Lionel Messi and Barcelona's Phenomenal Week: 5 Plays to Remember
FC Barcelona are sitting pretty following another fantastic week of football.
The Copa del Rey victory in midweek included excellent performances from second-team players as well as squad regulars, and was followed by a demolition of Athletic Bilbao in the league.
With the win, Barcelona have the best start in La Liga history, and they surely enjoyed the post-match party as they watched their two closest rivals duel it out in an uninspired derby at the Bernabeu.
Atletico Madrid looked hopelessly lost in attack, creating only one clear-cut chance for their talisman, Falcao, in the entire encounter. And while Real were well worth their two-goal victory in the end, they will need to find another level of form altogether to have any hope of challenging the Blaugrana for the league title.
All eyes turn to Messi as he stands on the brink of history ahead of Barcelona's otherwise meaningless Champions League match on Wednesday.
In the meantime, let's savor Barca's best moments from another winning week.
David Villa's Free Kick Against Alaves
With Messi getting a rare rest on Wednesday, Barcelona's Copa del Rey match against third-tier competition may have escaped many supporters' notice. But it didn't pass without noteworthy performances—and moments.
Jonathan dos Santos made a rare start in midfield, where he was massively influential, making dangerous passes throughout the match.
It was his pass that led to the foul on Tello, which resulted in the free kick above.
Though Messi has scored few cracking goals from set pieces this season, neither he nor Xavi is consistently able to lift the ball over the wall and under the crossbar from close range.
Villa was, as he has been all season, a consistent threat to the opponents' back line. Let's hope this free kick helps him win back the favor of Tito Vilanova and that his teammates give him the chance to take more like it.
Passing Masterclass Without the Masters
It can be a bit disorienting to see Barcelona play without the likes of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. These players—especially, it must be said, the latter two—are not only the core of the current team, but also the epitome of the Barcelona style with their patient, accurate passing and incredible technique.
But even without the three players so closely identified with the Barca way—in addition to the midfield absences of Busquets and Fabregas—younger, less seasoned players put on the Blaugrana shirt and carry the torch.
Of course, Alaves are no Real Madrid, and many of the players on the pitch—Puyol, Villa, Thiago and Song—are no strangers to high level football and Barcelona's passing game in particular. But for players like Sergi Roberto and dos Santos to fit in so seamlessly is no foregone conclusion.
Above you can enjoy a rare feat: 44 (if my count was correct) consecutive passes from Barcelona, culminating in a clever cross-field through pass from Thiago to Tello. Suffice it to say, the move deserved a better ending than Tello could give it.
Messi and Iniesta Interplay
If ever a passing move deserved a goal, though, this was it.
Iniesta collects on the left, drives at the heart of the defense. He passes to Messi without breaking stride, and Messi obliges with a delightful first time return. As the defenders' eyes all turn toward the ball, Iniesta has already charted the course of Messi's run, and the heel pass that follows is simply sublime.
As you can see in the video above, Messi is clearly clipped as he bears down on goal, but because he refrained from hitting the deck, the penalty wasn't given. An unfortunate end to a brilliant back-and-forth interplay.
Messi's (Real) Goal
Having dubiously been given credit for an own goal in the first half, Messi left no doubt about his second, though he profited heavily from the work from his teammates.
Again, the midfield passing from Barcelona was precise, with Fabregas' pass nearly squeezing between two defenders to reach Messi before being deflected into Pedro's path.
Pedro extended his goalless streak with his failure to score against Bilbao, but as we can see above, it wasn't for lack of skillful dribbling or intelligent passing.
And what about that for a right-footed finish!
Messi Hits Woodwork but Adriano Cleans Up
Messi's strike, however, was not even the highlight of the match.
Adriano capped off another intricate build-up with a sensational run and a finish to match.
The entire sequence preceding the goal is a joy to watch. Xavi's quick give-and-go with Busquets in midfield to leave his defender for dead, Pedro's heel pass to Jordi Alba; Messi's evading three defenders in the penalty area—each is beautiful in its own right.
Adriano's run and Fabregas' pass, however, are the best of the bunch.
It is one of the things that Barcelona do consistently well and differently from most teams. In most cases, a right fullback would make the same run, but outside his defender, to receive the ball wide. But like Jordi Alba on Messi's goal, or above in receiving the pass from Pedro, Adriano cuts inside the defender so that he can receive the pass in a position to score.
Meanwhile, as Iniesta drifts out, looking for a square pass from Fabregas, he pulls his marker just far enough to create the space for a perfectly weighted pass.
A stunning team goal to cap off a great week.