In what may go down as the most important week of games that does not involve El Clasico, FC Barcelona acquitted themselves nicely while Real Madrid struggled and ultimately faltered before Sporting Gijon (titters). As a result, Barcelona stretches to an 8-point lead in the La Liga race with 8 games and of course the second Clasico remaining. As a fan, one of the biggest things is breathing room, so there we go, enjoy.
The team was bolstered by Madrid’s early loss and, depending on your view of the situation, this either gave Pep a license to run out a greatly changed lineup without Messi, or had no effect on his selection at all. After watching Pep for this long, he never does anything without a reason, so I know where my guess lies. Going in to what is normally considered a tough game for the team, the injuries and suspensions mounted. No Pedro, no Xavi, no Puyol, and no Messi, whose absence from an Argentina-Costa Rica friendly apparently caused massive rioting and post-apocalyptic scenarios (read: complaining), meant a younger, more uncomfortable lineup, and it showed out of the gate.
Villareal gained a ton of possession in the beginning. Rossi was dangerous, so dangerous. He kept undercutting Busquets, who was starting in place of the injured Puyol and the indefinitely out Abidal at the back. Chaos ensued early on. The first about 15 minutes there was no central midfield control because Xavi was suspended and Iniesta was playing out of position on the wing (someone please cite a good game he’s had there, because I cannot remember one). This led to 2 golden chances for Rossi, both ending in quick thinking from Valdes stopping a disastrous start. The first had Pique playing the ball and Busquets getting turned around before Valdes took the ball off a wide open Rossi’s feet in the box. The second was an excellent pass leading to a great palm save from Valdes across the goal mouth. Pep had seen enough and switched Pique to the other side while dropping Mascherano further back. After this, Rossi’s supply dried up and he was a non-factor.
The rest of the first half went along mundanely enough. Adriano ripped a shot, but for the most part it was nothing to write home about. Thiago showed a ton of promise and alternated between great runs, smart passing, and overrunning or missing his spots. He’s 19, so we’ll forgive him, or at least I will. I’m sure in 5 years when he’s Xavi II, some of you will still be complaining about his missed passes and all. Outside of Pique, Thiago, and Valdes, our team was three steps short of garbage.
Guardiola made no changes at the half, but a few players came out re-energized. Iniesta, for one, looked like a new player. I have a theory about this: it is because he knew he was being moved off the wing, which I am convinced he hates. Improvement came and Iniesta and Villa got close. Messi came on and this opened everything up. He actually had very little to do with the goal, but 3-4 Villareal defenders attached to Messi at all times and the whole thing opened up. Eventually Pique scored off a corner, an excellent volley, and not a handball. Silly yellow submarine. A few chances came and went before Valdes came up with a kick save off an 8-yard Santi Carzola strike. And that was that. Now for your takeaways.
1. Most importantly, breathing room
Beating Villareal with a depleted side is a plus. Beating them after Madrid loses to Gijon at home and I no longer have to hear about that stupid home unbeaten streak anymore, well that’s just a great Saturday. I will echo the sentiments of Avoiding The Drop’s Twitter feed and simply state that it is a lot more impressive to actually win the big games with your bajillion dollar squad than hold on to that kind of streak. Suffice to say an 8-point lead with 8 to play and a win by manita over Madrid already is amazing.
2. Thiago = Very Good
Let’s just say this, Thiago is going to be excellent. He’s 19 and already doing great things. He was not perfect, and after the first 40 he slowed down a lot, but that is to be expected. He has control, finesse, and the eyes to see it all. I hope the hype does not grow too loud on the kid, but he’s going to be excellent in a few years time.
Enjoy the victory. Enjoy your evening, or morning, or whatever time it is where you live. Remember, it’s all relative.