Gerard Pique rested; Marc Bartra reinstated with Carles Puyol, somewhat surprisingly; and Martino opted for Alex Song alongside Sergio Busquets, allowing Cesc Fabregas to dictate matters from an attacking midfield position.
Lionel Messi again started on the right of a front three, Pedro Rodriguez on the left and Alexis Sanchez in a familiar—from his Udinese days— central role.
We would see the genius of a couple of those decisions as early as the ninth minute.
Despite much of the early pressure coming from the home side and Barca finding it difficult to get a foothold, it was the away side who struck the first blow.
Sanchez, who took 35 games to score five league goals last term, bagged his sixth after Celta’s keeper spilled Fabregas’ shot directly into his path.
It was easy pickings for the Chilean, who has found a rich vein of form under Martino’s tutelage, and was the perfect way for the player to celebrate his 100th appearance for Barca.
Far from diluting Cesc’s potency playing in a slightly withdrawn role behind Sanchez, the employment of the former Arsenal man there gave the Celta defence headaches all night, and the home sides’ insistence on playing a high defensive line played right into Barca’s hands.
Not one Celta defender was tracking his intelligent movement and running from deep, and as such, he was able to provide a supplementary presence each time Barca attacked—as his assistance in Sanchez’s goal showed.
With able guardians like Barca’s defensive line, Song and Busquets, “taking care of business”, Fabregas could enjoy a much freer role than that which he has been used to, and he was decisive.
There’s no doubt that Messi’s application from playing on the right hand side presents a completely different threat to what opposition teams have become used to, and once again, Martino deserves great credit for his tactical acumen and nous here.
Messi’s presence out-wide ensured the close attention of at least two defenders, which meant that Fabregas was given the room necessary in which to produce his best work.
An acknowledgment of Rafinha as Celta’s danger man may also have influenced Martino’s decision to plump for Cesc there and play the extra holding midfielder in Song.
What little Celta were creating was driven by the ex-Barca contingent of Rafinha and Nolito and the former in particular was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet on at least two occasions.
Barca’s defensive woes continued as Adriano pleaded to come off after tweaking his hamstring on the half hour, Martin Montoya replacing him at left back and perhaps staking a claim for more regular inclusion.
In a raucous atmosphere, Barca continued to ask the questions, and Fabregas, in particular, was central to any good work from the Blaugrana. His dovetailing with Messi was especially pleasing.
The match was killed off as a contest in six second-half minutes. Celta became more defensively naïve, which is unlikely to please manager Luis Enrique despite the quality of the opposition, and Fabregas was on hand to take full advantage with two goals.
One was a delicious curling effort on 47, which the Celta keeper was unlucky to see bounce back from the cross bar, hit his outstretched hand and roll in. The second finished with aplomb via the left foot and to the keeper's near side on 53 minutes.
Although much of the focus was naturally on Messi and a newly confident Sanchez, Fabregas’ influence was clear for all to see.
Surely, that level of performance sees a more regular inclusion in the role despite his substitution later in the match.
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