Santos 0, FC Barcelona 4, BARÇA ARE CLUB WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!By: Ade C. | December 18th, 2011
We did it. We did it! And it wasn’t half as hard as getting a win against third-division Hospitalet…
The intention before this match was a) to win a (minor, perhaps, but still prestigious) title, b) to dedicate the win to Tito Vilanova and David Villa and c) to stop people talking about Neymar and his terrible hair. And we did it.
Pep chose, for this occasion, a starting XI that -while at first sight looked like the familiar 4-3-3- quickly revealed itself as a 3-4-3 (or rather, a 3-7-0) once the match was under way: VV, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Thiago, Xavi, Cesc, Iniesta and Messi; with Dani on the right wing and everyone -from Thiago to Messi- taking turns on the attack, this is probably the best performance of that particular formation that I’ve yet seen from Barça.
It took no more than a few minutes for Barça to start knocking at Santos’ door, and only 15 for Lionel ‘Who-Else-But’ Messi to score the first with that darling chip over the goalkeeper that the Liga keepers have learnt to be wary of, but the Santos keeper hadn’t yet, after a delicious Xavi assist.
Barça had a fantastic 76% possession as the match advanced. Though Santos defended well, our tiki-taka was simply excellent, and we had chances enough that the next one to have the honours was Xavi, with a perfect control and rifling shot that was Messi-esque in its intensity.
The situation for Santos was dire, and so it was before 30 minutes of the match had passed that Elano came in for Danilo, in an attempt by the Brazilians to regain some control of the midfield. But it wasn’t to be: it was all Barça, Barça, Barça, with Cesc, Dani and Iniesta taking turns to miss clear opportunities in front of goal, as Xavi, Thiago and Busquets made sure that the ball only rarely visited Barça’s half, and Puyol multiplied himself to dominate the right flank and be at Piqué’s side as the situation required.
Which makes it all the more ironic, I suppose, that the third goal was as much a matter of luck as it was a matter of skill.
Skill by Messi in controlling the ball so effortlessly, and bad luck for Santo’s keeper, who conceded a goal even after two excellent saves. And great luck for Cesc, of course, who has turned out to be quite useful in front of goal.
It was a first half to savour. 74% possession after 45 minutes, barely having conceded any real chances, with three goals scored, as many chances (if not more) barely missed, and nothing -really!- at which even someone like me could complain.
The second half was almost as good. Not quite, because the scoreline and the sheer superiority demonstrated so far by Barça meant that they were just a little complacent, just a touch sloppy as they took to the field again, but VV and Puyol did their part to keep our advantage safe and no one was yet feeling superior enough to really endanger the match.
The first sub for Barça was Mascherano in for Piqué. Though Piqué hadn’t had a bad match, he had been the one Barça player booked and he hadn’t exactly been as solid as should’ve been expected. I worry, sometimes, that the progression that we saw in the first two years of his return to Barça (you know, when we called him Piquenbauer) has been derailed by the spate of injuries he has suffered and, most importantly, that Puyol has suffered. Hopefully he will go to prove me wrong, but in the meanwhile, I’ll put my money on Mascherano at CB… something I’d never imagined I would have to say.
Then came Pedrito in for Thiago, who had been swapping the left wing with Iniesta all the match, and doing very nicely at it, and the injection of fresh energy was enough to seal the evening with another trademark goal by Messi.
The match was going so exceedingly well that Pep indulged in bringing in Fontàs for Puyol, which is the equivalent of mooning the opposition bench while screaming, ‘I CAN BEAT YOU WITH TEN PLAYERS TOO!!!’.
And that was that. Barça had a 71% possession in average during the whole match. If it weren’t because the cameramen insisted on giving us close-ups of his horrid hair, we might have forgotten Neymar was on the pitch. The worst I can say about one or two Barça players is that they weren’t at their best. And got to see crazy celebrations at the end!
This win means that Pep Guardiola’s Barça has won 13 out of the 16 competitions they have played. Please, take a moment to really think about those numbers and what they mean. Remember the remuntadas, the manitas, the exhibitions, yes, but also remember those matches this team has won with gritted teeth, the injuries, the set-backs, the sheer number of matches played and the determination to win an incredible percentage of them, against all sorts of rivals, to keep standing at the very top, year after year after year.
