Hard to tell if the new Barcelona is really less about possession and simply more about being direct and finishing off matches later rather than sooner, but if it gives the chance for Pedro to steal the spotlight from Lionel Messi with an impressive hat trick, you won’t hear too many complaining about it.
There are many that seem slightly worried about this “new” Barcelona team, that gives up on the attempt to short-pass their way into oblivion. The results are coming, be it against Ajax in the Champions League or against Rayo Vallecano in the La Liga (both 4-0 wins), but the matches are closer than the results show, and make Barcelona a much more dangerous side in the minutes that were usually reserved for garbage time.
However, results are what matter, and it’s not like Barcelona have given up on attractive football. It’s just that their ‘full-court press’ begins later in the match, as if Martion knows that there’s no use in exposing his fragile defense to counter attacks unless he feels its safe for his team to venture forward without being caught unaware on the break.
In this system, that’s about pressure and counter attacking, the presence of Pedro returns to be vital, as the winger, who has seen a few ups and downs over the last couple of seasons, seems to be back on the high-scoring track, already netting five goals this season following his hat trick. He might not be an automatic first-team choice, but even Lionel Messi gets his moments of rest from time to time, and Pedro does have fierce competition from Alexis for his position.
On the other side of Messi is Neymar, who continues to be a lawful servant to the Barcelona machine. We rarely see selfish dribbles from the player renown for them, and it constantly looks like he’s looking for everyone else before actually thinking about shooting himself. He did come very close to scoring his first La Liga goal after a series of body fakes, but it ended up hitting and bouncing off the post, on a day that made it very difficult to develop a more typical passing game.
Lionel Messi was also not his usual self. Not just the goal that didn’t come, but not as insistent on finding the net on his own. He didn’t get many touches on the ball, but almost each and every one of them started with a dribble that left two players on the grass before Messi passed it on to someone else. He ended up providing the assist for the first goal by Pedro.
Going to the other end of the pitch, Victor Valdes is trying to make his final (probably) season with Barcelona a memorable one, stopping a penalty kick a number of very dangerous chances created by a persistent and full of belief Rayo team. There was a huge factor of chance, or bouncy pitch in other words, in the way Rayo got to the Barcelona works, but anything is fair when the budget differences are so great.
In the midfield, especially with Barcelona playing this way, Xavi becomes far less important. Alex Song getting a rare start provided a vital stopper on the way to Barcelona’s goal, and while it shouldn’t worry Sergio Busquets about his place in the lineup too much, it should give Martino something to think about for his next selection. Cesc Fabregas was excellent in everything required of him, scoring and getting an assist. Xavi? He didn’t make any mistakes, but with Barcelona not trying to dominate possession at any cost, his role as the beating heart of the club is beginning to fade.