Friday’s Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderón Stadium marked the end of an era, the last match with Pep Guardiola at the helm of FC Barcelona.
Even before it was played the match had been controversial, with Real Madrid objecting to plans to play the match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium; the league authorities were slow to make their minds up over the date; and in the last week there wasa call by Madrid’s mayor to postpone the match as the date coincided with a pro-Franco march in the city; of course, what could be worse for Madrid, hosting a match between a Catalan and a Basque team?
And then on the day there were reports of coaches ferrying supporters of both teams to Madrid being stopped by the police and having banners and whistles confiscated! Yes, Spain has a long way to go in some respects as some elements clearly believe they are living in a totalitarian state where such behaviour is acceptable; in the end when the Spanish national anthem was played it was drowned out by the jeers of both sides.
FC Barcelona scored early on with Pedro opening; Messi scored after minute 19; and then Pedro scored the last goal of the match in the 24th minute. Afterwards Barcelona celebrated with Pep Guardiola’s final title for the club after the disappointment of the Spanish League and Champions League titles. And during the celebrations Barça’s supporters started to chant the name of their opponent, as Carles Puyol carried both Catalan and Basque flags around the stadium to celebrate.
1-0 Pedro (min 2)
2-0 Messi (min 19)
3-0 Pedro (min 24)
FC Barcelona closed out their league campaign with a 2-2 draw at Real Betis. In a dramatic encounter, Busquets handed Barça the lead with a header from a corner, but, just as the game was looking straightforward, Dani Alves was sent off and Betis responded with two well-taken goals by Rubén Castro. Keita salvaged a point with a header in injury time.
Barcelona’s first half performance was as dominant as any away from home this season, pinning Betis back in front of the area and defending intelligently on the few occasions they lost possession. Betis were very swift on the break, but time after time Javier Mascherano was in the right position to win the ball back for his team, and make sure Víctor Valdés had nothing to do.
After maintaining pressure from the opening whistle, the away team took the lead within ten minutes – Xavi swung a corner in from the right, which Busquets met unchallenged at the near post to head home into the far bottom corner of the goal and give Barça an early lead.
Xavi had a free-kick from 25 yards, which had Casto worried and hit the side-netting of the near-post. Ibrahim Afellay was impressive in the opening period, demonstrating his pace and dribbling abilities, but it was Adriano at left-back who would next test Casto, when he cut in from the left-wing, evaded his marker and powerd a shot at the right side of goal, which the ‘keeper did well to tip past the post on the stretch.
The first ten minutes of the second half were packed with incident. Keita had chances, first drawing yet another smart save from Casto, and later firing straight at the Betis ‘keeper. Immediately after, Rubén Castro got the better of Mascherano for the first time in the match, but Víctor Valdés showed no signs of rustiness when he rushed off his line to smother the ball.
Then Dani Alves was earned a second yellow and expulsion from the pitch for a wild tackle on Jonathan Pereira as the winger took him on down the left wing.
Guardiola elected to withdraw Afellay for replacement right-back Montoya, and went about the game much the same fashion as before Alves’ red card, but Valdés had to make a reaction save with his legs in the 69th minute when Mascherano deflected a Nacho cross towards goal.
It proved to be a warning of things to come, because minutes later Rubén Castro latched onto a through ball and lifted his finish over the onrushing Valdés to equalise. And almost immediately after, Rubén Castro got in behind once again – this time he was released by Beñat, and found the bottom right corner to give Betis the lead.
Late in the game Messi smashed a free-kick from 30 yards that had Casto beaten, but rebounded off the post. And then, right at the death Montoya swung a teasing cross that Keita nodded down and in.
0-1 Busquets (min 8)
1-1 Rubén Castro (min 70)
2-1 Rubén Castro (min 73)
2-2 Keita (min 91)
The Camp Nou said a fond farewell to Pep Guardiola on Saturday night after Barcelona defeated Espanyol 4-0, with Lionel Messi grabbing all four goals. The Argentine got two from the penalty spot, one from a free-kick and another after latching onto a long pass.
