Just hit it.
When you think of things that people have thought to themselves, have said after great goals, it’s usually something along the lines of, “I just hit it.” We can talk all we want about statistics, and stuff like xG (expected goals, and Huesca had a higher number). But sometimes, football is about badasses making plays.
Koeman, speaking of to hell with things, rolled out with the exact same lineup that featured against PSG, the remuntada that was never to be. The group didn’t play anywhere near as well, yet laid up a deceptive scoreline on a team that is rock-bottom in the Liga standings yet still had a few excellent chances because for all of its lovely things, Barça still can’t stop the ball when the opponent has it.
This is the most costly, the most frustrating thing to watch with this current team. You watch other teams play and an opponent breaks dies at the hands of a key professional foul, or a challenge as a player gets in front of the man with the ball. Then you watch Barça and it’s like a sliding doors kinda thing, players getting there a moment too late, inhaling vapor trails instead of making a challenge. This fundamental inability, with links in, like it or not a lack of athleticism, is what will keep Barça from winning the league.
But that’s another story.
In this story, Barça had lots of sterile possession, stroking the ball around. Pedri danced, Messi stalked, Griezmann minced, Dembele got bored, and nothing happened. It was starting to feel like it was going to be one of those days, and then Messi just stepped up and hit it. Same lineup as against PSG, same solo golazo from distance into the same top left corner. Weird and wild. And this tractor beam of a strike came on the day Messi passed Xavi in all-time appearances for the club, 767 moments of potential brilliance. This was the payoff, as if Messi wanted to give value for money, so here ya go. How’s that for style?
Huesca was stunned and looked it. They were doing everything right as their quick, talented players performed in a way that made you wonder about the fairness of such a group being doomed for the drop. Everything. And then one player, the greatest of them all, decides enough is enough. In the pantheon of great Messi goals, it won’t even make the top 20, so accustomed are we to the machinations of genius. Nonetheless, it was a moment, and a moment of relief, since it wasn’t clear how Barça was going to score otherwise as the team wallowed in the ooze of its own fatigue.
Things settled back into that mundane pattern of Barça getting the ball, slugging about, Huesca walking from side to side, keeping everything neat and in front of them and then wouldn’t you know it, Griezmann did pretty much the same thing that Messi did. He just hit it. From distance. Into the top left corner. it was almost like the two Barça forwards were having a contest, a game of footballing HORSE, and Huesca was the victim. Two shots, two goals, 2-0 to the good. The lead was weird, and argued against everything logical. No building play, no moving the defense around. Just … BLAM. Twice.
Of course, it only made sense for an illogical match to have an illogical penalty, the kind of thing that only the blinkered ineptitude of La Liga officiating could dream up. It was a mess of a play right from the start as Dembele clunked a shot into a forest of Huesca legs. Pedri got the rebound and plunked it right to a Huesca player who one-touched an exquisite rainbow of a pass for Rafa Mir, who bolted into the box. He missed the ball, missed the chance but … wait … Ter Stegen struck his leg the softest of blows, that made Mir go down as if hit with a grenade. Penalty. Replay after replay, and surely VAR would see the error of that call, right. Right? Nope. Penalty. Mir smoked it past Ter Stegen and suddenly it was 2-1 and Huesca had life. Hell, given the way Barça was playing, Huesca had more than life.
This was an essential match for Barça to win if anything like the nascent, fleeting hopes of having a say in the league title were to come to pass. It wasn’t quite tucker and pucker time, but Huesca had to be feeling good about things. But football being football, it chose to remind the bottom dwellers why they are where they are. Messi snaked a pass for Dembele, who darted onto the ball, controlled and right before meeting doom at the end line, banged it off the defender for a corner. And then came Messi, again, with a delicate rainbow that found the head of Mingueza for his first goal, and the damndest 3-1 lead you’d ever see. Two bombazos from distance and a set piece header.
And then, finally, late, because the Football Gods like nothing more than to rub our faces in weirdness, another Messi strike, this one a deflection, nestled into the lower left corner (that side again!) to make it 4-1, the final score and a weird one it was. Footall. Bloody hell, indeed. Barça didn’t play a fraction as well as they did against PSG. And you can’t even make any mention of opponent quality, because the goals scored were just about a few moments of astonishing individual brilliance. Logically, this was the scoreline, and then some, that Barça should have had against PSG. it would have been epic, but it was not to be. And maybe it was all setting up for this weirdness. Who the hell knows?
We often read that the scoreline wasn’t really indicative of the match, something that was never more true than against Huesca, on a weird-as-hell Monday. This was the kind of match that a team serious about winning a league needs to win. And it did. And to hell with football.