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La Liga: FC Barcelona 3-0 Elche CF: Match Review

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A comprehensive, blow-by-blow recap of FC Barcelona's season-opening 3-0 win over Elche CF at the Camp Nou as a brace from Lionel Messi either side of a goal from Munir el Haddadi secured a win for Luis Enrique's side

FC Barcelona cruised to an opening day win over Elche CF in front of a 70,000 crowd at the Camp Nou on Sunday night, as goals from Lionel Messi (2) and Munir el Haddadi secured a 3-0 win for Luis Enrique’s Barça. Despite being reduced to ten men following Javier Mascherano’s deserved dismissal, Barcelona were in complete control of this match from start to finish and could have easily won by a greater margin. The passing was crisp, the pressing was up-tempo and the finishing was clinical; this was vintage Barcelona – an absolute joy to watch – and if this performance is anything to go by, the rest of La Liga would be wise to sit up and take notice, because the message is loud and clear:

FC Barcelona want their title back.

Barcelona

Elche

Possession

72%

28%

Total Shots

11

3

Shots on Target

5

0

Pass Accuracy

92%

80%

Corners

3

1

Fouls

11

13

Offsides

2

0

Yellow Cards

0

1

Red Cards

1

0



Following Neymar’s injury, Luis Enrique placed his faith in one of the stars of preseason, Munir el Haddadi, who started his first competitive match for the senior squad, joining Lionel Messi and Rafinha in the Barça attack. With Gerard Piqué suspended, Javier Mascherano joined new signing Jeremy Mathieu in the heart of defense, while Claudio Bravo and Ivan Rakitić also made their debuts for the Blaugrana. Would Lucho’s new-look side be able to cruise to victory in this season opener against lowly Elche?

***

Would a lack of game time during preseason affect some of our star players? Would there be some early nerves from the young stars? While Barcelona’s start was somewhat unsettled, it wasn’t as a result of any sporting factors; instead it was a black cat that grabbed the headlines, racing around the Camp Nou pitch, much to the entertainment of the capacity crowd. With that matter resolved after a couple of humorous minutes, the game got back underway with Barça attempting to get off to a good start.

The fluidity of the front three was certainly causing Elche some problems in the infancy of the match; Munir was the instigator, Messi was the catalyst and Rafinha was supposed to be the ultimate beneficiary, after Messi’s selfless play found the Brazilian in space on the edge of the Elche penalty area, but alas Rafinha stuttered and his hesitance cost the Blaugrana a chance at goal. However, it was a promising sign: Barcelona were looking sharp, the tempo was good and the chances would come – all we needed was a little patience.

Fortunately, we are FC Barcelona, so we had that patience in abundance. So, Barça settled into their usual style, dominating possession and probing in search of an opener. The offside flag arguably cost the Blaugrana their chance at that opener as Lionel Messi’s delightful chipped pass sent Dani Alves through on goal only for the Brazilian to be felled by the onrushing Elche keeper. The referee had no choice but the point at the spot...if only his assistant hadn’t raised a flag to signal Alves was offside.

That might have been a setback of sorts, but Barcelona were not fazed. They continued in the same vein as ever, and nearly found their opener around the 20 minute mark. Captain for the night, Andrés Iniesta, was the catalyst, driving forward at the Elche defense and stabbing the ball through for Munir, who exhibited exceptional close control and superb balance to evade his marker with a tremendous turn before unleashing with a thunderbolt of a shot towards the top corner of the net. It had the keeper beaten, it had the crowd on their feet, but it wasn’t to be – Munir’s sublime effort rattled off the crossbar and the two teams remained tied.

To their credit, Elche’s discipline and tactical setup was perhaps the main reason for that. Sure, Barça had their possession and the occasional fleeting moment of excellence, but for the most part, they were trying to find a way through Elche’s backline without much in the way of success. The centre of the pitch was congested, the midfield and defense were dropping deep and when necessary, they were putting their foot in too. Welcome back to La Liga though: the referee was predictably terrible in dealing with that portion of Elche’s gameplan.

