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FC Barcelona weaknesses were revealed in Sevilla defeat

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The loss with Sevilla was a surprise, but it may actually turn out to be a good learning curve for the current Barcelona side. With so many weaknesses exposed, Luis Enrique now has ten days across the international break to resolve some of these potentially crippling issues. 

1. Reducing the level of expectations on Neymar

On occasion I've been constructively critical of the Brazilian during his time at the Camp Nou but there's no escaping either his exceptional talent or his growing maturity- unless you work in some branches of the Spanish media.

There's a school of thought (and I want to rally against it) that unless Neymar scores, he's not had a good game and "isn't stepping up to the plate." It's a sentiment that seems to have grown in many branches of the nation's football media since Lionel Messi's injury.

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On that infamous "1 + 1 = 3" line of thinking, too many people immediately turned to Neymar and Suarez with the media verdict that they'd have to instantly give more because the club's genius was absent.

First, it ignores the primary responsibility that all of the other Barcelona players had once Messi was injured.

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The responsibility for each of them to react, to raise standards and, specifically, to address the central fault that had dominated even before Messi's injury. Namely, the current trend that opponents are converting about 90 percent of the clear-cut chances they generate against Barcelona. The European champions continue to generate enough goal opportunities to win six or seven matches while they concede an improbably high ratio of goals to chances conceded.

Second, in Neymar's case particularly, the idea that the Brazilian must immediately start doing "Messi-esque" things ignores the facts that he's not yet near the Argentinian's level either in his basic football armoury or his experience and maturity. Also, this demand for Neymar to instantly "become" Messi ignores just how much Neymar did contribute in Saturday's defeat at Sevilla.

If you view it as his responsibility to "be" Messi in Messi's absence, then of course the Brazilian will fall short 90 percent of the time. View the game with clear eyes and it's obvious that Neymar very nearly produced a match-winning performance, did by far the most damage to Sevilla's game plan and, for neutrals, produced moments of sublime skill and vision which make watching football worthwhile.

Neymar put Suarez clean through twice, forced two exceptional saves from Sergio Rico, hit the post from a superb free kick, converted the penalty and produced one particular moment of skill -- when he came away from tight pressing by Steven N'Zonzi, Coke and Grzegorz Krychowiak before nutmegging Marco Andreolli -- that verged on the miraculous.

Barcelona lost and Messi's absence was noted but don't let anyone fool you: Neymar produced a significant display of brilliance, team spirit and intelligence. His main fault, apart from a smattering of bad luck, is that he's not Messi, possibly the greatest footballer ever.

2. Re-installing the aerial presence

When Juan Carlos Unzue arrived at the club with Luis Enrique, the improvement was both clear and continuous. Unzue dedicated more time to teaching the Barcelona defence what to do; he made their work more strategic and suddenly, it became a badge of pride for the Blaugrana players not to concede in that manner.

This type of defending is as much a mental thing as it is a physical skill -- concentration, alertness and attitude all form vital components in facing a free kick or corner into the area. But so does winning and maintaining the ball high up the pitch. There's no better defence than keeping possession of the football 50 metres from your own goalmouth.

That too has diminished, but Unzue, Enrique and their players need to get back to the drawing board. Both from open play and set plays, Barca have lost focus, intensity, sharpness, organisation and, as a result, confidence.

Watching Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Suarez snarling at each other after Bayer Leverkusen went 1-0 up at the Camp Nou last week and then losing to a free header in Sevilla are all the evidence you need.

3. Refocus Mathieu

Last season Mathieu started life uncertainly at Barcelona, reaching a particular low in the 3-1 defeat to Madrid in the first Clasico and admitting that he wasn't comfortable playing left-back at such short notice. Or, indeed, at all.

But his second half of the season was pretty special. Tests proved he was pretty much the quickest sprinter in the squad and from roughly December to June, he began to show it. Athletically sound, his judgement about where to be and his tackle timing improved dramatically.

Instead of looking ropey, he was suddenly anticipating the play, producing a safety net for colleagues and even scoring big goals. Take away his game-winners at home to Madrid or away in Vigo and Barcelona don't win the league and, as such, don't win the treble.

However, this season has been extraordinary. His woeful "step-up," having already played Sevilla onside, allowing Vitolo to get the decisive goal on Saturday was symbolic of his work since the European Super Cup.

The take-home message is that Mathieu doesn't resemble a treble-winning defender right now. Not all of Barcelona's problems stem from his work, but he's repeatedly making them worse.

Is it physical tiredness? Mental burnout from such an amazing season? Is it Father Time knocking at his door even though he's only 32? Is it confidence -- either too much of it or too little?

Whatever it is, particularly while Barcelona's squad is suffering so badly from repetitive injuries, Mathieu has to pull his weight, and Luis Enrique (or his coaching and medical team) needs to diagnose and cure whatever it is that ails the Frenchman.

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Topics:
Barcelona
La Liga
Neymar
Football

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