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)
FC Barcelona reached the semi-finals of the Champions League after beating AC Milan 3-1 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night. Messi scored two penalties and Iniesta slotted home a third. Nocerino scored for AC Milan in the first half, making it 1-1 and briefly giving his team the lead in the tie. At any rate the home team created numerous opportunities and could easily have qualified by a greater margin.
Barcelona dominated both the share of chances and possession in the first half, finding space with relative ease despite the away side’s efforts to sit deep and compact. Milan tended to keep Robinho and Ibrahimovic forward for counter attacks, but for the most part the supply lines were cut off by Barça’s incessant pressing.
The home team started creating opportunities within just a few minutes of the kick-off. Cesc lofted a delicate chip behind the Milan defence for Messi, but Argentine got it wrong and scuffed his shot wide with just Abbiati to beat.
Soon after, Barcelona won a penalty. Messi, seized on an error by Milan high up the pitch. He got into the area but elected to square for Xavi rather than shoot. The ball found its way back to the feet of Messi, who was felled by Antonini as the defender tried to recover. Messi stepped up and tucked the penalty into the bottom left corner.
For the next 20 minutes Barcelona looked very comfortable – keeping the ball well and winning it back before Milan could build any attacks. But suddenly, against the run of play, Ibrahimovic received the ball deep in the Barcelona half and picked out Nocerino as the midfielder overlapped. Nocerino slid the ball beneath Valdes to make it 1-1 with Milan’s first shot on goal and give them the lead in the tie.
There was more urgency from the home team after conceding, and following a couple of shots from distance they earned another penalty. Xavi swung in a corner, but Nesta had a handful of Busquets’ shirt and brought the midfielder down. Messi took the penalty again and dispatched into the bottom right corner this time
Milan emerged with more attacking intent in the second half, but couldn’t achieve more than a couple of corners before Barcelona had exteneded their lead. A Messi shot was deflected into Iniesta’s path. Faced with only the ‘keeper to beat he curled the ball neatly inside the right post.
Milan fought to get a foothold in the match, sending a handful of dangerous long passes behind the Barcelona backline, but Valdés and his defence dealt with them comfortably enough. It was Barcelona who came closest to getting the next goal – Cesc lofted a pass forward to Messi, who chested it down and laid it off for Thiago to just miss the right hand post with a low shot. Later, only a desperate last-second lunge by Abbiati denied Messi a hat-trick after a mix-up in the Milan defence.
1-0 Messi (min 10)
1-1 Nocerino (min 32)
2-1 Messi (min 40)
3-1 Iniesta (min 53)
Barcelona produced a dominant performance to defeat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Iniesta was in sumptuous form, scoring the first with a powerful shot, and Messi completed the scoring from the penalty spot.
Both Barcelona and Athletic face crucial European matches in the coming week, and so it was no surprise to see some players rested. For the away team Llorente, Herrera and Muniain were noticeable for their absence from the lineup, while Puyol and Xavi sat the game out for Barcelona. Four of those five players had entered the game before the final whistle.
In the first half Barcelona carved a handful of opportunities, and Athletic had the quick reflexes of Iraizoz and some spectacular last-ditch defending to thank for keeping them in the contest. Alves took a powerful shot from at least 30 yards that Irazoz could only palm away to his right. From the ensuing passage of play, Piqué slammed a shot over with his left foot from ten yards.
Later, an audacious quick free-kick by Messi almost caught Iraizoz unawares, but the ‘keeper scuttled across his line to tip the shot wide. Then followed a stunning piece of defending by Aurtenetxe – Messi crossed deep from the right for Piqué, who slid in and connected with the ball at the back post. As the ball seemed destined for the net, Aurtenetxe leapt forward and somehow headed it off the goal-line.
All the same, Barcelona took the lead a couple of minutes later. Messi released Iniesta through the centre on the right, and the midfielder showed fantastic pace and strength to fend of the challenge of Ekiza before slamming an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net on the angle of the six-yard box.
Bielsa threw on Herrera and Muniain at the start of the second half, but the home team continued to dominate possession and create openings. Javi Martínez got a crucial block in against Messi as the forward got shot away in the area. Tello then forced another save from Iraizoz, who managed to get down to his left to keep out a curling strike by the Barça winger.
Minutes later Tello played a crucial role in the second goal. He tricked his way past Javi Martínez, buying a foul from the defender as he sought to pull him back. Messi stepped up for the spot-kick and tucked it coolly in the bottom right corner.
By now Barcelona was in a commanding position and could afford to be more patient in their passing. Llorente was now on the pitch for Athletic, but despite a few counter-attacking forays Athletic were still unable to make much of an impact on Barcelona. Iraizoz had to react quickly to push a deflected Iniesta shot over the bar.
Then came Athletic’s best opportunity – De Marcos strode forward and played it through for Munian whose first-time shot trickled past the on-rushing Valdés but was cleared off the by Pique’s outstretched left leg.
