Barcelona struggled at times, but achieved a 4-2 victory a lively Real Betis team at the Camp Nou. After taking a two-goal lead through Xavi and Messi Barça were pegged back before Alexis and Messi got the winners.
Barcelona were caught cold in the first few minutes of the game. Real Betis attacked with verve, and might have taken an early lead when Rubén Castro set Jorge Molina through one-on-one, but Valdés was alert to the danger and snuffled out the chance. He had to be on his toes from the ensuing corner, clawing a flicked header by Dorado out at the near post.
Barcelona then took over, and scored their first goal with just ten minutes gone. The improving Alexis slipped a smart pass between two defenders for Cesc. His left-footed effort hit the post, but Xavi was first to react to the rebound. It was only a matter of seconds before they made it 2-0. Betis continued to throw bodies forward and when Barcelona won possession they had little trouble cutting through Los Béticos’ ranks. For the second Iniesta picked up the ball from deep and burst forward. He chose to release Alexis, whose low cross found Messi free in the centre to score from close range.
Barça then had a comfortable spell, combining neatly, with only last-ditch efforts from the Betis defenders keeping the score down. But despite being two-down, Betis remained smart on the break – they offered a reminder of their attacking threat when Jefferson Montero cut back for Rubén Castro, who misconnected with the ball and watched it fly over the bar.
And they clawed a goal back on the half hour mark – Molina rounded Valdés and laid it on for Sevilla, who spotted striker Castro at the far post, giving him a simple finish to make from six yards. Now looking more confident, the away side was suddenly a real a match for Guardiola’s men, who were struggling to find their customary fluency.
Betis ramped up the pressure at the start of the second half, winning a dangerous free-kick and pegging Barcelona back. The home side was on its heels and conceded the lead on 52 minutes. Rubén Castro broke free on the counter down the left wing – his pass infield found substitute Roque Santa Cruz, who powered a strike inside the right post from the edge of the area.
Barcelona then went on the attack – they should have had a penalty when Iniesta was fouled by Montero, but Villanueva somehow saw fit to book Barcelona’s number 8 for a dive. When Betis had Mario sent off for a second yellow things started to look a little easier, and, after a couple of half-chances, Barcelona regained the lead when Xavi clipped a pass over the top for Alexis, whose shot evaded Casto at the near post. With the clock running down, Barcelona won a penalty for a Dorado hand-ball, and Messi made no mistake from the spot.
1-0 Xavi (min 9)
2-0 Messi (min 11)
2-1 Rubén Castro (min 31)
2-2 Santa Cruz (min 50)
3-2 Alexis (Min 73)
4-2 Messi (min 84)
Real Madrid are again five points ahead of FC Barcelona after they beat Granada 5-1, while Barcelona drew against local rivals Espanyol on Sunday.
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Barcelona had to settle for a 1-1 draw away to Espanyol in the derby on Sunday night. Cesc headed Barça into an early lead, but his side was unable to build on it, and was pegged back at the death by Álvaro Vázquez. It was a tense, hard-fought encounter, in which key refereeing decisions went against Guardiola’s men.
The big story at kick-off was Iniesta’s return to the side, recovering from a strain picked up before the winter break. He took his place in a strong team, on the left side of central midfield in a 4-3-3.
Espanyol came flying out the traps in front of a raucous crowd at the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, closing down Barcelona’s defenders at a ferocious tempo, and breaking quickly whenever in possession. Their pressure almost paid off in the first ten minutes when Sergio García rushed clear down the left side of the area and crossed for Verdú, whose initial headed effort was miraculously saved by Valdés, and Piqué was ready on the line to clear the follow up.
Barcelona soon woke up though and forced a number of close calls. First Cesc thought he’d scored when Messi intercepted Álvarez’ clearance and squared for him, but replays showed a handball by Messi in the build up. Alexis then went one-on-one with Álvarez, but never looked confident and was hustled wide by the ‘keeper. On their next attack though, Barcelona took the lead. Dani Alves surged forward down the right and picked out Cesc with a perfect cross. Cesc’s header was powerful and aimed at the bottom corner. Álvarez got his fingertips to it, but couldn’t keep it out.
The remainder of the half was relatively even, with both teams forcing slight openings without capitalising. Abidal had to be sharp to block a Thievy shot inside the area. At the other end Barça continued to threaten as Alexis posted Iniesta through, but his left-footed effort was deflected away by Álvarez. Puyol made a crucial block from Verdú, and then just before the half-time whistle Cesc cleverly turned past an Espanyol defender on the byline, but his close-range strike hit the outside of the near post.
