Football Features

Barcelona 4-1 Alaves: How the past, present and future of the champions’ attacking trio rated

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:21, 21 December 2019

In a strange afternoon of football, Barcelona beat Alavés 4-1 at Camp Nou.

After a comfortable first-half where the Blaugrana went two-up, they suffered a brief scare in the second half before powering on to win thanks largely to goals from their fabulous front three. We had a look at their trident attack and graded their games.

Leo Messi

Leo Messi entered this game off the back of perhaps his worst-ever Clásico performance, looking baffling meek against Real Madrid. Against Alavés for a good hour of play his form was similarly quiet, almost as though the Herculean efforts of carrying Barcelona so far this season is wearing on him as the festive season approaches. Maybe he just needs a rest.

Still, though, there were some sensational passes and a few lovely dribbling moments where he linked with Antoine Griezmann, but nothing truly special until, well, until his club needed him. From 2-0 up and cruising Barcelona got pegged back to 2-1 and suddenly looked very shaky. Alavés were hammering them with a higher press and it felt like an equaliser was coming.

But when a quick pass forward from Luis Suárez found Leo Messi about 30 yards out, the Argentine drove through about three Alavés players, holding off the attentions of Wakaso Mubarak and then hitting a baffling, breathtaking shot. The ball flew off his feet curving away from goal and then coming back in to beat Fernando Pacheco at his near-post and restore his side’s two goal lead. It was a devastating finish, Messi’s 50th goal for club and country this calendar year, and ended things on a positive note ahead of his 16th year as a professional.

Messi Grade: B

Antoine Griezmann

The Frenchman’s place at Barcelona has always been questioned, why did they even buy him? On paper his best position is the same as Leo Messi’s, so where does he fit in the side? He could replace Luis Suárez, but never does. Instead he plays on the left, where for a long, long while he looked tremendously uncomfortable.

Today, however, we really saw the potential of having Griezmann in the Barcelona side. The Frenchman’s movement around the attacking third was fluid, starting from the left but drifting central. He was an elusive figure, playing smart passes when he had the ball and darting runs into space when he didn’t. He linked with his team-mates, in particular Messi, showing a comfort not previously seen.

And of course, he scored. He opened the scoring, in fact. A hopeful cut-back came across the box for Arturo Vidal but the Chilean missed it and it rolled through to Griezmann at the top of the box. Showing a newfound confidence and conviction, Griezmann didn’t try and overplay, instead striking through the ball with his right-foot, bending it low into the corner of the net and giving the goalkeeper no chance. A stunning strike that encapsulated his growing influence on the Blaugrana.

Griezmann Grade: A-

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Luis Suárez

A continuously baffling figure, Suárez combines the sublime and the ridiculous several times in the same game never mind the same season. One minute he’ll look finished, the next, he’ll come alive and show his skill. In the Clásico he was as bad as he has been this season, a miserable display. And truth be told against Alavés he wasn’t much better.

Suárez’s passing was off today, his movement was sluggish and he didn’t even hold the ball up all that well. But without Suárez there’s just no no way Barcelona would have won the match. That sounds ridiculous, but it was perhaps the most “Suárez-y” display in years. The Uruguayan walked away from the Camp Nou with a goal and a hat-trick of assists. That is obscene production, but did he play that well?

Look at the goals he created: his first assist was him trying to cut the ball back to Arturo Vidal but overhitting it so the Chilean wasn’t quite in the right place. The ball then ran through to Griezmann who scored. His second assist was a nice pass slipping the ball wide to Arturo Vidal but the angle was absurdly tight, yet Vidal conjured an incredible finish. His final assist was a literal five yard lateral pass to Messi, after which the Argentine ran forward and scored an utter worldie to complete Suárez’s hat-trick. And then his goal was a penalty gifted to him by Messi, the regular taker. It gave him the gaudy stat-line that his performance did little to earn. But that is the eternal and impossible contradiction of Luis Suárez.

Suárez Grade: A-

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