La Liga Review: FC Barcelona 5, Athletic de Bilbao 1, Or, Keeping Up With OurselvesBy: Ade C. | December 2nd, 2012
After Barça’s emphatic win over Bielsa’s wheezing lions, and Atlético pulling an Atlético to lose to Real Madrid in the Madrid derby, Barça are now solitary leaders of La Liga table, 6 points above Atlético de Madrid and 11 points above Real Madrid, and have established a record for the best start to La Liga after 14 matches, with 13 wins and 1 draw.
Not bad for a Saturday evening.
Bielsa’s Athletic de Bilbao, after getting all the football hipsters excited, have sank into a swamp of disappointing results and questionable technical decisions, but lions are dangerous even when they’re down with a persistent cold. Athletic’s high-pressure and physicality have given Barça trouble in the past and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if they’d done it again last night.
For this match, Tito chose to play VV, Adriano, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Messi and Iniesta, leaving Pinto, Montoya, Puyol, Song, Thiago, Villa and Tello on the bench, because Barça and the RB position have a long history fraught with players out of position. Bielsa went with Iraizoz, Ramalho, Ekiza, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe, Iturraspe, De Marcos, Herrera, Susaeta, Aduriz and Ibai, leaving Iker Muniain out of the squad because of neck discomfort, and Llorente on the bench because… well, it’s a long story.
For the first few minutes of the match, it seems as if our fears would be realised: Barça had trouble keeping possession, and many were the passes that went where they weren’t meant to go. Athletic didn’t look particularly dangerous, but teams don’t have to look dangerous for Barça to concede to them (a silly set-piece will do) and it’s always unsettling with the team in blaugrana have less than 80% possession. It didn’t help that Piqué seemed determined to prove himself a more incisive forward than anyone else, going off into long excursions that left Masche alone in the defence.
Piqué’s stubborness paid off nearly 20 minutes into the match, when he found himself in the perfect position to tap in a rebound after Cesc failed to score from a CK.
And three minutes later, who else but Himself descended from the Heavens to double Barça’s lead? Although at first it looks like it could be an Amorebieta own goal, the referee and most others agreed that the goal was one more for Messi’s tally. Also, please pay attention to Xavi’s incredible assist.
The goals helped Barça settle down and regain their usual levels of possession; Xavi and Iniesta were in scintillating form, leading hapless Athletic players around, and then the blaugranas proved that you don’t need in-form strikers when you have a defence which might not do a lot of defending, but knows how to score. Behold the Left-Back Pichichi, Adriano, scoring the most beautiful goal of the night in the very last play of the first half.
Adriano has played left-back (his ‘natural’ position), centre-back, right-back, left-wing and central midfielder. Adriano has gotten injured a Hell of a lot. Adriano is the FOURTH best scorer for Barça this season -just behind Messi Himself, Villa and Cesc-, with five goals. And to think we didn’t know who he was when Barça signed him…
Half-time at home, 3-0 up on the scoreboard, and a Champions League match on the horizon. This would be the time when other teams might decide to dial it back a notch and take the rest of the night easy. But other teams aren’t made up of workaholics! Bielsa brought in The Lion King Llorente in for Aduriz, but Tito persisted with his initial selection, and it paid off, as Iniesta, Messi and Cesc had great chances that they couldn’t quite finish.
Until, miffed that we haven’t taken the time to mock him as we used to, Cesc yanked the spotlight towards himself with a perfectly lovely finish to an impressive Iniesta assist.
4-0 and counting… but clean-sheets are so last season! Athletic had barely had a chance before (just a Llorente shot that went high), until Adriano and Piqué conspired to spoil VV’s evening, allowing Ibai Gómez to run in unimpeded and rifle a shot past our poor goalkeeper. Seriously, Adriano just stood there, doing his best Dani Alves impersonation.
We should get used to this, apparently. No such thing as a placid win this season. No such thing as a clean sheet.
Until such a time when we can clone Messi and get him to play in the defence, we’ll have to be satisfied with Barça scoring (many) more goals than they can concede. Like this beauty, which happened because of the excellent work by Pedrito and Alba to keep the ball in play after Messi’s first shot was saved.
20 minutes left and Barça were 5-1 up. Even Tito had to admit the match was done, and he did so by bringing in three subs at once: Montoya in for Adriano, Thiago in for Iniesta, and Song in for Busquets.
Somewhere in New York, Pep stared at his screen bemusedly.
The match collapsed like a soufflé at this point. Ten of the eleven Barça decided to make their home in the midfield, passing the ball around and around in what looked like a training exercise more than a competitive match. The last spark of excitement came from what could have been the goal of the season, but unfortunately wasn’t:
(all goal videos via Emenderk)
5-1, all in all. A good match, except that defensive lapse that led to the inevitable conceded goal, and the slow start. A great result, which meant that anything that came out of the Madrid derby would be favourable. And no one got injured!
VV: 8. Well, he did have a couple of saves, and there wasn’t much he could do in Ibai’s goal, so… mostly, I feel sorry for him, having to do his job with such an unreliable defence.
Adriano: 8,5. The goal was awesome, but he drops points for his awful non-action in the Athletic goal. He then earns some of the points again when we remember he’s playing out of position and that, somehow, he didn’t get injured.
Piqué: 8. Again, earns points for the goal, loses points because of his defensive frailty.
Mascherano: 7. He had a quiet match. Not back to top-form, but hopefully getting there.
Alba: 8,5. Maybe we should just stop expecting defenders to defend, seeing that they are so good at providing energy to the attack.
12 8,5. One of those delicious matches when no one even notices Busi is there because he’s doing his job so well.
Xavi: 8,5. The rest and the careful way Tito has dosified his appearances have done him a world of good.
Cesc: 8,5. Good goal, great assists, and some excellent work off the ball. Even I can’t complain about Cesc today.
Iniesta: 9. I usually protest Iniesta playing on the wing, because it’s a waste of his talent, but when he’s like this, I’m pretty sure you could play him as a right-back and he’d be equally splendid.
Messi: 8. He wasn’t in top-form, and he still scored twice.
Pedro: 8,5. OK, so maybe Pedrito can’t score unless he’s playing for Spain; that shouldn’t overshadow the immense amount of work he puts in, his contribution to the defence, or how he generously opens space for his fellow players.
None of the three subs did enough to merit a rating, although they had time: Montoya was quietly efficient, Thiago got a bit lost in the midst of so many people trying to play midfielder, and Song suffered badly from the comparison with Busquets. They weren’t bad, but it wasn’t a match to put on their CVs.
Now, with the comfortable lead in La Liga, it’s time to turn our eyes back to the Champions League: Barça play Benfica this week for the right to be first in their group.
Let me leave you with a picture of some adorable puppies up for adoption:
Some Related Barcelona Posts:
- FC Barcelona v. Athletic Bilbao La Liga Match Preview: Let’s Keep the Momentum
- Copa del Rey Final Preview: Athletic de Bilbao vs FC Barcelona