The boys got another important 3 points tonight. I think many felt tonight could be a possible banana skin, maybe a draw, but Barça were professional and solid throughout. Despite the first 30 minutes being rather dull, mostly due to Mallorca’s defensive tactics coupled with extremely hard work, Iniesta’s first game as captain will be remembered with a victory.
As I mentioned, the first 30 minutes had very few real moments to report. Mallorca were not troubling the backline at all, aside from the time Nsue was in space on the right and put in a little cross. But, their defensive set out with 2 anchoring midfielders and tireless running was making our game look somewhat uncomfortable. The only real bright spark in that first half an hour was coming from believe it or not, Seydou Keita. Within the first 5 minutes of the games he did two excellent pieces of defensive work, running back and putting in clean tackles to retrieve possession. Then in the 14th minute, he did a nice little turn on the ball before sending a tame shot into Aouate’s hands (it was with his unfavored right foot though).
In the 38th minute, the breakthrough did come through, and we can thank Keita for much of it. He played a 1-2 with Busquets, then another 1-2 with Messi. As soon as Messi released the ball back to the man from Mali, he started dashing into space behind the defense. Keita was quick to read the run, and just flicked it casually over the back line. Still, there was a lot of work to be done. The ball bounced very high and for many it would have been too awkward to handle. But our genius number 10 touched it every so slightly with either his chest or even his face, setting it up to be looped over the big Israeli keeper with his head. It was really a playground style goal, just pure inspiration and improvisation. I think Aouate even made a little joke about it as the half time whistle blew.
We then really pushed hard in the final 5 minutes to double our advantage. Villa had a great chance in the 40th minute when Maxwell played a perfect ball through the defense. But Villa was indecisive with what he wanted to do, and instead of just having a one time strike at it, he let the ball almost go by and the chance was lost.
Just a minute later, Messi could have doubled his goal count. Adriano sent a lovely ball through, Messi then decided to dribble past Aouate, but the angle he then created was too tight and as he tried to square it, Mallorca defenders were in the way.
Finally, in the 2nd minute of injury time, Villa had another half chance at the edge of the box, but again some hesitation let the moment pass.
We started the 2nd half and despite our slender advantage, Mallorca really didn’t look they were going to be getting through. Pique and Abidal were absolutely bossing that area of the pitch. Messi was looking hungry but a couple of times he was a bit selfish in possession when he tried to take on too many defenders when Adriano was clearly open on the right side.
But, calling Messi selfish is basically ridiculous because of the amount of assists he does make, and come the 57th minute he made another. Now, Villa was frustrating me tonight. His touch was poor and in his mind he looked unsure of himself. And yes, he is offside a lot. That is however his game. He plays right off the shoulder of the backline and he will get caught out, maybe 3 or 4 times, but then, the one time, it comes off perfectly and he is in acres of space. Reminds me very much of the legendary Pipo Inzaghi.. So for the goal, Messi got the ball really deep in our half, he spotted Villa making the diagonal run off the defenders and split the defense with a perfect pass. This time the right back, Cendros (who was having a great game), didn’t push up fast enough and Villa was through. He touched it past Aouate but for a moment you thought it wasn’t going to come off. It did however and he just passed it easily into the open net. 2-0, and really, it was game over then.
In the 66th minute, Pedro made it 3 with a super strike. He was having a quiet game thus far, as well as being kicked around a bit, but this time it almost was if enough was enough. He got the ball on the left, cut in and just whacked the ball with all his frustration and it just fizzled over Aouate with whicked curve and dip.
For all Mallorca’s running it was 3-0 and no way back. Pep made some good substitutions in the 69th minute, giving Pedro and Villa a rest, surely with the Valencia game on Wednesday in mind. Afellay came on for Pedro, Bojan for Villa.
In the 73rd minute we had a decent chance to make it 4. Afellay skipped past the defender on the right before laying a perfectly weighted ball through to Iniesta. Aouate game out nicely for Mallorca and Iniesta was forced to touch it wide. However the angle closed down to quickly and he couldn’t direct it back on goal, hitting the side net instead. Still, it was nice to see Afellay getting into the groove a bit.
And that was that. In the 85th minute, Montoya came on for Adriano, which I think was his La Liga debut, but not Barça debut.
For the most part, I’m very happy with the game. Mallorca were no pushovers and they hussled as hard as anyone I’ve seen, so we worked for this victory. This time however, we took our chances when we got them. Keita did splendidly well tonight, and Pinto was safe enough also. Abidal was once again beastly in defense, never putting a foot wrong and really just impressing again. Pique was his solid self again, particularly in the air. Busquets was very good and Messi was all over the place. If anything, I was again rather disappointed with Adriano. He was quite awful going forward and had some really unsafe and poor touches, but his game improved towards the end. Villa isn’t dazzling us all but when he gets the chance, he slots it away.
Let’s hope Depo manage to ruin the night for Madrid as they have so often in the past 10 years or so.
Just a few days rest and then a huge game at the Mestalla Wednesday night.