Any other team might be pleased to win 3-0 (especially with most players coming off two international appearances) and gain some distance on our rivals at the top of the table, but as always, Barca are our own greatest enemy. It feels like forever since I've done one of my rambling, player-by-player match reports, so here goes.
How much can one take out of a game against a side suffering second-seasonitis, who had only 26% of the possession and no shots on goal? Well, for one, it provides a good study of the difficulties Barca have had breaking down opponents who defend in numbers both home and away, and secondly our reliance on scoring the first goal.
One caveat, though: Barca's Jekyll and Hyde syndrome means that home and away performances should probably be judged by different standards. We almost always score at home (in fact, today's game was the 50th league home game in a row that Barca have scored in), contrasted with our many difficulties in that department away, and we have a 100% home record so far this season, but haven't won away since we beat Stuttgart.
Difficult to find much to say about Victor Valdes, since he didn't have a lot to do, so we'll move right on.
Puyol and Milito are a great central partnership, as everybody had hoped they would be, so it was a shame when Puyol had to come off with an injury in the second half. The latest seems to be that while - thankfully - nothing is broken, Puyol is in a lot of pain (which makes sense, as he'd never have asked to come off without a serious problem), and the doctors have yet to make a decision on whether he will travel to Lyon.
Puyol's replacement, Marquez, hasn't quite regained the impervious form of 05-06, but neither has he been as bad as he was last season. Some decent play, and he's certainly a solid enough backup.
Milito had yet another good game in the blaugrana shirt. I have to say, he did cost a fair bit, but I think the purchase has been a wise one. Good central defenders are not that easy to come by these days. Great header for the goal, which is something I've seen from him several times in the Zaragoza and Argentina shirt. Hopefully he'll bring that form to Barca, too, since we're pretty dire at scoring from corners. This is our 93rd corner of the season, and the first time it has resulted in a goal. Not good stats.
The ESPN commentator for the Barca-Rangers game bitterly criticised Abidal and claimed - laughably - that he'd been very disappointing since joining. I don't know what he's been watching, but the general consensus amongst the fans and the press has certainly been that he's been a good signing who has performed the way we would want: good play going forward, solid defending. And so it was for this game. I didn't like him losing his temper and barging into a Recre player (in response to Recre refusing to put the ball out of play after Iniesta had gone down), especially while the team were 2-0 up, though. Not a wise move - what if he got sent off?
Is it just me, or has Zambrotta looked a bit off-colour in the last couple of games? I know he's coming off an injury, but he just hasn't looked quite right this season, especially going forward, and the neat inter-play that had developed between him and Messi by the end of last season has been missing. Still more reliable than Oleguer (who came on and did a decent job), but I'm starting to worry.
Another thing I'm starting to worry about: what are we going to do when Yaya Toure, who has provided a crucial link between defence and attack for us, goes off to the African Cup of Nations? Hope that Marquez is fit and well, I suppose, since Gudjohnsen's recent stint in midfield has gone downhill after starting well.
In this game, Guddy was playing a bit further forward - in the attacking midfield role he sometimes filled for Chelsea. He worked very hard, and deserves credit for that, but all the same old problems of last season still remain, namely: his ability to take chances is not great, and he's slow on the ball.
Xavi certainly struggled to partner him effectively, especially compared to his almost telepathic understanding with the injured Deco. As Marca pointed out, our third captain may not be a flashy player, but his contributions have always been vital to our performances, mostly via his passing. Had a hand in 2 of the 3 goals.
Iniesta started the game playing on the wing, but ended it playing in his natural midfield position, so I'll put him here. He was Barca's most effective player in the first 20 minutes in which the team laboured to create chances and continued trying to speed up the play and make the breakthrough in the rest of the game. Once he went back to midfield to partner Xavi, the forwards got much better service. By the way, he really is an excellent dribbler - one of the best at Barca, and that's saying a lot.
I have a confession to make: I don't know what Premier League fans are talking about when they say that Henry is a lazy player. He's worked pretty hard in every Barca game I've seen this season (and I've seen almost every game, even the friendlies), not only in attack but tracking back, tackling and harrying. An unselfish assist for Bojan's goal, and it's good to see how pleased he was about it, too - he couldn't have looked happier if he'd scored it. Speaking of which, there were a couple of opportunities in which he could probably have taken a shot instead of passing it, and if he weren't Thierry bloody Henry I'd say he's losing his shooting confidence. Almost every single refereeing decision went against him as well, which couldn't have been very fun. Just because he's a big, tall forward (by La Liga standards) doesn't mean he was fouling every time, dammit.
Before I talk about Messi, a couple of wise words from Guillem Balague on the recent heavy criticism of him in the press:
...to have a go at Messi doesn't make sense because he has only had two bad games. Messi has had a year with hardly any rest and has been playing at a very, very high level.
Yeah, what he said. I was worried that Messi would be tired, having played the full 90 minutes in Argentina's 2 qualifiers, one of them at altitude and with Argentina down to 10 men for most of the game. He did look a bit tired at the beginning, but gradually came into it a bit more and became Barca's most threatening player, which meant that Recre devoted 2 players to marking him, with mixed success: he did create some good chances, but either the player on the receiving end wasted them (Zambrotta, Gudjohnsen, Henry), or he wasted them himself. Messi's passing continues to improve, and while one of his free kicks was rubbish, the other was quite good. (I'll be honest, whenever we get a free kick, I really start missing Ronaldinho and Deco.) The major problem now where Messi is concerned seems to be that his link-up play with Henry and Bojan isn't as good as it could be. Understandably, not much can match the interplay born of familiarity of the Ronaldinho-Eto'o-Messi front line, but there certainly could be some improvement to the current state of things.
Bojan continues to amaze. Here's a scary reminder: the kid's 17. What a cool finish, and his appearance certainly disrupted the Recre defense, with his speed on the ball if nothing else. He kind of reminds me of Messi a couple of seasons ago - a bit too individualistic, and he hasn't quite figured out when to pass and when to shoot, but that will come with experience. I'm certain he wouldn't shrink from a big occasion, either, to judge from his coolness in front of goal.
Good substitution by Rijkaard, taking off Gudjohnsen for Bojan. Not quite sure why he took Zambrotta off, but maybe we'll find that out in the next couple of days.
Because Barca played well when Ronaldino was injured near the beginning of the season, a lot of people are inclined to blame him for all Barca's problems. They do have a point, especially since Barca put in a few good performances when he was missing last season as well. However, not having Ronnie in this game didn't seem to make the team any less lethargic, although I suppose the fact that this game came straight after an international break may have had something to do with that. So, inconclusive on that front.
However, I think we've all seen what the two major injured players bring to the team by the effect their absence has had. I've said it enough times, but I don't mind repeating it: Samuel Eto'o drives the entire team forward with both his play and his mentality, and the same goes for Deco. Without both of them, we lack aggression, determination, and a bit of a cutting edge.
I see Sport are in full 'we hate everything about our team, except that one 17 year old, who should play all the time, and maybe sometimes that little Argentine we just trashed for having one bad game' mode. Great. (It's absurd to say Bojan was Barca's best player, guys, since he only played about 30 minutes, and while he had an impact, I'm not sure it was enough to override the 90 minute performances of players like Iniesta and Messi.)