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Match report

Thrashing for Levante

December 5th, 2011

Barcelona were back to their free-scoring best on Saturday night, trouncing Levante 5-0 at the Camp Nou. Cesc opened the scoring, and then made it two with a fine header after half an hour. Cuenca got the third, before Messi and Alexis completed the rout.

Guardiola reverted to a 3-4-3, which hadn’t been seen for a couple of months. Puyol started between Abidal and Mascherano, behind an all-Spanish midfield four of Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and Cesc. At the apex of the side were Alexis, Messi and youngster Isaac Cuenca.

This was a match in which Barcelona never looked troubled; they controlled possession from the first minute, and the fluency that was so lacking a week ago at Getafe appears to have been recovered.

The first goal, just four minutes into the game, epitomised Barça’s rediscovered confidence. Messi fired a pass into the feet of Andres Iniesta, and the ever-stylish midfielder produced a perfect back-heeled flick to thread the ball through to Cesc in the clear, who in turn produced a clinical low finish past the stranded Munúa.

Xavi and Messi went close with free kicks; the latter was parried by Munúa into Puyol’s path, but the veteran defender just couldn’t make a connection. At any rate, his side was combining well, and Levante’s backline was forced into a series of rash tackles, leaving three of four with bookings by the half–hour mark.

After yet another foul on the edge of the penalty area, Xavi whipped in a free-kick that Cesc met with a smart glancing header that flew into the top corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance. The game was then put beyond doubt with a few minutes of the first half remaining. Messi embarked on one of his classic right to left dribbles before feeding Iniesta on the edge of the area, who in turn laid the ball off for Isaac Cuenca. Barça’s latest young star took his tally for the season to two, and made it three on the night for his team with a low curling shot, into the bottom right corner.

Valdés then had to react quickly to keep Kone out, but Barcelona were comfortable going into the break.

The second half was more of the same for els Culés, apart from personnel; Puyol had been withdrawn for Alves after colliding with Kone, and Keita replaced Sergio Busquets in the midfield.

Levante did manage to create a chance early on though, when del Horno rose to head a Javi Venta free-kick goalwards, but Valdés equal to the effort, pushing it round the post.

Barcelona were quick to reassert themselves – Dani Alves spotted Messi free on the right side of the area, and when the little Argentine went one-on-one there would be only one outcome, with Barça striding to a four goal lead. Five minutes later Alexis added another, finishing a slick passing move with an attempted lob that deflected off del Horno’s back and clipped the underside of the crossbar.

1-0 Fábregas (min 3)
2-0 Fábregas (min 32)
3-0 Isaac Cuenca (min 36)
4-0 Messi (min 53)
5-0 Alexis (min 59)


Alexis Steps Up For Barcelona

November 30th, 2011

FC Barcelona strolled past Rayo Vallecano on Tuesday night, beating the team from Madrid 4-0. Alexis Sánchez was one form, scoring two well-taken goals, the first of which was an impressive curled effort. Villa added the third after a slick passing move, and Messi made it four with a trademark solo effort.

Barça fans were handed some welcome good news in the build up to the match, learning that the ever-influential Andrés Iniesta would make his comeback. He joined Keita and Xavi in the midfield, sitting behind a potent attack of Villa, Messi and Alexis. Iniesta nearly marked the occasion early on with a spectacular goal from the halfway line, but his effort was just kept out by Cobeño.

Perhaps heartened by fellow Madrid club Getafe’s achievements on the weekend, Rayo began the match at full throttle, pressing and presumably hoping to take advantage of any hangover for Barcelona. A deep, floated cross found Guinean striker Lass free at the back-post, but his volley hit the side-netting. The 19 year-old was a real nuisance in the opening exchanges, showing pace and willingness to chase lost causes.

Cobeño was then forced back into action by Barcelona, the improving Alexis slipped Alves through, and his cross was deflected goalwards and only kept out on the stretch by Rayo’s ‘keeper. A swirling free-kick nearly caught Valdés out at the back-post.

Then, after a prolonged spell of possession, Barcelona took the lead; Xavi angled a pass to Alexis on the left angle of the area, and the Chilean forward curled a delightful shot in off the far post.

