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Match report

Real Zaragoza Offer Little Resistance to Rampant Barcelona

November 21st, 2011

FC Barcelona romped to a 4-0 win at home to Real Zaragoza on Saturday night, with Piqué, Messi, Puyol and David Villa grabbing the goals. The home side was in sparkling form and had complete control of the game – only a fine performance by Los Blanquillos’ ‘keeper Roberto kept the score-line down.

Barcelona lined up for this game with an exciting attacking side; Alexis Sánchez started on the left flank, presented with an opportunity to put his stuttering early career with the club behind him. Young winger Isaac Cuenca took his place on the right, and Messi, Cesc and Xavi took up the central creative roles, switching positions throughout the evening.

As is so often the case, Barça took a little while to get going, but completely dominated possession and territory, with the majority of the football played on the edge of Zaragoza’s area. In fact it took a goal from Barcelona for them to find their attacking rhythm.

Cesc won a free-kick on left angle of the area after 20 minutes – Xavi stepped up and curled a teasing cross, which Piqué headed home unmarked from the six-yard line.

The remainder of the first half was a barrage from Barça, and saw Zaragoza ‘keeper in stunning form. Messi alone had four close-range chances stopped, with Alexis and Cesc providing the ammunition. One of the best opportunities fell to Barça’s Chilean winger – Messi hustled forward, laid the ball to Cesc, whose back-heel was perfectly timed to meet, Alexis’ run, but Roberto was once again equal to the shot.

Then, just as the first half was coming to a close, Cesc found Messi in space in the area with a perceptive pass. The Argentine forward ducked past centre-half Lanzaro and finished right-footed to double Barcelona’s lead.

Barcelona continued to carve Zaragoza open after the break, with Lionel Messi at the heart of the best moves. He released Cesc, who saw his left-footed effort tipped past the post by Roberto. This effort was followed by the away side’s only real attacking spell in the match – the most notable attempt was by Laifto, who ran at Barça’s backline, but smashed a right-footed shot wide of the near post.

Barcelona responded by scoring their third of the night. Puyol took up an advanced position for a free-kick and showed real grit to score at the second attempt after Keita headed Xavi’s back across goal. Sensing that the game was now safe, Guardiola withdrew Cesc, Xavi and Alexis, bring on Thiago, Iniesta and David Villa.

After a sublime run, Messi fed Iniesta, but his clever toe-poke was clawed away by the fingertips of Roberto, who was the man responsible for keeping an air of respectability to the score-line.

In the end it was El Guaje who notched Barcelona’s fourth – Cuenca worked his way to the byline, and, when the youngster’s cross was deflected by Minero, Villa was on hand to complete the rout with a diving header.

1-0 Gerard Pique (min 17)
2-0 Lionel Messi (min 42)
3-0 Carles Puyol (min 53)
4-0 David Villa (min 74)

Barcelona Shown Little Hospitality

November 10th, 2011

FC Barcelona achieved a narrow 1-0 first leg victory in their Copa del Rey tie against local club CE L’Hospitalet on Wednesday night. The Segunda B team, from the third tier of Spanish football, offered stout resistance, with their ‘keeper Jose Moragon producing some saves of the highest quality to keep the score-line down. In the end it was a long-range strike from Andres Iniesta that gave Barcelona the advantage.

Though a city in its own right, Hospitalet de Llobregat is practically a suburb of Barcelona, ensuring one of the shortest away trips the Barça will have to make. With most of the club’s foreign internationals and U21 players away with their national teams, Guardiola had to select a team made up mostly of Spanish senior players, accompanied by a sprinkling of younger talent. Among the less experienced players on show were Jonathan Dos Santos at right-back, Andreu Fontas at centre-half, and Barcelona B star, Christian Tello on the right wing.

As is so often the case in cup competitions, the lower league team raised its game during the first half, much to the delight of the Hospi faithful at La Feixa Llarga. It was Barcelona who were dictating terms, but the home team was doing well to make life difficult, switching quickly diligently between defence and attack.

There were good attempts by David Villa and Keita, but Moragon in the Hospi goal was in great form and his full-stretch save from the latter was especially impressive. Hospitalet replied with a firmly struck free-kick, which Pinto stopped and then gathered on the second attempt.

