Barça were unbeatable tonight. That was a picture perfect execution, led fittingly by my man of the match plus captain on the night Xavi, of everything Pep’s team is about: desire, pressure, movement, focus, and execution. 5-0 was totally deserved, but Atlético didn’t hand it to us in any way, we put together by far our best performance of the season, dazzling and hustling them into inferiority. Our opponent just had no ball and no chance this evening.
Pep left both Puyol and Piqué on the bench, but still came out with the 3-4-3, with Alves, Masch, Abidal ; Busquets ; Xavi, Thiago, Fàbregas ; Pedro, Messi, Villa. I’m sure a few of us were somewhat hesitant, even nervous with the decision, but it worked to perfection in the first half. The success stemmed from two sources: 1, the team worked as a whole unit. Throughout that half we saw Villa, Cesc, and Pedro all covering at the back, helping out their teammates. It was marvelous. And 2, we just were so sharp with our passes and movement that Madrid barely touched the ball the entire 45 minutes.
Atlético however nearly drew first blood in the 4th minute when Portuguese midfielder Thiago struck the bar from long range. You could say they peaked a bit early, cause that was their first and last highlight of the half.
In the 9th minute, David Villa showed us exactly the striker we know he is, and expect him to be. Xavi spotted the run, played it diagonally early and with pinpoint accuracy dropped it JUST over Perea’s head into Villa’s stride. El Guaje took it down perfectly, looked as calm and collected as can be, took it past an onrushing Miranda, and slotted it in past Courtois. 1-0 and vintage Villa. He was eye-catching all game, looking far more himself. Light on his feet, making the right runs, passing precisely, and picking his spots to leave the left touch line and come more central, something that nearly saw him score in the 67th minute after an insanely intricate pass from Messi.
Pedro came close to making it 2-0 in the 13th when Xavi, for the second and not last time, put in a perfect diagonal ball behind the defense, but despite taking it down well enough, he couldn’t get his feet right to curl it around a quick onrushing Courtois. It was however 2-0 just 2 minutes later thanks to an own goal, which he couldn’t do anything about, from new Brazilian Miranda. Pedro characteristically robbed the ball off Godín, passed it left to Xavi, who one touch back flipped it through the gap, Pedro was blitzing through to get onto it, but a defender in an attempt to stop him touched it back towards the middle and Messi was there. Courtois made a nice save low down to deny Lionel, but the ball rebounded straight into Miranda and straight in.
Number 3, and Messi’s first came in the 26th minute. He took the throw in on the right, played a one-two with Pedro (maybe Thiago), and then with a flick of the foot and drop of the shoulder left Godín and Mario for dead and with the goal at his mercy tucked it in past the keeper. Top stuff we’re spoilt with every week.
From then till the end of the half, it was all us. Cesc so nearly made it 4-0 and his 5th in 5 when he cheekily chipped it over Courtois but couldn’t beat the bar. He had a sensational half though, it’s so wonderful having him home.
The boys were exceptional in that first half, Xavi in particular. He was in all the goals and throughout was dictating the play. It was a true portrayal of him being the brain. Messi, Villa, Thiago, and Cesc also excelled. Manzano tried to react by bringing on Turan and Salvio at halftime, but as the commentator said often tonight, our opponents’ souls must have been crushed, and it bore no real fruit. Atlético weren’t even bad, because Barça didn’t give them a chance to be bad. Pep tinkered a bit too going back to 4-3-3, in anticipation of the switch to come 10 minutes later, with Busquets dropping that extra bit deeper.
Still Atlético nearly scored again early on when Turan showed his abilities on the left playing López through but his tantalizing cross across goal had no takers.
That switch in the 54th minute was a welcomed sight of Piqué coming in to join Mascherano allowing Busquets a rest.
As I mentioned above, Villa nearly scored in the 67th minute but Courtois did well again to close down the space. Despite 5 past him tonight, the young Belgium was not remotely poor and looks a bright talent. Another change in the 72nd with Cesc given a rest, allowing Keita to anchor the midfield threesome.
4-0 came in the 78th minute and it was Messi with his 2nd. It all began with an Atlético corner actually, which Abidal picked up and played a top draw outlet pass to Alves typically steaming down the right. Dani tried cutting inside, got tackled, but the ball fell straight to Messi. With the obstacle of 3 defenders infront of him and Villa in prime position to support, he only had one thing on his mind. He took all comers, drawing the defense from the right to left, and just before it really looked like Perea would get back and put in the tackle, with Godín also a second out, Messi showed huge hunger to get that extra out of his turbo charge and lash it across goal into the far corner. He enjoyed that one.
On final change in the 80th, giving Abidal rest after a top game, and giving Maxwell some minutes. Valdés, a spectator all night, kept a clean sheet on his 300th league appearance in the 84h minute showing total focus to come out and block the one-on-one with Adrian.
Another manita came at the death with Messi’s 12th hatrick in his career. A textbook 1-2 with Villa, at his best to perfectly cushion it past the defender, left Messi alone on the left side, and he lazered it through the legs of the Belgium. Sensational way to end a sensational game.
As my tone and handsome use of adjectives and adverbs indicate, I thought we were rather good tonight. From 1 to 11, everyone deserves a rating of no less than 7.5. Besides those I’ve touted already, Javier Mascherano deserves another bow tonight. He didn’t put a foot wrong, and 2nd half especially put on show his positional astuteness and tackling prowess. Thiago put in another top game also, improving on a good game in Valencia. What has really impressed me most of late is not his obvious and wonderful skills and passing range, but the look of focus on his face. It has clicked he needs to be more disciplined with his game and it has shows. He is concentrated mentally to know when to rather dribble and when to pass it off. He also tracked back and put in a few tackles, and until Keita came on he was sitting the deepest of Xavi and Cesc and did vey nicely mopping up the lose balls and getting the attacks flowing quickly.
A satisfying win with much to marvel. Messi may have taken the match ball home, and deservedly, but as I said my man of the match was Xavi, for that first half masterclass in particular. The movement and passing of the front 6 players was mesmerizing and full of purpose tonight.
A great way to go into Wednesday night’s away game in Belarus.
Més que un club