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Messi, Suarez and Neymar continue to soar, but Barca defence deserves praise

by new_c_admin

Football is an odd game, sometimes. After a less-than-convincing start of the season in which newly arrived manager Luis Enrique had to endure constant criticism, the Camp Nou faithful ended up chanting his name during the impressive 5-0 victory over Levante on Sunday.

Barca are in irresistible form. They have now won a remarkable 11 matches in a row, equalling the record set by Pep Guardiola six seasons ago. While the best winning streak in club history still belongs to Frank Rijkaard’s 2005-06 team (18), there are enough reasons to believe the current squad has what it takes to equal and even surpass such achievement.

Lionel Messi continues to excel week in, week out and the team’s improvement would not have happened without his magical influence. Against Levante, the wizard became the youngest ever Blaugrana to reach 300 league appearances and celebrated in style, breaking or extending all-time La Liga records for goals scored (269), hat tricks (23) and assists (106). Words can simply not explain his greatness.

The diminutive No. 10 is not messing around and has made it a personal target to lead Barca to the very top of world football once again. While his individual stats have always been exceptional, his increased desire to enhance the performances of others makes him the leader this side so desperately needed.

Messi’s influence is motivating Neymar to dig even deeper and reach new heights in terms of performance. The Brazilian forward is now a constant nightmare to defend against, a skilful player whose confidence allows him to attempt imaginative dribbles, unpredictable diagonal slaloms and score prolifically with ease. The Camp Nou burst into a standing ovation as soon as his substitution was announced on Sunday, a clear sign that indicates the 23-year-old is slowly but surely becoming a fan favourite. The 24 goals in 29 appearances scored in his second season are definitely helping his case too.

Despite being initially benched in favour of Pedro against Levante, Luis Suarez left his mark very shortly after being introduced. The gorgeous volley that led to Barca’s fifth instantly became a strong contender for the goal of the season award; it was a true joy to watch.

It is great to see the hard-working Uruguayan improving his personal scoring return after several months of prioritising the overall benefit of the team to his own. Cules are delighted with the 12 assists Suarez has given to date and hope finding the net in such an impressive manner will boost the No. 9’s confidence ahead of the crucial third of the season.

While Barcelona’s increasingly deadly front three are deservedly splashed all over the world’s media, the effort their teammates are putting in must also be highlighted. If the Catalans are now in a position to challenge for every competition entered at both Spanish and European level it is thanks to their improved effectiveness up front and their enhanced defensive focus in equal measure.

While defending set pieces continues to be a challenge at times, the players’ improved defensive focus and aerial ability is obvious. The enhanced intensity that regulars such as Ivan Rakitic, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba bring to the team allows Barca to regain possession much more quickly and enables more direct transitions into attack which Messi, Neymar and Suarez are only too happy to take advantage of.

Having said all of the above, the Catalans are fully aware that nothing has been won yet. Regardless of the positive performances of late, the undeniable truth is that trophies are won or lost in the final third of the season. The shameful 1-0 defeat against Real Sociedad in early January must be used as a painful reminder of what would can happen if Barcelona took their foot off the accelerator.

If they can build on their performances of late, those who are already talking about conquering the treble will have enough reasons to continue dreaming.

Francesc Tomas writes for The Guardian and runs Barcablog.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TomasESPN.

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