Barcelona, once again, were less than poetic, but their prose is now worth 34 out of a possible 36 points. Games: 12. Victories: 11. And just the one draw, in el Clásico. Whilst the world debates their change of style and the highs and lows of their form, they just keep hauling in the booty. At the head of a number of reasons for their effectiveness is the weapon of mass destruction that is Leo Messi. He never rests, he never tires, he is made of football, the F in his head and an L on each foot. The play flows down his spine, it reaches ever nerve ending. It is part of him: simple, instinctive, sweet. If it isn't the full orchestral version of Barcelona that turns up then it will be Messi that makes the difference. And the full symphonic Barcelona are yet to turn up in this league, in which, paradoxically, or maybe because of, the Catalans have amassed 34 out of 36 points.
Messi was the axis around which this game revolved; the spark in a game that was in reality fairly even, except for this player who wrote the main part of the script, with two goals and an assist. He has scored 13 against Zaragoza in as many games, but it's nothing personal, his destiny is hitting the net. Another goal is just another step on the climb of the best footballer, ever?, to football's Mount Olympus. In the 12 games of this league he has scored 17, more than three quarters of the teams in the league. In 2012 he's now racked up 78, and is only 7 away from the record of Torpedo Müller, one of those statistics believed to be from another age, until the Argentine demolition expert arrived.
With a quarter of an hour gone Messi took advantage of some neat interplay with Alba to burst away from the defence with a perfect touch and, suavely, put his team in front. Before half an hour was up he beat three defenders and put the 2nd on a plate for Song. And with an hour of the game gone he blew away any pessimism with a piece of play he started and finished, after giving to, then receiving from, Montoya, before slotting home between the post and a diving Roberto who appeared not to have done enough. But he wasn't to blame, he didn't read, hardly understood, the subtle touch, the silk dart, that put the game definitively in Barcelona's favour.
Barcelona, from better to worse
Puyol and Piqué were back, together for the third time in this league and for the first time at the Camp Nou in eight months. Song stood in for Busquets who was out suspended, and Xavi and Iniesta were the launch pad for Villa, Messi and Pedro. With a line up that read like a dream Barcelona signed off on a cracking opening 20 minutes, that appeared to foretell a placid night for the home team, but that ended up being not quite so simple. Piqué assisted bringing the ball out, the team got the ball back quickly and knocked Zaragoza about with an irresistible left wing: Alba racked up the miles, Villa and Iniesta combined on the outside, and all with the help of Xavi and Messi. The first two goals arrived from there, and the game was centred in that area until Zaragoza woke up, and started playing football. They play a clean, lucid version of the game, which explains their decent start to the campaign. With Apoño and Movilla in the engine room Aranda established a bridgehead in the Barcelona half, and Zaragoza owned the right wing, in behind Alba. The equaliser came from a corner that Montoya cleared badly and Montañes fired home. The goal allowed the dominance of the game to be disputed through to half time, and for there still to be tension until Messi scored to make it 3-1. Barcelona could have increased the punishment: Iniesta smashed the woodwork, and Tello and Alba were a supersonic duo on the left.
So Barcelona were neat, without being brilliant; they governed this match through the iron hand of Leo Messi. They were lacking pressure for much of the game, and were unstable defensively, despite the green shoots of Puyol and Piqué. They lost another goal from a set piece, and looked shaky when Zaragoza attacked. Iniesta, Xavi and Song, who is better in the midfield than in defence, got worse as the night went on. A sublime start evolved into a standard, grinding, victory. Both Zaragoza and Barcelona play football, and there, where there is football, the best rules, the best of all time? Leo Messi has 17 goals in the league and 78 in total this year. This is football, and in reality it isn't as complicated as people make it out to be sometimes. The best makes the difference, and the best plays in scarlet and blue.