Just looking at the scoreline, one could guess that this was a crazy match. But crazy is not quite a strong enough term: this game was surreal. Barça was up by 3 goals in the first 20 minutes but ended up sweating out the last minutes of the game, waiting for the final whistle. How did this happen?
Barça started the game eager to score, playing fast, giving deep passes with precision past Depor’s defense. The first goal came in the second minute, when Jordi Alba received an excellent ball from Cesc, who had 3 assists tonight. Just a few minutes later, Cristian Tello received a ball from Messi, dribbled a Depor defender and scored. And then, 10 minutes later, Messi scored from a back heel pass from, again, Cesc. It was brilliant football up to that point, fast yet more precise than on other occasions. Barça didn’t allow the rival much playing time, the ball was at our players’ feet who, despite playing it fast and vertically, didn’t lose possession and at the rare times when they did, they would recover it quickly. The play was pure Barça, but faster than in other recent games.
Then, the penalty came. A wrong call – as it was neither a foul nor inside the box- from a challenge between Mascherano and Riki. The scoreline was then 1-3. Barça slowed the game and gave up a bit of the pressure, and that allowed the locals to spend more time near Víctor Valdés’s goal. During one of those attacks, Depor won a corner, Bergantiños took a rebound that couldn’t be blocked by Iniesta, and Valdés couldn’t stop it. It might have been a mistake, but it was surely influenced by the 4 Deportivo players Valdés had in front of him. So, with two unfortunate plays, Barça had undeservedly received two goals. But just showing how unpredictable this game was, Cesc once more assisted Messi, who scored a fantastic goal near the end of the first half.
In the second half, the game started fast, and Barça couldn’t control the ball as they had in the first 45 minutes. About one minute into the half, Depor scored again, from a free kick that followed a more than disputable foul by Busquets. The free kick was beautifully executed by Pizzi, and Víctor Valdés couldn’t do anything to stop it.
Just a few minutes later, with the scoreline at 3-4, came the oddest call of the night: Mascherano got a second yellow card for a non-existent foul. Barça was left with 10 men, down a defender (though Mascherano was not having his best night). In order to patch the defensive hole, Tito sent on Adriano. He didn’t play badly, although central defense is not his natural position. Many people were left wondering if it’d be better to put Bartra in. Depor didn’t attack much after this, or at least not until the last minutes of the game.
Long minutes passed in which Barça started to win possession again, which had more to do with the fact that Xavi came on for Cesc, who was the man of the match. Cesc’s freshness and play from deep were missed, but Xavi’s control was much needed, and helped the team get the 3 points.
The 5th goal, the 3rd from Messi, went in after a brilliant play, one of those that will be repeated over and over again: he just went past 3-4 defenders and made it 5 goal for the blaugrana. Finally, the last unfortunate incident of the night came through Jordi Alba’s feet, precisely an own goal that made the fans nervously wait out the remaining 20 minutes of the game.
The good thing is that Barça overcame every obstacle possible that was presented to it today: a non-existent penalty, Mascherano’s sending off, an own goal, and the team succeeded, just like many other games this season. That is not purely luck, but rather a strong desire for victory. There are still some things to improve, like the lack of precision by the left and right backs, and better positioning from central defense, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that we have our main two centre backs out injured. The vertical game today showed its best face, with Cesc being instrumental for the win and Messi being the main interpreter. But there is a need to recover what made this team so great: the lines packed all together, which made pressuring to win back the ball easier; and also using the other important weapons we have such as Villa, who was always in a good position today, as well as Tello, but passes didn’t reach them.
All in all, there is a need for Barça to reduce risks on isolated plays or mistakes. Most of them are preventable, and many are created from the eagerness of the team in going forward quickly. Taking a deep breath and thinking for a few seconds more before passing the ball will make things better, and help Barça to earn clean sheets again.
On a final note, Messi got a yellow card because he didn’t listen to the ref, and Cesc was booked for celebrating a goal too eagerly . . . while on the bench. We may need to worry about those cards in a few months.
Pictures by EFE via El Mundo Deportivo.