Even when we’re celebrating a win, like today, I don’t think we appreciate this team enough. Maybe we won’t be able to appreciate this team enough until, in a few years, we can put these seasons into perspective and realise what this group of players has achieved.
Or maybe this excellent win has left me maudlin and nostalgic. Whatever. Let me gather my negativity to do the player ratings.
VV: 8. Can’t fault him, because he was ready on the few times that Borges or Neymar required him to actually do something, but those times were far and few in between.
Puyol: 10. Our Capità is so wonderful and reliable that we seldom pay enough attention to his heroics; but tonight, placed in the RB position for which some of us fear he’s not fast enough now, he gave a lesson to Neymar and to the fans that can be titled, ‘Old rockers never die’.
Piqué: 7. As I mentioned before, not bad, but not at his best. Both Puyol and Busquets converged into VV’s box at times to bail him out, and Santos’ resurgence at the start of the first half died quietly when he was subbed out for Masche.
Abidal: 8. Though not quite at epic levels of awesomeness (Puyol was hogging all the awesomeness on the other flank), King Abi was steady on the defence and willing to press forwards when necessary.
Busquets: 9. Busi’s best matches are those in which you don’t feel the need to mention his name, when all his work gets overlooked and all that’s left is a smoothly running flow between defence and attack. Like today.
Xavi: 9. Not having enough with assisting, now our mastermind has got it into his head to start scoring. Not only am I not complaining, but I’m also spearheading the ‘Give Xavi the Ballon D’Or Already’ campaign.
Iniesta: 9. Well, maybe he didn’t score this time, but in everything else he was wonderful, moving between the midfield and the attack like the ghost he sometimes looks like.
Thiago: 8. ‘Promising’ is no longer a word we can apply to Thiago, who with every performance like today’s moves further towards reaching full footballing maturity… though I suspect he still has hidden depths we might discover in the future.
Alves: 9. For all that Alves is wonderful at RB -and, possibly, the best suited to hold that position for Barça in the whole wide world-, it’s great sometimes to see him unshackled by any defensive responsibilities, free to use his speed to torture the rival defence and connect with Messi like only he knows how. And it was great to see how, even then, he dutifully tracked back to help out Puyol on more than one occasion.
Cesc: 9. I remember clearly the days when I grumbled about Cesc, about how much we didn’t need him, how the team would have to be distorted to fit him in, and how he’d never convinced me anyway. Now I have to eat my own words while I mock his hair. I’ve hardly ever been happier to be proved wrong.
Messi: 9. He scores, he assists, he drops deep into the midfield, he throws himself at the rival defence, he opens spaces… what doesn’t he do? Let me leave you with two stats: one, Messi has taken part in 44 goals in the 26 matches he’s played with Barça this season (scored 29, assisted 15), and two, Messi has scored 55 goals with Barça in 2011 (31 in Liga, 12 in CL, 6 in CDR, 3 Spanish SC, 1 European SC, 2 CWC).
Mascherano (in for Piqué): 8. Still a little foul-happy, but that just goes with his temperament; Monster Masche brings a measure of Puyol’s solidity, speed and ‘thou shalt not pass, or a least not with the ball and/or all your limbs’ attitude.
Pedrito (in for Thiago): 8. Pedrito’s return to full fitness and full confidence is great news for Barça, though at times I worry that he’s already reached his peak; it’s a good peak, a useful peak, indeed, but maybe not a good enough peak to keep him ahead of Alexis, Cuenca, Afellay, and whatever other young upstarts are nipping at his heels.
Fontàs (in for Puyol): he didn’t make an egregious mistake in the 7 minutes he was on the pitch which, at this point, is all I feel we can ask of him.
So, that’s it from Japan! In our Twitter we have loads more stats, videos, pics, plus all the inane Twitter messages from all the players who could get their hands on a Blackberry after the win… follow us as we continue to keep you informed of the going-ons of this wonderful team in their return from Japan and their preparation for Thursday’s CDR match against L’Hospitalet.