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La Liga

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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Barcelona Unable to Sink the Yellow Submarine

January 30th, 2012

FC Barcelona slipped a little further behind in the title race on Saturday night after they were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw against La Liga strugglers Villareal at El Madrigal. It was a match of few opportunities, but on the occasions that Barcelona did manage to get in behind their determined and organised opponents, they found goalkeeper Diego López in good form.

Barça began this game with a back three of Abidal, Piqué and Puyol, but as the half progressed Mascherano slipped in to partner Piqué at centre-half to form a back four. This was because Villareal, desperately in need of points, were proving difficult opponents – quick on the break and resolute in defence. First half opportunities were hard to come by.

Alves, playing high on the right, had a couple of early sights of goal, but Diego López was sharp to push away the first, and Gonzalo nipped in to deny the second. Moments later Messi raced clear, but his delicate lob over the goalkeeper dropped just wide of the far post.

Villareal then began to find their way into the match. First Marco Rubén got in behind Barcelona’s back-line, before firing high and wide. And then Marcos Senna let rip with a signature shot from just outside the area, but Valdés was able to produce an acrobatic save to tip it round the post.

As the half drew to a close Diego López came rushing off his line to intercept a through pass by Messi for Cesc. As it was, Barcelona went into the break needing to find some inspiration after a low-key performance in the first period.

Villareal appeared to have more urgency as the half began, but the game settled again into the former pattern of Barcelona dictating the play but struggling to conjure any real openings.

Adriano was industrious on the left-flank, and Alexis looked lively after coming on for the injured Piqué, but Guardiola’s side was running out of ideas against the team in yellow who by now were happy to retreat to the edge of the area.

Finally, as the 80-minute mark approached, Cesc found some space on the edge of the area and lashed a powerful shot, which took a mean deflection and was then pushed onto the in spectacular fashion by Diego López. By now, Guardiola had introduced the swift Christian Tello and Thiago to see if he could find a way through the stubborn Villareal ranks.

As the minutes ticked down, Messi at last managed to wriggle his way into the area and fired at the bottom corner. Once again López showed quick reactions, getting his left leg in the way – the ball dropped at the feet of Cesc but his shot was completely mistimed. It was the best opportunity of the night, and perhaps the moment that confirmed that Barcelona were going to have to settle for a draw and a deficit of seven points in the race for the title.


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 20

January 23rd, 2012

Barcelona remain five points behind Real Madrid in the Spanish League, with both teams winning their respective matches 4-1. Reports in the Spanish press suggest that Jose Mourinho has been dealing with a player “revolt” after rowing with Sergio Ramos and captain Iker Casillas, and he was booed by fans at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Sunday night. On Wednesday the visit the Nou Camp for the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarter final, with Barça the stronmg favourites to go through.

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Fantastic Hat-Trick for Messi the Magician

January 23rd, 2012

Messi grabbed three goals to help Barcelona to an impressive 4-1 victory at La Rosaleda against Málaga on Sunday evening. Guardiola’s men put in a smart and efficient display against a potentially dangerous opponent, scoring two goals early in the second half, through Alexis and Messi to effectively close the game 45 minutes early.

Guardiola opted to rest Puyol, Xavi and Cesc, giving a rare start to Adriano, while Thiago joined Busquets and Iniesta in midfield, and Mascherano partnered Piqué in central defence. Pellegrini’s Málaga side offered a mix of youth and international experience, with three veteran stars in Mathijsen, Demichelis and van Nistelrooy, and two creative talents in Cazorla and Isco.

The early exchanges were relatively even, with Thiago coming close with a diving header Messi shooting just wide from the edge of the area. Málaga also posed a threat, not least through young midfielder Isco. His powerful curled effort was bound for the top right corner, but Valdés managed to flick it over on the stretch. From the ensuing corner Valdés had to be sharp to first stop a header by Isco, then block the youngsters follow up attempt.

Despite these chances, Barça were dominating the ball and creating openings with some comfort. Piqué had got on the end of a free-kick, but was off balance and sent it well wide. Málaga replied with a half chance for van Nistelrooy but the striker misconnected and sent it over.

Then, on the half-hour mark, Iniesta bustled forward and laid the ball off for Adriano, whose swirling cross found Messi on the penalty spot. The Argentine rose well and directed a powerful header into the bottom corner, giving Caballero no chance and Barcelona the lead.

Barcelona came out all guns blazing for the second half, and within just two minutes they had extended their lead. Alexis dispatched a low Adriano cross, scoring from close range after Thiago had already forced a save by Caballero. And only seconds had passed before Barça were 3-0 up.

This time it was all about Messi, who collected the ball from Thiago and weaved his way through the Málaga defence, before cooling slotting the ball into the bottom left corner.

With the match wrapped up, Barcelona could afford to take it easy, and some key performers were withdrawn – Dos Santos, Cuenca and Pedro came on for Adriano, Busquets and Alexis, and the game seemed to be petering out.

Messi though was hungry for more goals. He saw a fabulous free-kick cannon off the underside of cross bar and out for a corner via Caballero, but soon had the ball in the net. With ten minutes to go he embarked on a run from his own half, evading Demichelis and Mathijsen and finishing with typical ease to cap a truly memorable performances. In the dying stages Málaga started to press forward, and Rondón was on hand to grab a late consolation, pouncing on a rebound from Valdés.

0-1 Messi (min 32)
0-1 Alexis (min 46)
0-1 Messi (min 49)
0-1 Messi (min 80)
1-1 Salomón (min 84)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 19

January 16th, 2012

Real Madrid remain five points ahead of Barça following the weekend’s fixtures, with Madrid beating Mallorca 2-1 on Saturday and Barcelona winning 4-2 against Betis.

Next stop for both teams is the clasico on Wednesday, when Barça visits the Bernabeu in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter finals.

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Alexis on form in Tough Win

January 16th, 2012

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)


La Liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 18

January 9th, 2012

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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