Pep’s notes before the game must have been:
- Give Messi the ball.
- Repeat 1-3 until sufficient scoreline is achieved.
A simply remarkable game from the world’s best player. But the thing is, this is him being “back on form”. That’s the incredible part.
By his standards, Leo Messi has been a bit lacklustre in away games. Despite being the focus of the opposition team’s defense, a minimum of three defenders on him at all time, despite the fact that that means that the rest of the team has much more space to operate, he only scored one goal in away matches in the Liga this season. (Compared to the 18 goals scored at Camp Nou).
And that is poor. By his standards.
By his standards.
Those are the key words and ones I would repeat ad nauseam.
Because the standards this man has set is higher than Mount Everest and it only continues to elevate as he plays. A standard no other human can ever reach and maintain.
Because Messi to me is like a footballing superhero. Except it’s not Superman, it’s Argentinaman! (His Argie blood gives him strength, don’tcha know?).
He is the team’s greatest offensive threat. He’s been carrying them offensively. The real story this season is not that he’s only score one goal away from home, but that the team itself has had problems scoring. Even if he himself doesn’t have a direct impact, though assist and goals, the indirect influence he has is priceless. He forces a team to change shape and makes sure the opposition can never really relax just by being there because they know that one false move, and BAM. Destruction. Goals. Mayhem.
That’s why Pep doesn’t sub him off.
And as the mister said today: “Messi’s main quality is his consistency; for being decisive in so many games, for such a long time.”
But if he doesn’t dominate the game as his often superhuman, Argentinaman self does, doesn’t shine the way he’s supposed to – the way us Barca fans are used to – then he’s had a bad game. He looks uninterested, unmotivated and has to be subbed off.
If that were me, I’d be weeping at the unfairness of it all.
But not Messi. Because he knows. He knows the standards he’s set. He knows that he has to keep improving, that he can’t just rest on his laurels. That the fans and the club are demanding and expecting and will not allow that. And if he wants to stay, he’ll have to keep pushing himself.
He told Don Balon a couple of weeks ago:
“I’m at the best club in the world, no other team could fulfill me as much as Barcelona does. I grew up at La Masia and I became a man at Barca. I hope to stay here until they get tired of me, which is hopefully never.”
This is our player. And today, he showed that hunger that never left.
We rolled into Malaga’s stadium with Valdes; Alves, Pique, Masche, Abidal; Busi, Iniesta, Thiago; Adriano, Messi and Alexis. It was an interesting one. No Xavi, Fabregas, or Puyol, and Adriano starts as LW.
The game itself stated with a battle for possession. Malaga weren’t interested in sitting back a la Madrid and going for a counter attack. But unlike many games this season, we got into a rhythm early, passing the ball around, getting into a groove.
Or rather, Messi got into a groove. As early as the 7th minute, he went on one of those classic runs, dancing past Malaga defenders, before slotting the ball to a wide open Thiago on the right who first times the cross for a diving Alexis header in the box which was saved by the excellent Malaga goalkeeper.
But the onslaught was just beginning. Two minutes later, another lovely dribble from Messi ends with a powerful shot deflected JUST past the post for a corner. Iniesta was wide open in space to the left of Leo and he probably should have passed to Ghostface.
Barcelona were really dominating now. But Malaga then decided to try and get something out of the game.
Now Victor Valdes must have the hardest and easiest job ever. The ultimate paradox. He has to be alert to the danger, which is often meager. But if he’s not focused, the goals will pour in like locusts.
In the 14th minute, Valdes produced three successive goal denying saves from Isco to keep Malaga shut out before the Messi show took over.
Messi was once again on a run but the ball is tackled away (he gets accidentally kneed in the head for his troubles). Malaga counter attack. After a nice one-two on the left, Isco unleashes a shot that’s headed for the top right corner, but he is DE-NIED by a flying Valdes. From the resulting corner,
Boo! Wellington the pesky Isco directs a header towards goal but that man Valdes saves again. The rebound is smacked goalwards yet again by Isco but no ball shall pass the Wall of Valdes. In the first half anyway.
