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)
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)
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.
FC Barcelona triumphed 2-0 at home to Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday, having created a plethora of chances. Iniesta grabbed a sublime first goal after just ten minutes, but despite overrunning their opponents Barça had to wait for 70 more minutes before they could rest easy.
Guardiola selected what was last season’s first choice front six, with Iniesta and Xavi anchored by Busquets, and Messi offered the freedom of a withdrawn forward role flanked by Villa and Pedro. Plzen lined up with a 4-4-2 and a team composed entirely of Czech and Slovak players boasting few names that Barcelona fans would recognise.
After drawing against AC Milan Barcelona were in search of a first home win in Europe this season and started the match aggressively; Pedro and Alves both had fine chances after lightning quick one-touch passing moves from the left and then right. Then after ten minutes an almost identical attack involving Messi and Iniesta found the Spanish midfielder in an inside-right position in the area – he flicked the bouncing ball from his right foot to left, confounding his marker, before driving a shot into the bottom right corner to cap a magnificent piece of skill.
Plzen were in real trouble, and Barcelona’s high pressing ensured that they were unable to build attacks, with much of the first 30 minutes played exclusively in the away team’s half. And the chances came thick and fast for Barça; Pedro found room in the area on three occasions but was let down by a lack of composure and some desperate last-ditch Plzen defending. David Villa curled a shot wide and Messi hit the side-netting after he brought down a delicate looped pass by Busquets.
After half an hour the Czechs enjoyed their first spell of possession, but despite pushing Barcelona back were unable to muster a chance of note. And at the final whistle Messi offered a reminder of his threat when he curled a 25-yard free-kick onto the crossbar.
The chances continued to flow for Barcelona after the break, and it was Lionel Messi who took the spotlight. The Argentine forward embarked on two slaloming runs that would have resulted in goal of the season contenders had he managed to finish them off. For the first he worked his way past three defenders before being denied at the near post by Marek Cech in the Plzen goal.
Just minutes later he was at it again, leaving more defenders on their backsides only to see his effort bounce out off the near post and out for a goal kick. Messi’s next attempt had a hint of over-elaboration about it, as he controlled an incisive Villa pass and clipped the ball over Cech with supreme nonchalance, only to be tackled on the line.
The second goal finally arrived in the 81st minute when Messi was tackled in the area, only for the ball to drop at the feet of David Villa who made no mistake from 15 yards.
1-0 Iniesta (min 10)
2-0 Villa (min 81)
Lionel Messi starred on Saturday night, as FC Barcelona eased their way to a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou against Racing Santander. The Argentine dynamo was in fine fettle and notched his side’s first and last goal, separated by a Xavi header, sending Barça back to the Primera División, one point ahead of Real Madrid.
The home team had welcomed Andrés Iniesta back into the starting lineup, after a month-long absence with a muscular injury. Puyol and Piqué were also making a rare, and unfortunately short lived, outing as a central defensive pair. Other than that it was a conventional 4-3-3 for Barcelona, although they were without a recognised defensive midfielder, with Xavi, Thiago and Iniesta playing across the middle.
Early on the Cantabrians, still winless in the league, worked hard to close Barça down, and almost caught Valdés in possession once or twice. There was also another injury setback for Gerard Piqué, when he was forced off after no more than ten minutes to be replaced by Éric Abidal.
But Barcelona soon settled, and scored with their first real attack; Messi set Iniesta free on the right hand side of the box. The midfielder held the ball up before nudging it back to the Argentine forward, who surged through with his first touch, dummied round Toño and passed the ball home into the empty net.
Racing had posed a minor threat before the opening goal, but wouldn’t trouble the Barça defence again before half time, as Guardiola’s men assumed total control and created chance after chance. Messi was denied by a last-ditch block, before Pedro worked some space down the left wing against Francis and delivered and inviting cross for Xavi to head down into the bottom right corner.
In the last 15 minutes of the half Pedro and Messi both went close, but perhaps the best chance fell to Villa, who was found by a delightful Messi through-ball and rounded Toño only to see his effort hit the side-netting.
Valdés was forced into action early in the second period, pushing away Koné’s low show after the forward found a yard of room in the area. Unaffected, Barcelona then resumed their dominance, keeping possession and probing the Racing defence. Xavi had a shot deflected wide and Messi was twice foiled by Toño. He also might have won a penalty when he set off on a thrilling run, beating three players before tricking his way past Álvaro González, only to be felled by the defender just inside the area.
