The good: Barcelona came away from a very tough away match with a 2-1 win. Lionel Messi now owns yet another scoring record, most goals scored in a calendar year. The bad: Cesc Fabregas couldn’t last more than nine minutes, leaving with a thigh injury, and will be out for three to four weeks.
What will he miss? The team’s last three games in 2012 – the two Liga matches against Atletico Madrid and Valladolid and the away leg of the Copa del Rey against Cordoba. He might also miss the first two games, the derby against Espanyol and another cup match, of 2013.
While the cult of personality around Lionel Messi probably reached its highest point of the last 12 months in recent weeks thanks to his chase of the Gerd Muller record, it was easy to find other things to center on with Barcelona’s play, until this win at Real Betis. Cesc Fabregas and the variety he brings to the Barcelona attack, not to mention his passing ability which puts him on top of the assist tables this season so far. The stabilizing defense with the return of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique. The ever so wonderful Andres Iniesta and the never ending accurate and responsible Xavi.
Above all this is Lionel Messi, even when he doesn’t deserve it. He scored the first goal completely on his own. One of those times when he sinks his head low, glues that ball to his feet and runs a wide left cross, until he finds the right angle to put the ball in. Everyone knows it; I’m pretty sure no one can fully stop it, not with two or three defenders chasing him.
The second goal, another shot from left to right, was actually the build up from Andres Iniesta. His 86 goals in one year belong to this entire team, this remarkable and talented group, mostly home grown, which is the perfect setup squad for the most talented footballer on the planet. It does serve as a discussion point: Is Lionel Messi that good or is it the group around him? It doesn’t matter, and it won’t be answered until he’s actually around a whole new generation of Barcelona players, or simply on another team. It’s hard to see both of those scenarios happening, not in the near future.
Real Betis is one of those teams, that at home, have the right kind of game plan to make Barcelona uncomfortable. A lot of that happened because Alexis Sanchez, going through the worst period of his career, came on for Fabregas. The Chilean, who looked so sharp and dangerous during his first season, can’t score a goal no matter what while he can’t add to the passing game the way Fabregas or even Pedro do. Fabregas can change places with Iniesta, with the two able to be a wide play maker as well. Barcelona enjoyed having four players who can play the build up role on the pitch at the same time. At least for a short while, that’s going to change.
Eventually, the win belonged to everyone, but the night belonged to Lionel Messi, who can’t keep a single individual record, important or not, intact. What does this mean about the Ballon d’Or or Barcelona’s title chances? Both in favor of him coming out with his hand on top.