Spartak Moscow vs. Barcelona: 5 Things We Learned in Easy 3-0 Win
Barcelona cruised through their latest Champions League match with a 3-0 win over Russian outfit Spartak Moscow to send Tito Vilanova's side through from the group stage.
The Spanish team named a full-strength side as they bid to secure their qualification with a game to spare, and it proved a fine decision as Barça raced into a three-goal lead before the halftime break.
Dani Alves scored his first goal of the season with a low drive before forward Lionel Messi added two more in the first half.
Spartak's fans showed great support throughout the game, but the club was unable to force their way back into the match, or even really trouble goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
Here are five things we learned from the match.
Leo Messi: Utterly Unstoppable?
Against Spartak Moscow, 78 became 79 and 80.
Not content with eclipsing Brazilian legend Pele recently, Leo Messi now has Gerd Muller's all-time scoring record firmly in his sights.
Muller hit 85 goals in one calendar year back in 1958, and Messi is now just half a dozen from creating a new record of his own.
The fixtures Barcelona have left to play before the turn of the year, and the teams who have to be so wary of Messi as he hunts the record, are Levante, Athletic Bilbao, Real Betis, Atletico Madrid and Valladolid in La Liga, Alaves in the Copa del Rey and Benfica in the Champions League.
Best get working on your defensive options, lads.
Barcelona Open to Attacks Down the Flanks
Barcelona were hugely offensive and impressive in the first half, as they quickly put the game beyond the reach of Spartak Moscow.
The Spanish side dominated possession, had far more chances on goal throughout the game and generally bossed the flow of the game, as is their habit and their strength.
Spartak, though, at least until halftime, looked a real threat on the counter-attack, as they continually exploited the spaces behind Barcelona's attack-minded full-backs in Dani Alves and Jordi Alba.
Vitaly Kombarov, in particular down the left-hand side, got plenty of joy as he utilised his great pace and crossing ability to send over a string of chances for Emmanuel Emenike to attack.
A failure to test Victor Valdes at all, though, cost the team a chance to take points off Barcelona and prolong their hopes of staying in the competition. Spartak had nine shots during the game—all off target.
One More of the Favourites Through to the Knockout Stages
Matchday 5, though, has seen several other big teams—favourites to challenge and reach the latter stages of the Champions League—reach the knockout phase.
Barcelona's three points guarantees them the top spot in Group G, and they can play out their last fixture in confidence and without having to play all their top players if they wish.
Valencia, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund have already qualified, so competition for the biggest prize in European football will, as always, be fierce. Barcelona can count themselves as one of the favourites to win it for the fourth time in eight seasons.
Pedro Can't Buy a Goal
It's 15 games now since Pedro Rodriguez last scored for Barcelona.
The once-prolific wide forward netted over 20 goals for two seasons running before injuries disrupted his form and stay in the first XI last season.
Even so, he managed 13 in all competitions during 2011-12.
This term, Pedro has managed just a single goal in La Liga and none at all in the Champions League. Against Spartak he totalled three shots, two of which hit the target but again failed to score.
He did, however, pick up a yellow card for a rather tame dive in an attempt to win a penalty.
Impressive Midfield Domination Away from Home
Barcelona's players' ability to maintain possession of the ball in midfield for extended spells is legendary, and the fixture in Moscow was no different.
The away side recorded 71 percent possession in the game overall, with a massive 91 percent of all their passes attempted finding a teammate.
It wasn't just on the ball that this victory was built, though; the off-the-ball work of the midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and Xavi was key in helping their side win back the ball time and time again.
Sometimes they only managed to force Spartak back in possession, other times they forced them into conceding the ball with an aimless, long or hurried pass. But the three of them were also quick to get a foot in to help win possession back themselves after pressing hard.
Considering the amount of defending Spartak Moscow had to do during the game, you might have expected their midfield to contribute more defensively than their Barcelona counterparts, but it wasn't so.
Between Rafael Carioca, Kallstrom and Jurado, the home midfield totalled four tackles and two interceptions. Xavi, Sergio and Cesc made four tackles and five interceptions, showing their dedication to the overall cause of Barcelona's game plan and not just the attacking phases.
Statistics from whoscored.com.