Barcelona were finding it difficult to create much space, but as the half went on they began to make inroads – Cesc played a one-two with Tello before seeing his attempt saved at the near-post. The opening goal was a moment of inspiration from the classy Iniesta – he picked the ball up 30 yards out and crashed an effort into the top right corner, leaving Moragon with no chance. And then at the end of the first half Puyol rose highest at the far post, but his fine header hit the upright.

Early in the second half Barcelona started playing with a little more fluidity. Sumptuous passing moves produced chances for David Villa and Cesc Fabregas, but neither player could provide the necessary finish. Clearly unaccustomed to the high tempo, the home side retreated further into their own half during the second period, with a few of their players succumbing to cramp.

Moragon had to be at his best to keep out a fiercely-struck free-kick by David Villa, and later in the game reacted sharply to beat away a deflected long-range shot by Barça’s Asturian striker. In reply Hospitalet managed a dangerous-looking header by substitute Pedraza early in the half. But their best opportunity arrived in the closing stages, when the same player got on the end of a quick break, forcing a spectacular reaction save from the otherwise underworked Pinto.

0-1 Iniesta (min 42)

Barcelona Earn Fighting Draw at Los Leones

November 7th, 2011

FC Barcelona snatched a last-minute point amid a torrential downpour away to Athletic Bilbao. Barça twice went behind, to Ander Herrera and a late own goal, but fought back, first with a fantastic Fàbregas header and a piece of last-gasp opportunism from Lionel Messi.

The opening half was gripping entertainment; a clash between two skillful sides combining speed of movement and no shortage of technical quality. The sodden San Mamés pitch, though hardly suited to passing football, made no real negative impact on the spectacle, beyond causing a couple of untimely slips, most notably in the build up to Bilbao’s 20th minute opener.

Barcelona seemed to settle into their game quite quickly here – early on, Javi Martínez had to make a last ditch tackle to foil a 50-yard run by Lionel Messi. But the home team always looked smart on the counter, led by their strapping talismanic striker Fernando Llorente. Moments after a warning shot by De Marcos was saved by Valdes, Munain skipped down the left wing – Dani Alves was covering, but lost his footing – the young winger then cut the ball back for Ander, whose deflected off Pique’s knee, past Barça’s despairing ‘keeper and into the net for 1-0.

Barcelona wasted no time getting back into the match; Messi rolled a smart free-kick into the path of Dani Alves, who shot straight at Gorka. Then, after a scramble on the left side of the area, Abidal found a couple of yards of space by the touchline. The Frenchman curled a wonderful cross that Cesc Fábregas headed into the top-right corner like a seasoned striker.

Although Barcelona were marginally in control, both sides then had chances to take the lead. After a spell of beautiful passing, Messi jinked to the edge of the Bilbao area and clipped a lovely pass through to Iniesta, whose toe-poke was just saved by Gorka. Then Ander slipped Munain behind Barça’s backline, but Valdes got down t make a great reflex stop to his left.

In the second half the appalling conditions finally took their toll on the game, with surface water hampering both teams’ efforts to keep the ball. It was Barcelona who were making a fist of it though. Iniesta had a 30-yard lob saved, and then Cesc played Messi in, but his shot was saved and scrambled away by Bilbao’s ‘keeper.

The home team were subdued, but there was a hint of a threat lurking beneath the surface. Mascherano tried to pass the ball back to Valdés from the halfway line, but the ball skipped off the surface and out for a Bilbao corner. The ball came in, and Abidal’s clearance hit Llorente on the shin – Pique tried to react, but could only diver the ball past Valdes to make it 2-1.

Then, after chances for David Villa and Iniesta, Messi took advantage of a defensive mix-up to equalise with a composed finish in the very last minute of normal time.

1-0 Ander (min 19)
1-1 Fabregas (min 23)
2-1 Fernando Llorente (min 78)
2-2 Messi (min 89)

Messi Makes History Again

November 2nd, 2011

FC Barcelona made light work of Czech side Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Tuesday, winning 4-0 away. Lionel Messi notched a fabulous hat-trick on the night he reached the 200 goal landmark, and was joined on the score-sheet by Cesc Fàbregas.

The lineup was remarkable for the inclusion of Messi, Cesc and Piqué, who were starting in their first competitive game together since their days at La Masia more than eight years ago. Puyol partnered Piqué in central defence, and Isaac Cuenca continued his run in the team, starting on the right wing. Elsewhere Thiago and Cesc stood in for Iniesta and Xavi, both recuperating from minor injuries.

