Barcelona continued their perfect start in the league and Europe with a professional 3-0 victory over Las Palmas in unforeseen circumstances, playing to an empty Camp Nou on a day of uncertainty following clashes between police and protesters on the day of the fiercely contested referendum on Catalan independence.
There was chaos outside the stadium as the gates remained closed an hour before the game was due to begin, with no official announcement made on whether the match would go ahead until 25 minutes before kickoff, which showed a complete lack of concern for fans.
Barca looked pretty distracted on the pitch in the first half as they struggled to come alive and could have fallen behind when Jonathan Calleri thumped the post right before the break. Instead, they earned a seventh straight league win and ninth consecutive victory overall thanks to a first league goal in three years by Sergio Busquets and a double by Lionel Messi, who took his goal tally to double figures after only seven league games.
After 45 lifeless minutes, Barca managed to put the distractions of the day behind them and went about picking apart their tricky opponents, showing yet again this season a brilliant knack for focusing on the football while chaos reigns around them. They also increased their lead at the top of the table to five points.
Given the shocking scenes in the city throughout the day, many thought this was no occasion for a football game and events on the pitch were naturally overshadowed by the incidents between police and protesters, which lead to more than 400 people injured. While the club wanted to show their solidarity to the victims by playing the game behind closed doors, they ended up hurting 70,000 fans, many of whom had travelled far and wide to be there.
Coach rating out of 10
7 — Ernesto Valverde made some bold calls in leaving out Nelson Semedo, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta and quickly acknowledged he had got it wrong, hauling off Paulinho and Aleix Vidal for the Croatian and the captain, and the team’s performance drastically improved from then on.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 — Was rarely troubled by the visitors apart from a couple of tame efforts, although was nearly caught out when Oussama Tannane cut the ball back towards Calleri, leaving the German stranded, but Sergi Roberto cut across just in time. Was also fortunate that Calleri’s shot came off the post.
DF Sergi Roberto, 7 — As well as that vital clearance the Catalan was one of Barca’s livelier players going forward. He created the first chance early in the game but was denied by Leandro Chichizola and his excellent cross for Paulinho deserved a far better finish.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 — Has made headlines during the week and Sunday for his support for the referendum, and according to some reports did not want to play the game at all. He gave a solid enough performance and got forward a lot as he tried to get on the scoresheet on a day that meant more to him than to most of his teammates.
DF Javier Mascherano, 6 — Made his fourth start of the season in the league and despite being rested against Sporting he was a little imprecise.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 — Quiet in the first half like the rest of his team but vibrant in the second and was constantly getting the better of opposite number Michel Macedo and appearing in and around the box when Barca got forward.
MF Aleix Vidal, 4 — Gave the ball away several times and aside from trying to win a penalty he had very little influence on the game, and Valverde’s patience ran out at half-time, when he took him off.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 — Showed good strength to break the deadlock, outmuscling defender Borja Herrera and getting in front of Chichizola to head home and score his first league goal for three and a half seasons.
MF Paulinho, 5 — Offered little in the first half, and Barca improved considerably after he was hauled off for Rakitic. Missed a clear headed chance and was booked for a foul on the excellent Chichizola.
MF Denis Suarez, 7 — Struck up a fine understanding with Messi after the break and laid on the pass for the Argentine’s first goal as well as playing a vital support role in midfield.
FW Lionel Messi, 7 — Far from his best but still Barca’s biggest threat. He forced two great saves from Chichizola before scoring and provided the cross for Busquets’s goal from a corner. Was a little wasteful but soon made amends with his two goals, taking his tally to an astonishing 11 strikes in seven league games.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 — Another timid performance from the Uruguayan, who shows little sign of coming out of his slump anytime soon. Could have added the second goal when clean through against Chichizola but went down easily instead and was deservedly booked for simulation when it would have been easier to score. Put a shine on an otherwise poor display by playing in Messi for the Argentine’s second.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 — Retook control of the midfield for Barca once he came on for Vidal, finally giving the home side purpose and direction when they had possession. Unfortunately had to go off injured toward the end, although the timing is good for Barca with the international break coming up.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 — A massive improvement on Paulinho, providing a much needed boost of energy in the middle that helped further open up the visitors once the first goal had gone in.
MF Andre Gomes, NR — An unexpected late substitution that was needed after Iniesta’s injury setback.
Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.