Pedro 26, 69, Messi 62
With the famous ‘El Clasico’ derby looming, Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola would have, in hindsight, preferred to have had Champions League Group D qualification officially tied up by this point. Such a scenario would have been expected given the favourable nature of the group draw back in September. On the contrary, the Blaugrana have thus far toiled to ensure they progress to the next phase of a tournament they are tipped to win, until they strolled to victory at the OAKA stadium.
It was a continuation of recent form for Barcelona, as Pep Guardiola’s well-oiled machine cantered to victory, proving they can produce the goods at the drop of a hat when they need to. Although failure to qualify was always going to be unlikely, a sub-conscious lack of conviction often reared its head in the Catalonian’s previous group clashes. However, Xavi and Andres Iniesta took this game by the scruff of the neck as they so often do, with the latter being particularly pivotal in the second and third of the goals. His reverse pass for the second goal, which fed the over-lapping Adriano, was a fine example of the vision that sets the little No 8 apart from other mid-fielders across the world.
The goal also exemplified the attacking tsunami that so often overwhelms opposition defences. At times, the Blaugrana can have up to seven or eight players in the box. When the likes of Dani Alves and Adriano arrive in the box out of nowhere, as the Brazilian did for the goal in question, it is so difficult for teams to pick up the run given that they are already trying to stop the ball being slipped through to one of the three main strikers Barca deploy every game. The end result is beleaguered defenders chasing shadows, which give Barcelona goals that knife-through butter effect to the onlooker.
The first goal, which was clinically struck across goal and into the corner of the net by Pedro, was of this very nature. Alves showed expert vision and patience to slip in the pass which was picked by Pedro and dispatched. The fact that had the ball eluded Pedro, Xavi was there waiting behind to take over, showed how Barcelona players were at times literally queuing up to take a shot at goal. This is so often the case as they bombard teams with wave after wave of attacks from all angles, leaving usually solid enough opposition such as Panathinaikos with very little ideas.
Bar a chance for Djibril Cisse on the 20 minute mark, the Greeks seemed unadventurous from the start. Special mention must go to Victor Valdes for his instinctive reflex save, a skill that so often plays a major roll in keeping Barca in contests and can prove as pivotal as a Messi wonder goal. Nevertheless, Panathinaikos appeared to have almost anticipated the onslaught they would face and decided to sit tight in an almost damage-limitation stance. After all, Barcelona did not give them much choice.
2 Alves – 3 Pique – 5 Puyol – 21 Adriano
6 Xavi – 8 Iniesta
10 Messi – 7 Villa – 17 Pedro
71 – 16 Keita on for 6 Xavi
71 – 22 Abidal on for 3 Pique
76 – 19 Maxwell on for 21 Adriano