Victor Valdes 7.5
Valdes had very little to do today, but when called upon he was superb. Aside from an early blip where he booted the ball straight out of play from a goal kick because of some pressure the Catalan custodian was excellent, most notably with his save to deny Neymar in the second half. Apparently he made a horrible error in the Clasico in the week previous; I would never have guessed judging by this performance.
Carles Puyol 8.0
I think it is a given that Puyol performs well, but it is getting to the stage when I no longer feel comfortable without him on the pitch. In imperious form once again, he limited bona-fide superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazilian wonderkid Neymar to just a couple of chances in the space of a week. If that doesn’t impress you, nothing will.
Gerard Pique 7.5
Some are beginning to speculate whether Pique’s spot in the first XI is still untouchable, and I understand where they are coming from. Pique has not played too well recently (this must go down as one of his better games) and Javier Mascherano is growing into the centre-back role well. However, his understanding with Puyol is second to none and crucially; he is one of, if not the main reason(s) why Busquets play so well.
Eric Abidal 7.5
Abidal is much the same as Pique, but his spot is safe for an entirely different reason. His is easily the most athletic player on the side, and there is no substitute for his all-round dominance at left-back. I would opt for Adriano against the bottom feeder sides (Al Sadd comes to mind) but for matches like this, Abidal is an automatic starter, and for good reason too. Yet another clean sheet for the Frenchman.
Sergio Busquets 7.5
A quiet game for the holding midfielder, basically because Barcelona were just so dominant. There was no need for him to tuck back in as an extra defender, his anchoring skills weren’t really required as Barcelona camped in Santos’ defensive third, and even Ganso did not trouble him. No doubt his passing was still immaculate though.
Xavi Hernandez 9.0
While it is a joy to watch Xavi in action, I can’t help but fear for the future knowing that we will never truly replace him. Everything he did today was near perfect, whether it was balls over the top, crosses, through balls; you name it, Xavi can do it effortlessly. The control he displayed to manoeuvre the space for his goal was exquisite, and that was after his unworldly skill to set up the first goal. When Xavi is on form, you might as well give up and save yourself the hassle.
Andres Iniesta 8.5
This wasn’t an Iniesta performance where he skipped past defenders and scored or set-up goals, but this was an Iniesta performance usually reserved for the Champions League finals against Manchester United. By that I mean he was linking up with Xavi, the two combined to utterly dominate the midfield, leading to upwards of 70% possession. Santos had simply no chance.
Thiago Alcantara 8.0
Starting out on the left-wing, it is fair to say that Thiago was a surprise inclusion in the line-up, but he was simply excellent. Keeping the width on the left hand side, he stretched Santos to their limits, and that may have been why Danilo had to be subbed out on the half-hour mark. Perhaps he should have scored one of the chances that fell his way, but Thiago is still learning, which is a scary thought considering that he could probably walk into the starting XI of 99% of teams.
Dani Alves 8.5
Much like Thiago, he was vital to Barcelona’s success, keeping the width excellently on the right-wing. His crossing was good and his workrate was exceptional as per usual. The pressure he exerted on the Santos defenders led to the fourth goal and in being closer to Lionel Messi, he brings the best out of the Argentine. Expect to see him in advanced positions a lot more often.
Cesc Fabregas 8.0
Much like the Clasico, Cesc got in the way at times, but on other occasions he was vital to the Blaugrana. Lest we forget that he made the first significant pass in the build-up to the first goal, he set up the second goal before scoring a third. In a way, he personifies this new system in a nutshell. Risky, maybe even excessive, but a glorious option.
Lionel Messi 9.5
I have seen Messi play better, but only once or twice. He was utterly unplayable and his brace was the tip of the iceberg. Whenever he ran at the Santos defense, you could almost sense the anxiety; if he made a pass, you better believe it was inch-perfect and as we can tell from his two goals, his finishing was sublime as well. In a way it was a throwback to the previous years with the cheeky chip, and it’s been a while since we saw La Pulga skip around a keeper as well. Won the Golden Ball for best player and his goals ensured that he became the second player to score in six competitions in a year.
Javier Mascherano 7.0
Masch replaced Pique with around half an hour left, and like the man he replaced, he could do no wrong. Tackling well, he was calm, and operated well alongside Puyol despite my doubts that the two are too similar.
I was surprised Pedro did not start, but cannot argue with the result. When he did appear, it was a shame because everyone else was simply playing out the time, meaning his effort went to waste. No surprise that the only Barca player to match his work ethic was Alves, and the Brazilian was unlucky to hit the post after Pedro’s pass.
Andre Fontas N/A
Usually I wouldn’t write anything about an incomplete rating, but slowly Fontas is winning me over. I have a feeling he couldn’t do it any quicker judging by his pace or lack thereof, but if he keeps up with the solid showings, he may get some game time in the Copa.
Santos’ honourable mentions:
Putting both together it is safe to say that they didn’t see enough of the ball, but it was clear that either have the talent and potential to go far in the game. Neymar was unlucky not to score; maybe the Brazilian was a little nervous as is only natural for such an occasion. Ganso was lazy defensively, but offensively he remains a prodigious talent. With a better supporting cast, these two could win a whole bunch of awards (and trophies) in the future.
Writer's note: The usual Weekly Review will be published tomorrow instead of it's usual slot tonight. I promise it will be good though :)