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Match report

Champions League exit by Barça as Atletico outplays Catalans

April 10th, 2014

FC Barcelona signalled their intentions clearly enough. Gerardo Martino said a few days ago that his team would try and score first, while Xavi had previously said that in his opinion the first goal would be key. And while Xavi turned out to be bang on the money, Barça had few chances early on as Atletico Madrid stormed the area and scored within minutes of kick off.

One goal up, the hosts didn’t let up. Wave after wave of attack on the Barça goal saw them lucky to only have conceded one goal, with Atletico striking the woodwork three times within the first 20 minutes. Barcelona was ragged, the players seemed barely awake and certainly in no position in at the start of teh match to stage any kind of counter attack.

After 20 minutes though the Catalans regained some composure and began to control the game more. As so often with Barça though, the players were finding it tough turning possession into real opportunities. While Messi had a good go at the goal, set up by Neymar, he shot wide and didn’t seem on form at any stage of the match. And while Cesc appeared to be brought down just inside the box a couple of minutes before the break, no penalty was given.

Back on after the break things looked quite different for Barça, who seemed to have a more focus. Dominating possession they attacked the Atletico goal, but time and time again the attacks ended without result.

In the closing stages of the match on came Diego for Atletico. He soon came close to scoring, only to be denied by Pinto. As the minutes ticked down the Atletico crowd roared but try as they might, Barcelona just didn’t have enough to make a last minute comeback and force the game into extra time.

In the end Barcelona retained 75% possession throughout the game. However, possession doesn’t always add up to victory, as is all to often demonstrated by the Catalans. And this time the result is the club being denied their seventh successive Champions League semi-final. No doubt the knives will be out for Gerardo Martino.

The result is disappointing, for sure, but personally I don’t know why he has become so vilified in the Spanish press. Despite what you may read, FC Barcelona is doing well this year, but there are some other good clubs right now. At the moment Atletico is the one to beat. In the league Barça is just a single point behind them and just two ahead of Real Madrid.

It is far from being a disastrous season, but it is a competitive one and that is good for the game. What we want, above all, is thrilling football, not a team that wins every competition it enters; that is not what sport is about.

1-0 Koke (min 4)

Barcelona beats Betis as members vote for new Nou Camp

April 7th, 2014

After Tuesday’s Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona’s draw this weekend looked relatively easy with Real Betis at the bottom of the league, having won just five matches all season.

The week has been overshadowed by the fourteen month transfer fan handed the club by FIFA for breaking rules on the signing of minors for its youth training program, which might have big repercussions given that Victor Valdes is set to leave the club at the end of the season, as is captain Carles Puyol. And Saturday was also the date on which the club membership was being asked to vote for the Camp Nou redevelopment plans.

Despite Barça going ahead quarter of an hour into the first half with a Messi goal from the penalty spot it was far from clear that the Catalans would win this match. As is usual with FC Barcelona, possession remained high, but try as they might they were unable to penetrate the Betis defense for a clear shot at the goal with the result that the first half ended 1-0.

Back on after the break Betis looked as if they might do something and, given that they almost certaonly face relegation at the end of the season, have little to lose. It looked as if it would just be a matter of time before the visitors scored.

However, during an attack on the Betis goal, defender Jordi Figueras kicked the ball into his own net instead of clearing it. It looked as if Barça would have scored anyway, but the players’ faces showed how it affected morale. Despite this Rubén Castro scored almost immediately after, closing the gap on Barcelona and again making the final rsult less clear. Victory was sealed within the last 10 minutes though when Messi scored his second of the evening from the spot after a handball in the area by Amaya.

1-0 Messi (min 14)
2-0 Jordi (own goal, min 65)
2-1 Rubén Castro (min 66)
3-1 Messi (min 84)

First leg Champions League semi-final against Atletico ends in draw

April 2nd, 2014

Atletico Madrid is turning out to be the big rival in the Spanish league this season, although it is still to early to write of Real Madrid, and so it was rather unfortunate for Barcelona to be drawn against them in the Champions League. On the other hand it also presents a chance for either team to get ahead mentally in the domestic competition, with whichever team qualifies for the final surely mentally wired to win the la liga title too.

