Barcelona took an important step towards the next round of the Champions League on Tuesday night, triumphing 3-1 at the BayArena. Alexis Sánchez provided the first two goals with two clinical finishes, and Messi followed up with a crucial clincher in the final minutes.
The opening half was a turgid, tactical affair. Barcelona completely dominated possession but were faced with a relatively timid opponent, who sat deep and narrow and blocked all avenues to goal.
Chances were few and far between. There was a sniff of an opening in the 13th minute, when Alexis broke free down the right and tried to find Messi with a cross, but Schwaab intercepted the pass on the stretch just in front of the Argentine.
Dani Alves sent a long range free-kick just over a little later, but after that the game descended into a stalemate, with Barcelona laboring on a pitch with long grass that looked a little untended.
But just before half-time and almost out of nowhere, Barcelona got a goal. Bayer Leverkusen tried to get up the pitch on a rare counter-attack, but abandoned their left flank. So when the ball fell to Messi, he produced a fantastic pass with the outside of his boot to release Alexis. The Chilean’s finish was perfect, side-footing between Leno’s legs and into the bottom-left corner.
Perhaps unsurprising given their slightly negative approach in the first half, Leverkusen were far more enterprising in the early minutes of the second period. The teams exchanged half-chances before the home side managed to equalise – right-back Corluka got to the byline and swung a cross in towards the back-post. Czech international Kadlec managed to get the jump on Puyol and headed into the top corner.
Barcelona’s response was almost immediate. Cesc found time and space in the middle and picked out Alexis with a sumptuous through-ball. The Chilean then advanced on Leno and jinked to the keeper’s right, before finishing into the empty net from a tight angle.
It was the cue for a very even spell – Barça were still finding openings, it’s just that the opposition were also proving a little more adventurous now. Renato Augusto was denied by a world-class save by Valdés, who pushed the striker’s low shot on the left-hand post. Valdés came to rescue a little late when he managed to gather Kiessling’s diving header.
Messi might have put the tie firmly in Barcelona’s hands when he produced a mesmerising piece of skill to evade two Leverkusen defenders on the right side of the area, but his shot was blocked by Leno and then bounced off his chest and onto the post.
But there was time to take a commanding lead back to Barcelona next month. Alves was spotted by Messi, who released the right-back with a deft pass. Alves was forced wide as he went forward, but kept his composure to cross for Messi, leaving the Argentine with an easy finish at the back post.
0-1 Alexis (min 41)
1-1 Kadlec (min 52)
1-2 Alexis (min 55)
1-3 Messi (min 88)
Barcelona have lost ground in the title race, falling to a 3-2 defeat away at Osasuna. On a bitter night in Pamplona the home team adapted better to the difficult conditions, surging to 2-0 via two Lekic goals. In the second half Alexis and Tello scored for Barcelona, but Raul Garcia’s 56th minute strike proved decisive.
The first half was one best forgotten by Barcelona. The weather couldn’t have been less suited to passing football – subzero temperatures resulted in a frozen playing surface, made even less predictable by gusty wind.
Barça were having to think twice about every pass, allowing the home team to win the ball back time and again. Osasuna on the other hand were clearly more acclimatised, looking comfortable in these exceptional conditions and taking advantage of Barcelona’s hesitation.
Their opener came in the fifth minute, when Raúl García nipped in front of Puyol on the edge of the area to direct the ball on the stretch for Lekic, who tucked his finish low past Valdés.
Usually Barça are quick to rally after going a goal down, but Osasuna were looking sharper and more confident in both attack and defence, while the away team had to toil for any kind of opening. Alexis managed to get in behind not long after Osasuna’s first goal, but was incorrectly ruled offside. Messi also went close, forcing an acrobatic save from Fernández with a shot from the edge of the area.
But the next real attack would come from the home team – and it ended with another goal. Cejudo managed to drift out to the right touchline unseen, and when he got possession drove a low cross across the face of goal that found Lekic completely unmarked to score from six yards.
Puyol and Pedro, who had both found the going tough, were replaced by Tello and Cuenca at the break, and Barcelona made a marked improvement. They clawed a goal back shortly after the restart when Cuenca scuttled down the right flanked and crossed low for Alexis to score from close range.
