BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 29: Thiago Alcantara of FC Barcelona (R) celebrates with his teammate Pedro Rodriguez of FC Barcelona after scoring his first team's goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Villarreal CF at Camp Nou on August 29, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Barcelona’s lopsided 0-5 victory over hapless FC BATE Borisov was a marvelous performance that set the Blaugrana back on top of their Champions League group. While Bate is by no means a powerhouse of European football, Wednesday’s match showed us a few things about the state of FC Barcelona.
1. The 4-3-3 still works.
Pep started with and stayed in the classic 4-3-3 formation, thanks largely to a suddenly healthy group of defenders. We were reminded of the danger this formation presents, as Abidal and Alves came flying up the flanks, stretched the defense, and incorporated themselves into the attack. Against the super-defensive Bate, the 4-3-3 allows for up to eight attackers, with just two central defenders staying back with Valdés.
2. Barcelona can crack the 10-man defense.
After a few minutes of play, it was clear that BATE had aligned itself in essentially a 1-9-1, with all but one player clumped tightly together in defense. Never a group to get flustered by this super-defensive approach, Barcelona calmly and easily picked apart the defense, and availed themselves of some early goals. While two were thanks to glaring defensive errors, three goals were manufactured by team play and against a fully planted 10-man defense.
3. David Villa is in fine form.
With a world-class assist to Pedro for the 0-2 and a trademark keeper nutmeg for 0-5, David Villa proved he is in fabulous form. We forget that "El Guaje" is entering his sophomore campaign with Barcelona—after a year of acclimation, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s even better than last year. Although he’s no spring chicken, Villa has molded himself into the type of striker that relies more on skill and deadly finishing than speed or strength. At the end of 90 minutes he was able to pressure the defense into a mistake, make the correct run, and finish with ease. Surprisingly sturdy in his wiry little frame, Villa could score a boatload of goals this year for Barcelona.
4. Puyol is slowing down.
This is a painful pill to swallow, but Carles Puyol looked very slow against FC BATE, and may have permanently lost a step. Granted, Puyol is very recently returned from a nasty knee injury and lengthy recovery, but "El Gran Capitán" looked a shadow of his former self on Wednesday. He went to ground time and time again—seemingly pushing himself to the limit just to cut out simple balls. Today's reports say Puyol picked up yet another injury against BATE.
What Puyol may lack in physical form, he will valiantly make up for with fighting spirit, but unless he can improve over the next few games, Pep will be forced to face the fact that his captain is no longer deserving of a start.
5. Barcelona can win the Champions League
This one is obvious, but Barcelona’s dominance on the road against a super-defensive side—without many of their key players—is further proof that this squad has what it takes to hoist a second straight Champions League trophy. Early in the season, Guardiola seems to be perfecting both the 4-3-3 and the 3-4-3. Players are learning their roles and playing them to perfection. Critical injuries to Piqué, Puyol, and Iniesta have been—and are in the process of being—overcome.
With a deeper squad and a strike-force that is playing even better than last year, Barcelona needs only to maintain their burning desire for victory. The addition of the super-motivated Cesc Fabregas has given them a huge boost in this department—Barcelona looks hungrier than ever. We're looking at possibly the first team ever to hoist back-to-back Champions League Titles. Would you bet against them?
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