Another game without Lionel Messi, another dominant victory for Barça. Martino’s boys have been moving from strength to strength lately, while constantly adapting. Against Celtic and Almería they were comfortable defensively, absorbing pressure and then suffocating the opposition with possession, while against Ajax and Real Sociedad they ruthlessly exposed shaky defenses, as they did again last night. While it would hardly be fair to say that Barca are playing better without Messi and Javier Mascherano, the past two matches have allowed Barca to avoid becoming too dependent on either of the Argentines, be it for Leo’s goals or El Jefecito‘s counter-nullifying tackles. In their place, Neymar, Alexis Sánchez, and Marc Bartra have all stepped up confidently, and all three were outstanding last night. Barca’s attack was decentralized, free-flowing, and dangerous, while the defense was rock-solid, with Piqué composed and commanding in a more withdrawn sweeper role alongside Bartra.
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