Rayo almost responded in kind. Michel brought the ball down in the area, but pressure from Abidal saw him shoot over.

From then it was all Barcelona, and the home team enjoyed what was perhaps a long overdue slice of luck; Messi fired a pass into Xavi’s feet on the edge of the area. The midfielder miscontrolled, but the ball landed at the feet of Alexis who produced a composed finish with the outside of his boot.

Then Villa capped the satisfying half Guardiola’s men, when he tapped home to make it 3-0 after a Piqué drove forward and released Dani Alves, who squared for the Asturian striker.

The second half was barely underway when Lionel Messi took centre stage. As he so often does, the diminutive Argentine picked the ball up by the right touchline and powered forward; he beat a defender to go one-on-one, and slotted past Cobeño to take the score to 4-0 and end the match as any kind of contest.

With the match in the bag, Guardiola could afford to withdraw Xavi, Inesta and Alexis, and the series of substitutions took the momentum out of the game.

Rayo were effectively spent, and Barcelona maintained possession, while occasionally fashioning chances. Villa’s effort in the 69th minute was spectacular, as he elegantly controlled a long pass and then tried a lob that went just over.

1-0 Alexis Sánchez (min 28)
2-0 Alexis Sánchez (min 40)
3-0 Villa (min 42)
4-0 Messi (min 49)

Muted Barcelona Slip to First Defeat

November 28th, 2011

Barcelona lost their unbeaten record on Saturday night, slumping to a 1-0 defeat at Getafe. Guardiola’s men were subdued for most of the encounter, and fell to a header from Azulones’ defender Juan Valera.

Guardiola rested Fábregas for this match, opting for a midfield of Thiago, Sergio and Xavi, behind Messi, Alexis and Villa in attack. Getafe are a side with a decent home record, having overcome local rivals Atlético Madrid at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez at the start of the month.

And indeed, it turned out to be a tough night for Barça against a rugged and committed Getafe team. For the first half hour there were few opportunities for either outfit, with Barcelona struggling to get into their stride due to a mix of pressing by Getafe and their own occasional sloppiness.

Still, the away team might have been one-up in the second minute, when Alves slipped Villa free on the right side of the area. Moya tipped the ball wide, and that would be the sum of Barcelona’s chances for much of the first period. There were a couple of efforts from long-range free-kicks, and Getafe also had occasional sightings of goal, but two teams were largely cancelling each other out.

With around ten minutes of the first period to go, Barça started to find their rhythm; Moya had to be quick to snuffle out a one-on-one with Messi, add then a stylish flowing move ended with a Alves cutback and Alexis shot that Moya managed to push wide. Then another fleet attack led to another effort from Alexis, that too a dangerous deflection, carrying it just over the bar.

If Guardiola was hoping from a response from his players he’d have been a little disappointed, as Getafe enjoyed a degree of comfort after the break.

Worse still, after 20 minutes Getafe took the lead with one of their few spells in the Barcelona half. Sarabia curled a corner in, and Valera cropped up behind Busquets to head home.

Barcelona looked tired and were slow to respond, but Guardiola threw on Pedro and Cuenca in a bid to open up the stubborn home side. And it was Pedro who would have the next chance, breaking free on the right side of the area, but only able to shoot straight at Moya.

Barcelona piled on the pressure, but found Getafe increasingly frustrating, and the home side might even have doubled their lead when Miku broke free, only to shoot wide.

Then, as the clock wound down there were three moments of great drama; first Sergio went down in the area after wriggling free, but was issued a yellow card. Barça then had the ball in the net after a move between Messi and Keita, but the Malian midfielder was narrowly offside. With stoppage time all but over, Messi brought the ball into the area, but could only hit the post, bringing at end to what was a night to forget for Barcelona.

1-0 Valera (min 66)


Barcelona Overcome Milan in Pulsating Battle

November 24th, 2011

FC Barcelona qualified top of Group H on Wednesday night, beating Milan 3-2 in an entertaining encounter at the San Siro. There was a thrilling mix of skill and controversy; Barça’s goals game through a van Bommel own goal, Messi and Xavi after a fine team move. Milan equalized twice, with Ibrahimovic and Boateng grabbing two well-worked goals.