Against motivated opposition at the Struncovy Savy Stadion, Barcelona needed their customary few minutes to settle, and it was the home side that had the best of the early chances. Firstly Petrzela somehow managed to break free into a one-on-one situation with Valdés, but Barça’s ‘keeper was equal to the task, getting down quickly to his left. Moments later Kolar found himself unmarked in the area, but skied his shot, much to the relief of the Barcelona defence.

Cesc was denied what appeared to be a clear-cut penalty, when he turned in the box, but seemed to be brought down by a clumsy Jiracek tackle. Twenty minutes in, Barcelona were hitting their stride; Cesc had a powerful mid-range effort pushed away, and then Lionel Messi jinked into the area and was fouled when he nimbly cut inside defender Marian Cisovsky. Referee Robert Schöfgenhofer saw it as a goalscoring opportunity and somewhat harshly sent the Slovak defender off.

The Argentine was clinical from the penalty spot, finding the bottom left corner to claim his 200th goal for the club. He was on the scoresheet again in the closing minutes of the half when he bustled forward, played a one-two with Adriano and tucked the return ball past Pavlik from six yards.

Straight after the break Messi and Cesc combined, with the latter almost sealing a wonderful team goal when he clipped the ball over the onrushing Pavlik, but his effort just missed the far post. Messi then saw a fine 25-yard free kick saved on the stretch by Pzlen’s goalkeeper.

Pzlen then went close, when Petrzela smashed a half-volley into the side-netting for the home side’s last real chance of the night. Isaac Cuenca started to shine for Barcelona, first working some space at the byline with excellent close control. A few minutes later he worked himself free and curled a perfect cross for Cesc to head home to take the score to 3-0.

Alexis Sánchez made a long-awaited return from injury with three minutes to go, and almost capped his comeback with a goal when Messi put him through in a narrow position on the right. Then, in the dying embers of the game, Barcelona’s inspirational Argentine grabbed his hat-trick, rounding the keeper and slotting home after Piqué had released him with a smart backheel.

0-1, Messi (min 22, pen)
0-2, Messi (min 45+1)
0-3, Cesc (min 71)
0-4, Messi (min 90+2)

Barcelona and Messi Answer Critics

October 31st, 2011

After a week in which doubts have been raised about their capacity to meet their usual lofty standards this campaign, FC Barcelona dismantled RCD Mallorca at the Camp Nou on Saturday night, running home easy 5-0 winners. And it was two players who have come in for a some criticism who shone – Lionel Messi claimed a hat-trick in the first 30 minutes, while all-rounder Adriano provided three assists. Youngster Isaac Cuenca scored a classy fourth, on just his second first-team appearance for the club, and Dani Alves smashed home a spectacular fifth goal from 25 yards.

Pep Guardiola raised a few eyebrows with his team selection here. Cesc Fàbregas, Iniesta and Xavi sat out, with the latter not even making the bench, as Pep sought to rest some of his key creative midfielders while giving youngsters like Thiago and Isaac Cuenca a chance to inject some youthful energy into a team that had been looking a little jaded in recent weeks. Barcelona also reverted to their controversial 3-4-3 formation.

It was Mallorca who unexpectedly fashioned the first chance of note in the match – left-back Pedro Bigas found lots of space down the left wing, and produced a tantalising cross that Joâo Victor somehow managed to skew wide. But from there on it was all Barcelona, who were clearly intent on making their mark against one of the Primera División’s strugglers.

The first goal came after Adriano, playing as an attacking left midfielder, nodded a deep cross back across goal, only for defender Nsue to intervene with his hand. Messi dispatched the resulting penalty into the top-right corner. The Argentine maestro then threaded a delightful ball through for Villa, but goalkeeper Dudu Aouate came out and blocked well.

Then Cuenca, looking very lively on just his second start for the first team, twisted and turned until he reached the byline. His cross was turned back into the danger area by Adriano, and Messi was in the right place to notch his second from five yards. On the half-hour mark Messi completed his 20-minute hat-trick with a cushioned volley from a fine, driven cross by Dani Alves.

Barcelona were back in the goals shortly after the restart. This time Adriano put Isaac Cuenca through, and the winger rounded Aouate before finishing left-footed into the top corner. Piqué had replaced Abidal at half time, and he was joined midway through the half by Carles Puyol. The final player to come off the bench was another hotly-tipped youngster, Gerard Deulofeu.

