El Mundo Deportivo’s website exclaimed “Exhibición.” Sport asked the question, “Who ever doubted this Barca team?” Yet, perhaps the Madrid based Marca said it best: “Una ‘manita’ para olvidar las penas.” A short term reprieve to help fans forget the recent pains (of the loss to Hercules).
As a proud culé, I could not agree more with Madrid’s take on the matter.
Barcelona is a different team in the Champions League. That is not to say they don’t find the domestic campaign as important, because you would be a fool to think that. But continental glory, to prove that you are better than simply the champion of a two-horse race, has always driven this team to produce spectacular performances even in a group stage match which some managers (that’s you Sir Alex) would consider pointless my fielding bit-part players.
So it’s no surprise the Blaugrana pummeled poor Panathinaikos 5-1 this evening. In what was actually a pleasant game to watch (of course my team won, but I’m talking about soft fouls and the only yellow card being issued in the 85th minute), the Greeks shied away from bully tactics. And all credit to them for being honorable opponents despite owning only 14% of possession!! But coming off such a dreadful performance to Hercules over the weekend, Guardiola, his team, andthe city needed a shot of adrenaline. Panathinaikos never stood a chance.
Fans may have needed an extra shot though, as Sidney Govou finished off an exceptional heel flick from Djibril Cissé in the 20th minute. And I mean exceptional. Luckily, Messi prevented widespread panic and heart attacks by equalizing 2 minutes later off a splendid pass from Xavi. An easy tap in for Villa was followed by arguably the best goal of the day. Tiki-taka, one touch, give-and-go passing within a 5 yard radius allowed Messi to sneak through and put the game to bed.
Messi’s 2nd and Barcelona’s 3rd gave you the feeling La Pulga had a special 45 minutes in store for all those in attendance and watching at home. He surely did not disappoint…except for a terribly taken penalty kick and a piece of magic only to be denied by both posts. Pedro tapped in that rebound and Dani Alves headed home the 5th in the very last minute to cap off the rout.
Resounding. Sensational. Dominating. Can you think of anything else to describe the performance? 72 hours following a low point for the ages has led many fans to believe the “early season slump” was just a fluke. A hiccup resulting from player fatigue after international friendlies and European qualifiers. However, therein lies this team’s biggest problem.
8 of the starting XI are assured a call up from Del Bosque for national team duty. Expect more than half of them to start. Now throw in Champions League and Copa Del Rey matches. These players face a never ending plethora of matches and no time to rest. It is a problem which Pep Guardiola is confident can be placated by players from the B team. Perhaps in the short run, and on good days. But it will not suffice.
How long will this hold? How long can 19 players survive a grueling schedule with midweek fixtures over the next 7-8 months? I, for one, am not overly confident they’ll get through unscathed. Even the unbreakable Xavi looked a bit worn against Hercules, and he only played 30 minutes against Argentina.
I am thrilled about today’s win. I look forward to every Champions League match they play. I have put the Hercules loss behind me. But Atlético Madrid and a trip to the Vicente Calderón loom large on Sunday. A fixture that has troubled Barcelona greatly over the past few seasons. An opponent that seems to be the only club in Spain capable of exploiting Barcelona’s high defensive line with ruthless speed and precision.
Don’t get ahead of yourselves thinking this team is back at full throttle. We’ll find out in 4 days’ time whether panic is really necessary.