Henry stays away as Barcelona toil again

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The Independent Football

Barcelona gambled at the end of last season when they snubbed Jose Mourinho and made the inexperienced Pep Guardiola their new coach and two games into the new campaign the gamble looks like spectacularly back-firing.

A 1-1 home draw against Racing Santander made this the club's worst start in the league for 35 years. They have one point from two games, both against humble opposition, and have scored just once in their last 270 minutes of football.

Thierry Henry's Barcelona career meanwhile is in freefall – he was dropped from the squad on the morning of the game. The former Arsenal striker might be about to enter into the Premier League's hall of fame, but at present he cannot even get into Barcelona's first 16. After being left out of the squad he is then understood to have opted not to watch his team-mates from the stands – something Ronaldinho was frequently criticised for doing last season.

Coach Guardiola confirmed afterwards that the decision to leave him out had been a football one and that the French striker was not carrying an injury from midweek international duty.

Guardiola, Barcelona's youth team coach last season, also gave full home debuts to kids Pedro and Sergio Busquets and left internationals Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta and Bojan Krkic on the bench.

The result was a laboured first half in which former Arsenal player Alexander Hleb, who had looked Barca's brightest forward, was chopped down by Pablo Pinillos. He hobbled off five minutes before the break and will miss Tuesday's Champions League opener against Sporting Lisbon with an ankle injury that could sideline him for a month.

The second half introduction of Messi meant the home side carried far greater threat and it brought the best out of Dani Alves. The Brazilian full-back hit the bar with a cross intended for a subdued Samuel Eto'o, and his centre was then handled for Cristian Fernandez to give Barcelona a penalty on 72 minutes.

Messi coolly dispatched the spot-kick and the home side breathed a sigh of relief, but within four minutes they were pegged back as Racing scored with their first attempt on goal.

Ezequiel Garay drove a free-kick around a criminally under-manned wall and an unmarked Jonathan Pereira diverted the ball past Victor Valdes in the Barca goal.

"I am very content," said Guardiola putting on a brave face after the game. "We tried every which way to break them down. Obviously I would have liked the victory but I can't hold anything against the players."

Villarreal's Champions League preparations went far more smoothly. They beat Deportivo 1-0 ahead of their visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday. Spain international Santi Cazorla scored the first-half winner and could have had a hat-trick in a dominant home performance.

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