I’m hoping the answer to that question is a negative, but I know I may be grasping at straws. I have been as frustrated as anyone over the team’s recent performances, but there were a few promising signs in this game. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Either way, this was how I saw it.
8’ - Bale’s first touch is just ridiculous.
10’ - Odriozola is really good at manufacturing just enough space to get in a dangerous cross.
15’ - Benzema looks so much better so far. Multiple shots on target, zipping in excellent crosses, active all across the pitch.
18’ - This is the kind of play that looks good even when no goals are scored. They look energized and like they could make the breakthrough at any moment.
22’ - Ramos to the rescue. He came across to save that ugly back pass with the quickness I’m used to seeing from Varane.
23’ - I’m tired of hearing Phil Schoen saying “Keylor Navas would have gotten that one.” I’m a huge Navas fan myself, and I have been against signing another big money goalkeeper every year lately, but Courtois is top class and is objectively playing well and getting better. He has always done this as an announcer. I remember when Barça swapped Eto’o out for Ibrahimovic - another move I was not in favor of - and he spent the entire season talking about what Eto’o would or wouldn’t have done. A little bit of this speculation makes sense. The constant harping on it is annoying.
27’ – We are defending just well enough to get by. At least for now.
37’ – The crossfield balls are better and more plentiful today.
38’ - Nacho has looked better than expected passing and on the ball at left back. I think of him as just a functional replacement but he has looked like a little more than that. He’s no Marcelo there but he has deputized well. The lack of creativity from that position is a tough loss though.
2nd half - Happy to see Mariano come on, but it sucks that Benz had to come off. He actually looked better this game.
50’ - Ahhh just take the shot! Great work with his feet, but Mariano needed to just crank that one.
51’ - Hey look at that - Kroos not jogging. Great clearance.
52’ - Mariano’s movement looks good.
65’ - Great ball from Modric to get Odriozola in behind that back line. Just too crowded in the box to get it across.
66’ - What happened to Mariano? He has disappeared the last few minutes. Player positioning doesn’t look great overall. Everyone is sitting on top of each other.
88’ - The phrase that comes to mind is “grinding our gears.” It’s just same ol’, same ol’ right now. Continuous pressure but nothing decisive in the end
95’ – Aaaand there it is. The result of not capitalizing on any of those earlier chances. This is definitely a gut punch, but I can’t say I was particularly shocked to see it happen. That can’t be a good sign.
I don’t exactly know how to feel about this game. I actually thought we looked pretty good throughout the first half and was surprised we didn’t find a breakthrough. Benzema’s performance was much more promising in the early going and I was sure he was going to break his dry spell, but it was not to be.
As the second half wore on, things got more and more entrenched and it looked like we were kind of out of ideas out there. I loved the decision to bring Mariano on to start the second half, but I still think he can coexist with Benzema and would love to see that combo given a serious shot.
Weirdly enough, I feel like I see more up side after this match than I did after Moscow. We looked more confident in our style of play and seemed genuinely unlucky not to score on some of those great chances. I never saw that in Moscow, which could be due to the fact that we were chasing the game from the very beginning. The best part of the coaching change for me has been how much better the defense has looked, which has to be down to Lopetegui’s organization of the team and the possession-focused style. We look more solid than we did in La Liga in years past, and it feels like a few better link-ups and moments of individual genius – which this team definitely has the potential for – and we would be in high gear. This says, to me at least, that with a little more time playing together in this system and a few of our key players coming back from injury we could absolutely turn things around. That makes me distinctly hopeful about how the season could eventually turn out, even despite the mishap that let in the deciding goal in this game.
The fact that the other top teams have also been less than stellar is exceedingly helpful as well. At the start of the season, I told my Barça-supporting brother that I would view a third place finish and quarterfinals of the Champions League as a successful first post-Ronaldo outcome. And despite the disappointing recent results, I still think we look better than those preseason expectations would have predicted. If we can get a little healthier, a little sharper, and a little luckier, we could still have quite a good season ahead of us. I’m pulling for JLo to figure it out.