The pace slowed a little as the game entered the final half-hour, but Messi was determined to add to his tally, powering a free-kick that was well saved by Aouate and demonstrating his aerial ability, leaping to head to head just wide after a fabulous cross by Dani Alves. And it was the Brazilian defender who added the gloss to a dominant performance when his wonderful long-range effort crashed in off the crossbar in injury time.

1-0 Messi (p) (min 13)
2-0 Messi (min 21)
3-0 Messi (min 30)
4-0 Cuenca min 49)
5-0 Alves (min 91)

Barcelona Do Enough in Granada

October 26th, 2011

FC Barcelona gained a surprisingly narrow 1-0 victory at Granada on Tuesday night. Xavi Hernández provided the inspiration with a world-class free kick in the first half.

The big surprise before kickoff was the inclusion of youth academy graduate and Barça B star, Isaac Cuenca. The 20 year-old took his place on the left wing, and was joined in attack by Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodríguez. Busquets and Cesc Fàbregas accompanied Xavi in midfield on the night he became Barcelona’s most capped player, and Adriano was replaced by Maxwell at left back.

After a relatively subdued period of early possession the away side slowly started to find its shooting range; Messi worked some room on the right side of the area, beating one defender before curling a shot past the far post. Cuenca then carved a chance of his own, this time cutting in from the left and driving a shot wide from 25 yards.

A few minutes later Dani Alves bustled down the right wing and curled a beautiful cross for Pedro, who glanced a free header just wide. Pep Guardiola’s men have had better halves, but the breakthrough came on 32 minutes, when Xavi was felled about 30 yards from goal by Jaime Romero. The captain stepped up to take the resulting free kick and curled a magnificent strike over the wall and inside the near post.

El Graná were unable to offer much in response, choked in possession by a hardworking Barcelona side who were possibly lacking a little of their usual attacking imagination.

In the second half Barcelona were still a little laboured in their forward play, but were able to maintain possession and keep Granada at bay. The home side came out after the break offering a little more bite in the tackle, and this was epitomised by Siqueira’s foul from behind on Pedro, which put the winger on a stretcher with a nasty looking ankle injury to be replaced by David Villa.

And in the same passage of play Jaime Romero raised his boot against Maxwell, resulting in a second yellow for the midfielder. Moments later Messi was fed by Villa on the edge of the area, and the Argentine forward dinked the ball over Roberto. It looked for all the world a goal, but Diego Mainz scampered back to make a fantastic goal-line clearance.

The next big chance fell to Cuenca, who was put through on the left by Xavi, but denied a debut goal by the onrushing Roberto. The remainder of the match was a relatively scrappy affair – Barcelona continued to lack their customary incision, while Granada struggled to build a move of note. Dani Benítez summed up the evening when he earned a red card by kicking the ball away after getting pulled up for an offside.

Still, Pep Guardiola was able to take pride in a seventh consecutive clean sheet as his side returned to the top of the table for at least 24 hours.

0-1, Xavi (min 33)

Javi Varas Keeps Barcelona at Bay

October 24th, 2011

Sevilla FC held Barcelona to a draw at the Camp Nou on Saturday night thanks in no small part to their goalkeeper Javi Varas, who made some spectacular saves throughout the encounter, including an injury time penalty stop from Lionel Messi amid acrimonious circumstances.

Guardiola had returned to a 3-4-3 at kick-off, with Alves, Mascherano and Abidal lining up at the back. Former Sevilla utility man Adriano started on the right wing, but midway through the first half returned to a left-back position to help negate Los Rojiblancos’ blistering pace on the counter, which had threatened to expose Abidal and Mascherano in the early stages.

The goalkeepers stole the show in the first half; Javi Varas made three reaction saves to deny Iniesta, Messi and Villa, the pick of which came after ten minutes when Iniesta got on the end of an Adriano cutback, only to see his powerful low effort blocked by Varas’ right leg.

Valdés wasn’t to be upstaged though – when Jesús Navas worked some space in the area ten minutes later Barça’s number 1 leaped to his right to palm over a shot heading for the very top corner. Much of the remainder of the half was a tense tactical battle, with Sevilla sitting deep and Barcelona reluctant to over-commit players forward.

As the opening period drew to a close Barcelona burst into life once more, drawing yet more saves from Varas – Villa was released by Adriano but Sevilla’s ‘keeper was equal to the effort, and two minutes later Messi’s effort was deflected out for a corner.

