There’s nothing surprising anymore about Lionel Messi finishing the first half with a hat-trick. Barcelona look like a completely different team with and without their Argentine star, but sometimes it’s shocking to see the difference one player, as talented as he may be, make by actually being fit for a match.
Watching Messi carve up the Valencia defense early enough to allow Barcelona to concede a couple of goals at the end of the first half and still come out of Valencia with the win wasn’t the only interesting thing, but it did provide the necessary bottom line of a 3-2 win on the road, and Messi improving to five goals on his first two matches this season, already with his hands positioned firmly on the Pichichi.
There was Neymar who didn’t score, but showed us the first glimpses of his partnership with Messi. The two found it a lot easier to combine with each other through the left wing, as Neymar seems to understand his role a lot better than before. Cutting to the middle, offering another threat at goal, while not neglecting the defensive role that a winger in Barcelona can’t neglect. This time, it was Alexis who paid the price, being left on the bench as the Brazilian inched closer to earning a permanent place in the lineup.
Having Cesc Fabregas play instead of the rest-needing Xavi showed a different, more direct Barcelona. It probably helped them score the three goals through the first 41 minutes, but it also created too much space behind Busquets that allowed the two goals from Helder Postiga to come. Barcelona need more possession when they’re in the lead, and Fabregas, who dominated the temp due to Andres Iniesta playing without being 100%, was a bit too quick and intense for his team once they held the 3-0 lead.
And then there’s the defense. One good side to it is Victor Valdes who did concede twice but put on quite a show in the second half, responsible more than anyone else for his team leaving the Mestalla with all three points. But there’s also the problem that has to do with Gerard Pique being the only tall player in the defensive unit, whiel Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves continue to struggle with crosses and overall defending well as a unit.
Another summer, and another plea to improve that side of the field has been ignored by the ownership, preferring to invest in big names like Neymar, which was necessary as well in injecting a bit of new blood and talent to the attack, than working just as hard to bring in a high-quality defender to help Barcelona get over what seems to be holding them back over the last couple of seasons.
Lionel Messi is going to score at will, while Neymar will start throwing his weight around this attack and Cesc Fabregas will find the way to replace Xavi more and more in the middle. But until the problem of their leaky defense is solved, it’s hard to view Barcelona as the best team in Europe, and it’ s a major cause for concern even in the weak La Liga, especially when it comes to their biggest rivals.