Messi ended his “goal drought” with a 1st half hattrick taking his total senior goal tally to 199 on Pep’s 199th game in charge. At the end, it was very comfortable, but thankfully an early Mallorca chance was wasted by João Victor and then a 14th minute penalty kick from Messi spelt the beginning of the end for the men from Mallorca. There were a few other positive on the night, but for now we remain behind Mou’s men thanks to a scrappy 1-0 win they just secured.
Pep began with an interesting starting 11. Despite the team sheet not un-impressing, it was evident it did not include Piqué, Puyol, Iniesta, Xavi, Fàbregas, and Pedro, rather impressive. Our two Brazilians took their respective defensive wings while Abidal joined Mascherano in the defense. A slightly defensive looking trio in the mid with Busquets pivoting and Thiago and Keita more advanced, and then joining Messi and Villa upfront was Cuenca.
It didn’t take long to threaten the goal when in the 2nd minute, I feel Thiago played a deliberate low corner kick to Keita who put a good header on target but the big Aouate was there to make the save.
As mentioned above, João squandered literally their only chance of the game some time later, and then in the 14th minute we earned our second penalty in 1 week, fancy that! Messi clipped a ball over the defense to Adriano, who tried to header the ball back across the box but Nsue seemed to have used his hand intentionally to block it. Up stepped Messi, who looked visibly nervous taking several deep breathes, but he hit it beautifully into the top right corner. No keeper could have stopped that.
Then a rather interesting, rare moment of insight into Lionel Messi. After celebrating with his teammates, Messi looked directly into the camera and signed a “1,2,3” with his fingers then gave a cheeky smile and wink. It was clearly a reaction to the “3 game no goals” crisis areas of the media were running with of late. Just shows you players hear the noise and Messi clearly enjoyed obliterating those nonsense claims for what they were.
7 minutes later, 2-0, Messi again. Isaac Cuenca did some proper traditional wing play on the right, faking a cut in before pushing it up wide and then whipping a cross into the box that reached the far post to again Adriano. He put it back into the box and like so many times before Messi was in the right spot to gently nudge it home with his right foot.
9 minutes more, 3-0, Messi hattrick. Dani Alves made the assist with a picture perfect early cross into the box that curled with absolute precision around the defenders but into Messi’s feet and Lio just calmly cushioned it first time past the keeper. It looked mighty easy but nothing about Messi’s calm finish in reality is easy to perform.
There were a few other chances in the half, mainly for Villa who once wrongly didn’t shoot and then couldn’t get past Aouate despite breaking the offside trap for once. There was no visible way back for Mallorca anymore, so Pep did some wise moves in the 2nd half, beginning with introducing Piqué right at the start for Abidal.
It took just 4 minutes after the interval to make it 4-0 and it was a happy moment to see Cuenca break his senior cherry with a nicely taken goal. Adriano claims a smart assist but Cuenca had work to do, which he did by smartly dribbling past Aouate and banging it into the roof of the net. He was visibly overjoyed with the moment and it’s always nice to see his teammates reciprocate that happiness.
I had been hoping when I saw the bench that Gerard Deulofeu got some minutes tonight as well as captain Puyol, so it appears Pep heard my thoughts as both came on as substitutes in the 63rd and 59th minutes for Busquets and Villa, respectively. Seeing Puyol come back is a welcoming sight and it was fitting Mascherano had his armband waiting for him. We have not seen much of him this year, but don’t count him out or underestimate his importance to this team. A fit Puyol is a better Barça. Deulofeu is just 17 years old but is without question the next real star in the minds of those close to La Masia. His natural ability is clear but so is the large amount of work ahead to polish him up. Though, I do not know why he has chosen to put “Gerard” on his shirt. It puzzles me when players with such awesome surnames chose to do this. The worst instant was when Tevez used “Carlitos” for a brief spell.
We had a few other chances, including two blocked with crazy good off the line defending, but we were not denied another “Manita” when Dani Alves scored the 5th and best of the game. Just as Messi got up from being rocked by a challenge, he played it wide to Alves. At this point there was no goal on, but having just spotted Aouate ever so slightly off his line, Dani just let rip with a perfect shot that dipped viciously at the end and went in off the underside of the bar. A really lovely goal to top the night off.
I think everyone including Pep will be far happier with tonight’s game than Tuesday. They played far more like a unit and seemed fresher, not to mention it’s not 8 games without conceding. We really used a lot of width tonight, with Adriano and Cuenca hugging their respective lines. All in all a comfortable win, but necessary win with nobody but Villa sadly disappointing. Pep is rotating the squad nicely which is necessary with back to back midweek games sandwiched in-between weekend league. We play again in just under 3 days against Plzen in the Champions League.
Ratings – Valdés – 7, Alves – 8, Mascherano – 8, Abidal – 7 (Pique – 6.5), Adriano – 8, Busquets – 7 (Puyol – 6.5), Thiago – 7, Keita – 7.5, Cuenca – 7, Villa – 6 (Deulofeu – 6), Messi – 8.5