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Match report

Barcelona’s Youngsters End the Season in Style

May 23rd, 2011
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FC Barcelona added extra gloss to a memorable campaign with an impressive 3-1 victory at Málaga on Saturday evening. Pep Guardiola rested his established stars once again, offering yet another tantalising taste of Barcelona’s future, as Bojan, Afellay and Bartra all got on the scoresheet.

In amongst a handful of Barça B stars were Adriano and Abidal, enjoying vital game-time in the build-up to next Saturday’s big game at Wembley. Málaga, on the other hand, were without their usual strikeforce of Baptista and Rondón, while Argentine defender Demichelis was also missing for Los Boquerones.

The first half was a relatively quiet affair. Barcelona’s young midfield, composed of Andreu Fontàs, Sergi Roberto and Thiago Alcántara, took some time to find its feet before settling after about 20 minutes – Jeffrén got clear, but his effort was well saved by Caballero.

And just as Barcelona had started to assert control, Málaga took a surprise lead; a long, raking pass was cut back from the goal line by Juanmi into the path of Sebastián Fernández, whose shot squirmed beneath Pinto in the Barça goal.

Barcelona’s response was almost immediate. Bojan, captain for the day, showed maturity and guile as he bought a foul from Eliseu in the area, much to the protestations of Málaga’s Portuguese midfielder – and the home fans. Barça’s 20 year-old striker dispatched the penalty calmly to level the match just before the break.

As might be expected for a match of little consequence, the second 45 minutes was played out at a relatively low pace, but Barcelona continued to circulate the ball in a style fitting of the club, and continued to create chances in an unforgiving atmosphere.

Jeffrén almost scored a minute after the restart, skipping down the right flank only to angle his low effort into the side netting at the near post. When Barcelona did take the lead it was nothing short of spectacular.

Sergi Roberto drove the ball over to Ibrahim Afellay, who cut inside the defender onto his right-foot 30 yards from goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the bottom-right corner.

Dani Alves, Pedro Rodríguez and Javier Mascherano were all introduced, affording Barcelona a little more experience. And it was the diminutive Brazilian right-back who provided the assist for the third goal. His corner was met by young defender Marc Bartra with a towering leap, guiding a perfect header into the top right corner.

In the closing minutes of the match both sets of fans at La Rosaleda registered their appreciation for veteran goalkeeper Cesc Arnau, who was brought on just before full time to play make the final professional appearance of his career. Arnau came through at the ranks at Barcelona, serving as a backup for a number of years before heading for the Costa del Sol a decade ago.

Barcelona’s gaze now turns to Wembley, where Guardiola’s men can emulate Cruyff’s European Cup-winning Dream Team of 1992.

1-0, Seba (min 31)
1-1, Bojan (pen, min 44)
1-2, Afellay (min 76)
1-3, Bartra (min 84)

Confetti Rains at the Camp Nou

May 16th, 2011

FC Barcelona lifted the Primera División trophy on Sunday night after a stalemate at home to strugglers Deportivo de La Coruña. Although it was a match of few chances there was no dampening the celebrations at the Camp Nou as Xavi Hernández and Carles Puyol accepted Barcelona’s 21st league title.

Guardiola turned to his fringe players and Barça B stars tonight, affording the household names a well-deserved rest after a tough domestic campaign – and a night or two of heavy partying during the week. Starting in an unfamiliar side were youngsters like Jonathan dos Santos, Marc Bartra, Thiago and Fontàs.

The Champions League final is also now less than two weeks away – so while there’s a need to maintain the health of the squad, Barcelona will also be aware of the need to keep momentum with their biggest match of the season still to come.

Deportivo are also a team embroiled in a relegation scrap, and had no intention of surrendering three vital points. This was to be no exhibition match for Guardiola’s second-string team.

The starting lineup was unusual, but the style and formation were very familiar, with the home team controlling possession and interchanging with all the fluency you’d expect from a Barcelona XI.

Afellay in particular caught the eye, playing in Messi’s central role and embarking on a number of fleet-footed runs. Jeffren also showed glimpses of his considerable dribbling skill, shuffling past two Deportivo defenders only to poke his shot into the side netting.

But for all their attacking verve the final pass and finish were lacking in the first period.

At the other end Deportivo, known for their pragmatism in recent years, created one opportunity early on, as Víctor Valdés produced an acrobatic save to stop a Lassad effort after juts two minutes.