Regular service resumed from there as Pique had a free header in the 17th minute which was poor. Decent chances from Thiago and Adriano followed. The break-through only a matter of time.
Déjà vu hit in the 29th minute when Messi floated an incredible pass to a wide open Abidal. Very reminiscent of the winning goal last Wednesday. But Willy Cabanero was alert to the impending catastrophe and forced Abidal back. Abi passes back to Messi who is lurking in the box. Leo spanks the ball towards goal but Demichelis clears off the line.
But Messi’s wasn’t finished. He lays an incredible pass to Alexis which is saved. The Malaga GK, desperately trying to relieve some pressure, launches a counter attack through Eliseu. He curls a wonderful cross to Ruud van Nistelrooy (yeah, he was playing) who puts it wide.
Fantastic game and still only a half hour in. You’d wonder how it was still 0-0.
That would change in the 32nd minute when Adriano puts in a fabulous floating cross for –who else?– Leo Messi to head in. He may be the second shortest player on the field, but the man can head the ball. I’ve always thought so. The placement was spectacular. 1-0 to Barca.
I’ll take the time to say Messi’s passes are just incredible. I mean, really. Nothing flashy, just simple perfectly weighted passes that are so, so deadly.
The half ended with two more half chances. The first comes when Alexis wins the ball at the edge of the Malaga box and play a brilliant pass to Iniesta, but he miscontrols (!) and the danger is cleared. The second was Messi passing the ball through the legs on a Malaga defender to Abidal, but his cross is gathered by the Malaga GK before Alexis could get a head to it.
Halftime. 1-0 Barcelona with 70% of the ball. Ole.
The second half started as the first half ended. Barca camped out in the Malaga half.
Wonderful play by Iniesta would be the instigator for the second goal. He sets up Thiago at the edge of the box, but his shot was saved. The danger for Malaga wasn’t averted as Adriano picked up the rebound and squared the ball to Thiago but he is once again saved by the outstanding Malaga GK. He wouldn’t be able to stop Alexis, as the Chilean manages to put in the rebound. 2-0 Barcelona.
Would we let poor Malaga catch their breath?
Answer: Hell to the no.
Just three minutes later, good pressure from
Iniesta Busi Leo in the Malaga half wins Barca possession. Busi slides a short pass back to Messi. Surrounded by three players with another two blocking his path, the genius jinxes his way through, drifting to the right before cutting back to his left and slotting the ball past the keeper. 3-0. Game. Set. Match.
But we’d spend the rest of the game looking for a fourth.
Striker Pique would come out of the long grass around the 70th minute, but the team ignores him he doesn’t get any service.
In the 73rd minute, after Pedro comes on for Iniesta, Messi hits the underside of the crossbar. To describe my feeling, I go to the wonderful Ray Hudson:
“Damn that crossbar! Damn it all to hell! A hat-trick would have been deserved. Look at this, the witching way. I think it crossed the line.”
Thiago would get two good opportunities to net the 4th. He’s put through on goal by a great Abidal pass, but he tries to set up Cuenca instead of going for goal. A couple of seconds later, he has a header saved.
The fourth goal would come eventually and to describe it, I will consult my notes from this match:
81st Busi wins the ball in Malaga half. Messi. Dead. 0-4. Hattrick. &#^(@#&@)*#@)*#)!(
Argentinaman. I’m so glad he plays for us.
Make no mistake, Malaga were a dangerous opponent. They had very good looks on goal in the first half. In the second half, substitute Rondon was very lively. He scored after Valdes saved the initial shot from a Malaga player, but pushed the ball into the path of Rondon. That man Rondon would get anther look at goal int he 86th minute, dragging his header wide after a great cross from the left.
He himself would provide a cross in the dying moments of the game but the resultant header was poor.
So it’s not like Malaga were parking the bus — we forced them back and put them relentless pressure. So much so that they couldn’t get into the game (until we dropped off towards the end). Important distinction.
