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Match report

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)

BATE battered in Minsk

September 29th, 2011

FC Barcelona cruised to a 5–0 victory against Belarusian side BATE Borisov in Minsk on Wednesday night. Guardiola’s men were never less than comfortable throughout, creating numerous chances on the way to a relatively rare away victory in Europe.

Sporting their black away colours, Barça took the lead through an own goal, before Pedro scored a header and Messi added two more goals to his already impressive tally this season.

As soon as the match settled, Barcelona were confronted by a wall of yellow shirts, with BATE setting up very deep in the hope of stifling Pep Guardiola’s side. Sole striker Mateja Kezman cut a very isolated figure on the halfway line, with his teammates withdrawing to the edge of the area in two tight banks. The first opportunity fell to BATE, as defender Marko Simic headed a corner over.

Barça stuck to their task and slowly the chances began to flow. Thiago’s shot was saved, and a Messi free-kick flashed past the left corner. With BATE unable to build anything resembling an attack, the strain was beginning to tell. And when Alves delivered a teasing cross from the right flank, midfielder Volodko turned the ball into his own goal under pressure from Messi at the back post.

Just three minutes later Barcelona were two goals ahead, when David Villa swung a pinpoint cross for Pedro to rise and nod home from the penalty spot. After this fine effort the home defence was in disarray, and a host of chances followed for the away side.

Still, the home team did muster one chance – Volodko nearly made up for his earlier error when he found some space in the Barça area, but the Belarusian poked the ball wide under pressure from Valdés.

David Villa was looking particularly lively and had two shots well saved after working some space on the left side of the area. The third goal for Barcelona was an absolute gift. This time Pedro broke free down the right, and when his rather tame cross was inexplicably fumbled by Gutor in the BATE goal, Messi was on hand to stab the ball home from five yards.

Early in the second half Lionel Messi looked hungry for more goals; just after the break he set off on a bustling run from the right flank, but skewed the ball wide at the near post with the outside of his left boot. The Argentine forward was not to be denied though; soon after, he set Alves galloping down the right flank and the Brazilian aimed a forensic square pass through the BATE ranks, which Messi controlled and fired into the top right corner to complete a fantastic move.

Messi nearly turned provider moments later when he found Abidal clear in the area with a breathtaking angled pass, but the French defender’s effort was saved. The night was topped off at the death by David Villa, who tucked a Thiago through pass into the bottom right corner.

0-1 Volodko (own goal) (min 18)
0-2 Pedro (min 22)
0-3 Messi (min 38)
0-4 Messi (min 56)
0-5 Villa (min 89)

Barcelona Bag Eight on Memorable Night at Camp Nou

September 18th, 2011

FC Barcelona answered their critics in emphatic style at home to CA Osasuna on Saturday night, thrashing Los Rojillos 8-0. Messi chalked a hat-trick, with David Villa netting two, accompanied by Cesc and Xavi, who scored one goal each. It was a night of spectacular attacking football, and Guardiola’s men were back to their devastating best, enjoying more than 80% possession in the process.

In this fixture Guardiola opted for the 3-4-3 formation that dispatched Villareal so clinically in the first match of the season. A major pre-game positive was the return of Carles Puyol after almost nine months of injury problems. He took his place at the centre of the back three, flanked by Mascherano and Abidal, and looked in good form until coming off early in the second half.

In truth the Barcelona defence was pretty much untested for the whole evening. There was a clear determination to disprove any accusations of complacency after letting two leads slip, against Sociedad and Milan. Indeed Barcelona were in front by the fifth minute; Busquets floated a delightful pass out to Dani Álves, who headed square for Messi to sweep the ball home.

Fàbregas then continued his fine scoring form for his new club; chesting the ball down for Messi, who flicked it over the Osasuna backline for the recent signing to time a perfect left-footed volley past the hapless Fernández.

Barça were now 2-0 up and showed no sign of loosening their grip – Alves skipped down the right flank and curled a sublime cross for Messi, who nodded the ball down but onto the post. Still, the home side would not be denied; after a period of sustained possession Abidal slipped a pass through for David Villa, and the striker rounded Fernández, finishing with his left foot to make it three.

Five minutes later the Asturian was set free down the left once again. This time his attempt was saved, but ricocheted off the unfortunate Roversio and into the empty net. Then, on the 40th minute, Cesc was found in the box by Xavi before pirouetting and squaring for Messi who notched his second and Barcelona’s fifth of the night.

If Osasuna were hoping for a reprieve after half time, their opponents were unwilling to oblige, as within ten minutes Barcelona had scored six. This was perhaps the pick of the bunch; Xavi was put through by another perfectly weighted Messi chip. The midfielder let the ball bounce before lobbing Fernández from the edge of the area.

But Barça still weren’t done – Fàbregas bustled through the beleaguered Osasuna defence to find Villa, who turned the ball home from seven yards. Once again, it was Messi who stole the show, and the Argentine dynamo capped a landmark night for his team when he swapped passes with Cesc and strode clear to find the bottom right corner past Fernández.

1-0 Messi (min 4)
2-0 Cesc (min 13)
3-0 Villa (min 33)
4-0 Roversio own goal (min 39)
5-0 Messi (min 41)
6-0 Xavi (min 56)
7-0 Villa (min 75)
8-0 Messi (min 79)

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.

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