Looking back at recent matches there is a clear pattern. Since facing Atletico twice in August for the Spanish Supercup and then in January in the league all matches have ended in a draw. In August they first played at the Vicente Calderon stadium, drawing 1-1, followed by the Nou Camp leg of the competition, which ended goalless and Barça taking the trophy thanks to the away goal rule.

And then in January, at the Vicente Calderon for the first leg in the Spanish league, the matched ended a goalless draw again. And so perhaps it was unsurprising that last night at the Nou Camp the match ended with each team scoring a goal apiece.

The beginning of the match began a bit scrappily for Barça, but once they seemed to have warmed up a bit that changed; Pique came off with a thigh injury, replaced by Bartra, after just 10 minutes following a fall, another blow to the squad. After the first quarter hour Barcelona’s performance picked up visibly and began to dominate, controlling possession and ensuring play was focused on the Atletico end. Despite this neither team had many opportunities to score, and the few chances on goal were stopped.

The match was certainly exciting though as both teams were playing well, although perhaps Messi was slightly off. As the match progressed though the referee seemed reluctant to show any cards to the visitors who were going in harder and harder against the Catalans.

Soon after the break the visitors went ahead, when Diego scored following a free kick and Pinto was just unable to get his hands to the ball, which slipped into the top corner. With Atletico now with the advantage, Barça stepped up the pace, with the visitors response being an increase in fouls. Finally Neymar equalised nearly half an hour into the second half and although the players kept on the pressure they were unable to score another to win this leg.

Next week sees Barça travel to Madrid for the return leg, with Atletico having the advantage after scoring away from home. If the current pattern of goals remains then the match will end goalless; however, there is no reason for that to happen and Barcelona needs to focus on getting an early goal to win this round outright.

On social media some Barça fans were complaining that the team lacked the killer instinct last night. I don’t think that is the case at all, apart from a poor start they rose to the challenge and produced some great football. The problem is that Atletico is really on form this season and a true competitor, much more so than Real Madrid.

0-1 Diego (min 58)
1-1 Neymar (min 73)

RCD Espanyol vs FC Barcelona: Barça scrapes win in local derby

March 31st, 2014

Saturday afternoon saw Futbol Club Barcelona travel the short distance to Cornella-El Prat to face Espanyol in the Barcelona derby. With an early kick off the match was a tough one for Barça, who scraped to a win thanks to a second half penalty kicked by Leo Messi. Both teams put on a good performance, with Barcelona missing a couple of early opportunities to go ahead, but despite playing well, the hosts were quick to take any opportunity whenever it arose. Despite this the first half ended with neither team scoring.

After the break saw more of the same but as Espanyol’s players began to tire the number of fouls committed against Barça rapidly rose, but it took a handball inside the Espanyol area to provide the opportunity that provided the only goal of the match, Messi calmly putting the ball into the back of the net to put Barcelona into the lead.

Espanyol’s fate was really sealed though when their keeper came forward out of the area and saved the ball, earning a red card. With Espanyol’s substitutions already made it took a while to decide who was to wear his number 13 shirt, with defender Javi López eventually pulling it on over his own shirt and donning the gloves. While they were perhaps the most terrifying minutes of his life, the countdown to the final whistle saw him acquit himself well, stopping the ball twice.

FC Barcelona vs Celta: Valdes injured in Barça win

March 27th, 2014

Following Barcelona’s clasico win on Sunday night and a single point separating them from the top two league places it was important to follow up last night with another win and whatever happens elsewhere Barça cannot at this point afford to slip up again and seemed to have regained some confidence from last weekend.

That quickly turned into an early result for the Catalans, when a move just five minutes in from Iniesta, Messi and Alexis saw Neymar score the opener. However, after initial jubilation when Victor Valdes made a save following a free kick awarded against Barça it became clear that he was injured and after receiving medical attention was stretchered off to be replaced by Pinto.

