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Match report

Barcelona Caught Napping and Draw Again

September 14th, 2011

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)

Barcelona held to surprise draw in San Sebastián

September 11th, 2011

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)

Pep Reigns in Monaco

August 27th, 2011

Pep Guardiola became the most successful coach in FC Barcelona’s illustrious history on Friday night, as his team lifted the UEFA Super Cup following a 2-0 victory against FC Porto. Messi opened the scoring just before half time, latching onto a careless backpass before rounding Helton and tucking the ball home, all in one fluid motion. Substitute Cesc Fàbregas completed the job in the 86th minute, trapping a lofted Messi pass before volleying home from close range.

Barça’s ongoing defensive injury problems saw Piqué and Puyol remain on the sidelines for this match, while Sergio Busquets took his place on the bench alongside Alexis Sánchez and Cesc Fàbregas. Already two matches into their domestic league season, it was the Portuguese side that looked the more dangerous in the opening minutes – Valdés pushed a Moutinho shot round the post, before Hulk drove a cross-cum-shot across the goal.

By the 20-minute mark Barça were more comfortable, and both Messi and Xavi came close. Indeed, the opening goal arrived at the end of a period of sustained pressure by Guardiola’s side. Presented with no options in midfield, Columbian Fred Guarin opted to pass back to his keeper, but failed to spot Messi strolling back from an offside position. With his first touch the Argentine star knocked the ball past the onrushing Helton, before producing a composed finished from a tight angle.

The second period began with Porto on top. Another Moutinho effort was deflected wide by Abidal, and this followed by a 35-yard Guarín piledriver, which forced an excellent save from Valdés.

As in the first half, Barcelona regained their composure before long, and might have extended their lead when Villa was released by Iniesta. The Asturian striker pulled in from the left, but scuffed his effort somewhat, and Helton gathered at the near post.

The entire match had been played with a real competitive spirit, which was underlined when Porto defender Rolando was issued a second yellow card after cynically hauling down Lionel Messi as Barça’s forward instigated a counter attack.

Barcelona continued to offer an attacking threat; Pedro was mere inches away from connecting with a fabulous Iniesta pass, while Alexis Sánchez saw a curling effort dip just wide of the far post.

Fàbregas took to the field with just over ten minutes to go, and wasted no time in demonstrating the technique and intuitive passing that made him a transfer priority for almost three years. It was the Catalan midfielder who would add gloss to the result, trapping a looped Messi pass and volleying home from close range.

The red mist descended for Porto moments later, when Guarín capped a miserable night by lunging into a tackle on Macherano just before full time and getting his marching orders.

Barcelona have started the new season in formidable style, having lifted two prestigious trophies in just over a week. Next up is a Monday night match against Villareal, for what should be a challenging league curtain raiser.

Barcelona beats Napoli in Gamper trophy

August 25th, 2011

FC Barcelona resoundingly beat SSC Napoli on Monday night in a match that saw Cesc Fabregas score his first goal for the club.The annual cup between FC Barcelona is an invitation match that brings some of the world’s top teams to the Nou Camp.

This year the Gamper Trophy was between two potential Champions League rivals and showed that following  Barça’a defeat of Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercup they aren’t taking any prisioners.

The match saw a feast of goals for the Catalans and as well as Cesc’s first goal Leo Messi scored twice. With the player’s strike having postponed the first match of the league last week, there was the threat that the same would happen to the first home match of the season on Monday 29th against Villarreal.

Luckily the two sides have reached agreement and that will go ahead; before that Barça faces Porto in the European Supercup on Friday, which is being played in  Monaco.

1-0 Cesc (min 25)
2-0 Keita (min 31)
3-0 Pedro (min 61)
4-0 Messi (min 65)
5-o Messi (min 77)

Barcelona Triumph in the Match That Had Everything

August 18th, 2011

FC Barcelona lifted their fourth consecutive Supercup after beating Real Madrid 3-2 at the Camp Nou in a fiercely competitive game to win the tie 5-4. Along with some mesmerising skill there were the kind of ugly flashpoints that have now become customary for any Clásico.

Messi scored two exquisite goals, after a well-taken Iniesta opener. Real Madrid twice levelled the match, through Cristiano and Benzema. There was a mass brawl at the close, with Villa, Özil and Marcelo all earning red cards. It did little to dampen Barça’s celebrations, but will surely have ramifications in the coming days.

At kick-off there were three changes to the side that drew at the Bernabeu – Xavi, Piqué and Pedro all took their place. A largely unchanged Madrid team picked up where they left off at the weekend; pressuring Barcelona high up the pitch, but to less devastating effect this time around.

The first fifteen minutes were a tactical jostle, with neither side able to retain possession for an extended period.

