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Barcelona See Off Bilbao

April 2nd, 2012

Barcelona produced a dominant performance to defeat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Iniesta was in sumptuous form, scoring the first with a powerful shot, and Messi completed the scoring from the penalty spot.

Both Barcelona and Athletic face crucial European matches in the coming week, and so it was no surprise to see some players rested. For the away team Llorente, Herrera and Muniain were noticeable for their absence from the lineup, while Puyol and Xavi sat the game out for Barcelona. Four of those five players had entered the game before the final whistle.

In the first half Barcelona carved a handful of opportunities, and Athletic had the quick reflexes of Iraizoz and some spectacular last-ditch defending to thank for keeping them in the contest. Alves took a powerful shot from at least 30 yards that Irazoz could only palm away to his right. From the ensuing passage of play, Piqué slammed a shot over with his left foot from ten yards.

Later, an audacious quick free-kick by Messi almost caught Iraizoz unawares, but the ‘keeper scuttled across his line to tip the shot wide. Then followed a stunning piece of defending by Aurtenetxe – Messi crossed deep from the right for Piqué, who slid in and connected with the ball at the back post. As the ball seemed destined for the net, Aurtenetxe leapt forward and somehow headed it off the goal-line.

All the same, Barcelona took the lead a couple of minutes later. Messi released Iniesta through the centre on the right, and the midfielder showed fantastic pace and strength to fend of the challenge of Ekiza before slamming an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net on the angle of the six-yard box.

Bielsa threw on Herrera and Muniain at the start of the second half, but the home team continued to dominate possession and create openings. Javi Martínez got a crucial block in against Messi as the forward got shot away in the area. Tello then forced another save from Iraizoz, who managed to get down to his left to keep out a curling strike by the Barça winger.

Minutes later Tello played a crucial role in the second goal. He tricked his way past Javi Martínez, buying a foul from the defender as he sought to pull him back. Messi stepped up for the spot-kick and tucked it coolly in the bottom right corner.

By now Barcelona was in a commanding position and could afford to be more patient in their passing. Llorente was now on the pitch for Athletic, but despite a few counter-attacking forays Athletic were still unable to make much of an impact on Barcelona. Iraizoz had to react quickly to push a deflected Iniesta shot over the bar.

Then came Athletic’s best opportunity – De Marcos strode forward and played it through for Munian whose first-time shot trickled past the on-rushing Valdés but was cleared off the by Pique’s outstretched left leg.

1-0 Iniesta (min 39)
2-0 Messi (min 56)


Barcelona Frustrated Away at Resilient Milan

March 29th, 2012

Barcelona head to settle for a 0-0 draw against AC Milan at the San Siro on Wednesday night. Although neither side created too many chances, Barça had more openings, but were just unable to add might the crucial finish. They might also have had a penalty in the first half when Abbiati appeared to bring down Alexis.

AC Milan almost caught Barcelona cold inside three minutes. Heavy pressure from the home team saw Ibrahimovic nod the ball across to Robinho, but the Brazilian forward completely miscued his volley, slicing it harmlessly over.

But after the let-off Barcelona soon found their feet and began to pen Milan back to the edge of their area. With ten minutes gone Messi struck the ball low from the edge of the area – it looked a routine save for the Abbiati, but the man ‘keeper fumbled it, offering a brief opportunity for Alves to steal, who was unable to make the right contact.

The pressure was starting to mount, and Barça should have had a penalty after a cleverly worked free-kick. Alexis got the ball inside the area, fought off a rugged challenge from Nocerino, and when he tried to round Abbiati appeared to be brought down. The referee decided it wasn’t, and Barcelona continued to battle for openings through the massed Milan ranks.

Milan though were still a threat on the break, and mustered another half chance – Ambrosini won the ball back on the halfway line, and Kevin-Prince Boateng threaded a pass through for Ibrahimovic whose attempted left-foot finish was poorly executed and rolled into Valdés’ arms.

Barça resumed their domination but were unable to take the lead before half time – Alexis got in behind the Milan defence, but Atonini recovered to make a key block, and Xavi forced another save from Abbiati with a shot from the edge of the area.