The initial prognosis is poor, with an expected six month recovery for torn knee ligaments and it has been this morning confirmed that he will require surgery. That almost certainly means he will sit out the remainder of the season, his last at the club after deciding not to renew his contract, as well as scotching any chance of playing for Spain in the World Cup this summer. After that bad news both Barça and fans were a little subdued, but just before the 30 minute mark Messi scored the second goal of the night to bring a little cheer to the Nou Camp.

Back on after the break Iniesta was taken off due to a thigh strain with Sergi Roberto replacing him. Celta immediately applied pressure with Pinto soon being called into action and making a couple of great saves. Soon after it looked like Cesc Fabregas had made it 3-0, only to be ruled offside, but then 20 minutes from the end it was Neymar who scored the third goal and effectively sealed the result for Barça. If it wasn’t bad enough having Valdes injured, Pinto looked winded for a few moments after hitting the post after stopping the ball but after ice on his knee he was up on his feet again to the relief of everyone.

1-0 Neymar (min 5)
2-0 Messi (min 29)
3-0 Neymar (min 70)

Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona: Messi hat trick seals el clasico for Barça

March 24th, 2014

The clasico is one of the most eagerly awaited matches of the football calendar, with football lovers worldwide tuning in to watch the clash between two biggest sides in Spain. However, while the clasico is certainly a big deal, its importance is too often seen out of perspective.

It is largely symbolic of the antagonism felt between centralist Spain and Catalonia rather than actually being a title decider and all too often it is a damp squib after all the media hype leading up to the game.

That was not the case last night though and although the season was still a three horse race going into the weekend, a loss last night could certainly have put Barça out of contention for the league title, but the match was exciting throughout.

From the word go play was intense and while Madrid were looking for an early opener, it was Barcelona who scored first after just six minutes when Iniesta put the ball into the back of the Madrid net from a Messi assist. Despite dropping the chance for a goal a few minutes later, Benzema scored the equaliser for Madrid just before the 20 minute mark and then put the hosts into the lead just minutes after. However, Leo Messi scored his first of the night towards the end of the first half to go into the break equal.

Less than ten minutes into the second half Ronaldo put Madrid back into the lead from the penalty spot, although replays showed Alves appeared to bring him down outside the box; that’s the nature of football though and Barcelona has benefitted from similar decisions this season too. Messi equalised from the penalty spot ten minutes later after Neymar was brought down by Ramos, who was shown a red card for his efforts.

Alves came close to scoring with quarter of an hour to go with a blistering shot that struck the woodwork, but the decider came in the last ten minutes after Iniesta was brought down in the area and Messi scored his hat trick from the penalty spot.

The win leaves Real Madrid and Atletico madrid on 70 points, with Barcelona in third place on 69, leaving the season far from decided. A lot of flack had recently been aimed at Barça, in particular coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, after Barcelona slipped behind Real Madrid, with media stories that he would leave the club at the end of this season, stories denied by both him and the club.

This happens at both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid; but the truth is they cannot be expected to win every single match and, indeed, a club that wins every match is one playing in a league below its true capabilities. Yet the critics are quick to sharpen their knives for the smallest failing and the media talks about the clubs being in crisis.

It remains to be seen whether the pressure on Martino will ease off, but what is clear is that he and his squad can produce results when they are really needed.

0-1 Iniesta (min 6)
1-1 Benzema (min 19)
2-1 Benzema (min 23)
2-2 Messi (min 41)
3-2 Ronaldo (min 54)
3-3 Messi (min 64)
3-4 Messi (min 83)

FC Barcelona vs Osasuna: Messi goal record as Barça thrashes Osasuna

March 17th, 2014

What a difference a week can make. Last weekend Barcelona seemed to be in crisis after losing against Valladolid, but Sunday afternoon saw the club pull Osasuna apart in a 7-0 win just days after seeing Man City off in Champions League.

Leo Messi opened the scoring after the quarter hour mark, thereby equalling the club record for goals scored by a player, with Alexis making it two just minutes later. And when Iniesta scored goal number three for Barça it was clear that the team wanted to make it clear that they have not given up hope in La Liga and pretty much tying up the result.

