Dembele’s impressive form continues
With a goal and an assist, Dembele carried on from his strong performances in recent matches. Starting on the left wing this time, the Frenchman was a constant threat and probably the best player after Messi until his substitution halfway through the second half. Him being able to perform this way on the left is a huge bonus for Barcelona given that it makes it easier to fit him, Messi, and Suarez into the team. Even with Coutinho and Arthur both fit again, Dembele’s recent form has made him undroppable for the time being.
Messi responds to Pele
After a difficult week in which he was ranked 5th in the Ballon d’Or and criticized quite heavily by Pele, Messi responded in the best possible way on the pitch. This performance was probably his best of the season after the one against Tottenham at Wembley: he scored two stunning free kicks, set up a goal and several other chances, made several nice dribbles, and could easily have scored even more than the two. The difference from last week’s static and uninvolved display against Villarreal was enormous. The return of Suarez definitely seemed to help, as it gave Messi more freedom in starting towards the right but then drifting inside which made it more difficult for defenders to mark him. Over the summer, the idea of Messi returning to False 9 was quite popular among Barcelona supporters, but it looks like an inside right position works best for him right now.
Two straight clean sheets for improved defense
In the three league matches since the international break, Barcelona’s defense has looked much better after a difficult start to the season. During this period, Diego Costa’s goal off a set piece is the only one conceded by the team. Along with better cover from the midfield, the center back duo of Pique and Lenglet also seems to be getting better with each match. Lenglet may not make as many flashy plays as someone like Umtiti, but has been very solid and error free in recent weeks. Pique also looks recovered from a very bad start to the season and back to playing near his best.
Competition heating up in midfield
With Dembele cementing a place in the attack, Vidal performing well, and Arthur back from injury, earning starts in Barcelona’s midfield is going to be quite a challenge. As things stand, it looks like there will be five top players all competing for the three spots: Busquets, Rakitic, Vidal, Arthur, and Coutinho.