Tito Vilanova’s Barça stay top of La Liga for another week after an entertainig 3-1 win over Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou tonight. Adriano Correia opened the scoring after 20 minutes but Celta equalizrd soon after through Mario Bermujo before David Villa restored Barça’s lead before the half hour. Jordi Alba’s clearly offside goal made it 3-1 for Barça in the second half, giving Barça their best ever start to a league campaign with nine wins and a draw from the ten games played.
Vilanova surprised with his team selection setting out with a 3-4-3 with Adriano, Mascherano and Jordi Alba at the back, a midfield diamond with Busquets as the defensive point, Xavi and Iniesta with Fabregas as the attacking point given the freedom to switch with Messi while Pedo and Villa started wide on the flanks. The somewhat risky formation led to a tremendous first 30 minutes with some beautiful attacking football from Barça combined with an almost suicidal defence that saw Celta have their chances.
It took just two minutes for Barça’s first attempt after Villa’s run up the left and pass inside for Fabregas who fired over from 30 yards. The warnings were there for Celta with Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas getting forward to support Messi. In the tenth minute Messi set off on a typical diagonal run but instead of darting into the area he rolled the ball back to Iniesta who also sent his long range shot over the crossbar.
From here the game went into overdrive. Iniesta sent in a chip to Messi who controlled well with his chest but Celta keeper Javi Varas was out quickly to close him down and Messi’s lob was too weak and Johnathan Vila was back to clear. A minute later Messi found Villa on the left and his low cross found Xavi but his shot was well saved by Varas. Celta came straight back with their first decent attack ending with Aspas shooting over, and soon after Iniesta sent Messi in again but this time the angle was tight and Messi again failed to get enough strength on his lob.
Messi had another effort with a low shot from the right that Varas dived to save in the 19th minute but Celta broke immediately with a counter that showed how wide open Barça were at the back, with Aspas going clean through and Victor Valdés had to show his expertise in one-on-one situations, making a fine stop diving to his right. Despite playing with only three defenders both Adriano and Alba were allowed to come forward to add more width. In the 21st minute Adriano received the ball 30 yards out and laid the ball out to Pedro before storming into the area to stretch and stab Pedro’s cross past Varas.
However, Barça didn’t have long to enjoy the lead before the defence was exposed again. Alba was caught upfield and Iniesta failed to track Alex Lopez’s excellent run from deep and when Lopez received Khron-Dehli’s crossfield ball he found himself bearing down on Valdés. Our keeper again did well to stop Lopez’s effort but Bermujo was following up faster than Adriano and he had an easy rebound to equalize.
The game was incredibly exciting at this point and Barça went straight for another goal. It came soon enough with Xavi starting things with a forward pass to Iniesta who turned Lopez before darting forward and finding Villa coming inside from the left. Villa was just outside the area and after shaping to shoot, he sent a stylish back heel that found Iniesta who’d continued his run into the left side of the area. Iniesta was faced with a defender but he skipped by him before pulling the ball back for Villa to side-foot home. Pure Barça beauty.
For fans of the 3-4-3 it was an incredible show but Tito Vilanova can’t have been happy with the chances Celta had, as he switch to 4-3-3 after half an hour with Busquets, Xavi and Fabregas all moving back a bit. The result was the game calmed down a bit as we took fewer risks. The only thing missing was the goal from new papi Leo Messi to celebrate the birth of his son. In the 38th minute Pedro hoofed a long clearance out from the back which looked to be easily covered by Mallo, however, the Celta defender misjudged the bounce and Messi nicked the ball away and sped off towards goal. There may have been a question of wanting to score a special goal, but Messi’s attempt to dribble past Varas was frustrated and then despite continuing his dribble back out of the area as he tried to find an opening, Messi was eventually hunted down by a pack of Celta defenders.
The first half ended with Adriano picking up a thigh strain which will see him out for three weeks and he was replaced by Alves, and then at half time Vilanova brought on Bartrá for Cesc and Busquets returned to midfield as we continued with 4-3-3. We looked much more solid in the second half despite a chance for Aspas just 26 seconds after the restart. Mascherano failed to cut out the through ball and Aspas went through to shoot just wide of the far post from a tight angle.
It was the last real danger we saw from Celta in a less frenetic second half though Valdés did have to dive to cover Aspas’s low free kick. There might still have been a chance for the visitors but this disappeared with Barça’s third goal after an hour. Alba began the move knocking the ball out to Iniesta on the left, Iniesta played the ball infield to Villa who played another delightful flick and Alba ran through to dribble past Varas and score. It would have been a nice goal but for the obvious offside that should have been given on Alba who was a least a yard forward of the last defender when Villa flicked the ball on.
There was little more in the last half an hour as Celta lacked belief to come back and Barça were happy to control possession. It just remained to be seen whether Messi could get his goal. He was close to it right at the end after exchanging passes with Iniesta but Messi had to stretch for the return and then when a defender got across to clear Messi jolted his knee which left him needing treatment. He came back on for the final minutes but was rubbing his knee but it seems it is just a knock and he should be okay to play at Celtic on Wednesday.
The three points are very welcome but the most significant thing from the game was the effect of the 3-4-3 in the first 30 minutes. The football was quite sensational at times but the risks of the system were clear to see and Tito had had enough pretty soon. It’s nice to know he still sees it as a possibility and it would be nice to see again at certain times. However, one has to wonder how much the 3-4-3 and the switches between systems affected our title challenge last season.
I can’t finish without giving a big shout for David Villa who combined a very good work rate on the left with two delightful flicks which led his goal and Alba’s. A David Villa back to his best really would be very good news indeed and his goal rate this season has been fantastic so far. However, my man-of-the-match must go to Andrés Iniesta who gave another splendid display on the left of midfield.
Barça: Valdés 7; Adriano 7 (Alves m39, 6.5), Mascherano 6.5, Alba 7; Busquets 7.5, Xavi 7.5, Iniesta 8.5, Fabregas 7 (Bartrá m45, 7); Pedro 6.5, Messi 6.5, Villa 8.5 (Alexis m78, 6.5).
Celta: Javi Varas; Hugo Mallo, Túñez, Vila, Lago; Álex López (Park m80), Oubiña; Augusto (Toni m87), Bermejo (Lucas m66), Krohn-Dehli; Iago Aspas.
Goals: m21 Adriano 1-0, m24 Bermujo 1-1, m26 Villa 2-1, m61 Alba 3-1.
Yellow cards: m62 Aspas, m72 Oubiña, m73 Bartrá.