Although Milan and Barcelona had already achieved qualification for the second round, first place, and with it the prospect of an easier knockout opponent, was still up for grabs. Both clubs fielded competitive teams, with a host of stars lining up at kick-off. Messi, Xavi, Villa, Cesc and Puyol were present for Barça, while Swedish striker Ibrahimovic started for Milan against his former club.

After an even opening few minutes, Barcelona took the lead through an own goal by Dutch veteran Mark van Bommel; Keita got free down the left side of the area and produced a low cross that wrong-footed a number of Milan players, including their midfielder who turned it into his net under pressure from Xavi.

Barcelona were nearly two-up seconds later, when Thiago showed quick feet and quick thinking to flick the ball past the backline for Cesc Fábregas, whose volley was straight at Abbiati.

After this let off Milan started to find their feet. First Robinho somehow contrived to turn a Boateng cross over the bar, and then Seedorf trapped a long pass on the left angle of the area. He then pushed the ball through for Ibrahimovic who scored with a low first-time shot.

But the momentum was soon back with the away team. Messi was denied at close range, and some flowing Barcelona moves were ended only by last-ditch tackles. Then, on the half-hour mark, Alberto Aquilani was adjudged to have hauled down Lionel Messi – much to the home team’s dismay. After lengthy protestations by Milan, the Argentine forward stepped up to take his kick. His first effort was chalked off thanks to its stuttering run-up, but the second was legitimate, and was tucked into the bottom right corner.

In the final minutes of the half Abbiati made important saves from both Messi and Villa to preserve a score-line that perhaps flattered the hosts.

The second period was an altogether more subdued affair, but was lit up by moments of sublime skill. On an individual level, Boateng’s 53rd minute equalizer was something to behold; Mascherano half-cleared a deep cross for Ibra, and the ball fell to AC Milan’s German talent – he trapped the ball first time and flicked the ball past Abidal with his heel before slamming home at Valdes’ near post.

In no mood to be outdone, Barcelona reclaimed the lead on the hour-mark through a fabulous team goal. At the end of it Messi produced a forensic through-pass, evading four Milan defenders, which finished with expert precision by Xavi. Later, Abbiati made two point-blank saves to keep substitiute Alexis at bay, but Barcelona were more than comfortable.

0-1 Van Bommel (min 13)
1-1 Ibrahimovic (min 19)
1-2 Messi (min 30)
2-2 Boateng (min 55)
2-3 Xavi (min 64)


Real Zaragoza Offer Little Resistance to Rampant Barcelona

November 21st, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Barcelona Shown Little Hospitality

November 10th, 2011

FC Barcelona achieved a narrow 1-0 first leg victory in their Copa del Rey tie against local club CE L’Hospitalet on Wednesday night. The Segunda B team, from the third tier of Spanish football, offered stout resistance, with their ‘keeper Jose Moragon producing some saves of the highest quality to keep the score-line down. In the end it was a long-range strike from Andres Iniesta that gave Barcelona the advantage.

Though a city in its own right, Hospitalet de Llobregat is practically a suburb of Barcelona, ensuring one of the shortest away trips the Barça will have to make. With most of the club’s foreign internationals and U21 players away with their national teams, Guardiola had to select a team made up mostly of Spanish senior players, accompanied by a sprinkling of younger talent. Among the less experienced players on show were Jonathan Dos Santos at right-back, Andreu Fontas at centre-half, and Barcelona B star, Christian Tello on the right wing.

As is so often the case in cup competitions, the lower league team raised its game during the first half, much to the delight of the Hospi faithful at La Feixa Llarga. It was Barcelona who were dictating terms, but the home team was doing well to make life difficult, switching quickly diligently between defence and attack.

There were good attempts by David Villa and Keita, but Moragon in the Hospi goal was in great form and his full-stretch save from the latter was especially impressive. Hospitalet replied with a firmly struck free-kick, which Pinto stopped and then gathered on the second attempt.

