Barcelona vs. Elche: 6 Things We Learned
With a much sterner test awaiting them in the Vicente Calderon, this game was a chance for Tata Martino to welcome back injured players and tinker with his formation and personnel.
After a reasonable league start, the visitors are really beginning to find life tough in the top division, with only one win since the start of November. A poor return, which has seen them slide towards the bottom half of the table.
Barca stays ahead of Atletico Madrid by virtue of their superior goal difference, leaving all to play for next week.
Let's take a look at six things we learned from this game.
Barca's Vertical Football in the First 45
What was noticeable in this match was how quickly Barca recycled possession and got the ball into the attacking third of the pitch.
Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma were purposeful throughout, and the way in which, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez supported from the midfield areas created wave after wave of presentable opportunities.
It was sharp, incisive and relentless on occasion, in the first 45 especially. Dare we say it, Guardiola-esque.
Precisely the sort of form to make the rest of Europe sit up and take notice, and to take into a busy upcoming fortnight of fixtures.
Elche's Bizarre Formational Switches
Elche was certainly its own worst enemy in this game.
They actually started reasonably well with two tight banks of four across the midfield and defence areas, keeping any space between the lines to a minimum.
That all changed once Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring for the hosts. By halftime, Fran Escriba's side had used an astonishing five different tactical formations.
A 2-4-4 after eight minutes was replaced by 4-2-4 on 11, a very ill advised 5-1-4 on 18 minutes and eventually 3-4-3 on 33 minutes.
It was amateurish at this level and made for uncomfortable viewing as the visitors ran around like headless chickens for long periods.
Alex Song Is Actually Quite Good
We saw once again today that, when called upon, Alex Song doesn't let anyone down.
It's been a feature of his play ever since he arrived.
Unspectacular maybe, but he goes about his business on the pitch in the right way. Where Song suffers is because he is no Sergio Busquets, but then who is?!
And here lies the conundrum facing Tata Martino.
Cash in on Song—who's still yet to taste defeat as a Barca player—now to bring in another defensive midfielder, who will also play understudy to Busquets.
Doesn't really make a lot of sense when the backup you already have in situ is just fine, thank you very much.
Relegation Form for Elche
Fran Escriba had noted Barca's qualities and according to Football Espana, knew exactly what his side needed to do to be within a chance of a surprise result:
I see this Barcelona as level with that of Guardiola. They have been without the best player in the world and have continued adding points.
We must try to be brave, even as they have many alternatives to be able to break the scoreline at any moment.
We should not think about taking a draw from the kick-off, because for sure we will lose.
We know we have only a small chance, but we will try to take something away.
The players will go out on to the field with that ambition. We have to play this like any other game, leaving everything on the field and taking the chances that are presented to us.
That virtually his entire 11 ignored those instructions for large parts of the game would've been a huge disappointment to the manager.
His side still finds itself flirting with the relegation places, and its run of recent form suggests that it doesn't have long to turn its downward spiral around.
Cesc as the False 9 Again...or Not
Cesc Fabregas was given the task as slotting into the "false nine" position but was rarely found there.
His pass for Pedro's goal was made from the inside left channel, and much of his interplay was from the right side.
It's evident that he slots into team much more comfortably in the midfield, so it begs the question as to why Martino continues with him in a forward central position.
Sharing out the Goals
Both Alexis Sanchez and Pedro continue in a wonderful goalscoring vein.
The latter has now edged ahead of Messi with a simple 15th of the season, and his work rate was once again out of the top drawer.
Yet it's the Chilean who gets all of the plaudits in this one.
His form, when compared to that of last season, has been nothing short of sensational and his free-kick was clear evidence of a player bang in form and full of confidence.
Tata Martino should be congratulated for his part in getting the best out of both players, considering how often they find themselves as pawns in his rotational system.