For now, crisis is averted. Lionel Messi is injured, but not for long. Still, Barcelona being able to comfortably build on his opening goal and actually extend the lead without having the use of Neymar is a promising signs for the times when both of them aren’t available.
It seems that Messi is carrying some form of injury from back in March, but a busy summer with friendly matches and exhibitions didn’t really help him heal up. Gerardo Martino was right to bring in the rotation system, because at the moment, using Messi needlessly for 90 minutes each time is simply asking for trouble. Even if the intention is to stop completely relying on his scoring abilities and spread out the scoring assignments, it’s hard to imagine Barcelona being too successful without him on the pitch.
All that Messi needed in order to make sure his team wins was one classic Barcelona goal in the 21st minute and then come off nine minutes later. Messi started a move from the right wing, played a neat 1-2 with Pedro and then cut a bit more into the middle, having no problem keeping markers behind and finding the corner.
Xavi entered for Messi, and that was it. There have been discussions about Barcelona’s style this season, but the old possession and short passing football is alive and well, it just doesn’t always appear. Without Messi on the pitch and with Martino refraining from using Neymar, Barcelona opted to simply let the match go by and take what’s given to them. Alexis Sanchez and Pedro simply pressed and worked hard, but barely had the chance to improve on their scoring records.
This match was about Xavi feeling comfortable with the football being played, and setting the tone and pace of play, which was deliberately slow, especially after Adriano made it 2-0, and the match was ready to be killed with passing that takes the air and motivation from opposing players and the home fans.
One of the new faces in the lineup was Marc Bartra, playing for Javier Mascherano at centre back. Is the young defender finally the answer to Barcelona’s defensive woes? He’s much better in the air than Mascherno, and doesn’t take (unnecessary) risks that are pretty much gambling about intercepting opposition passes that creates holes and uncomfortable situations for Gerard Pique time after time.
It’s still too soon to tell if his inclusion is only about backing up the Argentine or an attempt to win his place in the first XI, but even when considering the weak opposition Barcelona faced, Bartra put in a pleasing performance for those who are still looking for that big-name centre back to arrive at the Camp Nou.
A perfect start that’s never been done. Records aren’t important, as Martino mentioned – only titles. This team has broken every possible record over the last five-six seasons, but streaks and wins this early in the season don’t’ mean anything if this time isn’t used to make sure that by March, April and May, this time is running at full capacity, and hopefully without Messi having any sort of injury problems.