Consequently, there was a little more urgency and aggression creeping into the Barcelona gameplan – they didn’t appreciate the niggling fouls, nor did they appreciate facing another defensive outfit. What were they going to do about this? Well, take some long shots of course! Andrés Iniesta of all players grew tired of a particularly elaborate passing move and went for goal, only for the Camp Nou to again watch in anguish as the ball struck the frame of the goal for a second time.

A venomous first-time effort from Dani Alves nearly paid dividends for the Blaugrana after an intelligent free-kick, but still we were forced to wait for that first goal. Blame the injury to Neymar. Blame the ban for Luis Suarez. Heck, blame the black cat if you like; irrespective of what was responsible for the prolonged deadlock, the Camp Nou crowd was growing slightly anxious.

Don’t worry though. We have Lionel Messi.

He had been excellent all night; hell, the entire team looked great, but Messi was on that different level. You know the one, it’s the same kind of level that saw the Argentine magician lift four Ballon d’Ors and countless trophies with Barcelona; and following a supreme intervention from Sergio Busquets, Messi had a window of opportunity – some rare space to work with – and made Elche pay the ultimate price. Drop a shoulder, pick his place; it was trademark Messi and Barça were finally ahead.

The joy however, was short-lived. A defensive mistake saw Elche clean-through on goal just moments later and as Javier Mascherano chased back, he tangled with the Elche striker and the referee had no choice but to produce a red card. In the matter of minutes, Barcelona had taken the lead and been reduced to ten men. Game over, and then game on.

Despite their slender advantage, this game was far from won for FC Barcelona – at the interval, it was FC Barcelona 1-0 Elche CF.

***

Down to ten men, there was some pressure on Luis Enrique to make a substitution, so that’s exactly what he did. Marc Bartra replaced Rafinha as Lucho evidently valued stability over attacking numbers. It’s not like Dani Alves wouldn’t fill that gap upfront anyway. In fact, who cares about Rafinha or about Dani Alves – we have Munir el Haddadi.

I’ve said it many times before, but I’ll say it again:

This. Kid. Is. Special.

Ivan Rakitić will get credited with the assist, lifting the ball over the Elche defense to find Munir’s incredible run, and even at the tender age of 18, Munir kept his composure to display exactly why he is so highly thought of in Catalunya and beyond with a fine finish to double Barcelona’s lead.

Following a dominant first-half, this was exactly what the doctor ordered – an early second goal and an all-round similar start to the second-half. Elche weren’t taking this well, proceeding to take out their frustration on Munir, much to the referee’s indifference and to the crowd’s annoyance. Rather than step back and complain, Barcelona stepped forward and responded in kind. Under Luis Enrique, we will not back down from a fight, we will not be intimidated; judging from our performance, we will be the ones doing that intimidating.

Certainly, I wouldn’t want to face this new-look Barcelona team; the pressing was back, the passing was quicker and the whole team was looking hungry to pick up the result. In fact, it was the pressing that created another good chance for Barcelona around the 55 minute mark as Marc Bartra benefited with a one-on-one after Andrés Iniesta’s up-tempo defensive work, although in typical centre-half fashion, Bartra lacked the composure to finish the chance.

Lionel Messi on the other hand...

He defies belief. He defies logic and all that is normal on this planet. There has never and will never be another like him; he makes it look so easy, so regularly that we have almost come to accept it as the norm. Perhaps that’s the reason for last season’s "sub-par" displays, to put his usual brilliance back into perspective. Make no mistake: Messi is back to his best. And not just anyone’s "best", but Messi’s best – which is very good indeed.

Take his second goal of the night for example. Lionel Messi got the ball just inside the area, dropped his shoulder once, then again, and possibly even again for a third time until all the defenders on the Elche roster (in the world?) were left for dead and he had enough space for the shot.

