La Liga Review: Mallorca 0, FC Barcelona 3, Or, Absences? What Absences?By: Ade C. | February 26th, 2011
The focus in the build up to this match was not so much on who was going to play it, but on who wasn’t: with Puyol, Xavi, VV and Jeffren injured, and Alves suspended, it looked like it was a Barça full of holes who would try to take on one of the strongest home teams in La Liga.
Did we miss the absent? Well, maybe a little, but the replacements performed much better than expected. Pep went for the most conservative of starting XIs, with Pinto, Adriano, Piqué, Abidal, Maxwell, Busquets, Iniesta, Keita, and our MVPs up front, while former barcelonista Michael Laudrup played Aouate, Cendrós, Nunes, Rubén, Ayoze, Joao, Nsue, Martí, De Guzman, ‘Chori’ Castro and Webó.
The match started in a tentative fashion that reminded me of those matches, at the start of the season, in which Barça took ten, twenty, thirty minutes to get into the rhythm of the match, while our rivals, who woke up earlier, gave us trouble.
With a Xavi-shaped hole that Iniesta valiantly tried to fill, Messi dropped deeper into the midfield to do an Iniesta and provide creativity, and this made the Mallorca back four rub their hands contentedly, because Villa and Pedrito, sans Messi, are much easier to defend. In the meanwhile, a judicious use of long balls and speed meant that Webó had several chances to terrorise Pinto’s box. And thus came the first surprise of the night, as Pinto demonstrated than under all those braids and that showmanship, there is a rather good goalkeeper, cool and focused, although his short passing still needs work.
The first half an hour of the match was nerve-wracking, though. Though our defence was working well and looking remarkably solid (even Maxwell, of all people, was defending!), the fact that they, and not our midfield or attack, were the players we most saw was a sign of how little badly were working for us. Aouate had three times less work than Pinto, although he saw more chances as the match went on…
… and then, who else? Messi.
(video thanks to 101greatgoals)
To a fantastic Keita pass, and finding that the ball was too high to use his feet, knees, or chest to score, Messi decided to use his head to lob a cheeky goal past Aouate.
Of course, the last time that Barça had seen a scoreline turned around on them was on this same stadium, against this same team, after the same scoreline (a 0-1 on May 17th 2009, which was, coincidentially, my birthday, became a 2-1 for Mallorca, which was, not coincidentially, a very crappy birthday gift), so we were nowhere near out of the woods yet.
But the lazy, sleepy Barça that was playing before the goal became an active, purposeful Barça after the goal. Why we need a goal to start playing as well as we can, no one knows, but in any case, it works, and just as well. Suddenly, Mallorca stopped having the ball, Barça players stopped misplacing passes, and Pep stopped explaining impossible tactics to a plainly uninterested Tito Vilanova.
Barça was Barça again when the ref whistled the half-time.
There were fears that we would lose our momentum and become lethargic again as the second half started, but the energising effect of Messi’s goal lasted still, as Barça came on to continue with their ridiculous amounts of possession (70% and upwards) and a nice succession of chances…
… and then, who but illa, illa, illa, Villa maravilla?
In the second instance of one of our brilliant forwards who was being less than brilliant until he scored (and sank back into non-brilliantness after the goal), El Guaje unexplainably found himself not offside, ran around poor Aouate and scored something that, really, it’d have been unforgivable not to score.
(video thanks to 101greatgoals)
We had the match pretty much in hand, not only because of the favourable scoreline, but also because of the ridiculous amount of possesion our midfield was controlling. Keita and Busi were both amazing with the recoveries, and should there be a Mallorca player that got past them, Abidal and Piqué soon put an end to it. This defensive solidity was great news for our attack-minded fullbacks, and Adriano particularly took advantage of it to become very involved into the attack, looking at times like a slower, more accurate Dani Alves (that is, totally unlike Dani Alves).
The third goal was poetic justice, as the third member of the MVP, who had been fouled, tackled and manhandled through the first half, who had done his best work defensively, and who was looking less lively than usual, scored an amazing goal (to a Keita assist, again).
(video thanks to 101greatgoals)
0-3, thanks to Pedroadrunner.
The match was so dead now that, with over 20 minutes remaining, Pep let loose his two favourite puppies: Ibi Afellay and Bojan came in for Villa and Pedrito. Word is that Pep asked Messi if he wanted to be subbed out (”You know, Leo, we have to play away against Valencia on Wednesday, wouldn’t you rather rest a bit, we have Legos waiting for you here on the bench?”) and Leo declined, because he is Messi and being Messi apparently consists of scoring goals even when uninspired and of playing every single minute you’re allowed to.