Still, the hesitancy that had wracked Barcelona’s first-half defending was evident once more just a few minutes later. They were unable to clear their lines sufficiently after an Osasuna attack, and Nino found room down the left to whip another low cross for Raúl García, who saw his near-post effort roll in off the upright to take it to 3-1.
From then on Barcelona attacked relentlessly. Cesc came on for Piqué, and had an immediate effect, side-footing a lovely through pass for Tello, who turned inside his defender and lashed a powerful effort high inside the near post with 20 minutes to go.
With the game finely poised, and Barcelona piling forward, both teams had chances in the closing stages. Puñal saw his shot saved pushed onto the post by Valdés, and at the other end Tello went one-on-one down the left, but Fernández produced a reaction save.
1-0 Lekic (min 4)
2-0 Lekic (min 21)
2-1 Alexis (min 50)
3-1 Raúl García (min 55)
3-2 Tello (min 71)
Barcelona defeated Valencia 2-0 at the Camp Nou on Wednesday to set up a meeting with Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey. The goals came from two stylish moves, finished by Cesc in the first half and Xavi in the second.
Valencia looked motivated and energetic in the opening stages, and managed to fashion a couple of early chances before Barcelona had been able to hit their stride. Firstly Ruíz, snuck in at the near-post, but could only slice his effort wide.
Then Mathieu looked up and picked out Fenghouli with a through-ball from the left, but Barça’s defence recovered and the winger grazed the side-netting under pressure. From there Barcelona began to find their composure, and some of the attacking movement over the next half an hour was sublime.
Barcelona took the lead with their first real attack – Messi dropped deep and lofted a staggering 40-yard pass over the Valencia backline into the path of Cesc, who barely had to adjust his stride before flicking the ball over Diego Alves with the outside of his boot to complete a fantastic move.
Minutes later, Messi intercepted a ball out by Rami before jinking past the defender. His shot was saved by Diego Alves, and rebounded to Cuenca, who took a touch before dispatching a shot just wide of the left post. Meanwhile Cesc was in real form – he clipped another lofted through-pass for Alexis, whose shot was deflected just wide. Then, as the half was coming to an end, he picked up the ball from the right and ran at the Valencia defence, evading a couple of challenges before forcing yet another Diego Alves save.
As in the first half, Valencia looked dangerous immediately after the restart. Jonas found Jordi Alba, who nodded past Puyol, beating the defender for pace. Pinto read the situation well this time and rushed out to close down the angle and make an important near-post save.
Barcelona settled once more though, and Cuenca started to shine on the left flank. In a lovely passage of play, the youngster dribbled in off the touchline and put Messi through with a clever reverse-pass, but the Argentine’s shot was deflected over. Messi was also creating opportunities of his own. In one dazzling run he evaded three Valencia defenders, but saw his effort pushed around the post by the increasingly overworked Diego Álvez.
There was one last scare at the other end of the pitch, when Pinto was caught off his line. Aduriz’ chip was on target, but Mascherano was covering and headed the ball off the line.
As the match entered it last ten minutes, Barcelona ended the match as contest. In another flowing move, Alexis was released by Messi down the left; the Chilean squared for Cesc, who laid it off deftly for Xavi on the overlap. The midfielder took a touch before driving it into the top-left corner to confirm Barça’s place in the final.
1-0 Fabregas (min 15)
2-0 Xavi (min 81)
FC Barcelona gained what was ultimately a battling win against Real Sociedad at home on Saturday night. Cristian Tello and Messi got the goals for the home team, while Carlos Vela pulled one back for the Basque visitors. It was a match that Barça controlled for long spells, creating plenty of chances, but when the score went to 2-1 late in the second half Guardiola’s needed to show some grit to ensure the win.
There were some relatively unfamiliar names on the Barcelona teamsheet. Joining recent B graduates like Cuenca and Thiago were Jonathan dos Santos and Cristian Tello, giving the team a youthful look on a bitterly cold night at the Camp Nou.
Their integration appeared seamless. Barring a couple of excellent point-blank saves from Ifrán by Valdés in the opening minutes, Barcelona dominated the ball and cut through Real Sociedad’s defence with impressive regularity.
