Barcelona’s Speed and Quality Too Much For Brave Las Palmas

MessiNo one could argue that Las Palmas weren’t brave against Barcelona. They didn’t sit back and move into absorb-and-counter mode, and they didn’t play reactive football. Instead, they were proactive. They pressed the Barcelona back four, held a high line and even tried to play out from defence. Essentially, they were offering their home fans a similar style of football to that played by their more illustrious opposition, and while this served them well to some degree, it was eventually what brought them undone.

If there was a period of play that illustrated this, it was the start of the second half. Las Palmas came out of the dressing room 2-0 down, a scoreline which admittedly wasn’t unexpected, but they were anything but disconsolate. They showed a real determination to their play, as well as a steadfast commitment to their pressing game. They moved up onto the Barcelona defence as they tried to work the ball forward, and over a 10 minute stretch, they were the better side.

47 minutes in, Las Palmas won the ball high up and, in their quest to get back into the contest, fashioned an opportunity to cross. Then, a couple of minutes later, they again regained possession in the final third before winning a free-kick. Momo punched that effort wide of the target, but the signs were nonetheless good. These signs continued into the 52nd minute of the match, where Los Amarillos generated the chance to attack the Barca backline quickly, only to waste it courtesy of a silly foul on Marlon by Jese Rodriguez.

That proved to be the end of their promising but ultimately fruitless spell of pressure, as Barca broke the shackles with a well-crafted move of their own. This started in characteristic fashion for the Catalan club, with their defence endeavouring to play out from the back in spite of heavy opposition attention. They passed quickly and sharply until they punctured Las Palmas’ initial line of resistance, and when Andres Iniesta received a pass near the halfway line, it was five-on-five. Iniesta followed up with a neat forward ball into the feet of an unmarked Lionel Messi, and from there it was obvious that Barca would end up with the chance to shoot.

Messi continued the momentum of the move with a slick through ball for Jordi Alba, who was streaking into the left edge of the penalty area, and the fullback settled quickly on the ball with a single touch. He then returned the ball to Messi with a tidy cutback to the centre of the box, but despite the brilliance of the opportunity, the Argentine maestro couldn’t curl his shot beyond the outstretched leg of Las Palmas defender Lemos, who did beautifully to deflect the ball away from danger.

This, however, was the way the game went. Las Palmas imposed their own style of football upon the contest, generating a number of near misses and even a wonderfully-worked goal from a long-range counter-attack, but they couldn’t do enough to offset Barca’s quality over the course of the 90 minutes. The game ended with a 4-1 scoreline in favour of Luis Enrique’s men, and while there was much to admire about Las Palmas’ approach, they couldn’t beat Barcelona at their own game.

The first goal summed up this dilemma perfectly. Quique Setien’s players were doing exactly what was asked up them, trying to fashion an opening by way of an expansive short-passing strategy. They distributed the ball with a smoothness at first, working it into a position between the Barcelona lines before Roque Mesa took charge. He tried to hit a quick little pass in behind the opposition back four, but centre-back Marlon, who acquitted himself with aplomb on his Barcelona league debut, was awake to it.

He snuffed out the pass with a quick movement of the right foot, brought it under control and moved things on quickly with a clever pass to Sergio Busquets. The defensive midfielder then stepped things up a gear, slipping a delightful backheel beyond a bevy of onrushing Las Palmas midfielders in order to find Iniesta. Now, things were looking ordinary for the Canary Islanders. They had opened themselves up in attack and, after losing the ball, had tried to win it back quickly. They couldn’t do it due the combined slickness of Marlon and Busquets, and as a consequence of that, they were now horribly out of position in defence.

Iniesta followed up with a piercing ball to put Luis Suarez through on goal, and though he probably could’ve scored himself, he made a golden opportunity a sure thing by sliding the ball across the face of goal and into the path of Neymar. With Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas now out of the equation, the Brazilian superstar tapped-in from close range to complete an incredibly impressive team move, and in a lot of ways, the manner in which the men in blue and red went about progressing the play spoke to the difference between the two sides.

Both Las Palmas and Barcelona were, in simple terms, trying to play dynamic attacking football via a proactive approach, but Barca had the edge in terms of quality and tempo. As pointed out over at Barcelona Football Blog, Barca is so difficult to play because of “the fact that everything happens so quickly.” They set everything up with razor precision in the first few passes, and once they’ve created the opening required to generate a chance to shoot, there are guys who can time their runs in behind the opposition defence to perfection, and there are guys who can find them with elaborate killer balls.

There are so many moving parts to any attacking incursion, and so many variables that can lead to its success or failure. Sides like Las Palmas may possess plenty of quality, but they can still only bring about the former sporadically. Barca, on the other hand, have the players and the level of synchronisation to do so with impressive regularity.

Whereas Las Palmas only managed to combine the complex aforementioned mixture of timing and technical precision to score a single goal, Barcelona achieved it on four occasions. Even more troubling for the Canary Islanders was the fact that their proactivity made the gulf in this regard even more apparent. Take Barca’s fourth and final goal of the game, for example, where Las Palmas again tried to press before it all unravelled. A sweeping switch of play from Ivan Rakitic set Alba free along the left-hand side, and with Setien’s backline pressed up against the halfway line, they had little choice but to backpedal and hope for the best. Alba powered into the final third and released Neymar with a simple pass to breach Las Palmas, and with an elegant finish to place the ball to one side of Varas, the former Santos prodigy found the target to make it 4-1.

That, in short, was the difference. There were two teams on the pitch, and two teams who were trying to play in the same way. Las Palmas had their moments, often generating chances to attack in the same way that Barcelona generated chances to attack against them, but they weren’t always offering the degree of precision needed to hit the scoreboard.

Enrique’s players, meanwhile, found the required precision frequently, and due to that added speed, technique and dynamism, they claimed an important three points on the day.