After a 0-0 draw against Sevilla, a lackluster 1-0 win over Granada, and yet again the chorus of naysayers starting up its song, FC Barcelona came back with a vengeance to shut them up. Messi was the man of the hour (or 90 minutes, rather) when he redeemed himself and then some by scoring a hat trick in less than 30 minutes after a three game drought. More importantly, the team put up that revered manita on the scoreboard to prove, once again, that the blaugrana colors are still the best.
Guardiola did take notice of some tired legs on his team after a grueling schedule of a game every three days. Thus, Valdés, Alves, Mascherano, Abidal, Adriano, Keita, Busquets, Thiago, Villa, Messi, and Cuenca received the start while players like Xavi, Fontas, and Maxwell were left off the squad list entirely.
The game began right away with a high level of intensity from both teams. In just the 2nd minute, Keita angled a wonderful header on goal from a corner that Mallorca goalkeeper Aouate just barely blocked. Five minutes later, Mallorca had its first real chance when a player dribbled the ball through the box but had his effort go just wide of Valdés.
No one could have expected the insanity that would ensue after the twelve minute mark. Adriano jumped up for a header in the box but had his shot deflected by a handball from Nsue. Nsue received the yellow card for his action and Barça was given the penalty. Messi stepped up to take the shot, even though it was just two games ago that he missed a penalty against Sevilla, sealing Barcelona’s 0-0 draw. Redemption was at stake and Messi did not forsake the opportunity; he rocketed the ball directly into the top right corner.
Two minutes later, Villa broke away and had a one on one with the ‘keeper. However, his shot was just barely saved. Messi, though, still had something to prove, and in the 21st minute he easily scored his second after a killer cross from recently debuted Cuenca picked up by Adriano. Six minutes later, Valdés was called back into action by having to literally steal the ball off a Mallorca player’s feet to prevent a goal.
The real remarkable moment came just before the half hour mark. Alves crossed a great lofty ball over the defense straight to Messi who coolly volleyed into the net. After not scoring in three games, Messi bagged a hat trick, in 30 minutes or less.
Adriano almost converted the fourth but had his attempt cleared off the line by a defender after another nice Cuenca pass. Villa also missed the target soon after, as did Keita in the final minute of the half when his shot from distance went just wide right of the post.
At halftime, Barcelona was on top by an unheard of first half hat trick and 72% of the possession. The milestones and amazing performances were not yet over though, as the team was not content to ease by with just a 3-0 win.
Three second half substitutes were made. Guardiola subbed on Piqué in place of Abidal. Caparrós substituted Zuiverloon for Tissone and Crespi for Ramis. The new additions could not help Mallorca, though, as just five minutes into the second half, recently debuted Cuenca scored his first official La Liga goal for Barcelona in Camp Nou. He picked up a ball through the middle from Adriano, dribbled around the goalkeeper and slotted his strike into the net. Barcelona was up four goals to nil, but now that the manita was so within reach, the team was not ready to give up.
Minutes later, Busquets came off in favor of Puyol, reuniting for the first time in several games the ultimate Piqué-Puoyl center-back pair. Soon after, another Barça B player made his first team debut when 17 year old Gerard Deulofeu came on for Villa in the 62nd minute.
In the 74th minute, Alves was booked with a yellow card for a late tackle. Just after, Mallorca made its last change when Josep Lluis Martí came off for Victor. Four minutes later, Barcelona had its next great chance when Messi was taken down just outside the box and awarded a free kick. He hit a blazing shot but somehow the ‘keeper managed to push it out for a corner. From the corner, Piqué was almost able to guide the ball into the net but couldn’t quite finish.
There was a scary moment in the 90th minute when Bigas made a horribly late tackle on Messi that saw La Pulga writhing on the ground in pain. Bigas was shown a yellow card for his actions and Messi was able to recover from the foul, but in the dying minutes of the game, the manita seemed just out of reach. That was, until Alves took matters into his own feet and scored an absolute golazo at an angle from distance in the 91st minute after a assist from Messi.
5-0 once again. Not only did the team win and display a dominating performance, but the team did so without taxing all the major stars. Many of the bench players that started showed a real determination to score and create chances, such as Cuenca and Keita. Valdés kept another clean sheet with 787 minutes of scoreless play and is now just 38 minutes away from breaking Miguel Reina’s record. And, Messi scored his 199th goal during Guardiola’s 199th match as head coach. All in all, this was a much needed confidence booster for the players and yet more proof that this whole team is made of champions.
Image: AP Photo