The onslaught began as early as the 5th minute, when Cesc scrambled the ball through to Messi, but Bravo rushed out to make a reaction stop. The Chilean ‘keeper had to be at his best to keep Real Sociedad in the match, making impressive saves from Thiago and Messi.
There was little he could do about the opener, after just eight minutes – Messi brought the ball forward on one of his bustling diagonal dribbles from right to left, and spotted Cristian Tello hovering on the shoulder of right-back Carlos Martínez. Messi’s through-pass was pinpoint accurate and Tello latched onto the ball with remarkable pace and tucked it under Bravo with his first touch. It was a goal that lived up the player’s burgeoning reputation.
From there on Barcelona was dominant, squeezing Real Sociedad high up the pitch and attacking with speed and invention. The scoreline could have been three or four more than the 1-0 at the half-time whistle – Fábregas flicked a shot over the bar from 15 yards after being posted through by Messi, and Alves pounced on a loose ball just before half-time but pulled a low shot wide of the far post.
Real Sociedad returned with more purpose after the break. Griezmann was released and managed to outmuscle last-man Mascherano, but Valdés made a crucial point-blank save.
At the other end the chances continued to flow, including a bizarre goal ruled out for offside when a Tello strike deflected in off Alves, who was standing on the goal-line in an offside position. With 20 minutes to go, Alves made amends by picking out Messi in the area with a sumptuous lofted pass, and Messi took his opportunity with typical coolness.
Things then took a sour turn for Barça – Vela pulled one back with a composed finish after latching onto a Griezmann pass, and Busquets, on for Jonathan, picked up what looked like a nasty knee injury after colliding accidentally with Carlos Martínez. Real Sociedad went looking for an equaliser as the minutes ticked down, but Barcelona held firm for a vital three points.
1-0 Tello (min 8 )
2-0 Messi (min 71)
2-1 Carlos Vela (min 73)
Barcelona drew 1-1 against Valencia on Wednesday night, in a competitive first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final. Barça went behind to a Jonas goal in the first half and fired back soon after through Carles Puyol. Messi missed a penalty in a second half that Barcelona dominated.
The game was a remarkably even contest early on, as Barcelona kept the ball well, but Valencia posed a threat on the counter and had the better chances. Pablo Piatti was looking especially dangerous on the right flank, playing clever passes and cutting in onto his left foot.
Messi went on one driving run, but saw his shot blocked after he wriggled his way into the area. At the other end Soldado was fed by Piatti, but was blocked at the edge of the area by the onrushing Pinto. Replays suggested that Barça’s substitute ‘keeper might even have handled the ball outside the area.
The threat from Valencia was growing, urged on by the boisterous home support. Soldado pulled back from the defence to crash a stylish first-time volley just over the bar. And just after Alexis wasted a presentable opportunity crafted by Cesc, Valencia had grabbed the lead. Mathieu was set free down the left and cut the ball back for Jonas to side-foot into the top right corner, leaving Pinto with no chance.
Barcelona’s response was as impressive as it was quick. After a period of possession Cuenca weaved in from the right wing, dancing past two challenges before flicking an intelligent ball through for Alexis. The Chilean saw his effort well saved by Diego Alves, but when the resulting corner was sent deep, Carles Puyol rose at the back post nod a firm downward header past Valencia’s stranded ‘keeper.
Early in the second half Alexis saw a goal just ruled out for offside, and Piatti twisted past Abidal to shoot just over from the right and angle of the penalty area. Then, ten minutes into the half, Thiago chested the ball down in the Valencia area before tapping it away from Miguel, who took the youngster’s legs for a penalty. Messi stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick, but seemed hesitant in his run-up – Diego Alves guessed the right way and pushed the relatively tame effort away to his left.
Barça’s were not discouraged though – Busquets only just failed to make a decisive glancing contact with a Messi free-kick, and Abidal fired a powerful near-post effort that Diego Alves had to palm out for a corner. When the ball came in Messi rose to head the ball back across goal, but Piqué could only send it over under pressure from the Valencia defence.
By now Barcelona were in charge of the contest, but just couldn’t convert their opportunities into goals. The best chance as the match wound down fell to Dani Alves, who played a sublime one-two with Messi before smashing his effort off the bottom of the left-hand post.