Barça’s number 10 would exact his revenge moments later; he guided a pinpoint diagonal pass for Iniesta, who wriggled past two defenders and slammed a shot against the far post for Messi to follow up and grab his second of the night.
Guardiola’s men closed the game out with little trouble, and might have extended their lead when David Villa clipped the top of the crossbar and Éric Abidal saw a spectacular overhead kick saved at full-stretch.
1-0, Messi (min 11)
2-0, Xavi (min 27)
3-0, Messi (min 68)
FC Barcelona battled to a 1-0 victory away at Sporting Gijón on Sunday night. Utility man Adriano scored the only goal on what was a demanding and occasionally bruising encounter away at La Liga’s bottom club.
Indeed, recent weeks have brought plenty of bad news on the injury front, and for this game Guardiola had to make do without Alexis Sánchez, Cesc Fàbregas and Andrés Iniesta, all of whom are recovering from muscular injuries.
However, the coach continues to persist with a three-man defence; this time Alves and Abidal flanked Macherano at the back. Busquets sat in front of the backline again, offering help to his defenders when needed. Meanwhile Adriano started the game in a somewhat unfamiliar right-midfield role.
And it was to be the Brazilian player who made the breakthrough for Barcelona. With 11 minutes on the clock, Xavi looked up and slammed a shot from central position about 25 yards out. Juan Pablo in the Sporting goal was well beaten, but the ball rebounded off the left post and into the path of Adriano on the right angle of the penalty area. His bouncing, left-footed effort was slightly scuffed, but completely wrong-footed the ‘keeper and nestled in the bottom-left corner to make it 1-0.
The rest of the half was a story of absolute domination but few clear chances for Barça. A few minutes after the goal, Villa swapped passes with Thiago, but fired straight at Juan Pablo.
After that Barcelona couldn’t make their 80% possession count further. This was partly down to the organised defending of Gijón, who stepped up and caught Barcelona offside on a number of occasions; Villa was perhaps the chief culprit in this respect, but was joined by Messi and Alves.
Not long before half time Messi might have won a penalty, when he dribbled into the Sporting area, only to be felled by Miguel de las Cuevas, who appeared to catch his heels.
As the half ended there was a minor injury scare for Mascherano, who was caught on the side of the head accidentally by Alves’ knee and looked in real trouble before walking off groggily down the tunnel to join his teammates in the dressing room.
The second half was a similar story to the first, with Barcelona working hard to create openings, but being denied either by the offside flag or by sloppiness. Abidal limped off after 52 minutes with what appeared to be yet another muscle strain. He was replaced by Maxwell, and Barça then reverted to a back four when Piqué arrived in place of Pedro.
There were a few rugged looking challenges flying in as the game wore on, with Busquets, Messi and Alves all sent flying in the closing minutes. Messi came closest to doubling the lead, heading directly at Pablo, but Barcelona were ultimately happy to settle for a single goal and in truth were never really troubled at the back.
0-1, Adriano (min 12)
FC Barcelona cruised to a 5–0 victory against Belarusian side BATE Borisov in Minsk on Wednesday night. Guardiola’s men were never less than comfortable throughout, creating numerous chances on the way to a relatively rare away victory in Europe.
Sporting their black away colours, Barça took the lead through an own goal, before Pedro scored a header and Messi added two more goals to his already impressive tally this season.
As soon as the match settled, Barcelona were confronted by a wall of yellow shirts, with BATE setting up very deep in the hope of stifling Pep Guardiola’s side. Sole striker Mateja Kezman cut a very isolated figure on the halfway line, with his teammates withdrawing to the edge of the area in two tight banks. The first opportunity fell to BATE, as defender Marko Simic headed a corner over.
Barça stuck to their task and slowly the chances began to flow. Thiago’s shot was saved, and a Messi free-kick flashed past the left corner. With BATE unable to build anything resembling an attack, the strain was beginning to tell. And when Alves delivered a teasing cross from the right flank, midfielder Volodko turned the ball into his own goal under pressure from Messi at the back post.
Just three minutes later Barcelona were two goals ahead, when David Villa swung a pinpoint cross for Pedro to rise and nod home from the penalty spot. After this fine effort the home defence was in disarray, and a host of chances followed for the away side.
Still, the home team did muster one chance – Volodko nearly made up for his earlier error when he found some space in the Barça area, but the Belarusian poked the ball wide under pressure from Valdés.
