Messi Smashes 4 Past Osasuna: 4 Reactions from Barcelona's Victory
Lionel Messi scored four of Barcelona's five in their eventual demolition of Osasuna Sunday night at the Camp Nou.
The final scoreline wasn't quite reflective of the proceedings, as Barcelona benefitted from some controversial refereeing early in the match.
David Villa returned to the starting lineup along with Thiago and Adriano, but not surprisingly, it was Messi who stole the show with a hat trick and then some.
Pedro added a goal of his own to continue his scoring run and bring his goal tally on the season to eight.
The crucial turning point in the match was Arribas' dismissal in the 26th minute and Messi's ensuing penalty goal. From there, it was smooth sailing for the Blaugrana.
But there is still much we can take away from Barcelona's performance. Let's have a look at some important match reactions.
It's always a shame when referees thrust themselves into the limelight, making hugely influential decisions that decide matches.
And in this case, the disappointment is greater, as the referee had no reason to produce two consecutive yellow cards for relatively innocuous handballs by Arribas.
On both occasions, Arribas' arms were in perfectly natural positions as the ball came to meet them from close range.
The rules state that a player is guilty of a handball foul only when he "deliberately handles the ball," but divining the level of intention in a defender's action is always a tricky business for a referee.
Even so, not all handballs are created equal. To receive a booking for handball should require more than merely having your hand in the wrong place at the wrong time as the ball hurtles toward it.
With Osasuna having fought back into the game, leveling the score soon after Messi's opener, the game at the Camp Nou was set to be another competitive, exciting affair.
After going ahead a goal and a man in one fell swoop, there was little hope for Osasuna.
And we haven't even mentioned those pesky offside decisions yet.
David Villa Returns to the Starting Lineup for League Play
With only a few days remaining in January, it appears David Villa is staying at the Camp Nou for the remainder of the season. Though he failed to score in a rare league start, he put in a strong performance on the left side of the attack.
Villa should have had a goal on 36 minutes but for some more woeful refereeing by the assistant, who flagged Messi offside on Dani Alves' brilliant through pass. With Villa waiting all alone in the middle and Messi set to square the ball across for him, the play was halted.
El Guaje also set up Messi on more than occasion. In first half injury time he delightfully chested the ball into Messi's path from a Dani Alves cross, but Messi was unable to finish. In the second half, his well-timed pass through the legs of Bertran found Messi streaking down the left, where La Pulga finished off the chance to complete his hat trick.
On the other hand, though, Villa looked positively lazy on Osasuna's goal, reacting late to Adriano's urging to come back and help defend a throw-in.
With Iniesta and Fabregas playing as well as they are, Villa probably won't be starting too many matches—at least not important ones.
But at least he seems to have climbed ahead of Alexis in the pecking order.
Alexis Sanchez's Disappointing Half Hour
Speaking of Alexis, the Chilean striker was active as ever after coming on for the final half hour, but once again was wasteful in front of goal. He missed a wide open David Villa on a cross in the 63rd, wasted a one-on-one with Fernandez on 77 minutes, and couldn't wrap his feet around a Messi cross two minutes later with an open goal gaping in front of him.
Sometimes you have to feel for Alexis. As hard working, dedicated and unselfish as he has been, his confidence and decision-making in front of goal continue to erode.
Looking Ahead to Wednesday
Though the ease of the match may have been disappointing from a neutral's perspective, it was a great blessing for Barcelona with the Clasico fast approaching in midweek.
Jordi Roura was able to rest Iniesta, Pique, Jordi Alba and Fabregas from the start, and sub out Xavi, Busquets and Pedro in the second half with the result beyond doubt.
And Pedro's confidence will continue to grow after another strong performance and a goal to cap it off. Though replays showed Dani Alves to be offside on the initial pass that led to his goal, Pedro won't mind one bit after falling victim to some poor offside officiating of his own in recent times.
Another strong result to build on. Next up, the massive semifinal clash at the Bernabeu.