It was to be the Galician side’s best chance of the half, as they set about containing their opponents, with the centre-half Aythami deployed as a temporary defensive midfielder.

The second half also saw few opportunities at either end. Deportivo grew increasingly anxious as news of the evening’s scorelines filtered through. A defeat would take now their Primera División destiny out of their hands. Lotina’s response was to bolster his side’s defence, withdrawing Lassad for the rugged Gaurdado.

Meanwhile Pep Guardiola introduced Maxwell and Dani Alves to add some attacking impetus on the flanks. The change almost reaped immediate reward when Bojan came within inches of a drilled Alves cross after a darting run by the Brazilian. Bojan’s persistence forced another chance a few minutes later, as he scrambled through the Deportivo backline only to see his finish deflected wide.

Despite Barcelona’s dominance, the best chance of the match fell at the feet of Depor striker Xisco in injury time, but Víctor Valdés was equal to the effort and notched yet another clean sheet in an immaculate campaign.

Despite not scoring, Barcelona’s fringe players can take great pride in dominating a top-flight match against experienced opposition.

Barcelona Are Champions!

May 12th, 2011

FC Barcelona have won their 21st Primera División title after earning a 1-1 draw away at Levante on Wednesday night. It’s the third successive year that Guardiola’s side has finished top of the league. And there is now a growing consensus throughout the football world that this Barça team is one of the greatest ever to play the game.

The point was convenient for both sides, with Levante now close to securing their La Liga status for another season. And although the first half was relatively competitive the last 20 minutes of the game saw both teams more than happy to settle for a draw.

The final whistle was greeted with rapturous celebrations, as the entire Barça squad ran onto the pitch to revel in the moment and cap a season of near-total superiority, but one that was also full of drama. In truth, the title is testament to the sheer guts of a side that has negotiated an injury crisis in defence for much of the season. Despite losing a host of players at the back, this remarkable team has only lost two league matches this season, all the while playing with their trademark attacking flair.

Although there was an element of rotation tonight, Barcelona started with David Villa, Messi and Xavi, demonstrating a desire to get the title wrapped up as early as possible with the Champions League final looming large on the horizon.

Levante’s manager Luís García had made it clear before the match that he had no intention of attacking his visitors, and instead anticipated his team’s best opportunities coming from set pieces. So it was little surprise to see the Granotes getting men behind the ball and defending stubbornly. Captain and human monolith Sergio Ballesteros was doing a fine job marshalling his teammates and keeping defensive discipline.

Barcelona’s answer to these tactics was to move the ball patiently and wait for an opening to present itself rather than forcing the issue. As has often been the case this season, Barça eventually found a way through on the half-hour mark.

It was a goal that underlined the unique qualities of Guardiola’s Barça; Xavi spotted Seydou Keita making a run from a deep inside-left position and found the Malian midfielder with a perfect lofted forward pass. Keita barely had to break stride as he headed the ball into the top-left corner from just inside the area.

In response Levante made a concerted effort to put Barça’s defenders under pressure. Their equaliser came after Ecuadorian striker Caicedo took advantage of a mix up between Gerard Piqué and goalkeeper Víctor Valdés.

Lionel Messi came to fore in the second half, lighting up the pitch two outrageous dribbles, only to be denied firstly by the post, and then by the despairing lunge of a Levante defender.

For the final minutes of the match the Barcelona subs were all standing arm in arm, ready for the final whistle, and with it confirmation of another season of domestic domination.

Barcelona Amble Past Espanyol

May 9th, 2011

FC Barcelona registered a simple win against Espanyol in the Barcelona derby tonight, easing to a 2-0 victory against their local rivals. It was a professional but low-key victory – the perfect antidote to the acrimony that engulfed the recent series of Clásicos.

After an uneventful start, Iniesta opened the scoring in the first half with a stylish run and finish, while Gerard Piqué made it 2-0 with a straightforward headed finish from a Xavi corner. Barça now just need one point from their remaining three games to secure a 21st Primera División title.

Starting with his best front six, Guardiola was able to call on a strong team against a side that has offered stiff resistance in recent seasons. At the back Fontàs filled in for Abidal and Adriano, while Mascherano’s impressive recent displays at centre half were rewarded with another start.

The opening half hour of the match was tight, with Espanyol quick to get players behind the ball and close off space. On their rare attacks they appeared to be targeting Fontàs at left back, but a few brief forays yielded little more than a dangerous set piece.

