Another concern was that despite all the fluid football, the goals from open play still haven't come. Henry must have felt like he was back at Arsenal for a bit, as Barca played some great stuff but the ball just wasn't going in the net.
Overall, though, the signs are positive. I was delighted with the great interplay, and much of the defensive effort.
- Ronaldinho looked fit and energised. We all know he's a wonderful player, and he can do amazing things, but only if he wants to. As one fan put it, if he's this up for it when his son is visiting, we should make sure that kid is at every game.
- It's good to see improvements in Messi's passing, which was a weak area for him, at least compared to his other skills.
- Abidal was a revelation. His runs forward were very good, but I was equally impressed with the speed at which he gets back into position when the opponent counters.
- Oleguer had a good game. The much-maligned centerback gets a lot of stick, and I was surprised by Rijkaard's decision to start him, but the boss was correct. He did very well.
- Marquez looks like his old self again. I know he got sent off, but in general he's no longer looking as lost as he did last season, and that's very important for Barca, especially when Puyol's still not fit.
- Same goes for Deco, who, as El Mundo Deportivo says, turned back the clock to his glorious first season at Barca. He needs to watch those yellow cards, but other than that I'm very pleased with him.
- Xavi had a brilliant pre-season, and he's continued that form.
- Henry looks sharper and faster with every game. He just needs a bit more luck in front of goal.
- Henry still needs to click with the rest of the attack.
- Valdes still can't deal with high balls into the box. Sigh.
- The new and improved defence is still rubbish on dead ball situations. I've pretty much accepted it as part of our DNA now, but it is exasperating.
- This is not really a negative, more an observation: Giovani is like 05-06 vintage Messi - great runs, scares the hell out of defenders, but his shooting and decision-making leaves something to be desired.
- Ronaldinho's freekick. Brilliant.
- Oleguer's overhead kick clearance.
- Messi and Giovani, 2 kids playing a game of keep-ball with adults (as the GolTV commentary team remarked) - and winning.
- Abidal combining with Henry for what would have been a brilliant goal, if Henry hadn't hit the post.
- Ronaldinho tackling and tracking back.
- Gabi Milito winning headers in the box. What a novel sight for us Barca fans with the absence of Puyol.
Please stop whistling the moment the team start passing it around along the back. Getting on the players' backs like that does not actually help them win games.
I'm sorry, but he was rubbish.
(Both Sport and El Mundo Deportivo reported that the penalty decision was 'rigorous'/'doubtful', and that the 3rd was a 'ghost goal'.)
Let's take the penalty. Maybe there's a case for saying that Iraizoz caught Henry, but it's just farcical to say that he gave away a penalty (and got himself kicked in the teeth) by putting his face in the way of Henry's boot.
In my opinion, Henry needs to learn not to challenge the goalkeeper so closely. In La Liga, keepers are generally more protected, and another referee would probably have given a foul against him.
The third Barca goal can't be blamed on him, as the linesman probably had a say in that decision, but the rest of his performance was equally lamentable. The calling of fouls was highly inconsistent, and that affected both teams, as the game became more scrappy in the second half.
(By the way, when is the league going to introduce goal-line technology to stop all these controversies over whether the ball did or did not cross the line? It's simple enough, and it would help.)
Caparros would be entitled to say that the referee had a hand in Athletic's defeat, but as he's a classy guy, he didn't moan too much.
Poor old Iraizoz had a great game, making many difficult saves even after he'd been kicked in the face. Also, that kid Susaeta is something special, isn't he? The fabled Athletic youth system strikes again.
(I'm going to get busy again as uni starts, but expect some words about Argentina v Australia and a small Barca news round-up soon.)