One thing that’s hard to admit but easy to notice – Barcelona have been playing better this season with Cesc Fabregas at the central midfielder position instead of Xavi, evne if it means less classic Barca style and a more direct approach. With the team picking up a 3-0 away win in a tough stadium, no one can argue that this approach is the wrong way to about it.
Celta Vigo, unlike recent rivals Barcelona have faced (Milan, Real Madrid) didn’t come to park the bus, instead playing brave and attacking football, and might have been slightly unlucky not to end up with at least a goal. The woodwork and another brilliant display from Victor Valdes made sure Barcelona opened up a four point lead over Atletico Madrid (For now) and a nine point one over Real Madrid.
It was interesting to see the Barcelona midfield in a slightly defensive form, with Fabregas in the middle, playing next to Sergio Busquets and Alex Song while Xavi and Iniesta remained on the bench, Iniesta coming in later in the match for Cesc Fabregas when it was all over. It meant less eye pleasing passing and dribbling, especially with Neymar getting a chance to rest finally, but it didn’t stop Barcelona from looking sharp and dangerous on the attacking end.
Much has been made of Alexis Sanchez finding his form once more early this season, and it was his goal that opened up the match for Barcelona in the 9th minute. Cesc Fabregas was the one who set him up with the opener, and the Spanish midfielder was directly involved in all three goals. It was Fabregas who deserved to get the second goal, and it was his shot that hit the crossbar and bounced of Yoel’s back to make it an own goal. There was some neat passing between Lionel Messi and Dani Alves to set up Fabregas’ shot as well.
Lionel Messi set up the second goal as well – he drew defenders to him like moths towards a light, as he always does, only this time he didn’t insist on finishing himself, leaving Fabregas wide open in the box for the third goal. Despite all of their attacking intentions, Celta Vigo ran out of gas by that point.
Lionel Messi hasn’t scored in two consecutive matches, but was a lot more active in his decoy role than against Real Madrid. He didn’t play on the right wing, squeezed in between Alexis and Pedro, but showed a lot more off the ball movement than usual with the long yards of space he was given by the Celta defense. There were some fancy dribbling and passing from the Argentine, who got to be the playmaker for Barcelona due to Iniesta and Xavi’s absence, but he didn’t try to force himself on the scoresheet.
Barcelona seem sluggish at times this season, but it doesn’t really matter when they can afford to give some of their best players 90 minutes of rest and still pull off comfortable wins that keep them slightly ahead of the competition.