Argentina superstar Lionel Messi struck a marvelous free-kick in the 21st minute to give the visitors the lead at relegation-threatened opponents. But Las Palmas refused to be cowed and a penalty from Jonathan Calleri, given either for a tug by right-back Sergi Roberto or handball from left-back Lucas Digne, earned a deserved share of the spoils.
Here are our talking points from a tough test on the road for the Catalans:
BARCA’S PRESSURE POINT
The timing of the trip to the Canary Islands raised the ire of Barca head coach Ernesto Valverde, yet this full-bloodied clash represented a dummy run for what awaits on Sunday at Camp Nou against Atleti.
Paco Jemez’s Las Palmas showed no fear against their esteemed visitors, nor did they show too much respect – they could not afford to coming into the fixture inside the relegation zone.
High pressing, flying tackles and rapid counter-attacks followed. By 69 minutes, Thomas Vermaelen was the only starting defender from both sides not yet to receive a booking.
This was straight from the playbook of Atleti warrior, Diego Simeone.
In the first half alone, Barca players were dispossessed five times, suffered eight fouls and notched an average-pass-success rate of 82 per cent – in the preceding 6-1 mauling of Girona this last figure upon the final whistle stood at 88 per cent.
This approach had the visitors visibly rattled. After the break, they conceded a penalty and crafted few opportunities of note.
Simeone can smell a first top-flight win in this fixture since 2010 to blow the title race wide open.
2007 - Barcelona have just lost one La Liga with at least five point different over the second with 12 MD left to be played (20 teams league): on 2007 against Real Madrid under Fabio Capello. Pressure pic.twitter.com/fEj1ki2KiO— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 1, 2018
MESSI’S MASTERY KNOWS NO BOUNDS
Messi is a statistician’s dream.
His boundless brilliance pushes the limits of the sport constantly, moving him ahead of his peers in a plethora of ways.
The Argentina icon wasn’t at his best on Thursday night. An under-cooked pass to strike partner Luis Suarez in the early running ruined a two-on-one, while he was dispossessed a leading five times for his team.
But, of course, he still managed to get on the score sheet and he still managed to break new ground.
Messi’s majesty has made free-kicks on the edge of the penalty area feel like penalty kicks, such is the danger.
As he powered a resounding, unstoppable effort high into countryman Leandro Chichizola’s goal on 21 minutes, it moved him onto four free-kick goals for the season. In the process, he moved ahead of ex-Barca team-mate Neymar and emerging Lyon star Nabil Fekir to become Europe’s most prolific this term.
Also, all four have come in the last two months. This is the same amount as the whole of 2012, which was his best return in a calendar year.
4 - Leo Messi is the player who has scored the most free kick goals this season (four, one more than Neymar and Fekir). Unique pic.twitter.com/fiO3c6w7kt— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 1, 2018
TIME FOR A CHANGE?
The wheels are not coming off Barca’s title bid – but they have started to wobble.
This was their third stalemate in La Liga from their last five fixtures, after previously winning the last seven. The record unbeaten run now stretches to 33 matches, yet what worth is this when draining draws start creeping in?
Only 10 shots were fired in at Las Palmas and just four were on target – down from 21 and 14 from the weekend.
An obvious cure to this ailment is for Valverde to shake up his options.
The 54-year-old is unlikely to veer away from his 4-4-2 formation at this stage of the season. Now, he must assess the best parts.
Brazil international Paulionho has been trusted to start most clutch matches since joining from Guangzhou Evergrande last summer, such as El Clasico at Real Madrid and last week’s Champions League-trip to Chelsea. But he looked lethargic at Las Palmas, having no shots and making one tackle before understandably being substituted just past the hour mark.
For 33-year-old Andres Iniesta, it’s now just one assist and no goals from his last 12 run-outs in La Liga. This department could do with freshening up – both substitutes Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele provided positive influences at Estadio Gran Canaria.
In defence, France centre-back Samuel Umtiti repeated his lackadaisical trick from Girona. Fortunately for him this time, a sloppy foul and a booking on Oghenekaro Etebo was the only outcome, rather than a repeat of Portu’s embarrassing goal.
Belgium’s Vermaelen was again impressive as Gerard Pique was given a rest on Thursday night. If Valverde wants a change in defence, he’s an emerging option.
The gap at the top is now five points. To prevent it becoming an unbearable two points, Valverde must be both astute and brave.
63: Second change for Barça— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 1, 2018
🔺 Ivan Rakitic on
🔻 Paulinho off#ForçaBarça
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