And so Messi begins in Tangier. In the much anticipated preseason in Morocco, FC Barcelona gave a masterclass in teamwork and defensive pressure. Lionel Messi’s debut game this season really brought fans to their feet with his hattrick and two key passes. Messi has developed a good understanding with Alexis Sanchez, who scored two goals and made two assists himself. The match in Grand Stade ended with an entire outfield of Barcelona B players from the 70th minute mark.
Raja Casablanca is the rival of the more successful club in Casablanca, Wydad Casablanca. But Raja is regarded as the club of the people due to their entertaining style of play and the philosophy behind the club. Raja is also a club with many different sports teams, very similar to FC Barcelona. They recently won 3-1 in a friendly against Athletic Bilbao on July 17, 2012 indicating that they are no pushover. Although the scoreline indicates otherwise, there were times in this match where Raja Club Athletic caused Barcelona relative unease.
The seasoned and the brave
The match began with a mixture of young energy and experience. The starting line-up consisted of Pinto, Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Dos Santos, Rafinha, S. Roberto, Afellay, Alexis and Messi. So far Tito has been very steadfast in his use of a 4-3-3 formation. The midfield players were instructed to be very disciplined and so far the youngsters didn’t disappoint at all. Dos Santos was given the Busquets role, meanwhile Sergi Roberto was given the task of dictating the tempo of the game. Rafinha and Afellay often switched role which worked quite well.
Raja Club Athletic approached the game differently at times, at first favoring what looked like a deep and defensive 4-2-3-1 and then switching to a 4-5-1 after conceding three goals. In the opening 10 minutes, Messi already stamped his authority on the game with a nice linkup play with both Alexis and Afellay. The Barcelona players looked a bit rusty at first, reluctant to shoot at goal if it wasn’t a clear cut chance. In the 14th minute, what looked to be a shot from Messi was flicked on by Alexis to Alves, who squared it back to Alexis to make it 1-0 for Barcelona. Alexis reacted very quickly on the weak shot from Messi to create the scoring opportunity.
After the first goal, the match was actually proving to be a scruffy affair. Messi was tackled quite hard by a Raja Club defender and Messi instantly looked a sharper player after the tackle. Raja once was able to play keep ball from Barcelona and gain their confidence back, and it was Barcelona’s turn to look very uncomfortable chasing the ball. Rafinha was given a yellow card for a reckless tackle, and this made one of Raja’s coaches beam with a smile.
The Moroccans took pride in being able to match Barcelona for about 20 minutes, trying to attack but then reality checked in. In a swift counter attack, Afellay was afforded all the time and space in the world to pick up the run of Messi. Messi finished the chance with a powerful drive to the top net in the 34th minute.
Raja’s players were still confident in their abilities, showing some slick moves such as a panna to Dani Alves and good linkup play. The Barcelona players were not deterred by this, instead looking at this as a challenge to play seriously and give the Moroccans something to learn from. Disaster came again for the home team in the 38th minute when Raja’s no. 8, Chem-Eddine Chtibi, tried to roulette Alexis Sanchez in the worst place possible and sure enough, it’s 3-0 for Barcelona after a neat one-two from Alexis to Messi.
At this stage, Raja Athletic tried to park the bus to do some damage control but it was obvious that they were on the back pedal after they conceded two goals in the space of 7 minutes which made it 5-0 at half time. The highlight of the first half was how well the trio midfield defended, as Dos Santos made two key interceptions resulting in two goals for Barcelona. Marc Bartra also looks very calm, meanwhile Sergi Roberto’s composure and wit shows very clearly. Sergi Roberto even showed that he has the pace and the vision to attack with the ball, which makes him a very bright promise for the Barcelona midfield. Afellay and Rafinha are sometimes sloppy on the final pass, but things can only get better for both of them as they bring their fitness back.
Icing on the cake
The second half was the same affair, only this time Messi showed that he can have compassion. He purposely chose the harder way to finish the two clear-cut chances that he had and the Raja keeper was saved from some blushes. In the 58th minute, Rafinha was able to send Alexis inside the box but a defender fouled the Chilean. Barcelona was awarded a penalty and Dani Alves, of all people, wanted to take it. He made it 6-0 for Barcelona and by the 70th minute, Tito decided that the first team had had enough match practice and sent the whole bench to play.
By the time the Barcelona B team had taken to the pitch, the Raja players already looked knackered from all the running and thinking, leading them to not look very sharp. Saying that, it’s credit to the Raja players that they were still pressuring Barcelona very tightly. Of all the Barcelona B players, the highlight is Sergi Gomez who is tall and has an accurate pass which reminds me a lot of Edmilson, only faster. Espinosa also looks like he can spray the ball anywhere on the pitch, his playing style reminds me of Modric. Deulofeu is the obvious dangerman on the field and Barcelona B actually managed to score two goals, making 8-0 the final scoreline thanks to Sergi Gomez’s powerful drive and Deulofeu’s low drive to the far post.
Raja Club proved to be a good preseason partner as they forced the team to run more and be smart with the ball. They didn’t hold back on the tackle and pressed Barcelona quite well. They conceded most of their goals after a quick turn of play from Barcelona, which is a good sign of a great defensive performance from the Barcelona squad. Both the first team and B team of Barcelona looks very promising, here’s wishing that the team will be competitive up until the end of the season.