Sorry, but this little fella is out of his mind right now. Getafe must hate him so much, probably as much as we love him and what he does for our club. Because not only does he put ball after ball in the back of the net, he even provides Villa with a un-screwable pooch, then helps Pedro! break his Liga scoring duck, all while also garnering Man of the Match. He probably drove the bus to the airport, just because.
And given what this cluster of a match turned into, with a passel of yellows, two reds and a penalty, who knows what might have happened had the issue not been in doubt by the time Pique was booted for a second yellow.
Getafe rolled out with the Copenhagen variant from the “How to Play Barcelona” playbook, with a ton of pressure, physical play and a narrow shape that allowed space on the wings. “Hey, it worked for them,” probably went the thinking. And yet, today was different for two reasons: we played a better match, particularly in the first half, and at a few crucial moments, Getafe screwed up and chased the ball, something that Copenhagen didn’t do.
It took us a while to find our legs, as Guardiola rolled out with Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro!, Villa and Messi. Getafe’s plan seemed to be working, but you could tell that it was only a matter of time, and so it was. Iniesta sprung Villa with a perfect pass, and Villa managed to put the ball over the goal. No. Not saved, not wide, but over the goal! I’m still trying to figure out how it happened, but happen it did. More importantly, the portents were building.
Pedro! just missed latching onto a long pass that would have put him in on goal, then he unleashed a “What the heck?” shot that the Getafe keeper almost spilled, proving once again the value of just having a go sometimes. We were having more and more possession, Iniesta and Xavi were pulling the strings and it was all looking good, even if you could be forgiven for wondering if this was going to be one of those matches.
Not long after this moment, a delightful series of passing and movement resulted in a goal that was ultimately a thing of beauty. The serious bit started when Xavi spanked a crazy, demanding pass to Messi, who was covered by two defenders. He controls, and slides an amazing ball to Alves in space, who popped it over for Villa, who proceeded to have the sort of foot control complexities that I have noted before. So he dribbles a bit, struggles with control, puts a hand down a la Meadowlark Lemon, retains control then flicks a ball to Messi for the near side finish.
Villa was surrounded by 5 Getafe players as he wrestled with that ball, and that was the mistake: you just can’t leave Messi alone, even for a moment. Getafe did, and that was that, as this match was effectively over. Yes, Getafe would get some possession that would be moderately troubling, but our defense just isn’t conceding goals right now. Losing the lead also forced Getafe to play differently, to open up shop in an effort to equalize. Can’t go belly up at home, after all.
Then the Xavi-Alves-Messi trident conspired to give Villa a chance he couldn’t screw up, and he didn’t as Messi provided a flawless assist to set up Villa for only his 5th goal in the Liga, a number that would probably be at least doubled with even remotely effective finishing, but that’s another story. He spanked it past the keeper, and things were over for real, as you could see the shoulder slump of inevitability from the Getafe players. A mind reader would pick up something like “Damn, we played our hearts out, did almost everything right, and we’re down 2-0 because of that garden gnome!”
Which was about the size of it, only he wasn’t finished. Pressure on the keeper and outlet passer by Messi, and a little ground-gobbling burst of pace resulted in a deflected clearance that fell directly to Pedro!, who rounded the keeper and finished with a giggle. It was one of those goals that you don’t often see scored at this level, in part because there’s only one Messi, but also because defenses don’t run away, stranding their mates with two hungry Blaugrana demons. It was 3-0, and done.
Then Pique decided to make the match interesting as a goal mouth scramble and a falling Piquenbauer resulted in a second yellow and a penalty for his handball. I leave to you all to judge intent, I just know that it happened. The subsequent penalty put away made it 3-1, and Getafe had life, and the match turned frustrating, mostly because we were on a downward trend even with 11 men. Whether it’s a function of a short squad and energy conservation, complacency or sheer lack of interest, we let teams play their way back into matches sometimes, rather than simply destroying them. Getafe was surfing a wave even before Pique’s expulsion, and went hog-wild after it. But even then, the match was more chaotic than dangerous as even with 10 men we were closer to scoring a fourth than they were to a second. Then the preternaturally vexing Boateng (another one, but a different one, if you know what I mean) got a second (and overdue) yellow for a hammer job on Mascherano, who it must be said is a card magnet alright, but for the opponents.
At 10-v-10, things were dramatically less silly, and that was that.
Even in the glory of the win, and a dominating away record, there are vexing trends:
–We aren’t finishing with efficiency. This match could easily have been 7 or 8-1.
–Alves and Iniesta need to shoot, particularly Iniesta.
–Some casual possession finds our defense caught with bloomers down. There isn’t enough pace for that nonsense.
