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La Liga

Real Zaragoza Offer Little Resistance to Rampant Barcelona

November 21st, 2011

FC Barcelona romped to a 4-0 win at home to Real Zaragoza on Saturday night, with Piqué, Messi, Puyol and David Villa grabbing the goals. The home side was in sparkling form and had complete control of the game – only a fine performance by Los Blanquillos’ ‘keeper Roberto kept the score-line down.

Barcelona lined up for this game with an exciting attacking side; Alexis Sánchez started on the left flank, presented with an opportunity to put his stuttering early career with the club behind him. Young winger Isaac Cuenca took his place on the right, and Messi, Cesc and Xavi took up the central creative roles, switching positions throughout the evening.

As is so often the case, Barça took a little while to get going, but completely dominated possession and territory, with the majority of the football played on the edge of Zaragoza’s area. In fact it took a goal from Barcelona for them to find their attacking rhythm.

Cesc won a free-kick on left angle of the area after 20 minutes – Xavi stepped up and curled a teasing cross, which Piqué headed home unmarked from the six-yard line.

The remainder of the first half was a barrage from Barça, and saw Zaragoza ‘keeper in stunning form. Messi alone had four close-range chances stopped, with Alexis and Cesc providing the ammunition. One of the best opportunities fell to Barça’s Chilean winger – Messi hustled forward, laid the ball to Cesc, whose back-heel was perfectly timed to meet, Alexis’ run, but Roberto was once again equal to the shot.

Then, just as the first half was coming to a close, Cesc found Messi in space in the area with a perceptive pass. The Argentine forward ducked past centre-half Lanzaro and finished right-footed to double Barcelona’s lead.

Barcelona continued to carve Zaragoza open after the break, with Lionel Messi at the heart of the best moves. He released Cesc, who saw his left-footed effort tipped past the post by Roberto. This effort was followed by the away side’s only real attacking spell in the match – the most notable attempt was by Laifto, who ran at Barça’s backline, but smashed a right-footed shot wide of the near post.

Barcelona responded by scoring their third of the night. Puyol took up an advanced position for a free-kick and showed real grit to score at the second attempt after Keita headed Xavi’s back across goal. Sensing that the game was now safe, Guardiola withdrew Cesc, Xavi and Alexis, bring on Thiago, Iniesta and David Villa.

After a sublime run, Messi fed Iniesta, but his clever toe-poke was clawed away by the fingertips of Roberto, who was the man responsible for keeping an air of respectability to the score-line.

In the end it was El Guaje who notched Barcelona’s fourth – Cuenca worked his way to the byline, and, when the youngster’s cross was deflected by Minero, Villa was on hand to complete the rout with a diving header.

1-0 Gerard Pique (min 17)
2-0 Lionel Messi (min 42)
3-0 Carles Puyol (min 53)
4-0 David Villa (min 74)

La Liga 2011/2012 – standings after week 12

November 7th, 2011

Barcelona remains in second place in the Spanish League table after the weekend. While Real Madrid beat Osasuna 7-1, Barça took just a single point, which leaves them three points behind and Valencia now snapping at their heels.

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Barcelona Earn Fighting Draw at Los Leones

November 7th, 2011

FC Barcelona snatched a last-minute point amid a torrential downpour away to Athletic Bilbao. Barça twice went behind, to Ander Herrera and a late own goal, but fought back, first with a fantastic Fàbregas header and a piece of last-gasp opportunism from Lionel Messi.

The opening half was gripping entertainment; a clash between two skillful sides combining speed of movement and no shortage of technical quality. The sodden San Mamés pitch, though hardly suited to passing football, made no real negative impact on the spectacle, beyond causing a couple of untimely slips, most notably in the build up to Bilbao’s 20th minute opener.

Barcelona seemed to settle into their game quite quickly here – early on, Javi Martínez had to make a last ditch tackle to foil a 50-yard run by Lionel Messi. But the home team always looked smart on the counter, led by their strapping talismanic striker Fernando Llorente. Moments after a warning shot by De Marcos was saved by Valdes, Munain skipped down the left wing – Dani Alves was covering, but lost his footing – the young winger then cut the ball back for Ander, whose deflected off Pique’s knee, past Barça’s despairing ‘keeper and into the net for 1-0.

Barcelona wasted no time getting back into the match; Messi rolled a smart free-kick into the path of Dani Alves, who shot straight at Gorka. Then, after a scramble on the left side of the area, Abidal found a couple of yards of space by the touchline. The Frenchman curled a wonderful cross that Cesc Fábregas headed into the top-right corner like a seasoned striker.

Although Barcelona were marginally in control, both sides then had chances to take the lead. After a spell of beautiful passing, Messi jinked to the edge of the Bilbao area and clipped a lovely pass through to Iniesta, whose toe-poke was just saved by Gorka. Then Ander slipped Munain behind Barça’s backline, but Valdes got down t make a great reflex stop to his left.

