So we play a couple of matches, build up some rhythm and then lose it all over another stupid international break? That's early season football for you -- FC Barcelona made it two wins from two on Saturday by dispatching Malaga CF at the Camp Nou, courtesy of a goal from Thomas Vermaelen and must now wait a fortnight before they can build on that result. Or, maybe they won't -- after all, we've got Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon after the international break.
That means that this will be the last edition of the squad power rankings for a couple of weeks -- let's see how everyone fared headed into our first intermission:
Zero goals and zero assists in two matches; at face value, Lionel Messi hasn’t been at his best and perhaps from a purely statistical standpoint, he does not deserve to be atop of this list. However, there is more to life and to football than just numbers and Messi still stands as our team’s gold standard. He didn’t score on Saturday, although that was more down to the heroics of Carlos Kameni than anything else – and now that Neymar and Alba are back patrolling the left-flank, Messi has been able to add those raking cross-field passes back into his arsenal.
Forget Thomas Vermaelen, my overwhelming Man of the Match from Saturday’s win has to be Andrés Iniesta. Entering the season, some pundits have suggested that Iniesta is on the decline. This performance was essentially Andrés flipping them all the bird – he absolutely dominated proceedings and sliced the impenetrable Malaga defense open on numerous occasions with multiple perfect through balls. With Rakitić having an unusual off-day, Iniesta more than picked up the slack to climb to number two.
Suarez got the all-important winner last week, but this week he somewhat faded back into the shadows with a less than convincing display against an admittedly resolute Malaga defense. Personally, I thought that Suarez was bought to make the difference in matches like this – but as long as someone does, I couldn’t care less. As a positive, how about his cross for the Vermaelen winner? As an aside, his creativity has been arguably his best trait since signing last summer.
Another night, another clean sheet for Claudio Bravo who has now gone roughly 12 hours without conceding in the competition. 12 hours is half a day folks, and Bravo hasn’t had to pick the ball out of the back of the net in half a day – that’s extra-ordinary and that streak is sure to be tested after the international break when we travel to the Vicente Calderon to face free-scoring Atletico Madrid.
An assured performance in the middle of the park from Busquets helped us keep things ticking over, and it also ensured that we faced very little trouble defensively too. With Malaga’s deep block pretty redefining the concept of deep blocks as we know them, even the central defensive pairing were pushing forward and Busi’s composure and reading of the match were crucial to us both maintaining our pressure and avoiding catastrophe at the other end.
Welcome back Neymar! The Brazilian superstar was back in the line-up after his mumps illness and well, he looked a little rusty. Understandably so it must be said although leaving the rust aside, that’s no real excuse for his unusual decision-making in which he outright refused to take a shot when presented with perfect opportunities to do so. Oh well, it’s good to have you back, kid.
Let’s gloss over this week’s performance, eh Ivan? Certainly it wasn’t the Croat’s finest hour in a Blaugrana jersey, but that’s hopefully because he’s saving something in reserve for Atleti in a fortnight. I’m sticking with that, anyway.
I don’t really know why I’m knocking Alba down this list, because he played well and deserved to maintain his place – but at the same time I wanted to promote a few other players so here we are, with Alba falling a few to eighth. Still respectable though.
So close, but yet so far...Javier Mascherano has played over 200 matches for this club and is yet to score his first goal in a Barça jersey but for a moment on Saturday, it looked as though his wait was finally over. Of course, it wasn’t – his header rattled off the crossbar instead but just imagine how happy we could have all been to celebrate him breaking his drought...
OK...OKAY...there is literally no escape. I tried to fight the hype last week, but this week, well I had no choice but to join the club; Thomas Vermaelen looks like the real deal. Well, he isn’t going to displace Gerard Piqué and I don’t think he’s better than Javier Mascherano, but gosh darn it, he sure looks like a more than capable deputy. His composure in possession was an added plus, although he could do with a lesson about not lumping the ball forward to clear the danger. Something, something winner, as well.
Sergi Roberto has barely ever played at full-back, and yet he somehow looks just as dependable as pretty much any other option we’ve had for the past few seasons. This is probably as damning a critique of Martin Montoya as you could get – he trained his entire life to play right-back for Barcelona and somehow, Roberto looks as good as he ever did in a matter of weeks. Weird, huh?
With Neymar back in the fold, Rafinha looks set to return to a more orthodox midfield role which might just work out for the best – taking his abilities and playing time into account. With a Brazil call-up to his name, Rafinha looks set to build on what could be a breakout year.
I just love this kid and all that he offers off the bench; he’s a tireless worker and selfless despite starting his career as a centre-forward.
Back from injury, just in time to see Vermaelen overtake him in the pecking order.
(Unranked: Arda Turan, Aleix Vidal, Alex Song)