Before Barcelona’s final home game of the season, the Camp Nou took the opportunity to thank Pep Guardiola for four seasons of unrivalled success, unfurling a giant banner with “We Love You, Pep” in Catalan. The visit of Espanyol offered an opportunity to bring his tenure as coach to a close with a win against one of the club’s two biggest rivals.
The first half was largely a quiet affair, though Barcelona were in near constant control. After a tentative opening, Messi jolted the game to life in the 11th minute when he curled a 25-yard free-kick past Cristian Alvarez to score his 47th goal in the league this season.
For much of the rest of the half Barça dominated possession, but Espanyol were resolute in defence and kept clear opportunities to a minimum.
Barcelona were equally watertight at the back, but going forward found their best chances coming from direct free-kicks. Iniesta forced Cristian Álvarez to make an excellent low diving save to keep out a free-kick destined for the bottom-right corner, and on the stroke of half-time another fine effort by Messi from the left hit the side-netting past the left post of the goal.
The home team’s superiority continued into the second half, and Barça began to get closer to the Espanyol goal, with Iniesta seeing two shots go narrowly wide – once after being put through by Pedro and later when a close range effort was deflected past the near post by an Espanyol defender after good interplay with Adriano.
Then in the 63rd minute Messi won a penalty. In a relatively debatable decision, Barça’s number 10 flicked the ball up and it caught the elbow of Cristian Gómez as he attempted to block. Messi scored his 48th of the season as he waited for the ‘keeper to move before sending the ball home off the right hand post.
Over the next ten minutes Espanyol enjoyed their best spell of the game when Forlín drove a volley at goal that Pinto pushed just wide of his right post, and later Mascherano produced a fantastic goal-line clearance after Weiss had got the better of Pinto.
But immediately after, Messi chested a long diagonal pass down, outpaced Víctor Sánchez and found the bottom right corner with a cool finish. The celebrations had barely finished when Busquets was felled in the penalty area by Forlín. Once again Messi stepped up to take the spot-kick and smashed the ball into the net to claim his 50th league goal of the season. The entire team then ran across to Pep Guardiola to celebrate together. And at full-time Guardiola took to the centre-circle to say goodbye to the fans amid emotional scenes.
1-0 Messi (min 11)
2-0 Messi (min 62)
3-0 Messi (min 72)
4-0 Messi (min 77)
Barcelona beat Málaga CF 4-1 in an entertaining match at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Despite winning two controversial penalties Barça sparkled in attack all evening, with Iniesta and Messi particularly impressive. The diminutive Argentine got a hat-trick to take his tally to a European record-breaking 46, boosting his claims for this season’s Pichichi Trophy, after Puyol scored the first from an Inesta cross. Málaga did create chances, and got their only goal from a header by Rondón.
It was a match with more riding on it than met the eye – Barcelona wanted to make Real Madrid work for their title, while Málaga maintained Champions League aspirations after a successful season on the back of a large investment by their Qatari owners.
The opening was slightly muted, but Barça were shaken on the 11th minute when a ferocious Duda free-kick flew past Pinto but rebounded off the right hand post. In the next passage of play Barça won a corner through a deflected effort by Cesc – it was taken short, and Messi released Iniesta with a clever reverse pass. Iniesta crossed it low and hard from the right, and Carles Puyol coolly turned it in to make it 1-0.
There followed a period of confident attacking play by the home team, but this spell of dominance was broken in the 26th minute when a cross from deep by Jesús Gámez was met with a powerful diving header by Rondón, which left Pinto with no chance as it zipped into the bottom left corner.
Once again, Barcelona responded quickly, and a jinking run by Iniesta was halted by a late Gámez tackle on the edge of the area. Whether it was a penalty was debatable, but referee Turienzo Álvarez pointed to the spot and Messi, anticipating Kameni’s early dive, nonchalantly rolled the penalty down the middle of the goal. Late in the half Cesc displayed excellent defensive instincts to block a shot by Duda after a mistimed punch by Pinto.
15 minutes into the second half Barcelona won another penalty – this time Duda was adjudged to have brought down Messi, but replays suggested the tackle might have been legitimate. Nevertheless Messi was efficient from the spot once again, smashing the ball into the top right corner.
