Barcelona's shaky defence a worry
Barcelona win glamour friendly, but shaky defence still a concern for Enrique
|(Luis Suarez 8, Lionel Messi 10, Neymar 17, Paco Alcacer 55, Rafinha 58)||(Omar Abdulrahman 50-pen, Muhammad Assiri 60, 65)|
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique will have plenty to think about ahead of the Catalan Derby with Espanyol on Monday morning (Singapore time).
The 46-year-old used all but two players - goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and midfielder Carles Alena were rested - in the 5-3 glamour friendly victory over Al-Ahli Saudi FC at the Al Gharafa Stadium in Qatar yesterday morning.
Following three consecutive draws, Barca won their last two competitive games - an inconsequential 4-0 Champions League thrashing of Borussia Moenchengladbach last Thursday and a 3-0 league win over bottom side Osasuna last weekend.
While his MSN attacking trio - Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar - all scored yesterday morning and were taken off within the first half hour, the Blaugrana defence was suspect throughout, even if Enrique experimented with his back four during the match.
The starting back four of Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Digne and Aleix Vidal were lethargic at times, with only the Saudis' profligacy in front of goal to blame for them not reducing the deficit.
Pique left the field with the MSN trio in the 32nd minute and was replaced by Samuel Umtiti, and the Catalan side continued to struggle with the speed and industry of the Saudi side.
Al Ain star Omar Abdulrahman, who was given special clearance to feature for Al-Ahli for this match, caused the European giants more trouble with his runs and distribution when he was introduced in the 32nd minute.
The reigning Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year winner got on the scoresheet shortly after the restart, coolly chipping a penalty over third-choice goalkeeper Jordi Masip, who gave away the spot-kick.
Without their fearsome attacking threesome, Barca struggled at times to break down a resolute and packed Al-Ahli defence, although Paco Alcacer and Rafinha scored in the 55th and 58th minutes to put the result beyond doubt.
It might have been a friendly, but Enrique would surely be mulling over ways to tighten his defence, especially after Muhammad Assiri was allowed to ghost behind Barcelona's defence to score a brace in the 60th and 65th minutes.
Barca held on to win the Qatar Airways Cup, but they face tougher opponents in Espanyol.
18-CARAT GOLD CUP
Their cross-town rivals are ninth in La Liga and are unbeaten in their last nine league games, although five of them were draws.
A win is vital as Barca look to close the six-point gap on arch-rivals and league leaders Real Madrid, who are playing in the Club World Cup in Japan.
After the match, Barcelona were presented with an 18-carat gold cup, specially commissioned for the game.
Messi and Co. made a beeline for the team bus and skipped the horde of journalists in the mixed zone.
The likes of Rafinha and Arda Turan indulged in some welfies with fans in that area, but few stayed behind to field questions to the Spanish media.
Perhaps, they are still searching for answers themselves.
- Lim Say Heng's trip is sponsored by Qatar Airways.