In the end it was Messi who engineered the breakthrough. The livewire Argentine wriggled away from Khedira just inside the Madrid half, and threaded a sumptuous pass for Andrés Iniesta, who dinked the ball over the helpless Casillas.

Barça’s opener prompted an immediate response from Los Blancos; Cristiano got the decisive touch on a cross from the left angle of the box by Benzema. There was a hint of offside about the goal, but Barcelona’s protests were waved away by referee Fernández Borbalán.

Real Madrid followed up their goal with a brief spell in the ascendancy, but only after Pedro forced a spectacular stop from Casillas with a 20-yard curler. Then it was Valdés’ turn to take the limelight, first pushing a Cristiano piledriver onto the bar, before deflecting an Özil attempt past the post with a lighting quick reaction save.

The momentum was soon back with the home team; Messi raced away from Pepe and Ramos but was foiled by the feet of Casillas. Barça’s number 10 was not to be denied though, and grabbed the lead for his team when he scored with a delightful close range chip after latching onto an improvised Piqué backheel.

The second half was an altogether more fractious affair, with play punctuated by niggling fouls and moments of low-key violence. Marcelo appeared to aim a kick at Messi when he jumped to win a header, and the Argentine was later wiped out by a bone-shaking body check from Pepe.

For the most part, Barcelona were comfortable, but became a little sloppy at the back, with a scramble in the box culminating in a close range goal for Benzema. Guardiola replied by handing a late debut to Cesc, who began the move that led to Messi’s smart volleyed winner, and was later cut down by an outrageous Marcelo scissor tackle in front of the dugouts, sparking unpleasant scenes as both sets of players and coaching staff faced off.

Barcelona Sweat it Out in Madrid

August 15th, 2011

FC Barcelona drew the first leg of the Super Cup 2-2 at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid on Sunday night. Barça spent long periods of the match on the back-foot, suffocated on a sultry night by relentless Real Madrid pressure. Los Blancos opened the scoring with a smart Özil finish, but Barcelona equalised and then took the lead via a fine Villa strike and an opportunistic finish by Lionel Messi.

Xabi Alonso levelled the score ten minutes after the break, side-footing home from the edge of the area. Although there were some rugged tackles from Real Madrid, the match was played in good spirit, and on Wednesday night Barcelona fans could get to see Cesc Fábregas make his first senior appearance for his boyhood club.

Two strong lineups took to the field in Madrid – Alexis Sánchez made his debut, starting on the right wing for Barcelona, while Xavi, Puyol and Piqué took their place on the Barça bench. Real fielded a more positive XI than in the Clásicos towards the end of last season – Cristiano Ronaldo, Di Maria, Benzema, Ozil and Alonso all started for Los Merengues.

The first 30 minutes were difficult for Guardiola’s men; Real Madrid were pressing hard, forcing mistakes from every one of Barcelona’s defenders. Macherano and Abidal looked particularly uncomfortable, and on the few occasions that they managed to get the ball to a midfielder, possession was surrendered in the face of packs of white shirts. Xavi was sorely missed.

Indeed, it came as no surprise when Real Madrid took the lead; Benzema made a powerful run in from the right, and threaded a delicate squared pass for Ozil, who dispatched a tidy finish to the right of Valdés.

Barcelona continued to struggle until Villa netted a spectacular equaliser, which came almost out of the blue. The Asturian forward found some rare space, pulled in from the left and smashed a swerving shot over Casillas into the very top right corner of the goal.

The second Barcelona goal came just before half time and was another smash and grab. Messi was first to react to a loose ball, shrugged off Pepe, and swept the ball home to hand the away side an unlikely lead going into the break.

The second half saw more pressure on the Barça goal, although Madrid’s pressing was now a little less concerted. Their equaliser came in the 54th minute, after Benzema teed up Alonso who placed a smart shot into the bottom right corner from just outside the area.

Valdés was the busier of the two ‘keepers as the game went on, but neither side would again find the net. Both teams had legitimate penalty shouts denied in the closing stages – Valdés appeared to reach out and trip Cristiano as he chased a ball away from goal, while Pedro was floored in the Madrid area by a clumsy Marcelo challenge.

And while the second half was underway, news of an agreement for Cesc Fábregas filtered through from London and Barcelona, finally bringing to an end a three-year transfer saga.

Barcelona End Tour in Style

August 8th, 2011

FC Barcelona are now home after their tour of the United States. The final fixture was against Mexican outfit Club América at the Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on Saturday night, with Guardiola’s team emerging comfortable victors to end their stay in the country on a high note.

It was a match that the Catalan side controlled from start to finish, and good preparation for the Super Cup clash with bitter rivals Real Madrid in a week’s time. Striker David Villa opened the scoring with a free header after an excellent run and cross by Adriano from the right flank. Seydou Keita doubled the score from close range just before the final whistle, following a jinking run into the box by youngster Gerard Deulofeu.