David Villa was looking particularly lively and had two shots well saved after working some space on the left side of the area. The third goal for Barcelona was an absolute gift. This time Pedro broke free down the right, and when his rather tame cross was inexplicably fumbled by Gutor in the BATE goal, Messi was on hand to stab the ball home from five yards.
Early in the second half Lionel Messi looked hungry for more goals; just after the break he set off on a bustling run from the right flank, but skewed the ball wide at the near post with the outside of his left boot. The Argentine forward was not to be denied though; soon after, he set Alves galloping down the right flank and the Brazilian aimed a forensic square pass through the BATE ranks, which Messi controlled and fired into the top right corner to complete a fantastic move.
Messi nearly turned provider moments later when he found Abidal clear in the area with a breathtaking angled pass, but the French defender’s effort was saved. The night was topped off at the death by David Villa, who tucked a Thiago through pass into the bottom right corner.
0-1 Volodko (own goal) (min 18)
0-2 Pedro (min 22)
0-3 Messi (min 38)
0-4 Messi (min 56)
0-5 Villa (min 89)
FC Barcelona answered their critics in emphatic style at home to CA Osasuna on Saturday night, thrashing Los Rojillos 8-0. Messi chalked a hat-trick, with David Villa netting two, accompanied by Cesc and Xavi, who scored one goal each. It was a night of spectacular attacking football, and Guardiola’s men were back to their devastating best, enjoying more than 80% possession in the process.
In this fixture Guardiola opted for the 3-4-3 formation that dispatched Villareal so clinically in the first match of the season. A major pre-game positive was the return of Carles Puyol after almost nine months of injury problems. He took his place at the centre of the back three, flanked by Mascherano and Abidal, and looked in good form until coming off early in the second half.
In truth the Barcelona defence was pretty much untested for the whole evening. There was a clear determination to disprove any accusations of complacency after letting two leads slip, against Sociedad and Milan. Indeed Barcelona were in front by the fifth minute; Busquets floated a delightful pass out to Dani Álves, who headed square for Messi to sweep the ball home.
Fàbregas then continued his fine scoring form for his new club; chesting the ball down for Messi, who flicked it over the Osasuna backline for the recent signing to time a perfect left-footed volley past the hapless Fernández.
Barça were now 2-0 up and showed no sign of loosening their grip – Alves skipped down the right flank and curled a sublime cross for Messi, who nodded the ball down but onto the post. Still, the home side would not be denied; after a period of sustained possession Abidal slipped a pass through for David Villa, and the striker rounded Fernández, finishing with his left foot to make it three.
Five minutes later the Asturian was set free down the left once again. This time his attempt was saved, but ricocheted off the unfortunate Roversio and into the empty net. Then, on the 40th minute, Cesc was found in the box by Xavi before pirouetting and squaring for Messi who notched his second and Barcelona’s fifth of the night.
If Osasuna were hoping for a reprieve after half time, their opponents were unwilling to oblige, as within ten minutes Barcelona had scored six. This was perhaps the pick of the bunch; Xavi was put through by another perfectly weighted Messi chip. The midfielder let the ball bounce before lobbing Fernández from the edge of the area.
But Barça still weren’t done – Fàbregas bustled through the beleaguered Osasuna defence to find Villa, who turned the ball home from seven yards. Once again, it was Messi who stole the show, and the Argentine dynamo capped a landmark night for his team when he swapped passes with Cesc and strode clear to find the bottom right corner past Fernández.
1-0 Messi (min 4)
2-0 Cesc (min 13)
3-0 Villa (min 33)
4-0 Roversio own goal (min 39)
5-0 Messi (min 41)
6-0 Xavi (min 56)
7-0 Villa (min 75)
8-0 Messi (min 79)
FC Barcelona drew 2-2 at home to AC Milan on Tuesday night. The Italian club scored in the first and last minute, bookending goals by Pedro and David Villa, in a match that the Guardiola’s men should have won with ease.
Only Puyol and Piqué were absent from what might be considered a first choice XI, while Alexis Sánchez began his recuperation from the injury he sustained at Real Sociedad. Milan were missing some important players, most notably Robinho and Ibrahimovic, but were still able to field a potent front-line of Cassano and Pato.
And it was the young Brazilian striker who stole the initiative and caught Barcelona cold after just 25 seconds – blazing past Busquets to slot the ball home beneath the helpless Valdés to give his side a shock lead. Pato continued to threaten on and off for the next 20 minutes before fading with the rest of his team as the match wore on.
