left furious by Barca's poor performance in the Dutch capital and insisted his team would put things right against Athletic. The Argentine boss had told his players exactly what he felt about their performance on Tuesday and was confident they would react positively at San Mames to show that what happened on Tuesday was nothing more than an accident.
Lightning, however, struck twice. Barca's goal on Tuesday had come via a fortuitous penalty; on Sunday the Catalans again failed to score from open play and rarely looked like doing so. Neymar, so promising earlier this term, was expected to grow in the absence of the injured Lionel Messi. Instead, he has shrunk and, like the rest of his teammates, seems to struggle against strong and physical opponents.
The Brazilian was fouled outside the area by Ander Iturraspe at 0-0 and Barca appealed for a red card for the Athletic midfielder. But it was only yellow and the Catalans were furious. "The referee didn't do his job properly - it was a red card," Sergio Busquets claimed afterwards. Neymar also came close to scoring in the first half with a rasping drive pushed over by Gorka Iraizoz, but failed to make the desired impact when Barca needed him most.
- Sports & Recreation
- Gerardo Martino