Barcelona were finding it difficult to create much space, but as the half went on they began to make inroads – Cesc played a one-two with Tello before seeing his attempt saved at the near-post. The opening goal was a moment of inspiration from the classy Iniesta – he picked the ball up 30 yards out and crashed an effort into the top right corner, leaving Moragon with no chance. And then at the end of the first half Puyol rose highest at the far post, but his fine header hit the upright.

Early in the second half Barcelona started playing with a little more fluidity. Sumptuous passing moves produced chances for David Villa and Cesc Fabregas, but neither player could provide the necessary finish. Clearly unaccustomed to the high tempo, the home side retreated further into their own half during the second period, with a few of their players succumbing to cramp.

Moragon had to be at his best to keep out a fiercely-struck free-kick by David Villa, and later in the game reacted sharply to beat away a deflected long-range shot by Barça’s Asturian striker. In reply Hospitalet managed a dangerous-looking header by substitute Pedraza early in the half. But their best opportunity arrived in the closing stages, when the same player got on the end of a quick break, forcing a spectacular reaction save from the otherwise underworked Pinto.

0-1 Iniesta (min 42)


Barcelona Earn Fighting Draw at Los Leones

November 7th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Messi Makes History Again

November 2nd, 2011

FC Barcelona made light work of Czech side Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Tuesday, winning 4-0 away. Lionel Messi notched a fabulous hat-trick on the night he reached the 200 goal landmark, and was joined on the score-sheet by Cesc Fàbregas.

The lineup was remarkable for the inclusion of Messi, Cesc and Piqué, who were starting in their first competitive game together since their days at La Masia more than eight years ago. Puyol partnered Piqué in central defence, and Isaac Cuenca continued his run in the team, starting on the right wing. Elsewhere Thiago and Cesc stood in for Iniesta and Xavi, both recuperating from minor injuries.

Against motivated opposition at the Struncovy Savy Stadion, Barcelona needed their customary few minutes to settle, and it was the home side that had the best of the early chances. Firstly Petrzela somehow managed to break free into a one-on-one situation with Valdés, but Barça’s ‘keeper was equal to the task, getting down quickly to his left. Moments later Kolar found himself unmarked in the area, but skied his shot, much to the relief of the Barcelona defence.

Cesc was denied what appeared to be a clear-cut penalty, when he turned in the box, but seemed to be brought down by a clumsy Jiracek tackle. Twenty minutes in, Barcelona were hitting their stride; Cesc had a powerful mid-range effort pushed away, and then Lionel Messi jinked into the area and was fouled when he nimbly cut inside defender Marian Cisovsky. Referee Robert Schöfgenhofer saw it as a goalscoring opportunity and somewhat harshly sent the Slovak defender off.

The Argentine was clinical from the penalty spot, finding the bottom left corner to claim his 200th goal for the club. He was on the scoresheet again in the closing minutes of the half when he bustled forward, played a one-two with Adriano and tucked the return ball past Pavlik from six yards.

Straight after the break Messi and Cesc combined, with the latter almost sealing a wonderful team goal when he clipped the ball over the onrushing Pavlik, but his effort just missed the far post. Messi then saw a fine 25-yard free kick saved on the stretch by Pzlen’s goalkeeper.

Pzlen then went close, when Petrzela smashed a half-volley into the side-netting for the home side’s last real chance of the night. Isaac Cuenca started to shine for Barcelona, first working some space at the byline with excellent close control. A few minutes later he worked himself free and curled a perfect cross for Cesc to head home to take the score to 3-0.

Alexis Sánchez made a long-awaited return from injury with three minutes to go, and almost capped his comeback with a goal when Messi put him through in a narrow position on the right. Then, in the dying embers of the game, Barcelona’s inspirational Argentine grabbed his hat-trick, rounding the keeper and slotting home after Piqué had released him with a smart backheel.

0-1, Messi (min 22, pen)
0-2, Messi (min 45+1)
0-3, Cesc (min 71)
0-4, Messi (min 90+2)


Barcelona and Messi Answer Critics

October 31st, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Barcelona Do Enough in Granada

October 26th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0-1, Xavi (min 33)


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