Cometh the hour, cometh the man. When Barcelona hosted AC Milan at Camp Nou after losing 0-2 at San Siro, a lot was on the line as such an early elimination could have not only ended Barcelona’s main goal for the season (especially with La Liga pretty much sewn up) but also the club’s dynasty/era of dominance. But everyone knows how quickly things change in football and after a clinical 4-0 destruction of AC Milan it is safe to say that the reports of Barcelona’s demise were greatly exaggerated. It was as if the defeats and poor performances against AC Milan and Real Madrid had never happened; on that day, Barcelona showed every trait that has made many pundits consider the side originally ‘created’ by Pep Guardiola as one of the best the sport has ever seen: flawless passing, constant and relentless pressure on opponents on and off the ball, perfect cohesion and the magic coming off the feet of Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi. But even all that wouldn’t have been enough to turn the tie on its head without the clinical finishing of Lionel Messi, which is pretty much taken for granted these days, and the much maligned David Villa.
The all-time Spanish top scorer hasn’t had it easy in the past few years; after his career threatening injury during the Club World Cup in late 2011, many believed his days at the highest level were numbered. Even after his quite successful comeback to action, there were no shortage of press rumours about Villa leaving the club despite Tito Vilanova’s insistence that the Spaniard was a key player to the team and Villa’s constant claims that he was happy with his role in the squad. When he controlled Xavi’s pinpoint pass and calmly slotted it home to give Barcelona the advantage in the tie – in what was one of his most important goals with the blaugrana jersey – Barcelona’s decision to stick with Villa through thick and thin and reintegrate him into the squad after such a serious injury despite his advanced age was fully vindicated.
David Villa has been without a doubt one of the finest strikers in football for the better part of the past decade and the qualities that earned him such status are still there. He might have lost a bit of pace, but his movement behind the opposition’s defenders is still as deadly as usual, as is his finishing. With Villa timing his runs perfectly and keeping the defense on their toes, Barcelona’s game gains a new dimension that no one else can give it, while also giving Messi more space to work with. The Asturian shined almost every time he was given a late cameo early in the season and the result of that slow reintegration into the squad are being fully seen now, with Villa a major trumph for the business end of the season, namely key Champions League ties.
After beating Milan, Barcelona were drawn against Paris Saint Germain, a side in which the man David Villa was signed to replace – Zlatan Ibrahimovic – is the main star. With La Liga pretty much sewn up, each Champions League match will be prepared extra carefully, with resources managed with them in mind. Villa did not take part in this weekend’s match at Celta, but he will most definitely play a role in the upcoming tie, most likely as a starter alongside Messi and Pedro and it’d be far from a surprise if his contribution was once again key. In his debut year at the club, his goals at Arsenal and in the final against Manchester United were crucial in the club’s title run, as was his overall performance, while his absence was most certainly felt last season especially in the tie against Chelsea. The trio of Messi, Villa and Pedro offer a sort of chemistry, dynamic and complementarity that no other combination of forwards can, as shown by how much the team’s performances improve when all three are together and in form.
If Barcelona are to return to Wembley, where they won two of their four Champions League including their most recent one, managing Villa’s fitness and form will be crucial. Apart from Messi, he’s the biggest goalscoring threat at the club with a big match on the line, but he offers far more than just goals. All the unfounded speculation about Barcelona wanting to get rid of Villa already looks quite absurd and it will only look even more so if, as expected by everyone at the club, the legendary Spanish striker goes on to play a key role in Barcelona’s quest to win their fifth Champions League title.