The second half was a much more subdued affair, with few sights of goal for either team. In fact it was more than half an hour before a chance of note. Milan were perhaps the stronger of the two teams in the early stages, as they exerted pressure off the ball on the Barcelona defence. Despite getting the ball in some dangerous areas Milan were unable to force as much as a save from Valdés.

The determined and stubborn performance by some Milan’s defensive players was a major factor that kept Barcelona short of their best going forward. On the rare occasions that Barça found some room, as Messi did against Nesta, a clever foul slowed the game down once more.

As the match wore on Barcelona sensed the upper hand against their dogged but tiring opponents, but just couldn’t make it count. Messi’s shot was blocked by Ambrosini and bounced out for a corner. Xavi curled it in and Puyol saw his diving header flash across the face of goal. Later, Messi wriggled free down the right, but Abbiati made a crucial stop once more.


La liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 30

March 26th, 2012

Barcelona remains six points behind Real Madrid this weekend after temprarily closing the gap to three. However, Real Madrid easily overcame Real Sociedad with a 5-1 win.

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Barcelona Show Steel to Win in Mallorca

March 26th, 2012

Barcelona extended their excellent run with a resilient 2-0 away win at Real Mallorca on Saturday night. Messi scored in the first half with a deep free-kick that missed everybody and went in. Thiago saw red for a second yellow card after the break, but Barça held firm and Piqué scored a crucial winner with ten minutes left.

With a surplus of midfielders and dearth of defenders, it made sense for Guardiola to revert to his 3-4-3 for this game, with Mascherano, Piqué and Puyol lining up at the back. It’s a formation that has proved successful against La Liga’s weaker teams, but Mallorca demonstrated their quality at times in this encounter.

Breaking at speed, and attacking down the wings, the home team almost forced a number of openings in the first five minutes, as Barcelona took time to feel their way into the match. Still, it was Barcelona who had the first real chance – Iniesta fed Messi from the left touchline, and the forward’s attempted chip was saved somewhat fortuitously by the face of Aouate in the Mallorca goal.

Mallorca were still in the game though, and when Victor got to the byline down the right, his cross was met by a glancing near post header by Alvaro, which went narrowly wide.

Minutes later Barcelona were in front. Messi sent in a teasing free-kick from deep, which curled past everyone and bounced into the top left corner. There were two more half-chances before the break, both falling to Alexis. The first was for the edge of the area and deflected off a Mallorca defender before bouncing down and out off the cross-bar. The second was 20 yards and easily saved by the’ keeper.

In the second half the home team continued to pose a threat, and an already challenging afternoon for Barcelona was made more difficult when Thiago, booked earlier for a reckless tackle in the first half, saw a second yellow for a handball.

Guardiola reacted by bringing on Martín Montoya to form a back four, and his team saw out the match in impressive fashion. Mallorca tried to pusj forward for an equaliser but only saw occasional glimpses of goal – Hemed turned on the right side of the box, but his near post effort was easily saved by Valdés.

What was perhaps most impressive was the way Barcelona kept the ball and frustrated the home team. Iniesta was moved to the middle and was exceptional, drawing fouls, making space and finding teammates with remarkable consistency.

He earned a corner with a shot that deflected wide, and from the passage that followed, Barça got the crucial second goal. Piqué passed to Messi, and when the Argentine’s shot rebounded off the right hand post, Piqué was on hand to pass it home into the empty net. There was time for an attack by Mallorca, but Martín Montoya made a smart block to preserve the clean sheet.

0-1 Messi (min 25)
0-2 Pique (min 79)


La liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 29

March 22nd, 2012

With Barcelona winning their match on Tuesday night and Madrid again drawing in a bad tempered clash with Villarreal the gap at the top of the table has been reduced to six points.

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Hat-trick for Record Breaker Messi

March 21st, 2012

Lionel Messi is Barcelona’s record goal-scorer, after FC Barcelona were made to work for a 5-3 win at home against Granada on Tuesday night. Messi got three, alongside goals by Xavi and Cristian Tello. Mainz scored a header and Siqueira dispatched two penalties for the visitors.