1-0 Jonas (min 27)
1-1 Puyol (min 35)
FC Barcelona slipped a little further behind in the title race on Saturday night after they were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw against La Liga strugglers Villareal at El Madrigal. It was a match of few opportunities, but on the occasions that Barcelona did manage to get in behind their determined and organised opponents, they found goalkeeper Diego López in good form.
Barça began this game with a back three of Abidal, Piqué and Puyol, but as the half progressed Mascherano slipped in to partner Piqué at centre-half to form a back four. This was because Villareal, desperately in need of points, were proving difficult opponents – quick on the break and resolute in defence. First half opportunities were hard to come by.
Alves, playing high on the right, had a couple of early sights of goal, but Diego López was sharp to push away the first, and Gonzalo nipped in to deny the second. Moments later Messi raced clear, but his delicate lob over the goalkeeper dropped just wide of the far post.
Villareal then began to find their way into the match. First Marco Rubén got in behind Barcelona’s back-line, before firing high and wide. And then Marcos Senna let rip with a signature shot from just outside the area, but Valdés was able to produce an acrobatic save to tip it round the post.
As the half drew to a close Diego López came rushing off his line to intercept a through pass by Messi for Cesc. As it was, Barcelona went into the break needing to find some inspiration after a low-key performance in the first period.
Villareal appeared to have more urgency as the half began, but the game settled again into the former pattern of Barcelona dictating the play but struggling to conjure any real openings.
Adriano was industrious on the left-flank, and Alexis looked lively after coming on for the injured Piqué, but Guardiola’s side was running out of ideas against the team in yellow who by now were happy to retreat to the edge of the area.
Finally, as the 80-minute mark approached, Cesc found some space on the edge of the area and lashed a powerful shot, which took a mean deflection and was then pushed onto the in spectacular fashion by Diego López. By now, Guardiola had introduced the swift Christian Tello and Thiago to see if he could find a way through the stubborn Villareal ranks.
As the minutes ticked down, Messi at last managed to wriggle his way into the area and fired at the bottom corner. Once again López showed quick reactions, getting his left leg in the way – the ball dropped at the feet of Cesc but his shot was completely mistimed. It was the best opportunity of the night, and perhaps the moment that confirmed that Barcelona were going to have to settle for a draw and a deficit of seven points in the race for the title.
FC Barcelona overcame Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarterfinal, drawing 2-2 on the night and winning 4-3 on aggregate. Pedro and Alves got the goals for the home team.
Barcelona began the match under a storm of pressure from the visitors. It started as early as the 10th second, when Higuaín intercepted Alves’ pass for Piqué, but the striker contrived to miss from 10 yards with Pinto stranded and the goal gaping. Seconds later Pinto needed to make a point-blank save to keep Higuaín out after he met a free-kick at the back post.
The home team was struggling to keep possession against a highly motivated and aggressive side. Cristiano Ronaldo was seeing plenty of the ball, slamming one effort wide of the near-post and seeing another saved by the legs of Pinto.
After 15 minutes Barcelona mounted their first attack of note – Cesc got away from Xabi Alonso down the left and squared for Messi, whose shot flashed wide of the left post from just outside the area.
Real Madrid were soon back on the front foot though. Mesut Özil crashed a 30-yard strike that flew over Pinto’s head, off the underside of the bar and out just in front of the goal line. Then, on the half hour mark, sloppy distribution by Pinto saw the ball land at Higuaín’s feet on the right side of the area, but Barça’s ‘keeper was equal to the task once more and preserved the home team’s aggregate lead.
After half an hour the Madrid assault was starting to tail off, and Barcelona began to pass the ball with confidence once more. Just before the break Messi embarked on a trademark run inside, clipping the ball delicately for Pedro on the edge of the area. The winger, on for the injured Iniesta, showed great composure to slot the ball into the bottom-left corner.
Dani Alves then seemingly put the tie to bed – a Barça free-kick was cleared to the right angle of the area and the Brazilian full-back let rip with a first-time shot that zipped into the top right corner, leaving Casillas with no chance in the world.
The first 20 minutes of the second half were largely unremarkable – Real Madrid looked like they’d pulled a goal back, but replays showed a tug by Sergio Ramos on Alves’ arm. The match appeared to be petering out before Özil strode forward and threaded a neat pass for Cristiano Ronaldo, who rounded Pinto and scored from a tight angle.
