Messi unhinges a Barça with very little football (3-0)

After a first half to forget, the Argentinian leads the win against Elche with a two-goal haul, complemented by a Jordi Alba strike.

Albert Nadal
3 min
Messi celebrates the first goal against Elche

As long as Messi remains at Barça, no matter how bad things get, the Argentine will continue to score goals. Even finding unusual partners, such as Martin Braithwaite, who assisted with class the Argentinian in the goal that broke the deadlock in a game in which the blaugranas did not appear until the second half. With the scoreboard in favour, Ronald Koeman's side did not play with fire again as they did against Cadiz and, after a recovery by Pedri and a great run by De Jong, Messi finished off the job before Jordi Alba's third and final goal (3-0). A breath of fresh air for a Barça side with rotations (except for Riqui Puig) that recovers more effectiveness than football before visiting Sevilla on Saturday.

Without shining, the blaugrana team recovered their sensations after a week that had hit the self-esteem of the dressing room with the defeat against PSG and the missed opportunity to close the gap on the visit of Cádiz. Koeman had called on the older players to "pull their chestnuts out of the fire" in the build-up, and so did Messi, seeing the bleak first 45 minutes against Elche. Miralem Pjanic is also a veteran, but he seems to be a long way from being one to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. The Bosnian is still a long way off the level he showed during his time in Italy, first at Roma and then at Juventus. The Dutch coach has run out of patience with Pjanic and replaced him at half-time.

After 45 minutes of failure to score, Koeman opted for his usual practice of accumulating players in front of the defence and, on this occasion, it worked. After passing through the tunnel, the coach reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with a double pivot formed by De Jong and Pedri, a line of three with Trincão, Messi and Dembelé, and Braithwaite as the attacking reference. Unlike Griezmann, who showed that he was still out of sorts when he came on for the last few minutes, the Danish attacker assisted Messi and Alba. Thus, Braithwaite was involved in the first goal, which served to unravel a drab game, and in the last, in which Alba sealed a more peaceful goal than could have been expected given the way the match had developed up to half-time.

First half to forget

During the first half, Barça's lack of football was a cause for concern, and against Elche, the blaugranas found a more daring and much less closed team than Cádiz, with the spaces that this meant behind the Valencian defence: space to run and to filter passes. Trincão, who started the game at the expense of Dembélé and was named in the starting eleven by Koeman, like his compatriot Griezmann, had a whiff of it early on. The young Portuguese winger tried to make the most of his opportunity and was the protagonist of Barça's first chances, but everything was soon diluted and an inoperative Barça side appeared on the scene. Lenglet, one of the other players to have been singled out against Cádiz, also saw his place in the starting line-up alongside Gerard Piqué taken by Samuel Umtiti in an eleven with rotations, such as the introduction of Pjanic, who continues to be immersed in an eternal lethargy. 

With Messi starting incisively, claiming the ball from the central flank of the attack, the spice in the early stages was provided by Trincão, who found two good answers from Elche's Catalan goalkeeper, Édgar Badia. In between, Fran Escribá's brave approach almost worked for the Valencian side, but Lucas Boyé shot too high for Umtiti's contemplative gaze. After the scare, Barça continued to maintain possession, but without finding as many cracks as in the early stages of the game, and appeared to be a very poor footballing team. 

That made for a cold, dull scenario, in which little happened beyond a De Jong shot ruled out for offside. "An ugly game", as Messi defined football without an audience in his interview with Jordi Évole. Against this backdrop, which would have generated an intense noise in the stadium leading to the anger of a disappointed Culé, there was a misunderstanding between Messi and Pjanic in midfield that ended with an Elche counter-attack that was finished off by Pere Milla, who finished with a centred shot into the hands of Ter Stegen. So ended a first half to forget, with Messi coming to the rescue.

The goal serves to regain momentum, to taste victory again, and also to keep a clean sheet after eight consecutive games conceding goals. In fact, the last time the team did not concede a goal was precisely against Elche, just a month ago. Against Sevilla, both on Saturday at the Sánchez Pizjuán and in the return leg of Wednesday's cup semi-final, much more football will be needed.