Barcelona vs. Real Sociedad: Grading the Barca Players in Their La Liga Opener
So where are those people that said FC Barcelona was in decline?
This team may be as strong as they've been since the historic 2008-09 season.
Tito Vilanova had his men more than ready as Barcelona dominated Real Sociedad 5-1 at Camp Nou.
Carles Puyol got the scoring started just three minutes into the game as he headed a Xavi corner kick into the back of the net. Lionel Messi came back were he left off last season and got a brace in the game. Pedro got on the scoreboard, too, as he received a great lob pass from Cristian Tello and put it past Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
In the second half, we saw Gerard Pique come in along with Andres Iniesta.
But this game will be remembered for the long awaited return of David Villa.
El guaje returned after nearly nine months out since his horrific injury in the FIFA Club World Cup last December. Villa showed good speed and the same chemistry with his his teammates that he had in the past.
But it was his goal in the 84th minute that brought all fans to their feet and a few tears to their eyes.
It was a night of firsts, too, as it was Tito Vilanova's first La Liga game and victory as manager. It looked like this Barcelona team does not miss Pep Guardiola at all, as Tito managed a fine game.
Jordi Alba made his La Liga debut with the squad and had quite a good game. Perhaps the big surprise was Cristian Tello—who has been rumored to be under consideration for a loan—started and played the entire game. Tello looked good out there as he set up Messi for the third goal and Pedro for the fourth goal.
Before we focus on Real Madrid and the Spanish Super Cup this Thursday, let's review and grade the FC Barcelona players in their impressive 5-1 victory.
The grades will be based off of an A–F grading scale.
Victor Valdes and the Defense
Puyol is back!
David Ramos/Getty Images
Victor Valdes: VV had no shot against Gonzalo Castro for Real Sociedad’s lone goal. Victor made a great save as Sociedad tried to catch Valdes off his line and convert a long goal in the first half.
In the end, Victor did not need to worry too much in this game, as usual. But the back line needs to strengthen up when the counterattack happens.
Dani Alves: Dani came up to play offense early in the game. A few bad passes in the first half but there was really nothing to complain about in the second half.
By the way, what’s up with David Alves having the Rick Ross/James Harden beard? Dani looks more like Randy “Macho Man” Savage with that beard.
Jordi Alba: Quite first half for Jordi. Looked very comfortable already in his first Liga game.
Alba showed his speed in the second half as Jordi went up and down the pitch to play offense and defend.
However, there were a few times when Jordi Alba lost or was not very careful handling the ball. As much as we all love Jordi, we all know that’s the risk of Jordi’s game: he can be a bit wild in the back line.
But if think it’s safe to say the reward is greater and is very much worth the risk with Jordi Alba’s game.
Carles Puyol: I mentioned in my previous article that Carles needed to get off to a (relatively) solid game coming back from injury.
But I didn’t expect him to score a header so early. Great to see Carles back and looking like he’s 100 percent recovered from his knee operation. Solid game from el capita.
Good to see Tito get him out of the game in the 51st minute as Puyol needs to rest that knee.
Welcome back, capita!
Javier Mascherano: Javier needed to get back in the play which set up the Sociedad goal, leaving Carles and Dani off guard to defend the counter. There was also a yellow card for el jefecito in the 39th minute.
It was a good but not great game by Javier. Let’s hope he stays on his line when Cristiano Ronaldo and the powerful Real Madrid forwards come to Camp Nou later this week.
Photo courtesy of fcbarcelona.com
Sergio Busquets: Busi had an overall quiet game.
And that’s how Tito Vilanova and Busi wants it.
No big mistakes. No yellow cards. Just his usual good passes and being the backbone of the Barcelona midfield.
Xavi: Perfect corner kick from Xavi to set up Puyol in the opening minutes. Xavi didn’t have a big impact in this game, but he didn’t need to. Xavi's best shot on goal was in the 64th minute as a long shot was blocked by the Sociedad goalkeeper Bravo.
Xavi did what he normally does—set up his teammates and look for open spaces.
