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.
FC Barcelona overcame Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarterfinal, drawing 2-2 on the night and winning 4-3 on aggregate. Pedro and Alves got the goals for the home team.
Barcelona began the match under a storm of pressure from the visitors. It started as early as the 10th second, when Higuaín intercepted Alves’ pass for Piqué, but the striker contrived to miss from 10 yards with Pinto stranded and the goal gaping. Seconds later Pinto needed to make a point-blank save to keep Higuaín out after he met a free-kick at the back post.
The home team was struggling to keep possession against a highly motivated and aggressive side. Cristiano Ronaldo was seeing plenty of the ball, slamming one effort wide of the near-post and seeing another saved by the legs of Pinto.
After 15 minutes Barcelona mounted their first attack of note – Cesc got away from Xabi Alonso down the left and squared for Messi, whose shot flashed wide of the left post from just outside the area.
Real Madrid were soon back on the front foot though. Mesut Özil crashed a 30-yard strike that flew over Pinto’s head, off the underside of the bar and out just in front of the goal line. Then, on the half hour mark, sloppy distribution by Pinto saw the ball land at Higuaín’s feet on the right side of the area, but Barça’s ‘keeper was equal to the task once more and preserved the home team’s aggregate lead.
After half an hour the Madrid assault was starting to tail off, and Barcelona began to pass the ball with confidence once more. Just before the break Messi embarked on a trademark run inside, clipping the ball delicately for Pedro on the edge of the area. The winger, on for the injured Iniesta, showed great composure to slot the ball into the bottom-left corner.
Dani Alves then seemingly put the tie to bed – a Barça free-kick was cleared to the right angle of the area and the Brazilian full-back let rip with a first-time shot that zipped into the top right corner, leaving Casillas with no chance in the world.
The first 20 minutes of the second half were largely unremarkable – Real Madrid looked like they’d pulled a goal back, but replays showed a tug by Sergio Ramos on Alves’ arm. The match appeared to be petering out before Özil strode forward and threaded a neat pass for Cristiano Ronaldo, who rounded Pinto and scored from a tight angle.
The game got a little more serious just three minutes later. Benzema collected a header by Callejón, flicked the ball over Puyol and tucked it home to take the score on the night to 2-2, 4-3 on aggregate. From there on Real Madrid blustered, but were unable to make an impact, and as the final minutes counted down Ramos was sent off for a second yellow after a challenge on Busquets.
1-0 Pedro (min 43)
2-0 Alves (min 48)
2-1 Cristiano Ronaldo (min 70)
2-2 Benzema (min 74)
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)
FC Barcelona deservedly gained the upper hand in the Copa del Rey quarter-final, defeating a rugged Real Madrid 1-2 at the Santiago Bernabéu. After going behind to an early Cristiano Ronaldo goal, Barça stormed back with strikes from Puyol and Abidal.
The early exchanges were frantic, with neither side able to keep possession for more than two or three passes. This was playing into Madrid’s hands, who were seeking to break quickly and directly at every opportunity, given their three pacy forwards and absence of an attacking midfielder. It was from such a counter-attack that they took the lead after just 11 minutes.
Cristiano Ronaldo exploited the space behind Dani Alves, latching onto a Benzema pass, powering into the Barça area and wrong-footing Piqué before dispatching a low strike between Pinto’s legs to put Madrid ahead.
Really, it was to be their last attack of note before the break, and for the rest of the first half the onus was on Barcelona to find a way back. Iniesta began to shine, testing Casillas at the near-post from the edge of the area, later getting onto an Alexis layoff but skewing his effort just wide on the left side of goal.
In between Cesc did well to spot Alexis dropping behind Ramos and Coentrão, and curled a pass that Alexis, backpedalling, could only head onto the bar with Casillas completely stranded. Busquets then set up Messi down the inside-left Channel, but Real’s ‘keeper was alert and made another low near-post save.
But as the half wore on Madrid began to enjoy some success by closing down quickly in midfield and occasionally disrupting the game’s flow with niggling fouls. Just before the half-time whistle, first Alexis then Messi looked clean through in potential one-on-one situations but were incorrectly flagged offside.
Barcelona began the second half with renewed vigour, and were rewarded almost immediately. Xavi swung a corner in from the left side and Puyol stooped to head home unmarked from six yards. It was the ideal start, and Iniesta was so close to making it two when Cesc lifted a stylish pass over the top for him to volley, but Ramos’ intervention saw the ball cannon off the outside of the post.
Madrid’s response nearly saw them regain the lead – Altintop beat Iniesta down the right with some skill and sent a deep cross the Benzema headed onto the post from an acute angle. This let-off aside, Barcelona were gaining the upper hand, and Los Blancos’ apparent solution was to kick anything that moved. Pepe was looking out of control – replays caught him stamping on Messi’s hand, but Carvalho, Ramos and Alonso were equally guilty of trying to intimidate their opponents.
