FC Barcelona are looking towards a Champions League knockout stage after thrashing BATE Borisov 3-0 Wednesday at the Camp Nou. Barca now sit five points ahead of the rest of Group E.
Few doubted the victory, but some wondered if player focus would be off given their upcoming matches against Villarreal at the weekend and a Clasico on Nov. 21.
That was certainly not the case, even after Ivan Rakitic was forced to leave the field after injuring his calf just after the first quarter mark of the match. BATE might have been pleased; Rakitic netted two goals two weeks ago against them. But instead of pausing, Barcelona simply pressed unrelentingly forward. Neymar took advantage of a BATE error to score at minute 30, followed by a bookend goal from Luis Suarez at the 60-minute mark. Neymar pushed home goal three in the last ten minutes.
BATE never had a chance.
But consider for a moment what the reports would have been if BATE had somehow eked out a few goals and Rakitic’s injury had cast a pall on his teammates. The headlines would have read that Messi’s absence was a thousand-ton elephant on the field; that Barca’s transfer ban was killing them and only Arda Turan (who has been honing his thumb-twiddling skills) could save them now; that Luis Enrique had a lot to think about if he was going to pull it together for the upcoming league matches.
Heading into the match, some wondered if Suarez and Neymar would be rested, given the previous meet with BATE. But Enrique cannot afford to let his playmakers rest at the moment.
“As defending champions we must send a message we are ready,” he told the press ahead of the match.
Barcelona had faced some criticism earlier in the week after messy Halloween antics after their match against Getafe. Apparently the team left a mess in the away changing room, barged into the Getafe press conference in costume, and then hopped a security fence to get to their bus. Getafe president Angel Torres was Not Amused.
To be fair, it was disgusting, as per AS:
— AS (@diarioas) November 3, 2015
Perhaps Barcelona will find a tougher match in Villarreal at the weekend and then the Clasico on November 21. It appears Messi will miss the Clasico. Rafinha and Douglas are still out on injury, but Javier Mascherano and Thomas Vermaelen are back. The cherry on top, of course, is the fine partnership between Suarez and Neymar.