In what was clearly FC Barcelona's toughest match of the young Liga season, Lionel Messi carried the offense as his hat trick along with great goalkeeping by Victor Valdes lead El Blaugrana past Valencia 3-2 at the Mestalla on Sunday. With his three goals on the night, Messi now leads the Pichichi race with 5 goals.
With his third goal-giving him 220 goals in his La Liga career-Lionel Messi surpassed former Sporting Gijon and FC Barcelona player Quini (219 goals), as Leo is now in sixth place on the all-time goalscoring list of La Liga.
Props to Neymar for getting his first assist in his Liga career as well.
After two straight road games-traveling to two tough stadiums-FC Barcelona go into the international break with two road wins, a Supercopa title picked up along the way, and leaders in La Liga.
Let's get to the Good, Bad, and Ugly of this game.
The Good/Great: Messi, Valdes, and Valencia's toughness
What more can we say about Leo? His goals are always a thing of beauty. Leo's first goal was brought to us thanks to a beautiful pass by Cesc Fabregas-who is having a fantastic season already. The second goal came off a Valencia turnover. Messi got the ball and drove it in past a sliding Adil Rami as well as Diego Alves. The third goal came in the 41st minute as Neymar's soft pass to Messi was spot on and Leo put it in the back of the net for the 3-0 lead.
We'll be seeing more Neymar-to-Messi goals and vice versa for years to come.
It's safe to say Messi's injury that troubled him last week has fully healed.
But it wasn't just Leo that saved FCB. Victor Valdes has arguably been the best player for Barça this season-along with Fabregas. VV put up a great show in this game as his saves in the second half helped secure all three points and not just one.
Let's give credit to Valencia for a tough game. Helder Postiga's two goals in two minutes stunned Barcelona, and in the second half, he was a threat to score a third. Los Che fought hard in the second half, causing problems for the road team. If it wasn't for VV's great game along with good defense by players like Javier Mascherano, Valencia would have got the draw.
The Bad: Valencia's back line in the first half
Valencia's back line was simply awful in the first half. There was nothing the back line could do on Leo's third goal, but the first two Messi goals were in part due to the back line being off. The first goal was due to a combination of Messi's speed, but the centre backs should know better not to stay too far from Leo. The little Argentine can track down the ball like no other. Adil Rami was again too far away from Leo, and when Messi got the ball, Rami was done for.
Ugly Nasty: Diego Alves
I say this in a good way: Diego Alves was straight nasty in this game.
His amazing saves were the main reason Valencia had a shot at the tie in the second half. He easily prevented Messi from getting five or six goals in the game. Alves must be very proud of his team and his performance. There's no shame in saying the only player that beat me tonight was/is the greatest player in the world.
What We Learned: This game may be one of those games we look back to when La Liga season is over.
Barcelona's win over Valencia on Sunday may be one of those games that we look back on if/when El Blaugrana are crowned champions.
These are the kinds of wins champions are able to pull out: going into hostile environment like La Mestalla against a feisty opponent, crowd screaming against you for 90+ minutes, against a solid goalkeeper, with your team struggling with the finishing touch (minus Messi), and somehow getting the win.
Messi won't always get hat tricks, and Valdes can't always bail this team out as well. While Barça's pressing was better in this game, there's still more improvement needed.
As we've seen in recent years, these are the kinds of games Real Madrid have struggled to win. And it's these kinds of games that Barcelona must fight even harder to avoid getting into. But with that being said, it's good to know that our team can pull a win in these kinds of games.
These are the kinds of games champions know how to win.
What's Next?: Saturday, Sept 14 vs. Sevilla
With the international break this coming weekend, FC Barcelona won't be back in action until September 14th when they host Sevilla. I'm still hoping that Marc Bartra and/or Martin Montoya will get a start. With a weak Sevilla team coming to the Camp Nou, it should allow Tata Martino to play either Bartra or Montoya and perhaps even Sergi Roberto to give the regular starters some rest ahead of Barça's first UEFA Champions League group stage game against Ajax just a few days later.
Xoel's Final Thought
After their 7-0 win against Levante in Matchday 1 of the Liga season, FC Barcelona had a tough two weeks ahead of them as they were to travel to two of the toughest places to place in as a road team: La Rosadela in Málaga and the Estadio de Mestalla in Valencia.
Did I mention they also had the Spanish Super Cup in the middle of this schedule as well?
But this team was able to fight hard both in their Liga games and Supercopa games to escape with the Supercopa title and two wins in two straight road games. It hasn't been pretty, but it's been good enough.
Is there room for improvement? Definitely. Pedro and Alexis Sanchez's finishing touches are still not there. Neymar is just now getting accustomed to being a starter with this club, and his chemistry with his teammates will get better. Jordi Alba has had a bad first few weeks of the season as well. And the team still has a bit to go to grasp Tata Martino's tactics fully.
But we've seen good things out of Fabregas, Valdes, and even Javier Mascherano's game has improved as well. Alexis is playing better overall, Messi is Messi, and Neymar is getting better every day. Cristian Tello, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, and Sergi Roberto will eventually contribute more to this team.
All Culés should be satisfied in Barcelona's first few weeks of the competitive season. Satisfied, but still expecting to see more improvement.
Let's all now rest up a bit and enjoy the international break and the World Cup qualifying games around the world.
FC Barcelona: leaders in La Liga.
Sounds so good.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona