x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Barca are just warming up

Racing defeated after just 30 minutes and despite averaging 3.5 goals per game, Dani Alves claims the European Champions can improve.

Gerard Pique scores Barcelona's third goal against Racing Santander after an exquisite back heel from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Gerard Pique scores Barcelona's third goal against Racing Santander after an exquisite back heel from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

They have scored 14 goals in four league games, but the Barcelona defender Dani Alves says the Catalans still need to improve. Barca have won five trophies in the last six months, and that success looks set to continue this term with Pep Guardiola's men already seemingly well into their stride.

Tuesday night's 4-1 win at Racing Santander continued Barca's 100 per cent start to the league campaign, but Alves says the team can still step up a few more gears. "We are recovering the tone that maybe at the start [of the season] we didn't have. Every time we are better, that's our objective," said Alves following the defeat of Racing, where Barca again had the points wrapped up early on after going 3-0 up in the opening 30 minutes.

"We had a great game," added the Brazilian. "We moved the ball well and created a lot of chances. We've also scored goals, which is the most important thing. The guys up front have done very well." Gerard Pique, the Barca centre-back, also moved to dispel over confidence. "The game appeared easier than it actually was. We maintained possession of the ball well. This is Barca, but we cannot think that we are invincible," said the Spain international, who did admit he felt there may be a gap between his side and big-spending Real Madrid compared to the rest of the division.

"We've started well and we hope to continue winning. It seems that Barca and Madrid are playing at a different level," he said. Leo Messi was the star of the show, scoring twice at El Sardinero and setting up Zlatan Ibrahimovic's opener in the 20th minute. Messi made it 2-0 four minutes later and on 27 minutes Pique controlled Ibrahimovic's back heel to score a third. Messi scored his fifth goal of the season in the 68th minute, drifting past the entire Santander defence on the edge of the area and sending a shot into the top corner before Oscar Serrano scored a consolation for Racing.

Meanwhile, Messi hit back over criticism of his performances for Argentina and said they would reach the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. "We have to get together and go forward because Argentina can't stay out of the World Cup," he said. Diego Maradona's team, who lost their last two qualifiers 3-1 to Brazil and 1-0 in Paraguay, are in fifth place in the South American group, which equates to a play-off berth.

"I alone won't win a match ... this is down to all of us who are in the team," Messi told a radio station in Rosario, the city of his birth. Argentina face Peru at home and Uruguay away in their last two qualifiers in October, looking to climb into the top four for an automatic World Cup berth or remain fifth for a two-leg play-off with the Concacaf's fourth-placed team. Messi also denied reports that he and Maradona did not speak to each other, saying: "The relationship with Diego is great. There are no fights, on the contrary. When we started with Diego [as coach]we won all the friendlies, we played well. Now it's important to win these two remaining matches."

twoods@thenational.ae