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Match report

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.

Mix-and-Match Team Draws in Split

July 25th, 2011

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.

Messi Shines on a Night to Remember at Wembley

May 29th, 2011

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)

Barcelona’s Youngsters End the Season in Style

May 23rd, 2011

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)

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