Benfica vs. Barcelona: 8 Things We Learned in 2-0 Barça's Win
Barcelona made it two wins from two games in the Champions League group stage with a 2-0 away victory in Portugal over Benfica, who are still looking for their first win in the tournament.
An early goal from Alexis Sanchez, set up by Leo Messi, got the ball rolling for the Spanish side, and they were always in control from that point.
The second half eventually proved more incident-filled, with Cesc Fabregas scoring the second goal before, late on in the game, Sergio Busquets was sent off and Carles Puyol suffered a very nasty injury.
For Tito Vilanova, though, it was a fine result, which puts Barça in a very strong position to qualify from the group.
Here are eight things we saw from the game.
Leo Messi: Even When He's Not Scoring, He's Barça's Biggest Threat
Nope, Leo Messi didn't make the scoresheet for once—but he was by far the biggest and most constant threat to the Benfica goal, and only a fine low fingertip save by goalkeeper Artur stopped Messi from adding to his tally.
Needless to say, the Argentinian was still involved in the victory as he claimed both assists for Barcelona's two goals.
The first goal Messi created by linking well with Jordi Alba down the left flank before delivering a low cross for Alexis to convert.
In the second half, a typical dribble through the centre of the pitch was finished with a pass left to the onrushing Cesc to dispatch inside the near post.
Another impressive attacking performance from Messi—but would you expect anything less?
Tito Is Set to Continue with the 4-3-3
As for the rest of this season prior to the Benfica match, manager Tito Vilanova continued to employ the standard 4-3-3 tactical system for his side.
His predecessor Pep Guardiola was fond of employing at times a 3-3-4 type of system, or even something along the lines of one single defender, two wide forwards and then everybody else somewhere in-between.
Of course, Guardiola had three more years experience of working with and picking the team and would have been more comfortable asking them to play different positions, whereas Tito, this early on in his debut season, is likely to keep the system as simple and familiar as possible as he beds into the job.
Tito might in due course look to experiment further with the lineup, but for now at least he looks set to continue with the archetypal Barcelona system.
You can read more about Tito's tinkering with his forward line here.
The Cesc Dilemma
Cesc Fabregas has been in and out of the Barcelona side after failing to really nail down a regular place as one of the "undroppable" stars of the team.
Against Benfica he was granted a starting role and duly supplied the second goal, which killed the match off for his team—but did he do enough to warrant a regular place in the side?
Cesc completed 91 percent of his passes, which was both a lower completion rate and also a much lower real number (69 passes) than either of his midfield partners, though he was also substituted with 20 minutes remaining.
One accurate through-ball doesn't hint at a high level of creativity on the night, and he only really got himself beyond the line of the forwards on one occasion—which ended with the ball in the back of the net.
All things told, he probably hasn't done enough to keep his place in the team for long.
Preparing for El Clasico
Barcelona have a perfect record from the two main competitions this season: five wins in five games in La Liga, and two wins from two in the Champions League.
Next up is the big one, El Clasico as the Catalan side face Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid.
Barcelona's big rivals haven't had the best of starts and sit in seventh place with seven points, but a fiercely contested derby could change all of that of course.
This will absolutely be the toughest match, in terms of both opposition and competition, that Tito Vilanova has faced as a manager.
We could learn an awful lot more about both sides and their relative merits after this weekend's game.
The Return of Andres Iniesta
After around a month out of the game with injury, Andres Iniesta made a welcome return to the Barcelona side.
Replacing Cesc Fabregas with 20 minutes to play, the time on the pitch was really more about letting Iniesta get a feel for the ball again rather than any particular fitness work; after a rest post-Euro 2012 and a preseason, he should still be in fine physical condition.
Vilanova will have a decision as to whether to play Iniesta from the start against Real Madrid, but even knowing that he is on the bench and available to come on will be a big boost.
Carles Puyol Set for Extended Absence
It seems to be one in, one out at the moment for Barcelona.
Iniesta has returned—but Carles Puyol is going to be unavailable for a while after a terrible-looking injury in Portugal.
Not long back from injury himself, Puyol went up for a header from a corner in the second half and landed extremely awkwardly with his arm bent underneath his body.
A dislocation at the elbow looks certain, and there could also easily be a bone fracture or break involved.
With Gerard Pique also out, it looks like Javier Mascherano and Alex Song will end up being the centre-back pairing for El Clasico after all.
Benfica Facing Battle for Getting out of the Group
Benfica picked up a solitary point from their first two Champions League group games and are still without a goal scored after drawing 0-0 in Scotland against Celtic before the 2-0 defeat to Barcelona.
Perhaps they wouldn't have expected to take anything off Barcelona anyway, but Celtic's surprise 3-2 win away to Spartak Moscow on Match Day 2 means that the Portuguese side are now back in third place and face needing to take at least four points from the double-header with the Russians to get themselves back in the hunt for a qualification place.
The Scottish side will feel they have put themselves in a good place now, while Spartak will be desperate to pick up at least one win against Benfica to give themselves any kind of chance of going through.
Champions League Qualification Already Looking a Sure Bet
For Barcelona, however, it is already looking good.
They will expect to take six points from the double-header coming up against Celtic without too much trouble, and that would put them through the group stages, qualified after just four matches.
Barça had a few problems putting Spartak to bed in the first group game, but the win over Benfica was an exercise in control and competence, spoiled only by Sergio Busquets' red card—which will land him a three-match ban if the referee calls it as violent conduct—and the injury to Puyol.
Even so, Champions League qualification to the knock-out stages are already looking a near-certainty for Tito Vilanova's side.
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