Back on after the break Messi became the number one goal scorer in Barça’s history, as the crowd roared their appreciation; fifteen minutes later Tello scored goal number five; and then just minutes before the end Messi made it a hat trick. Even then Barcelona had not finished as Pedro scored goal number seven just before the final whistle went.

1-0 Messi (min 17)
2-0 Alexis (min 21)
3-0 Iniesta (min 33)
4-0 Messi (min 61)
5-0 Tello (min 76)
6-0 Messi (min 86)
7-0 Pedro (min 89)

FC Barcelona vs Manchester City: Barça through to Champions League quarter-finals

March 13th, 2014

Following last weekend’s disappointing result against Valladolid the knives have been out for coach Gerardo Martino, with many sections of the press and supporters baying for his blood. However, last night’s Champions League encounter showed that Barça are not yet done and showed that they still have what it takes to win.

Possession was more evenly matched that FC Barcelona is usually used to, with a slight tilt in the favour of the Catalans, but throughout the first half the two teams looked pretty evenly matched. At this stage of the competition that should be no surprise and when the half time whistle came neither side had scored.

Back on after the break it took 20 minutes for Messi to opener, but the balance changed when the visitors went down to 10 men after Zabaleta was shown his second yellow. Although City scored an equaliser two minutes before the end it was too little too late and but a Dani Alves goal right at the end made sure of a quarter-final place for Barcelona.

1-0 Messi (min 66)
1-1 Kompany (min 88)
2-1 Dani Alves (min 90)

Valladolid vs FC Barcelona: uninspired Barça slips up

March 10th, 2014

On paper it looked pretty straightforward; Barcelona in the number 2 spot in the league table playing Valladolid, hovering near the bottom. However, football isn’t always as straightforward as that as was proved on Saturday when the Catalans lost out to their hosts.

It seemed that Barcelona found it difficult to properly get into the match as Valladolid went on the offensive and after just fifteen minutes the hosts went ahead. As Barça started to find their feet there were a few chances created, but all the same the squad was unable to do enough to make it count and much of the play looked sloppy.

Things looked a little better after the break, when both Messi and Neymar attempted to draw level. However, still the squad didn’t seem to be able to connect properly and looked a shadow of Barça at their best. In the end neither team scored again and with both Real Madrid and Atletico playing on Sunday the two rivals had a chance to reflect on Barça’s slip up prior to playing their own matches.

1-0 Fausto Rossi (min 16)

FC Barcelona vs Almeria: Barça forced to fight for a win

March 3rd, 2014

This weekend was an important one for Barça, with Real Madrid at the top of the table and Atletico equal on points with the Catalan club. Whatever happened elsewhere, Barcelona needed to win their match, while hoping that the Madrid derby would help out. While championships are never won or lost on a single fixture, the sooner they can leapfrog Madrid and open up the points gap the better.

In the end they didn’t disappoint, while the Madrid derby didn’t quite go as well as it might have. But then again, it means Atletico Madrid are now behind on points rather than behind on goal difference, while Real Madrid are just one point ahead.

Alexis made sure the home side went ahead inside 10 minutes when he fired in a rebound shot by Cesc Fabregas. With possession high as normal, Barça were in control of the game, although perhaps looking a little ragged at times. It took another quarter hour before the next game from Messi, who by luck or design curled the ball into the net from a free kick, way out of reach of the goalkeeper. However, minutes later Almeria got one back from a corner and the break came with Barça just a goal ahead.

Back on after the break Almeria started to look threatening at times, and while both Neymar and Messi both came close the score remained as it was.  With Iniesta brought on though the dynamic changed and inn the 83rd minute Messi headed the ball to the crossbar with Puyol put it home to make it 3-1. With the minutes ticketing down it looked as though Barcelona had just about done enough, but three minutes before the end Xavi scored again to seal the win for Barcelona.

1-0 Alexis (min 8)
2-0 Messi (min 23)
2-1 Trujillo (min 26)
3-1 Puyol (min 81)
4-1 Xavi (min 87)

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