Barcelona completed their qualifying from the group stages of the Champions League with a 0-3 win that was as easy as the teams they have faced in the initial stages of the competition. That said, all the talk will inevitably be centred on Messi, and his historic charge to shatter Gerd Müller's 85 goals-in-a-year record. The Argentinean scored a brace tonight to march onto 80. Messi robs the limelight even when the team plays magnificently together, as they did tonight. Their line up was close to their perfect 11 (only lacking Puyol) and they only struggled a little, right at the start. That hiccup over they strolled it, firstly demonstrating that the names of Xavi-Fàbregas-Iniesta are utterly compatible before applauding their little emperor. The real challenges for the 2011 Champions will come later.
It took Barça a quarter of an hour to tame the ball in the Luzhniki stadium. The hosing down right before the match, and the artificial surface put their precision to the test. On the plus side, Spartak made their job easier with their game plan. Emery renounced a Celtic-style catenaccio and, although they ceded the initiative to Barcelona, their orders were to push further up the pitch than they did in the Camp Nou, and stop every counterattack. The Russians arrived in the box with four or five players, but Kallstrom and Kombarov didn't take advantage of a, once again, misfiring Barcelona defence. Spartak didn't take their chances; Barcelona were like a well timed watch when they got theirs.
Alves got back those good old feelings with an excellent goal from outside the box to make it 0-1 in the 17th minute, and Messi, who had never scored in Russia unlike the other 13 countries he's visited on his Champions travels, also scored. He made it 0-2 then 0-3 and in doing so equalled a 100 year old record: Vivian Woodward (England and Chelsea) scored 25 international goals in 1909. The Argentinean is doing something quite monstrous.
Vilanova once again put the Xavi, Fàbregas, Iniesta triangle together, paying no heed to the theory that says they are incompatible. This negative idea collapsed after half an hour and Iniesta also provided 15 seconds of genius that set the social networks ablaze as he skipped around Spartak players near the corner flag to send Barcelona off at half time with a sweet taste in the mouth.
The second half started with Iniesta and Cesc linking up marvellously but Barcelona soon took their foot off the gas, and Spartak decided not to take the suicidal route in order to avoid a thrashing. Messi kept painting beautiful patterns on the artificial turf, and gave up his hat-trick gifting a chance to Iniesta, who missed. That aside the second half was mostly a waste of everybody's time, though Vilanova gave a prize of 10 precious minutes to Deulofeu. Barça still have a rickety defence, but they are hungry to attack. And no-one deserves the name Cannibal like Messi.