The home side slowly recovered their composure after this early setback, and slowly began to dominate. At first AC Milan offered stout defensive resistance, but Barça soon began to carve chances, with Messi the driving force.
The livewire Argentine forced two saves from Abbiati with low drives, and clipped the outside of the right post with a curling 25-yard free-kick. David Villa also looked dangerous, smashing an acrobatic volley just over the bar.
Eventually the pressure told, and unsurprisingly it was Messi who made the difference; he picked up the ball on the edge of the area and bustled past three Milan defenders with a mix of tenacity and skill, before reaching the goal-line and cutting back for Pedro to finish from five yards. Things were looking good for Barca, but the mood was dampened slightly when Iniesta was forced from the field with a muscle injury just before half time.
Barcelona picked up the second half where they left off – Xavi drove a shot from the right angle of the area, which Abbiati pushed out for a corner. Minutes later the home side won a free-kick 20 yards out, in an inside-left position. This time David Villa stepped up, and the Asturian striker curled the ball beautifully into the top-left corner, leaving Milan’s goalkeeper no chance.
Now in the lead, Guardiola’s men dropped the tempo slightly, playing almost entirely in Milan’s half but rarely threatening their goal. Pedro had a couple of half chances, while Messi was stopped by a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Alessandro Nesta.
Puyol put his recent injury troubles behind him to replace Seydou Keita on 66 minutes, and Barcelona looked set to wind the clock down, with AC Milan seemingly a spent force.
That was until injury time, when Abidal tried to shield the ball out for a goal kick, accidentally clipping it in the process. Seedorf took the resulting corner, lofting a perfect cross for defender Thiago Silva to head home and make the final score an unlikely 2-2.
0-1, Pato (min 1)
1-1, Pedro (min 36)
2-1, Villa (min 49)
2-2, Thiago Silva (min 93)
FC Barcelona let slip a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 away at Real Sociedad on Saturday evening. Guardiola’s men had been in total control by half time, leading through goals by Xavi and Fàbregas, but two moments of defensive sloppiness allowed their Basque opponents back into the match.
Blessed with a squad that handle a certain amount of rotation, Guardiola had clearly looked upon this trip to San Sebastián as an opportunity to rest some of his prized talents following a busy international fortnight. This time Iniesta, Villa and Messi all took to the bench, with Sánchez, Fàbregas and Pedro forming an unorthodox front-line. Barça also returned to a 4-3-3, after the successful switch to a three-man defence against Villareal two weeks prior.
Here Barcelona started the first half with real purpose, opening the scoring within the first ten minutes; Cesc dropped deep and spotted the run of Alexis Sánchez, finding him completely free in the area with a ball over the top. The Chilean squared for Xavi, who finished with ease into the empty net.
Just two minutes later, Barcelona extended their lead with a similar move. This time Xavi provided the impetus, clipping a sumptuous lofted pass over the static Sociedad defence for Cesc. The former Arsenal man then laid the ball on for Pedro, before reacting first to Claudio Bravo’s save to finish with ease from seven yards.
Barring a muted call for a penalty when a shot from just outside the area collided with Andreu Fontàs’ shoulder, Real Sociedad offered little attacking threat in the first half. Really, Barça were comfortable, and might have added another goal when yet another high ball from Cesc found Pedro, who saw his attempted lob deflected wide by Bravo.
The second half was a remarkably different contest; Sociedad took to the field with renewed purpose, while a mixture of tiredness and complacency from Barça offered their opponents a route back into the match.
The warning signs were there right from the restart, when Imanol Agirretxe found some space in the Barcelona area before dragging a shot wide on the turn. Barcelona responded with a couple of half chances, for Pedro and Villa, on for the injured Alexis, but the home side was growing in confidence.
Sociedad’s first goal came via a swirling Xavi Prieto cross from the right flank. The flight of the ball caught Sergio Busquets slightly flat-footed, and Agirretxe was able to head the ball home practically unopposed.
Just a few seconds later it was David Villa’s turn to make a gaffe, when he turned just inside the Sociedad half and aimed an ill-advised back pass at Víctor Valdés. Agirretxe latched onto the ball, rounded Valdés and struck the crossbar, but Griezmann was on hand to head the ball home.
Guardiola threw Messi on in search of a winner, but Sociedad were now playing with confidence, and Barcelona had to settle for an unwelcome draw.
0-1 Xavi (min 9)
0-2 Cesc (min 11)
1-2 Agirretxe (min 59)
2-2 Griezman (min 61)