Barça edged closer to La Liga 2014/15 with a crushing 0-8 victory at Cordoba this afternoon. Cordoba held on for forty-two minutes before Ivan Rakitic broke the deadlock but then the floodgates opened. Luis Suárez completed a hat-trick, Leo Messi grabbed a pair and there were further goals from Gerard Piqué and Neymar from the penalty spot. The victory leaves Barça five points above Real Madrid who now face all the pressure with an 8 pm kick-off at Sevilla.
Luis Enrique decided to start with his once de gala, a declaration perhaps that he has full confidence in these players being at 100% again for Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final with Bayern Munich. Despite the temperature of over 30ºC Barça began well with Dani Alves sending in an excellent cross that Neymar volleyed over from six yards.
Cordoba caused a scare in the sixth minute when Florin headed over from close in but the linesman had his flag raised and it wouldn’t have counted. However, the pattern for the game of Cordoba sitting back and allowing Barça the ball was soon set and it seemed just a matter of time before Barça opened the scoring.
Most of Barça’s early efforts were all blocked or deflected wide and it wasn’t until the 27th minute that Messi dribbled brilliantly between four defenders and forced a first save from Cordoba keeper Juan Carlos. Ten minutes later Neymar missed his second good chance when Messi chipped in a deep cross but the Brazilian didn’t make a good contact with his volley and the ball bobbled against the post.
Messi’s trademark pass would produce better dividends five minutes later with Rakitic providing the finish. The move started with a wayward 35-yard shot from Alves that Suárez managed to keep in play on the right. The Uruguayan dribbled in before cutting the ball back to Messi who sent his diagonal cross over the defence to Rakitic at the far post and the Croatian controlled before belting a shot high past Juan Carlos and into the net. The second goal came on the stroke of half-time. Iniesta sent in a deep cross from the left and Suárez escaped the attention of Pantic to prod the ball past Juan Carlos from close range.
The two goals before the break must have been a tough psychological blow for the home team and within a minute of the restart Messi struck with another. Rakitic and Messi combined on the right to sent Alves away and when the Brazilian crossed Messi arrived with a late run to send a firm low header into the corner. Alves was enjoying himself on the right and in the 53rd minute he sent in another good cross which Suárez met with a glancing near-post header that went in off the far post.
Cordoba were stunned to go from 0-0 to 0-4 in such a short time but they managed their best attempt on goal in the 58th minute when substitute Ekeng fired a powerful 25-yard drive that Bravo needed to dive to save. Barça hadn’t finished yet. Xavi and Mathieu replaced Mascherano and Iniesta, and soon after, Rakitic’s corner from the right was met by Piqué with a firm header for Barça’s fifth.
Pedro came on for Rakitic with just over twenty minutes to go and he soon delivered a cross from which Messi should have scored but this time he sent his header wide. Then in the 80th minute Pedro played a one-two with Messi to burst into the area before squaring for Suárez, Edimar managed to stick a foot in but he only left the ball free for Messi to beat Neymar in bundling the ball in. The goal took Messi onto 40 league goals, one mere than Cristiano Ronaldo in the battle for this season’s Pichichi award.
Neymar finally got his goal after he was brought down by Gunino in the area. Messi forgot about the top scorer’s prize and a possible hat-trick, unselfishly letting the Brazilian take the kick. Neymar took his hesitant run-up but sent Juan Carlos the wrong way. There was time, however, for Suárez to grab his third of the match. Xavi shot from distance, the ball bounce off the hapless Pantic into the Uruguayan’s path and he swept the ball home for Barça’s eighth.
This was an excellent warm-up for the much tougher game with Bayern on Wednesday. Of course, Luis Enrique might have rested a couple of players with the Champions League in mind, but by playing the XI that will most likely start against Bayern he has the players completely tuned in and understanding each other. Obviously the three points were the most important thing today but it is also a joy to see so many goals. The 0-8 scoreline equals Barça’s biggest ever away win in La Liga set against Las Palmas in 1959 and also achieved at Almeria in 2010. Messi takes his season’s total for Barça to 51 while Suárez and Neymar are now on 24 and 33 goals, respectively. Finally, we shouldn’t forget Claudio Bravo who achieved his 21st clean sheet of the season taking him past Andoni Zubizaretta and Victor Valdes’s previous record of 20 clean sheets in one league season.
Right, now I’m popping down to the bar again to watch Sevilla-Madrid.
Cordoba: Juan Carlos; Crespo (Gunino h/t), Iñigo López, Deivid, Pantic, Edimar; Fidel, Luso (Ekeng m58), Krhin, Bebe (Fede Vico m61); Florin Andade.
Barça: Bravo 7; Alves 7.5, Piqué 7, Mascherano 6 (Mathieu m61, 6), Alba 6; Rakitic 7 (Pedro m68, 7), Busquets 7, Iniesta 6.5 (Xavi m61, 7); Messi 8, Suárez 8.5, Neymar 6.
Goals: m42 Rakitic 0-1, m45+2 Suárez 0-2, m46 Messi 0-3, m53 Suárez 0-4, m65 Piqué 0-5, m80 Messi 0-6, m84 Neymar (pen) 0-7, m88 Suárez 0-8.
Yellow card: m52 Luso.