Prior to the highly-anticipated Barcelona v Atletico Madrid match on Sunday, both pundits and the bookmakers were anticipating a closely fought encounter.
While previous form suggested this would be the case, however, this failed to take into account the turmoil that had engulfed the Catalan club and the media dissection of Lionel Messi’s relationship with Luis Enrique.
It was always likely that such tension and adversity would have an impact on Barcelona’s performance, whether it forced a positive reaction or inhibited the team's ability to play fast, free-flowing football.
Messi shows his mettle
This was certainly the case, as the World Cup player of the tournament Messi and his team-mates delivered an inspired performance in the face of a resilient and often hostile display from Diego Simeone’s champions.
From the first whistle, Barcelona performed with intensity and a sense of unity that has been lacking for much of the season, while the club’s lauded front-three finally combined to dazzle a robust Atletico defence.
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The fact that all three scored underlined this fact, although there could be no doubt that the magnificent Messi played the role of instigator-in-chief throughout the 3-1 victory.
Having experienced a week of media scrutiny and listened intently of rumours of a move to the English Premier League, Messi in particular looked like he had a point to prove.
Delivering a performance that combined his usual threat and silky skills with an unfamiliar edge, Messi played in an aggressive and determined manner that underlined his commitment to the club.
Given the fact that he also spent the majority of the game happily playing in his less-favored position of the right wing, he sent out a clear message that he was more than happy to comply with his manager’s wishes.
If this game represented Barcelona’s response to adversity in microcosm, the rest of La Liga should be warned. In 90 breathless minutes, the club displayed the type of solidarity and unified front that is required to win titles at the highest level, while Enrique himself also proved that he is more than capable of motivating world class performers during difficult times.
If the club can maintain their current level of determination and continue to enjoy the best of the Argentinian talisman, there is every chance that they could reclaim the Spanish League title in May.
Now just a point behind Real Madrid and with a Champions League tie against English champions Manchester City to look forward to, the season can still go either way for Luis Enrique’s men.
There is no doubt that the club look to have responded in the most positive way to recent adversity, however, and subsequently laid down the gauntlet to their immediate rivals.
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