What a difference a big win makes for a team and its players. Not that Lionel Messi was lacking any confidence in his scoring ability before; and it’s not that David Villa forgot how to score goals at any point of his more frustrating moments this season. Still, Barcelona had the swagger it was missing in recent matches, until their Champions League turnaround.
While Messi scored another double, reaching 42 in the La Liga this season and in his 18th consecutive league match, it was David Villa keeping up the ability that helped Barcelona look so dominant in the 4-0 win over AC Milan that was the more surprising aspect of their win over Rayo, given that consistency wasn’t his strongest suit this season.
Villa is still a very capable striker, at the highest levels. He just needs to play like one, or at least have his moments in the box, not to mention playing time, which has been hard to achieve all season. In 18 starts, he has 14 goals, which just goes to show that if you field him, goals will come. Pedro and Alexis might be harder workers when it comes to tactical roles, but Barcelona have struggled against excellent defending for a number of reasons – one of them was not having any sort of presence inside the box.
Villa one goal, two assists; Lionel Messi two goals, on assist. Earlier this season, when Messi was seeing shouting at Villa more than once, it helped build the theory that Villa was being benched because of his falling out with Messi. That it will lead to his expulsion from the club at some point. But Barca didn’t bite on the chance to get rid of an aging player, and ignored offers for El Guaje (and there were a few) during the January Transfer Window. It’s hard to say they made the wrong decision, even if it has taken him some time to find his old form again.
Another interesting thing to see from Barca in another comfortable win, making the league lead 13 points again, with 10 matches left to play, was how well the passing and the midfield game was without Xavi. Usually, his absence causes some sort of circuit problems between Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and whoever is playing next to them, as the role of the playmaking maestro is hard to fill.
But once he retires or simply sees his role being reduced, Iniesta will have to take over, probably for both Barcelona and Spain, although in a slightly different variation. Up until this point, Barcelona have always struggled without Xavi in the lineup, and Cesc Fabregas looked like the benching rattled him, like they did earlier this season, but being helped by Rayo with surprising, early high pressure, gave Iniesta and Busquets a lot more space and comfort to operate the passing game without too many problems.
The league is now, or has been for a while, a training ground for getting ready to the Champions League, this time for PSG, who present a similar challenge than AC Milan did, with a lot of similar parts, just probably a little bit better. Once again, it’s going to take much more than just Lionel Messi to come away with a semifinal ticket.