Lionel Messi tied the great Cesar Rodriguez for fifth in all-time goal scoring in the history of La Liga as FC Barcelona went to the south of Spain and defeated Almeria by 2-0 on Saturday. With the win, FC Barcelona is now off to the best Liga start in club history as El Blaugrana has won their first 7 Liga games.
Andres Iniesta with a strong shot in the 5th minute, but saved by Almeria goalkeeper Esteban. Lionel Messi made it 1-0 with a golazo in the 21st minute as Leo got the ball thanks to a give-and-go from Pedro at the top of the box, curled a shot to the far post, the ball hit the post and in for the golazo. Grande Leo.
But just as fast as everyone celebrated Messi's goal, the mood turned sour as Leo appeared to have tweaked something in his right thigh muscle. Messi asked to be subbed out, and was replaced by Xavi in the 29th minute. The club confirmed that Messi suffered a right thigh muscle injury. On Sunday, tests confirm Leo suffered a "slight thigh muscle injury", and is out for 2-3 weeks.
Adriano made it 2-0 in the 56th minute as Cesc Fabregas' cross found a sliding Adriano and the Brazilian slipped the ball past Esteban for the 2-0 lead.
Neymar was on the bench, but never entered the game as the team didn't need the kid's services after the score line became 2-0. Neymar will now have fresh legs for Barça's Champions League match with Celtic FC midweek.
Let's look at the Best and Worst of the game, plus What We Learned.
The Best: Marc Bartra
It seems like I've been asking for Barcelona to give Marc Bartra to start for years now. That's because it has been years that I've been writing about Bartra getting more playing time. With Javier Mascherano's injury, Bartra has the opportunity to prove to all naysayers that he is finally ready to be a major contributor to this team.
On Saturday, Marc Bartra had a solid game as he showed why he deserves to start more for this club. His clearances in the first half-including a clearance of a potentially dangerous playing in the 40th minute-showed us why this kid has what it takes to be part of the future FC Barcelona starting XI. Bartra nearly had a goal in the 81st minute as well. He was the Barcelona player who recovered the ball the most in the game with 13. Marc Bartra was the Man of the Match for me.
With his great performance on Saturday, Marc Bartra certainly has more confidence in himself, and it also gave his manager Tata Martino more confidence to call Bartra's name when called upon. It gives Culés even more confidence that maybe, just maybe, Bartra is indeed the centre-back the club has needed, yet has always had on their bench.
The Worst: Messi's Injury
Of course Lionel Messi's injury was the worst of the game. Honorable mention goes to the Barcelona defending at times, but Leo's injury is by far the worst. Messi is out 2-3 weeks, missing the matches against Celtic in Champions League action as well Liga matches for FC Barcelona against Real Valladolid and Osasuna.
While I am concerned that these thigh muscle injuries will continue to plague Leo for potentially the rest of his career, my immediate concern is not about Leo, it's about the team continuing its form. Leo is the straw that stirs the "tiki-Tata" drink, and now that Leo is out, it's going to be up to others to step up. Most would say that it's now Neymar's job to step up against Celtic and Valladolid, but is that putting too much pressure on the kid? Yes and no. Yes, because it may be too much for the 21-year-old to become "the man" at this club in the Champions League. But "no" because Neymar has already led a team through a major continental tournament in Santos, leading them to the Copa Libertadores title in 2011.
For me, I expect Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas to step up while Leo is out. It's going to fall on Iniesta and Cesc to enhance their creativeness on offense and help Neymar, Alexis and the other forwards to get goals. Xavi and Sergio Busquets will always be there for support, but for me, it's Cesc and Don Andres who will become the straws to stir the Barça drink while Messi is out.
That being said, I still wouldn't be surprised if the well-rested Neymar steps up for Barcelona against Celtic.
What We Learned: FC Barcelona is off to a historic start...which is a bit unexpected.
FC Barcelona is off to its best start to La Liga in the club's history. Barça has now scored 24 goals and has only conceded 5. God bless Tata Martino and his men.
That being said, all of this is a bit unexpected.
Think about where we were on July 19th, as we all heard the news that beloved Tito Vilanova was stepping down for health reasons. After a few days, the search for a new manager began. Gerardo "Tata" Martino was not a manager expected to get the job, myself included. But Sandro Rosell and Andoni Zubizarreta made the right decision when they selected Tata. I was a gutsy call to go out of the Barça family tree to get a manager who was not familiar with the "tiki-taka." But Tata is a smart man, and knew not to break up a good thing. Instead, Tata added his teachings of pressing, regaining the ball quickly, player rotation, and wide play to the tiki-taka to create the "Tiki-Tata." And so far, tiki-tata is working wonders for the team.
If you would've told any Culé prior to the start of the season that FC Barcelona was going to be off to their best Liga start in club history after losing their beloved manager, not get a CB in the transfer window, with the same shaky defense of the previous year, and with a manger that is not part of the tiki-taka philosophy or Barça family tree—no Culé would have though it could happen.
But football gives us unexpected things many times. And for all Culés, Tata Martino and this FC Barcelona team has given us a perfect start to La Liga thus far this season.
After the Almeria game, when asked about this record start for Barcelona, Tata Martino played down his role. "This is the team's record. I just barely got here."
What's Next?: Tuesday at Celtic
No time to rest for Barça as they will head to Scotland to face Celtic CF at Celtic Park on Tuesday night in Champions League group stage action. With Messi out, look for Tata Martino to go with either a False 9 lineup with Cesc Fabregas at the false nine spot-a la what he does with the Spanish National Team-or with a 4-3-3 with Neymar at Leo's spot. Marc Bartra will continue to start at CB as Mascherano is still out with his injury. Adriano will start at LB as Jordi Alba is out as well. Don't be surprised if Cristian Tello starts in place of either Pedro or Alexis. If Neymar moves to Leo's spot, Tello could move to LW and either Alexis or Pedro starts at RW.
Xoel's Final Word
It wasn't a classic FC Barcelona performance, but El Blaugrana did enough to take out Almeria by 2-0 on Saturday. Messi continued his brilliance, but with his injury, Barcelona will have to get through the next few games without Leo's magic. This team has enough to continue the good times, but of course everyone will have to step it up a bit. This could be Neymar's time to lead the Barça offense until Messi comes back.
With Real Madrid's loss to Atletico Madrid, FC Barcelona moves five points up on Los Blancos.
Best Liga start in club history. Not by Cruyff, or Rijkaard, or Van Gaal, or Pep, or even Tito.
It's all "Tiki-Tata" (Martino).
On to the Champions League and a date with Celtic. Last year, Barça left Scotland with a loss. This year, FC Barcelona will look to leave Celtic Park with a win, and with payback being served to Celtic.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona