If Real have failed to look beautiful even when good, Barcelona have retained a sense of flair even through their toughest times. The Barcelona of Rijkaard and after that is. The difference (with Real) has largely been in the mid-field and forwards looking to take control of the game rather than waiting for the balls to be fed into them. When they have struggled, it has been through being fragile at the back or wasteful in the front and not because of being choked by opposition tactics.
But on days when they get everything right, it is entertainment guaranteed, as seen in the 1-6 thrashing of newly promoted Dijon. The score line may not tell the whole tale as Dijon did give a decent account of themselves and played with ten men for most of the second half, but Barcelona were great with their finishing and unstoppable in their creativity.
The very fluid front three of Iniesta, Eto and Messi backed by a very forward-minded midfield of Xavi, Keita and the youngster Busquets understood each other brilliantly and executed to perfection. They tried outrageous stuff and ever so often pulled it off. Messi the catalyst, Eto the trouble maker, Xavi the controller, Iniesta the threat, Keita the power house and Busquet the punchbag. It was like a play.
Got a first good look of Keita and he may not be in the same mould as Xavi when it comes to floating around the field but his presence looked good and he was the macine that the team needs. The young Busquets, picked ahead of Bojan and obviously Pep’s pick-of-the-bunch from his youth team squad, has potential but will have to mature. He is good with the ball butalways guilty of keeping it longer than needed. I play with a few such guys in our five/six a sides and they drive you mad. At this level it must be making Puyol and co want to tear their hair away but they showed a lot of patience and he didn’t look out of place.
It will be interesting to see the starting eleven when Henri is back and I think it would depend more on Henri than anyone else to make it work as well as it did yesterday. I would expect Iniesta to move into mid-field and Henri to play wide left up front, but he will have to bed himself well into a truly flexible front three. He ended last season well and it would be great to see King Henri fit and doing crazy stuff on the field.
A word on Sporting Dijon, a team that spent 100,000 EUR on summer transfers. If I’m ever called to vote on the greatest home support ever, I will have to mention this one. As their team kept letting goals in, not a single fan moved. Not a single fan stopped singing and the chants grew louder and more celebrative as the game slipped further away from them. They deserved a better chance at retaining their Liga status next year than the miserly investment into new players suggests they are going to have.