The onslaught continued into the second half as Barcelona pushed for an opening goal. Messi went close with a 35-yard free-kick, which swerved just over the bar, and then rose highest to head a perfect Dani Alves cross just wide. In between, Iniesta smashed a 20-yard shot that was bound for the bottom corner, only for Varas to intervene with a fantastic low save.

Messi then produced a dazzling through-pass to find Iniesta in the area. Barça’s number eight just managed to make a connection under pressure from Varas, but his shot bounced agonisingly off the top of the crossbar. Sevilla’s ‘keeper soon came to the fore once again, getting down to a right-footed Messi shot inside the area.

With fifteen minutes to go Sevilla began to settle and Barcelona looked increasingly short of ideas, throwing on Pedro, Cesc Fàbregas and finally Busquets.

But, as the game appeared to be fizzling out, Iniesta weaved his way into the Sevilla area and won a penalty from a desperate lunge by Fazio. Replays vindicated referee Iturralde González’ decision, but Sevilla were incensed – Kanouté’s protestations earned him a yellow card, and then he lost his cool and got a red by assaulting Cesc. All the while Messi was waiting to take his spot-kick. When his chance finally came, four minutes after the penalty was awarded, Javi Varas completed a virtuoso performance with yet another stunning save.

Villa and Iniesta Dispatch Awkward Czechs

October 20th, 2011

FC Barcelona triumphed 2-0 at home to Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday, having created a plethora of chances. Iniesta grabbed a sublime first goal after just ten minutes, but despite overrunning their opponents Barça had to wait for 70 more minutes before they could rest easy.

Guardiola selected what was last season’s first choice front six, with Iniesta and Xavi anchored by Busquets, and Messi offered the freedom of a withdrawn forward role flanked by Villa and Pedro. Plzen lined up with a 4-4-2 and a team composed entirely of Czech and Slovak players boasting few names that Barcelona fans would recognise.

After drawing against AC Milan Barcelona were in search of a first home win in Europe this season and started the match aggressively; Pedro and Alves both had fine chances after lightning quick one-touch passing moves from the left and then right. Then after ten minutes an almost identical attack involving Messi and Iniesta found the Spanish midfielder in an inside-right position in the area – he flicked the bouncing ball from his right foot to left, confounding his marker, before driving a shot into the bottom right corner to cap a magnificent piece of skill.

Plzen were in real trouble, and Barcelona’s high pressing ensured that they were unable to build attacks, with much of the first 30 minutes played exclusively in the away team’s half. And the chances came thick and fast for Barça; Pedro found room in the area on three occasions but was let down by a lack of composure and some desperate last-ditch Plzen defending. David Villa curled a shot wide and Messi hit the side-netting after he brought down a delicate looped pass by Busquets.

After half an hour the Czechs enjoyed their first spell of possession, but despite pushing Barcelona back were unable to muster a chance of note. And at the final whistle Messi offered a reminder of his threat when he curled a 25-yard free-kick onto the crossbar.

The chances continued to flow for Barcelona after the break, and it was Lionel Messi who took the spotlight. The Argentine forward embarked on two slaloming runs that would have resulted in goal of the season contenders had he managed to finish them off. For the first he worked his way past three defenders before being denied at the near post by Marek Cech in the Plzen goal.

Just minutes later he was at it again, leaving more defenders on their backsides only to see his effort bounce out off the near post and out for a goal kick. Messi’s next attempt had a hint of over-elaboration about it, as he controlled an incisive Villa pass and clipped the ball over Cech with supreme nonchalance, only to be tackled on the line.

The second goal finally arrived in the 81st minute when Messi was tackled in the area, only for the ball to drop at the feet of David Villa who made no mistake from 15 yards.

1-0 Iniesta (min 10)
2-0 Villa (min 81)

Barcelona Bulldoze Racing

October 16th, 2011

Lionel Messi starred on Saturday night, as FC Barcelona eased their way to a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou against Racing Santander. The Argentine dynamo was in fine fettle and notched his side’s first and last goal, separated by a Xavi header, sending Barça back to the Primera División, one point ahead of Real Madrid.

The home team had welcomed Andrés Iniesta back into the starting lineup, after a month-long absence with a muscular injury. Puyol and Piqué were also making a rare, and unfortunately short lived, outing as a central defensive pair. Other than that it was a conventional 4-3-3 for Barcelona, although they were without a recognised defensive midfielder, with Xavi, Thiago and Iniesta playing across the middle.

