Just like that, everything clicks again. Things were back to normal, at least by Barcelona’s definition of normal. Normal probably is not the right word. Extraordinary is perhaps more apt. Six unanswered goals; 14 goals in two games and zero conceded. Suffice to say, Barcelona are back to their extraordinary best and it is just in time.
It is not just the number of goals Barcelona scored either. It was the manner in which they tore Sporting Gijon apart. Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta were central to almost everything with their vision, passing and dribbling opening up the visitors’ defence time and again. But the star of the night was none other than Luis Suarez.
The Uruguayan scored four goals, again, for the second consecutive game. No other player, not even Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, has ever done this. Suarez is the first to do so. He also is set another record; he became the highest goal-scoring Uruguayan in a single season, beating Diego Forlan’s haul of 32 from the 2008-09 campaign.
Suarez’s four goals along with Messi’s solitary strike also sees Barca’s front three notch up 122 goals – their total from last season. With four more games to play – three in the League and the Copa del Rey final – they will set a new record.
Numbers like these are extraordinary. For Barcelona, the extraordinary is the norm. But the game on Saturday night was also extraordinary for other reasons, too. Despite the score-line, it could have been a different outcome.
Before Messi’s deft header opened the scoring on 12 minutes, Sporting could have taken the lead. Alex Menendez was gifted a great opportunity from 12 yards out but could not convert. The Asturians then had a worthy claim for a penalty when Miguel Guerrero’s shot was seemingly blocked on the goal line by Gerard Pique’s arm. Had either chance resulted in a goal and as we have seen in recent weeks, it might have knocked Barca’s off the perch they, only three days prior, started climbing back on to.
In the second half, unlike for Sporting, for a similar handball offence in the box, Barcelona were given a penalty, which Suarez converted. And the Catalans could have had another penalty when Ognjen Vranjes deflected a shot away with his arm shortly after.
On the subject of handballs, referee Carlos Clos Gomez was particularly inconsistent and his overall performance was particularly poor.
For Barcelona’s opener, Gijon had a strong case for a foul on Ivan Cuellar for a high leg by Luis Suarez. If this breach of the rules was not clear enough, for Barca’s second it certainly was. Suarez was so clearly offside that one wonders where the linesman’s eyes wondered off to for he certainly was not looking at what was in front of him.
Another perplexing decision was made when Clos awarded the third and final penalty to the hosts. Vranjes was ruled to have pushed Neymar in the back as he rose for a cross. The contact was minimal and, in addition to pointing to the spot, Clos pulled out a red card for Vranjes. It was very harsh.
With the three penalties given to them, La Blaugrana set a new record for the number of penalties awarded to a single team in one season. Their number now stands at 19, three more than the previous record set by Real Betis in 1986-87.
And yet there is even something else almost extraordinary about the performance on Saturday night too.
Far and away, it was their best performance for a while. They created chances, clear-cut ones too, and took them. They had 24 shots in total and completely dominated with 70 per cent possession. It was a similar case against Deportivo La Couna during the week. And, where it becomes rather extraordinary is that it was a similar case against Valencia too, the week before. Yet, as we all know, the result was completely different there.
Barca had 22 shots to the seven from Los Che. They controlled the ball for 65% of the game, yet they lost. The lesson to learn here is that even when things are clicking for Barcelona, results are not guaranteed. However, the result against Valencia can be considered an outlier as more times than not, with the statistics and performances like in their last three outings, victory is the expected outcome.
And only victories in their last three games will suffice. Level with Atletico Madrid on 82 points and with Real Madrid only a point behind, it is a sprint to what is a most enthralling race for the top honour. At the weekend, the top three all recorded wins and Luis Enrique does not expect any of the two Madrid sides to drop points in the coming weeks.
On Saturday night, Barcelona may have been given a fair amount of good luck. Yet, no-one can argue that they did not fully deserve all three points. They were back to their extraordinary best. Everything is clicking again and if they too can avoid dropping any more points then the title is theirs, yet again.