Manero

Free Falling

By: Alfonso Duro

Real Madrid reigns victorious in Spain after clearly defeating Barcelona in El Clásico at Santiago Bernabéu 3-1. There has been nothing but praise for the Merengue boys, while Luis Enrique and his battalion have already been dragged through the mud. The Blaugranas were not at their best, for sure, and Real Madrid could have collected a much larger bounty had they been a bit more inspired in front of Claudio Bravo, so the question still remains in determining if this was Barça’s worst night or the beginning of the end.

MESSI, ARE YOU THERE? The worst version of the Argentine crept up from the gutters it had been hiding in since the World Cup, at the worst possible time. This time around Messi didn’t throw up on the pitch, but his feelings about the game were quite clear: he was uninterested. He tried a bit in the first half, but once Real Madrid disconnected the Culés’ midfield, the four-time Ballon D’Or winner disappeared from the match. Lionel Messi is only 27 years old, and hardly near the end of his career, but he may need to revamp his motivations in order to shine again. Perhaps that means moving far away from Barcelona.

CATALANS LOSING GAS. So much talk about the lack of support for Catalonia’s secession referendum seems to have confused the Barça players and managers. The brilliant squad Pep Guardiola formed in 2009 had a core of Catalan players who kept the squad together in the toughest times. Valdés, Puyol, Xavi or Piqué, among others, were waving the flag of the nationalist sentiment within the club, and now that pride has diluted and almost disappeared. Valdés, Puyol and Cesc have left, Piqué was one of the worst players on the field in El Clásico, while Xavi and Busquets were mere shadows of the stars they once were. Jordi Alba didn’t even suit up. At least Luis Enrique—not a Catalan himself, but bleeding Blaugrana blood through and through—seems like the right man to recover his squad’s self-esteem and fervor.

DEFENSIVE HAVOC. Claudio Bravo marked a goaltending record in his first eight games of La Liga, thus proving Barça’s defense is one of the best in Europe. Or is it? The team looked really weak on the back as it faced the two toughest games of the season so far, the PSG in the Champions League and Real Madrid in El Clásico. Six goals in these two matches, even though both teams did not have their full attacking arsenal in tip-top shape, have raised many alarms in Barcelona. Gareth Bale missed the match this weekend, Ronaldo seemed to still be limping after playing in Anfield midweek and Ibrahimović didn’t even play in Parc des Princes. Ibra would have loved to play that game against the Culés and we surely missed the chance for some great comments from the Swede. Yet, Barça’s defensive line was able to breathe not facing these attacking machines full on.

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL. But not all hope is lost. Luis Suárez finally made his debut with the Blaugranas, and he not only assisted Neymar in the first goal but also managed to not to bite or insult any of his opponents! The time he was on the pitch—he was the starting 11’s surprise—he showed a pretty good connection with Neymar and Messi, so fans are eagerly awaiting for the “Gunman” to get back into the swing of things. Plus, Luis Enrique’s bet for the Old Guard (Xavi, Pique, Iniesta...) kept him from truly testing the potential of newcomers like Rakitić, Rafinha, Bartra, etc. The Culés have spent a lot of money this summer and have a stellar squad, so there’s a lot to go through before we can officially declare the team deceased. On the other hand, if these new assets don’t pan out, the freak out in the Camp Nou club could be major, even more so knowing they can’t sign any players until December 2015. No pressure, guys.

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.