Málaga then had a good chance fluffed by van Nistelrooy, on for Rondón, before Messi extended the home team’s lead with a fantastic goal. On the counter, Iniesta played a magnificent through-ball that breached two banks of Málaga defenders, finding Messi, who powered forward, flicked it over the advancing Kameni and passed it into the empty net.
From then on Barcelona were comfortable, as Málaga attempted to chase the game. Tello stretched the opposition defence after a couple of counter attacks, but the remainder of the match was played out in the home team’s half as Barcelona soaked up the opposition’s pressure, with Pinto only needing to make one save, from a late van Nistelrooy volley.
1-0 Puyol (min 13)
1-1 Salomón (min 25)
2-1 Messi (min 34)
3-1 Messi (min 57)
4-1 Messi (min 63)
In one of the final matches of Guardiola’s tenure, FC Barcelona rediscovered their attacking verve, defeating lowly Rayo Vallecano 7-0 in Madrid on Sunday night. Messi grabbed two and he was joined on the score-sheet by Keita, Pedro (2) and Thiago, while Rayo left-back Rober scored an own-goal trying to clear a shot by Alexis.
Guardiola took the opportunity to rest a handful of players who have looked a little tired over the last few weeks. Pinto was in for Víctor Valdés, while Xavi, Cesc, Dani Alves and Iniesta all started on the bench. After a traumatic week it took a while for Barcelona to find their feet against a side battling against relegation.
But sure enough, Barcelona’s game regained its familiar fluidity, and they got a goal with their first shot on target – an incisive passing move saw Alexis find Pedro free on the right side of the area, and his low cross was perfectly weighted for Messi to finish at the back post.
Barcelona were dominating though, and doubled their lead when Keita threaded a delightful pass through for Alexis. The Chilean forward dribbled round the onrushing Cobeño and tried to turn it into the goal from a tight angle on the left. His shot was heading wide, but as left-back Rober slid in to block he succeeded only in turning the ball into the goal, and managed to injure himself as he collided with the post.
The third followed shortly before half-time, and was crafted by Messi, who cut in from the right, beat three defenders and played it through for Keita who tucked it beneath the ‘keeper.
The second half was barely underway before Barça added to their tally – Alexis bustled down the left before picking out Messi all alone in the area. The Argentine’s close-range shot hit the cross bar, but Pedro was free to follow up and make it 4-0.
Much of the remainder of the second half was subdued, with Barcelona waiting for opportunities rather than take the attacking initiative. Rayo had their moments, particularly through the ever-lively Lass Bangoura, who embarked on one run from the left that beat two Barça defenders before his powerful shot drew another reaction save from Pinto.
Later there was time for Ibrahim Afellay to make a long awaited comeback from injury as he took the place of Sergio Busquets with 20 minutes to go. Soon after, Thiago made it five, when he arrived late to nod Alves’ cross down and in off the post from 16 yards. With the minutes ticking down, Messi flicked a looping pass into the inside-left channel for Pedro, who brought it under control and drove it below Cobeño for his second of the night.
Immediately after Messi added a seventh as Rayo completely fell apart in defence. Pedro got loose in the area, and cut the ball back for Messi, who coolly passed it into the bottom corner to seal an overwhelming victory for Barça.
Barcelona are out of the UEFA Champions League after drawing 2-2 with 10-man Chelsea at the Camp Nou. In an eventful match Barça were unable to capitalise on their dominance– they went 2-0 up through goals by Busquets and Iniesta, but were pegged back on the stroke of half time by a goal from Ramires. In the second half Barcelona attacked relentlessly, but couldn’t score the crucial third, and collapsed at the end to a breakaway Torres goal.
The first half was as dramatic as any at the Camp Nou this season. It started with Barcelona exerting near constant pressure on the Chelsea defence. And the first chance arrived within three minutes, when quick interplay between Messi and Sánchez saw Messi through against Cech, but the Argentine slammed his right-footed effort into the side-netting.
Soon after, Valdés had to clear a long-ball by Petr Cech, but in doing so crashed into Piqué, knocking him out cold. The centre-half would go on to play ten more minutes before getting withdrawn.
