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La Liga

Ten-man Barcelona See off Sporting

March 4th, 2012

Barcelona produced a performance full of character to defeat Sporting Gijón 3-1 at the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Star-man Iniesta gave Barça the lead in the first half, but when Piqué saw red for a professional foul, Sporting equalised through Barral and Barcelona needed some brilliance from Keita and Xavi to secure the victory.

Messi sat out this match with a suspension, and with Alexis rested on the bench, Barcelona went into the encounter with a side that that looked a little short of recognised forwards.

Sporting kept 11 behind the ball, and it was up to Barcelona to find a way through. There were occasional chances, starting as early as the 2nd minute, when a corner routine between Xavi and Pedro found the winger with a bit of room in the area, but his first time shot was high and wide.

Adriano almost opened the scoring in the 14th minute when he embarked on a lightning run from deep, beating three defenders in a flash before firing just wide. Later Keita found himself with a sight of goal in the area, but a crucial lunge by Botia saw the ball deflect out for a corner.

Then, as half-time approached, and as the match appeared to be descending into a stalemate, Barcelona made the breakthrough. It was a fabulous team goal, with Keita unlocking the stubborn defence, posting Adriano through down the left, who in turn squared for Iniesta to finish with ease from six yards. Cesc nearly made it two before the break, but his effort under pressure was blocked and cleared for a corner by Botía.

The second half began in dramatic fashion. De Las Cuevas got in behind the Barça defence, and as Piqué came in with a challenge, the Sporting forward went down. Referee Carballo had no hesitation in showing a straight red, but replays suggested this was a contentious decision. Barcelona weren’t able to clear their lines and reorganise before Sporting equalised. Mendy tricked his way to the byline, and Barral snuck in front of Valdés to direct his low cross into the net.

Barcelona wobbled briefly as they tried to come to terms with the one-man deficit, but soon settled and went about trying to regain the lead through the majestic Iniesta and Xavi. The former was sublime in carving a clear opportunity for substitute Alexis, but a Sporting defender intervened just as the Chilean was about to pull the trigger.

Then with just over ten minutes of the match remaining, Mascherano passed forward from deep for Alexis, who produced a deft touch to his left for the on-rushing Keita. The midfielder took it onto his left foot and curled a magnificent shot into the top right corner to regain the lead.

As the minutes ticked down, Barça made sure of the win when Iniesta went on another fantastic run before releasing Xavi who clipped the ball over Juan Pablo to cap a hard-fought victory.

1-0 Iniesta (min 41)
1-1 David Barral (min 48)
2-1 Keita (min 70)
3-1 Xavi (min 87)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 25

February 27th, 2012

Real Madrid remain 10 points ahead of FC Barcelona after both won their fixtures this weekend. Barça is now 14 points ahead of Valencia in third place, a masive 24 points separating first and third places.

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Valdés the Star at the Calderon

February 27th, 2012

A magical late free-kick by Lionel Messi won all three points for Barcelona at the Vicente Calderón on Sunday night, as Barcelona battled to a 2-1 victory. Víctor Valdés made some important saves and interceptions to keep the home team at bay.

The first half was a competitive and feisty affair. As is always the case, Barcelona took the initiative, while Los Rojiblancos appeared intent to sit back, remaining compact and deep throughout, and looking to burst forward on the rare occasions they could wrest possession from Barça.

This time Barcelona started brightly – after seven minutes Messi bustled through three challenges and had the ball in the net, only to see the goal ruled out harshly for a handball.

Xavi then went close, forcing an acrobatic save from Courtois from a free-kick 30 yards out. Atlético responded with a couple of dangerous breaks, with Falcao central to their attacking threat. Mascherano kept the Colombian striker out with a perfectly timed tackle in the box, and then Valdés came off his line in flash to cut out a through-ball.

Some full-blooded challenges added an edge to the match, with the home team picking up a succession of borderline dangerous tackles. But Barcelona gradually found some composure, and their goal came from the best move of the half.

Messi worked some space on the edge of the box as the team broke forward. He fed Cesc down the left, who produced a perfectly-weighted first-time cross low for Dani Alves to finish at the back post.

Valdés had to be sharp once again, bravely denying Falcao as he bore down on goal. And on the stroke of half-time Cesc responded with a rugged tackle of his own, taking Juanfran out as the full-back tried to shield the ball by the corner flag.

Atlético pushed forward early in the second half, and within minutes of the restart they had pulled a goal back. A corner from the right was deflected across goal and Falcao arrived at the back post to volley home first-time.

From there it was an even contest, with Barcelona controlling possession but Atlético driving forward with increasing menace. Still, it was the away side that game closest to taking the lead. Mid-way through the second half Alves got the ball down the right and flashed in a teasing cross that just evaded Messi’s lunge but was met by Alexis at the back-post, who headed agonisingly over.

