It will sound weird to say, but on a historic night for Lionel Messi and one that saw Barcelona break every normal convention it has established for away Champion’s League group stage matches for 3 years, I am having trouble writing this. On the night of such a comprehensive beating, I find the descriptions difficult to come by. In a loss or a listless draw, I can boil my rage and point out flaws, or try to calm the collective fan conscience. But here, here I’m adrift. Then again, it’s a good problem to have and I’m done complaining about it.
Let’s start with Messi of course. Adjectives are useless endeavor for him at this point. Instead, I’m just calling him The Adjective from now on, since words have begun to fail. Anyway, at age 24 The Adjective has tied Ladislau Kubala as the club’s second-leading scorer at 194 goals with his brace today. Both goals were precisely taken, if only after the first was utterly flubbed by the BATE keeper, and Messi looked to be a nuisance and yet still in control at the same time, it must be maddening to watch him in opposition. Messi equalled the number in 280 official games, giving him a 0.69 goals per game average in 7 seasons. As if we need any more indication of Messi’s greatness, but it took Kubala more than 11 season to reach the mark.
History is wonderful and everything, but what’s more important, and showed up again today is the continued luscious passing that Messi exhibits, along with improved off-the-ball movement in midfield. In all competitions this season, The Adjective has 10 assists, to go along with 14 goals… in 10 official games. He also has taken an increasingly less forward role, allowing Cesc to occupy a “false 10” in the front while The Adjective moves in and out of midfield and forward, creating chances for himself and others. I think we all rightly worried that with age, The Adjective would lose some pace and maybe ball skills and be reduced to a set-piece weapon, since many of his goals in the past came from pace and skill and body control. Now his movement is opening up lanes for all players, more so than it previously was, and his passing, especially to Alves and Fabregas, has become something wonderful to behold. It may seem small, or even obvious, but with such a prolific player, the little improvements are sometimes the ones that make a player’s career and peak last even longer (see: Michael Jordan developing a post fadeaway toward the end of his Bulls years).
Now on to the team’s somewhat out-of-character performance. When asked specifically about the group stage games under Pep Guardiola, most fans of the club are almost certainly going to point to Barcelona’s substandard away performances, especially against the former Soviet Block. Pep’s sides have made a habit of playing down to away teams in the CL, especially Shaktar and Rubin Kazan, as well as at Copenhagen. These teams had played tight, almost bus-parking defense and stifled the team’s creativity.
Tonight however, the team was nearly perfect. BASE had zero desire to play an offensive game, they packed the box. They are part of the old Soviet block and Barcelona was playing away from the Camp Nou. Apparently, that meant little tonight. Barcelona was methodical. Their finishing clinical. The defense appeared when needed–apart from what appeared to be some confusion when Puyol and Valdes bumped knees in the first half, but that might have also just been a damn good pass. Another common CL complaint the fans usually bring is the missing of easy chances, there was no such thing today. Barcelona scored 4 and received an own goal (courtesy of signing him away from Manchester United in July), and had some other chances, but the blatant ones were put away. Pedro and Messi both had relative tap-ins, and The Adjective’s second along with Villa’s were just icing on a nice cake.
Barça did away with its bugaboos, at least for one night, and continues to play stunning, if sometimes frustrating, football. I know the dread from some came after 3 2-2 draws in quick succession, but it wasn’t as if the club was going through some all-out slump, or something. While drawing Sociedad was the product of a poorly played game, drawing Milan was down to two mental slips that came at critically stupid times. Valencia were, and are still, very hot and that was a wonderful game to watch. What we are forgetting, maybe, is that the team has also blasted Villareal, Atletico Madrid, BATE, and Osasuna, as well as beating a game Madrid side over 2 legs, and has taken home 2 cups already.
What I’m saying is that maybe Barça turned over a new leaf after this game, by breaking so many of its normal conventions. Regardless, the team played superbly and beat a game, if not certainly talented, BATE side. The game was well played from beginning to end. It therefore is hard to write about, at least for me, and you’re stuck with me on this one, so suck it up cupcakes and celebrate this one.