FC Barcelona

Barcelona's defensive cracks laid bare in shaky win over Elche

Grey Whitebloom
Clement Lenglet was awful on Saturday
Clement Lenglet was awful on Saturday / PAU BARRENA/GettyImages
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No member of Barcelona's squad or their manager were born the last time Elche scored a La Liga goal against the tumbling Catalan giants.

43 years - and more than 20 hours of football - had elapsed since Elche's only World Cup winner Marcelo Trobbiani opened the scoring in a 5-1 mauling Johan Cruyff's Blaugrana eventually dished out in April 1978.

Tete Morente broke that drought shortly after the hour mark on Saturday night to reduce the deficit first half goals from Ferran Jutgla and Gavi inflicted. Barely 43 seconds had elapsed before Elche were on the scoresheet once more, levelling a game that Barcelona's youthful attacking zest were trying to win, but a beleaguered backline did their best to lose.

Nico Gonzalez's 85th-minute winner salvaged a desperately needed three points for Barcelona but it was a performance littered with as many negatives as positives for Xavi Hernandez.

Barcelona outshot their opponents 11-1 in the first half - a tally that paints a wholly misleading picture of the threat Elche posed but helps summarise Barcelona's problems at the back.

By becoming just the fourth team to concede more than once against Elche this season - joining an illustrious list of relegation-scrapping Cadiz and newly promoted pair Espanyol and Mallorca - Barcelona have conceded 21 goals from their first 17 league games. More than half of Spain's top flight has a better defensive record.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen's continuing search for form - or 'confidence' according to Xavi's diagnosis - between the sticks certainly doesn't help matters, but the rest of the team are contributing to his struggles by presenting the opposition with highly dangerous chances.

Barcelona concede the second-fewest shots per game in La Liga this season, but the average expected goals (xG) value of these efforts is among the five highest in the division. When you get a chance against Barcelona, it's going to be a big one. Saturday's match was very much a reflection of this worrying trend.

Granted the freedom of Barcelona's penalty area, if not Catalonia, by a decidedly uninterested Clement Lenglet and bizarrely absent Frenkie de Jong, Elche's centre back Enzo Roco had time to bring down a 24th-minute set piece a handful of yards from goal, but spared Barça's blushes by shanking Elche's only first half effort over the bar.

Elche's scarce but severe sights of goal were hardly limited to set pieces. Rather, most stemmed from Jordi Alba's unique positioning. The natural left back repeatedly popped up in central swathes of the pitch when Barcelona were in possession, peppering his performance with incisive passes but leaving the limited Lenglet even more exposed than he normally is.

Ousmane Dembele was caught haring over from his right wing berth to try and cover for Alba shortly after Roco's miss but failed to block a cross that nearly picked out Lucas Perez in the middle. Ronald Araujo - awkwardly shoehorned into a hybrid right back slot of a hodgepodge defence - clumsily brought the forward down off the ball, but was spared any further scrutiny by a kind offside flag.

Alba's absenteeism was justly punished following the interval. After Elche squeezed out of some half-hearted attempts to box them into their own corner, Alba was caught in no man's land as the Alicante side swept the ball from left to right for Morente lurking in the vacated space. Lenglet offered about as much resistance as the off-screen Alba while Elche's substitute lined up his side's first.

Barcelona lost the ball so quickly from the restart Alba didn't have time to get out of position, but compensated by affording Morente all the space to pick out Pere Milla steaming in on the other side of the box, utterly unmarked to wipe out Barcelona's lead in 94 seconds.

At his unveiling, Xavi declared: “Every game at Barça is an exam and you have to get top marks.” While his youngsters at the other end of the pitch may have salvaged a pass for the collective overall, Barcelona's defenders flunked Saturday's test just as they have for all too much of the campaign.

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