The game remained poised at 1-0 after the break, with no clear sight of goal for either side. It wasn’t until half an hour in that some space opened up for Barça – Pedro, on for Alexis, fired a deep low cross that Messi met on the stretch with his right boot, ricocheting off the near-post and into the side-netting.
Espanyol hadn’t created much, but took their opportunity with 86 minutes gone. Raúl Rodríguez was released down the right and his cross was headed on by Thievy for Álvaro Vázquez to score from no more than a couple of yards out. Then in injury time Barcelona had real reason to feel aggrieved – Messi played Piqué in, and after his shot crashed off the cross-bar, Pedro’s follow-up was clearly pushed away by Raul Rodriguez’ arm.
0-1 Cesc (min 15)
1-1 Alvaro (min 85)
While Barça has been in Japan participating – and winning – the Clubs World Cup, its been business as usual for the remainder of the clubs in the Spanish League. With Real Madrid’s 6-2 win against Sevilla on Saturday they have again risen to the top of the table with a three point gap.
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Barcelona made it clear that the league this season is by no means over, with a devistating victory against Real Madrid on Saturday. Once again the Catalans ran rings around Madrid, with stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly overawed by players such as Leo Messi. The result leaves Barça on top of the table, equal on points with Real Madrid, but having played an extra match thanks to their Club World Cup commitments.
Barcelona have landed a major blow on bitter rivals Real Madrid, winning 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu. Goals from Alexis, Xavi and Cesc ensured a gutsy comeback and memorable result for Barça after sloppy play by Valdés had gifted Madrid an early goal through Benzema.
Perhaps the only surprise in Guardiola’s lineup was the absence of David Villa, who dropped to the bench – surely a result of the exciting form of Cesc and Alexis in recent weeks. And in some ways the formation was less overtly attacking than expected, with Cesc and the electric Iniesta joining and instigating attacks, but retaining a certain degree of discipline. Alexis was always furthest forward, probing across the frontline, while Messi operated in his deeper central role.
Barcelona got off to a dreadful start; Real Madrid pressed an early backpass to Valdés, and the ‘keeper made a hash of his kick, tamely finding Di Maria on the edge of the area. Busquets made two desperate blocks, but both fell to Madrid players – the second dropped at Benzema’s feet and the striker smashed his easy finish home from five yards with just a minute on the clock.
Understandably, Barça took time to find some composure. There were a few hairy moments for their backline, but it would be Messi who had the next real chance. He seized on a Ramos slip, jinked past Pepe, but saw his low effort saved on the stretch by Casillas. Two chances followed for Madrid – first for Benzema, whose header was well gathered by Valdés; then for a subdued Cristiano who had a close-range opportunity but sliced it wide.
From here Barcelona started to find their feet, keeping possession for longer spells. And by half an hour they were back in the game. Messi was the architect, bursting forward from the halfway line, dodging three tackles and posting Alexis through on goal. Under pressure from Pepe and Coentrão the Chilean found the bottom-right corner with precision.
With Barcelona’s ascendancy continuing into the second half it was probably no surprise that Real Madrid were becoming more forceful in the 50-50s, and the rancour that had plagued last season’s fixtures resurfaced intermittently. Ramos, Alonso, Pepe and Diarra were all booked, as increasingly dangerous tackles started to fly in.
Then, after a period of sustained possession, Xavi lashed a volley on goal from outside the area. Marcelo got a block in, but the ball skewed off his shin and span beyond the despairing reach of Casillas. Real Madrid were finding it increasingly difficult to get forward, but still posed a threat; Cristiano somehow managed to head a cross by Kaka wide from six yards.
The home team was punished almost instantly by a slick counter-attack. Messi set Alves free down the right wing, and Cesc stooped to meet his deep cross at the back-post to take the score to 3-1. There were subsequent chances for both teams, but the result never looked in doubt for Barcelona
1-0 Benzema (min 1)
1-1 Alexis (min 29)
1-2 Xavi (min 52)
1-3 Cesc (min 65)
Barcelona remain in second place in the league following their 5-0 win against Levante. Real Madrid are three points ahead, but it should be noted that Barça have played an additional match due to their participation in the Clubs World Cup.
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Barcelona were back to their free-scoring best on Saturday night, trouncing Levante 5-0 at the Camp Nou. Cesc opened the scoring, and then made it two with a fine header after half an hour. Cuenca got the third, before Messi and Alexis completed the rout.
Guardiola reverted to a 3-4-3, which hadn’t been seen for a couple of months. Puyol started between Abidal and Mascherano, behind an all-Spanish midfield four of Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and Cesc. At the apex of the side were Alexis, Messi and youngster Isaac Cuenca.
This was a match in which Barcelona never looked troubled; they controlled possession from the first minute, and the fluency that was so lacking a week ago at Getafe appears to have been recovered.