Osvaldo, els Banquiblaus’ most impressive player this season, was cutting an increasingly forlorn figure as the home side started to find their rhythm.

Iniesta made a statement of intent as he turned and ran at the Espanyol defence before finding room to curl a shot inside the far post. Kameni, the Cameroonian ‘keeper, was equal to the attempt on that occasion, but Barça’s stylish playmaker would find the net from a similar position a few minutes later.

This time Iniesta played a fortuitous one-two with Espanyol’s Galán, before cutting inside Amat at centre half and giving Kameni no chance. Barcelona were now in full flow, crafting a handful of chances via sublime one-touch combinations; Messi found David Villa after some delightful staccato passing, but the Asturian striker was unable to produce a finish worth of the move, guiding a close-range effort past the left post.

Barcelona had been forced to work hard for their first-half opportunities, but were handed their second goal on a platter at just after the break. Piqué was able to meet a Xavi corner unopposed and nod down to double his side’s lead.

This goal effectively killed the contest, and, after an exhausting month, Barça could be excused a couple of lapses of concentration. The slippery Osvaldo twice got the better of Piqué with the score at 2-0, but Víctor Valdés showed quick reactions on both occasions to preserve his side’s clean sheet.

Éric Abidal was then given the opportunity to continue his remarkable rehabilitation, replacing Fontàs on the 70-minute mark. With Adriano still absent the French defender will offer a much-needed option at left back, as Barcelona can now turn their attention to the final of the Champions League in Wembley at the end of the month.

1-0, Iniesta (min 29)
2-0, Piqué (min 47)

Barcelona March on to Wembley

May 4th, 2011

FC Barcelona are through to the final of the Champions League after gaining a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid with an assured second leg performance at the Camp Nou. Despite fielding a more attacking lineup than in previous Clásicos, Real Madrid were never able to put sustained pressure on what remains a relatively makeshift Barça defence.

After dominating the first half, it was the home side that took the lead when Pedro tucked the ball past Casillas to cap a fantastic team move. With the tie effectively sealed, Barcelona could afford a little carelessness, giving the ball away at the back, with Marcelo tapping home from an Ángel di María cutback.

The build up to this decisive second leg had been tempestuous in all senses of the word. After a week of blustery claim and counter-claim in the press, a real life thunderstorm broke out in the Barcelona skies, leaving plenty of surface water on the Camp Nou pitch.

Any fears that the conditions would hamper Barcelona’s passing game were quickly dispelled though, when a first-choice attacking six started zipping the ball around with characteristic style.

The visitors reduced to spectators once again. Madrid’s main contribution in the early exchanges was to ride their luck thanks to a series of rugged challenges by Ricardo Carvalho and Lassana Diarra.

When Lionel Messi drew a full-stretch save from Casillas on the 30-minute mark, Barça scented blood and created a flurry of opportunities; Villa, Pedro and Messi again all went close, with only some spectacular acrobatics by the Spain ‘keeper preventing Barcelona from extending their lead.

Perhaps revelling in the fortune of surviving this onslaught, there was renewed endeavour from the visitors after the break. Cristiano Ronaldo had his first opportunity to run at the Barcelona defence – when the Portuguese forward forced a challenge from Piqué, the ball broke for Gonzalo Higuain who curled the ball past Valdés.

Fortunately for Barcelona, referee Franck de Bleeckere had already blown up for a foul on Mascherano. Cristiano Ronaldo had rolled past Piqué onto the Argentine defender’s heels, preventing him from putting a challenge in on Higuain.

Barcelona responded almost instantly with a wonderful goal; the move started back with Víctor Valdés and culminated in a pinpoint pass by Iniesta through to Pedro Rodríguez. The winger showed no hesitation as he slotted into the bottom right corner to spark rapturous celebrations.

Now reassured by their massive advantage, Barça opted to slow the pace. But a moment of rare sloppiness at the back allowed di María to get in on goal. The Madrid winger smashed the ball off the post before directing the rebound to Marcelo who made no mistake. It was careless play by Barcelona, but would prove to be little more than a minor bump in the road.

There was still time for a heartwarming moment – Eric Abidal’s late entrance was greeted by huge cheers, as the French defender made his first appearance since recovering from a serious health scare.

