Barça followed on from Saturday night’s 5-0 hammering of Atletico Madrid with a Champions League manita over Belarusian champions FC Bate of Borisov. Two goals around the twentieth minute saw off any resistance from Bate and the game appeared to be a stroll in the park after this. However, it should be said that Barça needed to work very hard to make things look so easy and our constant pressure whenever we lost the ball was key to not allowing the home side a sniff at Victor Valdés’s goal.
The game, played in Dynamo Minsk’s stadium, was Barça’s first ever game in Belarus, making it the 40th country we have visited in European football, and right from the start it was clear that Bate saw their only chance being in getting nine outfield players behind the ball, leaving just Kezman alone to fight a fruitless battle against Puyol and Mascherano. Bate seemed content to close down the channels for passes into the box and to make sure Messi had at least three men to beat if he wanted to try and dribble through. For fifteen minutes we were frustrated by this but the ease with which we were receiving the ball in wide positions, with Abidal and Alves both pushing forward, suggested that sooner or later we would find a way through.
These games are often all about getting the first goal, if you don’t get the break then the weaker defensive team grows in stature as the possibilities of becoming heroes rise. However, tonight we got that little bit of luck early on when Alves’s cross towards Messi at the far post was turned past his own goalkeeper Gutor by the unfortunate Volodko. As so often happens with a goal our opponents lost concentration for a bit and before they knew it Pedro had sneaked in front of Gutor to head home Villa’s excellent chipped cross.
After this is must be said that the game was always completely in our control. Bate continued to get nine back behind the ball when we had possession but besides not defending the wings very well they failed to put us under much pressure when we had the ball prefering to stand off and wait. Of course this just meant we passed the ball around quite happily. Whenever we happened to lose the ball usually due to over-confidence, our players were quick to fight to regain possession. I was particurlarly impressed with Mascherano tonight who showed excellent anticipation in not allowing opponents a moment on the ball. Victor Valdés hardly had a touch which perhaps was the reason for one dash out of goal which he might have left to his defence. The moment led to our one lack of concentration at the back but Puyol was on hand to make a good saving tackle on Volodko.
Our dominance led to a third goal before the break but we had to be thankful for another gift. Pedro did well to get past the left back but his cross was too close to Gutor, fortunately for us the goalkeeper only parried the ball allowing it to bounce in front off him and before he could collect the ball in his hands Messi had nipped in cheekily to head the ball over the line.
The second half was just a case of how many more goals we could score and to be quite honest I was not too impressed with some of our shooting. However, in the 55th minute Messi put Alves into the area, Alves held the ball up before finding Messi with the return and Messi fired in an absolute belter of a shot from 15 yards that was well worthy of being the goal that equals Barça legend Ladislao Kubala on 194 goals for the club. Messi then demonstrated his passing ability with a splendid pass through for Abidal who unfortunately couldn’t beat the keeper. Cesc, Adriano and Maxwell came on but the pattern of the game remained much the same though the spaces in Bate’s defence seemed to be getting bigger as both teams dropped the pace. Near the end the Bate defence gave the ball straight to Thiago who set up David Villa for a deserved goal.
All in all a very solid performance from the team. It was interesting to see Xavi given the “Busquets” position with Keita playing in his more natural left sided midfield position, though I will not tire of repeating that I am happiest when Busquets takes the role in front of the defence. It may be fair to say that Bate did not have their best day and their tactics were pretty poor. however, it is surely a very good sign if the opposition so often claims to have not played to their best as this demonstrates that it may just be that it is because we do not allow teams to play well against us.
We have had a few ups and downs already this season but it is pretty exciting stuff and we are scoring an enormous amount of goals. It shgould be pointed out that supporting Barça is not always like this, so you had better make sure that you enjoy it while it lasts.
Barça: Valdés 6; Alves 7, Mascherano 8, Puyol 7, Abidal 6.5 (Adriano m61, 6.5); Thiago 7, Xavi 7 (Fabregas m59, 7), Keita 6.5; Pedro 6.5 (Maxwell m69, 6), Messi 8, Villa 7.
Goals: m19 Volodko o.g. 0-1, m22 Pedro 0-2, m38 Messi 0-3, m55 Messi 0-4, m90 Villa 0-5.
Barça yellow card: m77 Alves