Cesc Fabregas: Cesc looked a bit shaky in the game. He had a terrible giveaway to set up a near goal for Sociedad in the 50th minute. Overall, Cesc did not have a good game at all.
Perhaps it’s opening day jitters but if Barcelona are going to win La Liga, the team cannot afford to have Cesc have another so-so season like he did last year. I’m sure he’ll be OK.
David Ramos/Getty Images
Pedro: Pedrito had a relatively quiet first half until he received the great pass from Cristian Tello for the fourth goal. It was a solid game from the Canarian.
As I mentioned in my previous article, Barcelona needs the forwards not named Leo Messi to score plenty of goals in 2012-13. Pedro came out for David Villa in the 75th minute.
Cristian Tello: Fantastic to see Cristian in the starting lineup.
Tello’s speed was key in getting Sociedad out of sync in the first half.
Tello’s pass to Messi for the third goal looked shaky at first but ended up being perfect as King Leo made it 3-1. Tello moved very well on the left side of the pitch. It was a great play to get back to the ball in the 37th minute.
I thought Cristian had a terrific game and it’s obvious to me that he cannot be sent on loan or sent to the B squad again. Tello is a first-teamer.
Lionel Messi: We all were wondering how Messi was going to start this season after having arguably the greatest individual season in football history.
Not bad if you ask me.
Messi made a golazo in the 11th minute as he responded to Castro’s goal. He exhibited great control and turned around to smack it in to give Barcelona the lead again. Leo was at the right place when he picked up Tello’s pass and drove it into the back of the net in the 15th minute.
Messi had a few opportunities to get his hat trick but it was to no avail.
Since last season for FC Barcelona and into the summer including Argentina’s friendly games against Brazil and Germany, we’ve seen Lionel Messi carry his teams to victory many times putting his team on his back for the wins.
Messi has been criticized in the past for being too dependent on his great Barca teammates like Xavi and Andres Iniesta for his success.
But I believe we’re just finally seeing the Lionel Messi that we will remember the most. The Messi that is not solely dependent on his teammates but can put his club and national team on his back and lead them to victory.
Substitutes and Overall Team Grade
David Ramos/Getty Images
Gerard Pique: Pique came in for Puyol in the 51st minute.
He almost headed the ball into the back of the net in the 64th minute.
Not much to report on Pique as the game was well in hand when he came in.
Andres Iniesta: Iniesta came in for Cesc in the 58th minute.
He looked good as usual.
He got the great assist to David Villa for the fifth and final goal.
He didn’t need to come into the game and it nearly cost Barcelona as Andres took a bump to the knee in the dying minutes of the game.
Luckily for Tito, Andres was OK.
I can see if Tito wanted Andres to get a few minutes in those legs to get him warmed up perhaps for the Spanish Super Cup on Thursday, but next time with a big lead, it’s best to keep a player like Andres Iniesta on the bench to not run the risk of injury.
David Villa: Villa came in for Pedro in the 75th minute. The crowd at Camp Nou went wild as el guaje came back after that devastating leg break.
In my previous article, I said we Barça fans should not expect David Villa to wow us in this game.
I was wrong. Villa wowed us and made a blowout game a special moment in Villa’s career.
All Culés were brought to tears when Villa got his goal in the final minutes of the game. After such hard work, dedication and personal struggle to get back to the game, it was amazing and to see him get a goal and shout out to the football world that David Villa is back.
How cool was it to see David’s shirt dedicated to his family which read “Impossible without you.”
It’s moments like that that make football so special and it’s moments like that, which make us fans love the superstars of the beautiful game.
Ia (ee-a) Ia Ia, Villa Maravilla!
The team gets an overall grade of A.
What a great way to start La Liga. The week will bring a new player to Camp Nou as Barcelona will officially introduce "The New Kieta” in Alex Song this Tuesday.
But this week also sees the eternal rival in Real Madrid to Camp Nou as well.
And with their 1-1 tie against Valencia in La Liga, Jose Mourinho’s team will come out a bit angry to improve their week and shut down Barcelona.
But don’t worry, Tito Vilanova will have his men ready.
El Clasico—Spanish Super Cup edition—is upon us.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona on Bleacher Report.
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