BARCELONA, SPAIN – DECEMBER 07: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team’s … [+]
To celebrate Lionel Messi’s record sixth Ballon d’Or and return to the top of La Liga, FC Barcelona beat Mallorca by five goals to two at the Camp Nou on Saturday. Here’s what we learned from the tie.
Ernesto Valverde was taking no mercy
Putting out the strongest XI he could, injuries considered, the coach didn’t feel like going easy on the relegation-threatened visitors.
Ivan Rakitic might be back for good
Starting his third consecutive game, the Croat has caught a second wind aided by steady performances and an injury to Arthur in this instance. Around the 27th minute, he received an ovation for a particularly cool piece of play and provided a first half assist for Messi.
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen: The assist king
Just like he had set up Luis Suarez at Getafe earlier in the season, the ‘keeper let rip with a thunderous Route One long ball forward to free Antoine Griezmann in the seventh minute.
Takefusa Kubo won’t be forgiven by the Camp Nou faithful any time soon
Booed from his first touch and throughout the match, the 18-year-old has not been forgiven for signing with Real Madrid after coming of age earlier this year. On the La Masia books for four years, he decided to cross over to their bitter rivals upon finishing his development at FC Tokyo.
There’s no stopping Antoine Griezmann now
Scoring in his last two games at the Camp Nou, the Frenchman cooly chipped over Manolo Reina to put Barça 1-0 up and increase his growing confidence even further.
Messi celebrated his Ballon d’Or with a goal
Re-presented the award by his sons before kick-off, Messi celebrated his sixth Best Player gong from France Football with a curling top corner shot akin to how he shoots his free kicks. “Messi! Messi! Messi!,” roared the Blaugrana faithful yet again after the beauty that put the hosts 2-0 ahead in the 17th minute.
Mallorca came back into it 10 minutes before half time
Ante Budimir looked to have chipped Ter Stegen in the 35th, yet the replay showed that his effort had taken a lucky bouncing deflection off Clement Lenglet to lob the German and momentarily silence the Camp Nou.
Messi doubled his tally with an almost identical one to his first
Picking it up from Rakitic, this one was lower but was still struck in the same curving manner to put Barça two goals to the good once more.
All three of MSG got on the scoresheet again for a second straight home game
And Suarez’s might have been the best of the lot – perhaps even the best of his career. Frenkie de Jong working it into the box wonderfully with a series of 1-2’s, Suarez’s backheel to bounce it over Reina was world class.
De Jong’s brilliance deserved to be ended by Griezmann’s second
In acres of space following the interval, De Jong charged forward and dinked a lovely ball to play Griezmann in. Leading with the courage of his convictions, as opposed to going the easy way out and finding Messi, it wasn’t the easiest of chances for the World Cup winner but deserved better.
He went off to raptorous applause
The same that Arturo Vidal, his replacement in the 64 minute, came on to.
Barça were caught napping for Mallorca’s second
Between Lenglet and Pique, Budimir had a free header to pull one back and make it 4-2 shortly after the substitution.
Carles Aleña was rewarded with some minutes
A beacon of patience, he came on for the excellent Rakitic to pick up his first minutes since the 45 obtained away at Bilbao on opening day.
Messi wasn’t content with just a brace
Receiving a lay-off from Luis Suarez, he blasted it in off the bar seven minutes from time to make it 5-2, mark his hat trick and commemorate his Ballon d’Or in the best possible fashion. Pipping Karim Benzema, he is now also the Pichichi leading top scorer in the Spanish top flight despite missing the first four games of 2019/2020 and has overtaken Cristiano Ronaldo’s 34 hat tricks within it.
FC Barcelona are back on top
Falling into second with Real Madrid’s win over Barça’s cross-city rivals Espanyol in the early afternoon, the Catalans rose back to the top of La Liga by maintaining their slight +2 goal difference. There is just one game left until what could be the most important Clasico in years!