Luis Enrique’s men took to the field this afternoon to make a point- that they could manage to come back from an international break and still play at the highest level. And that is exactly what they achieved.
No one likes the international break, and it is for good measure. The international break has a way of halting momentum, usually at crucial junctures of the season. However, at this stage, it might have come to our advantage. Lucho’s men took to the field after a chaotic match, away at Celta Vigo, which saw us concede four goals. On paper, Rafinha had been scheduled to start as a “right back”, but not for the first time this season, this move turned out to be smoke and mirrors. Lucho once again to chose to live life on the edge by using a 3-4-3 formation, with Rafinha, in fact, pushing forward to occupy the right-forward slot, with Arda Turan right behind him operating as a right-wing. Jérémy Mathieu, Gerard Piqué, and Javier Mascherano occupied the three-man defence, in what promised to be an interesting choice, as our defence had been battered in our previous outing against Celta Vigo. Luis Enrique had once again rolled the dice, and it all went in his favour.
The game started at a fast pace, as the ball was flung side to side to open Deportivo up, who initially seemed determined to clamp down all possible danger, especially whenever either Neymar or Luis Suárez received the ball. Luis Suárez could have opened the scoring in the 7th minute, as he missed what seemed a simple open header. This, however, mattered not, as Rafinha opened the scoring through an excellent effort on his weaker right foot. The Brazilian will be ecstatic with his performance this afternoon as he was a livewire and constant threat on the right flank. This goal also came at a crucial juncture in the game as Lucho’s men have been prone to dragging out games longer than they should when they have not taken advantage of early chances. This seemed to ease the pressure, as the tempo increased a notch, with Neymar remaining a bundle of creativity in Messi’s absence.
An area that will continue to concern Lucho will be our consistent inability to get the ball out of defence from the restart. There were instances in which Deportivo pushed high up the field during these moments, which resulted in sloppy play and dispossession of the ball. Mathieu was guilty of some cringe-worthy moments of sloppy play and slow feet when he was put under pressure in the first half, however, still managed to put in a solid 90 minutes.
Rafinha’s second goal came off a toe-flick into the net after a set piece. The Brazilian at this point had scored two goals and looked capable of a third. This was then followed by a vintage Luis Suárez goal, which came off excellent link-up play between himself and Neymar. Suárez managed to lose his marker after some smart movement and an exquisite first touch, which set himself up for a fine left-footed finish, all at the tail end of the first half.
The third goal allowed Lucho to breathe, as he brought on Paco Alcácer, who had what can be described as an unlucky performance, to say the least, as the Spaniard missed a number of chances to get his name on the score sheet. Still, the Camp Nou faithful remained calm and supportive of their charger, who now should be desperate to put the ball in the back of the net. Messi was brought on for Sergio Busquets in his first performance since returning from injury, as he operated in a deep-lying playmaker role, pulling the strings and remaining a constant threat. It didn’t take long for Messi to get on the scoresheet, though, as Neymar once again provided the assist, as Messi was met with a slick pass while making a run into the box to finish at the near top corner.
From here on, it was unrelenting pressure from Luis Enrique’s men, who played with no mercy and looked to prove a point. International breaks can always prove tricky, as they suck out whatever momentum had been created by the team. Deportivo’s right back Laure was given a red card after what looked to be an elbow on Neymar’s chin, to make matters worse for Gaizka Garitano’s men, as the pressure piled up. In the end, it was a comfortable afternoon for Lucho and co, as the Camp Nou faithful went into carnival mode and enjoyed the rest of the evening. This was an important victory, and a standard bearer to look at as how to react after an international break.
Luis Enrique should be very pleased with this performance. It is the exact response he will have wanted after a losing to Celta, and the exact kind of platform to build from, with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City looming this coming week in what promises to be an interesting UEFA Champions League group stage match. There were some signs that Lucho already had his eye on Wednesday’s encounter, as Andrés Iniesta took no part in today’s game. And so we move our attention to what will surely be a circus of media attention as Pep once again comes “home”.