Without Messi and Iniesta, Luis Enrique put together a very patched-up looking side on Saturday, with Barca looking unbalanced in midfield and totally lacking in their usual fluidity.
Meanwhile Emery’s also much-changed team were much better organised, and although they rode their luck at times, the Andalusians fully deserved their first win over the Catalans in 13 attempts.
The Barca family had spent much of last week lamenting their misfortune – with Iniesta (hamstring) and Messi (knee ligament) both set for at least a month out. Also currently sidelined are versatile youngster Rafinha and reserve defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Adriano. Luis Enrique said last mid-week that the run of injuries “seemed like a joke”.
This is unfortunate for Barca, but not exactly an unprecedented run of injuries. Five missing players, and just two undisputed first teamers, is about par for a big team at this point of the season.
Real Madrid have recently played without Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Sergio Ramos, Danilo and Pepe. Saturday’s opponents Sevilla were missing eight players through injury, including their three established centre-backs.
The real problem is Barca went into this season with an unbalanced squad, for a variety of reasons. There’s the transfer ban imposed by FIFA in April 2014, imposed for repeatedly breaching youth transfer regulations. This means two players signed last summer - playmaker Arda Turan and right-sided Aleix Vidal – are unable to debut until January.
Recent dodgy transfer decisions, including a combined €25 million in summer 2014 on little-used Brazilian right-back Douglas and often-injured ex-Arsenal defender Vermaelen, have not helped. Veteran playmaker Xavi Hernandez and long-serving winger Pedro Rodriguez, who left last summer with nobody able to persuade them to stay another six months, have also been badly missed.
Meanwhile, the production line from Barca’s much-lauded La Masia academy has broken down. The last homegrown player to become a first team regular was midfielder Sergio Busquets, now 27. A general mishandling of the club’s youth system culminated last season in relegation for the ‘Barca B’ youth team to Spain’s third tier.
Unsurprisingly, the current awkward situation has not led directors at the Camp Nou to question the variety of mistakes they have made. Instead, as usual, they say the club is being targeted by outside enemies. FIFA are the current scapegoats for not allowing Barca to register Turan immediately, against all precedent.
Speaking on Canal Plus after Saturday’s defeat, blaugrana vice-president Jordi Moix gave a typically paranoid and rambling complaint about unnamed persons attacking Barca in undefined ways.
“We’re surprised at what happens around the club,” Moix said. “There’s been a series of surprising circumstances, but we must keep competing. We take it as coincidence. The important thing is to keep up our level in all competitions, as we did last season.”
Moix did not give any definite proof to back-up his comments. Just like when Barca’s board have through recent years claimed ‘black hands’ behind scenes working against them – in the Madrid government, Spanish court system, UEFA, FIFA, La Liga or wherever – without ever providing any evidence for these claims.
“Barca is the best team in the world, and deserves to be represented by the best directors,” Messi said back in 2013, reacting to insensitive comments from then club vice-president Javier Faus.
The Argentine superstar’s current injury absence, and subsequent huge hole in the team, has again shown up just how far from “the best” are those in the highest positions of responsibility at the Camp Nou.