No sign of a change in style

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Neymar celebrates with his Barcelona team-mates after opening the scoring.GettyImagesNeymar celebrates with his Barcelona team-mates.

If you only see one tiny bit of football this week,: make sure it is this one from Barcelona’s win over Real Sociedad on Tuesday.

It is surely one of the most beautiful passages of play so far this season: The sight of Barca burying the myth that there is any major change in their style of possession football.

It does not end in one of the four goals they put past the Basques, but it clears one thing up. Faced with an organised ‘two banks of four’ formation, it shows Barca resorting to their trusty possession game to carve out an opening before finishing with some ‘Pro Evolution’ style play around the area.

Given all the analysis last weekend, after Barca surrendered the share of possession for the first time in almost five years to Rayo Vallecano, it is still obvious the best brand of football being played in Spain at the moment belongs to the Catalans.

In a busy week with three league ‘Jornadas’ running into each other, the performance Barca put in to beat Real Sociedad 4-1 on Tuesday was so far the most pleasing to the eye.

The two Madrid sides both won to keep up the pressure at the top, and congratulations to Atletico on securing another win to make it the club’s best ever start in the league. Though how Real managed to take three points at Elche will be discussed for years to come.

Fortunately for Barca, the two sides from the capital meet each other on Saturday where one or both will inevitably drop points. A Barca win at recently promoted Almeria would guarantee an improvement for the Blaugrana at the top of La Liga.

But enough of the stats, in a week where the talk has been about possession, playing styles, referees, and conspiracy theories, let’s look at what it really is all about.

The action from the video above starts in the first half, when Barca were already 2-0 up within the first seven minutes, and begins with Andres Iniesta receiving a forward pass after a bout of Barca stroking the ball around centre of the pitch in a way we have become used to over the years.

They patiently move the ball across the pitch, first from right to left, then coming back again, perfectly balanced, controlled one or two touch possession football, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Messi finally decides he can see a path to goal and makes another forward pass, this time to Xavi, who backflicks the ball on the edge of the area; Iniesta, another back flick; then crowd murmurs rise in scruffy bars all over the Spanish peninsula as they watch open mouthed.

The ball arrives back again to Messi who has made a clever diagonal run across the front of the area, pulling the Sociedad defence to pieces, he flicks the ball inside to Iniesta who darts in the opposition direction, now closer to goal while evading three more defenders who chase him perplexed.

They are nearly there, having played the ball from the halfway line to Neymar on his favoured left hand side, yards from goal; he drags the ball back to bamboozle a further spoiler in blue and white, placing the ball on Messi’s left foot, ready to pull the trigger in front of goal.

The fact that Messi then mistimes his strike matters not one jot, this is Barca playing, yet again, some of the best football you or I will ever see. Whether you are the club’s number one fan, an armchair sports fan or a fervent Madridista, it is undeniable.

No number of statistics about possession or opinions from so-called experts can hide the quality of performance in that one clip. The addition of Neymar it seems is only going to improve things, the entrance of a new coach in Tata Martino has brought new ideas and small changes in how they get to goal, but that clip proves the style will not change.

It is pure entertainment and it is back this Saturday, 6pm Central European Time, live from Almeria, the Spanish capital of spaghetti westerns. As a fan of good football, I for one will certainly not be missing it.

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