All the talk before the game was about Arda Turan. Barcelona have asked Fifa if they can register the midfielder following the injury suffered by Rafinha against Roma last week. Instead, however, it was another of their summer transfer targets who caused them a nightmare on Wednesday.
Nolito never really had much of a chance at Barca, making just five appearances and scoring one goal in 2010-11 before moving to Granada for a sole season and then going on to shine for Celta Vigo.
Barca wanted the 28-year-old in the summer as a replacement for Pedro, but the Catalans ultimately decided to wait until January – or even later – to move for their former forward. How they will regret that now.
Had he signed for Barca in the summer, the Andalusian attacker would not have been able to turn out for the Catalans until January due to their transfer ban – but equally he would not have been able to orchestrate their downfall as he did in this match.
Before this clash, Dani Alves described his former team-mate as “electric”, while Luis Enrique said: “We will try and play our game so that Nolito, [Iago] Aspas and [Fabian] Orellana defend more than they attack.”
But Barca did not play their normal game and in that respect, their coach’s worst fears were realised.
“If we don’t play our best, Celta will destroy us,” the Barca boss had said on Tuesday. And that’s exactly what happened.
Luis Enrique coached Celta in 2013-14 and knows Nolito well. But even he could not stop the flexible forward from dominating this game.
The twice-capped Spain striker chipped Marc Andre ter Stegen for a wonderful first goal, which the German goalkeeper got a hand to at his far post but could not keep out, and assisted Aspas for the second and third goals as Barca were left in a daze by Celta’s dazzling display.
Ter Stegen is conceding far too many goals (15 in six games compared to 16 in 21 last season), but Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano were out of sorts in front of him, with Jeremy Mathieu and Alves also off the pace as Barca’s back line failed to win a single tackle in the second half.
Ahead of them, the midfield of Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitic also struggled to match Celta’s intensity, with Luis Suarez particularly poor in attack and Lionel Messi subdued as well.
It took a Neymar strike to get Barca back in it with 11 minutes left, but any hope of a comeback was dashed within two minutes as John Guidetti hit the fourth. So strong defensively in 2014-15 en route to the treble, Luis Enrique’s side have now conceded four on three occasions already this term (in the 5-4 Uefa Super Cup success versus Sevilla and in a 4-0 Spanish Supercopa loss at San Mames against Athletic Bilbao).
So their perfect Liga record falls in dramatic fashion and they lose their lead as well after Real Madrid beat Athletic 2-1 later on Wednesday.
“I think we were intense enough,” Luis Enrique said afterwards. “We had six or seven chances again, but we haven’t been as effective this season.”
It was an understatement from the Barca boss. Aside from conceding four goals again, his side has still failed to score in the first half of any of their matches in La Liga this term and currently look a pale shadow of the formidable force that swept aside all and sundry in the second half of 2014-15.
So the issues run deeper than Arda and whether he can join up with his team-mates or not. There is no point lamenting his absence, but the decision to wait for Nolito now looks like one Barca will regret.