–The aforementioned sudden lack of interest in a match
All are easily fixed, and I have no doubt that Guardiola has noted these things and is puzzling over how to fix them, particularly the first one. Sometimes, you only get one or two chances in a match. Squander them, and a win becomes a draw …. or a loss.
Anyway. I loved the debut of the “freedom” midfield of Iniesta/Xavi/Mascherano, as in “You two are free to raise hell, because sMasch will destroy anything that comes near him.” And so he did, particularly with the addition of Maxwell to assist in midfield control and act as that roaming DM type, when sMasch wasn’t smashing. I really liked the results, with only a couple of flaws that came when Mascherano got caught in possession, and Getafe were off to the races. He can learn from Busquets in that regard, to just keep the ball moving. But it’s getting harder and harder, with each Mascherano appearance, to explain why he isn’t playing with more regularity. Nice to have such a glut of riches at one position.
Team: 7. A brilliant first half, followed by a funky, clunky second half. The passing and movement were exquisite, and the pressure was well-timed. Once the sea legs were found, we were opening up Getafe at will.
Guardiola: 8. The right lineup, and the right substitutions to consolidate the win.
Valdes: 8. We went from not needing him to being thankful he was so good. His long distribution also improved dramatically. He still needs to communicate better. Pique gave up a corner on a ball that Valdes should have called him off of, is one example.
Alves: 5. Much good, and much bad. Never take a free kick, please. Ever again. Thank you. And shoot when you’re in the box. It’s okay then. He took great advantage of the space that he was being offered by Getafe, and was part of 2 of our three goals.
Pique: 4. The funk continues, and you now will have some time to think about it, since your red means that you will STILL have 4 yellows after your suspension. Long passes were off, and how could one so young have already lost a step?
Puyol: 8. Captain Caveman to the rescue, time and again. He is, for me, as essential as Messi to our continued excellence.
Maxwell: 7. Fine match, and a key goal line intervention, when Valdes was beaten. Strong contributions to midfield control, as well. This was his kind of a match.
Mascherano: 7. Would have received a much higher score, were it not for the ceded possessions in dangerous areas, that led to dangerous Getafe attacks. He just wins balls, sometimes with tackles, sometimes with excellent positioning. And he’s always where the ball is, or is going to be.
Xavi: 8. Okay, who didn’t feel sorry for the Getafe player who Xavi ran around in circles in the second half? This is as good as our Maestro has looked in a while, with an assured, commanding performance. His timing is almost back, as well.
Iniesta: 7. I like that he isn’t taking nonsense from opponents. He has to be our most-fouled player, even more than Messi. He belongs next to Xavi. His movement and passing are brilliant. I only wish that his shooting was. Shoot, Ghostface! Shoot!
Pedro!: 7. Our Random Chaos Generator was in full effect today, with constant running, harassing, pressing and attacking. His goal came from just being in the right place at the right time, as he plays the wild card position so well.
Villa: 6. Scored a goal, and is showing much more affinity for tracking back on defense. He was also offside, threw up a panicked clearance way too close to our box, and blew more chances. When he comes good, he’s going to have about 100 goals. The chances are there, and how. So is the work rate and runs.
Messi: 9. Man of the Match performance in every facet of the game, from offense to defense to ball control. Had a hand in all three goals, and could have had at least two more. As Villa gets better, so does he because of the space created by Villa’s movement and danger.
Milito (for Villa): 6. Had the match gotten messier, he almost certainly would have played to a higher rating. If he were younger, he would be the heir apparent to Puyol. Eschew the barber, and he’d even have the same hair. Key interventions late, and a calm, assured back line presence.
Busquets (for Xavi): 6. Ditto for the Milito score comment. He isn’t Xavi, but brings ball control and midfield defense at a time when we needed to calm things down, and get fresh legs on the pitch.
Keita (for Pedro!): incomplete. Just a time-conscious subsitution, though it would have been fun to see the “none shall pass” midfield for an extended period.
So. The insane run of matches continues, with Ceuta on the 10th (Copa), Villarreal (thankfully at home, with no trophy presentations) on the 13th, a week-long gap then away to Almeria, then away to Panathinaikos on the 24th, before El Clasic on the 28th. Whew! Odds are that Pique will sit out Villarreal and Almeria, to make sure he doesn’t miss El Clasic, which will be HUGE. It isn’t looking like either big Liga side will drop many points, so the Clasics look to decide the Liga. We will get an early look at how good we are in a couple of weeks. Until then, the key will be to remain healthy, and stress-free. Look for a defensive lineup against Ceuta and no key players, who will be needed against a resurgent Villarreal.