FC Barcelona kicked-off preseason with a goalless draw against Croatian team Hadjuk Split on Saturday night. Guardiola called on a number of B stars, who performed ably alongside established first-teamers such as Andrés Iniesta, David Villa and Sergio Busquets. The game represented a useful workout for the players, as they take their first steps towards regaining peak-fitness.
Barcelona assumed control early on, retaining possession with relative ease against a Hajduk side that was happy to withdraw to the edge of its area. Split’s game-plan was to try to catch Barcelona on the break down the wings, but they had little joy early on against a young, energetic side that was quick to close down space to win back the ball. It was a pattern that would characterise the match.
David Villa went closest in the opening stages, lashing a swirling shot from outside the area, which beat Hajduk’s keeper but slammed against the post. This chance prompted the home team to embark on a couple of offensive forays; winger Marin Tomasov cut in from the right flank on the counter and found himself one-on-one with Valdés, but Barça’s keeper dealt easily with a tame near-post shot.
A few minutes later David Villa could only turn a near-post Dos Santos corner into the side-netting, before Afellay ducked inside from the left, beating a number of defenders but shooting straight at the keeper. Young midfielder Thiago was looking increasingly lively – his most remarkable contribution was to jink past two Split defenders before driving a shot straight at the ‘keeper
The second half saw a changed Barça XI, with Busquets, Iniesta and Abidal joined by Barcelona B players such as Jonathan Soriano and Isaac Cuenca.
Jeffrén spurned a couple of openings, while Iniesta and Soriano linked up for the best move of the match, but once again the Split keeper was equal to the task. Isaac Cuenca also went close late on, but the match finished 0-0.
As a fitness exercise it was a successful encounter for Guardiola, who was able to field 22 players and avoid any injuries. The coming weeks should see the return of more established stars, while new signings will also be added to the fold.
Among the new faces is Chilean forward Alexis Sánchez. The 22-year-old joined from Udinese for an initial €26m and will bolster Guardiola’s options both on the wings and through the middle. Alexis found his best form last season playing as a shadow striker, in a role not too far removed from Messi’s at Barcelona.
There have been departures in recent days as well. Bojan Krkic has joined Serie A side Roma for €12m, although Barcelona will have an option to buy back the player for a similar fee in two years time. Another deal with a buyback clause should see the promising central midfielder, Oriol Romeu join Chelsea in the coming days.
FC Barcelona has won the Champions League title after defeating Manchester United 3-1, in a game of near total dominance by the Blaugrana side. Lionel Messi and David Villa scored the winning goals, after Pedro’s opener was levelled by a Wayne Rooney strike on the half-hour mark.
After a slow first ten minutes, when Barça needed to find their feet after two and a half weeks of much-needed rest, Guardiola’s men exerted a stranglehold on the game that never loosened; always imaginative and assured in possession, and showing great togetherness and tactical nous to win the ball back early.
After a much-needed rest following the gruelling confrontations with Real Madrid, Barcelona were able to call on a near full-strength team for this, their most important match of the season. Abidal was fit to play at left-back, while Javier Mascherano filled in for Puyol, whose second half of the season has been plagued by niggling injury.
Manchester United started at a blistering tempo, pressing but without troubling the Barça defence. In fact, the first real opportunity fell to the Catalan side and proved to be the warning shot before a barrage of chances; Alves scuttled into space down the right for the first time, and found Pedro free in the area, but the Canarian winger skewed wide.
David Villa went close with an attempt from distance, then drew an important save at close range from Edwin van der Sar. Barcelona were suddenly looking confident, with Xavi, Messi and Iniesta interchanging with growing menace.
Some last-gasp defending by Vidic and Ferdinand only served to delay the inevitable – Pedro drifted into space on the counter-attack and was found by an inch-perfect Xavi pass, before finishing calmly at the near-post.
But the scores were level just minutes later, after Manchester United conjured their first real move of the match; Rooney combined with Giggs on the inside-right before lashing an unstoppable shot into the top left corner. Replays suggested that the veteran Welshman had strayed offside in the build up.
After this setback Guardiola will have been delighted by the way Barça went about their task at the start of the second period.
Yet more pressure culminated in a Messi goal, when the Argentine forward spotted the smallest of gaps between Vidic and Van der Sar from the edge of the area, driving the ball home.
This goal was followed by a spell of uninterrupted possession for the Blaugrana team, and Manchester United were visibly wilting, sapped by 70 minutes of chasing red and blue jerseys. It was David Villa who finally put them out of their misery, curling into the top corner from just outside the area after a Messi run.
All that was left was for Guardiola to lead his charges proudly up the Wembley steps, where Abidal was handed the captain’s armband and given the honour of lifting the Champions League, crowning a triumphant season with a memorable and touching gesture.
1-0 Pedro (min 27)
1-1 Rooney (min 34)
2-1 Messi (min 53)
3-1 Villa (min 69)
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)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.