Receiving a delicious Xavi Hernandez pass from the left, Cristian Tello dazzled Daniele Bonera with stepover trickery before firing an outrageous shot that hit the side netting. Cue hysteria from Lionel Messi who was patiently waiting for the pass in the six-yard box. Yelling angrily at his teammate, Tello, who made a quick and wrong decision, was reminded of the selfishness of his play in the Champions League match against Milan last season.
Fast-forward six months and the lasting image of the Champions League opening match in Group G is the embrace Messi and Tello shared as they worked wondrously to collect the win against a stubborn Spartak Moscow side that refused to surrender. ‘Czars’ screamed El Mundo Deportivo’s front-page headline whilst Marca described how Tello ‘cooked them and Messi gobbled them up’ when describing the duo’s chemistry in creating and finishing goal-scoring opportunities.
For Tello, his first ever start in the Champions League proved vital in ensuring that Barcelona kept to tradition and tasted victory against an Unai Emery-led squad. Dynamic, fast and thrillingly vertical, the Barcelona youth product brings something to the Catalans’ game that is often only found in Messi – directness. Making the most of his electrifying pace when creating space to exploit, Tello’s ability to shoot with either foot and his confidence in picking out the perfect pass makes him the missing piece that completes this Barcelona puzzle.
On Wednesday night he completed the most amount of dribbles, delivered the most amount of key passes after Xavi and kept a high position on the pitch to ensure he was always available for that killer pass that would unleash his venom. In addition to scoring the opening goal, he created an attacking passage of play from almost nothing to deliver a precise assist for Messi to finish off. In more ways than one, he was the man who unplugged the power of the Argentinean.
For Barcelona, this was yet another game against a smaller club that threatened to derail the start of their European campaign. Emery deployed a Russian squad that was physically brutal, robust and possessed the ferocity of a hungry animal that could only eat after it closed down all the spaces available on the pitch. The Catalans were simply unable to penetrate through the tough walls erected to keep them out.
Defensive errors led to their Spanish demise in the early part of the game and Spartak’s ability to counter quickly left Barca feeling overwhelmed. Moreover, they lost Gerard Pique early into the match leaving behind a peculiar set of defenders at the back. Tito Vilanova opted to change formations and adopt a 3-4-3 shape in a bid to enforce the attack.
However, with each tactical error made by the home side, the Russians grew in confidence as they created animated movements to further destabilise a wounded Barcelona side that lacked depth and control.
Were it not for the dynamism of their winger, Messi may never have been unleashed, but the pint-sized star seized his opportunity, scored twice and eased Vilanova’s time on the sidelines. He continues to be the hero but at least for now, Barcelona can also count on his wingman.