The Barca Show
20 games. 53 points. 63 goals. 12 points clear. Barcelona are smashing La Liga records and sweeping opposition aside with their tenacity, class and lethality in front of goal. Their latest victims were Numancia at the Camp Nou on Saturday night, Pep Guardiola once again getting the best from a group of truly world class players. Terry Henry, Sammy Eto’o and Leo Messi have formed the front three trident that Frank Riijkard couldn’t quite get to click last year. A goal return of 14, 22 and 23 goals respectively from 25 games is a phenomenal record. The Blaugranas are deservedly the favourites to win the Champions League this season, with most bookies giving odds of 3 to 1 for them to reclaim the title they last won in 2006.
The man is quite simply the best player in the world at the moment, outclassing the World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, in terms of goals and impact. His superior dribbling and ability to make something out of nothing is combined with great teamwork. If he can stay injury-free, his taste for big game performances should see him excel in the knock-out phase of the Champions League.
According to Cesc Fabregas, Messi was “very shy and that complicated his integration” into the Barcelona youth team, and his team-mates “thought he was dumb. Until, being kids and thanks to Play Station, we discovered he could talk.” Now, I don’t know whether this means Messi is being controlled by some spotty teenager in his bedroom (me and the Football Guy used to imagine taking control of live football matches by ‘plugging in’ our control pads) but whoever the kid is, he has to be pretty special.
Messi is not the only threat coming down Barca’s right-hand side. Dani Alves, the right back that Chelsea didn’t think was worth dishing out £25 million for, is arguably the most potent force in Barca’s armoury. His overlapping runs, pinpoint crossing and eye for a goal has led the Guardian’s man in Spain, Sid Lowe, to rate him as the second best player in the world at the moment (after Messi of course). Ten assists is a pretty sweet return from full back, even if the Quark look-alike does play like a right winger. On top of all that, the man can actually defend. Some people have it all eh?!
As always, Xavi’s contribution is taken for granted, but this season the addition of Seydou Keita and the emergence of both Yaya Toure and Sergi Busquets have given Barca a steely side to their game, without sacrificing technical ability and creativity. Even the milky-bar kid has had his career rejuvenated by Guardiola.
A Word for Lyon perhaps?
Well, I am not going to pretend that I have been following Ligue 1 at all whatsoever this season (or any season for that matter), thereby damaging my credentials as a lover of football from all corners of the world. Nevertheless, I did a bit of research and here are my three points on why Claude Puel’s team must be respected but will ultimately fail against Barca:
1) Seven Ligue 1 titles on the trot….but
A record breaking seven consecutive championship titles gives Lyon a perennial presence in the Champion’s League and confidence to take on the biggest and best. Nothing appears to have changed, as Lyon currently sit pretty at the top of Ligue 1. However, this season could be different, as Bourdeaux under the tutelage of Laurent Blanc, are playing some good football and are only one point behind. Marseille are in third place, four points behind Lyon. Will this finally be the year when Lyon give up the crown?
2) Yes they still have Karim Benzema…but
The Manchester United target is continuing his good run of form from last season, having scored 15 in 22 thus far. He proved himself on the Champion’s League stage last year against Manchester United, and has the ability to upset Barca. However, while Lyon may have the likes of Benzema and the highly rated Jean Makoun II, the also play Jean-Alain Boumsong at centre-half. A mental image of Barcelona versus Boumsong is a very Messi one.
3) Lack of strength in depth?
In years gone by Lyon had a strong squad with a good balance of attacking and defensive players. This season they look a little short of the quality they had two or three years ago, with the likes of Essien, Malouda (don’t laugh, he was pretty good there) and Ben Arfa. Judging by Lyon’s transfer window targets of Charles N’Zogbia and Julien Faubert, OL have set their sights a little lower in terms of the players they can attract (they still didn’t manage to buy those two). Fred also appears to be on his way out of the club.
I may as well not have bothered with this bit, right? Even if Barca are ultimately the winners, I expect a good match of football between these two. The two-legged affair should be more watchable than some of the typically stale meetings between Europe’s elite clubs.