Not even the Madrid-based Marca could hold back the plaudits; describing Barcelona as “unstoppable” as they put on an “exhibition of total football” in their crushing defeat of Celta Vigo. An exhibition it was and unstoppable they were, especially as the game wore on and Celta tired. But, more than anything, it was a spectacular show of at times mesmerising football, with an air of unpredictability too.
Unpredictable because, for a while, it seemed Celta Vigo would come away with something, particularly in the opening 45 minutes. The Galicians gave as good as they got and only went behind to a perfectly-executed free-kick from Lionel Messi. Tempering its praise of the Catalans giants, Marca highlighted the kick was taken some several yards closer to goal than where the infringement took place.
To their credit, the goal did not shake the visitors and the two sides were back on equal terms when John Guidetti converted from the spot after he was clearly felled by Jordi Alba in the box. It was job well done for Celta, who registered more shots than their hosts as the two teams headed in for the half-time break, with the score one apiece.
Based on what was seen in the first half, it was difficult to know what to expect in the second half. Yet, it didn’t take long to see that Barca came out in a completely different mood. For the next 45 minutes, they were simply spectacular.
Neymar dazzled on the right with his usual array of flicks and tricks, Messi ran the show with his surging runs through the Celta defence and Suarez ran riot as he notched up his fourth hat-trick this season.
It was the latter two who combined to put the home side ahead. An exquisite chip over the defence from Messi picked out the Uruguayan, who expertly finished. It was then Messi who started the play which led to Suarez’s third goal and, again, it was Messi from the penalty spot, who a-la-Cruyff in 1982, laid the ball off for the former Liverpool striker to claim this third.
Substitute Ivan Rakitic then delightfully lofted the ball over Sergio Alvarez after a beautifully-floated pass from Suarez and Neymar, who for all his attempts just couldn’t find the net, finally did with a neat finish to wrap up proceedings.
Barcelona were at their mesmerising best and their goals spectacular – apart from the cheeky Cruyff penalty, which still entertained. This was a performance which showed the best of this Barca side and the genius of Luis Enrique, whose tweaks to the their style of play is maximising the seemingly-limitless abilities of his front three; Messi, Suarez and Neymar, or the ‘MSN’ as they’re known.
The numbers speak for themselves. The ‘MSN’ have 86 goals between them in all competitions. In La Liga, they’ve accounted for 53 goals – almost 84 per cent of all Barca’s goals in the League this year. Subsequently, the trident have fired Barca three points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, with a game in hand.
Not since Pep Guardiola was at the helm have Barcelona successfully defended a League title. On current form – they have not lost since October and have now gone 30 games unbeaten in all competitions, a new club record – it’s hard not to see them going to do exactly this.
Enrique emulated his former teammate in his first season by winning the treble. Should he successfully guide his team to a second consecutive League title, he will emulate him once again. In four seasons at Camp Nou, Pep claimed 14 titles. Enrique already has five and is on course to pick up another three. Could Enrique go on to emulate his former teammate completely? It’s possible. And if he does so, it will ultimately raise the question; is he actually better than Pep? Only time will tell.
In stark contrast to Barca, Atleti kept their title hopes alive with a completely-unspectacular win over Getafe. It was typical Colchoneros fare; grinding out a result by being efficient going forward and resolute in defence. There was an element of romance still – fitting as it was Valentine’s Day – with club-favourite Fernando Torres scoring the winner. Just last week, El Nino made it a century of goals with Los Rojiblancos. This was his 101st strike and, incredibly, it was the first time he had scored in two consecutive games in two-and-a-half years.