Honeymoon over for Guardiola

September 14, 2008

Last night saw Racing de Santander visit the Nou Camp in the first home match of the new season, a match that was last lost in 1987. However, the final result is, according to Catalan television, the worst start to the season since the 1970s and a section of the fickle Barça crowd showed their displeasure at the result by waving their handkerchiefs during the match.

In some ways it is hard to see why Barcelona failed to win, as during the first half they kept possession for 80 percent of the match and when losing the ball, recapturing it quickly. However, possession isn’t the same as attacking the goal, and this they did far too rarely during the first half, making it spectacularly dull to watch.

Hleb was brought down in the 36th minute and in clear agony, earning Racing a yellow car, one of several throughout the match. After being attended by medics he was helped off the pitch, limping heavily and it was later announced that he’ll be out of action for some time with ligament damage.

When the teams came on after half time it looked like Barça were determined to do something, with Dani Alves immediately attacked Racing’s goal, although unsuccessful. And when Iniesta was taken down in the penalty area it looked like it would go Barcelona’s way – the penalty wasn’t given though.

However, Barça had clearly ratcheted up the pressure, with a long hard shot from Xavi clearing the cross bar in the 51st minute, a quick flurry of play from Keita to Iniesta to Pedro failing to go in two minutes later following soon after by a near own goal caused by Barcelona’s increased pressure.

Leo Messi was brought in to increase the pressure on racing in place of Keita and immediately got to work, with a cheer of support from the Barça crowd and a couple of fast attacks on the Racing goal. And when Barcelona were awarded a penalty in the 69th minute, Messi was finally able to put the ball in the back of the net.

Just five minutes later though and Racing were awarded a free kick. Hitting the ball hard, it was slightly deflected and completely misjudged by Victor Valdes, who dived the wrong way. Barcelona kept up the attack, but failed to do anything more and the final result was 1-1.

Overall, the second half was much more exciting to watch, and Barcelona’s possession down to 64 percent reflected the fact that they were losing the ball more often to Racing because they were attacking the goal. However, the team is suffering from exactly the same problem as under Rijkaard, regardless of the squad having had an extreme makeover – despite dominating possession of the ball and attacking the goal frequently they fail to score.

Guardiola must have thought his honeymoon would last longer than these first two matches of the season. Hailed as a deity when first announced in the early summer, he has shown that he can’t walk on water after all.

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