Barcelona took another step towards what looks now an inevitable retention of the La Liga title with last weekend’s 6-0 stroll past Getafe at the Camp Nou - but the game also brought back a shadow hanging over the team which could, maybe, derail their bid for a ‘double treble’ this season.
Barca and especially Lionel Messi were superb during the first half at the Camp Nou on Saturday afternoon. Messi was involved in the move which lead to Getafe midfielder Juan Rodriguez’s own goal, then assisted Munir El-Haddadi and Neymar strikes, before hammering home a fine 20 yarder of his own. After the break, the blaugrana number 10 laid on Neymar’s second, before being close by as Arda Turan acrobatically scored Barca’s sixth.
Even with key players like Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets rested, Barca eased to a 12th straight La Liga win, maintaining their eight point lead over second placed Atletico Madrid, and completed a 37th match unbeaten in all competitions.
The pretty content atmosphere among Barca fans and pundits was not deflated by Messi having missed yet another penalty early in the first half. When Getafe goalkeeper Vicente Guaita stopped his spot-kick, with the score at 1-0 and just 10 minutes played, there were immediate supportive chants for the Argentine from the stands. And reporters in the press-room after the game did not bring up the detail at the post-match news conference.
The AS match report on Sunday morning said that focusing on something so commonplace as a penalty was really beneath Barca at the moment.
“It could be that this insulting superiority … could explain the lack of tension in the blaugrana outfit when taking penalties ... which they keep missing,” wrote Santi Gimenez. “Barcelona missed another penalty yesterday, this time taken by Messi. But something which would be a serious object of debate in any other team and circumstance, is already taken as natural and unconcerning at the Camp Nou. A penalty for Barcelona is now taken by the people as something vulgar which is not worthy of taking too seriously.”
Barca have now scored just 10 of the 20 penalties they have been awarded in all competitions this season - with Messi and Neymar [both four of eight] and Suarez [two of four] all having just 50% conversion rates.
The idea among many blaugrana faithful that the statistics do not really matter. One of the ‘misses’ is the ‘pass penalty’ which Messi teed up for Suarez to score during their 6-1 hammering of Celta Vigo last month, an apparent homage to Camp Nou hero Johan Cruyff which was thoroughly enjoyed by all involved. Javier Mascherano was even apparently offered the chance to take a penalty recently during the 5-1 win at Rayo Vallecano - as he has not yet scored in almost 250 games for the club.
At the moment Suarez seems to be on penalty duty in La Liga, perhaps, as Cristiano Ronaldo believes, to give him the best chance of winning the ‘pichichi’ top scorer prize.
The idea being that, as Barca defender Gerard Pique said after Saturday’s game, a few misses in games already won was not a big deal.
“In important games, when things are on the line, and we have to score them, we will score them,” Pique said heading off to get his phone ready for his latest Periscope broadcast.
Scoring penalties is not just something you can turn on and off though. And Messi himself did not look too happy after Guaita had saved his latest effort - biting the neck of his jersey and smacking the post with his hand. Coach Luis Enrique also looked pretty annoyed on the sideline at the time, although he seemed wary to criticise in public after Suarez had missed from the spot during the recent 5-1 win at Rayo Vallecano.
The stats are actually pretty embarrassing for everyone at Barca. Messi is the first Barca player ever to miss eight penalties over his career - and Barca are the first team to miss eight penalties in the same La Liga season. Such problems are also not just a recent thing for this team - especially its three superstar attackers.
Barca missed four from 12 taken during the 2014/15 season. Neymar skied a shocker at the 2012 friendly against Colombia and looked very nervous from the spot at the 2014 World Cup. Suarez missed both the spot-kicks he took during his time at Liverpool. Messi did convert from 12 yards in last month’s Champions League last 16 first leg against Arsenal at the Emirates, but him hitting the crossbar in their 2012 semi-final exit to Chelsea remains one of the low points of his and Barca’s recent history.
At this stage, this issue looks like the most likely thing to derail Barca’s bid for a second consecutive Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey treble. One idea could be to hand the responsibility to Andres Iniesta or Ivan Rakitic, who have both taken and scored penalties before. But ahead of Wednesday’s UCL last-16 return against Arsenal at the Camp Nou, Luis Enrique seemed keen not to potentially upset his superstar front three by intervening and forcing a change of policy.
“Taking a penalty it is always a pressure situation,” the former Barca midfielder said. “I’m sure we will score the next time. Until now it is not cost us anything - no points or no games. It has not been too important. I have confidence in my players.”
The wily coach is possibly right not to upset the balance within a side which already seems so close to making history. But if they do miss out on even one competition this season due to a blown penalty at some point, nobody will really be that surprised.