Barcelona went into this match in superb form, and wasted no time in taking the initiative against their Andalusian visitors. Within three minutes they were one up – the excellent Isaac Cuenca drove to the byline down the left flank and floated in a deep cross. Messi was at the back-post to meet it and smartly headed down for Xavi who was waiting at the edge of the area. He volleyed the ball into the ground and out of the reach of Júlio César in the Granada goal.

Isaac Cuenca played a role in the build up to the second goal, which followed shortly after. This time he dribbled past two Granada defenders down the left wing, before sending in a cross that glanced off the head of a defender and landed at the feet of Messi, whose first-time half-volley was perfectly executed and skimmed into the bottom left-hand corner. The goal also sent Messi level with César as Barcelona’s all-time top scorer.

Ten minutes into the second half, Granada scored a goal from nowhere – they won a free-kick level with the left angle of the penalty area, just in from the touchline. Martins whipped the ball in, and Mainz climbed behind Piqué to nod the ball into the top-corner. Piqué nearly atoned for his lapse in Barça’s next attack, but his header from Xavi’s free-kick was straight at Júlio César.

Barcelona were then caught on the counter down the left, Benítez got goal side of Alves – the defender’s attempts to win the ball were slightly clumsy, bringing Benítez down, and Teixera pointed to the spot. The only doubt was whether the foul occurred inside the area. Siquera stepped up and sent Valdes the wrong way to equalise.

Really it was it was all building to Messi’s big moment. After a spell of end-to-end football, Alves picked out Messi with an exquisite chipped pass, which the forward pulled down before lobbing Júlio César. It was remarkably similar to his first ever goal for the club seven years ago and made him Barcelona’s all time top scorer on 233.

Fantastic interplay between Iniesta and Messi saw the ball fall at Cristian Tello’s feet insider the area. The young forward took a touch before sliding the ball into the bottom right corner to take the score to 4-2.

With five minutes to go Alves played another delightful pass behind for Messi, who brought it under control, rounded Júlio César and clipped it home. At the other end, Alves was harshly adjudged to have intentionally blocked a Benítez cross with his arm, and picked up a second yellow. Siqueira wrong-footed Valdés with a Panenka penalty and the full-time score was 5-3.

1-0 Xavi (min 4)
2-0 Messi (min 16)
2-1 Mainz (min 54)
2-2 Siqueira (min 61)
3-2 Messi (min 66)
4-2 Tello (min 81)
5-2 Messi (min 85) 
5-3  Siqueira (min 88)

 


La liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 28

March 19th, 2012

Barcelona’s gap with Real Madrid closed to eight points this weekend after Madrid drew against Malaga. Barcelona, who played on Saturday night, had a good 2-0 away win against Sevilla with goals from Xavi and Messi.

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Xavi and Messi Guide Barcelona to Impressive Win

March 19th, 2012

FC Barcelona gained a deserved 2-0 victory away at Sevilla on Saturday night. The first half was completely dominated by Guardiola’s men, and they capitalised on their superiority by scoring two well-taken goals – the first a curled free-kick by Xavi, and the second a delicate chip by Lionel Messi. The second half was more even and only some wayward finishing by both teams kept the scoreline so low.

Accused in the past of starting matches quite slowly, Barcelona were up and running within minutes of the kick-off. Adriano saw his shot deflected over away from Palop and just over the bar, before Pedro collected a pin-point pass from Cesc but saw his shot saved at close-range by the Sevilla ‘keeper.

Then, as Adriano raced down the inside-left channel he was sent flying by Spahic just as he was about to enter the area. Xavi stepped up to the ensuing free-kick and curled it beautifully into the top-left corner to open the scoring for Barcelona.

The minutes proceeding the goal saw a succession of chances for Barcelona, as they produced some devastating attacking combinations. Cesc was at the heart of much of the danger – he threaded another clinical pass through for Iniesta, but his teammate shot just wide of the right hand post.