Then, a defensive mix-up by Barça let Falcao in, but once again Valdés read the danger and managed to palm away the striker’s attempted lob. With time running out for Barcelona, it was Messi who made the difference. After a largely indifferent performance the Argentine took a quick free-kick from the left angle of the area that beat the wall and swirled over Courtois’ head and into the top corner.

Barcelona then had to defend some tricky situations, by Valdés was brave in making some important catches from set-pieces.

0-1 Dani Alves (min 35)
1-1 Falcao (min 49)
1-2 Messi (min 81)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 24

February 20th, 2012

Barcelona remain ten points behind Real Madrid in the Spanish league after both teams won their respective matches. Madrid beat Racing Santander, currently languishing in the relegation zone, 4-0, while Barcelona’s 5-1 win against Valencia was much more spectacular given that Valencia are placed third in the league.

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Valencia Mauled by Messi

February 20th, 2012

Barcelona put in a commanding performance against Valencia at the Camp Nou on Sunday night, coming out 5-1 winners and playing some spellbinding football in the process. Lionel Messi got four with an attacking master class, and Xavi added a fifth in injury time.

As Barcelona were finding their feet Valencia grabbed their goal. In truth, Barça might have done more to keep it out – Feghouli got a yard on Abidal down the right flank and swung in an optimistic cross that had to travel a long way to find a Valencia shirt. Somehow though, Piatti snuck in between Piqué and Montoya, and Valdes seemed to have got his bearings wrong, leaving the Argentine winger with almost an open goal in which to smuggle in his half-volley.

When Barcelona did get going they produced what might be some of their best football of the season, especially when you consider the opposition. Pedro had a half chance that was easily held by Diego Alves. Shortly after, Pedro darted down the left flank before crossing low for Messi. Adil Rami got a toe to the cross, but Messi responded instantly, tucking the ball in from a tight angle on the byline from the left.

By now Barcelona were moving the ball with dazzling speed and assurance. Messi was in fine form – shortly after he saw his 50-yard run cut off at the last moment by Víctor Ruíz, the effervescent Argentine got his second of the night to hand Barça a deserved lead. Iniesta showed great vision to find Abidal on the byline down the left, and the Frenchman’s low cross picked out Messi perfectly at the backpost. The first poked effort was well-saved, but once again he was quickest to the rebound and clipped it into the roof of the net just ahead of the goalie’s grasp.

Cesc also shone as the half wore down, first dancing through the defence to see a shot well saved and then turning to connect with a chipped Iniesta pass on the volley as it dropped over his shoulder, only to see it hit the crossbar.

After the break, Cesc almost scored another spectacular goal when he beat four Valencia defenders from an inside-left position. His low shot was bound for the bottom-right corner, but Diego Alves somehow pushed it round the post. Messi saw a header palmed onto the cross-bar from close-range, and Cesc missed an opportunity to make it 3-1 with the goal gaping.

The crucial third goal came with 15 minutes on the clock. Cristian Tello showed characteristic pace to work some room from a shot on the left side of the area, and once again Messi was in the right place at the right time to find the net. He wasn’t done there though – ten minutes later Busquets put him through to get his fourth with a clever chip. Xavi notched a fifth as the clock ran down, pouncing on a loose ball and lobbing the stranded ‘keeper.

0-1 Piatti (min 8 )
1-1 Messi (min 21)
2-1 Messi (min 26)
3-1 Messi (min 75)
4-1 Messi (min 84)
5-1 Xavi (min 90)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 23

February 13th, 2012

Real Madrid opened the gap with FC Barcelona to 10 points this weekend, effectively putting the title our of the reach of the Catalans.

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Barcelona Frozen Out at Osasuna

February 12th, 2012

Barcelona have lost ground in the title race, falling to a 3-2 defeat away at Osasuna. On a bitter night in Pamplona the home team adapted better to the difficult conditions, surging to 2-0 via two Lekic goals. In the second half Alexis and Tello scored for Barcelona, but Raul Garcia’s 56th minute strike proved decisive.

The first half was one best forgotten by Barcelona. The weather couldn’t have been less suited to passing football – subzero temperatures resulted in a frozen playing surface, made even less predictable by gusty wind.

Barça were having to think twice about every pass, allowing the home team to win the ball back time and again. Osasuna on the other hand were clearly more acclimatised, looking comfortable in these exceptional conditions and taking advantage of Barcelona’s hesitation.

Their opener came in the fifth minute, when Raúl García nipped in front of Puyol on the edge of the area to direct the ball on the stretch for Lekic, who tucked his finish low past Valdés.

