Quite a few eyebrows were raised when it was Andres Iniesta, not Lionel Messi, who won the UEFA award for best player of last season. Another Barcelona demolition, and couple of goals for Messi to inch closer towards an incredible record, but it’s probably Iniesta he has most to thank for this time around.
Because Messi didn’t do much against Levante, certainly not in the first half, which was evenly matched, ending in 0-0. All the balls went to Iniesta on the left wing, where the play seemed to congest for Barcelona. The Euro was the first sign of the changing of guards, not that Iniesta is a young man. Still, Xavi is less and less capable of being his brilliant self every single match. Old age does that to you. Iniesta took over that role very well for the national side.
In Barcelona? So far this season, Barca had problems without Xavi. Both Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas struggled in that role, even when they were sharing it. But not anymore. While Barcelona’s defense seems to be stabilizing, as Puyol and Pique are finally playing together, so does their midfield look much more confident and much more capable of applying the same kind of high pressure it usually does, trusting the men behind it.
Sixteen minutes. That was all it took to tear Levante apart and keep Barcelona three points from Atletico Madrid and an incredible 11 from Real Madrid. Lionel Messi with numbers 81 and 82. Four goals left and too many games for such a gifted scorer not to make the record his own. Levante missed out on an impressive result against Real Madrid; they weren’t even close vs Barcelona. One simple failure to mark Messi and Iniesta and the match fell apart, with no actual chance of coming back.
And as much as it was Messi’s celebration, it was more so a herald of Iniesta’s brilliance. A small player that doesn’t usually get much stats going his way. He builds up plays, creates many of them, but hardly finishes or even sets up the actual goal. This time, Barcelona were ever so dependent on his skills; on his dribbling, on his passing. It was his ability to constantly beat his man that kept opening up opportunities. Messi doesn’t move around that much in some matches, especially when he’s marked by one or two players.
Still, he doesn’t have to. Iniesta beating his man on the left eventually opened up the right kind of spaces for Messi to score twice. Iniesta himself scored the best goal of the match with a great shot to the top of the net from the edge of the box. The fourth goal? Cesc Fabregas, much more comfortable now than he was earlier in the season, when confidence and frustration blocked his path.
Tito Vilanova, for now, likes this formation. Four central midfielders, one winger, one Messi, which is different position from anything else in football. No false 9’s or anything else. This amount of talent can’t be contained by the simple configurations and descriptions that fit the rest of the world. On days when Messi doesn’t have to do anything and still come out celebrating two goals, it goes to show just how talented of a team he’s playing on, and what a great player and sometimes under-appreciated Andres Iniesta is.