FC Barcelona 5 – 0 RCD Mallorca

DESPITE the humidity in Catalonia on Saturday evening, it rained goals as Barcelona watered down Gregorio Manzano’s Mallorca side and French defender Eric Abidal returned to a hero’s welcome at the Nou Camp.

The Frenchman had not played for Barcelona’s first team since February 2012, following the announcement of his pending liver transplant. Remarkably, the defender is playing football once again when many feared he would be unable to continue. After utilising the B team to return to complete match fitness, Abidal nervously filled in at centre-back after replacing Gerard Pique on the 70th minute, and his initial touches and passes were celebrated by the crowd who were witnessing an inspirational, emotional and unique comeback in the world of sport.

Tito Vilanova, another recent absentee, returned to the managerial area of the welcoming Nou Camp for the fixture against Mallorca, who are grounded at the foot of La Liga. Deportivo de la Coruna’s third successive win on Saturday evening propelled them from bottom place, leaving the islanders rather stranded.

As expected, the intentionally weakened Barcelona, who lacked the injured Messi and therefore played Cesc Fábregas at centre-forward, had one eye on the Champions League quarter-final home tie against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. They found their feet early on and began overwhelming their opposition with the hypnotic tiki-taka that the omniscient, current generation is well-known for. Mallorca’s defence, notably the club captain José Nunes, put up a feeble attempt at halting the rhythmic tidal wave that is Barcelona’s attack.

In the first half, Andres Iniesta, as usual, played with such urgency that he does in any football match, regardless whether it is a world cup final or a match against the bottom of Liga Primera; and, with the space Los Bermellones gifted la Blaugrana in both midfield and attack, Iniesta played with evident, determined freedom. Like an animal released from its cage, the captain on the evening savoured every moment on the pitch, and was later subject to a standing ovation as he was substituted.

However, the goals came from the outstanding combination of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez. The first, on the 20th minute and courtesy of the ex-Arsenal skipper, was completed once he played a one-two with his Chilean counterpart, leaving Nunes marking thin air and, ultimately, the ball rolling to a halt in the netting of Mallorca’s vulnerable goalposts. The two then traded occupation moments later as Cesc’s shot rebounded off the sorrowful goalkeeper, Dudu Aouate, into the path of Sanchez, who subsequently secured his name on the score sheet and effectively drowned any chances Mallorca had of taking any points from Catalonia.

The ebb and flow of Barcelona’s attack resulted in a further first half goal, when Fábregas commissioned his second give-and-go with Sanchez, floated through the Mallorca defence, reclaimed the ball and finished with style past the goalkeeper, who could do little to prevent the inevitable outcome.

Once again, two minutes later, Sanchez followed suit, bursting into the box as his telepathic, in-form colleague Fábregas floated a lengthy pass directly into the Chilean’s path. Nunes, unsurprisingly, made no intervention whatsoever to prevent the ball ending up the goal – which was exactly what happened, rounding off the first half’s goals five minutes before the break.

Dani Alves’ efforts in the first half, which carried on for the majority of the match, were outstanding. The Brazilian was constantly looking out for one-twos, making crosses, cutting inside and bombarding up the right-hand side of the pitch with the speed and determination of an overflowing, raging river.

Cristian Tello, additionally, made a positive impression upon those watching due to his linking up with Iniesta both inside of Mallorca’s box and around it; his spatial awareness and his willingness to chase every ball down gained him a fair amount of praise as he integrates himself into the first team.

Although, after the final goal of the game was crafted one minute after the restart and Fábregas’ first ever league hat-trick was complete, the pace did significantly slow and the creativity of the substituted Iniesta was missed. Barca still created chances at will, of course, and this was down to the fact that the resigned Mallorca had finished digging their own grave and were rather happy to clamber into it, lie down and wait for the final whistle.

Ultimately, it was a simple encounter for Barcelona and a nightmarish one for Mallorca. Nunes’ ears are most likely still ringing from the telling off he will undoubtedly have received from Gregorio Manzano, whereas Barcelona’s second string carried out their instructions well, paving the way for Wednesday’s Champions League adventure.

Should Lionel Messi not be fully recovered in order to face Carlo Ancelotti’s PSG on Wednesday, both Sanchez and Fábregas can rightly claim a place in the starting eleven who will be fully motivated by the reassurance and discipline of having their leader Tito Vilanova growing in strength.

La Blaugrana, with two away goals and hosting the second leg, have a significant chance of progressing into the semi-finals of the Champions League should they seize the opportunity and submerge their opponents with their frequent briliance. With the determination of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to overhaul Vilanova’s side for previous disagreements, it may be an incredibly tight match; however, the odds are certainly in Barcelona’s favour.

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