Barcelona started the match with a near full-strength team and put on a show of sublime passing, skill and movement. Despite dominating possession from kick-off, Villa’s goal after 23 minutes was Barça’s first shot on target, but was soon followed by a raft of chances.

Thiago Alcântara was particularly lively, playing in Messi’s withdrawn central striker role. The promising youngster, together with Andrés Iniesta, produced a number of incisive passes for his fellow forwards. David Villa started finding space on the right hand side of attack, and just failed to finish a handful of one-one situations, thwarted by a mixture of excellent goalkeeping and uncharacteristically wayward finishing.

Pedro Rodríguez also looked dangerous, but Club América ‘keeper Armando Navarrete was equal to two close-range efforts following darting runs by the Barcelona winger.

By the end of the first period the Club América goal was under siege, and with more composed finishing Barça’s lead might have been far greater. At half time Guardiola withdrew some of the players with less games under their belts – Xavi, Adriano and Piqué were replaced by youngsters Jonathan dos Santos, Fontàs and Cuenca.

The changes did have a slight impact on the flow of the game, and it took a little time for Barcelona to find their feet once more. When they did it was Villa who was once again at the heart of the best moments. On the 67th minute the Asturian cut onto his left boot, slamming a 25-yard strike that was tipped over the bar by Navarrete.

15 minutes later Thiago tried his luck, attempting to chip the ‘keeper from a right-sided free-kick 40 yards out. And moments after this Isaac Cuenca embarked on a weaving run down the right wing, but his low cross was cut out at the near post.

And for all Barcelona’s dominance, Club América did manage to get into some dangerous positions. Most notably when Christian Benítez smashed wide following a route-one move from a goal kick.

In the end Carmona, Deulofeu and Keita combine to put the match beyond doubt and put the cap on a much improved Barcelona performance.

Barcelona Slip to Narrow Friendly Defeat

August 1st, 2011

FC Barcelona were beaten 2-1 by Manchester United in Washington on Saturday, as the English team gained a revenge of sorts for their Champions League final defeat in May. Both United goals came from counter attacks and fell either side of a spectacular long-range strike by young Barça star Thiago.

With every passing friendly, Pep Guardiola places more responsibility on his more experienced names, and on Saturday the manager picked a competitive side against the English champions. Abidal, Valdés, Keita, Busquets, Villa, Pedro Rodríguez and Iniesta all started. With the benefit of a fortnight’s extra preparation, Manchester United offered a little more intensity than Barcelona had encountered over the past week.

The first chance of the match fell to United after nine minutes, when Nani found space down the right flank and aimed a low cross into the area, which Rooney could only steer wide from six yards. Barcelona were struggling to hit their stride, and when they did enjoy some possession their attacks were dismantled by two banks of red shirts.

Manchester United’s opening goal came on the counter after a Barcelona move broke down deep in the opposition half; Danny Welbeck found Nani just onside, and the winger slotted the ball between Víctor Valdés’ legs.

In response, Iniesta fired over from 25 yards, and Afellay drilled a cross-cum-shot across the face of goal, but, these moments aside, Barcelona were frustrated by a fit and disciplined United in the opening 45 minutes. There was yet more cause for concern before the break, when Afellay pulled up with a hamstring injury. The Dutchman now stands to miss the start of the season.

Guardiola elected to give the established first-team players at least an hour on the pitch, and they responded with a much-improved performance for the first half-hour of the second period. David Villa passed square to Iniesta, who let the ball run for Pedro Rodríguez just inside the box. The Canarian winger unleashed a curling strike that was saved at full stretch by David de Gea.

Manchester United were still a threat on the break, and Nani should have done better when the ball fell to him 10 yards from goal after a Welbeck shot was well saved by Valdés. This was seconds before Thiago netted Barça’s equaliser; Carmona played a ball infield from the left, and Thiago evaded one challenge before blasting a swerving long-range strike into the top right corner, leaving de Gea motionless in the United goal.

By the 70th minute the Barcelona team was made up mostly of B teamers, with players such as Balliu, Riverola and Espinosa taking to the field. There was a consequent lack of cohesion during the closing stages, and Manchester United took the lead following a moment of confusion in the Barça backline, with veteran striker Michael Owen stealing in to restore United’s advantage.

Next up for Barcelona is Mexican side Chivas Guadalajara, whom they’ll meet on August 3rd in Miami.

Thiago Gets Pulses Racing at the Audi Cup

July 28th, 2011

FC Barcelona have lifted the Audi Cup after a comfortable 2-0 victory against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Exciting midfielder Thiago grabbed both goals to cap another man of the match performance. It was a satisfying night all round as Barça carry an unbeaten record into the American leg of their preseason.