1-0 Iniesta (min 39)
2-0 Messi (min 56)
Barcelona head to settle for a 0-0 draw against AC Milan at the San Siro on Wednesday night. Although neither side created too many chances, Barça had more openings, but were just unable to add might the crucial finish. They might also have had a penalty in the first half when Abbiati appeared to bring down Alexis.
AC Milan almost caught Barcelona cold inside three minutes. Heavy pressure from the home team saw Ibrahimovic nod the ball across to Robinho, but the Brazilian forward completely miscued his volley, slicing it harmlessly over.
But after the let-off Barcelona soon found their feet and began to pen Milan back to the edge of their area. With ten minutes gone Messi struck the ball low from the edge of the area – it looked a routine save for the Abbiati, but the man ‘keeper fumbled it, offering a brief opportunity for Alves to steal, who was unable to make the right contact.
The pressure was starting to mount, and Barça should have had a penalty after a cleverly worked free-kick. Alexis got the ball inside the area, fought off a rugged challenge from Nocerino, and when he tried to round Abbiati appeared to be brought down. The referee decided it wasn’t, and Barcelona continued to battle for openings through the massed Milan ranks.
Milan though were still a threat on the break, and mustered another half chance – Ambrosini won the ball back on the halfway line, and Kevin-Prince Boateng threaded a pass through for Ibrahimovic whose attempted left-foot finish was poorly executed and rolled into Valdés’ arms.
Barça resumed their domination but were unable to take the lead before half time – Alexis got in behind the Milan defence, but Atonini recovered to make a key block, and Xavi forced another save from Abbiati with a shot from the edge of the area.
The second half was a much more subdued affair, with few sights of goal for either team. In fact it was more than half an hour before a chance of note. Milan were perhaps the stronger of the two teams in the early stages, as they exerted pressure off the ball on the Barcelona defence. Despite getting the ball in some dangerous areas Milan were unable to force as much as a save from Valdés.
The determined and stubborn performance by some Milan’s defensive players was a major factor that kept Barcelona short of their best going forward. On the rare occasions that Barça found some room, as Messi did against Nesta, a clever foul slowed the game down once more.
As the match wore on Barcelona sensed the upper hand against their dogged but tiring opponents, but just couldn’t make it count. Messi’s shot was blocked by Ambrosini and bounced out for a corner. Xavi curled it in and Puyol saw his diving header flash across the face of goal. Later, Messi wriggled free down the right, but Abbiati made a crucial stop once more.
Barcelona extended their excellent run with a resilient 2-0 away win at Real Mallorca on Saturday night. Messi scored in the first half with a deep free-kick that missed everybody and went in. Thiago saw red for a second yellow card after the break, but Barça held firm and Piqué scored a crucial winner with ten minutes left.
With a surplus of midfielders and dearth of defenders, it made sense for Guardiola to revert to his 3-4-3 for this game, with Mascherano, Piqué and Puyol lining up at the back. It’s a formation that has proved successful against La Liga’s weaker teams, but Mallorca demonstrated their quality at times in this encounter.
Breaking at speed, and attacking down the wings, the home team almost forced a number of openings in the first five minutes, as Barcelona took time to feel their way into the match. Still, it was Barcelona who had the first real chance – Iniesta fed Messi from the left touchline, and the forward’s attempted chip was saved somewhat fortuitously by the face of Aouate in the Mallorca goal.
Mallorca were still in the game though, and when Victor got to the byline down the right, his cross was met by a glancing near post header by Alvaro, which went narrowly wide.
Minutes later Barcelona were in front. Messi sent in a teasing free-kick from deep, which curled past everyone and bounced into the top left corner. There were two more half-chances before the break, both falling to Alexis. The first was for the edge of the area and deflected off a Mallorca defender before bouncing down and out off the cross-bar. The second was 20 yards and easily saved by the’ keeper.
In the second half the home team continued to pose a threat, and an already challenging afternoon for Barcelona was made more difficult when Thiago, booked earlier for a reckless tackle in the first half, saw a second yellow for a handball.
Guardiola reacted by bringing on Martín Montoya to form a back four, and his team saw out the match in impressive fashion. Mallorca tried to pusj forward for an equaliser but only saw occasional glimpses of goal – Hemed turned on the right side of the box, but his near post effort was easily saved by Valdés.
What was perhaps most impressive was the way Barcelona kept the ball and frustrated the home team. Iniesta was moved to the middle and was exceptional, drawing fouls, making space and finding teammates with remarkable consistency.
He earned a corner with a shot that deflected wide, and from the passage that followed, Barça got the crucial second goal. Piqué passed to Messi, and when the Argentine’s shot rebounded off the right hand post, Piqué was on hand to pass it home into the empty net. There was time for an attack by Mallorca, but Martín Montoya made a smart block to preserve the clean sheet.
0-1 Messi (min 25)
0-2 Pique (min 79)