Tuesday, a scant three days after trouncing Real Madrid 4-0 in a La Liga Clasico, FC Barcelona served notice to Champions League foes that it was serious about that trophy too, defeating AS Roma 6-1 at the Camp Nou in a Group E match.
The Catalans were feeling cocky tonight and the return of Lionel Messi to the starting line-up was only one of the reasons. They were playing at home, with the adrenaline rush of their recent walloping of their eternal archrivals, and flying high on the wings of a great duo, Neymar and Luis Suarez, who are having a great year individually and together. The team’s play today was that of a professional team’s practice session with a high school team as opponents.
The Barca scoring was as constant (15, 18, 44, 56, 59, 77) as their possession (72%), and the Cule performance so dominant over the third placed team in Serie A, that Catalan players were gifting each other goals—Messi allowing Gerard Pique a tap in when the diminutive Argentine could just as easily have scored, Messi allowing Neymar to take a penalty (he missed), Adriano scoring off of Neymar’s miss, Dani Alves getting out of the way of Messi’s chip shot goal, Luis Suarez looking for teammates before looking to score himself. The victory was not against a world powerhouse but the hosts were missing key starting players in Andres Iniesta, Javier Mascherano, and Claudio Bravo.
But a funny thing happened amid the hoopla—some fissures showed and what was visible underneath were a surfeit of hubris and unbridled ego. Neymar seemed only partially happy to cede the team’s leadership mantle back to Messi. He seemed in need of attention when he made his outrageous heel trap that led to Messi’s second goal, eventually off a Suarez assist. On his missed penalty, the young Brazilian took nearly no step back from the ball and missed horribly. Thereafter Neymar missed two goals he would not have just a week ago.
Suarez played his usual brilliant game of late, but he seemed split between looking for Neymar and Messi even when the choice should have been natural. His second goal, a beauty of a volley, seemed to center him, though. Pique felt the need to rub Barca’s superiority in Roma’s face, the full-back ostentatiously looking for a score, much as he did Saturday trying to rub it in Real Madrid’s face. Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and Dani Alves, took turns trying unnecessarily fancy plays.
Perhaps this was a one game display of joy at having survived countless weeks without their talisman, Messi, and now being able to welcome him back while on top of all competitions. They have not only not lost ground in his absence they have not ceded an inch and now looked poised to really take over. Perhaps they sensed the deep despair they planted in the hearts of their archrivals on Saturday. Perhaps the overwhelming trend toward nationalism in Catalonia has emboldened all related entities. In any case, they did perform to perfection, as a well-oiled machine playing textbook, passing football.
But performance aside, and whatever the reason for acting out, the gods of ancient Greek mythology, and their Classic playwrights, have coffers full of lessons for those who do not heed admonitions against exuberantly prideful behavior.