Barcelona were presented with an opportunity to go 10 points ahead of Real Madrid and all but get a stranglehold in their quest for LaLiga title.
Instead, the Catalan side put in an abject performance away to Almeria and deservedly suffered a 1-0 defeat.
Here are three talking points coming out of the match.
Barcelona’s lack of depth once again at the forefront
Coming off the Europa League elimination, Xavi Hernandez decided to rotate his side against Almeria who, before the start of the match, were in a relegation spot.
It was quite clear, however, once the match got underway, those players Xavi opted to start weren’t up to par even against a team near the bottom of the table.
The likes of Sergi Roberto, Eric Garcia and Jordi Alba were well below par and it was no surprise all three ended up being subbed out in the second half.
While injuries have decimated Barcelona recently, that those players have to be relied upon, particularly Sergi Roberto, hits at the severe lack of depth. What’s more, things are unlikely to get better next season with all three expected to be back next season unless something unexpected happens.
Xavi gets his formation wrong
Building upon the first point, Xavi was short of options as they were already without Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé. Then things got worse as Ansu Fati picked up a knock and ruled out.
Therefore, it was surprising Xavi decided to go with the 4-4-2 formation with Gavi playing higher on the left. Against Almeria, who were likely going to sit deep and try to hit on the counter, it would have made more sense to play with an actual forward.
Angel Alarcon was the only other forward available as the plan appeared to be to give Raphinha a break, though he came on in the second half.
The team looked a little better once Alarcon and Pablo Torre were brought on. Part of it has to do with the fact they’re youngsters and eager to impress. The fact there was improvement showed how poor the players who were subbed off were.
Barcelona chose the worst time to have their worst game
As mentioned, Barcelona could have all ended the talk of a LaLiga title race. They could have gone into the Copa del Rey semifinal first leg against Real Madrid with a double digit advantage.
Instead, they now go in hoping to reverse their fortunes and not have make an already poor week even more disastrous.
Had Barcelona created opportunities and had them saved by the goalkeeper or from last ditch tackles from the defenders, it would be one thing. But Barcelona were pitiful, with no bite in attack and resorting to sending in cross after cross with the hope someone may end up making contact. When Barça start resorting to that, it’s not been a good day at the office.
“It was a golden opportunity with Madrid having drawn and we played the worst game at the worst moment of the season,” Xavi said.
Xavi certainly shares a brunt of that responsibility and the criticism directed at him following the defeat is warranted.
It was a wake-up call and one that for their sake need to heed before Thursday’s match at the Santiago Bernabeu. A seven-point lead is still a healthy one but the last thing they wanted to do was hand a life preserver to Real Madrid and while it may only be a small one, that’s all Madrid need.
The pressure is now back on Barcelona and it’s time they show some mental fortitude; something they have lacked for a long time now.