Barcelona win, but still lack balance in Luis Enrique's new system
Luis Enrique had one of those "glass half-empty, glass half-full days" with Barcelona's 4-2 win against Valencia on Sunday.
The good news? Lionel Messi is in beast mode, scoring twice to take his seasonal total to 41 for the eighth consecutive year. Given that Barcelona will play a minimum of 13 and a maximum of 16 games the rest of the campaign, it's entirely possible he'll break the 50-goal mark for the fifth time in his career. And that, ladies and gentlemen, are PlayStation numbers.
And it's not just Messi. Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Neymar all looked sharp in the 3-4-3 and truth be told, Barca could have scored many more goals. If your big guns are firing this time of year, you have reason to be optimistic.
On the flip side, the latest iteration of the back three proved to be disastrous defensively against a Valencia side that had taken four of a possible 12 points in their last four outings. Barca dominated possession (they ended up on 73 percent) but it felt as if every time they turned the ball over, it only took a couple passes for somebody to pop up in front of Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Part of it was an off day for Sergio Busquets but a lot of it has to with the set-up and personnel.
In a 3-4-3, it's essential that the wingers work with the side of the diamond to take turns tracking back and helping on the counter. Otherwise, one of your center-backs gets pulled wide, opening up space inside for others to exploit. Against Valencia, the Ivan Rakitic-Rafinha and Iniesta-Neymar combinations didn't quite work as effectively off the ball as you'd hoped.
Luis Enrique will no doubt get criticism this week for the 3-4-3, not least because it means a popular international like Jordi Alba doesn't get on the pitch. Given that it's been barely month since he brought in this system, I don't think it's worth giving up just yet. But Barca will need to improve in terms of execution and, perhaps, make a tough decision in terms of personnel to maintain a modicum of balance against counterattacking sides.
To read more of Gabriele Marcotti's thoughts on what happened over the previous week, click here.