At this stage only Barça looked capable of snatching another, and the did just this when Messi showed great vision to spot Abidal, flicking a perfect pass to the left-back, who controlled it on his chest and angled it past Casillas from close range.
1-0 Cristiano (min 10)
1-1 Puyol (min 48)
1-2 Abidal (min 76)
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)
After last week’s 4-0 win against Osasuna in the Nou Camp there wasn’t much left to do for Barça to make it through to the next round. There was some doubt during the day whether the match would take place due to the weather, but in the end it went ahead as planned in freezing fog.
The Barça squad looked as though they weren’t going to over exert themselves in the cold, however after 15 minutes Fontas was stretched off the pitch, with Abidal coming on in his place. After some undemanding play, Osasuna finally came alive at the end of the first half and Lekic put the ball past Pinto to put the hosts ahead.
After the break Barça quickly got into the game to make sure Osasuna’s advantage was temporary. The Catalan’s moment came just four minutes into the second half when Adriano crossed to Alexis, who put the ball into the Osasuna net. Guardiola then brought on Messi in place of Alexis and soon after Busquets came on to replace Pedro, who was suffering a thigh strain.
A few minutes later Messi set up Sergi Roberto’s goal inside the area in the 72nd minute to put Barcelona ahead; the scoreline remained 2-1 to Barcelona, who once again have qualified for the Copa del Rey quarter-final. Next week they face Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, with Barcelona v Real Madrid at the Nou Camp leg being played a week later.
1-0 Lekic (min 40)
1-1 Alexis (min 49)
1-2 Sergi Roberto (min 72)
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)
Cesc Fàbregas and Lionel Messi helped bring FC Barcelona within touching distance of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, each scoring two goals in a comfortable 4-0 first leg victory over Osasuna at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night.
Barcelona settled quickly in this game, showing no signs of rust after their two-week break. A couple of early forays aside, Osasuna were soon pinned back in their own half by the home team’s intelligent passing and movement. Alves dragged a left-footed shot just wide – the livewire Brazilian would be a constant threat down the right wing, given even more freedom playing in front of a three-man defence.
It didn’t take long for Barcelona to make the breakthrough. Alves carried the ball inside from the right, feeding Xavi, whose close control helped him evade three defenders before laying a pass on for Cesc to score an easy tap in.
Cuenca was also impressive down the left flank – he worked some space before finding Alves on the opposite flank, who once again worked the ball to Xavi, but the captain could only shoot just wide.
By now the attacks were relentless and it was no surprise when Barcelona doubled their lead. With 20 minutes gone Xavi fed Cesc on the edge of the area, who controlled the ball on the turn with an immaculate first touch, before clipping a perfectly weighted chip over the head of Riesgo in the Osasuna goal.
Barcelona were looking reinvigorated after their winter break, and continued to carve out chances. Riesgo needed to react quickly to close range shots from Puyol and Thiago, as Osasuna somehow managed to maintain a two-goal deficit. At the end of the half he was called upon once more, tipping a chip by Dani Alves over the bar after a jinking run by the Brazilian.
There were a few contentious moments early on in the second half. Cuenca was clearly fouled on the edge of the penalty are as he skipped past Damià, but referee Borbalán wasn’t interested. Then Messi, on for Pedro, was held back as he bustled into the Osasuna area, but also saw his appeals waved away.
Within minutes of Messi’s entry though, Barcelona once again looked formidable in attack. The Argentine missed the goal by a matter of centimetres after wriggling past two defenders, swapping passes with Alves and neatly chipping the stranded Riesgo.
It mattered little though as Messi would be on the scoresheet minutes later. After Osasuna failed to clear a goalmouth scramble, Cesc aimed a cross to the far post and Messi produced his now customary leap to nod the ball home. He nearly got another shortly after, when Alexis teed him up in the six-yard box, but Riesgo made yet another reaction stop.
There was still time for one more goal. Xavi looked up and saw Messi open on the left-side of the box. The diminutive Argentine turned, looked up and curled a shot past Riesgo to complete an assured performance.
1-0 Cesc (min 13)
2-0 Cesc (min 18)
3-0 Messi (min 74)
4-0 Messi (min 94)
Barcelona are through to the next round of the Copa del Rey, demolishing minnows Hospitalet in a goal-fest at the Camp Nou. It was a win made at Barça’s academy, with every outfield player having been brought through the club’s youth ranks.
Mindful perhaps of the relatively slender 1-0 lead achieved in the first leg, Pep opted for a mix of youth and experience against the Segunda B opponents. Amongst the younger players taking their place in the 3-4-3 were Fontàs, Thiago and Cuenca, while Sergi Roberto and Cristian Tello were to come on in the first half.