Also, Santi Cazorla is a wonderful footballer.
Team: Easily the best away game of the season. Some frenetic passing in the first half, but calmed down in the second. Was just dominate for 85 minutes and a sensational day between the sticks by the Malaga GK is what kept the score down. No matter who plays, the level doesn’t drop much. Almost scored a goal from pressing in the 26th minute too. This performance was coming, but it was also much needed. Riding the momentum of the Copa win. Keep it up!
But that being said, those last 5 minutes… no me gusta. You can’t just switch off like that. Stay focused for the whole match.
Pep: Made all his subs before the 75th minute!! Also, he had the team ready to play but also rested some key players. As Josep Capdevila, a Spanish journalist, noted on Twitter: Pep is still rotating even with 15 squad players (and a couple of B teamers). This is awesome. Well played, boss.
Valdes: “Without Valdes’ saves in the first half, you don’t know what can happen. Details are decisive in football.” – Pep Guardiola post match. Some really sensational saves Victor. It’s a shame that we couldn’t keep a clean sheet for you. Can’t put too much blame on the Rondon goal, maybe could have push it out, but even then that’s asking a lot.
Alves: Seemed like he was dying in the second half with all those hits. Glad to see he’s okay. Malaga attacked his flank most often in the first half, to be expected. Got up and down the flank with his usual energy. Nice line up play with Messi and Alexis.
Mascherano: Full on man. Fantastic defensive play towards the end of the first half, where he just ate up the ground and blocked van Nistelrooy’s path to goal.
Pique: Getting better. Did some great covering jobs, particularly in the second half. Tried to be a striker, but alas, had to slowly make his way back when it became apparent that a) the team wouldn’t be entertaining that idea, and b) he probably wouldn’t have scored anyway.
Abidal: Maxwell said after he signed for PSG: “Abidal is the best left back in the world. He’s in spectacular form.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, Maxy.
Busi: Really loved the game he played today. Always available as an outlet, always keeps it simple. Just a great footballer. That tackle by Camacho in the second half was just awful. Ripped your shorts and everything. I bet some will still call you a diver afterwords though.
Thiago: Wonderful match. He’s putting in that workman like performance that tends to be a thank less job. Keep possession well, make some great runs into the box. The interesting thing with Thiago is that people are still expecting him to play a looser, flashier match. But he knows that for the team to win, he’ll have to make sacrifices and do the dirty work. I love that.
Iniesta: Another strong match. I love his chemistry with Messi. Their link up play is just a joy to watch. Got some well deserved rest when Pep subbed him off for Pedro.
Adriano: He loves to attack doesn’t he? He didn’t make as many runs that I’d expect him to. And sometimes he had the defender’s reflex in the box where he cleared the ball away from the Malaga goal instead of towards it. Fantastic cross for the opening goal. Shame you got a cramp towards the end. Let’s hope it’s not serious.
Alexis: El nino maravilla! Movement was good, had great chances to score and eventually put away the second goal. Good day at the office, chileno.
Messi: See above. At the halfway point in 08-09 season he had 11 goals, in 09-10 he had 15, last year he had 18 and now he has 22 [Jafri during LB]. Only
one two from a penalty (compared to another player who has 22 goals, 10 9 (!) for the spot). And he’s still expected to do more, to be even better. He wouldn’t want it any other way.
Cuenca (for Alexis): Came in when the match was pretty much decided. Good run out for Isaac.
JDS (for Adriano): Yay! JDS got to play and it wasn’t at rightback! I always love seeing Jona on the pitch.
Pedro (for Iniesta): Looked good. Gain some much needed minutes and had nice touches on the ball. Here’s hoping he comes back to form soon.
So we’re still improving. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be more…unfortunate… results in the future. But the team will keep trying hard to win this Liga. I couldn’t ask for more.
Away form: hopefully fixed.
[All images courtesy of fcbarcelona.cat]