The game got a little more serious just three minutes later. Benzema collected a header by Callejón, flicked the ball over Puyol and tucked it home to take the score on the night to 2-2, 4-3 on aggregate. From there on Real Madrid blustered, but were unable to make an impact, and as the final minutes counted down Ramos was sent off for a second yellow after a challenge on Busquets.
1-0 Pedro (min 43)
2-0 Alves (min 48)
2-1 Cristiano Ronaldo (min 70)
2-2 Benzema (min 74)
Messi grabbed three goals to help Barcelona to an impressive 4-1 victory at La Rosaleda against Málaga on Sunday evening. Guardiola’s men put in a smart and efficient display against a potentially dangerous opponent, scoring two goals early in the second half, through Alexis and Messi to effectively close the game 45 minutes early.
Guardiola opted to rest Puyol, Xavi and Cesc, giving a rare start to Adriano, while Thiago joined Busquets and Iniesta in midfield, and Mascherano partnered Piqué in central defence. Pellegrini’s Málaga side offered a mix of youth and international experience, with three veteran stars in Mathijsen, Demichelis and van Nistelrooy, and two creative talents in Cazorla and Isco.
The early exchanges were relatively even, with Thiago coming close with a diving header Messi shooting just wide from the edge of the area. Málaga also posed a threat, not least through young midfielder Isco. His powerful curled effort was bound for the top right corner, but Valdés managed to flick it over on the stretch. From the ensuing corner Valdés had to be sharp to first stop a header by Isco, then block the youngsters follow up attempt.
Despite these chances, Barça were dominating the ball and creating openings with some comfort. Piqué had got on the end of a free-kick, but was off balance and sent it well wide. Málaga replied with a half chance for van Nistelrooy but the striker misconnected and sent it over.
Then, on the half-hour mark, Iniesta bustled forward and laid the ball off for Adriano, whose swirling cross found Messi on the penalty spot. The Argentine rose well and directed a powerful header into the bottom corner, giving Caballero no chance and Barcelona the lead.
Barcelona came out all guns blazing for the second half, and within just two minutes they had extended their lead. Alexis dispatched a low Adriano cross, scoring from close range after Thiago had already forced a save by Caballero. And only seconds had passed before Barça were 3-0 up.
This time it was all about Messi, who collected the ball from Thiago and weaved his way through the Málaga defence, before cooling slotting the ball into the bottom left corner.
With the match wrapped up, Barcelona could afford to take it easy, and some key performers were withdrawn – Dos Santos, Cuenca and Pedro came on for Adriano, Busquets and Alexis, and the game seemed to be petering out.
Messi though was hungry for more goals. He saw a fabulous free-kick cannon off the underside of cross bar and out for a corner via Caballero, but soon had the ball in the net. With ten minutes to go he embarked on a run from his own half, evading Demichelis and Mathijsen and finishing with typical ease to cap a truly memorable performances. In the dying stages Málaga started to press forward, and Rondón was on hand to grab a late consolation, pouncing on a rebound from Valdés.
0-1 Messi (min 32)
0-1 Alexis (min 46)
0-1 Messi (min 49)
0-1 Messi (min 80)
1-1 Salomón (min 84)
FC Barcelona deservedly gained the upper hand in the Copa del Rey quarter-final, defeating a rugged Real Madrid 1-2 at the Santiago Bernabéu. After going behind to an early Cristiano Ronaldo goal, Barça stormed back with strikes from Puyol and Abidal.
The early exchanges were frantic, with neither side able to keep possession for more than two or three passes. This was playing into Madrid’s hands, who were seeking to break quickly and directly at every opportunity, given their three pacy forwards and absence of an attacking midfielder. It was from such a counter-attack that they took the lead after just 11 minutes.
Cristiano Ronaldo exploited the space behind Dani Alves, latching onto a Benzema pass, powering into the Barça area and wrong-footing Piqué before dispatching a low strike between Pinto’s legs to put Madrid ahead.
Really, it was to be their last attack of note before the break, and for the rest of the first half the onus was on Barcelona to find a way back. Iniesta began to shine, testing Casillas at the near-post from the edge of the area, later getting onto an Alexis layoff but skewing his effort just wide on the left side of goal.
