La Liga Review: FC Barcelona 5, Real Sociedad 1, Or, La Liga Is Back, Villa Is Back, MVP Is Back!By: Ade C. | August 20th, 2012
Woohoo! Now, this is a kickass way to start the season and welcome a new coach (regardless of what precedent says): five goals at home, the goalscoring return of two beloved players who’d spent too much time injured, and an all-around wonderful show.
Yes, I still haven’t found my Pepsimisim. I think I might have dropped it behind the sofa.
For his first ‘real’ match as Barça chief, Tito Vilanova went with a traditional 4-3-3 with Valdés, Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Tello, Messi and Pedro. On the bench were Pinto, Piqué, Adriano, Iniesta, Alexis, Villa and Sergi Roberto, while Afellay, Bartra, Montoya, JDS and Fontàs got to watch from the stands.
Can we take a moment to bask in the warm, fuzzy feeling of having SO MANY PLAYERS that some of them have to be left out of the match squad? When was the last time this happened at Can Barça? (no, borrowing kidlets from Barça B for this purpose doesn’t count) I know that some people are worried that Afellay’s absence from the bench means he’s going to be sold/loaned, but I think we’re just not used to having a deep squad. We’ll see. Maybe a player or two will get sent away, but JDS or Fontàs look more likely candidates for that…
In any case, Tito made his choices and he sent forth what was a very impressive team, even if it’s not strictly our best. And his faith was rewarded within three minutes, as the first goal of the season came thanks to the Xavi-Puyol connection through a corner-kick, of all things.
Our joy was unfortunately short-lived, as five minutes later, Chori Castro scored the equaliser after a defensive hiccup from Barça (which again raised questions about Dani Alves’ focus and whether he can run at his usual speed with that beard dragging him down).
But we had barely enough time to wonder if we could blame Cesc for the goal when Messi -who else?- put Barça ahead again, after a great cross from Tello, some help from Pedro, and one of his unique I-am-surrounded-by-five-rival-defenders controls.
And it was Tello again with a great cross (or, rather, two perfect crosses) who enabled Messi to score his second. 15 minutes and four goals, who could say Barça is boring?
The match settled down a little after this, Real Sociedad bowing to the inevitable, and Messi, Puyol and others having chances to advance the scoreline further. But it was Pedrito, near the end of the first half, who scored the fourth thanks to a cross by… who else? Tello!
4-1 at half-time. If that’s not a good start, I don’t know what is. Usually, this would be the time when we’d begin to discuss the possibility of subs before remembering that for Pep, subs before the 87th minute were anathema, but that was then and this is now. This is Tito, and Tito had Piqué warm up during half-time so he could sub in for Puyol within a few minutes of the second half (to give the Camp Nou a chance to give a standing ovation to their Capità).
And not only that, but ten minutes into the second half, Iniesta came in for Cesc, to further cement the differences between Tito and Pep in our minds (because the change from one gesturing like a drunken mime while the other just stands there like a statue with a particularly good poker face isn’t enough).
But those early subs were nothing… NOTHING, I tell you… near to what happened next: the one and only David Villa started to warm up, and the Camp Nou rose to their feet as one to give him a welcoming round of applause. Nearly nine months after he broke his tibia at the Club World Cup, the Offside King was ready to make his return.
With 15 minutes to go, Villa came in for Pedrito. He got a standing ovation as he stepped onto the grass, another as he touched the ball for the first time… and then the Camp Nou went mad as, within ten minutes of being brought in, Villa combined with Iniesta and scored his first goal of the season!
There are not enough exclamation points, smilies or crazy metaphors to express our joy at Villa’s triumphant return. He immediately whipped off his shirt to show an undershirt with a pic of his wife and daughters with the caption, “Impossible without you!!!” and then ran to the sidelines to hug the physio responsible for his recovery.
If things were any more perfect, skittles and chocolate-flavoured vodka would have started raining from the skies.
And that was that. A comprehensive 5-1 win (including the inevitable defensive mistake), Puyol scoring on his return from injury, Villa scoring on his return from injury, Pedrito scoring on his return to form, Messi scoring just because… even Cesc and Piqué played well! No wonder a girl can’t find her pessimism these days.
VV: 8. He had little to do, and he mostly did it well, including the bit where he charges out of his box and plays CB because he’s bored.
Alves: 7. Dani is still not fully focused on what he should be doing. His speed is still excellent and his attacking enthusiasm hasn’t decreased, but his defending is worse than before. He still gets points for the beard, though.
Puyol: 9. I’d say that Puyol gets younger each year, except that his game is nothing but maturity and pure physical power.
Mascherano: 8. Solid, understated… and again with the needless yellows.
Alba: 9. Did that squirrel-faced kid look as if this were his first real match with this team? No, he did NOT! If Dani doesn’t step up his game, we might see Barça’s play moving to the left to take advantage of Jordi’s speed.
Busquets: 7,5. A few moments of distraction, but overall did well enough for the first match of the season.
Xavi: 8. Xavi being Xavi, after a few weeks of rest, is a wonderful thing to see.
Cesc: 7,5. He did well. Still not up to Xavi/Iniesta level, but it’ll be an interesting race between him and Thiago for the occasional starting spot.
Tello: 9. MotM! Call me biased, but I was really, really impressed by the Tello Bandwagon last night. Two (and a half) assists, tireless runs, great understanding with Messi, and good connection with Alba… someone tell me why this kid isn’t on the first team yet? (well, he is, but not officially)
Messi: 9. How spoiled am I that I was tempted to dock Leo points for not scoring a hat-trick?
Pedrito: 9. Not just because of the goal, but because he was eager, energetic and even covered for Dani in the defence.
Piqué (for Puyol): 8. This guy still thinks he’s a striker at times, but he seems to have regained the focus he was missing last season, and he had some really good defensive moments.
Iniesta (for Cesc): 8. You just have to see the move that led to Villa’s goal to understand that Don Andrés is carrying on with his path from last season.
Villa (for Pedro): 10. He came back, he scored, he wasn’t offside once.
And can we give some props to Tito, for getting things right on his first match? It’s true that, like La Liga Loca said so eloquently, “anyone could manage the Catalan team at times with the simple pre-match instructions of ‘Barça, smash!’”, but -just like the Hulk-, these players wouldn’t smash for just anyone. Tito has my vote and my confidence, at least until he starts making odd experiments with right-backs or tries to play a 2-7-1.
This evening, we have the Gamper Trophy against Sampdoria, which will also double as the presentation for new signing Alex Song and showcase for many Barça B kids. We’ll be on Twitter during the match, and we’ll bring you highlights and a short review of the match tomorrow!