1-0 Pedro (min 53)
1-1 Marcelo (min 68)

Barcelona Slip Against Spirited Sociedad

May 2nd, 2011

FC Barcelona fell to a 2-1 defeat at Real Sociedad on Saturday evening. The Basque team capitalised on two defensive slips to condemn Barça to a first league defeat since September and boost their own fight against relegation. Substitute Diego Ifrán tapped home from close range, and Xabi Prieto converted a penalty to cancel out Thiago’s opener for the away team.

Barça will feel also somewhat aggrieved after a legitimate Milito goal was disallowed for offside when the match was finely poised at 1-1. Despite this frustration the result means that the picture remains unchanged at the top thanks to Real Madrid’s latest home defeat, this time at the hands of Real Zaragoza.

Pep Guardiola elected to field a smattering of young Barcelona B talent ahead of the crucial Champions League semi-final second leg at the Camp Nou on Tuesday. Andreu Fontàs, Martín Montoya and Thiago all provided a glimpse of the next generation.

Barcelona were largely superior early on and fashioned two quick chances, with Messi smashing a volley just wide and Afellay forcing a smart save from ‘keeper Claudio Bravo. Montoya then had his game sadly cut short after a foul by Xabi Prieto.

There was little to trouble Pinto at the other end, apart from a half-chance for Raúl Tamudo. The former Espanyol man almost notched a goal against his old rivals, directing a lobbed Griezmann pass inches past the post.

Just before the half hour mark, the mounting Barça pressure told; Xavi fired a 20-yard pass along the ground to Messi. For once in his career the Argentine failed to bring the ball under control, but young Thiago Alcántara was quickest to react and found the back of the net via a touch from Claudio Bravo and the underside of the crossbar.

By half time it looked like Guardiola’s men were taking another comfortable step towards a third successive title, but Real Sociedad came out for the second 45 with renewed purpose. Within minutes they were looking dangerous from set pieces; Pinto half-cleared a Griezmann free kick and Estrada went just wide with a long-range volley.

Barça’s defence was starting to look a little indecisive, and this was especially evident for the Erreala equaliser. After a scramble following one of many high crosses, substitute Diego Ifrán escaped the attentions of young Andreu Fontàs to find the net with his first touch of the game.

This goal was followed by the game’s most contentious moment. Gabriel Milito stooped to head home a teasing Xavi delivery at the back post, but the assistant’s flag was raised instantly. Replays suggested the Argentine defender was level.

Real Sociedad took the lead a few minutes later when a tentative exchange of passes between Mascherano, Alves and Pinto handed dangerous possession to Sociedad. Griezmann was felled by Mascherano and Xabi Prieto stepped up to squeeze home a tame penalty.

Although the defeat was frustratingly preventable, Barça’s lead at the top still looks unassailable.

0-1, Thiago (min 29)
1-1, Ifrán (min 71)
2-1, Xabi Prieto (pen, min 82)

Messi Grabs Advantage for Barcelona

April 28th, 2011

Lionel Messi struck twice to hand FC Barcelona a massive advantage in their Champions League semi-final tie with bitter rivals Real Madrid. It was another ill-humoured Clásico, repeatedly interrupted by squabbles and niggling fouls, but come the final whistle the Blaugrana side were in a justified ascendancy, taking a 2-0 lead to next week’s match at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona had the upper hand throughout, but the game’s turning point came on the 60th minute with a red card for Pepe after a crude studs-up lunge on Dani Alves. Lionel Messi then seized the initiative, poking an Afellay cross beneath Casillas from close range, then embarking on a jinking run from the centre circle, beating five players and slotting home.

In hindsight, the build-up to this monumental first leg was a sign of things to come. Pep Guardiola had elected to stand up to Jose Mourinho by bristling at the Madrid manager’s recent provocation at Tuesday’s press conference. And this tetchy atmosphere was carried onto the Bernabéu pitch.

The first half was reminiscent of the recent confrontations between these two clubs; Barcelona were trying to set the tempo, with Pedro and Villa hugging the left and right touchlines, trying to furnish Messi and Xavi with some space against a compact Madrid formation.

Their counterparts were far less enterprising – opting instead to find Cristiano Ronaldo on the counter attack and gain territorial advantage via set pieces.

There were plenty of petty fouls followed by shrill protestations and theatrics, perhaps a consequence of Mourinho’s pre-match fixation with referees. But amid the fractious exchanges Barcelona did manage to carve a couple of notable chances.

Pulling in off the right wing, Villa cut onto his weaker left foot and curled a 20-yard effort past Casillas’ right post. Later, Messi squirmed through three challenges before slipping a clever pass to Xavi, but Barça’s captain was denied at the near post.

