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10.04 – Barcelona stay unbeaten in La Liga
Barcelona are two games away from becoming the first team to complete a LaLiga season unbeaten after Villarreal were overwhelmed 5-1 at the Nou Camp.
Two-goal Ousmane Dembele ran rings around opponents chasing Europa League qualification in his best performance since arriving from Borussia Dortmund for £135.5million last summer.
Mother’s day is celebrated on the first Sunday of May in Spain while in most countries it is celebrated on the second Sunday of the month. Barcelona’s decision melted many hearts on social media as fans hailed the move to recognise the contribution of mothers the world over.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time a top team has paid such a tribute to women.
In 2016, the Indian cricket team took the field during an ODI against New Zealand wearing jerseys that had the name of their mothers.
India’s then captain MS Dhoni said it was their way to laud the sacrifices made by women.
“It’s an initiative to appreciate the contribution of mothers. If you ask me, it was always about how emotionally connected I was to my mom. It’s not like the dads are not there. They’re there, but just that we often don’t appreciate mothers role in a way we should do,” Dhoni had said.
Barcelona have moved within two games of a historic unbeaten La Liga campaign after they dispatched meek Villarreal with a 5-1 victory.
It was only three days since Sunday’s full-blooded, 2-2 draw with Real Madrid in El Clasico, but the runaway top-flight champions showed no sign of cracking against limp sixth-placed visitors to Camp Nou.
Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho followed in to open the scoring after excellent France winger Ousmane Dembele’s 11th-minute shot. Countryman Paulinho then tapped home, before untouchable Argentina forward Lionel Messi converted Spain attacking midfielder Andres Iniesta’s sublime pass to move onto 45 goals from all competitions in 2017/18.
The second half began with a deflected retort from Italy forward Nicola Sansone off emerging Villarreal starlet Pablo Fornals’ shot. But a late rally saw Dembele deservedly get a brace, first tapping in Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic’s pass and then producing a chipped solo goal of staggering quality.
Here are the talking points:
A GENTLE PATH TO HISTORY
Barca could not have wished for a more comfortable night.
Worries about the draining effects of Sunday’s feisty Clasico were soon assuaged.
Villarreal were rendered docile by the saccharine pre-match dedications to the home players’ mothers and then a belated guard of honour after Madrid’s debated Sunday snub.
By half-time, they were three goals down and had ceded 60 per cent of possession.
A seven-match winning streak at Camp Nou against the Yellow Submarine in all competitions was never in danger of being sunk.
With the final Clasico of the season now out of the way, the La Liga and Copa Del Rey crowns safely in their bulging trophy cabinet plus European interest ended, safeguarding the landmark unbeaten run takes precedence.
Sunday’s trip to Levante and May 20’s visit of Real Sociedad are the only things standing between them and La Liga’s first-ever campaign without defeat.
Barca have only lost twice in Valencia to the former – the last time coming in 2004. They have already gone five games past La Real’s overall unbeaten spell of 38 set between 1979-80.
Neither side has anything to play for. A gentle procession awaits.
1 - Barcelona are looking to become the first La Liga champions to go unbeaten for a whole 20-team season (W26 D9). Desire. pic.twitter.com/Sk06mlENpF— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 9, 2018
END OF AN ERA
The clock is rapidly ticking down on Iniesta’s glorious attachment to Barca.
One figure in particular will regret the 33-year-old magician’s summer exit more than most.
Only departed Brazil full-back Dani Alves has laid on more assists for Messi. The duo combined again on Wednesday night to staggering effect.
With the clock closing on half-time, Messi checked back when under pressure inside the penalty box and passed to the waiting Iniesta.
The Argentina icon stood still for a millisecond then burst clear. It would require a true genius to both pick out this run and provide the lobbed pass to intersect the packed defence – Iniesta obliged.
Players capable of operating on the Messi’s ethereal wavelength are true rarities.
A club-record total of €160 million (Dh696.7m) was spent to buy Philippe Coutinho last January in a bid to fill this impending gap. The Brazil playmaker followed in to open the scoring against Villarreal, but barely interacted with Messi.
Iniesta will only tread on Camp Nou’s hallowed turf one more time. A grateful legend of the game will rue his final departure.
DIGNE REPRESENTS DEADWOOD
For all the success enjoyed by Barca this term, there remains room for improvement.
A lack of squad depth was cited as one reason for last month’s brutal Champions League capitulation at Roma.
On Wednesday, head coach Ernesto Valverde gave chances to the likes of Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, dependable – when fit – Belgium centre-back Thomas Vermaelen and occasional France left-back Lucas Digne.
From a third-high 85 touches for the Catalans, the latter mentioned produced no accurate crosses.
He also looked off balance when stood up by opposition right winger Samu Castillejo.
Pastures new must be found this summer.