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Xavi's Barcelona are stumbling around in the dark


Everything is strange at Barcelona these days, with Joan Laporta acting as Floretino Pérez’s altar boy in the Super League crusade and Xavi’s team in a state of flux in search of a place in the European sun that it has not yet found. Hanging on to fourth place in LaLiga by the skin of their teeth through the courtesy of Atlético’s slump, it was a strange scene on Thursday, in terms of the panorama and the hour of the day, when Barça made their Europa League debut, which went neither well nor particularly badly. Under the guidance of Xavi, Barça seem to be stumbling around in the dark, feeling about with their hands so as not to knock over any furniture as they seek a door handle leading to somewhere else.

Barça were poor in the first half, Frenkie de Jong failing in his attempt to be Sergio Busquets, and with Gavi on the outside looking in when everyone was asking why he wasn’t playing inside. Napoli went about their business in their own way, stopping Adama Traoré’s runs, which have been Barça’s most potent weapon since his arrival on loan from Wolves. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is out of form, that is evident. And Ferran Torres can’t but a slice of luck in front of goal. With little control in the middle of the park and a toothless attack, Barça went into the break behind because Napoli profited from one of their rare forays towards the opposition goal. There is nothing particularly strange about that: scoring against Barça is not a difficult task at the moment.

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Dembélé, De Jong highlight Barcelona's identity crisis

The tie was salvaged to some extent in the second half through a Torres penalty, which may or not have been given before the new regulations came into effect. I have long since given up trying to understand what constitutes a handball these days and what doesn’t, but the penalty was a welcome antidote to all of the chances Barça spurned, not least via the boots of Torres himself. There was still time left to witness Ousmane Dembélé get a run-out to a chorus of disapproval that he quelled with two electric attacks, and Luuk de Jong, who was received with an ovation that would have been unimaginable three months ago, and which he repaid with a glorious effort that flashed narrowly wide. What strange days these are for Barcelona.


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