At the other end Messi drew a smart close range stop from Cech and Cesc volleyed wide after a clever ball over the top by Cuenca. But the pressure was starting to tell now, and just after the thirty-minute mark Barcelona took the lead. Alves, on for Piqué, released Cuenca on the right, who crossed low for Busquets to arrive late and slot home.
The remainder of the half was full of incident – first John Terry inexplicably kicked Alexis off the ball, earning a red card. Then with Chelsea caught high up the pitch and trying to recover, Alexis laid the ball off for Messi, who threaded it through down the left for Iniesta, who in turn made no mistake with an elegant side-footed finish into the bottom right corner.
But then, as half time beckoned, Chelsea scored a goal from nowhere. Lampard spotted Ramires’ run, and the Brazilian produced a deft chip which looped over Valdés and down into the net. The goal put Chelsea back in the lead in the tie on away goals.
In the second half Chelsea defended in a 6-3 formation and Barcelona toiled to find gaps, but few were forthcoming.
On one of the rare occasions that Barcelona managed to draw Chelsea players out of position, Cesc flicked the ball away from Drogba on the right side of the area, earning a penalty from the forward’s lunge. Messi stepped up but drove his spot-kick onto the cross bar and out.
After the penalty Barcelona appeared to be discouraged, and found it increasingly difficult to carve open the massed Chelsea ranks – Messi cut in from the right and hit the bottom of the post from outside the area, and Cuenca forced a stop from Cech. Any hopes of qualifying were wiped out by Torres’ goal when Barça had committed the whole team forward. A long kick downfield left the Spanish forward one-on-one with Valdes, and he rounded the ‘keeper before passing it in.
1-0 Busquets (min 34)
2-0 Iniesta (min 43)
2-1 Ramires (min 45)
2-2 Fernando (min 92)
Barcelona effectively conceded the title on Saturday evening, losing 1-2 to Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. Real Madrid took the lead through Khedira after a slip by Valdés. From there Barcelona fought gamely and eventually equalised via Alexis in the 70th minute. But immediately after the goal Real Madrid regained the lead through Cristiano Ronaldo.
The first half got off to a frantic pace, with Real Madrid once again pressing Barcelona high up the pitch, but quickly getting back into position when Barça had the ball. It was the away team that settled earlier – in the first five minutes Cristiano Ronaldo nodded a header down onto the top Puyol’s head, and looked destined for the top-right corner before Valdés tipped it over the bar acrobatically.
Alves almost got a shot away after he intercepted a pass between two Madrid defenders, but Casillas was quick to come out and block him off. Cristian Tello was lively on Barcelona’s left flank throughout the half, and had Barcelona’s first telling effort when cut inside a defender but saw his shot across the goal well saved by Casillas
But as Barcelona appeared to be finding their feet, Real Madrid scored from a corner – Di Maria swung the ball in deep from the left, Pepe got up at the back post and headed it across the six yard box. Valdes spilled the ball and Puyol attempted to cover, but was outmuscled by Khedira who scooped the ball into the net.
After the goal Real Madrid retreated into their half and put the onus on Barcelona to try and break them down. Ten minutes after the opener Xavi had a golden opportunity to make it 1-1. Messi slipped a sublime reverse pass through, and Xavi had plenty of time one-on-one, but saw his shot narrowly roll past the left post after a small deflection off Casillas.
The second half saw Barcelona completely dominate territory and possession, as Real Madrid held their shape and attempted to buy time at every opportunity. Chances were limited for either side, and after 25 minutes the closest Barça had come was via a Xavi shot that zipped just past the left post.
Soon after though, Barcelona were on level terms. Stylish build-up play from Messi and Iniesta brought the ball to Tello’s feet. His shot was well saved by Casillas, but Busquets sent the ball back towards the goal, and Alexis was on hand to force the ball home after a goal-line scramble.
At this stage it seemed likely that Barcelona would take the upper hand, but directly after the goal Real Madrid had regained the upper hand. This time Özil received the ball on the right touchline, and sent a smart, angled pass in behind for Cristiano, who took it on, rounded Valdes to the right and tucked his shot home.
