Barcelona marked their return to La Liga action with a comfortable 4-0 victory at the relegation-threatened Mallorca on Satuday night, extending their lead at the top to five points.
Quique Setien got the dream start he’d been craving ever since Spanish football was given the green light to return, as a surging Arturo Vidal headed home expertly from a pinpoint Jordi Alba cross within two minutes.
The visitors continued to probe and penetrate in what was a mightily impressive start, before the supremely gifted Takefuso Kubo spearheaded a brief Mallorca resurgence either side of the ‘cooling break’ in the first half.
The Japanese international had two efforts from distance well-saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, as he started to pose questions of surprise inclusion Ronald Araujo with his supreme dribbling style.
The Blaugrana started to impose their will once more, however, and doubled their lead through an instinctive Martin Braithwaite finish following some typically GOAT-ish work in the build-up by Lionel Messi.
A bizarre pitch invasion was a peculiar highlight following the restart, before Messi notched his second assist of proceedings, this time in more conventional fashion as good ol’ buddy Alba latched onto his deft lofted flick in behind before slotting home calmly one-on-one with Manolo Reina.
The Argentine then rounded off an imperious display with a finish of his own in stoppage time, securing a 4-0 victory for Setien’s side.
Starting XI: Reina (6); Pozo (5), Valjent (6), Raillo (6), Sastre (5); Rodriguez (6), Pedraza (6), Sevilla (6), Kubo (8); Hernandez (5), Budimir (6)
Subs: Junior (7), Gamez (6), Baba (6), Salibur (5), Prats (6)
Key Talking Point
Mallorca would’ve been confident of catching the La Liga table-toppers off guard following a three-month hiatus. But from minute one, Barcelona were able to impose their will on a lowly Los Bermellones.
After Vidal had given Setien the dream start, the visitors proceeded to dominate the opening period; monopolising possession as a result of patient circulation and almost immediate retrieval when it was lost. Their movements were fluid and smart, while the combination play on display was sublime at times. Frenkie de Jong and Vidal, meanwhile, were majestic in all phases of play.
And unlike previous performances before the break, there seemed to be a persistent source of penetration in the final third; whether it be Messi or the full-backs. For Setien, that will be hugely encouraging considering both Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele were missing from the starting XI.
On the whole, it was an impressive display in their return to action, as Setien goes about implementing his complex possession-based ideas onto this Barcelona side.
Starting XI: Ter Stegen (6); Roberto (7), Pique (7), Araujo (6), Alba (8); Busquets (6), Vidal (8), De Jong (9); Messi (10), Braithwaite (7), Griezmann (6).
Subs: Rakitic (6), Suarez (5), Semedo (6), Arthur (N/A), Firpo (N/A).
Listen, I know it’s boring, but this guy was just sensational in this one.
His positioning and capacity to drift almost everywhere in the attacking third caused the hosts all sorts of problems, while the weight of his passes were always perfect; regularly setting Alba and Roberto on their way in behind down the flanks. He ended with a pair of assists, but it really should have been closer to half a dozen.
It was a dazzling display that very few could produce following a three month break, and if the Argentine’s in this sort of silly form for the remainder of the campaign, you can book in Barcelona as back-to-back-to-back La Liga champs.
Barcelona return to the Camp Nou on Tuesday night as they host the lowly Leganes before making the tough trip to Sevilla three days later. Mallorca, meanwhile, visit Villarreal and welcome Leganes next week – the latter of which being a huge clash in the race for survival.