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This Week in Barça starring Xoel Càrdenas: Week of September 2, 2014

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A look at all things FC Barcelona.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

On this episode of "This Week in Barça", we'll talk about FC Barcelona's 1-0 win over Villarreal, Dani Alves, the Barça players on international duty and more. For those in the USA, hope you had a great Labor Day. Let's go!

Villarreal 0-1 Barça

Barcelona scrapped a 1-0 win against Villarreal at El Madrigal on Sunday night. Yes, the win wasn't the prettiest, but the three points were earned the hard way. Once again, Lionel Messi led the way with his movement, vision and goal-scoring opportunities. Messi's skills were all over El Madrigal, including on the play which set-up Sandro for the lone goal of the game.

Here's a great stat line by @AllThingsMessi

With Neymar still not fully fit and Pedro consistently underachieving, Messi stepped it up a notch to help Barcelona win this game. Messi continues to show he isn't "back" because Messi never left.

Speaking of Pedro, the Canarian had a poor game against Villarreal. It's sad that he has lost his magic from those early years under Pep Guardiola. Barcelona needs Pedro to perform well until Luis Suarez is available in late October. If Pedro struggles, Messi will have to continue to carry more of the offensive load on the right side of the pitch. Congrats goes to Sandro Ramirez, as the kid got his first Liga goal in his young career. Munir did not have the best game, but he will get better. Claudio Bravo didn't have much to do, but looked solid when called upon. The goal posts were hit five times by Barça and Villarreal during the game.

Ivan Rakitic continues to show that fits like a glove at FC Barcelona. Sergio Busquets had a solid game-including a sweet back-heel pass. Jeremy Mathieu did not have a good game, but the Frenchman got good news on Sunday as he was called up by the French national team to play in the county's upcoming friendly games. Good to see Xavi get his first taste of Liga action this season.

While the win is always the most important part of a game, let's recognize that Barcelona looked to have the same problem that has plagued them for the past few seasons: dominating the game, yet not able to find the back of the net. Yes, Neymar is still not 100% and Luis Suarez is still not available. But this team cannot continue to be plagued by this scoring issue, which seems to happen more in away games. Luis Enrique will need to go to work on this. Lastly, this game was a great example of how important Andres Iniesta is for this club. No Andres means less dynamic, goal-creating chances for Barça. Hopefully, Don Andres gets back into action soon.

The Dani Alves conundrum

Dani Alves continues to cross, cross and cross the ball.

On Sunday, we saw Dani cross over 18 times against Villarreal. Dani's struggle to contribute to the team by doing something other than crosses has reached epic proportions. It honestly feels like Dani has become a one-trick pony on the pitch. Too many times Alves' crosses end up killing Barça's attacking plays. For those that say, "Well, the few Alves crosses that create goal-scoring plays are worth it": not really. If we're going to say, "We live by the crosses, we die by the crosses", then Barcelona has mostly died by Dani's crosses these past few seasons.

Take a look at this stat by Squawka Football:

This is obviously not good.

After the game, Dani Alves talked about the game and his crosses.

"I want to improve on what I've done in the past. I want to get better and help my teammates to score a lot of goals... There is no point crossing the ball if there's no-one there to score and now that we're gathering more people in the area, it's easier to find a target".

Can FC Barcelona count on Dani Alves to improve on his past? Very unlikely. Dani is 31 and at the end of the prime of his career. It's unlikely any footballer can improve on a skill/talent their have once age takes a toll and you're past your prime. With all due respect to Dani, but just because there may be more people in the area doesn't mean it's a good idea to keep crossing. As we see with Jordi Alba, cutting into the box and creating openings/opportunities for your teammates is obviously better than simply crossing.

Where did it all go away for Dani? He used to cut into the box, create more goal-scoring opportunities on the right side, and his crosses where good. Now, not even the Brazilian national team counts him in the starting XI, as he was bench during the World Cup. It's unfortunate, but we've seen cases like this happen in football before.

Dani is still a good footballer, but his time at Barcelona is ending as his production continues to fade further. He is still capable of making golazos and assists. Oh yeah, and there's that thing called defending. Many fans have love/hate feelings toward Alves. You either like him or wish he would be benched.

