Villa looked a little slow on Wednesday - Jasper Juinen
Barcelona got the win thanks to their supreme skill, but Wednesday's performance was far from convincing.
Barcelona kept the ball rolling in the Copa Del Rey by dispatching Cordoba on Wednesday, taking the two-part elimination well in hand with a 0-2 victory. As Arron noted, Barça were far from their best, but still good enough to get the victory. Here are a few thoughts from Wednesday's match, in no particular order.
Mascherano is an absolute beast. In the 15th minute, a ball was played deep into the right corner for a Cordoba attacker. Mascherano was yards away, and one might have expected him to concede the ball, close out the attacker, and force him to make a play. Instead, the little Argentine went tearing off after the ball and made a ridiculous flying tackle to clear it away. I think he surprised the attacker. It was a risky play, especially on the road with a one-goal lead, but there is simply no adjusting Masche's aggressive play. He's all-out all the time, and he made a fantastic play. I love it.
Barcelona struggled to play the ball out of the back. Throughout the match, we saw Piqué clearing off balls with abandon, giving up any chance of control and build-up. There was very little in the way of switches from left to right, and Barcelona had difficulty handling Corodba's high pressure. Better safe than sorry, to be sure, but some of Barça's most beautiful football is played up the middle under intense pressure-calm, short, pressure-breaking passes gradually leading to good offense. Surely the absence of Valdés and Busquets contributed to this issue, but Song was not so bad, and Xavi was certainly doing his best. Overall there seemed to be a lack of commitment on Barcelona's part to controlling the pace of the match.
Barcelona sorely missed Iniesta and Fabregas. There were some frustrating plays involving Messi and the attack, with many balls lost through impatient and imprudent play. Barcelona really needs another cerebral midfielder to join Messi in attack. With Xavi occupied bringing the ball out of the back, there was nobody to help settle things in front. There's a special sense of calm Iniesta brings to the Barcelona offense-a little bit of control just behind the front line that allows Messi and others to find space and expose the defense. Cesc has a similarly stabilizing presence. Without either player, Barcelona was generally out of control all night long.
Villa didn't look very good. Villa played hard and exhibited a great desire to contribute and help the team, but there were times on Wednesday when the striker looked silly. In the 70th minute, as Xavi did very well to get free and maintain possession in a dangerous position up the left wing, Villa was left unmarked but simply could not get back onside. Xavi gave him about three full seconds to get back onside, fighting off defenders and checking Villa's positioning again before finally passing back. Villa is still deadly in front of goal, but his lack of quickness was rather glaring. Almost exactly one year removed from a broken leg, let's hope there's still some fitness to be regained.
Pinto's ball distribution is really horrendous. Some of the passes this man tries are positively scary. How he hasn't improved in this area is beyond me. Between the posts, his save-making abilities are quite good, but watching him try and restart play is frightening. One appreciates Victor Valdés much more after a Pinto performance.
Patience, a virtue, was nowhere to be found. Cordoba played at a frenetic level-with a packed, energized crowd lifting them up, the home side brought everything they had to this match. Barcelona looked a bit rattled at times. Instead of slowing things down and passing the life out of the match, they seemed to play to the same frenetic level as their opponent. Thanks to the physical prowess and individual skill of this team (and Leo Messi), they got the win, but one would like to see a ball-control gameplan implemented in such a situation. I appreciate the direct attacking moves and freedom with which Barcelona flows into attack, but great teams play their way every game, regardless of the opponent or the situation. Barcelona's strength is possession, and even with Song in midfield and Pinto in goal, they could have done better to play possession football. Goodness knows it'll be needed in Europe.