Barcelona fans needed one thing from the last group stage match in Champions League play, a victory. Four draws in five matches in all competitions has left a bitter taste in the Blaugrana’s mouths, but there were three other things the faithful desperately wanted to happen to turn the recent tide for the club. With the top spot in Group C already secured, supporters hoped to see a goal from Paco Alcácer, strong displays from fringe players, and for Lionel Messi to break Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for most goals in the group stage. Well, one out of three ain’t bad especially with the dominating performance displayed by FC Barcelona on the night.
Death by a thousand passes and one, most are concerned with that last pass, the one before the goal. Previous Barcelona sides were exemplified by this kind of play. This is called tika-taka or the process of short passing and movement where as the club tries to maintain possession in hopes of wearing down the other side to open up different scoring avenues. This kind of play is usually dominated by the midfield and harkens back to the days of Pep Guardiola and even his mentor Johan Cruyff.
Recently the club’s midfield has gone missing with play dominated by the forwards especially with the injury to Andrés Iniesta and Messi continually dropping deeper to receive the ball and influence play. With the draw to Real Madrid on the weekend whispers that the club has lost its identity have begun to circulate around the Camp Nou. Unfortunately, the club didn’t make a thousand passes on the night but they attempted 993 passes, the most in the Champions League history.
The match started strong for the home side, and they never looked in danger of losing the match. The club just looks a different side with Iniesta in the lineup pulling the strings. It allows Messi to fully express himself on the pitch. Lionel dominated the early exchanges of the match with scintillating passes and uncompromising dribbles. It only took 16 minutes for the home side to break through. Messi dribbled the ball and found André Gomes to his left. The Portuguese first timed the ball back to Messi and he slid the ball to Arda Turan on the left wing. Turan centered the ball back to Messi and there was never any doubt as he put Barcelona up one to nil.
The rest of the first half played out much the same as the early exchanges. Messi ran rampant and had a good shot blocked in the 18th minute. Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano played more as midfielders with the club operating exclusively in the Borussia’s half. Dennis Suárez filled the space on the right left by a roving Messi and formed a strong partnership with Alexi Vidal. The only thing the first half missed was more goals, but they would come in the second.
In the 49th minute Alcácer narrowly missed an opportunity to score as he slipped during the vital moment after a delicious lob pass from Denis. Moments late the club put in a goal in the 50th minute once again engineered by Suárez. Vidal slipped the ball to him with a beautiful pass that opened a great deal of space on the right side of the box. He dribbled toward goal and his deflected cross found the head of Arda Turan who easily put the club up two to nil.
It only took three more minutes for Barcelona to find the net again. Messi started the play with a delightfully weighted pass with backspin to Vidal on the wing. He played the ball to Denis who in turn passed back to Messi. Messi dribbled toward the defense and slid the ball into Vidal. Vidal turned and crossed the ball to Arda who charged into the middle of the box. He once again found the back of net by passing the ball into the right corner putting the match out of reach at three to nil.
After a great interchange between Messi and Iniesta, Paco had a great shot blocked. He just can’t buy a goal at the minute. In the 61st minute Rafinha came on for Iniesta who received a standing ovation as he left the pitch. Five minutes later Paco found Rafinha outside of the box and continued his run. Rafinha found him and his first time cross gave Turan a hat trick and the match ball. Registering an assist must be viewed as a positive sign for the young Spaniard. In the 73rd minute Messi missed a chance to equal Ronaldo’s record after a great cross by Luca Digne. His header was unfortunately saved. The remaining minutes were filled with the club keeping possession and icing the match.
Messi didn’t get the record. Paco didn’t score. Vidal and Turan stood out and definitely earned themselves more minutes in a match where Luis Enrique made seven changes to the lineup that started against Madrid. Barcelona totally dominated the match and won easily four to nil. Iniesta is a problem solver for the club. One can only hope the injury bug stays far away from the club. There are certain players like him who are irreplaceable.