In between Cesc did well to spot Alexis dropping behind Ramos and Coentrão, and curled a pass that Alexis, backpedalling, could only head onto the bar with Casillas completely stranded. Busquets then set up Messi down the inside-left Channel, but Real’s ‘keeper was alert and made another low near-post save.
But as the half wore on Madrid began to enjoy some success by closing down quickly in midfield and occasionally disrupting the game’s flow with niggling fouls. Just before the half-time whistle, first Alexis then Messi looked clean through in potential one-on-one situations but were incorrectly flagged offside.
Barcelona began the second half with renewed vigour, and were rewarded almost immediately. Xavi swung a corner in from the left side and Puyol stooped to head home unmarked from six yards. It was the ideal start, and Iniesta was so close to making it two when Cesc lifted a stylish pass over the top for him to volley, but Ramos’ intervention saw the ball cannon off the outside of the post.
Madrid’s response nearly saw them regain the lead – Altintop beat Iniesta down the right with some skill and sent a deep cross the Benzema headed onto the post from an acute angle. This let-off aside, Barcelona were gaining the upper hand, and Los Blancos’ apparent solution was to kick anything that moved. Pepe was looking out of control – replays caught him stamping on Messi’s hand, but Carvalho, Ramos and Alonso were equally guilty of trying to intimidate their opponents.
At this stage only Barça looked capable of snatching another, and the did just this when Messi showed great vision to spot Abidal, flicking a perfect pass to the left-back, who controlled it on his chest and angled it past Casillas from close range.
1-0 Cristiano (min 10)
1-1 Puyol (min 48)
1-2 Abidal (min 76)
Barcelona struggled at times, but achieved a 4-2 victory a lively Real Betis team at the Camp Nou. After taking a two-goal lead through Xavi and Messi Barça were pegged back before Alexis and Messi got the winners.
Barcelona were caught cold in the first few minutes of the game. Real Betis attacked with verve, and might have taken an early lead when Rubén Castro set Jorge Molina through one-on-one, but Valdés was alert to the danger and snuffled out the chance. He had to be on his toes from the ensuing corner, clawing a flicked header by Dorado out at the near post.
Barcelona then took over, and scored their first goal with just ten minutes gone. The improving Alexis slipped a smart pass between two defenders for Cesc. His left-footed effort hit the post, but Xavi was first to react to the rebound. It was only a matter of seconds before they made it 2-0. Betis continued to throw bodies forward and when Barcelona won possession they had little trouble cutting through Los Béticos’ ranks. For the second Iniesta picked up the ball from deep and burst forward. He chose to release Alexis, whose low cross found Messi free in the centre to score from close range.
Barça then had a comfortable spell, combining neatly, with only last-ditch efforts from the Betis defenders keeping the score down. But despite being two-down, Betis remained smart on the break – they offered a reminder of their attacking threat when Jefferson Montero cut back for Rubén Castro, who misconnected with the ball and watched it fly over the bar.
And they clawed a goal back on the half hour mark – Molina rounded Valdés and laid it on for Sevilla, who spotted striker Castro at the far post, giving him a simple finish to make from six yards. Now looking more confident, the away side was suddenly a real a match for Guardiola’s men, who were struggling to find their customary fluency.
Betis ramped up the pressure at the start of the second half, winning a dangerous free-kick and pegging Barcelona back. The home side was on its heels and conceded the lead on 52 minutes. Rubén Castro broke free on the counter down the left wing – his pass infield found substitute Roque Santa Cruz, who powered a strike inside the right post from the edge of the area.
Barcelona then went on the attack – they should have had a penalty when Iniesta was fouled by Montero, but Villanueva somehow saw fit to book Barcelona’s number 8 for a dive. When Betis had Mario sent off for a second yellow things started to look a little easier, and, after a couple of half-chances, Barcelona regained the lead when Xavi clipped a pass over the top for Alexis, whose shot evaded Casto at the near post. With the clock running down, Barcelona won a penalty for a Dorado hand-ball, and Messi made no mistake from the spot.
1-0 Xavi (min 9)
2-0 Messi (min 11)
2-1 Rubén Castro (min 31)
2-2 Santa Cruz (min 50)
3-2 Alexis (Min 73)
4-2 Messi (min 84)