In the second half the appalling conditions finally took their toll on the game, with surface water hampering both teams’ efforts to keep the ball. It was Barcelona who were making a fist of it though. Iniesta had a 30-yard lob saved, and then Cesc played Messi in, but his shot was saved and scrambled away by Bilbao’s ‘keeper.

The home team were subdued, but there was a hint of a threat lurking beneath the surface. Mascherano tried to pass the ball back to Valdés from the halfway line, but the ball skipped off the surface and out for a Bilbao corner. The ball came in, and Abidal’s clearance hit Llorente on the shin – Pique tried to react, but could only diver the ball past Valdes to make it 2-1.

Then, after chances for David Villa and Iniesta, Messi took advantage of a defensive mix-up to equalise with a composed finish in the very last minute of normal time.

1-0 Ander (min 19)
1-1 Fabregas (min 23)
2-1 Fernando Llorente (min 78)
2-2 Messi (min 89)

La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 11

October 31st, 2011

Real Madrid and Barça both won their respective games, while Levante lost and dropped into third place in the Spanish league.

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Barcelona and Messi Answer Critics

October 31st, 2011

After a week in which doubts have been raised about their capacity to meet their usual lofty standards this campaign, FC Barcelona dismantled RCD Mallorca at the Camp Nou on Saturday night, running home easy 5-0 winners. And it was two players who have come in for a some criticism who shone – Lionel Messi claimed a hat-trick in the first 30 minutes, while all-rounder Adriano provided three assists. Youngster Isaac Cuenca scored a classy fourth, on just his second first-team appearance for the club, and Dani Alves smashed home a spectacular fifth goal from 25 yards.

Pep Guardiola raised a few eyebrows with his team selection here. Cesc Fàbregas, Iniesta and Xavi sat out, with the latter not even making the bench, as Pep sought to rest some of his key creative midfielders while giving youngsters like Thiago and Isaac Cuenca a chance to inject some youthful energy into a team that had been looking a little jaded in recent weeks. Barcelona also reverted to their controversial 3-4-3 formation.

It was Mallorca who unexpectedly fashioned the first chance of note in the match – left-back Pedro Bigas found lots of space down the left wing, and produced a tantalising cross that Joâo Victor somehow managed to skew wide. But from there on it was all Barcelona, who were clearly intent on making their mark against one of the Primera División’s strugglers.

The first goal came after Adriano, playing as an attacking left midfielder, nodded a deep cross back across goal, only for defender Nsue to intervene with his hand. Messi dispatched the resulting penalty into the top-right corner. The Argentine maestro then threaded a delightful ball through for Villa, but goalkeeper Dudu Aouate came out and blocked well.

Then Cuenca, looking very lively on just his second start for the first team, twisted and turned until he reached the byline. His cross was turned back into the danger area by Adriano, and Messi was in the right place to notch his second from five yards. On the half-hour mark Messi completed his 20-minute hat-trick with a cushioned volley from a fine, driven cross by Dani Alves.

Barcelona were back in the goals shortly after the restart. This time Adriano put Isaac Cuenca through, and the winger rounded Aouate before finishing left-footed into the top corner. Piqué had replaced Abidal at half time, and he was joined midway through the half by Carles Puyol. The final player to come off the bench was another hotly-tipped youngster, Gerard Deulofeu.

The pace slowed a little as the game entered the final half-hour, but Messi was determined to add to his tally, powering a free-kick that was well saved by Aouate and demonstrating his aerial ability, leaping to head to head just wide after a fabulous cross by Dani Alves. And it was the Brazilian defender who added the gloss to a dominant performance when his wonderful long-range effort crashed in off the crossbar in injury time.

1-0 Messi (p) (min 13)
2-0 Messi (min 21)
3-0 Messi (min 30)
4-0 Cuenca min 49)
5-0 Alves (min 91)

La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 10

October 27th, 2011

Barcelona dropped back into third place in the league table last night as Real Madrid and Levante won their respective matches.

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Barcelona Do Enough in Granada

October 26th, 2011

FC Barcelona gained a surprisingly narrow 1-0 victory at Granada on Tuesday night. Xavi Hernández provided the inspiration with a world-class free kick in the first half.

The big surprise before kickoff was the inclusion of youth academy graduate and Barça B star, Isaac Cuenca. The 20 year-old took his place on the left wing, and was joined in attack by Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodríguez. Busquets and Cesc Fàbregas accompanied Xavi in midfield on the night he became Barcelona’s most capped player, and Adriano was replaced by Maxwell at left back.

After a relatively subdued period of early possession the away side slowly started to find its shooting range; Messi worked some room on the right side of the area, beating one defender before curling a shot past the far post. Cuenca then carved a chance of his own, this time cutting in from the left and driving a shot wide from 25 yards.

A few minutes later Dani Alves bustled down the right wing and curled a beautiful cross for Pedro, who glanced a free header just wide. Pep Guardiola’s men have had better halves, but the breakthrough came on 32 minutes, when Xavi was felled about 30 yards from goal by Jaime Romero. The captain stepped up to take the resulting free kick and curled a magnificent strike over the wall and inside the near post.