I’d love to say that Ibi and Bojan were a breath of fresh air and that, with them, Barça threw themselves into a higher-paced attack, but it wasn’t so. They weren’t bad, and Bojan particularly worked hard at things that weren’t scoring, like recovering the ball and attempting crosses; this is a good sign, because in the past he’s got out of a goalless slump by turning his talents to assisting others, so there’s hope still.
More noteworthy still was the debut of 19-y-o Martín ‘Machine’ Montoya with the first team; good, natural fullbacks are a rarity in Spain these days, and though young, Montoya looks promising. He looked confident in the two or three minutes he got to play, although he didn’t have the chance to really show off much.
Not one of our most brilliant, but still, a win is a win is a win, and 3 points away are something to be very proud of, particularly in such a close race for La Liga. Barça have now equalled La Liga’s all-time record for undefeated away matches (19) and we are now 7 points ahead of EE after their goalless draw against Deportivo.
Pinto: 8,5. I expected to spend much of the match cringeing when the camera so much as focused on Pinto’s box, but our Whistling Tin Man proved his worth with several good saves and more composure than usual.
Adriano: 8,5. Another nice surprise; he had been poor in his last match, but our second Brazilian RB was miles better today, particularly on attack.
Piqué: 7,5. A quiet match from a man who’s had a few howlers too many lately; he seems to be growing used to a life without Puyol, so maybe this will stop the chorus of complaints directed at his supposed girlfriend.
Abidal: 8. You remember the time when I recoiled in horror at the thought of Abi as a CB? It seems like a only couple of months ago… oh, that’s because it was a couple of months ago. We’ve come such a long way!
Maxwell: 7,5. More persistent in defence than he usually is, he had some nice moves when it came to attack too; a better showing than his average.
Busquets: 9. Busi is now the holder of the all-time Liga record for most consecutive wins, with 24. Once Barça started working properly, he had a great match, recovering balls right, left and center, and most importantly, distributing them well.
Keita: 9. MOTM Keita for Xavi was the conservative choice, the one that put all the creative work on Iniesta’s shoulders, but our dear Keiteeeee did everything to ensure that Iniesta could focus on his magic, and gave two assists besides. He was, also, the one player who was playing well during the first 30 mins.
Iniesta: 8,5. Asked to step into Xavi’s shoes (and forced to play without his better half/telepathy partner), Don Andrés acquitted himself well, considering that the three men in front of him were uninspired and the two men behind him were doing all the grunt work.
Villa: 7. Because he scored. But he missed a couple of chances that, ouch, not even B… enzema would’ve missed! His work-rate off the ball is still amazing, though, and he’s making clear progress in the daunting task of keeping onside.
Messi: 7.5. Lovely goal. Did some work dropping into midfield, but I think that trick is starting to be too well-known by rival defenders to work as well as it used to. Seemed a bit lethargic throughout, but he cheered up at the end when he walked off the pitch joking with Aouate.
Pedrito: 7.5. Our Pedroadrunner looks a bit less than his energetic self lately, and still, the work he does recovering the ball and playing RB is great. And what a golazo!
Afellay (for Villa): 7. Ibi played as left winger today, away from his apparently favoured position on the midfield, and while he didn’t make any crucial contributions, he looked comfortable with the team.
Bojan (for Pedrito): 7,5. I’ve seen promising signs that Lil’Bo is shaking off his goal anxiety and focusing on working for the team instead of trying to score whatever it takes; he looked lively instead of listless, and had a nice little fight with a Mallorca player.
Montoya (for Adriano): played only for a couple of minutes, but it’s great that there’s a budding RB hope in the horizon to fill Alves’ boots in the future.
And talking of young promises, we have Luis Enrique’s Barça B, whose mad match against Numancia finished just before Barça’s started. The boys seem to have only one mode, and that is ‘remuntada’. Though they went ahead with a Jonathan Soriano goal early on, they conceded the draw just before the half-time, and the second goal just after the second half started. Soriano fought back for the draw, and then signed a hat-trick to see Barça B move ahead, but they lost their lead again at 3-3. Never fear, because promising midfielder Javi Espinosa, who had just come in for his debut with Barça B, scored for the 3-4. But then Numancia got a PK, and it was 4-4. Less than ten minutes to go. Benja got the 4-5 at the 89th minute, and at the 92nd, Edu Oriol sealed the 4-6 for all of us who were sure Numancia were going to come back again. Crazy stuff, but a very valuable away win for the kids!
(I’ll edit with a highlights video of the Barça B madness as soon as I can find one… if you’ve seen one, link in the comments, please!) Thanks to some our Twitter followers for finding this video of the Barça B goals; not the clearest image and the goals aren’t in the right order, but it gives you an idea of the madness… enjoy while you can!