Stifled by Madrid’s dogged defending, Barcelona were unable to rouse themselves and were unable to muster another chance before full-time.
0-1 Khedira (min 16)
1-1 Alexis (min 69)
1-2 Cristiano (min 72)
FC Barcelona had to come from behind to beat Levante 2-1 at the Ciutat de Valencia on Saturday night. After conceding to a Barkero penalty, Barça hit back with two goals by Messi.
Guardiola stuck with the same system that defeated Getafe three days earlier, featuring a three-man defence of Puyol, Mascherano and Adriano. A major absentee from the first team midfield was Andrés Iniesta, who took his place on the bench at kick-off.
Barcelona got off to a strong start, and went about creating a series of chances in the opening minutes. The first fell to Pedro, after Messi found the winger in plenty of space on the left side of the area. Pedro’s shot was straight at Munua, and the Levante ‘keeper managed to parry away one-handed.
Later Messi showed great strength to bring the ball down in the area after the Levante defence attempted to clear its lines. He held off two defenders and made space for a shot that went just over the bar.
Thiago then had two excellent chances to open the scoring for Barcelona, with two headers. The first went just wide after Alexis tricked his way to the byline and pulled a cross back. The second came from a Messi free kick – Thiago beat the offside trap but could only head straight at Munua, despite being in plenty of space.
Then, after 22 minutes, and with Levante’s first real attack, Barcelona conceded a penalty. Valdés was unable to gather a corner, and Busquets was adjudged to have handled the ball when he attempted to win possession back. Barkero was cool from the penalty spot, waiting for Valdés to dive to the right before firing it down the middle.
Barça were quieter after conceding – Levante got men behind the ball much faster, and space was hard to find. The best chance was crafted by Messi, who looped a delightful pass for Cesc, but Munua dealt with the midfielder’s header.
With only a win good enough to maintain the pressure on Real Madrid, Barcelona attacked with real ferocity right from the start of the second half. Cuenca replaced Xavi, and Iniesta soon came on for Pedro. It took some time for the chances to start flowing though.
Adriano forced an acrobatic save from Munua with a shot just outside the area. And straight after, Messi drew Barcelona level. He ran with the ball from deep and played a one-two with Alexis on the edge of the area. Messi strode onto the return pass and curled the ball inside the left post.
Ten minutes later Cuenca dribbled past Juanfran on the right edge of the area, but as he got away the left-back pushed him to the ground, conceding a penalty for his side. Messi stepped up and stroked the ball into the top-right corner, sending Munua the wrong way.
From there Barcelona were professional, keeping possession in the Levante half and closing out an important and hard-fought win.
1-0 Barkero (min 22)
1-1 Messi (min 64)
1-2 Messi (min 72)
Barcelona got revenge for their away defeat earlier in the season by thrashing Getafe 4-0 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday evening. Alexis Sánchez got two goals, with Messi and Pedro grabbing one apiece. It was a thoroughly professional and composed performance, and a result that ramps up the pressure on Real Madrid, just one point ahead before their match on Wednesday.
Guardiola fielded what looked a very attacking lineup – ostensibly it was a four-man defence, with Mascherano and Busquets in the middle, but the latter floated between midfield and defence. Puyol and Adriano were on the flanks, tucking in occasionally.
Barcelona settled quickly and attacked relentlessly in the first half, getting the opener after 12 minutes – from the left touchline, Iniesta looped a pass infield for Messi. The Argentine chested into the path of Alexis who strode forward and curled his shot past Moyá and inside the right post.
Barça maintained the intensity after the goal, and were denied what should have been a second by a strange refereeing decision. After a spell of prolonged possession Messi slipped a pass through for Xavi, who turned in the area and lifted his shot over Moyá. A goal seemed unavoidable as the ball bounced over the line, but it was hooked away by a Getafe defender and off Messi for a goal kick. Replays suggested the goal should have stood.
Getafe were deep, narrow, and struggling to cope with Barcelona’s pressing and movement. With half an hour gone, Busquets lofted a pinpoint pass through for Messi, but the forward’s shot dribbled agonisingly wide of the right post.
