Barça Backups Eventually Overcome Osasuna

April 24, 2011

FC Barcelona produced a workmanlike performance to defeat CA Osasuna 2-0 and maintain their charge for a 21st Primera División title. David Villa struck midway through the first half to end an 11-game goalless streak, and Barcelona’s Ballon d’Or trio all came off the bench to help cement a low-key win.

In the end it was Lionel Messi who made the victory certain, dispatching a perfect Alves through-pass to reach a superhuman half-century of goals in all competitions for the season.

Barça’s starting XI was a mixture of fringe-players and youth stars, with Jeffrén making a rare appearance on the left wing and Maxwell at left fullback deputising for the injured Adriano and infirmed Abidal. Meanwhile Gerard Piqué was rested ahead of the midweek trip to the Bernabeu, and Messi, Iniesta, Pedro and Xavi helped make up a formidable Barça bench.

Despite the apparent low standard of tonight’s opposition – Osasuna arrived at the Camp Nou on the back of three straight defeats – Pep Guardiola’s young team needed to win to maintain the eight-point cushion ahead of Real Madrid, who had just registered a convincing victory over Valencia at the Mestalla.

Guardiola’s young charges looked comfortable in the opening exchanges without penetrating much. Meanwhile most of Osasuna’s counter-punches, orchestrated by the lively Camuñas, were neatly snuffed out by Javier Mascherano. The tenacious Argentine is looking more assured by the game in his new central defensive position.

Still, no player typified Barça’s first-half display better than Jeffrén Suárez on the left wing. The 23 year-old gave the ball away a number of times, but also conjured a couple of moments of magic. And it was from a perfect cross by the mercurial winger that David Villa notched a much-needed goal. The Asturian striker slid in at the back post to stab the ball past Ricardo into the bottom right corner.

Rather than instilling self-belief, the goal was followed by a period of Osasuna pressure. The final minutes of the first period saw the team from Navarre carve their best opportunities. And no chance was more clear-cut than the one that fell to former Barça B player Damià Abella. The midfielder found himself teed up 5 yards out by Enrique Sola, but he snatched his shot under pressure from Maxwell and Víctor Valdés produced a reflex goal-line save to turn the ball away for a corner.

The second half saw the introduction of Iniesta, who was followed by Messi and Xavi. This injection of quality helped to add a measure of stability to Barcelona’s second half performance, with Osasuna unable to build on their pressure at the end of the previous half.

Messi put the game to bed in the 87th minute when he was found by an incisive Dani Alves pass and drilled a right-footed shot beneath Ricardo, adding a little gloss to an unspectacular though professional win on St George’s day in Barcelona.

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