Lionel Messi Illuminates Barcelona Once More, But Munir Steals the Limelight

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Lionel Messi Illuminates Barcelona Once More, But Munir Steals the Limelight
AP Images

Barcelona’s 2014/15 campaign began with the surreal sight of a lucky black cat on the pitch which held up play for the first two minutes.

The feline intruder will probably take the headlines from Luis Enrique’s brave, but necessary, decision to play both Rafinha Alcantara and Munir El Haddadi alongside Lionel Messi.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press
The Camp Nou cat showed a clean pair of paws.

Both youngsters represent the very best talent to graduate from La Masia, and in Munir’s case, his rise has been meteoric.

The old adage “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough” has never been a topic of debate in Catalonia, but only the very best can claim to have gone from Barca’s U19 team to the first team inside 10 months.

That's exactly what happened in El Haddadi’s case.

Barca have been well aware of the youngster’s precocious talents for years, and he announced himself to the wider public with a wonder goal from his own half in last season’s U19 Champions League final.

His display against Elche was not a surprise to those who had witnessed his pre-season progress and witnessed his development from the youth ranks, but it is a strong nod to the future.

Munir is a face for the future for Barcelona, and his mere presence in the first-team squad adds a further dimension to the team's forward line, which will have a positive impact on the chase for silverware this season and beyond.

It didn’t take him long to settle against Barca’s opening-day visitors Elche, dovetailing incisively with both Messi and Rafinha in a sweeping move.

Enrique will be delighted to have given both players their opportunity at the senior level so early and against a team that, quite frankly, had come not to lose rather than try to win.

Ten men behind the ball was the order of the day, and that Barca keeper Claudio Bravo didn’t touch the ball until well into the first half gave some idea as to the tactics the away side were happy to employ.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press
Luis Enrique will be delighted with Barcelona's first performance of the La Liga season.

The first real chance of the game fell to the Spanish-born Moroccan, and El Haddadi was inches away from a dream start to his career, smashing the ball against the post after a sharp turn.

The intelligent movement and positional sense is exactly what Barcelona’s hierarchy have become accustomed to from Munir.

Playing without pressure and in just the way he has for the youth sides, there was ample evidence to suggest that the way in which Barca school their teams in La Masia reaps appropriate dividends come the time players are ready for senior duty.

Patterns of play, working in between the lines even when they are six deep, were once again seen against Elche. It all comes very naturally and allows players to express themselves appropriately.

For players like Munir, it affords a huge confidence boost and manna from heaven for Enrique.

The Barcelona head coach was quoted by Ben Hayward of Goal.com as saying: "Munir is tearing through the levels at a terrifying rate. He gives us options, he scores goals and he's competitive."

Rafinha’s skill set has been well known to Lucho after Thiago’s younger sibling spent last season on loan at Celta Vigo. If not for Javier Mascherano’s red card, he surely would have played more than the first 45.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press
Normal service resumed for Lionel Messi.

But the night belonged to Munir, even taking Messi's two well-taken goals into account.

His run across the Elche defence and cool finish with the outside of his left foot to put the Blaugrana further ahead was as good as anything we’ve seen from the Argentine.

The Camp Nou rose to acclaim one of their own as he left the field not long after the hour mark. Rightly so.

No Luis Suarez, no Neymar. No problem.

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