Business as usual at the Camp Nou; Barcelona reaching 40 from 42 possible points with the best start in the history of the La Liga; Lionel Messi being as clinical in front of goal as ever, now needing only two goals to set a new scoring record; and Andres Iniesta, showing with everything but goals why he is in the award consideration.
Athletic Bilbao, at their current state and shape, couldn’t offer much of an opponent. Their away from has been disastrous this season, and it looked like a lost effort from the moment they stepped on the pitch. Bilbao don’t play a very closed and tight formation, but against a red hot Barca team playing at home, that was a recipe for a thrashing, which was also the end result.
What can you say about this team and group of players that hasn’t already been said? It’s great to see Cesc Fabregas operate with such confidence after a rough start to the season, in which he really found it hard to find his role with the team. One big win over Sevilla, mostly thanks to him (and some dirty acting) changed the course of the season for him in one of Barcelona’s few struggles in the La Liga so far.
Lionel Messi sees the record, and simply kicks into another gear. He was in one mode tonight – dribble, double pass, shot. In any other league, in any other time, someone with 21 league goals in 14 matches sounds completely out of this world. But Lionel Messi (and Cristiano Ronaldo as well) works at a different pace. The level of execution and commitment in each match is impossible to describe, and his hunger for more goals, more wins and titles, just like the rest of this Barcelona generation, is sometimes very hard to comprehend.
While Messi isn’t always the easiest player to describe and explain when someone asks you what makes him so good, Andres Iniesta is a different version of pretty much the same end result. He doesn’t score quite as often, but his dominance in Barcelona’s attacks has grown this season while Xavi takes a step back. He keeps interchanging positions with Cesc Fabregas on the left and the edge of the box, but he does things with the ball in terms of passing, dribbling and slight body movements that free up so much space with minimum effort that no one else can do.
Numbers will eventually prevail, unless we have another surprise coming for us when FIFA present the Ballon d’Or for 2012; Lionel Messi, possibly Cristiano Ronaldo, should win the award. Andres Iniesta doesn’t have the stats to support his cause, but it doesn’t really matter. There isn’t a crusade to elevate one player to a level high above the rest with Barcelona. Messi stands out because of being the best finisher on this team, while those with the jobs of wingers/forwards: David Villa, Pedro and Alexis, are finding it a bit harder to find the net this season. Villa didn’t even step on the pitch, as theories about his on-field arguing with Messi as the cause of the current situation.
The championship is all but ready for Barcelona to take. It’s hard to see how Real Madrid can erase an 11 point lead, while Atletico have lost or failed in every big test they’ve faced this season. It’s still good enough for second in the table, but they seems light-years away from a team that once again looks like the best on the planet.