It was a half completely run by the home side, but Hospitalet were first to conjure an opportunity – Striker Prats headed a free-kick narrowly wide. Thereafter Barcelona were relentless in attack. After ten minutes Isaac Cuenca wriggled free of Moussa on the byline, and the left-back tugged back Barça’s winger on the edge of the area. The referee signalled for a penalty, which was slightly harsh on the away team. Pedro was in no mood for charity, clinically slotting his spot-kick into the bottom left corner.
Minute later Xavi threaded a forensic through-pass for Cesc on the right side of the area. Barça’s number 4 looked up and squared for Iniesta, who found the net from no more than five yards to double the lead. Seconds had passed when Thiago pounced on Hospi defender Castaño’s indecision. The young midfielder was perfectly composed, junking past Craviotto and passing into the empty goal.
Then came a moment that took some gloss off the evening; Iniesta contested a loose ball and was clattered by Hospi’s goalkeeper, which forced Barça’s attacking midfielder from the pitch with a thigh injury. Initial reports were optimistic though, predicting an absence of no more than a couple of weeks.
Sergi Roberto replaced him, and the chances continued to flow. After point-blank saves and goal-line clearances, Hospitalet conceded once more with 35 minutes on the clock. Cesc lofted a sublime pass for Xavi, who scored at the near-post on the volley.
The lead was then extended to 5-0. Cristian Tello, on for Xavi, picked up the ball on the halfway line and, unopposed, ran straight for the opponents’ goal and found the bottom-right corner with a cool finish.
The rout continued into the second half. Tello showed electric pace to get to the byline on the left-side, cutting back for Cuenca who smashed the ball first-time under Craviatto’s dive. Then Cuenca broke free into the area, but was crudely hauled back by Hospi defender Viale. Thiago scored from the spot, and now the score was 7-0.
Tello, who was something of a revelation in this game, was next to add to the score, receiving the ball from Sergi Roberto and curling a classy right-footed shot past Craviotto on 64 minutes. Into the last ten minutes, Cuenca grabbed his second of the night, picked out by Cesc and crashing home from the right side of the area.
1-0 Pedro (min 11)
2-0 Iniesta (min 18)
3-0 Thiago (min 22)
4-0 Xavi (min 35)
5-0 Tello (min 42)
6-0 Cuenca (min 47)
7-0 Thiago (min 53)
8-0 Tello (min 62)
9-0 Cuenca (min 79)
Barcelona lifted the Club World Cup after thrashing Santos FC 4-0 in Yokohama on Sunday. In a constantly one-sided encounter Guardiola’s men created chance after chance, hitting the post twice and forcing numerous close-range saves from Santos’ overworked goalkeeper. Messi got two, and was joined on the scoresheet by Xavi and Cesc.
Guardiola appears to haven chosen this match as an international platform for his 3-4-3 formation – Abidal, Piqué and Puyol lined up across the back. Somewhat unusual was the sight of Dani Alves very high and wide on the right, while Thiago took up similar position on the opposite flank. In between were Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc and Messi, interchanging more than the Brazilian opposition could handle.
With just ten minutes gone the chances began to flow for Barcelona. Messi had an effort from range, which was parried by Rafael into Thiago’s path, but his shot could also only find Santos’ ‘keeper. Shortly after Barcelona were ahead – there was a triangle between Messi, Cesc and Xavi, which resulted in a fabulous through ball by Barça’s captain for Messi, who took his time and dinked a chip over Rafael to open the scoring.
Barcelona doubled their lead no more than five minutes later. Dani Alves, who looked dangerous throughout the half, broke free down the right and crossed low for Xavi, who took one touch just inside the area to evade Bruno, and drilled a shot low to Rafael’s left side.
A great opportunity then followed for Messi – this time he was released by Cesc, but a last-second intervention by Edu Dracena kept him out. This chance was followed by Santos’ only attack of note – playmaker Ganso slipped Borges through, but Valdés reacted quickly to gather his shot.
Directly after, Cesc nearly made it 3-0. To everyone’s surprise the midfielder had stayed onside to collect yet another sublime Xavi pass, but he could only hit the post from close range.
As the half drew to a close, Barcelona did extend their lead – Alves found Messi in the area to spark a scramble that ended when Cesc added the killer touch from six yards to cap a half in which Barcelona played some of their most consistently incisive football of the season.
Within seconds of the restart Barcelona were troubling Santos’ defence once again. Messi set up Cesc and Rafael produced the save of the match to push his shot just past the post. He was then in action soon after to save a close-range Messi effort with his legs.
Midway through the second half Barça sensed that the job was done and attacked with a little less intensity. In this spell Santos had their best chance, when Neymar was set free by Ganso, but Valdés was quick off his line to close the space and preserve the clean-sheet.
Messi then killed the game off, collecting the ball from Alves skipping over Rafael with his second touch and slotting home into the empty net.
0-1 Messi (min 17)
0-2 Xavi (min 24)
0-3 Cesc (min 45)
0-4 Messi (min 82)