The away team did muster an attack of their own; as Barcelona cleared a corner, Rubén Pérez struck a sweet volley from outside the area which deflected just wide of the goal with Valdés motionless.
In response Barcelona should have extended their lead – Cuenca fired a low cross from the right wing that picked out Alexis in plenty of space at the back post, but the Chilean forward could only poke wide. The second goal came before half time, after a breathtaking passing move. Messi fired a pass through Iniesta, who produced a delightful back-heeled layoff for the overlapping Argentine with his first touch. Messi picked it up and fired the ball into the top left corner.
Barça were less urgent in the second half, electing instead to build slowly and retain possession. It was almost half an hour before Moyá was tested – he palmed away a wayward Cuenca cross. But the next time Cuenca got down the right flank he curled a cross that Alexis headed home. And two minutes later Barcelona scored with another header. This time Messi swung a free kick in from the right hand side, and Pedro glanced a deft header into the top left corner.
Later Messi danced past three defenders from left corner flag, but his shot was deflected onto the bar by the ‘keeper.
1-0 Alexis (min 13)
2-0 Messi (min 44)
3-0 Alexis (min 73)
4-0 Pedro (min 75)
With the 2011/2012 in its closing few weeks we still have tickets available for two matches. On April 24th Barcelona faces Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals, while in early May we have FC Barcelona tickets available for the league match against Malaga. That match will be played midweek, and the date is not yet fixed so could be on any day between 1st and 3rd May.
FC Barcelona earned a hard fought 4-1 win away at Real Zaragoza on Saturday night. In a competitive match Valdés saved a penalty before conceding to an Aranda header. Barça bounced back minutes later through goals from Puyol and Lionel Messi. Messi extended the lead from the spot and Pedro added the forth.
Barcelona took a long time to find their stride. Zaragoza were tenacious in their attempts to press and win the ball back, and there was also a rugged edge to their game, giving away no fewer than six fouls in as many minutes.
Guardiola’s men were rattled and were finding it difficult to work the ball into dangerous positions. And indeed it was Zaragoza who carved the first big opportunity – when Micael sent the ball in low from the left for Aranda, but the striker miscued his shot.
Messi had a shot blocked, but 20 minutes into the match Barcelona were yet to force a save from Roberto in the Zaragoza goal. At the other end Zaragoza hit the post, and then Lafita beat Valdés to the rebound but was brought down by Barça’s ‘keeper. Turienzo Álvarez signalled what was a relatively clear penalty. Aranda aimed his spot kick towards the right side of goal, but Valdés got across to make a key save.
But Zaragoza continued to break with menace. Just after half an hour Aranda broke the offside trap and got in behind the Barcelona defence. His first shot was saved by Valdés, but the rebound bounced off the striker’s head in and into the goal.
The goal brought Barça to life, and they dominated the rest of the half. Roberto made a point blank save from Alexis, but when the resulting corner came in the Zaragoza ‘keeper’s attempt at a one-handed catch only served to divert the ball down to Puyol’s feet, and the defender was left with an easy chance to make it 1-1.
Zaragoza continued to attack, but it was Barcelona who would score the next goal on the break. After a Zaragoza corner, the away team broke forward with Alexis who carried the ball forward and picked out Messi with a lofted pass across. Messi wriggled past Paolo da Silva before slamming his shot into the top left corner.
A fractious second half saw Zaragoza coach Manolo Jiménez sent to the stands. Neither team could find their stride – Zaragoza looked dangerous early on, when Obradovic volleyed just wide, but Barcelona were soon on the front foot.
Alexis had an excellent chance to make it 3-1 when he was released by a Messi reverse pass and drew a reaction save from Roberto. Later the Chilean forward drew a clumsy tackle from Paredes in the area. Messi powered the penalty into the roof of the net to make the game safe. In injury time Pedro broke down the left, exchanged passes with Messi and tucked his finish neatly past Roberto to add gloss to the victory.
1-0 Aranda (min 29)
1-1 Puyol (min 35)
1-2 Messi (min 38)
1-3 Messi (min 86)
1-4 Pedro (min 91)