The half-time whistle was met with an ugly skirmish at the mouth of the tunnel. The result was a red card for Pinto, leaving Barcelona without a substitute ‘keeper for the second half.

The opening minutes of the second period picked up where the first had left off. Barça were probing and circulating the ball, while Real Madrid were lying in wait for a counter attack. There was still plenty of hostility, and a series of tit-for-tat fouls eventually culminated in Pepe’s deserved red card for his reckless challenge on Aves. Jose Mourinho’s sarcastic applause for the stricken Barça fullback was also rewarded with a sending off.

After ceding possession for an hour, Real Madrid no longer had the legs to close down space now they had to play with ten men. Chances for Villa and Pedro were followed by 15 minutes of pure magic from Lionel Messi.

After a vital first goal, he capped a glorious night for a Barça with a world-class effort that placed his team firmly in the driving seat.

0-1, Messi (min 76)
0-2, Messi (min 87)

Barça Backups Eventually Overcome Osasuna

April 24th, 2011

FC Barcelona produced a workmanlike performance to defeat CA Osasuna 2-0 and maintain their charge for a 21st Primera División title. David Villa struck midway through the first half to end an 11-game goalless streak, and Barcelona’s Ballon d’Or trio all came off the bench to help cement a low-key win.

In the end it was Lionel Messi who made the victory certain, dispatching a perfect Alves through-pass to reach a superhuman half-century of goals in all competitions for the season.

Barça’s starting XI was a mixture of fringe-players and youth stars, with Jeffrén making a rare appearance on the left wing and Maxwell at left fullback deputising for the injured Adriano and infirmed Abidal. Meanwhile Gerard Piqué was rested ahead of the midweek trip to the Bernabeu, and Messi, Iniesta, Pedro and Xavi helped make up a formidable Barça bench.

Despite the apparent low standard of tonight’s opposition – Osasuna arrived at the Camp Nou on the back of three straight defeats – Pep Guardiola’s young team needed to win to maintain the eight-point cushion ahead of Real Madrid, who had just registered a convincing victory over Valencia at the Mestalla.

Guardiola’s young charges looked comfortable in the opening exchanges without penetrating much. Meanwhile most of Osasuna’s counter-punches, orchestrated by the lively Camuñas, were neatly snuffed out by Javier Mascherano. The tenacious Argentine is looking more assured by the game in his new central defensive position.

Still, no player typified Barça’s first-half display better than Jeffrén Suárez on the left wing. The 23 year-old gave the ball away a number of times, but also conjured a couple of moments of magic. And it was from a perfect cross by the mercurial winger that David Villa notched a much-needed goal. The Asturian striker slid in at the back post to stab the ball past Ricardo into the bottom right corner.

Rather than instilling self-belief, the goal was followed by a period of Osasuna pressure. The final minutes of the first period saw the team from Navarre carve their best opportunities. And no chance was more clear-cut than the one that fell to former Barça B player Damià Abella. The midfielder found himself teed up 5 yards out by Enrique Sola, but he snatched his shot under pressure from Maxwell and Víctor Valdés produced a reflex goal-line save to turn the ball away for a corner.

The second half saw the introduction of Iniesta, who was followed by Messi and Xavi. This injection of quality helped to add a measure of stability to Barcelona’s second half performance, with Osasuna unable to build on their pressure at the end of the previous half.

Messi put the game to bed in the 87th minute when he was found by an incisive Dani Alves pass and drilled a right-footed shot beneath Ricardo, adding a little gloss to an unspectacular though professional win on St George’s day in Barcelona.

Barcelona Fall to Extra Time Goal in Copa del Rey

April 21st, 2011

FC Barcelona had to settle for runners up medals on Wednesday as they were edged out of the Copa del Rey final by a Cristiano Ronaldo goal in extra time. Facing off against a determined and well-drilled Real Madrid team, Barça only produced flashes of the kind of football that has dazzled La Liga this season.

Pep Guardiola was able to pick a strong side for the decisive match at the Mestalla – Mascherano stepped in at a centre-back to replace the injured Carles Puyol, and Pinto took his customary place between the posts for the cup.

Picking up from Saturday’s league meeting, the first half got off to a frenetic and tetchy start, with a host of fouls and angry recriminations. And although Barcelona were monopolising possession, Los Blancos were pressing higher up the pitch than before – when they won the ball they attacked with real speed and intent.

