At half time at the Parc des Princes in Paris in midweek, the alarm bells were ringing for all who viewed F.C. Barcelona as a one man team. After sending an effort just past the top corner of the PSG goal, Lionel Messi pulled up and started rubbing his right knee and then hamstring. An innocuous knock on his standing leg as he shot had left the 4 time Ballon D’Or winner looking human.
At the start of the second half, Barça took to the field with Cesc Fàbregas having replaced the mercurial Messi. The Catalans would take a 2-2 draw from the game, conceding a last kick of the game Matuidi goal (who will be missing from the 2nd leg at the Camp Nou).
Resonance scans revealed that the initial fears were unfounded and Leo only had a micro-tear of his right hamstring, but suddenly there were doubts in the media. Could this all conquering side really cope without their strongest warrior?
The 1st test would be at the Camp Nou against relegation threatened Real Mallorca, a side that had been beaten the previous week at home by a direct rival, Deportivo, and were desperate for points in their fight for survival.
Mallorca started the match brightly against a Barça 1st eleven that is unlikely to bear much resemblance to the side that will take to the Camp Nou turf under the hallowed tones of the Champions League anthem on Wednesday.
There is much debate as to which central defensive pairing will start against the Parisians. Piqué began Saturday’s Match alongside Marc Bartra, but Adriano is being rushed back from injury and may start ahead of the young Catalan. Montoya started at left back, but Jordi Alba will most likely return.
In midfield, the only regular was Andrés Iniesta. Song played in Sergio Busquets place and Thiago replaced Xavi.
Up front Alexis retained his starting place and Tello took up David Villa’s position. Cesc Fàbregas took the Messi slot, or false number 9 role, one which he regularly and successfully has filled for the Spanish National team over the last few years.
The front players were the ones that will give Tito Vilanova a welcome selection headache. Under fire Alexis produced two assists and scored two of his own in an excellent forward performance, but Cesc was the star man, becoming the 1st Spaniard to score a hat-trick for Barça in the league in 12 years.
The 5-0 win was made complete when Éric Abidal made a substitute appearance with 20 minutes remaining of the encounter. Abi’ replaced Gerard Piqué and his performance may lead to a starting role alongside the player he replaced in the centre of defence on Wednesday. An incredible prospect considering the man has had to battle cancer twice in recent memory and had a liver transplant only a year ago, truly inspirational.
Abidal was given the Captain’s armband by Carles Puyol to collect the 2011 Champions League trophy at Wembley, after having won his 1st battle against his illness.
Could we be seeing his return to that tournament on Wednesday? After tonight, most are just happy to see him fit, healthy and playing again.