And after 25 minute they got their reward for some of their attacking play when more stylish interplay saw Iniesta set Messi free. The Argentine forward nutmegged Spahic and chipped Palop to extend his staggering scoring run and put Barcelona into a commanding position in the match.

Before time there were chances for both sides – Piqué lost his bearings momentarily, allowing Del Moral a header on goal, which rebounded off the cross-bar and just evaded the Sevilla forward as he attempted to follow up. In response to this effort both Cesc and Pedro saw one-on-one chances saved by Palop, overworked in the Sevilla goal.

Sevilla posed more of a threat in the second half, and had the first big opportunity, about 20 minutes in – Navas raced to the byline and squared across the face of goal, but Del Moral could only poke wide at the back post.

By the 70-minute mark Barcelona had settled and were once again dictating play, as it appeared the home team’s resurgence had been quelled. And indeed, they nearly extended their lead. Messi spotted Iniesta’s run as Barcelona broke on the counter. The midfielder went one on one, resisting pressure from the defender. He drew Palop out, but saw his shot trickle agonisingly wide of the right post.

Alexis, on as a substitute, also had a fantastic opportunity to kill the game as the minutes ticked down to injury time. This time Palop pulled off a fine reaction save to preserve the 2-0 scoreline. Seconds later, Messi saw a free-kick bounce off the roof of the net. In injury time Messi had a goal disallowed, correctly adjudged offside as he raced through.

0-1 Xavi (min 17)
0-2 Messi (min 24)


Two More for Messi in Straightforward Win

March 12th, 2012

FC Barcelona cruised to a 2–0 victory against Racing Santander at the Sardinero on Sunday evening. They asserted a control that lasted from the first minute to the last, and restricted the home team to the briefest glimpses of goal. Messi scored twice, and was unfortunate not to add more as Mario Fernández was in good form in the Santander goal.

The first half was a remarkably one-sided encounter, with Racing camped in their half and unable to gain any respite from the waves of attacks and energetic pressing by Barcelona. Pedro nearly opened the scoring as early as the 6th minute, when he cut in from the left touchline and flashed a shot across the face of goal, with Mario Fernandez beaten.

The chances continued to flow for the away side – Messi saw a swerving free-kick tipped away by the goalkeeper, and then Iniesta nearly scored what would have been a fabulous goal; after a close passing move on the edge of the area the midfielder found a little space inside the box on the left. He ducked inside his defender and curled a delicate shot that had Fernández completely beaten but just grazed the top of the crossbar.

Fernández was called into action again minutes later, when Cesc turned smartly in the area and aimed a short at the near post from the right.

The pressure continued to mount, and a Barça goal seemed inevitable. And the breakthrough did arrive after half an hour. Xavi brought the ball through a tangle of Racing players and knocked it wide for Cesc, whose low, hard cross was turned in edge of the six-yard box by none other than Lionel Messi.

The second half got off to a subdued start, although Barcelona were still in full control. About ten minutes in they sprung to life again. Cuenca was put through, and after his shot was saved from close range by Fernández Racing struggled to clear the ball. Cesc picked it up on the edge of the area and tried to drive down the right channel but was impeded by the arms of Cisma, conceding a penalty to Barcelona. Messi was the man to step up, and clinically tucked his spot-kick in the bottom right corner to make it 2-0.

Barcelona produced some sparkling football during the spell that followed the second goal, and might have added two or three goals to the scoreline. Firstly Isaac Cuenca spun in the area and unleashed an effort that crashed off the near post and out for a goal kick.

Later a flowing move involving Iniesta, Xavi and Messi saw the ball land at the Argentine’s feet on the D. His powerful effort was blocked by the increasingly overworked Fernández. Messi then had a clear opportunity to seal his hat-trick when he raced through one-on-one against Fernández, but the ‘keeper was sharp once more to save both the initial effort and the follow up.

1-0 Messi (min 28)
2-0 Messi (min 55)


La liga 2011/2012 – standing after week 27

March 12th, 2012

The weekend’s matches leave Real Madrid on 70 points and FC Barcelona ten points behind on 60. Trailing well behind in third place is Valencia, on 44 points.

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