This summer, Barcelona was trying to find a new club for Alves. Early summer reports suggested that Paris Saint-Germain were interested. We found out later that these reports/rumors were false. Recently, Barça signed Brazilian right-back Douglas. It's still puzzling why Barcelona signed Douglas. While club officials said they have been scouting Douglas for some time now, for me, it sounds like a shady "'IOU-returned" deal between club officials and some people in Brazil. Nevertheless, Douglas is in.

Martin Montoya is deserving of the RB spot. He's obviously paid his dues. It looks like Douglas will be the second RB on the squad after this season.

All Culés and the club are grateful for Dani's contributions since he arrived in 2008-09. What great memories Dani Alves has brought FC Barcelona; ones we will always cherish. After this season, Dani will leave the club, as sporting director Andoni Zubizaretta confirmed on Tuesday. It's time for both the player and the club to move on.

It's business, not personal.

Messi and Munir's injuries

After the Villarreal game, Barcelona announced that Lionel Messi and Munir El Haddadi suffered injuries. Munir has bruising on his right thigh and Messi has a pulled adductor muscle. Munir just has a bruise and will join the Spanish U21 squad this week. Leo will not join the Argentine national team this upcoming friendly against Germany and will stay in Barcelona for precautionary measures. "He has pulled the hamstring of his right leg, it is a minor injury," Barça said in statement (via Reuters).

Thank goodness for the international break, as Messi will get two weeks off to recover until Barcelona's next game vs. Athletic Bilbao. Anims Leo.

Adios Alex Song...for now

Last week, Alex Song joined West Ham United on a season-long loan. It's good that the saga of trying to find Alex a home is over...but only for now. As mentioned, Song's move to West Ham is only for one season; meaning Alex comes back to Barça next summer.

What to look out for this week...in Barça

Barça players on international duty: The international break is here, and a few Barcelona players will join their national squad to play in a few friendlies and some are going to play in Euro 2016 qualifiers. Here is a list of games involving Barça players via FCBarcelona.com:

03.09.2014

Germany v Argentina (friendly): Javier Mascherano

Brazil v Qatar (friendly) U21: Rafinha

04.09.2014

France v Spain (friendly): Busquets, Jordi Alba, Pedro, Marc Bartra

Hungary v Spain U21: Munir, Sergi Roberto

05.09.2014

Brazil v Colombia (friendly): Neymar

06.09.2014

Chile v Mexico (friendly): Claudio Bravo

Croatia v Cyprus (friendly): Rakitic

Brazil v Palestine U21

08.09.2014

Spain v Macedonia (Euro 2016 qualifier)

09.09.2014

Spain v Austria U21

Brazil v Ecuador (friendly): Neymar

Haiti v Chile (friendly)

Croatia v Malta (Euro 2016 qualifier)

Messi's recovery: Leo Messi will stay in Barcelona to recover from his minor hamstring injury. Lionel is expected to work with the club physicians and trainers on his recovery.

Vermaelen getting closer: Thomas Vermaelen are expected to be ready to join the first squad once the international break is over. Last week, Thomas did some specific fitness work on the training ground. Vermaelen is getting closer to being available, as the Belgian continues to recover from a hamstring injury he suffered during the World Cup.

Training continues: All players not called for international duty will continue to train in Barcelona. Players like Adriano, Xavi (retired from international duty), Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez (suspension), Douglas and others will work with Lucho and the coaching staff.

Jordi Masip out for a month: GK Jordi Masip is out for a month after breaking his finger during training on Tuesday. Anims Jordi.

Next game: Saturday, September 13 vs. Athletic Club

Barcelona returns to Liga action on Saturday, September 13 at the Camp Nou vs. Athletic Club Bilbao. It'll be interesting to see if Luis Enrique goes with Marc-Andre ter Stegen or sticks with Claudio Bravo at goalkeeper. Doubt Thomas Vermaelen will start this game, as the club would want to ease him into game action. Messi and Munir should be fine for this game. We will see if Andres Iniesta and his left knee is healthy in two weeks.

Xoel's Final Word

The international break is here. It's time for some players to join their nation's squad and represent. While for some, it's time to rest and recover. Let's hope those on national team duty stay healthy and those staying to recover get healthy soon.

There is still much work to be done, but Barça sit atop of La Liga table with no goals conceded after two games.

Plus, being two points ahead of Atletico Madrid and three points ahead of Real Madrid is also not a bad way of heading into the international break.

Força Barça!

Xoel, The Voice of Els Culés and host/creator of "This Week in Barça" every Monday on SB Nation.