If Brendan Rodgers needs a motivational statistic to throw into his team-talk on Wednesday night he might mention that this is the worst start to a league season for Barcelona in a decade.
Just don’t dwell too long on the details – they still lie second in La Liga and Leo Messi, who is more often than not absent when they are below par, will be back to lead their attack.
The early season La Liga depression plumbed new depths at the weekend when they failed to score against Malaga. That 0-0 means they have just 26 points from a possible 36 and not since 2007 has any Barcelona team started worse.
Frank Rijkaard’s Barça took just 24 points from the team’s first 12 fixtures in that campaign. Since then Pep Guardiola (four times), Tito Vilanova, Tata Martino, and Luis Enrique (twice) have all started better.
There have been some standout poor results, too. They were beaten at home 2-1 by newly-promoted Alaves and although they recovered sufficiently to beat Celtic 7-0 in their next game, they were beaten 4-3 by Celta Vigo, have drawn against Atletico Madrid and Malaga at home, and were fortunate to come away from Valencia with all three points in a 3-2 win. They also only just saw off bottom club Granada 1-0 at home.
Until Saturday, goals had not really been a problem. They have found the net 32 times in the first 12 matches, beating last season’s tally of 29 at this stage, but throwing Gerard Pique up front as an auxiliary centre-forward was a tactic used alarmingly early in the second half against Malaga – a telltale sign of a sudden inability to break down well-drilled defences.
Without Andres Iniesta’s ingenuity in midfield, the brilliance of Messi and the brute force of Luis Suarez, they never looked like penetrating a team well set-up by former Spurs boss Juande Ramos.
Paco Alcacer cost £30million in the summer from Valencia but in eight games he is yet to score. Unfortunately for Rodgers it will be Leo, not Paco, upfront on Wednesday night.
‘We’re Barca and we can’t blame absences,’ Pique said.
‘We have players that cost a lot of money and a huge budget if we compare it with Malaga’s. There are no excuses for not winning.
‘It’s worrying that we’ve dropped so many points at home. No one wants to draw against a rival that in theory we should beat. We’ve dropped two points.
‘Now we have to focus on [Celtic in] the Champions League,’ Pique said.
Messi is the common factor in all four league games that Barcelona have failed to win – he didn’t play 90 minutes in any of them. When club doctor Ricard Pruna was called to the player’s home on Friday night because he was vomiting and had stomach cramps he was told to rest and see how he felt in the morning. Barcelona were already without the suspended Suarez but when there was no improvement, they had to play without him and they suffered.
Neymar, who comes into Wednesday’s game a booking away from missing the last group game through suspension, failed to deliver without his usual strike partners.
‘Messi and Suarez are two of the best and you always miss them, but it’s not an excuse,’ admitted midfielder Sergio Busquets. ‘We tried a thousand times and we couldn’t score. ‘We wanted to get all three points. They sat back and it was really difficult to beat them.
‘We put a few more crosses into the box in the second half but we’re missing a bit of luck at the moment. They wanted to defend, that was their game-plan and we couldn’t find a way through.
‘We knew they would play with five in defence but they played with everyone behind the ball. We knew they would and we know these kind of games are difficult. We scored goals that were disallowed and we missed out on the points.’
If that pending Neymar suspension is an added problem so is Barcelona’s fixture list. They go away to Real Sociedad next Saturday having not won at Anoeta since the 2006-07 season. They lost 1-0 there last term and by the same scoreline two seasons ago when David Moyes was in charge of the Basque club.
The following week they have a Clasico which they must now win to get themselves back into the title race and three days later they play Borussia Monchengladbach with their chances of winning the group still likely to be up in the air.