Juan Carlos Garrido prowled the touchline cutting a very dapper figure I hasten to add, prowling with the swagger of a man on a mission. Such was the majestic eminence of his hosts for the evening that anyone leaving the fortress, having inflicted even the most subtle of dents to this formidable team would have safely secured some degree of legacy. However, the entity standing between Garrido and footballing immortality (at least for a few days) is slowly but surely, game by game cementing itself as less and less arguably the finest collection of individuals to grace a football field. There is nothing left for this current Barcelona side to achieve in terms of silverware. They have won it all and they have won it beautifully.
A famous Catalan once said to his son many years ago in answer to his question as to why Barca are different from other clubs, “Son, Barcelona play football the way that God had intended for it to be played”. It was true many years ago and continues to bode true to this day.
So, it was only a matter of time before Garrido’s swagger morphed into humble despondency. On nights like this - even the humility fuelled Barcelona must feel for their opponents. It really was one of those nights.
Prior to the game Pep Guardiola had presided over a typically respectful press conference, showering praise on his opponents and emphasizing the importance of caution, mindfulness and the mental preparedness . Acknowledging the quality of Villarreal and confirming the importance of a good start in the league Guardiola conceded that his ‘jugadors’ would need the rousing support of a full Camp Nou following their well documented exploits in the Spanish and European Super Cups respectively. And he was not to be disappointed as over 75,000 faithful flocked to Barcelona’s second ‘cathedral’ to usher in the start of a new league campaign.
We can speculate with a good level of accuracy that despite all the various competitions the world’s top clubs enter into, nothing holds more significance than the premier domestic competition - and even more so in the case of the Spanish league in light of the history between Barcelona and Madrid and the heightened animosity ever since the ‘translator’ took charge at the helm. Last season Barcelona clinched victory yet again against the eternal antagonist by a margin of four points, the very same four points that they took from Madrid. Guardiola is a proud Catalan and nothing is more important on his footballing agenda than beating Real Madrid. Commenting on the subject in the press conference he confirmed, “Madrid, will drop very few points….we know their potential, so it’s important that we win".
Guardiola’s 3-4-3 formation was once again to be the formula of choice due to the depleted defensive options. Puyol and Maxwell were close to full fitness and even trained with the first team in the last few sessions, but Guardiola resisted the temptation of rushing them back into action. So, Busquets, Abidal, and Mascherano forged the back line while the attacking options wasted no time in making their intentions apparent. Dominating possession with a comprehensive midfield of Thiago, Cesc, Iniesta, and Keita, Barca begun with the spirit of ‘Forward! Forward! Forward. Dominating possession and distributing the ball seamlessly they were immediately engineering dangerous openings despite the occasional uncustomary weak final ball.
Thiago Alcantara the shinning new starlet was constantly pushing forward and posing a threat with his movement. Eventually, his perseverance paid dividends as a fabulous run high up the field caught the Villareal defense short and despite at one point looking around for options he decided to strike sending low angled strike past the out-stretched Diego Lopez on 25 minutes - although, a little late in arriving it soon settled the players and fans down.
So far so good from Cesc Fabregas following his much anticipated move back home - so when he combined yet again with Messi to fire in the second of the night on the 44th minute - Barca were cruising and Villareal were looking at a bruising night second half ahead of them.
Business as usual
The story of the second half continued were the first had left off. The third goal was quick in coming, Alexis Sanchez, making his Camp Nou debut hit a low drive into the back of the net after a superb pass from Thiago and picking up a yellow card in the process as he celebrated by taking his shirt off to mark his first goal for his new club.
The fourth goal was aptly dispatched by the finest footballer of this generation. The mercurial Andres Iniesta with the benefit of his sixth sense hit a subtle pass into space before Messi rounded Lopez, to make it 4-0 and marking his 100th in the Camp Nou at the ripe old age of 24.
Pièce de résistance
Four goals to the good, Barca were now displaying exhibition football and continuing to attack. With the confidence building three points firmly in the bag Guardiola orchestrated the timely intervention of three quick changes bringing on Xavi, Villa, and Dos Santos. But that was not to be the end of the goal fest another perfectly timed pass from Thiago, (two assists and a goal in the game) fell to the magical feet of Messi inside the 6 yard box as he placed the ball past Lopez to complete the route on the 74 minute.
For the remainder of the game Barça continued to push forward with tiki-tika as Villarreal looked in vain for a some kind of consolation, but in all fairness as the whistle blew there is little doubt they were glad to see the back of the Barcelona players after a torrid 90 minutes of punishment.
The league may have been a little late in starting, but now that it’s here let the games roll on!