For the first time this season, Lionel Messi didn’t score. Barcelona managed to make it without his goals, backed by a stunning long range shot by Adriano to give them the 1-0 lead over Valencia, but for once, the best player in the world didn’t even have a decent match.
Any need for concern? None whatsoever. Even Lionel Messi is human, and after scoring four goals in the opening two matches, it’s OK, even for him, to have days like these. Barcelona are trying out things in the defense and upfront, all revolving around one constant – Lionel Messi is the only one, along with goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who can’t be moved from where he is for the whole 90 minutes.
There are two things that need to be worrying Tito Vilanova – Getting Gerard Pique back into a confident state, even when he’s not playing alongside Carles Puyol. Pique made one huge mistake against Real Madrid and against Valencia it was much easier, but his collaboration and coordination with Javier Mascherano is lacking, with both players not quite sure about who is the cover back and who goes up to the striker when needed to.
The second player who needs tending to is Cesc Fabregas. In the rotation Vilanova is pulling so far in the middle of the park, trying to find out what works best for him, he is the weakest and so far in the poorest form. It’s not just his terrible finishing in front of goal. Fabregas seems to hesitate even with some of the simplest tasks, unable to pass quickly enough and then create space with good off the ball movement. Maybe being usually the odd man out when it comes to Spain and Barcelona is taking its toll on the player who used to be the first name on the sheet back in Arsenal.
Alex Song and Sergio Busquets will probably share the defensive midfielder role, with Song hopefully coming in as an added physical presence. He had no trouble stopping the Valencia attacks on his first start in front of the home fans, although Valencia didn’t really make a solid attempt at coming back to the game. Unlike their visit to Real Madrid in the first match of the season, they seemed pleased to defend all 90 minutes and leave with a minimal loss.
Upfront, Vilanova is so far satisfied with having Pedro and Alexis on the wings, although the Chilean forward is struggling to get involved this season, playing a bit differently than he did last season. I think both Barcelona and Sanchez himself benefit when he doesn’t play as wide, on the left or on the right. Pedro is in excellent form, looking much better than he did last season, although a healthy David Villa might shake things up in the front 3.
Three matches into the La Liga season and Barcelona are the only team with a perfect 3 from 3. When they look down, they see Real Madrid 5 points behind at 9th, but Barcelona don’t really pay attention to the over seven teams separating them. Now that the champions got their first win of the season, the title race can officially begin, with Barca enjoying a nice cushion for a head start.