As Barcelona continues to change under the hands of a coach that hasn’t come out of its own system, there’s one obvious thing that stays the same: Lionel Messi, who might not actually care about all the records he’s breaking or coming very close to setting, but with some huge help from Neymar is getting very close to one of the most prestigious in European soccer.
Lionel Messi has now scored 62 Champions League goal, and with nine more he’ll match Raul, and there’s more than a slight chance it’ll happen this season already, and it doesn’t mean he needs to score a hat trick every match.
Seeing Xavi more and more beginning matches on the bench is a sign of two things: The 33 year old isn’t going to be playing forever, and there comes a time when old bodies need more and more rest. Giving Xavi 20-30 minutes of action here and there is great for his preservation, while it gives Cesc Fabregas a chance to play in position he’s supposed to inherit one day.
But it also makes it a bit more clear the Gerardo Martino isn’t only about preserving what he got handed to him from previous managers. The Barcelona soft, short passing game did win them a championship last year, but its clearly not enough anymore to go all the way in Europe. A more direct approach, which does come with its own risks, is what’s being shown more and more at the Camp Nou, making Barcelona less about possession, although it’s still a big part of their M.O obviously, and more about execution near the net.
For that, Lionel Messi is perfect, but Barcelona need more for when teams surround him with three and four players for an entire match. Neymar was brought to Barcelona as the team’s only signing this summer in order to alter that dependence on the best player in the world, and while so far it hasn’t resulted in goals for the Brazilian, he seems quite happy and a lot more comfortable in the left winger role he plays.
For one, he’s one of the few players on Barcelona that don’t look for Lionel Messi the moment they get the ball. Neymar can do plenty on his own, even though it does result in turnovers when he tries to do too much. However, Barcelona will only benefit when teams are forced to respect his dribbling ability and drifts to the middle, while his passing and crossing have been fantastic so far, resulting in another assist by finding Gerard Pique for the third goal.
Barcelona aren’t used to see teams go with them head to head, especially at the Camp Nou, but Ajax aren’t a side that can win with defending. Attacking Barcelona was their only way of getting something in this match, but they eventually lost 4-0 as conceding for the second time from Lionel Messi seemed to trample their spirits, and make them realize that whatever they tried to beat Victor Valdes with in the first half isn’t going to be enough.
Valdes is looking better than he did last season, with or without proper defending. He now has an excellent opening to become the number on goalkeeper for the national team due to Iker Casillas being benched and now even injured. On his last season for Barcelona (At the moment), it might be a great chance to bring out the best in him as well, giving him a lineup spot for the World Cup.