Cristiano Ronaldo was set free down the inside right channel and drew a smart save from Pinto after 11 minutes. Barcelona, on the other hand, were struggling to find a way through, and the game soon descended into a turgid stalemate punctuated by niggling fouls.

It was a scenario that suited Mourinho’s team perfectly, and just before half time they mustered another opportunity; Mesut Özil found some space down the right flank and whipped in a teasing cross that Pepe powered onto the inside of Pinto’s right post. Fortunately the ball bounced across the face of goal and out to safety.

Barcelona needed to improve in the second half, and the Blaugrana fans got their wish with a far more fluent performance, forcing Real Madrid to the edge of their penalty with some smart combinations.

Messi went on a spellbinding run, evading four Real Madrid challenges before releasing Pedro who shot low past Casillas, only to see the goal chalked off by the offside flag. Barcelona upped the pace even further – Messi, Pedro and Iniesta all drew stunning reaction saves from the Madrid ‘keeper.

And then, after forcing the opposition onto the ropes, Barcelona slowly started to lose the upper hand. In the closing minutes of regulation time, Real Madrid began to find their feet once more, bringing Pinto into action, who had to tip a Di Maria shot over the bar moments after an Alves block denied Cristiano Ronaldo a scoring opportunity.

Extra time ensued, and Los Merengues started to look increasingly menacing on the break, before breaking the deadlock in the 102nd minute. Di Maria led a counter attack down the left flank, and his cross was met with a powerful header by Ronaldo to leave Pinto stranded. FC Barcelona then tried to raise the tempo, but just didn’t have the legs to drag themselves back into the match.

The result is a bitter blow, but more exciting challenges lie ahead, as Guardiola’s team returns to the Ciutat Esportiva to regroup ahead of the Champions League semi-final.

0-1 C.Ronaldo (102′)

Barcelona Continue Title March After Vital Draw in Madrid

April 17th, 2011

FC Barcelona took a huge step towards a third successive Primer Division title after securing a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabéu in the first of four climatic Clásicos. Pep Guardiola’s team bossed possession and arguably had the best chances, but had to settle for a point after Los Blancos came back from a goal and a man down to win a debatable penalty with ten minutes to go.

Nevertheless, the result leaves Barça in a practically insurmountable position; eight points clear at the top of the table, with a superior head-to-head record against their historic rivals.

Barcelona went into the game with their strongest XI for months, with captain Carles Puyol making a surprise start after recovering from a long-term injury that had kept him out of action since January.

For all of the hype, and column inches in anticipation of a memorable spectacle, the game got off to a relatively subdued start, with play frequently broken by niggling fouls. Both coaches spent much of the opening at the edge of their technical areas marshalling a fraught tactical battle.

The pattern that finally emerged was one of Barcelona dominance, and no little negativity from their opponents; Madrid’s midfield was effectively composed of three holding players sitting tight in front of their defence. It was no surprise that the first chance fell to the Blaugrana team – Iniesta crafted one of his signature looped passes to set Messi free, but the forward saw his lob saved easily by Casillas.

On the half-hour mark Barcelona had a great shout for a penalty when Villa raced onto a through pass after a stylish move, appearing to reach the ball before the Madrid ‘keeper who brought El Guaje to the ground. Referee Cesar Muniz Fernández wave the Barça protests away and even saw fit to book a livid Gerard Pique.

This fortunate escape appeared to stir Real Madrid, who finally began to emerge from their shells. Los Merengues’ best opportunities came via set pieces and the brutal right boot of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward slammed a trademark free kick off Valdes’ right post and had a header saved off the line by the increasingly impressive Adriano.

Yet it was Barcelona who were dictating play. And when the industrious Villa chased another clipped pass over the Real Madrid backline, Raul Albiol clumsily hauled the striker down by his collar – penalty, red card and Messi dispatched the spot-kick to take his tally to 49 and counting.

Puyol was withdrawn with a recurrence of his thigh injury, and Barça opted to slow the tempo, knowing Madrid had to chase the game with ten men. The strategy was paying off until Marcelo took on Alves down the left side of the penalty area. The right back appeared to win the ball with his sliding tackle, but Fernández pointed to the spot to allow Cristiano Ronaldo win a share of the points for Madrid ahead of Wednesday’s cup final.

0-1, Messi (pen, min 52)
1-1, Ronaldo (pen, min 83)

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