Paco Alcacer's tough start at Barca continues in Champions League
Barcelona's second half fightback to beat Borussia Monchengladbach 2-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday night proved Luis Enrique knows how to find solutions when the going gets tough, but the fact his team were in a sticky situation in the first place says a lot about his handling of Paco Alcacer.
While it is too early to dismiss Alcacer's career with Barca, the former Valencia striker has a lot of work to do to prove those who questioned the need, not to mention the cost, of his signing.
Despite the circa €40 million (including bonuses) it took to take Alcacer from Valencia to Camp Nou, few expected him to start at Borussia Park in the same attack as Luis Suarez. After all, Alcacer was signed as an extra "nueve" (No.9), in theory, to give Barca the option to rest the ruthless Uruguayan, and most predicted starting lineups in the Spanish media had Arda Turan or Rafinha in for the injured Lionel Messi.
Luis Enrique raised eyebrows by naming Alcacer in a front two with Suarez, but once the game began it was obvious this makeshift formation he had adopted to accommodate the two centre forwards, which saw Neymar playing behind the two, was not going to work.
Barca looked disjointed in attack, with no variation and little threat from wide areas. Whereas Messi and Suarez often interchange between the right wing and the centre of attack, with the Argentine often drifting to the left too, Alcacer was often spotted stranded on the left wing, far away from his strike partner and far away from the action. It was all too easy for a disciplined Gladbach to predict Barca's attacking forays.
Although the home side were not exactly running Barca ragged, an uncharacteristic error by Sergio Busquets facilitated Thorgan Hazard's opener and the Catalans were suddenly in big trouble.
With few signs of the team awakening from their slumber, Luis Enrique hooked the hapless and inactive Alcacer for Rafinha, who had played so well in the front three in the 5-0 mauling of Sporting Gijon on Sep. 24, eight minutes into the second half.
Five minutes later he brought on Arda Turan for Ivan Rakitic and Barca soon began to resemble their usual selves, controlling the flow of the game and regaining sharpness in attack. It was through the skill of Neymar, the tenacity of Turan and the bloody-mindedness of Gerard Pique, not to mention the sloppy goalkeeping of Yann Sommer, that Barca turned the game in their favour.
Even though they sit top of the group with six points from six and in the driving seat to qualify for the round of 16, the Barcelona press were still scathing towards Alcacer.
"Luis Enrique took 53 minutes to realise his error, his error of starting Alcacer with Suarez in a strange looking 4-2-3-1. For those 53 minutes, Barca were not Barca," said Sport.
"The formation with Alcacer was more a problem than a solution and Luis Enrique's side were jammed up front," said Marca.
AS was the most scathing. Their verdict? "Alcacer was a shipwreck."
Where does this leave him? The Spain international knew full well when he joined Barca in the final days of the transfer window that he was not their primary transfer target, and that he only became an option once bids for Kevin Gameiro and Luciano Vietto fell through. He also knew he would have sparse opportunities in the team with the record breaking, world beating "MSN" trio ahead of him in the pecking order.
He will be hurting the most about his stuttering start to life at the club, and we could see as much in his reaction to his shot hitting the bar against Sporting, even though Neymar turned in the rebound.
It is up to Alcacer to put in the hard work on the training ground and pay attention to video playbacks, to get firing for his new employers.
But Luis Enrique is not helping either. The best way to give Alcacer confidence is to put him in the lone striker role alongside Neymar, or even Messi when he returns, ideally at Camp Nou, and leave Suarez on the bench. Asking him to share the area with Suarez in a difficult European away trip did not help the striker, whose confidence is not exactly sky high at the moment.
The front covers of Mundo Deportivo and Sport on Thursday crowed about goalscorers Turan and Pique, but Alcacer's struggles still loom large, especially considering he was brought in specifically for games like Thursday's.
Even though Barca got there in the end, their €40m man failed to deliver and he and his coach have a lot of work to do to ensure his transfer pays dividends in the end.
Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.