Usually Barça are quick to rally after going a goal down, but Osasuna were looking sharper and more confident in both attack and defence, while the away team had to toil for any kind of opening. Alexis managed to get in behind not long after Osasuna’s first goal, but was incorrectly ruled offside. Messi also went close, forcing an acrobatic save from Fernández with a shot from the edge of the area.

But the next real attack would come from the home team – and it ended with another goal. Cejudo managed to drift out to the right touchline unseen, and when he got possession drove a low cross across the face of goal that found Lekic completely unmarked to score from six yards.

Puyol and Pedro, who had both found the going tough, were replaced by Tello and Cuenca at the break, and Barcelona made a marked improvement. They clawed a goal back shortly after the restart when Cuenca scuttled down the right flanked and crossed low for Alexis to score from close range.

Still, the hesitancy that had wracked Barcelona’s first-half defending was evident once more just a few minutes later. They were unable to clear their lines sufficiently after an Osasuna attack, and Nino found room down the left to whip another low cross for Raúl García, who saw his near-post effort roll in off the upright to take it to 3-1.

From then on Barcelona attacked relentlessly. Cesc came on for Piqué, and had an immediate effect, side-footing a lovely through pass for Tello, who turned inside his defender and lashed a powerful effort high inside the near post with 20 minutes to go.

With the game finely poised, and Barcelona piling forward, both teams had chances in the closing stages. Puñal saw his shot saved pushed onto the post by Valdés, and at the other end Tello went one-on-one down the left, but Fernández produced a reaction save.

1-0 Lekic (min 4)
2-0
Lekic (min 21)
2-1 Alexis (min 50)
3-1
Raúl García (min 55)
3-2 Tello (min 71)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 22

February 6th, 2012

Real Madrid maintained their seven point advantage over FC Barcelona at the weekend after both won their respective matches.

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Barcelona Made to Fight for It

February 5th, 2012

FC Barcelona gained what was ultimately a battling win against Real Sociedad at home on Saturday night. Cristian Tello and Messi got the goals for the home team, while Carlos Vela pulled one back for the Basque visitors. It was a match that Barça controlled for long spells, creating plenty of chances, but when the score went to 2-1 late in the second half Guardiola’s needed to show some grit to ensure the win.

There were some relatively unfamiliar names on the Barcelona teamsheet. Joining recent B graduates like Cuenca and Thiago were Jonathan dos Santos and Cristian Tello, giving the team a youthful look on a bitterly cold night at the Camp Nou.

Their integration appeared seamless. Barring a couple of excellent point-blank saves from Ifrán by Valdés in the opening minutes, Barcelona dominated the ball and cut through Real Sociedad’s defence with impressive regularity.

The onslaught began as early as the 5th minute, when Cesc scrambled the ball through to Messi, but Bravo rushed out to make a reaction stop. The Chilean ‘keeper had to be at his best to keep Real Sociedad in the match, making impressive saves from Thiago and Messi.

There was little he could do about the opener, after just eight minutes – Messi brought the ball forward on one of his bustling diagonal dribbles from right to left, and spotted Cristian Tello hovering on the shoulder of right-back Carlos Martínez. Messi’s through-pass was pinpoint accurate and Tello latched onto the ball with remarkable pace and tucked it under Bravo with his first touch. It was a goal that lived up the player’s burgeoning reputation.

From there on Barcelona was dominant, squeezing Real Sociedad high up the pitch and attacking with speed and invention. The scoreline could have been three or four more than the 1-0 at the half-time whistle – Fábregas flicked a shot over the bar from 15 yards after being posted through by Messi, and Alves pounced on a loose ball just before half-time but pulled a low shot wide of the far post.

Real Sociedad returned with more purpose after the break. Griezmann was released and managed to outmuscle last-man Mascherano, but Valdés made a crucial point-blank save.

At the other end the chances continued to flow, including a bizarre goal ruled out for offside when a Tello strike deflected in off Alves, who was standing on the goal-line in an offside position. With 20 minutes to go, Alves made amends by picking out Messi in the area with a sumptuous lofted pass, and Messi took his opportunity with typical coolness.

Things then took a sour turn for Barça – Vela pulled one back with a composed finish after latching onto a Griezmann pass, and Busquets, on for Jonathan, picked up what looked like a nasty knee injury after colliding accidentally with Carlos Martínez. Real Sociedad went looking for an equaliser as the minutes ticked down, but Barcelona held firm for a vital three points.

1-0 Tello (min 8 )
2-0 Messi (min 71)
2-1 Carlos Vela (min 73)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 21

January 30th, 2012

While Barcelona drew in a goalless match against Villarreal, Real Madrid won their match to further open up the lead over Barça at the weekend.

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