The first half saw Guardiola field his most experienced lineup so far this summer; Busquets, Iniesta, Villa, Keita, Valdés and Maxwell all figured against a young Bayern team. It was little surprise to see Barça take the initiative and force their opponents back. David Villa had the first opportunity, stinging Hans-Jörg Butt’s palms from long range. Soriano, playing at the centre of the front three, then fired over after good work by Maxwell down the left.

Bayern did manage to conjure some interesting opportunities on the break – Valdés had to be sharp to block a Petersen effort after a teasing cross by Japanese winger Usami. Later in the half Austrian international midfielder David Alaba found himself in a one-on-one situation with Valdes, but Barça’s keeper closed down the space well and made a crucial save.

Barcelona took the lead just before half time. Soriano pulled wide and clipped a perfect cross for Thiago, who met the ball with a guided header past Bayern’s keeper and into the right side of the goal from 10 yards.

There were slightly fewer changes from Guardiola at half time, as the manager opted instead to give a few more minutes to Thiago, Iniesta and Jonathan Dos Santos, who was making an unwonted appearance at right-back.

More replacements did take to the field as the second half wore on, with Gerard Piquè making his first appearance since the Champion League final in May. Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes called on a few more of his established stars, as Schweinsteiger, Tony Kroos, Mario Gómez and Thomas Müller all entered the fray.

The alterations did little to alter the dynamic of the match, with Barcelona controlling possession and Bayern launching some dangerous counter-attacks. The Bavarian side forced Pinto into action after 70 minutes, when defender Jeremy Boating crashed a long-range effort straight at Barça’s substitute ‘keeper.

Isaac Cuenca caught the eye, initiating a number of attacks from the right wing with a mix of stylish dribbling and cute angled passes. David Villa also looked in good shape,

But the match was settled by yet another moment of brilliance from Thiago. Gaining possession on the left side of the pitch, the young midfielder exchanged a quick-fire one-two with Ibrahim Afellay, collecting the ball just outside the area and curling a right-footed shot into the top corner. It was a fitting way to settle the match, and Guardiola’s men now head to the United States, where they’ll initially face defeated Champions League finalists Manchester United at FedEx Field in Washington.

Brazilians Offer a Welcome Test in Munich

July 27th, 2011

FC Barcelona will play Bayern Munich in the final of the Audi Cup friendly tournament after a win on penalties following a 2-2 draw with Brazilian side Internacional. Guardiola’s men were subjected to a sterner test than in Croatia on Saturday and were under pressure for long periods in the second half. They went ahead twice but were pegged back, and needed spot-kicks to settle the match.

As with the friendly in Split, Barça’s starting lineup was a mix of established stars and talents from the B team. The team might have been a little unfamiliar, but the quality of football was typically accomplished; Barcelona were playing with a little more intensity than on Saturday, circulating the ball at speed and squeezing Internacional on the rare occasions when they lost possession.

The opening goal came on the 16th minute and was a thing of beauty. Standing over a free-kick mid-way inside the opposition half, Iniesta fired a short pass into Busquets who caressed the ball first-time to find Thiago inside the box. The young midfielder made no mistake, finishing a perfect training ground move.

Ibrahim Afellay almost doubled the score straightaway, but saw his far-post shot tipped onto the woodwork by impressive goalkeeper Muriel. The remainder of the first-half was an exhibition of calm possession from the Blaugrana side. Internacional held firm at the back, but were unable to register a single shot on Víctor Valdés’ goal.

The second half saw Internacional leap into instant action against a Barça team still finding its feet after a number of substitutions. Striker Damião forced a near-post save from Pinto, and this opportunity was followed by the Brazilians’ first real spell of pressure.

Thiago, typically effervescent in midfield, was at the centre of an isolated Barcelona move – riding three challenges before threading through David Villa, who was caught narrowly offside. Internacional replied straight away, as Damião breached a rickety Barça backline. His shot was saved well by Pinto, but right-back Nei was there to poke the ball home at the near post.

Guardiola’s charges then started to impose their game on the Brazilian side, and it was no surprise when they took the lead once more. Thiago was again at the heart, finding Jonathan dos Santos, who took the ball in his stride and guided the ball home from an inside-left position into the bottom right corner.

Internacional’s equaliser came late on and didn’t go down too well with the manager. Pinto carelessly surrendered possession and Damião’s attempt was headed away athletically for a corner by Abidal. The resulting set-play found Damião unchallenged to head the ball home and take the match to penalties.

Barcelona were almost flawless from 15 yards, with only Jeffrén spurning his spot kick. B team defender, Armando scored the crucial fifth penalty after two misses by Internacional, to take Barcelona through to the final on Wednesday evening. They will face Bayern Munich who triumphed against AC Milan in Tuesday’s late match.

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