But Messi wasn’t content with his dribbling wizardry; oh no, he had to take it that step further and finish in an absurdly clinical manner. A normal finish probably would have sufficed, but Messi decided to place the ball such that no goalkeeper that has ever played the game would have kept it out – Barça were 3-0 ahead and coasting to the three points.

With that three-goal cushion, Lucho turned to his bench once more; off went young starlet Munir and in came Pedro, who may well find that he will have to contend with the talented young star for minutes as this season progresses. If that promotes some stronger performances from Pedro, then that can only be seen as a god thing; likewise if it leads to some more minutes for Munir. That’s what’s so exciting about Luis Enrique’s Barcelona. We have talent in abundance, but he’s instilled that discipline, the hunger that characterised the Guardiola era and made the squad a meritocracy to boot. If you work hard enough, if you play well enough, you will start.

It’s made a difference already and will surely drive the club forward, back to where they belong at the pinnacle of the sport.

Andrés Iniesta was the next to depart, allowing Sergi Roberto a run-out – and more importantly, gifting Lionel Messi the captain’s armband as he chased his hat-trick. However, it wasn’t to be; Barcelona had settled for their win and were content to bide their time and conserve energy ahead of the season’s first real test next weekend: a tricky trip down the coast to El Madrigal, where they will square off against Villarreal CF. Until then, keep an eye on Barça Blaugranes for more coverage and analysis of this win and of course, Visca el Barça!

Roll Call Info
Total comments 633
Total commenters 51
Commenter list AL_LM10, ALongTimeLurker, Adi.N00r, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, Anders Thomassen, Anirudh_Kul, AristoBarca, Barcacatalunya, BartraFTW, BlaugranaZZZ, BoodHernandez, Bostjan Cernensek, Catalan_Blood, FCBMo, Imalwaysofftopic, Javz, Lapulga, MMcCoy11_FCB, Maaz Rehman, Mauste, NoImagination90, PatrickJM6, Scratch and Snif, Sebanovic, Silverscoper, Sina Mousavi, Som-i-Serem, Staralfur, Steven Cordero, Uncharted_Almo, ViscaViscaBarca, Willis1984, abdulla0207, ade fox, askhanna, cardsrgood, craig00000, deendana, defeaning_silence, feeya7, footballfordoze, hobo_barca, ikool, magical_messi, milesbarca, rnmrqz, syredeathtrooper, taa1, uday kakoti, vgmessi1998, ᏣᎧᎿᏒᎭᎳᎧᎢᎣᏯᏫ
Story URLs
# Commenter # Comments
1 Barcacatalunya 108
2 Bostjan Cernensek 56
3 ALongTimeLurker 37
4 Uncharted_Almo 36
5 Imalwaysofftopic 35
6 craig00000 33
7 Anders Thomassen 33
8 Willis1984 30
9 syredeathtrooper 29
10 Sebanovic 29
11 abdulla0207 29
12 ade fox 27
13 footballfordoze 13
14 Steven Cordero 13
15 Som-i-Serem 13
16 Staralfur 11
17 MMcCoy11_FCB 11
18 FCBMo 10
19 Scratch and Snif 8
20 Javz 8
21 AristoBarca 6
22 Anirudh_Kul 6
23 rnmrqz 5
24 Catalan_Blood 4
25 NoImagination90 4
26 BlaugranaZZZ 3
27 uday kakoti 3
28 ViscaViscaBarca 3
29 Sina Mousavi 2
30 defeaning_silence 2
31 BoodHernandez 2
32 Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad 2
33 Lapulga 2
34 deendana 2
35 Mauste 2
36 Adi.N00r 1
37 BartraFTW 1
38 taa1 1
39 AL_LM10 1
40 feeya7 1
41 askhanna 1
42 Maaz Rehman 1
43 ᏣᎧᎿᏒᎭᎳᎧᎢᎣᏯᏫ 1
44 magical_messi 1
45 Silverscoper 1
46 ikool 1
47 PatrickJM6 1
48 vgmessi1998 1
49 milesbarca 1
50 cardsrgood 1
51 hobo_barca 1

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