It will never be remembered, but this weekend’s Barcelona-Celta Vigo match, which finished 6-1 thanks to a Luis Suárez hat trick, a collection of stunning and inventive instances of Lionel Messi’s trademark magic, and a single iconic moment when Barcelona’s three world-conquering forwards took the idea of the penalty and stood it on its head, was actually tense and competitive for most of the day. That the essential context of the game as it existed for more than an hour before it was washed away in a fit of giddy laughter and wonderment attests to just how outrageous and brilliant this team is.
Consider this: Barça and Celta were tied at either 0-0 or 1-1 for more than half the game; before the blaugrana scored their third goal to put the game out of reach in the 75th minute, Barça had taken 13 shots with 5 on target, while Celta’s shot numbers were only barely behind at 10 and 4; while still within one goal, Celta repeatedly cut through the heart of a lethargic-looking Barcelona team; until the final 25 minutes or so, most Barcelona fans were probably more worried about dropping two points than expecting the team to kick in two more goals.
By the end, none of that mattered. It’s hard to recall times of stress when the highlight reel featured a goal off an unconscionable flipped pass like this:
And another added from a run most players couldn’t pull off under perfect conditions, let alone half stumbling the way Messi was:
And a videogame bit of skill for good measure:
And another jaw-dropping Messi run—
—that of course won the penalty they’d take in such cocky and winking fashion:
Oh, and an Ivan Rakitić gem:
And a Neymar capper to fully drive home how quickly this game went from contest to laugher:
Barcelona have been playing a game every two or three days for basically the entirety of 2016, and this coming off a similarly exhausting 2015, so it’s understandable if they’ve often looked gassed—physically and mentally—over the past month or so, especially at the starts of matches. Being expected not just to win every single game, but to do so in style, has to wear down on everyone involved almost as much as the sheer number of minutes they’ve logged.
And yet in spite of these expectations, Barça still manage to thrive. Professional athletes often talk about how lucky they are to spend their lives getting paid to run around outside and play a children’s game; watching this Barça team thumb their noses at individual scoring numbers and penalty kick propriety and be more concerned with getting everyone in on the fun (as Neymar admitted after the game, Messi’s “missed” penalty was supposed to go to him, since he was at that point the one member of MSN yet to score in the game) just underlines that as much fun as watching Barcelona deliberately dismember their opponents can be, it doesn’t compare to the joy of those actually playing it.
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