Well, well, well. That one certainly ended the first half on a positive note then. A true team victory against Pelligrini’s newly-reconfigured Malaga side where the rampant fervor of the first half was replaced with cautiousness in the second before a moderately exciting finish. It would be all pats on the back and thumbs up and smiles except for the injury to Dani Alves, which is likely to keep a normal mortal out anywhere from 10-15 days with a calf strain. So knowing Dani he’ll be on the training pitches running sprints and yelling at Pique today. But enough of that silliness, let’s take a quick look back while those of us in America celebrate the life and death and legacy of the amazing Martin Luther King, Jr (#respect #pouroneout).
From the outset, this match looked to have been predetermined. Movement, passing, and efficiency were out in full force with the defense moving high earlier than usual, and most of the action playing out in Barça’s offensive third. Abidal pushed forward and only narrowly missed the goal, hitting the side netting. However, there was to be no reprieve as Dani moved down the right, as Malaga played no one on their left to keep him honest or even close to defense. Iniesta set up in the center, just north of the 18-yard box, Alves played a wonderful square-in pass that Iniesta one-timed (after two snall hops, mind you) off the right post and into the net. Another Iniestazo for sure. Even though rules dictate that the other 83+ minutes had to be played, this one was all but over.
Oh, you want more? Fine: Xavi took a fantastic looping shot that only narrowly missed and nipped the cross bar, heading back into play. Then the definition of our “team victory” showed up. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great “Messi 4, Arsenal 1” victory as much as the next every living human, but this was something wholly different. After an errant pass, Malaga’s defense holds and takes a short pass in an attempt to get out of their end. At this point Busquets moved forward and took an excellently timed slide tackle to push the ball right into Messi’s feet. From there it was a simple pass to Villa who was running on, and a nutmeg of Sergio Asenjo coming out from goal and it’s 2-0. Another assist for Messi, another goal for Villa, and an excellent setup from Busquets.
A third was to come before the half, but not before Alves’ injury slightly marred the proceedings. A tough injury to be sure, but it wasn’t from harsh or wrongful play by Malaga, so that’s some positive. Adriano came on and tried to settle in, taking a few too-long passes, but Messi showed up in the middle again to start the scoring again. After receiving a pass, Messi in the false 9 rolls a perfectly weighted pass to Iniesta breaking in the box, who shot it right at Asenjo (a good save, not a great shot), but Pedro did that crazy run arms swirling thing he does, and slotted it home for his 10th goal in La Liga on the year.
The second half was more subdued, with Pep likely telling everyone to calm it down so that we don’t lose another key component before a Copa match midweek against Betis and then Racing on the weekend. Not much happened until Duda took a well-placed and well-earned free kick from 22 yards out that looped over the wall and into the net. Nothing Valdes could do but curse losing the shutout and a slight tick away from his Zamora Trophy chase (ok so it’s not that close: through 19 games Valdes has allowed 11 in the League, 0.58 per game; Casillas is next closest with 17, for 0.89). Actually the problem from reviewing the kick was Villa, who ducked his head in the wall instead of jumping, and the ball sailed inches over his perfectly coifed hair. A poor move by Villa, but he’d make up for it.
Or more correctly, he’d finish what wonderment Xavi started. Xavi takes the ball just past the midfield line and shows the speed he still has to move between 3 Malaga defenders. On the TV I was cursing, watching Villa wide open across on the left, waiting for a perfect pass. But as usual, Xavi knows more about these things than I do. He waits, Villa runs on, stays onside (thankfully), and Xavi provides him with a millimeter-perfect pass that Villa has to hang on to for an extra two touches because Asenjo rushed well, but Villa had enough touch and finish to send it just inside the left post, avoiding the keeper and defender to score his 14th in the League, give Xavi another assist, and finish this one up. Bojan and Afellay came on with 8 minutes left and both proved to be more than adequate in relief, with Afellay nearly getting his first for Barça, and Messi looking pissed because he couldn’t furnish it for him. That’s ok Lionel, we’ll take your 18 goals and 14 assists this year, we guess (le sigh).
So I guess it’s just ho-hum win because Madrid certainly didn’t drop points against Almeria. Still up 2 points in La Liga going into the second 19 matches right? What’s that you reply? No, Almeria did not draw 1-1 with Real Madrid. Certainly Mou, Mr. Park the Bus, could use all his knowledge to avoid an obviously inferior attempt to do so and lead his super scoring bunch to another lackluster win in the waning minutes. Oh, ha. I don’t give a good shit how Almeria did it, nor do I care to hear complaints about referees. Because when you get an unfavorable result and complain about the referees, it means you obviously didn’t play to win (except in 1 or 2 extreme cases, which I will not speak of here). The refs looked to make the right calls, and you should, you know, maybe score more before the last 15 minutes against a much weaker side. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
Team Rating: 8.5
It could be argued this could even be a 9.5, but losing Alves still has to come in here, not that it was anyone’s fault, but it still stings in the long-term, and that counts in the grade. Pep put out our best side and the victory was assured by the 20th minute. The first half intensity waned in the second 45, but that is to be expected in order to avoid further injuries. Pep made solid substitutions, so he gets high marks too. Trying to build Bojan’s confidence and giving Afellay more time in real game situations is what 4-1 games are for later on. No defensive lapses to speak of also go in favor of a very high score.
In fact, the only demerits against the team were squandered chances in front of net, Villa ducking his head (which he made up for), and a few errant passes from players who usually avoid such antics (Xavi, for shame, at least 3 giveaways, SELL HIM!). Final words here are easy: great match, a tough injury, and up 4 points into the second half with a 5-goal tiebreaker over Madrid for the time being. I’ll take it if you’re giving it.
Also, if you want to see some info from the first half, here’s a short fact sheet from the club’s website. Stunning numbers to be sure. 28 game unbeaten streak breaks a club record, 52 out of 57 possible points (La Liga record), etc. etc.
Breaking News: Thiago Alcantara to be made a First-Teamer in 2011-2012
Just this morning, the club officially announced that Thiago will permanently join the first team next season. This is excellent news because it will likely keep him here for a long time and he’s probably the most talented prospect we have in the lower levels at present. We will have a lot more on this to come later, but it certainly deserves a big note here.