El Graná were unable to offer much in response, choked in possession by a hardworking Barcelona side who were possibly lacking a little of their usual attacking imagination.

In the second half Barcelona were still a little laboured in their forward play, but were able to maintain possession and keep Granada at bay. The home side came out after the break offering a little more bite in the tackle, and this was epitomised by Siqueira’s foul from behind on Pedro, which put the winger on a stretcher with a nasty looking ankle injury to be replaced by David Villa.

And in the same passage of play Jaime Romero raised his boot against Maxwell, resulting in a second yellow for the midfielder. Moments later Messi was fed by Villa on the edge of the area, and the Argentine forward dinked the ball over Roberto. It looked for all the world a goal, but Diego Mainz scampered back to make a fantastic goal-line clearance.

The next big chance fell to Cuenca, who was put through on the left by Xavi, but denied a debut goal by the onrushing Roberto. The remainder of the match was a relatively scrappy affair – Barcelona continued to lack their customary incision, while Granada struggled to build a move of note. Dani Benítez summed up the evening when he earned a red card by kicking the ball away after getting pulled up for an offside.

Still, Pep Guardiola was able to take pride in a seventh consecutive clean sheet as his side returned to the top of the table for at least 24 hours.

0-1, Xavi (min 33)

La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 9

October 24th, 2011

This weekend sees the unfamiliar site of Levante heading the Spanish league after the eighth match of the season. While Real Madrid beat Malaga 4-0, Barça had to settle for a goalless draw against Sevilla at the Nou Camp and Levante beat Villarreal 3-0.

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Javi Varas Keeps Barcelona at Bay

October 24th, 2011

Sevilla FC held Barcelona to a draw at the Camp Nou on Saturday night thanks in no small part to their goalkeeper Javi Varas, who made some spectacular saves throughout the encounter, including an injury time penalty stop from Lionel Messi amid acrimonious circumstances.

Guardiola had returned to a 3-4-3 at kick-off, with Alves, Mascherano and Abidal lining up at the back. Former Sevilla utility man Adriano started on the right wing, but midway through the first half returned to a left-back position to help negate Los Rojiblancos’ blistering pace on the counter, which had threatened to expose Abidal and Mascherano in the early stages.

The goalkeepers stole the show in the first half; Javi Varas made three reaction saves to deny Iniesta, Messi and Villa, the pick of which came after ten minutes when Iniesta got on the end of an Adriano cutback, only to see his powerful low effort blocked by Varas’ right leg.

Valdés wasn’t to be upstaged though – when Jesús Navas worked some space in the area ten minutes later Barça’s number 1 leaped to his right to palm over a shot heading for the very top corner. Much of the remainder of the half was a tense tactical battle, with Sevilla sitting deep and Barcelona reluctant to over-commit players forward.

As the opening period drew to a close Barcelona burst into life once more, drawing yet more saves from Varas – Villa was released by Adriano but Sevilla’s ‘keeper was equal to the effort, and two minutes later Messi’s effort was deflected out for a corner.

The onslaught continued into the second half as Barcelona pushed for an opening goal. Messi went close with a 35-yard free-kick, which swerved just over the bar, and then rose highest to head a perfect Dani Alves cross just wide. In between, Iniesta smashed a 20-yard shot that was bound for the bottom corner, only for Varas to intervene with a fantastic low save.

Messi then produced a dazzling through-pass to find Iniesta in the area. Barça’s number eight just managed to make a connection under pressure from Varas, but his shot bounced agonisingly off the top of the crossbar. Sevilla’s ‘keeper soon came to the fore once again, getting down to a right-footed Messi shot inside the area.

With fifteen minutes to go Sevilla began to settle and Barcelona looked increasingly short of ideas, throwing on Pedro, Cesc Fàbregas and finally Busquets.

But, as the game appeared to be fizzling out, Iniesta weaved his way into the Sevilla area and won a penalty from a desperate lunge by Fazio. Replays vindicated referee Iturralde González’ decision, but Sevilla were incensed – Kanouté’s protestations earned him a yellow card, and then he lost his cool and got a red by assaulting Cesc. All the while Messi was waiting to take his spot-kick. When his chance finally came, four minutes after the penalty was awarded, Javi Varas completed a virtuoso performance with yet another stunning save.

La Liga 2011/12 – standings after week 8

October 17th, 2011

Barcelona remain at the head of the Spanish league table after a 3-0 win against Racing on Saturday night. Leo Messi scored two goals to make him the second highest scorer ever for FC Barcelona (196 goals); he now needs to beat the 235 goals scored by César Rodríguez between 1942 and 1955 to take the number one position, which should be well within his grasp.

Weirdly enough it is Levante who are in second place, matching Barça’s 17 points, followed by arch-rival Real Madrid on 16. It remains to be seen how long this can continue, but there are many matches still to be played and one point between them at this early stage in the season means little.

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