Part of our job as sportswriters is to overreact. If we were to respond to every result with “well, it’s a long season, let’s wait and see how everything turns out at the end”, we wouldn’t write many interesting articles. With that I hope to justify my dire pronouncement that Messi is burnt out and Pep lacks the guts to bench him. One week and two “goleadas” later, I am once again Pep’s biggest fan, and I’ve got three big reasons to be optimistic about FC Barcelona.
1. Apparently Lionel Messi is doing just fine
After a couple of yawners in league play that saw Barcelona draw 0-0 with Sevilla and edge Granada 1-0, alarm bells were raised amongst culés, with many pointing to a fatigued Leo Messi as a big part of the problem. But after dropping hat-tricks in consecutive matches against Mallorca and Viktoria Pilzen, it’s hard to argue that Messi’s minutes are being mismanaged.
In the end, one realizes that Messi is simply a physical anomaly. Most humans cannot play as hard and as often as he does without wearing down, and while he did genuinely look tired at times against Sevilla and Granada, he seems to have recovered fully—much to the chagrin of Barcelona’s opponents. The best player ever is fit and ready to continue destroying opposition.
2. Isaac Cuenca is a perfect fit
With three straight games of starting for the first team, and three straight Barcelona victories, it looks like Isaac Cuenca is here to stay. The young winger has a silky-smooth game that seems designed for Barcelona’s system. Playing at La Masia from the age of eleven, Cuenca moves just as a Barcelona attacker ought to—into space on the wings, then cutting back inside or heading full-speed to the corner for a cross. He reminds me a bit of Thierry Henry in his very best days at Barcelona, in that every time he touches the ball, he seems to do something decisive.
Cuenca is deceptively quick and shifty—defenders seem surprised every time he beats them to the edge and gets in a cross. Cesc’s goal against Viktoria was a thing of beauty for culés: a picture-perfect cross from Cuenca headed easily into the net by a man rushing straight up the middle of the field. Simple, direct attacking football.
With Cuenca, Pep has a tantalizing new option in attack, a player who’s just as likely to set up scoring chances for his teammates as he is to finish in front of goal, and a youngster who combines well with Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi. Here’s hoping he sticks around past Pedro’s return.
3. Barcelona has some tall guys in the back again
For one of the few times this season, Pep Guardiola had the luxury of aligning his two prototypical catalan big men in defense against Viktoria Pilzen. Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol have had difficulty staying healthy, and we’ve become accustomed to a makeshift back line that usually includes the fabulous little midfielder Javier Mascherano.
Puyol, it would seem, has yet to prove he can return to top form and deserve a start ahead of Mascherano. Piqué, on the other hand, just needs to take football a little more seriously and want to be the best defender in the world—a legitimate goal at his age and with his talent.
In any case, this is very good news for Barcelona, because these boys are fabulous defenders and close friends who, when healthy, are the best center-back duo in football.
All in all, things are looking up in Barcelona. While Madrid holds a one-point edge at the top of La Liga, the blaugrana endured a fall in form and a brutal stretch of games, while maintaining good position in all three competitions. Having wrapped up qualification for the next round of the Champions League, and with the return to heath of Aléxis and Cesc, FC Barcelona appear poised to go on a bit of a run, culminating in a monstrous clash with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on December 11th.