The first goal, just four minutes into the game, epitomised Barça’s rediscovered confidence. Messi fired a pass into the feet of Andres Iniesta, and the ever-stylish midfielder produced a perfect back-heeled flick to thread the ball through to Cesc in the clear, who in turn produced a clinical low finish past the stranded Munúa.
Xavi and Messi went close with free kicks; the latter was parried by Munúa into Puyol’s path, but the veteran defender just couldn’t make a connection. At any rate, his side was combining well, and Levante’s backline was forced into a series of rash tackles, leaving three of four with bookings by the half–hour mark.
After yet another foul on the edge of the penalty area, Xavi whipped in a free-kick that Cesc met with a smart glancing header that flew into the top corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance. The game was then put beyond doubt with a few minutes of the first half remaining. Messi embarked on one of his classic right to left dribbles before feeding Iniesta on the edge of the area, who in turn laid the ball off for Isaac Cuenca. Barça’s latest young star took his tally for the season to two, and made it three on the night for his team with a low curling shot, into the bottom right corner.
Valdés then had to react quickly to keep Kone out, but Barcelona were comfortable going into the break.
The second half was more of the same for els Culés, apart from personnel; Puyol had been withdrawn for Alves after colliding with Kone, and Keita replaced Sergio Busquets in the midfield.
Levante did manage to create a chance early on though, when del Horno rose to head a Javi Venta free-kick goalwards, but Valdés equal to the effort, pushing it round the post.
Barcelona were quick to reassert themselves – Dani Alves spotted Messi free on the right side of the area, and when the little Argentine went one-on-one there would be only one outcome, with Barça striding to a four goal lead. Five minutes later Alexis added another, finishing a slick passing move with an attempted lob that deflected off del Horno’s back and clipped the underside of the crossbar.
1-0 Fábregas (min 3)
2-0 Fábregas (min 32)
3-0 Isaac Cuenca (min 36)
4-0 Messi (min 53)
5-0 Alexis (min 59)
FC Barcelona strolled past Rayo Vallecano on Tuesday night, beating the team from Madrid 4-0. Alexis Sánchez was one form, scoring two well-taken goals, the first of which was an impressive curled effort. Villa added the third after a slick passing move, and Messi made it four with a trademark solo effort.
Barça fans were handed some welcome good news in the build up to the match, learning that the ever-influential Andrés Iniesta would make his comeback. He joined Keita and Xavi in the midfield, sitting behind a potent attack of Villa, Messi and Alexis. Iniesta nearly marked the occasion early on with a spectacular goal from the halfway line, but his effort was just kept out by Cobeño.
Perhaps heartened by fellow Madrid club Getafe’s achievements on the weekend, Rayo began the match at full throttle, pressing and presumably hoping to take advantage of any hangover for Barcelona. A deep, floated cross found Guinean striker Lass free at the back-post, but his volley hit the side-netting. The 19 year-old was a real nuisance in the opening exchanges, showing pace and willingness to chase lost causes.
Cobeño was then forced back into action by Barcelona, the improving Alexis slipped Alves through, and his cross was deflected goalwards and only kept out on the stretch by Rayo’s ‘keeper. A swirling free-kick nearly caught Valdés out at the back-post.
Then, after a prolonged spell of possession, Barcelona took the lead; Xavi angled a pass to Alexis on the left angle of the area, and the Chilean forward curled a delightful shot in off the far post.
Rayo almost responded in kind. Michel brought the ball down in the area, but pressure from Abidal saw him shoot over.
From then it was all Barcelona, and the home team enjoyed what was perhaps a long overdue slice of luck; Messi fired a pass into Xavi’s feet on the edge of the area. The midfielder miscontrolled, but the ball landed at the feet of Alexis who produced a composed finish with the outside of his boot.
Then Villa capped the satisfying half Guardiola’s men, when he tapped home to make it 3-0 after a Piqué drove forward and released Dani Alves, who squared for the Asturian striker.
The second half was barely underway when Lionel Messi took centre stage. As he so often does, the diminutive Argentine picked the ball up by the right touchline and powered forward; he beat a defender to go one-on-one, and slotted past Cobeño to take the score to 4-0 and end the match as any kind of contest.
With the match in the bag, Guardiola could afford to withdraw Xavi, Inesta and Alexis, and the series of substitutions took the momentum out of the game.
Rayo were effectively spent, and Barcelona maintained possession, while occasionally fashioning chances. Villa’s effort in the 69th minute was spectacular, as he elegantly controlled a long pass and then tried a lob that went just over.
2-0 Alexis Sánchez (min 40)
3-0 Villa (min 42)
4-0 Messi (min 49)