Early on the Cantabrians, still winless in the league, worked hard to close Barça down, and almost caught Valdés in possession once or twice. There was also another injury setback for Gerard Piqué, when he was forced off after no more than ten minutes to be replaced by Éric Abidal.

But Barcelona soon settled, and scored with their first real attack; Messi set Iniesta free on the right hand side of the box. The midfielder held the ball up before nudging it back to the Argentine forward, who surged through with his first touch, dummied round Toño and passed the ball home into the empty net.

Racing had posed a minor threat before the opening goal, but wouldn’t trouble the Barça defence again before half time, as Guardiola’s men assumed total control and created chance after chance. Messi was denied by a last-ditch block, before Pedro worked some space down the left wing against Francis and delivered and inviting cross for Xavi to head down into the bottom right corner.

In the last 15 minutes of the half Pedro and Messi both went close, but perhaps the best chance fell to Villa, who was found by a delightful Messi through-ball and rounded Toño only to see his effort hit the side-netting.

Valdés was forced into action early in the second period, pushing away Koné’s low show after the forward found a yard of room in the area. Unaffected, Barcelona then resumed their dominance, keeping possession and probing the Racing defence. Xavi had a shot deflected wide and Messi was twice foiled by Toño. He also might have won a penalty when he set off on a thrilling run, beating three players before tricking his way past Álvaro González, only to be felled by the defender just inside the area.

Barça’s number 10 would exact his revenge moments later; he guided a pinpoint diagonal pass for Iniesta, who wriggled past two defenders and slammed a shot against the far post for Messi to follow up and grab his second of the night.

Guardiola’s men closed the game out with little trouble, and might have extended their lead when David Villa clipped the top of the crossbar and Éric Abidal saw a spectacular overhead kick saved at full-stretch.

1-0, Messi (min 11)
2-0, Xavi (min 27)
3-0, Messi (min 68)

Barcelona claw their way to win in Gijon

October 3rd, 2011

FC Barcelona battled to a 1-0 victory away at Sporting Gijón on Sunday night. Utility man Adriano scored the only goal on what was a demanding and occasionally bruising encounter away at La Liga’s bottom club.

Indeed, recent weeks have brought plenty of bad news on the injury front, and for this game Guardiola had to make do without Alexis Sánchez, Cesc Fàbregas and Andrés Iniesta, all of whom are recovering from muscular injuries.

However, the coach continues to persist with a three-man defence; this time Alves and Abidal flanked Macherano at the back. Busquets sat in front of the backline again, offering help to his defenders when needed. Meanwhile Adriano started the game in a somewhat unfamiliar right-midfield role.

And it was to be the Brazilian player who made the breakthrough for Barcelona. With 11 minutes on the clock, Xavi looked up and slammed a shot from central position about 25 yards out. Juan Pablo in the Sporting goal was well beaten, but the ball rebounded off the left post and into the path of Adriano on the right angle of the penalty area. His bouncing, left-footed effort was slightly scuffed, but completely wrong-footed the ‘keeper and nestled in the bottom-left corner to make it 1-0.

The rest of the half was a story of absolute domination but few clear chances for Barça. A few minutes after the goal, Villa swapped passes with Thiago, but fired straight at Juan Pablo.

After that Barcelona couldn’t make their 80% possession count further. This was partly down to the organised defending of Gijón, who stepped up and caught Barcelona offside on a number of occasions; Villa was perhaps the chief culprit in this respect, but was joined by Messi and Alves.

Not long before half time Messi might have won a penalty, when he dribbled into the Sporting area, only to be felled by Miguel de las Cuevas, who appeared to catch his heels.

As the half ended there was a minor injury scare for Mascherano, who was caught on the side of the head accidentally by Alves’ knee and looked in real trouble before walking off groggily down the tunnel to join his teammates in the dressing room.

The second half was a similar story to the first, with Barcelona working hard to create openings, but being denied either by the offside flag or by sloppiness. Abidal limped off after 52 minutes with what appeared to be yet another muscle strain. He was replaced by Maxwell, and Barça then reverted to a back four when Piqué arrived in place of Pedro.

There were a few rugged looking challenges flying in as the game wore on, with Busquets, Messi and Alves all sent flying in the closing minutes. Messi came closest to doubling the lead, heading directly at Pablo, but Barcelona were ultimately happy to settle for a single goal and in truth were never really troubled at the back.

0-1, Adriano (min 12)

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