La Liga Review: Deportivo 0, FC Barcelona 4, Or, Breaking the Laws of PhysicsBy: Ade C. | January 9th, 2011
Another away Liga match, another win. And another day in which Barça takes everything we know by heart (Abidal can’t score, we suck at set-pieces, Villa is always offsides) and turns it on its head.
Not to sound like Ray Hudson, but we were pretty incredible last night. Mercurial, you could say. Like the planet, the god, and the metal, all in one. (credit to my knowing about these things goes to the awesome people over at our LiveBlog!)
Riazor has never been an easy place to get the three points, so even with Deportivo at a lowly 12th place, it wasn’t a match to take for granted. But, with a very packed schedule ahead of us (mid-week Copa del Rey matches in addition to Liga matches), Pep saw the need to start his rotation magic, mostly so we couldn’t even hope to guess his starting XI: VV, Adriano, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Mascherano, Keita, Iniesta, Pedrito, Messi, and Villa.
Our stats without Xavi are pretty abysmal (they go from 71% wins and 2,57 goals per match with him, to 56% and 1,88 without him) and the last time we played without Alves we lost against Hércules, so it could be forgiven if we weren’t exactly filled with confidence before the match.
On the other corner of the ring, Lotina played Aranzubía, Laure, Lopo, Colotto, Manuel Pablo, Rubén Pérez, Antonio Tomás, Desmarets, Saúl, Juan Domínguez and Adrián. Last time we played Deportivo at Riazor, I ended up talking more about Manuel Pablo’s skills than about Barça (and we won, too), so I dearly hoped the same wouldn’t happen again.
Credit where credit is due. Deportivo know how to defend and, moreover, they know how to defend well, without resorting to endless fouls and turning a match into a torture to watch (yes, Athletic, I’m looking at you!). They put great pressure in the midfield, had a very tidy back-four, and were clever when the time came to run a counter (although Masche then shouted ‘Thou shalt not pass!’ and put an end to it). Barça had ridiculous amounts of possession during the first half (reaching even over 80% at times!), but the blaugrana chances were very few, far in between, and foiled by Aranzubía (in the absence of Dani, Pedrito had the honour to give a “cross” that nearly sneaked into goal).
Until the most epic bromance in recent Barça history (well, except for Twitter pals Puyol&Piqué) once again activated their powers (6 out of Villa’s 14 goals for Barça come from Messi’s assists). To a gorgeous Messi pass, Villa sprung from the depths of the onside he was in and sliced the ball cleanly past Aranzubía.
0-1 to Barça, Villa’s 150th goal in La Liga, 14th assist of the season for Messi.
And then Abidal scored again.
Alright, it was ruled out for offsides, but hey, when did Abi turn into a goal-scoring machine? Did the coin/cookie/whatever they threw at him in San Mamés give him superpowers? Should we try an attack line of Abidal, Piqué and Pinto, just to see what happens? Is the world about to end?
The first half ended without further breaches in the space-time continuum. A one-goal advantage was a good thing to have, although not good enough to relax, but the best thing was that Pep’s innovative line-up was working as nicely as the usual starting XI.
And it continued working just as well once the second half got started, with Abidal and Masche doing great defensive work, both in their own way (acrobatic interceptions for Abi, solid tackles from Masche), and our midfild and attack (which were one and the same thing at times, such was the pressure from Depor) chipping away at the local resistance.
And then the first yellow-card-worthy foul happened, we were awarded a FK, I sat back, said ‘we suck at set-pieces’, and BAM! Messi scored.
Where had he been hiding such brilliant FK-shooting skills? It was a gorgeous curling shot that sailed beautifully past Aranzubía. It was worthy of Beckham. It was worthy of CRon. (Impartiality, I haz it!)
0-2 to Barça. Another law of nature was broken and left by the wayside.
