FC Barcelona's La Liga campaign could not have begun any better, with a convincing 5-1 victory over Real Sociedad on Sunday. I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to watch this team play, and indeed they were better than I had remembered. Here are a few thoughts from the match:
Tito Tiene Buena Pinta
"Tener buen pinta" means to look good in Spanish. Usually used to describe an appetizing plate of food, I think it's appropriate for Barça's new boss Tito Vilanova and how he looked on the sidelines against Sociedad: a little bit nervous, but totally involved in the match. If I recall correctly, this is precisely how Pep Guardiola looked in his first year as manager. Nerves are to be expected in the first La Liga match at the Camp Nou, but most importantly Tito looked under control and decisive. He shouted a few directions to the troops, and used his three changes (Piqué, Iniesta, Villa) very well. I also like his gameday attire-a simple black polo and slacks-a step up from his usual warm-up suit, but not a suit and tie, which would seem uncharacteristic.
Jordi Alba & Christian Tello can be Dynamite on the Left
Sunday saw new left-back Jordi Alba and youngster Christian Tello paired for the first time on Barcelona's left flank. This is a pairing that has explosive attacking potential for years to come. For a few years we were treated to Alves-Messi magic on the right flank, and this duo can be just as good.
They seemed to be feeling things out a bit on Sunday, and not entirely sure of their positioning, but both players possess blistering pace, good vision, and great crossing ability from the left. With way too many options in attack, only time will tell if these two are the best pair for the job, but Sunday showed glimpses of a truly special left-side combination, with Alba looking solid and Tello brilliant with two assists.
On a related note, my heart goes out to Adriano. Alba looks like he'll be putting in 90 minutes at left back for about the next ten years.
Pedro is The Man
I was delighted to see Tito give Pedro the start, and he certainly did not disappoint. With relentless ball pressure and a clinical finish for Barcelona's fourth goal, Pedro looked brilliant on the right wing. He was absolutely everywhere-often dropping back to pressure the ball deep in Barça's own half, and always in perfect defense-stretching position in attack. Alexis is the incumbent on the right wing, but I think Pedro's a healthier choice for Barcelona's offense in 2012. Whereas Alexis has a tendency to hold the ball up and muscle his way past defenders, Pedro contributes to a more fluid attack by filling space and facilitating faster, larger ball swings from one side of the pitch to the other. His goal was vintage Pedro-holding perfect onside position and rewarding his assist-man with a crisp finish. I say start him 'til he falters.
Villa Still Has The Touch
Speaking of attacking talent, David Villa made his triumphant La Liga return with a classic right-footed curling strike for Barcelona's fifth goal. This man is like a big piece of artillery: not the quickest of weapons, but properly positioned and given time to aim, he is absolutely destructive. This quality makes it awfully hard to keep him on the bench, because no matter how many times he loses possession or slows the flow by passing the ball back, you know Villa can strike at any moment and deliver a critical goal. We'll see how Tito uses Villa once he's fully fit again.
The Best Imaginable Start
For stretches of the match-particularly in the first half-Barça was more fluid and direct in attack than I have ever seen. Perhaps less steady and staid in possession, FCB nevertheless looked incredibly dangerous. A helter-skelter attacking style, embodied by wingmen Tello and Pedro, was a joy to behold, and in the center of it all Messi looked like he was having lots of fun. This team looks to have some fire in their bellies, and direct attacking football like we saw on Sunday is the best way to regain the League title. Bring on Madrid!