There would have been a lot of anxiety in the Barcelona dressing room going into Saturday’s LaLiga tie against Real Sociedad. In their last two matches across competitions, the Catalans had let in five goals over two defeats, without finding the net themselves.
The 2-0 loss to Malaga dented their hopes of yet another successful LaLiga title chase, but the 3-0 loss at the Juventus Stadium in the Champions League quarterfinal meant another uphill struggle to remain in the elite European competition this year.
All that anger, coupled by the flak Luis Enrique’s team has been receiving, came bubbling to the surface in this game and was exhibited in Lionel Messi’s opener in the club’s 3-2 win.
No doubt, Messi is an all round attacker with the requisite skills to pull off some stunning long-rangers. But over time, the Argentine forward has mastered the art of scoring fine, subtle goals. The burst of pace, the mesmerising dribbling, and the clearness of vision come together to help him dance into the opposition box and finish off a move with a gracefully placed shot or a delightful dink over the goalkeeper.
Then there are his fabled freekicks. But it’s been a while since we’ve seen Messi really rip through the ball.
Given all that has been happening at Barcelona, epitomised by their struggle for form, a whole-hearted whack from distance by their talismanic skipper would have calmed the nerves on the Barcelona bench.
In the 17th minute, Messi stood poised, towards the centre of the pitch but just outside the Real Sociedad box. Some quick-footed link-up play from Jordi Alba on the left flank saw him find Luis Suarez who passed the ball on to Messi before charging up himself. The Uruguayan may have been expecting another cutting through ball from his teammate, but Messi had another idea.
He controlled the ball well, opening up space for himself. There was a possibility for him to make a charge straight through at the goalkeeper, since there were no defenders who could have matched his pace and reached in time. But instead, he let rip a left-footed bolt that stayed close to the surface, but had enough swerve on it to take it away from the goalkeeper and crash into the net.
It was the first goal for Barcelona on the night, but also the first they’ve scored in just under a fortnight.
The goal, and the style in which it was scored provided a glimpse into the mindset of the Barcelona players: they’re hungry for a win. They had to work hard for it, but it came well in time. It was also important, given that they host Juventus in a few days, followed by yet another El Clasico.