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To the casual observer Wednesday night’s La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Almería at Camp Nou was what one might expect as the Catalans thoroughly dominated their opponents in virtually every statistical category on their way winning by a score of 4–0. But to anyone who has been following Barça closely this season, what transpired out on the pitch is likely to be taken as a rock-solid confirmation of how this team got here. Here just happens to be first-place in La Liga, four points clear of Real Madrid with 8 games to play — with a UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie versus Paris Saint-Germain and a Spanish Cup final versus Athletic Club Bilbao waiting in the wings.
So just how did Barça get to this point? Although there is a combination of factors, two stand out. First and foremost, the front line has been a goal machine. Luis Suárez, who had a brace, and Leo Messi both scored against Almería. Suárez got his second of the night just before the final whistle, converting an assist from line-mate Pedro Rodríguez. While it was a great way to end the game, Suárez’s first score of the evening — Barça’s second — was truly a thing of beauty. At the 55-minute mark, the Uruguayan took a pass from Dani Alves out near midfield and carried in on the right wing. Suárez cut back to his left and drifted toward the middle where he unleashed a left-footed laser beam from just inside the penalty area that Almería keeper Julián — despite getting a piece of it — had zero chance to stop.
Twenty minutes later the 73,837 people on hand at Camp Nou got to see the other big reason why the blaugranes have been so good this year. With Barça lining up for one of their plethora of corner kicks on the evening — they had 14 in all — defender Marc Bartra darted through a crowd in front of the goal and got his head on the curling kick, redirecting into the net for a 3–0 lead. It was the team’s 14th goal on a set play this season, breaking the previous record of 13 set in 2008/09. Perhaps what’s most incredible is that nine have been scored by defenders — until now central defenders Gerard Piqué, with six, and Jérémy Mathieu, with two, have done all the damage from the back line, the most recent having come barely 72 hours prior at Balaídos.
But Suárez and Bartra were not the only ones who used the evening to further Barça’s trend of blistering production this season. In the first half it was Messi who got things going. And the Argentinian couldn’t have found a more fitting time to open the scoring when he notched his 33rd league goal of the season on the stroke of 33 minutes.
Even though the game was scoreless through the half hour, there was never really any doubt about which team would emerge victorious as FC Barcelona relentlessly suffocated Almería in their own end. At one point Barça’s possession peaked out at just shy of 75%. Over the full 90 minutes they were able to maintain that stranglehold to the tune of 72%. The few times that the visitors got their feet on the ball, outlets were cut off and balls were stripped in what seemed like milliseconds. Several close Barça shots early on failed to find the net but, with time, Messi reminded everyone why Barça are where they are.
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