Depor lost a bit of the wind under their sails after the second goal. And, with Valerón coming in as a sub, they tried attacking a bit more, which necessarily meant lessening the pressure that had kept Barça contained so far.
Pep, working in his mysterious ways, subbed Villa out for Bojan. The play was mostly locked in the midfield, with both teams struggling to break away from each other’s impressive defence.
And then Iniesta had another Iniesta moment. With Piqué working as an attacking midfielder (seriously, look at where he was!), Iniesta got the ball, though, ‘Tiki-taka? What is that?’, and rifled a shot past Aranzubía from the edge of the box.
Ten seconds later, Pedrito was the recipient of another Messi assist (after Bojan couldn’t hold onto the ball) and, with his usual lovely finishing, ruined Aranzubía’s day just a bit more.
Ten seconds after this, with the 0-4 on the scoreboard, Pep decided that enough was enough and manitas needed to be reserved for a special occasion, and subbed out Iniesta and Pedrito for Thiago and Afellay.
Not that this discouraged anyone. Messi had a great chance that Aranzubía unwittingly managed to turn wide, and Afellay, who finally managed to touch the ball, also had a shot straight at the Depor keeper. And near the last minute, VV saved a great Depor opportunity, in what was maybe his third or fourth chance to touch the ball during the match.
All in all, a great outing! Barça has gone undefeated for 26 matches (one less than the current club record) and Puyol is the first Liga player to have won 19 matches in a row.
Now, for the highlights and the ratings…
VV: 8,5. He didn’t have almost anything to do, which makes it all the more worthy when, at the 91st minute, he was perfectly ready to snatch away Depor’s best chance.
Adriano: 8. A good substitute for Dani, at least for this kind of matches, including the speed and the suspect crosses.
Piqué: 8. Good on defence, good on attack (he gets an assist for Iniesta’s goal), a slip in concentration that led to VV’s save.
Puyol: 8. Always at the right place to intercept a pass or kill a counter, and also making the effort to make something of the countless wasted Barça CKs.
Abidal: 9. Abidazzling, as reader yelena would say. Not only for his goal that wasn’t, but because of his great defensive work.
Mascherano: 9. Perfect match from our Jefecito. He made whatever fouls were necessary, but he was careful to not even get a yellow!
Keita: 8. A large, mostly ignored part of the amounts of control and possession Barça had during this match, the solid base for Iniesta’s creative genius.
Iniesta: 9. MOTM. Usually, to see only one half of Xaviesta on the field makes me sad, but Iniesta played for two last night, and capped his great performance with an amazing goal which he dedicated to both his unborn child and to former Barça player and his youth coach, Ángel Pedraza, who passed away last night.
Pedrito: 8. A quieter match from our Roadrunner, who spent much of his time beating his head against the rocky Depor defence, and even so got a goal.
Villa: 8,5. Great goal, lots of hard work, a perfect partnership with Messi.
Messi: 9. Not only did he give two assists and scored a lovely goal, but he also helped quite a bit at the midfield when things got slow down there.
Bojan (for Villa): 6. He didn’t fall flat on his face for no reason, he didn’t miss the unmissable, and he had one bit of good connection with Messi, but he really didn’t do anything that will make anyone pine to see him play more (except, maybe, for opposition goalies).
Thiago (for Iniesta): 7,5. Thiago used to try way too hard when Pep called on him as a sub, trying to impersonate Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi at the same time, and usually getting Bojan instead, but now he’s calmed down, matured, and stays in the midfield and works very well there.
Afellay (for Pedrito): 7,5. His first proper debut, and I’m favourably impressed. Dynamic, energetic, a bit more direct than we’re used to (which, sometimes, can only be a good thing), I’m looking forwards to see more of him.
This is it for now, but there’s lots more to come this week: tomorrow is the Ballon D’Or gala, where we will found out which of our darling La Masía alumni will get the award, and on Wednesday we play the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals against Betis! If that’s still not enough for you, you can always follow us on Twitter for constant updates!