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Barcelona back among the goals, but defensive problems persist

20:41 GMT 01/03/2017
Jordi Alba Neymar Barcelona
Luis Enrique's side ran out 6-1 winners at home to Sporting Gijon on Wednesday, but the team looked uncomfortable again with three at the back


Barcelona rediscovered their attacking might. The Catalans scored more than two in a match for the first time since a 6-0 win at Alaves on February 11 as they thrashed lowly Sporting Gijon at Camp Nou. But again there were concerns about the defence.  

B arca smash Sporting for six

Luis Enrique opted for a 3-4-3 formation away to Atletico Madrid in La Liga on Sunday and Barca came out on top with a 2-1 win at the Vicente Calderon. That victory, however, owed more to the ever-excellent Lionel Messi than it did a polished performance as the Argentine netted a late winner in the capital.

Asked after the game about the 3-4-3 system, Luis Enrique angrily corrected an Italian journalist, telling the reporter that Barca had played with four at the back when Atletico had the ball and suggesting he should watch the match again.

In this match, Luis Enrique left Gerard Pique on the bench, but still picked a three-man defence - this time featuring Jordi Alba, Samuel Umtiti and the returning Javier Mascherano. And as he had said on Sunday, it was a back four when their rivals were in possession, with Sergio Busquets slotting in as an unorthodox central defender and Mascherano moving out to the right. 

However, the Argentine looked uncomfortable in the wide position - just as he did earlier this season away to Leganes - and Busquets is not cut out to be a centre-back despite previously filling in there under Pep Guardiola.

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Both men were slow to react as Sporting attacked and pulled a goal back through Carlos Castro after Barca had gone two goals ahead through Lionel Messi and an own-goal by Juan Rodriguez (who deflected a Luis Suarez shot into his own net).

Ultimately, it mattered little because Suarez soon made it 3-1 with a great volley, substitute Paco Alcacer extended Barca's lead four minutes into the second half and Neymar boosted his confidence as he netted with a fantastic free-kick after Messi had also gone off for a rest. And with three minutes left, Ivan Rakitic added another.

Sporting started the day in the bottom three and their hopes of earning anything at Camp Nou were always going to be slim. Nevertheless, the Asturians still caused the Catalans some problems at the back and better teams may have exposed the Blaugrana back line. 

Luis Enrique is persisting with this system, perhaps with a view to attempting a historic comeback in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain next week - having lost the first leg 4-0 in Paris.

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The Barca boss will obviously want a stronger side for that match, with Andres Iniesta involved as well as Pique. But if the Catalans concede a goal against PSG, it will be almost impossible for them to overturn the 4-0 deficit.

With Sergi Roberto struggling in big games, Luis Enrique is clearly trying something different - although he ended up with the midfielder on the pitch at the end against Sporting in this match.

Roberto (used at right-back after Dani Alves left in the summer) began the season spectacularly, but he has been found out against the top teams and PSG targeted the 25-year-old in the first leg at the Parc des Princes.

Barca can sign another right-back if they choose, following the serious injury to Aleix Vidal, but it is extremely difficult to find a quality replacement who can come in and adapt at this stage of the season.

So it looks like Luis Enrique will persist with 3-4-3 for now and hope his side can improve sufficiently to have a good go against PSG next week. On Wednesday's evidence, though, it seems the defensive problems persist.